writing life


Oops, I totally forgot to post yesterday. I slept a bit late (well, more thinking than sleeping, but still, stayed in bed a long time), then went to the library, then got home and got sidetracked on the day’s to-do list and didn’t realize until late in the day when I got an e-mail about needing to approve comments (all spam) that I hadn’t done a blog post. I guess I didn’t have anything I was dying to say.

My brain has been on creative overdrive lately, and thus the lying in bed and thinking in the morning. I keep getting story ideas in dreams, and when I wake up, I have to rerun and ponder everything I remember from the dreams so I don’t forget them.

Last week, I dreamed a title — in the dream, I saw a book and was immediately insanely jealous that someone else came up with such a great title and story idea because I really wanted to write that story. I still remembered that title when I woke up and a bit about what the story was about. It wasn’t quite as brilliant as I thought it was in the dream, but it was still a potentially fun idea. I searched that title on Amazon and on Google, and it doesn’t seem as though anyone else has used it, so that’s one for the idea file.

This week, I had a rather vivid dream that was essentially a story — something about smuggling babies for a resistance movement as a way of helping their parents escape (infants aren’t conducive to stealthy escapes, so the parents had a better chance of getting away if someone else took their babies). The more I thought about it, the more I started to think there was a story there. Then last night, I had a more fleshed-out version of the same dream, with more details, even bits of narrative (it’s possible there was some semi-conscious brainstorming also going on, weaving in and out of the dream). I think I captured it all upon waking, but I really need to write it all down.

The thing is, creativity breeds creativity. That’s why writers are more likely to have more ideas than they can ever get around to writing than they are to run out of ideas. About midway through any book, you’re just about guaranteed to get a brilliant idea for something else. The more you write, think, and create, the more ideas you’ll have. You also start training your brain to find ideas. You’ll see ideas in anything you read, watch, or experience. It may be something totally out of the blue, like smuggling babies, or it may be what ifs based on something you’ve seen, going a different way with someone else’s plot or character until it becomes your own thing. And, eventually, you learn which if these ideas are likely to be viable and how to develop them into something you can actually write.


Spring Fever

Fall is my favorite time of year, but I’m developing an appreciation for spring, as well. I’m enjoying seeing the trees leafing out and the flowers blooming. I like weather that’s warm enough, but not too warm, for being outside while the nights are still cool enough for comfortable sleep. Now, if only we could do something about that wind.

The change in seasons brings with it a change of habits, but it’s a transitional time, so both habits might apply at the same time, or neither might apply. This came up in a conversation I had with the checker at the grocery store the other day. The winter fruits and vegetables that I had been buying for the past few months didn’t look so good, and summer fruits and vegetables were starting to be on sale. I’d had to mentally adjust my menu plans and shopping. Meanwhile, I’d had to give up making homemade yogurt during the winter because it was too cool at night to maintain the necessary temperature without more specialized equipment, and it was hard (or expensive) to get the berries to eat with it, but I got into bread baking, so my standard breakfast became homemade fruit and nut bread instead of yogurt and fruit. Now berries are coming back (without having to be imported from Chile), and it may soon be warm enough for yogurt, while being too warm to bake bread.

At this time of year, I start waking up earlier and getting sleepy earlier, so my schedule shifts. I do more walking (when it’s not so windy that it blows me off my feet). I’m even a bit more social (I went to a party this weekend and a get-together with the church women’s group on Monday night).

The down side is that during this time of transition, I tend to get restless and unsettled, and that makes it hard to focus on writing. I really ought to take a look at my productivity throughout the year and graph it, and then if I ever feel like I’m caught up or am in a position to plan my working schedule, I can plan to write during certain times of the year and focus on other things during the times that are less productive.

But I’m not there yet and I have a book to finish, so I guess I can’t indulge in spring fever this year.


Recent Reading: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

In spite of having discovered the wealth of video programming on Amazon Prime, with so many wonderful documentaries, I’ve been in a heavy reading mode lately, which is wonderful.

I think one of my recent reads is something fans of Rebel Mechanics would enjoy: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. It’s not actually “steampunk” but is set in the Victorian era and does get into retrofuturistic science, and it does involve brainy and plucky young women trying to find their place in the world and dealing with a secret society, so there’s a lot of thematic crossover.

