Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review; 2000s in review

Here we are at the end of 2009. It went really fast. I think it went so fast we skipped over some days in there somehow. I'd like them back, please.

I did pretty good this year, all told. I met a lot of my writing goals and came close to meeting most of the others. Here were my goals for 2009:

land an agent
sell a novel
sell a novel to a major publisher (i.e. one which will get my books on shelves)
sell at least four short stories
sell a story to a SFWA pro market
write at least six short stories (flash doesn't count)
write at least two novels
finish writing White Rose

Now obviously I didn't get an agent or sell a novel to a major publisher, and I abandoned White Rose as not worth finishing pretty early in the year. I also didn't make a sale to a SFWA pro market (I might have done better if I'd actually submitted stories to pro markets more than I did). I did, however, sell a novel to Double Dragon, sold 13 short stories, wrote five short stories and five flash stories, and wrote two novels (Blood and Taxes and Bell-Men).

I most regret not finishing my "read 50 books in 2009" goal. I only read 47, which isn't bad, and if you count rereads then I easily passed the goal. Next year I'll read more.

As for the whole decade, it's been good. I started selling stories in 2007 after never having a piece of fiction published before then. I sold Jack of All Trades, my first published novel, which came out this September. I've got my own website and a new book review blog. I feel like my writing has improved in leaps and bounds in the last few years, and I feel part of a small writerly community online, which is particularly awesome (thanks for letting me play with you, guys!).

And in my personal life, two of my three nephews were born in the oughts, I gained my M.Ed, and I have a decent job with good benefits. I've had losses (two grandparents, an uncle, an aunt, my beloved dog, and one of my cats all passed away this decade), but they were balanced by the good things in life. I've seen good movies and read good books. I've had fascinating conversations with intelligent people. I met Terry Pratchett and got him to sign a book for me. I went to my first convention and loved it. In short, it's been a very good decade.

I fully expect the 2010s to be even better. Here's to the next decade, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Not quite there.

Well, okay, it doesn't look like I'm going to read three books by the end of the year. It also doesn't look like I'm going to write that elusive sixth short story for the year. And while I'm still hoping to get the Bell-Men rewrites done before the end of tomorrow, it's certainly not done yet despite my best efforts last night and this afternoon. Dammit.

On the other hand, I did do laundry today and cleaned out my closet, which was sort of full of shoes and clothes I haven't worn in a year or more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

No sleep till 'the end'

I absolutely wasted yesterday. I wrote two paragraphs of a new story and then just stopped. I had all freaking day to write and I didn't do anything!

Then--probably due to guilt--I couldn't sleep last night. I got up this morning annoyed with myself and decided I'm going to finish the Bell-Men rewrites today. If I don't get that finished, I get to deal with another sleepless night, and you know how I love my sleep.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The decade in film

In spring of 2000 I bought a "Movie Journal" at a book store. It's a nifty spiral-bound book with lots of pages to fill in. The first section is "Film Log" with a place to indicate the movie title, date viewed, what kind of movie it is, and what I thought about it. Other sections of the journal are for Sneak Previews, Trivia, Museums, Autographs, and so on. But I've just used it for reviews. For every movie I've seen in the theater since April of 2000.

I should point out also that between November of 2005 and February of 2007 I wrote a weekly movie review for a local newspaper, so that I saw almost twice the number of movies than usual during that time. But let's look at the overall statistics!

# Movies I watched in the theater between April 2000 and December 2009: 247
# of these movies that were animated: 58
# of these movies I hated so much I walked out early: 5

Here's how I liked the movies I saw this decade:
# I loved: 99
# I thought were okay: 90
# I hated: 58

I'm actually surprised I only saw about 250 movies this decade (it feels like a lot more), and I'm surprised that I loved so many of them. I guess I choose wisely most of the time.

Animation has really changed over the last ten years. The first movie I reviewed in my journal was "The Road to El Dorado," of which I wrote, "Good animation but weak story." The next few animated movies I saw in 2000 were "Dinosaur" ("Frankly, I am tired of CGI") and "Titan AE" ("Okay to very good animation, though heavily rotoscoped"). If you saw "Dinosaur" you probably wish you hadn't--it was all computer animated and beautifully done for its time, but dull as dishwater, with talking dinosaurs and a main character who could do no wrong. Most animation in 2000 was still traditional hand-drawn animation. Now that's unusual. Yesterday I saw "Avatar" ("Meh"), which I don't count as an animated movie, but which uses the same technology Pixar and co. use. And it's pretty much seamless. It just goes to show how sophisticated computer animation has become. The same with "Where the Wild Things Are," an amazing movie ("Odd and honest, with the keenest view of real childhood that I've ever seen") that used computer animation to fully animate the wild things' mouths so they'd seem more realistic. They do seem realistic. I forgot I was watching people in giant furry suits.

