Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I decided to reread THE CRYSTAL CAVE, by Mary Stewart. It's been years since I've read her books about Merlin and now I'm wondering why. Gosh, they're good!

This time, I actually started off by reading the author's notes, and one bit really hit home to me. She's talking about the place names she uses and says,

"...since this is an imaginative exercise which nobody will treat as authentic history, I have allowed myself to be governed by the rules of poetry: what communicates simply and vividly, and sounds best, is best."

She then goes on to say, "The same rule of ear applies to the language used throughout."

That is, when writing historical fiction, she chooses words, etc. based not necessarily by what is strictly accurate, but what sounds best.

To which I say, here, here!

Unfortunately, what sounds best to the author isn't going to sound best to everybody. Some readers will love the sound, others will not, and some, regardless of whether or not the work is fiction, will always prefer strict accuracy over poetry.

Writing is about choices, and that's another one.

Note: I've got something else on my plate this week, so I won't be blogging again until next week.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the Oscar goes to....

As you can see by my much-doodled ballot, my guesses were mostly wrong for the Oscars. Worse, I -- me, myself, I! -- had decreed that the loser would be on Kitchen Klean-up for the rest of the week.

What the heck was I thinking???

And of course, the moment I gripe about the cringe-worthy banter and how the actors should be able to deliver it, along comes Steven Carell and Anne Hathaway to show me that, yes, it can be done.

However, I did note a noticeable lack of scripted banter and frankly, I thought the show was the better for it. And I really enjoyed the bit about the voting process.

Biggest non-telecast-related laugh of the night?

My attempted doodle portrait of Abe Lincoln using the "u" in February. The hubby thought it was an Amish farmer. Why Abe Lincoln? Because President's Day is in February. (How's that for impromptu explanations? Just came up with that one right now. In reality, I have no idea.)

Other possible points of doodle interest:

The stick people. I cannot draw people to save my life. That didn't stop me from sending in a sketch of a cover suggestion using stick people once. That was for The Viking. Oddly enough, the art department disregarded it completely.

The forest along the top of the page. What can I say? I like to doodle pine trees. Is that a river or a road? What do you think? Yes, it's a personality test. And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'm selling on eBay.

Doodle most representative of the artist? The half-face peering over the rectangle at right on the bottom. Although I do have a lower half of a face.

The hieroglyphic to-do list for today also on the right. Read newspaper. Bake birthday cake. Work on computer. Drink tea.

Oh, and that thing on the left that looks like a bizarre pineapple? It's supposed to be a gushing oil rig, representing There Will Be Blood.

And now you know why I'm a writer, not an artist. Also, that I'm on KP for the week.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Unpopularity

It's Oscar night. I'll be watching (although not all the pre-show hoopla) in spite of the fact that I haven't seen many of the nominated movies because (a) we fill out ballots and make wagers regardless (and really, who has seen any of the animated shorts?) and (b) chips and dip. Yes, this is one night I eat potato chips. Too many of them.

And just like the Oscars roll around every year, yet again we are subjected to the hand-wringing articles about their unpopularity and growing irrelevance. Why oh why, film folks bemoan, is the audience dropping?

Here's my take on that:

1. The cringe-inducing banter. Seriously, why bother? It's just painful. It's not only the writing, it's the delivery. Which really shouldn't be the case. The presenters are, for the most part, actors. Making lines work is their job, for which many of them get paid huge salaries. So why then is delivery of said lines so abyssmal?

Whatever the reason, it is, so just come out in your fancy duds, read the nominees and present the award to the winner.

2. (a) The lack of risk with the fancy duds. I recall reading somewhere that, now that all the stars have stylists, there's much less chance of seeing clothes that have actually been chosen solely by the actors themselves.

Since part of the (snarky) fun used to be seeing what bizarro and unflattering gowns/tuxedos those highly paid people would wear, this is disappointing. Remember that stork dress on Bjork? Now that was interesting.

(b) Fashion commentary overload. I do not care one whit which designer made what gown. For the guys, sorry, but who designed your tux matters even less.

