Thursday, September 28, 2006

Yo, BBC! Where's Friar Tuck? And how 'bout some more women?

Okay, first, I get that it's weird that I'm obsessing about a show that (a) isn't on yet and (b) I won't be able to watch get even when it is, but instead must beg tapes from a friend. And yet I owe my career, in no small part, to various depictions of Robin Hood in film and on TV, so that probably explains it. Plus, Richard Armitage (aks Sir Guy of Gisborne) is one smoldering actor.

Anyhoodle, the folks at the BBC had put up more characters on the Robin Hood website which I have conveniently bookmarked.

First up, Will Scarlett. (I note in passing that they're obviously going for the young audience, as everybody except my man Richard and the Sheriff and Little John are played by young people.) Here's what it says about Will:

"Son of Locksley's carpenter, Will is the gang's chief engineer. He can construct anything from any material, so long as it's wood." (I'm seeing some fancy machinery here, of the sort that will have me rolling my eyes to the back of my head.) "Will's family suffered during the bleak years of Robin's absence, and his passionate hatred for all things Sheriff makes him fundamental to the gang's central mission. "

I think "passionate hatred" is a clue he's a hot-head. I also suspect that's not the greatest picture of the actor on their site, because the other one? Looks better.

Next up: Little John (who, with the gray hair at the temples, is older than Sir Guy, apparently)

"Little John was leader of the forest outlaws before Robin arrived." (Ooooh, conflict potentional -- I love it!) "A man of few words and much muscle, John has a more simplistic morality than Robin's: see a problem, sort it out." (Also liking) "But underneath that brute strength, is Little John hiding a big heart?"

Well, duh.

Next we come to Allan a Dale:

"Witty, cheeky, Allan can talk the hind legs off a donkey. He would talk the hind legs off his own donkey, and find himself having to walk, if Robin did not rein him in. " (Okay, I love, love love this kind of character...and THEN they completely, utterly ruin him for me.) "He is a pathological liar, (WHY? Why, why, why? Why can't he just be witty and cheeky? Why make him over the top?) "and a brilliant front-man for scams."

I can't really tell yet if I think the actor is good-looking or not -- he's reminding me of Haywire on Prison Break in that picture, though. Not good.

And speaking of Haywire and craziness, we come to Much (formerly the miller's son):

"Robin's manservant is sometimes daft," (In that picture? He looks freakin' insane!) "forever loyal, forever hungry, forever yearning for the warmth of the home fire. He makes us laugh." (Well, we shall see. ) "He SO doesn't want to be in the forest." (Okay, I'm seeing some comic potential here...) "And yet, if he wasn't by Robin's side - wherever that may be - we know Much would wither and die."

Seems a bit, well, much, desn't it? I mean, I'd think he'd find another job if it was that, or starve.

But hey! What happened to Friar Tuck? Are they afraid of offending somebody?

And since they're "updating" this anyway and playing fast and loose with the details as we've known them, why not add some more women? I realize that it's Robin and his merry men, but won't they be getting kinda lonely in the green wood? What about a tavern wench with a heart o' gold? A maidservant who spies on Sir Guy? (Oh, pick me! Pick me!) A smart, savvy widow in the village who has her own business because she took it over after her husband died? Little John's tough-as-nails wife? Sullen teenage daughter? Brazen teenage daughter? Bashful teenage daughter with a crush on Robin?

I could go on and on. I hope somebody at the BBC had the same thought. Or maybe that's why Will, Allan and Much have those slightly manic looks in their eyes.....

My Ever-Changing Method

Another question I get asked with some frequency is my method for writing a book. This one is actually quite tricky to answer, because I don't have just one. It varies, seemingly from book to book. But in case anybody's just itching to know, here are the basics and the method I'm using right now, which may very well change for the next book.

I don't outline. I have not the patience, and I need to get to the dialogue, as that's how I really learn about my characters. I don't do character sketches, or charts or spreadsheets.

I think of a character, usually the hero, and a time, usually medieval. And then the sort of woman who's going to disrupt his plans and mess with his head. I imagine one or two scenes. Then I write a synopsis -- bascially, tell the story in the present tense. For the first draft of this, I don't worry about length or language (I'll use modern slang if it suits the purpose) and I don't worry about "musts" and "shoulds" or any other "rules" other than the basic -- the story has to be about the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, and they have to end up together. I just let 'er rip and see what happens.

Then, as always, I edit, because this will usually be a very long synopsis. I do more research, if necessary. I figure out what the hero and heroine look like, especially if that's going to affect the story. If I think the slang still works, I'll leave it. If I've come up with a really good line of dialogue, I'll leave it. The important thing with a synopsis, besides relaying the key details of the story, is to be exciting and have some energy, zip, "jazz." So I edit enough to make it shorter and more to the point, but I stop before I've edited all the life out of it.

The final version of this synopsis is what I use to sell that book. If I sell the book (whooo hooo!), and my editor has any questions or reservations, I pay a lot of attention to them and will incorporate the suggestions and/or keep in mind her questions as I write the book.

