Archive for February, 2020


It looks like the Kickstarter for that anthology has funded, so I’ll have my first published short story (aside from the ones I published myself relating to the Enchanted, Inc. world). I need to try writing more of those because I think it’s a good exercise, and it’s a good way to get my name out to new readers (and get paid for doing so), assuming I can sell them. You can still get in on it through Feb. 29 if you want to get the various rewards. If not, you can get the book when it’s published.

I’m really, really close to finishing the draft I’m working on. I should hit my target word count today, but there will still be more story to go, so I may write the ending next week instead of rushing through it to hit some arbitrary deadline. Rushing something and then having to take longer in revisions will probably end up taking longer than taking a day or two more to write a good ending.

I still have that journalistic instinct of doing whatever it takes to hit a deadline. It’s even worse for me because I worked in TV news, so there’s no such thing as “a little late.” We went on the air at six, whether or not the stories were done, so they had to be done. If you’ve seen the movie Broadcast News, in which a character has to run an obstacle course through the office to get the tape to the control room just in time for that story to go on the air, I’ve actually done that. It wasn’t my story that came down to the wire. I was just the intern they made run the tape. But there was no obstacle course. When they had a tape being run, they’d shout to clear the halls, and then people stayed out of the way so the intern had a clear path.

I suppose that’s obsolete now that everything’s digital. They can send the story with the push of a button, and it’s instantly ready to go on the air. No intern standing over the editor’s shoulder in the edit bay, ready to grab the tape as soon as it comes out of the editing machine while people shout, “Clear the hall!”

Anyway, I seem to still have that mentality about writing deadlines, even if I set them myself. It’s good to be prompt and to hit deadlines, but in publishing it’s not that tight. They can deal with books being weeks late (in fact, they plan on authors being at least a few weeks late). A few minutes won’t kill them.


Grown-up Kindergarteners

Last night, I had a real “wow, I’m getting old” experience. I was in charge of the combined preschool and kindergarten choirs because the preschool teacher was out of town. One of her teen helpers, who’s 13, just sort of jumped in and took over the class, which was fine with me. I had some things planned, but when she got there, she started writing out a lesson plan on the whiteboard, listing the things they usually do every week.

I couldn’t help but remember that I had this girl in my choir when she was in preschool and kindergarten. When she was in kindergarten, she was really bad about trying to take over the class. She thought of herself as the assistant teacher, in part because she was so much taller than the other kids, almost as tall as I was (now she towers over me). It was a constant battle to remind her that she was one of the students, and sometimes she could be a class leader, but everyone else also got a turn. But at the same time, I didn’t want to crush her confidence because when she was in preschool, she had been very shy and timid (I think she was getting bossed around and bullied by a friend in preschool, but they ended up going to different elementary schools, so she had a sudden confidence surge in kindergarten), but at the same time, I couldn’t let her take over the class.

Now, here I was, encouraging her to take over and letting her take charge. When there was something on her plan that I didn’t want to do, I skipped it and did my own thing, but I did go along with her general outline. And she was good about jumping in and coming up with something to do when we had technical difficulties (I couldn’t get the CD player to work at one point, so I was finding sheet music for the pianist to play). I know (because I’m friends with her mom) that she still struggles a bit socially at school and tends to get bullied (girl bullied, which is more about exclusion than physical threats), so it’s good for her to have a place where she can fit in and be confident, and the kids love her. There’s one little girl who’s super shy and hides in the corner, but then this girl comes in and she suddenly comes out of her shell and participates.

My babies are growing up. And sometimes I think the youth helpers benefit as much as the little kids do.

publishing business

Finding a Category

I’m running behind schedule today because I ended up having to do a massive brain dump to get a bunch of stuff out of my head and on paper so it wouldn’t end up swirling around in my head and distracting me. I have a lot of thoughts about how books are marketed and sold that have maybe led me to realize what some of my problems have been, and they filled about four sheets of paper once I started writing. I’m not sure I prevented the distraction, though, because those realizations have spurred more thoughts.

