And Then vs. And So

I had a big “click” in my head yesterday that was kind of exciting.

I’ve read a lot of books on the craft of writing, scene structure, etc., and I’ve been to a lot of workshops. I know all the stuff about how a scene needs to have a character goal, then some conflict and then lead into the next scene. I’ve just never been able to make all that work consciously. Yes, I’ve written a lot of books, and most of them have been moderately successful. People seem to like what I write, and I get good reviews. But I think I’ve mostly been doing it on instinct.

That may be the difference between those “gift” books and the ones that are a struggle. The gift books are the ones where my instincts are working and I’m doing it right without thinking about it. The struggle books are the ones where my instincts are failing me.

My click yesterday came from a Twitter thread in which someone was talking about how each scene needs to lead into the next scene with either “and so” or “but.” That means that the actions in that scene cause the events in the next scene to happen in some way. Either the character achieves his/her goal and it causes the next scene to happen or the character tries but doesn’t achieve the goal, and so something else happens. You have problems if your scenes are “and then” because it just means that the next event happens, not that the next event is caused.

I knew that. I’ve heard that a number of times before, but I don’t think it clicked for me until I started looking at the current project, and I realized that the difference between the original draft and the current version is that in the original draft, all the scenes were “and then,” with the protagonist being swept along by events. In the current draft, the thing I changed (not always on purpose) was turning all the scenes into “and so.” The scenes that are still iffy for me that I’m not entirely happy with are the “and then” scenes.

I didn’t actually dance around the room, but I sure felt like it. The clouds parted and sunlight streamed in. There are still other things to fix, but if I can fix that much, it will make a huge difference.


Gift Books

I’m still slogging away through this rewrite. Normally, I’m a fan of writing straight through, then revising, but since this is well beyond a first draft, I figure I need to get it right before I move ahead, and since I needed to make some changes in the past to set up what’s about to come, I figured I might as well go back to the beginning and do another pass.

I think this draft is working. There’s one scene I’m waffling about, though. There’s not a lot of tension or conflict in it, and it doesn’t progress the plot, but the outcome helps take care of a bit of “business” to ease things in the future. I guess I’ll leave it in for now, and I might be able to fix it either by thinking of a way to make it fit the plot or by finding a way around the business part. I also kind of need it to help kill time — the characters have to fill a couple of hours before the next thing can happen, and they’re at a point in the story when I don’t know that I can just say “a couple of hours later …” This scene helps fill nearly an hour in story time (in a page or so) and explains what they’re doing.

Some books are gifts from above. They just seem to spring into existence fully formed, and I feel like I’m merely taking dictation. I don’t have to make a lot of tough decisions about the story or the plot because things just happen and fall into place. Enchanted, Inc. and Rebel Mechanics were like that. Then there are books like this, where it’s more like sculpting a block of marble — I have to find the story that belongs to the concept by chipping gradually away at everything that isn’t this story. I think the core of the plot has been more or less the same the whole time, but the events carrying out that plot keep changing.

And still, I love it. I have to, considering the amount of time I’ve spent on it.

writing life

Meeting with Readers

Yesterday, I did my very first video chat! It’s like living in the future. I was the guest for a junior high book club meeting to discuss Rebel Mechanics, and since they’re in another part of the state, I visited remotely. It was nice because although I did put on a nice top and did my hair and makeup, I was wearing yoga pants and house slippers and sitting comfortably on my sofa. The sad part was that I couldn’t join the students afterward for tea and scones because they haven’t found a way to instantly transmit matter like that. I did join them in spirit with a cup of tea.

It’s fun meeting with readers like that because writing can be very isolating. Mind you, that’s also one of the things I like about it. I love spending my days at home alone, writing. But it’s also good to be reminded that there are people out there reading these stories, falling in love with these characters. There are often so many layers between writers and readers, and you write to please yourself first, then you may need to get an agent to believe in you, and then you need to find an editor who wants to publish the book. You get feedback from a lot of people who are critiquing the book to try to make it better.

