Dickens, Drama, and Ideas

I’ve now reached the point in the recovery from my cold in which I want to get back to normal activity but am not quite there yet and am getting frustrated by what I don’t feel up to doing. It seems like it’s been forever but, really, this is just the fifth day from the very beginning of symptoms, and I didn’t start feeling really bad until late in that first day. I’m perfectly on target — maybe even ahead of schedule — for this sort of thing.

I’ve watched enough movies and miniseries based on Dickens novels that I think I could write a decent paper analyzing themes and parallels among the major works. I’ve also developed a turning point theory about the production values in British costume dramas. There’s a definite change in the mid-1990s from a more “stagey” approach, in which most scenes are interiors with sets that look like they could have been used on a stage, to a more natural, cinematic style, like we see today, where the sets make you wonder if they are sets or if they used locations, and there are a lot more exterior location scenes. I have a feeling the big 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation had something to do with that. Now I wonder if anything’s been written about the topic.

But I finally maxed out on watching costume dramas yesterday, and when I couldn’t seem to stay awake enough to do anything but couldn’t fall asleep when I tried to nap, I watched Tangled for a complete change of pace. Watching a movie I just about have memorized while lying in bed in the dark almost seemed to count as a nap. And it also sort of counted as “work” because it was when I saw this movie in the theater that I had the first spark of an idea for the book I’m researching now. The actual story has very little to do with Tangled, but there was something in it that clicked with an idea fragment that had been floating around in my head, and that made me realize what I could do with that idea fragment. Now, years later, I’m finally ready to dig into that idea and start writing it.

I didn’t write it back when I came up with the idea because I was in the process of drafting Rebel Mechanics. I did have a moment or two of Shiny New Idea Syndrome, when I was tempted to drop the current project and start playing with this new idea, but I wrote down what I knew at the time (which wasn’t much, it turned out) and went back to work on what I was doing. In the years since then, I’ve had time to do research and develop this idea further, so it’s going to be a much better book now than it might have been then. Getting sick just seems to have accelerated the development process, since I haven’t been able to think clearly enough to do revisions or work on anything else. Not thinking clearly is great for brainstorming and free-associating, when you’re not yet to the point of having to come up with structure or plot logic.

But I think today I might dive back into revisions. I’m feeling better, just tiring easily, and I actually want to work, which is a positive sign. Or possibly means I’m dying.

Books

Weird Meta-Fiction

I’m still not back to 100 percent, but I have reached the point of illness at which I’m annoyed about not feeling up to doing things and the state of the house is bothering me (when I’m really sick, I’m too sick to care). Thinking is also kind of a challenge. I’m okay at absorbing information, but creating things takes more energy than I really have. Which means research reading!

I realized yesterday that I was reading an entire book to research a part of a character’s backstory that happens when he’s too young to remember it. So that means it’s probably going to be entirely offstage, unless he runs into someone who was there who can tell him about it. But I feel like having credible details might help at some point.

And I just thought of how it might apply to the present in the story, so maybe I’m not just over-researching minor details.

Anyway, I’ve also done some fiction reading, including an odd little book called The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet. It’s basically an author’s wildest dream and biggest nightmare.

An award-winning young adult novelist is facing a career crisis when his latest book flops and his agent informs him that she can’t sell another one of his books about troubled teenage boys. But she could sell an epic fantasy. That what editors are demanding, and she might have hinted to one that he’s working on that sort of book. The problem is, he’s never even read that sort of thing. He checks a bunch of books out of the library, and he hates them. He’s sure he could do better, but he can’t think of any ideas. After an afternoon of drowning his woes in the pub, he pauses in his stagger home by the local standing stones, where he falls asleep and dreams a fantasy novel, complete with narrative. When he still remembers it upon waking, he hurries to write it down. It’s like transcribing rather than writing, it’s so easy. But then he reaches the end of the part he dreamed and has no idea what happens next. That’s when he’s approached by a strange little man — the narrator of the story — who offers to give him the rest of the story if he’ll help in a quest to retrieve an amulet of great power that’s been lost in this world. It seems easy enough, but then he needs a sequel …

As an author, I feel somewhat judged/targeted by this book, though I have the reverse situation, where what I want to write is fantasy and I’ve had editors ask if I can do a non-fantasy contemporary YA, but I don’t really like reading that and I have zero ideas. No mysterious teens have appeared in my life to dictate their stories to me, though.

