writing

Building a New World

I finished my proofreading! In the future, I really need to avoid doing two books back-to-back like that. I need to do other kind of work in between, not just for my brain but for my voice. I proofread by reading out loud — the best way to make sure you’re reading what’s there rather than what you think should be there, as well as a great way to spot awkward phrasing, repeated words, etc. Reading entire novels out loud for weeks at a stretch when I’m used to not talking much on a normal day really seems to have strained me because my throat’s a bit sore (though some of that may be due to high mountain cedar levels). I may have to give myself vocal rest this weekend (and remember not to talk to myself out loud).

I let myself sleep late and have a lazy morning today because wrapping up a book should be celebrated, and then this afternoon I have to dive into planning my next projects.

One thing I have to figure out is what my heroine wants. That’s such a basic part of fiction, but I realized once I got started thinking about it that although I have what felt like a fleshed-out character, I have no idea what she might want, aside from the story goal (which I’m also not entirely clear on). The one thing I can think of feels like it’s overused and a bit of a cliche, but being different and doing the opposite thing means the story has no drive. People wanting something bigger or more than where they are is such a standard thing (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) but content people make terrible protagonists, unless something absolutely forces them out of their contentment. I don’t want to blow up her world, and I don’t want to make her hate having to do the thing she has to do, which means I have to make her something less than content. This is going to take some thought.

Meanwhile this is a “secondary world” story, so it’s not based in our world, and that’s rather liberating. I’m somewhat basing it on a particular period of our history (clothing, technology level, society), but I can change things I don’t like. For instance, I can have lovely late 18th century-inspired dresses but skip the powdered wigs on men and women. In my world, they don’t do wigs. I can also have less sexism, so girls can do things they wouldn’t have been allowed to do in our world’s history. I just have to decide how much their world follows ours — we moved into the Directoire style that morphed into Empire, with the kinds of dresses you see in Jane Austen movies, in part because of the French Revolution and looking back at Greece as a model democratic society, so women tried to dress like they were Greek statues. In a world without a Greece or a France, would the same kind of transition have happened? Or would it have happened for a different reason — some fashion leader is seen outside in her nightgown, and soon everyone’s dressing that way? Or maybe there were still statues in flowing robes for another reason, and people start emulating that style. That style change was so drastic that it makes a lovely visual shorthand to separate those who are on the leading edge of fashion from those who are more provincial, like the latest season of Poldark, in which the women who’d been to London dressed very differently from those who’d stayed in Cornwall, and once a Cornwall woman had been to London, she returned home wearing very different clothes. Cornwall was still in Georgian style, with a tight bodice and full skirt, while London was in Regency style, with the column silhouette and high waist.

And, no, thinking of setting a book in a world that emulates this era is not merely an excuse to watch a bunch of Jane Austen movies. Really. (Though it may have been influenced by the fact that my PBS station is rerunning the Pride and Prejudice miniseries.)

Life

Walking

I mentioned the other day that I’ve been forced to admit that I feel better and am more productive when I exercise first thing in the morning. This time of year, the weather isn’t always conducive to that, so I’ve dragged out my exercise trampoline and walk or jog in place in the comfort of my living room. I’ve found that the best way to do this isn’t to watch exercise videos (though there are some designed for the mini trampoline that I’ll have to try). Instead, it’s travel videos, and my favorite thing is a series I found on Amazon Prime called Walks Around Britain.

Basically, it’s about all the walks you can take on public footpaths throughout Britain. A camera follows the host for a walk as the various highlights are pointed out, so you kind of feel like you’re doing the walk, too. Each episode is about 24 minutes and contains two walks (they only hit the high points, so it’s not in real time, unlike the Slow TV Norwegian train rides, which can be fun, too). A full episode is just enough for a morning walk/jog, or if I know I’m going to be walking somewhere later in the day, one of the walks in an episode is enough to get the day started.

Hohenecken Castle, site of Sunday walks (Photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Ulli1105 – Own work, CC BY 3.0)

This show makes me miss living in Europe. They have a similar network of public walking paths in Germany, and when we lived there, we’d often load up backpacks with drinks and a picnic lunch and head out on a weekend for a day’s walking. In one home, we lived right next to a forest with a lot of good trails, so we didn’t even have to get in the car to go for a long walk in the woods. At another home, we lived near a hill with a ruined castle on top, so one of our standard walks was to go up the hill to the castle.

