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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
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29th-May-2015 01:45 pm - Ten Year Bookiversary
I had another late start this morning thanks to a constant stream of flash flood warnings setting off the weather radio throughout the night, every one hitting just as I fell back asleep after the previous one (argh). But now that I'm seeing just how bad it was, I can kind of understand the urgency. They were having to do high-water rescues using boats on city streets, and on one highway, they were having to use heavy equipment to break through the median divider so trapped cars could get out. We've now broken the record for wettest May since they started keeping records. I saw a statistic that said the amount of rain the state of Texas has had this month would cover the entire state 8 inches deep -- 7 feet if it were snow.

But supposedly we have three whole days in the forecast with no rain coming next week. I normally like rain. I'm just not into flooding and deluges.

In non weather-related news, I have a big anniversary coming up. This Sunday, it will have been ten years since the original Enchanted, Inc. book was published. I suppose around ten years ago today it was starting to show up in some stores. I was already getting e-mails about it. It's hard to believe it's been that long. The book is still in print and going strong, and often has the highest Amazon ranking of all my books. People are still discovering it even now. If all the copies that have sold in the past ten years had sold in one week, it would have been a bestseller. It's probably outsold in total copies some of the books that were bestsellers at the time, many of which are no longer in print. But since those copies sold over ten years and the bestseller thing is what publishers and bookstores value, it's only considered a modest success and the publisher doesn't want more books from me.

That's okay. I'm making a good living doing what I love, which I have to keep reminding myself when I get discouraged. I ended up writing more in that series than I planned. Those books have been published around the world. The first book was optioned for film and a screenplay was even written, though they let the option lapse (I got to keep the money). There was an effort to get it made into a TV series that didn't pan out but that involved some people in the industry I admire (and they really, really got the concept). The series finally came out in audio last year and was a huge success there.

Am I where I thought I'd be ten years ago? To be honest, not really. I felt like I had a really special book that would catch on and lead to great things, and it didn't quite work out that way. I've never been able to coast. Ten years on, and I haven't been nominated for awards, haven't been invited as a special guest to any conventions (the kind where they pay for your travel and use your name in the promotion), still get the "we'll have to see" about getting on programming at WorldCon. I haven't been given a big promotional push by a publisher that could make me a bestseller, haven't been sent to BEA or ComicCon, or anything like that. No banners, bus shelter posters, or magazine ads.

But you know, that's all ego stuff. I'm making more money than I probably would have been if I'd stayed in my day job career (though there were some lean years in between). I'm doing something I love that I would be doing for fun even without getting paid (though perhaps not doing as much of it). I'd probably have to take a pay cut to go back to a day job career, so it would be silly to quit because I'm discouraged about not getting any recognition.

So I will rejoice in having a book that's been in print for ten years, that's still selling and finding new fans, that's introduced me to all kinds of interesting people and made so many things possible.
28th-May-2015 11:50 am - The Home Stretch
I spent the last couple of days re-reading the whole book, (mostly) resisting the urge to tinker (other than fixing obvious typos and repeated words), and it's actually working far better than I realized. I've only spotted a couple of scenes that I think may need to be adjusted to fit what I've realized about the villain, and one of those I may "Bill and Ted" after the book is done. The other is a couple of scenes before I left off, so I can start there and gain momentum moving forward. I'm sure everything will be tweaked in revisions, but that's what revisions are for. Last night, I wrote a quick summary of events from the villain's point of view to figure out what was going on with her, why she was doing the things she was doing, what she felt about the way things were going, and what her next plans were. I think that will help me plot going forward.

I'm so close to the end I can feel it. This is when I get eager to work on a book. Plus, I have more books that I want to get to, and I need to finish this one first.

I suppose this is where our crazy weather is going to work in my favor. In case you haven't seen it on the news, Texas is flooding right now. I'm okay in my immediate area, just a little soggy, but all bodies of water are out of their banks. They've cancelled the Friday fireworks at the lake for the next couple of weeks because the spot where they can safely fire the fireworks is under water, and the roads to most of the lakeside parks are under water. And there's lots more rain in the forecast for the weekend. Sounds like a good time to stay inside and write.

