writing

The Editing Phase

I’ve done my last shopping run, and now I’m going into pre-Christmas isolation. That should mean I’ll get some editing done on Lucky Lexie book 3. I’m in the phase in which I read it out loud to myself. That’s a great way to spot awkward phrasing, wrong words, or words that I’ve repeated too many times.

It’s been a few weeks since I last looked at this book, which means it’s been long enough that I can also test it for bad jokes. If I don’t get a joke or a witty remark and I was the one who wrote it, then I can’t expect readers to get it. I either have to cut it or rewrite it so that it makes sense.

Needless to say, this is a slow process, and I have to take a lot of breaks because it’s rough on the voice to do that much talking in a day, especially when I’m used to being mostly silent. When I’m not editing, I have to be quiet.

It always seems to be that just as I’m thinking that maybe this is overkill and I can just read silently, I come across an error I wouldn’t have spotted if I hadn’t been reading out loud. I would have skimmed past it instead of tripping over it.

Then after I get this phase done, I’m taking a break. Next week, I’ll do research reading and brainstorming on a project, but I’m mostly going to try to relax and enjoy the season. I’ve spent more time on writing this year than in any year since I’ve been tracking my work time. Once I reach my goal, which should happen this week, I think I get to take some time to recharge. It’ll be time for reading, taking walks, and watching Christmas movies.

Familiar Things

I’ve found myself pondering the tug of war between the familiar and the new. I’d planned to make an effort this fall to try new things. I couldn’t go anywhere on a vacation, but I could create a change of pace at home by doing different things, like cooking new recipes. But when fall hit, I was so excited to get back to some of my favorite fall recipes that it was hard to fit in new things among the old favorites. I was looking forward to those soups and breads that I know I love and haven’t had since early this year, so I made those instead of the new recipes. I did make a couple of new dishes, but I didn’t like them as much as the favorites. I tried a new scone recipe yesterday, and that one’s going in the regular rotation, so it wasn’t a total failure.

I run into the same problem when it comes to watching movies. I start scrolling through the streaming menu, and the familiar ones jump out at me, so I end up rewatching things instead of watching something new. I haven’t had great luck in trying new ones. They tend to be not what I was expecting, and that’s not good when you’re expecting a romantic comedy and get a depressing drama. Now that Christmas movie season is upon us, there’s the tug between the ones I know I like and the new ones that may or may not be any good. Then there are the ones that are traditional, the specials and movies I watch every year, even though I just about have them memorized. They’re more background noise than something I really watch, but it’s comforting to absorb them in the background.

I’m doing better about reading new books instead of re-reading favorites, though there is a strong temptation to reach for the comfort reads.

There is a known bias toward familiarity. You’re drawn to the familiar. That’s part of the point of advertising, to make something more familiar to you so that when you see it in a store, it jumps out at you and you choose the most familiar thing.

I’ve decided to balance things. I’m making an effort to try new things, whether it’s new recipes or new movies, but when I want something reassuring and comfortable, there’s no harm in going with the familiar.

And maybe this is part of my problem when it comes to book promotion. I’m bad about not wanting to bother people with repeated messages, but it does take repeated exposure to things before they become familiar enough for people to accept them.

Life

Anticipation

I’m currently in Christmas Anticipation Mode, when I’m in this weird state of not quite being ready yet to dive into the holiday season but still thinking about it. I’ve watched a few TV specials, and I’ve listened to the Christmas music they’ve mixed into the regular lineup on the classical radio station (since classical Christmas music isn’t quite as obvious as what gets played on regular stations), but I haven’t started actually playing any Christmas music and haven’t put up any decorations. I also haven’t watched any Christmas movies.

I have this strange thing of putting off doing Christmas, then it’s suddenly Christmas and I’m not ready, but I kind of like the anticipation, thinking about what I’ll do when it’s time.

