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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
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2nd-Dec-2016 12:10 pm - New Book Cover!
Busy day today. I've already run errands and done grocery shopping. I need to finish a proposal. And the weather is supposed to be so nasty tomorrow that they're already canceling all the outdoor Saturday holiday events, so I need to bring in all the Christmas stuff from the garage today so I can put it up over the weekend. And then I need to take care of some business stuff and do some baking. Whew!

So this will be short, but likely contains the thing you really want to see anyway. Ta da, the cover for the new book, coming December 13:
1st-Dec-2016 11:48 am - Creative Overdrive
I have declared today to be my last non-holiday season day, in which I'm going to try to get everything pre-holiday taken care of. Tomorrow, I will load the Christmas music onto my phone, put up my decorations, possibly do my first round of baking, and let myself start watching the holiday movies that have been stacking up on the DVR. Then Saturday the Death March of fun begins with a vengeance, with several busy weekends in a row. This weekend isn't so bad (just a get-together, a party, and then chorale singing in two services), but next weekend will be the kind of weekend that requires a weekend to recover from. I have overlapping events Saturday, children singing Sunday morning, a concert Sunday evening, and a party after that. Sometime on either Friday or Saturday I have to bake for the church cookie swap. Everything should calm down the week before Christmas, and that may be my reading and watching Hallmark movies time, as I recover from all the socializing.

The sense of feeling busy isn't helped by the fact that my brain is in creative overdrive. It's not a bad thing necessarily, since it's awfully convenient that my brain is playing out the movie for the next scenes I need to write. There's no writer's block at all. I mostly just sit and transcribe, and sometimes try to put what I've seen into words. The downside is that all this is happening right when I wake up in the morning, when I'm in that twilight phase of being conscious but not really awake enough to want to get out of bed. I wake up with scenes playing out in my head, so I lie there and watch it all, taking mental notes, and then I lose all track of time. What seems to be five minutes turns out to have been half an hour. Sometimes I fall back asleep. As a result, I'm really oversleeping, and I lose most of the morning, which is when I do all the business and non-writing tasks I need to do, and there are a lot of those. I feel stressed when I'm feeling behind on the day.

Since I've got a book coming out, I really need to be focusing on promotion. I'd planned to get a new web site by now, but I got sidetracked by decision paralysis on finding a web designer and graphic designer to do a logo and possibly other work for the site. I'm in this bind where the people who know about me seem to really love my books, but most people don't know about me, and I don't know how to reach more people to break out of that loop. Nothing I do seems to go viral enough to really spread, and it doesn't help that a rather non-social person isn't very effective on social media. I'm writing books now because I hated doing PR. I'd be happiest hiding in a cave and writing, being the mysterious reclusive author, but it's hard to do that these days. But it's also hard to force myself to get out there with a book that's already done when I've got a book in my head that's trying to burst out, Alien-like, and all I really want to do is write it.

So I guess I'd better go either promote or write.
30th-Nov-2016 12:01 pm - You've Finished NaNoWriMo. Now What?
If you participated in National Novel Writing month, you just have a few more hours (depending on when you read this) to finish. If you "won," congratulations. When I finish a book, it's a kind of high. All those moments in the middle when it felt like a slog and I was tempted to give up are forgotten, and when I get to the end, I'm convinced it's the best book ever. You may be tempted to send it off to editors or agents or upload it to Amazon right away.


Most editors and agents are winding down their reading for the year, trying to clear out their in-boxes before the holidays, so sending it now probably won't do you much good. And it's probably not ready for publication. Here are some things you might want to do before you try to get it published:

1) Put it aside. Enjoy the holidays. If an idea relating to the book strikes you, write it down, but otherwise don't look at the book until the new year. Giving yourself some distance helps you make better revisions. That's because right now, you're still attached to the emotion of writing it. You remember which parts were difficult, which parts came easily, where you got all the ideas. Remembering all that makes it more difficult to make the right edits. I've often found that when I look at a book again after a break of more than a few weeks, there are things I don't understand about my own plot, or I don't get my own jokes. Distance allows you to come closer to reading it like an editor might.

2) When you get it out, try to read it like a reader would. If you've got the technological capability to put it on an e-reader or tablet, do so, and then just read, not editing, but taking notes if something strikes you. This read is more for plot structure -- when does it drag? Is there something that doesn't make sense? How does it flow? Try to outline the piece and see how it holds together, then figure out what major surgery needs to be done. Are there scenes that need to be cut, added, or replaced to make the plot work? Do scenes need to be rearranged? Do you need to add or cut a subplot? Are there dangling plot threads you need to deal with? Are there any continuity errors that require you to set things up earlier in the book so they'll work at the end?

