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Living in Magazine World

I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of magazines. I was a weird kid who, even as a very small child, loved reading my mother’s homemaking-type magazines, things like Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, etc. I could sit for hours, looking at the spreads of food, gardens, and interior decor. I imagined my dream home, planned imaginary parties, thought of how I’d decorate for Christmas when I had my own home.

When I became an adult, I used to have several magazine subscriptions, mostly from those deals where you can use your frequent flier miles to get magazines. I had miles from an airline I seldom used, so I used them for magazines. I ended up letting all the subscriptions lapse because I realized I wasn’t reading them and they just turned into clutter.

But a month or so ago, I got in the mood to read a magazine. I wanted something semi-mindless that wouldn’t get me sucked into a narrative. I discovered that I can get to a bunch of online editions of magazines through my library. Now I can flip through them to my heart’s content without having any clutter in my home. If there’s something I want to save, I can take a screenshot. I find that it’s soothing to look at pretty meals, nice houses, and lovely gardens, like it’s a window into an orderly, peaceful world. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do if I ever get a new house or decide to remodel this house, so I try the magazine spreads on for size to see what I like and don’t like. It’s also fun to imagine how my various characters might live.

For bedtime reading, I’m finding that a magazine is just what I need for those last minutes before I turn out the light. There’s no worry of getting caught up in a book and reading just one more chapter, and then another, and then another, and then having a restless night while my brain tries to finish it. I can drift off to sleep with visions of gardens and curtains. But since I don’t like to read from a screen just before I go to sleep, I’ve been buying old issues from the Friends of the Library rack at the library, where they sell them for 25 cents an issue, or 5 for a dollar. That’s my bedtime reading. I figure it amounts to a contribution to the library. Then if I find something I really like, I can clip it to add to my idea file, or I can cut out the recipes.

I will admit to a certain amount of mockery because there are some things that get a bit silly, like the article on how to do a tailgate picnic at the pumpkin patch, which requires a vintage station wagon and vintage plaid Thermoses to do it properly. Still, when the world seems to be descending into chaos, reading about how to host the perfect backyard tea party is rather reassuring.

Going Downtown

It never seems to fail that when it’s the perfect “stay at home and write” weather, that’s when I have to go somewhere. Yesterday, I had to speak to a university class, which meant driving across the metro area in the cold rain, and then back at the beginning of rush hour. Today, it’s raining even harder and is even colder, and I was planning to go downtown today to check in for the mystery convention so I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.

But, given the weather forecast and the fact that it would be at least a two-hour excursion even if I were able to just go to the head of the line and catch the next train back, I made the executive decision to just deal with it in the morning. It’ll be cold then, but it won’t be raining.

In all this researching of train schedules, I found that the old option may be the best. For a long time, the only train from my city to downtown Dallas was the big commuter train that stopped at the downtown station, about 25 minutes or so from my house. I was so glad when they got the light rail through my part of town, with the station only about 15 minutes away.

But when I was looking up the train schedules, I found a notice saying that the downtown light rail tracks will be closed on Saturday. On a normal day, I’d have to take the train to downtown, then catch another train that goes right to the train station at the convention hotel. On Saturday, I’d have to take the train to near downtown, catch a shuttle bus to the downtown station, then catch another train to the convention hotel. I figured it might be worthwhile to go downtown and catch the big train, which is on different tracks and goes straight to the convention hotel. That’s when I saw that the commuter train is a 19-minute trip to downtown, while light rail is 40 minutes to downtown, plus waiting for another train to get to the convention hotel (which adds maybe 10-15 minutes). The downside to the big train is that it only runs once an hour during the day, every half hour during rush hours, while the commuter train runs every 20 minutes. But I’ll be traveling in rush hour. Even with the extra 10-15 minute drive to the station, it’s a faster trip, and I won’t have to wait at a semi-sketchy station to change trains. I’ll just have to be absolutely certain to catch the train, so no lingering after panels.