Basically, it’s about the daughter of Dr. Jekyll, who ends up working on a case with Sherlock Holmes, and the case brings her in contact with some of the female “monsters” created by the various 19th century literary mad scientists. We’ve got the Bride of Frankenstein and one of Dr. Moreau’s beast people, for instance. All these women team up to track down a mysterious society of alchemists. I get the sense that this is an origin story and that there will be further adventures of our intrepid band of heroines. (Yep, a quick Amazon search reveals that book 2 will be out in July.)

This is such a fun book. There’s some deeper stuff delving into the idea of what a monster is and the role of men in turning women into monsters (as well as their choices in using women as their experimental subjects), but it’s mostly a romp of an adventure story, as our heroines get in and out of a lot of scrapes and use their various “monstrous” abilities to deal with the danger. There’s a bit of a metafictional aspect to it, as the book is written as though it’s a work in progress being written by one of the characters, with interjections by the other characters along the way when they disagree with the way the narrator is portraying things. (That’s a fairly accurate look inside the brain of a writer, when the characters start talking back.)

I’d read most of the books being referenced, but now I need to go back and read some of the others, just so I can be certain of getting all the references and jokes.

So, if you like things like Rebel Mechanics or Victorian adventure fiction, in general, or smart women with superpowers, this is one to look for.

writing life

Deadline Cleaning Urges

This is going to be a busy couple of weeks for me. I’ve got a proposal to finish and send to my agent, I’ve told myself I’m going to finish the current draft of the current book by the end of the month, and I’ve got a meeting tonight, a conference this weekend, and next week is Holy Week, which is busy when you’re in the choir.

Of course, this is when I suddenly want to clean and redecorate my house. Someone on Twitter joked about starting a service that schedules procrastinating writers to come clean your house, but I’m not sure that would work because it’s only my house I care about cleaning. I tell myself I’ll be so much more productive in a more ordered environment, so really I’m helping myself meet my deadline if I take a day or two off from writing to clean and organize. I usually push through it and make myself write, telling myself that when the book is done I’ll have an epic cleaning day, but when the book is done, I collapse on the sofa with either a book or the TV. I’ve also learned that I fizzle out when I try to do a whole day of cleaning. I do better with a few defined tasks for the day, spread out over a few days.

So, maybe when the book is done I’ll take a couple of days “off,” with cleaning mixed in with relaxing.

I do think the book is close to being done. I’m more than halfway to my target word count, and I like what I’ve done so far. The rest of the book is going to veer widely from the initial draft, which is good because that didn’t work. But it does mean I’m in original writing mode without being able to draw a lot from the first draft. It may be time to break out the Word Count M&Ms.

First, though, that proposal, which also underwent a dramatic change between drafts.


My Documentary Fix

Last night, I finally got around to exploring what comes with Amazon Prime video, and it looks like that will more than suffice to give me my documentary fix. They seem to have a lot of the stuff that’s been on PBS, as well as programs from the production companies that supply the cable channels I used to turn to for that sort of thing.

I got sucked into a program about Hidden Dangers in the Victorian and Edwardian Home (or something like that). In it, a historian talks about all the “modern” (at the time) advances that were actually incredibly dangerous. Like using arsenic to get vivid dyes for wallpaper. That was a big reason why a vacation to the seashore was so reviving. It wasn’t so much the sea air as it was getting out of a house that was slowly poisoning its occupants.

The early days of having electricity in the home were apparently rather exciting, with unshielded wires and some really random appliances. Initially, there weren’t any wall sockets, just light fixtures, and there were adaptors you plugged into your light fixtures to plug your appliances into. One of the weirdest electrical appliances was the electric tablecloth: you could plug lights directly into the tablecloth. It seems to have been a thing that was done because it could be done rather than because there was a real need.

One thing I found really interesting—and I may have to rewatch it to take notes—was a little experiment they did on corset wearing. An exercise physiologist rigged up the historian to get data on heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen use, etc., and got baseline readings, then ran the same study on her while she wore a corset. She got dizzy and felt faint after doing the same kind of exercise she’d done easily without the corset, and the readings showed that her body was having to work harder while still getting less oxygen. I’m sure that people who wore corsets all the time might have adapted, but it does explain the amount of fainting that went on in Victorian novels.

Each episode ends on the ominous note that they didn’t necessarily know that these things were dangerous at the time, so what’s in our homes now that will horrify future generations? That does make you wonder. A hundred years from now, will they be aghast that we flooded our homes with WiFi?

