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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
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21st-Nov-2014 11:54 am - Still More of the Origins
I think I've figured out why I've been so sluggish for the past few days. I seem to be coming down with a cold. Yeah, just in time for Thanksgiving, but maybe I'll be over it by then. It looks like it will be a delightfully dreary weekend, so it will be perfect for huddling under a blanket on the sofa with a pot of tea and a book or my knitting. I might even let myself jump the gun on the holiday season and start mainlining all the TV Christmas movies. This year, I not only get Lifetime, ION and ABC Family, but I now have UP, Hallmark, the Hallmark Movie channel and the Lifetime Movie channel. By the end of December, I will possibly have overdosed on sappy TV holiday movies. Speaking of which, Lifetime made a Grumpy Cat Christmas movie. I am not making this up. It's for real, not a joke. Here's a link to the trailer, in case you want to verify it for yourself. I suspect that you get the gist of it and get all the good stuff (like the part where Grumpy Cat apparently sprays a department store with machine gun fire) in the trailer.

Now, back to giving some introductory info about the upcoming book (yikes, just a couple of weeks away!).

When it came to the story to tell using folklore about fairies, one story that comes up a lot is the Tam Lin tale, which is about a woman saving her lover from captivity in the fairy realm. There are also stories about men saving wives or saving random women who become their wives. But since I wanted any romantic relationship to be developed on the page rather than already established, I took it in another direction and made it be about sisters, perhaps inspired by the Christina Rossetti poem "The Goblin Market," in which a sister saves her sister from being in thrall to "goblins" (though the goblins in the poem sound a lot like the common folklore about fairies). So, that's the basis of the plot -- a younger sister is abducted into the fairy realm and her older sister sets out to rescue her.

Though there's more to it than that, and that's why the book took me so long to write. It took me a while to figure out why the sister was taken, what the backstory was and how it all fit together. I'd get midway through the book before I figured out what was actually going on, then I'd have to rework everything, and then I'd realize something else. I don't normally work that way, so it got frustrating at times. The second book was the same way. There seems to be something ephemeral about this world that makes it hard for me to capture.

The third main character (other than the two sisters) is the guy. Since the heroine is very much a take-no-prisoners type (but very polite about it), I needed a stronger guy, and since he's our outsider who doesn't have magical powers and isn't in the know about this stuff, that made it difficult for me to write my usual beta man without him looking like a wimp next to all the strong women in the story. So I made him a cop -- a police detective. That gives him a certain skill set and mindset, even though he is basically a nice boy-next-door kind of guy. In fact, that's a running joke about him with his police colleagues, that he's too nice to be a cop. He's in a kind of emotional limbo because he's also lost someone and hasn't given up on finding her again.

I had fun with creating the fairy world because I made it very dreamlike. I also imagined how fairies who don't quite get the concept of time might incorporate things they glimpse from the human world into their lives. Might they sort of keep up with the times? At least, they might not all still be stuck in a medieval guise.

I started the basic research for this story in the summer of 2009. That's when I was doing a lot of reading about fairy folklore, as well as reading a few memoirs by cops to get that mindset. I took a research trip to New York in late August and walked around a lot to find potential settings. I was working on writing it off and on for the rest of the year and into the next summer. I had a completed draft then but didn't like the conclusion. Then I was invited to speak at the annual conference of the Mythopoeic Society, and I got some ideas from the sessions I attended that told me I was on the wrong track with some things, but I knew it was going to take more work. At the same time, the steampunk idea was brewing and I thought it might be more marketable than this weird, vague book, so I put it aside and started researching the steampunk book, then wrote it. And then there was book 6 of the Enchanted, Inc. series, then a rewrite of the steampunk book, and then book 7, and then I finally got back to this book and got it to the point I was ready to shop it around.

As I feared, the publishers didn't know what to do with it, so I made the decision to self publish it. Oddly, it's going to come out before the book I put it aside to work on, but timelines in this business can drive you nuts.
20th-Nov-2014 11:43 am - The Fairy Tale Origin Story
ballet
One slight correction to the list of coming attractions: The audiobook for A Fairy Tale will actually be out one day before the text versions. We set the release date based on what they wanted, then they realized they always release on Tuesdays after we'd already set up the release date in all the systems and we couldn't change. So this may be the rare time that those who like audiobooks get a book first.