We’ll see what I can learn about how to write a mystery, and what I can learn about plotting a mystery that I can use in my other writing to build tension and suspense.

No posting the rest of the week because I’ll be downtown in panels.

Posting Lapses Ahead

Posting is going to be a bit sporadic for the next week or so, as it’s a busy time. I’m about to rush off to a meeting, then tomorrow I’m speaking to a university class. I’m at a conference the rest of the week. Then, weather and health permitting, I’m thinking of going on a short vacation since we’ve finally got something resembling fall and it’s a good time to do some hiking.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some book revisions to start thinking about while I’m also plotting and developing a book. I’m hoping to get some work done on the train as I go to and from the conference.

Now I’m off to a meeting of a Jane Austen book club to discuss Pride and Prejudice. It was interesting re-reading it again after a long time. All the various adaptations and retellings of it tend to crowd out the original, and it’s nice to go back to the source every so often. I have thoughts on that, which may be the one post I’ll manage to make in the next couple of weeks. Let’s just say that I’ve never been one of those people swooning over Darcy, but after this read, I think I might now be.

Changing Habits

I didn’t realize how ingrained the TV habit was until I got rid of cable. It was just what I did in the evening, ever since I was a kid. I generally picked a show to watch in each evening time slot. Cable made it possible to fill the whole evening, with all the channel options and then OnDemand. Even when I’d backed down from following many shows, I’d find some documentary or movie to watch.

Streaming allows me to do pretty much the same thing, but still, cutting the cable made me start thinking about what I was watching and realize that I didn’t have to watch anything. I started reading more and listening to the classical radio station. They broadcast concerts from major symphonies on weeknights, and I enjoy listening to those while I read, surf the Internet, or even write.

But then this week I had an odd epiphany (odd in that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner): I could do other things in the evening. I’d taken out the sewing machine last weekend to do some mending, and I’d started a project to rework something I’d already made. I found myself thinking that I’d finish that this weekend, but then I realized I could do it in the evening. I didn’t have to spend the evening consuming entertainment. I can also use that time to sew, paint, or even work on my own music. That would be a good time to play the harp, since it’s not loud enough to disturb the neighbors (soprano singing or the flute might be a bit much for nighttime).

I do need a little TV time most evenings because that’s when I do the physical therapy exercises for my knees. I’ve started shifting some of that to during the news.

It’s not that TV is necessarily bad. It’s more about looking at the ruts I’ve fallen into and figuring out ways to do things differently. There are so many things I want to do that I say I don’t have time for, but I do actually have time. I just need to use my time wisely.

Investigating Mysteries

After looking into who my readers are and what else they’re into, I’ve taken my first big step toward maybe moving some of my writing into a new direction. I’ve registered for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. It’s in Dallas this year, so I don’t have to travel or get a hotel. I just have to take the train downtown. The idea I’ve had for a mystery series is growing stronger in my head, so I figure I need to learn some more about how to actually write a mystery.

I’ve been a mystery reader since I was in elementary school and discovered Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames. I graduated from there to Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and Ellis Peters. Actually writing one would seem to be a logical next step and might be fun.

I’ve never been to a mystery convention before, and I’m not sure I’ll know anyone there. But there will be authors there I’m fans of, including Felix Francis, the son of Dick Francis, who has continued his father’s work. It’ll be interesting just attending a convention as an attendee, without any obligations about speaking or being “on.” I won’t even have to worry about what to wear, though I may dress up a bit just because I leave the house so rarely that it’s fun to occasionally wear my nice clothes.

Is anyone planning to be at this event?

I have my setting and characters figured out and what their character arcs will be. I’ve even figured out the paranormal element. I’m just at a loss for what the actual crimes should be. Maybe I’ll learn something about that at the convention.