We don’t have anything really like that here, not on that scale. There are some walking paths through parks, and there’s one I can walk to on the edge of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, most of those paths are near a river or lake and tend to flood. And our country is so much bigger that there are fewer opportunities to make an easy day trip to go walking and see the country that way.

I got really nostalgic during this morning’s “walk” when the host was walking up a hill to a ruined castle (in Wales) with his daughters and dog. It was so much like those Sunday afternoons when we’d decide to just walk up to the castle, or when we’d drive to a place where the footpath would lead to or past a castle.

I was already into reading fantasy books, but I suspect that being able to just take a walk to a castle on an average day helped fuel that interest. A castle became something concrete, not just something out of books.

When I visited England, I got a map of some walks and spent a day walking from village to village in the Cotswolds. This show is making me want to go again to do more walking like that, since I love walking as a way of touring. I entertain the occasional dream of selling my house, getting a longer-term tourist visa, renting a cottage somewhere, and spending months exploring thoroughly while writing a book.

Alas, for the time being, I’ll have to make do with the nearby park (if it’s not flooded) when I get the itch to walk in the woods.

writing life

Learning

I’m getting close to the end of my week of proofreading, and my voice is getting tired from all that reading out loud. I think this may have to be a quiet weekend, and fortunately the choir isn’t singing Sunday, other than the usual hymn-type stuff. Then I’ll be done with editing for a while and can be creative again.

There’s nothing like having something tedious to do to really spark creativity. It’s like your brain is tempting you away from what you need to do. But I will prevail!

I’m already seeing the movie of the next thing I want to work on in my head. I’ve got the opening scenes more or less mentally written. I have a lot more to figure out, though, before I’m ready to start work. I suspect I’ll really fall into a research rabbit hole because there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn about to make this work, and the trick is to be honest with myself about what I really need to know for the book and what it’s just fun to learn about. I may be on the verge of developing a new hobby I don’t really need.

That’s one of my favorite things about this line of work. There’s always something new to learn about and explore. For my books, I’ve learned about business, about the history of various locations, lots of folklore, a number of areas of history where school barely scratched the surface, clothing, technology, philosophies, various historical figures, etc. I’ve read a wide variety of novels that I might not have read otherwise. It’s almost like each book is a new advanced degree.

And that’s not counting the stuff I try to learn in general, like psychology (for character development), personality (ditto), writing craft, business practices, marketing, etc. I’m currently trying to figure out Excel. I’ve been doing my bookkeeping using tables in Word, which you can use like spreadsheets and wondered if I’d get more function in Excel, but then I discovered that Excel is a big battery hog. My laptop was draining a lot faster, and a diagnostic pointed to Excel (and battery life went back to normal after I shut down Excel). So maybe that’s not something I want to spend a lot of time learning. It’s probably overkill for my needs.

I do think that a certain degree of natural curiosity is essential to being a good novelist. If you don’t like looking things up and learning, you’re either not going to write something vivid and realistic or you’re going to hate doing what it takes to flesh out your characters and your world.

Life

Annoying Realizations

In my ongoing quest to optimize my life, I’ve come to one annoying realization: Exercise is key.

I’m essentially a sedentary person. Most of the things I enjoy doing involve sitting — reading, writing, watching TV, knitting. My most active hobby is cooking. I do like taking long walks and going on hikes, but it hasn’t generally been a daily habit.

I had to change that in the last couple of years. I’d been taking a ballet class and injured my knee during that, then ended up in physical therapy. The therapy required daily exercise, and my knee feeling better meant I started walking more often. I was doing well until winter hit, and I slacked off. Then the whole blood pressure/thyroid thing hit, and I was out of commission until I started feeling better, and then I was motivated to exercise more regularly. Alas, the winter slack-off thing happened again. It was too cold to comfortably walk in the morning, so I said I’d do it later, but then I’d get busy and not get around to it.

This time, though, I started to feel the effects. The double whammy of the thyroid issues and the medication I’m on for the blood pressure means I’m extra sensitive to cold, so I tend to sit at home wrapped up in blankets, but then that made me even more sensitive to cold, and I just generally didn’t feel great. When there was a warm day and I took a walk, I felt so much better, so I’ve tried to get back in the habit. If it’s too cold to walk in the morning, I get out the jogging trampoline and walk/jog while I watch something (travel programs are good for that because I feel like I’m walking through some interesting place).

What I’m finding is that if I exercise in the morning, I’m less cold, so I’m able to be more active throughout the day instead of sitting huddled in a blanket the whole time. I have more energy, and I’m more productive, getting more work done. If I want to stay healthy and functional, I need to make a habit of this.

