Life

Television Options

I’ve spent the last couple of months learning way too much about television service and the various ways of getting it. I’ve pretty much always had cable during my adult life because it was provided as part of every apartment I had, and then when I bought a house, it was provided as part of the HOA fees. I did finally break down and get a DVR, which cost extra, a couple of years ago, but otherwise, I didn’t think much about it. I just watched it.

Then in December, buried in the HOA board meeting minutes that were e-mailed, it was mentioned that our contract with the cable company was expiring in February, and they had voted not to renew it. They listed what it would cost for each homeowner to get the same service — and they weren’t lowering the HOA fees. I was a bit astonished at the cost. I’m lucky that I could afford it, if I wanted it, but then I started thinking about how much (or little) I watch TV. I did a calculation of the things I regularly watch on cable that I would actually miss, and it would come to more than $10 an hour. I don’t want to watch more to make it worthwhile. I could take a lower-tier package, but the cable networks I watch most are only on the high-level tier, and it’s not that there are any particular shows I’m invested in there. That’s just my best sources of history documentaries that I tend to use as background noise or something to watch when there’s nothing else on. Almost everything else I watch is on regular broadcast TV.

So I started researching antennas. It seems I’m in a tricky area where I’m not too terribly far from the transmission towers, but I’m under a hill, so I don’t get line of sight. That means I’ll need a more powerful antenna. I tried a cheap “rabbit ears” and managed to get in the PBS stations fine, and a couple more, depending on the angle, but I didn’t get the station I watch most, especially for local news. Apparently, that station is more difficult to get.

My first real cord-cutting purchase was a Roku stick, and that may solve a lot of my dilemmas, as my local station has an app that allows you to stream the news live. Since a decent antenna should give me all the other local stations, that just leaves my ability to snark about Once Upon a Time in real time up in the air. ABC is weird about allowing streaming of their shows. Even though it’s a broadcast network, you have to have an account with certain cable companies to stream new episodes for the first week. Almost everything else, I should be able to either bring in with an antenna or stream. I’ll miss some of the stuff I watch on SyFy and the various Disney channels, but my library gets the DVDs when they come out, or there’s Amazon Instant Video, where it’s cheaper to buy a full season of a show than to get one month of cable service. I may eventually get Amazon Prime, which has a lot of video available in addition to the shipping, and they get Doctor Who, plus you can add an HBO subscription.

The other thing I’m looking at is what to do about a DVR. For a truly cheap option, I can get a digital converter box and hook it to the antenna and to a VCR, but you can also apparently hook a hard drive up to one and use it as a DVR. You just have to program it like a VCR in the old days rather than clicking on a program guide. There’s a fancier thing that’s supposed to be available a little later this year that seems to be a midpoint between the Tivo and this thing. And there’s an over-the-air Tivo, which might be overkill for me. I can’t imagine needing to record four things at once. I mostly use the DVR for time shifting when something is on late, recording something that will be on while I’m out, or for archiving a series that I’d like to binge watch or rewatch. My local PBS station often shows interesting things in odd time periods, and it’s nice to be able to record it. I’m not sure the Tivo is worth that. Then again, it costs what about a year of the DVR and DVR service from the cable company costs.

And I’ve probably more time to researching all this than I spent actually watching TV in the last couple of months. I don’t watch that much these days, and I’d like to either watch less or focus on watching things that are worthwhile, that I choose to watch rather than just looking for something that’s on. I’d rather spend the time reading or writing or doing other things.

Then I need to come up with ways to force myself not to waste so much time online goofing off or obsessively researching things that aren’t immediately critical.

writing life

Liberation Day

This is my Liberation Anniversary. Sixteen years ago today, I was laid off from my last “real” job. I’ve worked for myself ever since, which is longer than the time I’ve spent working for someone else.

