Monday, December 31, 2007

Do I have to save the world or what?

I hit the bookstores this afternoon, because buying books is apparently what I do. I certainly don't seem to read them lately, considering how ridiculous my "to be read" stack is getting. Anyway, I went to a decent used book store first and then to Books a Million, determined to find a good fantasy to read (or at least add to the stack).

Now, this wasn't any kind of, you know, scientific excursion. I didn't write any impressions down or take any surveys of what I saw. But here it is anyway:

99% of fantasy novels have a dragon on the cover
the other 1% have a woman with a sword but no dragon
(about 80% of books have both a woman with a sword and a dragon)
My eye is drawn to white horses on covers, or deer
95% of fantasy novels are Book 2 of a series
100% of the books I picked up today to read the first few pages started with long, dull conversations about politics
100% of books I picked up to read the back covers of involved the World in Peril

Conclusion: If I write the second book of a series involving a woman with a sword who has to save the world, and also throw a dragon in it, and start with a conversation about politics, I will sell the book to Tor or Baen or DAW or some other big publisher.

I don't much like epic fantasy or high fantasy, and I really, really am sick of books where the hero(ine) has to save the world. Can't the world take care of itself? But obviously people still eat up that crap, because that's all I could find today.

So since I want to start a new project tomorrow, but I have no time to come up with something fresh, I think I really will just go to town with the cliches. Why not? It's working for all those other authors.

(Oh--regarding my December book of the month, it looks like I'm going to have to shamefacedly claim The Boxcar Children since I never did get a chance to finish anything longer. Hey, it's been a busy month! Of course, I did manage to find time to reread any number of books, but somehow rereading takes less time than reading for the first time. Um.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

We hates waiting, hates it, precious

I just realized that I haven't received a reply--yea or nay--on any submission since the middle of November. That was an acceptance ("The King's Messenger," which will appear in the next issue of Renard's Menagerie), which is nice. But I have (*counts*) seven stories out and seven novel or novella queries (for four projects). I'd like some closure here, please!
It's the holidays, of course. Everyone sort of shuts down in December in publishing, it seems. Hopefully after the new year all those editors will start the new year right by making a dent in the slush. In the meantime, I need to be writing. And I've sort of semi-shut down over December too. Except for some halfhearted revisions to Jack of All Trades and a few thousand words added to various short stories, I haven't really written anything. Time to add another new year's resolution, I think:

Write at least 1,000 words every day.

To help me along, I just discovered (via Elizabeth Bear's blog) the Novel in 90, an LJ community basically for posting daily word counts. The goal is pretty obvious--a novel in 90 days. And they're starting a new round with the new year, so I'm just in time to jump aboard. Only I can't decide which project to go with.

I'm brewing up three projects right now, but none are really ready to start writing:

Charmed Circle, a novella fantasy/detective story set in an alternate-world 1920's London--a little bit of research required, but I've written in this world twice before. Main characters are sketched out, plot is starting to take shape. This would be an ideal project to save for this year's NaNoWriMo, though.

(tentatively titled) Katie Cruel, a fantasy novel set in a world I've written about before. Main character sketched out, main story arc more or less decided on, but no details settled beyond the first part of the book.

untitled urban fantasy/mystery that needs a lot of worldbuilding (and plotting) before I can really do anything with it. Main characters sketched out (sort of) and setting decided on, but that's pretty much it.

Of the three, though, the last one is the most saleable. Urban fantasies are hot right now, and I think I have an interesting twist on the fantasy part. But I want it to be a full-fledged mystery as well as a full-fledged fantasy, so I really, really need to get cooking on the plot.

That's the problem with writing, really. It's a time-consuming process even for a fast writer, and as I've noted before--I'm really impatient. To the point where, faced with a dilemma like the one I have now, of which project to start writing in two days, I'm likely to give up and go read a book someone else wrote.

But first I have to finish this damned story I'm working on. Also, the dog is staring at me.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cutting and adding

Today, despite my feeling that I haven't been in my house for more than a few hours at a time since moving in, I decided I had to get OUT of the house for a while and get some writing done. I just can't concentrate at home sometimes, particularly when (like now) the dog comes in and stares at me until I get up and give him something to eat. He's a big dog with a very intent stare that gets on my nerves.

