Friday, April 28, 2006


After spending two hours revising part of Chapter Fourteen, I gave myself a treat and ordered two DVDs: Casanova and Tristan and Isolde. Both are good movies, and better than I'd expected. Tristan and Isolde allowed Rufus Sewell to play a good guy, too -- bonus! As for Casanova, just ignore the "sunglasses" on the cover of the DVD. Honestly, why do they think they have to make it look "modern?" Oh, and there's a hot air balloon. As my daughter said, they should be banned from all "historical" movies -- unless, I suppose, the story's actually about a hot air balloonist. Because otherwise? GAH! And why???? The clip of the hot air balloon in the trailer for The Count of Monte Cristo was nearly enough to make us stay away.

Now back to Chapter Fourteen. Fortunately, I'm getting much better at estimating how much time inputting changes will take. I hope to be finished this "lean, mean" draft on Sunday. Lean, because I'll have cut anything remotely extraneous; "mean" because I'm ruthless. My motto at such times is, "If in doubt, cut it out." I may find upon subsequent reading that I've cut something that should really be there. In that case, back in it goes. Usually, however, what gets cut, stays cut. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, whether it's to pick up the pace or to make room for something more important, like the reasons the heroine likes the hero, or vice versa. I've learned to be very, very clear about that.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wading through the w-i-p

You know, it's pretty bad when you're squinting at your own notes in the margin and wondering what the heck you were thinking when you wrote whatever it is. Such is my state at this stage of the current work-in-progress. Basically, I'm going through the Messy Draft and inputting changes into a new draft.

Sounds simple, right? Not when you've got teeny-tiny notes in the margins and between lines, and arrows, and highlighted sections, and new material on the backs of pages, or on other pages attached. How many notes? How much new material? I have used up at least one pen and one notepad.

There's one other problem: I tend to revise my revisions as I input. The trouble here is that when I do this, I'm generally only "fixing" one small section. I may be forgetting the general gist of that particular page or bit of scene, working on pruning the tree while forgetting the forest. So I have to be careful not to do too much of that.

I had a wee moment of panic this morning. I couldn't find three chapters of the hard copy. I have since concluded that that's because the material in those chapters either got moved or deleted. I hope, anyway. If, when I read through this draft later, I discover a huge hunk of plot missing? I'll have to go to the ol' "holding box" and look for pages. I've learned not to recycle work pages until the book is done, just in case. It's saved my bacon more than once.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

One of the more unusual Amazon reviews....

I was checking my email yesterday and decided to take a look at the Amazon listing for my next book, HERS TO DESIRE. I attach about .01% significance to Amazon rankings, because a "bestseller" there is about 1,000 copies, which isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things. I pay more attention to the comments posted.

Since HERS TO DESIRE won't be out until July, there aren't any comments yet. However, it's the last book of a series, so I decided to check out the other books. I discovered Amazon has a new feature, "What do customers buy after viewing items like this?" It shows you percentages -- in this case, of other titles and the percentage of people who bought them. I guess I'm supposed to think, "Oh, gee, 21% of people who looked at this book bought BOOK BY OTHER AUTHOR, so I should check it out." I'm no marketing whiz, so maybe this works.

Anyway, I decided to check out one of the books by another author listed on a page about one of my books. And I find one of the more bizarre comments ever concerning a book. I quote: "This story was laden with too much prose..."

What the --? It needed more iambic pentameter? A smattering of blank verse? A few rhyming couplets?

I think the commentor was trying to say it was a tough slog -- too much narrative, too slow a pace, perhaps too much "overwrought" (also known as "purple") prose, and maybe even just plain boring. But instead of saying that, he or she was attempting to appear more knowledgable, more of an "expert". The use of "laden" coupled with "prose" is what leads me to that conclusion.