3) Now you can get down to editing. I generally make at least three passes. The first is the major surgery -- the bulk of the rewriting. That's when I add, cut, or replace scenes and make the plot work. The next pass is to make the words pretty. That's when I make sure the writing is tight, that I'm not repeating words too many times, that the jokes make sense, that all the words that need to be there are there, that I've used the best words for the occasion, that the character voices are unique. The final pass is proofreading, and then I usually read it out loud. That's when I spot awkward sentence structure, missing words that my brain tried to fill in, repetitions, and clunky dialogue. I often change fonts in the document between each phase, which makes it look like a different book. Words are in a different place on the page, which makes you see them differently, and it creates juxtapositions that may show you that you're repeating words within a paragraph or page.

4) Find someone else to read it. This is especially true for a first book. Get someone you trust to give you feedback. You can find critique groups or partners in online writing groups or in writing organizations. Friends and family aren't necessarily a good bet unless they're writers or avid readers who will give you honest feedback. And when you get feedback, accept it graciously. The goal for all of you is to make the book better. You're not helping the book if you get defensive about criticism and treat the person giving feedback like an enemy who's trying to hurt you. The criticism may be wrong, but you may have done something wrong that led the person to make the wrong conclusion. If something's unclear earlier in the book, it may lead readers to make wrong assumptions that affect their reactions to something later. Really mull over and think about the feedback before you accept or reject it.

5) Then you may go through another few rounds of revisions, fixing things that came up in the feedback, then proofreading after you've made those changes.

6) Now you might be ready to submit, though it might be a good idea to let it rest again for a week or so and give it one more read. Meanwhile, you can be researching your options. Don't submit to an agent or publisher without doing your research. Make sure you're dealing with legitimate agents who actually sell books and legitimate publishers that actually put out books. See how they like to receive submissions and work on your query. You may want to customize the query for each person you send it to. If you're thinking about self publishing, do some research into that.

7) Now you can send queries to agents or editors, if you're planning to take that path. If you're going to self-publish, you need to find an editor to hire. You might want to get a developmental editor to work on the story itself, especially if it's a first book, and you definitely need a copyeditor. You'll also need an artist and/or cover designer. Look at the books that are out there and see how yours will fit into the market. Independent publishing is easier than it once was, but you can't just throw something out onto the market and expect it to make money. You need to put some work and money into it.

Good luck!
29th-Nov-2016 12:31 pm - Book Report: Magicians and Telepaths
I got chapter two of the new project done yesterday, though what that actually meant was fleshing out chapter one, changing the chapter break, and then fleshing out the scene before the old chapter break. Now I'm ready to start chapter three, which will really be moving forward.

Between hang-out time at my parents and my lazy Sunday enjoying the fancy new bed, I got a lot of reading done recently, so I'm due for a Book Report.

A few years ago, I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman and had very mixed feelings about it. I liked a lot of the concept and even some of the execution, but at the same time, it really bugged me. It struck me as rather derivative while trying to be edgy. The stuff at the magical school was rather obviously "It's Hogwarts, but with sex and drugs and drinking!" and then the stuff about the magical land was Narnia with a different name pasted on it, not even an attempt to scratch off the serial numbers. The really annoying thing about that was that while it was so obviously Narnia with a different name, the author was painted as a child molester. So he ripped off CS Lewis and then cast aspersions on him while claiming it was all fiction and not really him. I liked the first part of the book at school well enough, but then the characters left school midway through, and I felt like the book went off the rails. The ending made me mad enough that I didn't read the rest of the series. But then the TV series came on, and I liked it, and I learned that a lot of it came from later books. Since I'm working on my own "travel to a magical world" story, I figured I might as well tackle the whole series, mostly to make sure I'm not being accidentally derivative.

I liked the first book a little better after seeing the TV series, mostly because I like the TV versions of the characters better, and the book read better if I mentally inserted the TV characters. And I did end up liking the second book better than the first. It delved more into the magical world and then did a lot more globetrotting in our world, so we got that mix of magic and mundane that I love. I still feel like the fantasy world is a little too derivative. That part of the plot was basically Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I didn't realize quite how much was cribbed from that book until I rewatched the movie after reading this book, and wow, he barely tried to change things. At the same time, I feel like he doesn't quite get Narnia and thinks he's being edgy by making his world dangerous. Narnia was always dangerous. He's somehow managed the near-impossible of copying a story plot point by plot point while still coming across as never actually having read the original. Still, it was a fun magical adventure story that you might enjoy a bit more if you last read the Narnia books when you were 12 and don't remember them well enough to spot the ripoffs. I also liked that the characters were growing up and becoming a bit more likable. I'm in the middle of the third book now.