And I really kind of hate that. I like easing into my day, lazing around in pajamas instead of getting dressed and going for a walk. But I can feel such a difference that it makes no sense not to do it. Maybe after a long enough time of feeling that difference, I’ll look forward to it instead of having to force myself. In the meantime, I have to remind myself of how icky I started feeling when I was slacking off.

This is right up there with the advice to write first thing in the morning instead of easing into the day. The difference it makes is too huge to ignore, but in a way, I hate that it works because I don’t particularly like arranging my day that way.

Wildly Flying Ideas

That new idea I got a couple of weeks ago has really taken off. I’ve started doing some research into the subject matter, and the whole thing is taking shape. The other night, I even found myself creating a character in my sleep. I’d been thinking about a role in the story and pondering what kind of character would fill that role. Then I woke up with a complete character in my head, right down to the name. I had his current situation, his personality, his appearance, and his backstory.

This one’s going to take a lot of research, including some in-person stuff. I’ll need to track down some subject matter experts and see if they’ll talk to me and let me observe some things.

I even have a general sense of what the plot/conflict are going to be, but that part needs a lot of fleshing out. I think some of it will come with the research, so I’m not trying to force it yet.

The tricky thing is that all of these wildly flying ideas are coming while I’m wrapping up proofreading on another book. I’m reading it out loud, and I find my mind wandering as I do it. It’s like the reading is on autopilot and although I’m reading each word, I’m not registering it because my mind is busy working on something else. I’m having to take the proofreading in chunks with breaks in between to write down the ideas I came up with while reading.

I’ll finish the proofing this week, and then I can really dive into the brainstorming and research.

Milestones

I’ve hit a big personal milestone this week, plus it’s the anniversary of another milestone.

I paid off my mortgage yesterday (though the payment actually went through today because we just missed the cutoff time yesterday afternoon at the bank). That’s about 9 and a half years early. I’ve been paying extra on it each month, and I realized that if I kept up that pace this year, I’d pay it off by the end of the year. Since I had the funds in savings, I figured I might as well do it now, especially since the mortgage interest rate was so much higher than the interest I had in savings. Now my living expenses will be a lot lower, and I have no debt (aside from the credit cards that I pay off each month), but I need to rebuild my savings. That’s more incentive to write!

Tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of me first sending the book that became Enchanted, Inc. out into the world. On that day in 2004, I sent the initial query to an agent, pitching that book. A few days later I got a response asking for the first 50 pages. I eventually ended up signing with that agent, who still represents me.

The publishing world has changed a lot since then, and my career has gone in directions I couldn’t have imagined at that time. To be honest, I expected that book to be a bigger deal than it ended up being. It’s sold really well over the years, and people who do read it tend to love it. But I thought it was ideally positioned to be a hit if it was handled properly, and it sort of fell between the cracks. As successful as it’s been lurking in relative obscurity, I can’t help but imagine what it could have done if it had been given any kind of push. But that’s water under the bridge, and the publisher has continued supporting the series even after all this time. Better to do better than they expected and sell steadily over more than a decade than to be a flash in the pan. I can’t change the past, so I can only move on to the future.

My mortgage celebration will have to wait until next weekend, when I’m done with this book and letting myself have a little break. And then I’ll probably have confirmation from the mortgage company so it will be official (I just have the confirmation from my bank that the transfer went through).

Editing and More Editing

I have completed my copyedits. Now comes the fun of reading the whole book out loud to myself so that I can catch any errors. That’s also when pet words or awkward phrasing jump out at me, and I can see if putting in the copyedits introduced any other errors.

And then when I’m done with that, I’m going to indulge in a fit of pure creativity, since I’ve spent the whole month in editing mode. I’ve got a couple of projects to research. I may write a short story or two. I might even get wacky and take a day off to do something non-work-related. Then there’s some getting my house in order that needs to be done, and I want to set up some promotional things. It’ll just feel nice not to have a deadline hanging over me for a little while.

I have a new idea I want to play with, something that gave me the “ooh” tingle, and it keeps fleshing out in my head. I have a concept. I have a main character. I have what I think will be the central conflict. I have the beginnings of a world. It’s going to take a bit of research to flesh it out further, but I’m already falling in love with the main character, who is rather different from what I usually write, so I think it’ll be fun to see the world through her eyes.