I would say that this is an interesting read, but it’s not necessarily fun. The main character is a real jerk, so I have mixed feelings about what’s happening to him. It goes to some pretty dark places. I’m not sure what the author is trying to say about fantasy. I got this one in the goody bag at either the Nebula weekend or the World Fantasy convention, so I suppose it’s classified as fantasy, but it also gets in a lot of snark about fantasy. I can spot some of the things he’s mocking, and I don’t entirely disagree, but at the same time, I feel a bit judged about my reading taste.

The thing that I find interesting is the concept that a fantasy novel might be the real history of events in some other place — and you may or may not be able to trust the person telling the story. We’re used to thinking of the primary viewpoint characters as the protagonists, the good guys, but is that just because we’re seeing things from their perspective? As a writer, I’ve had a few books that felt like I was transcribing dictation. I didn’t feel like I had to make many decisions or figure out what to do next. I just typed the words that were flowing. Were those being fed to me by some other dimension?

I suppose you could say I recommend this if you’re intrigued by meta fiction and have read enough fantasy to get the satire. I’m not sure how this would play to anyone else. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be keeping my copy.

Sick Day

I came down with a cold-like illness this weekend, so it was pretty much a couple of days of lying on the sofa or on the bed, watching British costume dramas. The worst of the cold symptoms are over. My voice is sort of back and my throat doesn’t hurt anymore, but I’m a little feverish and tired, so I’m taking a sick day. I’ve got a convention this weekend, so I really need to be back to 100 percent by Saturday.

All those costume dramas were actually somewhat work-related because they feed into my worldbuilding. I’ve been getting imagery. But I might be getting a little burned out on Dickens. I need something a little lighter for a change.

I’m wishing I had the adapter that would let the Roku work on my bedroom TV (the HDMI port is in a bad spot where the stick won’t fit). I finally connected the old DVD player to that TV, so I can watch anything I have on DVD (but not Blu-Ray). As cheap as Blu-Ray players are, I may get a “smart” one that connects to Wi-Fi, and that way I can stream stuff in the bedroom. Then again, I very seldom watch TV from bed. Only when I’m sick. So I’m not sure that this is a major necessity. It’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t even use most of the time, but when I want it, I really wish I had it.

I’m hoping this is my one big cold for the year and I’m getting it out of the way early. I’ve already had my flu shot, and we’ll hope that will prevent anything else nasty. I just hate being sick when it’s warm and sunny. That feels all wrong. It’s far better to be sick when it’s cold and rainy. Then it feels good to drink tea and snuggle under a blanket while watching British costume dramas.

The Last Few Chapters

It’s Friday, and I’ve almost finished this round of revisions, though the part that’s left is the hard part, the last few chapters when I was just tearing through, so I know it’ll need a lot of work. I may or may not get that done today. Maybe today will be a read-through and a planning of what I need to do. What I really want to do is go to the library and get more reference books for that other project, but I must make good choices.

I’d already done a lot of restructuring and rewriting on the rest of the book, so revising hasn’t been that bad. I’ve just had to add detail and emotions. I think I’m on the right track for the last few chapters, but I need to amp them up a bit, putting some meat on the story bones, so to speak. The trick is to force myself to do it slowly without getting impatient. My last chapters always need a lot of work because I get so impatient and excited that I rush through them, and then on revision rounds I’m usually eager to just get this book over with.

I’m actually a little curious (and worried) about what I’ll find when I reread these chapters. Me writing the last few chapters of a book is something like those hypothetical million monkeys at typewriters who might accidentally churn out Shakespeare. I’m just frantically typing, and there’s no telling what might come out. About all that I remember is that there was a dragon. I think. I seem to have been working in an out-of-body experience.

So, off to see what the last chapters hold for me.

writing

Research vs. Revision

There are some dangers to being in research mode on one project and revision mode on another. I’m not overly crazy about revision. Sometimes it’s fun to take something that’s not so great and take it to the next level, but usually it’s just plain tedious. The excitement of discovering the story is over and there’s often a deadline looming. It’s very easy to fall into a zombie-like state and realize you don’t even remember what you’ve just been reading.

That’s why I’ve been breaking up revision sessions with research sessions. I work on a chapter, which is about as much as I can deal with before I find myself getting lazy, then I spend half an hour or so reading a reference book. Except sometimes the time gets away from me because I LOVE research. What I’m reading right now is history, which is something I love. I would have majored in history in college, but I wasn’t sure what kind of job I could get with that degree (and I needed to find a job to support my goal of writing novels). I probably ended up with an informal minor in history because almost all of my electives related in some way to history.

