Archive for January, 2019



I mentioned the other day that I’ve been forced to admit that I feel better and am more productive when I exercise first thing in the morning. This time of year, the weather isn’t always conducive to that, so I’ve dragged out my exercise trampoline and walk or jog in place in the comfort of my living room. I’ve found that the best way to do this isn’t to watch exercise videos (though there are some designed for the mini trampoline that I’ll have to try). Instead, it’s travel videos, and my favorite thing is a series I found on Amazon Prime called Walks Around Britain.

Basically, it’s about all the walks you can take on public footpaths throughout Britain. A camera follows the host for a walk as the various highlights are pointed out, so you kind of feel like you’re doing the walk, too. Each episode is about 24 minutes and contains two walks (they only hit the high points, so it’s not in real time, unlike the Slow TV Norwegian train rides, which can be fun, too). A full episode is just enough for a morning walk/jog, or if I know I’m going to be walking somewhere later in the day, one of the walks in an episode is enough to get the day started.

Hohenecken Castle, site of Sunday walks (Photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Ulli1105 – Own work, CC BY 3.0)

This show makes me miss living in Europe. They have a similar network of public walking paths in Germany, and when we lived there, we’d often load up backpacks with drinks and a picnic lunch and head out on a weekend for a day’s walking. In one home, we lived right next to a forest with a lot of good trails, so we didn’t even have to get in the car to go for a long walk in the woods. At another home, we lived near a hill with a ruined castle on top, so one of our standard walks was to go up the hill to the castle.

We don’t have anything really like that here, not on that scale. There are some walking paths through parks, and there’s one I can walk to on the edge of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, most of those paths are near a river or lake and tend to flood. And our country is so much bigger that there are fewer opportunities to make an easy day trip to go walking and see the country that way.

I got really nostalgic during this morning’s “walk” when the host was walking up a hill to a ruined castle (in Wales) with his daughters and dog. It was so much like those Sunday afternoons when we’d decide to just walk up to the castle, or when we’d drive to a place where the footpath would lead to or past a castle.

I was already into reading fantasy books, but I suspect that being able to just take a walk to a castle on an average day helped fuel that interest. A castle became something concrete, not just something out of books.

When I visited England, I got a map of some walks and spent a day walking from village to village in the Cotswolds. This show is making me want to go again to do more walking like that, since I love walking as a way of touring. I entertain the occasional dream of selling my house, getting a longer-term tourist visa, renting a cottage somewhere, and spending months exploring thoroughly while writing a book.

Alas, for the time being, I’ll have to make do with the nearby park (if it’s not flooded) when I get the itch to walk in the woods.

writing life


I’m getting close to the end of my week of proofreading, and my voice is getting tired from all that reading out loud. I think this may have to be a quiet weekend, and fortunately the choir isn’t singing Sunday, other than the usual hymn-type stuff. Then I’ll be done with editing for a while and can be creative again.

There’s nothing like having something tedious to do to really spark creativity. It’s like your brain is tempting you away from what you need to do. But I will prevail!

I’m already seeing the movie of the next thing I want to work on in my head. I’ve got the opening scenes more or less mentally written. I have a lot more to figure out, though, before I’m ready to start work. I suspect I’ll really fall into a research rabbit hole because there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn about to make this work, and the trick is to be honest with myself about what I really need to know for the book and what it’s just fun to learn about. I may be on the verge of developing a new hobby I don’t really need.

That’s one of my favorite things about this line of work. There’s always something new to learn about and explore. For my books, I’ve learned about business, about the history of various locations, lots of folklore, a number of areas of history where school barely scratched the surface, clothing, technology, philosophies, various historical figures, etc. I’ve read a wide variety of novels that I might not have read otherwise. It’s almost like each book is a new advanced degree.

And that’s not counting the stuff I try to learn in general, like psychology (for character development), personality (ditto), writing craft, business practices, marketing, etc. I’m currently trying to figure out Excel. I’ve been doing my bookkeeping using tables in Word, which you can use like spreadsheets and wondered if I’d get more function in Excel, but then I discovered that Excel is a big battery hog. My laptop was draining a lot faster, and a diagnostic pointed to Excel (and battery life went back to normal after I shut down Excel). So maybe that’s not something I want to spend a lot of time learning. It’s probably overkill for my needs.

