Friday, August 31, 2007

A Friday Miscellany

I have no theme for today, just a collection of random thoughts.

In all the hubbub that has been this summer, I haven't been visiting review sites or blogs, or romance message boards nearly as frequently. I have discovered that this is actually a good thing. I didn't realize how much that was adding to my stress load. Even if the bad reviews weren't for my books, I felt bad for the author. Nobody sets out to write a bad book. And yes, readers are entitled to their pet peeves, but it seems everything annoys somebody, and that gets wearing. Therefore, I've added steering clear of such sites to my Birthday Resolutions.

I was hand-hemming curtains yesterday. Every time I do hand sewing, I feel like I'm making a connection with generations of women who've gone before, although in my case, the hand sewing is an option.

Speaking of sewing, I think home-made garments will soon be a thing of the past. Every time I've visited the local fabric shops lately, the area for bolts of clothing fabric has grown smaller and smaller. Ditto trims. On the other hand, the home decor sections are growing.

There was an article in the paper today about businesses gearing up after summer holidays. Once of the recommendations was a team-building day. I would love to have one of those. It would be a team of me, and imaginary people. What? It could work.

Salem Falls, the book. I finished it in time. I confess the ending left me thinking, "That's it?" There was a sort of twist, but it really was like an expanded Superromance to me.

I'm never again making brownies with a recipe that calls for applesauce. I love brownies (the cake kind), but those did not work for me.

On the other hand, let me express my delight in whipped cream frosting. On angel food cake. Yummy!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Series and Sequels

Kimber asked me about series and sequels, specifically, how much time can pass between publishing dates?

I've done many a series, including one that's fourteen books long (my Warrior series for Harlequin Historicals). Many of those books came out a year or more apart, with other books in between. Other series were trilogies that came out in succession. I've had a series of five books, and some have had only two, a first book and a sequel. Did having books come out in an "interrupted" series lose or gain readers? Was there a problem with the books coming out far apart?

To be honest, I don't know. There are so many variables when it comes to sales (cover, time of year, what else is going on in the world) that it can be hard to pin down sales based on only one thing.

In the case of the Warrior series, I have to admit, it wasn't planned as a series, certainly not at first. I was thinking only about the first book, A WARRIOR'S HEART. During the course of writing it, I thought the villain needed a "yes man," somebody he could talk to as a means of revealing his plans. So I created Urien Fitzroy. Then Urien got a conscience. Suddenly, he wasn't so happy about working with the villain any more. He became a lot more interesting right then, and he'd developed what I now call "hero potential."

However, I didn't consider writing about him when I submitted A WARRIOR'S HEART, or even when I got the call that Harlequin wanted to buy it. I had another story in mind, set in Victorian England and featuring a woman raised in China who is given to the hero in payment for a debt. Harlequin bought it next, and it became CHINA BLOSSOM. Then I sold and wrote Urien's story, A WARRIOR'S QUEST.

And for years, I carried on that pattern -- one Warrior book, one book set elsewhere. After A WARRIOR'S QUEST, I wrote THE VIKING, then A WARRIOR'S WAY, followed by a longer break for VOWS, (part of a Harlequin continuity series, which is a series of books sharing a setting written by various authors) and THE SAXON, which was a sequel to THE VIKING.

But then I did a group of three Warrior books -- THE WELSHMAN'S WAY, THE NORMAN'S HEART and THE BARON'S QUEST. I won't go into the release history of all the Warrior books, but it was more of the same. Sometimes I'd do three together, often one with a couple of other books in between. (If you want to see how the books are connected, go here.)

In hindsight, I do think it's probably better if you can bring a series out together rather than spread over time as a means of building a readership -- provided, of course, you know you've got a series.

However, there was another reason I did it this way. I get bored writing in the same time period for too long, so I needed the change. For some writers, it's all about the sales, and I understand that. But I simply can't keep writing the same sort of book in the same time period for years and years. So this was the right course for me, the writer. I might be more financially successful if I'd done it another way, but I took the course that I believe was best for me in terms of happiness and contentment.

Why bother with sequels and series? Well, plenty of readers love them. They feel like they get to know a whole family, and characters they love get to "live again" in another book.

But there can be a real drawback to a series or sequel if the author feels they have to bring everybody back into every book, or go into great detail about what happened in previous books. I tend to think of my repeat characters as cameos or secondary characters in their own right. For instance, Diana and Edmond, the hero and heroine of KISS ME QUICK, are prominent secondary characters in the sequel, KISS ME AGAIN. Generally, though, I think of returning characters not as something readers of earlier books in the series should expect in later books, but as a bonus for them. I certainly don't want readers who start with the later books to feel lost or out of the loop. That's no way to make for a satisfying reading experience.