One thing that’s frustrated me about publishers is that they only seem to know how to sell a book if there’s already something like it in the market. Something new and entirely different is a scary unknown, and they don’t know how to put it in their spreadsheets. Most of my books come from a place of writing the thing I want to read but can’t find, which means they’re really hard to sell. It would have to be something the publisher is utterly passionate about so that they’d put in the work it takes to create a new category.

I thought that independent publishing would get me out of that problem because I could publish what I want, without needing to look at comparable titles. However, there’s still that problem of knowing how to package and market something new. Readers usually discover a book by seeing it, and the cover tells you pretty quickly what kind of book it is. Categories are even more important online for discoverability. It’s not like going into a physical bookstore and going to the science fiction and fantasy section. You can slice and dice it into sub categories, which is good when there are zillions of books available and you want to focus on just what you want, but it’s bad when what you want (or what you’re writing) doesn’t neatly fit into any category.

I seem to write stuff that’s potentially commercial but not marketable. I came up with the idea for the Enchanted, Inc. series because I liked the Harry Potter books and wanted something like that for adults — quirky and whimsical and dealing some with the clash between the magical world and the real world. I had a corporation instead of a school and dealt with workplace issues instead of school issues, but there was still the struggle of personal life vs. fighting magical evil while trying to keep the magical world a secret. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, given the massive numbers of adult Harry Potter fans and the younger fans who’d grown up. There had to be a huge potential readership. But I can see how marketing it was a challenge. The Harry Potter books may have been popular for adults, but they were packaged as children’s books (there were “adult” editions in the UK — I have two of them — but they had arty black-and-white photography covers that I like but that wouldn’t have sold the books if they hadn’t already been wildly popular in other forms). They couldn’t really package my books like that and hit the right audience. They were contemporary fantasy set in a city, but they weren’t urban fantasy as was being published around that time. There was no established way to package those books that would signal what they were to the audience that would like them, so they threw them into the chick lit category, where there was a defined look, and did some marketing to fantasy readers and paranormal romance readers. But then when the chick lit market tanked, it took these books with it, even though by then they weren’t really chick lit. There was still no good fantasy category for them.

I’ve been considering trying some advertising for these books, but I can’t think of what audiences I would use to build a campaign. Adult fans of Harry Potter would be too broad (and expensive) a category. The closest comparison in adult fantasy I can think of might be the Dresden Files books, but those are a lot darker. There probably is some audience overlap, but I’d guess that most Dresden Files readers would see my books and be instantly turned off (I’ve had some amusing conversations about the similarities and differences between our books with Jim Butcher). Some paranormal romance readers like my books, but that category tends to go really sexy, and my books aren’t truly romances. Really marketing my books would require either a huge investment or a big stroke of luck. I think a publisher could have done it, but for whatever reason they were turned off by the idea of any comparison to Harry Potter, even the idea of pitching it as Harry Potter for adults. Publishers hate using major bestsellers that are a category unto themselves as comparable titles, and they really don’t like going to another category. In their mind, those were children’s books and mine was in the adult category, and never the twain shall meet. The next Harry Potter could only be a children’s book.

I think the solution to my issue may be going after a more defined category with an established readership, building a name and audience there, and seeing if I can drag them into other things I want to write. So this mystery thing may be a clever strategy.


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I seem to be back in my usual creative pattern, which means I spend the day writing, then just as I start to fall asleep at night, I realize that I did something wrong or went in a wrong direction with what I wrote that day. In the morning, I think about it, figure out that the realization was right, then have to scrap a lot of what I wrote the day before.

Except last night I went back several scenes to work I did more than a week ago (though they were scenes I revised yesterday). I don’t think it will end up killing too much, just shifting some things around a bit, and it definitely makes the story more interesting. I didn’t get that much done yesterday because I kept getting interrupted, then I had to go to the library and went to vote while I was at it (since the polling place is at the library), and then I had a meeting last night. Today I got a late start because I slept a little later after getting home late last night, but I have nothing to do other than write, so I hope I can make some forward progress after I fix the thing I figured out.

