TV

The Official Series of Knee Rehab

My main summer project, in addition to writing books, is rehabbing my wonky knee. At the moment, that means two therapy appointments a week, plus “homework” of exercises I’m supposed to do on my own every day. The homework amounts to just under 45 minutes, which is about the length of an episode of a TV drama, minus commercials. That makes it a good opportunity to rewatch a familiar series I have on DVD. I already know what happens, so it doesn’t hurt if I’m a bit distracted by counting reps or have to turn away from the TV to do a particular exercise, but it’s engrossing enough to divert me from all the work, and there’s enough curiosity about what happens next when I only vaguely remember to encourage me to exercise the next day so I can watch the next episode (or extend my workout to the rest of my body and watch a second episode). So, the official TV series of my knee rehab is Once Upon a Time. It’s thematically appropriate to a book idea I want to play with later this summer, if I ever finish the current book, and with the series going into a new phase in the fall, it’s interesting to revisit the beginning.

Spoilers for the series to-date are possible.

I remember being very skeptical of the concept when it was first announced. I remember the sitcom “The Charmings.” There would definitely be a temptation to go overboard into camp, but on the other hand, there would be the temptation to take a cynical approach. However, I love fairy tales. I love fairy tale retellings and mash-ups, so I was intrigued enough to set my VCR (yes, I was slow to jump on the DVR train) when it premiered, since I had to sing in a concert that night. They pretty much hooked me from the opening shot of Prince Charming riding to Snow White’s rescue. Basically, this was a show made for me, with contemporary fantasy, fairy tales, and portals between worlds. Then they made Snow White a sassy bandit fighting a one-woman rebellion against the Evil Queen instead of spending all her time keeping house for the dwarfs, and I was hooked.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the series ended up living up to the promise of what they set up in that first season. In some ways, it went badly off the rails, and that makes for frustrating rewatching. The continuity is terrible, as they kept contradicting themselves. Worldbuilding was never these writers’ strength, but somehow their world because weaker and less defined over time instead of becoming richer and more detailed. Storybrooke in the first few episodes of season one really seemed like a magical place, a small town that someone how managed to be both an idyllic “typical” American small town and a place right out of a storybook. The residents didn’t know they were fairytale characters while they were under the curse, but there were still little details suggesting their true identities. Somehow, all that was lost when the people remembered who they were later and the town seemed a lot more “normal.” They also apparently lost the budget to hire extras, so that there were other patrons in the shops, people walking up and down the streets, and cars driving by in season one, but by season six, the town felt deserted, like only the main characters lived there, and there were no buildings other than the diner, the library with its clock tower, and the houses where the main characters lived, with no buildings in between. There are a couple of lovely CGI shots of the rooftops of the town, as seen from the windows of some of the characters, that were used in the first couple of episodes, and they seem to have forgotten that there’s a whole town out there.

Meanwhile, the fairytale world seemed a lot stronger in the early going, where it really seemed like a place where all the characters lived together. In later seasons, it felt more like silos, or like the characters only ran into each other for that one event. We saw that most of these other kingdoms were in walking distance of each other, and yet none of the rulers seemed to have heard of each other.

I think there was also some waffling about the premise. The writers mentioned in interviews that they were telling the story of the place where the Evil Queen could get a happy ending. There was also a scene in the second episode of a bunch of villains gathered and learning that the curse that was going to be cast would take them to a world where villains could win. That seemed to be setting up the idea that the fairytale world was black-and-white, where the odds were strangely stacked against villains — you were either a villain or a hero, and if you were a villain, no matter how good your plan was, you just couldn’t win — and our world had more shades of gray, with the possibility that the villains might be able to come out ahead. They didn’t take that route at all. We never saw those gathered villains again and don’t know what became of them when the kingdom was transported to our world. The villains don’t seem to have done too badly in the fairytale world — the Evil Queen managed to rule for some time and probably could have remained in power if she’d been content with where she was instead of unable to be happy if Snow White wasn’t happy. I don’t think the writers every really figured out how their world worked and what they meant by heroes and villains, in spite of devoting an entire story arc to it.

