I spent the weekend iced in, with all my plans and activities cancelled. They even cancelled church services, since the parking lot was an ice rink. We got above freezing for a few hours yesterday, and it's just above freezing now, so there should be more clearing today. The danger is that it will re-freeze overnight while everything is still wet. All the schools around here are closed today, probably more because of the parking lots and sidewalks than because of roads. Three to four inches of solid ice is hard to clear, and there are problems with sheets of ice sliding off roofs (it makes an interesting sound when a patch of ice goes from my roof). Right now, my front walk and driveway seem to be clear, and the major roads are clear. I could get out if I wanted to, but I don't really need to. It's days like today when I'm really glad that I work at home. Most employers would expect people to come to work today, and it's nice to not have to. I did finally get out of the new plush pajamas today. They're in the wash right now. Next time I venture out, I'm heading back to TJ Maxx and buying every pair they have in my size, and then I will live in them all winter long. They're that soft and snuggly.
However, I will be working today because that holiday screenplay idea really started shaping up in my head over the weekend. That could be because I spent the weekend binging on made-for-TV Christmas movies, both some favorites and some really lame ones. Normally when I do something like that and say "It counts as work!" I'm semi joking, but this really did end up being helpful. My binge gave me a sense of what works and what doesn't, what the "rules" seem to be, and what I like and don't like. From there, I started getting images of scenes in my head, and then plot lines started working out, and I got a sense of some of the characters. Now I've got the opening three or four scenes playing out, with simultaneous mental narration in screenplay format. I may start writing a treatment today, or at least writing down the stuff I know and figuring out more of it.
The one potential problem with this story is that it's the kind of thing that might be hard to put into novel form if the screenplay thing doesn't go anywhere. It requires some visual cues, and I can't quite think of how to do it in prose form. I guess that's a sign that this is a good screenplay idea, if I can't figure out how to novelize it and I find myself thinking in screenplay form instead of in narrative.
Other things I accomplished over the weekend include knitting most of a hat (after learning to knit in the round), getting my Christmas decorations up, and doing a fair amount of cooking. I still have ingredients for several cold-weather dishes that I ended up not making because I had so many leftovers from the dishes I did make.
The weather geek was right. We are pretty much entombed in ice. There's a thick glaze over everything. Even the outside walls of my house are glazed. My front walk has about an inch of ice on it. There's traffic on the major road behind my house that my office overlooks, and people are driving at normal fast speeds on it, but I wouldn't be so confident, as we're not above freezing, and the wet stuff on the road can refreeze. All the plants are also coated in ice. The leaves make a kind of clacking sound when the wind blows.
This is what the hedges in front of my porch look like.
They got the runoff from the roof. It looks like there's snow on the ground, but that's a layer of sleet on top of a layer of ice, with a layer of ice on top of the sleet. Still, it's pretty to look at out the window and pretend it's snow. I put up my Christmas tree and got the lights on it yesterday. I also got up the garlands on the loft and stair railings. Today I'll be decorating the tree.
I had planned to make Christmas cookies today, but they moved the church cookie sale/swap (people donate cookies, then you buy an empty box and get to go down the line, filling your box with a variety) to next weekend since we're supposed to get more ice/sleet over the weekend and it won't thaw until Monday. I may bake anyway, just for fun. Yesterday, I baked bread in case the power went out and I needed sandwiches (I hadn't factored that into my meal planning when shopping, but I had planned to make bread, so I had ingredients). Last night before I went to bed, I boiled a kettle of water and filled my Thermos so I could have hot cocoa even if I lost power. The water was still really hot this morning, so I might even have been able to make tea (though not good tea). I'll have to do that again tonight, since the weather geek is talking about filling a tub with water to make sure he has water even if pipes freeze tonight. When the more conservative, science-based meteorologist starts prepping, it's a good idea to make plans.
Now I think I'm going to go do some house cleaning so I can spend the rest of the day playing "snow day" and maybe working on my screenplay.
