Friday, May 26, 2017

Victorian Slum Life

I feel like I’m really back in the swing of things, after doing two full days of work-related stuff. Yesterday I finished a draft of a novella that’s going to need a bit more work, but at least I reached an end point. I also figured out the problem I was having with a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. I like the voice in the story, and there’s some good stuff there, but it seems to jump too abruptly to its ending, and I have now figured out what to add to make the ending fit better. Then I can start submitting it and see what I can do with it.

I spent most of the evening doing research for a future project. There’s been an educational reality series on PBS that fits with something I’ve been researching — Victorian Slum House. They re-created an East End slum tenement and have a group of people living there to experience life in that era. Most of them are participating because they had ancestors who lived in that area in that time, and they wanted to learn what their ancestors experienced. It’s really sweet that there’s one family in which it was the grandmother who wanted to see how her grandfather grew up, and her granddaughters eagerly participated because they knew it was important to their Gran. One man in the group is a tailor in real life, making bespoke suits in London, so he’s the resident skilled laborer, and the rest have to kind of make do. Each family is assigned a room or rooms in the house and a profession/backstory, and then they have to figure out how to make enough money to pay the rent and buy food. They’ve converted the prices from that era to modern money, so that we have more of a perspective (and that helps when the people who have to sell things go into the market to sell to modern Londoners). Each episode covers a particular decade, and the producers change the circumstances each week to show how the world changed — technology, the economic conditions, laws, mix of newcomers, etc.

They start in the 1860s and go to the 1890s, and I just have one more episode to go. I’ve been reading on life in that era, so seeing it play out and affect real people is fascinating. The attitude toward the poor in that time was absolutely horrendous, especially since it supposedly came out of their interpretation of Christianity (some of it is eerily familiar for our time). There was so little opportunity, and there was so much exploitation of vulnerable people.

It is rather sanitized. They show that there’s a communal privy in the courtyard, but otherwise they don’t even mention bathrooms or sanitation, so you have to wonder if the participants really had to use that privy or if they had a regular bathroom anywhere nearby. There are likely health and safety rules governing that sort of thing. Everyone looks pretty clean, and some of the women are obviously wearing makeup (and not just “being on TV” makeup), but they don’t address the issue of bathing. The issue of alcohol hasn’t come up at all, and that was a major problem in slums. They haven’t diverted a man on his way home from a day’s work and made him spend all his wages in the pub on gin. So, it doesn’t quite work as true research other than getting a generalized feel for re-creating a similar world in a fantasy novel.

What I have found interesting is the dynamics among these people. Those teenaged granddaughters are so enthusiastic even though it’s their grandmother’s deal. They dive right into all the work, whether it’s hauling baskets of watercress to the market to sell, making paper flowers, or even telling jokes to people in the street in hopes of earning a penny or two. The ones who had ancestors living that life are in awe of how strong they had to be, and there’s a touching scene of a woman finding the graves of her great aunt and uncle who died in infancy. The whole group has come together as a community, trying to help each other even though they have the tough dilemma of trying to make it, themselves. The shopkeepers don’t want the children to starve, but they won’t be able to pay their own rent if their customers don’t pay their debts. There was one family, a single mother and her kids, who really weren’t coping well, and the others did their best to help them, bringing them in on their piecework enterprises so they’d have some money, but they still didn’t quite get into the spirit of it. The others were all working hard, getting up early and staying up late to work, and this family would sleep late before finally joining in on the work, and then would go to bed early. They ended up leaving, sneaking out during the night — they were used as an example of what some people did when they couldn’t pay the rent and were in debt to the shopkeeper, but they didn’t show up in the following episodes, so I’m guessing that family just left the show.

The whole series is available to watch online at the PBS website. I’m not normally a fan of reality TV and the “let’s watch ordinary people try to do this thing” sort of show, but this is cooperative and educational rather than competitive. They bring in historians to talk to the participants about what the era was like and what was happening.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nebula Conference Thoughts

Now that I’ve been home long enough to process everything, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my trip last week. I will admit that I found last year’s Nebula conference rather discouraging. I had a good time largely because I had local friends who were on the staff, and it was fun hanging out with them, but the conference part was difficult for me. I learned a lot and got some good business things out of it (that’s how I found my web designer), but I felt very alone and invisible in the crowd, and it was disappointing seeing that I was totally unknown in spite of having been published in fantasy and a member of the organization for more than a decade. There was very much an “in” crowd, and you could see the cliques.