Meanwhile, the hardcover for Rebel Mechanics is already up for preorder at Amazon and B&N. There will be an e-book, but since it's so far out they don't have that up for preorder yet (I guess they don't have to worry about how many copies to print). I don't know how much pre-orders from consumers really matter (it's pre-orders from bookstores that are huge in letting a publisher know how well a book might do), but if you're planning to buy the hardcopy, pre-orders certainly wouldn't hurt in sending a signal to booksellers that there's demand for a book. If B&N sees that people are eager for it, they might be more willing to stock it in their physical stores.

I have been dragging all week, for some odd reason. I really had plans to start writing the new book this week, but I haven't had the brainpower (and I can't entirely blame the proofreading). Now I may just do a last burst of intense brainstorming and hold off until after Thanksgiving because stops and starts don't help matters. I can get my life sort of in order, do some resting and do enough thinking that I can't wait to write instead of feeling blank. And right now I feel very blank. The movie isn't yet playing in my head.

But with the first book coming out soon, maybe it will help if I talk about that one and start teasing it.

This was a very odd book for me. Normally, I'm pretty plot-centric as a writer. I may have ideas for one or two characters, but mostly I have a story concept and build the characters that are needed to play out that story. I do a lot of plotting ahead of time, and though there may be some adjusting along the way, the basic bones of the story are more or less the same.

This book started with a mental image. I'm not sure if it was in a dream or just something that popped into my head, but I had this very clear image of a very feminine woman walking a bulldog down a city street that looked a lot like the Upper West Side of New York, and then they vanished into a kind of mist. I knew there was a story in there, and I wanted to tell it, but this isn't my first attempt at teasing a story out of it. I originally had this odd concept of fairy tale characters being banished into our world, with the heroine an ER doctor who started seeing these cases of people who were considered crazy -- and yeah, a woman in modern New York who thinks she's Red Riding Hood would seem crazy -- but when there's an epidemic of them? And meanwhile there's a kind of fairy tale playing out with her, as she's a proverbial "princess in a tower" -- the daughter of a wealthy and prominent person who defied her family to go to med school and work in a public hospital when they just wanted her to find a good husband and be a society wife. And her love interest was the only other doctor who agreed with her about the odd goings on, with him being the proverbial poor boy made good who could win the heart of a princess. But the story never came to life for me. I workshopped the idea in an online class, and it just felt like a class assignment, never like a real story, so it never got written, and I even mostly forgot about it.

Funny, though, just writing that description brought it all back, and now I've got that "ooh, idea!" tingle, so maybe I'll have to put it on my list. I will also point out that I was doing all this brainstorming and development in 2007, so I was thinking about fairy tale characters banished to our world long before the TV series Once Upon a Time.

Anyway, that mental image never went away, even as I worked on other things. The rejections I was getting at the time for other work were always along the lines of "we were hoping for something more like Enchanted, Inc.," so I figured I needed to come up with something that maybe had the elements people liked about that series but in a different series -- the mix of magic and the real world, the Southerner in New York, a touch of romance, some humor. And that was when a lot of idea fragments started colliding.

I'd done a lot of research about folklore related to the fairies for an earlier stalled idea (that I may yet write) about a kind of Indiana Jones about folklore -- a professor who studied the folklore but secretly knew that these creatures really existed and helped deal with the negative or destructive ones. I started thinking that this might provide a way to do a "portal" fantasy, which I've always loved the idea of, since in a lot of the folklore, the fae have their own realm. That would also give me a magical premise distinct from the magic corporation from Enchanted, Inc.

Meanwhile, I'd had a particular character living in my head since I was in high school, in search of a plot but never being quite the right fit for anything. I had a dream in which I was this person, having all kinds of crazy adventures. She was entirely unflappable while being this odd mix of sweet and snarky, and she was rather petite and dainty looking, so people underestimated her. This character starred in a lot of my daydreams over the years, and every time I got a story idea, I auditioned her. When I was brainstorming this idea, I finally had a role for her to play. She was perfect. However, her name had to change. The name was part of the dream -- Alex Drake. But then the writers of the TV show Ashes to Ashes used it and I had to come up with something else. Now she's Sophie Drake, and I think that actually is a better fit for the person she ended up becoming once she was in this story. Part of the development of this character was me being a bit snarky about the Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover with the chick in black leather and tattoos and deliberately writing a heroine who could never be portrayed that way on the cover. But I still wanted her to be tough and strong, so I made her a ballerina. I'd been dancing about a year at that time and was realizing that although ballerinas look pretty and frail, they have to be incredibly strong, and they can take a lot of pain (this article sums it up nicely). I did end up with a cover that kind of spoofs the Generic Urban Fantasy Cover because you could possibly remove my pretty ballerina (and apparently the model for the painting is an actual dancer) and insert a tattooed chick in black leather and get something closer to the generic. But I like mine better.

