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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
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6th-Jul-2015 12:10 pm - Blue Ribbon!
I'm going to have to update my author bio to include a new honor: champion dessert maker! They had a dessert contest at the church cookout this weekend, and I brought my chocolate pecan pie. Of course, I hoped to win, but I didn't really expect to. After dropping off my pie at the fellowship hall, I got completely sidetracked by having to learn the new music for the service and being one of only two sopranos, so I was having to sing nice and loud. Then after church I went through the serving line, got my burger and was getting settled at a table when someone congratulated me. When I didn't know why (I thought maybe it had to do with singing last week or what we'd done in the service that day), she dragged me to the dessert table, where there was a blue ribbon on my pie.

Though there was a bit of a mix-up when they were announcing names, so I thought maybe it wasn't me, but then it turns out that the person went on autopilot and said a different last name that she usually associates with my first name, and when they saw me they dragged me over after correcting the mistake.

I'm almost embarrassed by how excited I was about this. You'd think I'd never won a prize for anything, but in general I'm the kind of person who does really well but doesn't necessarily win.

In other weekend news, there were fireworks Friday night and I finally saw Inside Out, which basically was about my sixth-grade year. We moved midway through the school year, going from a nice house to an apartment and going from a school where I was the queen bee -- a class officer, in band, in choir, in Girl Scouts -- to a school where I knew no one, where there was no band and they wouldn't let me in the choir because it was already full, and where everyone hated me on sight. I later learned that the teacher had announced the day before I showed up (I had to wait a day after registration) that the class would have to work harder because I was so smart that I'd be competition. Gee, thanks, teacher. I knew we had no choice about moving because it was a military thing, so it didn't do to complain, and so that whole movie was basically what was going on inside my head. Though things didn't get much better for me until seventh grade, and even then, the same people who hated me from sixth grade were still out to get me.

I am impressed the Pixar managed to pull off a fun animated movie about psychology.

It's going to be a really busy week, with lots of promo work to do, the web site redesign, and revisions. I worked out most of my revision issues for the upcoming few chapters on my morning walk, which should help with that.
3rd-Jul-2015 11:50 am - To Terminate or Not to Terminate
no tea
For this morning's long walk (it was really nice out earlier, since it was overcast and not so hot), I headed to the streets those lakeside houses are on. It looks like I'll have to sell lots and lots of books to afford to live there, judging by the kinds of cars in the driveways. There were a couple of cul-de-sacs arranged to maximize the lakefront property, and on the first one I went down, nothing really jumped out at me as my house. Then there was a little circle around a small greenspace that looked rather pleasant, but again none of the lakeside houses struck my fancy. But then as I was heading home, I tried a different street that didn't look lakeside at first, but turned out to be around a little inlet on the lake, and there was a house that had what looked like a Victorian conservatory off the side of it. I tried getting a look at the back/side from the park nearby, but the inlet made it hard to see, though I think I spotted the chimney of an outdoor fireplace. To get a really good look, I'll have to put in contact lenses so I can see details at a distance and walk along the levee across the lake. And maybe bring my binoculars for some "bird watching." But I would be totally okay with living on a quiet inlet with a conservatory and patio with fireplace overlooking a lake.

To make it happen, I'll probably need this next book (or some future book) to be a bestseller, raising the sales of my other books, and then getting me higher advances on future books, plus some foreign sales and a movie option or two. Totally doable! Actually, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

Today is going to be my Independence Day holiday. The town near me is doing their fireworks tonight. Then I can spend tomorrow relaxing and redesigning my web site. And baking a pie for Sunday's church cookout.

