Friday, April 28, 2017

Audio News!

Oops, didn’t get around to posting this morning. I went to vote early for the upcoming city election, and the polling place is at the library, so you can probably imagine what happened. I restrained myself to three books and two of them are work-related. But there was a lot of browsing. I also walked and took the long way, both for exercise and because that’s the way to avoid the campaigners set up in the parking lot. If I come to the library from the canal footpath, I’m within the no-campaigning zone before they can see me, since no one ever sets up on the footpath.

The big news today is that the audiobook version of Frogs and Kisses is available today! They’d given me a date in June, but I guess they were ahead of schedule.

You can find it here:

I still don’t have any news on audio for the second two Rebels books. Apparently, the audio sales were “modest,” so the publisher isn’t exactly leaping to pick up the rest.

And now it’s time to get to work.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Side Stories

One more kindergarten choir session to go! They weren’t too bad last night, but I had additional adult help. I think they’d have been completely out of control without that, since the extra help was a family member who had family authority over a couple of the biggest problems. I got confident enough to get out the Boomwhackers — plastic tubes that are cut to certain length so that they’re tuned to play notes. They function kind of like playing handbells, with each tube playing a single note. We managed to get something that sounds almost kind of like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Victory!

Today is going to be a heavy-duty writing day. I ended up doing all my errands yesterday. I’d thought I’d be getting a haircut today, but when I went to the online scheduler (one reason I love this salon — I can make an appointment without a phone call), there was an appointment available yesterday afternoon, so I went and took care of it all yesterday. That means today I get to do nothing but write. It may even be a patio writing day.

My plan is to do some shorter pieces in the Enchanted, Inc. universe, like that Sam short story, but longer. I’m aiming for the 20,000-word range. These will focus on or be from the perspective of secondary characters, so it’s sort of the “lower decks” of that universe. What’s going on while Katie and Owen are busy elsewhere?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Done With the Draft

I finished the draft yesterday. There are still a few scenes to write, but I’m in the wrapping up phase after the main plot ends, which is where the character and emotional arcs are resolved, and the character and emotional arcs are what I want to focus on in the next draft, so I’m not sure yet how they’ll be resolved, and that means writing those scenes now is rather pointless. The current draft ends with the resolution of the main plot, and I have to figure out how to tie off all the other loose ends along with the character arcs.

For now, I’m going to take a little break from this book and write a short piece, then I’ll get back to this one. I already have ideas for what I want to do with it, but my brain needs a break.

I did discover one way to up my productivity. I usually do my writing in the afternoon. The aim is to start writing after lunch, but that tends to slip as I get ready to work. It sometimes looks like a kid who’s trying to put off bedtime — I need a story, I need a glass of water, I need my pillow fluffed up, I need a blanket, I think I hear something. But in my case, it’s more like I need my notes, I need my pen, I need the timer, I need a glass of water, I need my word count M&Ms, I need my writing music, etc. Yesterday, I set all that up before lunch, so when it was time to write, I just sat down and went to work. I’d done a thousand words before the time I usually get to work. I will have to do that in the future.

Today, though, is mostly errand and business day, though some errands may get moved to tomorrow because there’s one that can’t be done today, and I might as well just make one trip. Also, my weather radio went off three times this morning, starting at about 5:30 and going off again every time I went back to sleep. There were severe thunderstorms in other parts of the county. I guess it just gives warnings for your county and doesn’t break it down by zip code. I may need a nap before I can face the kindergarten choir tonight.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Star Wars Stories

Last week, they announced a slew of upcoming Star Wars novels, and that made me remember that I’d heard good things about one of the pre-Force Awakens novels, Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray, so I decided to read it.

The story follows two childhood friends who are about the same age as Luke and Leia, born around the time of the fall of the Old Republic and rise of the Empire, but they grow up on an Imperial world, so they have a very different attitude about the Empire than we’ve seen in most of the Star Wars stories. They want nothing more than to grow up to pilot TIE fighters. The story follows them as they attend an Imperial military academy, and then we get a kind of “Lower Decks” view of the events of the original trilogy, as they’re present or aware of most of the major moments, but seeing them from an entirely different perspective. The events surrounding the Death Star send them in different directions and make them question the meaning of loyalty.

I’m not sure how well this book would work as just a science fiction novel for someone who wasn’t familiar with the universe and the story, but it really works to flesh out that universe for people who are fans. We get into the heads of people who fight for the Empire and see that they, too, are fighting for things they believe in, and then when the things they believe in come into question, they’re still fighting for the people around them.

It’s interesting to see what other people think of the main characters from the original movies and how they see those events. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan and want more of that universe, this is definitely worth reading.

This and those announcements of other new books have reminded me of one of my earliest writing ambitions. I’d always made up stories in my head to entertain myself, and our main neighborhood group game was what you could probably call live-action group fan fiction, so I’d made up characters and stories to fit into other “universes,” but once I saw Star Wars, it really jumped into overdrive. Since there was a shortage of female characters, I had to make up characters to play, and that turned into an elaborate mental narrative. Even before Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first tie-in novel, was published, I wanted to write a Star Wars book. A lot of my earliest attempts at writing started as mental Star Wars stories that morphed into something original before I put anything on paper. Still, I would have preferred to write them as real Star Wars stories. I just had to change them because that was an unrealistic dream.

But then I realized last week that it’s not quite such an unrealistic dream. I’m a published author. I’ve even written for the publisher that does the Star Wars books. I’m not sure how to pursue it or if I even really want to. There are plusses and minuses. The money is good, and it’s a good way to become a “bestselling” author. It’s a good way to gain a lot more name recognition. But there are a lot of constraints to writing in someone else’s universe, and the attention that comes with it can bring with it a lot of negativity. It brings out some of the more obnoxious fanboy elements, those people who nitpick every detail and throw a fit if it doesn’t match their mental version of that universe. I’m mostly invisible to those people now, since I’m pretty obscure as an author, but doing a Star Wars book would throw me into the middle of that nastiness. I can imagine what they’d say if my name were announced and then they went and saw those cartoony covers — probably something about how I’m going to destroy Star Wars by turning it into a romantic comedy.

Still, whether or not it’s something I end up pursuing, it’s kind of cool to realize that something that seemed completely out of reach when I was a kid isn’t entirely unrealistic now.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Approaching May

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Non-Fiction TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Home Stretch

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Early Career Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Working Out the End

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Staring into Space

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017


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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tackling the To-Do List

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


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

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

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

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

So I’ll keep plugging.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Report: Lots of Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Messy Food

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

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

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

Friday, April 07, 2017

Test Batches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Weaving a Web

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Writing Truths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Book Birthday!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 03, 2017

Free Time

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

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

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

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