Thursday, April 30, 2009

Movie Time

As I was drinking my tea this morning, I caught part of a biography of Rudolph Valentino on TV. The guy certainly had sex appeal. Some of his facial expressions seem a little much now, but I can see how women would have found him compelling.

(I was also struck, as I often am when watching old movies, by the hats the women are wearing. All the women. How times have changed in that regard!)

Speaking of movie idols, the new X-men movie, featuring another cinematic heart-throb, opens today. Frankly, I'll be going to see it (eventually) just to see Hugh Jackman. I don't think I've ever seen a sexier introduction to a character than the first shot of him in the first X-men movie, where his back is to the camera. In a word, hubba.

I was tempted to read a brief explanation of who's-who of the mutants in the movie, then decided against it. I should be able to get enough from the movie, and if not...bad writing.

I'll definitely be going to see the new Star Trek movie. I had a crush on Mr. Spock in my youth (which explains my tendancy to write emotionally repressed heroes), so I'm keen to see how they portray him as a younger guy. I'm afraid they've devoted much more time and effort on the special effects, though, when I'm all about the characters. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I was by Iron Man, although I still think Gwyneth Paltrow was horribly miscast.

Speaking of heroes and writing, I finished revising the second draft of my ms. yesterday night. Yeah! And while it's short, it's not as short as I feared, so that's good news. Now I'll print it up and read through it again. Here's hoping I don't discover something's terribly, terribly wrong!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Blog Brou-ha-has

First, my computer did the update thing and it took forever. Seriously. I got my office cleaned in the time it took. That's sayin' something.

Now, to today's blog topic:

Blog Brou-ha-has.

It seems about every second month or so, some issue comes up on romance blogs that get a lot of folks' knickers in a twist.

I read them, form an opinion and think about the comments. But I don't usually add to the discussion. I don't generally comment.

Why not?

For one thing, I have only so much mental energy and time.

Sometimes, to be honest, I really don't get what all the fuss is about, so I don't feel any urge to add my two cents if I agree or fan the flames if I don't.

And after twenty years in this business, there are some issues that just plain weary me because I've been hearing folks sound off about them for twenty years.

Also, and it's probably because I'm a middle child who did a lot of debating, I tend to see both sides of an issue and want consensus, not conflict. That means I'm all for a rational discussion, not so much with the hot-under-the-collar responses.

So if I'm not commenting on a subject, it doesn't mean I don't have an opinion. It doesn't mean I don't care passionately about some aspects of this business or my work.

It just means that sometimes, and for a variety of possible reasons, I choose not to air my opinion publically.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sounds simple, and yet...

Thanks to a tweet from Maureen McGowan, I read this most excellent blog post by Allison Brennan about writing and marketability. Basically, AB's talking about the fact that best-selling books aren't necessarily the best written, but the author's doing something right.

I believe that the author of any book that's a best seller has indeed done something right - whether it's tell a really good story about really good characters, just have really interesting characters, hit the market at the right time with that particular type of story or caught the attention of an editor who got major publisher backing.

Something - but not necessarily what is referred to as "exceptional writing."

But what exactly does "exceptional" mean? And this is what really caught my eye - a comment on that term by John Dishon:

"However, "exceptional" doesn't mean necessarily mean big words or complicated sentence structure, or anything else. Exceptional means the right words, in the right order, at the right time. If you don't do that, you're not telling the story well."

I have to say, that's about the best definition of good writing I've ever heard.

I also think it explains why so many people think being a writer is easy, because "the right words, in the right order, at the right time" sounds simple.

But we who write know that it's not easy. What words? When? Is there a better way to say that? Show that? Should that bit come before this? Or after? And if after, how does that affect the words I'm using?

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Our work means we are constantly making decisions, and questioning those decisions, and making new ones. That's what makes writing mentally exhausting, and what the non-writer will never understand.

Sometimes, the decisons are easy, even subconscious - that's when the work seems to just flow. Dialogue comes, actions happen, all without agonizing.

Other times, though, the need to make decisions is crippling. I'm sure that one cause of writer's block is the inability to make a decision. Something has to happen, but you're not sure what. If you do that, then this might happen. Or that. Or some other thing. If you make a different decision, it'll send the story in a completely different direction. Which one is better? Which one is "right?"

Yesterday, I discovered a major plot development I'd decided to move later in the story won't work in the new location. It has to come earlier. But as early as I'd originally set it, or can I still delay it some? Why move it at all? Because it "lightens up" the story, and I didn't want the story to "lighten up" just then. But now I realize that the heroine simply has to say what she says earlier, because if that comes later, it's going to throw her motivation for the dialogue into question. At least, it would make me wonder and since at this point, I'm the sole arbiter of events, if it won't work for me, it ain't going to work.

Yet after all this work and worry and moving and revisng and editing, at the end of the day, when we finally consider our work "done" or as "done" as it can be, we should have made it look easy, as if there were no dark moments of staring at the screen or page and wondering if we've totally blown it. If we've used the wrong words in the wrong order at the wrong time. We just sat down and typed and voila! A story appeared!

