Recent Reading: A Magical Sherlock

I have one more scene to write, the “whew, we made it, and now we’ll live happily ever after” wrap-up, before I’m done with this book. Well, this draft of this book. I already know the last few chapters will need revision because I was mostly just getting stuff out there, and now it will need fine tuning. But it will be nice to have the whole draft done and an ending.

Meanwhile, I’ve been somewhat remiss in talking about what I’ve been reading. I’ve been on a non-fiction kick of some fairly esoteric things, just working on continuing my own education, but I’ve also been making more time to read novels.

I dug into my To Be Read pile of books I got at the World Fantasy Convention last fall, and I found a new series to devour. The first book in the series is Jackaby, by William Ritter, and the best way I can think of to describe it to my readers is if Lord Henry became a detective and Verity was his assistant. Or maybe if a young Sherlock Holmes had magic.

Our Heroine is a teenage runaway from England, an archaeologist’s daughter who thought that dig sites would be more exciting than they turned out to be when she ran off to work on one, who ends up in America, mostly because she doesn’t want to go home and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. She needs a job, fast, so she goes to the address on a card posted at the post office, and there she finds a rather unusual detective. This young man can do the full Sherlock thing of knowing where someone’s from and where he’s been, but he’s not picking up on tiny clues like the color of the mud on a person’s shoes. He has a gift for seeing the magical creatures that are invisible to everyone else, and it’s those magical creatures that clue him in to what a person’s been up to. That means he can solve cases that elude most detectives and the police. The more open-minded police welcome his help, but others can’t abide him.

And so, our heroine finds herself living and working in a haunted house (the former resident is actually rather nice) with an eccentric detective, a former assistant who’s suffered a magical accident and doesn’t want to be turned back to his original form, a frog you don’t want to look at, and a swamp in the attic. And they’re investigating what seems to be a serial killer.

This was a fun fantasy mystery that I think fans of my Rebels books would enjoy. As I said, the characters are along the lines of Henry and Verity. And, like my books, these are published as young adult, but I think they’d appeal to all ages. I need to read the rest of the series (there are 4 books now, plus a story that’s free for Kindle).

Cool, Rainy Saturdays

I should be more or less back to a normal schedule this week — just in time to go on vacation next week, which means I need to work really hard and get a lot done so I can thoroughly appreciate vacation.

Last week was my birthday, and then I got to spend two days waiting on an air conditioning technician for my annual checkup (I was scheduled for Thursday morning, but they were running so behind that after I’d waited all morning, they had to reschedule me for the next day). The week before was music and art camp. All that added up to disrupting my usual schedule.

But I had a really nice weekend, which included a cool, rainy Saturday. In fact, it was a record low high temperature for that date. I was forced to implement the Emergency Cool, Rainy Saturday Protocols, which meant I canceled all plans so I could sit at home with the windows open, listening to it rain as I read and drank tea. You don’t waste a Saturday like that, especially in August.

It’s still cooler than normal and raining off and on, but it’s not quite at the fall-like state of Saturday, a day I will treasure in my heart until maybe October.

Rain is also good for writing, so I’m hoping for some showers this afternoon.

writing life

Convention Etiquette

I did a bit of a Twitter rant on this topic a few days ago, but I thought I might expand it into a full post, so here’s a Newbie’s Guide to Convention Etiquette.

Are you an aspiring author or someone who’s made a first sale, and you’re heading to a writing conference or genre convention? Great! That’s a good way to meet people in your field, promote your work, and learn a lot. But it can all backfire if you behave badly. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind (that probably apply to just about any writer at any experience level):

1) Remember that there will be a lot of writers of varying degrees of experience there, from bestsellers to aspiring authors. Your credits may put you higher on the ladder than a lot of people, but there will still probably be people above you. It’s safest not to make any assumptions about where you stand compared to the person you’re talking to. It can be really embarrassing and won’t make a great impression if you think you know it all and start lecturing people you meet about everything you know about publishing — and it turns out that you’ve been talking to a bestselling grand master (I’ve seen it happen) or the convention’s guest of honor (it’s happened to me).