One thing about getting my documentary fix through Amazon that concerns me is the likelihood that this viewing will be factored into their algorithm for what they recommend to me and whatever profile they have of me. I wish there were a way to make it clear that I am likely to watch a lot of stuff about Nazis and WWII not because I think it’s cool, but because it horrifies me and I want to understand more of the roots so we can do more to prevent it. I don’t know how it is in every school, but in my education, most of this stuff was just skimmed over or barely addressed in history classes. At least, I hope that’s what’s going on with the idiots now who put swastikas on stuff and give the Hitler salute. If they know in detail what that was all about and still do it, then they’re evil. But since there are idiots doing that, it’s even more important to study the real thing and find ways to keep it from happening again. Plus, I’m a writer, and it’s an excellent case study for villains and the people who stand up to them. Unfortunately, there’s no way to put that disclaimer on your search terms. It’ll be interesting to see what Amazon starts recommending that I buy.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Girl Sleuths

I’m still discussing some of my origins and influences — the things that played a big role in me becoming the writer I am today.

My musical theater phase never really ended, though I did sort of eventually grow out of putting on dress-up clothes and acting out my own stories to soundtracks (now I just put together a playlist and write the book that goes with it). But then I got to the point I could read novels, and I devoured them. I don’t recall paying much attention to authors or genres. I didn’t really think about types of books. It was all about subject to me. For instance, there was the horse phase, during which I’d go down the shelves in the library, checking out any book with anything to do with a horse in the title or a horse on the cover.

Or there was the witches phase, which ended up leading me to Nancy Drew. The witch phase came in second and third grade and mostly had to do with the TV series Bewitched. I moved to a new neighborhood in the summer before second grade, and I noticed that although there were plenty of kids to play with in the neighborhood during the day, the streets got strangely empty after dinner, even though it was still light outside and we didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on. Eventually, people would come outside again. I learned when I tried to make plans to play outside after dinner with one of my friends that this was when Bewitched came on (in syndicated reruns), in the slot between the local news and prime-time programming. Apparently, this was mandatory viewing for girls in my neighborhood. I got sucked into it, and soon was joining my friends in trying to wiggle my nose to make things happen. That made me want to read books about witches, so I went down the library shelves, reading anything with “witch” or “magic” in the title. I don’t remember a lot of these, and I got derailed somewhat when I got to the K section and found a book called The Witch Tree Symbol. It had a spooky picture on the cover with an eerie symbol carved into an old tree.

Except, it turned out that the book wasn’t about witches at all. It was a Nancy Drew mystery taking place in Amish country, and it utterly captivated me. Not necessarily the story itself, but I wanted to be Nancy. She drove around in her sporty blue car with her best friends and had adventures. I became obsessed with Nancy Drew, reading every book I could get my hands on, from both the post library and the school library. I quickly learned, however, that I didn’t want to buy these books because the good ones were the old ones the libraries had. The new ones were different, and I didn’t like them much. Even if they were the same books reprinted, they had different illustrations that were very 70s, not at all like the 40s and 50s books.

I was far more interested in Nancy’s personal life than in the actual cases. I liked seeing her hang out with her friends, and I was intrigued by her relationship with Ned, though I didn’t understand why he went to college and she didn’t, even though she clearly wasn’t still in high school. For a while, I kept trying to find the last book, to see how things worked out, except it seemed there was no last book.

From Nancy Drew, I discovered other girl sleuths, like Trixie Belden, who was younger, and Cherry Ames, a nurse. When people talk now about needing strong girl role models in books for kids, I wonder what library they visited because I had all these people who allowed me to imagine what being an adult, or at least an older kid, would be like.

Strangely, there were fewer mysteries in adulthood than these books led me to believe.

Anyway, although these books didn’t necessarily spur me to want to write that kind of thing, I do think that intrepid girl sleuth character forms the basis for most of the heroines I write. I did make up some stories about Nancy and the others in my head, though I didn’t know what fan fiction was at the time and never wrote any of them down. I think I also did some mental “Mary Sue” stories, in which I imagined that kind of adventure with me (or a version of me) as the heroine.

And I’m not sure I ever got around to the “witch” books that came after the Ks.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Musicals

Last week, I found myself going down some mental rabbit trails about what got me started in writing, probably spurred by some questions that came up in my online chat with a school book club. Since kids always ask me about that, I thought it might be of general interest, so here’s the start of a blog series about my writing origins and influences — the things I’ve encountered along the way that captured my imagination in a way that helped shape or inspire my writing.

