Thursday, December 29, 2005

It all started with a new monitor.....

Why, I am asking myself, did I ask for a new monitor? Well, okay, I know why. It's because flat screens take up a lot less space, and the monitor for the email/internet computer was starting to go. So -- hooray! -- I got a new flat screen monitor.

But then things began to go awry. The mouse went erratic. The mouse would be of the same vintage as the old humungous monitor, so it could have been age and much use that explained that. So off we went for a new mouse.

After my unsuccessful attempt, we got a wireless mouse that should have worked with the old computer, and when my husband first set it up, it did. Then came the morning, and the computer refused to recognize the upstart. Since the husband was out, I called upon my equally computer savvy son to attempt to fix it. No luck. So then, while watching Stargate and mulling over the fact that the only thing that mucks up their computers are aliens or other evil forces, I had the idea to switch mice from the Frankenputer upstairs that I use for work (composed of vintage mouse, newer computer, the keyboard that came with the mouse and monitor so recently retired, and a new flat screen) with the new wireless one not working downstairs.

Voila! We have lift-off! All is well with the world...until I try to use my scanner because I want to change the background of the index page on my website.

Woe is me! What's amiss? It's not scanning the whole picture. And sometimes it's all green! Could it be aliens??? Or has something else messed up? After many frustrating attempts at scanning, I finally try rebooting and JOY! Rapture! It works.

For now, anyway. At this point, I'm almost afraid to turn anything off in case it doesn't work when I turn it on again.

Computers are great things when they work, but there are times a quill and a bottle of ink look mighty fine....

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mouse Rage!

I had big plans this week to revise my website, especially the front page, for the new year. But alas, as so often happens when I have big plans, unseen forces conspired to thwart them. In this case, the mouse (as in computer, not real) went wonky. It's like the thing's been on a bender or something -- eratic doesn't begin to describe its actions. I try to move it one way, it sticks or goes careening off the side of the screen. Another way, it balks. Or jerks an inch or two and considers its job done.

Frustrating? Oh. My. Word.

I went to the mall yesterday to get a new mouse. The dh (who has been working with computers since the 70's, so he knows all the techie stuff) had written down the specifications for me. I zipped into the store, took out the note and found "like the old one." Oh. Gosh, that's helpful. There was a little more -- "not USB." This totally baffled the young clerk. He also couldn't seem to fathom that all I wanted was a very basic mouse -- nothing fancy. No glow-in-the-dark. Not wireless. Just, you know...well, I should have said "antique." He pointed to one and said, "That one's cool."

Ay yi yi. I felt like I had encountered somebody who knew nothing of computers and parts manufactured prior to oh, say, last week.

Worst of all, I couldn't see the part that plugs into the computer, because of the way the mice were packaged. I deemed myself in the wrong store and fled.

That means I am still suffering with Demento Mouse, so I don't think I'll be revising the ol' website today, unless I really want a challenge. Somehow, I think not....

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ye Olde Sudoku

Yep, I have really got to the call my next book Ye Olde Sudoku, especially if it comes out any time near Christmas. Of the 150 books listed on the USA Today bestseller list for last week, ten were sudoku puzzle books. I know gift books are big this time of year, but ten? What's ironic (to me, anyway) is that this sort of puzzle has been in puzzle books/magazines put out by companies like Dell for years. I know because such puzzles are my husband's idea of a good time. He tried to explain sudoku to me, and I ran away screaming. Well, not literally -- but I did cover my ears. Doing arithmetic is not my idea of fun.

I was thrilled to see THE HORSE AND HIS BOY by C.S. Lewis on the list. That's my favorite Narnia story, probably because it was the first one I ever read, and also because it's a YA romance. And here, among other reasons, is why I think it's a romance: "Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I'm afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently." Heheheheeee! (I suppose, at this time of year, it should be ho, ho, ho!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Writing about body parts (and yes, those parts)

I was meandering aroung the internet the other day and read a blog entry about love scenes in romances, and the words used to describe various body parts. The blogger was quoting another writer, and the part that got my attention was this: "The bottom line: a writer who can only be comfortable writing about sex by resorting to these kinds of suspect terms and images shouldn’t be writing about sex at all."

The "suspect terms" were things like "throbbing manhood" and others of that ilk. Now, I've certainly used "manhood", but I don't think I've ever described one as "throbbing," although who knows? Maybe I did. I try to stay away from anything "over the top" and silly, but I sure don't use clinical terms.

Therefore, this writer implies, I have no business writing consumation scenes.

First, I don't think it's anybody's job to tell me what I should and should not write, or how to write it. In a romance, physical intimacy is a part of the developing romance, so I'm going to have those scenes and I'm going to write them my way -- the same way I write the rest of the book. Using the specific, clinical names for body parts is not my style. Never has been. Never will be. I did try once, and the clinical terms stuck out like, well, fill in your own favorite euphemism here . It just didn't sound like my writing.

One reason they don't "sound right" to me is because I write historicals, and most often medievals. Did a medieval woman ever really think of her clitoris? Did she know it had a name (or, I suppose, if it even existed)? To be sure, my heroes, being warrior types, surely had all kinds of slang terms, but if I'm writing a tender love scene (and I tend to make the macho guys gentle in the bedchamber, to show that they're not completely self-centered), I don't want them using those terms, or even, frankly, thinking them. Unrealistic? Guilty as charged, m'lud.

However, I think the level of realism in a historical is very much part of a writer's voice. I do try to make my characters as three-dimensional and realistic as I can, but as for the rest, I'm writing a romance, not a historical novel, or a textbook. I want my tender love scenes, so I'll stick with what works for me, and what my readers have come to expect.

If that makes me "wrong," so be it. But in my mind, I'm doing what's right for me in terms of my stories, my characters and my "voice," and that's my bottom line.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The muse -- she speaks!

I decided to get a start on the next project today. Specifically, I planned to start writing out my recipe cards with names and characteristics and scene ideas, based on notes I've been making for the last few weeks.

Then I thought, use the computer to compile the notes. That's where it'll all end up anyway. I had one file I called "the general gist," wherein I intended to write the basic premise of the next few books, which are going to be linked.

Well, dang if I didn't just start writing synopses. Oh, the joy! I love writing synopses, especially for stories that have been percolating in the back of my head for a while. Because I haven't written a word of the book, it's no-holds-barred storytelling. At this point, nobody knows the characters or the stories but me, so I'm free to do anything I want, and to use any language I want. Although my stories will be medieval, I use terms like "the big Bad" to describe the villain. That may change as I revise, but sometimes, I leave those things in. They bring a certain joie de vivre and energy to the synopsis, a thing that can all too often turn into a dry recitation of facts.

I was so unprepared for this to happen, I started "the general gist" document single spaced, with an extra line between paragraphs. I began writing at about 10:30 this morning. It's now nearly 2:30. I've taken breaks for lunch and laundry, and am now almost finished. It's eight pages long single-spaced. I'm not sure how long that'll be double-spaced, but whew, baby, I was on a roll! There's still a lot of editing to do, and I found out I need some more names for sidekicks, etc.

But the bottom line: I love writing days like this!

Friday, December 16, 2005

And then came the snow....

So I do my Big Shop. I'm in the mall from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., with one half-hour sit-down to have lunch with my daughter who works in said mall. The last trip to the car, with the big square box and nine three-inch thick candles, one five-inch thick candle and two pillar candles, just about does me in. Meanwhile, as I'm shopping away, the snow begins. It's lookin' bad as I head out of the mall, only to discover that the street lights aren't working on my exit street.


I navaigate the two left turns onto another street and discover that there's road work being done. In a blizzard. Obviously, this is a serious problem, but it also means that the six lane road is down to one lane each way. I could have walked faster along that stretch.

By the time I get home, I'm pooped. My feet hurt, my elbows are killing me. As far as I'm concerned, I'm done. The hubby (aka He Who Falls Into A Coma Three Feet Into A Mall) can do the rest. It's mostly gift cards and stocking stuffers from here on in.

This morning, I wake up dreading a lot more snow because the news guys were all freaking out and forecasting disaster and instead I found...not much more than when I got home yesterday. I went out to shovel, as I actually don't mind shoveling snow, and discovered it was the heavy stuff (aka "packing snow"). Great for snowmen, but for shoveling? Not so much. By nine a.m. I'd had quite the workout.

I've still got my office to clean and some writing to do. What? You think just because I sent a book in this week, I'm on vacation? Not if I want to keep writing, I'm not. What this point in the schedule does mean, though, is that I can work at a more leisurely pace and not feel guilty when we go out to a movie later. It'll probably be King Kong -- which is good, because otherwise, I might fall asleep.

Now off to clean the office! And later, no rowing for this cookie. Like I said, I've had my workout for the day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shoppin' till I'm droppin'.....

Today is the Big Shop, when I head to the mall and try to get as much of my Christmas shopping done in one fell swoop as I can. I don't particularly enjoy shopping. Buying gifts when you know exactly what and where? That's fun. Wandering around a mall like an amnesiac (Have I got something for everybody? What would they like? What color?) Not so fun.

This year, having been to the One of a Kind Craft Show, I was under the impression that I had most of my shopping done. Then I started going through my list. Nothing for him, need something more for her...and on it went. We're expecting a Big Dump O' Snow in my neck of the woods later today, so I'm heading out early and hope to be finished shortly after lunch.

Then I have to finish cleaning up my office. I started off that task in the storage room, actually. We're throwing out the 25 year old artificial tree, so that freed up some space for some boxes of old manuscripts that were in the rec room closet. That led to cleaning out the big rec room closet where the old manuscripts had been. Which meant cleaning out some of the shelves in another closet in the rec room. But all this means I have more room in my office cupboards, so today, I tackle the office itself.

The glamor of the writer's life, eh? :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Done! Done, done, done, done!!!!