I'd thought about seeing the new Terminator movie, but the reviews aren't promising. I love the original with a great passion, and most of the reviews say the best parts of the new movie are the reshoots of the original, except they only remind you how pale the new versions of these characters are in comparison, so the movie's less interesting once it moves on with its twists on the original story. I know I'm in the minority for actually kind of liking the last one, but it didn't really undo the chronology, and I just wish they'd gone as far with that concept as they seem to have planned but then chickened out on. I'm less crazy about the highly praised second one, but then emo teens are not my thing, and I became a lot less interested when the story was about John than when it was about Sarah. Basically, I love Sarah and Kyle and the whole star-crossed/time-crossed love thing, and while I'd love to see another movie where Kyle gets to do stuff, he's not the real Kyle and this new guy doesn't seem to hold a candle to what Michael Biehn did in that role, so it wouldn't be like getting to see Kyle live again. I may just dig out my Blu-Ray and watch the real thing again for the zillionth time.
2nd-Jul-2015 12:04 pm - Aspirations
promise tea
I've been so very virtuous this week. Not only have I been diligent about doing my writing-related work, but I've also gone for a walk every morning. It started Monday when I went to the library. Then Tuesday morning I was surprised by how pleasant it was outside when I got the newspaper so I decided to go for a walk after breakfast. It was starting to get hot and muggy then, so I thought I ought to walk before breakfast, but I generally need to eat at least something as soon as I get up, so I compromised the next morning. I had toast and some tea -- and got dressed while tea was steeping and toast was toasting -- and then was out walking shortly after 8. I walked for about an hour. Then I had some milk when I got home. Today I slept later, and for a moment I was tempted not to walk, but again it seemed nice when I got the paper, so I got dressed and headed out. I think I came close to an hour again, though I didn't plan to be out so long. It's so peaceful at that time. It's past the rush of people out jogging or walking dogs before work. There are a few other people walking, mostly older ladies in saris, but otherwise it's quiet. I can walk and listen to the birds and think. We're having a cooler-than-normal summer, but it's supposed to get hot next week, so I may not be able to keep this up. But then I can switch to the swimming pool -- one benefit of deciding not to sell right now.

And that appears to have been a good decision. They had a story on the news yesterday about how this is one of the areas where they're recommending renting rather than buying right now because house prices are so steeply inflated that there might be a bubble forming. There's much less inventory than demand, so there can be multiple offers on a house before the sign even goes in the yard. Realtors are joking about how staging used to involve getting everything perfect and adding nice touches like baking cookies. Now all it takes is making the beds and putting away the laundry. Speculators are getting involved and swooping in with cash offers. You have to leap at anything you even kind of like. Since my plan is to find my dream house that I'd like to stay in until I can't live alone anymore, I'd rather wait until things settle down and I'd have the chance to be choosy. And by then I should have saved even more money and have more equity in this house, so I can get something even nicer.

And these morning walks are giving me aspirations. I walked over to the levee yesterday to see how high the water got on the other side (it looked like there had been water in places where there usually isn't water, but it didn't come up the side of the levee), and I noticed the houses on the east side of the neighborhood. There's a small lake there (really a big pond), and there are some nice houses backing up to that lake. It's a non-recreational lake, so no boating, no swimming, there's not supposed to be fishing (but people do), so it's very quiet. The water is currently as high as I've ever seen it and it's nowhere near the back yards, and I couldn't spot any obvious high-water marks to show that it had been much higher. A house there would mean water views while still having privacy, unlike the homes on the canals where there are walking paths going past the back yards. It would be so nice to sit at the kitchen table or in the back yard and watch the sun rise over the lake, or sit at an office window (the office would have to overlook the lake) and watch it rain on the water. Of course, the houses there are larger and more expensive, so I guess I need to make this book a success.

Speaking of which, I've learned that I'm not quite getting the degree of publicity push I was expecting based on my previous experience (though they have been good about distributing advance copies), so I'm going to have to put on my PR hat and get back in gear. There won't be any booksignings other than at the conventions I've already scheduled, which isn't such a bad thing, as those can be painful unless you're famous enough to draw a big crowd. Fortunately, I've got a decent blog tour thanks to a blogger who got an advance copy and contacted me, but I'm open to doing more blog tours, interviews, etc. If you know a place you think might want to know about the upcoming steampunk book or if you have a book-related blog and would like an interview or guest post, let me know. And, of course, tell all your friends, spread the word, leave reviews once you've read the book, etc.