There's another less obvious bonus about series and sequels from a writer's perspective apart from (hopefully) increased sales. I think it helps the author create more three-dimensional secondary characters if they may be heroes or heroines themselves down the road.

There have been cases where I've created secondary characters with the idea in the back of my head that they may get their own story, only to find when I'm finished the first book that I'm also "done" with them. The necessary excitement to write a book about them just isn't there. That happened with Lachlann from BRIDE OF LOCHBARR. I had a notion of writing about him after he's banished, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Conversely, and this goes to Kimber's comment about a character she loved from her first book, if I have a secondary character from one book who just won't go away, I always hope to get a chance to write about him or her later, somehow.

I had one character from a book out in 1997 (THE DARK DUKE) who doesn't even actually appear in the story, but I couldn't forget about him. I finally got a chance to write his story in a novella that came out in 2004 ("Comfort and Joy," from THE CHRISTMAS VISIT.) Did readers of the series get the link? I hope so, but the most important thing for me was, I got to give Griffin his happy ending.

So when it comes to series or sequels, the major factor for me is how I feel about that character or characters. If a character just won't let go, I think that's a sign of a good character, and who wants to lose one of them?

Therefore, my advice to Kimber (bearing in mind I am neither an editor nor a marketing genius) would be, if she really wants to write about that character from her first book, she should. If a lot of time has passed, though, it might be better to play down the link and treat it as a true stand-alone, with very few ties to the first book. In the PR for the book, she could certainly mention it features a minor character from an earlier book -- or not, if the first book is out of print or hard to find by the time the second hits the shelves, as some readers will avoid a series if they can't get all the books. Indeed, some readers won't read any of the books in a series until they have them all. Nevertheless, even if the connection between the books is nearly non-existent except for that one character, I would mention the connection on her website, in case readers of the first book are wondering if it's the same character.

And now, speaking of websites, off I go to do my weekly update on mine.

Margaret's Books in Many Lands

Thanks to a reader in France, I now know some of my medievals are being released there. LE DONJON DES AIGLES," is THE UNWILLING BRIDE, from my Brothers-in-Arms series for HQN. The second, LE DONJON DES SECRETS, is A WARRIOR'S HONOR, from my Warrior series.

Also, I've been interviewed for a German romance website.

Even after all this time, it still boggles my mind to think of people all over the world reading my work. It's both exciting and very humbling.

(Sidebar: As mentioned, I will be blogging about series and sequels this week. That's going to take some time, though, and I have a birthday cake to bake today, as well as various and sundry other birthday-related activities. Nevertheless, I hope to get it up later this afternoon; if not today, tomorrow for sure!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Wiki By Any Other Name...

Did you know there's a Romance Wiki? Like Wikipedia, only for romance. And authors are welcome to add their own information. I'm not done yet, but with some help, I'm nearly finished.

It's only when I'm doing something like this, and I see the list of the books I've written, that I realize I've written, well, quite a few. See, I generally tend to be thinking about the book in progress, not the ones that have gone before. That's why a lot of the time, if people ask me how many books I've written, they get a blank stare. Or if they ask me about a character from several books ago. There's only so much room in the ol' noodle, and current characters tend to take up a lot of space.

Wanna see my Romance Wiki entry?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gotta finish a book!

And not one of my own. As per my birthday resolution to read more novels, I got SALEM FALLS by Jodi Picoult from the library. I had three weeks, which I thought was plenty of time. And then...well, in the time-honored tradition of Messing With Margaret's Plans, stuff happened. So I'm just over half way through and it's due Wednesday. Unfortunately, I can't renew it (somebody else has it on hold). So I'll be reading for awhile tonight.

A couple of thoughts about the story in general: I'm rather taken aback by how much it seems like a Harlequin category romance. The general story line would certainly not be out of place in a Superromance. So far, it appears that the character who would be the hero was wrongly convicted. After getting out of jail, he arrives in a small town, gets a job from the owner of a diner, and they develop a relationship. Then he's accused of committing a second crime.

On the other hand, there are plenty of differences -- in the number of point of view characters, as well as certain other aspects of the plot, and I suspect things are about to take a sharp shift out of romance territory. But so far, I'm still thinking the general gist is very much like a contemporary romance.

One thing I can't do in a historical is have one character describe another by comparing him to a famous actor, and frankly, I'm glad. The main guy in SALEM FALLS is described as looking like Brad Pitt. Now, this works in terms of this story by showing how women, and particularly adolescent girls, might get a crush on him. But I am not a Brad Pitt fan, so I'm finding this really distracting. It pulls me right out of the story.