With all that going on, it’s easy to forget that the real point of doing this is for the people who read the book, who aren’t looking at it as a means to make money, who aren’t creating a spreadsheet about what money it may or may not make, who aren’t looking for flaws. They’re reading to enter another world, to experience things through a character, to spend time with imaginary people. It’s nice to be reminded of that because the business can be so overwhelming at times.

It’s especially fun with kids because their enthusiasm is maybe less filtered than you get with adults. They’re not experienced at being fans, like you see at conventions. Meeting a real author is still a really big deal for them, and I get to feel like a celebrity.

But now it’s back to work.


Seeking Escapism

A while ago, I mentioned something about wanting the cozy mystery equivalent of fantasy — some adventure, but without anything really bad happening to people I cared about. I know that editors and agents are always looking for books with really high stakes and lots of conflict and tension, but there are times when all that is too much and I just want something pleasant and escapist.

Right now, I’m reading a book that I’m really enjoying, but it’s the middle book in a trilogy, and it’s definitely got that Empire Strikes Back thing going on, where things are getting serious for Our Hero. Bad things are happening all around him, and he’s doing what he can, but he’s powerless to deal with a lot of it, and the people who can do something aren’t listening to him. You can see the train wreck coming.

And it’s almost too much for me to take. I ended up flipping to the end to see how it all came out, and, yep, Empire Strikes Back, where the “happy” ending is that the characters I like managed to live to fight again, but things aren’t good at all. That wasn’t quite reassuring enough, so I went to the Amazon page for the next book in the series to see if that description made it better. And then I found that there’s another trilogy involving these characters, so I checked those descriptions. I now finally feel reassured enough to forge ahead.

I don’t think I could ever sell low-stress reads to a major publisher, but I think I might try to put together some books — probably those fairytale-related romantic fantasies — that I could publish myself and market as what to read when you really don’t want to follow the heroes into hell. There still would be action and suspense, but with stakes that are more personal and less that the whole world is going to be devastated because the people around the incompetent ruler refuse to do anything about it because they have their own agendas.

Though “low-stress reading” probably isn’t the best label. Maybe “Escapist Fantasy.” I know sometimes “escapist” is used about fantasy and “light” reading as an insult, but sometimes, escapist is exactly what I want. I think in general that’s what I write, but it’s very, very hard to sell right now.


Last night I went to see my church’s youth musical production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella. They’ve really changed it in the recent reboot, so it’s not the show I remember watching on TV as a little girl or even the version I last saw at least ten years ago. There’s more of a relationship between Cinderella and the prince than I recall, and there’s a resistance movement going on. I think they may have made it a wee bit too modern because some of the jokes will have to be rewritten within a decade or so, but it was still a lot of fun.

I got a kick out of seeing how many little girls were in the audience wearing their Cinderella costumes, including one of my kindergarteners. I know when I was a kid, I’d have been eating it up. At that age, I had grand ambitions of being a Broadway star (I didn’t actually know what Broadway was, just that it had something to do with those records I liked singing with). Even now, shows like this are the one thing that makes me wish I could rewind and be a teenager again because I’d have loved to do something like this, but I lived in a very small town. I’ve joked/threatened to pretend to be a teen and audition, and have suggested we do an adult musical, but we might have a harder time getting cast members for all the adult roles.

Kids from all over town, not just from our church, can participate, and it’s fun seeing a broad cross-section of kids working together. We seemed to have more boys than usual, mostly seventh graders, so they were tiny next to the other kids (it was pretty obvious in looking at the cast the different rates at which boys and girls mature around that age), but they should have a good crop of high school boys in a few years if these guys stick with it.

Cinderella is probably my favorite fairy tale, and I like “collecting” versions of it. I like that she’s usually not going to the ball to meet a prince. She just wants a night out. She’s also a little more proactive than a lot of fairytale heroines, since she takes steps to achieve what she wants rather than lying there, sleeping, until she gets rescued. She wins because she’s a kind person.

I currently have two story ideas developing at the back of my head that are variations on the Cinderella story. One of them may become part of a series of short novels I’m thinking of doing that are kind of fairy tale retellings. I haven’t had a lot of luck with one of the short stories I wrote, and I suspect, based on audience reactions when I read it at cons, that there’s a readership for these romantic fantasy stories that aren’t exactly groundbreaking enough for the big publishers, but that might serve as good comfort reads.