Plus, when you think about it, transporting the entire kingdom to a small town in Maine, where they lived frozen in time with no sense of their true identities, was a pretty lame revenge scheme. The Evil Queen still wasn’t happy because she’s the kind of person who’s never satisfied, and she spent decades just watching her enemy lead a mildly dissatisfying life while still being more or less content and happier than the Evil Queen was. She didn’t use the different rules of our world to really come out ahead, didn’t really do anything to make her enemy suffer all that much until the curse was weakening and people were becoming more like their true selves. I kind of feel like the curse and the rationale for it were mostly just a handwave to get the fairytale characters to modern America rather than something that was given any thought or development.

Still, it’s fun to see which modern people are which fairytale characters, or what the fairytale characters are doing in our world. I love the nonlinear storytelling in the flashbacks in the first season, where we start with the curse being cast and work backwards to find out what was really going on, with other parts of the story being a bit mixed up, so seeing a later part puts a previous part into a different context. It was this kind of stuff that got me hooked, for better or worse. I’m done with disc one of season one, so we’ll see what other thoughts I have as the story continues to unfold.

Books

Discovering Fantasy

The other day, the Skiffy and Fanty podcast asked on Twitter what work of fantasy we read as children got us into the genre.

I had to really think about that. I know I read fantasy books from a very early age, starting with fairy tales and moving on to various chapter books. I know I liked books that had magic, witches, ghosts, traveling to other worlds, talking animals, and that sort of thing. I definitely went through a “witch” phase in second grade, probably because Bewitched reruns ran every evening after the news on one of our local stations, and it was mandatory viewing among all the girls in my neighborhood. I went through the library looking for any book with the word “witch” or “magic” in the title. I know I read The Horse and His Boy, from the Chronicles of Narnia, sometime in second or third grade because I was in a horse phase and went through the library checking out every book with the word “horse” in the title or a picture of a horse on the cover. I read The Hobbit in fourth grade because our teacher was reading it out loud to the class every day after recess, a chapter at a time, and I got impatient with that, got the book from the library, and read the whole thing. I read a lot of the Oz books during this time, as well.

But it didn’t occur to me that this was a particular type of book, that this was a type of book I liked, and that I wanted to find more books of this type. There were topics I liked, but I didn’t think of putting all the topics together into categories. I just liked books, period. I was the same way with mysteries. I loved them, particularly the various mystery series that were written for girls, like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Cherry Ames. I did recognize that these were series because they were all about the same character, but I didn’t think in terms of them all fitting into the same category.

I think I first discovered genre in science fiction. I’d read books about spaceships, robots, and aliens before, but I didn’t think of them as a “genre.” Then I saw Star Wars early in fourth grade and became utterly obsessed. I re-read the novelization dozens of times, then my parents gave me one of Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx books (not knowing Foster wrote the Star Wars novelization, so they had no idea how good a transition that really was), telling me it was a similar kind of story and I might like it if I liked Star Wars, and I started to be aware that there was a category of books like that, so I looked for more science fiction.

Early in sixth grade, for some reason I don’t quite recall, I had to meet up with my mother at her office after school. I felt very grown-up catching the shuttle bus from the neighborhood where my school was to the part of the base where my mom’s office was. I had to wait at the office until my mom got off work, and she’d bought a book for me to read to pass the time: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis. I was totally and utterly captivated. That book contains all the elements that to this day are my literary catnip. It was a portal fantasy, in which kids from our world got sent to a magical fairy tale-like world. It was a quest story, so our characters were on an epic road trip with a serious goal at the end. They ran into fantastic creatures and got into and out of scrapes. The two kids barely knew each other at the beginning but were friends by the end. A fun twist that I didn’t realize was a fun twist at the time was that they weren’t rescuing a damsel in distress. It was a prince who was in distress. After I read that book, I wanted more like that. I read the rest of the series, hopelessly out of order, and realized that the “horse” book I’d read when I was younger was part of it, but as obsessed as I became with Narnia, what I really wanted was more books like The Silver Chair, and the rest of the series wasn’t quite it. That’s how I discovered that fantasy was a genre, and I could find more books with no connection to each other but that still had these elements I liked. I went from there to The Lord of the Rings and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I got back into the Oz books, now reading them specifically as fantasy.