Back in the very early days of my writing career, when I had a full-time job, most of my writing came on Friday nights. I'd come home, have dinner, maybe watch a little TV, then I'd make a pot of tea and sit down to write until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. Those marathon sessions were when I'd tackle the big parts of the book, and they had a lot of momentum and energy. I don't do that as often anymore, now that I have all day to write, but I think it might be fun to try it again. I'm a lot older now, so I may fall asleep a lot sooner (I'm not as much a night owl as I used to be), but a rainy night might be just what the doctor ordered.

And then I can dive into PR, marketing, and research for the next project.
27th-May-2015 11:44 am - Swag and Stuff
After having that big realization of what's really going on with the villain, I've been re-reading the book so far to see what I need to fix, and there's not much. I think I'll need to tweak a few scenes slightly, but otherwise, the villain is still acting the way I'd expect her to act, and while there may be some subtle adjustments to her attitude, I don't think her actions will change at all.

I've also realized that although I've been worried about how much action there is or isn't in this book, when I read it straight through it's not that bad. I've only spotted a couple of places where there's an opportunity for action that should probably be beefed up. This is one of those issues with taking months to write a book that can be read in hours. It feels like it's been ages since the last scene with action or tension, but that was only about ten pages ago. What I may need to do is trim a few conversations because the characters have a lot of long chats about what's going on. I'm plotting on paper again, figuring out what's happening by letting the characters talk about it. But once I've figured it out, I can cut some of the talking about it.

Meanwhile, I'm working on ideas for promoting the summer book. I think I'm going to do some badge ribbons for conventions, though I'm kind of iffy about WorldCon at the moment. I probably should go, but I still haven't been included in programming and they keep announcing program participants I've never heard of, so I have a feeling that I'm not in the cool in-crowd for this bunch. And there's going to be drama. So much drama. I'm allergic to drama. Anyway, badge ribbons are more of a WorldCon thing, and if I don't go I don't know if there's much point. I suppose it would be funny if I don't get included on programming and then the book turns out to be a huge hit and they have a bestseller who got snubbed. I don't know if there's much point to bookmarks anymore other than as a kind of business card reminder. There are also trading cards and postcards that might be good to use for autographings in the era of e-books when fans might want something signed but have the books on an e-reader.

Does anyone have a preference for swag from an author? Any ideas of something you'd want to see?
26th-May-2015 12:33 pm - Water, Water Everywhere
I got a very late start this morning because just as I woke up, my power went out. Without power, there wasn't much point in getting up, since I couldn't make breakfast or do much work, so I went back to sleep and then overslept because it was cool and dark. The power was back when I woke again, but then went out again while I was eating breakfast. I finished eating and got dressed and was just about to head to the post office (since there wasn't much else I could do) when the power came back. We have buried lines, so we don't usually lose power in storms or ice storms, but I guess the wet, totally saturated ground and slight flooding is affecting us now.

We don't have actual flooding in my neighborhood because I live in a flood control district. We have a network of canals with pumping stations, and there's a big levee between us and the river, with a lot of space around the river between the levees, and the river itself in a pretty deep channel. But the canals are higher than normal, coming a bit over the rock/stone edging, but not yet up to the walking paths alongside them, except where they go under bridges. All the passages under streets seem to be under water right now. We're a lot better off here than they were in Austin and Houston this weekend.

I made it to the lake Friday night for the first of the summer fireworks, and the lake is way above normal. Our usual viewing site was closed, so we went to the park that's up on a high ledge over the lake. The ledge is now a beach. A lot of the picnic tables were under water. Last summer, the lake was about 11 feet below normal. Last I heard, it's now 18 feet above normal, but that was before yesterday's round of storms.

My big achievement this weekend was baking a beautiful apple pie for the social after the Memorial Day concert. Seriously, is this a thing of beauty, or what?

And then they sliced all the pies ahead of time and had them in bowls with ice cream as everyone came through the line, so no one got to see it. However, I know it was also very tasty because I used the pastry scraps and some bits of the filling that didn't fit in the main pie to make a mini version so I could taste it. So even if no one got to appreciate the beauty, whoever was lucky enough to get my pie got something that tasted good. I have a new favorite recipe.