Then I start writing the book. And here is where my method really changes from book to book. I generally try to write the first draft from start to finish, and then revise for at least two more complete drafts, but sometimes, like with the current book, that doesn't happen. With this one, I got half the first draft done, realized there was something key that needed to be changed and so decided I had to go back and revise the first half before continuing. Just when I finished that and was preparing to carry on with the first draft, The Week O' Great Drama and Stress (ie last week) hit. Along with proofreading for my February book. So rather than continue with the first draft in the morning and proofreading in the afternoon and evening, as is my preference, I just did the proofreading.

I thought when that was done, and things settled down, I'd be able to go back to the first draft and carry on.

Alas, noooo. I'd been too long away from the manuscript by then. This would be the best argument I can think of the "Write Every Day Or Be Damned" school of writing. You lose your momentum if you stop.

So right now, I'm going through the first half again, making more changes (never met a page I didn't want to fix!), and then I'll start the new chapters.

Am I beating myself upside the head because I can't just pick up where I left off? No. The first half will benefit from this "extra" work -- I'll have a firmer foundation, if you will -- and the second half will be the better for it, too.

And I've still got time before I have to panic about the deadline.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why romance?

Every so often, like most romance writers, I get asked why I write romance. The implication often is, Why am I wasting my time writing romance?

Money considerations aside, it's obvious they want to know why I'm not writing something, well, more "respectable." Well, clearly I don't think romance is disrespectable. I don't see anything "wrong" with the genre at all.

In fact, I don't want to write anything else, and never have. Romance was my first choice, not my last.

One of the things I like best about romance is that you have two equally strong, important protagonists, one male, one female. Not a lot of fiction has that as a requirement.

But there are some mysteries and books in other genres that feature couples.

That's true. However, no other genre has, as its primarly focus, the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, and that's what I like to write about. I especially like showing how the characters have to overcome their initial fears/concerns/dislike before they fall in love. I really like delving into the inner vulnerablities of my characters, because I think every person has deep-seated insecurities and worries that affect them, even if they try to deny it. I enjoy showing how the characters are freed from the worst of those fears/insecurities by the love they share with another person.

Do I think I'm some kind of expert on relationships? Do I have some important message about what makes a good relationship I'm dying to share with the world? Oh, heck no! I'm not a therapist. I'm sure what I think about what makes a good relationship comes through in my books, but it's not something I'm consciously aware of.

I want to tell a good story about interesting people. I want the core of the story to be about how a man and woman fall in love. I delight in thinking up internal conflicts and motivation, about what people might do and why. I especially like that at the end of the book, the couple are together and happy. That makes me happy.

So I'm doing something I enjoy, that I find fun, and that I get paid pretty good money to do. Who wouldn't want a job like that?

And about that "respect" thing? I respect what I do and the people who read romance. I don't much care what the rest of the world thinks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Week That Was....

From last Tuesday to this, I have been in a morass of stress and busy-ness that, I sincerely hope, is over for now. Last Tuesday especially was a very difficult day, including a family crisis and a very sad hospital visit. Then I found out I had proofreading coming my way.

That night, I was in no mood/frame of mind/state of being to work, as I'd deluded myself I might. Instead, I needed a good laugh, so I turned on How Not To Decorate, a British show with two of the funniest guys ever. And I got my belly laugh when Justin said, "Hit me over the head with a technicolor paint chart and call me Joseph!"

I've already got my proofreading done because it proved to be about the best sort of work for me to be doing while all hell was otherwise breaking loose.

And now, let us observe a moment of silence for my long-suffering editor, for alas, I have never met a manuscript I didn't want to fix. And so I do. Actually, this is the point in the process where I really feel the cold, harsh voices of reviewers in the back of my mind. "Your heroine is a shrew!" "That doesn't make sense!" "Anachronism!"

Now, it isn't that I'm not thinking of how my heroine might be coming across, or if my plot's making sense, or if I'm using an inappropriate word at every single stage of writing, because I do. It's just that I get completely, utterly neurotic when I realize this is my last kick at the can, so to speak.

But now that's done, I've caught up on my email, most of the crisis/busy-ness is done, and later tonight, while watching How Not to Decorate, I'll be getting my blog giveaway books ready to mail. And then it's back to THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT tomorrow. Bayard baby! Did ya miss me? I sure missed you!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Running oxen, flaming arrows

You know what I love about The Amazing Race? Besides the foreign locales? The roadblocks and detours, and trying to decide, if I were there, which one I'd do.

Last night, I think I would have gone for dismantling the tent. 'Cause with the filling of the cans and the oxen running amok? Not good. I have come to the conclusion that any task requiring co-operative animals is probably one to avoid.

In other TV-related news, I'm giving up on Desperate Housewives. Mike's in a comma and I realized I honestly don't care about any other characters, and in fact, find some of them downright off-putting (Gabrielle comes to mind). So...never mind.

Ditto Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I just can't get excited about it. And watching the room full of writers? So different from my own experience, and so noisy, put my teeth on edge. Not that I was watching closely. When I realized I was much more engrossed in THE GOOD EARTH (although I've read it before and what? Don't you all read during the commercials?) I went to do some work.

And now, speaking of work, my break is over and it's back to proofreading I go.