I do think that a certain degree of natural curiosity is essential to being a good novelist. If you don’t like looking things up and learning, you’re either not going to write something vivid and realistic or you’re going to hate doing what it takes to flesh out your characters and your world.


Annoying Realizations

In my ongoing quest to optimize my life, I’ve come to one annoying realization: Exercise is key.

I’m essentially a sedentary person. Most of the things I enjoy doing involve sitting — reading, writing, watching TV, knitting. My most active hobby is cooking. I do like taking long walks and going on hikes, but it hasn’t generally been a daily habit.

I had to change that in the last couple of years. I’d been taking a ballet class and injured my knee during that, then ended up in physical therapy. The therapy required daily exercise, and my knee feeling better meant I started walking more often. I was doing well until winter hit, and I slacked off. Then the whole blood pressure/thyroid thing hit, and I was out of commission until I started feeling better, and then I was motivated to exercise more regularly. Alas, the winter slack-off thing happened again. It was too cold to comfortably walk in the morning, so I said I’d do it later, but then I’d get busy and not get around to it.

This time, though, I started to feel the effects. The double whammy of the thyroid issues and the medication I’m on for the blood pressure means I’m extra sensitive to cold, so I tend to sit at home wrapped up in blankets, but then that made me even more sensitive to cold, and I just generally didn’t feel great. When there was a warm day and I took a walk, I felt so much better, so I’ve tried to get back in the habit. If it’s too cold to walk in the morning, I get out the jogging trampoline and walk/jog while I watch something (travel programs are good for that because I feel like I’m walking through some interesting place).

What I’m finding is that if I exercise in the morning, I’m less cold, so I’m able to be more active throughout the day instead of sitting huddled in a blanket the whole time. I have more energy, and I’m more productive, getting more work done. If I want to stay healthy and functional, I need to make a habit of this.

And I really kind of hate that. I like easing into my day, lazing around in pajamas instead of getting dressed and going for a walk. But I can feel such a difference that it makes no sense not to do it. Maybe after a long enough time of feeling that difference, I’ll look forward to it instead of having to force myself. In the meantime, I have to remind myself of how icky I started feeling when I was slacking off.

This is right up there with the advice to write first thing in the morning instead of easing into the day. The difference it makes is too huge to ignore, but in a way, I hate that it works because I don’t particularly like arranging my day that way.

Wildly Flying Ideas

That new idea I got a couple of weeks ago has really taken off. I’ve started doing some research into the subject matter, and the whole thing is taking shape. The other night, I even found myself creating a character in my sleep. I’d been thinking about a role in the story and pondering what kind of character would fill that role. Then I woke up with a complete character in my head, right down to the name. I had his current situation, his personality, his appearance, and his backstory.

This one’s going to take a lot of research, including some in-person stuff. I’ll need to track down some subject matter experts and see if they’ll talk to me and let me observe some things.

I even have a general sense of what the plot/conflict are going to be, but that part needs a lot of fleshing out. I think some of it will come with the research, so I’m not trying to force it yet.

The tricky thing is that all of these wildly flying ideas are coming while I’m wrapping up proofreading on another book. I’m reading it out loud, and I find my mind wandering as I do it. It’s like the reading is on autopilot and although I’m reading each word, I’m not registering it because my mind is busy working on something else. I’m having to take the proofreading in chunks with breaks in between to write down the ideas I came up with while reading.

I’ll finish the proofing this week, and then I can really dive into the brainstorming and research.


I’ve hit a big personal milestone this week, plus it’s the anniversary of another milestone.

I paid off my mortgage yesterday (though the payment actually went through today because we just missed the cutoff time yesterday afternoon at the bank). That’s about 9 and a half years early. I’ve been paying extra on it each month, and I realized that if I kept up that pace this year, I’d pay it off by the end of the year. Since I had the funds in savings, I figured I might as well do it now, especially since the mortgage interest rate was so much higher than the interest I had in savings. Now my living expenses will be a lot lower, and I have no debt (aside from the credit cards that I pay off each month), but I need to rebuild my savings. That’s more incentive to write!

Tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of me first sending the book that became Enchanted, Inc. out into the world. On that day in 2004, I sent the initial query to an agent, pitching that book. A few days later I got a response asking for the first 50 pages. I eventually ended up signing with that agent, who still represents me.

The publishing world has changed a lot since then, and my career has gone in directions I couldn’t have imagined at that time. To be honest, I expected that book to be a bigger deal than it ended up being. It’s sold really well over the years, and people who do read it tend to love it. But I thought it was ideally positioned to be a hit if it was handled properly, and it sort of fell between the cracks. As successful as it’s been lurking in relative obscurity, I can’t help but imagine what it could have done if it had been given any kind of push. But that’s water under the bridge, and the publisher has continued supporting the series even after all this time. Better to do better than they expected and sell steadily over more than a decade than to be a flash in the pan. I can’t change the past, so I can only move on to the future.

My mortgage celebration will have to wait until next weekend, when I’m done with this book and letting myself have a little break. And then I’ll probably have confirmation from the mortgage company so it will be official (I just have the confirmation from my bank that the transfer went through).

Editing and More Editing

I have completed my copyedits. Now comes the fun of reading the whole book out loud to myself so that I can catch any errors. That’s also when pet words or awkward phrasing jump out at me, and I can see if putting in the copyedits introduced any other errors.

And then when I’m done with that, I’m going to indulge in a fit of pure creativity, since I’ve spent the whole month in editing mode. I’ve got a couple of projects to research. I may write a short story or two. I might even get wacky and take a day off to do something non-work-related. Then there’s some getting my house in order that needs to be done, and I want to set up some promotional things. It’ll just feel nice not to have a deadline hanging over me for a little while.

I have a new idea I want to play with, something that gave me the “ooh” tingle, and it keeps fleshing out in my head. I have a concept. I have a main character. I have what I think will be the central conflict. I have the beginnings of a world. It’s going to take a bit of research to flesh it out further, but I’m already falling in love with the main character, who is rather different from what I usually write, so I think it’ll be fun to see the world through her eyes.

But first, editing. Yay.


Copyedits and School Flashbacks

I’m working on copyedits for Enchanted, Inc. book 9 right now. This is the phase when I look at the manuscript that the copyeditor has marked up and insert the changes into my copy of the manuscript, deciding which ones to accept or reject. The copyeditor is essentially a professional nitpicker, not only spotting things like grammar, spelling, punctuation, missing words, misused words, typos, and the like, but also keeping track of continuity — she was wearing a hat in the previous scene, but now there’s no mention of a hat. Is she still wearing the hat or did she take it off? Where did she put the hat when she took it off? Does she put it back on when she goes outside again?

I have a wonderful copyeditor, but I still struggle with this phase of a project because it takes me right back to my school days. It feels just like when you’ve had a paper or essay graded and the teacher hands it back to you, covered in red marks. It isn’t actually like that at all because a copyeditor isn’t judging you (except maybe inside). You’re not being graded. It’s a partnership to make the book better. The editor is helping you. It’s more like giving your paper to a friend to read over it for you and make suggestions before you hand it in to the teacher to be graded. Your friend’s marks don’t count as part of your score. They just help you improve your work before it is judged or graded. I’ll have to remember that analogy the next time I get copyedits and spend a day procrastinating furiously because I dread looking at my manuscript and seeing marks all over it.

I suspect I’ll still cringe when the copyeditor calls out an obvious mistake. I swear, words go missing between the time I review the manuscript before handing it in and the time the copyeditor sees it. Most of my edits, though, have to do with compound words and keeping straight which are written as two words, which are smashed together to make one word, and which are hyphenated. That all depends on which style guide you’re using. I learned Associated Press style in journalism school, but publishing tends to use the Chicago Manual of Style, and they sometimes do them in different ways. In a lot of cases, there are several “correct” ways to do it, but you go with what’s in the style guide you’re using for the sake of consistency.

