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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
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14th-Mar-2017 12:58 pm - Curiosity and Caring
Oops! I wrote my post early today, set it aside to do something else, with the intent of proofreading it and posting it later, and got sidetracked and forgot to actually post it.

As I’ve been whittling away at my TV viewing and as I’ve been working my way through reading award-nominee works for judging, I’ve been trying to think about what makes me get into something and what makes me want to turn it off/put it down (throwing it across the room is a different category entirely). I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two main values at work: curiosity and caring.

Curiosity is wanting to know what happens — who is the killer, how will they catch the killer, what’s the real story here, how will these plot threads play out, will the couple get together, which guy will she choose, etc.

Caring is being emotionally invested in the story or characters, wanting things to work out for them or, in the case of villains, wanting to see them get a comeuppance.

Ideally, you get both. You want to know what happens next, and you care about what happens next and how it will affect the characters. That keeps you watching and reading because you want to know the outcome and you want to experience the journey toward the outcome.

The most deadly thing for a story is getting neither, where you don’t care what happens next and you don’t care about the characters. It’s when I’ve had that big realization that I’ve put books down or turned off the television in the middle of an episode. This usually happens with something I feel somewhat obligated to watch or read — people like me are watching/reading this, or this is a thing I feel I should like.

It’s harder to judge when it’s just a case of one lack. I’m realizing for a few things I’ve been watching that I’m really only curious. I want to know where the story is going and what’s eventually going to happen, but I don’t particularly want to go on the journey of getting there. I’m not enjoying spending time with the characters or in that story world. I could get the same benefit from reading a recap or plot summary. In fact, I might get more out of that because I could read a recap in minutes instead of spending an hour or more watching or reading, and I’d actually catch all the key details that I might miss if I’m uninvested enough to skim a book or use a TV show as background noise. Those things are easy enough to set aside or quit watching because I’m not invested, and I can find out what happens in other ways.

The tougher call is when I care but am not curious. That seems to happen in procedural-type shows or in book series where each book is self-contained. I’m not reading or watching for the plot but because I care about the characters and have some investment in them. It doesn’t matter much to me what happens. What matters is seeing how the events affect the characters. But eventually, the not caring about the plot and what happens can take its toll, especially when the characters really aren’t affected. They don’t seem to learn anything or change at all, in spite of what they’ve gone through. It’s a little harder to give up these series because watching/reading can’t be easily replaced with a plot summary, and yet I also find that my lack of curiosity is dampening my caring for the characters. It’s hard to make myself decide that I’m not having fun with this thing anymore. In book series, I find that it takes me longer and longer to get around to reading the latest book. On TV, an episode may sit on my DVR for a week or I may find that I’m running out of time before it leaves On Demand. Or I may find that I’m doing something else during the episode, watching out of a sense of obligation and only glancing up at the TV for certain parts of the story.

So I guess as a writer I need to think about making people care about my characters and keeping them curious about what’s going to happen next. I need to make events affect my characters so that the events matter.

As a reader/watcher, it helps to have some criteria for helping me make those decisions. Am I curious? Do I care? If not, I’m free to give up and move on to something I do care about.
13th-Mar-2017 12:37 pm - New Time Zone
It’s a Monday after a time change, and that’s probably going to throw off my whole day. I woke up at the usual time — by the clock, so it was like there was no change, but then I was feeling lazy and had some thinking to do, so I did end up getting a later start. Now it’s almost lunchtime and I’m not hungry yet or, really, ready to face the day. It’s chilly again after a warm spell, and one of my neighbors is doing remodeling work that apparently requires hammering and drilling on the adjoining wall (in a four-plex), so I’ve retreated to the bedroom that’s on the opposite side of the house, where I’m ensconced on the bed with the electric blanket on. Cozy, warm, and much quieter.

I think I’m also slow getting started because it was a busy weekend. I had two social events on Saturday, so I was barely home, and I was drained at the end of it, but then had to get up early on Sunday. So I guess it was a “need a weekend to recover from the weekend” kind of thing. I’ll get to work eventually, I’m sure.

