Thursday, January 31, 2008

First Revisions

Now that I've done about 100 pages, it's time for me to stop, print, read, revise, reread the synopsis and plan the next few stops along the road map of the plot.

See, I've gotten to a certain point in the synopsis where everything was quite clear in terms of timing. Heroine arrives, proposal is proposed, hero agrees, wedding happens and thus, wedding night. (On that final subject, I do believe I have just written my longest love scene ever. Who'da thunk?)

Now I've come to the part in the synopsis where things get...a little vague. I have a whole lot that has to happen before the end -- indeed, I think this book has one of the "bigger" plots I've ever written -- but I've got things like, "Over the next several days..." and "the heroine learns...." In other words, I know what has to happen, but I'm not exactly sure when, or how.

So it's time to take a good look at what I've got; figure out what, if anything, I need to add to those first chapters (for instance, I have a feeling I need at least one more female secondary character); and in what manner, and where, some of things that have to happen next are going to occur.

I'm giving myself until Monday to do that. Then I'll either carry on where I left off, or I'll start what will be called the second draft, revising and then continuing on until (and if) I get to another point where I feel the need to take stock of what I've got and decide what needs to be done next.

One thing I won't be doing is watching Lost. That show lost me in the second season.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's the deadlines, people!

There's an aspect of being a writer -- or anybody with long-term deadlines -- that some people who don't have that sort of job requirement don't quite understand, which leads to frustration for those of us who do. That's the need for long-range planning.

For instance, there's going to be a wedding in our family. The aunts (of which I am one) are having a shower. The wedding isn't until October, but I wanted to have the date for the shower set ASAP once the date of the wedding was set. I could tell that other members of the family were a bit baffled by this. What was the big rush?

Here's the thing: I have deadlines in June and December. I already have some commitments for the month before the wedding (September), so if I'm going to have another one, I'd like to know as soon as possible so I can plan my writing schedule accordingly -- as much as possible anyway, because life has a way of throwing unexpected hurdles in your path despite best-laid plans.

Now that I have the date of the shower, I realize that I'm going to have to take two weeks off from writing in September for that, and another obligation. That means I can't take off as much time off in the summer as I would have otherwise. It also means I'm going to (gently) suggest to Esteemed Editor that the sooner I can get to the revisions (if there are any) of the book that's due June 1, the better . This may not be possible, but at least I'm aware I should ask. That also means I absolutely, positively can't be late with the June book.

That meant I couldn't take as much time off in January to recoup from a hectic Christmas as I'd originally planned. I'm now just over 100 pages into the first draft, when I'd originally planned to have, well, none.

Long-range goals require long-range planning. This is why I also tend to get upset and stressed if somebody abruptly changes a date or schedule. They may be thinking, "Well, gee, it's a month's notice. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is, my writing schedule is now shot to hell. I may have to write faster, or take a break at a less suitable time -- say, in the middle of the first draft, or when I should be deep in revisions. This is distressing and stressful, and this job can be plenty stressful enough without having your writing schedule blown to smitherines. Sometimes, that happens regardless, but when people respond as if you're either completely anal retentive or slightly batty because you need to have things scheduled sooner rather than later?

Like I said, it's frustrating.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Celebrity Gossip

There's a lot of chitchat on the TV and elsewhere these days about celebrity gossip, along with much tut-tutting and rolling of eyes. What's wrong with people today? Why are they so invested in the lives of strangers, famous though they may be?

Here's my take: I think celebrity gossip has probably been around, in some form or other, from the days humans first formed communities, because for good or ill, people like to talk about other people. A well known person, being well known, is going to be talked about more than an unknown person.

In fact, I'd even venture to say that the first stories probably started off as a form of gossip. Who did what when, and why. And don't some of the Greek myths have a sort of supermarket tabloid feel to them? The bickering, the spats, the adultery.

Gossip about people we know and work with, especially unfounded rumors, can be very harmful in real life. Celebrity gossip, though, seems a sort of neutral territory. They don't know us, so what we say about them won't really hurt them or us. Whether it does or not I leave to finer minds than mine, but I don't think all the eye rolling, pearl-clutching and tut-tutting in the world is going to make people stop talking and speculating about famous people and the lives they live.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Words, Words, Words

I'm still working my way through Gardner's THE ART OF FICTION. There's a word he keeps using that I thought I understood, but finally felt driven to look up, in case I was wrong.

The word was "profluence," which means being profluent: flowing copiously and smoothly. That's pretty much what I figured, but because it's so obscure -- it wasn't even in the first dictionary I consulted -- it's distracting. It doesn't help that I keep seeing it as akin to "flatulence." I suspect that's because, given what Mr. Gardener had to say about "junk" fiction, the people who read it and the people who write it, I can't help thinking of him as a big windbag.

