Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The book is done...again!

I've finished my latest book, again. That would be the revised manuscript for HERS TO DESIRE. As always, my editor's suggestions have made for a stronger, better story. But man oh man, she earns her salary working with me. I often picture us sitting across from each other in a saloon in the Wild West. I'm squinting, growly-voiced and wearing a green eye shade. My editor, being a young NY type, is well coifed and wearing black. She makes a revision suggestion. I reply, "Oh, yeah? I see yer revision and raise ya five!"

Because for every revision suggestion she may make, I swear I find at least five more changes to make myself.

But now the book is gone (again), so I'm playing catch-up with the things that had to wait, including some documents to go over, press releases for a booksigning to send out, reading for research and a contest I'm judging and, of course, trying to get rid of Mount Laundry. Typically, I got distracted trying to figure out what happened when I faxed one of the press releases while waiting for the washer to fill and soap to disperse before adding sweaters, only to later discover that the washer had drained before I got the sweaters in. Such things happen when I attempt to multi-task.

I'm taking that as a sign that I should go read for awhile...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Why, Frey?

When I learned that James Frey had been live on Oprah yesterday to explain/defend/talk about himself some more, I turned on to watch the taped telecast in the afternoon.

I found it telling (as did Oprah) that Frey kept referring to the people in his book as "characters." When I'm thinking of the characters in my books, I refer to them as my "people." That's how real they seem to me. But Frey called his supposedly "real" people "characters" -- a novelist's word.

The publisher basically said they took him at his word. It was presented to her as a memoir, and she believed that. Other guests from the world of publishing said there were things that should have sent up red flags (the root canal sans painkillers being one of them), but how many times have we heard that truth is stranger than fiction?

I was fascinated by James Frey's manner as he sat on Oprah's couch. Such a flat voice, such an expressionless face. I wanted Oprah to go all Counsellor Troi: What are you feeling? Remorse? Guilt? Who cares, I sold a ton of books and I'm on Oprah again? I had no idea. I think Oprah was hoping to get something along those lines, too, and she got nothing.

How does a person get like that -- able to keep their features so blank, their voice so bland? I couldn't do that if I tried, although I did get told by the examiner for my driver's license that I had a "poker face" after I nearly collapsed with relief when I passed. What the tester didn't realize was that what he thought was my poker face was my "intense concentration" face.

I was left with the impression that Frey still doesn't "get it." He doesn't understand why people are so upset. To him, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES is still a "good story" with interesting "characters." Maybe so, but while that might make it a fascinating novel, it's not a memoir. It's like buying a cake when you were sold fruit salad. Both are food, but they're not the same.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Frey Affair

Like a lot of writers, editors, agents, and others in the publishing industry, I've heard about the revelations regarding James Frey's book, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, and how elements of it were, apparently, extremely embellished. I just responded to a post on this on a message board, and decided to address it in my blog, too.

Part of a memoir's power is that it's supposed to be based on facts. That's one reason people pick up a memoir instead of a novel. Granted, a person's memory is not a perfect recording device. Things are forgotten, and other things that seem trivial, loom large. However, in Frey's case, I think it's the extent of the apparent embellishment that's upset people. I don't think it's surprising that some people feel that they've "been had," or that he "cheated." They thought they were getting mostly truth, and now they've found out they're getting partly truth, with a lot of exaggeration and embellishment.

To use as a comparison: I would have a lot more "author credibility" (and probably more respect from the media and the public in general) as a writer of medieval romances if I claimed to have a PhD in medieval history. I might have gotten bigger advances, or been snapped up more quickly by a publisher. After all, I do have a university degree, so I'd just be "embellishing" a little. And really, who would check? Nor would that claim have changed my writing. But I didn't do it because it would be a big fat lie.

That said, I also think a part of the controversy stems from a lingering bitterness among the publishing world that Oprah, or any one person, has the ability to "annoint" a book and launch it onto the bestseller list. To which I want to say, "Get over it." One of my books will never be an Oprah pick. Nor do I enjoy the sorts of books she picks. But if she gets more people reading anything, more power to her. And I certainly don't think it was her job, or anybody else in her production company's job, to check the veracity of the details in Frey's book. It was published as a memoir. It was not her responsibility to question that.
Jame Frey decided or agreed to call his book a memoir. The buck for whatever controversy comes his way stops with him, the same way he garnered all the praise and profit.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday, it was incredibly warm for my area for January. I'm talkin' sweatin' in a short-sleeve polo shirt and fleece jacket. This morning, snow. Wacky, wacky, wacky!