I'd like to say that movies are getting better, but they're not. I'm just getting savvier, I think, when it comes to Nicholas Cage movies. I used to see them all. Now I pick and choose carefully. (I'm definitely going to see "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" next year, though).

In looking through my journal, I find entries for movies I've completely forgotten. I can't even remember what they were about. 2002's "Sum of All Fears"? I wrote "Very good--not too tense but very, very riveting." Apparently I liked it a lot, but I can't remember it now. 2003's "View from the Top"? I wrote, "The plot seemed to meander without really taking off and the writing just tended to the pedantic and obvious." I don't remember. I don't remember at all.

I'm also fascinated with the way my take on a movie changes. I fill in my little journal entries as soon as I can after watching the movie. Take a movie like "Shrek," which I adore and have seen a thousand times now; I initially wrote, "Fun once, although I can't see watching it over and over." And about the movie "War of the Worlds," which I loathe now, I wrote, "Really tense and well-done." (Of course, I also added, "Tom Cruise is the King of Tards.")

I can't possibly pick a best movie out of the list of almost 250--there are far too many I loved. I'll just give a few shout-outs to movies that were excellent but didn't really catch on, together with my original journal entry:

"The Life Aquatic" (viewed 12/29/04)
Really dark but often hysterically funny. The story took some time to really get started, but it wasn't a bit predictable. Lovely deadpan, quirky humor, and excellent acting!

"Mad Hot Ballroom" (viewed 7/14/05)
Excellent documentary, really sweet and feel-good without seeming contrived. Really articulate, talented kids!

"Good Night, and Good Luck" (viewed 11/6/05)
Powerful and claustrophobic. Superb acting and writing! Watching--and enjoying--movies like this one reminds me I'm a grown-up.

"3:10 to Yuma" (viewed 9/15/07)
Really surprisingly good, particularly surprising since I don't love westerns and I'm not a fan of either main actor.

"Be Kind Rewind" (viewed 2/24/08)
Not what I expected--better, in fact. It had a deliberate pace that worked well contrasted with the homemade movies' frenetic feel. Sweet and well acted, too.

"Ponyo" (viewed 8/15/09)
Best animated movie of the year. Period. Brilliant, gorgeous, charming, and the kids in the audience loved it.

And to finish us off, here's the entry for a movie I really, really didn't like.

"King Arthur" (viewed 7/11/04)
A failed attempt at a heroic LotR clone, the sort of movie where you can tell who the bad guys are because they have bad teeth--except they didn't even manage that detail. Everyone had good teeth. And let's not even talk about the spunky Guinevere, a woman whose teeth appear to be too big for her mouth, and who goes to battle wearing a leather strap and a lot of make-up. *shudder*

So what were your favorite movies of the oughts?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bad dreams all night

I dreamed last night that I overslept for work and didn't get up until 2pm, and then I had to call in to explain my absence, so I called the office and pretended I had laryngitis. When I woke for real, it was 7am and my mom was pounding on my door so I would get up and go shopping with her. I was dressed and downstairs within ten minutes. My mom said, "Congratulations, you are now a bonafide member of this family." Then we hit all the after-Christmas sales.

Christmas was awesome here. I hope it was for you too if that's what you celebrate; if you celebrate something else, I hope it is/was awesome too. I got seven books and a pair of pajamas for Christmas, which is my idea of utter bliss.

Oh, and Mom and I saw the Sherlock Holmes movie today. It's terrific. I highly recommend it!

Tomorrow I've got to help clean up the house and I want to finish reading the book I'm in the middle of (Dr Shuker's Casebook by Karl Shuker, which is absolutely wonderful). If I have time, though, I plan to finish my stupid never-ending rewrites of Bell-Men. And on Monday I'm going to write a short story if it kills me. Hopefully it won't kill me, because I've got all these great books to read before I die.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our heroine becomes revoltingly domestic

I woke up this morning thinking, "I need to take the butter out of the fridge so it can warm up."

