Getting Away

I’ve been talking about doing a short trip up to the mountains in Oklahoma (yes, there are mountains in Oklahoma) to do some hiking ever since last fall, but it seems like every time I had a couple of days free when I could go, there would end up being storms forecast on those days (and you don’t want to be in Oklahoma when it’s storming). Meanwhile, I’ve been stockpiling Hilton points and was in danger of losing them if I didn’t stay in one of their hotels soon, since none of my conventions this past year were at a Hilton. But this weekend is supposed to be nice and unseasonably warm, and there’s a Hampton Inn near one of the parks I was looking at for hiking, so I’m taking a mini vacation.

The plan is to do a little hiking and then enjoy the indoor pool and hot tub. It doesn’t look like there’s anything I want to see on HBO on the night I’ll be there, but I have a ton of books loaded on my tablet, so there may be some hanging out and reading.

And now I have to get ready for it. I checked out my swimsuit and found that some of the spandex has died. There’s a big patch down the back where it’s visible (and getting a bit see-through). So, I need a new swimsuit. And snacks, of course. Those are critical for a road trip. As is updating the playlists on my phone. I think I still have Christmas music on there that needs to be deleted and then replaced with a few new CDs I have to rip into the computer.

I’m not normally this spontaneous about travel. Then again, when I go overboard with planning, I tend to never actually take the trip. It’s as though once I have it all planned, I feel like I’ve already taken the trip, and the actual trip can never live up to the one I took in my head from visualizing it so clearly from all the planning. Maybe I need to do more trips of the “where can I go this weekend?” variety.


A Good Mystery

I actually left the house yesterday for a morning out (celebrating the audiobook release and the start of writing a new book) to see the movie Knives Out. I’ve been wanting to see it and I was afraid it would leave theaters soon (though the Oscar nomination for screenplay may help keep it around longer — I saw a 9:30 a.m. show and while the theater wasn’t full, there were more people than I usually see in morning screenings). I thought it was apt for something to watch before starting to write another mystery novel.

Though I’m not sure if it was inspiring or intimidating. It was nice and twisty, though I did figure out the final twist ahead of time (to be fair, I had three candidates for what it might be, and I was right about one of them), but I think it was as much of a character study as it was a mystery, though it did feel like a modern take of the classic Agatha Christie-style mystery. It was set in a somewhat spooky grand mansion (the home of a successful mystery novelist, so it was full of props you might expect to go with that), with the novelist’s various family members gathered for his birthday party, and all of them had motives for murder. And then the brilliant outsider detective shows up to investigate the crime. If there was a crime. It was a really tight script, and I can see how it got an Oscar nomination. I kind of want to see it again now that I know what was really going on to see how it was all set up.

I can’t say too much more without giving away the twists, but it ended up being a lot more hopeful and uplifting than you expect from a murder mystery. It was also really funny in places. The cast seemed to be having an absolute blast and really inhabited their characters.

If you like stories like And Then There Were None, then you’ll want to catch this one. I don’t know if it’s an absolute big screen must-see since it’s more about characters than spectacle, but I think there are little details that will be lost on a smaller screen that do make a difference in how you see things. Plus, it’s absolutely gorgeous. They did something with the photography that saturated all the colors, so it looks really rich.

I guess I wasn’t too intimidated because I came home and wrote the first chapter in a new mystery novel.

My Books

Audiobook Day

For those who’ve been waiting for the audio version of Enchanted Ever After, it should be available today. Once they got all the contract stuff ironed out, they moved pretty quickly. It’s the same narrator as in the other books. I love what I’ve heard of what she does with them, though I have to confess that I haven’t listened to much because hearing my words spoken by someone else kind of wigs me out. It’s really weird and unsettling.

Then again, I’m not big on audiobooks, in general. I have a hard time staying focused on people talking when I can’t see them, and it takes a really good speaker for me to stay tuned in to someone reading something even if I can see them. I also don’t listen to podcasts or talk radio. I can deal with audio dramas with a cast, but just someone reading a book will go in one ear and out the other, and I won’t register the words at all. I can just barely manage to take in the information from a radio weather or traffic report.

This is highly ironic for someone who trained in radio news and used to produce radio feature stories.

I’m not sure how I’d react to seeing a film or TV version of one of my books. I suspect it would be a bit weird because the people playing the characters wouldn’t be precisely the way I pictured them, even if the casting is just about perfect. But for film or TV, they’d rewrite it pretty thoroughly. It wouldn’t be exactly my words being read, and it would be translated to a totally different medium with different visuals.

I am willing to test my reaction, however, if someone who knows what they’re doing wants to give it a shot.