I’m tentatively planning to do the decorating this Friday. That’s when I’ll flip the switch and go into holiday mode. That’s about the time I normally would have gone to a friend’s tree-trimming party, so it’s a good time to kick off the season. Then I can go all out with the holiday movies, music and books. And this year, I don’t have to worry about being busy, though I have to record a few songs for choir (we’re doing the thing where you record your part and then it all gets edited together).

I do need to get my head in the game for shopping, though, since I have a week until I need to start isolating so I can visit my parents for Christmas. That means shopping earlier than I usually do or shopping online. We’ve pretty much agreed that we’re not going to worry too much about gifts this year since the circumstances are challenging, but I’d like to do something.

But for the rest of the week, I’m holding out, getting in my last bit of non-holiday time and anticipating what I’ll be doing when it is time.

Life

Holiday Break

I can’t believe it’s already almost Thanksgiving. I’ll be taking next week off from posting, since my posting days would be the day before and the day after Thanksgiving.

I’m planning to visit my parents, which makes me a little anxious because of all the warnings about traveling or gathering with family. I try not to think of myself as an exception when it comes to rules, but in this case, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing what they’re warning against. I will have been isolating for a couple of weeks, not even going to the grocery store, before the trip. It’s a non-stop car trip, so unless something goes horribly wrong, I will have no contact with people between the time I leave my house and the time I arrive at my parents’ house. It will just be the three of us, with no other guests the entire time, and my parents have been staying isolated all along, other than trips to the grocery store during the early-morning “vulnerable shoppers” hours. We won’t be leaving the house or seeing other people, and I won’t be in contact with other people on my return trip. So I think I’m okay here and not doing what they’re telling people not to do.

In school, I was always the kid who took it personally when the teacher yelled at the whole class and tried to do better or fix what was wrong, when the teacher was really talking to someone else. I guess I’m still the same way, hearing the warnings that are more likely aimed at people who aren’t isolating nearly as much as they say they are and who are bringing together multiple households, including others who are being far less careful than everyone else, and I’m the one feeling guilty because I’m breaking the rules.

I’ll have to do all my shopping right after Thanksgiving because it won’t be long until the two-week quarantine for Christmas begins.

Every year, when I get caught up in all the busyness that comes with the holiday season, all the choir rehearsals and performances and parties (and the parties generally all seem to fall on the same weekend), I say that I’d love to have a peaceful season, a time to be quiet and contemplate instead of running around. Well, this year I’m getting that, and I’m kind of looking forward to it.

Have a happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it, and a good week if you don’t. I hope to have book news when I come back.

My Books

Other Worlds

I’ve got book 3 of the Lucky Lexie series, which I believe I’m going to call Mystery of the Drowned Driver, more or less done. I need to do a good editing pass to make sure I’m using all the right words in the right order, and then there’s proofreading. I’m aiming for a January release date, but that will depend on when I can have a cover done. I guess that’s next on my list. Aside from that editing, I’m done with the bulk of my work for the year, unless I pick up more freelance projects. I don’t yet know how busy they’re going to keep me.

I’ll talk more about this next book as we get closer to release day, but it’s very loosely based on something that actually happened in my city, though the circumstances surrounding the event are very different. The book includes a scene that puts the “fun” in funeral.

Now I get to really dive in to creating that new world for fantasy stories. I’ve always wanted to write a classic-style traditional fantasy — that fairytale type of pre-industrial imaginary world. That was what I fell in love with reading, and my first (very bad) attempts at writing fantasy fell into that genre. But I haven’t published anything like that, aside from the parts of Spindled that take place in the other world.

Now, I’m going to let myself play with creating a world and telling stories within it. The characters for the first book in that series have started coming to life in my mind, and the world is gradually developing. I’ve reached the point where I need to start coming up with specifics and filling in the gaps so that I can create an actual plot.

I’m trying to create for myself the feeling I had when I first started reading fantasy and the main thing I liked was that feeling of desperately wanting to visit those other worlds. I was homesick for places that never existed. If I do this right, I’ll create a world that I’ll want to spend time in and that will give readers that same sense of homesickness for an imaginary place.

