Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Hallowe'en!

My most memorable Hallowe'en costume proved astonishingly prophetic. No, I didn't dress up as a writer or a book.

I was a telephone.

My mother took a large cardboard box and painted it black. She got the handset of an old toy phone and painted it, and the cord, black and attached it to the side of the box. She made a rotary dial, because this was The Olden Days, and glued it to the box. She cut a rectangle above the dial so I could see. I wore black tights and voila, I was a phone.

Why prophetic? Because my mom and I talk on the phone every day, sometimes more often. The phone has become a sort of theme for us.

I wish I had a picture of this, but alas, I don't. My folks weren't much for taking pictures. Although somewhere (and I keep searching) there is a picture of me standing in Algonquin Park with a pen and a crayon box, pretending I'm a reporter.

When I look back at the games I used to play and the books I used to read and the movies I used to watch, I see so many things that made me into a writer I am today.

Like playing dress-up, having fun by becoming somebody else for a little while. My Grade Two teacher referring to me as her "little bookworm." The sheer thrill of the arrival of a Scholastic Book order. The happy times in amateur theater (once again becoming somebody else for a little while). There are more, but these are the first that come to mind.

When you look back, do you see things that pointed to the writer you would one day become?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strengths and Weaknesses

Further to my previous blog about strengths and weaknesses, it's sad but true that when it comes to writing, an author's strengths or weaknesses can be as subjective as anything else.

For instance, if a writer's good at dialogue, so there's lots of it in a book, that tends to make for a fast-paced, character-driven story. Some readers will love that, and consider that a great strength on the part of the writer. Other readers who prefer a different sort of story might consider that a weakness. Where is the lush description and interesting detail? However, for those who prefer a fast-paced story, that lush description and added details are just boring distractions that they tend to skip. They would consider that a weakness.

I don't think there's a solution to this. Like so much of writing, it

But while I'm on the subject of skipping parts of a book, I have to say I always get a little cranky when I hear a reader announce, often with what seems a great deal of pride, that they "just skip all that stuff", whether it's love scenes or historical background, or anything else.

I, and most authors I know, don't just toss "stuff" in our books for the heck of it. If it's there, it's there for a reason, whether because it's important in terms of character, plot or setting, or because it's what makes that author different from another. Skip something, and you're missing something.

It's like eating half a cookie.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jack of all trades, master of none?

There was an interesting blog post over at Romancing the Blog on the weekend. The general gist of it was, do you work on your strengths or your weaknesses?

This reminded me of something I read long ago, and not in a writing book. It was a business book called IF IT AIN'T BROKE...BREAK IT! AND OTHER UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM FOR A CHANGING BUSINESS WORLD by Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Patler.

"Plugging the holes in your game causes you to spend too much time on what doesn't work. Though you may go from poor to fair, you rarely excel at that which is not your strong suit. Then, because you are spending so much time focusing on your weak points, you don't have time to hone the skills you are good at. The result is that you never excel at anything."

Does this mean I don't work on my weaker areas of writing? No. I do. However, I don't think this needs to be an either/or proposition. You can work on weak areas while continuing to hone your strengths -- just don't work so hard on your weaknesses you neglect your strengths.

How do you know what you do well as a writer? By writing. What you enjoy writing is probably what you do best. Then submit to editors or contests. Pay heed to consistent comments about areas that need improvement. Obviously, these are your weaknesses. If you get compliments on other elements, or no comments at all, those are your strengths.

(If you're wondering why I don't have any pictures in the recent blogs, I'm not in my office. I'm upstairs, in the Red Room o' Doom, using my daughter's laptop, because I've got a couple of guys painting and papering the basement stairs and hallway, so it's an obstacle course to get to my office.)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Armitage Aerobics

I've read many times that laughing out loud is a good workout -- good for the heart and circulation, and releasing endorphins.

I've just spent half an hour doing what I'm calling Armitage Aerobics with my daughter. The Armitage Army website has posted pictures from the first three episodes of Season Two of Robin Hood featuring Richard Armitage as Sir Guy and we've been laughing, sighing, shouting at Marian to stop being so stupid and go for Sir Guy, and lamenting when it looked like Sir Guy was going to hit her ("You can't do that!" cries Daughter. "You're not really evil!" He didn't.) We were also making our own sound effects, including the Scooby Doo "raaarh" when he seemed upset.

Since we don't have any idea of the stories that go with the pictures, we had a fun time coming up our own. Alas, I have to wait for the DVDs to find out if we were on the right track at all, but we sure had a good time.

One thing we've noticed, and it's really too bad. Is their costume budget about fifty cents? They seem to have to use sub-par materials, as if it's a high school production, and that's really too bad.

And we will not mention the fact that Sir Guy seems to be putting armor on over his bare skin. Well, okay, I've mentioned it. Much as I appreciate shirtless Sir Guy, no knight would do that. He would be wearing a padded jacket called a gambeson. Otherwise, OUCH! The chafing! Maybe he was just trying it on to see how it fit...but still, gambeson!