In other news, I finally have a contract with Audible for the audio version of Frogs and Kisses. I don’t have a firm release date, but they said sometime in June. I don’t know why it took them so long, since we’ve been working on this since October. That’s just publishing, I guess. Stay tuned for details on more specific dates.
10th-Mar-2017 12:12 pm - Misunderstood?
The book I’m working on went in an unexpected direction yesterday. I’m rewriting a proposal I wrote last fall, but at a turning point it did something different, so now I’m in uncharted territory. This is going to affect the pacing, so it’s probably a good thing that I decided to write the whole book before submitting it instead of just a proposal. I think in the first go-round, I was too worried about getting all the major story stuff into the proposal, so I made things a little too easy for the characters. They were able to just find or figure out everything they needed. Now they’re having to work for it a little more. I had new scenes playing out in my head last night, which made getting to sleep a challenge, but that’s a good problem to have.

I’m going to have to give my new working structure a few more weeks to shake out. So far, moving most of my business/life stuff to Wednesdays has resulted in me spending more time working overall (about 2-3 hours per week more than when I tried to work on Wednesdays and tried to fit non-writing work in on every other day), but I’m not producing more output, somehow. I think part of that is that I’m revising and editing the previous day’s work before moving on, usually because I’ve thought of something that needs to be fixed or because of the rewrite thing, where I need to remind myself of what’s in this version vs. the previous version, to make sure I’m continuing the right story. Maybe once I’m past the rewrite part and am doing all new stuff, it’ll pick up. You’d think it would go faster to rewrite what I’ve already done, but that seems to be more challenging because I have to remember what I did before, decide what to keep and what to scrap, and sometimes there are a couple of false starts before I can make myself separate from what I did before and move on with something different. That takes more time (and drafts) than just writing something new, when I only have to figure out what happens rather than getting over what did happen.

In other news, I had a bit of a rant on my Facebook page yesterday, but it’s worth repeating here. I mentioned watching the new Time After Time series. But I think I’m not going to go forward with it after seeing an interview in which an actor and one of the creators of the series referred to the Jack the Ripper character as “misunderstood.”

Now, I know that every villain generally thinks of himself as the hero of his own story. Few go around doing evil just as evil because they think it’s evil and evil is fun. There’s some reason that may or may not make sense to anyone else, and it’s generally not justified at all on an objective scale. There’s also a bad tendency in current popular culture to try to make villains sympathetic. We’re supposed to take into account the things that happened to them that excuse or justify the way they turned out. As one show is very fond of saying, evil isn’t born, it’s made. And there’s a tendency to think of good as boring and evil as sexy and kind of hot.

But “misunderstood” is for someone who’s a jerk — the bully, the person with a hot temper, the person who’s overly sensitive and flies off the handle at the slightest offense, the person who’s a bit greedy or stingy. These are all things that can be affected by someone’s experiences and circumstances and may require a little compassion for dealing with these people. It’s really hard to get to “misunderstood” when it comes to mass murder. There’s very little chance of there being a good reason for gutting women, and since this show opened with a scene of this guy committing the murder, it’s not like he’s an innocent person being falsely accused. So it looks like what they’re doing is, as one of my friends put it, making Jack the Ripper “Hot Guy who’s a little stabby.” It’s worse when it involves a real-world killer. Real women died at the hands of whoever the Ripper really was, so it seems to me to be disrespectful to depict this guy as sexy, charismatic, and sympathetic and to claim that he’s not so bad, just misunderstood.

So, if that’s the approach they’re taking, I won’t be watching further. That’s more time for reading, or I could watch movies.

At the rate I’m being turned off TV, I may become one of those “oh, I don’t watch TV other than the news and PBS” people. I guess that’ll save me a lot of money if I ever move and don’t get cable through my HOA.
9th-Mar-2017 12:02 pm - Out of My League
Life does seem to keep getting in the way of my “getting things done” Wednesdays. This week, it was a case of “oh, can you make a video for us by Friday” from my last publisher. My book is being recognized by a library group, and they wanted a video from me for their web site. But I did also take care of some other things, and I learned just how important the schedule thing is when I have lots of little things to do. I’d slacked off a bit on writing days, since the scheduling there is rather easy. It’s when I have “free” time rather than one big task that I need to schedule my time.