Because of something I read on a message board I've also been thinking about the difference between "sardonic" and "sarcastic." The key difference for me is that "sardonic" is gentler than sarcasm. It also implies a certain sense of humor, and in the case of my heroes especially, it's a sort of wry humor often directed at themselves. That is, if they say something sardonically, the object of their mockery is usually themselves, whereas the intent of sarcasm is to mock the other person. It aims to hurt somebody else. My heroes, then, can be sardonic. Villains, however, will more likely be sarcastic.

Then there are words I thought I understood, only to find out I was wrong. For years, I though "bemused" meant confused, but in an amused way, as if the character's thinking, "What the heck are you talking about?" with a grin on his face. Instead, it just means confused, or bewildered or lost in thought. Nothing particularly funny about it. D'oh!

There are words that I can never seem to remember how to spell properly, too. "Occasion" is one -- one "s" or two? And I am forever typing "chose" when I mean "choose." That's the time spell check really doesn't help.

Ah, words! They can be pesky little devils sometimes, eh?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I stand (somewhat) corrected....

Having girded my loins and grit my teeth to continue reading THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner (based on the preface, the man was a literary snob of the highest order), I discover his views of "worthy" literature may be a little more complicated, to whit:

"...drugstore fiction can often have more to offer than fiction thought to be of a higher class."

At this point, he's talking about what a potential writer should read, and his point is that one should read widely. But alas, just when I'm ready to cut him some slack, he says, "To write fiction without regard for immediate interest, purposely choosing the most colorless characters possible, a plot calculated to drive away the poor slob interested in seeing something happen...."

I'm not sure whether Gardner is speaking for himself or others when he calls readers who want some action in their books "poor slobs," but given what he said in the preface (see previous blog posts) about "junk minds," I tend to think he does consider "drugstore" fiction as much less worthy.

Does this mean I hurled the book across the room and that was that? No, because despite the cringe-inducing bits, I've already gotten something out of it, and so I intend to finish it.

I've said elsewhere that description is not exactly my favorite aspect of writing. I know description is important; that it creates the world of the story. But I've never thought about it this way:

"The reader is regularly presented with proofs -- in the form of closely observed details -- that what is said to be happening is really happening."

Description isn't just a place plunked on the page, static as a block of stone; it helps actively involve the reader in that world.

And suddenly, description doesn't seem like so much of a necessary chore, but an exciting element that actively engages the reader.

Does this mean I'm going to go and add huge chunks of description to my books? No. I'd still much rather write dialogue. But it does mean that my attitude toward writing description is not what it was yesterday.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Writing "Rules"

Apropos of my blog yesterday about head-hopping and "rules" of writing:

"When one begins to be persuaded that certain things must never be done in fiction and certain other things must always be done, one has entered the first stage of aesthetic arthritis, the disease that ends up in pedantic rigidity and the atrophy of intuition."
-- John Gardner, THE ART OF FICTION

After blogging about plots and Mr. G's theory about them, I ordered his book from my library and it's now in my hands. I'm glad I didn't buy it, because while I may agree with Mr. Gardner on some points like the one above, I can't say I'm too impressed with his attitude toward genre fiction.

To quote from the preface: "...most of the books one finds in drugstores, supermarkets and even small-town public libraries are not well written at all; a smart chimp with a good creative-writing teacher and a real love of sitting around banging a typewriter could have written books vastly more interesting and elegant."

Okay, so not only are writers of genre fiction less intelligent than chimps, he slams small town libraries, too. But there's more!

"Not everyone is capable of writing junk fiction: It requires an authentic junk mind."

You must just imagine my expression when I encountered that little gem.

And in case we of the junk minds and chimp brains are too dim to really get his point: "What is said here, for whatever use it may be to others, is said for the elite; that is, for serious literary artists."

Not us plebs. Oh, no, we're just goofin' around. Not serious about writing at all. I spend all that time and all that effort on my books, and fret and worry and revise and rewrite, but hey, it's just a laff riot. Hardy har har!

Ay yi yi!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

POV and head-hopping

I was going to write a long response to Kimber's comment on my blog yesterday, then decided I'd use it as the basis of today's entry instead. Thanks, Kimber!

Kimber said, "I haven't figured out how to do 3 POV's without looking like I'm headhopping."

What does "head hopping " mean in the context of writing? It means switching points of view (see previous blog for definition) from one character to another within the same scene. So the reader starts reading the scene written from, say, the heroine's POV, then at some point during the scene, the author switches to another character's POV.

What's wrong with head-hopping?

Frankly, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with it and I don't think it should be condemned out of hand. Like so much of writing, it all depends on how well its done and when.

That said, it's generally frowned on because unless it's done well, it's disruptive to the flow of the scene, jerking the reader out of the story and messing up the pace.