As I was bemoaning this, my daughter pointed out that historical accuracy is clearly not something they're aiming for. Therefore, she reasons, they should have Richard Armitage shirtless all the time. I personally think that would be too distracting. And for me, it's his face that I find most interesting. That man can say more with a look than many, and his glares are just what a glare ought to be.

And now, duly inspired, it's off to work with me. I do believe my hero is glaring in the current scene-in-progress. If not, I suspect he may be before it's over.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Good News/Bad News

So the good news is, The Amazing Race starts November 4. The bad news is, the clocks go back early that morning. I am sad when the clocks go back. It means winter is not far off. I like winter at Christmas, then I wish it were over.

The good news is, we have gas inserts! The bad news: there was a problem with the switches and remote. The good news is, the guy came the next day to fix it. The bad news is, I lost an hour of prime writing time.

The good news is, we got back our server, all refinished and with drawer, shelf and back that needed to be built. The bad news: they put the leaded glass in the doors in upside down. The good news is, they sent somebody to repair it the next day and it took all of about five minutes. The bad news, I was a tad stressed when I realized there was a problem.

The bad news is, I haven't started writing until after 10 pm the past two nights. The good news is, I'm an owl, not a lark, so I think it's been good stuff, not just writing for the sake of writing. Actually, that's a really good thing.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Whoooooo hooooo!

While I believe Hugh Jackman is a heck of a performer, I can't be sorry his new show got canceled. Because -- oh, joy, oh, rapture! -- they've moved The Amazing Race into the slot, so instead of starting in January, it will be starting November 4. It's like an early Hallowe'en treat!

Mind you, I'm already worried about a team getting eliminated (Father/Daughter). You can see all the teams and read their bios as at

In other news, why is it that everything we've had done on the house and/or repaired has had another problem that needed to be fixed? Fortunately, the folks who needed to do the fixin' have all been quick to do so, but it means more time away from the working.

But I'm too happy to be frustrated today. The Amazing Race! Whoo whoo!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lessons from Kid Nation

Yes, I confess: I've been watching Kid Nation. More than that, I've been fascinated by it. If I had school-age kids, you can bet I'd be watching it with them and using it as a springboard for discussions about dealing with problems, what makes a good leader, etc.

For instance, take Mike, the ousted leader of the Red District. First, I wish those votes had not been read out loud. Poor kid -- that was brutal. Mike's failure as a leader, though, I think, is his lack of sense of humor when it comes to issuing orders and being in charge. He has a sense of humor as revealed in the interviews, but he seemed to lose it when being in leader-mode, especially at the first sign of a challenge to his authority.

Then there's the ousted yellow leader and her acolytes. Plenty of fodder for lots of discussion there on leaders and followers.

On another note, it must be the romance writer in me, but I think Green Leader Laurel is sweet on bad boy Greg (who's not so bad). I could so see a YA romance developing between them. Could that be why, having written one YA romance (GWYNETH AND THE THIEF), I suddenly have a hankering to write another?

Overall, I'm impressed with the majority of the kids. Many of them make other reality show contestants look immature.

Speaking of other reality shows, what's going to happen tonight on Survivor? Do those women think James (hero to older, hardworking women and lunch ladies everywhere) is going to feed them after they threw the challenge and laughed about it? Obviously, they don't care what he thinks, how he feels and assume, given his will to win, that he will still continue to exert himself in the challenges. Maybe he will, but get food for them? I'm thinking, no way. I really, really hope there's going to be another team switcheroo. I want James to get the last laugh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Later that same day....

Argh. Yargh. Clutching of short hairs on head.

I started a new scene, but have just spent the last hour and a half's wrong. It doesn't feel right. What's it contributing? Is it just same-old-same-old?

I'm going to put it in the cut file and start another scene. I thought I could see my way clear to the end of the ms, but obviously, no. I've hit a speed bump.

At least the repair is going to be a fast, easy fix and the guy's coming tonight.

Nevertheless, ARGH.

ETA still later that same day -- I wound up keeping that scene. It might not make the final cut, or may be rolled into another scene, but there was material in it I deemed worthy of keeping. Then I wrote a new scene. Onward and upward! And hey, I'm done and it's not yet 4:30. Yeah!


So today, when I thought I'd have the house all to myself, I am -- of course -- waiting for a phone call because of a repair gone slightly awry. That's right up there with waiting for a repairman for disturbing my concentration. But it's got me thinking about distractions.*

I don't work in four-five hour stretches when I'm writing the first draft. I don't work more than about two hours at a time, with two hour breaks, because first drafts take a lot of mental effort. Every scene, every paragraph is full of decisions -- do this, and that could happen. Do that and it could go that way. That's very mentally exhausting. So for me, the breaks are necessary.

But here's the key thing: I like to break when it's good for me. If I'm in those two-hour working periods, a forced break due to an interruption is extremely frustrating, because my train of thought -- where the most recent decisions were taking the story -- has been broken. It can take awhile to get back onto that path.

