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:
Barnes & Noble
Google Play

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


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.

Monday, March 06, 2017

The Television Conspiracy

I got the first two chapters done and more or less fixed, with some work on Saturday to finish the process. Now I need to get to the next chapter, and more. I’m still finding my way with this book, not just with the characters and world, but with the working method. Each book/series seems to have its own needs. Is this an afternoon book or a night book — or, rarest of all things for me, a morning book? Is it a sit at my desk book, a patio book, a sofa book, a loft book, or a bedroom book? So far, I seem to have made more progress on my bed. Sitting on the patio was a total wash, but I don’t know if that was just that day or if the book is going to be that way. For me, most books are “silence” books, for which I can’t have any background noise, but I’ve had a few that required music. Some of those have been soundtrack books (scores from movies), some have been classical books, and the Fairy Tale series has required Celtic-ish music in the background. For that one, I can even have songs with lyrics, something I can’t have with anything else I’ve tried writing (I get sidetracked by singing along, but I guess if it’s mostly in Gaelic, it doesn’t register like lyrics).

I may try some music this afternoon and see if it helps or hurts.

In other news …

We had the finale of Emerald City this weekend, and I don’t think it ever really lived up to its promise. It’s like the writers were so afraid of spoiling their own show that they didn’t clue the viewers in on what was happening. By the end, I’d had that “I don’t like any of these people, and I hope they all kill each other” reaction, so even if it does get renewed, I’m not sure I’ll be back.

Then there was the premiere of the series version of Time After Time. I’m kind of so-so on this one. The first hour was too close to the movie, so I zoned out because I’ve seen it before with a different setting and time period. Then I could barely follow the second half because it didn’t make a lot of sense. I like the cast, but I have a feeling they’re going to do that “he’s so sexy because he’s evil, and he’s evil because he’s a poor, sad woobie” thing with the Jack the Ripper character. Their HG Wells is cute, but he looks like he’s about 18, so he’s hard to take seriously. We’ll see how it shapes up as a series. The series promo/preview at the end made it look a lot like Timeless, where they’re going to be chasing this guy around time and visiting various historical periods, and I like the cast of Timeless a lot better.

Meanwhile, Once Upon a Time is digging its own grave by being boring and not making much sense, and not really drawing well upon its potential.

I think the television industry is conspiring to give me more writing and reading time. I did do a lot of reading over the weekend, so I’ll have a big book report tomorrow.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Building Momentum

I got somewhat back on track with the new book yesterday, moving ahead a little bit while adding about 3,000 words to what I’d written. And now I already know I need to do some more tinkering with what I did yesterday. My struggle with this book is going to be keeping the emotional reactions realistic. I keep trying to just move ahead with the plot, which means I’m forgetting to think about how people would react in that situation. One of my characters is rather unflappable. She’s been through situations like this before and has been specifically trained in what to do in situations like this. That doesn’t mean she should be unemotional, though. She can be going through all the things she knows to do and resisting the urge to panic while still being very upset and worried. So far, my process for this book has been to write a chapter, then go back and rewrite the chapter to fix the character reactions. I’m hoping to eventually get into a groove where I get it right in the first place.

I think I may have a title for this one, finally. It’s been used before, but not in this genre, and not in several years.

It’s taking a bit of time to get into the mindset of that uninterrupted afternoon of work. For the most part, I’ve been able to avoid most of my usual time wasters, but I’m still having some trouble focusing. It’s hard to tell what the results are, since I’m still feeling my way in this story and doing a lot of rewriting and needing to do a lot of thinking. I’m spending more time on my writing every day, but not getting more output so far. Then again, these opening chapters shouldn’t require a lot of rewriting later, so that may end up saving me some time in the long run.

I’m hoping to do some work over the weekend to see if I can build up a little momentum. It would probably help if I didn’t also have two other story ideas swirling around in my brain, competing for attention, and that’s just new stuff, not counting the existing characters who pop up every so often to remind me they exist.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Clear Writing

I’ll have to get myself back on track today because my “getting things done” day yesterday failed utterly. On the bright side, I feel much better now. That could be because Tuesday’s pollen count was in the 4,000 range and yesterday it was down to the 700s, so I was just tired. An afternoon nap did a lot to revive me, and now I feel functional but behind. Generally, any new scheme I embark upon tends to falter when I hit a roadblock, the perfectionism kicks in, and I just give up, but I’m determined to pick up and move on today instead of getting discouraged.

Mostly, I’m eager to get back into the book. It’s really starting to come to life for me. I’m making myself stop and think along the way, making sure my characters are reacting properly instead of just doing what the plot needs them to do. How would this person act in this situation? What would this make them feel? For this to work, it needs to feel authentic, so readers are at least thinking “Yes, that’s what this person would do” if not “Yes, that’s what I would do.” And the doing comes from feeling, so if the feeling makes sense, the actions work.

Meanwhile, I’m still reading award nominees. I had to put one down last night because I really just couldn’t get into it. There was something about the writing style that didn’t work for me, and I couldn’t figure out who the characters were supposed to be and what was going on within the first thirty or so pages. I may give it another try later, but when I have to get through so many books in time to vote, I can’t spend weeks (and it’s the kind of book that would take me weeks) reading a book that I’m struggling to get into. If none of the other things in that category seem as good (unlikely), I may try again. I suspect that the denseness and opacity was what got this one nominated because that’s a very literary thing, but I’m afraid I like things a little more straightforward and less pretentious.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Foggy Brain

I learned yesterday that all that deep focus work time does little good if the pollen count goes sky-high and allergies hit you like a brick. I got through much of what I’d written previously, adding nearly a thousand words and adjusting a chapter break, before the sneezing, sniffling, and foggy brain got the better of me and I gave up to go lie down and try reading. I did read something work-related, so it wasn’t completely wasted time. I was really tired, so I let myself sleep late today, and now I’m hoping that my extensive to-do list for my designated “get stuff done” day doesn’t take as long as I planned because I’m way behind. It is good that I didn’t plan to write because I still don’t have the brainpower for that. In fact, I might need a nap before I can cope with choir.  I’d been doing so well, too, able to go off the antihistamines for weeks, but apparently I wasn’t up for the mess we had yesterday.

I’ve started reading my way through the Nebula Award nominees — really, the Norton Award at the moment, the one for children’s/YA books, which isn’t officially a Nebula — and it’s going to be a tough call. Out of the two I’ve read so far, one was absolutely beautiful and the other was wildly imaginative. I like getting my reading from a list like this every so often as a way of expanding my reading horizons, and I think I learn something as a writer, as well. It also provides motivation to write even better.

Hmm, I think maybe I could count this reading as “work” for this afternoon.