Meanwhile, I have a book to rewrite. I know what needs to be fixed and have made a good start on it.
1st-Jul-2015 11:42 am - Finding Balance
One important thing to keep in mind about writing a novel is balance. Not balancing your writing with the rest of your life (though that is important), but finding balance within a story. The key elements of fiction writing are action, dialogue, description, thought/internal monologue, and emotion (not thinking about feelings, but actual physical feelings, like racing heartbeat, lump in the throat, etc.). Too much of one of these things tends to bog down a book.

In a novel, you want a lot of dialogue. Dialogue creates white space on a page and leads your eye down the page to keep reading. Pages and pages without dialogue can look daunting and dense. Dialogue generally reads faster than blocks of text. Also, if there's dialogue, that means there's more than one person in a scene, and they're at least doing something -- even if that's just talking -- rather than sitting and thinking.

But while dialogue is your friend in a novel, you need to have action, as well. Talking heads -- people doing nothing but sitting and talking -- are pretty boring on television and in movies, and you seldom see a scene that is nothing more than just a conversation unless that scene is so emotionally charged that it becomes compelling on its own or unless the scene is laden with subtext, so that what they're saying is in contrast to the non-verbal message. The same thing applies to books. We want scenes about people doing stuff, not talking about stuff. They can talk while they do other things, but a scene that's just talking needs to have something else going on to make the talk interesting.

Thought/introspection/internal monologue can be tricky in a novel. It's the key difference between visual media and books. This is our chance to get into a character's head and understand a person from the inside out. There's no introspection in a movie unless there's a voiceover or the character talks to herself out loud because we can't get into a person's head. All that stuff has to be conveyed in other ways, such as through action, dialogue or acting (facial expressions, non-verbal communication). One reason I used to love movie novelizations was the chance to get into the heads of the characters and read their thoughts. But too much introspection can bog a book down. Do we really want to spend three pages with a character mulling over a decision? It can be a good exercise to think like a screenwriter and see if there's any other way at all to convey that information before resorting to introspection.

Description and emotion are the seasoning of a story. You don't really want huge chunks of it, just enough to give it flavor at the appropriate point. It's best to mix these things into other elements.

The precise balance of these elements will depend on the kind of story you're writing. A romance novel without an external plot is going to have a lot more dialogue and introspection than an action novel would. Romance readers are looking for character interaction and thoughts about feelings, so you'll want to shift that way in that kind of book -- but you still probably don't want that many talking heads. Fantasy readers expect a fair amount of description if the story takes place in another world, so those novels might have bigger amounts of description, especially near the beginning as the world is established.

One way to get a sense of the right balance is to get an extra copy of a book you enjoy in the genre you're trying to write and maybe a recently published and successful book in that genre (but not one by an established bestselling author because the rules don't really apply to them) and a set of colored highlighters or pens. Create a color code for the various elements and go through highlighting or underlining the elements as you find them. If you don't want to do the whole book, do key parts like the opening, midpoint, and ending. Then you can flip through and see at a glance the balance of dialogue, action, introspection, description, and emotion. Next, print out your manuscript or portions of your manuscript and apply the same color code. How does it compare?

I've also made lists of scenes in a book and decided if they were "talking" scenes or "doing" scenes, color coding them, and then deciding if the talking could be folded into doing or if the talking was important and compelling enough on its own. That was because the amount of dialogue looked about right until I realized that all the characters were doing was talking, and that's not good. I've had editors say they'd rather not see any restaurant scenes, even in a romance novel, because that generally means there are just two people sitting and talking. Of course, if the Mafia bursts in and takes hostages or if the place burns down, then you can have a restaurant scene.
30th-Jun-2015 12:10 pm - Re-Reading and New Reading
I got a little more than halfway through the book yesterday, and I'm starting to see that I wasn't totally off-base when I was afraid that the book was mostly conversations. I'm listing all the scenes and will go back and chart which were conversations and which were action. There are a couple of scenes of very intense, conflict-laden conversations, which is okay, but I don't want too many scenes of people sitting around and talking about things that are happening. I need more scenes of things happening. I suspect a lot of this is plotting on paper, where the conversations about what to do are how I figured out what they should do, and I can now cut the conversation and go straight to what they decided to do.