I think I was at a prime age and in a prime location for discovering fantasy. At 11, I wanted adventure and magic, but I was just starting to be aware of romance and liked that many fantasy books had that element, but always secondary to the adventure. These books were like the fairy tales I’d enjoyed as a small child, but with more going on. Meanwhile, we were living in Germany at the time, where there was a castle on top of just about every hill. Our weekend-afternoon walks were to the ruined castle on top of the hill that overlooked our neighborhood. This made it so easy to imagine the fantasy worlds and even easier to imagine stepping through a portal in one of those castle walls to find myself in another time and place.

Come to think of it, the book I’m working on now may as well be my Silver Chair. We’ve got a pair of young people who barely know each other traveling to another world where they have a serious mission to carry out, and they’re friends after going through adventures together. I really can’t get enough of this kind of story.

writing life, writing

Dealing With Discouragement

When I was at the Nebula Awards weekend last month, I was on a panel about dealing with discouragement. While preparing for that panel, I thought a lot about that topic, so I thought I’d share some of the ideas I came up with, only some of which actually made it into the panel discussion.

I think just about every writer deals with discouragement in some form or another, and at every stage of his or her career. When you’re just starting to write, you may be discouraged about being able to find time to write or struggling to get all the way through a book. Later, you may be discouraged about your work being rejected. Once you’re published, you can get discouraged by reviews, by the way the publisher treats your book, by sales figures, by the kind of recognition (or lack thereof) you receive. That’s why it’s important to learn and practice good coping skills so you can turn your discouragement into a positive force.

One thing to know is that it’s okay to be discouraged and even angry. The trick is to channel it in a more positive direction rather than letting it fester and become a negative force on you and your career. Eat chocolate, rant and rave a little, throw a beanbag at the wall, vent to your friends. However, do all this in private. A social media meltdown could come back to bite you. It may be a turnoff to industry professionals who may want to work with you in the future, and you don’t want readers or potential readers to think of you as an angry whiner. That doesn’t mean you have to always be Little Mary Sunshine, but you should probably think about and process your discouragement before expressing it publicly rather than ranting out of pure emotion on a public stage. I would also caution you to not get too physically unhealthy in your emotional coping strategies. A little chocolate or a drink with your writer friends is one thing. Drowning your sorrows in alcohol isn’t going to help matters. You also don’t want to stay angry and bitter without moving forward because that will affect the quality of your work — and your life.

Once you have the raw emotion out of your system, you can get more analytical. What, exactly, is it that’s discouraging you? Write it down and try to get to the core of it — I’m struggling with the middle of the book, which feels boring; I can’t seem to get beyond the form rejection stage; my publisher did absolutely no publicity for my last book, then blamed me for the bad sales; I’m getting horrible reviews.

Now identify the factors that you can control and do something about. You can’t change what publishers do, what reviewers say, how agents perceive your work. But you can change what you write, how you write, how much you write, what professional activities you participate in, how you promote yourself, etc. So, for example, if you’re getting nothing but form rejections, you can try writing something different — maybe there’s not much of a market for what you write — or taking some workshops to try to improve your writing. You can get into a critique group or find a critique partner to get some feedback on your work and see if you can identify what might not be catching editors’ or agents’ attention. You can go to conferences to network with people, maybe get some face-to-face pitch sessions so that you can get some up-front feedback if it’s what you’re writing that’s being rejected, or you may get a more personalized response that identifies what it is in your writing that isn’t working. Develop a plan based on things you can control and do something about to address the source of your discouragement. Set goals and targets that you can measure, and keep track of your progress. That not only puts you on a path to correcting things, it makes you feel more empowered, which makes you feel less discouraged.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of things you can’t control, and that becomes more true the higher you go up the career ladder. You can’t make publishers decide that yours is the book they want to promote, you can’t make reviewers review your work and like it if they do review it, you can’t make your book get nominated for or win awards, you can’t make readers buy your book and tell others about it. How do you deal with it if the source of your discouragement is something you can’t control? I think this is where positive anger comes into play. That’s using anger as a motivation to persist and improve. Even at this level, the things you control are still the same. It just may take a lot more work to get enough change to make a difference, and it will take a lot of motivation to power through. If you’re not getting a push from publishers, what it takes to get it is a book that makes everyone in the publisher excited about its potential, or else a track record of steadily rising sales that makes the publisher feel like this can be the book that breaks out. That means working hard to find the right concept, executing it brilliantly, maybe some networking to build support and establishing a professional reputation. That’s possibly even more difficult than writing a first book, and you’re going to need all your righteous anger to fuel you and remind you that you need something too awesome to be ignored. It may help to have a motivational mental image. I’ve joked about what I’ll demand when I ride into New York at the head of my conquering army, with maybe a few dragons circling overhead, but that mental image does spur me to get back to work when I’m ready to settle for “good enough.”

