Archive for April, 2019

Dreams and New Ideas

We’re supposed to get nasty storms this afternoon, so this morning was my rush around doing errands before it starts storming time. Now I have groceries, medication and other supplies, and have filled up my car, so let it rain! (But preferably not hail.)

I think I’m making progress on my revisions. I got four chapters done yesterday and figured out a big shift I could make to make things flow better. Today may be slower since I’ve hit a part that needs more substantial rewriting. I’m actually kind of enjoying this because it’s making the book closer to the vision I had when I came up with the idea. I seem to have been in a slump when I was writing it because it mostly seems a bit flat. I’m adding a lot of emotion and oomph to it.

Meanwhile, I’ve come up with yet another idea. I was afraid I was going to have nightmares after the very intense thing that was on TV Sunday night, but instead I dreamed a new book that had nothing to do with that intense thing and maybe owed more to the PBS Les Miserables, which I didn’t watch until Monday night. It’s in a category people have asked me about writing but that I haven’t had an idea for, and now I have an idea. As usual, when I wrote down what I know, I had about two paragraphs (though if I dramatized it, I might have been able to write about five pages), but I’ve got a title, a main character, a rough sense of the situation and world, the inciting incident and opening scene, and a general sense of the core of the plot, plus a scene later in the book. And it all still made a lot of sense when I wrote it down. It wasn’t just a wacky dream of an idea that made no sense in the light of day.

I know it’s nowhere near ready to write because it’s not distracting me from my revisions, like a lot of shiny new ideas do. There will be research required, and I think maybe even a trip.

But first, I have to deal with the things currently on my plate.


When Your Characters are Too Smart

I’ve started on my book revisions, and I’ve noticed that there seems to be a common thread of problems in my writing lately, and that’s that I don’t let my characters make mistakes or be wrong. Their ideas tend to be right, and the things they try tend to work.

I guess I’m going too far in the other direction from trying to avoid one of my pet peeves, which is Idiot Plotting. That’s what I call it when the plot can only work if the characters are total idiots — they trust the obviously untrustworthy person, they go alone into the dark basement in a horror movie, they don’t take common-sense precautions. So, since I hate that as a reader/audience member, as a writer I try to avoid it. I make my characters make good decisions and show common sense. I also hate messing around — why waste a chapter with the character doing the wrong thing before they figure out how to do the right thing?

But I guess that can make for less interesting stories. I need to find ways to challenge my characters even while they’re being smart. They can trust the wrong person — but instead of that person being obviously shady, they can act like a person who should be trusted. If I make the scene interesting, I can have the characters try something and fail, but the failure gives them the idea for what to try next. After all, even Nobel Prize-winning scientists have a lot of failures on the way to their breakthrough discoveries. There may be factors they’re not aware of when they make their plans that can through a monkey wrench into them.

And I think I need to get over my own perfectionism and quit applying it to my characters.


Unbelievable True Stories

I’ve been on a nonfiction reading kick lately, reading a lot of history and biographies, and some of them are as gripping as any novel.

The one I just read was something I stumbled on in the library when I was looking for something else, and it reads like the kind of historical fiction in which the author’s fictional main character somehow manages to be present for every major historical event in that time period and meets all the major historical figures. Except, this is all true and it’s very well-documented.

The book was Dancing to the Precipice by Caroline Moorhead, and it’s about a woman named Lucie de la Tour du Pin. She’s not famous and she didn’t do anything to alter history, but she lived during interesting times and was in a position to interact with a lot of the major players. She wrote a memoir of living through this time, which was discovered and published by a descendant about fifty years after she died, but there are also extensive letters between her and other people, letters about her, and there’s a lot of documentation relating to her husband’s position, so it’s pretty certain that she didn’t make it all up in her memoir.

