Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When Life Hands You Lemons... Gonna Need Sugar. Lotsa Sugar.

Mark turned twenty-nine yesterday. His job gave him the most unusual birthday present: his two-week's notice. Yup, Mark's been laid off. (If you had told me five years ago that both my husband and myself would lose our jobs due to down-sizing before the age of thirty, I would have laughed myself silly.)

We're both holding up fairly well under this. The DDJ is investigating whether they can afford to take me back full-time. Mark's working the network he's developed in his few months at this company (with the full support of all the higher-ups; I think they might feel even worse than we do about this). We're both scrying all job opps in Phoenix and in Tucson (one bonus to living in Casa Grande is that the north side of Tucson is about as far as downtown Phoenix, once you count traffic). We're poised to start calling in favors and/or flipping burgers, whichever's going to make sure we don't default on our very first mortgage. Mark's got some unexpected, unbudgeted poker winnings that he'll try to increase. I've got a couple of short stories that need some revision and might be able to bring in a check and a pub credit eventually.

In short, we're stressed but committed and able to keep this roof over our heads and food in our mouths. My big fear is that, in the quest to keep the cash flowing, we'll both have to start sacrificing our dreams (poker and writing) or twisting them into things we never wanted them to be (desperately needed income sources instead of fun, fulfilling hobbies/vocations). So my goal in all of this mess (other than adjusting my work situation to get us more money ASAP) is to keep our dreams as pristine as we can.

Also heavy on my mind is making sure we don't sacrifice too much family time in the Search for More Money. What good is providing for Drew if we become strangers to him? So I'll be focusing on keeping quality time with the Boy a high priority as well.

I suggested a magic wand for a problem at the DDJ the other day. I could think of a few other applications at the moment.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Effective Viral Marketing

YouTube is a marketing gold mine. Case in point: this spoof music video from the movie Music & Lyrics. It's far more effective than any of the trailers I've seen for the movie, particularly in that it clearly indicates the movie is going to have lots of fun at the expense of 80s cheese pop, and that is the only thing that makes me interested in this movie beyond "Oh, look, another romantic comedy with familiar leading folks. Maybe I'll catch it on DVD or look for it on TV. Maybe."

One thing the video shows is how Wham! and Tears for Fears were basically the same deal, but with slightly different hair. And that the 80s cheese pop will be missed solely for nostalgia's sake, not for any great artistic value. Still, good times.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Deciding the Check-in

I went to Tucson's RWA chatper meeting today. It's a bit of a drive, but it's a pleasant drive through some of my old haunts, and it made for a nice day of me time. Had a lot of fun, really enjoyed the group's attitude toward writing and encouraging others. Liked the way they manage the money they took from me a lot better than the money RMFW took from me. But while these folks would be taking less money from me for annual membership, they will be taking more money from me any time I wanted to attend a workshop. Granted, the workshops are of better overall quality than RMFW's (not speaker-wise; the local pros in RMFW are fantabulous), but still it's more money.

All that being said, I was going to become a member of this writing group tonight when I read the details of membership and realized I had to become a member of the RWA national organization (which is a bit more money in annual dues, and I'm not entirely sure I want to spend that much more money on an organization in which my preferred genres are treated as secondary novel elements). So I've delayed my decision.

It's not going to be easy. I don't have a comparable group to what I was used to in Colorado (meaning good quality critique group that meets regularly not too far from where I live), and I'm not sure that Tucson RWA (or even one of the two Phoenix RWAs) could provide that for me. So that's a decent bit of money for something that's not my primary genre and that won't give me an opportunity for the steady feedback I had before. But I can't seem to find any other writer's orgs that are even remotely close to me, and part of the reason RMFW worked so well for me was that it was a weekly gathering of like-minded folks whose company I enjoyed while we gabbed about the business and art of writing.

