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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
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24th-Jun-2016 12:30 pm - One Thing Leads to Another
I ended up with an unplanned morning out. Yesterday, I decided to take my own advice on creativity and work on another creative project while I brainstormed, so I worked on a sewing project I've been thinking about. It worked, as I found a solution to a plot hole -- something I needed to happen but that I didn't have a good reason to happen. But then midway through, I ran out of thread. I figured I'd run up the street to Wal Mart this morning -- a quick 15-minute errand (at the most). However, while they had a rack for the kind of thread I needed, it was just about empty, with only a few odd colors and not the white I needed. That meant I had to go all the way to Jo Ann, a 15-minute or so drive away. Then they were having a fabric sale, so I figured that while I was there, I might as well get some for future projects. There's a DSW across the street, and I figured that while I was in the neighborhood I may as well check it out because there are a few old, worn-out pairs of shoes I really need to replace but haven't found quite the right replacement. I lucked out and found two pairs that fit my needs, and they were on clearance. They were really nice, high-end brands for about what I'd pay for something similar (but lesser) at Payless. And then I figured I may as well swing by Sprouts on the way home to get some produce.

Two hours later …

So now I have a little more sewing to do to finish the current project, and I need to write down my brainstorming. It's amazing what your mind comes up with when you're focusing on something else. I've started having scenes playing out in my head.

This time, I bought a bigger spool of yarn because I figure I'll be needing it eventually. And soon I will have a whole wardrobe of light muslin summer nightgowns -- a good practice project while I get used to this sewing thing, and it doesn't matter if I mess up because no one will see it.
23rd-Jun-2016 02:25 pm - Filling in the Details
I gave myself a morning out because it was the last day the latest Jane Austen adaptation, Love and Friendship (adapted from "Lady Susan"), was going to be in the theater. And I'm glad I went, as it was very well done -- laugh-out-loud funny to the point I'm going to need the DVD to catch all the lines, with some amazing costumes. Plus, the return of the Cold Comfort Farm version of Kate Beckinsale (as opposed to the American action film version).

I also may need to track down the book. I suspect it's available via Project Gutenberg. It's a shorter work rather than a novel, and Austen never submitted it for publication. The credits, in the part where they say "buy the soundtrack on whatever label" said to read the book by Jane Austen, "in which Lady Susan is vindicated." That makes me wonder what they may have changed or left out in the movie.

Now it's back to brainstorming. I did enough yesterday that the plot is starting to come together and I have the major throughline. Now I need to figure out the details. The details are the hard part. When it's still more of a vague idea, it sounds utterly brilliant. Then you start drilling down into the how and why, and it starts to fall apart. So far, my research has paid off because it's given me a lot of ideas and has already filled in some of the "how" stuff. So all that time reading wasn't a waste.

The next real test of the idea will come when it's time to put it in words.
22nd-Jun-2016 11:58 am - Chilling
It turns out that Elsa may have been mad at me, after all. When the repairman took off the back panel of the freezer to expose the inner workings, the whole thing was totally caked in ice, and, weirdly enough, that's why it wasn't keeping the refrigerator cold. Apparently, the problem was the thermostat in the defroster, which allowed everything to get covered in ice, which blocked the flow of cold air to the refrigerator. Now it's all fixed, I have cold food once more, and best of all, I have a whole day in which I'm not waiting for a repair person or having to run errands to get ready for a trip. I might even be able to (gasp!) work. It's hard to concentrate or get started on anything when you know that at any minute, someone may be showing up.

I do have a choir dinner tonight, but then I'll be out of all my activities other than dance for the summer. I hope to get a lot done.