Looking back on the time, I had very mixed feelings then. I was unhappy at work, so unhappy that a week or so earlier I found myself hoping that I’d have a miraculous, magical job offer in my e-mail (the first spark of the idea that became Enchanted, Inc.). I was actually just working part-time — 30 hours a week — and telecommuting, which had been an ideal situation for trying to fit in my writing, but after the bosses who made that possible left and after quite a bit of turmoil in the company, my job had become a lot less fun. My new supervisor seemed to see me as a threat, shutting me out of things. Her shutting me out of a major client meeting resulted in us losing that client, which was what led to me being laid off (that client then hired me as a freelancer). I was already planning to maybe take the plunge and quit my job to freelance, but later in the year when I’d had a chance to get things like insurance lined up. Since I knew we were losing that account, I already suspected what was going on and had already pulled all my files off my office laptop so I’d have work samples. I wasn’t surprised when I got the call to bring my computer and all company property to the office, that that didn’t ease the sting of the way they went about it.

But by about noon that day, I was suddenly unemployed. I’d already planned a reading binge that weekend, starting on Friday (my 30 hours a week were flexible, which meant if I worked a full day Monday through Thursday, I could take Friday off). I’d just started reading the Harry Potter series the previous fall, and had read the first three books, the ones I’d bought in England. The fourth book was only out in hardcover at the time, and my library hold for it had finally come in. I was planning to devote the weekend to reading it. I had the soundtrack for the first movie and appropriate snacks ready to go. But since I suddenly didn’t have to work, I moved my reading marathon up a day.

It proved nicely cathartic. The events toward the end of that book made me sob hysterically, and I think I needed a good cry. I’d been so numb up to that point, so determined to look on the bright side, but there were a lot of hurt feelings from the way I’d been treated. That book also helped with the ongoing development of that idea I’d had about a magical job. I so related to what was going on with Hermione in that book because it was much like my school experience, with the guys I hung out with as friends not even thinking of me as someone they might invite to a big dance because they didn’t think of me as a girl (unfortunately, I didn’t have the star jock from another school to swoop in and ask me). That made me think that I would love to read something like these books, but about adult life, with jobs, friends, etc.

I was putting off actually dealing with thinking about what to do next. I figured I’d get through the weekend and then think. But my former clients who’d heard the news started calling me the next day, offering some freelance work (one benefit of working from home: my clients all had my home number). I’d saved up a lot of money in preparing to someday make the leap, and I decided to wait before trying to get a new job to see if I could get by as a freelancer so I could focus on my fiction writing. That was a bit risky, as I was in the middle of a huge career lull as a novelist, but I had other forms of income and several years worth of living expenses saved up, so I thought it was worth a try.

I still haven’t gone in search of a new regular job. I’m not sure I could find one right now, given that it’s been so long. I wouldn’t want to go back to what I was doing, but I don’t know what else I could do. I guess that means I’d better keep making the writing work.

writing

Sympathy for the Villain

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been writing bits of the story I’m working on from the perspective of other characters in the story. I’ve gone back to just before the story opens and written up to certain turning points, and I must say, it’s been really eye-opening as I figure out what each character thinks about the other characters.

The character who has surprised me the most is one of the villains. I’m not a villain-centered writer and have very little patience for the “poor, sad villain who had a sad life” narrative. Lots of people have sad lives, and it doesn’t excuse being a villain. But I seem to be edging toward a little more sympathy toward this villain now that I’ve been inside his head. It helps that he’s a secondary villain and is actually one of those shadowy characters who teeters on that line between good and bad. The bad stuff isn’t his plan, and he’s mostly a pawn in all of it. His problem is that he doesn’t resist when he realizes how bad what he’s caught up in is, and he makes the wrong choices at pivotal times, up to a point when I think I’m going to let him make the right choice (we’ll see when I get there). I found in writing from his perspective that I had changed my view about how much he knew, and that changes a lot (including a key conversation the viewpoint character partially overhears).

Now that I feel a bit sorry for this guy, it may change the way I write him, but then I don’t want readers to like him too much. I’ve seen how readers in general can glom onto the poor, sad villain. I want readers to prefer another character. But that means I need to make the other character more interesting. Strangely, although he’s a major character, he’s still a bit of an enigma to me, so I need to do more work on him. I like him, but I don’t think the reasons I like him are making it onto the page.

So, I have more work to do!

Publicity

Finding Things to Do

Part of my weekend was spent at a convention planning meeting. I’m part of the group that puts on FenCon, a science fiction convention in the Dallas area. The convention is in September, but we start work on it far earlier than that. My main role is with publicity, and something we’re looking at is how to get information to a broader group of people.