I've also discovered, again, that time has a way of making continuity bloopers suddenly appear as if they're highlighted in neon, and despite the gazillion times I've read through a manuscript. Yesterday's question about HERS TO DESIRE that I think I've finally fixed today: What happened to that first kiss? Did the heroine just, like, forget about it? She never refers to it again. Neither does the hero, but he has an excuse. It's hard to believe I missed this rather glaring oversight not once, not twice but probably upwards of thirty times (and if you think I'm exaggerating, no, I am not). This didn't seem to bother my editor, as it wasn't mentioned when we were talking revisions, but it sure bothered me what I realized it, so instead of being able to just add a paragraph or two describing that kiss as requested and then nothing more until about Chapter Ten, Chapters Two, Three, Four and Five have undergone some changes.

In other words, I've already done major revisions on a part of the book that apparently didn't need major revisions. Such is my beleagured editor's lot. If I see a thing that needs fixing, baby, it gets fixed, whether my editor thought it was a problem or not.

Of course, it would be good if I'd noticed this before the mansucript went to New York. Unfortunately, I didn't. I'm glad I noticed it now, though, before we get any farther along in the publishing process.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Revisions are good for my heart...really!

I mean that quite literally, not figuratively. I don't suddenly start smiling and feeling wonderful and all is lovely. A revision means a lot of running up and down the stairs for this writer.

You see, my office has, for years, been in the basement, in a room with no windows. This gets depressing. Are the seasons changing? Are birds singing, children playing? I have no idea.

So having various extra computer components after years of upgrading, we put a computer upstairs between the living room, with its 6 foot by 12 foot window, and the dining room, with its 4 foot by 6 foot window. Sunlight! No longer do I feel at one with the vampires!

Unfortunately, the only printer we posess is still in my downstairs office, so if I want to print something, I have to put it on diskette and go downstairs. (I didn't want the new computer to have access to the internet -- didn't want to be distracted by email, didn't want anybody to be able to hack into it.) When I'm doing revisions, I tend to make several hard copies of the new material. I simply proof read better with a hard copy, and it's important to make sure the new material blends in with the original.

That means a lot of trips up and down the stairs. But hey, it's good for me, right? Maybe I'll even lose a pound or two!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My editor must be psychic!

I no sooner post the previous blog entry and my editor phones to talk about my ms. A few minor changes to be made, but otherwise...not a lot to be done. Best of all, she really liked the story. Yeah!

Sometimes a few minor changes in one scene leads to a few other changes later on in the book, so if I'm not blogging in the next week or two, you'll know why.

And still I wait.....

So here I sit, still waiting to hear if I have to do revisions to my last book, and if I'm good to go on the next one. It's been a month since the last book went in, and since I don't want to start a new book until (a) I've heard about revisions or (b) the synopsis gets the thumbs up, I am in that special writer's limbo known as "waiting." It's kind of like waiting to hear about your last big exam. Not as bad as waiting for medical test results, but no fun, either.

If I have to do revisions, they usually require a fast turnaround, and if they're major, that generally means working literally morning, noon and night, seven days a week, until they're done. Since I don't know if this will happen or not, I'm trying not to schedule anything. I'm also trying to have a life. Can we see a conflict here?

I'm not writing anything. I don't want to get into the new book and have to suddenly drop it to do revisions, or because the editor has found some huge problem in the synopsis. That means the ol' writing muscles start to get a little rusty.

In terms of the last book, the longer it takes for my editor to read it, the more vague the story becomes in my mind. If she had a query or comment about a certain part the week after I sent it in, the story details and the reasons I did what I did would be fresh. I'd be able to answer her quickly, and with assurance. The longer I wait, the more I'm probably going to have to reread the entire ms. before I can answer a question.

I don't get paid until the manuscript is approved, either. It's a good thing I don't depend on my writing income for everyday budgeting.

And finally, the longer the wait goes on, the more stressed I am. I can keep myself busy during the day, but I've started to have nightmares -- every night. They're often about trying to get somewhere on time, and things conspiring against me. Not too hard to figure out what that's about, eh?

I know my editor is a busy woman. I know she has a lot to do and much to read. But I hate being on hold for weeks at a time. If there was one thing I could make an editor really understand, it would be how waiting effects a writer's mind.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tristan and Isolde, the movie -- I loved it!

What a wonderful medieval movie! I loved it! Forget what I said about young leads -- worked for me! And Rufus Sewell...what a great part and great actor!
But most surprising of all was another young, good-looking fella who had a very familiar chin. The hubby realized who it was before I did. He played Mercedes' son in The Count of Monte Cristo. That boy done growed up good!

Both thumbs, all fingers and all ten toes way up!