This year was better for me. It helped that I’d met some people the year before. It also helped that I got there a day early and went on the pre-conference walk to the farmer’s market for lunch, so I met some people there. I was on a programming item the first day, so people talked to me at the opening reception and I didn’t feel quite so lost and alone there. I still feel like a nonentity in that world, but that means I have a huge opportunity of people who haven’t discovered me yet. And, at the same time, I learned from some of the panel discussions that I’m a lot more successful than I realized. There were some things I took for granted that I thought would surely apply to others who have a lot more recognition than I do if they applied to me, but it turns out that financial success and recognition don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. I’m making decent money, enough to live on without needing another job. My books from more than a decade ago are still in print and earning royalties. I’ve had a book optioned for film. My books do really well in audio. Sometimes it’s frustrating chugging along in obscurity while watching other people get the recognition, but I’d rather have the financial success than the fame any day. So, I came away feeling better about myself and about my career and able to see my lack of recognition so far as a huge opportunity of an untapped market rather than as any kind of slap in the face.

Meanwhile, I learned a lot — about social media, Facebook advertising, conflict resolution (both for career matters and using it for characters), what actual teens look for in YA fiction, fairy tales as a storytelling medium, audiobooks, finances for freelancers, dealing with discouragement, and the list goes on. Even when I was on a panel, I usually learned something new from it. I believe I attended a session during every time slot, except for the slot during which I was getting trained on using my new web site architecture.

Treating this weekend as a professional conference is relatively new. It used to be just about the awards ceremony, but has come to be a lot more like the RWA national conference, in being a professional conference that contains an awards ceremony. Membership in SFWA is still limited to those who have met certain publishing standards, but the conference is open to everyone who’s interested in writing science fiction and fantasy. I’d say it’s very worthwhile to attend if you have writing ambitions. There’s not a lot of “how to write 101” stuff, but there is a lot of good information on the business of publishing and managing a writing career. I will very likely go back next year because I think there’s a lot more bang for the writer’s buck than, say, a WorldCon. Plus, they give you a big bag of books. I was pretty ruthless about winnowing it down to the books I was sure I would read, and I even read a couple during the weekend so I could put them back on the swap table instead of hauling them home. And then I got to the airport and my bag was only 33 pounds, so I could have brought more home with me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Surprise!

I was out of town last week when I had a writing post scheduled, so I’m catching up this week.

I’ve written in the past about the difference between surprise and suspense in writing — the times you want to shock your audience and the times you want your audience to know what’s coming so they have time to dread it. But although we worry about spoilers and ruining the surprise, there are times when it may be bad to surprise your readers.

One case is when there are genre expectations. It would be a big surprise if a romance novel didn’t end with a couple getting together or a mystery novel didn’t reveal the identity of the killer, but most readers wouldn’t be pleasantly surprised. You might be able to get away with that in literary fiction, where you can use those genre expectations to create something different, but if your book is shelved in those genres, that kind of surprise would be a bad thing. Romance readers want the couple to get together. Mystery readers want the mystery to be solved. The big question in romance is how they get together and the emotional journey the characters take. The big question in mystery is who the killer is, and readers don’t even always mind if they figure it out before it’s revealed, as long as it’s still a bit of an intellectual challenge.

Another case of a bad surprise is when the surprise isn’t properly set up. It’s easy to surprise your audience if something just falls out of the sky, without any setup to indicate that things falling from the sky is a possibility. When I see writing like that, it reminds me of a mystery-themed party I once went to. It was a big banquet at a hotel, and each table had paper and pencils to keep track of clues, as well as table decor that looked like it might contain clues. Every so often, the emcee came out and told us about some new development. We were diligently taking notes and trying to piece it all together, but when they announced the “solution,” it was some random thing that had absolutely nothing to do with what had been announced. It turned out that it was all a joke, and the solution was the punchline. I guess they thought it made for a good icebreaker, but it was absolutely impossible for anyone to have solved the mystery. You may surprise readers by doing that sort of thing, but most of them will be angry that you didn’t play fair. The solution needs to have been set up properly so that you can look back at the story and see the clues. The trick is to hide the clues in plain sight alongside other clues and to give each clue multiple layers of meaning, so that there’s another reason for it not entirely connected to the solution. One of the better examples of this is the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Everything that happens in the story makes sense in that context — and then there’s a big twist. After the twist is revealed, we see that everything we saw before also had an entirely different reason behind it. Without the twist, the story still makes sense and would have been a good story. The twist changes everything, but it still makes total sense. The second time you see that movie, knowing the twist, it’s an entirely different film.

