22 September 2014

What if the Experience Isn't Perfect?

Last week I told you about this play (Roadshow) that I was directing for my church congregation.  I even mentioned the most important line of the show. Without it, the light bulb moment that leads to the climax of the story doesn't make sense.

Keep in mind, most of our cast were kids from 11-18 years old. Some were nervous, some were excited, others were downright terrified.

I had to sit on the front row and simply watch. Can I tell you how much I hated that? Not being able to DO anything but see the story unfold and flinch if anything went wrong was pretty much terrible.

Anyway, back to the story.

The first song went well, if not a little slow. The audience chuckled when they were supposed to, and even those in the back could hear the words. (We had people singing live to a piano, which isn't the easiest thing in the world) The second scene set the theme of the story, and went off beautifully. Singing, dancing and the big rivalry went off without a hitch.

Then came scene three. This is the one where we had to add lines of dialogue because so many of the youth wanted to participate. This is the moment when the most important line is to be uttered. I watched my script, ready to prompt people if they needed help. I stressed that the kids not close enough to the microphone weren't going to be heard. My feet wouldn't stay still. The scene progressed. I turned the page.

And that's when it happened.

It may be my fault. One guy says almost the same exact line (for good reason) twice within about ten lines of dialogue. We had the other kids memorize the line before theirs so they knew when to come on. So the one kid said the second version of his line instead of the first one, which threw half a page of talking out the window as the kid after that second version of the line picked up his cue and set off.

I looked up, opened my mouth and was about to prompt them to go back, but the next line and then the next line spilled out of mouths...just like we practiced.

So the audience didn't get that precious clue that I'd embedded into the play.

Then the fidgeting really started.

The next three scenes went great. The kids had the audience wrapped around their fingers, and the spots where we hoped people would laugh got filled by the melodious sound of about 200 people being amused. Shoulder angels that only sing lines of songs, crazy accents, It's a Small World with new lyrics, We Will Mock You...it went on and on.

Then came the moment when the hero is supposed to put the pieces together. Unfortunately, he hadn't received the first one. Of course our lead went right through the scene, and the moment when he figures out his solution, the audience cracked up.

Somehow they'd gotten it. Without the key line of the play the audience had put the premise together and had made the leap, just as our hero had.

So things didn't go quite as planned, but our Roadshow was a raging success. We got a lot of compliments, and everyone involved had a great time. Which forced me to brush off the missed line and bask in the cast's excitement. Because even though it wasn't perfect, the show still did its job.

We're all our worst critics. Just remember, sometimes a slightly flawed experience is just as good, or better, as the perfect moment.

15 September 2014

That Moment When Hindsight Kicks In

A few months ago my church congregation asked me to direct what we call a Roadshow. A Roadshow is a skit that people from the congregation put on-no professionals and usually little to no budget. Traditional elements include rewriting song lyrics Weird Al style (preferably older, popular music from musicals and such), comedy, choreography which may or may not turn out on performance, and as much cheese as you can pack into thirty minutes.

Back in the day (when my older sisters were young) each congregation would travel around to the other congregations and perform-thus the Roadshow title. There was judging and prizes and everything.

Well, there are no prizes anymore, and we only perform once, but the cheese, songs and iffy choreography run rampant through our skit. We got assigned a modern day retelling of David and Goliath. The man in charge came up with the idea of doing The Younger Games. The elevator pitch is, "Fifty years of rivalry between adults and children comes to a head when the scrawny, video game playing Dave moves to town and the other teenagers sucker him into going up against Big "G" in the 50th anniversary of the Rivalry Games."

Let me point out that I have exactly ZERO stage experience, barring my own roadshow 25 years ago which consisted of parts of The Music Man, and one time I played in the pit for Guys and Dolls. Also 25 years ago. So I have no idea what a director is supposed to do. Lucky for everyone, we have lots of great people who come to help. I owe them all more treats.

So my lack of directing skills may add to the cheese factor.