Ding dong, my book is done! Which ol' book? The current book!

Yep, HERS TO DESIRE is printed up and ready to go. Well, almost. I have to put it in a box and get it ready for my bestest buddy, The FedEx Man. And then tomorrow, buh-bye!

An hour after the farewell, dread will set in. I will worry about this part, or that scene. Will the pacing be all right? Have I explained everything that needs explaining? Will my editor like it? Or will I have to do some major revisions?

But that's in the future. For now, I'm enjoying the feeling of accomplishment from finishing my fortieth historical romance.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Giddy Stage

I'm at the giddy stage of writing a book (as my family can attest). For me, that's the point where the book is very nearly done, but still in my possession. Nobody else has seen it (and I do mean nobody -- I'm not good with the group work, so critique groups aren't my thing). I've climbed the mountain and I'm dancing a jig on the top.

This stage comes before the "heading down the mountain" phase, which starts about an hour after the FedEx man takes my manuscript away. That's when I start second-guessing myself even more than I do while writing the book. Does this part work as I meant it to? Does this action on the part of my characters make sense? How's that pacing? I love this part -- will anybody else? Ah, the insecurity knows no bounds!

This stage also means, however, that I'm still working, and working hard. Witness the author writing her blog while eating her oatmeal. Multitasking is me. I've been out of the house precisely once this week -- had to make a run to the post office (likewise work related). I turned a corner and found myself squinting in the sun like a mole person, which is pretty much how I feel sometimes. On the other hand, today it's snowing, so I'm quite content to stay inside, with my tea and manuscript that's still all mine. And dance a little jig.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Will I ever learn?

It happens every freakin' time! You'd think I'd get a clue, since I'm working on my 40th historical, but nooooo. Every time I think I'm at the "minor changes" only stage, I find...not exactly huge changes, but enough to make me revise/reprint/revise/reprint some parts of the manuscript. This time, I hit this situation at the end of Chapter One. Sheesh. It's not as if I haven't already revised Chapter One about fifty times, either. Sigh. Sighsighsighsigh. It's times like this that are really tough to explain to a non-writer, too. Why didn't I see the problems earlier?

Sometimes, it's a case of needing to read the manuscript in "bigger pieces," as a reader would. Then pacing problems become more apparent. Sometimes, I've changed something and realize I was right the first time. Sometimes I've forgotten something, or that a change I made in an earlier incarnation should have influenced something that came later, and hasn't.

The bottom line is, though, I have to work on the manuscript until I'm down to changing a word here or there on a page. That's as close to "done" as I get.

Sadly, I ain't there yet with HERS TO DESIRE, and I thought I was.

Ah well, I've still got just over a week. No need to panic yet. But it does mean I worked after my husband's concert on Friday (he sings in a choir), and after going to a craft show with my mom and sisters on Sat. It means working literally morning, noon, and night until the book is down to the small changes. And then I have to prepare the computer disk the way production wants it, which is not the way I write it. But that's small spuds compared to getting to the end of Chapter One and feeling the pace slow to a dead crawl. Now that's disturbing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What a rush!

After watching what has to be the most boring episode of The Amazing Race ever (and I can't believe I'm typing "boring" and "Amazing Race" in the same sentence), my daughter and I watched the last episode of the BBC adaptation of "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell. It's a set in Victorian England and oh, my, oh my!!!!!! It was wonderful.

My daughter's watched the adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters" nearly as many times as the BBC adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice." However, she remains miffed that there's no kiss at the conclusion of "Wives and Daughters" so we were worried about that possibility with "North and South." But lo, our fears were groundless, because hoooo baby! Serious kissing goin' on! (I have a slight problem accepting a couple kissing in public in a Victorian drama, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief if the rest of the show's good.)

We've also got a new fella for the Hierarchy of Hotties, Richard Armitage. He had the brooding thing, BUT -- and this had my jaw dropping -- he can frown and smile at the same time! A sort of "I'm worried and yet also amused" expression. Wow!

And then there was the bit where the heroine is driving off in the carriage and he says, "Look back. Look back at me." It is to swoooooon.....

We were just beside ourselves, frankly. On the edge of our seat. We giggled, we fretted, we squealed like tweens sighting Orlando Bloom, we cheered, we sighed.
In short, we had a fantastic time watching this. And I'm quite sure it won't be the last.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Pride and Prejudice - my review is...mixed.

We finally got to the new movie version of Pride and Prejudice. I suggest you read no farther if you plan to see it and don't want any "spoilers."

Overall, it was...okay. As I said yesterday, it'd be pretty difficult to louse up Jane Austen. However, there were some really qestionable choices made with this version.

The good: I liked how they highlighted the difference between the Bennet's circumstances and Mr. Darcy's, economically and socially. Almost as much mud and grime as a medieval flick! Mind you, I also think they took it a bit far, and if anybody can explain the presence of that boat in the yard in one scene, I'd be thankful.

The scene near the end when Darcy is walking over the fields with his great coat flapping and his shirt open may spawn a thousand romance readers and, I suspect, not more than a few writers and likely several covers. It was the highlight of the film for me, actually.

I liked the guy who played Darcy. He got the yearning thing. But why they shot his first proposal outside in a downpour? Got me. Totally distracting.

Wickham -- sigh. I was disappointed. And here's what I considered a hugh flaw: in this day and age especially, you have to make it very clear that Lydia's "elopement" is a VERY BIG AND BAD DEAL. She would be considered immoral (well, she was), but so would the entire family and therefore so tainted that no respectable person would associate with them. If you don't get this, Darcy's subsequent actions (made even more impressive because of his past dealings with Wickham) and his continuing love for the now socially soiled Elizabeth have almost no impact. But it's those actions and that continuing love despite the taint on the family that show Elizabeth (and us) that he really is hero material.

Here's another thing: Jane Austen's dialogue has more than stood the test of time. In many respects, it's classic. So why would anybody not use it? Why would they think their own could or should try to match it?

And then there's the just plain wacky: the boat, as mentioned, the hog in the house and the statues in Pemberley. During the statue scene, my daughter leaned over and whispered, "He lives in a museum?" Me, I was distracted by the fact that many of the statues were naked, and knowing this is where Elizabeth sees a representation of Mr. Darcy, I was wondering if I was about to see Mr. D a la Michelangelo's David. Sure would put a whole different spin on that scene. They didn't, of course, but why they felt they needed to have a room that looked like something out of the Louvre, I don't know.

And lastly, the kiss scene at the end, that the British audience didn't get. It's been described as post-coital, so I was expecting them to be in bed. Instead, they were on the balcony overlooking the garden. On top of a table. If you're going to go there, why not put them in bed? I realized later that the table was necessary for the visual. Otherwise, a railing would have obsecured the garden. But being on a table sure had me scratching my head. And apparently Mr. Darcy's shaves his legs, 'cause those were some mighty smooth calves. Or maybe he'd been posing....

All in all, not a total waste of an afternoon. Do I want the DVD? No.

Friday, November 25, 2005

P and P, it's the place to be!

We have a song at our house for Pride and Prejudice, created after multiple viewings of the BBC version. To the tune of "This Old Man," it goes thusly:

P and P
P and P
P and P is the place to be,
With the Ben-nets
And Mr. Dar-ar-cy,
Let's all go watch P and P!

(Why, yes, we're a little wacky. Why do you ask?)

Today, we're finally off to the new version. Now, I know Kiera Knightly's hot at the moment, but I must ask, in a general sort of way, of the marketing gurus: why are they not showing more of the men in the ads? I think Hollywood marketing goes for the visual appeal, and they have to know their audience is going to be primarily women, so why show her so much? Show me the fellas!

And I don't just mean the guy playing Mr. Darcy. In the clips and trailers I've seen, it looks as if somebody has finally realized that Mr. Wickham should be drop-dead, matinee idol gorgeous. That's how he cons people, and not just women, into believing his stories. I've often wondered if the casting directors thought Mr. Darcy simply HAD to be the more good-looking of the two. They just couldn't seem to get it wasn't Mr. Darcy's looks that were the basis of his appeal, although he's certainly no dog. It's the things he does, and that's why Elizabeth falls for him.

Whatever they're thinking, it's Pride and Prejudice, and we'll be there at last.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Whoo hooo! The first draft, she is done!

Yippeee! Tonight, I can watch TV without tremendous guilt!! I've finished the first draft! (Note I have not been desperate enough to give up my TV entirely. I've just been watching with a lot of guilt while also folding laundry in a feeble attempt to lessen said guilt.) I was aiming for the end of this week, so...I'm ahead of my schedule!!

I'm not one of those writers who can say, "Only fifty more pages to go and then I'm done," because I do multiple drafts. For instance, although this is the first time I've actually gotten to the Epilogue, the directory is HERS TO DESIRE 3.0. Nor does this mean I've only done three drafts of up until Chapter 17 (at present there are 24 chapters; this will surely change). I have edited/revised each chapter at least once more. This means this is the most recent edited version. I have a hard copy of up until Chapter Ten with all sorts of changes in purple ink (so I didn't get mixed up with 2.0.) I've just printed up Chapters 11 - Epilogue. Now I'll start again at the beginning, with my purple pen, no doubt making more changes to those first chapters (although I sure hope not many), and go right through to the end. Then I'll copy the chapters to a new directory called HERS TO DESIRE 4.0. I'll input the purple ink changes and make another hard copy. Hopefully this will be the final printout, and I'll go through the whole ms. one more time. Then I'll make HERS TO DESIRE 5.0, and this should (oh, please, oh, please!) be the final version.

So I've got a ways to go yet, but I'm ahead of schedule and I'm hoping the first 14 chapters or so are relatively finished.

In other news, Luis (the more slender and whiter of the two kitties) is fascinated by the printer. He puts his front paws on it and watches the paper.