So, that was the starting point. To Be Continued ...
19th-Nov-2014 12:32 pm - Editing and Proofreading
shoe
I had a question from a reader about the editing/proofing process. A lot of how this works depends on the publisher, the editor, the book, and how much time there is before publication. I'm sure there are rush jobs with big-name authors where they know the book will sell well anyway and they're losing money with each day it's not in print that have minimal editing -- just run that sucker through spell check and go. A smaller press with an editor who only does a few books a year may do a very detailed check every step of the way. I've had books where I didn't see anything from the editor from the time I turned in the manuscript to the time the book was in print, and I've had a book go through four rounds of edits with the editor, then copyedits, then proofing of the typeset pages.

A general standard seems to be that the editor does at least a line edit -- sometimes tightening pacing or revising a scene but not necessarily changing the story while also adjusting wording, as needed. The author gets to see these notes and is the one to actually make the edits based on the suggestions. The manuscript then goes to a copyeditor, who checks for grammar, spelling, punctuation, continuity, house style (if there's more than one right way to do things, which right way does this publisher use?) and general flow (repeated words, clarity, etc.). The copyeditor also puts in the code for any type treatment like chapter beginnings, italics and special characters. The author gets to review these edits and accept them or argue with them. Sometimes the author may find another way to make the suggested correction. At this stage, the author can still make other changes that might come up. This is really the last phase where actual "writing" can happen. These changes are then incorporated, and the book is typeset. At that point, the book is proofread by a professional while the author also gets a copy to review. Here's where they check to make sure the copyedits were inserted properly without messing something else up (and if the edits were done by hand on hard copy, sometimes mistakes creep in because of handwriting issues). The proofreader also looks for awkward line breaks, bad hyphenation on line breaks, too many hyphenated line breaks in a row, "widow" or "orphan" lines (awkward paragraph breaks between pages), and this is one last check for stuff like grammar and spelling. Sometimes there are things that only come up once the book is typeset -- like there might be a small, common, "invisible" word used twice in a paragraph, which usually wouldn't be noticed except when the words line up perfectly two lines in a row in the typeset version. The author may or may not see what the proofreader does at this point, and the author is strongly discouraged from changing anything that's not an actual error (no rewriting). Then there may be one more check to make sure these edits don't mess up something else.

I find that seeing edits is very educational for me because it gives me something to look for in editing myself. One thing to look for is repeated words. I don't think it's necessarily a crime to use some words more than once in a paragraph or on a page, especially if they're smaller, common words and if writing around the use of that word would actually be more awkward and obvious than repeatedly using the word. One I've run into is "out" and "outside." There's not really another good way to talk about where the things happening on the other side of the wall are happening. You look out the window or go out the door to see what's happening outside when you hear noise coming from outside. Still, it's worth pausing to think about in case there is a way to reword it.

Then there are your personal pet phrases or words. Sometimes they're unique to the particular book because of the situation, relationships or voice of your narrator and sometimes they're your own favorites. Look for words that seem to come up a lot, then do a search for them and see if you can find other ways to express those thoughts. There may be things that need to repeat -- a character's catchphrase, for instance -- but you still don't want to overdo it to the point that it gets annoying. I keep a list of words I tend to overuse so that I'm more conscious of them in the future and know to search for them.

Make sure the word you're using means what you think it means -- if you're at all unsure and are using a word that you've seen used elsewhere and have figured it out in context, look it up. Also look for typos that make words -- I seem to have a bad habit of typing "thing" when I mean "think," and vice versa, and spellcheck will never catch that.

I still think that reading a manuscript out loud is one of the best ways to catch a lot of these things -- you'll find awkward phrasing, and it will be more obvious that you've repeated words when you actually hear them out loud. That's also given me some of the reasons I've argued with an editor because the way they change it doesn't fit the way it should sound when read aloud and it doesn't fit the character's voice.