We're supposed to be getting a major ice storm starting tonight. I'm actually kind of worried about this one because the local weather geek, who's all about the science and not the hype, is using phrases like "entombed in ice" in his Facebook posts, and after running the numbers from the data he got yesterday afternoon, he announced that he was going to the store to stock up and be prepared. They issued the winter storm warning yesterday afternoon, when it was about 79 degrees. I have a weather radio, so I was sitting in my office, looking out the window at a warm, sunny day, when the disembodied voice came from below, warning me about impending freezing conditions. Yesterday, I walked to the bank and got rather warm doing so. Today there may be ice. Ah, Texas weather.
But I am prepared. I hit the grocery store yesterday morning, so I've got enough food to survive on for a while. I've also got hot cocoa and found some Gluhwein. I brought in the emergency car charger, which can also be used to power other things, and made sure it's fully charged, in case I lose power. I'm in trouble if there's an extended power outage because my house is all electric, but I have a fireplace and some Duraflame logs, I have lots of candles, and I have a lot of blankets. I've been pretty much yarn bombing myself since the knitting addiction hit, so I have lots of stuff to wrap up in.
I also found a new winter coat earlier in the week when I was doing my shopping. I walked into the Burlington Coat Factory in the nearby mall, and although they had almost nothing left, they had one coat in my size that was almost exactly what I was looking for. It has a portrait collar that comes up high in the back and it's princess-seamed, fitting through the body and then flaring at the skirt. I kind of wanted it to be a little longer and to be some color other than black, but the fun thing is that in spite of it being Calvin Klein, it was about three quarters of what I'd been thinking of spending on a coat, so if somewhere down the line I find the perfect coat, I won't feel like I can't get it. Unfortunately, the ice storm may nix my Saturday night party plans, so I may not get to wear it this weekend. I also got my hair cut while I was out, since the stylists in the salon at the mall looked bored and I had a whim. My hair seems a lot happier when it hits the middle of my back instead of going below my waist.
The plan for today is to bake some bread (since most of my weekend food plans involve cooking things, and there is a chance of power outages due to ice on the lines), straighten the house and put up my Christmas decorations, which I brought in from the garage yesterday. Tomorrow if I still have power, I'll bake some Christmas cookies for the church cookie swap sale (assuming I can get there to bring cookies -- we're not supposed to get above freezing until Monday, and there will be up to half an inch of ice). All the while, I'll be doing iTunes roulette to figure out a soundtrack for my movie. I also have some new knitting needles for a new project I want to start.
You know you're an introvert when being iced in sounds like the best weekend ever, as long as you have power.
This will be my last writing post until after the holidays because I want to take a little recharging break. I will be taking ideas or questions for future topics, though.
One bit of advice aspiring writers are given is to study the market by reading a lot of the kind of books they want to write. The question is, what should you look for, and what do you do with this information?
The answer is that it varies, depending on what you're trying to write. One area where market research is essential is category romance, such as the books published by Harlequin. They have defined lines that are distinguished by length, tone, degree of "heat" and other elements. If you want to target one of these lines, you need to get a really good sense of what they're publishing, and that goes beyond the guidelines they issue. By reading a lot of these books, you'll get a sense of what kinds of characters and settings they seem to like and what plotlines are overused or possibly desired. If every other book is about a cowboy hero, then that generally means they really like cowboys. This is one area of publishing where writing specifically for a particular line is a good idea. There's not much else you can do with that kind of book, so it makes sense to be very targeted to what they seem to be publishing.
In other kinds of publishing, researching the market is more to give you a general sense of things rather than telling you what to write. If you read a lot of what's been published recently, you can start to learn the cliches that might be overused and you'll know how original your story really is. You can get a better idea of what publisher might be a good fit for you, based on the general kinds of things they publish. In that area, look more for style or tone than plot because most publishers don't want to have two authors doing really similar stories. But you can tell if a particular editor or publisher seems more in favor of dark and angsty vs. light and fun, for example. Sometimes authors mention their agents and editors in the acknowledgements of a book, so you can make a list of people you think might be interested in your work.
One thing you shouldn't do is chase the market. Most books hitting the shelves today were probably bought about a year ago and may have been written a year before that. By the time you get a book written and submitted, things are likely to have changed. Angsty shapeshifters may be the hot thing now, but by the time you go and write a book about an angsty shapeshifter, the publishers may have had their fill. However, if you've written a book about an angsty shapeshifter, you'll know you need to strike while the iron's hot, and a publisher that hasn't done one yet but that seems to publish books with your style of writing might be a really good target.