While I was printing up the ol' manuscript, I did some yard work. I raked leaves and then decided to put down some of the ivy growing on the brick. That was quite the work-out and it's not often I'm out in a T-shirt in November. But the sun was shining, it needed to be done and have I mentioned I finished the first draft?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Barges, barques, balinger, brigantines...what's a gal to do?

I'm writing a book that involves a sailing vessel. It's 1244. Cornwall. Smuggling's afoot. Of course, there must be boats and also, a ship. So I turned to my "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ships and Boats" by Graham Blackburn looking for the appropriate type of sailing ship for the smugglers.

And here's what I find: a balinger, "used in the middle ages for coastal trade." No idea what it looks like. I check my Encyclopedia Britannica dictionary. According to it, this ship was used from the 15th - 17th century, and apparently derives from a reference to whales. good.

barge: "probably comes from the Latin word 'barca,' which makes it the equivalent of barque or bark." Derived from Latin? We're talking old, then. The entry in the ship encyclopedia says it's the next size up from the balinger. The Encyclopeida Britannica dictionary's first entry for barge is simply "sailing vessel." It also lists "bark" in the same entry, and refers to the balinger for a size comparison. According to Webster's, the first recorded English usage of barge is 14 C., and means "any of various boats."

So then I go to "barque" or "bark." According to my ship encyclopedia, "barque" originally meant any kind of small sailing ship "of any rig." However, "by the middle ages the term had become somwhat more closely defined and referred to small Mediterranean craft..." Considering the "middle ages" goes from the fall of the Romance Empire to about 1500, I'm not sure when this transition took place. The first recorded English usage, according to Webster's, is 15th C. and means a small sailing ship.

Next I go to brigantine, but I'm fairly certain that's too late, timewise, for my story. I discover a fascinating fact: the name was originally given to vessels used by "brigands" -- ie pirates. In the Mediterranean. Oh. The first recorded English usage is 1525. Although I tend to assign a lot of "wiggle room" when it comes to dates in Webster's, because folks in medieval times weren't generally doing a whole lot of writing, this is, as far as I'm concerned, not usuable.

So it comes down to "barge" or "barque" (and I would use the "que" spelling, because there are other kinds of barks that have nothing to do with ships). Barge might be more technically correct, but what do people think of when they hear the word "barge?' Not a swift sailing ship. What do they think of if they see the word "barque"? In context, it would obviously be some sort of boat or ship. They probably wouldn't be able to picture it until I describe it, which also means they have no preconceptions.

Therefore, I'm going with "barque." It's not definitely wrong (as brigantine would be), it comes with fewer (or no) preconceptions and it just plain sounds like an older sort of ship.

And that's all the research I'm going to do on that particular point. I'm not writing a historical novel. The ship comes into play as a setting only at the end of the book, and what's far more important is that the smugglers have the heroine on board and intend to sell her. Her emotional state, her frantic attempts to escape and the hero's desperate attempt to rescue her (made more desperate by his fear of open water) are the focus here, not whether the ship is a barge, barque, balinger or brigantine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Witness Protection

I was taking a break from the work-in-progress and as is my wont, watched Sell This House. Then I "went around the horn" as we say, meaning flipping through the channels via remote control to see what else was on. In our house, the remote control for the TV/VCR/DVD is referred to as "the conch," as in The Lord of the Flies, and "who's got the conch?" My kids used to get some weird looks went they went to their friend's house and asked for the conch.

Anyway, I'm flipping and hit the movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford. I like that movie, and although it doesn't end like a romance, I'm content with the ending, because the late Alexander Godunov is walking -- and WHAT a walk! -- toward the heroine's farm. As compensations go, not too shabby. And about that walk -- ballet training sure makes for a great amble. Ditto the end of Billy Elliot when the grown-up Billy is about to go on stage. The way that man's shoulders move! In my mind, all my heroes walk with that lithe grace.

But then there's that horrible scene in the silo in Witness. My grandparents used to have a farm, and Grandpa stored grain in what had been the stalls for the horses. We were always told never to play in the grain. We did anyway, because it was like a sandbox. And I could never really figure out why not, until I saw Witness. My word -- you can DROWN in grain! I had no idea. That scene still creeps me out. I suspect it always will.

But then, there's Alexander Godunov. And young Viggo Mortensen. And the delightful Jan Rubes. I just close my eyes for the bit in the silo and enjoy the rest.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Love scene complete! On to battle!

I finally got my love scene finished. Sheesh, they take me a looong time to write. Well, longer than most other scenes. Fortunately, though, they don't tend to require much revision. I think that's because there's a natural build to a climax, both physically (no kidding, eh?) and emotionally. In other scenes, I can go off track and not have a good arc to the scene. Or to put it another way, sometimes the scene climaxes too quickly, or early. And that ain't good.

I've also finished the apres love-making scene, the confrontation between the heroine and her maidservant who hates the hero (although I suspect I'll be doing a lot of revising to that scene -- there's been another confrontation between those two characters regarding Ranulf, and I'll probably wind up taking out the earlier one, or cutting it down a lot and moving most of it to the later scene where it'll have more impact). I've done a new scene with the Pirate King (as I think of this nasty piece of work) and I've left my hero inching along a narrow ledge on the rocky coast of Cornwall. There's still lots more to write, but I'm definitely at the end of the middle. Whew! Middles are TOUGH. Espcially if I've got a love scene or two in there.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Go, Marcela!

I am such a sucker for reality TV. I knew things were getting bad when I was discussing The Apprentice with my daughter and referred to "the Donald" as "Mr. Trump." And how many other people do you know use their love of The Amazing Race as an excuse to go to New York so they can hang out in a sports bar to watch the finale with other fans? Yep, that's me -- although I also have the excuse of being able to meet my editors and agent in New York, and in a much less stressful environment than an RWA conference.

So, perhaps needless to say, I watch The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. Apart from marvelling at the apparent redemption arc they're giving the man known at Television Without Pity as "Hateful Jim," I was tickled to watch Marcela demonstrate how one "wins" a job interview (by saying exactly what she can do for the company) and to see Amanda "lose" it by floundering around and talking only about herself until she wound up basically telling one of the most perfectionist people in NA that she wants to make Martha Stewart's company "less perfect." Oh, dear.

However, before I can watch Survivor tonight, I must write a love scene. I know there are plenty of romance writers who live to write love scenes. Alas, I am not one of them. To me, they are the most difficult of all. You've got to write about two people at their most intimate, and still do everything else any scene is supposed to do. For me, that's not easy. On the other hand, I think I wrote one of my better lead-ins to a love scene this afternoon, so...could be worse. A lot worse. On to the bedchamber!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

She said what?!?

Last night I had one of those exciting moments where a character suddenly says something I had not planned or foreseen. It's as if -- oh, happy day! -- the character has totally taken on a life of his or her own.

What happened was this: my hero was having a confrontation with the Woman Who Done Him Wrong (not the heroine). He's seen what she's up to (ie trying to rekindle the flames) and it ain't workin'. More, she's been badmouthing the heroine (oh, oh!), so he finally tells her she has to leave his castle at the light of dawn the next day.

And then, suddenly, as if Celeste isn't a creation of my imagination, comes: "But I have nowhere else to go."

What the --? She's a rich widow. Her husband was a Very Important Lord. What does she mean, she's got no place else to go?

But hey...this is...interesting. Yeah, could work. It would keep her around longer, which is what I'd intended, although I'd given her another reason to do so. But what does she mean, she's got nowhere else to go?

Speaking for the author, too, the hero basically asks, "What are you talking about? Of course you must have houses, estates, you could go to."

"No," she replies. "They all went to my husband's nephew because we had no sons."

It's true she's childless and that's been true from the beginning, so that fits. And now the hero's got more of a dilemma, because he's really a nice guy.

That's where I left off. Today, I'll start at the beginning of that scene, revising as I go, then continue on. But I don't mind revising, because it's wonderful when the characters suddenly take you around an unforeseen bend along Plot Road.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

How do you spell "successful signing?"

I don't do a lot of booksignings. For one thing, I'm not a famous, NY Times-bestselling author, so if I do a local signing, I pretty much wind up feeling like Oliver Twist when he ventures forth to ask for "more." Or else I get nudge-nudge-wink-wink comments from passersby about "those kinds of books." Having been in this business a long time, I am weary of trying to educate people about romance and somebody wandering by a table in a store being "clever" isn't exactly a receptive audience anyway.

Signings can be pleasant, though. I always do the big signings at Romance Writers of America national conventions. Now that I've been at this writing gig awhile, I actually get people looking for me, editions of my books they've had for years in their hands for me to autograph. THAT is a thrill that never gets old.

I did a signing this past Friday that was better than most. I was signing with Maggie Shayne, a NY Times bestselling author and Eve Silver, a member of my local RWA chapter. Eve was signing her first book, so her family and friends came out, as did several of our fellow chapter members. Eve's enthusiasm sometimes made me feel like a jaded cynic (shades of the hero of my w-i-p!), but it also reminded me of the special excitement of having your first published book hit the shelves. Eve fearlessly took on PR and did a wonderful job. The stores' "experience co-ordinator" (yes, that's really her title) was keen and had everything all set up when we got there. Maggie Shayne was a pleasant, friendly co-signee. I enjoyed myself. I didn't once feel like a beggar at the gates. And hey, I even sold some books! That's what I call a successful signing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Why I won't forget

This is my Dad during World War II. Obviously, he was in the Navy. He was seventeen when he joined, after first having to get a note from his mother (!) and put on some weight. He served in the Battle of the North Atlantic.

Only in the past few years has he talked about those days -- spending an entire watch (four hours) chipping ice off the ship. Socks that never dried. Sleeping with the torpedoes because the mess was too crowded and noisy (!!!). Waking up on a park bench in Edinburgh the day after VE day, and after walking into a police station and giving them his pay so he wouldn't blow it all.