Then I got the new Connie Willis book, Crosstalk, which is basically a screwball comedy about telepathy. It has the feel of the old movies like Bringing up Baby and My Favorite Wife, but set in the near future, when people are so intent on communicating even more than their smart phones allow that they get brain implants that allow them to sense their romantic partner's emotions. A woman working for a cell phone company is thrilled when her boyfriend suggests they get the implants, because that means he's serious. But there might be unintended consequences. She's only supposed to be sensing emotions, but she hears a voice. And it's not her boyfriend's.

This was a fun romantic romp. The science is a little handwavy, so I think even fantasy readers might get into it. It might have been a little difficult to get into because the heroine comes across as kind of a doormat, not only with her boyfriend but also with her very intrusive, wacky family. But once the story kicks off, it gets really intense while also being very funny and eventually deeply romantic. It's not a sexy kind of romantic, but rather a really deep emotional bond formed during difficult circumstances, which is my kind of thing. I would say that if you have an intrusive family, the first few chapters might be triggering, but it ends up being somewhat important to the plot. I don't have an intrusive family, and I was practically climbing the walls during those scenes.
28th-Nov-2016 12:27 pm - Post-holiday Catchup
I took a bit of a break for the holiday week, so I have a lot to catch up on.

First, Fantastic Beasts -- I had some writing structure quibbles with it, but I did enjoy the movie. I liked the Jazz Age setting, something we don't see a lot of in fantasy, and I liked the characters. The acting was excellent. It's fun seeing a movie in that universe in which the characters were adults and already fully trained wizards, so we didn't have to go through the origin story or training. I'm curious as to how the rest of the series will go because this seemed to be largely setup to establish the threat and establish the characters.

I had a good Thanksgiving with my family. I got to see just how much of a challenge it is to get everything done and on the table in a reasonable order when I tag teamed with my mom to finish getting the dinner ready and then get it served. This is why my meals tend to be simple. It's nearly impossible to have everything ready at about the same time.

Now I have a ton of turkey leftovers. I've already used a lot of them to make some soup. I'll have to get creative with the rest. The weekend is supposed to be chilly, so maybe I'll make some pot pies.

Saturday, there was gorgeous weather, so I took a long walk and came up with the solution for a problem I've been having with the book I've been working on. I also had the clever idea of wearing my hiking socks with my sneakers, so I didn't get the blisters or rubbing I usually get when I take that long a walk.

Sunday was delightfully gray, and I was reading the newspaper while sitting on the sofa and trying to find a comfortable position when I remembered that I now have that fancy adjustable bed. It was the perfect day for a good wallow, so I hauled the newspaper in there, along with some books, raised the head and foot to create a nice cradle position, and spent the afternoon doing crosswords and reading. When the head's elevated, I'm a long way from the nightstand, so I set up a folding wooden TV table by the bed to hold my tea. It was all rather decadent. I'll have to do that more often.

Now I need to dive into work for the week. I have a book to promote, a proposal to write, and a lot of housework that I need to do to get ready for the holidays.
18th-Nov-2016 11:19 am - Up on the Rooftop
After more than a year of me complaining about the leaks in my house, things are finally being done. Yesterday, they caulked the seams in my exterior stucco, and this morning they've been working on my roof. It's all very exciting, but also very noisy. I'd already planned to go see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them today, but this makes it guilt-free, as I'm not sure how much work I'd be getting done, anyway. They have to move around clay tiles, then work on the part under the tiles, and there are power tools involved.

So, I think I'm going to make a grand day out of it. I need to go to the bank, and I may go out to lunch, and then I'll catch the first matinee of the day. Maybe they'll be done by the time I get home.

I'm really excited about this movie. It's the first in the Potterverse that was written to be a movie rather than being an adaptation, which means I'm going in with no idea what happens rather than having the book just about memorized and having my own mental images already in place. It's also aimed at adults rather than at kids. And I find Eddie Redmayne an absolutely fascinating actor to watch. His face is so transparent that you can read his thoughts. The first thing I saw him in was a WWI movie called Birdsong on PBS, and he hardly spoke, but you knew everything he was thinking. I suppose it's too much to hope that they let him sing in this movie.
He's also adorably brainy and geeky in real life. His PSA defending Hufflepuffs is a thing of beauty.

He may be my poster boy for the "nice guy" hero. He's also somehow become my mental image of Lord Henry. That wasn't anywhere in my mind when I started writing those books, but lately, he's who I see -- at least, a younger version.