But first I have to finish the book I’m working on, revise a proposal, and write at least two books and a short story before I can play with new things.

Rewatching the recent live-action Disney Cinderella might be fun for this weekend’s entertainment, though.



I’m really hoping that this last round of rewrites is the more or less final version of this book, other than wordsmithing and fine tuning. I’m trying to make myself stop and dig deep to figure out what happens next rather than forging ahead and then figuring out that I did it wrong.

One of the real challenges with rewriting is disconnecting myself from the previous version. It’s far too easy to just keep trying to make what I’ve already done better rather than figuring out if there’s a better way to go entirely.

I’m at a big decision point for the book, and I was starting to go down the path I’d already taken, just with adjustments to accommodate earlier changes I’d made, but I made myself stop and really take stock. There’s a brainstorming technique I love called the List of 20 (or there are other things it gets called). The idea is that you make a list of 20 things that can happen. The first 10 are usually pretty easy, and if you’re rewriting, those are usually the things you’ve already written. You might be able to come up with the next few with a little thought. To fill out the list, you may have to get a little crazy. What I often find is that items 15-17 are totally wacky and unrealistic, but once I’ve gone off the rails, that jolts my thinking, so that 18-20 have something that might work that I hadn’t previously thought of, and quite often I’ll end up with about 23 things because that starts me really thinking.

One of the things I’m trying to do in this rewrite is make my protagonists more proactive, so they’re not just reacting to events. That’s easy enough to do with my narrator because we’re in her head and know her motivations, but more challenging when it’s people we’re only seeing from the outside. So I made a List of 20 for each of the characters yesterday, just thinking about what they would do in the situation they’re in, with their goals in mind.

I haven’t yet sorted through everything I came up with (since it was choir night), but I think I’ve got some good stuff that I can really work with. The bad news is that it kills a lot of what I’ve already written for the last half of this book. I may be able to salvage a scene or two, but the book is probably going to go in a different direction, which is good, since the previous direction wasn’t working.

While I’m processing all this, it looks like this is a good day for the Epic Day of Getting Things Done, since I have errands to do I was putting off while we had a week of rain. Now I can safely emerge from the house without needing an umbrella, so I need to get groceries and go to the library.


Writing and Knitting

It has occurred to me that my current knitting project is the perfect metaphor for my current writing project.

I’m knitting a big circular shawl from a book of Victorian lace patterns. Oddly, I started it because I had some yarn left over from another project, this pattern has always intrigued me, and at the time I started it, I had a vague idea for how I was going to use it (as a throw rather than as a shawl). But it was troublesome from the beginning. It’s knitted in the round as a big circle, starting with four double-pointed needles, casting on with three stitches per needle on three needles, and one needle for working. It grows from there until you can switch to a circular needle. There were a few false starts because trying to keep it all together without twisting when there are so few stitches is a challenge, but I finally got it going. I’d been working on it for a couple of months before I noticed that there was a problem way back, probably while I was still on the double-pointed needles. I think what had happened was that some stitches might have fallen off the ends of the needles in between sections and I hadn’t realized it. That meant that the pattern made an odd glitch. I’m knitting this mostly just to have something to knit, so I went back and undid the whole thing until I got to the problem spot, starting over from there.

I finally got done with the body of the shawl and went to work on the knitted-on border. Because the circumference of the shawl is pretty huge, this is a massive undertaking, as only every other border row gets knitted onto the shawl. I got a good way into it before I realized that somewhere along the way, I’d glitched and lost some stitches on the border pattern, so that that pattern began and ended with 9 stitches instead of 11 (it makes points, so it grows from 11, then shrinks back to 11). I undid it back to the error and started over. When I was really close to having the border done, I counted out the remaining shawl edge stitches and the number of border pattern rows I had left, and it was nowhere near even, not even off by just one or two. I looked back over the border and found a couple of places where I’d somehow forgotten the middle row — the border grows to a point, there’s a solid middle row at the peak with no patterned stitches, and then it shrinks from there, but I was going from the peak to the shrinking without the middle in a few places. Then I found another spot behind that where I’d done the 9 stitches instead of 11 thing. I ended up spending a couple of weeks undoing almost the entire border before starting again, and then there was a false start where I’d forgotten the pattern while I was undoing it all, so I was doing it wrong when I started again.