I used to work in public relations, but I haven’t had a job in that field since 2002. I’ve done some marketing communications stuff since then, but that was mostly things like writing sales materials and articles. Social media didn’t exist when I was doing PR. Blogs were just barely getting started. Public relations mostly meant trying to get stories into newspapers and magazines, on television and radio. That’s what I know how to do. But I don’t think a lot of people get their news that way anymore, especially younger people. That means I have no idea how to get information out to people in a way that they’ll see it. I guess that also applies to the way I market my books.

So, how do you find out about events that you might want to go to? Is there a place (online or otherwise) you go to when you’re looking for things to do?

And while I’m at it, have you heard about science fiction conventions? Do you know the difference between the “literary” fan-run conventions and the conventions like ComicCon, where the focus is on actors and autograph/photo opportunities?

When TV series have episodes involving the characters going to a convention, it bears no resemblance to what I’ve actually experienced, which makes me wonder how many people who aren’t already involved in that community have a sense of what it’s really about. Of course, each one is different and has its own character, but the Hollywood image is more of the media conventions, and not even entirely accurate about those.

I have dialed my participation in conventions back lately, mostly because they’re expensive and draining and I’m trying to look at new ways of doing things, but I do want to make the one I help run better and want to help more people learn about it because it is wonderful to find yourself among other people who like the same sort of stuff you do.

writing

Looking from the Other Side

Writing from the other character’s perspective has been really eye-opening. I mostly write from first-person perspective because I enjoy the deep dive into the character’s head and the way that allows me to play with narrative voice. I find it quicker to write that way, as well, most of the time. It’s like writing a diary entry.

But there are times when it comes with challenges. You can only write what the viewpoint character knows. If something happens and the viewpoint character isn’t there, she can’t know about it. She has to learn about it some other way — someone tells her, she sees security video footage, she reads about it. You also don’t get into other characters’ heads, and that’s where you can end up with plot problems, if you let the other characters do things you need them to do rather than what they actually would do in that situation.

In the book I’m working on, the viewpoint character isn’t in the know for much of anything. In one respect, that’s good because it means that all the discovery happens on the page. There’s no info-dumping of information she already knows because she doesn’t know anything and has to get information and figure things out. But it makes things a bit challenging because I have to figure out what everyone else around her knows, what their agendas are, and what they might say or do.

In a lot of scenes, the narrator is driving the action because she’s investigating, but there are scenes in which she thinks she’s driving things because she’s investigating and asking the questions, after having tracked down that person, but the other person is actually driving the action because they know what’s going on and have an agenda, so they have reasons for what they do and don’t tell the narrator. That’s where I’m having to go back and write the scene from the other person’s perspective, to see what they’d say, what they’d tell and what they’d withhold, and why. After I write it that way, I can go back and put it in the perspective of the narrator. The dialogue I can just copy and paste, but I have to take the thoughts and figure out how that would affect that character’s nonverbals — body language, expressions, tone of voice — and how much the narrator would notice of those nonverbals.

In the scene I was working on, looking at what the other character knows and what this person wants totally changed the scene. And now I’m at a point where I need to figure out what’s up with some of the other characters.

writing life

Hibernation Season

It’s the time of year when invitations for fall events start coming in, and it’s something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s so flattering to be invited to speak at book festivals and conventions. That makes me feel validated and loved. On the other hand, January is a bad time for me to be invited anywhere.

I’ve joked that I’m part bear because I seriously go into hibernation in the winter. I could happily go weeks without human interaction. I come up with excuses not to leave the house. I tend to go into “live out of the freezer” mode, so I don’t even need to go grocery shopping that often (fortunately, fall is the season when I go on cooking sprees, so the freezer is full of soups, stews, sauces, etc. that I just have to defrost). Any invitation I receive in January is automatically less tempting because all I can think is that I’d have to leave the house and be around people.

Once I get over that, I have to really think about what invitations to accept. For the most part, authors have to pay their own way to things like book festivals and conventions. You’re probably not going to sell enough books to cover the travel expenses, so you have to consider other things like the amount of exposure and possible media coverage you might get, what the networking opportunities might be, etc. And, flat out, will it be a fun trip? Is it to a place you’ve wanted to visit? Are there people you might see or meet there? Who will the other authors be?