On the other hand, if you set something up, you need to use it. There’s the old trope of Chekhov’s Gun — that if there’s a gun on the mantel in Act One, it needs to be fired by the end of Act Three (or something to that effect). If you bother to set things up, they need to go somewhere or readers will be annoyed. It may not go where you expect, or may not be directly related to the main plot, but something really should come of it. The more you draw attention to it, the more important it is that you go somewhere with it. If you can cut a whole scene or other story element without having any impact on the plot because that thing really makes no difference, then don’t put it in there to begin with. This applies to pointless side trips, character backstories, desperate messages, and quest items. Even if it’s a red herring, it needs to matter and be relevant in some other way.

Then there are the things that the audience wants to happen. It may not be a huge surprise when these things happen, but the audience is usually okay with that because they’d be disappointed if it didn’t work out that way. Readers of genre fiction generally want to see the couple get together, the villain defeated, the battle won by the good guys, the bad person get a comeuppance, the underdog rise to the occasion. You can keep in some element of surprise by allowing this to happen in an unexpected way, but if you don’t give readers what they’re hoping for, you need to give them something they’ll like even better. Sometimes tropes exist for a reason, and that’s because these are things we enjoy seeing. You can twist them to some degree, but twist them too far or undermine them, and the result is an unsatisfying story.

Finding the balance between surprise and satisfaction is an ongoing struggle for writers that becomes more difficult as readers become more sophisticated consumers of stories. But it’s worth it to put in the work to find a way to meet expectations while keeping things fresh.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Home from My Travels

I’m home from my travels and very happy about that. I won’t be traveling again until October other than to visit my parents (unless I have a whim about taking a summer vacation). I like seeing other places, but the process of travel is getting harder, and I’m really spoiled by my fancy bed so that I have a hard time sleeping even on a good hotel bed, since it’s flat. Maybe before my next trip, I’ll gradually adjust my bed closer to being flat so I can be used to it. Then again, I seem to remain much healthier sleeping on an incline, so I might want to be as healthy as possible before traveling.

On the other hand, there’s a lot I miss about hotel life. I love having a totally non-cluttered space. It’s very peaceful. To get that at home, I’m going to need to do a total possession purge, then do some organizing so that I have a place for everything and can get everything in its place. And then I need to form good habits and tidy up as I go. The daily housekeeping service does help, but the real key is that I like to have everything put away before the daily housekeeping service, so my room is reasonably neat even without the hotel maid. All I really need the maid to do is empty the trash and give me fresh coffee cups.

But enough about the process of travel. It was a really good conference. I went to this one looking at it as more of a professional development and networking event, and it didn’t disappoint on those terms, but I think it might also have given me more of a promotional boost than the more promotion-oriented conventions do. I came out of it with a bunch more Twitter followers and tweets/retweets, which broadened my name recognition more than I seem to get from other cons.

I went to a panel during each session of the con, took a lot of notes, and got a lot of ideas, both for writing and for general professional life. It may take me a little time to process it all. My brain is full.

I didn’t get a lot of sightseeing done, but we did do a group walk to the farmer’s market on the first day, so I was able to stock up on some good food to have in my room for snacks. On Sunday after the conference ended, I walked over to the incline railway across the river. It’s the kind of thing they have in Europe at ski resorts for getting up and down mountains. Here, it’s for ease of commuting. It was built in the 1870s and uses counterweights — two cars connected by a cable, and one car going down the mountain pulls the other one up. I’d just been researching this kind of thing for the book I’m working on (though with a cable car rather than on rails), so I took lots of pictures and some video. All this was happening on a rainy day during a playoff hockey game, so the town was very quiet. My hotel was across the street from the arena, so I timed my dinner in the hotel restaurant to end just as the game was ending. I managed to get out of there just as all the fans started swarming in. I watched the flood of people leaving the game from my hotel window.

The conference will be back there again next year, so maybe I’ll find other things to see, or maybe I’ll ride that railway on a clear day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Report: Past and Present

This will be my “chicken with its head cut off” day of travel preparation. Actually, though, I’m mostly ready. This is more my day to clean my house so if I die in a plane crash, I won’t be embarrassed in the afterlife by people seeing it when they come to clean it out. Also, it’s nice after spending several days in pristine hotel conditions to come home to a reasonably clean house. I like not cringing upon opening the front door.