However, that's not the same as saying an author should never do it. I've only read one Nora Roberts (shame on me, but I don't read or write contemporary romance for a reason -- it just doesn't float my boat) and I realized she does that often, and very well, because it's done smoothly. You barely notice it, in part -- and this may be key -- because in case of secondary character's POV, she does it very briefly. The bit is over before the reader's really had a chance to realize that we're in another character's head.

But let's use an example of three points of view of one moment in the same scene which would certainly be condemned as head-hopping, written by somebody who's not Nora Roberts (i.e. me):

"And the award goes to...Helen Heroine!"
       Helen stared in disbelief. She had won? After all the criticism, all the doubt, despite the moments when she'd been sure she'd fail -- she'd won? Her heart pounding, she rose and began to make her way to the stage, fighting back tears of joy. Tears weren't exactly part of the cool, professional image she should maintain if she was to be taken seriously as a nuclear physicist, but she'd dreamed of this moment so many times....
       Watching Helen and her beauty queen smile approach the podium, Vincent Villain smiled and clapped with everyone else. But did anyone here really believe she'd earned it? It had to be common knowledge that Helen had slept her way to the win; the evidence was right there for all to see. Or perhaps it wasn't as obvious as he thought. If so, he'd make sure that changed. Otherwise, they might as well give the award to the fellow who changed the oil in the chairman's car.
       As Mr. Presenter handed Helen the heavy plaque, she finally subdued the urge to weep with happiness and smiled broadly instead.
       She really did have a lovely smile, Hector Hero thought as he tried not to be envious. After all, he couldn't fault her research, or the exciting conclusion she'd reached. He couldn't say she didn't deserve the prize. Perhaps he'd been unreasonably hopeful that this time, the academy would recognize his efforts, and all the years of hard work and dedication would finally be acknowledged. Then, he, too, could smile like that.
       No wonder she'd won Miss Frisson of 2008.

Okay, so not terribly smooth and rather disruptive, right? But it could be worse. For one thing, this is a relatively static moment in the story -- Helen's just walking to the stage and accepting an award. If you did something like this during a chase scene, though? The reader will likely feel yanked in all sorts of directions. On the other hand, that may be exactly the emotional response from the reader you're aiming for. That's why I think the "rule" about head-hopping is one you can obey or not, as suits you and your style.

In its defense, let me point out that in the above example we learn exactly how Helen feels and why, how the villain feels and why, and how the hero feels and why. By using each character's POV, we learn more than just how they feel. We learn their underlying reasons for those responses, which tells us more about them.

We learn that whatever Helen's showing on the outside, she's struggled and is still somewhat insecure. She's also a woman in a man's world, with all that that can entail.

We learn that the villain thinks she doesn't deserve the win, and he's going to take steps to "correct" that. He believes he has a valid motive for being upset and angry -- he truly thinks she hasn't done the work. What makes him a villain is what he's going to do about it.

Then it's back to Helen, to show that she's received the award and hasn't actually cried, and is smiling instead. There's been some physical motion, which breaks up the (slower paced) internal narrative. It also shows us that Helen's quite capable of subduing her emotions and presenting a mask to the world, especially to her colleagues.

Then we get the hero's reaction to both the award, and Helen herself -- he's not delighted Helen's won, but he doesn't believe she doesn't deserve it. He's disappointed, and reasonably so, but he acknowledges her accomplishment. He also notices her lovely smile, and unlike the villain, doesn't hold her beauty pageant background against her.

You could also do this bit in other ways:

You could write it from Helen's POV, then Vincent's (briefly), then back to Helen as she accepts the award, perhaps catching sight of Hector and wondering what he thinks about her win. (This being a romance, she's most likely to guess incorrectly, because that way lies conflict.)

Or you could use Hector's POV, then Vincent's, then back to Hector's or Helen's.

You could use either the hero or heroine's, and end the scene with the villain's -- that would leave the reader wondering what he's going to do. Then you make the reader wait while the awards dinner continues, perhaps ending the scene with Helen and Hector in bed. (What can I say? I write romance. This is the way my mind works!)

Or instead of getting into the villain's head, you can have him do something like lean over to Hector and mutter, "Do you suppose Miss Frisson slept with them all, or just the chairman of the committee?" That way we know what he's thinking, and it also gives the hero something to wonder about, a la Iago and Othello. However, we wouldn't necessarily understand that Vincent really believes she hasn't earned the award. He can sound childish and vindictive without a deeper motivation -- and that makes him a less interesting, worthy adversary.

You could be in Helen's POV for the announcement, then have a scene break, then start the new scene in the hero's POV, opening with Vincent's snarky question.

In short, there are several ways to write this, from one POV, from two, from all three. Each one could work, depending on the circumstances of the scene and the author's ability to make smooth transitions.

Just what a writer doesn't need -- more choices and more things to fret over. But I truly think "no head-hopping ever" is too restrictive and doesn't take into account the usefulness of changing POVs in a scene, or the ability of some authors to do it well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Whose point of view to use?