3. The movies. As I said, I haven't seen many of the Oscar picks this year. Why? Too violent, too dark, too depressing. I don't care which one of them wins.

As for Juno, frankly, I don't get it. Unfortunately, I don't "get" a lot of what passes for funny in the movies anymore. Do not get me started on Superbad.

Clearly, I am not Hollywood's target audience, so I'm a lot less likely to care which film wins an award. I suspect their target audience is too busy playing Halo III or Call of Duty to watch the Oscars.

4. Award overload. Now it's not just the Oscars and the Emmys, it's the Golden Globes, Directors Guild, Screenwriters Guild, Caterer's Club (okay, not yet, but surely it's only a matter of time).

Yet despite my many problems with the Oscar telecast, there I will be, seated on the couch, ballot in hand, cringing during the banter.

I did mention the chips and dip, right?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!

It's Daughter's birthday today. She was actually born on a Friday, too. Since labor stories are for women as war stories are to old soldiers, I'm going to pull up my rocking chair and share this one.

11 a.m. -- I see something that gives me pause, so I call the doctor. It's "the show," one of those terms that has surely come down from the olden days. Labor could start any time now, although it could as much as 48 hours away.

I phone my mom, who will be babysitting Small Son if it's time to go to the hospital. Do not call husband at work, because it could be awhile yet.

11:30 - 2 p.m. -- Feed Small Son and actually manage to have a nap. So does Small Son, who usually believed sleep was for others. Awakened by pain and thus the realization that it will not be 48 hours before labor commences.

Call husband at work. He says, "No!" as in "You can't be serious!" because (a) he had no warning when he left for work that this was The Day and (b) he was going to wallpaper the baby's room over the weekend (she wasn't due until the 25th and Small Son was born at least a week after his due date). "Yes," says I.

Then I call Mom, who has been ready to go and no doubt perched in anticipation by the phone since 11 a.m. "We'll be right there!"

Mom and Dad arrive about 3 p.m. Husband arrives closer to 4 p.m., having been told there was no real rush (the pains weren't close together). He also arrives with a take-out dinner of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as he was dinner deprived during labor for Small Son and believes it could be a long night.

We drive to the hospital in a car that now smells of fried chicken.

We arrive at the hospital about 5:30 p.m.. I immediately ask for an epidural. I get one. This baby's in a hurry, however. No one need break my water this time. It breaks as they're wheeling me from the labor to the delivery room (no fancy birthing suites back in the day). I apologize profusely, as if I have committed a serious breech of birthing etiquette.

At 8 p.m., the baby is born. Excited husband exclaims, "It's a boy!" The doctor, in a sort of Huh? voice, says, "No it's not. It's a girl." (Let me be clear: darling husband does not care what sex the baby is. He's thrilled all has gone well and we have a healthy baby. We are very aware that this is not always the case.)

Excited Husband makes the phone calls (because back in the day, only husbands were allowed to attend the birth and frankly, that's the way I would have wanted it).

Husband goes home, where folks have kept Small Son up so he can be awake when Daddy gets home.

Mom thinks I will now have a good night's sleep. Little does she know, the adrenalin keeps me awake. All night long. But in a good way.

Our baby girl's been making us happy and proud parents ever since.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wait..no!...ARGH...hold it...maybe...whew!

So there I as this morning, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed, working blissfully away. I had to move back and forth between chapters, seeing if something had been revealed already or not. So I'm moving and clicking and suddenly...wait! What the -- !

The computer froze. I had to restart.

I'd saved some of the chapters I'd cut material from, but the main one I'd been working on?

You guessed it.



But wait! Doesn't it automatically save things?

Yes. So I hit "revert to saved Chapter Nine."

But it reverted to an even earlier version from this morning.


Fortunately, I save everything on diskette (yes, I still use diskettes. My cell phone also has an antenna. Scoff away!) so I had all the material I was in the process of moving. And then I had something called "documents" -- the other files I hadn't closed before I shut the computer down. I labeled those "A" - as in Original File NameA. I sure wasn't deleting anything!