Ooh, it just got quiet. Too quiet. It's awfully windy to be working on the roof. Maybe I'd better go out and check. I didn't hear any screaming, but you never know.
17th-Nov-2016 12:02 pm - Coming Soon
We're less than a month away from the release of the new Enchanted, Inc. book. There's also going to be a bonus that day: an Enchanted, Inc. short story! That one will be a freebie -- a holiday gift for my existing readers, but I'm also hoping that maybe it will lure in some new readers. Due to a quirk at B&N, they may be charging 99 cents for it, but I'm going to try to put the EPUB version on my web site so Nook owners can get it for free (if they know to go to my site). It should be free at Amazon.

I guess this means I'll have to update my web site, huh? I was hoping to have a new one by now, but getting sick and then focusing on getting well again sort of sidetracked me. And also, I was writing, and I'd far prefer to write than deal with business and promo stuff. But I'd better get back on that.

Meanwhile, I've started something entirely new. I'd like to get back into traditional publishing to have more of a mix of income sources (and I think that having a contract may help if I'm trying to get a mortgage sometime next year), so I'm working on a proposal for a YA fantasy novel. I got a good start, then realized I'd started in the wrong place, so I'll have to start again. Still, I don't think it was a waste because it allowed me to explore the characters and get a better sense of them. No matter how much you plan and plot, it's still a little different once you start writing. That's when they really come to life. Meanwhile, some new characters who I believe will turn out to be pivotal appeared, so I had to figure out who they were and what was up with them.

So, after doing a bit of that work yesterday, I think I'm ready to start writing again today. The new opening scene was playing out in my head when I woke up this morning. As a result, I got a very late start on my day. I didn't want to get up and break the spell when I was seeing the movie in my head.

This was going to be a bit of a retreat weekend, anyway, since it's my last free weekend of the year, and this week so far has been really busy and social. Next weekend is Thanksgiving, and then I have a string of parties and other events filling the following three weekends, then there's Christmas, and then New Year's, and I have a convention that weekend (at least I think I do. They never put me on the web site, and I never heard more after they invited me, but when I asked about it, they said they still wanted me, and yet I'm still not on the web site). I would say I can anticipate a lot of cave time in January, but I already have school visits being booked. Librarians seem to have discovered me lately.

So I guess I'd better do some writing and get more books out there!
I didn't realize I'd gone so long without posting on the Damsel Under Stress commentary. I guess I got sidetracked by so many other things and never quite had the time to read and think.

But I picked the book up again this morning. In Chapter 14, we're still in the middle of the disastrous dinner date at the fancy restaurant, after Katie and Owen's planned simple night out got hijacked. Amid all the wacky hijinks, there is a plot clue hidden (and that's actually something that sets up the new book). It's funny, as I was rereading this, I was thinking back to my thought process in writing it, and it was all about how the idea of the perfect date isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. A super-fancy, celebrity-filled restaurant might be great for some people but miserable for others. The comparison that came to mind was the way they come up with these "dream" dates on shows like The Bachelor (I've never actually watched, but it's difficult to escape the imagery) that sound pretty painful to me. There's this ideal of what's supposed to be romantic, but if that's not the kind of person you are, it's not going to work. Then I got to the passage where Katie has the exact same thought.

That's where a lot of the Ethelinda stuff came from, the idea that a fairy godmother who wasn't keeping up with the times would come up with some crazy ideas of what was romantic. Then when that didn't work, she might look to popular culture for ideas, and that would be equally disastrous.

And then we're back to the plot, where Katie has to temporarily lose her magical immunity in order to see what's going on with the enemy's ad campaign. This is where the magical folks could use more "normal" people on their side, since all they have are either magical people or immunes. It's easier to make an immune normal than it would be to take away magical powers, so in order to see how Idris and his gang are hiding the ads, Katie has to step up. As we learned in the previous book, this also makes her vulnerable to magic.

We get a contrast between the "dream" date and the date that's truly ideal for Owen and Katie when they have dinner at his place while watching for one of the Spellworks ads on TV. It's just burgers and TV, but they get to talk about their childhoods and interests, and it feels comfortable and genuine.

Meanwhile, they're getting ready for a costumed New Year's Eve party. I recall going through a lot of different ideas for how a really wacky magical party would go, and I settled on costumes because that creates a lot of opportunity for intrigue. Still, it can be kind of a pain coming up with a costume at a non-traditional time of year for costumes. One company I used to work for once had a costume party for Christmas, and that was a challenge. I imagine it's less difficult in New York.

And Katie has come up with a way to fight an extremely ADD villain: distract him. I actually don't remember how that plays out, so I'm looking forward to reading on.

