Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturation of Story

I had not fully appreciated the voracious appetite of humanity for story (tales, fiction and nonfiction) until I read the opening of Story by Robert McKee:

Imagine, in one global day, the pages of prose turned, plays performed, films screened, the unending stream of television comedy and drama, twenty-four-hour print and broadcast news, bedtime tales told to children, barroom bragging, back-fence Internet gossip, humankind's insatiable appetite for stories.

When I think "story," I think novels, but that just one small medium for story. Beyond everything McKee mentioned, think of all the magazine articles--from The New Yorker to Entertainment Weekly to Esquire to The Knitting Universe--available monthly or weekly, all the video games, all the comic strips in newspapers, all the blogs posted daily, all the online articles, all the forwarded emails of funny or inspirational stories--even the commercials that now tell full stories that grown and develop in thirty-second slots over the course of a year while still selling a single product.

With so much story so readily at our fingertips, we've become saturated by it, demand more from it, and in general, have simply become more cynical to it. As a writer who wants to sell novels, it's mind boggling the odds of one novel rising above all the other novels in a particular genre to receive special notice, let alone rising above all the other fiction novels to receive best-seller status. On top of that, authors not only need to produce top-notch stories, but they need to do so for an audience that is already steeped in story-overload.

These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for a while (since my "The Ultimate Novel-Marketing Strategy" post earlier this month). I've always known that I wanted to write the best novel I could. It's realizations like this that confirm unless Conventional Demon is the best story I can create, it's not going to be financially competitive in this market. It's motivation and it's daunting.

I had one of my "remember when" moments the other day--moments that I feel I'm hardly old enough to have. I remember when there were only about twelve TV stations, and I remember when they didn't air shows twenty-four hours a day. There was no Internet. There wasn't a magazine for every subject under the sun. There weren't even VCRs when I was born. The sheer number of stories consumed by the public was exponentially fewer just twenty-odd years ago.

I think this You Tube video (which I originally saw on The Knight Agency blog) sums up my overwhelmed feelings rather well:

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Great Circle of Blogs

I recently asked Del Rey to be part of their blogger list, and thought perhaps I was going to get passed over when I didn't receive a response back. Then, today, via UPS, a package arrived. In it, was an ARC (advanced reader's copy) of a new novel they're publishing along with a very nice letter thanking me for signing up. If you want to sign up, too, and receive ARCs to write reviews about on your blog, follow the link above or go to Del Rey's home page and click on the line that says "Bloggers Wanted."

Oh, yeah, what book did I get, you ask? It's one we're all familiar with and I've been waiting to read when it was released: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, our second interviewee at NON.

What a wonderful surprise! I'll let you all know how it is soon!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Neil Gaiman in Three Parts: Part II and III

Okay, I find it funny to put these two in the same post because they're so contridictory. It just shows you how much my opinion can change in a week or two (and over the last two thirds of a book).

Part II

I can't decide if I like Neil Gaiman's style or not. Okay, that's not accurate. I like his style. It fits the character. What I really don't like is the main character. Fat Charlie is so weak, there is nothing to root for. Every chance he gets to redeem himself, to fight back, to take a stand, he wimps out. It's not a trait I like in a person or a character.

I like to read books about characters I like, not characters I like to hate. I spend a lot of time with each book (especially now that I'm trying to slow down and study them a little, per Prose's comments). So reading about a character that I just plain don't like is like inviting people that I don't like to dinner. All the fun things, all the shared conversations, are drained dry, sucked of fun. It's not something I would do to myself in real life. And yet…

Yet, I argued with myself every time I thought, "Let's just skim ahead and find out what happens, put this book aside, and go back to enjoying the rest of the books on my shelves." I couldn't make myself do it. I want to continue to read, if only, I decided, for one simple reason: Gaiman has no qualms about making his characters miserable. Not just making their lives miserable and yet having them buoyed by some inner strengths through the rough times. Nope. Not Gaiman. He leaves Fat Charlie to suffer, and suffer, and just when it couldn't—shouldn't—get worse, Gaiman adds a little more to Fat Charlie's load. As an author who cringes when putting my favorite characters through tough ordeals, it's a good lesson for me to watch a master perform. Books without conflicts are dull. Characters who have it easy are no fun. I understand this, but try spending a month or two with a person, and during that time wishing them ill will at every turn. It's hard.

So I continued. Will I read another Gaiman novel? Not for a long time, if ever. Am I glad I did. Yes. Frustratingly, yes.

Part III

(This is from a few days after I finished the book, about ten days after I wrote Part II.)

Did I like Anansi Boys when it’s all said and done? The fact that I’m still talking about it says a lot. Yes, I ended up liking it. I liked the character growth. Fat Charlie grew on me, as he was supposed to. I liked the fantastical elements interwoven. I liked that it got me out of my comfort zone. (I say this, having finished it and now being back within my comfort zone.) Am I ready to rush out an buy another Neil Gaiman book? Definitely not. Will I ever? Yes.