So, no pressure at all.

Life

A Real Job!

I’ve gone on an isolation lockdown for the next couple of weeks so I can safely visit my parents for Thanksgiving. I’ve bought groceries and run all the errands, so I shouldn’t have to go anywhere other than to a gas station and out and about for walks. I tried to do some menu planning before shopping so that I had the ingredients I need to make the meals I want to make. Some creativity may be required by the time I get to next weekend, especially if I’m trying to get a good balance of nutrition. I went for weeks between grocery trips earlier in the year. It was just during the summer that I got used to going every week since I was eating a lot of fresh produce. Now I can switch from salads to soups when I run out of lettuce and tomatoes.

I shouldn’t have any trouble staying occupied. I’ve been working on revising Lucky Lexie book 3, I’m researching a book, and I seem to have found a new freelance job back where I started my career. A friend from church asked on Facebook if anyone knew any freelance writers with a medical background, and I told her I used to be a writer for a medical school. It turns out she works for an organization connected to that same medical school. I’ve already got my first project in the works. I still plan to focus on writing novels, but that hasn’t been making much money lately (in spite of two recently released books, which is kind of depressing), so it’s good to have another source of income that won’t take up too much time. If I have free time, I can pick up a few projects, and if I’m busy, I won’t do as much.

But this is giving me a bit of mental whiplash, going between “how is she going to catch the bad guy this time?” and “how does this organization provide support to physicians?” I’m a lot more accustomed to writing about clinical medicine and research than administration, but it’s still sort of in the same wheelhouse, and I do have some familiarity with the language. I’ll just have to remember that I’m not allowed to bring in magic, even if it would make things a lot more interesting.

I’ve also had to get back in the mindset of professional conference calls. It’s a bit different from talking to book editors, and I haven’t even done that for a while. Fortunately, there are no in-person meetings these days, so I don’t have to wear truly professional clothes or shoes. As long as I’m good from the waist up, no one will know that I’m wearing pajama pants and fuzzy slipper socks.

Today is really a day for online meetings, as I have three of them. Now it’s time to go to work, for a real job this time.

Publicity

Reading vs. Watching

I’ve been trying to dig more into marketing, since it seems that my books don’t actually sell themselves, and that’s involved a lot of trying to learn more about things to do. So much stuff is out there now, and it seems like everyone’s putting it in videos and podcasts instead of writing articles, which frustrates me because I learn by reading. If I just hear someone say something, it goes in one ear and out the other. I need to see words in print.

But that makes me wonder if videos and podcasts are things I should be doing. Is that how people get information now? I learned something earlier this year, which is that I am not my reader. I held off on doing a newsletter for a long time because I don’t like them and feel overwhelmed by e-mail, but it turns out that about 200 people (so far) want to get a newsletter from me. Could that mean that there are people who want to see videos from me?

And if I did that sort of thing, what would I even talk about? Stuff about my books? Writing tips?

You see why I’ve been holding off. I have the technology and the skill set. I just don’t know what to do with it.

One thing I am noticing is that there’s a proliferation of how-to courses out there about publishing and making big money at it, though at the cost of the courses, I suspect that they’re really making money by selling courses. And there must be a course on how to make money with courses because I’ve run into the same pattern a few times. Someone offers a free “master class” or webinar on a publishing-related topic. Frequently, this gets mentioned in the newsletter of someone who writes about publishing stuff (I do get those newsletters because there’s useful information). The “master class” ends up looking a lot like an infomercial, with the presenter spending a lot of time on their credentials before spending even more time setting up the importance of their topic (getting into how many books are published and how much money can be made), then giving one or two useful (but pretty basic) tips, and leading in to the pitch for the course, with lots of testimonials. I’ve been burned a few times by this, to the point I’m skeptical of any web event now. I’ve taken a couple of free classes, and I’ve even bought books by those people when I thought they might have good info but didn’t do the hard sell. I feel like there’s a bait and switch when the class turns out to just be an ad for a course and a way to harvest e-mail addresses.