Friday, September 22, 2006

And I thought I was having a bad week....

The business section of today's paper contained an article that made me think, "Hey, it could be worse," despite having one of those weeks. In brief, a company lost $6 BILLION dollars because of a series of trades by one man who thought that the price of natural gas would rise.

It went down, and so did the value of the company assets, by more than half.


The article names the trader, and notes the obvious -- that the company relied on his expertise. It doesn't say what happened to him in terms of a future in that company.

As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that if I wrote contemporary romances, this would be the sort of thing that becomes a story "seed" for me. You've got the trader, and his big mistake, and a few hints about the situation before the bad trades, primarily that the trader was apparently considered smart and savvy.

So let's start with the trader. Let's say he really was smart and savvy. I can see such a person having a healthy ego. If he were to be the hero who gets redeemed, he could even be arrogant before the fall. If he's the villain, his savvy is all smoke and mirrors, perhaps based on past crimes, or else a "relationship" with somebody in the company -- blackmailed somebody to get the job, say.

In terms of the bad trades, losing the company so much money is bad, but I think if you really want to make your readers care, there has to be a "human element" in there -- something about people. For instance, maybe that loss means the company goes bankrupt. Hundreds of people are thown out of work. Maybe people die because they can't afford medical care.

If the trader's the hero, this loss, and especially the human cost, fills him with guilt and remorse, and no matter what kind of past he's had. That's how you know he's a hero -- he cares. If we're talking the villain, he wouldn't care about other peoples' lives; he just wouldn't want to get caught. Maybe he'd try to throw the blame onto somebody else.

I've just realized I've been referring to these main characters as "he," as if a woman couldn't be a trader. Of course she could. I just generally start with a hero, so I'd likely first "cast" the trader as a man because the trader is the most obvious character to me. However, later I might change it to the heroine if playing "what if" yields some ideas that work better that way.

One thing I'd certainly figure out before I got very far in the "what could happen" would be the "why." Why did the trader feel so confident s/he knew which way the price of gas would go? Why did sh/he have such a good reputation, and was it deserved? What's that character's hidden insecurity? Since I'd be writing a romance, why isn't sh/e married? What kind of relationships have they had in the past?

For me, this is one of the most fun, exciting parts of the process, even if it's for a story I have no intention of writing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Two more new shows: one I'll watch again, one I won't

I've got a few minutes here at Ma Moore's Boarding House (as my home is currently called, at least by me) before I'm left to my solitude, so I thought I'd comment on two new shows I watched this week. At ten. Because by then, I've been too drained to do much but sit and watch TV.

The first was Smith, which I quit watching after 45 minutes. I thought the cast had potential. Unfortunately, the characters they portray are, well, just crooks. Bad guys. Simon Baker's character is really bad. Annoy him and he'll shoot you. I don't care how clever a heist scheme is, if the motive seems to be pure greed, as in this case, I'm not going to care about the characters or what happens to them. I'm out of there.

To compare to Prison Break, which also boasts some very unsavory characters: the lead character got himself tossed in jail to break out his framed, innocent brother. Capt. Wentworth didn't hurt anybody or actually steal anything. Indeed, his "bad acts" have happened since -- because he didn't really foresee all the consequences of his actions. He's big on the planning, not so much on human nature. His motive, however, was "good." Not greed.

The other show I watched last night and will watch again is Kidnapped. I wasn't going to watch this -- I have kids, so shows about kidnapped/missing children when you've got an over-active imagination as it is? Not a good mix. However, the network (wisely, I think) showed a preview that demonstrates that the kid is trying to escape and just might be successful. So far, I'm enjoying the cast and characters. They're interesting and there are enough secrets hinted at to make me come back. Plus, I want to see what the boy does, 'cause he's a bright lad.

Obviously, it's all about character and motivation for me. Same as with my writing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

And then...mayhem erupts!

Why does it always happen this way? I can go for weeks with very little on my calendar except writing. Every so often, though, I have a busy time -- and it seems that every time this happens, mayhem erupts and more is piled on my plate. So if I'm not blogging again this week, it's because this is one of those times!

And to top it all off, I have a big booksigning this weekend at Toronto's Word on the Street and I'm getting a zit on my chin.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Amazing Race and China

Whooo hooo, The Amazing Race is back! The bestest, most interesting reality show on TV! I'll never forget that hand sculture on the beach in Uruguay -- "It's the last thing you see of a person before they drown."

They surprised me with the surprise elimination. Good idea to keep everybody - contestants and viewers alike -- on their toes. Although I have to confess, unless it's a team I really dislike (and that one young "let's test our relationship in possibly the most stressful way imaginable" couple is fast getting there), I hate to see anybody cut from the race.

Eating fish eyes? Eeeeuuuwww!

But CHINA! How cool is that? I've been interested in Chinese history and culture since I saw the films "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" and "The Good Earth" based on the Pearl S. Buck novel (which I later read, as well as its sequel, SONS) when I was a kid. And speaking of cool, when I went to Amazon to check the title of the sequel, I discover there's a third book -- it's a trilogy! The third book is A HOUSE DIVIDED. I think I'll be going to the library later...