What if you can't find anything like your book? That doesn't mean you should give up, but you need to be aware that you might have an uphill battle -- and if it does sell, you could possibly start the next trend. If you're not writing what's currently hot, you need to make that book brilliant and so enthralling that editors can't put it down. Theoretically, every submission should be that way, but the "hot" trends are an easier sell, either to an editor or within the publisher (because even if an editor likes it, she has to get buy-in from the people who hold the purse strings). You can also look for books that have elements in common with yours, even if there's nothing exactly like it. Do you have a similar writing style or tone to something else in your genre? Is your main character similar to a main character in a published book? Are there plot elements that might appeal to the same people?
When I set out to write something new, I try to read as much as I can along those lines, whether it's setting, subject matter, plot, time period or even style. That gives me a sense of what I like and don't like in that kind of book and helps me be sure that I'm being moderately original rather than accidentally duplicating something that's already out there. I can sometimes find patterns of what seems to work best, and I get ideas from twisting existing tropes. Then when it's time to submit, I can give my agent a list of comparable titles that she can use when pitching my book, or that list helps her narrow down her plan of where to submit.
I went out this morning to run the usual restocking errands, and now I'm pretty much done with my Christmas shopping. I have a pretty small list, just my parents, since I give my brother his gift at Thanksgiving, and I've got the main items for them. I'd still like to find a couple of other things, but if I get hit by the plague and don't get to shop again before Christmas, I will have gifts for my family. I love it when I stumble across good things when I wasn't planning to do that kind of shopping.
I also started preparations for this weekend's forecast freeze by getting myself a pair of fleece pajamas (they were on sale at TJ Maxx). I'm already planning a cozy Friday night watching my TV shows while it's freezing outside (and maybe even freezing rain). The local weather geek has mentioned that he will make storm preparations for this one, so it's likely to be worse than the one a couple of weekends ago that amounted to nothing. Tomorrow will be grocery obtaining day so I'll be ready for baking.
I'm reading my first teen dystopia book, unintentionally. I didn't know that's what it was, just that I saw it in the library and remembered it from my notes from my talk with my agent about my new publisher, as this was their "big" book for this year. My knowledge of the Hunger Games series is limited to the ads for the movies, but it does seem like the heroine getting all glammed up in a makeover seems to be a requirement for this sort of thing. The world may suck, but you get to wear a pretty dress at least once if you're the chosen one. I don't think this is the genre for me. Not because of the pretty dress issue. I'm totally in favor of that. But I'm not crazy about the futuristic dystopian society thing.
The story for my Lifetime holiday movie is shaping up in my head, and strangely, I'm finding myself thinking it in screenplay form rather than in narrative. I've watched enough of these movies to have a sense of their "rules." Going after a prestigious career to the point you push family and friends aside is bad, and you'll have to learn A Valuable Lesson. Ditto for anything that gets in the way of you celebrating Christmas. The girl (or boy) next door is your best choice. You can only end up with the super good-looking and successful person after he/she has learned A Valuable Lesson.
In my personal rules, there will be no adorable moppets -- no single parents finding love. No "Hey, Santa is real!" stuff (I've only tolerated that for one movie and that was because Lucas Bryant was playing Santa's son, and unlike on Haven, he was allowed to smile). No "I should have married my high-school boyfriend and my life would have turned out better."
I'm hoping I can get away with somewhat subverting a few tropes. Why does it have to be so either/or -- small town or huge city, driven career woman who's mean to everyone or stay-at-home mom, boy-next-door or mogul? What about some success without killing everyone to do it, or working at a conscientious company rather than an evil one? Can't you find a nice guy who wasn't your high school boyfriend?
I'm back from my Thanksgiving break and now find myself diving headfirst into the Christmas season. I've had my annual "look at the calendar and whimper" moment. I have a lot going on and a lot to do between now and the end of the year.