To me, reading a book on history is almost as much fun as reading a novel. For the book I’m researching, I’m drawing upon multiple historical periods. One is one I know a lot about, so I’m mostly looking for new insights and details that are pertinent to the world I’m building. One is a period I’ve done some research in and am interested in, but I still have a lot more to learn. And one is a period I know next to nothing about, but it’s fascinating to learn. I hadn’t even thought about drawing upon this period, but I was watching a documentary that I hoped would touch upon one of the other periods I was researching, and it brought up a lot of information about this other time, and I realized how relevant it was to the story I had in mind.

If I do my job correctly, readers may recognize bits and pieces in my world that are relevant to our real world, but it will still be a new and interesting place. Building a world is a lot of fun, imagining their history and culture, thinking about what it looks like, what people wear, what they do, what they eat, and so forth. This will be a true “secondary world” in that it’s not set in our world in any way, though it is based on things from our world (since that’s the only world I’ve lived in). It’s a story idea that’s been lurking in my head for years, and it’s finally jumping up an down and demanding attention.

But first, I have to finish revising this book. In between research sessions.

Busy Time

Children’s choir starts again tonight, so I guess I’m on my full fall schedule now. I have no idea how many kids I’ll have this year, but I had this age group for music and art camp this summer, and unless a whole bunch of new kids I don’t know show up, I may swing back to having more girls than boys this year. I know of maybe 4 or 5 kids who are very likely to be there, and all but one are girls. I should also keep my twin streak going — I’ve had a set of twins every year for the past four years (though a couple of those years the kids were very intermittent in attending, and last year’s set of twins dropped out early in the year). I’ll probably have to adjust my teaching style because a class of mostly girls works very differently in kindergarten than a class of mostly boys.

This means it’ll be a short workday for me today. I’m revising one book and researching another, using the research as a break between revision stints so I don’t start zoning out. When I reach the point of thinking “whatever” instead of really thinking about how to fix it, I switch over to reading reference books. I’m probably hitting overkill on the research, but I’m building a new world, so better to have too much input than too little. Since I’m working on something else at the moment and not ready to start writing, it’s not as though I’m using research as a procrastination tool. The world I’m working on is taking elements for several parts of history, which means a lot of reading. A couple of the areas are things I’m already interested in and have read a lot about, but then there are some new things that I didn’t know a lot about but that may turn into a serious interest.

And it’s interesting how many parallels I keep finding for the present no matter what part of history I’m studying.

Yes, this is something new. I want to find a new publisher, and to do that, I need to have something new to offer. They aren’t interested in a series that was started by a different publisher. I will still continue on the series I have in progress, but it takes a long time to go through the submission process and get a book published, so I want to get this going, and then I can go back to my other things while I wait. And this is why I can’t devote a whole day to going through my closets right now.

Seeking Order

Longtime blog readers may have noticed that I have a bit of an obsession with organization. I’ve come to realize that I’m actually kind of a neat freak, but I’m also lazy and have bad habits, so I’m also a bit of a slob. Plus, I’ve lived in my house for more than 20 years, and before that I had moved every 1-4 years throughout my whole life, so I have no clue how to purge and deep clean a house without moving. I never lived anywhere long enough that this became an issue. I would love to live in a house that’s basically like a hotel room, with no clutter and perfectly clean. I think that’s part of why I love hotels so much. I unpack and put everything away, and I tidy my stuff before I leave for the day, then when I return it’s been cleaned.

I’ve been working on getting my house in order, and it’s been a long-term work in progress. The one bit of organization that’s really stuck was when I got my dresser and my t-shirt collection dealt with last summer, and I did that based on an article about the “KonMari” method. When I found Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Things Up, in the library, I thought I’d take a look.

She definitely goes against some of the conventional wisdom, like saying it’s better to do it all in one day than to try to do it gradually, a little at a time. Then again, doing it gradually hasn’t really stuck for me and the thing I did all at once has. I think the trick is to cut the overall project into chunks that can be done in one day. Otherwise, you may be doomed. There was a time when I’d been watching too much home improvement TV and decided to “Clean Sweep” my office, putting everything in boxes and getting it out of the room, then starting over from there. I was digging through boxes to find stuff for years and the office was soon a mess again. But there is some sense to doing a category of things all at once because it will never stay tidy and organized if you don’t have a place to put everything, but you won’t have a place to put everything without doing a good purge.

I don’t have time right now to stop everything and devote a whole day to cleaning out my closet or book collection, so I’m tentatively planning to tackle the closet when I do the seasonal changeover, probably in November. By then, I should have some urgent projects off my plate. But I can also do some preliminary purging along the way — if there’s something I know I don’t want or need, I can get rid of it now.