Next week should be a good “getting things done” time because I don’t have children’s choir (spring break). I need the break. They’re getting more and more challenging. This group defies ordinary classroom management and discipline. I tried a suggestion from a veteran kindergarten teacher and former principal to put tape on the floor for positions, let them choose their spot and write their name on it, and then that’s their spot to go back to, as a way of resetting the room when things get rowdy. That worked for half the group. Then there was the kid who kept moving his tape around. And the one who wrote his name on multiple spots and had a temper tantrum when someone else wanted one of his unused spots. And the one who wrote other kids’ names on spots and wouldn’t let them choose.

With one kid, I think there’s some desperate attention-seeking going on. He’s a twin and has a sibling only a year younger, so I imagine he seldom gets one-on-one attention. He desperately wants to be special and to win. Or maybe he’s a narcissist and could never get enough attention or winning. It’s hard to tell without having a good look inside his life. I’m just not equipped in that setting to give him that kind of attention. He’s a sweet child and very smart, and I worry that he’s going to end up with other kids disliking and resenting him for his behavior. Even the other kids in this group have already figured out that he’s the reason they aren’t getting to do as many fun things. This is all way above my pay grade as a volunteer.

But now I get to dive back into writing. Imaginary people are generally a lot easier to deal with.
I’m late getting to today’s post because I had to shoot a video, and it had to be done in the morning to take advantage of the natural light my house gets.

For today’s writing post, I’m picking up a topic from a recent convention panel I was on, about “Career Planning for Pre-Published Writers.” That’s kind of an odd concept, and the description was about building a platform.

But here’s my advice for how to plan your career before you’re published:

  1. Educate yourself on the craft, on the market, on the industry. Go to conferences, join writing groups, read the “how to write” books you find at the library.

  2. While you’re doing this, write something. Finish it. Put it aside.

  3. Write something else. Finish it. Put it aside.

  4. Go back to that first thing you wrote and take a good look at it. Make it better. Put it aside.

  5. Go back to that second thing you wrote. Make it better. Put it aside.

  6. Take yet another look at the first thing, see if you can make it better. Possibly give it to some of the people you met (other aspiring writers) while educating yourself to get their feedback. Use their feedback to make it better. Repeat with the second thing you wrote.

  7. Do serious market research. Who publishes the kind of thing you wrote? Read the most recent books that are closest to yours in genre, subject matter, and tone — not just the bestsellers, but books by first-time authors. Which books currently on the market might compare to yours? If you’re writing short fiction, read the various magazines to see who publishes the kind of thing you wrote. Find out what the submission guidelines are.

  8. Research agents (you’ll probably need one to get a novel sold to a major publisher). Look at who’s getting book deals done in your genre. This may be a good time to go to conferences and see if you can get some one-on-one appointments or pitch sessions with agents. Do some serious online searching to make sure the agents you’re targeting are legitimate and aren’t known for running a scam operation. A legitimate agent only makes money by selling books. They won’t ask for money from you, won’t send you to a book doctor that will cost you money (they might recommend you get more editing, but they shouldn’t send you to a specific person because that’s usually a sign that they’re getting some kind of referral kickback).

  9. Start submitting to publishers/publications/agents, following their guidelines.

  10. I generally recommend that people at least try to go through the traditional publishing route before diving into self publishing, if only to give you a reality check and thicken your skin. If you get a lot of rejections along the lines of “I love this but I don’t know where I’d sell it,” that might be a sign that self publishing could work because you may have a niche product. If your rejections are along the lines of “I couldn’t connect to the characters” or “the plot seems trite,” then go back to step one and write something better.