I got extremely optimistic and tried exercising this morning. I could feel how out of shape I was in ballet class last night, and I want to do something about that. I resorted to the trick of finding something I wanted to watch on TV and using that as a scheduled "class" for exercising while watching. So this morning I did about fifteen minutes of yoga to stretch out from last night's class and then jogged on my mini trampoline for about fifteen minutes while watching the classic "Lil Sebastian" episode of Parks and Recreation. It's not much, but it's a start. Supposedly, exercising in the morning gives you more energy for the rest of the day, but it just made me sleepy. Maybe that's because I took a shower afterward, and I'm usually a nighttime shower person, so my body read that as a signal that it was time to sleep.

But I will power through! I have jacket copy to write for Rebel Magisters and then I have a book to plot.
21st-Jun-2016 10:31 am - So Not Cool
No sooner did I get my air conditioner fixed than my refrigerator went on the blink. Either I've angered Elsa, who is abandoning me and taking the cool with her, or the Heat Miser is attacking. Fortunately, the freezer is working, and since I was out of town over the weekend, that's where all the food was. I only lost a few things in the refrigerator. I've got a repair appointment at 1 today, so we'll hope it's an easy fix and something he can do today with parts he has with him. Otherwise, waiting on service people might become my new hobby for the summer.

On the bright side, I didn't have to leave the house to go grocery shopping yesterday, since there was no point in buying anything perishable. I was so very tired after that trip that I just didn't feel like going anywhere. I managed to take care of some business stuff, but anything else was beyond me.

Today, though, I need to jump into action (aside from the time when the repair guy is here). I have just a little bit of stuff I need to look up before I can plot the next book I'm working on, and then I need to spend the rest of the week doing plotting/development work. I have a free weekend other than Sunday activities, so I'm hoping to do a kind of "retreat" to immerse myself in the story and try to get some momentum started. It's always weird to start writing something new.

Meanwhile, I really need to start promoting the new book and the paperback release. I suppose I should be looking for places to do guest blog posts or interviews. If anyone is interested in hosting or interviewing me, let me know!
promise tea
I survived the trip to Comicpalooza, and now I get to be home for a whole month before my next trip. This trip was really tiring, for some reason, and I'm not quite sure why, as I didn't have a lot of programming, got to bed at a reasonable hour and didn't have to get up all that early. I'm not sure I'll do this one again if I'm asked. The only visibility as an author was during the panels. My books weren't being sold in the dealer's room. People who wanted to see me couldn't find me. I did pass out a lot of bookmarks and postcards at the panels, but I don't know if those will lead to book sales. Basically, everyone who saw me on a panel would have to buy at least two books and tell one other person about my books for the trip to have paid off at all. This event does seem to be trying to add more of a literary presence to the general pop culture mix, but they still have work to do to make it work for the authors. It's a massive, for-profit event, but the authors are being treated like they're at a small, non-profit literary convention, only with less exposure. At the only event similar to this I've been to, where they were adding a literary track to a pop culture event, they paid for the authors' hotel, and they gave authors a free table in Artist Alley for book sales and autographing.

Still, I did have fun, and maybe just giving it a shot this time was worthwhile. One of the panels I was on was standing-room-only, which was nice to see. The people watching was very entertaining. I got to hang out with some of my writer friends. I went to a literary panel I wasn't on and learned some new things.

And then there was this:

Although I had a panel that wrapped up right as this was supposed to begin, I managed to get a seat near the top of the arena-style room for the Aliens reunion panel. Those dots on the stage are most of the cast. The big dot on the screen is Sigourney Weaver. She's the far-right dot at the table. To her left is Michael Biehn, and to his left is Carrie Henn (Newt), all grown up and a mom and school teacher.

There were some fun stories about the audition process and who tried out for which parts. But my favorite part of the panel was getting my personal view of the movie validated.

I've spoken before about how I consider this a rather romantic movie because of the relationship between Ripley and Hicks. He seems very impressed with her, she trusts him, and they form a real bond. Well, Michael Biehn said that was all totally intended and was in the script. He called it a "like story." That was his favorite thing about his character -- not the macho action hero stuff, but the way Hicks was impressed by Ripley, took her seriously, and was willing to listen to her. He said he caught the movie on TV earlier this year and found himself watching it all the way through for the first time in ages, and he was struck by the way that he was smiling every time he looked at Ripley (actually, he said "her" as he patted Sigourney Weaver on the arm). So, yeah, that wasn't just hopeless romantic me reading that into their relationship.