But now it's back to work. I need to finish this book because I have another one starting to eat its way into my brain. It's going to be a story taking place on two timelines, with a present-day story in which someone discovers the past story. I think the past story is going to be told in found items, like scraps of letters and journals, but what I think I'm going to do is write that story independently as the journal entries and letters, and then figure out what pieces of it to use and where. The heroine of the past story is surprising me because she's very different from any character I've ever written, quite bold and fearless in a very intrepid way. She's a real action heroine. But first I need to finish this book and then a proposal and then do a lot of research.
22nd-May-2015 01:28 pm - Aha! Moments
promise tea
Rather than clogging my author blog, I've unloaded my thoughts on last weekend's now-infamous Game of Thrones incident on my long-dormant Stealth Geek blog. You can see it here if you're interested (Mom, you may want to avoid). Spoilers abound, though I did try to be delicate about it all.

Meanwhile, I've had a big realization about the book in progress. The identity of the villain has not changed, but in realizing what she really wanted, I realized who/what she really is, and that moment when I realized it gave me chills. The weird thing is, I don't think I'll have to change all that much of the book up to this point. There may be a few subtle tweaks and I may plant some clues, but it doesn't really contradict anything I've already written. It's like it was there all along. I love it when that sort of thing happens. I don't know if I'm putting together stuff I wrote to come to a different conclusion or if maybe it was there all along and I didn't realize it consciously. I have a bit of backstory work to puzzle out, and I'm going to have to revise the last couple of scenes, but I think this will really help give a little more structure and form to the book.

Plus conflict. Needs more conflict. There will be a lot of revision required to add action, but not changes to the premise. In fact, this should make it easy to add action.

That's going to be my Saturday plan -- a big writing marathon.

Sunday's supposed to be really rainy, so there will be reading, I think. I also need to bake an apple pie for Monday's Memorial Day concert at church. We're doing hot dogs before the concert and apple pie afterward. I got sparkly sugar to make mine fancy. I don't have any solos, but I did get picked as one of three sopranos to sing the three-part descant for one song. So there will be a few cases where I'm the only person singing a particular note, but with the whole choir and orchestra also going at the same time. I had never sung that descant before Wednesday's rehearsal when the part was assigned, since the first sopranos all automatically sing descants and the seconds sing the regular soprano part. This one gets weird because there's actually a second part in the descant. I will need to practice. That's something else I'll be doing this weekend, to get that part in my head and get some muscle memory.

And then I'll start work on building my ark.
21st-May-2015 12:31 pm - Nice People Talking
dalek tea
I got such a late start this morning by oversleeping and then lingering in bed for a long time after that. It's what my dad calls "good sleeping weather" -- cool and drizzly, and I was so comfortable and cozy in bed that I just didn't want to leave it. stayed up late last night watching the last Letterman, but I slept even beyond what would have been reasonable for that.

I did do some thinking about the book, but I couldn't seem to move forward. I just kept replaying the last couple of scenes. I know this one's going to need a lot of work in revisions because I have a feeling that nothing much is happening. Normally, my first drafts are all plot, and then I have to go back and add the emotions and relationship stuff. On this book, I only want to write the emotions and relationship stuff, and I keep forgetting that I need some plot in there.

I think this has something to do with the fact that I'm very much in low-conflict mode right now. I don't want a lot of action and tension. My ideal fantasy novel at the moment would involve two nice people traveling toward some destination, having minor adventures along the way, like helping people or encountering various fantasy characters, but mostly just having long conversations and realizing that their feelings for each other were growing stronger. It would be a tough sell, but I think there might be times when most of us could use a low-conflict book in which we just spent time with people we liked without having to worry about their fates. Pure escapism that doesn't add stress to your life. Though I could imagine the Amazon reviews from people who were looking for something more exciting. It would get called boring. Maybe it should be something available by prescription and only given to people who were specifically looking for that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, one of the top-selling self-published books is called something like "Knocked Up by the Bad Boy." Another big category is romance novels about motorcycle clubs, and after seeing what happened in Waco last weekend, and seeing what those people actually looked like, I can't imagine that being any kind of romantic fantasy. I may be out of touch with readers.