And you have to get used to the idea that no matter how precise you think you are, no matter how careful you are in editing your own work, someone will find an error. Even after multiple levels of other people have gone over it, a new person looking at it will still find errors. And after all this editing and proofreading, there will probably still be an error or two in the finished book (that some reader will kindly e-mail the author about). This is a business where perfectionism helps, but it will also drive you insane.
18th-Nov-2014 12:04 pm - Coming Attractions
Books
I got the proofreading done yesterday. Now to edit my notes and send back to the editor. I may leave in some of the snark for entertainment value (since I'm sure going over all this stuff is even less fun for the editor than it is for me).

My calendar is filling with book stuff.

December 2 is the release date for the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks on CD. I imagine most people these days are just doing the digital downloads from Audible, so this won't be a huge deal, but it does make the audiobooks available for libraries. So, if you want to hear the audiobooks but don't have an Audible membership or don't want to buy them, you can request that your library purchase them.

December 3 is the release date for A Fairy Tale, the first book in my new series. Things seem to be in order for the e-book, the trade paperback and the audiobook to be available that day, though it may vary by sales outlet. I'm pretty sure it will all be in place at Amazon and Apple. There can be a bit of a lag at other places. If a lot of people buy on release day, that increases the chances of making a bestseller list, so that then more people can see it.

On December 12, Random House is going to start a promotion to price the e-book of Enchanted, Inc. at 99 cents, and that will last until the day after Christmas. So, if someone you know gets an e-reader or tablet for Christmas, there will be something handy for them to try out. And then they will be hooked and want all the books. Mwa ha ha haaaaa! And then I will rule the world!

We're looking at getting the sequel to A Fairy Tale, To Catch a Queen, published around February. The cover art is done and the book is with the copyeditor. We'll just have to sync up with the audio people once the text is final so we can set a release date. And now I really need to get to work on book 3, which doesn't yet have a name.

Then Rebel Mechanics is coming in July, in hardcover and e-book, and I sold the audio rights, so it should be in audio, and with this much lead time it really should come out in audio at the same time.

That's what I have on my plate at the moment. I have two sequels to Rebel Mechanics planned, and I will write them and get them published whether or not the publisher wants to continue the series (and that will depend on how well it does, and possibly whether the other books boost my profile). The Fairy Tale series is pretty open-ended. Most of the "arc" stuff is wrapped up in book 2, and from there it will likely become more like a mystery series, with a "case" in each book and the personal stories and relationships arcing between books.

And then I have a lot of other ideas bouncing around, but I'll figure out what to write when I get to that point. But in the meantime I'm hoping to get my house on the market early next year and buy a new one and then get moved and settled in, which will likely hamper my writing for at least a month (and this process will be helped if the books sell well enough that I can let myself just hire professionals to do the hard work).
17th-Nov-2014 11:55 am - Nitpicking
Hermione
Ah, Monday. It was kind of a cold, dreary weekend, but we had our first (very light) snow and my choir sang Vivaldi's "Gloria." It's supposed to warm up a bit this week, but then be rainy next weekend, which I am totally okay with. It looks like I might have a no plans, no obligations weekend on the horizon, which will be good for leading up to Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I have work to do. On Friday, I got the "first pass" page edits from the proofreader. This isn't a phase I've had to go through before. Normally, I see the copyedits and get to go over them and accept or argue with the copyeditor and make any other changes. Then those changes are input and the manuscript is typeset. I get to see the typeset manuscript and notice any actual errors (because changing things at this point is bad). Meanwhile, there's also a professional proofreader going over the typeset book. Well, this time I get to see what the proofreader said. This one did catch a few things that I can't believe made it this far without anyone noticing (and a thousand blessings for doing so). But she (?) also was trying to play editor and even attempting some rewriting at this point, asking worldbuilding questions (mostly for stuff that doesn't even really matter and that isn't important to the story -- I do have answers for the questions, but those answers don't need to be in the book) or mentioning if the same word shows up more than once on a page (or in some cases, every 20 pages). So I'm going through the book and either accepting suggested changes or explaining why the change would be a bad idea. And apparently there will be another pass of proofreading after these changes are inserted, mostly to make sure that making the changes didn't mess up something else, which does happen.