So I grabbed my laptop and went out to the only Starbucks on the freaking PLANET that doesn't have wifi, which was all to the good really because I wanted to write. But since I was feeling grim and a bit depressed, which may have something to do with being broke and jobless at the moment and may have something to do with watching the bleak I Am Legend last night, I spent the first fifteen minutes savagely cutting words out of my CatsCurious story. Cutting is an exercise best done when feeling grim anyway.

The result of the cutting was so good that I cheered up a bit and managed to add nearly a thousand words to the story afterwards. Although that may have something to do with the sugar-laden vanilla steamer I was drinking.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Honesty Becomes Me

There's a gigantic new Borders in the Turkey Creek shopping center (my favoritest place ever, because there's also an Atlanta Bread Company and the flagship of the Regal Cinemas line, The Pinnacle). I went there for the first time today and bought a few things, including Jim C. Hines's second goblin book, Goblin Hero.

Only, once I was walking out to the car I started thinking about the total, and when I looked at my receipt I discovered the cashier had forgotten to ring up the book. She had only charged me for the day planner, the puzzle magazine, and the half-off chocolate cookie that didn't actually turn out to be much good.

I went back in and told her, and she rang the book up for me and I paid for it. Because I am an honest person, and I don't want Hines to be cheated out of his royalties for that purchase, and anyway only a cad steals books.

But I do wonder--if it had been the puzzle magazine or the day planner instead of the book, would I have gone back in? I hope so, but I don't know.

The cookie? Hell no. Hey, free cookie.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New Year's Resolutions already

I just wrenched the damned smoke detector off the ceiling and yanked its battery out. It goes off all the damn time. It goes off when I take a shower, I guess because of the steam, which is why the floor is so wet now. My new house is very small. I guess I'll remount the smoke detector somewhere else, away from the bathroom.

Other than that, I've had a very pleasant Christmas, and I hope everyone else did too. I ate too much, of course. But I got to see my relatives, who gave me nice things, and I gave them nice things too. I'm about to settle down with a knitting pattern and some Jacob wool I spun last year, to make myself a hat, and watch the DVD Mom gave me of the Pixar short films collection. If I don't think about how I have no job and no money, life is good.

Writing-wise, everything has slowed waaaaay down for the holidays. I don't expect to hear back from anyone until after the new year. I haven't had much time to even think about my new project, except to add one character and tentatively title it Charmed Circle, but I did remember last night that I can't start it just yet. I'm still not done with my CatsCurious story, dammit! I completely forgot about it. I intend to finish it this week, and everything else will have to wait on it.

I'm thinking about new year's resolutions. I did pretty good with them last year. My main goal was to send out 40 submissions over the year and get at least four acceptances. I don't remember how many subs I actually sent--over 50, I'm sure--but I sold nine stories.

My new year's resolutions will have to be even more ambitious this year. My goals:

Sell a novel or novella
Make my first pro sale
Make at least four other sales
Write two novellas and a novel
Write at least four short stories
Finish revisions for Stag in Balance and Jack of All Trades
Finish writing Stag in Velvet

Last year when I started really sending subs out I'd never sold a single piece of fiction. I thought that meant I wasn't much good, but it turned out it simply meant I wasn't sending my stories out often enough. I would get three or four rejections and give up. This year I discovered the rewards of persistence.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holly Cookies

I spent yesterday making Christmas cookies over at Mom's house. They look incredibly festive. I usually also make a batch of blue dough and cut it into tiny blue stars to mix in with the holly cookies. Add a few small candy canes as decoration and these cookies will hold up to even the most sophisticated party. And they taste incredibly good, too, and are super easy to make. Here's my recipe:

Holly Cookies

1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

To color the dough, add a generous squirt of food coloring (not just a few drops--the color fades as the cookies bake) to the butter mixture before adding the flour mixture. Chill dough before rolling out and cutting. Bake on greased cookie sheets at 350 for 10-11 minutes.

Buy Brach's red hots if you can; don't use those big red hots they sell as cake decorations. They're too big and hard, and they melt and look awful. Also, don't press the red hots down so far that they touch the pan, because that makes them melt too. I usually make a batch of blue batter and cut them into small stars to mix in with the holly cookies.

My mom blogged about making these a few years ago, with lots of pictures.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Let's see... Charmed Life is taken...

Ideas for the next project are galloping along, fortunately. I've got the main idea for the story and the main character's personality and background are filled in too. This is the fun part, when anything can pop up out of my subconscious and slot into place to take the story in a new direction. This is--well, this is just the most fun ever, and I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't ever experienced it. Writing is awesome.