So if I distract myself (and I do!), that's okay, because I'm choosing the time. Somebody else "chooses" the time? Not good.

* I just got the call I was expecting, so now I can work without that little distraction bothering the brain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Creative Differences

I've been reading a book called REINVENTING THE REST OF OUR LIVES: WOMEN IN SECOND ADULTHOOD by Suzanne Braun Levine. I doubt I'll finish it -- it seems very much aimed at busy career women of a certain socio-economic bracket. In other words, not me.

Also, I don't have to be told to examine my life. I do that all the time. I think it comes with the territory. As I try to figure out my characters' motivations, I often think about my own.

And I keep remembering something I once heard about boomer women and childbirth: "You'd think nobody'd had kids until they came along."

Despite my quibbles, this book does have some interesting parts, and I can relate to elements of it. There was one part that really stood out for me. The author has been an editor of a number of magazines. She lost her job and:

"OK, I thought, I'll become a writer instead.... What I didn't understand then is that, although the elements -- words -- are the same for an editor and a writer, the practice is diametrically opposite. The difference lies in whose words they are. Running a magazine is primarily reactive -- issuing assignments and decisions in response to the need of the publication and the staff, making other people's words work, and talking, talking, talking. Writing is internal: pushing the brain to find new questions and to answer them in compelling ways. And any conversation that takes place is inside your own head. It is profoundly assertive, aggressive work, more active than anything I had done before."

Whoo, Nelly! Assertive? Aggressive? What the --?

But you know, I think she's on to something.

I think it is pretty assertive and yes, aggressive, to say, "I'm going to tell story and I believe I'll do it well enough that people will want to read it."

Romance writer as Amazon.

Yep, I like it!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holding Pattern

Today we're getting something done that I've been wanting to do for about the last ten years. Our two allegedly wood-burning fireplaces that don't draw properly so you can't use them are being replaced by gas inserts. First, though, we're getting the mantels remodeled. Which means this morning, I am waiting for Mantel Man to arrive. It's after 9 a.m., so I'm starting to think I should have phoned last week to ask what time he's starting today.

This is the sort of situation where working at home is both good and bad. Good, because I don't have to miss work staying home to supervise. Bad, because I still have to work regardless of what's going on in other parts of the house. At this point in the proceedings, I'm also typing while listening for the doorbell and wondering if I've got the wrong date or something else has gone wrong. Not exactly conducive to creativity, that.

This explains why I am blogging right now, and not working on Chapter Thirteen. (Thirteen? Coincidence??)

This is also why, if I have to call a repairman or other contractor, I will often say I'm taking the day off work, because in a sense, that's true. I really can't concentrate fully under such circumstances. I can revise, but it's very difficult to write new material (and really good luck if I'm at a love scene!). Unfortunately, I learned long ago that if such fellas (and they have always been men) think I am "just" a housewife, my appointment gets low priority. After all, I think they reason, I've got nothing else to do and nowhere pressing I have to be.

Infuriating? Oh, heck, yes! As a stay-at-home mom, I had even less time to wait around when my kids were smaller, between volunteering at school, going on field trips, driving to lessons, etc. etc. Stay-at-home was a real misnomer.

I'll give it a little longer, then give Mantel Man a call. In the meantime, I'll fire up the writing computer and read through what I wrote yesterday. I might not get to the new stuff until after 4. Again.

This may turn out to be The Book Written When I Should Be Making Dinner.

ETA: Mantel Man and Assistant arrived at 9:50. Yeah!

Friday, October 19, 2007

End o' the Week Potpourri

Now that I've finished revising and am into the new writing, it's a bit of a tough slog. It's like I'm feeling my way in the dark, knowing where I have to go, but at the moment, I can't quite see how I'm going to get there. As I've learned, though, the only way to find out is to keep writing.

However, I had to take time out today to update my website. There was a lot to do, and it was made more complicated and frustrating because I was trying to do something only to discover the code only worked on Internet Explorer. Since I use Mozilla most of the time, I took it out. Too bad, because it was kinda cool.

Now off to go through what I wrote yesterday, then carry on, even though it's 4:30 in the afternoon. Take out for dinner tonight, methinks!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Only so much time in the day....

This blog post will be short, because I also have to update my website. I have some Very Exciting News to announce, which also means changing more than one page, which means more work.

I also have to go back and remove a plot/character ball I tossed into the air yesterday. Upon further reflection, I decided it was one character/complication too many. Then I really need to move on with the next scene.

Based on some most excellent advice from Blog Guru Kimber Chin, I have a few things to add/work on with my blog, too, and I'd like to get started on them.

So lots to do -- and may wind up making a fast trip to the vet, because we cannot get The Count to take a pill. He's no little sylph, and is really strong and fights like the dickens. I finally tried crushing it and adding it to his food, since he's a big eater, but he figured it out and is now giving me the stink eye.