But first, editing. Yay.

writing

Copyedits and School Flashbacks

I’m working on copyedits for Enchanted, Inc. book 9 right now. This is the phase when I look at the manuscript that the copyeditor has marked up and insert the changes into my copy of the manuscript, deciding which ones to accept or reject. The copyeditor is essentially a professional nitpicker, not only spotting things like grammar, spelling, punctuation, missing words, misused words, typos, and the like, but also keeping track of continuity — she was wearing a hat in the previous scene, but now there’s no mention of a hat. Is she still wearing the hat or did she take it off? Where did she put the hat when she took it off? Does she put it back on when she goes outside again?

I have a wonderful copyeditor, but I still struggle with this phase of a project because it takes me right back to my school days. It feels just like when you’ve had a paper or essay graded and the teacher hands it back to you, covered in red marks. It isn’t actually like that at all because a copyeditor isn’t judging you (except maybe inside). You’re not being graded. It’s a partnership to make the book better. The editor is helping you. It’s more like giving your paper to a friend to read over it for you and make suggestions before you hand it in to the teacher to be graded. Your friend’s marks don’t count as part of your score. They just help you improve your work before it is judged or graded. I’ll have to remember that analogy the next time I get copyedits and spend a day procrastinating furiously because I dread looking at my manuscript and seeing marks all over it.

I suspect I’ll still cringe when the copyeditor calls out an obvious mistake. I swear, words go missing between the time I review the manuscript before handing it in and the time the copyeditor sees it. Most of my edits, though, have to do with compound words and keeping straight which are written as two words, which are smashed together to make one word, and which are hyphenated. That all depends on which style guide you’re using. I learned Associated Press style in journalism school, but publishing tends to use the Chicago Manual of Style, and they sometimes do them in different ways. In a lot of cases, there are several “correct” ways to do it, but you go with what’s in the style guide you’re using for the sake of consistency.

And I swear, they change the rules between books because I try to internalize them on each copyedit and do what the editor said the last time, and it still ends up getting changed.

The other thing a copyedit will make glaringly obvious is which are your “pet” words for that book. You’ll think you’ve caught those words you overuse and you’ll be sure you cut them all out, and then you’ll get a note from the editor saying, “You used this word 60 times in the book. You should probably cut most of these uses.”

The really annoying thing is that in spite of this kind of edit and proofreading after making the edits, you’ll still end up with at least one error in the finished book.

Back to Work

I gave myself a long weekend after getting that book turned in, sort of. I spent Friday and Saturday at a Choristers Guild workshop, which felt like putting in a whole day at work, complete with commuting. Then I gave myself the holiday on Monday because the next thing I need to work on is also editing/proofreading, and I need a break between projects. It wasn’t entirely a holiday, in that I did some work-related things, but I wasn’t doing actual writing.

The choir workshop was interesting, as always. Friday I focused on children’s stuff, with workshops on teaching music to children, considering their neurological development, and games you can play. Saturday, when I’d done all the children’s workshops I wanted, I went to some adult sessions. The clinician was the former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and boy, did he put us through a workout, since he was making us do the exercises he was teaching for directors to do with their choirs. I was mostly there to learn things about singing and what to practice on my own, but I picked up a few things I might be able to do with the kids. Then there was a session about the history of the choir, with lots of behind-the-scenes tidbits about the 2002 Winter Olympics (apparently, Sting is a lovely person and even sent a thank-you note to the choir for singing backup for him) and how they put together the PBS Christmas specials. We’re seeing the previous year’s concert since it takes them nearly half a year to edit and produce the show. They’re taking bits from multiple performances and putting them all together to get the best version of everything. This year on PBS, we’ll be seeing Kristin Chenoweth as their guest artist.

Now I should be diving back into work with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, but I mostly want to nap. It’s that time of year when the hibernation instinct is strong. I think I could make myself write because sometimes I get my best stuff while in a sleepy haze, but proofreading is going to be hard. That takes focus, and it’s not that much fun, especially when that Shiny New Idea is kicking into gear.

My Books

From Book to Screen

One of the comments/questions I receive most often is along the lines of “Enchanted, Inc. would make a good movie or TV series” or “Why isn’t Enchanted, Inc. a TV series or movie?” Sometimes it’s “Why don’t you make Enchanted, Inc. into a TV series or movie?” I love hearing that question because it means people love my books and want to see them come to life, but it’s really not so simple as just deciding to make it happen.

