Life

Looking for Fall

I am so ready for fall, and the weather here isn’t cooperating at all. I love fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I love cool, gray days, when I can enjoy sitting with a cup of hot tea and reading (or writing) a book. I love the sunny days when there are crisp, cool mornings and just slightly warm afternoons that are good for spending outdoors. I love taking long walks in the woods, enjoying the colored leaves, and coming home with cheeks tinged red from the chill in the air to have a hot cup of tea. I love sitting on the patio with a shawl around my shoulders. I even love the fall thunderstorms. I love sweaters and blankets, hot soup and fresh-baked bread.

But we haven’t had a high temperature below 90 all September. We should at least be in the 80s by now. Instead of sweaters, I’m wearing tank tops. It’s a bit too warm to go walking even in the morning. I guess we’re being punished for our summer starting later and not being very intense until August.

I keep saying every year that I’m going to travel to a place that has real fall. If I ever have the money, I’m going to do a grand fall-chasing tour — start in August in Scandinavia or Alaska and work my way south, coming home around Thanksgiving, when we finally get fall-like weather. And then maybe I’ll go to Australia in the spring for their fall. Either I’ll get it out of my system or I’ll be even more dissatisfied once I know what I’m missing. Some people move to climates where it’s summer-like year-round. I want to find a place that has a good, long fall, starting maybe with a cool-down in late August and lasting until December (but preferably without a harsh winter). I’m not sure such a place exists. We get the beginnings of a slight cool-down in late September but don’t really get what I’d consider “fall-like” weather until late October. The fall-like weather might last until early December, but it’s on various days, not really a season.

On the bright side, for once I shouldn’t have a big deadline in October or November. There’s stuff I’ll be working on, but it won’t be so urgent that I can’t declare a day off whenever we get one of those perfect fall days.

In the meantime, I do have a big deadline Monday, and I’m behind where I hoped I’d be because rewriting the ending took me most of the day yesterday. I love what I’ve done with it, and it’s so much better, but it’s all taking more time than I planned.

writing

Rewriting

I spent the weekend mostly with my head down in my book. I’m at the point where I’m making subtle changes that add up to make a big difference. I’m also cleaning up the words. I find that I tend to state the same thing several times in multiple ways, like I’m searching for the best way to say it so that it’s most clear. On this draft, I’m cutting the first few attempts and just leaving the last one that works.

There’s also a lot of stuff lingering from earlier ideas, where I changed plans but the stuff I put in to set up the original plan is still there. In spite of writing quite a bit of additional material, I’ve cut more than a thousand words so far on this draft.

Today’s project is to rewrite the ending. I’ve revised the first half, so I’ve hit most of the stuff that sets up the plot threads involved in the ending. Now I need to write that ending so that I can drive toward it in the rest of the book. I may even start from scratch rather than using what I’ve already written.

After I finish this round of rewrites, it’s on to proofreading, reading the whole book out loud.

And I have a week to do all this in, with a convention during the weekend. Fortunately, I’m not very heavily scheduled at this convention and it’s very close to my house, so I can run over when I have a panel, then run back home. I’ve been questioning the value of conventions to my publicity plan, anyway. This is mostly going to be a chance to catch up with some friends — that is, when I’m not working.

Becoming a Video Star

Last weekend, I fell into the rabbit hole of curly hair care YouTube videos. It started when I got a mildly disappointing haircut that was made more disappointing by the cost of it nearly doubling. It wasn’t really a bad haircut, but it was just a simple blunt trim, no real shaping or layering, at the cost of what should have been a designer precision cut. I was in and out in less than 45 minutes, and that includes some waiting at the front with a glass of water, some chatting, the shampoo and hand massage, the cut, a bit of blow drying, and paying. But since my last haircut, the salon upped its prices, the stylist got a promotion so her rates went even higher, and they dropped the option of just getting a cut without the blow dry and style, even though I don’t really want my hair dried, and all that added up to doubling what I paid for my last haircut.

I started pondering the idea of cutting my hair myself, since it’s long enough that I can reach the back, and since it’s so curly, it’s pretty forgiving. Out of curiosity, I Googled it, and it turns out that cutting your own hair is a big thing in the curly hair world, since it’s so hard to find someone who does it well, and the specialty curly cuts run about $125, which is way outside my budget. I’m not normally big on watching videos. I’d rather read text to get information, but this is the kind of thing you need to actually see, so I started watching the videos. And that brought up suggested videos on related topics, like curly hair care and styling tips. I’d read the Curly Girl book, so I knew a lot of this stuff, but seeing it put into practice made it a lot clearer. I was already doing a lot of the things they recommend. I’ve had my hair blown straight once (the stylist more or less forced me — I’d have had to make a scene to escape), I never flat iron my hair and only blow dry on cool to remove excess water if I have to go somewhere within a few hours of washing my hair. I mostly use the right products. There were still some tips that, when I tried them, made a big difference — so big that I realized I’m going to have to let my hair grow out a bit because my hair is curling up more, so with this new cut it’s just a bit too short, coming at an awkward length.