So, to work with me!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What makes the middle so tricky?

You often hear writers, myself included, complain that the middle of a book is the most difficult part to write. And plenty of reviewers will point out when a book has a "sagging" middle, when the tension that fuels the story just seems to peter out.

Why is that?

The beginning, aka the set-up, introduces the main characters, the major internal, external and romantic conflicts, the secondary characters and the subplots. You're getting all the balls in the air. The ending is where you resolve everything -- the balls come to rest.

When you're in the middle of the book, you've got all the balls in the air and now you have to juggle them so that none fall down or the audience doesn't get bored watching.

That is not easy.

How do I try to avoid the sagging, boring middle?

Well, I try not to spend too much time on one element to the detriment of another. I try to find the right balance between character development and backstory, subplots, development of the romance, and historical research.

It can be really tempting to put in too much research. How much is too much? Some readers love a wealth of details and information, others do not. I try to find a balance between enough information to keep things interesting and accurate without making the research stand out. I'm not out to impress my readers with the hours I've spent reading about oh, say, medieval kitchens. I'm out to make them feel as if my characters are really in a medieval kitchen.

I have to be careful I don't dwell too much on the subplots and secondary characters, lest I wind up with Subplotus Overwhelmus. I love my secondary characters, so this is something I have to watch. I have to be especially careful if a particular character is, or might be, a potential hero or heroine. This is how one of my secondary characters in The Welshman's Way wound up with a concussion -- I knocked him out to keep him out of the story.

The middle of a romance is where lust becomes love. I have to show the deepening emotional involvement of the characters and the signs that this relationship can last. This is where I also show the increasingly physical intimacy of the characters. Even if it's a marriage of convenience story with a consummation scene near the start, the physical intimacy changes during the middle, to something more tender and more meaningful.

I may have given the impression that a good middle is all about finding the perfect balance, as if it could be solved by a simple mathematical formula. If only it were so easy! Because of course, it's not. With a romance novel, the main focus should be on the relationship between the hero and heroine, so the scales should tip a little more toward that. And some aspects of the plot and the research and subplots and secondary characters may be more interesting and relevant than others. So the scales will tip and dip and sway as you go. To go back to the juggling analogy, sometimes one ball will be up, another down, but it's not as if they're always going in a perfect circle or rhythym.

And that's what makes the middles really tricky. That's why even seasoned writers can stumble and drop a few balls in the middle of a book. And this is also, I think, the part of writing that separates the people who toy with writing a book from the people who can and will write a book.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Did you catch Oprah today????

I don't usually watch Oprah, but I did today and whooo hooo! Had to blog about it. About as much of an endorsement of romance novels as we're ever going to get on Oprah. The guest, Dr. Christiane Northrup, suggested them as pre-bedtime reading, whether for relaxing or, ahem, revving up, noting there was a reason they sold so well.

Now, I don't personally think of the latter as a reason people read my books. Mine are simply not that focused on physical intimacy, although, since we are talking loving relationships, I don't generally close the bedroom door. I have, though, in three of my Victorian Harlequin Historicals (THE WASTREL, THE DARK DUKE and THE ROGUE'S RETURN. It didn't seem right to have a consummation scene in those books, so I didn't, and the editors had no problem with it.

If somebody does find my books a little, ahem, stimulating, that's fine. And if they find them relaxing, that's fine, too -- as long as they aren't falling asleep 'cause they're bored!

Tough Going

I'm having a bit of a tough time with the work-in-progress at the moment -- and it's not the writing, it's the interruptions.

Well, okay, it's the writing, too. I'm in the middle of the manuscript, which is always a bit of a tippy-toe through the marsh experience for me. Am I on the right path, or am I wandering off into the quicksand?

So there I am in a tougher part of the process and suddenly, I'm getting interruptions. More than usual. What is up with this? It's like somebody's issued a challenge. Let's see how often we can interrupt Margaret.

Maybe I'm just noticing the interruptions more and being more bothered because I'm in the tricky middle, where I need to really concentrate, so getting interrupted is extra frustrating.

Either way, I feel like disconnecting every phone and sticking a sign on the front door that says, "Writer At Work. Ring Bell At Your Peril."

Know what I mean?

(We interrupt this grouchy post to say, my email newsletter subscribers should be getting a post today with some exciting news, so all is not grinding teeth and furrowed brow at Casa Moore. Newsletters subscribers get first notice of such news. Wanna subscribe? See the sidebar.)

ETA: So I decide to take a break and do a little blog-hopping, and I get to fellow Harlequin author Michelle Styles's blog and from there to another blog belonging to Phillipa Ashley with a picture of a shirtless Richard Armitage and now I'm grinning. Thank you, Michelle and Phillipa.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Sadly, I must agree with the reviewers who had problems with this movie. For one thing, if I'm noticing the camera work? That's a bad sign.