It was that interest that prompted me to write a historical set in Victorian England about a woman raised in China.

So today, it's another Random Blog Give-away, of my sole, lone extra copy of my second book, CHINA BLOSSOM (1992).

From the back cover:

A Budding Passion

Fragrant Blossom looked at him with eyes as blue as the China Sea. Such delicate beauty seemed at odds with the whipping scars across her back. This was no fragile china doll, but a woman with a will of stell. And she was determined to serve Darcy Fitzroy in every way possible...

He was like a god -- tall and broad, with a vioce like thunder. Most certainly a rich and powerful lord. And Fragrant Blossom belonged to him, body and would. Willingly she offered him a thousand and one delights. So why did Darcy Fitaroy continue to refuse her precious gift?

Trivia note: For some reason, "Darcy" became "Frank" in the Brazilian edition of this book.

The first person to email me at with "China" in the subject line will be sent this precious gift.

Added after lunch: Sorry, folks -- the book's been spoken for. But I did a massive search of my cupboard and boxes, and found some more books, so there will be more blog give-aways to come!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Beauty and the Beast and the BBC

Ya know, there are times folks who come up with TV shows really should call me. I think they need me -- or at least a romance author's perspective.

Case in point: the new series about Robin Hood that the BBC is making. They're describing it as "a unique blend of exhilarating action adventure, wit and romance." When it comes to the romance, I think there'll be women a-swoonin', but perhaps not quite for the reason they think.

Here's the description of Robin from their website:

"Our Robin is a noble - Robin of Locksley - who returns with honours from the Holy Land - and a new perspective on fairness and the value of human life. Clever, idealistic, arrogant but selfless, dryly humorous, heroic, a little world - and battle-weary, undaunted by authority, sometimes outrageously bold but always principled."

I'm liking that he's gone on Crusade and come back a changed man. I like the world-weary aspect. "Arrogant but selfless" gives me pause, but it could work. Yet I'm left wondering how Marion fits into his life.

Here's the description of Marion:

"Courageous, smart, proud Marian is as adventurous a champion of the poor as Robin. Marian must appear to toe the line in Nottingham for the sake of her father, but her toughness belies the pain of lost love: her heart is yet to be unlocked. The years may have eroded Marian's gentleness but they have left untouched her generosity of spirit and keen sense of duty to her people."

Sounds like a character I could really like. I love the idea that her father's still alive, although what? No ward of King Richard or Prince John? But when it comes to her love life, I'm confused. If she's felt the "pain of lost love," I would think her heart's been unlocked at least that once. Do they mean she's shut herself off from love because of the pain of losing the man she loved? I can buy that. And was that "lost love" Robin? He looks so young here, I'm thinking he could have been but a callow youth before he left, so that works for me.

Now we come to the description of Sir Guy of Gisborne. It's pretty clear they're going for the complete Snidely Whiplash here, but I think they've forgotten about, or maybe don't even realize, the appeal of a "beauty and the beast" story for a lot of women:

"Vain, brutal, ambitious, loyal, practical, unemotional, single-minded, boastful, frustrated, he's a selfish bully. Gisborne is capable of tremendous cruelty in his overwhelming pursuit of heritage and position, yet beyond this drive for recognition is his one hope for redemption: Marian"

So he's a nasty piece of work -- but when you put redemption because of a woman in there? Now we're talking Beauty and the Beast, my friend. Not to mention Sir Guy is played by an actor who fairly smoulders with suppressed passion. He's is also very much a man, not a boy.

Maybe I'm wrong and they're well aware of Sir Guy's potential to attract the female viewers. But even if they aren't, I'm thinking that if I get a chance to see this, (oh, please, oh, please, History Channel or A&E!), I don't think I'll be the only one rooting for Marion to ditch that boy Robin and save the passionate, bitter, intense, (no doubt really lonely) Sir Guy.

(We are talking fiction here, folks. In real life? This guy/Guy would be dangerous and Marion should head for the hills!)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Random Blog Giveaway III!

Today I'm giving away two sets of THE WELSHMAN'S WAY, and its sequel, THE NORMAN'S HEART. These are both part of my long-running Warrior series (more on that below), but like all my books, they were written to "stand alone" -- you shouldn't feel like you're missing anything if you haven't read the whole series.

From the back cover of THE WELSHMAN'S WAY:

Reluctant Bride

Never the docile, obedient maid, Madeline de Montmorency railed against her fate, proclaiming she'd not go willingly to the marriage bed of a stranger. Especially since her heart had chosen another alliance -- with a man branded as an outlaw, and a thief!

Rebel Outlaw

Dafydd ap Iolo was weary of the fight until he laid eyes upon the fiery Lady Madeline. For here was the first Norman he'd no desire to call an enemy, and his longing for the green hills of Wales dimmed against the burning flame of their mutual desire.

From the back cover of THE NORMAN'S HEART:

Iron-willed Groom...

Sir Roger de Montmorency demanded obedience. And the last person he expected to defy him was his very own wife! But the rebellious Mina challenged his authority as surely and swiftly as she fired his Norman blood.

Headstrong Bride...