No matter your level of experience, if you go into a convention with an attitude of wanting to learn as much as you teach, you’ll probably do better. Learn something about the person you’re talking to. Have a conversation in which you ask questions and exchange information rather than being so hung up on the fact that you’re published and you might learn something. That person lecturing the grand master-level author on the basis of his one small-press sale missed the opportunity to have a real conversation with a major author because he was so hung up on how important he was.

You should also read the room before you approach anyone for a lecture or conversation. Are the people you’re approaching already having a conversation? Does it look like they’re just chatting casually because they happen to be near each other and possibly open to others joining in, or is it a two-person conversation? Even if it’s open to someone joining in, you should listen for a little while before diving in with your two cents. In the lecturing the grand master case I mentioned, she and I were talking, and the know-it-all interrupted our conversation to teach us about writing.

By the way, this isn’t entirely mansplaining. While it does seem to be men doing it most often, I have seen female authors do it, too, where they come to their first conference soon after their first sale and assume everyone will be impressed with them, so they go on bragging about how important they are because they’ve sold a book without realizing that they’re being condescending to a bestselling author.

2) At the same time, don’t be so hung up on looking for people of perceived higher status that you ignore anyone you consider beneath you. This is a funny business, and longevity doesn’t necessarily translate into higher status in the long term. There are people I met as fans when I first started going to conventions who have gone on to become a much bigger deal than I am. If I’d snubbed them at those early conventions because I was too busy trying to network with more famous people, I might have missed some valuable contacts and friendships.

3) Authors, editors and agents are people, too, and they have other interests in their lives than just their work. They enjoy talking about those things in social settings. Not every conversation has to be about business. If you find yourself sitting next to an editor at lunch, you might make a better professional contact by discussing what you’re reading, that movie that just came out, or that editor’s hobbies than by trying to pitch your book over lunch. Have a conversation, and if the editor is interested in learning what you write, she’ll ask about that.

4) Develop a 30-second pitch for your book. Only use it if asked about it (“what do you write?”). Don’t elaborate on that pitch unless asked for more detail. It’s incredibly painful to be cornered in the con suite by someone going into excruciating detail about his epic 300,000-word fantasy novel, and not doing a very good job of it because he has to keep backtracking to pick up details he forgot. Use the old show biz adage of “Leave ’em wanting more.” Better to have your audience asking questions than their eyes glazing over as they look for a way to escape.

5) If you didn’t get put on a panel, don’t try to panel from the audience. You can ask questions, but making comments to the extent that you’re talking more than the panelists is a bad look. If you have specific expertise on the topic of the panel, the moderator might ask for your input. But showing up to the panels you wish you were on and then pretending you’re on them from the front row of the audience isn’t going to endear you to people. If your question is so specific that the answer would only apply to you and/or your book, ask one of the panelists privately after the panel if the opportunity arises. Don’t use the Q&A portion of the session as a thinly veiled opportunity to promote your book. Your 30-second book pitch should not be part of the wind-up to your question. This is especially true in panels with editors that are not designated pitch sessions. There are some cases in which the panel is about the editors or agents taking and critiquing pitches from the audience, but if they aren’t asking for pitches, then starting your question with something like “In my book, a 100,000-word contemporary fantasy novel about elves living among us …” is tacky.

6) Don’t hijack another author’s fans. Many cons have group autographings, or the autograph session will involve several authors sitting in a row. It’s okay to talk to fans who came to see other authors near you and even hand them promo material, but don’t interrupt their conversations with the authors they came to see, and especially don’t put down those authors. True story: I once had another author interrupt a fan’s conversation with me to hand over a bookmark for her books and say, “If you like her books, you’ll love mine.” (Actually, that happened more than once with the same author, and I learned to avoid her at signings, which was a challenge because she seemed to have identified me as someone whose fans she could poach, so she made a point of trying to be near me. Don’t do this.)