Secondly, I never thought I would say this but...there was too much Clive Owen. Too many close-ups of Clive Owen. Yes, he's good looking and a heck of an actor, but at a time when there was so much going on, I could have used less of Sir Walter Raleigh. (After the movie I went to the fast, if not always accurate, source of info, Wikipedia, to find out what the dealio was with Raleigh. Apparently his wife carried around his embalmed head for 29 years. Some may call that devotion. I call it, "Eeeuuuw!")

I really got the impression the director was more interested in making pretty pictures/tableaus than telling a good, or even coherent, story, let alone being historically accurate. The execution of Mary Stuart stands out in this regard.

Now, to give the director a break, there was a lot going on in this period of Elizabeth's reign, so there was a lot to choose from, and you can't please all of the people all of the time. However, he's apparently decided to make a trilogy about Elizabeth and that, I think, added to the problem. Things are introduced here and take up time/space for no apparent reason except to set up the next film -- or at least I'm assuming little Isabella of Spain will figure prominently in the next film, or else what the heck was she doing so much in this one?

And if you're talking about the Armada, shouldn't we at least get a glimpse of, oh, say, Sir Francis Drake, if not the guys who really did the planning and the fighting instead of Sir Walter?

But really, one of the things that bothered me most was the portrayal of Elizabeth as a woman on the edge of a breakdown. Or like the worst stereotype of a menopausal female (although they gloss over Elizabeth's actual age). I get that you might want to show her as a normal woman, with fears and doubts and longings. In fact, one of the best parts of this movie for me harkened back to the first, and showed her fantasizing. I could get buy that. But the hysterics seemed over the top for a woman who held her own in what was very much a man's world for so long.

All in all, I was disappointed and not even the excellent actors could save this film for me. I kept thinking about the wonderful version of Elizabeth's reign, Elizabeth R, starring Glenda Jackson, although I haven't seen it in a very long time. It was a six hour mini-series made for TV, so there's more room for history and character development. I've put it on my Christmas list. I will not be asking for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No Internet Sundays

I'm trying a little experiment the next couple of weeks, in part as a reaction to all the interruptions/distraction I've had the past couple of days. I'm going to try not going on the internet on Sundays. No email, no blog, no Google, no Television Without Pity. My work computer is deliberately not hooked up to the net, so I'll still be working, just with no internet breaks.

Today, it would have been nice to go to our RWA chapter meeting. For one thing, I enjoy conversations with live people. Instead, I worked a solid four hours revising one scene. One scene. To be sure, it's an important scene, but this isn't even the final draft.

Now I need a break. A Clive Owen In a Historical Movie break. I think you know where I'm heading.

Look for my mini-review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age on Monday.

Friday, October 12, 2007

And so it goes

The mayhem continues! I did get some work done yesterday, despite a very late start, but not as much as I would have liked, and this morning was a (ha!) write off. So I'm staying pretty close to home over the weekend, although I do hope to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Clive Owen. On deck. Oh my!

I'm grabbing a few moments before lunch for a quick TV potpourri, because I want to get in a few solid hours of work this afternoon and not stop until it's time to make dinner.

Survivor: Soaking. Well, at least they looked dry for once. But please, could they get some clothes? I don't know if the producers are aware of this, but that show used to be considered family viewing for many people. But if they're going with the skivvies and the blurring? Never mind. Also, a relatively bland cast. Those shows really depend on the casting, and the latest season is something of a disappointment. Also, do they get to shower and wash what remains of their clothes before Tribal Council? Or were all the Tribal Councils filmed back in NA? They look so clean at those things.

Pushing Daisies. One viewing was enough. Too cutesy-woo by far.

Prison Break. We recorded this in favor of Chuck. Still haven't seen it. Haven't missed it. Farewell, pretty Capt. Wentworth.

Enjoying Chuck. Good cast. Adam Baldwin, aka Jayne from Firefly, one of all-tme fav characters, playing a CIA agent working at a big box electronics store. I love it!

Ugly Betty: I don't like frantic, stressed Betty. Last season, she was the sweetness in a sour workplace. Now, not so much. I fell asleep watching it (taped) last night. I think that's it for me.

The Office: still loving it. Kelly and Darrell? Heeee! We saw Andy and Angela coming, but still funny.

Life: Taped it, haven't seen this week's episode yet.

Journeyman: Taped over it before watching. Oops, yet not terribly upset. Sorry, Lucius Veranus, it ain't workin' for me.

The Sexalicious Tudors: Yep, that Henry was quite the lascivious guy. But why did they portray him as so excited over the birth of Henry Fitzroy in the latest episode? He'd had sons by Katherine. They just didn't live that long. So the birth itself shouldn't have put him over the moon. The first birthday, maybe.

Heroes: continues to hold my interest, although I could do without the repetitious nature of the scenes of the two young folks trying to get to the US. Oh, and the amnesia thing. I've never been a fan of such plots. Now watch me come up with a story idea involving...amnesia!

