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.

Life

Ice Dreams

I had a very small children’s choir group last night because it was cold and rainy, and I suspect the parents didn’t want to drag themselves and their children out of the house. I don’t blame them. I might not have been there if I hadn’t been obligated. The weather we’ve had this week is made for staying home, making soup, and reading.

Which is what I’m doing today, though substitute writing for reading this afternoon and watching figure skating for reading tonight.

I’ve always been fascinated by ice skating. I remember the Ice Capades coming to town when I was a small child. They had a Peanuts theme one year, and Snoopy came to my kindergarten. We then took off our shoes and “skated” around the room in our socks. The first time I remember seeing competitive figure skating was watching Dorothy Hamill in the 1976 Olympics. I had our old black-and-white TV that only picked up one channel in my room, sitting on a table with a shiny laminated surface, so you could sort of see a reflection of the TV on it. I remember putting my Barbie in her ballet costume and putting on her short boots and making her skate along with Dorothy Hamill, following her reflection on the table. I also wanted that haircut, but it doesn’t work with curly hair.

In my tweens, Tai and Randy were the big deal. I’m not sure how much I actually saw them skate because I was living overseas at the time, but the tween pop culture magazines were full of articles about them. I made my parents take me to the Ice Capades to see them skate in person when we were back in the States and they were on tour.

Then there were the 1984 Olympics, and I started having these crazy daydreams about how if I got in really good shape and had all the other elements in place, if I started taking skating lessons when I went to college and was in a place that actually had a rink, I’d turn out to be a prodigy and would have a shortcut to the Olympics. After all, the one time I’d gone skating at a mall rink, I’d managed to stay upright and even got to the point where I could glide on one foot and use the edges of the blade. If I could do that in one time, figuring it out for myself, what could I do with actual training? I’m a little ashamed to admit how much time I spent in my room doing exercises, stretching, picking out my music, and designing my costume. The exercise was probably good for me.

Since I was living in a city with a skating rink after the 1988 Olympics, I did actually go skating a few more times, and those crazy dreams resurfaced. I took a ballet class because I thought that would be handy. Reality started to sink in after that, especially when I had knee surgery on the leg that would be used for landings, but then the retroactive daydreams kicked in — if I had started training way back then, where would I be now? My ambitions switched over to ice dance later (though I think there were still some daydreams in which I first won a gold medal as a singles skater, then switched to ice dance and won again, as the oldest woman to win a medal in figure skating).

I did finally admit to myself that it was never going to happen and never would have happened, and there wasn’t really even anything I could have changed about my life to make it happen. We didn’t live anywhere near a rink, so there would have been no way of figuring out if I had the aptitude at an age when I’d have had a chance, and I’m not sure I would have had the drive it takes to get to the top. There are too many other things I enjoy doing. I probably don’t even spend the time I need to really make it in writing because I also spend time on music, knitting, and other things. My music lags because I spend too much time on reading, writing, and other things. Even the music suffers because I’m trying to sing and learn multiple instruments rather than focusing on one thing. So maybe I’ll never have a “gold medal” equivalent in anything, but at least I’m well-rounded. I’m reasonably accomplished at a lot of things, and I think I like that better than being the world’s best at something but lacking in everything else (in my PR days, my firm dealt with an Olympic skater as a spokesperson for something, and she was utterly useless, as she had no thought in her head that wasn’t about skating).

This year, I’m able to just watch without wanting to be there. I haven’t even been mentally choreographing my programs (though if any ice dancers want hints on good music, I have ideas). I’ll confess that I have been exercising a bit more while watching, mostly because watching them use their knees the way they do makes mine ache, so I remember I need to do my therapy exercises.

I’m also kind of looking forward to it being over so I can get back on my regular schedule. These late nights are killing me.

My Books

Fun with Books

One thing that’s been really fun about dipping my toe into the world of YA books and publishing is seeing the innovative things librarians and teachers are doing with books to encourage kids to read — and to read for fun.