But I have a plan. I've mentioned in the past my minor addiction to the cheesy made-for-TV holiday romantic comedy movies and said that writing one is on my career bucket list. This year, I'm going to attempt it. I'm between rounds of revisions on the upcoming novel, so I'd rather not dive back into another book. A TV movie screenplay is about 88 pages, and most of the work comes in the plotting, which is the fun part of writing for me. This gives me something to keep me in the habit of working, it fits in the season, and it means that any seasonal fun I get up to counts as "research." It may not come to anything, and I may realize that screenplays are harder than they seem. I may end up novelizing it to self-publish for the next holiday season, and then maybe let my movie/TV agent try to get it optioned for a TV movie. Or, who knows, it will launch a new part of my career. I also want to write one of those SyFy Christmas disaster movies, but I figure they make one of those a year, while Lifetime, ABC Family, Hallmark and ION each make at least three or four new holiday movies every year, so the odds are better.
I had a good Thanksgiving holiday. There was much food, a lot of reading and some knitting as I played with various lace patterns. I introduced one of my brother's little dogs to the horse in the pasture behind my parents' house, and they bonded. It was so funny to watch the little dog and the horse touching noses and licking each other. My parents were clearing out a lot of our old stuff and having us go through it to see what we wanted, so I got a trip down memory lane going through my own stuff, plus had the fun of going through my brother's stuff with my sister-in-law, who now has lots more scoop on what he was like as a kid.
When I got home, I unwound from the drive and worked off some of the food by taking a long walk in the park that runs along the river. As I was walking down the path through the woods, I started hearing what I thought sounded like bagpipes. I ended up walking farther than I planned because every so often it seemed louder, and I was sure that it was bagpipes, but then it would fade. I finally discovered that someone was playing the bagpipes in the parking lot at the southern end of the park. I guess that's a good place to practice because it's across the levee from the neighborhood, so he wasn't really disturbing anyone. I don't know a lot about bagpipes, but I think he was really good. He didn't sound like he was strangling a cat, he was playing a lot of fast, complicated stuff very fluidly, and he seemed to be on pitch, in that he was playing real notes and nothing that made me cringe. I rather enjoyed walking through the woods to the accompaniment of the pipes. It kind of made me feel like invading something.
This week, the goal is to get my living room neat enough to put up my Christmas decorations, all while playing iTunes roulette to help me come up with a "soundtrack" for my holiday movie. I also need to do some shopping and get a start on some baking.
Sometimes I fall into entirely unintended reading themes. I didn't plan it this way, but I read two books about time travel and alternate realities in the week leading up to the Doctor Who anniversary. One of them I knew had that premise, but the other I picked up because of the author, with no idea what it was about.
The first one I read was Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster. I'd read her memoirs and find them hilarious, even if I suspect she'd be an unpleasant person to be around in real life, but now she's writing novels. I figured if her novels were as hilarious as her memoirs, they should be fun, so when I saw one at the library, I picked it up. It turned out to be a time travel story, sort of a mix of Mean Girls and Peggy Sue Got Married. Karma starts to catch up with a former high school queen bee (who never grew out of it) as her twenty-year reunion approaches. She gets fired from her job for slacking off and gets dumped by her husband for being a materialistic bitch. Going to her reunion to revisit her glory days doesn't even give her any satisfaction, since it turns out that all the people she used to look down on and torment are now more successful than she is. The only person who doesn't act like she hates her is the former hippie chick, now a New Age guru, who takes her home when she gets drunk and then gives her an elixir to give her "clarity." After taking the elixir, she wakes up during her senior year of high school, with the chance to fix what went wrong -- but every change will have repercussions.
This was a book with a main character I was prepared to hate, but I ended up finding her sympathetic as she grew in awareness. The slightly catty, bitchy voice worked, and it was generally a really funny book that I read in just a few sittings. It also got me started going down memory lane and thinking about what I might change if I had a do-over (I probably wouldn't change anything about high school, even though I was reasonably miserable, but even though I enjoyed college, there's a lot I might change with the benefit of hindsight).