In other news, the upcoming steampunk book got a nice School Library Journal review that called it a lot of fun. So that's nice.
20th-May-2015 12:15 pm - Juggling Plots
I have another reader question on writing, this time about juggling multiple plot threads and making them all come out at the same time.

I'm going to have to address this from the perspective of a plotter because I'm not sure how a "seat of the pants" writer would handle this, other than in revisions. Then again, even as a plotter I end up doing a lot of revisions to make everything come out right. Most novels are going to have more than one plot thread, even if some of the subplots are mostly just character arcs -- there's the thing that must be done or achieved, but then there's the personal growth the hero has to go through in order to be able to achieve the goal. A more complex novel with a larger cast of characters, particularly multiple point-of-view characters, may have more than one story goal, even if all the story goals ultimately thread together for the climax. Not every plot has to come out at the same time, though. Some subplots may rise and fall at a different rate and resolve before the main story climax, and resolving that conflict may even help lead into the big climax. Some subplots may have to wait to come out until after the main story climax. For instance, a romantic subplot may not resolve until the main story is wrapped up -- the hero saves the day, and then has the nerve (and the time) to express his love for the heroine.

I find that it's easiest to juggle multiple plot threads by making it visual in some way. Here are some techniques to try:
Storyboarding -- lay out the story beats using sticky notes on a big board, with different colored notes for each plot thread. That way you can see how the events of the book are coming together, and you can rearrange them until they flow properly.

Mind mapping -- branch out the various story elements, starting from the central plot, using different colored markers as each element branches off into its own subplot. This is a good way to see how the various plot lines relate to the main plot.

Flow chart -- Another way to see how the various plot threads diverge and connect and what has to happen first before the next thing can happen.

Parallel outline -- this is kind of a verbal way of storyboarding. Make columns for each plot thread or POV character, then list the major steps in each plot. With another ink color, connect the various threads at the point where they should intersect in the book. I've also done this with separate sheets of paper for each plot line, working each plot out separately as though it's the only story in the book, and then I create a master timeline in which I slot all those events together.

A rising/falling action chart -- make a graph showing low and high points, using different colors for each plot line. This is good for using multiple plot lines to keep the tension and action in a book going, so that you've got one plot hitting a high point while another plot is in a lull.

I think a timeline of some sort is essential for making sure everything works out the way you need it to. You may need to reverse engineer it from the outcome you want. Start with the climax where everything comes together, and work backward from there to get in all the events that need to happen in order for the climax to work, and then make sure the timing lines up. It's a lot like planning a meal, where you start with the time you want to eat and work backward to figure out how long each step in each recipe will take and determine which step you need to do, when.

You may need to use more than one of these methods to really work things out.

And then you'll probably need to tinker with it in revisions, moving events around and changing their order so that it flows better. You can use these various charts after you've written a draft to figure out how to revise. I suppose that's what "pantsers" might have to do -- do the plotting retroactively.
19th-May-2015 12:15 pm - Enchanted, Inc. -- The End
Wow, the Enchanted, Inc. reread has finally come to an end, with the last chapter.

I'm pretty sure the final chapter in the published book is different from what I initially wrote, but I don't think I could tell you exactly how. I think there might have been more wrap-up and a bit more dithering.

I did get some complaints about Katie not ending up with Owen at the end, but I'm a big fan of the slow build, and I didn't want to move too quickly. I wanted to give just enough of a hint of possibility, but I wanted her to explore other options first so we'd have a basis for comparison and know Owen was the right guy. Besides, he's kind of a chicken socially, so it would take a lot for him to be able to openly ask her out. In my mental backstory, he's the one who first noticed her when he saw her in a bookstore and was attracted to her, and then in watching her from afar he noticed signs that might indicate she was immune to magic, and so they set up the test that morning on the subway. If you're really shy, it's harder to talk to someone who really matters to you, so it's going to take him a while to work up the nerve and the comfort level to ask her out.