Oddly enough, the first thing that I think led to me being a writer wasn’t books at all, but rather musical theater, along with the Disney musical movies. Long before my reading skills were at a level where I could read books with any kind of in-depth storytelling, I was already into the stories of musicals. We had a lot of Broadway cast albums, and I had all the albums of music from the Disney movies. I remember being mocked in preschool when we were supposed to bring our favorite record, and I brought the cast album for Man of La Mancha.

But back in those days, there was no home video. The only way to see a movie was if it came to the theater or came on television. We also didn’t live in the kind of city that got the big touring productions (I saw my first real professional musical — a touring production of Camelot, with Richard Harris as Arthur — when I was in college). As a result, I hadn’t actually seen most of these musicals. I wasn’t exactly sure what the stories were about. Even with the Disney fairy tale movies, while I might have known the basic fairy tale, I might not have been entirely sure which characters were singing which songs and how that fit into the fairy tale (though I did have a few of the “stories and the songs” albums, which helped).

So, I had to make up my own stories to go with the songs. I wish I could remember some of the things I came up with. I’d either play out my own stories using my dolls or act them out myself, using my trove of dress-up clothes. Sometimes I’d mash them up and use songs from multiple musicals together. I didn’t think of it as writing as the time, since I wasn’t writing anything down, but I was creating characters and telling stories.

One of the few musicals I had actually seen was My Fair Lady, since they used to show that on TV every year, usually around Thanksgiving. When I was four or five, that was my absolute favorite movie, and it only occurred to me in the past week or so when I was thinking about all this that it’s essentially a Cinderella story — we’ve got an impoverished young woman who’s transformed to go to a ball, only it’s a professor of elocution rather than a fairy godmother who transforms her, and the outcome isn’t so romantic.

I’m not sure what influence musicals have on my current writing, other than that I do sometimes use music as inspiration for characters or plot points, and one of my brainstorming techniques is to put iTunes on shuffle and then try to think of how the song that comes up might relate to my story. But music did seem to spark my creativity and make me want to tell stories, and that seems to have had a lot to do with setting me on my current path.

Oddly, even though I’ve dreamed of doing musical theater since I was about three, I haven’t really done it. I was in one locally produced original musical when I was right out of college (the music was good, but the play was absolutely terrible), and I sang offstage backup for the church youth production of Mary Poppins a few years ago, but I’ve never been in any of those musicals I used to act out my own version of when I was a child.

writing life

The Whims of Success

While I’ve been working on ideas for promoting my books, I’ve found myself pondering the nature of fame and success. Quality, fame, and material success, and the trappings of all these, don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

For instance, I know of authors who are making millions with their independently published books, and yet they don’t seem to be at all famous. Their names seldom come up in discussions of those kinds of books. On the other hand, I’ve mentioned how surprised I was to learn that some of the people whose names always come up and who are treated as Big Names in the genre community don’t seem to be making as much money as I am, when I’m mostly unknown in that community.

There are people who started publishing much later than I did who are now big bestsellers and celebrities in the industry, while I’m still mostly unknown, and there are people I read when I was starting out who had really good books that won awards but who have fallen completely by the wayside and seem to have given up writing. I’m sure we can all point to mega bestselling books that really weren’t well written. Some of those mega bestsellers manage to sustain a career, while others don’t seem able to write more than that one story.

But I think this applies to other fields, as well. I was thinking of television series I enjoyed a decade or more ago. When there was an ensemble cast of more or less equally good-looking people, there were some who seemed rather talented and who had a lot of charisma, and I would have thought that those people would have been the ones to go on and become famous elsewhere, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, the least talented person is the one who keeps getting lead roles in TV series and becomes a star while the more talented person with stronger acting credentials ends up relegated to the occasional guest role. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to who succeeds and who doesn’t.

The rather annoying thing about it all — and it is annoying because it’s not something you can plan on, create, or control for — is the role luck plays in all of it. It’s all about having the right thing in the right place at the right time. The only thing you can do is produce enough work of sufficient quality that the odds are better that you will have the right thing in the right place at the right time. You also have to have the goods to back up the luck. Getting that one big book deal because you had what they were looking for at the time they were looking for it won’t help much if you can’t write the next book or if you can’t adapt when the market changes.