Comparisons to Brad Pitt notwithstanding, I'm off to read and find out if this story is going to take a major detour from Romance Road.

Friday, August 24, 2007

New Faces

So it's nearly time for the new TV season. So far, no new show has leapt out at me as "must see TV," but a few things to look forward to:

Colm Feore on 24. He's the female president's husband. He will be evil. Okay, maybe not. CF does not always plays bad guys -- but when he does, he's so goooood. So I'm hoping for deliciously, well-acted evil. Although between Keifer Sutherland's voice and Colm Feore, I may need a cold compress.

Survivor: China. I have seen the cast, and I'm trying not to make an premature judgment calls. I've been wrong too often.

Journeyman. I'll give it a try because of Kevin McKidd (aka Lucius Vorenus in Rome). But alas! I don't think we'll get to hear his Scots accent. Sigh. And sadly, I don't think he gets to go back far into the past. Whaaaa! Now that'd be a time travel show I could really get into.

I'm actually not looking forward to Ugly Betty, because it ended on such a sour note. I'll probably give it a try, but I'm finding more and more than a show that starts out great for one season doesn't grab me the next. Cases in point: The OC and Desperate Housewives.

OTOH, I'm really looking forward to more of the The Office, which I discovered after it had been on for awhile. And The Amazing Race -- best reality show evah!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Margaret's Guide To Constructive Procrastination On A Limited Basis (or you won't get very far as a self-employed person)

1. Admit you are only human. You do not want to burn out. You need to rest your brain.

2. Order research books online, preferably hard-to-find ones that require searching and a feeling of great triumph when you find them. Price be damned! It's for your work. You need them!

3. Read a how-to-write book. Never mind how many novels you've written. Unless you've written one yourself, you are still a student and there is always something to learn or confirm.

4. Get DVDs of series you weren't able to watch because you are strong and resist getting the specialty channels so you won't waste time watching TV.

5. Discover a Romance Wiki and decide you have to enter all your books, etc. Discover that's not Wikipedia, but they don't want you to add your own self there. Formulate a plan to get yourself there.

6. Decide it's time to stop procrastinating on all the repairs and refurbishing and refinishing because Christmas is coming and there's a good chance you will be entertaining both sides of the family. Learn a whole lot of interesting stuff from the furniture restorer, then try to look cool when he quotes the price.

7. Redecorate a room. Pick a dark color to paint, so it takes many, many coats and much colorful cursing. But hey, it'll look good when it's done. And hopefully you'll forget the frustration soon.

8. Update your website. Better yet, redo the whole thing.

9. Blog. Do your own or read others.

10. Read a good book. Consider that research, too. Tea and cookies are optional.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Continuing with my reading of
by Todd A. Stone, I reach the discussion of what he refers to as "objectives." Other authors refer to them as "goals" and many a writing workshop has been devoted to them.

Mr. Stone says there are two kinds of objectives, "story objectives" and "personal objectives." I call these external goals and internal goals. The external goal is a motive that comes from outside the character -- to win the race, find the treasure, build the resort.

Since I write historicals, I'd also call this the historical goal; this is the where setting and historical events come into play. This sort of goal is take the castle, guard the queen, help win the war.

The internal goal comes from within the character, the emotions and especially emotional needs that drive him or her. This goal is created by that particular character's past, and it's here where the author really has a chance to create memorable and unique characters. Many people may want to help win a war; what, based on his or her own personal history, makes your character want to?

This is also where the author has the opportunity to create an emotional connection between a character and a reader. These internal goals should be something everybody can relate to, even if your characters are running around ancient Babylon.

But let's not stop with two goals. There should be many smaller external goals that lead to the larger external goal. For instance, let's say the big external goal of the story is to take the castle. Other smaller goals might be to besiege it (what's involved with that?); or parlay with those inside to try to get them to surrender (Will they agree or disagree?); if they agree to surrender, will they keep their word, or is it a trick? All these questions indicate smaller goals, and the more of these you have, the more complex your plot.

When it comes to the internal, emotional plot, I think it helps to think more of layers than one particular goal. Your characters will have feelings and reactions from the start of your novel (or they should), but the real core emotional motive of a character shouldn't be obvious from the start. Since I write romance, let's say one of the first emotional reactions the hero of the story has is lust for the heroine. He wants to get her in his bed. He thinks that will make him happy. At that point, that's all he wants. Or certainly all he thinks he wants.

But that shouldn't be enough for the author, especially if there's to be the sense that the relationship will last beyond the end of the book. That lust and desire has to change to something deeper and more profound; more of the hero's emotions have to be revealed, more layers peeled away until the character (and the reader) gradually discovers his true emotional goal. What does he really, in his heart of hearts, want? Since this is the hero I'm talking about, it should be something good -- like being loved and accepted for who he is, not his title or his achievements or good looks.