She has a few things that are way too hardcore, even for me, like putting your bookcase in your closet. Even if I purged clothes and books to a minimum, I wouldn’t be able to fit my bookcase in my closet. And there are some things that seem like overkill, but make some sense when you think about it. Like, she says she unpacks her purse when she comes home each day. She has a designated spot for each item in her purse, and she puts things like receipts and business cards in her office to deal with, then wipes down and puts away her purse. The next day, she chooses the purse she wants and packs it. I think if you leave the house every day and go to the same place where you need the same things, that would be excessive, especially if you stage everything at night so you can grab and go in the morning — you’d be unpacking your purse just for a few hours. Maybe a Friday-night unpacking would work. But for someone like me, where I leave the house just a few times a week and go different places, it makes some sense. Then the things I carry with me would be intentionally chosen for that outing, and it would eliminate the purse full of old tissues, old receipts, and stale cough drops. Or, she says not to store shampoo or other product bottles in the bath or shower, not even in those shower caddies. Instead, store them in the cabinet, take out the ones you need for each bath or shower, then wipe them down and put them away after the bath/shower. That seems a bit much, but I guess it wouldn’t take much time, and it makes the shower easier to clean without working around those bottles, where mildew and mold tend to build up.

We’ll see if I can actually get and keep things in order this time. I’ve told myself that when I get the house organized and decluttered, I can start getting a monthly cleaning service. That’s enough to get the regular deep cleaning taken care of and since I’m the person who’ll clean for the maid, it would force me to tidy at least once a month. And then, theoretically, I would be more productive. But first, I have some things I need to finish writing.

Books

Fixing a Classic

I’m still on a reading roll, and I found a book that I think those who love — or hate — Jane Eyre are sure to love, My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (the authors of My Lady Jane). This is an alternate history/alternate universe take on Jane Eyre that’s part spoof, part “fix,” and I had so much fun with it.

In this universe, the Duke of Wellington runs a “ghostbuster” type organization that captures troublesome ghosts. Jane Eyre can see and talk to ghosts, so she’s an attractive recruit for this organization. Unfortunately, she claims to have her heart set on being a governess and isn’t interested. This stance baffles her friend, Charlotte Bronte, who thinks this sounds far more exciting than being a governess. Charlotte would really like a job with the ghostbusters, and she thinks maybe she can prove her value if she can recruit Jane to their cause. She and a handsome young ghostbuster team up to infiltrate a house party at Thornfield Hall, where they soon learn that not all is as it seems.

This is theoretically a YA book, but I think adults who are familiar with (and have an adult perspective on) Jane Eyre will like it even more than teens do. In spite of being a sendup of the original novel that makes the author a character in it and adds ghosts, it’s surprisingly true to the original book. After reading this, I was inspired to rewatch the 2006 British miniseries version (to me, the definitive version), and I kept giggling when we got to scenes I remembered from this book. In a lot of respects, all the wacky stuff could be seen to be what’s going on behind the scenes of the original story, not necessarily changing most of the actual events (well, until later in the story). It may now be hard for me to read/watch Jane Eyre without imagining the ghost of Helen there to make remarks that only Jane can hear.

As in My Lady Jane, there are loads of pop culture references (including a whole scene that’s a fun take on The Princess Bride) and commentary on social mores of that era. These books are just the thing if you want to laugh and you want to fix literature or history to make it come out better. I don’t know if there are any other Janes whose lives they’re planning to improve, but I sure hope so.

movies

Favorite Romantic Comedies

Thinking about a romantic comedy revival has got me in the mood for watching that sort of thing, though I also seem to get in that mood in the fall. It’s going to be a rainy weekend, so it may be time for a film festival. I’ve been making my mental list of favorite romantic comedies that work on both the comedy and the romance side, trying to decide what I want to watch, so I thought I’d share.

From the “classic” era:
It Happened One Night — I love a road trip story, and this one is funny and romantic. It manages to simmer with sexual tension in spite of being conspicuously chaste (hanging the “Walls of Jericho” in the shared motel room).

The Philadelphia Story — One of my all-time favorite movies, full of witty lines and sparkling character interaction. Loses some points on the romance front, as the most romantic scenes are between characters who don’t end up together, but still, all those scenes between Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn just sizzle.

From the late 80s-90s “golden age”:
When Harry Met Sally … — a friends-to-lovers story that really works. This may be the reason I associate romantic comedies with fall (even though it came out in the summer), since there are a lot of gorgeous scenes of New York in the fall.

While You Were Sleeping — I have to ration watching this one because for some odd reason it makes me cry hysterically. I think it triggers abandonment issues, or something. But I think it does a great job of making an outrageous premise work.

Hope Floats — I need to get this one on DVD because it’s a good “cozy” movie for me. (Incidentally, this screenwriter was the one who wrote the now-defunct Enchanted, Inc. screenplay that I would dearly love to get my hands on, just so I could see what he did with it.)