Reading this book made it hard for me to find the next book to read. For me, that’s a good sign. It means I was so in an author’s world that I’m not ready to leave it. My two books I planned to read—Kim Harrison’s The Outlaw Demon Wails and Janet Evanovich’s Foul Play—I decided against. Evanovich doesn’t have enough meat in her books (I like them, but sometimes I want a little more—she’s like the Hemingway of the authors I read); Harrison had too much meat, and I wanted to be in the right mood to savor her novel.

I read the several pages of a Jayne Castle paranormal, returned to it later in the day and realized I couldn’t remember a thing I’d read. I read the first chapter of a Caitlin Kittredge novel, only to realize I wasn’t in the mood for her kind of violence (I’ve never read her before, so I didn’t know what to expect). I’ll be in the mood again, I’m sure. Just not yet.

So I finally decided on something in the middle—with a little more lust to boot. Sitting in the number-one spot on the shelf is the book I’m currently reading: Lora Leigh’s Mercury’s War.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Neil Gaiman in Three Parts: Part I

As I was reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, I was inspired to write a few blogs in advance, something that hasn't happened before (at least not merely from reading a book--I've had several "genius" blog ideas in advance, some of which have made it live). And since I wasn't sure how long I was going to take to finish the novel, I jotted them down elsewhere and waited to see if they still had merit. I think they do. Here's the first of three installments, this one from when I was still in the first third of the book.

Part I

I like my commas. I like them fluttering about the text, adding on little bits of information, inserting asides, tucking away last-minute thoughts into otherwise rather rambling sentences. When I edit, whether it's self editing as I write or editing a novel, a blog, or sometimes even an email, most of what I do is straighten sentences out, organize them, do the literary equivalent of straightening the tie against the collar of my sentences, if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys is not doing me any favors either. If ever there were a novel written for lovers of commas and the interjections of rambling side-thoughts of a character scattered amidst the factual information being delivered by a sentence, this is the book. (Having never read another Gaiman novel before, I can't say if they're all like this. I have a feeling they're not, since the style so aptly fits the character.)

Perhaps this is not the book for me to be reading as I begin my rewrites of CD, but it is the one that I'm reading now, and it'll have to do. At least I'm conscious of the fact that I'm overindulging my own longwindedness—a fact I realized when I my own rambling thoughts became one run on sentence too convoluted for me to follow. I'm so glad I'm the only one who can hear me in here, pre-edited. I can only imagine the horrible reality-TV-esque quotes that would be splashed across headlines if y'all could hear some of my more ridiculous, scattered, and plain silly nimwit thoughts! (Were I also famous, of course.)

(Kate, I finally figured out my favorite punctuation mark: the comma! ... What, you all don't have a favorite punctuation mark?)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Allure of a Short Story

As I've been cruising around a bunch of author's websites recently, it's come to my attention that a lot of authors got the idea for their now successful novel series from a short story they wrote. Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake is one, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty series is another. Even Jamie Ford (interviewed on NON) mentions that he originally wrote the characters from Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in a short story, but he wanted to tell more of their story, so he wrote the novel (though this one is not turning into a series).

I've got story ideas brewing. Cute short stories. Weird short stories. Cody and I got to talking one night and came up with several sci-fi short stories. I've got a great time-traveller short story bouncing around my skull. They all beg to be written--then of course to be entered in contests, win me money, get published in anthologies, and rocket my career off to a great success, only later to be used as filler for my website.

Dreams of grandeur, I tell you.

Or is this yet another form of procrastination--spinning my wheels in too many directions to make progress in any particular one?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Love for Long Titles

I have the most trouble with coming up with titles for works. Or maybe I should say that the titles I come up with for my own works are horrible. They're usually two words, and even then, they don't tend to tell you much.

(No, I didn't come up with Conventional Demon for the first Madison's tentative title despite the fact that it is two words. I asked for suggestions from friends and family and then we voted on the favorite one....Then I wrote Book 2 and realized that "Basic Trouble" wasn't going to work for the title and that "Conventional Demon" worked much better. This was Cody's title: I asked him to come up with a title that worked on two levels and was catchy. I think he did a darn good job, and I'm hoping that when they get to read Book 2, he and all my friends and family will be as helpful again!)

I admire people who can give their novels incredibly long titles and have it work. My long titles for CE might be: Fighting Evil with a Little More than Nasty Looks or Evil Never Had It So Good; A Tale of Madison Fox's Ignorance. See what I mean? Horrible.

I've already said that I bought Prose's book (see bookshelf on right) simply because of the long title. Well, I've been excited about this week's NON author, Edward Chupack, for weeks now, ever since I stumbled across his book's title: Silver: My Own Tale As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder. The name says it all. Drop by Number One Novels to hear more about this fabulously titled new novel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good Luck

My incredible good luck continues: I won another blog contest! This time, it was on Nalini Singh's blog, and I won an ARC (advanced reader's copy) of Jory Strong's Ghostland.

Like most people, I agree that this novel's cover is beautiful. However, it's the novel that I've been intrigued with since I first heard of it. Here's the flap copy:

In a post-Apocalyptic world where supernaturals have emerged from hiding, wealthy humans delight in decadence while the religious gain power through temptation. For the masses, fear reigns from birth to death, and the afterlife holds beings that only the bravest can summon—or dare to desire…

I've not read any of Strong's other works (they're all erotica, but she's branched out to urban fantasy romance for this one), and I'm looking forward to it.

