Writing Update

I don't see why life has to interfere with writing so much. Yesterday I got nothing written on account of having to deal with a kitty-vet crisis before I left for work. Today is going much the same way because today the workmen are here to install the new vanity, and I can't concentrate with all the noise. Besides, they woke me up and it's hard to write when you're this sleepy.

It's all driving me crazy because I am so close to the end of the rough draft. Right now I'm setting the stage for the climax scene, and then I have to do the wrap-up, which shouldn't be too long or too hard. 

Well, I have the weekend off, so I'll have to hope I get a lot done over the next two days. Unfortunately, experience tells me that I will probably spend tomorrow working my way back into the book, meaning that I will spend all day focused on it and end up with a relatively low usable word count. Like I did last week, when I probably wrote about 3500 words, but only kept about 1200.

Florida Voting

Today's topic is the Florida voter purge. There's been a lot of talk about it in the press, which you probably haven't paid much attention to if you don't happen to live in Florida. In a nutshell, Florida is purging its voter registration rolls of any ineligible voters. Republicans say this is to prevent voter fraud; Democrats say it's to prevent immigrant and minorities from voting.

My own take is that just maybe Florida should get a grip on the entire process. Because my mother has been dead for nearly six years. Her estate went through probate, and I filed death certificates in all the proper places. The real estate was transferred from her name to mine. The joint bank account we had set up had her name removed from it (another death certificate there). In short, my mother is as legally dead as it is possible to be, and she's been that way for just shy of six years. But in today's mail I received a brand-new voter registration card for her.

If you can't manage to hook up your data bases so that people with death certificates are automatically removed from the voters rolls, perhaps you should think twice before embarking on a state-wide purge of living people. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Literature Vs. Popular Fiction

I read something last week which discussed the idea that literature demands more work from its readers than popular fiction. And by "work" this piece really seemed to mean "work". And I'm going to pick on the semantics here. Because I think their whole attitude is wrong.

Speaking in generalities, heavy literature usually does have more depth and complexity than popular fiction. But readers want a satisfying experience from a book. A reader who loves David Foster Wallace doesn't think reading Infinite Jest was work--they liked it because Wallace gave them what they were looking for in a book. In this case, as one customer put it to me, something nice and chewy. The same reader wouldn't like the latest James Patterson because Patterson isn't giving them that satisfaction–they're missing their "chewy."

From the other side, someone who loves Patterson isn't reading Wallace because Wallace is too much work--they're not reading him because they think he's boring. To find a book satisfying they need something quite different from the Wallace reader –they need suspense, a plot that compels them to find out what happened next.

Because of the layers in most serious literature, and because it is largely read by intellectuals, the popular trope is that reading it is using more of your brain than reading popular fiction does. Well, it's certainly using different parts. But when I think of serious literature, I usually think of books that are commenting on the human condition as we find ourselves today (or whenever it was written). But I would argue that reading popular fiction uses more of your creativity. After all, the big draw of popular fiction is that it is escapist--it takes you to a place that is totally outside your ken. And imagining that, learning the different rules that exist in that particular world, is a more creative exercise for the reader.

Book Covers

Just listened to a Writing Excuses podcast about  book covers, and it's got me thinking. The perceived wisdom is that the marketing department knows one hell of a lot more about selling books than the writer (or editor), so writers should shush up and write and let the marketing people do their thing. Which makes sense to a certain extent.

But writers are book-buyers, too. They know what, in a store, attracts their attention and makes them pick a book up off the shelf. (They also have a visceral connection to their book that no one else has, so if they *loathe* the cover, that probably says something.) I'm not saying that writers should have control over their covers, just that it might not be a bad idea to let them put their two cents in.

But what I was really thinking of was the first part, the part where marketing people know everything about selling. Because they don't always. My first thought here was the absolutely disastrous trend that existed for awhile of putting out covers with cut-outs. You mostly saw this on mystery/thrillers or romance fiction, though there were other examples. The covers were nice, sure, but they ripped every single time a book was shelved next to them, guaranteeing larger-than-normal returns. And also lost sales when *all* of the copies were ripped and customers went off somewhere else to find ones that weren't.

And then there were all those absolutely terrible scifi and fantasy covers, all done in exactly the same style. I still remember, after Harry Potter started, when the YA and even middle-grade fantasies started really taking off, and all the covers were so *original*. And beautiful. And different from each other. But the perceived wisdom was that unless all the sf covers looked alike, we sf readers wouldn't know it was an sf book and therefore wouldn't pick it up. Not true.

I don't mean to knock marketing departments altogether. By and large, they do a fine job. I had some vague ideas about what would be good for my first book, and they came up with something very different--an art deco look that was wonderful. And way better than my half-formed ideas.

The Phantom Lizard

We have a phantom lizard in the house. It's hiding behind the bookcase. I call it a phantom lizard because mysteriously it never comes out or attracts any attention to itself while I'm around. However, as soon as I go up to bed, it apparently wreaks havoc and my poor cats have no choice but to drag all the books off the shelves in an effort to subdue it.

Eating Habits

I started reading a book called French Kids Eat Everything last night. It's nonfiction, about a Canadian mother with two picky eaters who ends up moving to France and learning a different way of eating and teaching your kids to eat. I picked it up because I am a firm believer in eating everything, particularly when one is invited out to eat. I think I was really looking to find out what the basic difference was between me and the picky eaters I've been encountering lately.