But here's the thing: I don't care if my readers have a PhD in English Literature or never finished high school. I'm not going to give an "expert's" opinion any more weight than any other reader. They all have their likes and dislikes, and how they're expressed doesn't matter nearly as much to me as what those opinions actually are. In fact, and although the reader may have had a valid point, it's easy to dismiss the above comment completely because it sounds so ludicrous, which is surely not what the reader intended, or they wouldn't have bothered posting.

Now back to my book that was laden with too much prose. It was way over the word count.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Quote o' the week - What a mess!

"A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." -- Thomas Mann

Because we fuss about what we write. We want to be clear, to get our ideas across without confusion, to elicit the right reaction.

This is why I am no good at instant messaging. I need to revise, always trying to, as Ernest Hemmingway put it, get the words right. Believe you me, I revise everything. I revise emails (to my agent and editor, ad infinitum -- one of those can take, literally, hours). Heck, I even revise my grocery list if it's too messy. Which brings me to the current manuscript. You wanna know mess?

This page is from the most recent version of Chapter Two of the Manucript That (Formerly) Ate New York (aka MY LORD'S DESIRE). This is at least the fourth draft of this chapter. And yet...oh, the revising! Later, when the whole manuscript looks like this, I'll input the changes and print up a new hard copy. Then I'll revise it at least once more.

I've realized why I edit best on hard copy. It takes me one step away, a necessary distance, to be a little more objective. Not much, but a little.

I could probably revise a manuscript for years, but there comes a time when I'm just rearranging the furniture -- I'm not making the story better or the characters more interesing. And if I keep working on it, I'm actually doing more harm than good. The revisions are probably sucking the life right out of the story, leaving it dead on the page.

That's why, despite my own propensity for revising, I get a tad dismayed when I hear that somebody's been working on the same story for years. I'm thinking it's gotta be stale. Lifeless. It's time to move on.

And start something fresh to revise.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The end of the slash and burn?

Well, I've cut about 75 pages out of the Manuscript That Ate New York. As painful as it sounds, it was like liposuction -- getting rid of unnecessary flab. I had one really wacky plot development, one of those "what was I thinking when I came up with that?" sort of bits. Gone. I've rearranged some more, too. I still have a few more chapters to revise but I think (make that hope, hope hope!) the worst is over in terms of cutting and revising. Of course, I've thought that before only to discover, um, nope.

In other news, I see the DVD of Casanova, staring Heath Ledger, will be out on Tuesday. I really enjoyed this, so we'll be adding it to our library. To be honest, I went with pretty low expectations, and some real concern as to how they'd handle the whole commitment thing, what with Casanova not being noted for that, but they pulled it off.

Now off to print up the latest revised chapters. No way I'm reading them tonight. My brain is pretty much fried.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Age of Heroes

There's one part of the cover art process that always throws me for a loop, and that's when I'm supposed to say how old my hero is.

I truly hate assigning a chronological age to my characters. For one thing, no matter how old I say my hero is, they're going to use a young model for the cover. That's just the way it is. However, my heroes are not boyish, smooth-faced metrosexuals. They're mature men. After all, twenty-five would be middle aged for a lot of medieval guys. So even if I say a hero is twenty-five, I'm personally envisioning somebody more thirty-five, or even forty-five -- much more Mel Gibson than Orlando Bloom, or a New York model. They're men with some mileage, and not a little baggage.

I think that's one reason I enjoyed Richard Armitage so much in North and South; the guy's old enough to have an interesting past. I also think that's why I had such a problem buying Brad Pitt as Achilles in Troy. He looked too young, and too pretty, too, even with the blood and sweat. On the other hand, Russell Crowe in Gladiator? Perfect. Old enough to be both a father and a general. Not pretty, but tough. Strong without being "ripped." Totally worked for me.