She grew up during the Enlightenment in France and as a child went to the various Paris salons where the great thinkers shared their views. As a teenager she was a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. She was at Versailles the day the “fishwives” raided the palace. She was in a rather awkward position for the French Revolution because she was an aristocrat with ties to the royals, but her husband and father had both fought in the American Revolution and had what were considered radical ideas about democracy. That made all the factions hate them. She and her family ended up having to flee to America during the Terror, and lived on a farm near Albany, where they became good friends with Alexander Hamilton and his family. Later, when they returned to France, her husband ended up as a prefect for Napoleon, and her half-sister married Napoleon’s aide de camp, so she interacted with Napoleon quite a bit (and once even bullied him into giving her husband a better position). When the royalty was restored, she ended up in that circle. They had to flee to Belgium when Napoleon returned from exile, and she was at the infamous ball the night before the battle of Waterloo. Oh, and she also knew the Duke of Wellington from when he was an ambassador in Paris when she was a child and he attended those salons.

Really, if you made all this up, people would roll their eyes and not believe it. It’s fascinating reading. But when someone is born in 1770 in Paris and lives to be 83, she’s going to have experienced a lot. There were multiple revolutions in her lifetime. And her husband was basically Ned Stark (for the Game of Thrones fans), who was utterly incapable of playing games and who said what he thought and did what he believed was right, which meant he was often trusted to be put in positions of responsibility, but he also got into a lot of trouble when people schemed against him and he was incapable of dealing with it or when he spoke his mind at a bad time, and his wife often had to step in and fix things, including one time rushing to Paris to browbeat Napoleon.

This book is more of a biography, using the memoirs as a basis but also bringing in a lot of other sources, so it’s rather objective, but apparently the actual memoir is available on Project Gutenberg, and I may have to read it. Someone needs to make a movie or miniseries about this lady. Basically, it really is Cat and Ned Stark in the French Revolution and Napoleonic era.

Not Avenging

This is the first day this week when I don’t have anywhere to go and have no appointments. I have plenty to do, but I don’t have to do it on a particular schedule. And it finally stopped raining (for a few days) — wouldn’t you know, on the day when I don’t have to drive anywhere after spending the week driving in the rain.

One thing I’m not doing is going to the Avengers movie or avoiding spoilers about it. It’s not that I’m boycotting or against it, or anything like that. This isn’t one of those smug “I’m too cool to be into this thing that everyone else is excited about” things, though I will confess to some superhero fatigue/resistance. I’m just so far behind on movies that there’s no way I could watch all the movies (I think I saw that there are something like 22) I’d need to see to build up to it. I saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie and I saw the first Captain America movie on TV when I was watching Agent Carter and wanted the backstory (and I really wish they’d done more in the WWII era before moving it to the present), and I’ve seen past Spider-Man movies, though not the ones that fit into the current storyline. But I’m clueless about all the rest of the stuff involved.

When these movies first started coming out (with Iron Man, I think?), I didn’t bother because I’ve never been a big comic book reader and was entirely unaware of the character. And from there it started mushrooming, but by then I was so far behind and didn’t have the background on most of this stuff to jump in. Now it’s taking over everything — my pastor even referred to the upcoming movie in his Easter sermon — and I feel so behind.

So, maybe when that Disney streaming service gets launched and it has all the Marvel movies, I can finally get caught up and see them all in story chronological order and I’ll get what everyone’s talking about. But with more than 20 movies, at my current rate of getting around to watching movies, it’ll take me half a year to get through them all, and that’s if that’s all I watch.

Meanwhile, I’m watching all my friends freaking out and getting excited and feeling rather out of it. Fortunately, I’ve absorbed enough info about all this from my friends that I actually understand my pastor’s sermons when he makes Avengers references.

Scene Analysis

I spent much of yesterday doing a scene-by-scene outline of the book so I could remind myself of what I’d written. I can already see things I want to fix before I even start digging into my editor’s suggestions. I think most of this work is going to be fine-tuning and amping up some aspects. I’m still not sure how extensive it really will be.

Strangely, this process has made me feel better about the book I was working on because I’d just gone through this process with the parts I’d written of that book, and when I analyzed those scenes, there was so much more going on. I have scenes in this book that have very little purpose or that have the same purpose as several other scenes, so I either need to add stuff or combine scenes.

Meanwhile, tonight is my last real session of children’s choir. The kids sing Sunday, and then there’s a program next Wednesday night, but this is the last time I have to have any kind of plans. I’m not sure how many kids I’ll end up with because it’s a rainy day. Sometimes that means they’ve been cooped up all day and the parents want them out of the house, so we have a big group. Sometimes that means no one wants to go out in the bad weather, and we have a small group. Last week, there was a threat of severe storms (that didn’t actually happen) and I had two kids. So I guess I’ll wing it. But it will be nice having that one responsibility off my shoulders.

