Writing through the Holidays

The nice thing about an early Thanksgiving is that it gives us a bit of a grace period between Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. December doesn’t start until next Saturday, and Advent begins next Sunday. That makes this a relatively quiet week, holiday-wise, so there’s a chance to recover between holidays.

Which is good because this is going to be a busy week for me. I’m speaking to a university writing class tomorrow, I have a pretty intense choir night Wednesday, and I’m wrapping up a book. The book isn’t on a real deadline, as it’s mostly a personal project, but I figure that since it’s National Novel Writing Month, I might as well go with it, even though I didn’t start until halfway through the month. I’m a cinch to get to the NaNoWriMo 50,000 words, but I suspect I’ll end up going beyond that to get the whole story in, and I don’t know if I’ll get all that done by the end of the month.

Then I’ll have written two rough drafts in two months. Whew! December will be devoted to revising rough draft #1, which is due in January. I may work on something else for fun the rest of the month. Then January will be for revising rough draft #2 and proofreading draft #1. After that, it’s Rebels #4.

I think I’m going to keep up my current work schedule on most days in December, but when there’s the option for a fun holiday event or activity, I’ll let myself take time off for it. For instance, the classical radio station is doing a week of live lunchtime concerts downtown, and I plan to hit at least one of them. On nice evenings, I’m going to try to take a twilight walk to look at Christmas lights (the extra exercise will be good for me). There will be at least one shopping day, maybe a weekday trip or two to the nice malls.

I had a good Thanksgiving, and I even managed to get in at least a minimum word count while I was out of town, which I generally haven’t been able to do. I usually really slack off in writing time in December, so we’ll see if I can maintain some kind of consistency and also enjoy the holidays. Not having cable will help, since I won’t be able to spend all my evenings watching cheesy Christmas movies.


Thanksgiving Week

I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving! I’m going to be taking the rest of the week off from posting since I want to get some writing done and something has to go to free up time for travel and hanging out with the family. Today is for working my way through the pre-holiday checklist. I’ve had my tires rotated and have bought a birthday gift for my mother (she has a Thanksgiving-week birthday) and a Christmas gift for my brother (since we probably won’t overlap at Christmas), and now the laundry is going.

I went to see the new Fantastic Beasts movie on Friday, and I may need a refresher re-read of the Harry Potter books because I’d forgotten who a lot of the people from that era were to recognize how they linked to the generation from this series. Like, there was one big revelation that I got an entirely different meaning out of until I read something online and realized that I’d mixed up some things and had the timeline off.

I’m hoping now that things are set up that the future films can focus more on the characters because that’s where the strength of this series is. Newt is such a refreshing hero because he doesn’t have any of the usual “hero” traits. He’s shy, somewhere on the autistic spectrum (Eddie Redmayne confirmed that this is the way he’s playing him), not at all interested in power or glory or being considered brave. He just wants to take care of his creatures and have a world where creatures and people are treated well, but when something threatens that, he’ll step up.

Jude Law is one of those actors I don’t think of as a favorite, but I seem to really like him in everything I see him in. He makes a good younger Dumbledore. It’s fun getting to see Hogwarts in various other eras.

But at the same time, I wasn’t particularly blown away by the movie. I don’t know if I was in the wrong frame of mind, if I was hungry (I’d planned on getting popcorn and had eaten lunch accordingly, but couldn’t get any service at the concession stand and gave up), or if I was distracted by the book I’m writing that kept trying to play itself out in my head while I was watching the movie.

It’s great that this book is so alive in my head. It makes writing it like taking dictation. But it’s also a pain because it makes it difficult to enjoy anything else.

Have a happy Thanksgiving! See you next week.

writing life

The Closet vs. the Book

I am tentatively planning the Epic Closet Purge this weekend. I need to do the seasonal closet changeover, anyway, as the old suitcase full of my winter clothes is currently sitting in the closet floor, where I’ve been pulling things out as needed. I need to pull the summer things out of the closet to make room for the winter things, and that makes it a good time to really evaluate the summer things as I take them out and the winter things as I put them away.

When I’m trying to clear out my closet, I have a bad habit of not wanting to get rid of anything. Either I’m still wearing things (whether or not I should) or I have sentimental attachments based on where I got things or where I’ve worn things. Sometimes it’s good when I stumble upon something I haven’t worn in ages and realize it makes a good outfit with something else, so it’s like shopping in my closet. But other times it means I’m hanging on to things I never wear. Then when it’s time to get dressed, I stare at a closet full of things I supposedly love too much to get rid of and wail, “I hate all my clothes and have nothing to wear!”