So how old did I say the hero of my current work-in-progress is? I honestly don't remember what I said when it comes to the cover art. In the book, I don't think I've gotten specific, and I'd like to keep it that way. Let the reader assign his age, and if they want Orlando Bloom, well, so be it. After all, once the book's published, he's theirs as much as he is mine. But until then? I'm thinking Gerard Butler, who'll be 37 this year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The glory and the grunt work

Now that I've revised until my back is (literally) aching because I sit sort of sideways to look from the hard copy to the screen (I know, I know -- bad author! Bad, bad author!), I'm done for the night. It's tough moving a scene from one chapter (in this case, Chapter 11) to a much earlier one (Chapter 5). You can't just plop it in there; you have to blend it,and then you have to go through the subsequent chapters to see how that change has affected the emotional arc of the story.

This is something some editors don't get at all. They seem to think moving scenes/major chunks of story is no big whoop.

Well, it is, and it means a lot of cutting, rewriting and editing. However, I wanted to get some more activity into the beginning of the story. I tend to write a lot of dialogue, so I have to be careful I don't wind up with a lot of "talking heads." I could also introduce some secondary characters earlier, as well as show my hero being a nice, yet commanding, guy -- bonus!

This sort of revising and rewriting is the real grunt work of the job, as far as I'm concerned. First drafts are tough because it's decision after decision after decision, in addition to describing the characters, making them move and speak -- but it's also the most creative part of the process. It's the "glory" portion of the job and, I think, the one non-writers believe is the only part of the job. But unless you're one of those people who just basically writes one draft and calls it a book (and yes, there are writers who do this, although I am not one of them), this is the part of the process that separates the "wannabes" from the ones who perservere and eventually succeed. It's like the machinery behind the special effects -- it's not glamorous, it's not pretty, but it's got to be done. And it does have its own rewards. This is where my stories get "layers." I add nuance, emotions, and details. I discover new depths to my characters. It's creative, too, but in a different way.

However, this is also the part of the writing that, when people ask you "how's the writing going?" you really can't explain, and if you try, their eyes start to glaze over and they slowly back away.....

Monday, April 17, 2006

Quote o' the Week

"Writing is the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting." -- Peter Hamill

Okay, I'll admit that when I read this, I laughed and thought, "Yes!" On second thought, though, it's not really true. I mean, being a social worker seems like a lot harder work, and they're not digging ditches, either (although some of their files are pretty thick, I'm sure). Or being a brain surgeon, or a nurse. These people and others like them make life and death decisions every day. What's the most harm I can do? Split an infinitive? Have an unsympathetic heroine?

On the other hand, I understand why writers come up with these one-liners. It's not really that writing is that much more difficult than several other occupations; it's because, to the non-writer, writing looks really easy. We sit down, type and voila! A book! And we get money! If we're Truman Capote, we even go to a villa in sunny Spain to finish a book (believe you me, my family heard about that a lot, as in, "That's what I need to do, doncha think??").

But it's not that easy, or all those people who think "I'd like to be a writer" would be writers. Writing can be mentally exhausting, depressing (how would you feel if you got a lousy performance evaluation and it was posted on the bulletin board at work? Welcome to the world of reviews!), and discouraging (in a word, rejection). Kind of like most jobs some days, eh? Except that we have no job security, no health plan, not even a regular salary. You should have seen the look on our financial planner's face when I said I had no idea how much money I'd make in a year. "None at all?" he replied, gobsmacked. "Nope," replied I, and I detailed some of the variables. I think the poor man may still be reeling.

So, is writing the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting? I'd say, "No, certainly not." BUT it's not nearly as easy as it looks, either.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Just a, not that kind...

Once more, the best laid plans... The plumber (The Amazing Tony) arrived to clear our drain, which means I'm back in the laundry business. I had it all worked out that I'd have a load of socks to match during Survivor, so I wouldn't actually be wasting time while watching TV. But alas, the husband slipped in a load of towels on me. Not that I'm complaining, really. It's taken me twenty-six years to get him doing laundry. And yes, if I had it to do over again? I would have had him doing laundry on our honeymoon.

And then -- surprise! My agent sold one of my Avon books to Germany, so I got bonus bucks today, which meant I had a check to take to the bank, so I made a post office box run, too. And what did I do to celebrate said sale? I got a chocolate bar. Oh, the wildness of me!