Anyway, new audiobook today, hooray!

writing life

Working Hours

It’s theoretically a holiday — government offices and schools are closed — but I’m treating it as a semi-work day. I’ll probably do about the same amount of work as usual, but I’m doing it on a more flexible schedule. I let myself sleep in and had a leisurely breakfast. I’m gearing up to starting the first draft of a new book, so there’s some prep work to do.

I’ve been trying to work out my best work routines. A book I was reading on forming habits said that one reason people in Germany have a shorter work week while Americans are working longer and longer hours is that in Germany there’s a culture of work time being limited to work — no chit-chat, no personal e-mails or phone calls, no spending time on social media — and then when they go home, they’re completely off work. In America, the culture is that you’re expected to socialize some at work (you may even get criticized in a performance review if you’re not friendly with coworkers), and it’s okay to make the occasional personal call, check personal e-mail, etc., but employees are also expected to work longer hours and answer e-mails and calls after hours. I’m not entirely sure how true that is. My brother works for a German company and works crazy hours, including being more or less on call at all hours of the day, on weekends, and on holidays. That may be because he works for the US office and his customers are in the US and/or because he’s in sales and a lot of his work is “leisure” stuff like dinners, golf games, going to sporting events with customers, etc. There’s also a bit of chicken-and-egg going on in the US — are we expected to work longer hours and be on call because of the goofing off and socializing during the workday, or is the goofing off during the workday an attempt to balance things out because we’re expected to work crazy hours and be in touch by phone/e-mail at all times? If the boss can call or text you when you’re at home in the evening, then you figure that you can call/text/e-mail your friends when you’re in the office. I do know that when I started telecommuting a couple of years before I got laid off in my last job, I was working fewer hours (because I took a pay cut to go “part time” in a way that kept a cap on the number of hours I could work) but actually doing more work once I was no longer in the office and having to deal with all the meetings, people stopping by my office to chat, etc.

Anyway, it gets tricky when you’re working for yourself at home. I’m never really fully off work, and never really fully at work. As I write this, I’m also doing laundry. But when I’m “off” work tonight and reading, my pleasure reading is somewhat work-related because I’m reading in my field to get a sense of the market. When I go on vacation, I don’t feel entirely like I’m completely off because I still check social media and e-mail for work purposes, and of course the writer brain never shuts off.

I like being able to multi-task the household drudgery. I can throw in a load of laundry and write a blog post, set a stew to simmering and write a few pages. I need to take some breaks during the day to move and recharge between scenes or to shift gears between projects. But I would like to do a better job at feeling like I’m on and off work, so that in my leisure time I don’t have that nagging sense that I should be writing. It may help to get my office back in order so I can work in there. I can put in my writing time, then come downstairs and be “off” work. And I really need to learn to take real vacations without feeling like the world is passing me by if I don’t check in online.


What Might Have Been

I’ve been rewatching the entire series of Once Upon a Time, an episode or two a week, with an online group, with discussion and analysis along the way. Last night, I rewatched the finale for the first time since it aired, and it has to be the most bizarre way to end a series that I’ve seen. Really, the last season was a mistake, and this ending felt oddly tacked on, like it was what they always wanted, and they just stuck it on the finale without any setup.

The final season jumped ahead at least ten years for most of the “flashback” bits, with the character who was an early teen (12-13 or so) at the end of the previous season all grown up and played by a different actor, and then the “present day” bits were at least 11 years after that (since he had an 11-year-old daughter). But there were still some of the adult characters who carried over, and they didn’t change at all even though, based on ages of various characters that gave us some kind of timeline, nearly 30 years had passed since the end of the previous season. And there was never any explanation given for them not aging or changing. They were treated as though they were the age they looked, generally 30-something, even though they had adult children. To complicate things further, these events were taking place in the present, with them having been sent back in time by a curse that took them from the fairytale land where they’d been living to our world (for no reason other than that the premise of this series involves fairytale characters living in modern America, and it would have been a strain on the budget to try to create the setting decades into the future). The season mostly focused on new characters rather than the returning characters, though one of the problems was that there was no clear protagonist.

When that storyline was resolved, they didn’t send these characters back to their world and their own time. They came to the original setting for the series, to live among the past versions of themselves. And then they merged all the fairytale worlds and elected the original villain to be queen of them all. That would be the future version of the original villain, who did become a good guy along the way, but still, when you’re redeeming the villain, you don’t give them their original villain goal as a happy ending. You give them what they really needed, deep down inside, which is probably the opposite of their villain goal. When someone starts the series trying to seize power and never actually gives up power in spite of turning good, except when the responsibility is inconvenient, you don’t end the series by giving her ultimate power. It was even weirder given that this character had barely played a role all season. She hadn’t done any big thing to save the day, hadn’t made a huge sacrifice, so it felt very weirdly tacked on.

