Sequels that Do Not Exist

One of the reasons I seldom actually take vacations is that I get most of my pleasure from the planning part, and then I no longer really want to take the trip. I guess it’s like that visualization thing I mentioned earlier from that book I read, where if you visualize something, your brain decides you’ve already done it, so you’re no longer motivated to do it. While researching possibilities, I imagine rather vividly exactly how it would be, and it’s almost as good as going on the actual trip.

And sometimes, all the overpreparing and research pays off in helping me decide what to do and what not to do. As I mentioned earlier, I spent a lot of the weekend researching a possible birthday trip, and one of the factors was that there was a show at the performance hall. Since the tickets were very expensive and it wasn’t something I was familiar with, I checked Amazon Prime Music to see if they had the soundtrack so I could decide if seeing it was worth it.

And, boy, was I glad I did. The show I was considering was Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I didn’t even get through the entire first act. It was so very not good. The story was even worse when I looked up a plot summary. Basically, it’s your classic rationalizing the choice of the bad boy fan fiction, the kind of thing people write when in the actual story the heroine doesn’t end up with the murderer but the fans think the murderer is so sexy and misunderstood and the good guy the heroine does end up with is boring. In the fan versions, the good guy turns out to actually be terrible, so the heroine ends up with the misunderstood villain.

I was very Team Raoul, since I like the childhood sweethearts finding each other again story, plus the Phantom was a creepy, manipulative stalker and murderer. The sequel reveals that Christine and the Phantom actually slept together while she was in his lair, and so the son she has after she marries Raoul is actually the Phantom’s. Meanwhile, Raoul has drunk and gambled away all their money.

So, yeah, let’s ruin all the characters. And the music wasn’t even good enough to paper over the terrible story.

Which means I will not be factoring this show into my birthday plans. Maybe I’ll do the spa trip to the other hotel, after all. I can do a trip to see something at the performance hall some other time.

And this is going on the list of Sequels That Do Not Exist, like any Alien movie after Aliens.

The Good and Bad of Fandom

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about toxic fandom, spurred mostly by the reaction of some fans to the recent Star Wars movies. They’ve driven some of the actors off social media with their horrible abuse, and now there’s even a group trying to raise money to remake The Last Jedi “the right way,” so that it’s not so much about social justice (I guess they missed the fact that in the original trilogy, the villains were literally Stormtroopers, and the heroes were freedom fighters battling oppression). I think I got the most response to anything I’ve ever tweeted when I responded to someone else’s post about how male fandom, when disappointed by something, tends to react with “You’ve ruined my childhood! Now I will destroy you!” while female fans just go and write fan fiction. I added that female fandom also will tend to get into in-depth analysis of the characterization and plot elements, and out of that discussion will develop lifelong friendships. That got a lot of “likes.”

That’s certainly been my experience. I have a number of good friends I initially met through online or convention fandom and discussions. We don’t always like everything that’s done in the show or movies, but when we don’t like it, there’s fun in the community that forms around figuring out where the problems are. I haven’t done a lot of fan fiction, and when I have, it hasn’t been so much about “fixing” things. When I “fix” things, it tends to spur something entirely new that never really exists as fan fiction. But I really get into analysis.

Not that all female fandom is non-toxic. The “‘shipping,” or advocating for certain romantic relationships, can get really nasty. I’ve seen actors driven off social media by fans who harass and abuse them because the fans perceive the actors as being obstacles to their chosen relationship, either because the actors play characters who get in the way by being involved with one of the parties in their chosen relationship or because the fans perceive the actors as being opposed to or not supportive of their chosen relationship (which can include the actor speaking positively about the relationship the character is actually in on the show). It can go as far as fans trying to spread nasty rumors about actors in an attempt to get them fired.

But for the most part, the fan community can be a positive thing, and that’s a central theme in the book I’ve been working on for ages. It’s largely about what it is to be a fan of something, to love it so much that you wish it was real and you could actually live it, and how that love can form connections between people who otherwise are very different from each other. I haven’t delved into the toxic side of things in the story because I wanted to write something about joy. I think that’s why it took me so long to really find the right story for this book because it’s hard to have both high stakes and that joy. I’m doing my final pass before I send it to my agent, and I think I’ve finally captured what I wanted.