I will not be putting together a course because I don’t think I know enough to be able to teach anyone else. But I might have some tips on writing and the writing life. Or I could talk about the background of some of my books — the sort of things I put in blog posts, but with me talking instead of it being in writing. I’d rather just read it, but I am not my readers.

So, any thoughts? If I did something like this, would anyone watch/listen?

writing life

Showing Up

Over the past few weeks, while I’ve been taking time off from heavy-duty writing and trying to shake up my routine, one thing I’ve done is participate in a 30-day yoga challenge. There’s a program on YouTube that was set up for the start of the year, and I began it but only got a few days into it. I’d been thinking about giving it another go when someone in a writing group I’m in welcomed others to join her in doing it. And so, I’ve been doing a yoga practice daily.

And, wow, there really is a power in showing up every day to work on something. I’d taken a yoga class before, but it was once a week, and I’d done some things sporadically, but after doing it every day, I can feel such a difference in my strength and flexibility. Things that seemed impossible at first have become almost easy.

I’ve experienced something like this before, when I was doing physical therapy for my knees, and I was really good about doing the exercises daily. I finally got the range of motion I wanted, and I could get up and down the stairs easily.

This translates to so many other things, including writing. When I make a real effort to show up every day and put in the writing time, my output increases, and I think the quality does, as well. The more time you spend using your creativity, the more creative you are.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean every single day. I think “write every day” is bad advice because your mind needs breaks to stay productive. Even with the yoga, although this program involves doing something every day, it’s designed so that some days are breaks. You may have a few days that are really challenging for the body, followed by a day that’s just some gentle stretching and breathing. Find the gentle stretching and breathing for your mind. That may be a day to read a book instead of trying to write one. A better phrasing I’ve seen was “write every day you intend to.” Schedule breaks and vacations, but if it’s supposed to be a work day, show up and do the work.

Meanwhile, I have a 211-day streak on Duolingo for learning Norwegian. Even just doing 15 or so minutes a day is leading to real progress.

That may be my intention going through the rest of this year and into the next year, to show up every day (on the days I plan to) to work on the things that are important to me.

Life

Farewell to a Friend

This weekend there was some sad news with the passing of fantasy and suspense author and my good friend Roxanne Conrad, better known by her pen name, Rachel Caine. You may know her from her Weather Wardens series, or possibly the Great Library books, or possibly the Morganville Vampires series.

Rox was one of the first writer friends I ever made. I met her when I was about a year out of college at the first writing conference I went to. I don’t remember how we got started talking, but based on what I know about her personality and about my personality, I suspect she took pity on me when I looked lonely and awkward and struck up a conversation. Her first book had come out, so I was in awe of a “real” author. I was just at that point in my life when I’d decided I was going to actually do something about that lifelong dream, and that conference was a big leap for me. We bonded over the fact that we both loved the books of Katherine Kurtz, and I remember her getting out the Locus magazine she had with her so we could look to see if there were any new books coming out.

I ran into her at a few events over the next ten or so years, but I really got to know her better around the time my Enchanted, Inc. books started coming out. She was already well known as Rachel Caine for the Weather Wardens series, and since they were both in the contemporary/urban fantasy realm, we ended up on a lot of panels together at conventions. At the same time, I became part of a group of friends she was also part of, and we frequently gathered at her home, where she was always a gracious hostess. We did a few booksignings together, since we were among the local authors publishing in the same general category. Her Great Library series, which had a bit of steampunk flavor, launched at about the same time my Rebels series came out, and we had a joint launch event at my neighborhood library, along with our other friend, P.N. Elrod.