Lazy Day Excuse

I got my flu shot yesterday, and I feel kind of blah today, which I had planned on. I scheduled the shot when I had a couple of days with nothing going on. I’m never entirely sure if the blah I feel the day or so after the shot is psychosomatic — I expect to feel that way, so I do — if I’m just ascribing ordinary tiredness to the shot, or if it really does make me feel a bit icky. Last night, in spite of all my sleep preparations, I didn’t sleep well, and I woke up during the night feeling a very mild form of the kind of aches I tend to get with the flu. Today I just feel like I could fall asleep at any moment. So I’m taking it easy today. I’d already planned to mostly do some work-related reading.

I know of people who resist getting flu shots because they believe the shot will make them sick. I’ve had the flu, and it’s hundreds of times worse than the mild ick from the shot. Plus, I look at that mild ick as a feature, not a bug. It’s an excuse to have a lazy day or two. Is there something you’d really rather not do? “I just got my flu shot, so I’m not really feeling up to it today.” It’s permission to spend a day or so lying on the sofa and reading.

And this is supposedly going to be a pretty brutal flu season.

I just wish today were going to be more the kind of day when it would be ideal to lie on the sofa with a book. It’s hot and sunny. Fall is supposedly on the way, and I hope I didn’t jinx it by buying supplies for fall baking and cooking yesterday. I have ingredients for a couple of different soups and some breads and muffins. I may even declare the first somewhat chilly day a holiday.

Day of Collapse

It was quite a busy weekend. I was finishing proofreading, going to a convention, and it was my church’s 140th anniversary, with a big service full of music.

I would consider it a day of collapse, but I have a couple of get-togethers today, so the rest of the day will be social, and then tomorrow will be the day of collapse.

I did pace myself with the convention, so I’m not as tired as usual, but I went back over for the closing ceremonies and ended up having dinner with some of the guests. I made new friends and had a lovely time. Now I have almost no voice left, between all the chatting, my reading aloud to proofread, and all the singing I did Sunday morning.

I’m sure I’ll have lots of thoughts later, and I got some good blog post fodder from convention panels, but my brain really isn’t up to anything more detailed today.

Becoming a Video Star

Last weekend, I fell into the rabbit hole of curly hair care YouTube videos. It started when I got a mildly disappointing haircut that was made more disappointing by the cost of it nearly doubling. It wasn’t really a bad haircut, but it was just a simple blunt trim, no real shaping or layering, at the cost of what should have been a designer precision cut. I was in and out in less than 45 minutes, and that includes some waiting at the front with a glass of water, some chatting, the shampoo and hand massage, the cut, a bit of blow drying, and paying. But since my last haircut, the salon upped its prices, the stylist got a promotion so her rates went even higher, and they dropped the option of just getting a cut without the blow dry and style, even though I don’t really want my hair dried, and all that added up to doubling what I paid for my last haircut.

I started pondering the idea of cutting my hair myself, since it’s long enough that I can reach the back, and since it’s so curly, it’s pretty forgiving. Out of curiosity, I Googled it, and it turns out that cutting your own hair is a big thing in the curly hair world, since it’s so hard to find someone who does it well, and the specialty curly cuts run about $125, which is way outside my budget. I’m not normally big on watching videos. I’d rather read text to get information, but this is the kind of thing you need to actually see, so I started watching the videos. And that brought up suggested videos on related topics, like curly hair care and styling tips. I’d read the Curly Girl book, so I knew a lot of this stuff, but seeing it put into practice made it a lot clearer. I was already doing a lot of the things they recommend. I’ve had my hair blown straight once (the stylist more or less forced me — I’d have had to make a scene to escape), I never flat iron my hair and only blow dry on cool to remove excess water if I have to go somewhere within a few hours of washing my hair. I mostly use the right products. There were still some tips that, when I tried them, made a big difference — so big that I realized I’m going to have to let my hair grow out a bit because my hair is curling up more, so with this new cut it’s just a bit too short, coming at an awkward length.

But there was one thing I noticed in watching these videos. One of the people was reviewing some new product (which I was already using), and she mentioned that the company had flown her to Hawaii for the product launch, where their stylists had demonstrated the products. I guess she’s what they call an “influencer,” but it’s not like her videos were at all slick or professional. She was just a girl talking to the camera in her bathroom, not even with a good microphone or lighting.