This morning I spent almost four hours knitting. I'm not a fast knitter, but I got most of the neighbor's dog-hair scarf done (it helps that I'm using size 11 needles). Then I had a quick lunch, changed into a shirt that wasn't covered with dog hair and my great-grandmother's apron, and made about six dozen sugar cookies. Mom took some to the neighbors (the other neighbors, not the neighbor I'm giving the scarf to) and some to our landlord and landlady, and some to choir, and the broken or burnt ones we're keeping to eat. Once I'd finished baking and had cleaned up the kitchen, I had a quick supper and changed back into my dog-hair-covered T-shirt and finished knitting the scarf.

Now I just need to wash and block the scarf in the morning, and once it's dried I'll take it over to the neighbor. Then I can RELAX because I have fulfilled all my current obligations.

Of course, today's schedule hasn't left me much time to read or write. Fortunately, I still have a few hours left before bedtime.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

26 questions

Anne Spollen has tagged me! I love her responses; hopefully mine will be half as interesting. If you think it would be fun to do this meme, you're tagged!

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

The last thing I wrote (which I'm still working on) is Bell-Men. The first thing I wrote that I still have...hmm, most of my really old stuff I've pitched long ago. I think I still have a copy of a (terrible) YA book I wrote in the late 1990s called The Rooftops of Simminee Soo. The title was the only good thing about that one. I've stolen the city's name for Little Sparrow, incidentally.

2) Write poetry?

Not anymore, not since college.

3) Angsty poetry?

Not anymore, not since college. :)

4) Favorite genre of writing?

Fantasy, definitely.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

The annoying ones get cut and deleted from my brain, so I don't remember any.

6) Best plot you've ever created?

Ah. Ahahahaha, um. My plots are terrible.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

Plot twist? I do not understand this thing called a 'plot twist.'

8) How often do you get writer's block?

I don't think I've ever really had writer's block. I stress a bit when I'm not writing, but I've recently come to realize that I need recharge time after finishing a project or two. I may not be actively writing, but I'm still working on some level.

9) Write fan fiction?

Ew, no. I find the concept of fanfiction distinctly icky, like watching someone wank off. Maybe that's just me.

10) Do you type or write by hand?

Both. Sometimes if I feel stuck on a project, switching to longhand seems to help. I also like writing longhand because I do an editing pass as I type without feeling like I'm editing.

11) Do you save everything you write?

Usually. Even the awful, unfinished stuff tends to have parts I like. I sometimes crib ideas from retired stories, so it's helpful to have old documents on the computer to look over. Of course, the really old stuff is all gone--and good riddance, frankly. I probably ought to do another purge.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Sometimes, but it rarely works the second go-around if it didn't work the first time.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

I love it all until I hate it--how's that? I (alone in all the world, apparently) love The Weredeer and I absolutely adore The Taste of Magic even though it's received 18 agent rejections. I'm less sure about Bell-Men, probably because it's still in progress, but it's the most commercial thing I've ever written.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

I have no earthly idea. People seem to like Jack of All Trades.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

No, but that's next on my to-do list.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Secondary worlds. I very rarely set stories in the real world. It's boring, and I have to do research.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Just one, Bell-Men, although considering how often I catch myself thinking about other pending projects, I suspect I'm actually working on several. I'm just only adding actual words to Bell-Men.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

It's sad that I had to think about this one. No.

19) What are your five favorite words?

I've been sitting here for several minutes trying to think of just one. I don't get stuck on favorite words the way I used to. If I did have favorite words, no one would know because I would edit them down to one--maybe two--uses per novel-length project.

I like writing about snow.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Ana from The Taste of Magic. She's enough like me that I keep nervously doing the Mary Sue checklist to make sure she hasn't fallen into the Mary Sue puddle.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?

I have no idea. I usually start with a vague idea for what the story needs, find a name I like, and then start writing. It all evolves organically from there. Sometimes I don't like the character I've created, which means the whole project is dead. Fortunately that doesn't happen very often, especially not recently.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?

I've written three stories based on dreams. Two of them have sold after major huge extensive rewrites, and the third has not sold despite major huge extensive rewrites. Never again!

23) Do you favor happy endings?

Oh, definitely! I just want my characters to deserve those endings.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yes, although it's sort of second nature for me and I don't stress about it much as a result.

25) Does music help you write?

Not really. When I'm writing, I tune everything out so I don't hear any music playing.

26) Quote something you've written.

From Bell-Men:

I heard Patience scream and looked back into the main room. I didn't see any dogs, but a bell-man had cut Patience’s throat and was standing over her limp body, hacking at her neck with a knife nearly big enough to qualify as a small sword. I stared in horror as he sawed through her spinal cord and severed her head entirely.