Strangely, thinking this way makes me feel a bit better. Doing my part can improve my odds, but it’s not necessarily anything I’ve done wrong that’s kept me from going further. It may just be timing — Enchanted, Inc. came at the end of the chick lit wave but before the urban fantasy wave really got going. A couple of years earlier or later and I might have had a very different career.


Playing with History

I’m the weirdo who actually likes the spring time change. It seems to fit my body clock better. I’ll confess that I wasn’t exactly out of bed at the crack of dawn this morning, but I woke up at about the same time by the clock as I usually do, even though that time was an hour earlier. Tomorrow will be the real test since I stayed up late last night (for me).

The TV series Timeless was back last night, and they put it in the late slot, which shows that they weren’t paying attention last season. This was a show that got canceled and then brought back due to fan support, including some big-name fans (Mark Hamill was one of the big cheerleaders for the series). But most of the fans talked about it being a show they liked to watch as a family and how they used the bits of history as a springboard to exploring those events or people with their kids. So why did they once again put the show on late at night? Granted, it did go to some darker places last night, but still, one hour earlier would be a much better fit for a show that seems to be a family viewing favorite.

Anyway, this is a fun show for people who like history and/or time travel. I love watching the characters go all fanboy/fangirl over the various historical figures they meet, and they’ve done a good job of highlighting people who are generally forgotten by history or who don’t get full credit for what they did due to their sex or race. I feel very smug and smart when they deal with a period, event, or person I’m familiar with because of my own research and reading.

I mess with history by playing alternate history games — what would have been different if the British ruling class was ruling because they had magical powers? — but they do similar things with people interfering in history by using time travel.

But it meant I stayed up later than I usually do (by the clock — I guess I was still going to bed quite early by the time it was a few days ago), so I’m not quite back to my spring schedule.

It’s spring break, but the only way that affects me is that I don’t have children’s choir this week. I’m still working, plugging away at this book.


Getting Discovered

As an addendum to yesterday’s post, that “but/and so” thing is a good way to test your book because you can use it to make a kind of outline — the characters want THING, and so they do something, but something else happens, and so they must do something else, etc. It wouldn’t be a pretty synopsis, but if you can’t link the scenes with either “but” or “and so,” you need to rethink the scenes. I managed to fix that problem scene that I needed but that didn’t really fit by making it an “and so” and by having it lead into a “but.” And there was much rejoicing.

Meanwhile, I’m back to pondering publicity. I’ve become increasingly aware that I have an awareness problem. Quite frequently, I’ve noticed people asking for recommendations or making lists where my books would be the perfect fit or where I would think I’d be included, but I’m not mentioned (these tend to be venues where recommending your own works is frowned upon). It seems that people who read my books love them, but there are huge swaths of people, especially within the target markets, who don’t seem to have heard of me at all. And although publicity was my former career, I’m not sure how I can get noticed like that in the book world. The venues I’m able to reach have already been reached. I’m considering trying some new things.

Supposedly, newsletters are a great marketing tool, but to me, that’s preaching to the choir. You’re reaching the people who already care enough to sign up for a newsletter. I don’t subscribe to author newsletters and am swamped with marketing stuff in my in-box. These days, you can’t visit a web site without a pop-up inviting you to sign up for a newsletter, so I suspect the days of effectiveness are at an end. That’s why I don’t do a newsletter. I don’t like them, so I doubt I’d do it well, and there are just so many out there.

I have considered maybe getting into podcasting. I don’t listen to them because I’d rather read information, but statistics are showing that there are a lot of people out there who prefer to get information this way. I have a background in radio news, so I’ve got the skillset. I just wonder what I’d say — the same kind of thing I blog about? Read book snippets? Pop culture discussion? Is that something people would be interested in?

Ditto with videos. Again, within my skillset, but my impulse is that I’d rather read an article with the same info than watch a video, and generally if there is only a video, I’ll ignore it, but I’m probably an outlier there. Would it be kind of like a TV newscast, only about other stuff?

I’m terrible at social media because I tend to treat it like real-world conversations, except it doesn’t work that way. People tend to like those people who sit and listen and nod during conversations, but on social media, no one knows you’re there. I guess the “like” button is the equivalent of the silent nod, but I keep forgetting to use it.

And I’m still not sure how doing these sorts of things would end up spreading the word farther because the only people likely to watch or listen would be those who already know who I am. I must keep pondering the concept of discoverability.