And then in today’s newspaper, there was a lengthy article about the woes of the “professional vapers” or “vaping influencers” now that there’s the worry about health risks and a possible ban. There are people who make a living vaping on camera, doing tricks with the smoke or reviewing various pipes and liquids. Their videos get hundreds of thousands of views.

I really need to start playing with video, I guess. My degree’s in broadcast news, so I have the skill set. I don’t even care about hundreds of thousands of viewers or making a living doing it. But it would be nice to get several thousand views in a way that would raise my profile and maybe sell a few more books.

And if someone wants to fly me to Hawaii, that would be okay, too.

I really will have to start playing with that after I finish this book.

Back to Children’s Choir

Last night was my first real night of children’s choir. I had no idea what I was facing — how many kids, which kids, what they’d be interested in — which made it hard to plan. I had four kids pre-registered on my roster. Two of those actually showed up, and then new one kid was registered last night (I’d been expecting him, since he was in choir last year). There are a couple more I know of who might end up joining us. So far, this could be a good and relatively easy group, though one of the kids I think might end up coming is a bit of a problem, the kind of kid who somehow changes everyone else’s behavior as soon as he shows up. I can have a room full of angels, and then that one kid shows up and they all turn into crazed demons — and then this kid’s parents will claim that one of the other kids is a bad influence on their perfect angel, which means we can’t use the “do I need to talk to your parents?” threat.

But if I have the kids I had last night and the ones who are on my roster, we could have a fun year and actually do some teaching instead of barely getting through with crowd control. Which I guess means I need to come up with more activities. One positive from having the out-of-control groups is that I don’t have to do much planning, since we spend most of the time wrangling the children.

I’ve broken my streak of having a set of twins in every class. I do have a twin as one of my youth helpers (she was part of one of the sets of twins I had in the past), so maybe that counts, although her twin isn’t also with me this year.

If everyone on the roll shows up, I’ll have close to an even number of boys and girls, maybe with more girls, but I had more boys show up last night. I’d love it if the boys kept with choir, but they tend to drop out, usually when sports kick in, but these kids are already in soccer, and two of this year’s group (a boy and a girl) are in gymnastics. We’ve had to state a “no gymnastics in class because the room is too small, the floor is hard, and we don’t have mats” rule.

You’d think that with all the time I spend around kindergarteners, I should write children’s books, but books for that age kids aren’t actually about kindergarteners, usually. They’re more about funny talking animals. I’d have to get into the mindset of what appeals to them, and I’m really not sure about that.

Sanity Attack

I had a rare burst of sanity yesterday when I looked at the calendar and was trying to plan out my work for the rest of the year. I’d had grand ambitions about getting that Christmas story written, after coming up with that series idea, but when I saw the time available and looked at everything else I have to do, I realized that it’s just not realistic, not if I want to do a good job.

Plus, every year I tell myself that I’m going to let myself enjoy autumn, my favorite season, rather than frantically working. I don’t want to set myself up to be frantically working.

My Audible book will be coming out in early January, so there will be promo around that, and I have that Rebels book to write. I may play with the Christmas idea in December for something fun and seasonal to work on. So maybe I’ll launch that series with a July 4 book. That will give me time to really develop that “world” and set up the various characters that will be in the series. We’ll see. There’s also another series idea I want to play with and develop. I suppose it depends on which one wins — which one is truly ready to write first.

I still have plenty of work to do the rest of the year, but now I have a little breathing room. I haven’t taken a real vacation this year, and I’m thinking of doing several short road trips. There’s a trip I’d like to take to Central Texas, and there are a couple of places I want to go in Oklahoma when it gets cool enough for good hiking and walking. I also need to finish reorganizing my office when it gets cool enough to work upstairs.

But first I have to finish rewriting the book I’ve been working on.