Lady Mina Chilcott knew she wasn't the most beautiful of women, but she demanded respect...especially from her husband. And she would have it before he claimed his husbandly rights. Though her vow soon seemed impossible to keep, as the handsome Roger had laid siege to her maidenly heart.

One copy each of THE WELSHMAN'S WAY and THE NORMAN'S HEART will go to the first two people who email me at with "Roger" in the subject line.

Why Roger? Keep reading!

At the opening of THE WELSHMAN'S WAY, the heroine is in a convent. She hasn't seen her older brother, Roger, in a few years, and she finds out he's arranged a marriage for her. To say she isn't thrilled is putting it mildly. Then Roger himself arrives. As I was writing, she turned around...oh. my. word. Roger was just there for me -- fully formed, a complete character. I could see him, hear him, knew that he truly, honestly believed he knew what was best for his sister. In fact, he was so vibrant a character, I had to give him a concussion to keep him out of that book, because he absolutely deserved his own.

So he got it -- THE NORMAN'S HEART -- and lemme tell ya, that book was like taking dictation from the muse. I've only had three books that wrote that way, and it's a rare and wonderous thing. I note, though, that in all three cases, the hero was extremely vivid to me right from the get-go. Usually they take a little more work. Okay, sometimes a lot more.

As I said before, these two books are also part of my Warrior series (14 books in all). Dafydd made an appearance in A WARRIOR'S WAY (which looks as if it's got an ancestor of Alec Baldwin on the cover). Roger's overlord appears in a later book, THE BARON'S QUEST . For you Highlander fans, that's the cover that appeared, slightly altered, in an episode of that show.

If anybody's curious about how I developed such a long series -- because that certainly wasn't my intention when I sold A WARRIOR'S HEART -- you can find out more here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Updating my website

I design and maintain my own website, after my son helped me set up my first (free) site back in the olden days.

It's a control thing, really. There's so much an author can't control in this business; this is one thing I can. I like being able to update it frequently, and in fact, one of the first things my son (now a Computer Science graduate and software developer) told me was, "Update everything, update often." Now, updating everything is a little beyond my scope and time, but updating often -- as in at least once a week -- I can do.

For instance, recently I discovered that Amazon already has a page up for my next book, so you can pre-order it. I got that link on my website ASAP.

This week, I added information about my appearances at Toronto's annual book and magazine festival, The Word on the Street. If you're going to be in the Toronto area on Sept. 24, I'll be signing and giving away copies of several of my out-of-print books at the Toronto Romance Writers' booth from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and signing copies of HERS TO DESIRE at the Harlequin booth from 1 - 2 p.m..

Yes, maintaining my own site takes time from writing, but it's also creative in a different way. And I really like being able to get new information up in a timely manner, so I'm not stressing about seeing it posted. Creativity and control -- what's not to love about that?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I don't think it's any big secret that everybody craves respect. And like most people, romance writers want their work to be treated with respect, too. So it naturally follows that one sure way to upset a romance author is to call her work garbage. Unworthy of a reader's time. Unworthy of respect.

There are a few theories about why romance in particular is treated in this way. I do think it's in part because it's mostly written by women for women. It's the same root cause that has resulted in teachers and nurses and other "female dominated" professions being underpaid and undervalued, too.

I find the patronizing attitude of some critics particularly galling. For instance, did you know that women who read romance apparently can't tell the fiction section from the "how-to" section in a bookstore? That the poor little dears don't understand that they're reading stories, not relationship guides?

I've never heard anybody make that claim about men and what they read. Nobody ever seems to suggest guys read Tom Clancy because they think that one day, they're going to get a tap on the shoulder and find a guy in a balaclava whispering, "Hey, buddy, we're short a man for a covert op. How 'bout it?"

I think a lot of the conflict among those who are electronically published and those who are "print" published comes about because epublished people feel their work is not respected. That people consider it "lesser" because it's not in the traditional form.

That attitude hurts, and puts folks on the defensive. I know that feeling, because
Harlequin Historicals have been treated as "lesser" by many people -- as if I didn't do the same amount of work and worrying over them as I did (and do) over my single title books.

Let me tell ya, I sure did. And I have never, ever heard an HH author say, or even imply, that they put less effort into a "category" book than they would if it were single title. All the authors I know do their very best, with every single book or novella.

So I do understand why epubbed authors might seem overly sensitive when it comes their work. They want respect, because they've worked hard. They want recognition of that work, and it's merit.

Do I think they "deserve" that recognition? Are epublished books "as good as" print books?

Who cares what I think? If a story is good and has merit, it will find a readership. If it doesn't, it won't. As with any work of fiction, that's what really counts, not what another author or critic says.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Would you shave your head for $10,000?

Recently friends of ours were telling us about their daughter, who auditioned for a television commercial. There was one special criteria, she was told. They wanted to shave her head. For $300 extra.

No way, says she who has hair down to the middle of her back.

She assumed that was it; she wouldn't get the commercial. But lo and behold, they called her back and she got the job. They would make a "bald cap" and use a wig.

So she goes to film the commercial.

Her folks get a call from the set. Now they're offering her $10,000 to shave her head.