That's it! Time's up! Gotta eat, then write.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One of them thar days

I've had one of those days -- things happening unexpectedly and interfering with the writing schedule. I'm not happy about starting my work day at 4 p.m. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do, or the book doesn't get done and the deadline doesn't get met.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time Period Popularity

A couple of things have conspired to have me thinking about the popularity -- or unpopularity -- of certain time periods in historical romances this week. One was an article in the paper talking about a TV show called Mob Stories II. The executive producer of the show, Peter Gentile, is quoted as saying, "Mafia stories have replaced westerns on television."

The other is the commercials for the new movie, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

I'm not sure about mob stories taking the place of westerns on TV, but I do have a couple of theories about why Westerns became unpopular in romance novels.

One reason also dogs the medievals and Victorian era romance novels, and I call it the Hygiene Issue, aka Reality. A lot of modern readers get their ideas of history not from school or books, but from movies or TV, and for a long time, Hollywood portrayed the old West as dusty, but not filthy. Ditto the Middle Ages. Take a look at Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. Those folks are clean, and so are their castles. But then Hollywood got a little more realistic. The reality of the lack of hygiene came in, along with more violence.

Thanks to adaptations of Dickens, a lot of people think poverty, ignorance and dirt when they think of Victorian England.

I find it interesting that Elizabethan and Restoration England apparently do well as settings for historical novels, but not romances. Elizabethan England also seems to work in movies. (Shakespeare in Love was just on the other night, too.) Actually, in the case of Elizabethan England, I think it works better in movies in part because of the clothes. They can look sumptuous on the screen, but if you try to describe those bloomers in a book? Sounds a little silly -- and that's without the cod pieces. Don't want a hero wearing silly outfits!

Then there's Regency England, the most popular setting for historical romances at the moment. Again, I think there are a few reasons for this, but one is certainly due to Jane Austen, who confined her stories to the upper middle class. That's the level of society most often portrayed in current historical romances, too. Everybody's clean, everybody's polite, and all the factories, child labor, pollution and riots are out of sight.

Do historical romance readers really have a much lower tolerance for, well, history? Are they truly unwilling to face the realities of the past? Do they just want what's basically an adult fairy tale? This is something I grapple with all the time, because I hate to think it's true, even if the market seems to tell me so.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Task Management

Once again I'm indepted to LW for today's blog subject, task management, because I empathize with her plight. When you've got kids and another job, how do you get it all done? In the writing biz, I think it's especially difficult before you're published. Unlike say, sewing or knitting or decorating, when you've finished an unsold manuscript, you've basically just got a pile of paper. How do you explain the use of that time to people who only see the pile of paper, who don't see creative effort and optimism? It ain't easy.

I also think there's more pressure than ever before on authors to promote their work. So now it's not enough to write your book and get it published (no small potatoes!). No, you've got to be thinking of a web presence and public appearances and -- oh, how I hate this one -- "branding." (I have yet to comprehend the difference between "branding" and "stereotyping.")

So what's an author to do? I got one really good piece of advice from a business book, by Kate White, called WHY GOOD GIRLS DON'T GET AHEAD... BUT GUTSY GIRLS DO. She wrote this years before she became a mystery writer as well as the editor of Cosmo.

It's a little technique called "slice the salami." Instead of thinking of a job, like creating a website, as this huge mountain to climb, break it down to smaller tasks. I'd also add, spread over time.

For example, instead of thinking about the website as one major task, break it down into a series of small tasks, spread over time, with manageable deadlines. For instance, "This week, I'll register a domain name." That's it for this week. "Next week, I'll ask my friends or other writers I know if anybody can recommend a good web designer." All you have to do that week is compile a list of names. Next week, you contact one or two and ask for prices. That's it for that week. And so on.

In that way, you're working on the problem, and getting things done, just more slowly.

In my case, I realized over the weekend that my characters are apparently inhabiting the equivalent of a ghost town. As they move through what should be areas with a lot of people, I never mention anybody else. Ooopsy. So my task in one chapter, in addition to the general tightening to keep the focus on the main couple, is also to add people where there should be people. Simple, easy to remember, relatively easy to do. I'm not thinking about the overall plot - just what I need to do at that one place.

That's my slice of salami for that chapter.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blogs, Website and other PR

I wrote a long comment in response to a comment on my most recent blog posting, then decided to use it as a blog entry instead. You can scroll down and read the comment first, if you'd like, or just read the answer here. It's about PR, and the pressure to do a lot of it if you're an author.

I think in this day and age, a website is a must. If I did nothing else for PR, I would do this. It's a fast and easy way for your readers to find out about your books -- what's out, what the books are about, and what's coming. You can keep the personal info to a minimum, if you'd prefer. If time is an issue, you can pay somebody to set it up and update it for you. I used to update mine every week, but with the blog, it got a bit much, so I don't update the site as often. I enjoy doing it, so I still update it fairly frequently.

Re author pics. Some readers apparently like to see what an author looks like. Your publisher may require one, so this might not be optional.