Which is good because I’ve got a lot of other responsibilities right now. So, off to work!

Switching Gears

It turns out that it’s a good thing I was in a regrouping mode on this book because I just got revision notes on my book for Audible, and I’ve got about a month to get those rewrites done. That’s going to require some abrupt gear shifting. At least I’m not interrupting any serious momentum. I’m going to have to reread the book because it’s been so long since I worked on it that I don’t even remember much about it. Which is good, in a way, because it means I’m not stuck on whatever I wrote before, so it’ll be easier to change it.

And doing these revisions may give me ideas for what I can do with other books. Every time I work with an editor, I learn something new that makes my writing better overall. I’m a bit weird in that I like revisions because I like feeling like I’m making the book better.

But this does mean I’ll be very busy for the next few weeks. I want to get the revisions done before I go to the Nebula weekend so I can then give it another pass and proofread afterward.

Now to go reread my book so I can remember it.

Risk and Drama

I made it through Easter weekend. I don’t have a lot of voice left, but I get a break this week because the choir isn’t singing Sunday. My children’s choir is, so I still have to deal with it, but I don’t have to use my voice (other than for scolding naughty kids). I’ve also already done the post-Easter Target chocolate run, and I seem to have been over-eager about that because the discount wasn’t yet in the system and the cashier had to do it manually.

Now for the rest of the day I need to settle in and get caught up on things. The to-do list is getting intimidating.

I’m still working out what the rest of this book needs to be, finding plot reasons for the “wouldn’t it be cool if …” scenes, working the new characters who’ve come up during writing into the already planned scenes. I think part of my problem is that my original plan didn’t actually have any conflict through most of the story, until we got near the end and found out what was really going on. I need to find a way to bring some of that conflict forward. That’s really tricky because I was kind of enjoying just going along and discovering things. I like low-conflict stories. Unfortunately, you can’t really sell those. I need to find a middle ground between “just enjoying this interesting place and these people” and “everyone is in mortal peril and the fate of the entire world is at stake.”

I actually had to put a book I was reading this weekend down because it was too much for me. The characters kept doing dumb things, sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes for Reasons (because the author needed it for the plot to work), and I just couldn’t take it. It didn’t help that a lot of the dumb things involved gambling, and for some reason, that’s a real hot button for me. I can’t deal with stories about gambling. I’m not sure why. I guess I just think it’s a huge waste of money. Gamblers enjoy it because they feel like they’re going to win and come out ahead, but I see it as you’re most likely to lose it all, so it’s not fun, and it’s stressful to read about. The book description did mention gambling, but I thought it was mostly the setup, and it turned out to be the core of the story.

Meanwhile, I suspect there will be a lot of stress knitting going on during next week’s Game of Thrones episode. I almost can’t bear to watch. I wonder if maybe I should wait and read spoilers and then watch so I can brace myself.

So, yeah, I need to moderate my risk aversion in order to get a good story, even if I don’t have to take it quite that far.


The Book in my Head

We dodged a bullet, weather-wise, yesterday. They were forecasting severe storms with baseball-sized hail, with one wave of it hitting during choir practice and the big wave hitting right at the time we’d be coming home from choir. They moved rehearsal earlier to try to avoid the big wave, and we just had to hope that the earlier wave would be more scattered. I only had two kids show up for children’s choir. We ended up not getting any of the earlier wave where I was, so I got home before there was any bad weather. The big wave seemed to be a lot slower than they expected and it wasn’t too severe by the time it hit us. Still, it was enough to wake me up when it hit just after midnight.

But that gave me a chance to think about the book. I’m currently struggling with a big disparity between the book that was in my head and the book I’m actually writing. The book I’m writing is probably better than what was in my head in a lot of respects. It has more conflict and more nuance and detail. But none of the scenes I had planned fit the story I’m writing. The big-picture plot is still good, but the scenes to carry out the plot no longer work.