I covered my mouth with both hands to keep from screaming. I thought I would puke. I thought I would faint. The bell-man straightened up, covered in blood, holding the head in one hand and the knife in his other. He saw me.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Having the file open doesn't equal working

Well, here it is the shortest day of the year. Assuming the sun comes up tomorrow as planned, we're on our way to summer.

I've had Bell-Men open on my computer all day, but I think I've only written about 500 words. This is not how I'd planned to spend my holiday. I may take a spiral notebook to bed and write the old-fashioned way. I bet I could get a thousand words in easy before I get bored and decide to read someone else's book.

Speaking of other people's books, I bought a Harlequin Intrigue at Goodwill today for 50 cents. You thought I was kidding when I said I was considering writing one, didn't you? Assuming I can gag my way through it (I had trouble forcing myself to pick one up; the titles revolted me so much I kept shying away), I'll see if I can manage to write one. Since I suspect my writing strength is characterization and my writing weakness is plot, I should be pretty good at writing romance. Also, I get to pick a pseudonym and that's always fun.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Plying love

I realized today that I've spun nothing but dog hair this year. Not that I've done much spinning at all; in addition to the neighbor's dog hair I've only spun up my uncle's Golden retriever's fluff that he saved from when the dog was a puppy.

Next year I'm going to spin a lot more than I did this year. It takes a long time, but I do love the result. This evening I plied some of the neighbor's dog hair that I've been spinning. It was awful to spin--really short staple, full of guard hairs and VM*, and coarse and ugly. But once I had it plied and wound off onto the niddy-noddy, I wanted to hug it. I love the way newly-plied yarn looks. And after I washed the yarn in four changes of warm water, the first two with generous dollops of (expensive and hard to acquire here) Kookaburra Woolwash, it looked even better and smelled much better too.

While I was tearing the house up today looking for my ballwinder, I found a lot of wonderful fiber I forgot I had--silk and mohair, wool and cashmere. I can't wait to get started spinning it.

Um, this post had nothing to do with writing. So I'll just mention that I have been working intermittently today on Bell-Men and it's at 118,500 words. I'll be cutting probably 8,500 words after I've finished the rewrite, but it's still going to end up way long. I'm not sure if that's good or not.

*VM=vegetative matter, in this case mostly burrs

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Small press books

Well, we didn't get any snow after all. It just turned back into rain and melted. That was after Mom and I rushed out in excitement to the store and bought marshmallows, Hershey bars, brownie mix, and hot dogs--in case we were SNOWED! IN!--and the clerk said she wished she could come home with us.

A lot of folks are talking about supporting small presses, which has made me think about it too. I haven't been too good about that this year. I don't read a lot of short fiction so I don't have any subscriptions to anything, but I did order a few anthologies this year, notably the excellent 52 Stitches antho. I also ordered and very much enjoyed Catherine J. Gardner's chapbook "The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon."

Mostly, though, I supported small presses this year by buying books. At the moment I'm reading The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan, which I started earlier this year but never finished (I was probably distracted by something shiny). So far I'm really enjoying it; it's taking off in unexpected directions, which I like.

I've read several other small press books this year, and I hate to say it, but I have not been terribly impressed. I blogged (twice) about Nathalie Mallet's book The Princes of the Golden Cage, but I never mentioned how little I liked Anne Logston's Shadow because, you know, I'm not cruel. I did enjoy Emily Veinglory's Father of Dragons, but that was the bright spot in the small-press offerings this year.

I don't want to think small press books are on the whole of a poorer quality than the books big commercial publishers release (my own Jack of All Trades came out this year from a small press, and I have another book coming out in 2010 from another small press)--but of course they are. The good stuff is there, but it's harder to find. That just means it's important to look harder (oh, and read Aaron Polson's new review blog that focuses on small presses).

In 2010 I vow to read at least ten books published by small presses. That's support where it counts.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snow splats

I'm home! I'm off work until January 4! And it's snowing!

Actually, it's not exactly snowing. Rain is falling along with what Mom calls "snow splats," big drops of rain mixed with sleety snow. We might get some snow tonight or we might not. Except that snow will ruin the family's plans to get together at my aunt and uncle's house, I don't care what the weather does--because I don't have to go to work!

I've got a lot I want to do while I'm off work, like read five books and write at least one short story (which will finish off a couple of 2009 resolutions). I also want to finish the Bell-Men rewrites. I really should have finished them by now, but I'm very, very close to the end. I think I can get it before the end of the year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Finals week is killing me

I used to update almost every day. I used to have time to read other people's blogs too. Funny how the end of the semester still gets me even though I'm not taking classes. I guess that's the way it is when you work in a college.