Otherwise, I have the laundry done, my wardrobe planned, I’m mostly packed, I have my presentations ready, I’ve made sure all the relevant accounts are logged in on my travel devices, and my lists for everything else I need to do and pack are made. The goal is to have all the heavy lifting done by mid-afternoon so I can rest and relax this evening, and in the morning I can get up, eat breakfast, get dressed, throw the last-minute things into the bag, and head for the bus stop.

I’m hoping to do a lot of reading on this trip, with a backlog of books on my Kindle app. I’m annoyingly between books now because I just finished a big one and I don’t want to start a new one that I won’t be taking with me (between all the stuff on the tablet and the giant bag-o-books I’ll be getting at the conference, there’s no reason to bring a paper book with me). This might be a good time to read short stories.

The big book I just finished was The Shadow Land, the latest by Elizabeth Kostova. Like her earlier books, there’s a present storyline and a past storyline. In the present, a young American coming to Bulgaria to teach English helps a family get into a cab outside a hotel, only to discover once she’s in her own cab that one of their bags got mixed up with hers, and that bag contains a crematory urn. With the help of her cab driver, she sets out to track down and find this family so she can return it. This quest turns out to be more complicated than she expected, and it reveals some secrets that go back to the early days of Bulgaria’s Soviet occupation — secrets that someone is willing to kill to keep hidden. Meanwhile, we get the parallel story of what happened during that time.

I’m a total sucker for flashbacks woven into a story, with activities in the present uncovering events in the past, and this is a particularly interesting and painful chapter of history. The characters come to vivid life, and the descriptions of the places they visit make me want to visit Bulgaria. However, I don’t think this one lives up to the promise of her first book, The Historian, but that may just be because I keep expecting that book’s magical realism/fantasy elements. There’s one little possible bit of “woo-woo,” but otherwise it’s a straightforward novel. It might be different if you come to this book without that expectation or if you were someone who didn’t read The Historian as fantasy.

One of the story ideas I’m hoping to play with this summer is a past/present book, and I imagine it’s a lot harder to pull off than it would seem from reading it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rewriting History

It’s off to the Nebula conference week, and I have a hefty to-do list. I was supposed to do more of it over the weekend, but I got wild and crazy and decided to have a weekend. Plus, there was this knitting problem I had to fix. But now I have a ton to get done in the next couple of days. Eeep!

Anyway, since I posted about the cancellation of Timeless on Friday, the network changed its mind and there will be a season two. It will be a shorter season and will likely run during the summer. Not this summer, but the next one. They had fun with the way they announced this, framing it like the Time Team had gone back in time to change the network’s mind and rewrite history. There was even a video one of the cast members did in character, in which he acted like they’d just come back from the mission and were reporting their success. There’s been some talk about treating this like a family show (with somewhat educational content). They put the first season on in the late slot, but it’s pretty squeaky clean and involves the characters meeting with interesting historical figures. It’s perfect for an early evening, watch with the whole family thing (Mark Hamill even mentioned that his family has been watching it together in an interview that was in Parade this weekend).

Meanwhile, the season finale of Once Upon a Time falls into the “don’t get me started” category because they set up some potentially cool stuff, and then didn’t use any of it. Red herrings are one thing, but devoting most of an hour to characters going after a goal and then that goal not actually meaning anything is another thing entirely. I think the main problem with these writers is that the only story element they really value is surprise. If you see something coming enough to anticipate it, they think they can’t do that thing because it has to be a surprise. So they go off in another direction with no setup, but then they don’t even come up with a good reason behind what they did set up. And I spend a lot of time yelling at the TV and stress knitting. But I learn a lot about how not to write.

And now I have a busy day of doing laundry, going to the library, writing a presentation, and cleaning house ahead of me.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Network Reading Conspiracy

The network renewals and cancellations are starting to come out, and it looks like the networks want me to have more time to read and write.

I wasn’t so sad about Emerald City being canceled. I liked the concept, and it had beautiful imagery, but by the end of the first/only season, I pretty much loathed most of the characters, had no clue what was going on (in spite of having watched it all), and kind of wanted everyone but the dog to die. The dog could come live with me. Everyone else, I was ready to see go. But I have to admit, that if it had been picked up for another season, I was curious as to where they’d go with it.