These are the little stories of the war in terms of the "big picture," but they are big stories to me. I was proud to follow my Dad's footsteps and join the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve when I, too, was seventeen.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A good day to work at home...

This is one of those days when I'm glad I work at home. It's rainy, it's windy, it's chilly, it's...November. This is also one of those days when people envy the people who work at home, no doubt imagining us puttering around and working in our jammies.

I may do my share of puttering (generally either doing laundry or making tea), but I don't work in my jammies. Just doesn't feel right.

There's also a real downside to working at home -- it can be lonely. I can, if the weather's bad and there's no pressing need to run errands, be in my house for days at a time. In the dead of winter, this isn't so bad. But the rest of the year? Not so great.

I miss the comaraderie of an office, even though it's been over twenty years since I worked in an office. I wish I could go on a coffee break with someone, or a lunch. A lot of women who've been home with small children will know exactly what I'm talking about. You want some conversation.

But then comes a day like today, and it's such a relief not to have to struggle in the wind and rain.

Like most jobs, mine has its good sides and its bad sides. Working at home is an example of both.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Somebody's a casualty...I'm thinking the "red shirt," but nooooooo!

I watch Stargate reruns while I eat lunch. I'm late to the series, so I'm basically playing catch-up while wondering why I avoided it for so long. Because DANG! I like it! It's funny, it's interesting, Michael Shanks has nice arms when you can see 'em...

So I was watching today. Second part of a two-parter, called "Heroes." I learn somebody's a casualty. I know it won't be Col. Jack O'Neill, because he's in later episodes (thank goodness! I love that character's wry sense of humor!). I figure it'll be the "red shirt" (ie. never-before-seen secondary character) who has a pregnant wife. Gonna be kinda sad, but I'm prepared. And then...

NOOOOOOOO!! It's Dr. Frasier, a woman character I like! And I didn't see it coming AT ALL. And I'm actually crying and holy moly!!! How could they? Did the actress ask to be released? Geez, I hope so, because...AHHH! Not Dr. Frasier!!! I'm still reeling. Damn you, Stargate! How am I supposed to work now????

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Title Update

I realized last night that one of my sure-fire, can't-miss titles shouldn't be LAW AND DISORDER but LOVE AND ORDER. And I've come up with a few more:


Now back to the work-in-progress, which already has a title: HERS TO DESIRE. Later, I hope to get out of the house to see the movie, North Country. Here's hopin'!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Title tittle tattle

One thing I'm trying to do as I think about my next project is come up with prospective titles, which I'll hopefully get to keep. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes editorial or marketing decide the author's suggestion is not the best. That leads to a lot of back-and-forth with new titles and counter-titles. No matter what the process, I've never been stuck with a title I hated, and one of my favorite titles for an upcoming book, HERS TO COMMAND was actually the wonderful suggestion of Tracy Farrell at HQN.

Anybody who's a romance reader will know there are certain words that keep cropping up, like "bride" and "baby." I've had my share of "bride" titles: A WARRIOR'S BRIDE, THE WELSHMAN'S BRIDE, THE OVERLORD'S BRIDE, BRIDE OF LOCHBARR and THE UNWILLING BRIDE. There's a reason those names keep appearing on the cover of my books and others. It's because words like "bride" = sales.

However, I've been perusing the bestseller lists and seeing what's popular in other media, and I've come up with some titles that I think will greatly increase the sales of future books. And here they are:

IN THE DARK OF THE NIGHT UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE WOLF IN THE FOREST (this one is courtesy of my daughter and husband)

Of course, the plots might have to be tweaked a little, but if one's picking a book by title alone, I've got it made, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Synopses...why I don't share the terror.

If there's one thing I've heard writers complain about, it's synopses. They hate writing them. HATE it.

Me, I love 'em. In fact, right now, I'm fighting NOT to start writing one for my next book(s). I've got a notebook full of ideas and some characters chomping at the bit but first I've got the work-in-progress to complete.

And therein, I suspect, lies the difference between those who hate writing synopses and me. I write synopses to sell a book before the book's written. I'm not trying to summarize a completed novel.

But even so, I still don't get the fear. A synopsis doesn't determine if a book will sell. The finished book does. Most synopses just have to show you've got enough "plot stuff" for a book and that the resolution is sound.

Why do I love 'em so much? Because that's when I'm most "free" with the story. I can put in whatever the heck I want, and often do. I can use whatever language I want, and often do. In the synopsis for the w-i-p, for instance, I used "This Old Castle," referring to the TV show This Old House, to give my editor an idea of what the heroine does when she gets to the hero's castle. Sure, that's modern and the book's medieval, but it gives a quick and vivid idea about that part of the story.

I do edit my synopses, of course. It's amazing what can get cut -- descriptions, redundancies, less important plot points or characters. And they do.

That said, I think anything less than a five page synopsis for a book is just not fair. Might as well ask for bullet points if you want something that short.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Kidnapped, The Scarecrow and Thomasina

Last night, the fam sat down to watch a new version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped on PBS. My husband and I had already taken a trip down Memory Lane regarding the Disney version, both of us vividly recalling the scene where young David Balfour is sent up a tower by his evil uncle. David nearly falls to his death when the stairs end and the step he's on gives way. We had high hopes for the new version, but that part didn't have nearly the same impact.

Or was it that seeing that scene had more impact before because we were so much younger?

Thiking of the Disney version of Kidnapped led to me to recall other Disney movies, often reshown serially on TV, that I loved. The two that immediately spring to mind are The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (aka Dr. Syn and if you follow that link, whoever designed that packaging should be FIRED. It's UGLY!) and The Three Lives of Thomasina. It's since occurred to me that in both of the latter, the main male character is played by Patrick McGoohan, and in neither case is the man "warm and fuzzy." If memory serves, the Scarecrow is a smuggler by night, and a clergyman by day, and he's rather easier to see as the smuggler than a clergyman. I can't really see this guy baptising babies. And his mask as the Scarecrow was scary! (At least to me in those more innocent times.)

PM plays the father in The Three Lives of Thomasina (Thomasina being a cat), and he's a very bitter fellow indeed, still grieving over the loss of his wife, which seems to have totally hardened his heart. He meets a woman who starts the thaw -- ah, romance! -- even though the movie is more about his relationship with his daughter.

Quite a few of my heroes would fall into the bitter, crusty, not "safe and comfy" category. Coincidence? I think not. I should probably send Patrick McGoohan a thank-you note.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What do you mean, I've got six weeks left?

So there I am, going along in my own leisurely way, revising the first chapters of the w-i-p, and I realize that I've been consuming vast quantities of mini- chocolate bars -- and I do mean mini! In my day the Hallowe'en versions of Kit Kats, for instance, were only two piece of the regular size instead of regular four. Now they've shrunk to near invisibility.

Anyway, I realize it's nearly Hallowe'en (it's easier not to notice when you no longer make your kid's costumes). I also hear it's time to turn the clocks back, which leads to many a mournful wail on my part. I hate having the dark come so early.

And then my wails increase in volume because I also realize my book is due in about six weeks.

EGAD! (And yes, I really do use that word in my everyday life.) Picture me making the Home Alone aftershave face. It's time to buckle down and bring this puppy to heal. I'll still take my Stargate lunch hour, but otherwise? To the computer with me! But "the boys" have to go back to the vets for check-ups, I have to dole out candy Monday night, I've got a couple of authorly events coming up...

Okay, I tell myself. Be zen. Just be zen. You've been here before. And at least the first three chapters are in much better shape....

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Snip snip here, snip snip there....

I've got that song from The Wizard of Oz buzzing around my head for two reasons. First, we took "the boys" (aka the new kittens) to the vet for the "big snip" (ie neutering) and front declawing (while I still have some sheers left). They came through the procedures fine. The vet seemed a bit surprised at how "lively" they were. I could have told her! The Count apparently escaped at one point and they had a heck of time catching him. Well, he is named for the Count of Monte Cristo, after all.

The other cutting is to my work-in-progress. Ever since I had to do a huge revision to the first half of a book, I've been somewhat neurotic over the pacing at the beginning of my books, and this one's no exception. I felt something was "off" and the story really takes off in about Chapter Four. But I can't start in Chapter Four, unless I do a ton of (pace-destroying) flashbacks. I've also got to set things up so the heroine does not come across as a stalker. So what's an author to do?

I found a scene in Chapter Six that -- ah ha! -- could work really well earlier on. It's got the hero and heroine, and the hero's a little smashed, so he can say a few things that indicate to both the heroine and the reader that Bea's love isn't totally one-sided. Whew! And it's fun, because he's a little smashed and saying those things. And Bea gets a few whispered words in there as well. They aren't alone at this point...but I'm suddenly thinking, as of right now, that maybe they should be. Then Bea and Ranulf could get a little physical, too.

Wow -- I like it! I really like it! I feel another revision coming on....

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fun's over! Back to work!

So the back, it was massaged. The rain, it did not fall. The fire, we could not get going beyond enough for four toasted marshmallows. But oh, what a wonderful weekend! We had a lovely walk on Saturday morning. It was really great to have two rooms, so that when I got up earlier than Sis on Sunday morning, I could work without disturbing her. When I went with the fam to NYC in the spring, I wound up working in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet. Such dedication, eh? The fact that my deadline was a month away might have had something to do with that, though.

But thus it was that I discovered that I have too much of characters from a previous book intruding into the beginning of this one. Sigh. It was enough to drive me to the Hallowe'en candy, and now I must get to the fixing...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Road Trip!