And I swear, they change the rules between books because I try to internalize them on each copyedit and do what the editor said the last time, and it still ends up getting changed.

The other thing a copyedit will make glaringly obvious is which are your “pet” words for that book. You’ll think you’ve caught those words you overuse and you’ll be sure you cut them all out, and then you’ll get a note from the editor saying, “You used this word 60 times in the book. You should probably cut most of these uses.”

The really annoying thing is that in spite of this kind of edit and proofreading after making the edits, you’ll still end up with at least one error in the finished book.

Back to Work

I gave myself a long weekend after getting that book turned in, sort of. I spent Friday and Saturday at a Choristers Guild workshop, which felt like putting in a whole day at work, complete with commuting. Then I gave myself the holiday on Monday because the next thing I need to work on is also editing/proofreading, and I need a break between projects. It wasn’t entirely a holiday, in that I did some work-related things, but I wasn’t doing actual writing.

The choir workshop was interesting, as always. Friday I focused on children’s stuff, with workshops on teaching music to children, considering their neurological development, and games you can play. Saturday, when I’d done all the children’s workshops I wanted, I went to some adult sessions. The clinician was the former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and boy, did he put us through a workout, since he was making us do the exercises he was teaching for directors to do with their choirs. I was mostly there to learn things about singing and what to practice on my own, but I picked up a few things I might be able to do with the kids. Then there was a session about the history of the choir, with lots of behind-the-scenes tidbits about the 2002 Winter Olympics (apparently, Sting is a lovely person and even sent a thank-you note to the choir for singing backup for him) and how they put together the PBS Christmas specials. We’re seeing the previous year’s concert since it takes them nearly half a year to edit and produce the show. They’re taking bits from multiple performances and putting them all together to get the best version of everything. This year on PBS, we’ll be seeing Kristin Chenoweth as their guest artist.

Now I should be diving back into work with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, but I mostly want to nap. It’s that time of year when the hibernation instinct is strong. I think I could make myself write because sometimes I get my best stuff while in a sleepy haze, but proofreading is going to be hard. That takes focus, and it’s not that much fun, especially when that Shiny New Idea is kicking into gear.

My Books

From Book to Screen

One of the comments/questions I receive most often is along the lines of “Enchanted, Inc. would make a good movie or TV series” or “Why isn’t Enchanted, Inc. a TV series or movie?” Sometimes it’s “Why don’t you make Enchanted, Inc. into a TV series or movie?” I love hearing that question because it means people love my books and want to see them come to life, but it’s really not so simple as just deciding to make it happen.

I’m not the one who can make a movie or TV series happen. I could stop it, since no one can make that show or movie without my permission, but making a movie or TV series takes a lot of money. I’d have to have JK Rowling kind of clout to just decide I want it done and make it happen — and even there, it’s mostly because they know that movies made from her books are successful, so they want to be a part of it.

For a book to be made into a TV series or movie, it takes both love and money. Someone in a position to make things happen has to fall in love with the story enough to go through everything it takes to get a project through the whole process, and someone has to put up the millions of dollars it takes to get made. The person who falls in love may be someone at the network, production company, or movie studio. It might be a writer, producer, or director, who then has to get someone who can fund the project on board. It might be an actor who loves the book or sees a potentially powerful role who then finds someone who can fund the project.

Enchanted, Inc. has had a fair amount of interest in movie/TV series. There have been writers and actors who wanted the project but couldn’t get the funding (apparently, at one time Anna Faris was trying to get something done with it). It was actually optioned for film and a screenplay was written (by the guy who went on to write I, Tonya), but the project didn’t make it past that point. There was a team with a showrunner (from shows you’d have heard of) and head writer who put together a really good TV series pitch, but they didn’t manage to get any production companies to put up the money for them to put together a pilot to then be able to get network interest.