I realized that when I was nearing the end of the scene I was writing and I didn’t know what would happen next, so I didn’t know how to end the scene. I went to look at my outline for the next few scenes, and none of them worked. I’d already dealt with some of the planned story beats, which eliminated some of the scenes, and there’s other stuff going on that I don’t have scenes planned for.

So that means I need to do a little regrouping today. I did figure out some things that can happen with the next scenes while I was being kept awake by thunder, but there’s some fine tuning to do.

Crunch Time

I’m coming up to a really busy phase. This weekend is Easter weekend, and I’ve got a lot of singing to do.

Meanwhile, I’m working on communications for the Nebula Awards weekend for SFWA, so I’m doing a lot of admin-type work, relaying info to people and coordinating things.

And I’m trying to get some writing done, making slow progress on the book as I try to figure things out. The book that comes into being once you start writing is often very different from the book that exists in your head before you start writing, and reconciling those two books is often a challenge. I’ve found that I have vivid scenes in my head that no longer fit into the book that develops once I’ve started writing. It takes some effort to find out how those scenes could fit. Sometimes, they have to go. They may be lovely, but they no longer have anything to do with the story.

I’m also still gradually working on clearing out and organizing my office. I’ve found actual floor area. It’s very exciting. I’ve also realized just how many books I have. I got my bookcases organized and even had some extra space — and then I found the boxes of books in my closet. Most of those books fall into the “to be read” category, so I need to start reading from the TBR pile more often. But at the same time, I’m trying to read more current books to stay on top of what’s being published. It’s a real dilemma. I think I’m going to ruthlessly cull the TBR books down to only those I have any interest in ever reading.

So, that’s my life until late May. The choir stuff will ease up after this weekend, and then I’ll finish children’s choir on May 1. I guess it’s just the next couple of weeks that are going to be super crazy. The office organization may have to move more slowly until things ease up. I just want to keep making progress.

Losing Beautiful Things

I had a really hard time concentrating yesterday after we got news of the Notre Dame fire. I kept checking the news to see what the status was. I’m so glad it wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed it might be. They’d already removed a lot of the sculptures on the roof and spire because of the renovations, the spire was from the Victorian era and not original, and they seem to have saved the main structure, the rose windows, and the bell towers, along with the organ and the art and relics. But still, the damage is heartbreaking and distressing.

I feel a little guilty that one of my first thoughts upon hearing the news was to be glad that I’d seen the cathedral for myself already, but I suspect I’d have felt worse if I’d never seen it and I knew I’d never get to see it.

When we lived in Germany, we took a day trip to Paris one Valentine’s Day. We caught a tour bus around midnight, drove through the night, arrived in Paris in time for an early breakfast, spent the day there, left after dinner, and got home around midnight. Our first stop after breakfast was the cathedral. It was daylight, but the disc of the sun hadn’t really come over the horizon yet, so it was that gray, flat kind of light. Then the sun came up fully while we were inside the cathedral, and it was like all those windows exploded with light and color. That was the memory that kept coming back to me yesterday while we were awaiting the news about how bad the loss might be.

The other thing I found myself thinking about, oddly enough, was the time travel books by Connie Willis. There’s a short story, “Firewatch,” about a time traveler trying to help save St. Paul’s during the Blitz, and then that comes up again in the novels Blackout and All Clear, which are also about the Blitz. The time travelers are from a future in which St. Paul’s was destroyed in a terrorist attack, so getting to see the cathedral still standing is meaningful to them when they travel in time. I was thinking about that yesterday, that there might be people in the future who wish they’d had a chance to see Notre Dame as it was.

Then there was all the stuff about the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in To Say Nothing of the Dog, with the time travelers realizing they could save the artworks and relics since they were lost to history. Now the future has them, and they’re rebuilding a replica of the cathedral, based on observations by time travelers. The book mentions the theory that it was actually the Victorian-era renovations that caused the cathedral to fall, that if it had been left alone it might not have been totally destroyed. I don’t know how accurate that is, but since a lot of the destruction at Notre Dame involved things rebuilt during the 19th century, I had to wonder.

But the cathedral has been rebuilt before, many times. It may have been started in the 12th century, but it’s been added to, damaged, and rebuilt over and over again over the years. I just hate to see beautiful things damaged and destroyed.