My younger sister and I are about to embark on a road trip, to a resort in Muskoka (Ontario) near where we went to summer camp. I have the mini-Tootsies and C2 Coke ready for car refreshments, have written out the directions in BIG PRINT as I won't be wearing my reading glasses when I drive and booked massages. She's bringing the marshmallows to roast in the wood-burning fireplace and the hot chocolate. We're also both bringing DVDs and, alas, work -- my sister's gone back to university so she has homework and I'll be lugging a hard copy of the work-in-progress. We've set Saturday morning aside for working, and I figure I'll probably get more done in two hours then I would in four hours at home, even if I was home alone. No laundry, no email, no phone, no Stargate, no kittens chasing each other.

But I'm not quite ready. I've got a little bit more to write. I gave myself a page number to reach before we left. No big whoop if I didn't make it, but I find setting myself deadlines is one way to keep on track.

And then, two wacky women freed from the constraints of everyday life take the scenic route north in search of rocky outcroppings, fall foliage and a masseuse...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gone with the wiiiiiinnnnndddd....

Yeesh, talk about Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day! I had to make a trip to the post office (more PR) and thought I'd get blown away. Fortunately, the packages were fairly heavy, so I wasn't blown all over the parking lot. Despite that upside, as I hauled the parcels out to the car, I was wishing I created something a little lighter than books. When I had to pay the postage, I wished it even more!

Last night's Amazing Race continued the Bore-a-thon. Giant rusty chair? Whoop de doo. That wasn't nearly as exciting as seeing the teams in a couple of places we visited in Australia - the night zoo near Cairns (best thing we did in Oz, I think -- included a great meal, too!) and the Aboriginal village where some poor guy tried to show me how to throw a boomerang. The humiliation lingers to this day....

Tonight, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. How many times will I hear about thinking outside the box? Stepping up? Taking it to the next level? I tell ya, it's enough to make a person scream. Sort of like that Jim guy.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A TV Potpourri

Alas! What has happened to my beloved Amazing Race? This week, I was actually bored. Yep, I never thought it could happen but as my daughter pointed out, it's like watching some other family's stressful vacation unfold. I never realized how much I enjoyed the foreign locales, either. Please, PTB, never do a family version again, or if you do, at least make the clues as difficult as they were in Season One. Ah, Season One -- a true classic. I can watch it over and over again (and have!).

Lost -- They better get Bernard and Rose back together (and not kill either of them off), or I am going to be one PO'd fan. Can Sawyer have a shower, please? Or even just a hair wash?

Threshold -- I'm liking it. I like the mix of characters. Invasion: not so much.

Martha Stewart's Apprentice: yeesh. And yet I cannot look away.

Ditto Trump's Apprentice. As long as Carolyn and George are there, so am I. Glad to see Her Snootiness get the boot. What an attitude! Since part of my job as a writer is to figure out why people do the things they do, I think Miss "These Women Aren't Good Enough to be my Administrative Assitant" is seriously over-compensating for deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. But I'm no shrink, nor do I play one on TV.

Speaking of such things, and although Dr. Phil's no shrink either, my boycott of his show continues. I haven't missed him or his show one iota.

I occasionally catch bits of Oprah if I'm done my writing for the day, and must say, I don't like the new set. And is she changing her hair style a lot, or what?

Desperate Housewives: I know it's really difficult to have a balance of comedy and drama, so I cut this show a lot of slack. I wish they hadn't killed off Mr. Bree, though.

My love for Stargate, late blooming though it may be and I'm still catching up via reruns, continues to grow. It's my mid-day lunchtime treat.

And last but not least, Smallville. A brief glimpse of James Marsters and then...what? Where'd he go? Sexy Lexy and Spike on the same show, still my heart.

Friday, October 14, 2005

One of those weeks...

This has been one of those weeks where I have a lot on the go, while also trying to, you know, write, since I am a writer. I've managed to keep up somewhat, but there's been a lot of other things happening.

For instance, Monday was a holiday, so everybody was home and we visited family. No writing done, but I hadn't planned any.

Tuesday, my son discovered a problem with his university courses, and since he hopes to graduate next spring, this was a Major Crisis. Or so it seemed. Fortunately, he was able to come up with a solution, and all is well, but I think we both aged a year or two, and I lost some writing time. Still got ten pages done. Must have been the adrenelin pumping through the maternal veins.

Wednesday is Darla Day -- the cleaning lady comes. I love having a cleaning lady. If I earn money for anything other than tuition, it's to have somebody do the cleaning. However, that means some tidying before she comes, and it's a little tough to work when somebody's vacuuming. Of course, it would tougher to work if I was doing the vacuuming. That day I also wound up doing a lot of PR stuff; that's "work" but it's not writing. That night, I had the delightful experience of attending a ceremony at my daughter's collage, to see her get an award. I'm an alumna of the same college. Mind you, there are a lot more buildings there than when I attended. I felt like saying, "And in my day, that was a cow pasture..." (It wasn't really, but there was lot more "open" space.) Norman Jewison (the movie director) is a chancellor, so he was there. We actually have another "degree" of association with him. My brother married his daughter. Not as in became her husband -- he performed the ceremony.

Thursday, I wound up doing more PR and revising my website, as I do weekly. I also got a much-needed haircut. I didn't get to my writing until after dinner, but again I wrote ten pages, and still managed to get to see The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman on PBS.

So far today, I've done a little more PR, revised what I wrote yesterday, and am ready to start a new chapter, which I hope to get to after I color my daughter's hair, as per our agreement (she does mine, I do hers). Later, I'm going out to Toronto Romance Writers function.

Tomorrow's TRW meeting features a panel of agents and editors, and that should be very interesting. Will I get any writing done? Hard to say.

Do I get upset when I can't to my writing every day? No, although it does bother me a bit when I'm in the first draft stage, as I am right now. I fear losing momentum. However, sometimes it just isn't possible to write every day, so I don't beat myself up about it. I know it's only a short break and I'll get back to it as soon as I can.

A "professional" writer, whether published or not, always gets back to the writing as soon as possible. The wannabe can always find excuses not to.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sitting in the judgment seat?

I was browsing the net the other day and came across a blog that I've been thinking about off and on over the weekend, because it bugged. Here's the part that's been gnawing at me:

"To use a tired cliché, historical authors are on a sinking ship, and most will drown. A few will survive and prosper, but they will be in the distinct minority. Most historical romance writers recognize this and are terrified of the coming disaster. Yet most also adamantly reject the idea that surviving and–more importantly–thriving through a crash is not pure luck but is heavily dependent upon becoming that special writer that readers are looking for: Someone who writes something different than what everyone else is writing and who writes WELL."

No doubt this writer believes she writes both well and "differently" -- meaning her work is unique in some way. That's fine. More power to her. I have yet to meet a writer who doesn't believe he or she writes well (or they wouldn't submit their work to an editor). I also think every writer believes his or her work is unique in some way, whether it's style, voice, characterization or some other element.

But here's the important thing that this writer didn't explain (as noted by one commentator): Who else sits in the judgment seat and decrees one author worthy, and another mediocre? I've had some people love a book I've written, and other people consider the same book a gross waste of trees and ink. Unless we're talking basic grammar, writing "well" is a matter of taste.

As for being "terrified," I'm not. I have my days of despair, but it's not because of some "coming disaster" in the romance market. It's because I think I've got a problem.

And when it comes to some general coming romance market collapse, I've learned to ignore the cries of impending doom, not because I'm too stupid to read the writing on the wall, but because I've been told medievals don't sell since before I sold my first one in 1991. I'm still writing medievals, selling medievals and it was a medieval that just made the USA Today list.

However, if and when I can't sell historical romances, I do have Plan B, and C and D, all the way to Z. After all, nobody ever guaranteed any author a long career, even if they write "different" stories or "well."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hooray! Hooray! I'm on USA Today!

This morning I am one happy author. My latest book, The Unwilling Bride, made the USA Today bestsellers list! I'm not number one, or even 100, but 145 is still a huge thrill.

So picture the author all excited and happy and bursting to crow and...nobody's home. Yep, when I find out about this, I'm home alone. I can't even share my news with the cats, because they're all sound asleep. I phone my mother -- always supportive and a shoulder to cry on when things aren't going well -- and her phone is busy. Yargh! Years I've been working toward this, and I can't talk to anybody about it!

I finally phone my daughter at work, where things are a little hectic (she works in retail). I manage to get in a plea for her to bring home celebratory chocolate (champagne does nothing for me). She tells me she won't be getting a break. I'm thinking, What's that about? Is this Victorian England?

My son returns. It's not easy to impress a 23-year-old male who's spent the summer traveling around Europe, but he gives me a great big grin.

Later, I get a congratulatory email from my husband, who supports me in his own quiet way. For instance, he was the one, way back when, who suggested we get a computer for me to write. We were a young couple with two small children and a mortgage, so that was very much under the heading of "luxury item" at that point, especially as we had no idea if I'd ever succeed in the endeavor.

Now that I'm a little calmer, I'm also very grateful, to all the readers who bought my book, and to those who've been buying my books for years. I'm thankful to have a great publisher, and to work with Tracy Farrell, who bought my first historial lo, these many moons ago and brought me aboard HQN, and who got this book in a special promotion. I'm lucky to have a very patient and supportive editor, who doesn't give me a hard time when I decide to do things like cut out two chapters at the copy edit stage, or send an 11 page list of Author Alterations. She says things like, "It's your book and I want you to be happy." My agent keeps me grounded when my imagination goes wild with visions of impending career doom. The art department's been doing a wonderful job with my HQN covers. I'm grateful the PR department sent out galleys and otherwise promoted my book. I'm thankful for every reviewer who loved the story.

So as much as I'd like to take complete credit for this tangible sign of success, it took the efforts of plenty of other people, too. I truly am grateful to each and every one.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What's all the fuss about?