Mostly it comes down to whether the production companies, studios, or networks think that enough people will be interested in a TV show or movie for it to make money. The main reason they think a show or movie based on a book will make money for them is if the book is already a huge bestseller with a built-in audience. Most of the books made into shows or movies are already bestsellers — the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris were already big before the series, the Song of Ice and Fire books were already bestsellers before Game of Thrones was a hit on HBO, the Harry Potter books were a phenomenon long before the movies. They all became bigger after the shows/movies because more people see TV shows or watch movies than buy books, but there was a significant audience who knew about these things before they made it to the screen. Alas, while my books have sold reasonably well, they are nowhere near bestseller status, and if everyone who’d bought the books watched a movie or TV show, it wouldn’t even make a blip in the ratings or box office.

For non bestsellers, buzz can help — that sense that even if it’s not a big enough mainstream hit to be a bestseller, it does have a kind of cult following, so that the people who are into it are really, really into it. And that’s not really happening with the Enchanted, Inc. books. I know there are a lot of fans of those books, but there isn’t really a “fandom” (at least, not that I’m aware of). There’s nothing really to indicate to producers that there are people out there who would help raise the profile of a movie or TV series by helping generate buzz. There aren’t tumblr communities, memes, discussion groups, conventions. The last Google alert I got on the term “Enchanted, Inc.” was for a liquor distribution company that uses that name. The first book came out in 2005, so it’s pretty much old news, and people aren’t really talking about it anymore. I’m a fairly obscure author. I barely have 600 Twitter followers and there aren’t many more followers than that on my Facebook page (and only a fraction of those people actually see anything I post). That’s not the sort of thing that makes Hollywood executives sit up and take notice.

The other possibility is that it’s a kind of story or subject matter that tends to be successful, and that depends on trends. Right now, it seems like most of the fantasy stuff is dark. I can’t think of anything along the lines of the Enchanted, Inc. series that’s currently a hit. I do think maybe the time is right for a fun romantic comedy with a touch of magic, but someone at a network/streaming service/studio has to decide to make that leap and go against the current trend toward dark and gritty.

What can fans do if they want to see their favorite book on the screen? This applies to any book you would like to see made into a movie or TV show, not just mine. For one thing, buy the books and tell others about the books so they’ll buy them. Bestseller status does get attention. Leave reviews on the bookseller sites, on Goodreads, on Book Bub. Raise the level of buzz by talking about the books on social media. Make and share memes and reviews. Talk about how you think they’d make good movies or TV series. I don’t know if tagging the networks/streaming services in tweets suggesting books for them to make into shows would help, but it might not hurt (I do know that when a Netflix-related account asked for suggestions, Enchanted, Inc. wasn’t mentioned — as I said, there’s not a lot of buzz).

Basically, the books that get made into movies or TV shows are the books that are being talked about publicly. Telling the author doesn’t do a lot of good. The author is just going, “I know, right?” You have to tell the world.

It may also help to support movies and shows like the books you’d like to see hit the screen. If something like that is successful, it raises the chances of more like it being made. Then you can also use that as a discussion point for your buzz — if you like this series, you should read these books, and they’d make a good series, too.

So, long answer. The short version is yeah, I’d love to see it happen, but it’s not something I can do a lot about, and my books may have good potential but don’t have the awareness to really push a project like that through.

writing life

Tidying up the Books

Book Internet has been all abuzz lately with furor over Marie Kondo’s advice about clearing out books. I haven’t seen her TV show, since I don’t do Netflix (too busy reading), but I have read her book, and I suspect that the people getting upset about her advice haven’t read her book because I thought her advice made a lot of sense.

For one thing, she never says you should have just 30 books. She says that as you go through the process of deciding which of your possessions truly “spark joy,” you’ll start to get the sense of the ideal number of possessions for you, what makes you feel happy and peaceful. For her, she’s realized it’s about 30 books, but she recognizes that some people, particularly writers, will need more.

The thing that I suspect is really getting to people is her idea that you shouldn’t have a lot of books you haven’t read, that if you don’t read a book soon after buying it, you probably aren’t all that interested in reading it and don’t need to keep it.