The other book with a similar theme was The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. In this one, the heroine has just lost her twin brother and then her lover has left her for someone else. To deal with the resulting deep depression, she decides to try an experimental therapy. She wakes up as herself, more or less, in 1918. She's still her, but the 1918 version, and the same people who were in her life in her present day of 1985 are also there -- and her brother is still alive. It turns out that this version of herself is also undergoing an experimental therapy, so after that treatment, she wakes up in the 1941 version of herself. The three of them rotate lives as they go through the course of treatment, and each one can't resist meddling to make the life she's currently in better, for her definition of "better," as each has her own priorities. As they near the end of the treatment cycle, they have to decide which life they really want.
This was one of those books where I loved the concept, but was so-so about the execution. It's very much "literary" fiction, where it seemed to be making a point about something. The cover copy referred to it as being deeply romantic, but I found all the romantic relationships rather depressing. The writing was lovely and evocative, but now I want to see if I can come up with a different way of playing with the concept.
Maybe it's a sign that I'm an uncultured rube, but the more "chick lit" style story was the one that made me think about my own life and choices, and all that, and that lingered in my head far longer. Theoretically, "literary" fiction is better for us because it makes us think, but I don't see how humor, an easy writing style and a happy ending keep a book from being able to provoke thoughts. It seems like different books speak to different people, and it's pointless to tell us that a particular book should be speaking to us more because of the way it's written.
I think I'm starting to see why it's best to have conventions in spring, summer and early fall. We had a Doctor Who convention this weekend for the 50th anniversary, and we had the threat of weather hanging over our heads the entire time, with a winter storm warning starting at 6 a.m. Sunday. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as it didn't get below freezing and it didn't even rain all that much. I'm taking some credit for that, since after seeing the forecast Saturday morning, I told the con chair I probably wouldn't be there Sunday so he could make contingency plans, and then they'd be covered in case I couldn't make it, but then it could be a pleasant surprise if I did. Because there were contingency plans, nothing happened. But there were still a lot of people who didn't come or who left early because of the weather threat.
I also have a bit of a problem with cold-weather conventions because it forces me out of my hibernation instinct. All I want to do is curl up under a blanket, and yet I'm having to be out and about and friendly and articulate and all that. I know I wasn't my normal convention self, and that steadily waned over the weekend. Then I was left more drained than normal, even though I wasn't staying up late or having to get up early. I got about nine hours of sleep last night and could easily go back to bed and take a long nap now. I guess I'd better let myself recharge because in a couple of days I'll have to be around family for Thanksgiving.
In spite of the energy drain, I did have fun at the convention. It was great watching the anniversary episode on a big screen in a big room with hundreds of enthusiastic people, though I'll have to rewatch to catch all the dialogue. I haven't really tried analyzing the episode, but there was nothing about it that triggered my "but wait a second …" reflex. I'm generally happy with just about any non-linear storytelling that plays with time.
There were some great costumes, including some eerily accurate renditions of the various Doctors. One guy made a very good, slightly more age-appropriate to me Eleventh Doctor. But the danger of that sort of thing is that you never know if you find someone appealing because he looks like the Doctor or if you would actually find him at all appealing in his everyday appearance. I suppose the point is moot because my one attempt at mild flirtation fell utterly flat. I got more response from the Daleks.
Meanwhile, I came away from the weekend with a massive yarn stash. One of my friends is a big crocheter, and she'd inherited a huge yarn stash from a friend whose aunt, an avid knitter, died. She'd picked out the stuff she wanted, but there was a lot left in lace-weight yarn, which she gave to me. The trick is that I don't know if there's enough in any one yarn to make much of anything, but it's still something to play with. Then another friend had some yarn for a project she'd given up on. It's hand-spun yarn that she spun herself on her antique spinning wheel, so I think it needs something special. There's not a lot, so it will have to be something small like a hat or a collar.
It may not have iced, but it's a cold, rainy day, and I think I'm going to declare this my "weekend." I may spend the rest of the day on the sofa under a blanket with a book.