I actually think I got them together too soon and I might have done things differently if I'd known how many more books there would be, but at the time I had a two-book contract with no real guarantee of more, so I didn't want to leave that thread hanging.

I know the very last scene, of her heading to the office on the subway and noticing the magical things but not being shocked, wasn't my first draft, but now I can't think of any other way I could have ended it. It's a full-circle kind of thing, going back to where she was at the beginning and showing how much she's already changed.

It's been fun re-reading this because it's finally been so long since I wrote it that I can almost read it as a reader and not as the writer who still wants to tinker with it. I wrote this book largely because it was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to read, and I couldn't find anything quite like it. I think that I'd have loved this book and become a huge fan if I'd just been a reader who found it -- which seems rather obvious, since as the writer I was able to customize it to my personal tastes.

Incidentally, the book is set in 2005. I wrote it in 2003 and planned it to take place in 2005 because I figured that was when it was most likely to be published if it sold, so I used a 2005 calendar to figure out days of the week and dates. This doesn't really show in this book, but the later books are still set in 2005-2006 even though they were published later, so I had to keep checking technology levels. That's why there's not so much texting and people aren't yet widely using smartphones. That sort of thing was more ubiquitous when the later books were published, but it was only just barely getting started at the time when the books were set. The first book actually takes place in the near future after the publication date (published in late May 2005, set in September-November 2005), but the rest happen after the time period in which they're set. I don't put any date stamps in the book, so they're more or less timeless, aside from any trends, entertainment, and technology, but I tried to mentally keep everything in period.

I may take a little break before diving into book 2.
18th-May-2015 12:29 pm - The Writers Guild Suicide Pact
I had a nice couple of days with my parents and then realized when I got home just how messy I'd let my house get. It's funny how you get used to things until you leave and come back to see it with fresh eyes. So I guess I'll be getting busy this week. That'll be easier because almost everything I watch on TV is over for the summer (though I have a slight backlog of OnDemand stuff to get through).

And I have to say, that Writers Guild Suicide Pact idea is looking more and more valid. Very little improved, most got worse, and just about everything got dark. So, starting on Monday nights:
Sleepy Hollow was a big "huh?" for the year, getting into that trend I've noted that the wife/girlfriend of the main character is generally the most-hated character on a show (including the villain), and too often the writers pick up on that from the fans and put it in the show. I didn't have strong feelings about the wife, either way. I think I just mostly rooted for her because of resistance to the hating the wife trend. And then they made that impossible, to the point that destroying her was the only way out. I loved the pilot of this series, but it's never really lived up to that and I'm 50/50 about whether I'll watch it again.

Gotham had great casting and interesting world building, but I reached the point a few weeks ago where I turned off the TV in mid-episode because I realized I wasn't enjoying it and I only cared about a few of the characters. Plus, a demonizing the girlfriend plot. It was very liberating to let go of it.

NCIS is my comfort food television -- not earthshattering, but I like the characters and they usually don't go too very dark for very long. They did go dark in the cliffhanger, but I'm fairly certain they won't stay there, which is why this one stays in my rotation even when it's fairly bland.

Person of Interest is a rare case where going dark actually was a good thing for the storytelling and quality, just because in order to deal honestly with the subject matter, it had to get pretty bleak. It was edge-of-the seat stuff, but it was sometimes difficult to watch. Still, the characters remained true to themselves and their principles, and there's always that dash of hope.

Forever was my bright spot of the season, so of course it was cancelled.

I didn't even try watching Chicago Fire this season. It was never a great show, but it could be fun. But they got a bad case of Mary Sue and I reached the point where I just didn't care. It's one I watched OnDemand, and I just never got around to watching it this season and didn't miss it.

Elementary is another one that falls into the "TV comfort food" category -- I like the characters and the plots are generally interesting. But it took a last-second dive into the really, really dark.