And that’s what I’ve been doing with the current book — I’d get into it, realize I started wrong, go back, and rewrite, realize that was wrong, go back and rewrite. Then I’d get almost done, realize it was all wrong, and go back. I finally finished it, then got feedback from my agent and started over again, then went back to the process of getting to a certain point in the book, realizing what I needed to fix, and going back to fix it.

At least with the book, I can save the parts that are right and insert them in, or I can go back and fix something wrong earlier in the book without erasing everything to that point. With the knitting, I have to undo some parts that are done right in order to reach the errors. The trick with the writing is figuring out what can be saved and what should be scrapped, and sometimes it’s easier to just rewrite a scene than to fix an old scene to fit a new scenario.

Maybe I’m being a perfectionist, but the result won’t be a thing I’m happy with unless I get it right. With the book, I’m hoping to get a new publisher who’ll be excited enough about it to actually put some effort into it, which means I have to make it great. With the knitting, since I’m knitting for the sake of having something to knit, I may as well make it something I’m proud of. Undoing and redoing it means I’m not having to buy more yarn to have something else to knit when I’m done.



It seems that my hobby this fall and winter has been baking bread. I’ve always loved baking, and I love making bread, but it’s a time and labor-intensive process. Not only is there the time involved in mixing the ingredients, there’s generally about ten minutes of kneading (which can be therapeutic, but it’s still ten minutes), and then multiple rising times.

Well, last fall I discovered the wonders of no-knead bread. You stir up the ingredients, let it rise, shape it, let it rise again, and bake. It still takes time, but most of that time is rising, so I can be doing something else. Now I don’t remember the last time I bought bread because I’ve been making my own.

It all started with this recipe for a Harvest Bread full of nuts and dried fruit. One of my local grocery stores used to make something like this, then it stopped. One day last fall, I was procrastinating, so I did an Internet search to find a recipe along those lines and found this one, which also introduced me to the idea of Dutch oven or bread crock baking. That makes things even easier. I’ve made the rustic/artisan breads before where you have to put a pan of water in the oven. This avoids that step and still gives you that crusty European bakery effect. You just put your dough in a Dutch oven or bread crock, bake it in that with the lid on for most of the time, then remove the lid for the last few minutes. The steam builds inside the pot for most of the baking, and then you finish browning at the end. So, the night before I want bread, I stir together the ingredients, let it rise overnight, shape it and put it in the pot in the morning to rise again, then throw it into the oven. With this recipe, you put the pot in a cold oven, and it finishes rising as the oven heats.

So, since that one was so successful, I tried a crusty white bread recipe that makes multiple loaves. You pull off the amount of dough you want to use and keep the rest in the refrigerator, up to a week. The longer it stays in the refrigerator, the closer it comes to a sourdough taste.

Yesterday, I tried a skillet wheat bread that I’m still iffy about. It has the shape and a similar density to corn bread, but it’s a whole-wheat yeast bread. I guess it would be similar to a heavy peasant bread, but it’s a little too dense for my taste. I might tinker with the recipe some, and we’ll see how well it reheats or works split and toasted.

There’s a French bread recipe I want to try that I may bake in the Dutch oven. And a skillet cinnamon bread that looks lovely.

One weird thing I discovered in researching all this baking stuff is that supposedly, you should let a loaf of bread cool completely before slicing it because it alters the texture if you break the crust before it’s cooled. Is it actually possible to resist eating fresh-baked bread right out of the oven? Who does that? I do let it rest about 10-15 minutes, but then it must be at least tasted while warm, maybe with some butter and honey.

Cord Cutting Report

I’ve been without cable now for a couple of weeks, so I’m starting to see how it will shake out.