What a morning! Oh, and I also discovered that, for some strange reason, Chapter Six is only eight pages long. What the heck is up with that???

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Emotion-free writing?

First, I'm going to have to give Kimber a prize for topic suggestions. Kimber, you get an autographed copy of my next book, A LOVER'S KISS, as well as the prequels, KISS ME QUICK and KISS ME AGAIN, just as soon as I get my copies of A LOVER'S KISS. Email me, 'kay?

Kimber asks: "How do you keep your own emotions out of your writing?"

I don't. I can't. If I'm having a rough day or week or month, the writing tends to be dark and full of angst. If I'm having a fine ol' time, everything seems easier and the writing lighter. I'm much more prone to write banter when I'm in a good mood, for instance.

I don't really see how a writer can prevent themselves from bringing their emotional state into their writing. Consider the source -- it's just us, really. How can how we feel not influence our work on any given day?

However, I think when the book is finished, it's important to step back and ensure that the tone in any given scene is appropriate to both the activity and the characters, whatever the author was feeling the day he or she wrote that scene. If that's not the case? You might have a problem. For example, what's meant to be light-hearted, endearing banter winds up sounding incredibly snarky and mean-spirited because the author was in a foul mood.

But if you're both in the same emotional state? I don't see a problem. Indeed, some of the best books come because the author's deep feelings are expressed through their characters and what happens to them. The key is to have those feelings come naturally through the character, not to impose those feelings upon them.

Will readers abandon you if you alter tone drastically from book to book? Some will, some will love your work for precisely that reason -- the variations excite them and your work will never be "same old, same old". And if your feelings mean you express yourself more powerfully, more deeply, and make your characters more realistic and empathetic? That's a plus, not a minus, in any genre.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Keeping it fresh

Having written a fair number of historical romances, I get asked from time to time if I've ever considered writing something else. Paranormals, say, or contemporary romances. What about a straight historical novel? Or a mystery?
I've certainly thought about it, but here's the thing: I can get a set-up for a contemporary, but then the story fizzles out. Paranormals don't float my boat, and while I enjoy a mystery element in my books, I can't see having that the focus of the plot. Or having less than two lead characters.

So, for me, for now (because I've learned never say never in this business), it's still historical romances all the way.

Don't I get bored? Don't I worry about telling the same story over and over?

Nope. Because every story has different and unique characters, with different histories, families and friends. There can be different social and political issues to deal with, too. Sometimes I change the time period as well, but it's the characters who make each story interesting and unique for me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Secondary Characters and Survivor*

I just caught part of a wonderful movie, Return to Me, staring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. I wasn't a fan of the X-Files, so I wasn't much of a DD fan, but I must say that DD's depiction of grief in this film? Heart-wrenching.

However, what really takes this movie a leap ahead of other romantic comedies is the secondary characters. I love 'em. In fact, I adore Carroll O'Connor in this film, and the scene where he's in the hospital chapel praying? Oh, man! I tear up just thinking about it! If you ever want an example of how to use secondary characters in a romance, watch this!

I wandered over to the Armitage Army fan site to look at more screencaps from Season Two of Robin Hood. And oh, be still my heart! In Episode 8, has Marion finally seen the light, because lo and behold, she's pulling Sir Guy back for a kiss -- and what a kiss! But no, as Daughter discerned, it looks like it's just a distraction and afterward, Sir Guy has figured it out.

Poor Sir Guy! His desire for Marion used against him. It's enough to make a fella turn into a villain....

And now it's time to go work on my own story. I've decided I need to up the tension and suspense, so I'm going to add a time limit and a chase.

* D'oh! So I forget to mention Survivor. I'm having tons o' fun imagining the "favorites" as folks who work in an office with me. Ozzy can be the delivery boy (heh), I would love to hear Jonathan's meeting post-mortems and gab around the water cooler with Cirie. Parvati would be the gal who thinks she's going to flirt her way to the top (good luck with that, 'cause aging is going to hit you like a ton o' bricks), and Kathy the co-worker who plans all the office parties and "team-building" exercises. Yau-Man is the wise mentor/father-figure who's been with the company since Day One and knows more about the product than the CEO ever will.