The “tentatively” part is because I’m really on a roll with this book I’m working on. I know what will happen several scenes ahead, and I’m having fun writing it. I want to be writing rather than having to force myself to write. When I’m supposed to be writing, I often have cleaning and organizing urges. I desperately want to purge and organize my closet. Now that I really need to purge and organize my closet, I desperately want to write.

So, I may not quite get to the full-on “take everything out and assess each item as to whether it sparks joy in you” purge. I may get rid of a few of the obvious things while I do a seasonal swap and then get back to writing. And then when I’m working on something else, maybe I’ll act on the “I must organize my closet” urge.


Will I Be in Your Town?

I think one of the questions I’m asked most often by readers, other than “when is the next book coming?” is something along the lines of “will you be coming to my town?” This especially tends to come up when I announce any kind of public appearance.

The answer is usually no, and the reasons apply to other authors, not just me.

For most authors other than big names or those a publisher has decided to really push, we have to pay for our own travel to book events. A few conferences pay travel expenses for speakers, and the guests of honor at conventions have their travel paid by the conventions, but otherwise, we’re on our own. That makes it expensive to travel beyond the immediate area, and few book events pay off well enough to make it worth our while.

For a traditionally published book, the author earns less than a dollar per copy, and most of that will end up going toward the advance that was already paid, so it takes a while before authors will earn extra money by selling more books. A really good booksigning for someone at my level will sell about twenty books. There are indirect benefits, though. Any advance publicity for the signing will help increase awareness, there’s usually a display of the books in the store before and after the signing for more visibility, and once the staff has met an author, they’re more likely to hand-sell and recommend those books. That all might add up to make gas money on a short road trip and a night in a cheap motel worth it.

Conventions may or may not sell a lot of books for an author. It depends on whether booksellers at the con stock your books or are willing to take consignment if you bring books (but then you have to buy those books). There’s potential for good exposure on panels because people come to the panels because of the topic or because of other authors on the panels, and they might be intrigued enough with you to look up your books, even if they don’t buy them at the convention. I have had people make Kindle purchases of my books while I was speaking on a panel. I think attending conventions early in my career did a lot for getting my name out there, so there was some benefit. There’s a little less benefit now that I’m established and people aren’t really discovering me unless I go someplace where I’m still unknown, but those places are farther away and more expensive to get to. That’s one of the downsides to living in Texas. It’s so big that the nearest other conventions in the regional circuit are about a three to four-hour drive away, and anything beyond that usually involves flying. Then there’s the issue of getting on programming at conventions where you’re not known. Some conventions require authors to be invited. Some have an application process, but you have to buy a membership before you can apply to speak, so you don’t even know at the time you plan to attend the con whether you’ll get any visibility out of it.

Most of the book festivals don’t cover any expenses for attending authors. I think some publishers may pay to send some authors, but I had to pay my own way to Louisiana for the one I just went to.

I now make my convention plans based on whether there’s something I get out of the event other than publicity and exposure. I usually attend the Nebula Awards conference because I learn a lot there about writing and the business and it’s a valuable networking opportunity. There’s also a booksigning open to the public, so there’s a potential for meeting fans, but selling books is a bonus at that event. I sometimes travel to go to the World Science Fiction Convention or World Fantasy Convention, but again, that’s more about networking and learning than about promotion or meeting fans, and it depends on a lot of factors whether I decide to go. I’m thinking about doing the WorldCon in New Zealand in a couple of years, mostly because it’s a chance to visit there and take a business write-off for the trip. I probably won’t do World Fantasy next year because it’s in the same city as the Nebulas.

Maybe one day I’ll have a publisher decide to give me a push and send me on a book tour. So far, the biggest push I’ve been given was a $300 budget for travel to booksignings in my region, and I stretched it out by staying at inexpensive hotels (they caught the Austin bomber at the hotel where I stayed for a booksigning on that tour). I’ve been a guest of honor at one convention. I’ve been a speaker at a couple of state library conventions where they covered my travel, and I’ve spoken at a couple of writers’ conferences where they paid for me to travel. Otherwise, everywhere I’ve gone, it’s been on my own dime. It gets expensive, especially when you factor in lost time from work. I’m not someone who manages to write during a convention, and then there are the preparation days before and recovery days after, so I could write about a quarter of a novel (or more) during the time I’d be gone for a big convention, and I could buy a BookBub ad for what it costs to go to a WorldCon, and that would sell thousands of books.