For the sake of dramatic tension, this revelation should not come easy. The character should resist, which creates internal conflict within the character. At the beginning, he or she should truly believe that they don't have any deep-seated emotional needs, or if they are aware of such a need, should believe that the revelation of it will be disastrous for them. They should fight to keep it hidden, buried, secret, perhaps from themselves, but definitely from other characters.

So the external goal is something that is achieved, despite problems and conflicts, as the story progresses. The internal goal is slowly revealed, despite resistance and internal conflict.

Nor are goals there simply to provide an end point to the story. The striving toward the external goal and the gradual revelation of the internal goal should propel the story from the very beginning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


My birthday is at the end of August, and I've long noticed that I feel more energized come September. I think it's the cooler days and nights, or possibly the "back to school" conditioning. For whatever reason, though, I really do feel like I'm "coming back to life" after the dog days of summer. So I've decided that instead of making resolutions during the dead, dark winter, I'm going to make mine at this time of year instead. Here are my resolutions for the next year of my life:

1. I'm going to guard my time more -- and not just my writing time. I got caught up in too many family dramas last year, and only after the fact did I appreciate how that added to my stress. I'm going to just have to step back from some of it. If I can. Fingers crossed.

2. I'm going to try to read more novels. I read a lot, but I think I should read more novels.

3. I'm going to try to lose some weight. I'm one of those folks who could eat anything and never gain an ounce, but alas, you get to a certain age, and your body says, "No more!" the rowing machine! Do you have a name, 41?

4. I'm going to huddle less in my writing cave. I haven't been to a conference or convention for a few years. Yes, I have internet friends who are truly a life line, but I'm thinking a little face-to-face time with writers and readers is due.

Those are the biggies. I may not be able to do them all (family dramas are often unavoidable), but at least I have some ideas on ways to make the new year a little less stressful and more enjoyable. And it sure beats trying to make changes when it's freezing cold, the trees are bare and I've eaten far too many Christmas goodies.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Alpha Heroines

I'm reading NOVELIST'S BOOT CAMP by Todd A. Stone, and I come across something that strikes me as rather new. I don't recall ever coming across a section in other writing books about the Alpha Female.

According to Stone, she should fit the following criteria (which are discussed in more length, but I'll just recap):

- an iron will that drives her to take action

- truly understands right and wrong

- connected to her feelings, her family and the people and places around her

- sees clearly and deeply (to give his example: she'll be uncomfortable when in the company of "friendly smiling sharks")

- solid under pressure

- has a sex drive

The first fictional heroine I thought of after reading this section? Jane Eyre.

To be sure, she may not be quite what Mr. Stone is thinking of. I suspect he's thinking more Ripley from Aliens, but in my mind, Jane definitely fits his notion of an alpha female -- and so would many a romance heroine who isn't out there physically fighting her enemies.

Jane certainly has an iron will. We see this time and time again.

She truly understands right and wrong (in her society), or she would have lived "in sin" with Mr. Rochester instead of leaving him.

She's very aware of her own feelings, the people around her and the places where she lives. We often get a sense of Jane watching everything and everyone around her.

She sees people clearly and deeply -- that's one reason her aunt doesn't like her. She also sees Blanche Ingram for what she is, and isn't impressed with the rest of the house party, either. And isn't Blanche just the personification of a "friendly smiling shark?"

Jane's solid under pressure -- she comes to Rochester's aid despite his manner, and she doesn't have a fit when she's called upon to nurse Rochester's wounded brother-in-law.

And yes, indeedy, she has a sex drive. Judging by the way she thinks about Rochester, I'm very, very sure her attraction to him is a lot more than mental.

So for my money, Jane is very much an alpha female -- and that's why Mr. Rochester loves her.

Tonight I'm going to be watching the premiere (for us) of Blood Ties, a show about a vampire. Not exactly my cuppa, but hey, the vampire's the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, so I'll give it a go (and also see if the main female character fits the above list).

That means we're taking a break from Season Two of Rome. A couple of things about that: we're dismayed over what they aren't showing. My daughter was particularly troubled that we didn't see Mark Antony's oration over the body of Caesar. We were both upset that we didn't get Atia's reaction to Mark Antony's revelation that he was marrying her daughter. I mean, the woman is a major drama queen, so we were looking forward to a big scene, and we got...nuthin'.

And I've just gotta say, Gaia better get her come-uppence for what she did to Eirene, or I'm really gonna be upset. Stay away from her, Pullo! She's eeeevil! Not alpha, eeeeeeevil!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rome, Season Two -- oh, my Pullo!

We're finally watching Season Two of Rome.