That series is so frustrating because there’s so much about the concept that I love — fairy tales, magic in a modern setting, mixing up characters from different stories — and most of the characters and the casting were great, but the writing went way off the rails. I could write essays about how they messed up. There was no coherent worldbuilding, so their magic never made a lot of sense, nor did how their society dealt with magic. And their morality was so screwy. The really frustrating thing is that the premise is pretty unique, so I can’t really find a way to file the serial numbers off and do it right and have it still be those elements that I find interesting. The best I can do is take some of the things as inspiration and go off in a different direction with them.

The first season is still really lovely, fleshing out the story of Snow White in the flashbacks and dealing with a cynical modern-day Disney princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess in the present, set in a small town with a real fairytale flavor. And if I get bored, I can amuse myself by mentally rewriting the whole thing, fixing where they went wrong and imagining what might have been.

writing life

Pushy Characters

One thing that’s helping in my current idea explosion is that only two of these projects competing for mental attention involve actual characters, and in both those cases, I’ve already developed those characters and written an entire book with them, so the characters aren’t being particularly pushy about telling me their stories.

With the other idea, it’s more about the world right now and the kinds of stories that might take place in it. I have roles that will need to be filled, but they aren’t yet actual characters. I just have one real character telling me stuff about himself and demanding attention. The weird thing is that he’s mostly a supporting character until he eventually gets his own book. My plan for this series is that it’s mostly about the world, with loosely interconnected stories taking place in that world. You can jump into the series at any point and still understand that book, but there are crossovers and things woven in and out, so the more of the books you’ve read, the more you’ll get out of them. I had in mind a character who would appear in a usually minor role in all the books and be someone kind of intriguing, so you’d want him to get his own book, and then we finally do get his book and learn who he really is and what he’s really been up to.

Well, he’s started telling me all that. I guess it will help if I know the details before he makes his first appearance.

I can deal with worlds and stories trying to flesh themselves out in my head and with plot events and scenes coming to mind. It’s the characters who get distracting when they start telling me about themselves and I hear their voices in my head. Owen was one of those characters. He took over my brain as soon as I started writing the first book in the series, and I knew it was time to wrap up the series when he left me alone at the end of the last book.

I won’t even be ready to start writing this other series until maybe the fall, so it may get annoying having this guy leaning over my shoulder, giving me hints. It did help to write out what I know about him so far. I haven’t come up with anything new about him since then.

But since it’s a good cold, rainy, dark, gloomy day (my kind of weather, as long as I’m snug at home), I may do a movie afternoon of movies that might inspire me, and that means I’ll probably get new ideas.


Idea Time

I’ve made the mistake of having multiple projects all in the same phase at the same time. I often work on more than one thing at a time. There may be something I’m editing/proofreading and getting ready for publication, something I’m drafting, and something I’m researching or brainstorming. I’ll do the editing in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and research in the evening.

That how things were working recently. I was doing market research reading for one thing (I’m going to rework something I’ve written to go after a different market, so I’m reading books in that market to get a sense of the style and pacing), revising another thing, and researching another thing. Usually there’s a flow, so that after I finish revising one thing, I start drafting the thing I’ve been researching. But I’m in a unique circumstance, in that the thing I’m researching is a bigger project that’s taking a lot of research, so it’s nowhere near ready to be written, and I’m moving straight to drafting the sequel to the book I just finished revising.

The idea phase for all these things blew up at once yesterday. I got the idea for the sequel and got it decently fleshed out, so I can start doing serious development on it. Meanwhile, although I’ve been doing background research on the world for that other project, that research sparked a bunch of ideas yesterday, including an entire plot, and that world is starting to come into focus. And then I also started to get a sense of how the thing I’m reworking might go in this new structure.

I had three books trying to write themselves in my head last night. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of sleep. I’m surprised that I don’t seem to have dreamed any of them, and I wasn’t getting them muddled. They all remained distinct. It was more like a music player on shuffle, where a song from one album would play, and then it would flip over to a song from another album, then over to a song from a third album, and then at random among all three albums.

I may have to do some massive brain dumping today, writing out everything I know about all three ideas.

Tomorrow is supposed to be the kind of cold, rainy day I’ve been longing for, and I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, so I may treat the day as a kind of retreat, with some brainstorming and some viewing of related movies to help spur more ideas.

Hibernation Season

We’ve reached the time of year when I really just want to hibernate. I joke about being part bear. In January and February, I want nothing more than to wrap up in a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book (that I’m either reading or writing). It’s not a seasonal depression because I absolutely love it and it makes me very happy. It’s that Danish hygge thing. There’s a similar concept in Norwegian, koselig. It loosely translates to “cozy,” and it has a lot to do with enjoying warmth in the midst of winter. Some nice, fuzzy socks, books, candles, maybe a fire in the fireplace, a hot drink, and a blanket, and the nastier it is outside, the better. When I first read about this concept, I had a big “That’s it!” reaction, so apparently it’s genetic. My Norwegian blood must run true.