There are two big anniversaries this weekend. Living in the Dallas area, I've been inundated lately with Kennedy assassination stuff. It's been pretty much non-stop, with just about everyone who knows anything being interviewed in all kinds of special news stories. Most of it isn't news to me because I've heard so many first-hand accounts. One of my college journalism professors was one of the reporters on the scene, and he used that as his case study for the lecture on covering breaking news that turns into a major event (strangely, the main thing I remember from that lecture was the digression about running out of underwear because he thought he was just in town to cover a presidential visit and ended up staying longer than planned when it turned into a bigger story). I had a journalism seminar with Walter Cronkite, who talked about breaking the news. My first job out of college was at the medical school attached to Parkland hospital, and most of the doctors who treated Kennedy were on the faculty (some were residents at the time who were faculty when I worked there). The offices for the emergency medicine department were next to our offices, and that was one of the departments I covered, so I was quite familiar with so many of the names that keep coming up in these stories. I fielded the call from the Quantum Leap producers when they were doing their JFK episode and wanted to know what color the scrubs were at Parkland at that time, and I had to track down someone who was working in the ER then who could talk to them. Then there was a man at the church I used to attend who was a Dallas police officer at that time who knew most of the players involved. One Saturday, a group of us loaded up the church van and had him give us a tour, going down the motorcade route, visiting the old police station where Ruby was killed, seeing the Texas theater, etc. So I guess I don't really need all the TV talking heads.
The other big anniversary is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I'll be spending the weekend (weather permitting -- there's a chance of ice Sunday) at a local Doctor Who convention. I'm doing a number of panels, so we'll be testing the depth of my knowledge. I don't go back that far other than in vague awareness.
Though, apparently I should look into more Second Doctor episodes, because according to the "which Doctor are you" quiz
, that's who I am: What is the point, in a scary universe filled with all manner of unpleasant and upsetting things, of taking life too seriously? Sure, it's important to stand up and be counted, to oppose the things you despise and so on, but that's no reason to walk round with a sour expression all the time. You like to keep things free and easy, relying on your natural charm and whimsical nature to guide you through life, until such time as you have to marshall your formidable resources. Then, let those who would oppose you look out!
Seems eerily accurate. According to the Companion quiz
, I'm Martha: While occasionally lead by your heart, you have an enormously practical head on your shoulders, and are extraordinarily loyal, which means you can be relied upon to fulfill any task to the letter, no matter how personally inconvenient it may be. Guns, bandages, science, amorous playwrights from the past, there's little you can't handle.
I'm a little afraid to take the "How Dalek-y Are You?" quiz. I don't think I need that particular insight into my personality. It's likely to be scary.
I survived yet another night of the kids at their craziest. Just one more session this semester, but that has me worried because they're supposed to sing in church the Sunday after that, and based on what happened last night, it may end up being one little girl and me singing a duet (which could actually be kind of cute if had been planned that way). The rest really couldn't be bothered with singing or learning the words.
I resorted to my "fall back and punt" tactic of passing out paper and crayons, since that actually seems to engage Problem Child, and then I played the song we're supposed to sing on a loop to maybe seep into their brains as I told them to draw something they're thankful for. Most of the little girls drew pictures of their families, with little hearts over their heads. Problem Child drew a picture of his family in their flying car (he may drive me nuts, but this kid has the potential to be really cool). One girl drew something that I thought she said was for her grandma, but it turned out to be a picture of her grandma. I'm sure Grandma will be touched, even if she's not exactly flattered. My Queen Bee in the making drew a very lovely picture of herself. One boy colored the entire sheet of paper blue and said he'd drawn a picture of God. Some of the kids started doing handprint turkeys, where you draw around your hand and then make that into a turkey. One kid must not have been familiar with the concept because he followed the other kids in tracing his hand, but then instead of making a turkey he ended up doing a rather lifelike drawing of his hand, complete with fingernails and knuckles. I was impressed. One little boy turned his handprint turkey into a pretty realistic-looking turkey, as part of a detailed, farm-like landscape that covered the whole page. That one also impressed me.
It may not be the most detailed art/craft project ever, but I find it highly amusing to pass out paper and crayons and see what the kids come up with based on a simple prompt. It definitely reveals a lot about the kids. I need to think of a good Christmas-related topic for next time.
I think there may be baking this afternoon. I had planned to maybe do some shopping and possibly even get a haircut, but the fact that I changed into sweats after getting back from the grocery store this morning doesn't bode well for that.