Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Blog

My new website is up and running, and from now on, my blog will be posted there. You can find it at

I may not be posting daily, just when I have something to say. When I have a news announcement, you'll find that on the front page of the website:

For now, most of the content is the same as on the old site, but I'll be adding more to it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


I think I had a pretty productive day yesterday. I got a good start on rewriting based on my new idea, though I then figured out what I needed to go back and fix in what I rewrote yesterday.

Today, though, will likely be my “get stuff done” day since I have that appointment to see a doctor about my knee, and that will probably kill my writing time. While I’m out, I can run all my weekly errands so that Wednesday can be a good working day.

I tried to unwind a bit by watching a movie last night. I’d recorded the 1948 production of A Woman in White from TCM. I read the book when I was immersing myself in Victorian literature before I wrote Rebel Mechanics (and when I thought it was going to be a lot more gothic than it turned out to be), so I was curious about the movie. Unfortunately, movies of that era were somewhat lax in anything resembling authenticity. The story is set in England. Almost all the characters are British (except for the Italian). In this movie, almost all the main characters were played by American actors, who weren’t even trying for British accents. Most of them were using that “mid-Atlantic” accent of the era, though one sounded like he was maybe from Georgia. But then most of the supporting characters either were British or were doing passable British accents, which made it even more jarring. I had to turn it off midway through. It’s a frustrating story to begin with because it’s centered on the concept of helplessness, with some of the main characters entirely under the power of others, and then there are some of the attitudes of the period that make you want to smack the characters’ heads together. But when you throw in the accent issues and the melodrama that came with that period, I just couldn’t take it.

I guess the helplessness thing was also getting to me because I’m seeing a doctor today about my knee problems, and I really hate seeing doctors. I’m braced for the “there’s nothing really wrong, it’s all in your head” treatment. Or else the “why didn’t you get something done sooner” lecture, to which the answer is all those years of constantly being told there’s nothing wrong and it’s all in my head. But at least maybe today I’ll get some answers and the start on a path toward fixing it. I miss being able to go on long walks, being able to go hiking on uneven surfaces, being able to dance. I’m getting out of shape and I can feel it, and I hate that.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Superhero Movie Weekend

I actually took a weekend and didn’t do any real work during it. It turned out to be a big movie weekend. Saturday, I went with friends to see Wonder Woman. I’m not the biggest fan of superhero movies. In fact, I’m totally burned out on the genre, but I really liked this one (maybe because it was as much a WWI costume drama as it was a superhero movie). A lot has been written about its feminist themes, and all that, and I did appreciate the way Wonder Woman was treated here — her costume is functional ancient Greek-style armor rather than a satin swimsuit with a brass bra, and all the “look how beautiful she is” camera shots were focused on her face, not her body — but I think the main thing I liked was the total lack of cynicism. Diana was 100 percent pure, good, and sincere, and that was treated as the right way to be. Everything she did, she did out of love, wanting to bring peace to the world and help the people who needed help. No excuses about it being hard or impossible or you can’t help everyone. Maybe it was a bit naive, but she wasn’t wrong about it being important to just try. She was a strong female character not just because she was a good fighter, but because she had that strong moral core.

The other thing I liked was the relationship. They didn’t have to weaken Steve to make Diana more powerful. He was strong, brave, and capable enough that he could easily have been the hero of his own movie, and he was strong, brave, and capable enough to recognize Diana’s abilities and not see them as any kind of threat, instead recognizing what an asset she was. Yeah, he had his “damsel in distress” moments in which she had to rescue him, but that wasn’t because he was weak. It was because she had superpowers and could stop bullets. He was able to recognize her strengths and incorporate them into his plan, so they made a great team. That’s the kind of thing I’d like to see more often in movies. Neither member of the couple has to be relegated to sidekick or love interest. Both of them can be strong, and they can mesh their individual abilities to be stronger together.

But it turns out I was missing the context for the framing story, so I found that the Batman vs. Superman movie that sets it up was available on HBO on demand, and the Man of Steel movie that set that one up was on TNT on demand, so I watched those on Sunday, and wow, what a hot mess. I’m amazed that they managed to make Superman dark and depressing. I guess my instincts were right to avoid those, in spite of my fondness for Amy Adams and Henry Cavill. They did a good job with what they were given, but Man of Steel was more like Independence Day than like a Superman movie, and Batman vs. Superman was clearly written by and for those Internet nerds who get into epic debates over which superhero could beat up which superhero, and never mind that they wouldn’t be fighting because they’re on the same side. Wonder Woman totally stole the show in that movie, and the only really interesting parts were the bits setting up the Wonder Woman movie.