I can't ignore the fact that this may be one of only a few chances I get to find some local writing buddies without running a personal ad or holding out for serendipity in the bookstores. And I can't ignore how connected I felt today, similar to how I felt at my first ever critique group meeting. How much is that worth to me?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Always the Main Character, Never the Secondary

In trying to get back into a regular writing schedule for SoZ, I've been digging my way into the heart of the conflict of the story and re-assessing the arcs and act structures of the book. And somewhere in all of this I'm trying to assimilate some sort of writing process so I don't have to entirely reinvent the wheel the next book around--I mean, if I start out knowing that the basic shape has to be round, surely I won't get mired in this again, right?

Last week I did the facepalm/headdesk thing as I realized that I've become a much more visual thinker and learner than I was in the past (or maybe I've always been so visual, I just never realized it and/or managed to play to that strength without a fuss), and that nothing in my writing process was as visual as I needed it to be. So I got the great idea of putting together a timeline that I could then printout and keep on very large posterboard on the wall by my writing desk. Excellent. Issue addressed.

Only I didn't have a timeline.

So back to the drawing board I went, trying to piece together a timeline. That's when I realized that four-act structures are great, but they're only for the protagonist's story/arc. And here I am with a protagonist for the overall Velorin series, a (different) protagonist for the initial trilogy, and yet another protagonist or two in the nebulous two to three books beyond the initial trilogy. Now, I have arcs and broad outlines for most if not all of these folks (and I'm including "Book 5 or 6: Think Final Fantasy X but with more science fiction and less fantasy, but they're trying to get back to the fantasy" as a broad outline and arc), but what about all of the other characters running around in these stories?

For my own sanity, I stuck with the POV characters from the first book (which are, incidentally, the POV characters from the next two books as well, excluding those who die in the course of the first book, of course). At first, I tried to weave what all the characters were doing in and around my protag's four-act structure. Then I did another facepalm and got to the heart of the "everyone's the star in their own show" saying. I was never going to believably write from a POV of a non-protag unless I got into their stories as if they were the protagonists. Said another way, I went back to each of my POV characters and looked at their stories as if I were going to write their stories for the book. I gave them all their own four-act structures. I'm going to give them all their own conflict boxes, too, I think.

Writing up all of those four-act structures made a few things clear to me: Ayren is definitely the antagonist, she has the most compelling view with which to tell this story as effectively (and efficiently) as possible, considering both the story itself and its salability. For example, I could write the first bit of the Velorin saga from Rayn's point of view, but then I would have to squish the first two books into one and shift my antagonist from Arzakel to Corla. Oh, and that act of squishing the first two books into one would make for either a very hefty first book (on the order of 150 to 200k) or a very superficial book on the order of 100k. Losing Arzakel as the antagonist in Book One also destroys the connection with the overall series antagonist, thus giving Loria's POV nothing to push against until I can re-introduce the series' antagonist much later in that two-into-one squish in Rayn's story. So Ayren is the protagonist, and I now can stop feeling guilty for giving her POV more time in the book than Rayn's. That fixes a lot of problems right there.

Also, looking at those four-acts for the antag and his "goons" made me solidify their backstory much better. In fact, the backstory is so much clearer, that I'm going to write snippets of it as standalone stories that will help me keep focus on character voices and conflicts. Because once the story is written, the image in my mind is solidified in a different way. It has concrete connections to something outside of my mind, and not just in a nebulous, I wrote my notes out or mapped them kind of way. But in an actual "I have translated my mental image into a complete story" kind of way. That really cements things for me, because once the story is complete, I can remember it as a movie, not just random images.

But I do have enough from all of these four-act structures to piece together a timeline and put that sucker up in lights next to my writing desk. I've got a few other things to put up there, too (such, I dunno, how 'bout the map, one of the most visual things I've had for this book since the beginning). Maybe by the end of the month I'll have put myself back on track for writing SoZ again. I really hope so.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Following in His Father's Footholds (While Wearing His Mother's Shoes)

Drew loves to climb. It's been a favorite sport of his for quite some time. We first noticed this hobby when he climbed up into the walker, hoisted himself onto the walker's tray and started reaching for the top of the swing next to the walker. Then there were the stairs at my mother's house. There's every bed and chair in this house. The coffee table (which he then likes to stand on in a King of the Mountain fashion--we're trying to break this habit). Any sort of ladder or jungle gym at the neighborhood playground. Every fence and railing at the zoo. And so on.