What about all that building a platform stuff and social media? Really, it will only help you if you do something huge with it. Otherwise, it’s more likely to count against you. If you’re a really clever blogger who manages to get a following in the thousands, or you somehow manage to get tens of thousands of Twitter followers who are real people and not just bots, and your posts tend to go viral, then that might count in your favor when a publishing decision is being made. Otherwise, the main thing is to not look like a total psycho. You don’t want to be ranting and raving about stupid publishers and agents who are rejecting you because they only want to publish trash. Definitely no racist or sexist rants. Mostly, focus on your writing rather than building a platform, unless you have something to build a platform on and can do it in a big way. It would be smart to buy the domain name of your name, maybe put up a placeholder site. But don’t worry about doing any kind of major publicity campaign until you have something to promote.
7th-Mar-2017 11:55 am - Reading Roundup
It looks like this might be a “music” book. I had decent productivity while having music playing. I mostly used the soundtrack to Order of the Phoenix. That’s a good background noise soundtrack because it sounds somewhat magical, is alternately energetic and dreamy, and it’s not quite brilliant enough music that I find myself stopping to listen to it. It works great to shut out the mental distractions and make me focus without being its own distraction. I did try switching to the other Harry Potter soundtracks I own, but I can’t write with John Williams in the background because I’ll stop to listen to the music, especially Prisoner of Azkaban. That soundtrack may be his most interesting collection of music out of all the film scores he’s done because it’s like they just told him to go have fun and write the music he’s always wanted to write. As a result, we get a somewhat baroque classical piece that could have come from a Rossini opera, an atonal modern jazz extravaganza, a Renaissance-style piece that could fit in with the actual early music recordings I have played on period instruments, and a choral piece. But I can’t write with it in the background because I find myself stopping to listen and figure out what he’s doing with each piece.

Another thing I tried doing was a “brain dump” before I started writing. It’s kind of like the morning pages concept, only not in the morning and with no set amount of writing or other rules. I just started writing down all the stuff that was swirling around in my head until I got to the book I’d be working on. That did a lot to help me focus instead of getting sidetracked by random thoughts.

And now, as promised, a book report! I’ve been making a lot more time to read, trying to get less screen time, so I’ve been getting through more books.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill — this was shelved in the children’s section (I’d guess it’s classified as “middle grade”) but I think it’s very adult-friendly. In fact, aside from the girl in the title, the viewpoint characters are mostly adults, and you might even argue that the actual protagonist is an older woman. She’s the one who drives much of the story. It’s fantasy story about a town that must sacrifice a newborn baby each year to appease the witch who lives in the woods — except the witch never asked for that and has no idea why these crazy people keep abandoning infants in the woods. She rescues them and takes them to another town to place them in good homes. But then there’s one infant she can’t bring herself to give away, a girl who has magical powers that she’ll need guidance in learning to use. I found this to be a really lovely fairytale-like story with characters who came to life for me to the point I wanted to see more of them. There’s a tiny dragon who thinks he’s a normal dragon living among giants, a wise swamp monster, a young man and young woman brave enough to question the order of things. I read this in just about one sitting. It’s a good rainy Sunday afternoon sort of book.

Railhead by Philip Reeve — This is a young adult science fiction book about a distant figure in which there are wormhole-like tunnels between worlds, through which sentient trains can run. So, basically, you had me at “space trains.” A young thief who’s a bit of a “railhead” (a train enthusiast who stows away to ride around) gets recruited by a mysterious stranger to infiltrate the Emperor’s train and steal an item. But nothing is really as it seems, and carrying out the theft is just the beginning of things. This one had some truly creative worldbuilding, imagining how a massive shift in technology might affect a culture and imagining what the hip young things might get up to in that sort of world. If you enjoyed Bladerunner, this might be right up your alley.