The question is, can I calm myself before the adrenelin rush of 24?????

A busy week...what will the next one bring?

Whew, last week was a busy one for me, as things go. A dental checkup, my annual physical, title back-and-forth, organizing a booksigning, tax stuff, and all the regular household chores. And then there's the anxiety of waiting to hear about revisions.

But it's better to be busy while waiting. I'm distracted. Today's distractions: still working on the booksigning. Sending material to our romance chapter's newsletter editor for the next issue. Editing my 15 page synopsis down to one page for the art folks at my publisher (!!). Blogging. Going to the movies and then, after much waiting of a different kind, the new season of 24.

The movie is Tristan and Isolde. The actors playing the main characters look a little too youthful to me, but then, I prefer my medieval men to be, well, men, not boys. I know, I know...medieval guys often were young for what they accomplished and were expected to be able to do. That's why I tend to hedge when it comes to the actual ages of my medieval characters. If I mention their ages, it's usually just once, unless it's an issue.

However, since I'm not living in medieval times, and I'm past the first blush of youth myself, I prefer to watch more mature men in medieval roles. I'm eagerly anticipating Beowulf and Grendal, staring Gerard Butler. Now that's my kind of medieval hero. Wanna see what I mean? Check it out and enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reading the runes....

I have reached that point in the waiting game I call "reading the runes." My editor still hasn't finished reading my last submission. She hopes to get back to me next week. I think she started to read it and then had other things to do.

At least, that's what I hope. What I really dread is that (a) it was so boring, she stopped reading or (b) she's read it, thinks it sucks and is trying to figure out how to tell me.

I have a reason for those fears, because at some point during my career, they've happened.

Now, it's much more likely that my editor had other books requiring her attention more urgently than mine. Nevertheless, in my irrational moments, the worry takes over, and I start "reading the runes." She could say, "It looks like rain," and in my mind, that really means "Big revision coming your way!" It's like stalkers who think people on TV are sending them secret signals, and about as sane.

Unfortunately, that's the downside of a vivid imagination: I have absolutely no problem imagining (vividly) worst case scenerios. This isn't just when it comes to writing, either. Kids a little late coming home? The images that flood my mind! You know those people interviewed after a disaster or serious crime or health issue who say "I never thought it could happen to me?" I am their polar opposite. I have no trouble imagining such things happening to me or my family.

I cannot help it. I was born this way.

But I look at this this way, too: if I wasn't a writer, I'd still be a "worrier." My talent is my curse; my curse, my talent. I wouldn't have one without the other.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Gotta brag!

My Daughter, aka She Who Wants To Be An Editor, emailed from school (although she currently resides in our humble abode) because she had exciting news. She got 99 on her Canadian Lit exam. Ninety-nine! Whoo hoo! Highest in the class.

Also today, the hubby had a most excellent performance evaluation at work. Another whoo hooo!

Son had an Economics class wherein the material seemed vaguely familiar, prompting a moment's doubt that he'd taken this particular course before. Fortunately, his fears were unfounded. That's more of a whoo than a hoo, but whoo hooo nonetheless!

And Mom? Well, she was having a not-so-great day (see below) and still has to come up with a bunch of titles that don't sound like every other medieval romance ever published, but suddenly, the sun shines and the birds sing and all is well with the world.

Stress levels, they are a-climbin' --

Not that my stress levels are anywhere near "explosive", but I can feel the muscles knotting. As the Published Author Liaison for the Toronto Romance Writers, I'm in the midst of trying to organize a booksigning for Feb. I've hit some snags there. Not unexpected, but frustrating nonetheless. I'm also revising that synopsis, and getting progressively more anxious about the book I submitted in December. I know full well my editor cannot simply drop what she's doing to read my work, yet the last time it took her this long to read a manuscript, I wound up doing a huge revision, so...tension is starting to mount. Tension in books is the engine that drives the story. It's necessary. It's vital. It's something to strive for.

In real life, not so much.

At least I have a new episode of Lost to look forward to!

Monday, January 09, 2006

I tried to shorten it, really I did...

I'm working on a synopsis right now. Unlike many a writer, I actually enjoy writing synopses, mainly because I now write them to sell a book, not after the book is written. Then it's hard to figure out what to leave in and what to leave out. As it is for me now, the synopsis is me figuring out the story before I have to write it.

Which means I'm free to do whatever the heck I want. I'm freeeee! I just go to town, knowing that I can revise it later.

So I wrote one, and now I'm revising it. I intended to trim it down a bit, but what with adding more backstory and making it very, very clear what the hero sees in the heroine that makes her different from every other woman he's met, and vice versa, it's gotten a little longer. Ah well, it's not too long (anything over twenty double-spaced pages, I worry is too long). It's at 15 now, so that's acceptable.