It’s wonderful when you find that shared connection with someone over something both of you love. Star Wars was a great icebreaker when I was a kid. I was a military brat, so we moved around a lot, about every year to year and a half in the years after Star Wars came out. I found that bringing up Star Wars was a good way to find new friends when we moved. It meant we had at least one thing in common, and soon we’d learn other things we had in common. As an adult, I’ve made long-term friends in discussions of The X-Files, Buffy, Firefly, and Doctor Who. These are friendships that have transcended the original topic and continued in other forums, or even in person. Sometimes, I even forget how I originally got to know these people. They’re just friends, not specifically fandom friends.

I really hope this book finds a home, because I think it’s a story people will relate to and I think it’s a good reminder of what it is to share in the joy of loving something.

The Cost of a Free Ticket

I should be able to stop sidetracking by looking up vacation ideas because I got my August vacation booked. I had to go to the airport to get my flight because you have to either book by phone and then mail a voucher (which tends to get lost) or go to a ticket counter. Since getting the good hotel rate requires prepayment, I didn’t want to book the hotel without being sure of my flight, so I went to the airport. It was on my way to a friend’s house, so I’d have been going past it, anyway.

And it turned into quite an adventure. The place was relatively quiet, especially for a Friday afternoon, so I didn’t have to wait at all to walk right up to a ticket counter. That turned out to be a good thing because it took an hour, three ticket agents, two supervisors, and a phone call to get my ticket. The first agent didn’t know how to deal with vouchers at all and had to ask the second one for help. The second one tried to type in something and recoiled in horror at what she saw on the screen. Apparently, it wasn’t supposed to do that. So the first agent went in search of a supervisor, tried what the supervisor suggested, and when that didn’t work, she called elsewhere in the airline and got put on hold, with a projected wait time of an hour. Meanwhile, she kept trying other stuff that didn’t work. It seems that my voucher was some weird type they’d never seen before. When the first agent finally got an answer on the phone, they didn’t know what she was talking about. The supervisor came over to see how it was going and didn’t know what to advise. Another supervisor came over to see what was going on, and she wasn’t sure what to do. Then a third ticket agent who’d just come on duty came over to see what the fuss was about, looked at the voucher, typed in some things, and it worked.

So I paid for my “free” ticket in time (I think it took longer to redeem the voucher than I was delayed by taking the bump). But considering that someone else paid for the flight that got me the voucher, this is a doubly free ticket. And then this weekend I booked the hotel, so I’m set.

But then one of the hotel chains I have a membership with sent me an e-mail saying I could get an extra 15% off during the month of my birthday. They don’t have a lot of hotels, but there is one in downtown Fort Worth, and I thought that might make a fun mini-break for my birthday, itself — take the train over, maybe go out in Sundance Square. The hotel has a spa, so I could make it a spa retreat sort of thing. Then I noticed that there’s a show I’d like to see opening at the downtown performance hall the night of my birthday. But this hotel would be a walk that I’m not entirely sure would be safe alone, and the show ends after the downtown trolley stops running. Skimming around on other hotel web sites, I found that there’s an Embassy Suites across the street from the performance hall, and it would be less expensive — or free if I use my Hilton points — plus the big breakfast buffet. On the other hand, no spa, no morning tea brought to your door with the morning paper. So, maybe I could hotel hop — do one night in the fancy hotel and do the spa thing, then go to the other hotel for the night of the show and a big breakfast.

I spent way too much time on Saturday researching possibilities for a semi-staycation trip. I’ve talked about wanting to do a trip just to relax and not come home tired and hadn’t considered something quite that close to home. It would be about an hour by train, so it would feel like an actual trip without being too draining. I may or may not do it for my actual birthday, but I might do a mini-break during the fall when I could walk around outside without bursting into flames because there are museums, the botanical gardens, etc., to enjoy there, and I seldom go because it’s not a pleasant drive.

But now it’s the work week, and I want to get one project off my plate so I can concentrate better on other projects.


The Not-Ready Project

The good thing about having so many projects competing for mental attention is that if I get stuck on one or just don’t want to deal with it, there’s always something else I could be working on. I finished one phase of one of the projects, then just couldn’t seem to focus on the next one up, so I turned to the one that’s more of a “play” project.