I’ve always been a big reader because I come from a family of readers. I was reading and loving books before I even started school, so I already knew books could be fun, and that’s a good thing because it almost seemed like the mission of school was to make you hate books. There were some exceptions like my fourth-grade teacher, who read fun books to us after recess every day, but the books you’re usually assigned to read tend to be dreary things about death and injustice. If you didn’t already know that there were other, more fun books out there, you’d think books were boring and depressing.

It seems that there’s an effort now to change that, with librarians coming up with lists of books to recommend to kids to read for fun, and it’s been a huge honor to be included on some of those lists, since that’s one of the reasons I write, so that people will have fun things to read. Because of my book being included on lists and in programs like that, I get to hear of other things librarians and schools are coming up with, like a quiz bowl-like program of trivia contests based on books on the list.

And then there’s this one I just learned about yesterday: escape rooms based on books chosen by kids. I’d love to know what the Rebel Mechanics escape room was like, and now I’m pondering how to work that kind of scenario into a book. Where might Henry and Verity get trapped and have to work their way out?

I really should come up with some supplemental educational materials to go with that book, such as what books I read to research it and what actual historical events I wove into the story, just in a different time and place.

TV

Small Kindnesses

While I’ve been on a PBS kick lately, I’ve become hooked on a show that my local station has on Tuesday nights (and you can probably see episodes online) called We’ll Meet Again. Each week it focuses on some historic event and two ordinary people who were caught up in that event who were deeply affected by some other person they encountered during that event. Now they’re trying to find that person again (or, sometimes, relatives of that person). We spend most of the episode on the events of the history, see some of the search, and then see the reunion. At that point, I’m usually in tears.

The World War II episode focused on a Japanese-American woman trying to find the childhood friend who stood up for her during the anti-Japanese sentiment following Pearl Harbor and then welcomed her back from the internment cap and on a Jewish man who’d been a refugee in Singapore (an open city, so it was one of the few places Jews fleeing Europe could go) during the Japanese occupation who was looking for the daughter of the people who were surrogate parents to him. There was an episode about the Mt. St. Helens eruption, with a hiker trying to find the helicopter pilot who rescued her and a scientist trying to find the family of the scientist who saved her life by sending her away just before the eruption. The Vietnam episode focused on a man whose parents sent him away to try to escape to America when he was 12 looking for the aid worker who helped him flee and on a Vietnamese woman whose American father was forced to leave his Vietnamese wife and family behind when the US pulled out trying to track down her father or any family she might have in America. Last week’s episode focused on 9/11, with a man who escaped the hotel in the middle of the World Trade Center complex just before the first tower fell trying to find the woman who comforted him and got him to a safe place and a chaplain working at the Pentagon in the aftermath looking for the other chaplain who helped him keep going during a crisis of faith.

There are two things I find utterly fascinating about this program. One is that it shows us these major events through the eyes of ordinary people. These aren’t really the ones in the middle of the action. They’re the people caught up in events they had no control over. That offers an interesting perspective on these events.

The other is how small an act of kindness can make such a huge difference. While there have been a couple of big, heroic things, like the helicopter pilot flying into a dangerous area to look for survivors, most of the things that mattered so much to these people that they’re tracking down people decades later have been relatively tiny things. The Japanese-American woman never forgot the girl who met her at the schoolyard gates and walked into the school holding her hand when she returned from the internment camp after the war and was afraid of how she’d be received at school. She tells her story at schools and always mentions that friend. When they reunited as elderly women, the friend had no idea how much that had meant. It was a little thing to her, but it meant the world to her friend. The chaplain ministering to the recovery workers at the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 had maxed out on what he was able to take, and it was another chaplain kneeling beside him and placing a hand on his shoulder and just being there with him that gave him the strength to go on, so that now he’s had a career of ministering to the troops, including those deployed overseas.