Also, there apparently is going to be an Alien 5 that's a kind of reboot, as Hicks will be in it and still alive. That's nice for me, as I've generally been pretending that everything after Aliens didn't happen. I'm curious what kind of story that will be, as it's rather obvious that time has passed. Will they find each other again, or will we learn they've been together all this time? Anyway, they have to wait until the Prometheus sequel is done (and when Sigourney Weaver is done with Avatar), but they said it was happening.
15th-Jun-2016 12:26 pm - Reasonable Characters
You'll sometimes hear writers talking about whether their work is character-driven or plot-driven. A writer may come up with characters first and then see what they do, or a writer may come up with a plot and populate it with characters. But to a large extent, fiction is really character-driven because the plot is what happens when characters act and react. You've probably encountered stories that either felt flat or that made no sense because the plot had the characters acting and reacting in ways that didn't fit who they were supposed to be and what they were experiencing. It was clear that the writers had events that they wanted to happen, and the characters were forced to go along with it. That leaves readers going "no one would ever do that" or "there's no way he would have done that."

The thing is, within the world of your story, characters are people, and they need to act like people. You start off with what I think of as the "reasonable man" assumption. When you're on a jury, they talk a lot about a "reasonable man" -- would a reasonable man, given certain information and circumstances, interpret things in such a way or behave in such a way? Readers expect something similar of characters. They put themselves in their shoes (especially viewpoint characters) and think about how they'd react. If someone threatens or harms their child, that someone is probably in trouble. A "reasonable" person wouldn't then go have drinks with that person and listen to their sad life story. If someone is being friendly, a "reasonable" person isn't going to start attacking them.

If your character has reasons for not acting like we'd generally expect people to act, that needs to be established and set up properly. Is there some kind of psychological or emotional trigger at work here? Does the other person remind him of someone in his life? Do they have a history? Has the character been given information about this person (that may or may not be accurate)? In a sense, by changing the context, you're keeping the character reasonable, because readers will think "yeah, under those circumstances, I might do the same thing."

Or maybe your character isn't meant to be reasonable, but that also needs to be established, and it's tricky to pull off if you expect readers to relate and care for the character. This is more likely to be in the villain realm, where the character can be a total psychopath and do things that no one else would do. Even here, though, there needs to be some pattern and method to the madness rather than the character being a total wild card who can just do anything at random.

A related issue is what I refer to as "Idiot Plotting," where the plot only works if the characters act like total idiots -- like the horror movie cliche of going alone into the dark basement without a flashlight or weapon when the characters know there's a killer on the loose.

Beyond the general "reasonable" standard, there's what you establish for your character as normal -- likes, dislikes, fears, hot-button issues. Once you've established these, you can't make your character go against them without a good reason. If you've established that your hero was abandoned as a child and therefore has a huge soft spot for abandoned kids, he's probably not going to leave the orphan lying in the gutter so he can chase after the bad guy's minions unless his reason for chasing the minions is stronger than his abandonment issues sympathy. Your wary, untrusting heroine can't suddenly trust what a shady character tells her just because you need her to so she can get herself in trouble and advance the plot.

But what if the plot you have planned won't work if your characters behave reasonably or according to the way you've developed your characters? You could try changing your plot plans. Think about what these people really would do in that situation and see where it takes you. You can also adjust the circumstances to make the choice you need more likely. In the example above about the abandonment issues hero, someone could step up to tend to the orphan child, allowing him to feel less like he's abandoning the child. You can provide more set-up -- the shady character can provide lower-level reliable information earlier in the story that gives the wary heroine a reason to trust him. You can provide additional motivation to show that this situation is an exception. You can change events earlier in the story to make things more reasonable -- if you want your heroes to team up with a former villain against another villain later in the story and to kind of become friendly, you can't have that villain murdering their families first. Let your future good-guy be less directly villainous, especially to your protagonists.