And learned in a rather vivid way that it’s not quite ready for prime time. I created scene cards for each scene I know about and realized that although I have a lot of stuff about this story in my head, almost all of it is backstory. The backstory may end up in the book, since it’s a complete story, in and of itself. I may do it in dramatized flashbacks, a la Lost or Once Upon a Time, and that’s the part where I’m not entirely sure how well it will work. But once I get to the present, I have no idea what will happen. My chronological outline comes to a dead stop at the beginning of the story.

I can still write the backstory bits, and the fun of using Scrivener for this is that I can always rearrange the pieces. Writing the backstory may give me ideas for the present. But this idea definitely requires more development. It will have to remain something I do for fun in my spare time until I’m ready to devote serious headspace to it.

This is an object lesson in dealing with the Shiny New Idea. When you’re in the hard part of a book, any new idea is going to sound really great compared to the thing you’re working on, but if you drop what you’re working on to play with the new idea, you may never finish the thing you’re working on, and you may find that the new idea is just as difficult as the thing you were working on. Then you’ll get another Shiny New Idea, and so on.

I recommend taking a break to write down everything you know about the Shiny New Idea. That way, you’ve captured it so you won’t forget the good stuff. You may get it out of your brain so you can focus. And you’ll see how developed it really is. Usually, you don’t have enough to really start writing an actual book. If you do find it more or less writing itself, then go for it, but that’s pretty rare.

writing life

Brain Blinders

I had a weird case of overwhelmed paralysis yesterday, where there were about three things of equal importance vying for attention in my brain, which meant I had a hard time making any progress on any of them. It was like the work equivalent of when you start to head to one room to get or do something, but then you think of something else you need to do in another room and you find yourself standing still as you try to go both places at once, putting your weight on one foot to head one direction, then shifting your weight to the other foot to head the other direction. Eventually, you have to pick a direction and go. But when that’s happening when you’re writing, even when you pick one, the other ones pop up in your head to distract you while you’re working on that thing.

Yesterday, I had three books shouting for attention, plus there’s that vacation planning thing that got complicated by figuring out how to actually redeem that voucher. Meanwhile, I started thinking about what I need to do about marketing because my book sales are down a bit.

There’s a marketing workshop on Sunday that I was pondering, but I suspect I know what they’d tell me to do, and the problem is that I won’t want to do any of it, and I’m not entirely convinced that it would work. They’re going to tell us to have a mailing list and do social media, maybe get a “street team” and possibly Facebook ads.

I’m not sure that addresses my particular issue, which is that the people who know about me love my books and buy them, but I’m almost entirely unknown outside that small group. Almost any bit of marketing I can do is preaching to the choir, reaching people who’ve already bought everything. A mailing list might be nice for reminding people when I have something new out, but it’s not going to bring in new readers. I’m not even sure how effective it would be when everyone and their dog has a mailing list. You can’t visit a web site these days without getting one of those “sign up for my mailing list” pop-ups. I suspect most people run screaming at the thought of another mailing list.

I haven’t managed to get 600 Twitter followers in three years. Facebook doesn’t even spread your posts to the people who’ve actively asked to see them. And, again, preaching to the choir.

I need to figure out some ways to get beyond my loyal fans and make new loyal fans, or at least get new people to give my books a shot. That’s tricky when everything right now qualifies as backlist, with nothing new in a while. Yeah, that shouldn’t matter for new people, but it’s hard to get any kind of attention for a 13-year-old book. I guess I need to come up with a brilliantly viral tweet, or something.

For once, I have a Saturday and Sunday without plans (unless I do that workshop), so I may devote some time to thinking about this and coming up with a specific plan. Until then, it may keep begging for attention, along with all the other things. I need brain blinders.


Thinking about vacations yesterday really got me sidetracked because I kept going off on research rabbit trails. But I think I’ve made a decision. I figured that if I got a bad knot in my stomach when I thought about booking an overseas trip, it was a bad sign. Maybe that’s not the thing to do right now or this year.

Then I came across a notice of a Hilton sale and started looking around at what I could get in which places, and I could get some really nice rates in downtown Chicago, and the airfare for the dates I’m looking at would end up being free, with that voucher I got for taking a bump. I only seem to get to Chicago for conferences, so there are a couple of touristy things I want to do, like the Art Institute, and then they have a tall ship that does cruises on the lake. I have friends there I could get together with in the evenings. It could be a nice, relaxing-type vacation, the kind where there’s some stuff to do but some time to hang out in a hotel room and just chill. When I think about it, I feel good instead of getting that knot in my stomach, which is a good sign.