And that really makes you think. What little gesture of kindness might you make that means the world to someone else? You don’t have to rush into a burning building or take a bullet for someone to matter a great deal to someone else’s life. Every single day, we have the opportunity to make a difference by being kind, showing compassion, and noticing when people need something.

Books

Belatedly Discovering Robin Hobb

I think doing a convention in one day was a really smart move. I got a bit of exposure, sold a few books, and got to see people, then got a day to recover before facing the week, so it ended up being almost energizing instead of draining. Normally, the Monday after a convention is a waste for me, but I might get some work done, and I’m motivated to get work done. It’s supposed to be a rainy week, so that bodes well — unless I don’t want to do anything but read, which is what cold, rainy days do to me.

My most recent reading was Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. I keep seeing her name on lists of fantasy you should read, and somehow I missed reading her, which is a shame because this book was right up my alley. It’s a “traditional” fantasy, but very character-focused, so it’s intimate rather than epic. I imagine the scope will grow through the rest of the series, as the character gets caught up in greater events, but we’ll still mostly see how it affects him. It’s primarily about this person, not about masses of faceless armies or about a dozen people spread around the globe (one of my issues with a lot of epic fantasy — I’m here for the characters, not for the pieces being moved around the chessboard). This first book is largely a set-up book, introducing the character of Fitz as a child, taking him through his various kinds of training, and eventually bringing him into the big-picture affairs of his kingdom. He’s a bastard born to the heir to the throne who gets taken in by the king and trained into service as an assassin for the king. But there are those within the court who see him as a threat to their own ambitions, so his position is rather precarious.

You really feel for the guy. He’s a great viewpoint character/narrator. He fits into that category of good people who aren’t boring. He’s got an affinity for animals, a lot of compassion and empathy, some smarts, and great courage to stand up and do the right thing, no matter the cost. We see his struggles to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is on the level.

I also enjoy the worldbuilding. I don’t know how intentional it is, but I get a sense of a Nordic tone in this world. I’ve been reading a bit about Scandinavia lately, and the role of the king among the mountain people in this book sounds a bit like it could be based on the modern attitude about royalty in Scandinavia. Meanwhile, the enemy sounds a bit like evil Vikings. Or maybe I’m just seeing it all through that lens because I just watched a series of travel videos about Scandinavia and mapped that imagery and attitude onto the book.

Anyway, my local library branch has the sequel, and I’m off to pick it up today. I started reading the other book I had handy once I finished this one, and I couldn’t quite get into it, as all I could think about was what happens next to this character.

Convention Weekend

I’ll be at ConDFW in Fort Worth this Saturday. I’m only going to be there on Saturday because I realized last year that trying to do the whole weekend was a bit much. It’s a long drive, but because I have things going on around home in between convention events, I can’t really stay in the convention hotel. So I was driving all the way over to do a panel or so on Friday when no one was there, then back on Saturday, then had church stuff Sunday morning, so I couldn’t do panels until the afternoon, but that meant I only had a panel or so on Sunday. I have about the same amount of programming this year, but with only one drive across the Metroplex.

I’m still figuring out what I’ll read for a reading session. I also have an autograph session and a few panels. I should probably bring snacks because I won’t have much time for lunch between panels.

This is one of only two conventions I’m doing this year. Otherwise, I’m going to the Nebula Awards weekend, which is a professional event with a public booksigning, and then I’ll be speaking at a couple of book festivals in the fall. This is mostly going to be a “quiet” year as I focus on writing, and there’s a bit of leisure travel I want to do, with a couple of big trips on the list, one of which counts as research for a book I want to write.

Wimp Confession

Watching the Winter Olympics has made me rather uncomfortably aware of something about myself:

I’m a raging wimp.

I look at all those crazy things these people are doing — zooming down a mountain with boards strapped to their feet, sliding down an icy tube at high speeds on a sled, letting a person throw them in the air over ice, doing huge flips in the air — and my response is a big, huge, NOPE. About the only thing that looks like it might be fun is the cross-country skiing, and maybe some of the ice dancing — the parts that are more like ballroom dancing but not the parts where someone picks you up and spins you around.

Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to watch other people do it. I’ve never been much of a thrillseeker. I don’t like roller coasters or any kind of amusement park ride that includes a big vertical drop. I don’t like scary movies. I don’t like haunted houses. I don’t even like driving fast.

Which probably means that my occupation of sitting at home and writing about people having adventures is perfect for me, except that sometimes I even have to force myself to put my characters in jeopardy. I keep having to remind myself that a story needs tension and conflict.

Heck, even with books I’m reading, there are times when I have to flip to the end to make sure a character is going to be okay when things get a bit too tense.

I have done some scary things in my life. I’ve gone whitewater rafting (on an Olympic course!). Singing in public is actually scarier to me than that, and I do that all the time. Public speaking is supposedly the biggest fear, and that doesn’t bother me at all. I travel alone, even to foreign countries. I got into some hairy situations in my TV news days and was praised even by cops for keeping a cool head. I write down my daydreams and share them with the world.

So maybe I’m not such a wimp. I guess I just don’t go looking for thrills. I don’t court danger, but I do take other kinds of risks.

Meh on Valentine’s Day

I know I’m generally considered a “romantic” writer. There are romantic subplots in almost everything I write. Most of my fan mail is about the relationships in my books. When I surveyed readers about what stands out in my books or what sets them apart, romance was high on the list.

So, I’d be expected to make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day, maybe use it for a promotional push. Except, I don’t really “get” Valentine’s Day.

It seems so weird to designate a particular day on which you’re expected to do something romantic, to buy gifts for your romantic partner, and go on a date. Never mind if that day has nothing to do with you or your relationship. And, oh dear, what if it happens to fall on the same day as a religious holiday? What are you to do?

I’m happily single, but even if I were in a relationship, I think I’d rather avoid the crowds and celebrate a date that was meaningful to us — an anniversary of a first date, wedding anniversary, one of our birthdays. Why celebrate just because an ad says we have to? A personal celebration seems much more romantic to me. Or there’s something to be said for spontaneity, celebrating your relationship whenever you feel like it — It struck me today how happy I am to have you in my life, so here’s some chocolate.

I’m rather glad that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. Then maybe I can sound pious instead of cynical when I say I’m focusing on something else. My church kind of smooshes together Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday by having a pancake supper followed by the Ash Wednesday service, and that’s what I’ll be doing tonight (with children’s choir before and chancel choir after).

And now I’m off to go write another one of my slow-build romantic relationships that isn’t technically a “romance.”

writing life

Why Your Writer Friend Gets Testy

Inspired by some posts I’ve seen some writer friends make recently and a bit of a grumpy mood, I present to you the Reasons Your Writer Friend Sometimes Gets Testy. Publishing is a strange business that doesn’t always work the way the rest of the world works, and that means it can be really stressful to be a writer. Read this, and you’ll realizes how important it is to support writers you love, whether they’re your friends/family or people whose work you enjoy.

There’s no correlation between experience level and earnings.
In the regular business world, you generally expect that when you’re entry-level, you earn a lower salary, and then as you gain experience, you get paid more. That’s not always how it works in publishing. Sometimes it does work that way, with writers gradually getting higher advances and then more promotion so their books earn more. But quite often, a brand-new writer may sign a contract with a huge advance while an established midlist writer will keep plugging away at about the same advance level over time — a level much lower than that new writer starts with. In the business world, new people get lower salaries than experienced people because the new person is an unknown quantity with a learning curve, while the more experienced person has proven their ability, and their experience means it will cost less and take less time to train them. It’s the opposite in publishing. The new person may get a higher advance because they’re an unknown quantity — they could be the next big thing — while they already know what to expect from the established person.

There’s also no correlation between quality and earnings.
I’m sure we can all think of some horribly written, unoriginal books that were smash bestsellers, and some good books that no one’s ever heard of. Sometime, that’s on the reading public, but there are certainly times when publishers pay a lot for and then heavily promote horribly written, unoriginal books while ignoring far better books.