Now off to wrestle with another chapter before I, um, find something to do while watching Survivor. Does whining about the work-in-progress count?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ya know, I really hate doing advertising...

There are some kinds of PR I don't mind (writing articles for our chapter newsletter) and some I enjoy (giving workshops), but preparing an ad for print? ARGH. I've just spent two hours I would much rather have used working on my book writing ad text and trying (unsuccessfully) to pay for the dang thing by PayPal. I finally resorted to contacting PayPal by email. We'll see how that works out. Frustrating? Oh, you betcha!

Now I'm about to do a little business for the tax man. I was up at 5:30 this morning after another terrible night, so I decided to tackle some of the "bits of business" that have been pestering the outer reaches of my gray matter. The ad -- don't miss the deadline! The tax thing -- don't miss the deadline! My garden plan -- need it for tonight! And I still have to finish making the two-sided copy of the proofs for HERS TO DESIRE so I can take it to Staples to get more copies to send to reviewers, and that also means cover letters, preparing the packages and taking them to the Post Office. I'm trying to persuade Daughter to do the copying (for pay!), but I'm also trying to get Daughter to read the latest draft of my book. If she's only got time for one thing, it ain't gonna be the copying!

I'm stressed enough that I'm seriously considering not going to the last two design classes (there are only four). Talk about a waste of $, but if I get any more stressed regarding time, sitting in a room listening to other people talk about their garden? Optional. I probably should have gone to a gardening center and paid a designer. Probably would have been cheaper if I wind up cutting class. Ah well.

(One thing I won't give up? The Amazing Race. Even though I'm not terribly anxious about the outcome this time, since it seems a fairly done deal. It's family viewing around here.)

Tomorrow, I have to be up bright and early for the plumber. He's coming at 8 a.m.(!!) Yep, my life is just non-stop glamor!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And of course...

while I'm deep in revision/rewriting/editing mode, a drain backs up (there goes time taking buckets of water to the other sink), the dishwasher develops a problem (and the kitchen sink drains into the stopped-up driain, so washing in the sink's an issue, too) and I get a cold and ARGH!

Folks who think being self-employed is a cakewalk of joy? Not so much some days. I can't ask somebody to fill in for me for a few minutes/half hour/call in sick.

So, back to work I go, even though it's 8 p.m. I've got chapters to fix before I (try to) sleep.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Quote o' the Week from Dorothy Parker

"I don't write five words but that I change seven." -- Dorothy Parker

In this, Ms. Parker and I are sympatico. It may sound ridiculous, but here's how it happens (at least with me): I have a five word sentence. I think I need more of a reaction, say, or description, so five words becomes ten. Upon later consideration, ten is too many. I cut. Then the verb could be stronger. Maybe I'm in the wrong point of view. Eventually, and supposing the sentence survives at all, I have retained perhaps three words of the original.

People who do long outlines, or a put in a lot of thought before they actually begin writing the book, people who are more patient than I am, don't have this "problem." However, this is the way I work. It's always been the way I work, even writing essays in school.

At this point, I think Chapter Five is okay, meaning, I've made a complete mess of the hard copy writing all over it and there are hand-written pages attached, but at least I feel confident to move on to Chapter Six without having to input the changes and reread first.

In other news, I did manage to watch part of Clarissa over the weekend. I'm also coming down with a cold. That's what comes of not sleeping well. I was awake at the crack o' dawn again, this time because Luis the cat decided to sleep where my legs ought to go. The dowager cat was also at the foot of the bed, but she's learned to sleep in the corner. Fortunately, I fell back to sleep after lifting Luis to the side.

And my daughter discovered something that made her very, very happy last night. She can take a university course on the works of Jane Austen! Yep, sometimes the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree. Her other major? Medieval history!

You know, I have never had to tell my kids to do their homework. A couple of years ago, I came up with an explanation. They've always seen their mother doing her "homework" and meeting due dates. Getting your work done on time, without having somebody standing over you urging you on, is just the way it is.