I love Pullo, the big dumb lug. I love that he's not clever enough to be sly, and I especially like that he knows he's not smart, and when he's done something stupid, he's sorry. It doesn't hurt that he's played by Ray Stevenson. Those are some great blue eyes there.

I also really like how they're using non-famous Romans in the series. Indeed, if I could change anything about the series, it'd be that they do a lot more of that, and have the famous historical folks and events way in the background. It'd be different and interesting.

I suspect it would have been a much harder sell, though. I can just hear somebody protesting, "But why would anybody care about a bunch of no-names in ancient Rome?"

Why does anybody care about the "no-names" in The Office? Or on all those CSI shows? Or Law and Order?

Because the writers make us care. Or they should, if a series is to be successful. A novel, too. If I don't care about the characters, I'm not going to continue giving the story my time and attention.

And as for the ancient Rome...that's just the setting. If the characters are universal enough (having the same desires/motives/needs we all do), it should work if it's set in ancient Rome, Egypt or outer space. It's the people more than the place that makes a story successful -- although don't get me wrong. The place is important. It can add a lot to the characters -- to their external motives, to their manner, their dialogue, the activities they engage in. They should, on the surface, seem very much rooted in their own time and place. The universal belongs in the deeper, underlying feelings and motives that drive them. That's why historical novels work; because we can relate to those characters on that level even though we live in very difference times and places.

With Rome, I care a lot more about Pullo and Veronus than I do about Mark Antony and the rest of the famous historical figures, in no small part because I don't know what's going to happen to Pullo and his friend. I know what's going to happen to Mark Antony and Augustus. And I desperately want my man Pullo to have a happy ending.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I got 'er done

It turned out I had even less time than I originally thought to do The Thing That Could Not Wait. But I got it done. It wasn't pleasant, but it's done and -- importantly -- to my satisfaction.

I think one reason I'm disciplined enough to be self-employed is because I spent time in the reserves. Being a reservist is not nearly as challenging as being a member the regular forces, but I still think that time taught me to, basically, stow the attitude and get the job done.

See, there's no negotiation in the military, no "I'll do it later." Or "Why do I have to do that?" Or "It's not in my job description." Well, you can try, I suppose, but that's how you wind up running around a parade square holding a rifle over your head.

So I was drawn to a book I saw in the bookstore the other day: NOVELIST'S BOOT CAMP by Todd Stone. I'll admit that I'm always skeptical when I see a how-to writing book by somebody I've never heard of, but I plunked down my plastic anyway.

For one thing, I often read a new how-to book when I'm starting another novel. You may think after forty-plus I just sit down and let 'er rip. Um, nope. Believe me, facing Page One, Chapter One, can still be daunting, so I often seek a little extra inspiration.

Then I looked up his bio. Darned if the man doesn't belong to the RWA. Who knew? Maybe he's given workshops at conferences I haven't attended. Either way, interesting.

I haven't had a chance to get too far into the book yet, but I've already encountered a few things that have impressed me and made me think, "Heck, yes!" (In more colorful terms, to be honest. I was in the reserves. I heard a few things.) I'm a little weary of the mention of push-ups, but I'm certainly looking forward to the rest of the book.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How NOT to negotiate...

We've been given this really neat piece of old oak furniture. It's a small sideboard, only about three feet wide, with mirror and scroll work at the back, and leaded glass doors. Unfortunately, it's minus a back, an inside shelf, a drawer and one of the glass panes is broken. I spent a few minutes this morning making calls about getting it fixed and refinished.

I was just about giving up hope (the drawer was a big problem) when I found a guy who said, basically, "No problem!" He's coming next week to give me an estimate.

I was delighted. Thrilled. And said so.

When I got off the phone, I realized I may have revealed my enthusiasm rather too much. Way to (possibly) drive the price up there, Margaret!

So when Mr. Restorer comes, I'll have to mention "the budget." Maybe too little, too late, but c'est la vie. I yam what I yam, as Popeye would say, and I've never had a poker face.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Just when I think I've got things under control....

I thought I had a semblance of a schedule this week. I've made peace with the fact that the Red Room of Doom is going to require yet another coat (that's a coat of tinted primer plus three coats of the red -- but having done all this work, I'm not going to start scrimping now). Some other issues have been resolved. I was feeling pretty good.

And then...

Remember how I blogged last week about stress and how a lack of control over your work load gives it to you?

Well, guess what? Something's come up that has to be done immediately. And it's not something I can do in an hour or two, or even half a day. Maybe some authors can, but not me.

So all those things I was going to do this week? Forget it. My schedule has gone the way of the dodo.