If you want a chance to win your own ARC, check out Jory's website for a contest she's running--but you've got to hurry: The contest winners are picked March 1 and 8.

*Cover art and flap copy taken from Jory Strong's website.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wall-E Death Race

My weekend's TV entertainment has been...varied. Last night, Cody and I finally watched Wall-E. Having thought the movie was about a robot on Mars (I don't know where I got that idea), the movie plot was totally unexpected. I loved that a robot could convey so much emotion without dialog (or much dialog). I though the story was really well worked, the secondary characters rather flat and predictable (is that to be expected in a kid's film?), and the message so heavy-handed it went beyond annoying back to okay again (I don't know how--Cody still didn't enjoy being beaten over the head with the message). It was cute. It was entertaining. And it ended just how I wanted it to.

Today, we watched Death Race. I love Jason Statham, and he was the only reason I considered seeing the film. In comparison with Wall-E--aside from the obvious--it was easy to pick out the forced character development and forced plot conflicts. In fact, there wasn't character development. There wasn't much of a theme, unless you could count "freedom is the only thing worth dying/fighting for," which I'd give you, if you did decide that, yes, for some reason, you're counting. There wasn't even much of a plot: Guy gets thrown in jail; guy is a badass; guy is also a badass racer (though this doesn't come up until he's in jail, which was a flaw even for such a flatline movie); and guy has to race for his life. But it was entertaining! The car races were entertaining. It was everything I expected in the movie (with all the elements that reaffirmed my reasoning for not seeing it in the theater). It even ended how I wanted it to (even if the ending was just as forced as the rest of the plot points).

Which movie did I like better? It's actually very hard for me to say. I saw both purely for entertainment. I no expectations for either. I've not liked the last few Pixar films (I'm tired of them always picking a male protagonist, too!), so I didn't think Wall-E would impress me. It did, but not in a "I want to see that again" kind of way. The same goes for Death Race. It was good, solid entertainment, but I wouldn't want to see it again.

Who would have thought that Wall-E and Death Race would ever come out a tie?

My Favorite Scenes:

Wall-E: When Wall-E and Eve are outside the humans' spaceship after Wall-E's pod explodes and Wall-E has the fire extinguisher. It was romantic, it was elegant, and it looked like a lot of fun.

Death Race: When Jason Statham is doing pull ups in his cell. The scene is very short, but still, um, elegant in its own way.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Music

I work from home now, and my work and my writing are done in the same place, in front of this same computer. My house is nice and quiet (when Fu isn't begging for food and the pesky teens aren't outside making a ruckus on a playground made for people half their size). To fill the silence, I started listening to Pandora. I've since become addicted to having it on when I'm at the computer. The silence that used to accompany me is no longer good enough.

There was a time, in my college days, when I was absolutely obsessed with Tori Amos. I bought her albums like I buy author's books, and she was the only thing I could listen to while I wrote. I still find her music and inspiration to my creativity, but it's become music that's dated to me. I hear it, and I get a certain feeling of my college years and the things that were going on in my life then. Even that feeling can be too distracting. Or maybe, especially that feeling can be distracting. It takes me from my characters's heads and puts me back into the "character" of Past-me. So Tori's (mostly) off the list. (Plus, a lot of her songs are simply depressing or down-beat, and I'm not into that so much anymore.)

I've been listening to a collection of classical music combined music one "rock" step above that but with vocals (think Sarah McLauchlan and Natalie Merchant). It works well with writing and work because there's not too much energy to the songs--there's not enough in them to take my mind from my work to the music. In fact, if I find a song too distracting, I often discard it from the list that Pandora will play.

I know that many people can listen to all kinds of music while they work and not have it bother them. Of course, I suppose it's what you do for work; when I'm doing something like cleaning the house I want music I can get lost in to take my mind from what I'm doing.

I'm curious how the rest of you feel: Do you listen to music at work? Do you listen to music while you write?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blog Addiction

I may have found the one thing that might achieve the impossible "too much of a good thing" status: blogs.

I've been cruising around the book-loving blog world lately, and I've added a few blogs to those that I was already following. I'm now up to 18 blogs that I follow! Eighteen is a lot. But there's more, so many more, that I want to add. I just know that I'm struggling to find the time to read the ones I'm currently a fan of that to add more would be pointless.

And, yet, I see people who follow twice the number of blogs I do--writers and book reviewers--and I wonder how do they have time to do anything more than read through all the blogs they follow every day? How do you folks do it? How do you read all those blogs and still find time to write, spend time with your family, and read all these books you review?

Beyond that, I'm genuinely flattered by those of you who follow my blog. With so many great blogs out there, I'm delighted that you've chosen to make mine one that you follow. Thank you!

Also, because apparently I'm a gluten for punishment, if you know of any great book/writing blogs I'm currently not following, let me know.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Babies Are All Grown Up

Today is Mack Fu and Zenzo's birthday! They are six years old today. Six! They're so grown up! Just the other day, they were playing with stuffed mice and string, taking naps throughout the day, playing in the plants.... Okay, so that was just the other day, but I was truly shocked when I realized they were six. Cody and I both thought they were only four.