So, if you want to see me (or any other author) in your area and it’s far from where I am, the best way would be to suggest me as a guest of honor at a convention in your area (or toastmaster or writers’ workshop instructor). Or suggest me as a speaker at your local writers’ workshop (if they pay travel). If you’re a librarian, state library association conferences (or the ALA) usually pay for authors to speak, so you can suggest me there. Otherwise, I guess just buy a lot of books and tell a lot of people about my books so I sell enough that a publisher might think it’s worthwhile to send me on tour. I’m unlikely to be doing any bookstore signings until I have a new release that’s in stores.

In the meantime, I’m trying to focus on writing rather than traveling because that seems to be the best use of my time and budget. Maybe if I write something really spectacular, that will catch a publisher’s interest.


A New Beginning

I started writing a new book yesterday afternoon. I don’t know where it will go, but more and more of it kept coming to life in my head until I had to get it out, and I got close to 2,000 words written. So I guess I’m doing National Novel Writing Month with a bit of a late start. We’ll see what happens with it, but I did the usual “shiny new idea” thing by writing down what I knew about it, and it kept building and developing instead of fizzling out. Now I have fleshed-out characters and a world with history.

So, I guess I have a new story in the works. We’ll see where it goes from here, but so far, writing has been fun and I’ve looked forward to working on it. I got up this morning and wrote more than a thousand words. When work feels like play, it’s a good sign.

Now, about 25,000 words from now I’ll be struggling and another new idea will hit and it won’t be as much fun, but I’ll enjoy this while it lasts. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s good to be reminded that I started doing this for fun and only later made any money at it. This is reminding me of when I used to scribble in spiral notebooks in my bedroom when I was a teenager, making up stories. I just hope I finish this, unlike those things I wrote as a kid. I was really bad about getting an idea, starting to write it, then getting another idea that was even better, and starting to write it, and so forth.

Now I really want to get back to the story because something good is about to happen and I can’t wait to see it.


Ready to Start

I’m on the verge of starting to write something new. The opening scene has been playing out in my head in different variations, and the one that hit me last night as I was falling asleep feels like it’s the right one. That led to seeing the second scene, and that means that the characters are pretty solid in my head and I’m seeing the movie of this book in my mind. That’s when it gets exciting and fun.

It’s a cold day and I still have a bit of a cold, so spending a day playing in an imaginary land sounds like the way to go. I’ve got my adjustable bed in what I call “recliner mode” so that it works like a chair, I’ve got the electric blanket, and I’ve got a pot of hot tea in the thermos. I’m all set.

Now watch me sputter out after an hour of writing, and I’ll know that there’s more work to do or maybe the idea isn’t viable. That’s why this is a fun/scary/exciting phase of writing, when that perfect, wonderful story in my head crashes into reality and I see what it really looks like.

Fortunately, the cold weather isn’t supposed to stick around long, but it’s been below freezing enough to kill off the mosquitoes, so I’ll be able to enjoy the outdoors even more. Now let’s just hope my cold goes away that quickly.

Cold With a Cold

I’m back home after my quick weekend trip to the Louisiana Book Festival. It was a really nice event. I think my panel went pretty well, and I had a steady flow of people at the signing. A couple were already fans who brought books to be signed, but the rest seemed to be just discovering me, which was nice.

Unfortunately, I got sick while I was there, either being hit with a massive allergy attack or coming down with a cold, so I didn’t get to enjoy the festival fully. It was a bit colder than they forecast. I’d packed for the forecast, but it was really cold, and that didn’t help matters. I was fine during my events in the morning, just with a slightly sore throat, but it got worse as the day went by. After I checked out of my hotel, I just spent the afternoon in the author hospitality room before I headed for the airport, and I fell into bed as soon as I got home.

I’m feeling better now, but I’m giving myself today as a “light duty” day since I’m sick, it’s a national holiday, and the weather is good for a sick day, all cold and gloomy. I’m working on brainstorming a story idea, but I may also let myself watch a movie that kind of counts as “research.”

Tomorrow if I keep feeling better, I can go back to “normal.”


Autumn Pleasures

We’ve been having my favorite kind of weather this week, cool and gray, not quite raining, just a bit misty. The autumn leaves do look glorious on a sunny day, but I love the way the golden trees almost work as a substitute sun on cloudy days, serving as a bright pop of color. I really enjoy my morning walks on these days, and then coming home and having a hot cup of tea.

Though this morning, I dressed a little too warmly for the walk once I got going, and I came home hot and just wanted cold water. I need to remember to expect to be a bit cold at first, and then I’ll warm up quickly.