And then I generally have to get over the “but I’d have to leave the house and be around people” thing again, reminding myself that I may not feel this way later in the year.

But for now, I’m working from inside my blanket fort.

writing

Behind the Scenes

My Monday enthusiasm didn’t last very long. I think part of my issue this week is that I’m at a point in the book I’m rewriting in which things are diverging significantly from my original story, and I’m struggling to get a sense of how it should go now. I’ve made a few false starts, realized that was heading the wrong way, scrapped it, and went back to square one.

One of the things I’m wrestling with is finding the balance between proactive, informed characters and characters who are so effective that they shortchange the story. You don’t have a story without a struggle. If your detective is so brilliant that he can take one look at a crime scene and solve the case, there isn’t much of a mystery. On the other hand, if the villain is so good that he can be five steps ahead of the hero and the hero doesn’t stand a chance, you don’t have much of a story. If characters have key bits of information, there needs to be a reason why they haven’t acted on it yet, but if they act on it too soon, it changes the story.

The big change I’ve made is that one of the characters knows a lot and has been trying to make things happen. In an earlier draft, she knew some things, but she didn’t know things needed to happen until other people showed up, but that made not only her but also everyone else too passive. But if she’s been trying to make things happen, there needs to be a reason why she can’t just resolve it all when she comes on the scene. I’ve had to figure out what she knows, why she doesn’t know the things she doesn’t know, and why she hasn’t done more already. That means I’ve had to figure out her entire backstory and what she’s been doing before she meets the POV character. I think by the time this book is done, I’ll have written about three times as much material as I need, between rewrites and the behind-the-scenes and backstory stuff I’ve written out. But if I don’t write it out, the scene just fizzles.

In fact, I just realized that’s what I need to do for the scene I’ve been struggling with. I need to write out what’s been going on with one of the characters, leading up to the scene and even write a draft of the scene from her perspective. That will help me know what she should be saying. It’s impossible (or, at least, difficult) to write that kind of scene knowing only what the POV character knows.

So, maybe I’ll get more written today, before I have to go deal with the choir kids.

writing life

Mondays

Like most people with Monday-Friday “normal” type jobs, I used to really hate Mondays — back to the grind of getting up, facing a dreadful commute, and spending the day in the office after I’d had a blissful two days of doing my own thing.

Now, though, I actually really like Mondays. It helps that I’m doing something I love, that I’m doing it at home with no commute, and I work for myself, so I set my own schedule. I let myself get a slow start on Mondays, if I want to. Weekends are often busy for me, and especially Sundays, so Monday is generally my “sleep in” day. I linger over the newspaper and a cup of tea before launching into my week, which is so much more civilized than being forced to go to work at the usual time right after a weekend. Monday is usually a day for staying at home and not dealing with people.

But I also love the sense of a fresh start that Mondays give me. It’s like a New Year’s Day every week. If I slacked off or didn’t accomplish what I wanted last week, that’s all in the past and I can make new resolutions for the new week. I can accomplish all the things, eat right, exercise, and make progress on organizing my house. I can spend time writing, get projects completed, and all those other things I really want to do. I can set up new schedules and guidelines for myself (you sometimes have to resort to tricks like this when you don’t have a boss or a strict deadline, and therefore there’s nothing to stop you from spending the day reading message boards about TV shows you don’t even watch if you don’t set up some kind of structure).

So, I’m starting today with a lot of enthusiasm, with maybe a dash of fear because I woke up this morning from the recurring “back to my old day job” nightmare. That one seems to have taken over from the “I’m running late for the final exam in the class I forgot I was taking and never actually went to, and I don’t know for sure where the exam is being held” nightmare that was my brain’s previous favorite. It’s never actually really any of my old day jobs, but it’s one like one of them, or it may be one of my old jobs in the dream, and it’s only upon waking that I realize I never actually worked at that place. The bizarre detail from this particular dream was that my boss had come into my office to talk about something, a call for her (not an actual person I’ve ever worked for — I think it might actually have been Mimi from the Enchanted, Inc. books) got forwarded to my desk, and I got out of the way so she could take it. It wasn’t just a quick answer to something, and it looked like she was settling in for a long chat, so when she sat down at my desk, I slipped out of the office to give her some privacy, only then remembering that I’d taken off my shoes while I was sitting at my desk, so now I was barefoot. When my boss finally got off the phone and left my office, she criticized me for not being at my desk, working, and asked why I wasn’t wearing shoes. Which sounds like something Mimi would do.