He definitely gets it from his father. I told Mark he better get back into climbing shape and soon--his son is going to need a partner when he decides he wants to start grappling up the big rocks, which will probably be the first time he sets eyes on any such thing. I am now reconsidering our vague notion of taking the Boy up to the Grand Canyon in the next few months.

Luckily, the Drewbinator doesn't seem to have inherited his mother's fear of falling. That's the reason I can't help Mark get back into climbing shape. I can scramble up any rock wall you put in front of me. I just can't get down without a therapist.

But there is a problem with the Drew Monster's choice of shoes for his climbing adventures. Andrew loves to put on my slip-on house shoes and go clomping around in them. Doesn't care for Daddy's shoes at all (can't really blame him, the things are seconds away from collapsing into a pile of unassociated shoe cells). In fact, Drew will often wander away from his toys in one area of the house, run to get my shoes, and either stuff himself into them and shuffle his way back, or drage them back to me so I can help him into them.

Hmmm. I suppose I better keep all of my strappy heels and such out of sight in our closet for a few years.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Saw this running around a couple of blogs lately and thought I'd give it a go again.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open it to page 161.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the coolest book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

"It varies, but in the end it doesn't matter."
from an uncorrected proof of Elizabeth Lowell's The Color of Death (there's a price tag right next to the "NOT FOR SALE" notice; I picked it up as part of the "everything must go" sale at a closing Book Warehouse)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It's a Beautiful Check-in

Today has been absolutely gorgeous. Temps in the high 70s, low 80s. Bright blue sky with whispy clouds. Not a speck of dust or haze cluttering up the skyline, allowing a view all the way to the Catalinas in Tucson. Amazing. Days like these I wonder how I lived outside of this area for so long.

We took Drew up to the Phoenix Zoo today. He had a blast, though he was more impressed with all of the fences and railings he could climb than the animals. He did enjoy the giraffes and the tortoises and the monkeys. And, of course, nothing was more fun than running free on the walkways. He passed out in the car, and we drove around a bit to give him a long nap.

Thus we took the very scenic route home, a two-hour trek through the extreme southeast Phoenix valley (where the suburbs Queen Creek and Johnson Ranch are). The far east of the valley is quite beautiful, though I wouldn't want to live there with Mark having to drive into downtown. There's little to no infrastructure set up out there to handle all of the population boom. We drove for a good twenty minutes without seeing a gas station or a supermarket, just lots and lots of houses. (Of course, there could have been such things tucked away from the road, but that's not usually how the 'burbs are set up.)

We doglegged around the San Tan mountains and into Pinal County, through even more brand, spankin' new housing developments. If Mark worked in Mesa or Chandler or Gilbert, I could see us living there. The market is about the same in that area as it is in Casa Grande, and the views are great. The only downside is that you're awfully close to Florence and the State Pen, and I haven't heard a lot of reassuring things about that facility.

We cut through the reservation at that point (and I'd have to go to my map to remind myself which tribe owned that land) and had to further detour through the reservation and some open desert to avoid a bike race running a circuit using the two roads we needs to take to get back across I-10 and home. We were disappointed because those two roads both looked like neat drives through some craggy hills. As that loop is just five minutes or so from our house, we'll check is out next weekend.

As for the actual "what have I been doing this week" content of this check-in post, I managed to salvage an otherwise bummer of a week with the DDJ, but I didn't get around to writing after my awe-inspiring 5.4K last Sunday. I did, though, do some more mapping for SoZ, and should be able to do more tonight and/or tomorrow night.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Wonders of the Dollar Store

It's amazing where you can find inspiration. I went into a local dollar store just to see about picking up some posterboard for mapping out SoZ in purty colors. I decided to wander around a bit and see if I could find anything else that might help me visualize my story better. I didn't find much for SoZ, but I did find something so intriguing that I'll have to set aside time to write a different story in the near future.