Borderline by Mishell Baker — Adult urban fantasy. I have very mixed feelings about urban fantasy. I love the idea of it and want to like it, but I haven’t been crazy about how it’s been executed, for the most part. It tends to be way too dreary for my taste. But I really liked this one. It’s still darkish, but in a sun-drenched way. It’s set in Los Angeles, and the premise is that there are gateways that allow the fey to enter our world. Some of them do rather well as actors, with their beautiful glamours. Others turn out to be a kind of muse/other half for creative people. There’s an organization that regulates fey activity in our world, making sure they don’t outstay their welcome or break the rules. Our heroine gets recruited to join them as she recovers from a suicide attempt that seriously messed up her body (and didn’t do wonders for her brain). Getting put on the case of tracking down a missing fey nobleman who was involved in the film industry gives her a new focus in life — until she starts stepping on the wrong toes. This was a real page-turner, reading like an old noir mystery but with some definite twists. The narrator heroine isn’t the kind of character I normally like, but I found myself pulling for her, mostly because she owns her issues and isn’t looking for sympathy. It looks like this is going to be a series, and I imagine I’ll be gobbling them up.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden — this is a fantasy novel based on Russian fairy tales and folklore. It takes some tales I’m familiar with and fleshes them out and puts a spin on them. It’s really hard to describe the plot without going into a lot of detail, which I suppose means it’s not “high concept,” but it’s about a family of a lower-level prince in medieval Russia (before it really was “Russia” as we know it). The widowed father gets stuck with an arranged marriage to a woman who’s a very bad fit for that situation and who doesn’t want to be there, and it nearly brings disaster to their whole village when the stepmother clashes with the youngest daughter. Both of them can see the household spirits that protect and serve them, but where the stepmother sees demons that must be banished, the daughter is kind to them and learns from them. Which view prevails could determine whether or not they survive a harsh winter. This was a bit of a slow build of a story, one that sets the stage and establishes the situation, the characters, and the atmosphere before the plot kicks into high gear, but I still found it to be a quick read. It really immerses you in that world, so that when the plot does kick in, you feel really invested in the outcome. It was a great book for a cool, rainy Sunday afternoon. I burrowed under the electric blanket, drank tea, and read all day.

Yeah, I’m the weirdo who kind of wishes every Sunday afternoon could be cool and rainy.
6th-Mar-2017 12:28 pm - The Television Conspiracy
I got the first two chapters done and more or less fixed, with some work on Saturday to finish the process. Now I need to get to the next chapter, and more. I’m still finding my way with this book, not just with the characters and world, but with the working method. Each book/series seems to have its own needs. Is this an afternoon book or a night book — or, rarest of all things for me, a morning book? Is it a sit at my desk book, a patio book, a sofa book, a loft book, or a bedroom book? So far, I seem to have made more progress on my bed. Sitting on the patio was a total wash, but I don’t know if that was just that day or if the book is going to be that way. For me, most books are “silence” books, for which I can’t have any background noise, but I’ve had a few that required music. Some of those have been soundtrack books (scores from movies), some have been classical books, and the Fairy Tale series has required Celtic-ish music in the background. For that one, I can even have songs with lyrics, something I can’t have with anything else I’ve tried writing (I get sidetracked by singing along, but I guess if it’s mostly in Gaelic, it doesn’t register like lyrics).

I may try some music this afternoon and see if it helps or hurts.

In other news …

We had the finale of Emerald City this weekend, and I don’t think it ever really lived up to its promise. It’s like the writers were so afraid of spoiling their own show that they didn’t clue the viewers in on what was happening. By the end, I’d had that “I don’t like any of these people, and I hope they all kill each other” reaction, so even if it does get renewed, I’m not sure I’ll be back.

Then there was the premiere of the series version of Time After Time. I’m kind of so-so on this one. The first hour was too close to the movie, so I zoned out because I’ve seen it before with a different setting and time period. Then I could barely follow the second half because it didn’t make a lot of sense. I like the cast, but I have a feeling they’re going to do that “he’s so sexy because he’s evil, and he’s evil because he’s a poor, sad woobie” thing with the Jack the Ripper character. Their HG Wells is cute, but he looks like he’s about 18, so he’s hard to take seriously. We’ll see how it shapes up as a series. The series promo/preview at the end made it look a lot like Timeless, where they’re going to be chasing this guy around time and visiting various historical periods, and I like the cast of Timeless a lot better.

Meanwhile, Once Upon a Time is digging its own grave by being boring and not making much sense, and not really drawing well upon its potential.