The right words in the right order at the right time. Easy, peasy.

If only.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I didn't get the shopping gene

I am about to utter what some would consider blasphemy.

I do not like to shop.

Furthermore, I do not like to shop for shoes in particular, and looking for a new dress comes in at a close second in the "things I'd rather not do with my day."

Actually, I don't really shop. I buy. I know what I want, or have a pretty good idea, seek it out, then buy it. I don't window-shop, stroll, wander, or try on clothes I have absolutely no intention of purchasing.

Ironically, one of my first full-time work experiences? Department manager of a women's clothing department in a major Canadian department store. Maybe it was all the hours of rearranging the displays, or being asked one too many times by complete strangers, "Does this look good on me?" or having lunch every day in the food court that also soured me on the shopping thing.

On the other hand, when I was in university, I worked for a while in the handbag section, and to this day, I love me a nice handbag and/or wallet. I still have the first Coach belt I ever bought. I'm hoping that, if I can keep up with the Weight Loss Challenge, I'll be able to wear it again. Then I won't have to shop for a new one.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Excerpt!

I've posted a new excerpt from THE VISCOUNT'S KISS on my webite.

Weight Loss Challenge - Backsliding

Well, it's pretty clear to me that slacking off with the exercise and eating too much junk even for a few days can sabotage the weight loss. For various reasons I didn't get much exercise the week of April 6 to 13th. Then add all that Easter chocolate, and yep, my weight went up.

But it's up a bit this week, too - to 136.8 - despite getting back to the walking and treadmill. Now, I tend to weigh more in the morning than after my afternoon work-out, and I did have chocolate and a Coke last night (I thought it was the only way I was going to get through Survivor if "Coach" didn't get the boot), but still... ARGH.

However, I haven't been using the exercise ball, either. It was causing some discomfort, so I stopped. Now I'm a little leery to try it again.

Also, last week, I wasn't cooking many dinners, just mostly soup and that sort of thing. Not good in the long term, but good for a few ounces of weight loss. This week, we're back to our regular meals, with one big difference. I have to relearn how to cook for two, and haven't quite gotten into that mindset. So while I've been exercising, I've been eating more this week, too.

This week, I'm going to try to make smaller meals and I'll be going on a couple of long walks, because the weather's going to be gorgeous. And I've discovered that I really should do the treadmill no later than 1 p.m. Otherwise, I tend to get interrupted and/or find myself really reluctant to do it.

This week's step/treadmill tally:
Friday, April 17 - nothing (not home)
Sat. April 18 - 15,369 steps
Sun. April 20 - 1 hr. on TM
Mon. April 21 - 1 hr. on TM
Tues. April 22 - 1 hr. on TM
Wed. April 23 - 1 hr. on TM
Thurs. April 24 - Alas, only 1/2 on TM (see above re interruptions)

It takes so little to backslide, it's easy to see why people give up. However, the wedding's still a few month's away and I'm not giving up now! 130 by August 1! That's the goal.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

You know it's a good book when...

I've been reading WANTED IN ALASKA by Kate Bridges and here are two things that tell me I'm reading a really good book.

1. I'm surprised - in a good way. Things happen that I haven't foreseen. When you've been in the romance business a long time, that isn't that common.

2. It makes me want to go to Alaska. I may be Canadian, but I don't like the cold, so Alaska has never been on my list of places to go. But the way Kate writes about the place, with vivid, fascinating descriptions, I sure wouldn't react with a "oh, heck, no!" if I had the opportunity to go, as I would have before.

There are other good points about WANTED IN ALASKA, but I suggest you find out for yourself. :-)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stripping - no, not that kind

Ay yi yi. I have reached a point where I'm totally confused by own manuscript! There are so many alterations and notes, and it's been so long since I was last at this point, I'm not sure exactly what I was thinking.

So what am I going to do?

I call it "stripping the manuscript." I'm going to take out anything that was to be moved or deleted from the first draft to complete the second draft, then I'm going to print it and start reading from the beginning. Hopefully when I reach this point again, I'll beore aware of what's missing and when things should happen, and then I can go back and add it. This means I'm looking at at least four drafts now - the first, the second "stripped" draft, the third where I put in what's missing and the final fourth.

This doesn't mean there won't be a fifth or even sixth draft. It just means there will be four for sure.

But this is the best way I can think of to figure out just what the heck is supposed to happen and when in the last third of the book.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Never-Ending Chapter

Has this ever happened to you? You're revising a manuscript and it seems like you're never going to get out of a chapter? In my case, with this story, it's Chapter Fourteen.

See this picture? Every post-it is telling me where to move or add something. I took something major out of Chapter Fourteen. It will come into the story later, but it means moving things that were later earlier, including into Chapter Fourteen. Which also means I've been stuck there for what seems like forever.

When you see what I do when I revise, maybe that makes more sense.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Signs of Spring

I went on a long walk Saturday afternoon. It's been a long while since I've had the time to do that, and it was warm, so I enjoyed not just the exercise, but the signs of spring.

I start my walk at the top of the bluffs by the lake, then go down along the lakeshore and up at a different place at the end.