On the other hand, I'm really, really glad I wasn't on holiday, and the things I had scheduled can be moved. Or else instead of feeling mildly stressed? I'd be losing a lot of sleep.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Another Faboo Review!

From The Romance Readers Connection:

"Fans of historicals, especially medieval settings, will be unable to put Ms. Moore's story down. The story is fresh, fun, fast-paced, engaging, and passionate, with an added touch of adventure."

There's more, but that's the really gratifying bit.

I spend months working and worrying over a book, some more than others. THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT was one of the "more than others" experiences. I'm only now appreciating how stressed I was while writing it - not about the writing, but by other things going on in my life. Unfortunately, those stresses affected the writing more than I appreciated at the time, which made for some pretty stressful revisions.

So getting a wonderful review like this? Is sweet indeed!

(And in other news: I am never, ever painting another room. The time, the frustrations -- what the heck was I thinking??? I'm calling the pros to redo the bathroom.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Where they're going wrong with Sir Guy

Anybody who's been following my blog for any length of time knows I'm a big fan of Richard Armitage, and that I've been enjoying the new BBC version of Robin Hood. However, I have some problems with the way they're portraying the character RA plays, Sir Guy, and I think I've got a clue as to why.

As reported on the Armitage Army website, a news release from the BBC about Season Two calls Sir Guy "sadistic but redeemable."

Here's the thing. For an evil character to be redeemable, I think a few things have to be in place. First, there has to be an understandable reason for his badness, something so people can say, "Yeah, I get why he'd be angry and not sympathetic to others, so he could be vicious and even cruel."

He can even be self-centered in his resentment and cruelty.

However, there must be more than that. There has to be the seed of goodness still buried there. He has to have something that makes it believable that he could change -- and it has be within him.

What? Can't "the love of a good woman" change him?

I say no. For that redemption to be believable, there must be something already there - some sympathy for his victims and remorse and the idea that the character himself, deep down, secretly yearns to change. In other words, he knows he's being evil, but hates himself for it and really wants to be good. The love he feels for a woman can be the catalyst for the change, but the desire and need to change must already be there -- buried really, really deep, perhaps, but there -- for it work for me.

However, if a man is sadistic, he takes pleasure in inflicting pain. There is no sympathy for his victims, no remorse, no wanting to change.

I'd be tempted to say they don't really mean sadistic as much as vicious, cruel and (deep down) frustrated -- except for that episode where Sir Guy abandoned his son, a helpless infant, in the woods.

If they'd had the sheriff do it and Guy simply taking the (obviously loony) sheriff's word that his son had been sent elsewhere? Or have him not particularly care what happened to the mother and child, or (even better, from my point of view) desperately trying to get them out of Nottingham before Marion finds out, he'd be a lousy father and a cad, but there'd still be the possibility of redemption. But abandoning a helpless infant in the woods? That's really a bridge too far.

If they truly want Sir Guy to be redeemable, he can't be as evil as they sometimes make him. They go too far, and that makes it too hard to believe he could be redeemed by his love for Marion, or anything else.

I recently read another article about the show, quoting the executive producer, Foz Allen, who is well aware of the appeal of Richard Armitage: "Richard Armitage is fantastically charismatic and sexy...” However, he also said, "Anybody under 30 is absolutely in love with Robin Hood, anybody over 30 is in love with Guy of Gisborne.”

This would be news to my definitely under-thirty daughter. She was the one who "found" Richard Armitage, not me, and I'm pretty sure she's not the only under-thirty woman who finds him appealing.

If she was, I'd despair of the younger generation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Causes of Stress

The other day there was a little blurb in the paper about how stressful being a lawyer is. One sentence really stood out for me: "These two traits in a job -- lack of control over workload and compromised ability to reach stated goals -- are the two biggest causes for burnout in jobs," according to Penelope Trunk, author of BRAZEN CAREERIST: THE NEW RULES FOR SUCCESS.

It strikes me that writers face much the same sort of thing. To be sure, we often set our own deadlines, but there are many times when "extras" come suddenly, unexpectedly and must be dealt with at once: proofreading, art information, a PR opportunity, or another writing opportunity that's too good to pass up.

Couple that with being a mother, and it's no wonder that often, no matter how well I think I've planned my schedule, it gets destroyed. I'm not in control of my workload.

As for a "compromised ability to reach stated goals," I think every writer wants to sell a lot of books, so they can (a) earn money and (b) keep writing. Unfortunately, there are too many variables out of an author's hands to ensure that, no matter how hard a writer works. The market shifts, tastes change, there's a major disaster than keeps people tuned to CNN instead of reading, the cover art is terrible...any and all of these things, and more besides, could happen. Despite his or her best efforts, the author isn't able to reach stated goals.