But they also killed Timeless, which was my favorite new series last year. It was fun and a bit silly, and I loved all the characters. Even the villain had his sympathetic moments because he wasn’t entirely wrong. He was just going about the entirely wrong way of dealing with things. There were time travel twists and turns and great costumes. So, of course, it had to go because we aren’t allowed to have nice things and probably the world needs more reality shows.

I have very mixed feelings about Once Upon a Time getting renewed. This show seldom lives up to its potential, and the writing in the past two seasons has been utterly terrible. Like, it comes across like an ugly first draft when you’re just throwing out ideas without giving them any thought or looking back at what you’ve already written for continuity purposes. The characters aren’t allowed to act like any actual people, plot threads are set up but not really resolved or resolved with a handwave, and resolutions come out of nowhere. Right now, they’re setting up for what’s supposed to be the Final Battle between good and evil, but the “evil” side is a character we only just met, and there’s absolutely no motivation for this battle to take place, other than Because Evil. ARRGGGGGHHHH.

The musical episode was cute, with good music and mostly excellent performances, but the writing for it made absolutely no sense. I liked the framework of why these characters were suddenly singing, but most of the musical scenes didn’t actually fit the framework, and I wanted to bang my head against the wall because it was yet another wasted opportunity, given the talent they were working with.

And then the actress playing the main character announced she was leaving after this season. She got her happy ending with a big wedding (with an inexplicable musical number — fortunately, she married a tenor who could pick up a song and go along with it when she started singing during the ceremony for NO REASON WHATSOEVER!), although there’s still the finale with the Final Battle to go, which seemed like a natural ending point, and I was okay with the series being canceled. But now it’s renewed with a drastically reduced cast, but that cast includes a character  who just got married whose wife won’t be on the show anymore. I’m worried we’ve got an Aliens thing going on here, where we spent all this time leading up to an outcome that’s now going to be undone between seasons.

Really, my issue with this show isn’t just the terrible writing. It’s that they keep talking about it being about hope, while it’s actually a non-ending black cloud of doom and gloom. In the past few seasons, our heroine spent a story arc knowing that the villain was trying to turn her dark, then got turned into the Dark One when she took on the free-floating Darkness to save everyone else, then spent half a season being psychologically tortured by having this darkness within her, then her boyfriend got mortally wounded and she used her power to try to save him, turning him into a Dark One, and when he was able to fight that off, she still had to kill him to try to end the Darkness for good, only it didn’t because it got hijacked, so she then spent half a season in the Underworld trying to save her boyfriend, only to fail, and then when he managed to get a second chance at life and they were going to get to be together, she got a prophecy that she was doomed to die. But the writers talk non-stop about how this is a show about hope. I can see why the actress wanted out. She must want to slit her wrists after spending the last few years that way.

So, whether or not I come back with the show will depend on what the concept for the reboot will be. I like one of the confirmed returning characters, loathe the other two. I don’t know who else will be involved.

Otherwise, I’m mostly down to PBS and limited-run series (the half-season series, like The Magicians, Game of Thrones, etc.). I have to say, it’s kind of liberating. I am reading a lot more, which is good for me.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Library Love

I am now totally done with children’s choir for the year! We had our last performance last night. The performance was fine, but in our last run-through before it I think some of the kids were trying to make sure I didn’t miss them too much, and it wasn’t the usual suspects. But then there were a couple who sat next to me during the pizza party afterward, one who seemed to be trying to stick as close as possible after he learned that I won’t be his teacher next year. I won’t get to notice or enjoy the break for a couple of weeks because I’ll be traveling next Wednesday.

I’m still on the fence about how my “do everything but write” Wednesdays are going and whether I need to stick to that. I’m way ahead on how much time I’m spending writing, though that may be more due to consistency than to this way of working. I want to work on the things I’m working on, so there’s less slacking off. I think in some sense, having to make up for taking a day away forces me to feel like I should be more productive on the days I am working. On the other hand, I do feel like I’m getting more non-writing things done by devoting a day to it. I got my taxes done early this year with minimal stress, I’ve managed to do some promotion-related things I’ve been procrastinating for a long time, and my housework is somewhat improved (at times — after a busy weekend and a trip out of town, things are a bit scattered right now). I’ll have to think about how I’ll want to handle it this summer when I don’t have choir on Wednesdays.