I imagine that you're asking how do I know that today is their birthday. After all, I adopted them after a friend found them in a cage in a Dumpster (yes, someone is going to burn for that one). It was easy to determine. First, the vet told me about how old they were. Then it was merely a matter of asking them the day. We settled on the 18th.

In past years, we've had parties (my parents were sweet enough to come watch us put birthday hats on the cats and feed them wet food). This year, it was much more mellow (as in, we didn't do anything...yet--there's still the weekend). I wanted to put up some pictures here of them when they were young and small and oh so cute, but it's late, I've been sitting in front of this computer for over 9 hours today, those pictures are on zip drives, and it would involve finding the external zip drive and figuring all that out since our computers no longer have internal zip drives. Maybe some other time (because the pictures are REALLY cute). Instead, here are a few pictures of them that are more recent.

(Mack Fu left, Zenzo right) They were not supposed to be on the unmade bed or clean sheets, but they were too cute to move. Plus, I found Zenzo's position amusing.

Fu likes water. He'll play in his drinking bowl, he'll play in a stream of water left running in the tub. He'll get in the shower with me, which is rather amusing when he's in there getting more and more drowned-rat looking, but is less amusing when he jumps out, flinging water everywhere, and runs through the house until I can get out and dry him off.
Half the time Zenzo is a princess. (No, I didn't Photoshop that bright light between her paws--that's all Zenzo's magic.)
Occasionally, she's not so much a princess.

Mack Fu can be a bit silly.

And he usually thinks he's human (and always thinks he's entitled to at least half my chair).

Have a little birthday cake today for Mack Fu and Zenzo!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thematic Feng Shui

You know how you unconsciously avoid places that make you uncomfortable? Like taking certain roads, because you don't like the way you can't see the cross traffic? Or the way you avoid sitting with your back to a swinging door in a restaurant (or for some people, avoid having your back to an open room)? A lot of Feng Shui is built around soothing and removing these unconscious feather-rufflers (removing sharp corners that "point" at you when you're laying in bed trying to relax, same with removing mirrors that "watch" you when you're trying to sleep; having your bed face the door so you can see anyone coming in--or having your desk face the door, or having your couch face the door, so you never feel exposed and unprotected). I'm a big fan of Feng Shui in the home to make me feel more comfortable and able to fully relax.

What I didn't realize is that there were places in my story that I was avoiding because they made me uncomfortable. Last night, what started as an exercise in understanding Madison's fears turned into a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I'd been trying to crowbar into Conventional Demon didn't work, but that a much more obvious and far better theme did.

The moment I recognized the proper theme (the importance of being true to oneself and trusting oneself--yes, I'll refine the language of that before query time, but that's the gist), it was like it was seeing my story through the eyes of Thematic Feng Shui. All the scenes I'd been hesitantly poking at, glossing over, or just plain avoiding (because I unconsciously knew there was something wrong with them but not what) stood out in harsh relief--and so did the solutions. In each problematic scene, I can now see it merely needs to strengthen the theme, and in doing so, it will be strengthened.

What a breakthrough!

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm a Winner

I am supremely excited to tell everyone, I won a contest! Specifically, I won the Knight Agency Blog contest (follow the link to see my name at the top of the page!) to win an autographed copy of Jessica Andersen's newest book Dawnkeepers! (Much girly squealing ensued.)

After reading Andersen's post last week, I'd already decided I was going to hunt up her books the next time I went to the bookstore because she's managed to combine two things I love into her novels: paranormal romance (always a plus) and prophesies of the apocalypse of 2012 (which I'm rather obsessed with).

Before Dawnkeepers arrives, I'll have to buy the first in the series, Nightkeepers. Andersen's amazing website also includes lots of links to information about the Mayan calender, 2012, and so much more, so I'll be checking all that out, too.

My only disappointment in all this is that I didn't find Andersen before she published her second novel so I could interview her on NON. (Don't forget, it's Monday, and we've got a new author interview up on NON. This week, Irete Lazo talks about her first novel, The Accidental Santera.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Dilemma of a Name

Names are tricky, and to be given the responsibility of naming something, I think that's the closest I've come to having godlike powers. There's so much personality in a name, and I believe that a person's name can dictate a lot of their life. For instance, were I named Roberta rather than Rebecca, I most likely would have gone by the cute nickname Bert throughout elementary school, and at some point in puberty changed it to Bobbie (because I have a strange fondness for boy nicknames for girls). Now, imagine if you were reading a blog by Bobbie Chastain. You'd have totally different expectations at first, right? And I don't think a Bobbie thinks the same as a Rebecca.

I ran into my naming dilemma with our cats. Our cats' official names are Fu Man Chu and Zen. Almost immediately, Fu Man Chu became Mack Fu, which has been the name that's stuck with other family members, though I call him Fu, Fuber, My Delicate Fu, and most recently, Le Fu (depending on how he's acting). Zen, on the other hand, was never zenlike except that first moment when she stood, cupped in my hands after I'd pulled her from a cage (a cage which had been tossed in a Dumpster!). There was nothing in her demeanor since that has ever fit the word zen. It was a struggle for a while, until I realized that she's more muppetlike than Buddhist, and she became Zenzo. She doesn't have any other nicknames, and she doesn't need any others. It fits--she's a little spazy and really cute. But it fit only after I'd known her almost a year.