When it comes to writing, point of view (POV for short), basically means, through which character (and his or her thoughts and feelings) will the reader be sharing the activity of the story? Unless you're writing in the first person ("I"), or using the same character's POV for the entire book (I've done this in a novella, "Comfort and Joy," in THE CHRISTMAS VISIT -- the best novella I think I've written, actually), one of the trickiest decisions to make for any scene concerns which character's POV you're going to use.

How do I decide?

I consider who's going to have the greater emotional reaction to what's happening in that scene. Who's going to be the most upset? The most stressed? The most confused?

Because the reader is, in a sense, sharing the consciousness of the POV character, the greater the emotional response the POV character has in a scene, the greater the emotional response in the reader. And that's what it's really all about, isn't it? Evoking an emotional response in the reader.

Dramatic tension doesn't have to mean car chases or runaway horses, Snidely Whiplash villains planning dastardly acts, or emotionally fraught scenes of death and destruction. There can be great drama in a simple activity like pouring a cup of coffee, depending on how the characters react to it. That's why I try to I figure out which character's reaction will be the strongest and most deeply felt in a scene, then use his or her POV.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Writing to Remove

I've now written about fifty pages of the first draft of THE WARLORD'S BRIDE. I've already thrown out a seven page scene, and I suspect by the time I'm finished the final draft of this novel, I'll have thrown out at least 25 pages of the original 100. Does that make me upset?

Nope. I accept this is the way I work, and that I'll have replaced those "old" pages with something better, in terms of character, plot and pacing.

How do I know they'll be better? Well, I guess I really don't. I assume they will be because by the time I get to the last draft, I'll know my characters very well, and I'll have a solid handle on what exactly is going to happen in the story. I'll have made all the tough decisions, and will have a better idea of the overall plot, characters and pace. In the beginning, I'm still learning and noodling around. I think of early drafts as circling the target, getting closer to the bulls-eye. Very rarely do I hit the bulls-eye first time out, and I don't expect to.

I work this way because I really like writing dialogue (i.e. am too impatient to write much without dialogue), so I don't do a lot of outlining. I start writing the book, which means I put a lot of what some folks would do in the outlining/pre-writing part into the first few chapters. Then I either have to take it out, or move it to later in the story.

For instance, that first scene of seven pages I cut? I've just realized I might be able to use a good portion of it now, in Chapter Four. I think it would work better there because the readers will know the hero better and it can introduce a new complication after a certain conflict seems to have been resolved. This is why I never completely delete material, but move it to a "cut" or "dump" file.

This is also why I don't panic if I have to cut material at any point in the proceedings. To paraphrase the Bionic Man, I can rebuild it. And it will likely be better, stronger, faster than before.

Later that day: I've decided that scene won't work here, either, although the incident will remain. In other words, what happened in the deleted scene will still happen, but it will now happen "off stage." Why? Because I think if I go to that scene, I'm going to throw off the pace -- like a sharp turn in the road where there shouldn't be one. Also, not "going with" the hero but staying in the heroine's POV means more dramatic tension. The heroine hears what's happened and realizes that there's More To It Than Meets The Eye, but she doesn't know the backstory, who the Bad Guy is or his relationship to the hero. She just knows this bad thing happened and the hero's enemy is apparently behind it, but that's it until the hero returns. When will that be? When he does come back, should she ask him about it? Will he volunteer an explanation? Before or after they're supposed to wed?

There's another layer to this anxious waiting, though -- one that has to do with the heroine's history. Having been deceived in the past, the heroine believes she can't really trust her own judgment when it comes to men. The hero started off pretty grim and grave and a little scary, then he lightened up and turned into quite the attractive fellow, but now he's grim and stern and fiercely angry, so again, a little scary. Which is he most of the time? Because if he's really Mr. Scary and Mr. Attractive was just an act, she won't marry him, regardless of the political consequences. Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it. So now she not only has to try to find out what's going on and who the enemy is, but if the hero's just grim and stern and kinda scary when he's in Leadership Mode, or if he's got a mean streak.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Really Neat Reissue!

Harlequin in Australia is reissuing my Warrior series -- or some of them -- and very nicely, too! I just got the first volume, comprised of A WARRIOR'S HEART (my first book) and A WARRIOR'S QUEST. For reasons unknown to me (I'm not privy to the decision-making process when it comes to reissues), they're skipping A WARRIOR'S WAY, THE WELSHMAN'S WAY, THE NORMAN'S HEART, THE BARON'S QUEST and A WARRIOR'S BRIDE and going right to A WARRIOR'S HONOR and A WARRIOR'S PASSION. I don't know if they're just going out of order, or have decided not to do the others.

Either way, I'm tickled, because these reissues are lovely! They're tradesize and with a nice large, but not too huge, font. I even like the paper.