The bottom line is that you never want to throw someone out of your story with the "no one would ever do that" thought. You also lose a lot of emotion if your characters aren't allowed to react reasonably to the things that happen to them, and a reasonable reaction is going to affect the actions they take. All of this is key to encouraging your readers to relate to and care about your characters.
Now we're moving on in the reread with Damsel Under Stress. This was a challenging book in a lot of ways, and it remains probably my least popular in the series. It was because bookstore orders of this book (before it was even published) had dropped a lot from the previous book that the publisher decided it didn't want to continue the series beyond the books that were contracted. During the pre-publication process, the editor who'd initially bought the series left the publisher, so I ended up with a new editor in midstream. It was also really, really hard to write this book. Although I'd planned more books all along, in a way I felt like I'd closed out the story with Once Upon Stilettos. As a former romance novelist, it was really easy to write about a couple getting together. It was a lot more difficult to write about a couple that is kind of together and who gets along. There really wasn't a lot of romantic conflict left, unless it came from outside sources. I also had a plan in place to move the action to Texas for the next book, which would affect the romance, but it relied on something else having happened that I changed my mind about (it involved an undercover mission). Even the title was a challenge. This book still didn't have a title when I turned it in to the editor. We were joking about being all arty about it and not giving it a title at all. The people at the publisher couldn't think of anything. I finally had a brainstorm in the shower after the book had been through a round of editing. Meanwhile, it was difficult for me personally. I had a friend who'd been serving as beta reader for the first couple of books, reading each chapter as I wrote it and giving feedback (and spurring me to write the next chapter). At about the time I started writing this book, she was diagnosed with cancer. I was still fiddling with the opening and not ready to share what I'd written yet when she passed away (she was a lot sicker than she let anyone know). That made it really hard to write something I associated so much with that friend, because just the act of writing made me miss her. I was in a fog for much of the first draft, then when my agent gave me feedback and I looked at it again after a break, I wasn't even sure where some of it came from, and that meant a lot of it had to be totally rewritten. On the positive end of things, this book gave me an excuse to go to New York at Christmastime. It even obliged me by providing snow. I got to see the store windows, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and all the other stuff that's in all the movies.

So, it should be interesting to revisit this book about a decade after I turned in the finished version. I may have a very different perspective.

The fairy godmother was what I came up with to make things not be too easy for Owen and Katie. I've often joked about needing a fairy godmother, and how the one I got would probably end up being incompetent, knowing my luck. Having that thought yet again sparked the idea. What would happen if the fairy godmother had been coasting for centuries on the success she had with Cinderella and hadn't updated her tactics? Fairy tale romance is lovely in fairy tales, but using those exact same methods would be disastrous in the modern world. I'm not sure where the idea of her just throwing new outfits on top of the old one came from. It's possible it was somewhat inspired by the book Heidi, where instead of carrying luggage, she had to wear all her clothes at once (hmm, maybe a way around airline baggage restrictions? Though the TSA probably wouldn't be amused). That was an odd little detail that stuck with me when I was a child. I think it also plays into the idea of her never really updating herself -- she doesn't shed any of her old methods. By bringing in a fairy godmother, I also wanted to deal with the idea of fate and destiny. It seems in romance novels, if you're fated for someone, you probably hate him, at least at first, since it's not a very interesting story if you like someone and find out you're fated for each other, or if you find out you're fated for someone and decide you're okay with that. I was told my whole life when I wasn't very romantically successful that there was someone out there for me and he'd come along when the time was right. What would happen if you thought you'd found the right person and then suddenly that was when your fairy godmother showed up to help you out?