Is it too much to ask to get at least one scene of Lois Lane and Diana together in the Justice League movie? I like Amy Adams’ take on Lois Lane, even if she’s been criminally underused so far, and Diana is so wonderful (I just hope they don’t pile on a bunch of modern-day cynicism now that she’s a century older).

And now I think I’m burned out on superheroes once more. I need to find myself a good costume drama. A good romantic comedy would be nice, but they don’t make those anymore.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Old Ideas, New Ideas

I’ve been struggling with this book I’ve been working on for a long time. It has a “fun” premise, but I couldn’t figure out a setup to get into that premise that had any real stakes that wasn’t pretty serious. I did eventually figure that out. But then I’ve been feeling like not enough happens to take advantage of the fun premise. That’s been frustrating me.

But last night, I had a breakthrough. I decided to take a step back and think of things that could happen in that setting — what would a visitor to that place want to see and experience, aside from the plot? There was something that came up on that list that rang all kinds of bells of something potentially fun that will totally change the way the characters interact with the world and what kind of activities they could get up to.

The funny thing is, the core of that idea goes back to a book I wrote nearly twenty years ago, when I was writing category romance. I wrote a proposal for a book that took place in a similar setting, and it had this kind of event and activity (but without the magic). The line I was writing for at the time closed while I had my proposal in, and the editor suggested I try turning it into a single title book and recommended an agent. I did write that book and got an agent, but the book didn’t go anywhere (something I’m kind of glad about now because that wasn’t a career direction that would have been good for me). This particular sequence, though, has stuck with me. And now I can use the roots of it again. I can’t copy and paste scenes, or anything like that, but the research I did for it and the imagery I developed in my head may work, as well as the kinds of events and activities that might come up. Though with some really wacky twists.

Mostly, though, I think this old book is what sparked the idea. I was thinking of things that could happen in this setting and thought of what happened in that book, which made me think of those events, which made me think of how I could use them in this book.

Now I just need to figure out how, exactly, that will affect my plot.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Summer Schedule

I’m now on full-on summer schedule, since we had our last choir rehearsal until August last night. I’m trying to decide how that will affect my work schedule. I’ve been doing writing Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday as Getting Other Things Done day, then writing Thursday and Friday (and sometimes Saturday). I do find that my brain needs a break — if I’ve had a really intense writing session, I don’t get a lot done the next day — so that midweek break may stay. Wednesday is also usually a good day for running errands because most people are at work that day. I’ve thought about going to a kind of “summer schedule” like the publishers do and moving my “do other stuff” day to Friday to give myself three-day weekends. The possible downside of that is that I don’t get the midweek break, while a long weekend might make me lose momentum.

Or I could be sane and not be rigid about it. If there’s something I want to do on a Friday, I can write Wednesday and take Friday off. If I’m really productive the rest of the week, I can do other stuff on Wednesday and take Friday as a partial holiday. I work for myself, so I can be flexible. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this.

I spent yesterday working on the web site stuff. I think I have all my existing content entered. Now I want to proof and test the whole thing before letting the developer know I’m ready to pull the trigger and make it public. I need to add a lot of new stuff. I can tell where I was really enthusiastic to start with and have lots of extra stuff for the early books, and as my career progresses, the bonus content starts to fade out. I guess I got discouraged. It’s hard to get motivated to do something when you don’t see results, and my web site didn’t seem to have any impact on my readership or sales. But I promise to try to do better. Writing will always be my #1 priority, but I do need to sell more of what I write, so I should do more promo.

However, I got some news yesterday that gives me more incentive to get this book done so I can get it out on the market. It’s going to be a big writing day, I think.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Stronger Goals

I was going to do a writing post about CPR for stories that need life, but most of the tips boiled down to goals, so instead I’ll talk about the importance of character goals. If your story seems limp and like it’s not really going anywhere, or if your plot is getting derailed, there’s a good chance that the problem comes down to your characters’ goals. Here are some common problems:

1) The protagonist doesn’t have a specific, concrete goal
By that, I mean that you could write a scene in which the character obtains that goal. It might not be a scene that ends up in the story, since goals often change during the course of a story as characters learn the difference between what they want and what they need, but you should be able to write a hypothetical scene of the protagonist achieving his goal. That’s why vague goals like “stop evil” or “find love” aren’t specific and concrete enough to drive a story. What would the scene look like when that’s achieved? It’s better if the goal is something more like “Destroy evil Lord Whatever’s doomsday device before he can use it” or “get married to a man I love.” Those are scenes you can visualize and dramatize.

You may need two of these goals for the protagonist. There’s what she wants at the start of the story before the initiating incident. A character should have something they want out of life even before things get crazy — a job, a promotion, a vacation, a peaceful retirement, to bring in the harvest. Then there’s the story goal that arises when the situation becomes known or begins. That’s where you get things like “stop evil Lord Whatever’s evil scheme,” “destroy the One Ring,” or “solve the murder.”