Speaking of deadlines, on to Chapter Six!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"I don't believe I did that!"

Such was the agonized cry that reverberated throughout my house on Friday evening. More than once.

I got confused and copied the old version of Chapter Two over the revised version when I dutifully went to save my work before calling it a day (well, night -- it was about 8:45 p.m.) and settling down to watch my new DVD of Clarissa.

Oh, the agony! Twenty pages worth of additions and revisions gone.

What did I do? Well, I got my marked up hard copy and did it again. No Clarissa for me.

I was already in the "tossing and turning" stage of the work. I always get in a bit of a panic at this point, which is a sort of comfort, I guess. But I still don't sleep well. I toss and turn and have dreams that feature some sort of disaster that has nothing to do with writing or my story, just life in general.

This is also the time where, if somebody were to say to me in that dreamy way, "Oh, I'd like to be a writer someday," my reaction would be the ol' stink eye.

However, there is some good news in the Land Of Panic. I'd added 18 pages to the Manuscript That Already Ate New York but after cutting the prologue (too melodramatic, gives the heroine way too much baggage and I think she'll be sympathetic without it) and a (boring, unnecessary) scene from Chapter Five, I'm "even."

Here's hoping I don't wake up at the crack of dawn again tomorrow!

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Last night, I wound up having to "share" a car with my daughter, who works in a mall. I drove her to work, then had an hour and a half to kill before my gardening class, which was in a community center close to the mall. I had a gift and card to buy, and thought I'd try to find a new spring coat (I had a hankering for a three-quarter length trench coat) and perhaps some new shoes.

Alas, and not surprisingly, I had no luck with the clothes. This is usually the way with me -- if I go shopping intending to buy new clothes, I will not find anything. If I'm looking for something else, chances are I might see something I like and that fits. If that happens, believe me, I buy it, because otherwise, I'd never get new clothes.

However, and to console myself, I decided to buy the DVD of Clarissa, a BBC production based on the novel by Samuel Richardson, which is a Georgian version of Dangerous Liaisons. It stars Sean Bean as the rake, Lovelace, who's determined to seduce the virtuous Clarissa. This was the first thing I'd ever Sean Bean in, and I still think of this show every time I see him. Lovelace is not a nice man; however, there is one point where Clarissa admits she could love him. You see the moment when he could go from villain to hero. But he doesn't.

The other thing I like about this is that Richardson was writing about his own time, and you get a peek at the sort of machinations a Georgian cad would use to seduce a woman. You know what I'll be watching tomorrow night! (Tonight, it's Survivor, My Name is Earl and Stargate SG-1.)

As for my gardening class, well, we've got one thing right (curved lines rather than straight). A few no-nos - the lone butterfly bush and the instructor is not keen on forsythia. I'm supposed to do a drawing for next week and figure out what I'd like to do, and then she'll tell me if it's possible or I'm dreaming.

Now back to Chapter Three. I think Chapter Two's better since I expanded an argument. I think it's always good to have some interpersonal drama in what's still basically the set-up.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Today a hodge podge of miscellaneous thoughts, beginning with, is that how you spell "potpourri?" And "miscellaneous?" 'Cause with the spelling, I have many doubts.

No Amazing Race last night. It's on tonight, when I'm at my garden design class. (Dare I reveal that my basic approach to gardening is "survival of the fittest"?) What is up with moving shows all over the schedule? GEEZ! That's annoying. Thank goodness we have a VCR.

Also annoying -- they keep showing the same dang commercials during my lunch hour viewing of Stargate SG-1. "Give me a song, and I'll sing it. The right meter, and I'll use it," says some singer I've never heard of. AAAAAAHHHHHH!

Still working on Chapters One and Two. Well, I think I've got Chapter One in good shape. Chapter Two? Not so much. The first chapters are such a tricky dance between revealing enough to make the characters interesting and create suspense without revealing too much, and keeping the pace brisk. And then I'm also trying to introduce the major players and describe the setting and ARGH. It's hard. (How's that for profound??)

