Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

And now that the holiday is over, my family is descending on me. So, don't expect much in terms of writing.

In fact, since I'm moving to Australia in about three weeks, I'm just going to accept that writing is very much a secondary concern right now. I'd love to have a few hours when I'm not exhausted from taking care of my kids to reconnect with my writing, but I'm not going to count on them.

So, instead, I'm going to relax, enjoy the last few weeks I have here in the winter of San Diego with friends and a known place, and not worry about anything else.

If you see anything from me here for the next couple of months, it'll be a gift.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Covert Affairs

My husband loves TV. I love TV. The problem I have with TV is that if one is on in the same room with me, I get sucked in to the point that I can't get anything else done. That, or I read/blog/infotain myself. Being productive, not so much an option.

Fortunately, there's a lot of really good TV out there. One of my favorites lately is Covert Affairs. It's a spy show, and I liked it from the beginning, but the characters and their interactions are getting to be so rich and feel so real lately. I almost wonder if they've brought in new writers, or if the writers are simply trying to really push themselves.

As is typical of first seasons, the main character, Annie, doesn't have any real, serious consequences to deal with in the first season. She's also a newbie and it's clear that, while she's doing a good job, she's not really being given the tough jobs just yet. When she ends up with a tough job (sorry, no details--it's been too long since I watched season 1!) it's because she happened into it, not because she was assigned the difficult job.

Last season (which I think is season 2) Annie told her sister she worked for the CIA (which always makes the character who is being told this "big secret" distrust the operative--I'm never sure why, other than it's expected for the plot); she fell in love with another spy, which had serious consequences for her emotionally and led to her nearly leaving the CIA until she and boyfriend were shot; and then went after and killed the woman who killed Annie's lover, who also happened to be Annie's former boss. It was an eventful season.

This season's working up to being even darker and more consequence-plagued. Annie has to regain the respect and trust of her former boss, all while she's having a hard time toeing the line. It's fun watching Annie grow into a very powerful woman, watching her make mistakes and work through them, and poignant seeing her dealing with the drama of the almost parental relationship she has with Joan, her first boss. There's a lot going on, and a lot to learn about making consequences that feel real. So, to make myself feel better for what otherwise would simply be goofing off, here's a goal for my own writing: give my main character an believable emotional consequence for a mistake she makes that doesn't go away immediately, and in fact has some longer-term consequences relevant to the plot.

There, now I can feel good about my TV time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finishing threads

My life has a lot of dangling threads in it--little unresolved conflicts or projects. We all have them in our lives, cluttering things up. I'm sure you know the ones I'm talking about: the cross stitch you picked up from Mt. Rushmore 15 years ago and haven't even finished Washington; the painting that's almost ready to hang if you can just get the foreground right; the collection of pictures of your second (or third) child's first year that's sitting in a photo album, just waiting for you to label and stick the pictures in.

In our lives they're just clutter, and in our books they're just clutter. Except, of course, when it's not just clutter, when it's texture or a red herring meant to set the reader off on the wrong track for a little while. When done right they do add to a story, but when done wrong they detract and make the writing sound amateurish.

Why am I thinking about this? I just finished a book, "The Chocolatier's wife" by Cindy Lynn Speer. I liked the book, especially the voice. The world she's created isn't a completely standard western European-based world (though it is western European in flavor). The direction she took her world-building was one I quite enjoyed.

The problem for me with the book was in the plot. While there are no specifically unresolved plot threads, there are a lot of plot threads that don't go anywhere. There are spoilers ahead, so if you're going to read the book and that'll bother you, stop reading now.

To give one example (which, to be fair, is probably the most egregious in the book) Tasmin at one point plots to help William escape from his jail cell. It's a nice little side plot that gets resolved within pages by another woman confessing to the crime for which William has been jailed. There are no consequences for Tasmin or William since they don't actually do anything. There are no consequences at all for Tasmin for she doesn't even explain to William what she's planning. It's one of those plot points that feels like it should go somewhere, and when it doesn't it's somewhat disappointing. I was happy William was freed, and the manner of it is pretty much required by the remainder of the plot, but the promise made to me when Tasmin conspired to break the law to help her betrothed escape felt unfulfilled.

I'm guessing my books will have a lot of those in the beginning as well. In fact, I know my WIP has some dangling threads right now that I'm probably not even going to resolve. They don't add anything other than texture (maybe) and confusion for my readers (definitely). Fortunately, I have good critique partners who point out the places they feel like a promise is going unfulfilled and that helps me decide if I want to flesh out the plot thread or cut it entirely.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Sunday Philosophy Club

I've never read "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," by Alexander McCall Smith, though I have watched a few episodes and was quite entertained by them. I imagine they're wonderful reads, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed "The Sunday Philosophy Club," another book by AMS (as I will refer to him in the future). Isabel Dalhousie is a wonderful character who was easy to fall in love with, from her musings on human nature and her philosophizing to her penchant for meddling in affairs she really aught to stay out of. What I loved most is the way her character really examines all of her actions. I know most of us don't really think that deeply (or that honestly) about our behavior, but watching Isabel go through the thought process behind her actions made them feel terribly realistic and reasonable, even when they weren't. It's not an action-packed book by any stretch of the imagination; instead it's a (for me) intense character study.

Not that I think most authors could pull off the navel-gazing half so entertainingly, but I almost wished for more of that kind of intense thoughtfulness in the books I read. I'm also inspired to throw more navel-gazing into my own work. Hey, if it's boring, I can always cut it or streamline it, and if it's interesting my characters will be lifted off the page like Isabel Dalhousie was for me.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Holidays are wonderful time-sinks, especially these ones at the end of the year, with all of the delicious but intricate food, the shopping, the decorating, and the parties. Why did I pretty much abandon my NaNoWriMo? Right, because of all the partying we did in Alabama with the family.

It was fun, and worth it, especially since it's been several years since we last visited and will definitely be several more before we make it back down there. Still, the stress, the time change, and the social requirements left little time for anything productive.

Oh yeah, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures. Apparently, if I do one thing creative (like photography) it steals all my mental energy and focus for anything else. So, I have a bunch (A BUNCH) of lovely pictures of family that we will no doubt treasure for years to come. I can't feel bad enough about that to really even be remotely sad that I didn't do any significant writing. I do look forward to getting back into writing, since my two writing projects (dissertation and novel) seem to reinforce one another.

I do feel bad that since we got back I haven't done much, though again, it's been tough amidst the physical fatigue and the illnesses plaguing us all. I've been unable to focus since we got back, and the last couple of days Paul's been seriously under the weather.

I need a vacation from my vacations so I can get  back to blessed productivity!