I've had similar problems with characters. I've named them, only to find out halfway through a story or at the end of a novel that the name simply doesn't work. In Areia, I think I'm going to change the name of the main male figure. And his name is probably only mentioned a thousand times. That'll be a fun day of find/replace for me.

In Conventional Demon, I originally named my main character Bridget. Bridget Fox, which was cute, had a nice ring to it, fit a curly redhead with Anne of Green Gables optimism. But it didn't work. I got to the end of the first draft and realized that a "Bridget" wasn't going to make it through the sequel. Bridget, however, had a friend named Madison Clark, and I liked "Madison" a lot more than "Bridget" for the main character. That find/replace session was only a few hours long, but it had a far-reaching impact on the story. Bridget Fox became Madison Fox, and Madison Clark became Bridget Clark, but I found that a "Madison" makes different decisions than a Bridget would, looks different, reacts different, etc. It changed the novel in a plethora of subtle ways, and it's had a greater impact on the next novel.

And this is only pets and characters I've had to name. Imagine if I were to name a child! (Fortunately I don't plan on having children, but let's say some silly friend were to request I name their child...) I would have to wait until the child was old enough to talk and have a personality before I could settle on a name. And until then, what would it be called. "The Baby"? (Nobody puts Baby in the corner!) "Little one"? There's always the fear that those nicknames will stick, too. When I was a child, we had a cat named New Cat because she was wild and we weren't going to name her--she was just the new cat hanging around. She hung around a long, long time. How do you parents do it? How do you pick a name, child unseen, unknown, and stick with it through their whole life? Do the children grow into the name? Have you ever been tempted to change your child's name?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A True Hero's Arc

Day 2, morning: No TV.

Dry sand swirls through the desecrated living room--once a place of joy and viewing pleasure, it's now a wasteland of cookie crumbs and shattered hopes. Atop the stereo, Netflix DVDs of Buffy, Dr. Who, and (now) Heroes sit, a mirage of entertainment. An abandoned Wii and PS2, sentinels from an earlier, happier era, stand neglected beside the dead remains of a once-great and worshiped deity. The face of the great TV god has forever been wiped clean, scoured by the ravages of time.

Two lone animals prowl the barren temple, settling into forsaken recliners, claiming the lonely landscape and marking it with their shed fur. The humans, once frequent visitors, have migrated to the more fertile entertainment lands--the office.

Day 2, afternoon: A Miracle now commemorated as "Valentine's Day"

The ordinary world of a working TV and easily accessible entertainment was a thing of the past. When repeated attempts to resurrect the old TV god failed, Cody squared his shoulders and faced the adventure life had set before him. Scouring the world of Fry's Electronics, Cody searched for a replacement TV god to adorn our living room temple, but the guardians High Price and Ridiculously High Price fought ferociously against him, and he returned empty-handed but financially whole. Not to be discouraged, Cody quested across Craig's List to the very limits of the search engine, encountering frauds and friends, and finally coming upon an ad worthy of his pursuit. When first his offer was thwarted, Cody turned his efforts to the next challenge, only to have his earlier efforts pay off. A TV was found! However, finding it was half the battle. When his weak-armed woman was unable to help hoist the two-hundred-plus pound TV up the two flights of stairs to their apartment, Cody combined his previous knowledge with what he'd learned on his journey, and he called a friend for help. Together, Cody and his friend staggered up the stairs, carrying the beloved 36" CRT TV into the living room. Victory was ours! The TV god was saved! Entertainment was restored to all! Cody returned a hero.

And that, my friends, is the arc of a hero's journey.

It's also the best Valentine's Day present I've ever received. What did you get for Valentine's Day?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lingering Guilt

Yesterday night, Cody and I debated between watching some Netflixed Buffy or Dr. Who and ended up having to go with the ennie-meenie-minie-moe approach, deciding finally on Dr. Who. We got all settled in our seats, clicked on the TV, and I started chatting about how I didn't realized I'd missed an Obama speech, which I decided we'd have to find on the Internet. I was happily strategizing how I would find it when Cody interrupted my ramblings to say, "Shouldn't the TV have come on by now."

Our 32" CRT TV has had problems starting up for a while now. The TV will click on, then the sound clicks in, then, about 5 seconds later (which is a long time in electronics time) the picture would brong to life. Yesterday, the first two steps went smoothly. The last...sigh. The last never happened. The TV picture never came on.

Neither coaxing or cajoling, hammering or kicking, cursing or repeatedly flicking the TV on and off helped, either. The TV is dead.

I should be fine with this, right? I'm a reader. I've got plenty of books to keep me occupied. I have plenty of writing-related things to keep me busy, too. That's not even mentioning the work I have that I could be doing. Yet...

I miss TV! It's been less than twenty-four hours, and I am going through withdrawals. It's not the actual live TV I miss so much, either (though, come Monday, if I miss Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother I'll be sad). It's the loss of my ability to watch my beloved Netflix. It's also the loss of my ability to play any of my Wii or PS2 games. I crave a functioning TV!