I’m not the one who can make a movie or TV series happen. I could stop it, since no one can make that show or movie without my permission, but making a movie or TV series takes a lot of money. I’d have to have JK Rowling kind of clout to just decide I want it done and make it happen — and even there, it’s mostly because they know that movies made from her books are successful, so they want to be a part of it.

For a book to be made into a TV series or movie, it takes both love and money. Someone in a position to make things happen has to fall in love with the story enough to go through everything it takes to get a project through the whole process, and someone has to put up the millions of dollars it takes to get made. The person who falls in love may be someone at the network, production company, or movie studio. It might be a writer, producer, or director, who then has to get someone who can fund the project on board. It might be an actor who loves the book or sees a potentially powerful role who then finds someone who can fund the project.

Enchanted, Inc. has had a fair amount of interest in movie/TV series. There have been writers and actors who wanted the project but couldn’t get the funding (apparently, at one time Anna Faris was trying to get something done with it). It was actually optioned for film and a screenplay was written (by the guy who went on to write I, Tonya), but the project didn’t make it past that point. There was a team with a showrunner (from shows you’d have heard of) and head writer who put together a really good TV series pitch, but they didn’t manage to get any production companies to put up the money for them to put together a pilot to then be able to get network interest.

Mostly it comes down to whether the production companies, studios, or networks think that enough people will be interested in a TV show or movie for it to make money. The main reason they think a show or movie based on a book will make money for them is if the book is already a huge bestseller with a built-in audience. Most of the books made into shows or movies are already bestsellers — the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris were already big before the series, the Song of Ice and Fire books were already bestsellers before Game of Thrones was a hit on HBO, the Harry Potter books were a phenomenon long before the movies. They all became bigger after the shows/movies because more people see TV shows or watch movies than buy books, but there was a significant audience who knew about these things before they made it to the screen. Alas, while my books have sold reasonably well, they are nowhere near bestseller status, and if everyone who’d bought the books watched a movie or TV show, it wouldn’t even make a blip in the ratings or box office.

For non bestsellers, buzz can help — that sense that even if it’s not a big enough mainstream hit to be a bestseller, it does have a kind of cult following, so that the people who are into it are really, really into it. And that’s not really happening with the Enchanted, Inc. books. I know there are a lot of fans of those books, but there isn’t really a “fandom” (at least, not that I’m aware of). There’s nothing really to indicate to producers that there are people out there who would help raise the profile of a movie or TV series by helping generate buzz. There aren’t tumblr communities, memes, discussion groups, conventions. The last Google alert I got on the term “Enchanted, Inc.” was for a liquor distribution company that uses that name. The first book came out in 2005, so it’s pretty much old news, and people aren’t really talking about it anymore. I’m a fairly obscure author. I barely have 600 Twitter followers and there aren’t many more followers than that on my Facebook page (and only a fraction of those people actually see anything I post). That’s not the sort of thing that makes Hollywood executives sit up and take notice.

The other possibility is that it’s a kind of story or subject matter that tends to be successful, and that depends on trends. Right now, it seems like most of the fantasy stuff is dark. I can’t think of anything along the lines of the Enchanted, Inc. series that’s currently a hit. I do think maybe the time is right for a fun romantic comedy with a touch of magic, but someone at a network/streaming service/studio has to decide to make that leap and go against the current trend toward dark and gritty.

What can fans do if they want to see their favorite book on the screen? This applies to any book you would like to see made into a movie or TV show, not just mine. For one thing, buy the books and tell others about the books so they’ll buy them. Bestseller status does get attention. Leave reviews on the bookseller sites, on Goodreads, on Book Bub. Raise the level of buzz by talking about the books on social media. Make and share memes and reviews. Talk about how you think they’d make good movies or TV series. I don’t know if tagging the networks/streaming services in tweets suggesting books for them to make into shows would help, but it might not hurt (I do know that when a Netflix-related account asked for suggestions, Enchanted, Inc. wasn’t mentioned — as I said, there’s not a lot of buzz).

Basically, the books that get made into movies or TV shows are the books that are being talked about publicly. Telling the author doesn’t do a lot of good. The author is just going, “I know, right?” You have to tell the world.

It may also help to support movies and shows like the books you’d like to see hit the screen. If something like that is successful, it raises the chances of more like it being made. Then you can also use that as a discussion point for your buzz — if you like this series, you should read these books, and they’d make a good series, too.

So, long answer. The short version is yeah, I’d love to see it happen, but it’s not something I can do a lot about, and my books may have good potential but don’t have the awareness to really push a project like that through.