It's no wonder some writers burnout. In fact, it's rather amazing more don't -- but I suspect that's because authors have something lawyers and others in similar straits do not: we get to use our imaginations and, on the days it's going well, it's like being paid to play "let's pretend." That has to help keep the burnout at bay.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Writing what you know

I was reading a profile of Tabitha King in Writer's Digest the other day, and she spoke about that old writers' adage, "Write what you know."

She said, "My feeling is 'know what you write.'"

I absolutely agree. After all, I never lived in the Middle Ages, yet I've written 25 books and novellas set in that time period. I've never lived in the Dark Ages or Restoration, Regency and Victorian England, either, yet I've also written books set in those times. Heck, I'd never even been to England until I'd set several books there.

So how did I have the nerve to do it?

Well, my readers haven't been there, either. And I research. I want to know what I'm describing, whether it's clothes or food or social customs. I don't know everything of course, but I try very hard to be correct about what I include in my books.

I also write what I know emotionally. My family moved a few times in my childhood, so I know the feelings of being new and trying to fit in (or not). That's why I tend to write stories of "the stranger rode into town" ilk. That's also why I think "home" is not a place so much as a feeling of security and acceptance.

I also understand the stoic, stiff-upper-lip response to troubles. That's my folks. And that's why my heroes often fall into that category -- because I know full well that just because somebody isn't weeping or wailing doesn't mean they aren't devastated.

So by all means, write what you know -- but it shouldn't limit creativity. You can learn what you don't know, and I bet most people already know a lot more than they think.

Time Management 201

In keeping with my constant attempts to use my time during the day more wisely, just a quick blog post this morning, to say that I intend, in future, to blog in the afternoon. Work in the morning, when I'm "fresher"; blog, etc. (which is less important, meaning I don't get paid for it) in the p.m.

This seems obvious, doesn't it? And yet, I find this difficult. I check my email first thing, and send out the daily email to a certain family member, so it's easy to stay on the internet computer instead of moving over to the computer that has no internet connection to write. But I'm going to try!

I've also discovered that Wednesday and Thursday are the days I have the most blog visitors, so I'll save my writing-related posts for those days. Less career-oriented , more personal blogs about TV, etc. will be for other days.

So look for a longer blog post this afternoon, on a writing-related topic.

And can I just add, that ticking timer I'm using? Really adds a sense of urgency.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Time Management 101

As I've so recently noted, I'm back from vacation. The holiday is over; now it's time to get back to work. But I've got a plan.

Before we left, I bought myself a little kitchen timer at the Dollar Store. (I shall not wax poetic on the joys of the Dollar Store. Drives my kids nuts.) I got it to, basically, set myself a limit for doing non-book-writing-related tasks, like, oh, say, blogging.

I wouldn't use it for trying to force myself to stick to my book writing time. For one thing, it makes me feel like I'm on Sixty Minutes (tick, tick, tick). For another, once I get started, that's rarely an issue.

So, nope. It's strictly for non-writing related tasks, and although I got it primarily for computer-related time takers, I'm going to use it for cleaning my office, too. Forty minutes, tops. Then it's on to something work-related.

And there's the bell. I'm off!

Back to work, almost

We just got back from our annual "retreat" at my folks' cottage, on the sunny shore of Lake Erie.
I tell you, it is relaxation at it's best because:

1. No laundry.

2. No TV. Makes for lots and lots of reading and game playing and family good times!

3. No deadlines. The self-employed don't get a vacation. We have to take one. So I do. Not that I don't work. Sometimes I do, but I don't push myself too hard. That's difficult in that environment anyway.

4. No dishwasher. Now, this isn't exactly a plus, except that I used to do a lot of thinking as I did the dishes and when I'm there, I realize that I actually kinda miss that. Not the pots and pans, though. Is there anybody who doesn't hate washing the pots and pans?

5. Good food! The cottage is also close to farm country. I tell ya, there's nothing like vegetables, fruit and berries that were picked that morning. There's also a place that makes home-made pie.

6. Have I mentioned the reading? Oh, my word! Read, read, read, read, read -- all morning some days.

7. Walks on the beach, sunset or otherwise.

8. Movies. We go up to town sometimes to catch a flick at the local Cinema Six. We saw The Bourne Ultimatum. Good, but whew -- hard to follow sometimes, with the camera apparently jumping around. And I just have to say, if I have streaked hair? And I'm being chased through a Moroccan bazarre? I'm grabbing a scarf and covering my freakin' head! Although I must also say, finally Matt Damon looks old enough that I can believe he's a secret agent.

9. Sleep. I actually slept in until 9:30 one morning. Such a pleasant change from 5:30 when the paper lands on the doorstep.