We end with a cliffhanger in which it looks like Ethelinda might be about to spill the beans to Katie's friends about her magical life. Stay tuned (or read ahead) to see what happens next!
14th-Nov-2016 11:26 am - A Change of Bedding
I was out Friday morning buying my new bed, which was just delivered, so I missed a day posting. I managed to get a great deal on a higher-end bed (though apparently, it's the higher end of the "mid-range" and not what's truly considered "higher-end," but it was still what I liked best out of all the ones I tried). Then I had to buy new sheets, since I upgraded from a full to a queen and all my bedding is for a full. The new sheets are currently being washed. My old bed looked so tiny once I stripped it of all the bedding and mattress toppers. The new one is taller, but it also has lots of room underneath for stashing my sweater boxes and bags. I'll need to get a new bedskirt, and they now have some that don't have to go under the mattress, but rather pin to the base.

I'm thinking that the next cold, rainy weekend, I'm going to have a movie day in the new bed, since I can raise the head and foot to make it almost like a giant recliner. I'll stay in pajamas all day and watch romantic comedies (most of which I have on DVD rather than Blu-Ray, so they'll play on the machine in the bedroom).

This was also an excuse/occasion to thoroughly clean my bedroom. I was able to vacuum between the time they took away the old bed and brought in the new one, and it was scary how much junk came up. It filled the Dyson canister. I'd already done a lot of cleaning around the bed last night so that all I'd need to do was jump in and clean just the space under the bed. When I was clearing out from under the bed yesterday, I found books I didn't remember owning. I hope the new bed has the same magical book generating properties.

In other news, I finally got to do my solo in church yesterday. By the time I sang, it had becomes something of a weight because of it being postponed before, and I was so afraid of getting sick again or not being well enough. I did have a sore throat, and I was losing my speaking voice, which gave me a scare, but I got through it, and I think it went okay. I'm a raging perfectionist, and it may not have been the best I ever did it, but I think it did go well enough. People said nice things. I went out to lunch with friends afterward and ran into people from church who complimented me. Now I can relax a bit and not worry too much about my voice, though I have a follow-up with the doctor tomorrow to see what we're going to do going forward.
10th-Nov-2016 10:53 am - Oops
I was making great progress on the book. There was all kinds of tension, and I'd built up to the first big turning point, with a major chapter-ending cliffhanger.

And then during the night after writing it, I had a "hmmm" moment because it was giving me deja vu. I thought I ought to check something in the previous book because my recollection was that a character had at least gained more of an inkling about that thing, and that might mean I needed to shade the revelation differently.

It turned out that I'd actually revealed that thing in the previous book. So there went all the tension and the big "aha!" moment. I don't think anything but the last 5,000 or so words (and only bits and pieces of that) will need to be rewritten, but it will affect shadings of everything else, so it's back to the drawing board, to a large extent.

I may actually backburner it for a little while to work on that proposal I'm developing, which has really taken off in my head. Timewise, that's more important, as I want to get it to my agent before she breaks for the holidays (and maybe that means she might get to look at it to act on early in the year), while I just want to have a finished book on this other project before everyone returns from the holidays early next year.

Since I was frustrated by the writing, I went shopping yesterday. My parents have offered to get me a new bed for Christmas, and I need to pick it out. I went to one of those mattress stores that does the scientific analysis of you to suggest the ideal bed for you. You lie on a bed and it scans you (probably for weight and height), then you get into your usual sleeping position, and it scans again, then gives you a readout of recommended mattresses.

Wow, were they all very different from what I have now. The problem was, they were all so much better than what I have, and they were all pretty close, that it was hard to tell what I liked best. It was like going to the eye doctor and she flips the little lens things around and asks which one you like better, and you can hardly tell the difference. I was surprised by how much I didn't like the Tempurpedics. I'd have thought that would have been ideal for me. I wanted to do a little more research before making a final decision, and now I'm glad because the one I liked the best in the store has terrible reviews. They almost all said it was really comfortable in the store and for the first few months, but it started sagging badly almost immediately after the store's guarantee expired and they had to deal with the manufacturer, and the manufacturer was a nightmare to deal with for the warrantee. So, now I need to go back and look at some of the other ones that I didn't like quite as much in the store but that have much better user feedback.

I also learned that the "price match guarantee" some of the stores offer doesn't mean much because they game the system -- the same mattress may be sold under different names at different stores, but since that name isn't available elsewhere, you can't get the price matched. There was an online chart showing what the equivalents are, and it turns out that Macy's offers the same thing for a lot less. I may have to run up to Macy's and see how it goes and what they offer. I feel a little bad using the one store's electronics to tell me what to get and letting that salesman spend so much time and then running elsewhere, but I guess that's the way retail works.
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