And then as I fall asleep tonight, I’ll figure out what I did wrong today. But at least I’m fixing these things before I get too far into the book. It’s easier to scrap one scene now than to have to entirely rewrite the last half because I went in the wrong direction and didn’t fix it then. It’s also a good sign that my brain is engaged enough to be mulling these things over and coming up with new ideas. I was reading something related to an entirely different project when this idea popped into my head.

Someday, maybe I’ll be able to figure out the thing I need to do BEFORE I actually write the wrong thing.

Old Favorites vs. Something New

I got wild and crazy Friday night and watched something from my watchlist that I hadn’t seen before, and it was kind of a mistake that perfectly illustrated that new vs. old and comfortable dilemma. It wasn’t a bad movie. It just wasn’t what I really wanted at that time. It was something that looked like it might be a bit of a comedy. It had a great cast of familiar actors, most of whom do projects that tend to have a bit of quirkiness to them. It even started out looking like it was going to be funny. And then it went off into bummer land — not really outright tragic, just low-level disappointment for all the characters and the kind of ending that in another movie might have been happy, except it was framed as being a letdown.

Fortunately, I wasn’t in a mopey mood, and I had too busy a weekend to get the blues. It just wasn’t the fun movie night I had in mind. When I’m in the kind of mood that requires uplifting, it’s generally best to go with something familiar so I know how it will affect me. I think that’s why there are so many movies I’ve never seen, books I’ve never read, but I keep rewatching/rereading old favorites. Sometimes you need something you’re guaranteed to love. I guess obscure arty films are always a big risk. I should keep that in mind. Period costumes aren’t a guarantee that I’ll like something (though they help).

I’m kind of thinking of rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this weekend. I’ve got multiple free nights in a row, and it’s been nearly ten years since I last watched any of it. I may even see if the library has the extended editions, since I’ve never seen those and I don’t have them on DVD. That’s “winter” viewing, and I’m about to run out of winter.

Movie Choices

One new habit I’ve developed after giving up cable has been Friday movie nights. There’s seldom anything on TV I want to watch on Fridays, and even though I don’t necessarily have a regular workweek schedule, I do like to treat Fridays like Fridays. I have a good-sized DVD collection that I seldom watch, and then there’s a lot of stuff available for streaming, so I can generally find something to watch.

That is, if I can decide on something. Sometimes there’s paralysis that comes with having too much choice. I’ll end up spending half the time scrolling through options, then end up picking nothing. I’m trying to choose things ahead of time so that at movie time I can just watch my choice.

But that choice is still hard. Right now, I’m caught up in playing with ideas for a fantasy world I’m building, so I’ve been watching a mix of fantasy movies and historical dramas. At the same time, sometimes I want to get entirely away from “work” and just watch something fun.

Last weekend, I did a mix. On Friday night, I watched Stardust, which is exactly the sort of thing I want to write. But then for Saturday night, I watched Cold Comfort Farm, an old favorite that I finally got on DVD.

I find there’s a big tug of war between wanting to choose something new and wanting to rewatch an old favorite. Rewatching means I know what I’m getting into, so I know I won’t be disappointed. My luck with new stuff has been hit or miss.

I need to decide if I want to get something off my very long Amazon watchlist tonight or if I want to dig out a DVD. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for tonight, comfort viewing or exploration. I do have a frozen pizza, so I’m ready for whatever I choose.

Brainy Girls

After my rant yesterday about the stereotypical TV bookish smart girl, I had my own moment last night when I started reading one of the books I got from the library that may help me in developing something I’m working on, and after reading the introduction, I actually said out loud, “Ooh, I’m going to learn so much from this.”