I immediately noticed that the artwork for the first book of THE WARRIOR COLLECTION is a variation of the artwork for another book of mine, HERS TO COMMAND:

Same couple, same clothes, slightly different pose, and in the Australian version, they're on the ground rather than behind what are supposed to be merlons. I don't know how this works, either, and I don't recognize the artwork for the second book.

Now I'm off to order some extra copies!

(In case you're wondering, we enjoyed the finale of The Amazing Race, although it wasn't nearly as exciting as last week, when we were so worried for Nick and Don. Overall, though, a great season!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Speaking of similar plots....

Yesterday, I responded to a comment about making a plot truly unique. I replied that since there's infinite variety among people, there is plenty of opportunity to tell a unique story. In other words, plots may have a similar basis or structure, but it's the characters and the way a writer portrays them that can make a story unique.

However, upon further reflection, I will add that if you can come up with a really interesting or different plot twist (or two or three), good on you! One thing I've noticed with some of the bestselling literary fiction I've been reading is that there's often a completely unexpected plot twist at the end, and often a few times before.

But back to similar plots, very different versions: Last night, we watched a version of Macbeth done for the BBC's "Shakespeare Retold" series. It features James McAvoy, currently staring in Atonement, as Macbeth, Keeley Howes as "Ella" Macbeth, Richard Armitage as Macduff (and now you know why we were watching this) and as an unexpected bonus, Vincent Regan, who was in 300 and played Eudorus in Troy.

This Macbeth was the head chef of a very fancy restaurant. Duncan (Vincent Regan), a famous chef, is the owner of the restaurant and also has a cooking show. However, he hasn't actually worked in the kitchen for quite a while and has been using Macbeth's recipes on his show as if they were his own. When the restaurant achieves a coveted three star Michelin rating, Duncan takes all the credit and then also announces his sons will be taking over the restaurant eventually. This sets Macbeth and his wife (the hostess of the restaurant) on their murderous descent into madness.

I thought it was brilliant. To be sure, some things didn't quite work, but the acting was superb and I thought the restaurant setting a great choice. There was also a nice nod to Gordon Ramsey who's made watching shows about restaurants popular, as well the theatrical superstition that it's bad luck to say "Macbeth." It's referred to as "the Scottish play."

Here's what they did: one of the sous chefs mentions Gordon Ramsey. Everybody in the kitchen comes to a "Oh, no, he didn't!" halt. He's quietly informed that they don't say that name there. They just call him "the Scottish chef." Hee.

It really goes to show you can take a very familiar plot and make it your own. (Note: Shakespeare's works are in the public domain. That's why and how folks can make so many adaptations.)

But then I also got to thinking, would you call Macbeth a "stranger rides into town" story, or "a protagonist goes on a journey" story? I'm thinking "goes on a journey" even if he doesn't actually go anywhere. It's an internal journey -- the descent into murder, madness and despair.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

An interesting journey this morning

As I wrote yesterday, I was planning to blog about the two basic plots in creative fiction: Someone goes on a journey, and a stranger rides into town. I'd done some thinking about the appeal of each, and why I tend to choose one over the other. I'd also come to the conclusion that they were both parts of the same story: the stranger riding into town has, in a way, arrived at the end of his or her journey and, in my stories at least, is about to reap the rewards for the hardships he or she has faced during that journey (after facing a few more, of course, or I wouldn't have much of a book).

But first, I thought I should try to find the origin of that theory, so I did a little googling. I discovered it's from a book by an American writer named John Gardner, THE ART OF FICTION. He's not to be confused (as I was for a minute) with the novelist John Gardner who wrote James Bond novels.

So now we know. (And I plan to try to get that book from the library.)

I also found an article entitled The Brief History of a Historical Novel by Max Byrd. It makes for fascinating reading in general, but what struck me was this comment, about the "two basic plots" theory: "In fact, that’s only one plot, seen from two different points of view."

That's along the lines of what I was thinking: the "someone" who goes on a journey becomes the stranger who rides into town. Or to put it as I see it, you can tell the story from the POV of the stranger on the journey, or the POV of the folks in the town or, in the case of my historical romances, both (the stranger and somebody in the town). That's part of the reason I enjoy writing historical romances -- two protagonists, two major, different points of view, twice the fun!

In my books, the stranger riding into town is often the hero, but certainly not always, and in fact, some of my best-received novels have had the women ride into town (TEMPT ME WITH KISSES, THE OVERLORD'S BRIDE -- and hey, the book I'm writing now, THE WARLORD'S BRIDE, I just realized!).

Whether the hero or heroine, the stranger represents a change that's come upon the other main character -- nothing is going to be the same after that stranger arrives. In that sense, the "town" character is about to go on a journey, too, but it's an emotional one, not a physical one.

The stranger arriving has already been on a journey, both physical (to get to the place) but also emotional (that's part of his or her backstory). He or she has learned much (but not everything they need to learn), likely suffered, and now is coming to the end of the journey, although they may not know it.