Which is where the guilt comes from. Or maybe shame. I have this leftover, lingering sense of wrongness to enjoy TV so much. TV is a waste of time, my conscious tells me. TV rots your brain, my conscious adds (in a voice that is a blend of every teacher I've had and my mom's voice). You've better things to do.

But, a hopeful inner voice whispers (and if it's not my conscious, I don't know who else is in here with me), TV's no worse than reading novels, no worse than reading magazines, no worse than watching movies...

So maybe the guilt is just for this horrible addiction I've developed for TV. I can't tell you how many times in the last twenty-some-odd hours that I've wanted--nay, yearned--for the TV to work. Simply shameful.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sacrifices to My Muse

Behind every published author, there lurks a story or two hidden in a box, a closet, a file on a backup drive--a story which mostly likely will never see the light of day, will never be read by anyone outside the author's closest circle of friends and family, if then. These are the stories that the writer looks to with fondness or rue, knowing that without that embarrassing, unrefined, immature piece, greater works--publishable works--would not have been possible.

I pray Areia will not be that work for me. It was a gargantuan 1,000+ page labor of love. It was the first character that I knew as well as a best friend. It was my passion that guided me through college and toward career choices that would foster the writer within.

Let my sacrifices to the my muse be the screenplay I wrote, or the multiple short stories, or the novels that I half finished in my younger days.

Yet, the further I get into Madison--the more time it takes me to edit and polish each piece--the more Areia slips through my grasp. I have visions of how I want to edit it. I could tell you how I want to trim (definitely trim!) and increase character conflict. I can picture the scenes that need the most work and the ones that should be condensed to paragraphs rather than pages. But I look at how long it is taking me to get through Madison, through these short, 200-300 page novels, and I despair at ever getting back to Areia.

Perhaps I should hold off thinking about it at all until I'm in a more positive mood. After all, the my muse has sent me so many story ideas in the last week, I'm also yearning to be writing again--writing something different, something not Madison, not Areia, not novel.

Is this merely the insanity brought about by too much spreadsheet work?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Class In Session

I feel like I'm back in college with all the text books I've been reading lately about the craft and art of story writing. Reading Neil Gaiman at the same time hasn't helped. His writing is so different than what I normally read, and since I'm trying to read slower like Prose suggests, I find myself hyperconscious of how he's constructed his story, his conflicts, his characters, his sentences.

I'm doing the same thing with movies. We recently saw Taken, and when we got home, I found myself dissecting it according to McKee's criteria (described in Story). I enjoyed the film as far as an escape into another world for a few hours, but it wasn't a masterpiece by any means (I also keep forgetting the name, so that's not a good sign). McKee's criteria helped me pick out why this decent film didn't make the leap to extraordinary, memory-worthiness. I won't give details, since this film is so new, but if you see it, please let me know if you think it was fabulous or what you think was lacking.

I don't know if this is a good sign, but it's a sign that I've been totally immersed in my personal story-writing class: Yesterday when I read something funny in Anansi's Boys, Cody asked what I was laughing at. Rather than explain the joke, I opened my mouth, and this came out: "This author has a great way of turning a line." Of turning a line? Who talks like that? Well, me, obviously, but not normally. Cody gave me a deserved look that said I was peculiar and quickly left the room before I could collect my wits and think of something normal to say.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The last thing I wanted to do today after I finished working was work on Conventional Demon. I convinced myself I deserved the day off (due to other factors that had nothing to do with writing). I decided to cruise through the blogs I follow instead.

It turned out, that was exactly what I needed. Reading about writers who've made it, who are published and working on their book promotions, was exactly the right motivation. It reminded me why I make time every day to work on CD. Because if I don't, nothing's going to happen. And I really want something to happen. I really want to be a published author working on my book promotions. I really want to be working on Book 2. I really want to be writing the next book after that. I really want to be talking with fans about my work. I really want to be making lots of money as an author.

So I just finished another hour of spreadsheet/scene analyzing and improving. The holes are becoming clearer. Hopefully the inspiration for the correct fixes will come to me soon. I know it's all getting worked out in my subconscious, and the clearer I can see the problems, the more it'll improve the solution.

Monday, February 9, 2009

NON Interviews Donna Russo Morin

I love a success story, which is one of the reasons I love interviewing first-time authors on NON. This week, Donna Russo Morin shares with us the journey that got her from a childhood passion for writing to the publication of her novel, The Courtier's Secret, which released just a few days ago.

I've never read a "female Musketeer adventure," but I definitely want to now. Check out the interview at and let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Ultimate Novel-Marketing Strategy

I've been making lots of notes lately about marketing ideas for when Conventional Demon is sold. There's all kinds of things to do, too:

*Get advanced reader's copies out there for reviews
*Interview with local papers, blogs, webcasts, radio shows
*Book signings at bookstores and anywhere else that could drum up interest
*Send bookmarks and postcards to bookstores across America (and wherever else the book is being sold)
*Swag give-aways
*Raise awareness of the book through this blog and my website (Do you know how many authors out there don't have sites? I don't get it! It's a market rapidly being tapped by some savvy web designers who are making a lot of money for what could be a rather inexpensive investment for an author. But that's a blog for another day.)
*Mailing lists
*Attending BEA and other such events

The list goes on, but I've hit upon the best marketing idea of all. It's such an obvious one, but ever so very important:

*Write a phenomenal story. Write the best thing that's coming out all year. Write something the whole world wants to read and create buzz about.