The other romantic monkey wrench is the fact that it's really difficult to date when you're busy saving the world against magical evil. I've often griped about the typical cop wife/girlfriend on TV shows, where she gets outraged that her significant other puts saving the city/world ahead of that dinner date they had scheduled. Katie's fighting the same fight as Owen, so she understands, but it's difficult to get things off the ground when he's always having to respond to the latest crisis.

Rockefeller Center

I had to rewrite the scene of skating at Rockefeller Center after going there on my research trip (to watch, not skate) because in reality it's not laid out quite the way you'd expect from pictures and TV. The rink is pretty small, and there's stuff all around it. This is where I start to incorporate the subplot because I hadn't ever dealt with how poor Philip got turned into a frog.

And so the story begins ...
13th-Jun-2016 12:16 pm - Airships and Wizards
promise tea
I'm still sitting around in a warmish house, though fortunately we had rain and cooler temperatures yesterday, so it hasn't been so bad. I have an appointment on Tuesday afternoon, so I hope that means it'll be fixed then. I resorted to social media shaming and got a response from customer service, so I'm currently mentally composing an epic e-mail.

But I will prevail! I have a lot of stuff I need to get done to prepare for this week's trip, and I'm still in reading/research mode. Ideas are starting to take shape in the back of my head. After today, I start seriously working on developing a plot.

I fell down a rabbit hole of On Demand documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel yesterday, with one on the Hindenburg disaster, one on the Masada massacre, and one on Merlin. There's a lot of airship stuff in Rebel Magisters, with some of the characters taking a long airship trip, and when I researched what the cabin would be like and how long the trip would take, a lot of the info I was able to find led back to the Hindenburg and previous airships like it. There are lots of photos of the passenger lounge area and cabins, and then what helped me for figuring out how long the trip I had in mind would take was a press voyage of one of them that went up the east coast. That gave me how long one part of the trip would take, and then I estimated from there based on distance how long the other parts of the trip would take. My interior would be different because mine is a smaller private ship instead of a commercial passenger ship, and it's Victorian rather than 1930s (and runs on magic), but the photos gave me a good sense of what the layout might be and what the private cabins might be like (a lot like a private compartment on a passenger train). Even though the book is done, I still couldn't resist watching the documentary to see if I got any other ideas, but the focus was more on the aftermath and the investigations.

I may have to re-watch the other two because I was working crossword puzzles at the time and only halfway paying attention. The Merlin one was mostly about how that kind of character has been used throughout history and literature. No mention about a dapper gentleman in a business suit. Hmmph. I also got a little sidetracked during that one because there were a lot of paintings of Welsh bards with harps, and that made me want to play my harp. I'm getting pretty good at "Scarborough Fair," in an arrangement that actually uses both hands playing different notes at different times. I may even be ready to move on to the next lesson, finally. That playing with both hands thing really hung me up for a long time.

And now to praying for rain (and cool) while doing laundry and fuming.
10th-Jun-2016 12:07 pm - Keeping Cool
I'm having a fun day of sitting around and waiting. My air conditioner isn't working very well -- it was running more than an hour non-stop to maintain an indoor temperature of 81, when it was 94 outside. I have a service plan with the company that installed it, which is supposed to mean that not only do I get twice-yearly checkups, but I also get service when I need it. But the earliest appointment they could give me was on Tuesday, though they said they would try to work me in today, which means sitting around all day, waiting for a call. I'm considering contacting another company and letting them know that if they can get to me before the company I've actually paid to have on retainer, then I'll likely move my service contract to them and ditch the original company.

It's not too bad, though. My house is designed for hot weather. This is when I'm glad I have wi-fi because I can stay downstairs. The upstairs is stifling, but my living room and bedroom are reasonably comfortable with the ceiling fans on. I'm just worried that it will only get worse over the weekend, and I'll be seriously annoyed if I sit here all day waiting for a call and get nothing. I'd rather them just say they can't do it so I can make other plans. I mean, I could go to a movie and sit in the dark and cold or go to the library. I may resort to Twitter shaming. That's the way to get customer service these days.