However, my writing experience has influenced a few things. Mostly additions to the script. The original script was great. My writer brain grabbed a hold of it and started to ask questions about characters, motivations and plot points. Suddenly there were all sorts of extra lines about how the original rivalry started as well as what the punishment is for losing. And the kids always lose. Plus, shoulder angels. What could go wrong?

Well, among these extra lines is the pivotal moment of the show. Dave asks about what games get played at the Rivalry Games, and one of the kids says, "Any game with physical activity, we get to choose."

This is key. This line leads Dave to the inspiration for using a Dance Dance Revolution/Angry Birds/Tetris game as the challenge for Big G. (I'll post pictures next week, it's kind of epic).

Last week we were practicing, and the kid who is supposed to say the line above sort of mumbled it and said it as fast as he could. I stopped the practice and said, "Hold on, the audience has to hear that line. It is the single, most important line of the play. If they don't hear it, then it doesn't make sense when Dave (with the help of a big voice from above) figures out which game he can use and still win."

I got a few puzzled and blank looks, but a few other eyes lit up and I could tell that they were readers. We've all had those moments when our minds go back through the story and that fleeting second that felt like natural conversation comes back with the clarity that says, "I should have seen that before!"

This often happens to me during James Bond movies. In one of them I saw some huge, tree cutting machine at the beginning and I was like, "Bond is totally going to have to fight that at the end of the movie." I was right. Sometimes I'm way off. But either way, authors put clues for the readers. They're important. Readers get 20/20 hindsight, so give them something to look for!

08 September 2014

Salt Lake Comic Con-How the Other Half Lives

This past weekend tens of thousands of geeks, in all of their bizarre glory, descended upon Salt Lake City. They put on their geeky t-shirts or donned their Cosplay outfits and headed toward the Salt Palace in droves that probably frightened the not so into Comic Con people of the city.

I’m allowed to say this, because I’m one of them.

Well, I didn’t dress up, but I did pull out some of my more favored t-shirts. Mostly because I needed to look somewhat professional. Which isn’t all that hard at a geek fest.

I’ve been to the last two installments of Comic Con in Salt Lake, but for both I came as a guest. This time around I was sitting behind a table, selling books.

My books, which first off how awesome is that? I never thought I’d be a vendor.

The Con takes on a whole different dimension from behind the safety of a six foot by two foot table. While I did point, laugh, squeal in delight and in general adored the crowds as they meandered by, my perception of them changed. Instead of all geeks, now they were geeks who read books and those who don’t.

Now don’t get all feisty, there were quite a few people that came by that said they didn’t read. Some didn’t have time, others only read comic books, others only played video games and others only listened to audio books. (One woman said “books on tape” and corrected herself. I still call them books on tape. But I’m blonde, so I’m allowed.)

It was very interesting to try to judge (yes, going to a bad place after I die) people as they approached. Did they read? Would they like my books? The process reminded me of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. That point when you’ve finished the easy parts, and have a choice between the trees and the sky. You go with the sky and have to identify the pieces through slight changes in color. Changes you didn’t even notice before you needed the next shade of blue.

I’m not going to lie, I’m terrible at this. I’m a failure as a sales person and if not for the other authors at the table I may not have done as well as I did with book sales. An area to improve on, I suppose. Add it to the list.

Still, we had a great time. I learned a lot. I’m still exhausted.

My favorite part about Comic Con is that looking at all of the geeks that go through the place, it makes me feel positively normal.

I’m not normal, I know this, but hanging at Comic Con is like finding my people. And let’s just say that to compete with the best of the best, I have a long way to go!

20 August 2014

The Dreaded Book 2 *Insert dramatic noises*

People say that writing the second book is the hardest. Right now I’d totally have to agree. However, many authors say that writer’s block strikes as they try to write a second book in a series. I didn’t have that problem.

No, instead I had the insatiable urge to make book 2 WAY better than book 1.

I went to Salt Lake Fan Ex (Comic Con) in April and hung out at a “Why we love Joss Whedon” panel. At least 80% of the people who talked said that they loved his characters the bestest of them all. I had complaints about the characters in my first novel, so I figured it was a sign that this is what I should focus on for a while.