One I've done that, it'll sell quickly for more money, and the publishing house that buys it will put their substantial marketing backing behind the novel, making it one of their larger titles of the year. That's the ticket.

It was the goal all along, but today, while on a walk with Cody, talking about the goal of selling CD and approaching it from the angle of marketing ideas, it really sank in that the books I've seen do really well, do so because they're really, really good and the publishing houses are willing to sink a lot of money into promoting them. It's so obvious, it doesn't even get a "duh." Or maybe it deserves a super-large "DUH."

Either way, it added a little extra motivation today. I finished translating my novel into a spreadsheet of scenes. Now it's a matter of noting everything that needs to be changed there before delving back into the manuscript. If you hadn't noticed, I've added Robert McKee's Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting to my bookcase. Someone's comment on another blog reminded me that this book sitting on my real bookcase was a great resource for novels as well as screenwriting, so I've pulled it out and am reading it in the mornings and evenings along with Prose's novel in an effort to refine CD and find any pitfalls that might be the difference between being a low-radar book for a publishing house and being the breakout debut sensation for a publishing house (and for me).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In the Name of Art

Today, Cody and I left the house for a grand day out: We visited a museum and an art/wine gallery (the art/wine gallery was also serving chocolate--it was impossible to resist). We saw a lot of great art (though, unfortunately, no Suzanne Goodwin art). There were several pieces I really wanted to buy, like a five-foot long, four-inch wide, four-inch deep boat filled with three hundred three-inch tall bunnies all seated in rows and rows. The piece represented Norwegian explorers (I have no idea how), and since Cody's Norwegian, I figured it was a must-have. There were also several horse paintings which I fell in love with and one horse wire sculptor (I'm a sucker for horse art). However, since my Saturn was not designed to haul three hundred bunnies no matter how tiny they are and we didn't have the thousands to shell out on the art, we came home empty-handed.

However, in honor of all the art we saw, and just for the fun of it, I've finally added an "artistic" profile picture (to the right). You may recognize this style, popularized recently by the face of a man you might be familiar with. If you want one of your own, you can go to Obamiconme and upload your own photo. I couldn't resist uploading several of my pictures, so here are my favorites.

My special man friend

Mack Fu and Zenzo, the best kitties in the whole world

Several years ago at the state fair, we got a free redwood seedling. We named it Woody. I had grand visions of it rapidly growing to something much like this great redwood. It died a slow and lingering death. The next year, I gave my free seedling (unnamed) to my parents to plant. So far, it's living and thriving. I'm sure that says nothing about me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Eye Experiments

I have a tendency to get caught up in what I'm doing on the computer and not take a break until either my bladder forces me or I run out of steam. This, I've found, is not so good on the eyes. Especially since I have a tendency not to blink often when surfing the Internet, and to stare, wide-eyed when pondering new plot ideas. They eye strain has taken its toll.

Cody was sweet enough to find me a program that keeps track of when I should take eye breaks. While I'm lost in thought, lost in writing, lost in editing, lost in blogging, lost in...well, you get the idea, all that time, my computer is keeping track of the minutes for me. I've set it to turn the screen black every 25 minutes and leave it black for 2 minutes.

Today was the first real trial run of the eye-break program. I've got to admit, each time the screen faded out to black, I felt a surge of annoyance as my train of thought was interrupted. However, after two minutes of sitting with my eyes closed, contemplating whatever I was doing or nothing at all, I've found that I was able to turn to my work with renewed focus. They were minimeditations, I guess, and I think my work day went smoother because of them.

For all you out there with desk jobs that keep you staring at your screen for hours on end (Argg, it did it to me again! Okay, I'm back, and my eyes actually have moisture on them again.), I highly suggest this program. Like I said, it's temporarily frustrating when it first darkens your screen unexpectedly (you can set it to warn you, but I found that distracting), but it's helpful in the long run.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

To Go Forward or Not

I'm torn. I want to be submitting query letters like crazy for Conventional Demon and really getting the word out there (to people who can send me money) about my novel. However, I know there's some work to do. A good amount. At the rate I'm going, at least a month's worth of work to do. (Were it my full-time job, maybe I'd feel more confident I could make all the changes in less time, but I'm not.)

So the question is, do I go ahead and send out queries, knowing that agencies take a typical 6 weeks to respond and hope to have perfected--ah, okay, refined--CD by then, or do I wait until it's a more cohesive novel with the scenes I know need to be added before I send the query letters?

I want to do both. The first makes the most sense, but if I'm working on query letters, then I'm not working on improvements. Of course, the same could be said the other way. Ghaa. Help. What should I do?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Magical Words Is Psychic

I follow a few blogs. Okay, I follow a lot of blogs--something Kate ( and Cody ( got me into at about the same time. Before that, I was virtually alone in the blogger world, plugging away at my own posts and not giving much thought to what other people were saying.

Boy was I missing out on a lot. I recommend all the blogs I follow (check them out under my profile), but lately, Magical Words has been near-psychic with their posts. They've posted about tone (today) and character development earlier this week. It all fits right in with my edits of Conventional Demon and some of the aspects I've been trying to strengthen throughout the novel.