But to separate them a bit again, what's the appeal, for me, of "the stranger rides into town" versus sending a protagonist on a journey?

The stranger arriving appeals to me in part because I write books set in the past, and with that kind of story, the stranger stands in for the reader, being introduced to a new place and new culture. Of course, that works with the journey stories, too, as the characters are arriving at new places, too -- just more of them.

However, the "stranger in town" also happens to tie in to my personal history. We moved a few times when I was a child, so I'm familiar with the desire to find out who's who and what's what in a new place.

The other reason has to do with my skills and preferences as a writer. I don't enjoy writing description and I don't think it's my forte. If your characters are continually arriving at new locations, that makes for a lot more description.

But I must say I like the notion that there's really only one idea at the very heart and depth of any story, one that nevertheless allows for infinite variety.

It's that things change. People change, their world changes. Nothing stays the same. Sometimes we choose change, sometimes it's foisted upon us, but it's unavoidable, and in that sense, we're all on a journey.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Napping is my friend....

I was planning to do a blog about the two basic plots (somebody goes on a journey, a stranger rides into town), but the cats woke me up at 6 a.m., I went for a brisk walk to enjoy the fleeting sun and wrote twelve pages today. Now I'm too pooped to ponder, so the plot blog will have to wait for tomorrow. Zzzzzzzzzz........

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

First Chapter Shuffle

Waaaay back in July, I wrote the first scene for THE WARLORD'S BRIDE, but then there was a change of plans and I wound up writing A LOVER'S KISS next instead. Now that I've finished A LOVER'S KISS, it's back to THE WARLORD'S BRIDE, the sequel to my book out now, KNAVE'S HONOR.

I'm thinking, "How nice that I have a first scene written, so it's not quite so daunting."

Yes, no matter how many books I write and even if the book's a sequel, it's still daunting to be starting on Page One, Chapter One again. Perhaps even moreso now that I'm so very well aware of how much work it's going to take to write and revise an entire book.

However, in the interim, it's also occurred to me that I might be better to start with the heroine and her POV than the hero, since the heroine is the continuing character from KNAVE'S HONOR. The scene already written is from the hero's POV. No problem, thinks I. I'll just use that for the second scene.

Can you guess where I'm going here?

Because, yes, this morning, I wound up ditching the original opening scene entirely. It now resides in the "Cut" file. Oh, well. That's the way it goes sometimes -- write and replace, until it feels "right." So far, the new opening feels right.

So far....

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Whooooo hooooooooo!

So excited, had to post again. The ending of tonight's Amazing Race had us clapping and cheering and I thought Daughter might pass out for joy. So happy to have those three teams in the finale!

Also on tonight: The Count of Monte Cristo with Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantes, for whom one of our cats is named (ie The Count). His brother may be the only pet in the world named after Luis Guzman (who plays Jacopo in the film). The name thing started as a joke about hiring Luis Guzman to be our son's bodyguard in Europe (kind of like Jacopo in the movie is the Count's bodyguard/valet).

This is Luis, up in the basement ceiling, where he took refuge while we were having work done on the fireplaces. Yes, he has a "soul patch."

The other cat giving you the arrogant eye is, of course, the Count, seated beside his brother Luis (they really are brothers). Note how Luis is keeping watch -- The Count may think he's the alpha male and act like the alpha male, but Luis is actually the fiercer watchcat.

Tomorrow, I won't do another post, because I have to start the next book, THE WARLORD'S BRIDE. Starting a book does not get easier, at least for me. There's just so much to be done in the beginning: set the stage, introduce the characters, introduce the conflict, set the pace.... And I know I will rewrite and revise and edit it many, many times.

But in this case, I reread the synopsis today, and I've got a lot of story there, so whooo hooo! Also, arranged marriage -- whoo hoooo! And it's a sequel -- to KNAVE'S HONOR (out now!) -- so I already know the heroine. Whoo hooooo! And I'm back in medieval Wales. Whoo hoooo!

If only I didn't have 400 or so pages to write, I'd be really excited. :-)

Persuasion Tonight!

I see that PBS is airing the new BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's PERSUASION tonight. We caught this one earlier, too.

First, I'd rate this adaptation as acceptable, if not outstanding, with bonus of a really good-looking, if somewhat youthful Captain Wentworth. Daughter suggested they just follow Captain Wentworth around with a camera and call it a show.

There were a couple of "Hey, I know you!" moments -- Giles from Buffy (aka Anthony Head) plays Sir Walter Elliot. Great job, too. And I knew I knew Lady Russell from somewhere and then Daughter said, "Star Trek?" EGAD - it's the Borg Queen! That's a bit freaky.

However, they moved plot things around a bit much for our taste, and I had a lot of trouble with the ending. Overall, too, Anne was way too weepy for me. Not to mention the dowdiness of her dresses. I know, I know, Anne is no fashion plate, but these seemed really awful. I should think that if Anne had to have plain, cheap fabrics, at least she'd have a dressmaker and not be making them herself. Have you seen what some of those folks on Project Runway can do with cheap materials? I found her clothes distracting, and that's not good.

