Some people love it, some people hate it.

I almost always love anticipation. That feeling of something coming, approaching in a way that will change your world, even if only in some small way. I've even come to appreciate, to make myself aware of, that last moment before something arrives, because not every anticipated change is a good one. I say to myself, "This is the part when I don't know who the killer is," or "This is the part when I don't know what's in the case." (Of course, I still don't know what's in the case...thanks, Ronin)

In writing, there is often a need for anticipation to build throughout a story. In my experience, audiences have different tolerances for the length of an anticipatory period. Because there is such a thing as dragging something out too long.

Romance readers, it seems, have nearly-infinite patience as they wait for a pair of lovers to finally admit their feelings and act upon them. As Shakespeare said, "'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished". The romantics in all of us have no problem with the phrase "hope springs eternal" either. As long as neither of you are dead yet (paranormal romance aside, of course), there is always another chance for love to work out.

Other story elements can't stand much anticipation before the reader gets frustrated or bored. Plot actions that we expect to move quickly shouldn't have too much lead-up before they actually do happen, no matter how long it takes in story-time for them to occur. Assassins strike quickly. No one wants to read about the two days a bit-part sniper sat shivering in the tree before taking a kill shot.

Main characters are the ones we're supposed to care about; things that affect their future, their lives, we want to anticipate (except when we enjoy sudden twists) to some degree. The smaller the character role, the less patience readers have for long, drawn-out plot results. Unless, of course, it's about love. Everyone knows characters have to fall in love by the end of the novel. And if they don't: sequel!


The Unexpected Present, Part Two

You see how he works, distracting with the simple gift (see previous post). Now witness the sneaky majesty that is my husband's brain.

Two days ago, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told him, a new GPS unit. He asked, reluctantly, if there were anything else I wanted.

"Nope. Just a new GPS unit. One with a USB cable (unlike my present unit, whose cable was lost years ago, forcing me to type in every single geocache I've ever found, by hand), preferably some kind of Garmin."

He hemmed. He hawed. I knew I wasn't going to get my GPS unit for my birthday. I might not get it before our vacation back east next month either, and that would be a real pain, since we're planning to cache in thirteen different states. I told him I could use a nice sturdy nail file instead.

Yesterday evening, I caught him standing by the front door in the dark. "Whatcha doin'?" I asked.

"There's something going on outside," he replied. "I'm going to to check it out."

Envisioning a fight between my husband and the crazed level 3 sex offender who just got let loose into our community, I said,  "Don't forget your bat!" while casually strolling toward the spot where I keep my sword.

He came back in, unscathed, and asked me a couple questions about making waymarks on my old Magellan GPS unit. I showed him how (he mostly goes caching as a social event, rather than for the joy of logging finds), and then I thought nothing more of the incident until lunchtime today

He delayed coming home in order to swing by and pick up a cake, which he and the kids stuck sparkly candles into. After I blew them out and sliced cake for everyone, my husband handed me a birthday card, which read, "Forever is so limiting. Let's be in love way past that." Ha! It was awesome. And inside, instead of the usual sentiments, he'd left a clue.

A clue.

In my birthday card.

Being the geocaching puzzle fiend that I am (all my geocaching hides are either puzzles or Earthcaches), that moment suddenly got far more interesting.

It directed me to check with Mr. Flix and my Uncle George for further details. I had already spotted, in the mail he brought in, the happy red envelope of my next Netflix delivery, containing the movie I wanted to watch on my birthday: Red. But I also saw that my new driver's license had arrived, so I tore that one open first. Turns out, that was pure luck: Uncle George was a hint for Washington (State Driver's License). And inside the envelope, my husband had slipped a strip of paper containing the following clues:

The digits of your age reversed, plus one
Number of seconds you've been alive (first three digits only, round up) plus one
Second and third digits of the number of hours you've been alive

Now, I'm no Charlie Eppes, but I do enjoy math puzzles, so I whipped out the calculator and went at it. It took a few minutes, and I scribbled numbers all over the envelope that the birthday card had come in. When I had all the answers, I sat there, trying to figure out what they meant.