Yesterday, I got an automated call from the library telling me a book I'd had on order over the summer has finally arrived. It's The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Frankly, I want to find out what all the fuss (and especially that huge advance) is all about. I've heard various opinions, but the book must have something going for it. A publisher push can get a book onto the NYTimes list for a week or two, but it takes more than that to keep it there, and this book has been on the list for several weeks.

So I went to the library and picked it up. The book is huge and weighs a ton. I'm thinking, no wonder it took her ten years to write it. (And as a sidebar, if I took ten years to write a book, would it be worth a $2 million advance? Who knows? I never will, because I'd go bananas spending that long on one story. Ain't in my nature.)

But then, when I got home, I opened it and actually reared back because, Hello! Giant font! Then I looked at the cover again and saw "large print." Whew. There for a minute, I thought the publisher was making the story literally bigger than it was.

I've just started it, and so far, it's...well, okay. I have a theory (a sort of formula, really) about what makes books like this one popular. You take a fictional character everybody's heard of, created by a dead author (so no pesky copyright issues) and you add some interesting scenery and several cool bits of historical data. Now, that's just the basics, sort of like the romance "formula" -- couple with troubles wind up together at the end of the story. Quick! Write 400 pages! And like writing a romance, if it was that easy, everybody would be selling such books. There's the matter of style, voice, characterization, etc. etc. And frankly, I have no desire to write about somebody else's character. That's why I don't quite get fanfic. Make up your own people! It's so much more fun!

That said, never say never. If I ever get to the point where my editor says, "Gosh, kid, it's been swell, but we're not buying any more books from you," I have my well-known fictional character all picked out. And no, I'm not going to say who it is. *G*

Monday, October 03, 2005

Amazing True Stories of Astonishing First Sales....

There was an article in the Globe and Mail this morning about a Canadian author who sold a book she wrote in three and a half weeks while her kids were at school. Her agent sold it first to Hollywood and then to HarperCollins for "a nice amount of money for a first novel." I'm thinking low six figures, which I would call very nice for any novel any time.

I see articles like this from time to time -- author strikes it WAY BIG first time out, making lots of money and getting a movie deal. Yes, it happens -- but it's rare. Really, really rare. The vast majority of authors I know don't hit it out of the ball park first time up at bat.

I also consider this sort of "instant" success story directly responsible for so many people telling me they'd like to be writers. What they really want is to type for a while, sell what they've typed to Hollywood and/or get a huge book deal and appear on Oprah. The whole work/submit/rejection thing isn't even on their radar.

But here's what you find out if you read the article about this amazing success all the way to the end: the author had been doing contract editing work. Her relatives are in show business. In other words, this woman had some publishing experience and probably knows from commercial. As for writing the book in 3 1/2 weeks, that tells me that she was absolutely in love with her story and characters, and trust me, that makes for fast writing, and lots of "story energy." I've had similar experiences (60 pages in one day, one book done in six weeks). It's rare, and boy, if I could bottle that zing, I would. Unfortunately, I can't summon it at will. I think it takes some kind of cosmic convergence.

But there's one more thing at the very, very end of the article that tells me she would have gotten her work published eventually, although perhaps not with such a sweet deal. She is quoted as saying, "I always loved writing, but until three years ago, I did not have the confidene to attempt it. But when I started to write, I knew immediately that I could do it. Even if the work was rejected, I still knew this was for me." She would not have given up too soon.

The writer's name is Tish Cohen, and her book is called Town House.

Read the article.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Misunderstood characters...where did I go wrong? Or did I?

In amongst the good reviews my latest book is getting, there's one that is decidedly not. The reviewer loathed my heroine. Really loathed her.

I've had this happen before. A reviewer likes one of the main characters and thinks the other is totally unworthy of him or her. Usually there's a trust issue in these books, and the reviewer doesn't understand why the non-favored character is so mistrustful of the favored one, regardless of whatever motives and backstory I've given The Unworthy One. However, there are plenty of other reviewers who absolutely understand where The Unworthy One is coming from and have no problem with him or her. Instead, they describe The Unworthy One as a "perfect match" for the Favored One (which is, of course, what I intended).

Obviously, to some readers, I've blown it. Big time. Others see the story and characters the way I do. So what's a writer to do?

I look at it this way: whatever the reasons for these differences of opinion, and however disturbing it is as an author to see a character misunderstood and despised, it's really kind of kick to have people talking about my characters as if they're real people. That tells me that no matter how someone feels about my work, I've done something right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When reviews are wrong....

The reviews have started to come in for my next book. Most are wonderful (yeah, because I wound up throwing out at least half of the book and rewriting it -- good to know that effort was worth it), but there's one that has me muttering, "Huh? Did you actually read my book, or did you just skim it?"

I know this happens, because how else could a reviewer describe one of my heroes as "lisping?" The guy's voice box had been crushed in an assassination attempt, so he could only speak in a low rasp. That's not lisping as I understand the term. I've had other errors in terms of story events in other reviews, too (one had the setting off by a couple of centuries!). I can only think the reviewers either skimmed, or made lousy notes.

And here's the thing:
I can tell when a book was probably skimmed because of the errors in the review but somebody reading the review wouldn't. And sometimes, the reviewer's judgment is clearly biased based on their misconceptions. I've explained something they took issue with, but they apparently missed it completely.

What can an author do? Generally, nothing. To complain about a negative review, to imply that the reviewer "got it wrong" in any way, is to risk withering scorn. It's just sour grapes. If you put your work "out there," you should be prepared for criticism. The reviewer has every right to express his or her opinion.

Sure they do -- but doesn't the author have the right to expect accuracy, at least in terms of what happens in the story? That's not "an opinion." Unfortunately, in the case of a print review, by the time a correction is printed, if ever, the book's been on the shelves for weeks, and in the case of a category romance, may already be gone. So authors just generally grit their teeth and bear it.

Well, for the most part. I was so upset about the mistake made about my rasping hero that I emailed the reviewer. She did alter the review, but it was days after the initial posting. I wrote the reviewer who had the setting wrong, too. I suppose I should be grateful they eventually fixed the reviews, except...nah. If you set yourself up as a reviewer, you should be prepared to do the work -- and that means reading every word of a book you review and making accurate notes. If you don't have the time or inclination to do so, you shouldn't be offering your opinions to the public under the guise of a reviewer. It's not fair to them and it certainly isn't fair to the authors.

And if a reviewer can hardly bear to read past the third page because of the style or premise or any other reason? That should be the review. I think it would pretty much say it all.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Who needs sitcoms anyway?

I realized awhile back that I no longer watch sitcoms. Nor do I have any desire to watch sitcoms. Being a writer, the next logical thing for me to do was discover my motivation for this change of viewing habit.

My conclusion: I get more and better laughs watching my favorite reality TV shows, either directly by what's on the show, or indirectly, through the discussion with my family, or when I read the clever, very funny posts at
Television without Pity. I haven't seen much scripted TV comedy recently that was funnier than the beloved Frats on The Amazing Race. One night, while watching The Apprentice, I referred to Donald Trump as "Mr. Trump" and just about fell off the couch laughing at myself. I can easily waste an hour reading the reactions to the latest Survivor episode at TWoP, chortling away. The networks can keep their sitcoms. Give me reality TV and TWoP.

In writing news: I finally got some quiet time to work this morning. Best of all, I reworked the beginning of my book, and I think it's much stronger and more compelling now. Often a break, even if it's forced upon you, can yield good things.

And then I rewarded myself by visiting TWoP.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

When good ideas turn out to be bad. Terribly, terribly bad....

I've discovered shows about "flipping" houses -- people buy a run-down property, fix it up and hope to sell it at a (preferably amazing and immense) profit, all in a relatively short period of time. These people always underestimate how long it's going to take to do the renovations, and how much they'll cost. I confess much of the time, I'm left feeling rather smug -- don't you know any home reno is going to take more time and money than you think? Haven't you read articles about that sort of thing?

Well, no more will I sit there sipping my C2 in the comfort of my living room passing judgement. Because I just did the same thing, albeit not with a home reno. I decided that I would save time and money by preparing advanced reading copies for reviewers myself. No need to rush off to a copy shop and have to go back for a pick-up. No, I, Super Writer, would do it myself. Maybe I saved some money, but the copying proved to be way more time consuming than I imagined. I've been holed up in my office for *three days*. Seems my dear old printer/copies/scanner/fax can only handle so much before it gets hot and makes the pages stick together. And since I, to save postage, decided to do the pages double-sided, that means I have to sit and watch the pages feed at certain points.

On the other hand, the time I took a large printing job of a similar nature to a copy shop, I discovered that they'd missed several pages -- after I'd mailed the copies. At least, or so I've been telling myself, I know *that* won't happen.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Holy advances, Batman! I'm in the wrong genre!

So there I am, perusing the October issue of Vanity Fair (the one with the over-exposed in so many ways Paris Hilton on the cover) before nodding off last night, when I read something that makes me wide-eyed with shock. And I quote, referring to Dan Brown, he "made the unheard-of leap from lower-midlist thriller writer (who had reportedly agreed to write THE DAVINCI CODE and his next book for $400,000 combined)..."

What the --? This guy's a "lower-midlist" author and he's getting $400,000 for a two-book deal??? I'm a midlist author and I make no where NEAR that kind of money. Not even remotely close. Either I'm in the wrong genre BIG TIME, or Mr. B. was NOT a lower-midlist author. I suspect the latter. But it's not like I have any urge to write thrillers. Not my cup of tea. I read Mr. B's book and can see why it did well, but it's still not my cup of tea.

In other news, the distractions continue, but not the aggravating kind. Yesterday, my sister needed some emergency babysitting help. And I got two really excellent reviews for my upcoming release, so I wanted to get that information up on my website ASAP.

Today I realized that my book's on-sale date, September 27, is the same day as the start of the new season of The Amazing Race. I'm taking that as a good omen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Just when I think I'm organized....