Booksignings -- I find these pretty much a waste of time and effort. Agents don't, I gather. But they aren't the ones sitting there alone, like Oliver Twist asking for "more," thinking of all the other things they COULD be doing. FWIW, I think being president of your RWA chapter is better PR. Also writing articles for your chapter newsletter, which may be picked up by other chapter newsletters (and which, come to think of it, I should be doing more of, as well!). Ditto giving workshops at smaller conferences or RWA national -- and booksignings at such events are usually well attended, too. So if it's personal appearances your agent wants you to make, local booksignings may not the best in my experience, but there are alternatives.

As for blogs, I think this is much more up to you and your time. I cannot even imagine trying to write a book with four kids under ten, let alone blog, etc. etc. However, you don't have to blog daily, but could do it weekly, or whenever you have the time. And they don't have to be long entries. But I would consider the blog the most optional of all PR ventures, at least at present -- unless you choose to have only a blog. I gather some authors do this. My concern would be that you wouldn't be able to have a lot of information about your backlist there. If you're not yet published though, this might be a good way to start an internet presence, and you can do a website when you have a second book on the way.

As for a change in profile or sales from a website or blog? I couldn't point to either one and say, "Ah ha! Lookee there! What a surge!" The effectiveness of most PR is hard to measure, especially author-driven (and paid for) PR.

I can appreciate that an agent wants an author to be out there promoting herself in this day and age, especially on the internet. However, I still believe no amount of PR an author can do can top writing good books. If your writing is really going to suffer because you're on the internet or at booksignings instead of writing, that's not good.

Writers who have other jobs, whether it's another paid gig or motherhood, have to find the balance that works for them. For me, it was family first, writing second and PR a distant third. Still is. Maybe I'd be more successful as a writer if I had other priorities.

But I wouldn't be nearly as content, and that's the bottom line for me.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

No Thrill in this Thriller

As part of my resolution to read more books from different genres, I got a book out of the library based on an ad in the NYTimes Book Review section. The back cover quotes call the author "one of Britain's finest thriller writers."

While there is a mystery and some dead bodies, I'm just not feeling the thrill, or the suspense. I personally find the pace slow, and that's without a couple of major pace-killing distractions.

The characters all have nicknames, which means not only must I remember their real names, I have to remember their nicknames. Unfortunately, I'm not sitting down for a leisurely afternoon's read -- I read when I can grab some time during the day or evening. That means I keep forgetting what nickname applies to what character. That takes me out of the story. A lot.

The characters keep referring to each other by name during conversations, even if there are only two people involved. "So, what do you think, Sammy?" "I don't know, Davie." That feels false to me, so it, too, pulls me out of the story.

Then there's the setting. It's very, very English. The writer's English, so I shouldn't really be quibbling. It's just that with some writers, I know I'm in England without feeling like a fish out of water. The references are enough to give me a sense of place, but not so much I'm distracted by the differences. Sadly, not this time.

These things are cumulatively enough for me to give up.

There was one other thing that struck me about this book, and it had nothing to do with the text. There is absolutely no information about the author on the book jacket. No bio, no picture, nothing. No doubt I noticed this because a day doesn't go by that I don't worry I'm not doing enough PR, whether it's on the internet or elsewhere. Authors seem to be so pressured to promote themselves. But this guy? He doesn't even have a bio on the jacket, let alone a website. I confess part of me thinks, "Good for you!" Another part thinks, "I wonder what his background is?" So I googled him. Somebody did a Wikipedia entry for him, so I found out a few interesting things.

I'm still not going to finish the book, though. I have a pile of books by my bed, so it's on to the next one.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

So I was revising away yesterday, and I had an idea for a new version of the scene I was working on. It passes the "gut test," as in, I feel it's a good idea. That means more revising and finding a way to make the new idea fit into the scene. I've spent the better part of this morning figuring out how to do that.

The question of the day is, should I count that as writing time? After all, it yielded zero pages.

I've long suspected that when many people ask about "writing time," they're really thinking about what I'd call typing time -- the time spent at the keyboard, resulting in x numbers of pages.

This is why I always hesitate a bit when people ask me how much time per day I spend writing. Do they mean time at the keyboard? Should I include thinking time? What about reading time? What about the time I spend researching things like street lighting or a typical meal in a castle in 1204?

That's why I find "How many hours a day do you spend writing?" one of the toughest questions about the writing life to answer.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Unintentional Amnesia

Amnesia is a plot device that's been used many times in romance novels. I understand the appeal. It provides instant dramatic tension: Will the amnesiac remember his or her past? What will happen when s/he does? And in romance, will s/he return to his or her "old" life, or begin a new one with the hero or heroine?

However, I have once again discovered an unintentional amnesia element in my current work-in-progress -- a character apparently has no memory of a key event from a few scenes before. It's as if it never happened, because he or she never thinks about it afterward.