2) The protagonist’s goal isn’t what’s driving the story
This is what often happens when the protagonist’s goal is too vague because it’s so big — defeat evil. Meanwhile, the sidekicks have smaller goals, so they may be more specific and concrete, and that makes them stronger and more interesting. Or the villain may be driving the story, so the villain has a very clear goal for the outcome of his evil scheme, and the hero’s goal is only to stop the villain. When this happens, you have a weak protagonist, and the story isn’t very interesting.

To fix this, take a good look at the protagonist’s goal and see if you can come up with something better. You might also consider that the character you’ve picked to be your protagonist isn’t actually the most interesting character in the story. Maybe you should switch. Or you could combine characters.

It’s a little trickier when the villain is the one with the strong goal and the hero wouldn’t have to do anything if the villain weren’t up to no good. This is where having a goal to begin with helps — there’s something else the hero wants, and having to stop the villain is getting in the way of that goal. You can also give the hero a plan in relation to his goal that’s very specific. Frodo’s story goal isn’t to stop Sauron. His goal is to destroy the ring. He’s not really reacting to Sauron. He’s going about his mission.

3) There’s no conflict associated with the goal
If there’s no opposing force keeping your hero from achieving his goal, you don’t have a story. That force can be inside himself, can be society itself, can be nature, or can be another character. You get a stronger story if the protagonist and antagonists’ goals are in direct opposition — if one achieves his goal, that will keep the other from achieving his goal. If there’s no opposing force, then rethink your goal.

4) You forget about the goal as you write
It’s easy to come up with character goals when you’re developing and planning a story. But then you start writing and things happen, and you might lose track along the way. Maybe not the really big things that are driving the plot, like the villain’s evil scheme and the fact that the hero wants to stop the evil scheme, but you might not sustain the more specific goals or the internal goals that aren’t about the main plot. Or, you might forget the story goal when writing individual scenes instead of making each scene be a step toward the story goal. When you get stuck or bored in the middle of a story, this is often the reason. Go back to the core goals and it might give the story more drive and energy.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Bad Electronic Morning

I don’t know how I’m going to schedule my day, since the piano competition is on a break today, but I guess I’d better get used to it, since the rest of the competition, other than Saturday, is going to be at night and then it will be over. I’ll have to find some other thing to keep me at the keyboard (the computer one, not the piano one). I was happy that my favorites made it to the final round, and for Friday night’s concerto event, we’ve got two Rachmaninoff pieces (though not my absolute favorite).

I did learn that I really can’t work while listening to Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. I can’t help but stop to listen. I’ve used some of his other music as background music for writing, but that one piece just gets me. I can’t even read while listening to it. I think there’s a story that this needs to be my soundtrack for, but I haven’t found it yet. It starts all strident and angry, then there’s this swooningly romantic interlude, and the final movement is passionate and fiery. It’s basically a romantic story — they meet and there’s conflict. Maybe they’re even enemies. But then they fall in love and have a tender moment together, and after that the two of them are fighting together, the two of them against the world, putting everything on the line for love. I guess that’s why this piece is so popular with pairs figure skaters. There’s a big, dramatic start, then a quieter, more graceful moment, and then a big, passionate finish. Except to get within the time limit, they chop it up brutally.

This morning seems to have been electronic failure time. At the very same time, my atomic clock went out and my cable box must have been trying to update and froze midway through the reboot. The clock was a matter of batteries, but then I had to find a way to get it to reset and find the signal. I tried contacting the cable company via online chat when the box was frozen midway through what looked like a reboot, stuck at the same level for an hour, but their chat window froze. I finally resorted to the old unplug it and plug it back in trick, and that seems to have worked. Not that I was watching TV at the time, but it just bugged me to see that “L-8” on the readout instead of the time, especially when I was having to manually set the time on the atomic clock before it found the signal, and my other source for accurate time wasn’t working. The cable thing must have been a system issue because it affected both of my boxes.

This is making me glad I backed up my computer last night. Maybe I should stay away from my cell phone.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Classical Work Scheduling

I have discovered the key to productivity: Classical music.

It’s not the Mozart effect. It’s the scheduling effect. The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is going on right now in Fort Worth, and they’re streaming the events online. For the semifinals, that has meant that they start a recital at 2:30 in the afternoon, it runs about an hour, there’s a 20-minute break, then another recital. They start up again in the evening at 7:30 with two contestants doing Mozart concertos (so I guess there is some Mozart effect), which takes a little more than an hour, a 20-minute intermission, and then two more.

That ends up being the perfect schedule for a writing day — an hour, a break, another hour, a dinner break and time to do some other things, then an hour, break, hour. I’ve been getting so much done while listening because I don’t want to get up to do other things during that time, and it’s like having a built-in timer.