Now, as you can see from this picture, my hair is short. I measured tonight, and the longest hairs are about three inches (and ahem, currently much lighter -- blonde, in fact). I've only had my hair long once, when I was about ten. Then it was just past my shoulders. I've had it short my entire adult life. Sometimes permed to be curly, usually straight. I did grow it a little longer once, couldn't stand it and got it cut again. When I looked in the mirror, I thought, "There I am!"

So would I shave my head for $10,000? Oh, heck yes. My friend's daughter refused. She still did the commercial, and they used a bald cap and wig. She looks appropriately horrified during the shaving part.

So, what would you do? Would you shave your head for $10,000?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Character change...growth...arc...ACK!

I enjoy spending time with other writers not just because I find their conversations witty and enjoyable, but also because the discussions often lead to clarification within my own mind about what I do and why I do it.

Yesterday, one such discussion came around to the subject of "character growth," and specifically, that your characters have to have some. This is also referred to "character change" or a "character arc."

Well, I'm gonna make a confession here. Terms like "character growth" and "arc" give me the heebie-jeebies. I've felt this for a long time, so last night, I laid awake and contemplated why those terms make me squirm.

I came up with a few reasons.

Number One: they make writing sound like a homework assignment to me. Grunt work. No fun. And if nothing else, I think writing stories to entertain should be enjoyable, for me as well as my readers. Or else, ugh. There are easier ways to make a living, with a more stable, reliable paycheck.

Number Two, which relates to Number One: it makes writing sound really, really complicated. Now, I'm not saying writing is easy. Believe you me, I know it's not. But it isn't some complex rocket science, either. It's story-telling, neither more nor less.

Number Three: I think it implies that at the start of the story, the characters are, well, really stunted or have a LOT wrong with them. Think Ebenezer Scrooge before the ghosts.

Here's how I prefer to think of my stories and the characters: the hero and heroine aren't perfect, but they think they're perfectly fine at the start of the book, thank you very much. However, they are, like all of us, vulnerable and insecure, for various reasons.

I tend to think of one character as fully armored, feet planted, arms folded. "I'm perfectly fine and very tough. Nothing you do can hurt me!" This is most often the hero, but as with the book I'm writing right now, not always. I would say this describes the heroine of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT more.

The other character is more actively on the defensive, dancing around holding a shield and sword. "Think you can hurt me, huh? Think again! Hahahaaa!"

As the story progresses, though, and the hero and heroine get to know one another, the armor and weapons begin to disappear. They learn to trust each other, to feel secure with them, to fall in love. Then, and only then, does each reveal that vulnerability, that insecurity, that they've tried so hard to hide and/or ignore. Then, and only then, do they feel secure enough to risk that revelation.

Okay, you're thinking. Based on what I've said, my characters change. And you're right. But the effect of falling in love isn't some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge transformation into a different person, or going from some stunted creature into a fully formed person. It's that they feel loved enough and secure enough to reveal themselves as they always have been. Love liberates them, enables them to take off the armor and put down their weapons, and show their beloved exactly who they are, insecurities and all. They are, finally, fully, themselves.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Whose time is it anyway?

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." -- Bertrand Russell

Oh, great day in the morning! I love this!

I've never been a fan of the "live each day as if it's your last" philosophy. I realize part of the idea behind this is not to have regrets, but there also seems to be an implication that you've got to cram all sorts of activities into your day because you may not get the chance tomorrow. Anything like, oh, say watching TV or reading a book, or simply staring out the window thinking? Oh, geez, you're wasting your valuable, limited time!

Then I saw an older woman profiled on TV who was about to set off on a canoe trip in the far north. She was, I believe, in her 80's. Certainly not young, anyway. And she said her philosophy of life was, "Live each day as if you're going to live forever."

Now this I can get into.

I've been stressed from too much busy-ness (and business), and I've realized it's no way for me to live. I don't get a pleasant rush from the rushing, as some people do. And some people really enjoy having lots to do; the idea of sitting and looking out the window would be a horror to them. I get that. But the only thing being busy-busy-busy did for me was stress me out and make me miserable.

So I'm now firmly in the category of doing what I want with my spare time. I've got obligations and a family, so it's not like I'm wallowing in a bubble bath eating bon-bons. It means I don't feel guilty if I want to watch television (even that rerun of a Law and Order episode I've seen ten times -- if Lenny's in it, I'm there!), or see a movie, or read People magazine instead of the latest literary masterpiece. I relax, I de-stress, I rest and regroup.

Wasted? I don't think so. I'm with Bertrand Russell all the way on this.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Authors Behaving Badly

This is a subject that crops up from time to time on blogs and message boards, and usually refers to a discussion on a board that ends with an author saying, "I'm going and I'm never coming back!"

Allow me to say a few words in the defense of authors who get to that point.

Yes, it seems to be a childish reaction, born of frustration and defensiveness. But ask yourself how you felt the last time one of your projects, whether at home or at work, was criticized? How did you feel the last time you were personally attacked -- and believe me, sometimes a bad review can feel very personal.