That actually makes some sense to me, but I don’t really have an ordinary To Be Read pile in that I didn’t buy most of my books. For someone who reads as much as I do, I don’t buy a lot of books. For the most part, I buy a book when I want to read the book, and it’s only traffic laws that keep me from reading it on the way home from the bookstore (I don’t even like Amazon because when I want to read a book, I want to go to the store right then and buy the book, not wait for it to be shipped to me). I’m actually more likely to get books from the library, so the books I buy are the ones I already know I’m going to want to keep, or they’re books I’ve already read and know I want to have my own copy of. The exception is my friends’ books that I buy to support them, usually at conventions or booksignings, and then they may or may not be something I want to read NOW or even something I’m super interested in reading. I don’t do a lot of book-buying sprees of buying random things that look kind of interesting, other than reference books at library book sales.

Most of the books in my Strategic Book Reserve are books I didn’t buy. One of the lovely things about being a writer is that people want to give you books. Writers read a lot and talk a lot about books, so a good way to get a book talked about is to give it to writers and hope they’ll talk about it and spread some buzz. If you go to writing conferences, you frequently get given a tote bag of books. Publishers may host signings where the books are free. At my first few conferences, I kind of went nuts with all the free books, but then I learned that I wasn’t likely to read them all. Now I’m very selective and only take the ones that really interest me.

But I still have a lot of books I haven’t read, and I’ve started sorting through them, being brutally honest with myself about whether or not I have any interest in reading them. Most of the ones I’m getting rid of are romance novels I’ve had for more than twenty years, and getting rid of those has been a weirdly emotional process because it means really facing my own goals and my choices.

My ambition has always been to be a fantasy or science fiction writer. I got sidetracked into romance during the summer after I graduated from college, when I was stuck on a farm while I looked for a job. There was no library in town, and the nearest bookstore was at least 15 miles away. Not that I had the money to buy books or the transportation, since my car had become unreliable and I had to borrow one of my parents’ cars to go anywhere. So, I read what was handy, which included my mom’s stash of Harlequin and Silhouette romances. I liked a lot about them, but didn’t ever find one that had me saying “yes, this is it, this is what I like,” so I had the common wannabe writer reaction of “I could do this better” and set out to try. When I did get a job and moved to the city, I looked for writing groups and stumbled upon a Romance Writers of America chapter. It was about the only really substantial writing organization that taught about the business and the craft. That strengthened my career goal of writing romances. The problem was, I hadn’t realized the difference between “I like this thing, and I think I could do it better than some of the people who are doing it” and “I like some things about this but don’t really like it, and I want to write it the way I like it.” I had some success, but I’m a classic overachiever, so I managed to power through and actually do it in spite of not liking it and not being all that suited to it, but it was a massive struggle. It was only when the romantic comedy chick lit books showed up that I realized that what I actually liked wasn’t genre romance. Then I got the idea to add magic and remembered that what I’d really wanted was to write fantasy.

Facing all those romance novels I’d amassed during that time when I was trying to be something I wasn’t meant facing the fact that I might have delayed my own career by sticking to the wrong thing for so long. It meant addressing my dishonesty with myself, my sense of failure, the sense of letting people down. It meant noticing the friends I’d had and lost when I drifted away from that world and the hurt that came from realizing that they didn’t seem to have missed me at all. But then it felt really good to be able to just hand those books over to the Friends of the Library for their sale and get all those old reminders out of my house. Clearing out the To-Be-Read books I will never read has made it easier for me to see and keep track of the books I might read, the more recent fantasy books I’m getting at conferences now, the ones I carefully choose out of all the ones in my tote bag.

Meanwhile, I’m going through my bookcases and rearranging the shelves, which means sorting through my old books, and I’m trying to be honest with myself about whether I’ll really re-read something, whether having that book makes me happy or whether it’s just taking up room on my shelf. I know I’ll end up with many times more than 30 books, but I think I’ll be much happier when the books on my main shelves are all things I’ve read, loved, and want to read again and when the To-Be-Read shelves are manageable enough that I don’t feel oppressed by them. I think that’s all Marie Kondo seems to be trying to teach people, so maybe we could ease off on the cries of “monster!”