But there was one thing I noticed in watching these videos. One of the people was reviewing some new product (which I was already using), and she mentioned that the company had flown her to Hawaii for the product launch, where their stylists had demonstrated the products. I guess she’s what they call an “influencer,” but it’s not like her videos were at all slick or professional. She was just a girl talking to the camera in her bathroom, not even with a good microphone or lighting.

And then in today’s newspaper, there was a lengthy article about the woes of the “professional vapers” or “vaping influencers” now that there’s the worry about health risks and a possible ban. There are people who make a living vaping on camera, doing tricks with the smoke or reviewing various pipes and liquids. Their videos get hundreds of thousands of views.

I really need to start playing with video, I guess. My degree’s in broadcast news, so I have the skill set. I don’t even care about hundreds of thousands of viewers or making a living doing it. But it would be nice to get several thousand views in a way that would raise my profile and maybe sell a few more books.

And if someone wants to fly me to Hawaii, that would be okay, too.

I really will have to start playing with that after I finish this book.

Back to Children’s Choir

Last night was my first real night of children’s choir. I had no idea what I was facing — how many kids, which kids, what they’d be interested in — which made it hard to plan. I had four kids pre-registered on my roster. Two of those actually showed up, and then new one kid was registered last night (I’d been expecting him, since he was in choir last year). There are a couple more I know of who might end up joining us. So far, this could be a good and relatively easy group, though one of the kids I think might end up coming is a bit of a problem, the kind of kid who somehow changes everyone else’s behavior as soon as he shows up. I can have a room full of angels, and then that one kid shows up and they all turn into crazed demons — and then this kid’s parents will claim that one of the other kids is a bad influence on their perfect angel, which means we can’t use the “do I need to talk to your parents?” threat.

But if I have the kids I had last night and the ones who are on my roster, we could have a fun year and actually do some teaching instead of barely getting through with crowd control. Which I guess means I need to come up with more activities. One positive from having the out-of-control groups is that I don’t have to do much planning, since we spend most of the time wrangling the children.

I’ve broken my streak of having a set of twins in every class. I do have a twin as one of my youth helpers (she was part of one of the sets of twins I had in the past), so maybe that counts, although her twin isn’t also with me this year.

If everyone on the roll shows up, I’ll have close to an even number of boys and girls, maybe with more girls, but I had more boys show up last night. I’d love it if the boys kept with choir, but they tend to drop out, usually when sports kick in, but these kids are already in soccer, and two of this year’s group (a boy and a girl) are in gymnastics. We’ve had to state a “no gymnastics in class because the room is too small, the floor is hard, and we don’t have mats” rule.

You’d think that with all the time I spend around kindergarteners, I should write children’s books, but books for that age kids aren’t actually about kindergarteners, usually. They’re more about funny talking animals. I’d have to get into the mindset of what appeals to them, and I’m really not sure about that.

Sanity Attack

I had a rare burst of sanity yesterday when I looked at the calendar and was trying to plan out my work for the rest of the year. I’d had grand ambitions about getting that Christmas story written, after coming up with that series idea, but when I saw the time available and looked at everything else I have to do, I realized that it’s just not realistic, not if I want to do a good job.

Plus, every year I tell myself that I’m going to let myself enjoy autumn, my favorite season, rather than frantically working. I don’t want to set myself up to be frantically working.

My Audible book will be coming out in early January, so there will be promo around that, and I have that Rebels book to write. I may play with the Christmas idea in December for something fun and seasonal to work on. So maybe I’ll launch that series with a July 4 book. That will give me time to really develop that “world” and set up the various characters that will be in the series. We’ll see. There’s also another series idea I want to play with and develop. I suppose it depends on which one wins — which one is truly ready to write first.

I still have plenty of work to do the rest of the year, but now I have a little breathing room. I haven’t taken a real vacation this year, and I’m thinking of doing several short road trips. There’s a trip I’d like to take to Central Texas, and there are a couple of places I want to go in Oklahoma when it gets cool enough for good hiking and walking. I also need to finish reorganizing my office when it gets cool enough to work upstairs.