I was browsing the knick knack section when I saw it. In among some other colorfully painted Victorian hat stands (with attached hats, of course), I found one that was entirely painted in silver. I saw it, and my first thought, I kid you not, was, "!!!!" And then I thought, "Damn, now I have to write that."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why I Can't Head Hop

Sure, I could've posted about Valentine's day, but I figure ya'll are probably getting tired of the "my husband is the most awesome man eva" posts. Suffice to say, love is grand, Mark is amazing.

I finally figured out exactly why I struggle to read and enjoy books with an omniscient POV. I always imagine myself as the POV character. Woman, man, good guy, bad guy, whatever. So when I'm reading along, happily creating a movie in my head in which I'm the POV character, getting all the good lines, doing all the cool stunts, and then suddenly the POV switches to another character. And I have to stop, adjust the mental image, and start the movie back up from a different set of eyes (and, often, gender or moral outlook). Then in the next paragraph, the switch happens again. Repeat the stop and go. Finally I get so frustrated with all of this "hang on a sec" mental adjusting that I pull back to the surface and just read the words instead of living them vicariously. I read faster this way, sure, but it's not nearly as much fun as watching the book as a movie in my head.

And, in addition to preventing my preferred method of enjoying a book, omniscient POV often gets annoying with mirroring internal thoughts, particularly in a romance subplot. Hero thinks something about the sexy clothing the heroine is wearing and hopes his physical reaction to the ensemble isn't obvious. Next paragraph: heroine is flustered herself, wondering what hero thinks, and then spies the erection. I think the tension is better with the hero, trying to hide the obvious, wanting to do something about the state of affairs, but there's usually some Problem in the way (this is what's known as the primary plot), and generally feeling aroused and frustrated while trying not to get distracted from solving the Problem. That's good conflict, because everyone goes through that. Having the heroine's thoughts immediately respond to the hero's thoughts (rather than in dialog) seems like a cheat and really makes the snap and crackle of the scene fizzle out.

I like the suspense of not knowing what another character is thinking until it is revealed by that character's actions or words to the POV character. That's the way life goes, right? There are other contrivances in fiction that I don't have a problem with (consistent characters, complete plot resolution, etc), but head-hopping isn't one of them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Blog!

My little corner of the vast and mighty internet turns four years old today. I feel like I should commemorate this occasion with a profound and deep post about how reading the four years of this blog can demonstrate how I have been shaped and changed. But it's been a long day, the DDJ has diminished my ability to think to a meager pilot light, and I'm hungry and want dinner pronto.

So. Here's to another four year. It's been great. Can't believe there's actual, digital evidence of how young and stoopid I was in chatting about myself and the world around me. I'm sure I'll have the same thought in another four years. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Drewbinator

Drew is so physical, so kinetic. I don't know if all kids this age are, but he always has to be moving, doing. He'll slow down and settle for a book or a puzzle, but usually he's all about spatial exploration and frenetic energy. The downside to this is that he's discovering the world of throwing things, hitting things, and using his head as a blunt weapon. We're trying to give him more appropriate things to throw than blocks and other toys, and that does seem to have curbed the need to throw other things that don't bounce as well because, well, they weren't meant to be thrown. As for the hitting things and head-ramming...we're working on variations of the "time out" strategy because it seems very odd to spank a kid while you saying, "No hitting!"

Honestly, with the head-ramming, we're figuring one day he'll clock himself good by ramming something he shouldn't and that will take care of that. But that boy's head has proved particularly hard.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

And I'm Spent

I finished a novelette today. My word count for the day (accumulated over six hours) is a whopping 5,402. How's that for an emphatic return to writing after a month away?

Excuse me while I go see about stopping my eyes from seeing Courier New appear in a dizzying left to right fashion.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Home at Last

Drew and I returned home late last night. We're both fighting the requisite traveler's head cold and dealing with mild general irritation from all of the hustle and bustle of the last ten days without Daddy. And I'm trying to dig myself out of a bad mood after dealing with the DDJ for the past three days in Colorado (yeah, not sure if I made that clear: Drew and I went from Chicago to Denver on Sunday for my monthly trip back to the DDJ, which was bumped up to this week within an hour of my planning my bereavement leave for last week).