10. It's the perfect no-stress holiday. We stay for free, so it's not costing a penny except for the food and movies. And generally, the weather co-operates.

But alas! The holiday is over and now it's time to get back to work. It takes me a day or two to get back to reality, though.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Game of Life

There seems to be a lot of books out now about how to play -- games for kids, games for parents and kids, etc. etc. I consider this rather sad. Have adults really forgotten how to play, or lost the urge for some simple fun? Or is it that a lot of parents today are too stressed out and tired to get down on the floor with the kids and some Lincoln Logs?

Fortunately, we spend a week every summer at my folks' cottage. There's no TV, and while we do have computer access via laptop, it's not as easy as at home. So we've always played a lot of board games. But we also put our own spin on the games.

Take, for instance, that old classic, The Game of Life. What do we do that's not exactly in the rules? Well, for one thing, those Share the Wealth cards seemed too complicated for when the kids were young, so we don't use them.

When you get to the square where you get married? We pick spouses. Last game, my daughter got there first and had first dibs on Richard Armitage. I was forced to settle (ahem) for Gerard Butler. (I kept picturing him in his 300 ensemble in our lovely little red car. Hee.) Who knew Richard had such a thing for yachts (twice) and they also bought a helicopter. Fortunately, nobody landed on the "Write a bestseller" square. Because ARGH. It should be so easy.

When we play our older version of Careers, it's a real eye-opener for the kids on how sexist life in the workplace used to be. Gorgeous secretary, anyone? We have our own "rules" for that, as well. For instance, if someone lands on the Oscar square in Hollywood, an acceptance speech is required.

And then there's the getting to the cottage. We play a game we call "spot the thing", which basically requires keeping your eyes peeled for certain things we decide upon at the start - moving buses (there's a bus depot on the way, with many a parked bus), open convertibles, motorcycle sidecars, and (always) porta-potties. We may be the only family that gets excited by the sight of construction on the highway, because we know a porta-pottie will be coming up soon. We used to award points based on difficulty (a motorcycle sidecar was worth a lot more than a bus), but now we just award one point. The winner used to get to decide where and when we'd take a rest stop; now, it's just bragging rights.

One thing we've never done is cheated in favor of the kids. This can seem a bit harsh, I know, but when they won? They knew they won fair and square and deserved it.

There's something else we do that I think is a bit unusual, but I also think helps avoid some sour losering: winner always picks up the game, not the loser.

We've also discovered a great new game, Blokus, for ages 7 and up. It's fast, it's not complicated, yet it's also challenging. I heartily recommend it if you're looking to spend some fun time with the family. And it's a lot faster than Monopoly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Into the valley of death...

I've known for a long time that the Crimean War was a mess, but holy moly, it was worse than I imagined.

A couple of things I learned from THE REASON WHY, by Cecil Woodham-Smith: at last an explanation for the (seemingly bizarre) purchase of commissions in the army, which meant you had rich noblemen without an ounce of actual combat experience in charge. After Cromwell, there was a fear of military coups and dictatorships, so it was thought "that never again should the Army be in the hands of men likely to bring about a military revolution and impose a military dictatorship. With this object, purchase was introduced when a standing Army was formed in 1683. Men were to become officers only if they could pay down a substantial sum for their commission; that is, if they were men of property with a stake in the country, not military adventurers."

Ah. A reason, but it made for a lot of really bad officers. It didn't help that those rich noblemen had an aversion to advancing officers with experience who served in India. I never quite got what they had against India, but they certainly were loathe to promote those experienced men. I kept thinking several of those officers in the Crimea would have been the sort who got shot by their own troops in WWI.

Also, if the Duke of Wellington hadn't done such a good job and Britain hadn't thus been convinced of their military superiority, things might have gone differently. Apparently there was a real attitude that if it worked for the duke in the Pennisula, why change?

I always pictured the Charge of Light Brigade as at a gallop. Nope. For quite awhile they went at a slow trot, just as if they were on a parade ground. Imagine that -- trotting into a valley with guns pointed at you from three sides at that leisurely pace! Blame Lord Cardigan, who led the ill-fated charge and came through without a scratch. After he got to the far end of the valley and through the guns, he simply turned around and rode back again, with the attitude that well, his job was done. His troops had no idea where he was, and apparently he didn't much care what was happening with them. He had dinner and champagne on his yacht and went to bed.

When Lord Cardigan returned to England, he was hailed as a hero for leading the charge, and yes, got a sweater named after him. Later, the truth came out, in part because he sued another man who'd said he (Lord Cardigan) hadn't been present during the charge. He had been, but the rest of the story of incompetence and indifference came out.

And thus, there were many changes made, including no longer selling commissions.