But first I have to finish rewriting the book I’ve been working on.

writing

Planning the Rewrite

I’m working on revising the book I’ve been working on most of this year, getting ready to send it to my agent, and I’m trying something different this time. In the past, I’ve tended to just go back through the book, revising as I go, but I’ve found that this tends to lead to me rearranging or fixing words rather than tackling structural issues. I found some books on revising at the library that suggested making a “map” of the book, going scene-by-scene to analyze each one on the basis of what’s going on, what the characters’ goals are, what subplots are present, what the purpose of the scene is, etc.

I spent yesterday doing this, using a sheet of paper for each scene so I’d have room for additional notes (one book suggested using index cards, and there’s no way I could fit this info on a card), and it’s interesting how just going through this exercise made some of the problems more obvious. You can’t help but notice your “darling” scenes that you love but that don’t really have a purpose in the book. For those, you either have to cut them, possibly moving some of the elements you need elsewhere, or you have to find a way to incorporate a key plot point so that there’s a purpose.

Doing this also shows the plot points that don’t go anywhere, the things being set up that don’t really pay off.

But I also found that I’ve entirely unconsciously incorporated some pretty powerful symbolism. Now that I know it’s there, I can use it deliberately. We’re talking term paper kind of stuff that English teachers would love. I didn’t plan on these things serving that purpose, but looking back, it really does track what’s going on with the character. I love it when stuff like that happens.

After doing the scene-by-scene analysis, I went back and wrote a plot outline, then outlined the emotional internal plot and the various subplots. That showed me where some things need to be fixed. I can go in and fix these elements in these scenes, and that way the book should be more or less in order before I go through it and fix the words.

And I have two weeks to do this. Eep!

Books

Stars Aligning in a Quaint Village

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of what would have been called “chick lit,” though I suppose that term is anathema in publishing right now, and the more recent stuff is an evolution of what was around in the early 2000s rather than being much like it (far less urban, less shopping, less sex). I’ve been in a frame of mind when I didn’t want a lot of tension, and that makes it a lot more pleasant to read something in which the stakes are more like “will she ever get together with that cute guy and make her bakery/shop a success?” than like “will they escape the Death Knights in time to stop the encroaching Darkness before the evil sorcerer ends the world?” I think I’d maxed out on fantasy and needed a break.

As I’ve read the mostly British stuff — since American publishers don’t seem to be publishing it, other than re-publishing the more successful British authors — I’ve noticed a couple of key tropes that are popping up all over the place. There are books without these, but not many.

One is the “I’m scrapping my life in the city and moving to a quaint village in the Cotswolds/Scotland/the Cornish coast to start that cafe/bakery/bookstore/boutique I’ve always dreamed of” story. Usually, it’s kicked off by the heroine losing (or quitting) her job and/or breaking up with her boyfriend, and so she goes to start a new life. She may struggle in the new environment but also meets some charming local guy.

The other is what I guess you could call the “stars aligning” plot. It’s when two people meet and really hit it off, but there’s some external obstacle keeping them from getting together at that time — one (or both) is in a relationship, one of them lives elsewhere and is just passing through, or one of them is about to start a job far away. Then a year or so later, they run into each other again, and while that obstacle is no longer an issue, there’s another one. Repeat for however many years until the stars finally align and they end up together. So, in meeting #1, she’s intrigued, then learns he’s dating someone. In meeting #2, he’s available, but she’s just about to start a new job in New York. Meeting #3, he’s married. Meeting #4, his wife has just died tragically, so he’s not even thinking about dating. Meeting #5, he’s ready to move on, but she’s dating someone. Etc. If you’re the wife in one of these books, you’re better off if you’re an absolute witch who cheats on him (thereby justifying the divorce) because if you’re a nice person, you’re going to die tragically either in a car crash or of a fast-acting cancer.

I wonder if these are particularly British fantasies or if it’s just that this sort of book doesn’t get published in the US right now. In general, if the heroine is younger, it’s published as more of a straightforward romance. I don’t read a lot of those now, but I do recall the “moving to a small town and starting a business” plot was fairly common in category romance. The difference is that in these books, the business plot is more the main plot with the romance as something that happens along the way. For women’s fiction, where the other life stuff is the focus, in American books it seems to be more about older women, so the standard plot is that the middle-aged woman gets dumped or cheated on by her husband and moves back to her home town with her teenage kid, where she reunites with her first love, who is conveniently available.