So, authors don’t have the usual ways of improving their earnings. Sticking it out and becoming more experienced may or may not pay off. Working harder and writing better may or may not pay off.

It’s almost always considered the book’s or author’s fault if a book doesn’t do well.
There are lots of reasons why a book doesn’t find an audience. It may not be a good book or there may not be an audience for it. But it might also be because the cover is terrible, the book doesn’t get distributed well, there’s no promotion, or there’s some other, unrelated issue. I know of an author whose book was being carried from the printer to a distribution center in a train that derailed. Those copies were all destroyed in the accident and never made it to bookstore shelves in that region, which meant it didn’t sell in that region. When it came time to negotiate her next contract, the publisher held it against her that this book didn’t sell as well as her previous books. Or there have been cases in which the publicist responsible for a book left for another job a couple of weeks before publication, and no one realized until later that she hadn’t actually done any of the publicity work she was supposed to have done. Still, those poor sales were held against the author. There are a few stories of publishers who admitted that they did a terrible job of packaging and promoting a book and who then made an effort to relaunch that book or author, but it’s possible that these are urban legends.

And it’s not just publishers. Imagine if you will an author on release day, and their in-box is full of messages. You hope there will be a lot of “I’ve started reading your new book and love it” e-mails. There may be a few of those. The rest are more likely “Why didn’t your book download to my Kindle at midnight?” or “I looked for your book at my bookstore, but I didn’t find it. Why isn’t it there?” I’ve asked as politely as I could if they asked someone who actually works for the bookstore, and sometimes the response is “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” I’m not sure I understand the impulse to ask the author where to find something in a store instead of asking someone who works there. This may be why your author friend’s eyes flip to black and their neck veins stand out when you helpfully tell them you didn’t see their book at the store when you checked. You may mean well and be imparting information rather than expecting them to do something about it, but trust me, they’ve already heard all about it.

Sometimes, the author doesn’t get the credit when a book does well.
I know an author whose editor called to excitedly tell her that her book was a bestseller, and then said, “And we just had a meeting to try to figure out what it was about that cover that sold so well.” Because it couldn’t possibly have been the book itself, I guess.

Publishers can’t make a book a bestseller, but it’s hard to be a bestseller if the publisher hasn’t tried to make that happen.
That’s all about print run, placement, and promotion. There are lead titles that are positioned to be potential bestsellers. Sometimes, publishers guess wrong and all their efforts are for nothing (I have to admit to enjoying seeing lead titles from the time my books were published on remainder tables while my books are still in print). For the rest of the list, it’s almost a mathematical impossibility just because not enough books are printed and distributed to make a bestseller list even if every single copy sells. In the days of e-books, that makes a bit less of a difference, so maybe there’s a bigger chance of something being a surprise bestseller, but that would really take a stroke of luck without the promo behind it. Non-writer friends think writers are being pessimistic when they don’t hope for a new release to hit a bestseller list, but the fact is that they probably already know whether or not that’s even possible.

Sometimes, the performance of other books can make a difference to your career.
Imagine if you didn’t get a raise or a promotion, or if you even didn’t get hired or lost your job because someone with a similar job at an entirely different company didn’t perform well. That happens to authors. If books in a similar category to what you write don’t sell well, your publisher might not want more books from you or might give up on books that haven’t been published yet. They don’t look at it as that one book not performing. Frequently, they decide that category has tanked. Ask anyone who got caught up in the chick lit purge, when the industry decided those books were over after sales declined, and authors found themselves without publishers — even if their books were actually performing well.

So, you can see why there are some crazy stresses that come with this job, even if it is fun work that doesn’t require going to an office and having a boss stand over you. There’s a lot of stuff you have to just let go because you can’t control it. The only thing you can do is keep writing and keep trying to be better. That’s no guarantee of success, but it might improve your odds somewhat.