Thursday, August 17, 2017

How reading informs my writing

I'm one of these people who needs to learn by DOING, rather than by OBSERVING. 

Right now at work, I'm learning the core data entry tasks. While I have been working with our computer system for 4.5 months and have job-shadowed people for a couple of days, I am learning mostly by having to do it myself. It's nit-picking, detailed stuff. If you missed that the member ticked a box saying they receive SSI payments, or if you didn't check if the state verified the member's citizenship, it changes everything.

I have been a voracious reader for most of my life. It wasn't until I started writing books about ten years ago that I learned how a plot is supposed to work. Sure, I could identify a plot generally in a  book; we learned that in middle school and high school. Rising action, turning points, climax, denouement, all of that.

It wasn't until I had to figure out what happened next in my books and/or edit what I write in a messy first draft that I've started getting a handle on how to create it. It's still too big a job for me sometimes. I have great attention to detail, but making my turning points really dramatic and really, uh, turn-y point-y? That's hard. Knowing which scenes need to move or change or be deleted? That's SUPER hard.

But on the other hand, sometimes reading other peoples' books gives me clues on what NOT to do. 

I almost abandoned (gave up on, but eventually went back to and finished) a book with a sportsing hero (not gonna say what sport or the title or the name of the bestselling author).

First off, I am not a big sportsterating fan. I guess the ritualized combat plays some role in peoples' psyches, but the squashing of academics in high schools and universities in favor of plowing money into MASCOT PRIDE, the exploitation of thousands of young people in schools, universities and even the pros (because those few who make it might play a year or two and then are 'let go' and have no qualifications for anything else, plus in certain sports, they likely have brain injuries that will dog them for the rest of their lives), and the glorification of superstars 😎 all add up to me wondering where the bread is to go with our circuses.

All that said, I like quite a few of the sports romances I've read. (I blogged about sports and diversity a few months ago, even) There are hockey, basketball, baseball, football, and every other type of sportsy dude (not so often the sportsy lady - a reflection of the wider attitude toward women's sports, I guess).

So anyway, there's this sportster star guy who lives for his sport (but keeps showing up late to practice and getting suspended), only it's barely mentioned as something he does every now and then, mostly an inconvenience to going on a date with the heroine (though he had plenty of time to bang every other woman in the whole city and cause scandals). It is more like a check box to say he's rich and famous, but I don't really get the feeling that he's a sporty guy.

Then the heroine's personality is like the author looked up the trope file for Manic Pixie Dream Girl and ticked all the boxes. She works in the quirkiest coffee shop ever! She plays the ukulele! (And I just re-read the Salon piece by the guy who came up with the term - and who HATES the term and the sexist way it plays out in movies and public discourse) Anyway, I'm just not feeling the love for them.

So I am trying even more than usual to make my characters well-rounded. What does my character do for a living? Do they love it? Are they just getting by with it because it pays the bills? What is their dream job? Is it a realistic dream? What do they have to do to get that dream job? Does it involve a ukulele?

In one of my unpublished contemporary books, the hero is a botanist. He loves plants more than he likes most people. His dream job is to dig in the dirt of the botanical gardens, but right now he's making a good living as some sort of management in a company that works with a university doing botanical research for pharmaceutical companies (I need to figure out exactly what he does, to be honest. It's not his dream job - his parents are the ones who want him to succeed in business). He's not even in the lab. His office and apartment are humid and warm because of the hundreds of plants he's growing. The heroine is a high school English teacher. She goes to work every day, lives on a fairly small salary, has papers to grade, and she's bossy and creative and her ambition is to be a principal.

The novella I'm writing now is anchored on the family's secretary. He's ambitious and has made a name for himself putting other peoples' affairs in order, pulling nobles out of bankruptcy, and ruthlessly taming their expenditures. Now he's working for the de Bures family (The ones from Indispensable Wife) and they don't need all that much help as they are comfortably rich and competent as a couple in both estate management (the husband) and politicking at the king's court (the wife). Their son is good at the schmoozing stuff, but really needs to learn how to run the estate, though the father could live for a long time still. They've hired the best secretary around, who took the job to gain influence at court. He has ulterior motives and ambitions, too.

All this to say that part of creating a character is knowing them well.

And knowing your characters and making their lives hard is what creates plot. And making absolutely everyone charmed because she plays the ukulele? Come on, someone in there has to roll their eyes and not be labelled the villain.

The ukulele.

Come on.

No ukuleles anywhere! Just some minor magical incidents and an overbearing Tartuffe-ian dad!

Melisande is out now!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Work and school - the saga continues

I didn't get to work overtime this week and this weekend, because we finally caught up with the queue of tasks I was working from. It was great while it lasted (though a lot of extra work, time and a half is decent pay). The sad thing is that because I don't know the main data entry task, I have to learn that now. And not only do I have to learn it, but I got traded to another team, back in the big room of elbow-to-elbow data processors and had to give up my beautiful, spacious cubicle. The pay's the same, but until I know the data entry really really well, I can't work overtime, nor can I get myself back to the Research team. So I have motivation on two fronts to learn this stuff! It feels like a demotion, though. Sigh.