I think the television industry is conspiring to give me more writing and reading time. I did do a lot of reading over the weekend, so I’ll have a big book report tomorrow.
3rd-Mar-2017 11:26 am - Building Momentum
I got somewhat back on track with the new book yesterday, moving ahead a little bit while adding about 3,000 words to what I’d written. And now I already know I need to do some more tinkering with what I did yesterday. My struggle with this book is going to be keeping the emotional reactions realistic. I keep trying to just move ahead with the plot, which means I’m forgetting to think about how people would react in that situation. One of my characters is rather unflappable. She’s been through situations like this before and has been specifically trained in what to do in situations like this. That doesn’t mean she should be unemotional, though. She can be going through all the things she knows to do and resisting the urge to panic while still being very upset and worried. So far, my process for this book has been to write a chapter, then go back and rewrite the chapter to fix the character reactions. I’m hoping to eventually get into a groove where I get it right in the first place.

I think I may have a title for this one, finally. It’s been used before, but not in this genre, and not in several years.

It’s taking a bit of time to get into the mindset of that uninterrupted afternoon of work. For the most part, I’ve been able to avoid most of my usual time wasters, but I’m still having some trouble focusing. It’s hard to tell what the results are, since I’m still feeling my way in this story and doing a lot of rewriting and needing to do a lot of thinking. I’m spending more time on my writing every day, but not getting more output so far. Then again, these opening chapters shouldn’t require a lot of rewriting later, so that may end up saving me some time in the long run.

I’m hoping to do some work over the weekend to see if I can build up a little momentum. It would probably help if I didn’t also have two other story ideas swirling around in my brain, competing for attention, and that’s just new stuff, not counting the existing characters who pop up every so often to remind me they exist.
2nd-Mar-2017 11:19 am - Clear Writing
I’ll have to get myself back on track today because my “getting things done” day yesterday failed utterly. On the bright side, I feel much better now. That could be because Tuesday’s pollen count was in the 4,000 range and yesterday it was down to the 700s, so I was just tired. An afternoon nap did a lot to revive me, and now I feel functional but behind. Generally, any new scheme I embark upon tends to falter when I hit a roadblock, the perfectionism kicks in, and I just give up, but I’m determined to pick up and move on today instead of getting discouraged.

Mostly, I’m eager to get back into the book. It’s really starting to come to life for me. I’m making myself stop and think along the way, making sure my characters are reacting properly instead of just doing what the plot needs them to do. How would this person act in this situation? What would this make them feel? For this to work, it needs to feel authentic, so readers are at least thinking “Yes, that’s what this person would do” if not “Yes, that’s what I would do.” And the doing comes from feeling, so if the feeling makes sense, the actions work.

Meanwhile, I’m still reading award nominees. I had to put one down last night because I really just couldn’t get into it. There was something about the writing style that didn’t work for me, and I couldn’t figure out who the characters were supposed to be and what was going on within the first thirty or so pages. I may give it another try later, but when I have to get through so many books in time to vote, I can’t spend weeks (and it’s the kind of book that would take me weeks) reading a book that I’m struggling to get into. If none of the other things in that category seem as good (unlikely), I may try again. I suspect that the denseness and opacity was what got this one nominated because that’s a very literary thing, but I’m afraid I like things a little more straightforward and less pretentious.
1st-Mar-2017 12:13 pm - Foggy Brain
I learned yesterday that all that deep focus work time does little good if the pollen count goes sky-high and allergies hit you like a brick. I got through much of what I’d written previously, adding nearly a thousand words and adjusting a chapter break, before the sneezing, sniffling, and foggy brain got the better of me and I gave up to go lie down and try reading. I did read something work-related, so it wasn’t completely wasted time. I was really tired, so I let myself sleep late today, and now I’m hoping that my extensive to-do list for my designated “get stuff done” day doesn’t take as long as I planned because I’m way behind. It is good that I didn’t plan to write because I still don’t have the brainpower for that. In fact, I might need a nap before I can cope with choir.  I’d been doing so well, too, able to go off the antihistamines for weeks, but apparently I wasn’t up for the mess we had yesterday.

I’ve started reading my way through the Nebula Award nominees — really, the Norton Award at the moment, the one for children’s/YA books, which isn’t officially a Nebula — and it’s going to be a tough call. Out of the two I’ve read so far, one was absolutely beautiful and the other was wildly imaginative. I like getting my reading from a list like this every so often as a way of expanding my reading horizons, and I think I learn something as a writer, as well. It also provides motivation to write even better.

Hmm, I think maybe I could count this reading as “work” for this afternoon.
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