7) Relax and have fun. A single convention probably won’t make your career. Yeah, there are stories about people making that one contact that changed everything, but if you’re busy trying to make that happen, it probably won’t. Those sorts of things usually happen as a byproduct of someone relaxing and having fun. Even if you screw up a bit, it probably won’t break your career entirely. Not everyone who makes the big decisions will know if you put your foot in your mouth or do something tacky. Just don’t do something illegal or that goes against the convention’s code of conduct (getting kicked out of a convention for harassment might break your career).

Happy Birthday to Me

I’m celebrating my birthday today, and it’s one of those big round number birthdays. I had a grand day out planned, but I seem to keep pulling back what I want to do because I really didn’t want to drive across town. So I think I’ll end up seeing a movie at my neighborhood theater (where I’ll get free popcorn), and I may do a little shopping afterward to buy myself some gift to serve as a token to mark the occasion.

I’ve already had a weekend with my parents, a party with friends, and dinner with friends, so this is turning into an ongoing celebration. But then, this is a pretty big milestone day.

I’m going to see Christopher Robin because I figure that’s an apt movie to see when I’ve reached an age at which I can no longer deny that I really do count as a grown-up, even if I don’t feel like it. I’m a very responsible person, so I’m adult in that sense, but my job is making up stories, and it’s hard to really be a “grown up” doing that.

Back to Semi-Normal

I’m back to having a semi-normal week. I say “semi” because it’s my birthday this week, and it’s a big one, which means celebration. I already had a couple of celebrations this weekend, and I’m giving myself the day off, but then I’m also kind of tired today from being unusually social this weekend (and still recovering from last week), so maybe it should be a four-day weekend. And you can see where this is going.

This is why it’s important to keep momentum going. Once I lose momentum, it’s difficult to get started again. I think today will be a brainstorming day, then on my grand day off/out tomorrow I’ll stew over what I brainstormed, and then when I get back to work, I may have it all planned out. It will also be cooler, so maybe I’ll be able to think better.

My incentive for getting some work done today: It looks like Thursday might count as a rainy day, and it’s been so long that I need to invoke my rainy day policy for a reading/movie day.

Responsible Adult

I’ve been out all week volunteering at a music and art camp for children, so my mornings have been spent herding kindergarteners around from activity to activity. It was fun, but very tiring. Now I need to get back to work, but I’m not sure my brain will cooperate. I’m being a bit of a slug this morning, and I’m tempted to give myself at least part of the day off today. Really, my birthday is early next week, so this could count as an extended holiday, but I do have stuff that needs to be done.

I haven’t quite finished the book I’m working on. I just have one more chapter to go, but it’s a big one with events I’ve been building to for a very long time, and I want to get it right. I need to think about what will happen, and that will require taking some time when I’m not distracted or falling asleep. This week, if I sat still for very long, I’d soon be drifting off.

Small children really are exhausting. As is being the Responsible Adult. It is nice to go back to not being responsible for anything but myself and some fictional people.

So Close …

I reached my target word count on the book, but I still have story left, so it may be a bit longer than my original plans. But that’s okay because it means I can cut anything I don’t love in the next draft.

The tricky thing is balancing all the characters. I realized that a secondary character I’d set up had vanished toward the end, so I found a way to include her in the big, climactic scene. My cast has grown to rather epic proportions and making sure everyone has a role to play can be difficult.

I may need a chart to keep track of everything and everyone.

And I’m finishing this book just in time, because my agent will soon be getting back to me on the book she’s been looking at, so I may soon have revisions to do on that one.

And there’s been a call for submissions for a science fiction/fantasy Christmas novella anthology, so maybe that’s what I could do for this year’s holiday story. But I need to write it, first.

So, off to work …


Almost There!

I’m so very close to the end of this draft, fewer than 10,000 words to my target word count, and at the point where I more or less know what will happen. That means a couple of days of hunkering down and shutting out the world.

Fortunately, this is the phase where it usually starts to get a little easier because I have some enthusiasm and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m out of the slog of the middle and at the part where things really get exciting.