I think the worst way to handle discouragement is to focus on the things you can’t control without having any kind of plan in place to deal with the things you can control. Then you just have that free-ranging disappointment and anger, that sense that the world is out to get you. I find that it really helps to dig into what’s causing the problem I’m having and what I can do about it, then focus my thoughts and efforts on what I can control.

writing life

Writing and Medical Care

I’ve started physical therapy on my wonky knee, with the evaluation yesterday and the first real appointment this morning.

This experience is making me realize just how vulnerable authors like me are. Because I’m self employed, I have to get individual insurance, which can get expensive. For a few years, I haven’t had the fear that using my insurance will make my premiums rise or that being diagnosed with something will mean I have a pre-existing condition that will mean higher premiums, an inability to get coverage, or coverage that doesn’t include that condition. Unfortunately, that protection seems to be about to go by the wayside. I don’t have the protection of a big employer that can negotiate with insurance companies or loop me in with a large group. I’m very concerned about what will happen to me as a result of what’s going on in Congress right now. I’m making enough money writing that I don’t need a regular job, but I’m not making enough money to afford the kind of health insurance costs that may come out of all this. I might be in the position of having to get a job I don’t need or want in order to get health insurance, which means less writing and fewer books. Of course, that’s if I can get a job after 15 years out of the workforce and as a middle-aged woman. I don’t even know what I’d do. My PR skills are way out of date because it’s all about social media these days.

Meanwhile, there’s no sick leave, no workman’s comp (if this were a work-related injury). It is nice to be able to schedule therapy appointments whenever without worrying about taking time off from work, but they may also cut into my productivity. Today’s appointment was early in the morning, which leaves the rest of the day free, but I’m also tired and sore.

But I need to earn a living and maybe make enough to pay my medical bills and whatever happens to my insurance next year, so I will write even though what I really want is a nap.

Superhero Armor

Welcome to the new website! This is where I’ll be blogging from now on, maybe not daily, but when I have something to say. If all I need is a short news bit, that will be a “news” item that shows up on the front page. There are still a few things to work out, like making the social sharing buttons work with my hosting provider. I need to get back to adding content because I could tell while moving things over that I’d really slacked off on that front.

The verdict on my knee was that the kneecap went out of alignment. It’s not dislocated, like it was back when I needed surgery before, but it’s out of whack, and that’s pulling everything around it out of place and making it less stable. Surgery for this is a very last resort. For now, I’ve got this lovely brace that holds the kneecap in place. There’s a sleeve that has a reinforced area around the kneecap, and then the brace that goes over it that really clamps down on the kneecap. It’s hinged, so it’s pretty flexible and mobile. It looks like the beginning of some kind of costume. I can’t quite decide if it’s the start of a superhero uniform, fantasy armor, or if I’m being assimilated by the Borg.

knee brace

I’ll also be doing physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the kneecap and get everything aligned. My dance may actually have been helpful in keeping it all strong. Even though the problem started in dance class, it was apparently something that would have been likely to happen anyway, and the dance may have held it off. I’m looking forward to getting back in shape. For now, the brace means I can walk without as much pain and with a lot more stability, and the doctor didn’t say anything about me having to hold back on activity — in fact, that’s part of what the brace is for, so I can be active.

So I guess my summer will be spent writing and exercising.

Helplessness

I think I had a pretty productive day yesterday. I got a good start on rewriting based on my new idea, though I then figured out what I needed to go back and fix in what I rewrote yesterday.