I suppose it could also be a selection bias, where I tend to be drawn to these plots, though I don’t recall picking books on this basis. I’m usually drawn to some other aspect, then find that they’re also one of these stories. I’ll admit, the whole “chuck everything and go live in the Cotswolds” thing is really appealing because I love that area. I wouldn’t start a bakery or bookstore, though. I’d be that mysterious and reclusive American author who rents a cottage in the village to work on a book and gradually gets drawn into village life.

I haven’t really had that stars aligning problem with relationships, though I did go through a phase in my early to mid-20s in which everyone I met and found interesting or went out with ended up getting a job somewhere else. It got to be such a pattern that it became a joke. There was the guy who visited the church singles department for the first time on the same Sunday I did, so we ended up sitting together and hanging out, and I found him very promising. At a party the next weekend, he saw me when he arrived and made a beeline to come sit with me. Things were going well, and then he announced that he was moving to Malaysia the next week for a year (he was a petroleum engineer). I had all kinds of hopes for what might happen when he moved back, but if he did, he didn’t come back to that church. Then there was the guy I probably had the most fun date I’ve ever had with, who announced the following week that he and his friends had decided to move to Colorado together. And the guy I was just starting to hit it off well with who then went to grad school (actually, he was in grad school and living in Dallas while working on his dissertation, but he had to move to the university he was attending for a semester to be “in residence” to get his degree, though I don’t know when/if he came back to town). And there was the boyfriend who applied to the FBI soon after we started dating and was surprised to get called in for the exam, and then passed the exam and went on to the more serious interview phase (he subsequently vanished, so I have no idea if he got into the academy or became an FBI agent).

I never ran into any of these guys again, with or without a complication, so I guess the stars didn’t align for us, but I can see why that might be fun for me to read about. I finally realized that maybe this was all a sign I was supposed to stay single, if everyone I was interested in was immediately moved out of range.

And, sadly, even the middle-aged moms moving back home after their marriages fall apart are younger than I am now. Yikes.

Hmm, I wonder what it would take to rent a cottage in the Cotswolds. I think you can stay up to six months on a tourist visa.

writing

Attack of the Escalating Idea

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I should write another Christmas story for this year. I’d have to hurry to get it done in time, but I had a few ideas in the back of my head that I’d been thinking about for a while, so I figured I could write a short book pretty quickly.

Then last weekend I sat down to actually think it through and wrote down what I knew about the ideas I had, and I realized how weak those ideas were. When I started trying to develop them, I ran into plot holes and logic problems (which means they’d probably have been fine as the basis for a Hallmark movie, but I have higher standards). Figuring that I wouldn’t try to write a Christmas story this year, after all, I got up to do something else.

And then I got hit by an entirely new idea. When I sat down to write what I knew about it and develop that, I ended up with pages and pages. It kept growing and building.

So, I thought, that’s good that I have a story idea.

But my brain wasn’t done. Suddenly, the previous ideas I’d had fit into that setting in a way that fixed the plot holes. I had the possibility for a series. Every year, I could do a Christmas story set in this same town. In the first one, I could establish some characters who would show up in later stories, and in the later ones I could follow up with the previous characters to show what they’re doing now.

And then yesterday it struck me that once a year isn’t a lot for that kind of series. I could hit all the major holidays, and I had ideas for that.

The tricky thing would be classifying them, aside from the “holiday” theme. They’re generally “sweet” romantic comedy, but they all have a magical element — more like magic realism than outright fantasy, and they’re not really paranormal romance. It looks like this sort of thing sells really well, and I think it would be a fun break to write. I doubt it would help me with fantasy name recognition and might more firmly embed me in the “too romancey” category for getting in with a fantasy publisher, but I’m at the point on giving up on the fantasy world ever accepting me. I might as well earn a living doing something fun rather than keep banging my head against that brick wall.

So now if I’m going to do this, I’ll have to write the Christmas one quickly and maybe come up with the story and characters for a Valentine’s Day one and write an opening so I could include a teaser in the first book. Plus, I need to fully develop the town and come up with the characters for the next few books.

This is what happens when I think I can write a quick, easy, fun story in between bigger projects.

movies

Revisiting When Harry Met Sally

I was reminded this summer that it was the 30th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally …, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. I remember it having a huge impact on me when I first saw it. It was the summer just before my senior year of college, so I wasn’t too far from the experience of leaving college to start a new adult life, I was planning to be a journalist, like Sally, and I was trying to imagine what my adult life would look like. That summer, I had heard from a high school friend who’d tracked me down, so I think I had fantasies brewing about a Harry and Sally thing happening (it didn’t — I never heard from him after that, other than running into him at a class reunion).