One thing that is impressing me in rereading this book is the way I'm stringing words together. I have the occasional bit of description that I really like, that gives a perfect mental image and that's true to the way the viewpoint character sees things, so that we also get an insight into that person. I'm having a lot of "wow, I did that?" moments.

Meanwhile, I actually managed to read a book for fun all the way through (something that hasn't happened in a while). Last weekend I read Foxglove Summer, the latest in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. I've described this series as kind of a Harry Potter meets CSI thing, or a British Dresden Files. It's about a young London policeman who gets recruited for a special division that's basically their version of the X-files unit, only more about magic than about aliens, and he ends up being trained as an apprentice wizard.

This book is kind of a one-off after the very intense previous book, giving our hero a break after some really nasty stuff happened. A couple of girls have gone missing in a rural area and our hero is sent to interview some known magic-related people in the area just to rule them out. He sticks around to help with the case and comes to find out that there really is something under his jurisdiction going on.

The fun thing about these books is that the narrator is a fairly geeky guy, so the book is just dripping with nerdy pop-culture references. Like many geeks, he speaks in movie and TV quotes and has them for any occasion. It's like a game spotting all the lines that are from some known thing (Aliens seems to have been the movie of choice for this book). He's an apprentice wizard who's read all the Harry Potter books and who's obsessed with Doctor Who, and that makes things even more fun. I feel like this guy would be my friend if I knew him, so I don't really care what adventures he's on as long as I get to spend time with him. In this case, the story fit in with some of the same folklore and fantasy elements I'm currently working with, so I enjoyed it a lot, even though it wasn't really part of the story arc of the series. It also made me want to go walking through the English countryside. And rewatch Aliens because there might be some lines I missed.

And now I have to wait for the next one.

Speaking of waiting for books, two more weeks until Rebel Mechanics comes out!
29th-Jun-2015 12:19 pm - The Rest is Over
I had a nicely restful weekend, which is good because I have to hit the ground running this week. I need to get the book totally revised and edited by August 1 in order to fit my copyeditor's schedule (since she happens to have a slot open, and you pretty much have to pry my copyeditor out of my cold, dead hands because we've been through too many books together). And I have a few more blog posts and interviews to deal with, along with some other PR and business stuff. I was about to say that I'm going to be very busy until August, but then I remembered WorldCon and all my FenCon stuff really kicking in, and then there's the children's music and art camp at church, and I'm going to be busy until late September. Then I hope to do some travel in October.

A lot of Saturday and then Sunday morning was spent working on music because I had my first ever real solo in church -- not a duet, not an ensemble, just me at the microphone. I think it went pretty well, maybe not as perfect as I would have liked because I'm a raging perfectionist, I was a bit nervous, and the person who was talking just before I got up to sing said something that made me a bit teary-eyed and that perfectly fit the song I was singing, but I got compliments, and the pianist said she thought the congregation was very moved by it.

Otherwise, there was TV watching and reading. I've been watching the BBC America version of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and I think they're doing a great job of adapting the book. It's been a few years since I last read it, so I'm not doing a really close comparison, but nothing has yet struck me as clashing horribly with my mental images from the book. I may want to re-read after the series is over.

Then on PBS on Sunday night, there's Poldark, which is full of all kinds of lovely scenery and costumes and a ridiculously good-looking man who frequently removes his shirt for all kinds of manly physical labor, and I think there's a plot in there somewhere, but I get distracted by the manly shoulders. Actually, it's about a British soldier returning home after the American Revolution to find that everyone assumed he was dead, his father has died, his home and estate are crumbling, he's broke, and the woman he loves is engaged to someone else. This is where I really don't understand the British class system because this guy is dead broke, living in a ruin, and having to do a lot of the labor himself because he can't afford to pay employees, and yet he's considered "better" than people who actually aren't much worse off than he is and even some who are doing better than he is, just because he's a "gentleman." He doesn't even have a title, it seems. I've never figured out the distinction between "gentleman" and "ordinary guy" when no titles are involved and the gentleman is dirt poor. But still, shoulder and back muscles!