This works great if you make your living by reading and writing books. It’s perfect working conditions, and I tend to get a lot done at this time of year.

The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t conveniently stop, and the interruptions that require dealing with the outside world feel even ruder. I really don’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but I still have to get groceries, return library books (I also need books, but I have enough of a stockpile at home that I wouldn’t suffer), and teach children’s choir.

Today I’m trying to psych myself up to either go to the library, go to the grocery store, or go see Frozen 2 (I have to deal with small children, so I really need to be able to communicate with them about things that matter to them). But it’s gray and foggy, and the blanket is calling. I seem to have missed my chance at the early showtime for Frozen, and the fog is lifting, so maybe I’ll walk to the library and take care of an errand and get exercise in one fell swoop. Then back to my blanket, even though it’s actually fairly warm today.

What Season is it Today?

We had a rather crazy weekend around here, starting with warm weather and severe storms on Friday. It was also the weekend of the Choristers Guild workshop, so I actually had to leave the house. It was supposed to rain off and on all day, then a line of storms would come through in the evening. I decided to play it safe and skipped the last session, since it was just sight reading through a bunch of music and I was losing my voice (the session is intended to let choir directors hear some music they might want to select, so it doesn’t really apply to what I do, but it is fun singing in a room full of professional musicians). I managed to drive home between cloudbursts, so I was fine, but then the tornado warnings started.

The first warning expired right before the storm reached me, but then there was a new warning, and on TV, they zoomed in on the radar to show where there was rotation in the storm, and I could see exactly where my house is, and they mentioned my street. So, I headed into the downstairs bathroom (the closest thing I have to a storm shelter). They lifted the warning soon after that, and the storm moved off to the east. It seems to have just been a radar tornado that didn’t actually hit the ground, since I drove through the area it hit and saw no damage.

After going to bed with thunderstorms still going on, I woke the next morning to the sound of sleet. And, yep, it was another day when I had to leave the house (for day 2 of the workshop). But, again, it worked out okay because it was clear while I was driving, and it was above freezing, so the roads were okay. In the middle of the first session, it started snowing. It was rather distracting, all the lovely snow dancing around in the sky. Apparently, farther north and west from there (like, at my house), it actually accumulated a little. Where I was, it was just flurries, with nothing sticking to the ground.

Then the sun came out and it warmed up, and I drove home on a nice, sunny day.

So, yeah, the two days out of the month when I absolutely had to be somewhere, we had the kind of weather that usually has me hunkered down at home, refusing to leave the house. I wouldn’t mind a nice, snowy Saturday morning that I could spend sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, watching it snow.

Really, that’s the best way to have snow when you’re an adult, just flakes fluttering around in the sky but with no impact on the ground.

There’s a chance of another rainy day later this week, and I’m planning a reading/movie day because I’m at just the stage of work when that will be perfect. Now, watch the forecast change.

My Books

New Book Day

It’s new book day! My Audible Original book (which means it’s only available in audio), Make Mine Magic, is available today.

This is a fun contemporary fantasy with a touch of romance, along the lines of the Enchanted, Inc., books, but in a different fictional “universe.”

A woman taking her dream vacation honeymoon on her own after getting left at the altar does a good deed that leads her into a strange and magical side of New York that tourists don’t often get to see, and she finds herself in the middle of a magical power struggle.

The germ of this idea came from something that actually happened to me, though the outcome was very different. When I was in New York doing my location research for the Fairy Tale books, I was waiting for a “walk” signal to go from Columbus Circle to Central Park, and the woman standing next to me asked if I could help her cross the street. She was blind and using a white cane. The funny thing was, when I was in college, I volunteered for the services for blind students office, which mostly meant recording textbooks and exam questions by reading them out loud, but I sometimes was asked to escort students around campus, so I knew how to assist the woman. I found it interesting that out of all the people who were at that intersection at that time, she managed to ask a person who knew how to assist her.

When I was brainstorming ideas for a book proposal, that incident popped into my head as a good “what if” — how did she know, what if she had some way of reading who/what I really was, and what might have happened next? In reality, we went our separate ways after I got her safely to the other side of the street, but what if …?

Incidentally, this was an “oh, by the way” idea. When they asked if I’d like to write an Audible Original, I gave them several ideas. A couple of them were story ideas I’d been playing with for ages. I had chapters already written and had thoroughly developed those worlds. Right before I submitted the proposal, this idea popped into my head, and I added it as an “oh, by the way” thing. It was the idea they chose.

There may be a print version coming later, but it’s exclusive to audio for at least a year.