While the cable company didn’t do anything to market to me to try to keep me as a customer, either DirecTV Now was just having a sale at a good time or the time I looked up info about it while I was logged into my AT&T account triggered something because last week they sent me an offer to get the basic service for $10 a month for the first three months. This is the “cable” service that you stream online. Since I only really wanted it for three months, that was practically heaven-sent. It allowed me to watch the Olympics stuff that wasn’t on the broadcast network, it will allow me to watch the rest of the season of Once Upon a Time (since that’s a channel I can’t get with my antenna), and it will let me finish out the series of Star Wars Rebels and this season of The Magicians.

From my first week or so of using the service, I have to say that the live streaming works great. I forget I’m not watching regular TV. The only weird thing is that there are no channel numbers. The “what’s on now” grid just has the networks in alphabetical order, which takes some getting used to.

Their on demand service pretty much sucks, though. I’m not home when The Magicians is on, so I was counting on watching it on demand, but last time I checked, they were at least three episodes behind. I managed to watch Rebels live, but the new episode still hasn’t shown up. I’ll have to see how well they do with anything else. I did find a workaround for The Magicians because the DirecTV Now credentials let me unlock the SyFy app on Roku, so I’ve been able to watch episodes that way. I could probably do the same with the Disney app for Rebels.

Meanwhile, thanks to some recommendations, I checked out season one of The Good Place from the library, and then season two was available on demand. But getting that through DirecTV Now was really glitchy, lots of stops, starts, buffering, and then they put the ad breaks in the wrong places. It was like they got the feed out of sync. A character would be in mid-word and suddenly there are ads, then it would pick up the scene for another 20 or so seconds, and then there would be the regular ad break, but just with a network promo. I resorted to the NBC app instead, again unlocked using the DirecTV login (and what’s the deal with the broadcast networks, the ones you don’t need cable to watch, requiring cable subscriptions to stream their content? Are they actively trying to lose viewers? Because if you can’t keep up with their shows when you miss something, you tend to stop watching entirely.)

So, this isn’t quite a perfect replacement for cable, but for $10 a month it’ll do and I’ll be dropping it when this special runs out at the end of the TV season. With Amazon Prime and all the various free stuff on Roku, plus the streaming services from the library and the library’s DVD collection, I have more stuff to watch than I have time for, and the point of all this was to have more time to do other stuff. The difference is that I have to do more to get to something to watch, and that means no mindless “let’s see what’s on” channel surfing. I’m thinking of getting a longer coaxial cable and moving the antenna upstairs to see if that will help my reception. There’s a weird glitch that happens with the PBS station in certain weather conditions, where the picture freezes or pixilates when an airplane flies over, and I live between two major airports. I don’t know if the weather affects the signal or affects the flight path, which puts the planes in a place to affect the signal.

Now that the Olympics are over and I’m back to a more “normal” (for me) schedule, we’ll see how this affects my time management.

Getting Down to Business

I must have had decent instincts about picking figure skating music because last night’s competition was full of music from my various fantasy programs over the years. And now the competition is over, so I can get back on my regular schedule. I guess it’s not so bad to interrupt my life for a couple of weeks every four years.

But now I really have to get down to work. I have to finish the book I’m working on, get a proposal reworked, finish a book that’s halfway complete and I’d like to write another book, and that’s in the first half or so of the year. Then there’s another project I would like to do something with and a story I need to write.

So, yeah, kind of busy. I’m considering backing way off social media. I’m not sure how much good it’s doing me. My attempts at connecting with other writers don’t seem to go anywhere. I’m adding followers at a glacial pace. I may trim back who I’m following to personal friends or people whose posts I really pay attention to so it takes less time to read my feed and worry less about posting, since most of my posts seem to go into a black hole. Posting itself doesn’t take much time, but I’ve found that when I post something, I then feel compelled to keep checking to see if anyone has responded, and that eats up time and takes away from my focus when I’m trying to write. When I analyze how I spend my time, just checking my Twitter and Facebook feeds eats up a surprising amount of my day, with no real benefit to show for it.

Speaking of work, duty calls! There are stories to be written.