And, you know, even after this many people going over the book with a fine-toothed comb, I can just about guarantee you that within days of the release of the book, I'll get an email from a reader pointing out a typo or punctuation error somewhere in the book (I will definitely get at least one email pointing out a perceived error that isn't actually wrong).

It's a good thing I love this book because I went through at least four drafts on my own, a couple of rounds with my agent, four rounds of revisions with my editor, copyedits, page proofs, and now proofreader questions before probably one more pass. Then I may never want to read it again, though I will still look at the cover and sigh blissfully.
14th-Nov-2014 12:32 pm - Chapters Three and Four
Leaves
I don't know that the new book is going to get started today, after all. It still feels kind of unbaked in my head. I may play around with some possible openings and see if it starts shaping up. However, I've learned that there are some questions from the proofreader on the steampunk book coming, so I'm likely to have distractions anyway. I swear, that book is the jealous younger sibling who has to jump up and demand attention exactly when I'm about to work on something else. I also didn't get as much work on the web site done as I wanted. I updated some of the information, but I'm going to need to entirely rework the opening page, and I'm not sure how I want to do that yet. The Enchanted Inc. series covers are the main graphic on the page, but do I want to entirely replace them with the new book, or should I keep them in some way while highlighting the new one, offering some continuity? I'll have to think about it.

In the meantime, the Enchanted, Inc. reread continues, with chapters three and four.

It was a real blast from the past to reread chapter three, the one where Katie first really meets Owen during that informal job interview meeting. I'm pretty critical of my own work, but I really like the writing for that scene. That was also the scene where Owen came to life and started taking over. I really didn't have grand plans for him at that point. He mostly existed to contrast with Rod, the unattractive guy everyone else seemed to find irresistible, as the attractive guy no one noticed. But once he appeared in the scene, he really came to life and I fell a bit in love. That was a case of sheer character alchemy because I did next to no pre-writing character development on him, no planning. He just stepped onstage and came to life. I did more work on him later, but it was more about teasing out what already seemed to be there than about creating it. I knew I had something when the friend I was sending chapters to responded rather strongly and wanted to know all about him.

The magically somewhat hidden office building was another detail that came from my research trip. I wanted the company to be based in lower Manhattan, as it would have been the kind of thing there from some of the earlier settlement. There are some old buildings in that part of town, and I did a lot of wandering and taking pictures. But I didn't find the building itself until I got home and got my film developed (yes, this was in the Dark Ages). I'd been taking photos at the park in front of City Hall because there were actual gaslights, and I thought that was cool. But in the background of those photos was a building on a narrow side street that had actual turrets. I'd walked past it and had taken all those photos without even seeing it. It's actually a fairly modern building built in an old style, but I figure that's just the cover the real world sees. A building I only saw when I looked in the background of a photo I took of something else seemed like the perfect candidate for my headquarters.

The magical farmers' market was an addition that came in copyedits. I'd visited the market during my research trip and wrote in that visit. Then after I sold the book, I took another trip to New York for additional research and to meet my new editor, and I headed to the market, only to find that it was closed that day of the week -- which was the day of the week I had Katie visiting it. I told my editor about this when we met, and we decided that, duh, it was a magical market the rest of the world didn't see, so I added that bit when I got the copyedits, and I think it even strengthened Katie's decision to make the leap to the new job, since she'd learned enough to realize what was really going on and knew she'd never really be "normal" again.
13th-Nov-2014 10:45 am - Winter Has Come
tea
I'm letting myself have one more day of preparing and brainstorming before I actually start writing the new book. I'm normally a big plotter, but I've learned with this particular series that I have no idea what it's about until I start actually writing each book, and then I have to go back and rewrite it, so I may as well start writing and get a sense of it instead of spending time planning that will end up being redone.

Otherwise, today's big task is to update my web site to reflect all the new stuff. I don't know if I'm yet up for a big redesign. That may come later in the month after I figure out how I want to incorporate the new series, since the current design was built around the previous series.

I've decided not to take that New York trip I was thinking about. I kept putting off pulling the trigger on it, and it turns out that would have been the week of all the Perfect Storm stuff -- the release of the new book, the CD release of the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks and possibly the price promotion on the digital version of Enchanted, Inc. There's not as much to do with a primarily digital release as for a traditional release, as there's no visiting bookstores, but I do hope to have some promo opportunities. And there's always obsessing over Amazon rankings. Meanwhile, that's also a busy time, holiday-wise. I figured it was a sign when I made one last check and couldn't get the hotel I wanted on those days, and then I felt relieved. I've done a research trip at that time of year, so it wasn't critical, and I think the idea of the trip did its job in inspiring the idea for the book. Actually going wasn't really necessary.