In this book, I’ve got a few events I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time, so I hope the execution lives up to my imagination.

For added motivation, next week is music and art camp, so if I don’t finish this week, I’ll have to come home after a morning with small children and try to get the energy to write. If I do finish, I can give myself a low-key week to maybe do some brainstorming and research or work on publicity stuff rather than worrying about trying to get the words out.

I think I need a little time to remind myself that I started out doing this for fun. It’s easy to forget that when you’re in the middle of a book and struggling to keep going in spite of all the other shiny new ideas, or when you see royalty statements and realize how little money you’re making from all this work. Writing was the way I played. Now it’s the way I make a living, but there should still be that sense of play about it.

My Writing Wisdom

The heat wave has temporarily somewhat broken, in that it was cool enough for me to walk outdoors this morning and it’s not yet 100 degrees now. I was even able to go out on the patio and tend to my plants without suffering. I finally managed to repot my basil plant because I could stay outdoors long enough.

Over the weekend, I started going back through some of my old writing posts to see if I might have the material for a book on writing. It turns out that the last time I compiled the posts into a document was in 2009. It’s amazing how much the world of publishing has changed since then. I hadn’t delved into independent publishing then. It was just something sort of on the horizon. Now I have nearly 10 years of additional posts. I’ll probably cull to only use the best, and some may be combined, where I have multiple posts on the same topic. And I’ll probably write some new, exclusive material.

One reason I want to do this is to practice formatting an e-book, using the resources I have. I want to see what I can do. Then I hope maybe putting this out there would get my name out, and I might make a little money along the way. So, win-win-win.

I don’t really have a target date, since this is something I’m doing in my spare time, but if you ever wanted to have my collective wisdom about writing and publishing, stay tuned for more news.

Heat Wave

We’re in the middle of an intense heat wave (high temperatures in the 109 range, still 100 degrees at 9 p.m., low temperatures in the mid to upper 80s), which has required some adaptation of my daily routine. It’s already in the upper 80s before 7 a.m., so I’ve been skipping my morning walk in favor of jogging indoors on my mini trampoline.

Because running in place is boring, I’ve been amusing myself by watching a documentary series on Tolkien’s influences. The episodes are just under half an hour long, which makes them the perfect length. The series was made for French television, but it’s narrated in English and they’ve added an English translation to the soundtrack when people are speaking French (but if people who speak English are talking, we hear them in English). The illustrator who did a lot of the production design for the Lord of the Rings movies goes looking for Tolkien’s influences in myths and legends, guided by a professor, which has him visiting a forest in Brittany, Tintagel, some castles on the Rhine, Iceland, and Oxford. The scenery is lovely, and it’s interesting hearing all the various legends. I finished that series this morning, but the worst of the heat may break tomorrow, so I may be able to walk outdoors in the morning.

Meanwhile, I’ve been avoiding cooking so I don’t heat up the house. I’ve made tea and toast, and last night I microwaved some corn on the cob, but otherwise I’ve been eating cold food. I’ve tried a few salad recipes that fit within the Mediterranean Diet guidelines, and I scored yesterday when I found a roasted chicken on clearance (one of the ones that didn’t sell when it was hot, so they sell it as cold food the next day). So I’ve got plenty of chicken to throw into salads. Otherwise, I’ve been eating a lot of watermelon, berries, and cherries. Although this started as a way to not heat up the house, I’ve been enjoying the food, and it’s good for me, so although I might start cooking again some when it cools down, I’ll definitely keep these recipes in rotation.

This has also been a good time to hole up inside and read and write. During the really hot part of the day, I don’t want to be doing anything more active. It’s nice to just sit under the fan.

We may stay under 100 tomorrow, then it’s back to around 100 but not as high as it has been, and next week the highs are supposed to be in the lower to middle 90s, which sounds kind of like a cold snap in comparison to what we’ve had. Still, I’m looking forward to October, and I’m hoping this is the worst of it and August won’t be so brutal.