I may be on the verge of becoming a bird watcher. There’s a network of waterways through my neighborhood, and we have a community of ducks that lives here year-round, but at this time of year, we also get the migrating birds. There’s one kind that I’m trying to figure out. They’re sort of duck-like, but very different from the mallards who live here. They look a bit like loons, but I haven’t heard any of the loon sounds. I’ve been hearing geese, but haven’t seen any of them. Then there are the egrets and herons. Watching all of these birds is fascinating. The other day, they seemed to either think that some leaves in the water were fish or they were playing a game because they were taking turns swooping out onto the water, picking up a leaf, and taking it to shore, where they’d throw it at another bird.

I also like trying to identify trees by their leaves. When I was in fifth grade, we had to do a science project in which we collected as many varieties of leaves as we could find, pressed them in wax paper, and tried to identify them. On the plus side, we lived on the edge of a great forest with walking paths through it, so it was incredibly easy to get leaves. The challenge was that we were in Germany, and the reference books in the school library were American, so the species didn’t quite line up (and this was long before the Internet). I can still identify a lot of trees, but the purely American ones are harder for me.

The squirrels are also fun at this time of year as they run around with their mouths full of acorns. Normally, they don’t seem to mind people, but now they hide from everyone, probably thinking we’re going to steal their stash.

Help! I’m starting to sound like a food blog. This is where I’d finally start talking about the recipe and how I like to eat it when I come home from one of these walks. We’d have a few more paragraphs about the recipe and what I like about it, then lots of pictures of it, then finally the recipe. I should have taken pictures of all these things I was talking about, but I’m usually so busy looking at it all that I don’t think to stop and take pictures, and since I’m walking for fitness, I don’t think about stopping at all. I just take pictures with my eyes and mind so I can remember it.

One More Event

This weekend, I’ll be a speaker at the Louisiana Book Festival, my last big book event of the year. I think they’re stretching the definition of “Louisiana author” a little bit, but they invited me. I don’t even know if they know of my Louisiana connections (my family is from Louisiana, and I lived there briefly when I was a baby). It’s ironic that this is my first big state book festival invitation. So far, Texas hasn’t been interested in me for the state book festival, state teen book festival, or even regional teen book festival. Texas needs to up its game! I also haven’t heard anything from Oklahoma (my actual native state).

I’m on one of the panels for teens, but I’m not sure what kind of audience we’ll have for the first panel in the morning. The up side of that is that I have the rest of the day free to go to the panels I find interesting. And there’s the south Louisiana food. I’m hoping to get a little gumbo and maybe a beignet while I’m there.

It’s just a one-night trip, but I’m doing my usual overpreparation, as though I’ll be gone for a week. My wardrobe planning keeps changing as the weather forecast keeps changing. I was going to buy a new dress for cooler weather, but now it’s going to be chilly enough (and I’ll have to be outdoors enough) that I think I’ll just go with slacks and a sweater, and I have plenty of sweaters I seldom get to wear. There’s a party the night before, and it will probably be too chilly to wear my little black dress unless I also wear a coat, so I think I’ll do a skirt and sweater for that. That means I won’t have to go shopping. I really need to purge my wardrobe before I add more to it.

So, if you’re in Louisiana and coming to the book festival, I hope to see you!


Seasonal Reading

My spooky classic read for this year was The House of the Seven Gables by Nathanial Hawthorne, and it was kind of a bust for “spooky” purposes. It was more atmospheric gothic than truly spooky, possibly because I’ve been to the house it was supposedly based on, and I found it to be a rather pleasant place. I wouldn’t mind at all living there, so it was hard for me to get in the mindset of it being a place where these characters felt trapped.

So I’ll need to find something else for next October, but now I can get back to my normal reading. And, yikes, it’s almost time for holiday-themed reading. I’m a “not until after Thanksgiving” kind of person for Christmas stories, but I need to go searching for some good ones. Or maybe I should write one to release next year.

If you are looking for holiday reads, I do have a Christmas novella, Twice Upon a Christmas. There’s also Christmas-related content in Once Upon Stilettos and Damsel Under Stress. The holiday season is just starting in the third book of the Fairy Tale series, A Kind of Magic. And Rebels Rising takes place during the holiday season.

Hmmm, maybe I should write my own spooky October read. Fall is my favorite season, and I do seem to set books in the fall, but I haven’t gone all out with a book that’s specifically about the season.

Really, when you think about it, Cinderella should be set in the fall because that’s when the pumpkins are ripe. I noticed that they were growing in a greenhouse in the recent Disney live-action version, so it could have been any season, I suppose, but I remember taking the train cross-country in mid-October and seeing the fields of pumpkins in Iowa, so it seems reasonable that Cinderella is set in October. I may make watching that movie one of my fall traditions (hey, any excuse).