Now imagine you don't just have to be aware of the criticism, you get to sit in a meeting or a class and hear, in painful details, all the failings. Wouldn't you want to defend your work, to explain the choices you made? So you do, only to find that plenty of people feel you should just sit there, shut up and take it. After all, you put your work "out there." If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Easy to say, hard to do. Speaking for myself, I write to be read, or I'd never have sent anything to an editor. I want to know what people think. Okay, let's be real here: I want to hear people loved my book. But I'm well aware this isn't always going to be the case. I can't please all of the people all of the time.

However, there's also a line between what seems reasonable criticism and what seems a personal attack, between somebody saying they had problems with the plot or a character, and implying that you're an idiot, or worse. I've had at least one review that I felt went over that line, and it was very distressing. But even if it's a plot point or something about a character, I can still get pretty upset and defensive. After all, I've labored on that book for months. I've planned, rewritten, revised, edited, lost sleep. It isn't easy hearing somebody say they think all the effort yielded something terrible.

So I absolutely understand the urge to respond to negative comments about a book. I can appreciate what drives authors to comment, and how frustrated they can get as they continue to try to justify their decisions.

But I never respond to reviews or posts on a message boards or Amazon, even to ones I felt were really off the mark about one of my books, for one simple reason: it's pointless. My book is done. Like it or not, it can't be changed. It is what it is. I did my best. And when I see what can happen to authors who do respond? Then it really seems like a mug's game to reply.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How to lose me before the second commercial break...

Last night, I decided to give a new TV show a try. It's called Standoff, and features a fella from the excellent mini-series, Band of Brothers.

I didn't come back after the second break, for two reasons: they ignored one of the basic elements of story-telling and one key action seemed completely implausible to me.

It started off with Band o' Bros guy in a car, talking on his cell phone. Exciting? Interesting? Since I know neither who this guy is or who he's talking to, not so much.

Then we discover there's a hostage crisis. Lots of SWAT guys running around (including another actor from Band o' Bros), surrounding another guy sitting in his car, talking on a phone. So far, lots of secondary activity, but otherwise, you have people sitting in cars.

We discover there are two kids in Hostage Taker car. We soon learn these are, in fact, Hostage Man's own children. So...there goes any tension about whether or not these kids are in serious jeopardy. HT may be upset, but I never for a moment thought he would hurt one of the kids. (If you're a fan of Prison Break, imagine T-Bag in that car, or Haywire. Good golly, I'd be on the edge of my seat! This set-up? Nope.)

We discover Hostage Man is a big TV star.

Well, cry me a river then. Am I supposed to care about this rich, apparently successful person who seems to be wallowing in self-pity? They provide no motive for his action beyond a "bad divorce." Sorry, not feeling the need to care about Hostage Taker here. After all, this is apparently a man who will wave a gun around his terrified children. Methinks such a fella doesn't deserve custody.

And then Band o' Bros Hero gets out of his car and walks toward Hostage Car. Maybe I was supposed to think, "oooh, risky!" but I didn't. For one thing, ACTOR in car. Rich, successful actor. For another, there are about a gazzillion cops on roofs, behind cars, etc. watching.

Now, it turns out there's a lady negotiator. Actually, she appeared at the start, sitting in the back seat of Band o' Bros Hero's car. Offering her two cents. You know, like a back seat driver, only with the negotiating. Literally in the back seat.

Okay, so here we have Band o' Bros Hero standing in front of the Hostage Car with Sad Sack TV Star and in an apparent attempt to prove to Sad Sack TV Star that he can empathize, Band o' Bros Hero starts confessing, basically on speaker phone, that he's been sleeping with his partner (aka Ms. Back Seat). This is very bad and against procedures and regulations, etc. etc.

And that's where this show really lost me -- there was no reason for him to reveal the true details of his life for all the world to hear. As far as I knew, Sad Sack TV Star didn't know Band o' Bros Hero from Adam. Surely B o'B Hero could have made up something much less damaging. Aren't negotiators good at thinking on their feet? And coming up with ways to get the hostage takers to trust them? Does that mean they tell real details from their lives? I just couldn't buy it. And fer crying out loud, what about your partner and the repercussions of this confession for her? Self-centered, much? At least that's the way it came across to me.

With no background, no motive, no apparent valid character-driven reason for him to spill the truth, I had no sympathy for him. I had no sympathy for his partner, either, because I'd not been given any reason to care about her. Maybe I was supposed to care when he blathered the truth to all and sundry, but she didn't look overly bugged. Or even really shocked.

My suspension of disblief came a-tumbling down, so no more Standoff for me.

How many more days till The Amazing Race? And Lost? And Battlestar Galactica?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sorry, folks, the books are spoken for...

Whew, that was fast! By the time I got back from lunch, several emails had already come in for THE VIKING and THE SAXON. Sorry to those who were too late. Those who qualified will be hearing from me soon.

Obviously, I'm on to something here. Must go back to cupboard soon and see what else I've got stashed in there....

Random Blog Give-away II

I've been looking in my cupboard again, and this week, I'm offering two sets of my Dark Ages historical romances, THE VIKING and its sequel, THE SAXON, for another random blog give-away.