In other news, Rebel Mechanics keeps getting the school and library love. It was great when it got named to the Texas Lone Star List, but I suspected that had a lot to do with the fact that I go to church with one of the committee members. Now, though, the book is on Oregon’s Battle of the Books reading list, and I don’t think I have any connections there. Apparently, they do a kind of quiz bowl thing about books, where schools form teams and compete against other schools in contests based on a list of books. So, every middle schooler in Oregon who participates in this contest will have to read my book. I really do have to be grateful to librarians for discovering and loving this book. They’ve done a lot more to promote it than the publisher did.

And now I guess I need to get this new book ready to maybe find a new publisher so I can capitalize on all this recognition. Surely some other YA publisher will see this attention and want to get in on it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Goodbye to the Kids

A week from today I’ll be off to Pittsburgh for the Nebula weekend with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This is more of a professional development/networking conference than a fan convention, but there will be a booksigning that’s open to the public during the event. The signing will be at 8 p.m. on May 19 at the Marriott City Center. Here are the details if you’re in the area and interested.

I did my pre-travel errands today, picking up stuff for the trip and my preparations for the return. I make sure I have a frozen dinner of some sort in the freezer when I’m coming home from a trip so that I can just zap something for dinner instead of having to cook or leave the house again for takeout. I’ll be getting home at dinnertime for this trip, so that’s even more important. Even a frozen pizza would have taken more prep time than I’d have liked.

I tried looking for clothes, at least one new top to wear for this trip, but I had no luck. Usually I find one or two cute things at TJ Maxx, but either ours has gone way downhill, I caught it on a bad day, or the current styles aren’t working for me because there wasn’t a thing that even slightly tempted me. I guess I’ll just stick with what I already have and figure that most of these people won’t have seen the usual suspects.

Tonight is my last activity with this year’s children’s choir. They were very cute if a bit unmanageable when they sang in church on Sunday. Now we’re doing it again for a “sharing program” for family. I just have to run through their song with them and direct them, and then when they go back to their parents I’m done with this group. I’ll have the whole summer off before it starts again in the fall. I will have to restrain my joy when I say my farewells. Actually, even the challenging ones are sweet kids that I’m sure I’ll enjoy even more when I get to see them in passing without having to be responsible for them. I suggested that with these kids, a bottle of wine, vodka, or tequila would be appropriate teacher gifts. I think they thought I was joking. Except when I needed that was while I was working with them, not afterward. Chocolate is also acceptable.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Published "Fan Fiction"

I noticed that my reading in the last couple of weeks had a theme: it’s essentially published fan fiction — stories based on other works. Otherwise, it was two very different books.

The first was A Little in Love by Susan E. Fletcher. This book is basically Les Miserables from Eponine’s point of view. It seems to stick pretty closely to canon, just fleshing out the offstage parts about Eponine’s life. As she lies dying by the barricade, her life flashes before her eyes, and she remembers her childhood when her family took in Cosette, the ups and downs of her family’s fortunes, their move to Paris, meeting Marius, learning that he loved someone else, and then choosing to be at his side anyway during the revolution. It’s an interesting perspective on the familiar story that will probably appeal to all the drama nerd girls to whom “On My Own” is a personal anthem, but I think I was hoping for something more.

Then I continued in Star Wars mode with a tie-in novel I found at the library, The Cestus Deception by Steven Barnes. It’s set during the Clone Wars and centers on a mission led by Obi-Wan Kenobi to uncover how someone is managing to make robots with Jedi-like abilities and try to stop that without destroying a world’s economy and driving that world even further into the arms of the Separatists. Barnes is a noted science fiction author, so this reads more like a science fiction novel than like a Star Wars book. There’s a lot of worldbuilding to explain the culture of this world and its dominant race. Although Obi-Wan is a central character, the protagonist is really one of the clone troopers, and that’s where this book gets really interesting. Barnes creates a culture around the clones, figuring out what kind of social structure and philosophy they might have. When you think about it, it’s kind of a bunch of identical twin brothers fighting together, and that’s the way they come to see themselves, even though they’re also aware that they’re considered to be more or less cannon fodder. There’s some really good stuff in there that I wish had made it into the prequels. The Clone Wars were mostly a letdown in the films (I haven’t watched the cartoon series), and this explores the ethical issues of a clone army, as well as getting into the psychology of the clones themselves. Things get really complicated for our central clone when he meets a woman who was once in love with Jango Fett and who can’t help but have feelings for his clone.