I hadn’t rewatched the movie in a long time, and I was in the mood for that sort of thing, so I watched it last weekend. It’s interesting how much my perspective has changed since I’m now a lot older than the characters. The friends-to-lovers thing was one of my romantic fantasies when I was younger and is still a favorite in romantic books, but I’m not sure how well it actually works in real life. Even in the books, there’s an element of attraction from the start in the friendship, or else there’s a time gap and the element of attraction hits when they’re reunited. In reality, it can be really awkward to try to make that transition, and it’s even more awkward when the feelings aren’t mutual — and if you’ve managed to remain platonic friends for a long time, the feelings probably aren’t mutual. One person may develop feelings, but the other is going along in platonic mode, either utterly oblivious or pretending to be.

Even with Harry and Sally, while they’d met earlier with zero interest, so they’d known each other a long time, it was only a little more than a year between them becoming friends and the big kiss at the end, and there were hints of sexual tension and attraction brewing long before that. It was more of a slow burn starting in friendship mode than a longtime friends into lovers situation. Realizing that has made me really rethink how that fantasy plays out in fiction and makes me feel better about the times when a friend became interested in me and it really freaked me out and made me uncomfortable. All those times I had my own Harry and Sally fantasy, it involved someone I was already interested in and wished would see me a different way, but when the shoe was on the other foot, I wasn’t all that keen, which makes me glad I didn’t make any moves on the people I was interested in who clearly didn’t see me that way.

But mostly I enjoy that movie now for the settings, especially all the gorgeous fall scenes, the jazz music, and the group of friends. Princess Leia may be one of my role models, but this is my favorite Carrie Fisher role because it allowed her to unleash the snark and be funny. I love how her character goes from being the one who’s a real mess at the beginning to being the one who’s sane and settled and dealing with her friend who’s a mess at the end.

It’s also a little alarming seeing how much of my wardrobe my senior year of college resembled Sally’s wardrobe in the movie. I’m not sure if I was trying to copy that look or if that was just what was in style and available then. I remember a lot of menswear-influenced jackets, and I even had a hat. Unfortunately, I was living in Austin at the time, so we didn’t really get the kind of fall weather that made that sort of thing very comfortable.

I wish we could get more films like that now, with actual grown-ups in a romantic comedy with sharp dialogue and fleshed-out characters. So many of the scenes, I felt like I was eavesdropping on actual conversations rather than watching a “scene,” which made the movie feel more real, not as artificial as so many romantic comedies can be.

Life

Season of Change

My summer break officially ends fully today, with children’s choir starting again. That’s my “back to school.” And it may be part of why I’ve been getting the itchy wanderlust thing. We usually moved during the summer, so I started the school year in a new place, and so it feels strange to start a new school year in the same old place.

The changes continued yesterday. There was more shopping, as I found a lovely throw pillow that fits with the new duvet, and I got a body pillow to use as a kind of headboard replacement to prop the pillows up. Now my room really does look like a hotel room. And I found a floral shower curtain that somewhat coordinates with the new bedroom stuff. The jury’s out on that, though. It may be more pattern than I can really deal with. I may end up going with something plain and white — continuing the hotel theme, I guess. The shower curtain fabric is pretty much what I’d want for re-covering the old dinette set chairs I have, so even if I bail on it, it’s not a total loss. I’d even considered buying another one just to have that fabric.

I’ve been pondering the way adults react to fall. There’s been the usual mix of “yay, pumpkin spice season” and “ugh, all the pumpkin spice stuff” posts online. I think pumpkin spice is really as much a symbol as it is a thing in and of itself. Because of the association with back-to-school, fall is a season of fresh starts. It’s about new clothes and school supplies, new friends, and trying new things — only, without the school part (unless you’re a teacher). It’s all the good things about fall without having to go back to school. Since we don’t have to go back to school, we look to other things to cue the season, and pumpkin spice works.

Plus, those spices are things we associate with warmth and coziness. They make us feel loved and safe.

I don’t actually drink coffee, so I’ve never had a pumpkin spice latte and don’t care to, but I get the feeling. I’m more likely to put those spices on apples or bake them into muffins (I do have a wonderful pumpkin spice muffin recipe). I enjoy seeing the pumpkin spice hype because it means cooler days are on the horizon. I can fantasize about sweater weather and coming in after a brisk walk on a crisp, cool day to a cup of spicy tea and a pumpkin spice muffin. For now, though, we’re still getting 100-degree temperatures, alas.

And I’ve pretended to move by redecorating my bedroom and bathroom.