However, I feel like such a slacker because I only read well in one language. I could probably make out an article in Spanish, though a whole book might be a bit of a slog. I can deal with signs and restaurant menus in German, French, and Italian, and that’s about it. Despite what they show you on TV with the bookish person being able to read a foreign language because she likes books, that just hasn’t come up for me, and I generally read more than a hundred books a year.

It actually was more of a thing in the past, when there weren’t readily available translations, and someone had to do the actual translation. That wasn’t something a publisher would hire someone to do. It was generally something someone did for fun. The upper crust were taught multiple languages and could read, write, and converse in something like six languages. They have documents written by Elizabeth I as a child in which she did translations to and from French and Latin. It might have been a little less common for women to be educated like that, but there were enough cases of highly educated princesses that it wouldn’t have been that startling. The daughters of James I’s daughter did things like correspond with Descartes to discuss mathematics and philosophy.

Thinking about all this is giving me some good character ideas and some worldbuilding for some future fantasy novel.


Books on TV

A conversation I had the other day made me realize how oddly TV and movies portray readers. It’s pretty rare for a person to like books or be shown reading, and a person who likes books is treated almost like an alien species.

It’s an alien species with superpowers, though, because the person who likes books knows just about everything and can often read in multiple languages. There is no middle ground. You either don’t read at all and groan when asked to help with research to stop the latest threat or you love books, know everything, and can read anything. There’s nobody who’s like, “Do I have to help with the research now? They’re about to reveal the murderer in this mystery novel I’m reading.” Pure pleasure reading seldom exists. It’s almost all highbrow reference books or classics. Only the occasional SF/F-loving nerd reads anything just for fun.

And there’s just one book-lover per group. I’ve found that in real life, people tend to hang out with other people who have things in common. Most of my friends are big readers. We may all read different stuff, but we do all read and value books. I guess on these TV shows, these groups are brought together by a common goal. They have to team up to fight evil and might not have become friends if not for that, so maybe that explains the person whose life is books hanging out with people whose attitude is “ew, books.”

That makes me want to write an evil-fighting team that’s all people who like books, but they have different areas of expertise because they read different things.

I find it interesting seeing how one of pop culture’s big book lovers, Belle from the Disney Beauty and the Beast, is portrayed. In the cartoon version, and to some extent the Broadway version, she loves to read, but I don’t think she’s necessarily meant to be a super intellectual. Her favorite book seems to be a romance novel. She is the only reader in town, apparently, which is odd because there’s a bookstore in town that lends books to Belle. I’m not sure how a shop that lends books to its one customer manages to stay in business. In the live-action version, there’s no bookstore, just a local priest who has a shelf of books he’s willing to share. Belle reads Shakespeare in addition to that romance novel, and she seems to do some research and tinkering. When they used Belle on TV’s Once Upon a Time, she became the designated Loves to Read and Therefore Knows Everything character who can translate almost any language and is the go-to person in the group for research (that show’s version of Willow, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Oddly, there’s later a character on the show who’s an author, and yet I don’t think we ever see him reading anything. I don’t know any authors who never read.

Of course, sitting and reading is hardly the stuff of exciting drama, and fighting evil does mean less time to read, but there are ways to show that someone likes to read. They may carry a book around or have books on the nightstand or coffee table at home. They might be reading at the beginning of a scene when another character shows up and interrupts them. They might be reading in the background while other characters do stuff in the foreground. They might be in a bookstore or library when they get an urgent message and have to rush off to fight evil.

I think it’s different in books, which tend to be written by book people, so the characters are more likely to also be readers, and authors weave in mentions of books. Maybe TV writers are less likely to read, so they don’t get how it works.


Finding the Process

I think I’ve figured out my way forward in the book, though it requires backtracking a few chapters to make some adjustments to set up what happens later.

This probably needs to be built into any schedule I make going forward. I’m going to need a day midway through the book to review what I’ve done and plan the rest. I can count on that. It’s happened in almost everything I’ve written, no matter how much plotting I’ve done up front.