Rox was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. If anyone had a need, she’d jump in to take care of it. She was great about paying it forward and boosting other authors, often bringing her friends along with her on trips to various events. She once brought me to a convention in Denver where she was one of the guests of honor, since she had to leave from there to go on a book tour and she needed someone to travel home on the train with her husband (you need two people to get the good kind of compartment that he likes). I don’t know if she remembered that first conversation we had, but one of the other guests of honor was Katherine Kurtz, and thanks to Rox I got to meet one of my writing idols. At the convention’s booksigning, Rox arranged for me to sit next to Katherine.

Rox was truly a writing machine, and so dedicated to her work. At many a convention, if you walked through the lobby early in the morning, she’d be there, typing away, getting her words in even though she was at an event. I don’t even manage to write blog posts while I’m at conventions. Cancer barely slowed her down. She kept on writing.

My last real social outing before the pandemic hit was going to a writing group meeting with Rox. I’d mentioned on Twitter that I needed to find some local writing groups, and she invited me to join her for a meeting with the local Sisters in Crime group. She’d joined but hadn’t been to a meeting yet, and it would be easier for us to face it together, and my house was on her way there, so she offered to pick me up. So, she dragged me out of my house on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, and since it was a bit of a drive, we had a nice long chat along the way. Then there was the sneaking around the library, looking for a way into the meeting room that wouldn’t have us barging in behind the speaker when we got there late, thanks to traffic. It turns out, that was the last time I saw her.

The loss isn’t entirely real yet. I’ll notice it at the next convention when we aren’t on any panels together.

I think my favorite book of hers was a one-off, Prince of Shadows, which was a take on Romeo and Juliet that actually fixes it. It’s told from the perspective of one of the other characters, and it shows what was really going on behind the scenes to make events work out like they do in the play. I’ve decided that it’s canon for me, so I imagine all that going on in the background now when I see a production of that story (though I’m still figuring out how it might work into West Side Story).

Farewell, my friend, and thank you for all the support and kindness over the years.

My Books

Finding Home

Curious Crystals CoverBook two in my mystery series, Case of the Curious Crystals is now available. I’ve drafted book 3 and will start revisions next week, so I’ll figure out then how much work it needs and that will tell me when it’s likely to come out.

One thing I didn’t realize until I’d written drafts of two books is that the series is really about home and community and the threats to that community. At the beginning of the series, Lexie is looking for a home and a community. She’s never really had a hometown, but thanks to her addiction to Hallmark movies, she has an idea in mind of what the ideal hometown would be, and she thinks she’s found it. In book one, the threat is that pesky little murder case that might mean she won’t get the job that allows her to stay there. In book two, the theft ring is shaking up the town and keeping it from being the place she’s come to love. In book three, Lexie’s own place in the community is being threatened.

Oddly enough, it was Disney movies that gave me that realization. I think I was watching one of those Disney sing along at home specials and singing along (as you do), when I remembered the idea of the “I Want” song. I don’t think they were consciously doing it in the Classic era, but in the modern Disney era, they’re very specific about that song at the beginning of the movie in which the main character sings about the thing they want, even before the actual plot has kicked in. So we have Snow White singing about wanting that prince to come, Sleeping Beauty singing about wanting to find someone to love her, Alice wanting a world of her own, Ariel wanting to be where the people are, Belle wanting adventure and someone who gets her, etc. It’s a good writing tip to think about what your character’s “I Want” song would be about if your story got made into a Disney musical.

And I realized that was what I was missing. I didn’t have a strong “I Want” for Lexie, but then when I started re-reading, I figured out that it was already there. I just had to make it stronger in the first book. I had to do a lot of rewriting in the second book because in the original draft, she was waffling about whether or not she wanted to stay in town. That really wasn’t working, and it was when I shifted that perspective that I suddenly had an emotional through-line, where she wanted to stay and she loved the place, but it was being threatened. That gave her an emotional reason to want to solve the case.

It makes plotting each subsequent book easier when I think about how the case could threaten the sense of home she’s found.