What can I say? I work alone and yes, there are days I wish I worked in an office with other people. Until I remember how much I hated group work in school.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Since it's Valentine's Day....

let's talk about relationships. Specifically, some of the things I think makes a good and lasting one. But more than that, I'm going to talk about how that shapes the romances I write.

Trust. This one is absolute for me. If there's no trust, there cannot be a viable, long-term relationship. There may be forgiveness, but there can be no security, and I think that's vital. That's why in many of my books, the realization on the hero or heroine's part that they can trust the other is a key moment in the developing relationship. Sometimes it happens early, sometimes later, but it's always there.

That's also why the "black moment" in my books so often revolves around a fear that the bond of trust has been broken, that one has betrayed the other. The emotional pain of that betrayal is equal to anything physical the character may face due to that betrayal.

Respect. I think this is one reason I'm drawn to historicals. Up until fairly recently, respect for a woman (unless she had something else going for her, like a title) was not a given (and some could argue not even now). So one thing that distinguishes my heroes from the other men in the stories is their willingness to respect the heroine. It may not be immediate, but again, realizing that he respects her is a turning point in the relationship.

It's similar with the heroines. She often doesn't start off automatically respecting the hero, whatever society has tried to tell her, and sometimes it's very much the opposite. Again, it's a major turning point in the development of the relationship when she begins to respect him.

Similarly, if either character does, or seems to do, something that diminishes that respect, it's detrimental to the relationship.

Sense of Humor. A character's sense of humor can be used in two ways -- to create intimacy (the grim , brooding hero who suddenly reveals a lighter side) or to keep characters at a distance (the merry gadabout whose jokes hide a wounded heart). I've done both, but I have to say, I think my most successful heroes tend to the ones who are generally not jokey types, but brooding guys who come out with an unexpected funny observation, usually directed at themselves. That's another key to humor and the main characters -- their humor tends to be at their own expense, not other's, which is a way to show they're good people.

Other writers will have different criteria for what makes a lasting relationship, and their characters and story will reflect that. That's why you could give a room full of romance writers the same general plot and they'd all come up with different stories.

What are your ideas about what makes a lasting, long-term relationship? If you're a writer, can you see those ideas reflected in your own work?

For the record, this is about as close to a discussion of theme as I care to get. :-)

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why writing is like shoveling snow...

I can't remember having this much snow all at one time. After all the shoveling, the snowbanks are taller than I am! That makes cleaning the driveway even more difficult. I'm going to have the hubby to take a picture of me beside the huge, enormous pile at the side of the house. Because really, it's something else. On the other hand, my biceps are getting stronger.

It occurred to me that writing a book is something like having to shovel a long driveway. At the beginning, the snow is so pretty -- pristine and white. It's kinda fun to get out there in the fresh air, too. But then you start shoveling. Soon it seems like you'll never get to the end. As you shovel, some of the snow falls back down off the banks on the side and you have to do it again.

Now it's really starting to seem like you'll never finish. And whose idea was it to have such a long driveway in the first place? Maybe you should move. Unfortunately, you've got to get it done; you've got company coming. For encouragement, you promise yourself a treat when you finish -- hot chocolate, say.

And then, lo and behold, you're finally finished. You have a lovely clean driveway. You look back and see how far you've come and all the hard work you've done. You're happy and satisfied, and excited at what you've accomplished. It's a great feeling.

Of course, you may also have an aching back and dread the snowplow shoving a whole ton of filthy snow back onto your nice, clean driveway (in the form of reviews), but in the meantime, you get to enjoy the hot chocolate and sense of accomplishment.

And you should!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not Just Info Dumps

I decided to go back and review the first three chapters of the second draft of the novel-in-progress, and had yet another revelation about beginnings, specifically: It's not just the tendency to dump information and backstory that's a problem. I tend to tell too much about the main characters' emotions, rather than showing them.