But I’ll have to make a decision by this weekend because I have to book the hotel by then to get the sale rates.

Now I think I should be able to concentrate on my work again.

Vacation Waffling

Earlier this year, I decided that I was going to take a big vacation this summer — actually use my passport and Global Entry status and check something off the bucket list. I was thinking Norway would be good. It’s where one side of my family came from, and it looks like something I would enjoy, with forests, mountains, and water. I started researching it, and everything I saw spoke to my soul.

But I never actually booked anything. Now I’m at the point where I really need to be buying plane tickets and making hotel reservations, and I’m balking. I started worrying about traveling to a place where I don’t speak the language (I had all these grand plans about studying Norwegian on Duolingo, but never got started) and thought maybe I’d postpone the trip to next year and do something else this summer.

So I looked into Scotland, and flying there was really expensive. I thought maybe I could fly to London and take the train, but that was actually more expensive than flying to Oslo, even though the flight to Oslo is actually a flight to London, then changing planes to fly to Oslo. I also looked up Dublin, which is a bit more expensive than flying to Oslo.

The language thing shouldn’t be that big an issue, since most Norwegians speak perfect English, and Norwegian is a somewhat Germanic language, so I can figure out a lot of things like signs based on what I know of German. I looked up hotels, and it seems like I can get some pretty reasonably.

But every time I think of actually pulling the trigger and booking, I get a knot in my stomach. I don’t know if it’s a fear of the unknown (or of spending money) or just some sense that maybe this isn’t the right thing for me to do right now. The thought of spending that amount of time in transit isn’t very appealing (though I’m considering splurging on business class).

Or maybe I should do something closer to home — a mini-break in New York or Chicago, or something like that.

Whatever I do, I guess I need to decide and plan soon. Weirdly, I probably have more fun planning hypothetical vacations than I do actually taking the trip.

I do want to go to England in the fall because there’s a book I need to research, so maybe that can be my big trip.


Non-Binge Watching

I think I’m doing the streaming TV thing wrong — or, at least, different. It seems that binge-watching is the way most people go. You find a series and don’t stop watching until you’re done, with several episodes at a time, and you watch all of a series before starting something else. That’s even what the Amazon app seems to expect, since when you get to the end of an episode it will automatically play the next episode unless you stop it, and it takes several steps to stop it.

But I seem to be treating it like regular broadcast TV, so that I watch one episode at a time, and I’m watching multiple things at once, so I might only watch one episode of a show each week. It’s not quite like regular TV in that I’m not keeping to a particular schedule (this show on Monday, that show on Tuesday, etc.). It goes more by time and mood. There are some things that are less than half an hour, some right at half an hour, some at about 48 minutes, some at exactly an hour or a little more than an hour, so I pick the thing that fits into the slot I have available. Then there’s mood — am I up for a documentary? A comedy? A drama? Something I’ve seen before? Something new? Historical? Contemporary?

At the moment, I have at least six series in progress. I have watched some things on back-to-back nights, but I seldom watch more than one episode of anything at a time. Serialized things are more likely to go back-to-back, while the documentary series may get more spread out.

I’ve read some articles complaining that series aren’t written for binge-watching, so you’re not getting the proper effect if you don’t take time between episodes. I don’t know about that. I just know that I tend to get burned out if I binge on something, so I’m more likely to like it if I parcel out the episodes. If it’s something I’m really enjoying, I don’t want it to be over, so I space out the episodes. I seldom watch more than an hour or so of TV a night. And there’s the fact that there are so many things I want to watch that it’s hard to choose just one.

I guess that fits with my realization that I need to take breaks between books when I’m reading a series. I probably won’t finish the series if I try to read straight through without taking a break to read something else.

Figuring Out Success

I mentioned that book I just read about analyzing conventional wisdom about success. It’s called Barking up the Wrong Tree and is by Eric Barker, who also has a blog on the topic.

This is an interesting book to read if you’re trying to optimize your life, looking for ways to improve your career, get more done, or are just interested in human nature. I’m pretty much all of the above. It’s essentially a Mythbusters of success and motivation, except instead of doing crazy experiments, he looks up actual research studies.