And now I kind of want to see if I could pull off a short story from Mimi’s perspective, where she’s running into magic but doesn’t realize it as she continues being an irrational boss.

And I really, really don’t want to have to go back to working for the kind of people who inspired Mimi, so I guess I’d better start writing.

Winter Schedule

I’ve had a reasonably busy week. There was the choir workshop last week, then this week I was frantically trying to get together some proposals to send to my agent. Yesterday I was catching up from that. Now I’m back to a more or less normal winter schedule. By that I mean that I seem to be sleeping a lot later than I do the rest of the year. I think I’m part bear and need the hibernation time in winter. Or it could be that my bed is warm and cozy, and I don’t really want to get out of it when it’s cold outside.

The choir workshop came in handy last night because it had been below freezing all day, which meant indoor recess, and a day of indoor recess with kindergarten boys is just asking for excitement with evening activities. I only had four kids, so they were manageable, and I tried a few of the new games I learned to work on getting the wiggles out and settling down, then working on hearing and feeling rhythm. We’re still working on that. I think some of them can find the beat in songs, but the others are still in the “ha, I got there first because I was faster!” mode. We ended up working with streamers and that devolved into creating fireworks. Since there were so few kids, they could have multiple streamers, and they ended up emptying the bag, gathering all they could hold in their arms, then throwing them in the air and letting them flutter to the ground. I put on music so we could try to time it to the music, and I also tried to tie it into vocalization, making our voices go up and down with the streamers. But mostly, they were throwing things in the air with utter glee. It was actually kind of joyous to watch.

I think I need to find a way to write a kindergarten boy-like character into a story — maybe a magical creature? I don’t have a lot of interest in writing too many actual small children, but there’s something about that mindset and world view that would be fun to work with in an impish sort of way.

But first I have a few things I need to finish. Sometimes January is a good writing month because I don’t really want to go anywhere or do anything but stay home, so I might as well write. But it’s also when I could happily doze all day, and if I sit still to write, I can just drift off. I mostly want to spend the time reading. I think what I need is momentum, to really get back in the swing of things after the holidays, and that means forcing myself to focus.

But we have a rainy Sunday in the forecast, and I’ve already got it blocked off for a good reading day.

writing life

Putting Things Off

We started children’s choir last night, and it’s a good thing my co-teacher is a Boy Whisperer because they were particularly rowdy. One kid got sent to the corner several times (first for throwing things at other people, then for leaving the corner and trying to sneak out of the room) and had the “do we need to go find your mother?” threat after he stuck his nametag on one of the posters, covering up one of the essential parts (and it wasn’t the kind of nametag sticker that comes off easily). Meanwhile, one of the other kids came in early while I was trying to clean some marker off the floor (I don’t think we were responsible, but I figure we’d get blamed), became obsessed, wanted to help, then took over. Which was fine for a while, but he wouldn’t stop, no matter what else we were doing, and he got possessive about it, so fights were breaking out over cleaning the floor.

Small amounts of music ended up happening in between all this. The funny thing was, I started teaching them about notes and showed them sheet music, and they were fascinated by it. They spend so much time and energy trying to avoid doing any of the class stuff, but when we finally do it, they love it.

Hmm, that sounds like me and my writing schedule. I spend so much time and energy putting off actually getting to work, but once I’m working, I enjoy what I’m doing.

Tomorrow and Saturday I’m going to a music leaders workshop, so maybe I’ll come away with some new ideas to try with the choir. And maybe me.

But being out for a day means I need to get a lot done today. I need to finish writing a scene, write another scene, write two synopses, condense three synopses into two-page “blurbs,” then polish all of it. I won’t finish today, but I may get to the point where I can do the editing and polishing on Monday.

And then it’s back to the books I’ve been working on.