I suspect that's because I want my readers to know and like my characters as much as I do right from the start. It's especially tempting to tell more about what they're feeling when they're acting in a contrary way. For instance, if I've got an aloof hero, I want the reader to understand, in no uncertain terms, that he's just hiding behind that mask. He's really a nice guy -- you can tell by his thoughts, which I will now share with you in great detail.

Unfortunately, this has the same infect as the dreaded info dump -- it slows the pace. And that can have the opposite effect to my intention, which is to interest the reader in my characters.

So the bad news is, I've still got some revising to do. The good news is, I'm now aware of this tendency, so I can fix it. Because the last thing I want is for my reader to feel as if they're stuck next to a stranger at a party who's regaling them with their latest woes, in great and excruciating detail.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Book in minature

It occurred to me, as I was contemplating the revisions I'm doing for the first third or so of my book, that this feels rather like the way I feel writing an entire book. That is, the beginning needed some trimming, I know where I'm going for the end, but the middle's a bit of a muddle and needs a lot of moving around, adding and deleting. It's almost as if this first third is a novella all on its own.

As I blogged yesterday, I was full of energy and even I'm surprised at how much I got done. While I did some revising, I was happier to get a lot of the little niggling chores that have been distracting me (think mosquitoes buzzing about my ears) for a while now off the List O' Things To Do.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The sun! The sun! It's been soooo long...

Today I've felt like I had more energy than I have for the past month. I suspect it's due to (a) no cats waking me up before 7:30 and (b) THE SUN! THE SUN! It feels like we haven't had a sunny day since 2007. And maybe the year before.

So I did a whole bunch of things I've been putting off in the chore line and I still feel like I have plenty of vim and vigor. Good thing, because I'm about to tackle some more revising.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Curse you, Turner Classic Movies!

We got over a foot of snow yesterday and last night. So I've shovelled the walk and driveway four times, and have the aching back to prove it.

Therefore, I had to take frequent "back breaks" today, which led to checking out the Turner Classic Movie channel. That's how I came up the classic 1966 adaptation of James Michener's Hawaii. starring Julie Andrews. Right at the very start.

Oh, man. I couldn't stop watching. And it's not exactly a short flick.

Fortunately, I had already done some revising today, or I would really have the guilts. Tomorrow, though, I have to buckle down and try to get a little further before the weekend.

Tonight, Yau Man returns to Survivor, so you know where I'll be. With a song in my heart and the heating pad on my back.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Whoo hoo! A Five-Rose Review!

A Romance Reader has given KNAVE'S HONOR their highest rating -- five roses!

And I quote:

"Margaret Moore knows how to serve up the perfect medieval tale……well done! Knave’s Honor is the third in her d’Averette sisters trilogy and keeps the excitement flowing as we follow the adventures of Elizabeth aka Lizette who yearns for something more then the ho-hum rigors of court life and finds it with the outlaw known as Finn. Finn, a street smart survivor is a great anti-hero. A page turner from start to end, I loved every minute of Knave’s Honor and you will too!"

Ah, so satisfying! Thank you, Bonnie, from A Romance Reader!

The Entire Review

In other news, I was awakened at 5:15 by The Count (one of our cats) and then shovelled snow for 45 minutes before breakfast, plus brushing about six inches of snow off the car. Talk about feeling like I'd done my work for the day before 9 a.m.!

Nevertheless, I worked on my book. Remember that scene in A League of Their Own where Marla Hooch is stepping up to the plate, but getting conflicting signals from the coach and Dottie? First she's got her right leg forward, then steps back and puts her left foot forward, then the right, then the left, until she's doing a weird little dance? That's exactly how I feel with the first chapter when it comes to putting in backstory and motive. Too much? Not enough? Too much? Not enough? Ay yi yi. My eyes, they cross -- and that's whether I've been awakened before dawn or not!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Heroines on a tightrope

As per Kimber's comment on my last blog post, heroines can be really tricky to write. Readers want them strong but not unsympathetic, compassionate and caring but not doormats and heaven forbid they seem too stupid to live. TSTL heroines are the ones who make decisions like, "There may be a serial killer in my basement. I could (a) leave the house (b) call 911 (c) leave the house and call 911 or (d) go down and look without telling anybody there may be a killer in my basement -- and pick (d).