Besides, I'm getting my fill of cold weather right now. There was sleet last night. Today it's just bitter. I went walking briefly yesterday and came back with a numb face. Fortunately, I had an emergency pair of knit gloves in my coat pockets. We seem to have skipped fall entirely and gone straight from summer to winter. But I'm sure fall will be back soon.
12th-Nov-2014 11:10 am - No Sympathy for the Devil
promise tea
Winter has arrived here. At least, some cold weather has, and as usual around here, it was very drastic, going from nearly 80 degrees one day to 40 degrees the next. I went from going out in short sleeves one day to having to wear my winter coat on the next day. I think we got a freeze last night -- my outdoor thermometer gave the low as 36, but it's in a sheltered location close to the house. This being Texas, it will probably be in the 70s next week. The good news about a freeze is that it makes hiking a lot safer. We can get off the paths without worrying too much about things lurking in the underbrush. And since it's supposed to be cold all week, there will likely be some serious baking going on. Not today, since I have choir, but tomorrow night's dinner will be chicken pot pie, and I may make apple turnovers because there was a sale on all varieties of apples and I have a bunch I need to use. Ever since the heavens opened and the secrets of pastry appeared to me, I'm looking for excuses to make pastry.

The first review for the upcoming book has come in, and it got five stars (out of five), with some very positive comments. This was from a librarian, so I hope that bodes well. I've been nervous about this book because it's different from my previous series and is a bit of an oddball. Seeing some positive feedback helps.

Meanwhile, I'm developing the next book in this series. I was plotting yesterday, trying to come up with possibilities of things that could happen in each stage, when I suddenly realized that although I knew the things that were going on and what the good guys were doing about them, I didn't know who the villain was or what the villain was trying to achieve.

I guess that says a lot about my mindset. I'm definitely not a "sympathy for the devil" person. I don't generally care about the villains in a story other than as someone for the heroes to push against. I don't care if the villains are charismatic or sexy. I tend to think of the "misunderstood" thing as them just making excuses (it's very, very rare for a villain to truly be totally misunderstood and not actually bad at all), especially since the heroes usually have had just as sad a backstory as the villain but didn't respond by doing bad things. As far as I'm concerned, the perfect villain stirs up trouble for the heroes to deal with in ways that really challenge them to rise to the occasion, but mostly stays offscreen so we don't have to waste any actual story time on him/her. The villain needs just enough character development to make some sense, but I care more about what his/her plans are because of how that affects the heroes.

And I realize this apparently puts me in the minority these days, when even the writers are more excited about their villains than their heroes, the villains get the sympathetic backstories, heroes get torn down to make the villains look better or provide some moral relativism (we're all just gray, no black or white), and the villains have the most vocal fanbases. It's cool to cheer on the villains, to want to be in Slytherin House, to be hypercritical of the heroes. So I'm very, very uncool. But that's okay. I don't think I write very good villains because I can't get into that mindset and I can't make myself care about them or be sympathetic toward them, so it's probably for the best that I keep mine offstage most of the time.

I did figure out who the villain is and what he/she wants. And it's not at all misunderstood or sympathetic. This person may be on stage more than my usual villains because this person is kind of a wolf in sheep's clothing and will really challenge the heroes in personal ways, but I hope no one will come away from this book liking this person or wanting this person to get a happy ending. It's rather amazing how much better the plot started falling together once I knew who the villain was. Duh.

I may one day redeem a villain, but it will require a real redemption arc that puts them through hell first.
11th-Nov-2014 11:42 am - Vacation Reading
Books
It's been a while since I talked about books, but I have done some reading recently, so here's a quick roundup:

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn -- YA fantasy
This is a very fairy-tale feeling book, though not based on any actual tale I'm aware of. The heroine and her grandfather live a quiet life on the edge of a forest, with the only excitement coming when various nobles from the court come to visit or when mystical creatures in the woods encounter our heroine. It turns out that the grandfather is actually a former king in exile and that his daughter was one of many young women who went missing in the woods -- but the only one who came back (and came back pregnant). Now the heroine's father is looking for her, and it might give her a chance to get her revenge on the person who destroyed her family.