Today, though, will likely be my “get stuff done” day since I have that appointment to see a doctor about my knee, and that will probably kill my writing time. While I’m out, I can run all my weekly errands so that Wednesday can be a good working day.

I tried to unwind a bit by watching a movie last night. I’d recorded the 1948 production of The Woman in White from TCM. I read the book when I was immersing myself in Victorian literature before I wrote Rebel Mechanics (and when I thought it was going to be a lot more gothic than it turned out to be), so I was curious about the movie. Unfortunately, movies of that era were somewhat lax in anything resembling authenticity. The story is set in England. Almost all the characters are British (except for the Italian). In this movie, almost all the main characters were played by American actors, who weren’t even trying for British accents. Most of them were using that “mid-Atlantic” accent of the era, though one sounded like he was maybe from Georgia. But then most of the supporting characters either were British or were doing passable British accents, which made it even more jarring. I had to turn it off midway through. It’s a frustrating story to begin with because it’s centered on the concept of helplessness, with some of the main characters entirely under the power of others, and then there are some of the attitudes of the period that make you want to smack the characters’ heads together. But when you throw in the accent issues and the melodrama that came with that period, I just couldn’t take it.

I guess the helplessness thing was also getting to me because I’m seeing a doctor today about my knee problems, and I really hate seeing doctors. I’m braced for the “there’s nothing really wrong, it’s all in your head” treatment. Or else the “why didn’t you get something done sooner” lecture, to which the answer is all those years of constantly being told there’s nothing wrong and it’s all in my head. But at least maybe today I’ll get some answers and the start on a path toward fixing it. I miss being able to go on long walks, being able to go hiking on uneven surfaces, being able to dance. I’m getting out of shape and I can feel it, and I hate that.

Audio News!

Oops, didn’t get around to posting this morning. I went to vote early for the upcoming city election, and the polling place is at the library, so you can probably imagine what happened. I restrained myself to three books and two of them are work-related. But there was a lot of browsing. I also walked and took the long way, both for exercise and because that’s the way to avoid the campaigners set up in the parking lot. If I come to the library from the canal footpath, I’m within the no-campaigning zone before they can see me, since no one ever sets up on the footpath.

The big news today is that the audiobook version of Frogs and Kisses is available today! They’d given me a date in June, but I guess they were ahead of schedule.

You can find it here.

I still don’t have any news on audio for the second two Rebels books. Apparently, the audio sales were “modest,” so the publisher isn’t exactly leaping to pick up the rest.

And now it’s time to get to work.

Done With The Draft

I finished the draft yesterday. There are still a few scenes to write, but I’m in the wrapping up phase after the main plot ends, which is where the character and emotional arcs are resolved, and the character and emotional arcs are what I want to focus on in the next draft, so I’m not sure yet how they’ll be resolved, and that means writing those scenes now is rather pointless. The current draft ends with the resolution of the main plot, and I have to figure out how to tie off all the other loose ends along with the character arcs.

For now, I’m going to take a little break from this book and write a short piece, then I’ll get back to this one. I already have ideas for what I want to do with it, but my brain needs a break.

I did discover one way to up my productivity. I usually do my writing in the afternoon. The aim is to start writing after lunch, but that tends to slip as I get ready to work. It sometimes looks like a kid who’s trying to put off bedtime — I need a story, I need a glass of water, I need my pillow fluffed up, I need a blanket, I think I hear something. But in my case, it’s more like I need my notes, I need my pen, I need the timer, I need a glass of water, I need my word count M&Ms, I need my writing music, etc. Yesterday, I set all that up before lunch, so when it was time to write, I just sat down and went to work. I’d done a thousand words before the time I usually get to work. I will have to do that in the future.

Today, though, is mostly errand and business day, though some errands may get moved to tomorrow because there’s one that can’t be done today, and I might as well just make one trip. Also, my weather radio went off three times this morning, starting at about 5:30 and going off again every time I went back to sleep. There were severe thunderstorms in other parts of the county. I guess it just gives warnings for your county and doesn’t break it down by zip code. I may need a nap before I can face the kindergarten choir tonight.