So let's say you want your heroine to be tough. How do you then make her sympathetic, or -- what I believe is a better goal -- empathetic? I think you have to be sure to show that there's a compassionate, unselfish heart beneath the exterior. It doesn't have to be a whole scene or a major "look at this!" moment. It could be as simple and almost "thrown away" as having her give a large tip to the overworked waitress in the diner or holding the door open for an elderly person -- just something that relatively quickly and early shows the reader that however she conducts herself in other areas of her life, she's not completely self-centered. Tough itself isn't bad; but tough in the sense that she'll walk all over anybody to get what she wants without a second thought? Not so good.

You also don't want the heroine to be so completely self-less, it's as if she has no personality or energy (aka the doormat heroine). Even the most dutiful, self-sacrificing heroine should have goals and dreams and desires. She may work toward them, or she may believe it's hopeless, but she harbors them nonetheless.

Another way to avoid the doormat heroine is to present a heroine who has chosen to put herself second -- something that requires it's own kind of resolve. She hasn't simply fallen into her fate and passively accepts it; she's chosen it, eyes wide open.

As for the apparently too stupid to live heroine: sometimes a writer needs to get that heroine to the basement or there's no more story. I understand that. The difference between a brave heroine and a TSTL heroine is usually that the writer hasn't given the apparently TSTL heroine a really compelling, believable motive for what she does. Put a sobbing child to rescue in that basement and give her a broken phone, and she won't seem TSTL anymore.

If you want your heroines to be strong, make them active. Have them make decisions. Give them understandable reasons for what they do and the history to back it up. Give them goals and dreams and desires.

And maybe, if she's a really tough cookie, a pet.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rewriting and Rearranging

I've nearly finished going through the first hundred or so pages of THE WARLORD'S BRIDE and here is what I discovered:

1. Once again, my heroine is too wishy-washy at the start. When I started writing the book, and although she's a sequel character, she was still a little nebulous in my own mind. Now that I've come to know her better by having her front and center in her own book, I have a better understanding of her decisions and how she came to them; therefore, so can she. In other words, because I know more about her decisions and how she came to them, I can make her more aware of her motives, and so more confident about her course of action and more resolute in carrying it out.

Wishy-washy author = wishy-washy character = ooops. And also revisions.

2. I've started in the right place, in the right POV, but I've still got too much backstory, sort of the medieval equivalent of "heroine sitting on plane contemplating her life" sort of thing. Cuts shall ensue.

3. There was a cliche thing happening, in part due to the wishy-washy heroine. I've got a better idea about that particular plot point and the heroine's reaction that should also give a certain revelation even more of an emotional wallop. Yeah!

4. I'm really liking the hero, but I need him to be more intimidating at first. No problemo. That also means when the heroine stands up to him, she'll seem stronger, which will help lessen Wishy-Washy Heroine Syndrome.

5. I have too much similar information scattered throughout the first chapters. I need to consolidate it into one or two places. Some should be held until even later in the story. (I really do tend to put in too much backstory in those first 100 pages.)

6. I should combine two scenes. I was a little uneasy about the time and place of the second, so I'll move it in terms of time and place, and put what came earlier into that same scene.

7. I was concerned about the general timeline. In my first drafts the action often takes place in about two days, tops, and I have to go in and expand it. I have to do that here, too. On the other hand, having a compressed timeline at the beginning is one of the great appeals of an arranged marriage plot. Bingo, you've met, you're married, no long courtship/getting to know you time.

8. Good news -- once I get to the wedding and wedding night, that part seems fine. Well, I still have to reread the love scene. I suspect I'll be consolidating some dialogue there, but in terms of its placement in the overall story? It can stay pretty much where it is is.

Because I've generally got the right things happening in those first hundred pages in terms of the set-up, meet and marriage, I can look ahead and map out what should happen in the next few chapters, as well. Yeah!

However, before I start writing those new scenes, I'm going to revise the first chapters. I want to fix the foundation before going on to the rest of the edifice.