It never fails. I really ought to know by now. Just when I think I have all my ducks in a row, something messes it up. I got work from New York to do, but here I am thinking, no problem. I'm at a good point to take a break in the work-in-progress. Actually, I was at a point where a break and some time planning the next few scenes was necessary. So, great, thinks I. Plus, the kids are back to class, and knowing this work from NY was coming, I cleared the decks of other business.

But then...the gods laughed. I discovered that the jpg of the cover my publisher had sent for a reissue was an "old" version. I had to then change all the pages on my website with the "old" cover to the "new" cover. I had an email from the PR department asking for some information that raised a few questions, so I had to write some emails trying to get some answers. Then Luis got up on the china cabinet and broke a crystal candy dish. Shattered it, really. I had some major vacuuming to do, and our vacuum gets hot. REALLY hot. And it was already stinkin' hot, so by the time I was finished that, I needed a drink. Not alcohol, because I'm not much with the alchohol, but a C2 Coke, my beverage of choice these days.

Good thing I'd already decreed it was an "every man for himself" dinner night, 'cause I'm spent....

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The heartwarming generosity of my fellow RWA chapter members and Mary Balogh

Yesterday, my RWA chapter was having a special full-day workshop featuring the very talented Mary Balogh. As everybody who's not been climbing the Himilayas or otherwise out of touch with the world knows, Hurricane Katrina has left destruction in its wake, including considerable loss to our sister RWA members in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

This past February, my husband and I were at Mardi Gras. Aside from making me feel like I'd wandered into a giant frat party when it's been, ahem, several years since I graduated from university, we also found ourselves with 18 pounds of Mardi Gras beads. These were the "real deal" -- tossed from floats by maskers or from balconies. (And NO, I did NOT "flash" for any beads -- I went with begging. My husband, bless his heart, totally worked the "silver fox" angle on the ladies.) My husband insisted we bring all 18 pounds home, even though it meant buying another suitcase. I confess I thought he was nuts.

But one day, after watching the news from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, I thought of all those beads languishing in a cupboard, and a lightbulb went on in my brain. Yesterday, I took most of them to the workshop and offered them in exchange for donations to help our sister chapters. There were about fifty people there, and I'm so proud and impressed by their generosity. I received just over $400 in donations.

But there's more! In addition to giving us a wonderfully inspirational workshop, Mary Balogh brought copies of her books and is donating all the money from the sale of those books to the Red Cross. I tell ya, she is not only a fantastic writer, she is truly a kindhearted and generous lady.

My only regret is that I didn't think to bring a camera, because I didn't expect everybody to wear the beads. And they did. All day. I wish I had a group picture, but even so, it was a day I won't soon forget.

Friday, September 09, 2005

No more "surprises," please

Yesterday, I saw two stories on TV about families separated by Hurricane Katrina that were "resolved" in a way I found more upsetting than uplifting.

The first family was on CNN. A woman was evacuated to Baton Rouge while she was in labor. She didn't know the whereabouts of her other child and the father of her baby, who were eventually located in Houston. A nurse from the hospital and her husband drove all night to bring the father and son to Baton Rouge. So far, so good and so very generous.

Then it showed the woman and infant arriving at their new accommodation. A door opened to reveal the father and son, much to the mother's joy and relief. I said to myself, "Please tell me she knew where they had been and that they were safe before this 'surprise' reunion."

The second family was on Dr. Phil. A father and baby got separated from the rest of the family. The mother met Dr. Phil; his people found the father and infant, and Dr. Phil offered to fly mother and kiddies to the other city to be reunited. So far, so good, so generous.

But then they showed Dr. Phil interviewing the distraught father, who had not been told his family was there or, I gather, even on the way. No, Dr. Phil first had to ask him questions like "How will you feel when you have your children's arms around you again?" Then, and only then, were the mother and the other children brought into the room for a "surprise" reunion.

What is up with these "surprises?" This isn't -- or shouldn't be -- like the "big reveal" in a make-over or home decorating show. To keep anyone ignorant of the fate of the rest of their family, their whereabouts or even in another room a single second longer than necessary is, to my mind, cruel, and no reason is good enough to excuse it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Writing in Ma Moore's Boarding House

I'm at the stage of life where the kids are old enough to have their own, self-managed schedules. This is great in some ways, but between their schedules and my sports-playing, choir-singing husband's, I feel like I'm living -- and trying to write -- in a boarding house. People are coming and going all the time, except for me.

Unfortunately, I'm the sort of person who really works best in silence. No radio, no music, no TV. Glorious, peaceful silence. That's one reason I never lived in residence at university. I think I would have wound up running down the hall screaming for silence -- not exactly something guaranteed to make one popular on campus. Nor can I write in a library, silent though it may be. You see, they don't let you take a cup of tea into the library. Understandable, of course, but I like my tea.

However, as frustrating at this state may be, I realize that one day and not too long from now, the kids won't be living at home anymore, and I'll have all the silence I want. So I'm going with the flow. If I can write, I write. If I can't, I don't sweat it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Help for Katrina Victims....

We've sent a donation to the Red Cross to help the Katrina victims, but I wanted to do more, and thanks to the web and bloggers, I've found a way. I just spoke to a rep of the Salvation Army in Baton Rouge to confirm details.

They need toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, diapers, soap, underwear, towels and blankets. Mark your donation "Katrina Disaster Relief" and send to
Salvation Army
7361 Airline Highway
Baton Rouge, LA 70805
The phone number is 225-355-4483.

They will be very grateful. (I teared up talking to the fella on the phone.)

In other news, I live beside the laneway to a public school, so I've been watching the parade of kiddies and parents go by as I worked. Ah, the memories.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Hollywood, call me....

There was yet another article in the newspaper this morning about the woes besetting the Hollywood film industry, specifically a drop in attendance (and subsequent loss of revenue). Although secondary sources of income, namely DVDs, offset this, it seems the Powers That Be in Tinseltown are blaming a whole host of reasons for this.

Basically, they need to call ME, average filmgoer of a certain age who likes to spend some of her disposable income by going to the movies. I could have saved them tons of time, effort and expense if they'd asked my opinion about upcoming movies and why I was NOT going to see them. And among those that I did see, it's not so hard to figure out why they weren't blockbusters.

In no particular order:

Kingdom of Heaven -- We went opening day, because my daughter likes Orlando Bloom, and the idea of Liam Neeson wielding a broadsword was sufficient for me. But alas! The characters were weak, especially in terms of motive, and especially Orlando Bloom's. The romance was "huh?" (I can't even remember who the woman was, so that tells you something). Nor do I have any interest in purchasing the DVD.

Cinderella Man -- we finally saw this, but I was in no rush because I felt we'd seen pretty much the whole movie in the trailer. No dramatic suspense there. And during the movie, no conflict. We were supposed to care about Jim Braddock, but we knew he'd win in the end. I was surprised to see the Star of David on Max Baer's boxing trunks. That sent me googling. I had no idea MB was Jewish, and from a German family. A German Jew boxing in the 30's in America -- and one whose real life story was every bit as interesting to me as Jim Braddock's might have been. Perhaps if they'd shown that both men had a lot of lose in that final fight, I would have cared more. And maybe if Renee Zellweger hadn't looked like she was sucking lemons the whole time, that would have made me care about her character. Also, Jim Braddock might have been called Cinderella Man, but they should never have used that for the title. It sounds really strange for a movie about a boxer.

War of the Worlds: For a movie like that to work, I really have to care about the fate of the folks in peril. Tom Cruise's selfish character sure didn't fit that bill. Dakota Fanning bugs -- she's like a mature woman trapped in a kid's body. And what was with those gloves minus the fingers? When a movie isn't working, these are the things I notice. And, remake.

Batman Begins -- Batman goes to Tibet and learns kung fu. Not a fan of the comics, so who cares? Not even Liam Neeson could get me to this one.

Bewitched -- Are you kidding me? The TV show was the sort of thing I watched if I was home sick from school. And without Mrs. Kravitz (who belongs on Wisteria Lane), forget it.

Bad News Bears -- Didn't I see this already? Wasn't it called Bad Santa? Billy Bob Thorton drunk and swearing is nothing new, or entertaining. Also, remake.

The Island -- They're clones! Who don't know they're clones! But we do from the trailers, so...why bother? If this isn't a remake, it sure feels like one.

Stealth -- AI goes bad. Been there, seen that. Yawn.

Wedding Crashers -- So let me get this straight. Apparently there are going to be women who find these overgrown frat boys attractive? Yeah, right.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin -- So, this guy is forty and hasn't had sex. Hardy har har. Sounds like a one-joke film all the way. I give them points for the poster, though.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory -- I've never seen the original, but Johnny Depp looks totally creepy. Pass. Also, another remake. Where are the original ideas, or original takes on classic plots?

And don't get me started on what Hollywood thinks makes a good romantic comedy...but I will say I have no desire to see a movie where the "heroine" is so desperate and needy, I want to give her a good shake and tell her to grow up. And much of the time, this is clear even to her children, who are way more mature.

March of the Penquins -- We saw this and it was interesting, but gave the penquins too much human emotion. Who can say how a penquin feels? I think it goes to the lack of other good movies that this is doing so well.

We did see one EXCELLENT movie this summer: Crash, which was technically a 2004 film. Interesting characters, interesting stories, lots of surprises. Somebody, give Don Cheadle the Oscar, and then give him good characters to play. This man can do more silently walking down a hall than many another actor could with Shakespeare.

I also enjoyed Fantastic Four. I went for Ioan Gruffudd, and had low expectations. They were exceeded because it was funnier than I thought. It was a cute popcorn movie, and wisely marketed as such.

I realize I'm not in the target demographic anymore (18 - 34). Nor am I a male. But I am willing to spend my money to see a good movie. And I will go to a movie a week if there are movies I care to see. So, Hollywood Powers That Be, when you wake up and realize there are plenty of other people like me you should be thinking about, give me a call.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Poor little Luis....