So in conclusion, I found this adaptation not quite as good as Northanger Abbey, which is, I think, a more TV-friendly story, and not nearly as bad as Mansfield Park. For my money, though, the best adaptation of Persuasion remains the one with Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth.

Friday, January 11, 2008

TV Strikes, Hits and Misses

So, how do I, TV watcher, feel about the writers' strike?

I empathize with the reason they're on strike, and I believe they won't back down until they get what they want. The last time their contract was negotiated, they accepted the argument that nobody knew what was going to happen with videos and DVDs. Of course, they sell gazillions, and the writers (justly, in my opinion) feel they've been taken to the cleaners. They aren't going to buy that line again when it comes to new media.

I'm not personally losing any income from being on strike, though, so I can appreciate that they might not be able to hold off forever. However, I think cracks are starting to appear in the united front of the production companies, and it's only a matter of time before the production companies realize the writers believe they were hoodwinked and won't let it happen again.

But let me speak now as a watcher of TV. First, it's like the summer hiatus, and having grown up when there were only reruns in the summer, it's not a huge deal for me yet. Also, I like reality shows -- to a certain extent -- so so far, I haven't felt a lack.

And there's some really good news on the TV horizon -- the return of Yau Man on Survivor! Also, Ozzy, James, Amanda and Cirie. (See the complete cast here.) I'm dismayed by the return of another former cast member, though. Bet you can guess which one.

The Amazing Race is still going strong. Yeah! The new season of Project Runway just started here. I am not desperate enough to watch Celebrity Apprentice, although I confess in a whisper that we have been watching Crowned: the Mother of all Pageants. Daughter and I watch together and discuss, tongue firmly in cheek, what we'd do for each challenge. This week, our "platform" would have been to see that every child in the world is "Stooge-proofed," so that they know how to fend off eye pokes a la the Three Stooges. Daughter also referred to the judges by the Curly-esque "Judgy-wudgy."

And sadly, I'm finding some of my former "must see" TV has fallen from that roster. I found myself reading during Ugly Betty last night. (ATONEMENT, more on that when I've finished the book and/or seen the movie.)

I'm sorry to have to wait longer for 24, but last season kinda lost me. It's getting more and more difficult to believe Jack Bauer is even remotely human in terms of miraculous survival. I've already given up on Prison Break.

Stephen Colbert seems better able to get along without writers than Jon Stewart.

What was up with Law and Order: SVU this week? As one of the posters at Television Without Pity noted, it was like we were suddenly watching one of those Saw or Hostel movies -- and I can't even bear to watch the commercials for those.

Most missed shows? Heroes, Chuck and The Office.

How 'bout you?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Networking? Not me.

I've mentioned this before, but I was talking about this the other day with somebody else in the publishing business, so it's fresh on my mind.

There seems to be more and more pressure for authors to join internet networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Shelfari, etc. as another means to publicize their books. And by pressure, I mean the implication that if you don't choose to participate, you're missing a golden PR opportunity (you poor, foolish Luddite).

However, I have resisted, and I intend to continue to resist for three reasons. The first is the time it takes to set up on those sites and monitor them; the second is that such work saps my creativity and the third is a little more personal.

I write for a living; that's my paying gig. And yes, PR comes with that territory, too. However, I am not a PR person, I have no PR background, and I didn't set out to become a published writer because I wanted to publicize myself or to be in sales or marketing. Indeed, of all the career choices in the world, sales would have been my LAST choice. I prefer to create, not market, and I've decided that's where my energies are better devoted.

Believe me, I know the arguments against that attitude, the primary one being, if your books don't sell, you can be the most creative, wonderful writer on the planet and it won't make a bit of difference, the publishers won't buy your work. Also, if I don't do this sort of thing, there are plenty of authors who can and will, and they may leave me in the dust.

So be it.

Because the bottom line for me is, if I wanted to do PR, I would have chosen that as a career. If I wanted to be in sales or marketing, I would have pursued those choices. I chose instead to be a writer, so writing the best book I can, putting that at the top of my agenda, is what I intend to do.

Now, there are plenty of people who can do both -- be excellent writers and PR whizzes at the same time. They take the time and devote resources to all sorts of PR efforts, while managing to write.

This brings me to the second reason I'm not getting involved in networking sites.

I am not of that ilk. Apparently I have only so much creative juice in the ol' gray matter, and if I spend too much time on marketing, I have less for my writing. I simply cannot do both without one or the other suffering, so if something has to suffer, in my case, it's going to be the PR aspects of the writing life.

And the third reason? I feel that between my books, my website and my blog, readers are getting enough information about me, as a writer and as a person. If people want to contact me or interact, there's email or this blog. And that's plenty.