One of the sections that intrigued me most was on dreaming and visualization. One of the big pop culture things about success over the past dozen or so years has been visualization, with the idea that visualizing yourself having the thing that you want will somehow magically bring it about. You hear terms like “manifesting.” Even if you’re not going so far as to believe that just thinking about something will make it happen, there’s the idea that visualizing yourself having what you want and seeing what your idea of success will look like when it happens is motivating.

It turns out that it’s the opposite. Research has found that visualization is actually de-motivating because it tricks your brain into thinking you’re already there, so you’re less likely to be motivated to work toward getting that thing. You feel like you’ve already received the reward, so you have less energy for going after it.

What does work is turning that dream into a plan. If you have a thing that you’re dreaming of having or doing, then you need to get specific about the exact outcome you really want. Then think of what you have to overcome to get it and come up with a plan to address that. Going through this process instead of just picturing the end result is more likely to energize you to go after that thing — unless the thing you want is unreasonable, and then you’ll lose motivation, which makes it a good test of your dream.

There’s also stuff about how turning steps of a plan into a game makes you more likely to carry out that plan and how to go about networking in a way that doesn’t come across like you’re trying to use people.

The other interesting takeaway is about finding a balance between overconfidence and lack of confidence. Being really confident can help you be effective because you go after things and stick with them, but that can also make you a jerk and make you blind to your own weaknesses. Having less confidence makes you work harder to improve, but makes you feel bad and may make others see you as less competent. The balance is “self compassion,” which is recognizing your faults, but forgiving yourself. See yourself accurately but don’t judge yourself harshly.

His blog looks pretty interesting, with a lot of lists of books to read or items from research on various topics.

And now, a key part of my plan to achieve my dream of publishing world domination is to spend more time writing, so off I go to work on my book.

writing life


I’ve been reading a book on how the conventional wisdom about success is often wrong, and I’ll discuss it in more detail once I’ve thought about it some more, but one thing it did do was reinforce my scheduling habit. The “conventional wisdom” was that you should have a to-do list to keep track of tasks, and the better way is to have a schedule, instead, because the to-do list doesn’t do you much good if you don’t allocate the time to do those items. Scheduling time to do the things you need to do makes you more likely to do them.

I actually have both. I use the Stickies app on my computer to keep a to-do list for each day of the week. When I think of something I need to do, I put it on that day’s list. Then when I do my scheduling for that day, I schedule those tasks.

But the schedule really is a life changer for people who tend to procrastinate or who have trouble getting started. I find that I get so much more done, and actually get those tasks on my list done, when I make a schedule every morning. It even works on weekends because I schedule my chores and the fun things I want to do. That makes me more likely to make time for the fun stuff. If I don’t schedule, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just surfing the Internet or watching TV, and then I feel guilty for doing that, so even that’s not fun. So, I schedule my Internet and TV time, along with other stuff I want to do, and then I can relax and enjoy all the activities.

That’s what the author of this book was showing, that while the conventional wisdom is that a schedule will make you feel constrained, and you definitely don’t want to have to stick to a plan on the weekend, it actually works out that you’re happier when you’re conscious and deliberate about how you use your time. You’re more likely to do the things that make you happy instead of wasting your time on things that are easy to fall into without thinking, and you feel better about yourself when you don’t feel like you wasted time. It’s nice to be at the end of a weekend and able to look back at what you accomplished and the things you did rather than wondering where all the time went.

I’m still working out the best way to use my schedule. I’ve learned to overestimate how much time something will take. I only schedule half-hour blocks because any tighter than that adds to stress. If a task doesn’t take that much time, it gives me a cushion in case something else takes longer or there’s an interruption. In fact, I deliberately plan a few blocks that I know will only take a few minutes. The tricky part is scheduling writing time because I know I need a few breaks just to get up and move, but those are too short to put on the schedule, but if there’s not a firm “back to work” time, it’s easy for those breaks to expand. Using the timer on my phone for the breaks helps. It also depends on which stage of a project I’m on. I want longer working blocks when I’m drafting because I want to get into a state of flow where I’m immersed in the world. When I’m editing or proofreading, I don’t want that flow because I want to be focused and aware, so I may schedule shorter blocks with breaks to go do something else in between.

And now my schedule is telling me that it’s time to write.