So, here's hoping that next week will bring the much-needed return of normalcy so we can actually get on with settling into our new house.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Good-bye, Grandpa. I Love You.

I've spent a lot of time this past week starting posts about my grandfather in my mind and stopping, rejecting each beginning as not good enough for his memory. This is one of those things that you're so desperate to get right because it's so important that everyone know about a special person that they won't have a chance to meet themselves. Each word has to fit just so, each image clear, each emotion strong and touching without being overpowering or gooey with sentiment.

I don't think I'm up to the task.

Instead, I'll sketch out the few things that come quickest to my mind when I think about my grandfather. I have a feeling I'll always look back at this post and wish I had been a better writer at the time to do his life justice. But, as I finally realized tonight, no memorial is worse than a flawed one.

My grandfather was a three-pack a day smoker for a long time until one of his lungs collapsed. The docs told him that if he wanted to keep the other one from doing the same thing, he needed to kick the habit. So he did. One thing that helped keep the cravings at bay was hard candy, specifically root beer barrels. He always had a stash handy, and he usually didn't mind sharing (though he shared more of the candy as more time passed from his last cigarette). While I liked root beer well enough, I never did catch onto the taste of the candy, and I remember thinking a couple of times that I wished Grandpa preferred Sour Warheads (very popular at the time) so I could bum some off him.

Grandpa was an engineer, and thus he approached a lot of things with cool logic and heavy use of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" axiom. This is why I remember him typing away at a very old model computer for a loooooooong time for games, car mileage/performance, family genealogy and addresses, and most likely a ton of other things that I never witnessed or heard of during my visits and phone calls. The computer was so ancient that it had a black background with green text and was accompanied by a dot matrix printer. But he still dove into new technology when a case was made for it (email, digital photography, TiVo, etc), and he would puzzle everything out so that he could sit you down and explain to you how each new-fangled device worked.

Of course, his sense of logic wasn't without a sense of humor. When we sent along Drew's first ultrasound pictures (way back when he was simply referred to as Junior), Grandpa started a file for the pictures on the computer. The file was named "great1" because it was for the first great grandchild.

Nor was his sense of logic without a resulting sense of frustration on the recipient. When my mom and I were visiting from Germany one summer, I took a driver's ed course so I could get my license. That's a blog post in and of itself, but it's enough for this post to say that my first attempt was unsuccessful. I came back to my grandparents' house feeling the humongous sting of failure, sure I was going to get ribbed endlessly. Upon hearing the official reason the witch of a driving instructor gave for failing me (at the first stop sign, I didn't come to a complete stop at the stop line but rolled forward a bit then stopped so I could actually see oncoming traffic), Grandpa got me right back into the car and took me around to each stop sign in the neighborhood for practice and technique refinement. At the time, I think this only made me feel even more humiliated, but now I understand it as a clear sign of Grandpa's sense of logic and love.

Now that I think about it more, the entire episode connects back to the very first memory I have of my grandfather. It was during my strange patchwork year of kindergarten, when I attended three different schools in two different states due to my father undergoing officer training school and transitioning from an enlisted servicemember to an officer. It was winter, and my mother, brother, and I were living with my grandparents. My grandfather, decked out in his camel-colored winter coat and black hat, walked me to the school just down the street from their house. I don't know if he walked me every day, or if it was just the once. But the sky was that deep blue only seen on a clear, cold winter day in the Midwest. The air bit every exposed patch of my skin and then some. My breath blurred and fogged the view of the sidewalk in front of me every now and then. And my grandfather walked right next to me, holding my hand to cross the street.

Those are the clear memories of my grandfather. All the others are either hazy with time or so wrapped up in memories of my grandmother, the home they created together, my aunts and uncles and cousins, and their neighborhood that it's hard to know where his smile ends and the rest begins.

Actually, I think that's exactly the way Grandpa would have me remember him.