They also had a guest post by Kim Harrison (how cool is that!) where she talked about swag to give away at book signings. I've got all kinds of ideas for CD. Now all I've got to do is sell the novel...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Striving for Plotacter*

I realized as I was going through Conventional Demon scene by scene that what I was adding (or making notes to add) were plot points that allowed for greater character development. The more I research how to build a good plot, the more I realize it's all about the characters and how they react to the events. Two people plopped down in the middle of a riot are going to react differently. The same for if they were seated at a game of bridge or taken as a date to the same family dinner. Just like life and real people, I want my main characters and their reactions to play true to their native traits.

And yet, the more I research how to build believable characters, the more I realize the importance of plot. Great characters with nothing to do are just lazy bums. Great characters who never are tested or put through a series of trials are just average citizens.

As you might be able to tell, I'm feeling a vague sense of frustration, though right now I'm going to chalk it up to the tedium of turning a novel into a spreadsheet and not make anything to big of it. CD will be just fine.

*Plotacter: the melding of a novel's plot and character development into seamless perfection (as dreamed of being achieved by Rebecca Chastain)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Scene by Scene

I've taken a long break from Conventional Demon and quite a break from writing-related stuff in general. No, wait. A look at my calendar showed me that I finished Book 2 a mere two weeks ago, and in that time I've submitted to a literary agency, sent off a query letter, and done some preliminary editing setup work for CD, so I guess this feeling of not doing anything is all in my head. Nice.

Today was all about going through CD scene by scene, using an Excel document to note trackable elements (scenes, subplot, character introductions, Madison's knowledge of her abilities, etc.). I got about halfway through the novel. It's tedious and uncreative and probably frowned upon by many free-form writers out there, but I'm finding that this method is helping me see holes in plot and flaws in logic in a very precise, clean way.

I originally decided to use an Excel document in this phase of the edit because I need to go back through the novel and flush out a plot line, and it was too hard to keep it all straight in my head. While I was still debating the merits of turning a novel into a spreadsheet, I ran across DeAnna Cameron's blog, where she even provides a picture of the spreadsheet she uses. I took it as a sign.

Another couple of hours' work, and I'll have the whole book before me in a new form, and one that hopefully will enable me to get through the next round of edits even more efficiently than the previous ones.

Good People

Writers make good people. I've often believed this, simply because 1) I'm a writer and I think I'm a good person (and a humble one, too), and 2) people who like to write also like to read, and readers are good people, too. Yes, these are enormous, sweeping stereotypes. Yes, I'm incredibly prejudiced. But if my experience with NON has done anything (aside from introduce me to great new books from new authors), it's proven my theory true.

Every author who has responded to me has been polite, funny, and all around personable and nice. It's been wonderful. I get about ten minutes of "face time" with these authors tops, and I feel like I have a mini personal connection with each one. I get really excited when I see their books mentioned on other blogs, and I get even more excited when I see the books out in stores (ask Cody; he's been there to witness the jumping and squealing). I even feel a sense of pride when I hear they've received awards.

This week's author is no exception. Jamie Ford's interview is now up on, and when he wrote to tell me he was Costco's February 2009 Pennie's Pick, I cheered aloud when I read the words. I'm a Costco member who receives their monthly magazine, and I always flip to see who Pennie has picked. This month, it's one of "my" authors! Hooray!

Check out the latest interview, if only because you've got to love a man who admits that there was "lots of awkward, white-guy dancing in my office" when he heard the news he had been published.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Perhaps I've Been Wrong

While writing Book 2, I purposely didn't read certain fiction authors who I thought might influence my writing. I didn't miss them, necessarily. I was wrapped up in my own characters and their world, and it sufficed. I didn't do that with Conventional Demon. While I was writing that book, I read P.C. Cast, Jude Deveraux, Deborah Raleigh, and Laurell K. Hamilton. When I was editing it, I could tell the parts of the book that were written while I was reading Hamilton. I could see hints of her style creep into mine. Hence, my fear of reading her books while writing Book 2.

Perhaps I was wrong, though. As Francine Prose points out in Reading Like a Writer (see my bookcase for the cover), "I've also heard fellow writers say that they cannot read while working on a book of their own, for fear that Tolstoy or Shakespeare might influence them. I've always hoped they would influence me..."

What a great thought! (Okay, it would never be Tolstoy or Shakespeare for me, but you get the idea.) I'd been toying with the idea of trying to time reading a Karen Marie Moning while I work on the edits of Conventional Demon (again) because I feel her books are edited into masterpieces on so many levels--plot, character, pacing, setting, sentence structure, verbs, adverbs. Combine Prose's line of thought with a Janet Evanovich interview I recently read where she said (basically) that she watches only funny movies, reads only funny books, and surrounds herself with her most positive friends when she's in the middle of a Plum novel. She says it helps her keep her head in the right place.

I'll be trying this experiment over the next several months. It means I'll be reading a lot of Evanovich, MacAlister, and Harrison, watching a lot of comedies, and making Cody amuse me with lots and lots of funny antics. All in all, that sounds like a good recipe for life, not just editing a novel.