I'd forgotten about Mr. Flix.

I peeked inside the happy red envelope and slid out another strip of paper. This one read:

Difference in our age in years as of the coming winter solstice (I'm a science fan)
Days we've been married
Fundamental number of calculus times 111

More math on the envelope! Now, I did say I'm no Charlie Eppes, but my husband was a Math major for awhile. He has math jokes, some of which I actually get. So although I've never taken a calculus class, hanging out with him has made me learn the awesomeness that is the number four.

Once I had all six answers in front of me, I realized what they had to mean, due to the inclusion of the numbers 118 and 46.

My husband had hidden me a geocache for my birthday.

Oh, even better than what you're thinking of, trust me. He hadn't made an official geocache on geocaching.com, no. He'd hidden something special just for me to find, somewhere outside the house. (Good thing it wasn't far, with the ankle I've got) I snapped up my Magellan and began turning it on so I could enter (by hand, yes) the coordinates. My husband said, "Now, a smarter man would have known how to delete waypoints..."

Ha! The closest generic waypoint in the unit had the coordinates he'd used for the puzzle. Bonus! So off I went, hobbling around in the grass. We'll skip the part where all the satellites in the sky were conspiring against him last night. I eventually found the cache container, a UPS package, unopened.

That brought the kids over. "Mom, what's in it? Can I help you open it?" Such helpful children I have. We had a long, involved opening ceremony, including the passing around of giant bubble wrap which gave off an unsatifsying piff when popped.When we finally got that out of the way, I got my first glimpse of the actual present that my husband had gone through all this trouble to hide for me.

It was a Garmin box.

I'm now the proud owner of a nice touch-screen Garmin Dakota 10. I'm still the proud wife of the best husband in the universe. And I am never, ever throwing that envelope away.

The Unexpected Present

No, it's not what you're thinking. Unless it is, in which case...you think of the weirdest stuff.

My husband's alarm went off this morning, just like, well, you know. And, similarly, he smacked the snooze button. However, that's when everything changed for the wacky.

You see, he didn't actually hit the snooze button. He turned his alarm off. And the next time an alarm went off in the room, it was from somewhere else.

My alarm clock broke a couple of years ago. I don't really need one; I work at home and my kids make sure I never get to sleep in anyway. But my husband wanted to get me a cute little clock for my birthday, so he did, and he set the alarm on it as an avenue to presenting me with it, at 8:06 AM.

Such a cute little plan amused me, as did the cute little clock. A simple rectangle with a wraparound pink frame resembling a pinafore, there wasn't anything extraneous about the thing. The buttons were easy to use, the face was easily readable...

...and something was thudding around inside.

It took three minutes of shaking it and pestering my husband before he admitted he hadn't put the whatever-it-was inside the clock. So I decided to open it up and see what it was.

If any of you have ever bought a lightweight plastic clock before, you might already know what was banging around in there. If not, let me explain that this adventure might have started off being about the destination, but once I was there, it ended up being about the journey.

Out came the jeweler's screwdriver, for the infinitesimal screws that held on the pink aluminum plate around the clock face. I swear, the world should outlaw such tiny metal bits. Not only are they hard to hold, let alone find, but banning them would probably cut down on child labor, since tiny fingers are pretty much a requirement in handling the stupid things.

The aluminum plate slid off from around the clock with reluctance, as if it only found purpose when attached to the shiny silver clock. Well, let me tell ya, little pink metal piece, I instantly thought of a couple wicked geocache tricks I could do with you, so don't get comfortable.