Now, I know I have one of those little drink umbrellas around here somewhere. I have a photo shoot in mind (if you're going to Twitter shame, you should have some fun with it).

Next week is my trip to Comicpalooza. Here's my schedule, which should be easy to remember because it's awfully short. There's no autographing, but if you can track me down, I'll sign stuff. I already suspect that this event will be a bust for business purposes, but it's a road trip and a nice hotel that will earn me a lot of Hilton points, and some of my friends will be there, and there aren't a lot of demands on me. I'm going to try to make it to the panel with the cast of Aliens reunion, where I will try not to feel old about that being 30 years ago.

Now to go make myself an umbrella drink, get out my battery-operated fan, and take a few selfies to tweet to my AC service company.
Because I'm so close to the end and because it's my favorite part, I'm going to wrap up the Once Upon Stilettos reread with commentary today.

First, there's the date with Rod. In my original vision for this series, before I'd even settled on characters and a main plot, when it was just a concept, I had planned on there being a variety of love interests, with maybe the Mr. Right being a slow burn kind of thing on the back burner. In my wildest fantasies, I imagined raging Internet 'shipper wars over which guy Katie would end up with (though at that time, she didn't even have a name). That never happened, in part because it was so clearly Owen from the moment I started writing and in part because I don't think I have a big enough fan base to have factions, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of Internet discussion about my books. Anyway, while things were being weird in this book, I figured it was a good time to at least touch on some of the possibilities and show the "what if" scenarios.

Normally, Katie wouldn't be interested in Rod, but with her immunity on the blink, she's fallen under his attraction spell, and he doesn't realize that she's affected. Meanwhile, there's also something working on him. The result is a perfect storm of awkwardness (and a good reason not to even try to date a friend you're not usually that attracted to).

And then we get to my favorite scene, the scene that was playing out in my head before I even started writing the book, where Katie ends up at Owen's house, and things are playing out according to her wildest dreams, with a truly dreamy first kiss -- followed by the realization that it was the shoes all along, that they were under an enchantment. That bit is one of my favorite things I've ever written. It's kind of an emotional sucker punch because up to that point, it's pretty swoonworthy, and then the rug is pulled out from under Katie.

By the way, I don't know if my red shoes are under that kind of spell because I've never actually worn them on a date (not that I've had that many dates since I bought them -- I kind of gave up on dating around then).

I also like the follow-up parts a lot -- Katie's embarrassment and awkwardness, and the way that led into her finally confessing her immunity loss to Owen. The kiss may have been magically induced, but there's real intimacy that comes in the aftermath.

I put in a lot of work of setting up the way Katie's immunity might have been compromised and why it took a while to work when the water in her building was drugged. You may recall the scenes of the roommates arguing over who forgot to buy bottled water and Katie just getting water out of the tap. There's also the way the shoes affected her -- she just admired them in a normal way at first, but Ari was present, and so the spell was put on them later when Katie bought them.

Then we have the final showdown at the company holiday party, followed by a real kiss. When I wrote this book, I wasn't sure I'd be able to continue the series, so I wanted to give some sense of resolution. I've sometimes regretted moving the relationship along so quickly since then because it didn't leave me very far to go from there. They were already together, so I had to either just accept the relationship as an established fact with no drama, or I had to find ways to separate them.

Sales of the series dropped significantly after this book, even though I think it had a strong ending that would have made people want another book. I guess people thought the series was over? I don't know. I know that the third book isn't exactly popular, but people would have had to read it to know they didn't like it, and it seems that a significant number of people who read this book didn't go on to the other books.

Next week I'll move on to the next book. It'll be interesting to get a fresh perspective on it now that a decade has passed. It was a difficult book to write, and the process of writing it was kind of a blur.
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