And I have. If memory serves (haha) then I have blogged about the character thing before. I got a couple of books on writing characters and method acting that really helped me. I completely re-wrote book 2…twice.

I thought I had it down, but my beta readers told me I was off course. Thank goodness for honest friends. Or mean editors. Either way. So I took another stab at it.

One problem I have is that I like to employ a large cast of characters. It’s hard for me to have a main character, their best friend and the love interest. For whatever reason I get bored. (I probably need better characters) But there are plenty of shows and books that incorporate a big list of characters without getting too crazy. And they’re still good books.

A couple of weeks ago I sent book 2 off to my publisher to see what they thought of it. Hopefully I got it right. Well, more right than before.

Now I’m waiting.

I hate waiting.

In the meantime, I feel like I should go see Guardians of the Galaxy again. They had lots of characters that no one really knew, and the writers did a pretty good job of making you care about them all.

Good plan. I’m off to the movies!

11 August 2014

I Thought I had a Thick Skin

I’ve debated blogging about this, because it got under my skin. Or through my thick skin, either way, this experience really made me angry.

Now don’t get me wrong, I get mad at stuff all the time. I don’t have a particularly legendary temper or anything like that, but between my OCD and common sense, I tend to get irked over, shall we say, little things.

I’ve been writing for something like ten years. I lost count a long time ago and have never bothered to really figure it out. Or if I did, I put it in a blog post and forgot about it. If you find it for me, you get a prize! Maybe.

Anyway, I digress, back to the thick skin. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve been through some really tough critiques, both amateur and professional. There is a decent pile of rejection letters from publishers and agents somewhere in my house, and I’ve spent a ton of money on writing conferences and workshops. So I’m not a rookie.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a little writing workshop. The information was fantastic and the people there were great. I learned a lot and would have glowing reviews to tell you about, if not for one thing.

I got up the nerve to go talk to a librarian.

In general, I have no qualm with librarians, they’re awesome people who helped me find all sorts of great books as a kid. They work hard and know things that not even Google can find. Am I right?

This woman has her debut novel coming out early next year, which is great. I figured we could chat because we’re both authors. I figured we could talk shop. So I walked over and asked if I could ask her a few questions about librarians and books. We chatted for a few minutes, and I asked her the best way to get your book into libraries. She’d already said that they usually carry local authors, so I figured I was on safe ground.

Nope. Not really. She became a little closed off and asked who my publisher was.

Let me break in here and say that yes, my novel, New Sight, came out through a small publisher. To make a long story short, it felt right to me like only a few things before in my life have. Done.

Well, this woman’s face literally went from a friendly expression into a condescending sneer. She looked down her nose at me (she’s tall, I’m short) and said, “I’m wary of small publishers. You can bring me an Advanced Reader Copy and I will try to look it over.”

Her reaction totally turned me off. Good thing the meat of the workshop was over, because I let that boil in my head for about an hour before I left.

Everyone else in the industry that I’ve spoken to or gotten to know is happy that I have a book published. Two books, if you count Babes in Spyland.  This is probably an isolated incident, and I probably caught her on a bad day, but seriously, who is she to scorn me for the route I’ve chosen for my novel?

Grrr…I’m still a little worked up about it. I can take criticism for my writing—believe me, it’s far from perfect—and I love it when people give me helpful advise. But I have never before been looked at like a second class citizen.

I’m still not sure what to make of it or do about it. Do I send her a copy of my book? Do I forget the whole thing?

Well, I do have one plan, write a kick a** book that blows hers out of the water. Er, I mean, I’ll write the best story I know how. And maybe shoot her a dirty look at some point when I have a movie deal and she doesn’t.

See, I feel bad even saying that, because as a fellow author, I want her to succeed. Curse my mother for teaching me manners.

02 July 2014

ALA Las Vegas 2014

Let me think, Vegas...

It's hot there.
My huggy dropped me off on the exact opposite end of the convention center from where I needed to register (we both guessed wrong) so I got to take a little walk in the Vegas oven. Lucky for me it wasn't too far. I still had make-up on when I got inside.

I found out a few days before I left that I was only signing books for one hour on Saturday. So I got there a few hours early and roamed around.