In the case of the current wip, it's a kiss. The first passionate kiss between the hero and heroine. This is -- or should be -- an important development in the romance, right? But for the next few scenes, neither character thinks about it.

Ay yi yi. Bad author, bad!

Just goes to show that no matter how many romances I write, I still make some major blunders when I'm writing the first draft.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Wish List

There was an article in the most recent Romance Writers Report called "Surviving Your Career" by six New York Times bestselling authors. It was interesting, yet something occurred to me while reading it that also goes to the complaints I hear from time to time about the overall relevance of Romance Writers of America.

I don't expect RWA to be all things to all romance writers. Frankly, I think some of the complaints are just plain unreasonable for an organization of such a size, with such a diverse group of authors.

But while I was reading that article, I realized that I'd appreciate more articles from and about authors who haven't reached the top of the mountain.

I'd love to hear long-time category authors talk about why they stay in that arena.

I'd be interested to hear from the author whose line has been dropped, maybe more than once. How do they keep going?

What about the writer who, not having achieved sterling sales, switches genres and/or changes names in an effort to reach the top of the mountain? Did it work? Was it a mistake?

If somebody's career has stalled, what happened with their writing friends? Were they still supportive, or did a sense of "you might have cooties" creep into the group? Did family support dwindle, or did having sold even once keep everyone positive?

I'm sure there have been some articles like these in the time I've been in RWA, and people could point them out to me. However, it seems to me that while there are many articles relevant to the unpublished, along with how-to craft articles, market news and what I'd term "inspirational" articles, I don't often find pieces that seem aimed at mid-listers/category authors, unless it's how to get out of there.

I also realize there's a hurdle regarding articles of the sort I'd like to see. Some of these ideas would require admitting a career blunder in a public forum, and/or a lack of success one might prefer to keep to oneself. This is, after all, a competitive business. So I absolutely understand why people wouldn't want to talk about their struggles.

Nevertheless, I'd love to see more articles for and about those not up and out of the trenches, or trying to get into the trenches, but who have been there for awhile, may always be there and those who are happy to stay there.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

And thus I pay for my little holiday

Before the weekend, I finished reading through the first half of my first draft, and making notes. I decided I didn't have to go back and make revisions starting at Chapter One. I felt confident I could start at the second-last chapter, and then carry on to the end. I wrote five new pages for that chapter on Friday.

Then I took the weekend off. I had a great time. And it was wonderful to get out of the house and enjoy a couple of beautiful warm and sunny days.

But alas, there is a price to pay for taking time off from the writing, and yesterday, I found out what it was for me, this time. I started working on the second-last chapter. And then...I realized I was probably going off track. I wasn't sure I was doing what I'd written in my notes, and the tone felt, frankly, off.

Yep, I had lost the momentum.

This is why writers will say you should write every day -- so this doesn't happen. But now it has, so what to do?

Open a new directory that says "second draft," and start revising from Page One, Chapter One. That's the best way I know to get back into the book. Fortunately, I have no major occasions that will require more than one day's break until the book's due -- at least for now. Even on that one day, I'm going to read through the last scene I've written, if nothing else, just to keep things fresh in my mind.

ETA: I've finished revising the first scene, and I'm glad I decided to do that. It feels so much stronger! A much firmer foundation, that's for sure.

Also, The Tudors tonight -- at last. A reviewer today compared Henry to a rock star, and the court as his groupies. Exactly, thinks I. Except that Henry had a lot more to offer his groupies/mistresses (titles, lands, money, political power) -- and their families -- than a rock star does.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A great weekend (even though I didn't win a medal)

I had a really wonderful weekend, aided in part by the abolutely lovely weather. It was more like the end of August than September.

Sunday was the annual Word on the Street book and magazine festival in Toronto. I've attended before, but this was the first time the weather was that magnificent and I'd had so many people tell me that they'd read my books and enjoyed them. Harlequin gets a big thank you for supplying books for me to sign.

I also got to gab with fellow romance writers from Toronto Romance Writers. That's always a delight, because nobody understands being a writer like other writers.

As an added bonus, the event was near the university I attended, and they were having a book sale. I scored several great research books at bargain prices.

On Saturday, another glorious day, my husband and I attended the annual euchre party of our high school buddies, plus spouses who married into the gang known to our kids as "Euchre Party People." We start at noon, and go till about 10. There are two meals and many, many unhealthy snacks, plus drinks. I myself stick to cola, although whatever I drink has apparently no correlation to my playing skill. We play, we gab, we catch up on family news. Medals are awarded (gold, silver and bronze).

I have not won a euchre medal in many years. Yet, lo! This year, my partner and I (chosen by drawing names) made it to the finals. In fact, we won the first round. But then -- oh woe! -- I made a bad call of trump and we got euchred. The last hand, it was nine to nine. And then my very own spouse euchred us on the very last trick. So we came fourth, and thus no medal for us. Whaaa! Maybe next year.

All in all, it was a great weekend visiting with old friends, talking with fellow writers and meeting readers.