(That sounded like a punchline, but it wasn't funny.)

I'm still lacking six books in my "read 50 books in 2009" challenge. I think I may have to pick up six really thin YA/MG books to make it, although after this week I'm off work until the new year! Maybe I can settle in next week and read and read and read. Er, no, wait--I have to spin and spin and spin up the nice old neighbor's dog hair and then knit and knit and knit it into a muffler to give it to him for Christmas, and at this rate that's going to take every spare minute of my time since right now I only have enough fur spun up to make a doll's muffler.

I've had this fur for an entire year, too. I have absolutely no excuse for leaving it so late.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Support Tu Publishing

This one has received the imprimatur of Boing Boing, so it might very well reach its funding goal. I've been keeping an eye on it for a week or so and finally donated.

Tu Publishing is a going to be a multicultural publisher of SF, fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction for children and young adults. That's an awesome goal, and the founder, Stacy Whitman, has worked as an editor for Wizards of the Coast and other publishers. She knows what she's doing. She's also pleasantly low-key about the whole multicultural thing. It's not a militant view; she just wants to publish books with characters who aren't all white, with settings that aren't all America, with viewpoints that aren't all the same. I think this is awesome.

I just donated $15--you can donate any amount you like, using Amazon's pay service (just like you were ordering books through Amazon). They have gifts available if you donate over a certain amount. Moreover, if they don't reach their goal of $10,000 by the end of this week, your card/account won't be charged for the donation. Currently they're 50% toward their goal, and I know they were only 40% toward their goal yesterday because I dropped by to see. Hopefully they'll make it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quitcher bitchin

There's a link going around to a Salon article by an anonymous writer talking about how difficult it is to be a midlister. It's an interesting article, but by the end of it, I was frankly fed up with anonymous writer. Basically, she's upset because her first book got her a six-figure advance but didn't do well, and her next three books have gotten her smaller and smaller advances--barely five figures!--and only one has earned out, and that one that's earned out was the smallest advance of all, and she's all sad because she's had to take a day job.

Excuse me while I tune up the world's tiniest violin.

I think big advances are a big problem. Agents push for them because they get paid right away, writers want them because hey, money!, and publishers--well, I have no idea why publishers offer bloated advances. I do know that the higher the advance, the longer a book takes to earn out. Duh. That was fine back in the olden days when only, like, four books were published every year and they stayed on bookshelves for decades before being returned and remaindered. Things move a lot faster now. Oh, and there's a recession on.

So no, I'm not very sympathetic to an author who's written four books in two decades and is whining because she finally has to get a day job. My advice: write more books and branch out into genre fiction if you really want to keep the money coming in. In the meantime, I'll be cranking out one or two books a year and hoping to eventually sell one to a big publisher and get a low four-figure advance. I won't be able to quit my day job, but I never expected to.

My thoughts mesh beautifully with Aaron Polson's post today about short fiction pay rates, incidentally. Also, I'm seriously considering writing one of those cheesy category romances. Apparently that's where the money's at, if you write enough of them. The advances are low, but they almost always earn out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Today was made of suck

I'm really surprised I haven't gotten a rejection today, since everything else has gone wrong. I guess it helps sometimes to have just one story out.

We're supposed to get a little bit of snow overnight or tomorrow morning--like, less than an inch, but that's exciting! because it's snow! in December! If we do get snow here, it's almost always in late January or early February. The last several years we haven't had any snow to speak of at all, but it's been so rainy this year that I'm hoping we'll have at least one day where we get a few inches of accumulation (even if it melts the next day, as it always does).

If it snows a whole lot overnight, they might close the college where I work, which means I would be able to sleep in tomorrow morning. Since I've been staying up way too late all week to read, I could really use a sleeping-in day. I suspect lack of sleep may have contributed to my rotten day. (Oh yeah, you think?)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

That odd paradox

If I didn't have to work, I'd be able to spend all day writing, right? Except that on days when I'm off work, I usually actually spend less time writing than on days when I do have to work. And that's one of the reasons why I'll probably never quit my day job*.

I haven't typed up what I wrote longhand today, but I probably cleared 1,000 words on my Bell-Man rewrites. I'm about to link to a scene that's already written, which encourages me. Of course, then I have to rewrite the entire climax of the book from scratch, and I'm not sure what precisely I want to happen. I just know I want it to happen a lot better than it happened the first time around.

*Other reasons include health insurance, steady paychecks, and the fact that no one's paying me all that much money for my writing.