The Very Thought of You — this one’s a little more obscure, but it does some interesting things with structure, telling the same story from different perspectives until we can piece together what was really going on. I can understand why Joseph Fiennes made the career choices he did, but it’s kind of a pity he backed off from playing romantic leading men because he’s wonderful in this.

The last trickle before the Dark Ages (2000 on)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day — I love this movie so much. It’s like a throwback to the classic screwball comedies (probably because it’s based on a book from that era) but with a modern edge.

The Holiday — to be honest, I like this one more for the Christmas setting and the life-swap fantasy. The romance doesn’t entirely work for me. I enjoy the romantic scenes and the way the relationships build, but I don’t really believe these people made it work after the closing credits. Still, I watch this just about every year a couple of nights before Christmas.

Stardust — I know it’s not classified as a romantic comedy, but it’s an incredibly funny movie with a bickering couple who gradually falls in love along the way. Basically, it’s a gender-flipped (since he’s the one trying to get back to the woman he thinks he loves) It Happened One Night with magic and the road trip is through a fantasy realm.

There are a number of movies that I like, but not as romantic comedies. I love The Princess Bride, but the romance takes place almost entirely offscreen, so it doesn’t scratch the romance itch. I love Enchanted, but that romance really doesn’t work for me (I guess I’m Team Prince). I kind of lose interest in the movie after the big Central Park musical number. Sliding Doors is one of my favorite movies, but the romance isn’t the reason why, and it’s not really what I would consider a comedy.

And there are lots more movies that I like okay but that I wouldn’t put on a favorites list. These are the ones I can watch over and over again and still enjoy.

Books

Still More Reading

I’ve got another book to talk about that I forgot about because I read it just before I got sidetracked by vacation: How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig.

I’d classify this one as mainstream literary fiction with speculative fiction elements. The plot is very sf/f, but I think it’s executed in more of a mainstream way, though I can’t quite put my finger on why I say that. I just think a fantasy author would have given us a very different book based on this premise and with this plot. When I describe it, you’ll think science fiction (or maybe fantasy), but the book itself isn’t quite what you might expect from that description if you’re a science fiction/fantasy reader. If that makes sense.

The main character has a condition that means he ages very slowly. It’s sort of the opposite of the disease that makes children age so rapidly that they die of old age in childhood. I think maybe one of the things that makes this more mainstream than sf is that it never really gets into what causes this — is it something scientific like a mutation or something magical? The main character is more than 400 years old, but he only looks about 40. He works for an organization designed to keep this condition a secret and protect the people who have it from being turned into scientific experiments or from any kind of persecution. In exchange for going on the occasional mission to determine if a person has the condition and to bring that person into the fold to keep it secret — or possibly deal with threats to exposure, if necessary — he gets the funding and documentation he needs to live a reasonably normal life somewhere for about eight years, which is the length of time someone can generally go before the lack of aging becomes obvious.

The story flashes back to various points in his history, including his youth, before he realized what was happening to him and he made the mistake of getting married — they were two young people getting married, but after years went by, it looked like a middle-aged woman married to a teenager. Worse, that was a period of witchcraft scares, and not aging looked awfully suspicious. In the present, he’d really just like to have a normal life. It gets lonely not being able to maintain a relationship with someone who isn’t like him for more than eight years. He thinks he has a daughter somewhere out there who’s like him (he had to separate from his family because of that witchcraft thing), and he’d like to find her.

This was a fairly quick read, and it was quite engrossing and fascinating. I love history, so I enjoyed visiting the various time periods. I did have a bit of cognitive dissonance as a Doctor Who fan, since old person who looks young and doesn’t seem to age, bouncing around in time, reads to me as Time Lord, and so I kept expecting him to recognize major events that were about to happen. Then I remembered that it was only the story that was bouncing around in time. He’d actually experienced these events the slow way, in the proper order (as the Doctor would say).

There were jacket blurbs swooning about how romantic the book was, but as a former romance author who tends to write things with romance in them, I didn’t find it that romantic. It’s Guy Literary Romance, which is basically a young woman being fascinated with a middle-aged (looking) man. So, if you’re looking for something deeply romantic, this won’t scratch that itch.

I’d say this is a great choice if you want to sneak something science fiction or fantasy into your book group that isn’t normally into that sort of thing. It’s also a fun read for Doctor Who fans, if you want to imagine the main character as a Time Lord. It sounds like I’m not really praising it, but I did like it. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed from expecting it to be something that it really isn’t. And now I’d kind of like to try writing the book that I expected this to be. Because I need more story ideas to add to the list.