Yesterday, I realized bouncy little Luis the kitty (he with the soul patch, or so it looks), wasn't his bouncy self. He'd eaten a good breakfast, but then grew listless. When I picked him up, he seemed hotter than usual. Having had cats get sick on weekends, and with this being a holiday weekend in particular, I phoned the vet and took him in ASAP. He did have a fever, so they drew blood, gave him some fluid under the skin because he was also a little dehydrated from the fever, gave me some antibiotics and suggested I might have to forcefeed him because he'd need to keep his fluids up, giving me this wonking huge syringe to do it. I'm happy to say I didn't have to do that, because Luis ate on his own. The vet phoned back with the results of his blood work. He has an infection somewhere, although they couldn't tell if it was bacterial or viral. She was very pleased to hear he'd eaten on his own, and that the fever seemed to be going away. This morning, I'm happy to report that he's his regular bouncy self.

I did manage to get a little writing done, but I was also keeping an eye on Luis, so...not overly productive. I was going to go grocery shopping, but that fell by the wayside, too.

I've heard about writers who basically go off and live in the woods to write. I sometimes wish I could do that for a few days, but really, I'd rather be at home, even if it means I don't get to my writing because I've got a sick kitten who needs some TLC.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

When Flashbacks Work

Tonight, one of my all-time favorite movies is on TV, Good Morning, Miss Dove." It's about a stern teacher, "the terrible Miss Dove." What's great about this movies is that, in flashbacks, we discover how she came to be "the terrible Miss Dove," and how she influenced her students. If you think honor an old fashioned concept, this probably won't work for you, but I love it. This is one story where flashbacks don't just work, they're essential. You have to see Miss Dove in "the present" and then go back to get the full impact. Bonus feature: two characters are played by alumnae of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Jerry Paris and Richard Deacon.

Also tonight: another "viewers' choice" episode of Stargate SG1. I tell ya, I am so kicking myself I overlooked this show for what, eight years? Richard Dean Anderson's cynical O'Neill is a hoot, and the perfect balance to Michael Shanks' justice-for-all Daniel Jackson. Great writing and especially GREAT continuity. They've had the same people involved since Day 1, and it shows. Any show that has me yelling "Kiss him! Kiss him!" because a guy's about to sacrifice himself after revealing his love (well, technically his symbiote's -- long story there) to Samantha Carter and then she doesn't and the episode ends with him being left behind to destroy the baddies and die in the process, and I'm tearing up.... Now *that's* a show!

I watched Prison Break. First hour -- slooooow. Second hour -- faster, better and YOUCH! I'll keep watching.

I finally got back to work on my own book last night. With everybody home and no real schedules yet, trying to write right now is like trying to write in Grand Central Station: possible, but not the most conducive to creativity. And I had hit a bit of a snag. I had to get from point A to point B in the plot and didn't want to do that via a lot of (static) discussion among the characters. I solved it (temporarily, anyway) by leaving one scene with a hint of what's going to happen at the end of the chapter. Next chapter begins where the action picks up. If I think I need to show the machinations, I'll put it in later. For now, it's more important for me to move on to the next part of the story.

Until 8 p.m., when it's TV Time!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More cover art -- and I like it!

Today I received my author copies of my next release, THE UNWILLING BRIDE, pictured to the right. Inside that cover is another depiction of the hero and heroine, and I really like it!

I finished rereading THE WOLF AND THE DOVE by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I was flabbergasted to realize how short and vague the love scenes were. No body parts described there, let me tell ya. Yet I remembered this as an extremely sexy book...and so it is, in an "old school" kind of way. Lots of sensuality, short on details -- and I like it!

However, there were a couple of things that did make me cringe. It's a real "bodice-ripper," in that the heroine literally gets her clothes ripped off, and more than once. But what troubled me most was that the heroine's body is, at times, apparently completely divorced from her mind. Her body reacts to the hero's passion even though she believes she hates him. I think the case could be made that by the time he does touch her, she's learned enough about him to not detest him, but this mind/body dichotomy disturbs me nonetheless. I don't think one's sexual response can be so separate from one's thoughts, nor should it depicted that way in fiction, either. That's too far from realistic for me.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

And I thought Empire was bad....

Feeling the lack of access to Rome, the mini-series, I decided to rent the movie Alexander, written and directed by Oliver Stone.

Oh, baby. I thought the TV mini-series Empire was terrible, but this was actually worse. At least Empire had Jonathan Cake as the gladiator, although his permanently furrowed brow got old, and he was playing the WORST bodyguard in history.

But then came Alexander. I didn't go to see this in theatres because of an early warning clue that foreshadowed disaster: Colin Farrell's hair. Yep, those blond locks were just all kinds of wrong, and having seen the film, I can now say it was downhill from there. How so? Just a few of the problems:

The now-you're-here-now-you're-there narrative. Flashbacks can work, but they can also destroy the pace of a story, and never was this more clearly demonstrated. Plus, what were they trying to show? Alex's relationship with his mother was weird? One scene would do it. He had a difficult relationship with his father? Again, one would do. Somewhere there was an idea for showing how conquerors are made (maybe Alexander came to believe he really was the son of Zeus), but it was never developed.

The battle scenes were mass confusion. I'm sure they actually were, but if you want to show us that, it doesn't take much. I got irritated. Plus, the slow-mo shots of Alexander riding? Enough already.

The yelling. Oh, my word, the yelling. If it wasn't Anthony Hopkins' sonorous voice-overs, people were yelling. Sheesh.

And don't get me started on Alexander as the great champion of multi-culturalism. That's right up there (or should I say, down there) with Julius Caesar as the great liberator in Empire.

Gladiator was great because of several factors, but here's what I consider the main one:

Maximus's goal is to (a) get home after doing his duty and (b) when he finds it destroyed and his family killed, to avenge their deaths -- to make the villain pay for his villainy. In achieving his final goal, he also happens to get rid of a very bad emperor. We care about Maximus because we can empathize with his personal goal, which also has more significant ramifications.

Frankly, I couldn't have cared less about Alexander's goal in Oliver Stone's movie. He wants to conqure the east because...the father he apparently loathed wanted to? As revenge for the father he loathed? To bring about some kind of multi-cultural New World? Boy, that last one sure didn't ring true.

And what was Augustus's motive for gaining control of the Roman Empire in Empire? As far as I could tell, because Julius Caesar, that great liberator (snort), named him heir. The character Augustus says himself several times that he's not up to the task, and I certainly believed him. Again, I simply didn't care about him. They tried to make us care about Tyrannus but (a) he was the world's worst bodyguard and (b) that name! Not exactly inspiring of affection (c) he seemed like the Poor Man's Maximus and (d) did I mention the permanently furrowed brow?

Troy had the same problem. I'm supposed to care about Achilles because... he wants to be famous? Maybe if they'd concentrated on Hector, who's fighting to protect his home from invaders, it might have worked better. At least Troy had one saving grace: the relationship between Achilles and Briseis, and that's only because I write romances and it was interesting to see a captor/captive relationship. Knowing that Briseis was really nothing more than just another prize of battle, I knew I was in the realm of fantasy, though.

While I like Gladiator (especially with the extra scenes on the DVD), so far I've never seen anything in a sword-and-sandals epic to match a heart-wrenching scene in Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. Spartacus's army, after nearly getting out of Italy, is defeated, his men are captured, and the Roman general offers the captured slaves their lives if they'll give up Spartacus. Tony Curtis (talk about miscast!) and another of the slave commanders both leap up and declare themselves Spartacus before the "real" Spartcus can. Others then get to their feet, all claiming to be Spartacus (whose fate was sure to be a slow, torturous death) rather than turn Spartacus over to the Romans. I tell ya, I tear up just thinking about it. Do I care about Spartacus? You better believe it!

Give me characters I can care about, or at least find interesting. That's what makes a movie -- or any kind of story -- worthy of my time and money.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Snip, snip here, snip, snip there....

Ah well, I've done it again. Added too much backstory to my first chapters, that is. So now I'm going back and doing a little trimming. Not that I "throw out" any of this, though. I put it in separate documents on the computer, with names like "C and M discuss R," which translates into "Constance and Merrick discuss Ranulf." That's a bit where two secondary characters (formerly a hero and heroine in their own book) talk about the hero of the new book.

Why get rid of it? Well, for one thing, Constance and Merrick have already had their own book, thank you very much, so they shouldn't really be front and center in a scene in Ranulf's story. For another, they're just talking -- not exactly dynamic. And while there's important information about Ranulf here, it would be better if Ranulf himself reveals this, and later on, as a means to deepen the relationship between Ranulf and his heroine, Beatrice. And by delaying, I'm adding some narrative tension. This is a bit of a tightrope, though -- if you don't give the readers enough information, it's a turn-off. Too much, and you lose suspense. I'm revising with that balancing act in mind before I proceed.

RE TV: Rome -- how I wish we could see this. I was seriously tempted to subscribe to specialty cable to get this, but I watch enough TV as it is. I'll just have to wait until it's on "regular" TV, or get the DVD. It has to be better than Empire, which was, I think, the worst thing I've ever seen. Seriously. Don't get me started on the history, or lack thereof, unless you want to see steam pouring out of my ears.

And in Kitty News: Luis the Knave apparently thinks getting in the back of the recliner sofa (aka TV Central) and gnawing on the fabric is fun. The Count, meanwhile, has got to have the most innocent, "Who, me?" look going. When he's caught doing something he shouldn't, he just looks at you with those big innocent kitty eyes... I've decided they have to go back to their "dorm" when it's time for me to write; they are simply too distracting. The Dowager continues to take sanctuary when they're out and about, but no cat fights yet (here's hoping!).