That's followed by The Crimson Field, which is basically about a WWI field hospital and the nurses who work there. Very soapy, but very well done, though I do get distracted by thinking "Wait, which episode of Doctor Who was he/she in?" with all the actors. They're all so familiar, but very much out of context.
26th-Jun-2015 12:18 pm - Battery Backup
dalek tea
My new garage door opener is currently being installed. Not having a functioning one has only been a minor inconvenience this week, as I only went out for groceries, but it would have been a real pain early Sunday morning to have to open the door manually, then back out, put the car in neutral with the parking brake on, run around and close the door manually before driving away. This thing is going to be very fancy. It has sensors and apps and stuff. I likely won't use the apps because I suspect they need your home WiFi for that, and even if I had WiFi, the garage is far enough from the house that it wouldn't be in range. Mostly, I got the fancy model for the battery backup. Apparently, the one I have was really cheap and poor in the first place, the kind of thing you pick up at the hardware store and install yourself, and it looks like someone did that without having much of a clue. The one I'm getting is more professional grade. It'll be a nice selling point for the house, when I get around to selling.

I finished the round of interviews yesterday and am now working on guest posts, which makes me feel less egocentric because I'm talking about stuff other than me. The prompts I have so far are about stuff that inspires me and stuff that inspired this book. That's easy. Though picking any one inspiration is a bit of a challenge. The inspiration for the book was a cascading series of events, but I think I can narrow it down to one or two things -- a book and a photo.

I have a weekend ahead of me with nothing scheduled other than a solo in the early service on Sunday (that I need to practice). I need that after last weekend. The plan is a night of TV on the sofa this evening, then breakfast (including some of the new batch of homemade jam) on the patio (if it's stopped raining by then -- we're supposed to get rain overnight) in the morning and a day of reading. The smoky library book finally aired out enough that I can read it, though I'm not bringing it into my bedroom. There may be a walk in the afternoon or evening, since it's supposed to be cooler tomorrow. I might do some work, but just reading some reference books and brainstorming.

I definitely need to recharge my own battery backup, since the rest of this summer will involve a lot of public events. They're fun, but they take all my energy. It's probably for the best that I didn't get invited to the convention going on this weekend. It would have taken all kinds of willpower to drag myself out again so soon.
25th-Jun-2015 12:33 pm - Talking About Myself
promise tea
PR mode for the new book has begun. It's been a while since I've done this kind of thing for a release, and while it's fun, it can also be a bit draining. I have a lot of sympathy for actors who have to go on publicity junkets for a new movie. You know that only the truly obsessed are going to see every single interview, so it's new and different for the audience each time, but you start to feel weird saying the same things over and over again in interviews. But you don't want to vary too much because you don't want to contradict yourself. It also feels weird for me to spend so much time talking about myself. I managed two e-mail interviews yesterday before I got sick of myself.

So, after spending yesterday grocery shopping, talking to the garage door people, and doing interviews, I let myself have a TV night and caught up on the new shows that are on SyFy on Fridays (Sci Fi Fridays are back!!!!). I've put the full review of two shows that fit into the Not!Firefly category on the Stealth Geek blog.

Today I have lots more interviews and guest posts to write. Although this is a bit taxing, I'm not complaining because it's good to spread the word, and I'm excited that so many bloggers have contacted me wanting me to do interviews. I love this book, and I want everyone to know about it. In case you're in the mood to do a little obsessive stalking, I'll post when one of these interviews appears. Maybe I should start putting in little Easter eggs in each interview and give a prize to someone who can guess what the secret word is or spot the point of difference.

Meanwhile, I'm making a batch of strawberry jam. They had strawberries on sale yesterday, and I'm down to my last jar from my previous batch, so it was good timing. The jam has been through its initial cooking and is now cooling. Then it will be cooked again for final thickening before canning. I'm such a pioneer woman. Meanwhile, I've bought another rosemary plant. Supposedly, this is something easy to grow, but I've killed every one I've tried. The last one survived about two weeks. Maybe it drowned from all the rain. But I love to cook with rosemary, and having fresh rosemary handy is nice. It will probably die while I'm out of town later this summer, but in the meantime, I need to make everything that involves rosemary I can think of. I made this chicken breast in an herbal brine a couple of weeks ago that was wonderful, and I may have to do that again.

