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.