I'm to the point where I need to pick a title. It doesn't make any sense that picking a title at this stage should help with plotting--but it does. I guess it gives me a better sense of what direction the story will go. At the moment I'm leaning towards Charmed Life, except that Diana Wynne Jones got that title first. Not that there's anything wrong with duplicating a title, but DWJones is one of my favorite authors. What if my Charmed Life did well and then I met DWJones one day? It would be so awkward.

So you'll know what I'll be doing the rest of the evening: playing Frozen Bubble and thinking about phrases that might do for a title.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hey, ho, let's do another NaNo

I've decided to hold off on starting the Katie Cruel project. It's just not ready to write yet. If I tried to sit down and outline it now, I know I'd get about 1/3 of the way in and then have to stop.

Besides, it's going to be a dark story and right now I don't think I can handle dark. My grandmother's ill, my ex-boss is probably going to stiff me out of the two weeks vacation pay she promised me, so I will have to find another job immediately so I can pay the rent, and I'm in general stressed out from the move. So I want a light and cheery project to help me through this.

Since I love the alternate-world 1920s British detective-story-type setting I've used for Evil Outfitters Ltd. and Jack of All Trades, I think I'll use that world again. This time I'll have a female main character and set the story in London. No title or theme yet, but I do have a sense of the main character's personality. Since EO and JoAT both started life as NaNo novels, maybe I'll treat this new project the same way, and write it at breakneck pace during January. Writing at typing speed is fun!

Period background reading for the new project: One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens and early Dorothy Parker.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I am alive!

Just a very quick post from Panera Bread (I don't have internet set up in my house yet) to say that I've arrived safely in Tennessee along with my zoo and ten million books. I did not have room for the TV, the computer (I left it for my brother and will just use my little laptop from now on), the tea kettle, or my box of important documents--the last is going to make it difficult to get my driver's license updated. But I've asked my brother to mail it, so I should be good.

I'm hoping to get internet access in a few days. That way you will not be deprived of my fascinating blogs for too much longer.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Read me at EDF again!

My story "How My Sister Lost the Game" is up at Every Day Fiction, so you can go on over there and read it. And while you're there, of course, read all the other great stories.

This one is the third of my stories they've published. I don't much like writing short stories at all--give me a novel to get my teeth into any day--but flash pieces aren't too bad. The trick (for me, at least) is keeping the word count down so they don't accidentally turn into non-flash stories.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On Names

Last week or so I threatened to talk about why it's going to be difficult to decide on a name for the main character of my next project. That day has come, it seems, since I started thinking about it again this afternoon.

To explain, I first need to tell you about this wonderful CD my mom gave me. It's the 2007 Southern Music CD #9 from Oxford American, and it's chock full of fantastic music. I highly recommend it. One of the songs, track 8, is a strange and haunting folk song called "Katie Cruel," sung by Karen Dalton. I am so taken with this song--it strikes the same tone I want for the book--that I'm determined to include it in the story in some way. I thought I might name the main character Katie and actually title the book Katie Cruel.

BUT that's my name. I mean the Katie part, not the cruel part. I go by Katherine or Kate usually now, but no matter--naming a character with my name is just weird. Not to mention that it raises the specter of a self-insertion story, which is absolutely not the case. But if I don't name the character Katie, it doesn't make any sense to name the book Katie Cruel, and I'm not even sure I can work the song into the story in any meaningful way. And I want to.

Then again, I'm using the byline of K.C. Shaw instead of Katherine Shaw, so maybe I can get away with it. And of course, by the time I actually start writing, it's probable that the tone of the story will change and the song won't be appropriate anymore. But the name Katie just works for the character--and yet it still squicks me just a little to use my own name as a character name. So I may not use it at all. In which case, what the hell will I call the character?

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering what the C in K.C. Shaw stands for--it doesn't stand for anything. My middle name is Elizabeth. But K.E. Shaw just doesn't trip off the tongue as well; it feels weak, staggering glottally from the tough and practical K to the sighing Shaw, whereas C glides bluely from one to the next.

Odds and Ends

I just read this on Boing Boing--Terry Pratchett has revealed that he's been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. This is horrible news. It would be horrible enough if it was news about anyone I cared about, but it's doubly horrible that it's a brilliant writer who should be writing books for decades to come. At least Beethoven could still compose after he went deaf.