Then, things got a bit hairy. We couldn't figure out how to open the two halves of the clock body! You'd think, after years of infant and toddler toys, that we'd have an eye for tiny catches and hidden screws and the like, but it took a couple minutes of prying and finger pinching to realize that a pair of recessed screws, again microscopic, were foiling us. And all the while, the clonk-clonk of the mystery item inside taunted us.

One recessed screw gave up easily and came out with its hands up. The other one burrowed in for a siege. Peering into the hole with my face in one of those odd squints we make when we have to get the angle just right, I worried that I'd either stripped the head, or that a screw with a stripped head had been inserted to begin with (after all, one of the first set of infinitesimals was missing entirely).

But, after the husband gave up and went for a shower, inspiration sneaked up behind me and thwacked me on the head. There was another size of jeweler's screwdriver in the box! It was larger, and might overcome the slippage issue I was having.

I hobbled out to the kitchen (did I mention I twisted my ankle pretty badly on Saturday? No? Well I totally did. Fetching screwdrivers from the kitchen was literally a pain) and got the larger screwdriver, and voila! It opened the clock!

The moment of truth was here! What was inside my new alarm clock? Was it a wandering battery? A container of microfilm? A mini-bomb? The key to a safety-deposit box? A couple of dimes glued together? A smuggled sapphire the size of my thumbnail?

No, no, of course not. It was a slice of an iron rod (or possibly steel--there's a way to tell the difference, but I'm fresh out of grinding stones--gotta love novel research*!), once upon a time glued into the clock case so it wouldn't feel as light as the plastic it was made from. The weight broke loose at some point and was rattling around inside.

Sure, it's just a smidge of slag metal. But boy did I have a blast finding that out! One more mystery bites the dust.

*Elements of Allegiance, First Seal in The Seals of the Duelists series, Winter 2012


Short Story Collections

I finished both the rough draft and the 2nd draft of First to Find during the month of May, so when June rolled around, I wanted a change of pace.

A big change of pace.

I went back through all the short stories I'd ever written (some published, some never submitted, some with a nice list of rejection slips), and decided to let others read them without asking the magazines for permission first. I had right around fifty stories just lying around, with no one to read them. And as one who write simply for the love of stories, that seemed wrong somehow.

So I collated the stories into eight different collections, hovering around 15k-20k words each. And I'm publishing them exclusively in ebook format, for $0.99 each. When all eight are released, I'll do a massive collection of all of them, with the eight sections intact. At least, I think they'll be intact. Some of my stories were pretty slipstream, and could have fit in two or even three different collections (which, I admit, were pretty arbitrary in designation, but the reader has to be able to find what she wants to read, right?). So I guess we'll see on the sections bit. My short stories, all taken together, contain as many words as either one of my published novels, so there's plenty of good reading to go around, no matter how it ends up being categorized.

I got three and a half of the collections published before it was time to switch projects again. "Against a Sea of Troubles" (action fantasy), "Let the World Slip" (romance, usually fantasy), and "The Whirligig of Time" (sci fi, somehow all dark stories) made it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. "This Breathing World" (environmental fantasy/history) only managed to get posted to Smashwords before I had to stop, but it's one of my very favorites, both for cover and content, so I'm eagerly awaiting the completion of my current editing project (Elements of Allegiance) so I can pop that collection out to Amazon and B&N as well. They might get it out faster than Smashwords for once, since Smashwords is suffering a dearth of free ISBNs at the moment, and Apple, Sony and Borders won't take anything without an ISBN attached. (Edit: the ISBNs have kicked in, but Smashwords doesn't send things out to its affiliates until A: the work is approved and B: it's the day of the week for shipping out, so there's still time for me to beat, say, Sony or Apple)

What I have left is my dark and scary/horror humor collection, with the working title "The Jaws of Darkness", then two straight-up fantasy collections (I do write a lot of fantasy), and a separate collection that features children of fantasy (not children's stories, but stories about children). I might get to some of these this summer, but once we're back from the East Coast vacation we have planned in August, all bets are off, baby: it's NaNoPlaMo time!