This week, the classical radio station is intensifying the effect, playing a famous piano concerto performed by a former winner each day at 1. Today is Rachmaninoff’s second concerto, which is my all-time favorite piece of music, so I suppose I have to listen.

Since Thursday (when I remembered this was going on and discovered the streaming), I’ve rewritten three chapters of the novel, revised a novella, and revised a short story, as well as done a lot of work on content for the web site. Sunday I took a break from work and did crossword puzzles and read while listening.

Though all this virtuoso piano work makes me feel even worse about my struggles to use both hands and play more than one note at a time.

Meanwhile, it is possible I’ll end up with even more incentive to write and time to devote to work later this summer. I’ve had a wonky knee that’s been bothering me for nearly a year. Well, it’s actually been bothering me my whole life and I had surgery to fix some of that more than twenty years ago, but it went out on me in a different way last summer in a ballet class. It reminded me of a time when I pulled ligaments, so I did what the doctor had me do then and braced it and rested it, and it got better. then it went out again, and I had another couple of weeks of bracing and resting. It got better, then buckled out from under me on the stairs. Rest and bracing, and it got better. It started really hurting during my recent trip and hasn’t gotten better, so today I made an appointment with an orthopaedist. I’m hoping it’s just a physical therapy thing, but I’m worried that it’s a ligament tear that will require surgery. At least this time around, while I have a two-story house, I mostly live on the ground floor, especially during the summer, and I could easily arrange things to not need to go upstairs for a while. I mostly would just need to move the keyboard and harp downstairs. The last time I had knee surgery, I lived in a third-floor apartment. While I was at home, I was okay, but coming and going from home, especially when carrying things, was a challenge.

Anyway, my insurance has a high deductible, so seeing a doctor gives me incentive to write so I can earn some money, and if I’m not really mobile, that means I have time to write. The appointment’s next week, so I hope I’ll get some answers then.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Snail Watching

We had a nice rainy day yesterday, which is normally good for my productivity, but this time, it served as a distraction because it brought out the snails. A swarm of snails converged on my patio and front porch, and this proved so fascinating that it distracted me. Last summer, I found evidence of snail trails in my living room, but never saw a snail in the house. Now, seeing them having a convention just outside my house made me wonder what they’re up to. I do have a story idea in there somewhere.

Really, it’s interesting watching them move. Some of them were pretty speedy. They covered a decent amount of ground. I could outrun them, yeah (which kind of ruins the horror movie potential), but they still moved faster than I expected. Then there were the ones who barely seemed to be moving, I’d look away, then look back and they’d moved at least three feet.

We’re supposed to get still more rain today, but I will have to resist the lure of snail watching because I have work to do. I’m still getting content into my new web site, which means re-evaluating the old content. I’ll probably keep adding new stuff even after I launch, but I’m trying to get stuff in so I can launch. And then there are the two writing projects I’m juggling.

So, no playing with the snails today.

Thursday, June 01, 2017


Yesterday was supposed to be a non-writing day, but I ended up writing for nearly 3 hours. Oops. Or not. I guess I wanted to make progress. I’m juggling two different projects, a novella and a novel. I work on one until my brain gets tired, then switch gears. So far, it’s working pretty well, and I seem to be getting a lot more done. I still got my “get stuff done” stuff done, too. It’s that schedule shift. I seem to be a lot more productive when I go to bed early and get up early than when I stay up late and sleep late. I sleep better, so I’m spending less time sleeping, and that alone gains me nearly an hour, and I seem to be more likely to productively use extra morning time than extra night time.

I guess it’s a good thing I’m not going to any conventions this summer because that kind of schedule is completely out of whack with the way they schedule science fiction conventions. Nothing much happens until 10 in the morning. The “early” programming is usually a stroll at 9 a.m., which is late if you have programming at 10 and need to be able to shower and change clothes before programming. If you wake up by 7 in the morning, you have a few dead hours. At the Nebulas conference, they didn’t open the hospitality suite until 7:30, and that was just coffee. Breakfast wasn’t supposed to be out until 9. Then all the socializing tends to take place at night in the bar or at parties, and that doesn’t usually kick off until about 9 p.m., which means you miss most of it if you like to be in your pajamas and reading in bed soon after 10.

I wonder if there’s a coffee shop con equivalent to barcon for morning people.

It was worse for me on the west coast. I was taking hour-long walks in the morning before the WorldCon in Spokane and didn’t go to a single party.

But this summer is my personal Productivity Con. I want to get a couple of books written and one started, while also ramping up my promo activities. I’m calling it a “writing retreat” and treating it like I’m at a resort. We’ll see if that tricks my brain into going into high gear.