Figuring out your process is a big part of writing. There’s a lot of advice out there about how you “should” work, but it comes down to what works for you, and you need to take that into account when you make plans or set deadlines. You figure it all out by trial and error. Try something, see how it works for you, incorporate it into your process if it works, don’t worry about it if it doesn’t, but maybe keep it in your arsenal for when the time comes when it might work for you.

You might be an edit-as-you-go writer who does one draft, but that means each part is revised and rewritten along the way. You might be a fast draft writer who dashes off a quick draft, then spends a lot of time afterward revising, rewriting, and editing. You might be a plotter who has a scene-by-scene outline written before you write the first word. You might be a pantser who just starts writing and sees where that takes you. You may be somewhere in the middle, having a broad outline and sense of where the story might go, but figuring out each scene as you get there. It’s all good, as long as you end up with a book.

I seem to fall in the middle for everything. I do a lot of planning and plotting and still end up figuring the story out as I go. I write a fast draft, but I usually have to stop in the middle and backtrack before moving forward to the end, and then I do a lot of rewriting.

I do feel like the more time I spend thinking about a book before I start writing it, the better it goes. It’s like I need to write the mental fan fiction before I can write the book. I imagine all kinds of scenes with the characters, most of which will never make it into the book, but that helps me get to know the characters and their world, and that helps me figure out the story. If I skip that step and just start writing, it’s more difficult.

And, of course, as soon as I figure out a process that works for me, something changes and I have to adjust all over again. It’s a constant evolution.

writing life


I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on how I can turn this writing/publishing thing into a more viable business that meets my financial goals, and something I read last week was rather eye-opening. The author of the article said he was going to try to release a book every month, since that does something in the Amazon algorithms to give him higher visibility. He figured he could do that easily by writing 2,000 words a day.

I was immediately skeptical, since my typical writing day is 3-4,000 words a day, and I can’t begin to imagine writing 12 books a year. He was talking about a 40-50,000-word book, though, while mine tend to be at least 70,000. But I started doing math and realized that it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility for me to write three shorter mysteries in the 50,000-word range and three longer fantasies in the 70,000-word range a year at my typical writing pace, if I’m really diligent and consistent. That would only take 2-3 hours a day of actual hands-on-keyboard work. It would end up being about 3 weeks worth of drafting for a mystery and 4 weeks for a fantasy (which I have done before), so in total for three books each, that’s 21 weeks, less than half the year.

But that’s first drafts, and I tend to do a lot of research/preparation and a lot of rewriting. But that still gives me about a month per book for revision, and since it only involves a couple of hours a day of actual writing time, that allows the rest of the day for research and preparation on other projects.

So, not outside the realm of possibility. But I ran into something today that shows what kind of snags can arise. I realized as I was falling asleep last night that I’d made a wrong move in Friday’s writing that pretty much means that writing is useless and I need to start over at that scene and do something different, and when I woke up this morning I realized that it was true. Because I’d set a deadline for finishing this draft and going back to rework would mean either missing the deadline or really having to buckle down this week, for a moment I resisted the idea of rewriting, telling myself it was okay the way it was and I had some fun scenes. That’s a dangerous way to think because it means I’m putting an arbitrary deadline ahead of quality.

In the past when I’ve written a fast draft, I’ve become really optimistic about what I could produce if I kept up like that, and yet I never have managed to sustain it. I put in more hours last year than this schedule would entail, and I only drafted two books (plus did a couple of rounds of revisions on another and thoroughly revised two books, as well as developing and researching a book), so it’s not as though I’m slacking. I just don’t seem to have been all that productive with the work I’ve put in.

But it is an interesting idea, and I think I’m going to try to at least pretend to have this kind of production schedule for a while. Getting a lot of books out rapidly is a good way to build a name and a readership, and then once you’ve got a good backlist going, it starts to snowball.

And that means that now I have to figure out what I should do instead of the scene I wrote on Friday.