I’d say if you’re reading to get more insight into that era of the Star Wars universe and Obi-Wan, you might be disappointed, but if you like a good space opera with interesting characters, alien races, and cultures, this would be a fun book even if you’re not a Star Wars fan. I’ve found myself actually a bit haunted by the clones’ situation.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Desperately Wanting to Write

I made it through my crazy weekend, and I’m now in my usual post-convention “I never want to be around people ever again” mode, except that a week from Wednesday I’ll be heading to the Nebula Awards conference. That one’s more of a writing conference than a fan conference, so it won’t be quite as draining, but I suspect that after that one I’ll be really glad to not have any more conferences or conventions until September. I’m looking forward to some in-depth writing time. And reading time. My next mostly unscheduled weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and I’m already thinking of how I’m going to spend my cave time.

I was thinking that it would be nice to have this book done by then, but then I looked at the calendar, and I guess not. Time is moving very quickly. I had a list of things I wanted to have done by June 1, and they don’t seem to be happening. On the other hand, I’ve spent more time writing this year than I had by late July of last year, and in that time I completed most of a book and revised it and wrote an entire first draft of another book. That’s basically two books in less than six months, which is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of myself.

But I really do want to get these projects done because I have so many other things I desperately want to write.

In fact, even though I’m in recovery mode from a convention, what I really want to do is work (possibly because it’s either that or housework). It’s going to be a patio writing day.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Appointment with a Doctor

I planned to use yesterday as a Getting Things Done day, but then I got things done and ended up working. I’m re-brainstorming the book, and I’m finding all kinds of new potential depth in it. I think I needed to write an ugly draft to explore the world and characters, and now I’m going back to actually write the story. I may finish this thing someday, but when I do, it’s going to be good.

Today I head off to WhoFest DFW to talk Doctor Who and time travel and hang out with friends. I have a lighter day on Saturday, which is good because Sunday is going to be busy, with the children’s choir and the chamber chorale in the early service, then the chamber chorale and the choir in the late service, and I’m singing alto in the choir for the late service because we’re doing a piece with a big alto part and our choir is top-heavy with sopranos, so they asked for volunteers to move over to alto. I usually sing second soprano, so I figured I’d stand a better chance than the first sopranos. I guess I’m trying to make myself less musically extraneous. Sopranos tend to be a dime a dozen, but I make myself slightly more useful by being able to switch among first soprano, second soprano, and alto. It’s just taking some getting used to looking at the alto line. Anyway, after church, I’ll have to rush back to WhoFest for another couple of panels.

And speaking of music on Sunday, Once Upon a Time is attempting a musical episode that will air Sunday night. I’ve heard bits of the music, and it’s actually pretty good. Most of their cast has musical experience, and it shows. I’m a bit iffy on the plot device used to make the episode a musical and on the role the songs play in the story (from what I can tell, the songs are basically just the characters singing about their main character trait, rather than providing any kind of inner revelation), but the music and singing don’t make me cringe. It’s just such a shame that such a good cast and good premise have been wasted by absolutely terrible writing that just keeps getting worse.

Though I have realized that one of my back-burner ideas might actually give me an opportunity to use some of my own mental “fixes” for this show, to take the elements I like and do them the right way. That’s so far from what they did on the show that I’m not sure anyone will be able to tell the origins of the inspiration (and, actually, it was a totally independent idea, but I realized it was an idea where I could fit some of the things I wish they’d done on this show).

And now I have an appointment with a Doctor that I need to get ready for.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Star Wars Day

May the Fourth be with You! It’s Star Wars day, and I don’t have anywhere to go, so I guess there’s no real reason to wear a Star Wars t-shirt that no one will see, but I think I will anyway.

Then I’ll have to switch fandoms because this weekend is WhoFest DFW, a Doctor Who convention. I’m a panelist as a low-level minor local celebrity to fill out the time between major guest events. Fortunately, the convention is just down the street, so I can run home after my events.

I took a few days off this week to visit my parents, and now I have an awkward in-between day between that trip and the convention, during which I’m not sure how much writing I’m likely to get done. This may turn into my designated Get Stuff Done day to handle everything else, then maybe do some brainstorming later once all that is taken care of. I think I’ve figured out the issues in the plot of the book I was working on. Now I need to figure out how to implement those solutions.