But since Pratchett has asked people to keep things cheerful and not get all doom-and-gloom on his ass, I will quickly switch topics. It looks like I'll be driving down to Tennessee Friday, not Saturday as planned, because of a snowstorm that's supposed to sweep across the region on Saturday. One of the reasons I'm moving is so I can avoid driving in snow. And this has another happy result: I don't have to work Friday. Of course, I do have to drive nine+ hours with a dog and two unhappy cats, two of which animals have kidney problems that require them to have access to water at all times and access to emptying bladders at frequent intervals. I should point out that the dog is a Newfoundland and the car is a Yaris hatchback. Oh yes, and I have one box that absolutely must be stuffed into the (wee) hatchback, along with clothes, computer, TV, pretty much everything from the kitchen, and linens. And the other box, that I was going to leave with my brother since it was only yet more books--well, I opened it last night to get something to read, and discovered to my horror that it wasn't just all books, it was mostly stuff from the bedroom that I have to bring with me. God knows how I'll manage to cram it in the car.

Wait, this is not cheering me up. Today I discovered Elizabeth bear's blog, They Must Need Bears, and reading back entries has brought me joy and staved off boredom for hours. And I'm wishing my last name was something cool like Bear, only not Bear because that's Elizabeth Bear's name. My talk of names probably alarms my family at this point, since I have a long history of changing mine. But don't worry, I still like Shaw. It's bright emerald green.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Apparently I only have two favorite things.

I'm riding out my last week at my old job before moving to Tennessee on Saturday, and since I've passed off most of my duties to other people, I have pretty much nothing to do. This is making the days really crawl by.

On the other hand, my bosses are out of town today. So I brought the story I'm working on for CatsCurious (I want it polished and perfect by Jan. 1 when they open submissions for the fairy tale project). It's kind of awkward, though, trying to write light and happy prose when everyone in the office is practically baying for the blood of one of the other employees. Not me, I hasten to add. Maybe I should be writing a soap opera set in an office instead of a fairy tale.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Favorite Things #2: snowed in!

I live on a steep hill. Ordinarily when it's going to snow I park out front, pointed down the hill. But I didn't know it was supposed to snow last night, so I parked on the service drive, pointed up the hill. This morning after I went out and warmed up the car and cleaned snow off it, and then I tried to drive up the hill--and gravity won the battle against traction. So I went back inside and called to say I wasn't coming in today. Yay, snow day!

I've spent the morning packing. I would say I have too many books, but I don't think I've owned this few books since I learned to read. So I have too few books, and not enough boxes to put them all in.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My favorite things #1

I just found out that Diana Wynne Jones, one of my favorite writers ever, was awarded the 2007 World Fantasy Association lifetime achievement award (along with Betty Ballantine, editor and co-founder of Ballantine Books). You can read her acceptance speech on the Official DWJ Website. Diana's take on literary agents: "This is where I learnt what literary agents are *really* for: they are for pulling you off the throat of your publisher. "

In celebration of her award, I think I will reread one of Diana Wynne Jones's books--I believe I own all of them. The only trouble is which one to choose. My choice is made easier by my having packed half my books in preparation for moving (to a house with no shelves. Hmm).

I think I'll read Dogsbody. It was the first DWJ book I ever read, and remains one of my favorites. And I haven't yet packed it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Me, like Kermit

You know how Kermit the Frog always used to introduce the week's very special guest star (they never had just regular guest stars, always very special ones) and then he'd sort of spaz out with excitement? That's me right now.

I just got another request for full, baybee! And it's from this week's very special guest, Wizards of the Coast! Yaiiiieeeeeee!!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Goodbye, NaNoWriMo

I miss November already. I read my NaNo book over today--I completed it yesterday--and it's better than I thought. That sounds both arrogant and false; all I mean is, for a book written in 31 days, it holds together with no plot holes or characterization bobbles. On the other hand, when I actually do my Butt In Chair time and write every day, I can easily write 50k in a month without needing the extra incentive of a contest.

But NaNo sure is a fun way to write. I love looking at my progression chart and seeing how far I've come, and I love pitting myself against other writers I know in the word-count battle. Best of all, I love having a new completed project to play with now when a month ago it was only an outline and a few character sketches.

I made some smallish revisions today: one character named Andrew had inexplicably become Arthur, another character set off for one town and ended up in another, and so forth. I also plugged the one minor plot hole I found and smoothed a few transitions. Now I'll set it aside for a few weeks so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. In the meantime, I'll write the synopsis and query for when it's ready to send out!