They had an Artist Alley--authors and graphic novels mostly--where I lurked for a few minutes. I'm always amazed by the cool ideas everyone has. The rest of the convention center's huge room was filled with rows and rows of educational booths.

I honestly had no idea what to do. There were people who worked on legal stuff for libraries, provided furniture and shelves for libraries, provided every kind of information imaginable along with more ways than I could have thought of for distributing it, boasted being the next World Book Encyclopedia, then I found the actual Encyclopedia booth and was amazed that they were still around, publishers (mostly for grade school stuff, but I did find one who specialized in factual books about fiction. They had all sorts of topics like The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, Start Trek vs Star Wars and a whole stack I was afraid of going near for fear of buying more books) and more information.

I was amazed that the convention center had rolled out carpet over the entire floor. Usually only the booths have carpet, and they bring it themselves. I saw more than a handful of women in high heels and though them mad until I saw the plush carpets. Well, I still think them mad.

Part of me expected it to be quiet--you know, the shhhh librarian thing--but there was plenty of noise to go around. And apparently librarians are lured in by shiny objects, just like the rest of us. Oh, and free pens.

At the opposite end from Artist Alley lay the big publishers along with a handful of smaller presses. Each booth had people signing books and giving them away to the librarians, in the hope that the librarians would send them forth into the reading world of library goers everywhere.

Myself and one other girl from my publisher (Jolly Fish Press) signed for an hour at our distributor's table (IPG). We both ran through our rather large pile of books, which felt great, by the way, and had a good time.  I did my best to be nice and happy so that maybe the librarians would remember me and read my book first. A lot of them got books for their summer reading program, which is awesome.

There were people with rolling suitcases and crates full of books they'd picked up. This is serious business. Librarians are tougher than they look.

24 June 2014

Why Can't I Have All the Good Ideas?

Last week I mentioned my beta readers, and how they collectively pointed out that my main character was being, well, a bit too Bella from New Moon.

This was a wonderful catch, and I’m already working to fix it. First four chapters have been rewritten, and Lys only complains once—and I feel she is quite justified in it.

Another awesome thing about beta readers, is that they’re not you.

You see, I have this problem. Maybe it’s a complex, but I always feel like the ideas for my books must all come from me. All of them. Plot points, character issues, settings…all must originate in my mind if they are to be in my book.

Getting married has put a damper on this for me. You see, my husband has what I call a gerbil brain. His mind goes around and around all the time, powered by a little gerbil on a wheel who never, ever gets tired. I come up with one awesome idea, “Hey honey, what if I have one of the Babes in Spyland do this?”

He’ll smile, say it’s a good idea, then come back between five and thirty seconds later with six other ideas that could be used independently or added on top of my idea.

Granted, some of his aren’t all that great. He’s too much of a nerd and I don’t write hard core sci-fi.

But it never fails to make me grit my teeth together when he comes up with something good. That I know I should use. That isn’t really mine.


I’m working through this little problem. I feel like I’m making progress, because this is what one of my beta readers pointed out.

Let me preface that my main character has been lamenting her lack of offensive abilities with her magic. Because I’m into martial arts, in my mind offensive means being at the front line, punching stuff. At this point in the story, she’s just used her magic to look through an entire village in just a few seconds, and now she knows exactly where she’s going.

This is the line from my book:
Is this what having super powers felt like? Should her magic feel like this? Because a map in her head after six seconds of looking was pretty cool.

This is what my beta reader said.
Which is why she would be a great asset away from fighting…which after 6 months someone should have pointed out to her. Seriously, intel is just as important as the take down people, and intel can save the take-down people.

Duh! I’m a duh head. My mind just hadn’t gone in that direction. But after I read that, my brain kind of exploded. 

What had my main character been doing for the past 6 months? She isn’t stupid, she’d be finding ways to use what she had.  Which gave me a much better direction for my character, and an inner conflict that doesn’t involve more lamenting than action.

I still grumble about not being able to come up with all of the brilliant ideas (some days I’m pretty sure I don’t come up with anything brilliant), but I realize that other people have ideas that can help me too.