Meanwhile, I finished children’s choir for the year last night. They’re singing in church Sunday and then there’s a sharing program Wednesday night, but I’m done with the teaching part and having to manage the classroom. Last night, I ended up surrounded by the kids in my class at dinner. They all sat with me (away from their parents!). I got a non-stop discussion about what they do in school, who their friends and family members are, what food they like, how high they can count, how high they can count in Spanish, etc. That meant I managed to eat my dinner in time to get to my next rehearsal because I didn’t have to talk at all. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. But I guess it’s good that they like me.

Now we’ll see if we can manage to sing Sunday without the boys starting a fight or otherwise getting into trouble.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

To Plot or Not

One of the big debates that arises between writers is the issue of whether or not to plot — sometimes characterized as “plotting” vs. “pantsing” (writing by the seat of the pants). George R. R. Martin has referred to it as “architect” — creating detailed blueprints before starting work — vs. “gardener” — plant some seeds and see what grows — writing. Either way, it mostly comes down to whether a writer plans ahead, creating an outline before doing the actual writing, or just writes the story as it comes. There are pros and cons to both approaches.

There can be a lot of spontaneity with “pantsing,” since the discovery process happens during the writing. Following threads of a story as they arise can help a writer avoid a formulaic plot. A lot of pantsers feel like they would waste the sense of fun and discovery of the writing process if they used it on the outline instead of on the book itself.

On the other hand, this writing process may require a lot of revision and rewriting. Discoveries made later in the book require changes earlier in the book to set them up properly, and plot threads that ended up going nowhere need to be trimmed. Writers who write this way need to pay a lot of attention to continuity to make sure all those drafts still fit together and that everything is consistent. Because of this, it may take longer to write books this way.

On the plotting side, there can be an advantage in figuring out how the plot works before the draft is written. Some writers who do extensive plotting may only write one draft and then proofread it. They’ve done all the discovery process in their outline, so the draft only requires the outline to be fleshed out, and that can mean faster production. Being a plotter also helps when you reach the level in your career when you can sell on proposal. You can write a synopsis of a book and sell the book before you write it. Pantsers can really struggle with this.

On the con side of things, plotting can lead to reduced enthusiasm for a project if the fun part is figuring out what happens. Sometimes, the plot doesn’t work once you start writing, and trying to stick to a planned outline only gets you sidetracked. The outline is what you come up with before you’re really immersed, and if you’re coming up with an outline based on story structure, there’s a chance that your story will come across as more “rote” and won’t really let your characters breathe.

Which is best? The one that allows you to complete a book and make it good. Different people work in different ways. It’s worth trying both approaches and seeing what works for you, and that may change over the course of your career. You may need to plot in your early books as you figure out how a story works, and then you may be able to start pantsing because you’ve internalized that and have done your plotting in your head. Or you may start as a pantser until you figure out your patterns, and from there you may be able to plot first. There’s also a lot of middle ground. The plotting may be just the general turning points, and you improvise from there. You may just know the beginning and the ending when you start. You may outline a few scenes ahead of where you are but without outlining the whole book to begin with. Some books may require more careful plotting than others. If you’re stuck on a project, you might want to try switching approaches. If you’re a plotter and are struggling to write the book you outlined, try throwing out your outline and seeing where the story takes you. If you’re a pantser and don’t know where to go next, try outlining.

If someone tries to tell you that the way they write makes them a “real” writer or a better writer, smile and nod and go about doing it the way that works for you.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Different Directions?

I spent a lot of the last week or so of working on that book wanting to finish that draft so I could work on something else. And then I finished the draft and started working on something else and found myself sidetracked by thinking about the book. I ended up spending a lot of Saturday brainstorming things I can do in the next draft.

I’m still wrestling with the approach to take. My dilemma is that the concept is fun and quirky, but in trying to give some serious stakes to what’s going on, I may have taken it to a darker place than I really wanted to go, and that seems to sap a lot of the potential fun out of it. So I started brainstorming other things I could do with this concept, and I haven’t been able to come up with anything totally different. I don’t know if I’m too set in what I’ve already written or if I really have done the best thing for this concept.

Next, I tried brainstorming other things I could do with the plot I have. Is there a way to keep the stakes high but make it less dark and gloomy? I think I may have found a compromise that takes things in a different direction that might be interesting. It doesn’t necessarily change the main plot, but it changes the emotions surrounding it and changes the outcome.

Obviously, more thinking is required.