Then there was Grimm, which had what looked like it would be an interesting plot/character twist -- until they went off the deep end with it and we got yet another case of demonizing the girlfriend in a total characterization reversal and a huge plunge into darkness. I'm curious to see where they go from here, and that will determine whether I go along. This was one of my favorite shows, but I'm not sure I'll even buy the DVD of this season.

Even the Sunday PBS stuff took a downward turn. Call the Midwife got preachy in a very anachronistic way. Downton Abbey got ridiculous, plus there were some cast turnover issues that affected the plot. I turned off Mr. Selfridge in the middle of an episode this season because I just wasn't enjoying it and most of the characters I liked were gone. The bright spot was Wolf Hall, but I don't think I would enjoy that as anything other than a miniseries.

The winner of my Most Frustrating Show award goes to Once Upon a Time. When it's good, it's wonderful. There are moments that are pure gold, one of the few romantic relationships on TV that actually works for me, and some characters I love. But when it's bad, it's utterly awful. This season's overall arc made so little sense that I can't believe it came from a team of so-called professional writers. It contradicted itself all over the place and made most of the main characters look like raving idiots. They've got a really bad Mary Sue problem with a character who gets all the shinies handed to her and who has everyone fighting on her behalf for no good reason, and yet she's portrayed as the biggest victim ever who even the writers say "gets the short end of the stick." There must be a massive case of groupthink going on in that writers room so that no one has played devil's advocate or challenged any of these assumptions that fly in the face of all logic. Plus, there's some seriously screwed up morality and a bad case of the villain/hero double standard. And yeah, we got another massive dive into darkness as the cliffhanger. Unfortunately, I do love some of the characters enough that it's hard to just walk away, even if I would love to be locked in a room with their writing staff for about an hour so I could tell them where they went wrong. Preferably with shock collars. I could easily fix this show and make it amazing, which is why it's so frustrating to me that they keep making horrible decisions and never really delve into the character and world elements that they set up. There's so much potential, and they take the easy and shallow route almost every single time. And yet the premise and characters are so distinctive that there's no way to file off the serial numbers and write my own thing that fixes it.

There didn't seem to be much for me to get excited about in next season's new shows, so that should give me more writing and reading time, which is a good thing.
14th-May-2015 12:13 pm - Redesigning
no tea
Since it looks like we're having a rare day without a lot of rain, I'm going to head over to visit my parents before they forget what I look like. I'm not sure whether to take my car or rent a boat. It doesn't look like the major roads where I'm heading are flooded, but you never know these days. We've gone from drought to flood in a few weeks. Two weeks ago, most of the lakes around here were below normal levels. Now most of them are at flood stage. The lake nearest me will look very different for summer fireworks.

I think I've found a fun new concept for my web site. It's really different from the more cartoony, bright look I had for the Enchanted, Inc. books, but it's more of a fit for the Fairy Tale books and the Steampunk book and for most of the other story ideas I've got in mind. I'm also going to have to change my tagline. I was using "Fairy tales for modern times," and while I meant that in terms of audience, it sounds like it's about contemporary fiction, which doesn't fit so well with the steampunk book. And while I think I used a few fairy tale tropes in the steampunk story, it's not so obviously a fairy tale kind of book.

One line that came to me last night was "All Manner of Magic" which I think covers a broad range of fantasy. What would that say to you as a reader?

I'm planning to use part of a photo I took as a header because to me that image says "fantasy" but it also has a Victorian esthetic.

Yeah, I know, I should be writing, but in the state I've been in, words weren't coming, but playing around with fiddly bits in my web software was working, and it's something that needs to be done. I didn't realize just how much the newer version of this software could do, so I'm having fun with the toys. I promise not to go overboard, though. I keep going back and forth on whether I should use a background color on the page. I like things clean and white and easy to read. I also prefer white walls in my house. But I don't know how appealing that will be. It's odd that I keep ending up with color schemes that don't fit my personal taste, but that do fit my books. There was the pink/purple range from the Enchanted, Inc. books, and my current plan is using greens and golds. I like the black, gray, white, and red on the steampunk cover, but I don't think it fits everything else. I may do an entirely different style/color scheme for the pages relating to that book.

But now I suppose I should get packed and head out for the weekend.
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