This book combined a lot of things I love -- fairy tales, dragons, mysterious birthrights and even some of the fae lore. It got a little oppressive at times because of the really tense situation the heroine was in, but I loved the way she handled it. There's a hint of romance that doesn't go quite the way you'd expect. It's very much a magical coming of age book, and while the plot is resolved, there's enough left unanswered or incomplete that I'm wondering if there will be a sequel.

Winterspell by Claire Legrand -- YA fantasy
This is sort of a bizarroland retelling of The Nutcracker. Or perhaps "inspired by" would be a better way of putting it. On Christmas Eve, the statue in her godfather's shop comes to life and carries Clara to a magical land, where it turns out he's a lost prince who was enchanted and exiled, and in his absence an evil fairy has taken over.

I might not have been quite the right audience for this book. I think I'd have eaten it up as a teen because it has all the teen catnip in it, but as an adult I noticed the teen catnip and found it kind of distracting because it sent me off down mental rabbit trails remembering some of the crazy things I found exciting as a teen that boggle the mind now. There's also this weird thing where the evil fairies taking over means the world got more industrialized, with trains and iron and steel everywhere, but iron is supposed to be poison to fairies and they're generally considered to be on the side of nature against industrialization. I suppose since fairies are fictional, that doesn't have to be true for fairies in every fictional universe, but since I've done a lot of research on that, I found it distracting. But if you know a teen who's enough into ballet to recognize the elements of the Nutcracker story and who likes steampunky fantasy adventure with a kickass heroine, this might be something she'd like.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison -- fantasy
When the emperor of the fairy realm and his sons are killed in an airship crash, the unlikely heir to the throne is the son the emperor tried to ignore, the one born to his goblin wife from an ill-fated political marriage. The half-breed boy has grown up in exile (hmm, exile seems to have been a reading theme), hidden away, but now he finds himself the emperor, and woefully underprepared for the job.

I picked this one up because it's had a lot of buzz, but I wasn't expecting to like it too much because it's mostly about political/court intrigue, and I really dislike that sort of thing. But it really grew on me because of the characters. I do like a good unlikely heir story, and it was fun reading about this character as he gradually figured out his role and how to carry it out. By the end, I was cheering for him and caught up in his story. Although there was a lot of court politics, it was all through his perspective, so it was really about survival and figuring out how to maintain his integrity. It ended up being a very feel-good story about a good person rising to an occasion. It wrapped up pretty well, but I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel because I'd like to see more about what this character does.
10th-Nov-2014 12:30 pm - Small Indulgences
tea
My big accomplishment of the weekend was perfecting my technique for a chocolate pecan pie. My friends approved of it, so now I'm ready for my contribution to Thanksgiving. The final touch to perfecting the pastry came inadvertently, courtesy of the guy doing my annual heater check-up. I was already refrigerating the shortening before cutting it into the flour and refrigerating the dough before rolling it out. This time, I'd just cut the shortening into the flour when the heater guy showed up, so I threw the bowl into the refrigerator until he was gone before I mixed in the water. It turned out to be the lightest, flakiest crust I've ever made, and it cut beautifully. So I'll be adding that step on purpose the next time. We're getting a cold snap this week, so I'm planning on some chicken pot pies.

This has been a really successful year for me, but it's been hard to get out of the mindset I had during the years that weren't so successful. I've been trying to remember that I can indulge a little. So here are the kind of things I've considered indulgences: A new pair of walking shoes that are nice and squishy. Two new pairs of jeans that I got when I went into the Levi's store and let the salesperson help me find the kinds that fit me best (rather than just grabbing something in my size from the clearance rack). A little porcelain creamer so I don't have to try to pour milk from a gallon jug into my teacup. A new backpack for hiking so I don't have to use the backpack from college (it seems modern ones have innovations like an outside pocket for a water bottle and a secure pocket for a phone). Real maple syrup (instead of store brand generic "syrup") for my waffles. Oh, and a vacation.

But I'm trying not to get too crazy because for one thing, taxes are going to kill me this year, and for another, I still need to fix up this house to sell and want to be able to afford exactly what I want in a new house. And I have no idea how next year will go. But for now, I'm letting myself have fun in small ways that make me happier than something like a fancy car would.
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