I can tell you what's not in there: a physical description of the heroine. All I say is that she's beautiful. For a synopsis, I think that's fine. The hero gets more description, in part because he's still suffering from the effects of imprisonment.

I don't list a whole catalgue of events. I have no idea exactly what's going to happen in the middle; I'll find out when I get there (which can mean troubles later, but this is how I've worked for years, so I don't worry too much about this lack). I am far more specific about the set-up, the meet and the ending. However, I do pinpoint the circumstances when the relationship undergoes a major change.

I keep secondary characters to a minimum. I only put in historical details if they're vital to character or plot.

Basically, I'm talking about how these two people meet, why and how they fall in love, and how they end up together, and that's it.

I'm going to read it over once more and then I hope it's off to the Big Apple. And then I'll wait to see if it's okay, just like I'm waiting to find out if I have to do revisions on the finished manuscript I sent in last month. Now that's difficult.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Coming up with titles

I need some titles for my next few books. Sounds easy? Not to me.
Here's what I want my title to do: Sound like a romance, preferably a medieval romance. Be memorable. Be interesting. Be unique.

Not so easy. And so many good ones have already been used.

But ya gotta do what ya gotta do, so I started to make a list, and I asked my family if they have any suggestions. And this is when I learn, yet again, that I live with a bunch of comedians who really aren't a lot of help when it comes to certain aspects of my work.

My daughter had just started to watch "Fiddler on the Roof," so she immediately suggested, "Minstrel on the Roof." (Which actually might work for one of my stories, come to think of it.) To cut her some slack, she was home sick from work and couldn't speak above a whisper. I'll grill...er, ask her again today. She does, after all, want to work in publishing.

One suggestion I came up with was "Castle Keep." I'm going to age myself here, but this is also the title of a World War II movie released in 1969. I vividly remember seeing the trailer for it when my sister and I went to see...oh, the embarrassment....The Maltese Bippy. For those of you unfamiliar with Laugh-In and Rowan and Martin, I cannot explain what a "bippy" is. (Anybody? I remember a punch line for the show was "You bet your bippy." Was it ever explained?)

Anyway, we trekked downtown to see this in a run-down theater that later became a porn palace, then was renovated back to its earlier glory. (Want to know more? Click here.)

So I was telling the hubby about Castle Keep and The Maltese Bippy, and he suggested the following titles: The Maltese Bippy (titles are not covered by copyright), The Maltese Bappy, The Maltese Beppy and finally, The Maltese Bubbe. Not helpful, but the laughter certainly reduced my stress level.

This morning, I went to the Internet Movie Database and yes, Castle Keep did indeed come out the same year as The Maltese Bippy.

So here I am, nearly forty years (!!) later, and I still think it's a cool title. Also, nobody's used it for a romance...have they? I look it up on Amazon and YARGH!!!! Jennifer Greene wrote a Silhouette with that title! I hie myself to her website. Yep, there it is, except on her site its' "The Castle Keep." Also, it was out in 1988. What to do? Well, I'm going to suggest it anyway and see what happens, noting when and where it was used before. I'm also going to see if I can get the novel the movie was based on, written by William Eastlake, from the library. It was reissued in paperback in 1999. All these years, and I may finally find out just what happens in that castle....

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Alas, poor Hollywood....

I see the folks in Hollywood are wringing their hands over only taking in $8.9 billion this year, down from $9.4 billion last year. Oh, woe is me! What is wrong?

Well, how 'bout making some movies I, a "boomer" with some disposable income who enjoys going to movies, would like to see, and that are interesting and/or funny (not gross or slapstick funny), adult (the kids are past the kiddie flick stage) with a good story and characters I can care about and that aren't remakes (having seen the originals, they only make me feel old -- not something boomers are noted for finding appealing)?

Here's the films they thought would be blockbusters and weren't:

XXX: State of the Union -- Saw the first one. Not bad. Don't need to see another. Big explosions aren't enough to get me to the theater.

The Island -- send in the clones. Again. Snore.

Stealth -- I didn't even know when this one opened. I might have gone to see it, but it was gone in what seemed the blink of an eye.

Cinderella Man -- I saw this. Not impressed. Don't tell me it's a great human interest story in a quote at the beginning as if I'm a dope who can't be expected to appreciate a great human interest story unless I'm told. It's your job to show me, not tell me. I came away wanting to know about the supposed "villain", Max Baer.