And now we have Nazis and KKK marching in Virginia and a certain president threatening nuclear war. So the world is even scarier than usual these days.

It's all a bit much for my attempts to write. I'm tired and bummed out when I get home and then I open the news or social media and.... yuck. But I'm starting to see my way through how the plot needs to go on the book I'm working on. It's definitely going to be only a novella  of 30-40K words. But it's going to be awesome :)

In other news, my big kids started back at high school this week and my 4th grader starts next Wednesday. Summer, while still hot, is over. And no, I don't get why they have to start in the first half of August. They get more breaks during the year, then get out in June though. Summer is about two months long.

My oldest son is a senior this year, which means we need to get serious about college search and finances and applications and stuff. He's also taking as many AP classes as he can squeeze in PLUS he's taking Calculus 3 at a community college. He's bummed because he can't get AP history on his schedule due to his other class choices and requirements. But he is taking AP literature and French 4 this semester and AP Biology and Honors Physics next semester. And looking at his schedule on the website, it looks like he IS in AP Government next semester. Is that the one he wanted? (Turns out it's not; he ALSO wanted AP history) I'm mostly worried that he's going to burn out part of the way through the year.

My middle child is a sophomore and I keep wondering where the time has gone. This is the kid I homeschooled through middle school. He struggled in some of his classes last year, but ended up with an excellent GPA overall. Maybe he learned what I've been trying to tell him that showing up all the time and doing every assignment and turning it in makes an enormous difference to your grades. He was jealous of his big brother last year at awards night because he was in the group that had higher than 4.0 due to all those weighted AP and Honors classes. Their actual unweighted GPAs are about the same, so he has hope. If desire to match his older brother (who doesn't struggle with dyslexia) means he works harder in school, I'm not going to protest.

We just finished the school supply shopping for the youngest this morning. Actually, Michael's didn't have red or white tempera paint in the 16 oz bottles, so we got the other 6 colors and not those. I try not to moan about the cost of it, because if we didn't buy the stuff, the teachers would end up buying it, but hey.... why don't we give the schools enough money to pay for that stuff? Surely buying paint and erasers in bulk would be cheaper than sending each family out?

I was going to buy her a few t-shirts when we were in Target looking for a headphone USB adapter, but she was so cranky by then that she refused to say yes or no about the shirts I found. So she's going back with some clothes too small for her. It's not like the stores won't exist next week, so I'm not worried. Or rather, if the stores don't exist next week, we're going to have a lot bigger problems on our hands than her not having shirts with sparkles.

Right. I'm off for a nap. I woke up at my usual 5-something this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I am not a morning person. Or I wasn't. I guess I am by default now. Meh.


Sorry, gotta put this somewhere.

I wrote a little scene of an interview with two of the characters from Mélisande and Bonnie Phelps put it on her blog.

So if you'd like to get a perspective on Lucas, my hero, but also a perspective on Monsieur Arbois, the stony-faced secretary who might or might not be on their side, go check it out!

Meet the Characters - An Interview with Monsieur Arbois from “Mélisande” by Philippa Lodge

Enjoy! Leave a comment!

And buy Melisande!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lazy Sunday

Hey... it's been a while, eh?

Today was supposed to be the day off this week. I've been working a lot of overtime while it was available, saving up for the weeks ahead when it won't be.

I'm tired a lot and I didn't achieve my 30,000 words for Camp Nanowrimo in July. I did write more than 20K, which is nice. I was rewriting a book I got stuck on and got stuck again at pretty much the same sort of point. So it's a bit stuck. All stuck. I'm going to write some scenes, some of which will have to be cut later.

So today I woke up way too early (like 4:30 kind of early), but managed to go back to sleep at 6:30 or so until 8:30. That was nice. Then I lazed around a bit. Then I took my teens to Target for a bike seat for one and a bike helmet for the other (and 2 pairs of jeans and a polo shirt for boys, and a computer mouse, and a Steam gift card my 2nd son paid for himself, and... I spent $146.) Oldest son can't figure out how to take off his old seat and insists it can't be done. So finally, a few hours later, my husband is helping him. I sure don't see how to do it and I leave things to the mechanically-inclined.

And then I went to lunch a friend I hardly ever see anymore. I swang by the drop box at the library. I did the grocery shopping while I'm out. So now can I have some quiet time?

And my computer is insisting that "swang" is misspelled. So my moment of self-doubt is that I went and looked up the conjugation. Uh, thanks computer, for dumbing me down, because it's the simple past, even though a lot of people say "swung" now. (and, of course, the computer doesn't recognize "dumbing" either)


I'm off to do some writing!

Have a good last few hours of weekend and a great week!

(And go buy Melisande.)