Now, off to pretend to be famous enough that people might find me mildly interesting!
24th-Jun-2015 02:17 pm - Treating Myself
My latest improvement around the house is going to be a new garage door opener. Mine is about 30 years old and was a cheap brand to begin with, and it just fizzled on me. I'm treating myself with a fancy one with battery backup, so even if the power's out, I can get in and out of the garage. This is the glamorous life of a semi-famous author. I think I need to work on this treating myself thing, but having been through a few situations without power and having to manually open the door, I'd rather have battery backup for my garage door than jewelry or designer clothes.

In other news, I finally got around to seeing the first Captain America movie. I used to enjoy the occasional superhero move, but the recent glut of them had created an extreme adverse reaction in me, to the point I was actively resisting them. But The Red Hat (it deserves capitals) made me want to watch Agent Carter, and then I felt like I was missing the backstory, so when the movie came on one of the cable channels, I ended up watching it.

And I did enjoy it, which isn't a surprise considering I kind of want to be Agent Carter when I grow up, and I love World War II-related stuff. Plus, Steve is pretty much my ideal man (even when he's scrawny). But I HATED the ending. I knew it was coming because I don't live under a rock and I've been watching the sequel series, and I know this movie was mostly the origin story to set up the character and send him to the present to be in The Avengers, but just looking at this movie, I found myself thinking "this is it?"

I was surprised that Steve and Peggy's relationship amounted to a working friendship with very mild flirting and one kiss, considering in Agent Carter she's going around acting like he's lost the love of her life. I suppose that the sense of lost potential can be as sad as losing someone integral to your life, but it was still a blink-and-you-miss-it relationship. I also felt like there was so much more potential for stories in the WWII setting that they didn't get to. He really only handled one extended, multi-part mission, so is that enough to establish a legend? I don't know how they handled his transition to the present, but I get the sense he's kind of an anachronism in which they contrast his earnest idealism with modern cynicism, and it would have been nice to see a little more of him in his own element before getting that transition. I also loved his team and the mix of all those characters. So yeah, even if that ending was coming, it would have been better if it had been at the end of the third movie in the WWII setting.

I still need a red fedora.
23rd-Jun-2015 12:33 pm - Becoming Moderately Famous
I have survived yet another convention. These are really draining for me because they involve being around people, having to be witty and friendly while being around people, having to have clever things to say in front of an audience, and having that ongoing "am I where I'm supposed to be at the time I'm supposed to be?" worry. It's fun work and beats any business trip I've ever taken in my old job, but it's still work. This one had added "fun" with some transportation drama that required changes of plans.

As a result, I'm kind of a brain-dead zombie today. I've talked to my parents on the phone, but otherwise will likely avoid all human contact, even if that requires foraging in the freezer to find something to eat for dinner. I'd love to spend the day sleeping, but I now have a lot of work to do to get ready for the new book release.

Oh, I was asked for pictures of The Precious. Here's a snapshot I took when I got it:

I've got blog tours booked, so I need to get going on the guest posts and interviews. And somewhere in all this, I need to revise the book I've been working on.

Still, it was kind of fun spending the weekend being moderately famous. A lot of my books sold in the dealers room, so I didn't feel useless during my autograph session (I got almost no knitting done!). Someone said I was mentioned in a panel I wasn't on, which is a nice measure of fame, if your works are being cited as examples even when you're not present. I'm assuming it was a positive reference. I was one of the mentors for the writers' workshop, and I think I was able to provide good feedback (that made me want to take another look at my own work). So, all in all, a good convention. I just need a teleporter. I've decided that if I'm ever making JK Rowling levels of stupid amounts of money, I'll start traveling via private jet -- my own little pod that gets me places quickly without dealing with people. Then I'll have the mental/emotional energy to deal with people in the parts that matter.
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