I'm also trying to do a little PR business, which takes time. And of course, there's laundry and cooking, although we had "every man for himself" dinner last night and will do so again this evening, what with one working, me "designing," Hubby at a meeting and Son...well, he'll be basking in the odd sensation of having completed his last homework assignment ever, unless he decides to go back to school after working for a few years.

I'm still on the look out for Mr. Bun-bun -- a rabbit we've had visiting our backyard for two years now. No sightings yet, but we did have the fattest robin I've ever seen in my life. Why that bird didn't topple over, I don't know.

Such are the ruminations of a writer on an April morning while, ahem, procrastinating. But not for long, because...deadline!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Quote...well, proverb of the week

"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." -- Chinese Proverb

Isn't this a lovely thought? And there are all kinds of gardens -- elaborate, formal gardens, wild flower gardens, rock gardens, homey gardens, the garden at your grandma's house. A garden for every taste. Like books.

Gardening's also on my mind for a different reason. I've signed up to take a course on garden design. It's short (4 nights), which is good when I'm not that far from a deadline, but it's not something that people who know me would expect me to do. My husband's reaction was "GAR-dening?" (the unspoken addendum being, "YOU????"). I don't enjoy working in the garden, to put it mildly. For years my mantra has been, "Gardening is just housework outdoors." As a result, I have many perennials and lots of periwinkle in the garden.

However, that also means that for May and June, when the tulips, daffodils and crocus are in bloom, my garden looks fine. The rest of the season? Not so much. Normally, I can ignore this, but the periwinkle is threatening to take over completely, so it's time to do something. And since my son will have the month of May off between finishing university and starting his job, and he actually enjoys working in the garden, I've decided the time has come to do something while I have a young, able-bodied male willing and able to dig, tote and plant.

Now, while my thoughts run to weeding, trimming and pruning, I should go read through the Prologue, Chapter One and Chapter Two.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Why April 2 is a Very Special Day

It was fifteen (!!) years ago today that I got "the call" from Tracy Farrell offering to buy my first book, A WARRIOR'S HEART. Let me tell ya, that's the sort of day you don't forget! It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and I'd spent the afternoon volunteering in my daughter's class. I suspect Tracy had tried to call me earlier, but -- wouldn't you know it? -- I wasn't there, and this was well before we had call answering, call waiting or any of that other newfangled technology. Tracy and I still work together, and as I mentioned to her not too long ago, that's longer than many a marriage these days! My son recorded the event in his journal at school the next day. He's about to graduate from university with a Bachelor of Science degree,and I'm happy to report that his spelling has definitely improved.

It's also the birthday of our "little cat," who used to also be called "the baby" until we got the new kittens. Now Eeky is the "dowager" cat; she's thirteen today.

In writing news, I have managed to add ten pages to the Manuscript That Ate New York. I knew I'd be adding a lot to the beginning because of later developments, so I'm not panicking. I'll get it down to the approximate word count eventually. After all, I don't want Tracy Farrell muttering darkly and asking herself what she was thinking fifteen years ago.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

No foolin'!

I tried to think of some clever "April Fool's" thing to post here, like, I just sold a romantic suspense (probably the last thing I'd ever write), until it occurred to me that somebody might think I was serious and tell other people and then it'd be all over the web so...never mind.

In real news, I think I have wrestled Chapter One into shape, and am now about to head on to Chapter Two. I thought I'd trimmed about seven pages but discovered, to my surprise, I'd actually...added one. How on earth did that happen? Well, I had to specify (name and briefly describe) some previously vague characters who didn't appear until about half way through the first draft, but other than that? No idea.

Not that I'm worried. Since I have such a long first draft, I won't concern myself with page count until about, oh, the fifth draft. Usually I write "short" so tend to fear I'm going to wind up with the World's Shortest Historical, and that would not be good. Not this time. *G*