Dark Water -- Horror movies? No thanks. Which reminds me -- last night, I saw an ad for the new Quentin Tarantino movie. I will so NOT be seeing that! The ad alone was extremely disturbing. Will Quentin care? I doubt it...but studio heads might. (See above re disposable income and wanting to go to the movies.)

Kingdom of Heaven -- went on opening day while on a trip to New York. Was I supposed to care about Orlando Bloom's character? Did he even have one? Broadswords and seiges and good-looking men are not enough, my friends.

Movie execs want to blame DVD sales, but that argument is lost on me. I'll go to a movie if I want to see it, and I'll go opening day if I can, before I hear too much about it. I lined up for hours to see every one of the Lord of the Rings movies on their opening days. If I like a movie, I'll buy the DVD, too. How can the moguls not think that's good -- I pay to see the film, then pay more to buy the DVD. They're making money off me twice. It's not like the book business, where somebody can buy a book and sell it to a used book store, which then sells it again -- and for that second sale, the publishers and authors get nothing. Not a cent.

So, you Hollywood types, instead of blaming something that actually makes you money (!!), how about looking at the types of movies you're making? How 'bout making something for adults, and not adolescent males? How about making comedies that are clever, not gross? How about writing about characters we can care about? And how about taking a page from the British filmmakers book and casting poeple who look like regular people and not, well, movie stars?

There's one other thing the folks who make movies should do, and that's take a look at what's on TV. I'd pit the new version of Battlestar Galactica against any recent sci fi movie in terms of characters, story and "look." Television seems to be getting more sophisticated, and the movies seem to be getting dumber, as if one clever idea or some boffo special effects a story makes.

If that were so, I could save a lot of time and effort by writing a really great blurb and calling it a day.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sucked into the vortex....

Yesterday, I planned to make a time line for the years between 1201 and 1204 (what happened when and where the king was and who was "in" and who was "out" of favor, that sort of thing). I really, really did. But first, I went to the library and there -- oh, happy day! -- was the book I'd been trying to order from Amazon. I did hear back from them about that. The book is only available through another seller and their "our price" would be what the book would cost if they had it. Now, I ask you, what's the point of that, since they don't?

Anyway, I get home with "my precious" (aka The Plantagenet Chronicles) and discover that my daughter is watching a version of Nicholas Nickleby she recently purchased. It's one I've never seen before, staring James D'Arcy as Nicholas and Charles Dance as Ralph Nickleby. And it's good. Really good. And there went most of my afternoon.

Later, when I retired for the night, I took "my precious" with me to read for a little while. Next thing I know, it's quarter to one. Ay yi yi! Sucked into another vortex! But it's just so dang interesting!

Still, it's probably a good thing my daughter's off to work today, or she'd probably start watching Regency House Party or something else I find vastly entertaining and I would be drawn, as a moth to flame, and there would go another afternoon.

Monday, January 02, 2006

It sounded so easy....

Okay, so how difficult can it be to find out when the ten children of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, were born? Darn hard, it seems. I spent at least two hours today trying to sort it out. And here's a clue for one website I found: If somebody's the fourth earl of Pembroke, he wasn't born after the guy who was the fifth. Just one of the problems trying to do research on the net.

Then I decided to bite the bullet and order a book about the Plantagenets on Amazon. It was going to cost a pretty penny, but okay. It's a tax deduction. Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to actually, you know, order the book. Can't put it in my shopping cart, and when I hit "used," I get a price that's way over "our price." Color me stymied. I've sent a missive off to customer service, so we'll see.

But -- and here's the saving grace of research -- I found out some really cool historical tidbits I'm hoping to weave into the story. One, about the origin of Vauxhall, I can't use, though, because the nasty Falkes de Breaute didn't marry the heiress of the earldom of Devon until later than I plan to set my story. Apparently Vauxhall derives from "Falkes' Hall," which was built on land that had belonged to his wife's family. It's these little things that break up what can be a tedious exercise, and no doubt the fact I get a thrill from such information is one reason I write historicals.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Casanova a romance hero? Who'd a thunk?

Having seen King Kong and a couple of dramas, I was in the mood for some light-hearted fun, so I tripped off to see Casanova, staring Heath Ledger, who I've always liked since "Ten Things I Hate About You." I was a little leary about it, though. I mean, Casanova has to be the original "man ho," also known as a Duke of Slut in romance parlance. Yet the trailer indicated what seemed a fairly standard romance plot. How in the world could they make a guy like Casanova, not exactly the poster boy for emotional commitment, work as a romance hero? In other words, was I setting myself up for teeth-grinding frustration?

Well, they pulled it off. I'm not going to say how, lest I spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but I came away impressed with how they managed to make it work.