THE VIKING was first published by Harlequin Historical in 1993, and was named Best Foreign Historical by Affaire de Coeur. From the back cover:

She Was The Enemy

Weilding a sword with the courage of a Valkyrie, Meradyce had defended the children of another and for that valorous act Einar had let the goddesslike Saxon live. Now he was bound to protect her from both traitorous intrigue and the burning demands of his own very human heat...!

Einar Svendson was surely demon enough to rival any being spawned in hell. The Viking had plundered her homeland, torching her village and kidnapping Meradyce at swordpoint. But the worst was yet to come, for the fair-haired giant had managed to steal her heart, as well.

From the back cover of THE SAXON, first published in 1995:


Endredi haunted his every waking thought...a sun-burnished Valkyrie with a beauty as wild as the open sea. But Adelar's deepest passion was also his darkest secret. For the woman who held his heart belonged to his lord....


Always would Endredi remember the boy who had awakened her to love. Yet she cursed the fates who brought her face-to-face with Adelar the man, for she was now nothing more than a bartered bride in a Saxon stronghold rife with danger and deceit.

One of two sets of THE VIKING and THE SAXON will go to the first two people who email me at, and put Dark Ages in the subject line.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Where's my seatbelt?

When I start planning a book...well, imagining a story would be more usually starts with the hero, then the heroine and then some scene of conflict. Sometimes, it's the first scene, but a lot of times, it's a scene later in the book. For me, that's the Key Scene -- it may not be the most important in terms of plot, or the relationship, or the conflict, but it's the most vivid when ideas are floating around my noggin in the early stages.

I'm about to start writing that scene in the work-in-progress. For me, and in this case, it encapsulates some important elements in the main characters, and leads to an argument that gets those elements, and their opinions about each other, right out into the open. At least, that's how it'll play in the first draft.

The set-up and basics of that scene have never varied. It takes place at a hall moot, a medieval kind of court, where the heroine, as person in charge of the estate, is hearing various complaints and settling local disputes. The hero, who has come to the estate at the behest of his brother to protect her, shows up in full armor. He doesn't say a word; he just stands behind her chair as she's doing her thing. He thinks she's put herself at risk by doing something so public and wants his presence to be, bascially, a warning. She sees his presence as an attempt to intimidate her tenants. Since she's determined to protect her people and maintain her control over the estate, this is soooo not good. Hence the big argument that's going to bring out other issues that have been festering between them.

This scene and its aftermath, and it's effects on the plot and relationships, all grew out of the single "vision" of this warrior knight simply standing behind the heroine as she sits on a chair, dispensing justice, and inwardly fuming.

This is my idea of a really good time -- imagining the setting and especially the characters: the inwardly seething heroine who sees his action as a criticism and a slight (what is she, some poor weak little creature?) and the well-meaning, but somewhat oblivious, hero who truly thinks he's doing a good deed. He has yet to appreciate that for her, this has other, critical implications.

What makes this even more fun -- and here's why I write romance -- these two krazy kids are extremely attracted to each other and have, by this point and in this draft anyway -- already shared a passionate encounter. They've both been trying to pretend it didn't happen, because an intimate relationship between them would lead to even more complications.

So one's fuming, one, albeit in his ignorance, was really just trying to help, both are trying to ignore their passionate desire and hoooo, baby! We're gonna have some fireworks!

There's one important thing I haven't figured out yet, though. Will that argument end in a kiss (and maybe more) or not? That's the sort of wild card I like, that makes writing fun and interesting and exciting for me. Because I really won't know what's going to happen at the end of that scene till I've written the first part and heard what they actually say to each other.

So flash up the computer and fasten your seatbelt, Writer Girl! There's some excitin' writin' up ahead!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pullo picking out the furniture?

We finished watching Rome on DVD, and I gotta tell ya, I love Pullo! I kept wanting to give the big dumb lug a hug. He's not too bright and he knows he's not too bright, and he keeps making mistakes and realizing he's made mistakes and then he's sorry and awwww.... Hugs!

I confess I kinda overlooked Ray Stevenson in King Arthur, what with Clive Owen and Ioan Gruffudd, but I watched it again last night. I'd forgotten the bits with the little boy and awwwwww.... Yep, totally a fan now.

Apparently Mr. Stevenson was an interior designer at one time. Makes for some interesting "what if's": Don't like the wallpaper? Let me just pull out the ol' broadsword here and see if I can't convince you...

I didn't read the recaps or posts about Rome at Television Without Pity because I didn't want to be spoiled. But now that I've seen it -- oh, dear! Trying to work here, kids! Because the folks at TWoP? Totally crack me up!

Not that I think Rome is perfect. I have some quibbles, but when you've got interesting characters like Pullo and Vorenus? I can overlook them.

In other TV-related news, apparently Donald Trump has fired Carolyn. And George won't be on the next season of The Apprentice, either. For me, those are the final nails in the coffin. I enjoyed the first season, but it's been going downhill ever since. For one thing, every task is pretty much about marketing, and that's not that interesting to me.

I've also learned Richard Armitage is going to be on Mystery this week, so you know what I'll be doing Sunday night!

(The pictures of Ray Stevenson came from They've set up the gallery quite nicely, I must say! Made it very easy to find what I was looking for.)