I haven't got very far into the book, but so far what I've gathered is that the French are still eating the way Americans (and probably everybody else in Western culture) used to. Basic ideas, like you eat at meals, not in between. And just because your toddler turns up his/her nose at a particular food does not mean you should never give it to them again. That's certainly the way things were when I grew up.

Anyway, I shall be interested to see what else the book has to say. Where I stopped reading, the author seemed to be making the point that in France they still insist on better public manners than we do here these days.

After Dinner Writing Session

Settle down with computer. Turn off television. Go back to the end of the diner scene and write the characters out of the diner. Stop. Bring up browser and poke around on the internet for a while shopping for food at D'Artagnon. Go back to Scrivener and delete previous writing. Write them out of the diner again. Stop. Play a game of solitaire (actually, two games, or maybe it was three). Go back and delete end of diner scene. Write them out again. Get back on the internet and start looking at apartments one could afford if one were to move back to New York. Consider moving to the Bronx. Bring up Scrivener and add two sentences. Go to Proto-Indo-European dictionary and look up random words. Go back and re-read two previous sentences and add another one. Back to the internet and generally give up on getting any real writing done. Plot chart on travel site of neighbor's Nova Scotia trip. Sometime after midnight, go back to MS for one last look, delete everything previously written and then suddenly get it right, and write till 4 a.m. Sheesh.

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I have a sleeping disorder. I've had it all my life, and it's mostly just tedious. There are certain facts that go along with it that are just a part of my life and always have been.

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For one thing, I never just fall asleep at night. You know how sometimes, after a long day, you're sitting on the couch trying to watch television and your eyes just start to close? Or maybe you've actually gotten into bed and are reading a bit before turning out the light and before you know it, you're sound asleep. Yeah, that never happens with me.

Every single night of my life, I make a conscious decision to go to bed, usually because it's getting late. I always read a bit in bed, and every single night, I put the book down and turn off the light because it's getting late and I should go to sleep. There might be nights when I'm tired and know for sure I can get to sleep now, but it's always a decision. If I don't make that decision, I'll just stay up, reading or doing whatever I'm doing.

Until this last year. Suddenly, I can be struck while sitting on the couch and my eyes will start to close of their own accord. If I summon up enough strength of will, I can get up and go to bed, but a lot of times it just feels too good to cuddle up on the couch. The point is, however, that I cannot stop myself from falling asleep.

And this has become really, really aggravating. Because I'm accustomed to getting things done at night and now I can't count on that happening. I don't fall asleep every night, but there's just no rhyme or reason to it, and it puts me off-schedule.

Two nights ago I was over at a friend's house for dinner. I've noticed that frequently an extra glass of wine means I'll fall asleep later, so I watched my intake and switched to club soda early. I was, I swear, dead sober when I left and went back to my house. I settled down on the couch, feeling perfectly peppy, and starting writing. I took a break pretty soon to do some online research, but then somehow didn't go back to the MS. Instead, I brought up a game of solitaire. This is something I frequently do when I need to let something I'm writing simmer a bit before I go back to it. Only instead I started to fall asleep. Did I mention this is really aggravating?

So, okay, the word count for the day was definitely low. Next day I have to work at the bookstore. I was closing, and I've noticed that when that happens, I come home, have something to eat, and then start falling asleep. By then it's usually late enough that I just go to bed. 

So I didn't figure on getting anything constructive done. I came home, made dinner, ate it, and then turned on the TV and picked up a book. Before I knew it, it was nearly two, and there were a couple of things I wanted to look up online. I was still wide awake. So I logged on, started looking, found what I needed and then got involved in looking at a bunch of other stuff that was not really necessary but which I found interesting. Ends up: nearly four before I turned out my light. But no writing, because I figured I was going to fall asleep and I hate falling asleep in the middle of writing.

Really, really aggravating.

What I'm Working On

So here's my long-delayed post on what I'm doing with myself these days. It's been long-delayed because the last year has been really rotten. Really, really rotten. 'Nuf said.

As I posted on my website some time ago, I am working on a fifth Bethancourt and Gibbons mystery, which I plan to e-publish since St. Martin's has dropped the series. There's a big however coming, though.

However, mystery #5 (no working title as yet), has been put on the back burner while I try to resurrect my career and enter the fantasy genre. For many years now, I've become much more of a fantasy reader than a mystery reader, and in my spare writing time, I've been jotting down quite a lot of stuff. I have finished the first novel in a trilogy, which my wonderful, wonderful agent currently is looking at to determine whether or not it's salable. In case it's not, I've also started work on an urban fantasy which I originally thought might be YA, but probably isn't.

For the B&G fans out there, I haven't forgotten you and I will get that fifth book out as soon as I can. It turns out that I'm an absolutely terrible blogger, but I will try to keep everyone posted. If you have emailed me via the website about the Bethancourt & Gibbons books, you will receive an email in return when I've got the fifth ready. I've also recently written a B&G short story, but I'm not quite satisfied with it yet and am letting it "stew" before sending it out. If it gets accepted for publication, I'll post about it.