I do think a website is important for a writer today, so if a reader wants to know what books you've written or what new books will be coming out, they can find that information easily. Obviously, I have a blog. I enjoy that -- but if it starts to come between me and my work? I'll stop.

We all have many choices to make as we pursue our careers. Sometimes we make the right ones, sometimes we make the wrong ones. I've certainly done both, and this may prove to be a wrong one. However, right now, this is the best choice for me, one that enables me to achieve a balance between doing the writing and reaching readers, as well as having time for my family.

Two key words here: for me. This is my choice; it may not be another writer's. But then, other writers make different choices all the time in terms of what they're going to write and how and when, and that's just as it should be.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Worst Adaptation EVAH

I recently saw the latest BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's MANSFIELD PARK. This is the same version that's going to be shown on PBS soon.

I've seen some disappointing adaptations in my day, but this set a whole new standard for "what the heck?" Not every Austen heroine is Elizabeth Bennet or her clone, but you'd never know it by this. Nor was that the only problem I had with this show.

I knew I was going to be cringing the moment they showed Fanny Price running around playing tag. It's made very clear in Jane Austen's novel that Fanny is not exactly robust. Indeed, she's rather frail and sickly (so much so, I have a hard time believing she's not going to die in childbirth). Fanny is also quiet and timid.

Now, I will grant that this makes Fanny one of the more difficult of Austen's heroines for the modern audience to relate to, precisely because she is so quiet and timid -- unless you show that she does have emotions being kept under tight control, as well as the inner strength it takes for her to (a) not reveal her feelings because she thinks she has no cause to believe that Edmund will ever love her and (b) continue to refuse Henry Crawford, despite the incredible pressure being put to her to accept him. In other words, Fanny may be physically weak and have a self-esteem issue, but she has internal fortitude that prevents her from completely succumbing to the will of others.

Instead of making a difficult character completely different, as this adaptation does, Emma Thompson gave a good demonstration of how it could be done in Sense and Sensibility. To be sure, she added the scene where Elinor finally tells Marianne of her heartbreak and reveals the extent of her pain -- but it was one scene. Otherwise, her Elinor is very much Jane Austen's Elinor.

Worse, it wasn't just Fanny who was completely different in this adaptation -- Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram were drastically altered, too. In Austen's book, Sir Thomas may mean well, but she makes it very clear that his demeanor is often cold and stern, until the family troubles change his perspective. As for Lady Bertram, she's completely self-involved and self-centered. She cares more about her pug than she does about Fanny. Instead, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram are presented as kind, generous guardians.

In Austen's book, Rushworth is a real dope, the point being that it's completely obvious that Maria is only marrying him for his money, and that's going to lead to trouble, as it does. In this adaptation, it's more as if he just isn't quite as dashing as Henry Crawford, but otherwise, nothing at all to make one think he'd be a bad choice for a husband.

There are other things that bothered me, too, but these were the main ones.

I suppose if you just want a nice Regency romance, this will do. But if you're looking for a good adaption of the book Jane Austen wrote, this ain't it. Not by a mile in a barouche-landau.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Back to work -- almost...

So my mini-vacation is drawing to a close. People have asked me where I went and I'll confess, I went nowhere. I cocooned. I stayed at home, read, watched movies, decluttered the closets (both upstairs and in the basement), put away all the Christmas decorations, put the furniture back in its proper place, caught up on laundry and generally rested and relaxed and ate a ton of chocolate, so also went for walks as well as shoveling more snow.

I now have five garbage bags full of clothes to go to charity, and several bags of garbage to go out in the trash. More importantly, I have a sense that I accomplished something during my rest besides rest -- although that's vital, too.

I personally find travel somewhat stressful, so it's actually more of a holiday sometimes for me to stay put and do a chore I've been putting off, in a slow and leisurely manner.

One of the things that gets me stressed when traveling, especially on a plane, is inconsiderate fellow passengers, the ones who are rude, demanding, loud and obnoxious, including those who don't raise their seats when food is served. I recently heard of one way a passenger got the yahoo in front to put his seat up in a brilliant, non-confrontational manner, because there's always that chance such folks are going to get aggressive and belligerent and who needs that in a small enclosed space? From The Toronto Star:

"I dipped my fingers into my water glass, and while feigning a huge sneeze, flicked the water drops onto his (bald) head. The seat went from zero to "upright" in a matter of seconds."

To which I say, BRAVO! And I plan to use this myself if I ever find myself in similar circumstances.

This is also the sort of thing I imagine writers of contemporary romance tend to remember and file away for use someday, the same way I take notice of interesting facts on the History Channel.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year and taking a holiday...

I'm taking a short vacation and will be back blogging on Tuesday, January 8, when I'll probably be discussing more new adaptations of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (without doubt the worst adaptation of a Jane Austen novel I've ever seen) and Persuasion.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Out Now!