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. So...no 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.