Part of the journey to the shore involves a zig-zagging path with one of the more unusual railings. It comes up to about my knee, so not exactly useful if I start to slip. (Yes, that's my foot.)

This is the path along the shore.

The shore path was built in an attempt to stem the erosion of the bluffs. Unfortunately, since they're made of sand and exposed, there isn't a lot that can be done, as you can see by this picture. At one point, a landslide had totally blocked the path. It's since been cleared.

What this doesn't convey is the sound - there must have been at least a hundred red-winged blackbirds there, as well as other birds.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, even if the sun wasn't shining.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Weight Loss Challenge - oops

I figured all the Easter chocolate and getting less exercise last weekend would be a bit of a problem, and yep, it was. I'm back up to 136.0 this morning. After hitting a new record low of 133.6 last Friday. Ooops.

Interestingly, I've been faltering on the revisions, too. Too many distractions this week to really get into things, or maybe it's just that the middle of the middle of the book is always an area that requires a lot of work and thought and rewriting. I've put in stuff that I don't need and need to add stuff I left out. Plus I got hit with proofreading, which always makes me feel like I've got whiplash.

Hopefully next week I can get back on track with both exercise, diet and work. I have a couple of distractions looming, but here's hoping they won't be as disruptive as some I've had lately.

Although I think that's called Life. :-)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Need a reason to smile?

Wanna feel good? Wanna see cynicism defeated? My eyes filled with tears watching Susan Boyle's performance on Britain's Got Talent. The way they profiled her during the intro, they were setting her up for humiliation and she...well, she knocked it out of the ball park and then some.

See for yourself here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If there were but worlds enough and time...

Malle Vallik of Harlequin has a post up at Romancing the Blog about web 2.0 and authors. In it, she mentions that time is a writer's most valuable resource. Yes, yes it is, so an author has to learn how to set priorities.

Which is one way to say my blog posts for the next few days at least may be spotty.

I need to get back to my revisions, but that's proving somewhat difficult, for a few reasons. We need to get work done on the house and I'm in the process of getting quotes for that, which means booking time during the day/evening when I could/should be working. There are also ongoing family issues (some good, some not so much) taking time and providing distractions.

I will continue to blog, especially the weight loss challenge reports because yes, that does help me stay on track, but otherwise, it may be "hit or miss" for awhile.

Priorities - I gots 'em.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Respecting Romance

Nothing gains respect like success. For the occasional snarky article on the success of romance in the current economic climate (which I'm not going to link to because why give them the hits?), there seems to be a distinct shift in the way the romance genre is being perceived and presented in the media.

For instance, I just watched the Nightline piece that I taped last night, and for all the clips of celebrities reading the naughty bits, the actual piece wasn't nearly as bad as some I've seen in the past.

I think Donna Hayes did a great job speaking about romance and its success. I particularly got a hoot out of her dismissal of male readership. Nope, don't care. Don't need 'em. Don't want 'em. So take that, male establishment! We can survive just fine without you (and by extension, your approval).

As a historical author, I also want to note that Ms. Hayes specifically mentioned historicals. That was a nice surprise.

I truly believe no single thing has garnered romance more respect than Harlequin's success in this recession. No author efforts, no RWA efforts, not the RITAs or romance's strong sales when other books were also selling well. Whether that respect lasts remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful that the romance genre is never going to be dismissed quite so easily ever again.

ETA: Watch the Nightline piece here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Duel Nobody Won

Ever wonder what really happened when somebody killed somebody in a duel? Were they arrested? Charged? Convicted? I just blogged about such a case over at Story Seedlings.

Getting back up to speed...

I spent the long Easter weekend at the folks' cottage, helping to take the leaves off the garden. Appropriately for the season, I saw a bunny hopping by early in the morning.

What wasn't appropriate for the season was the cold. The cottage is not winterized, not insulated, not heated except for space heaters which are not left on all night. So when you wake up in the morning after a night where it gets to freezing or below?


Still, it was good to get away, to unplug and get away from the electronics (there's no TV, DVD player or VCR there, either). But now, alas, I'm trying to play catch-up, and not just because we were away. Before we left, I got some work that had to be done ASAP. I got it done, and then rewarded myself with chocolate because (a) it was Easter (b) I deserved a reward and (c) my scale said 133.8 on Friday - a new record low.

I was back up to 135 this am. but I'm not surprised. Chocolate will do that. But now it's back to the exercise/watching the food and working. Holiday is over!

Oh, and I took some pictures of the cats, all cuddly.

These are the brothers, Luis and the Count.

Here are all three, the brothers and Eeky, the Dowager Cat, with her back to the camera. Sometimes, I get to sit there to watch TV, too.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Easter Break

Proofreading for THE VISCOUNT'S KISS has landed on my doorstep, so between that and family commitments for the long Easter weekend, no time left for blogging.

So I'll wish you all Happy Easter now. May you enjoy much chocolate, good times and good weather! (Snow in April is just so very wrong...)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lost in a Good Show

I saw the first part of a really fun show on Sunday - Lost in Austen. It's about a modern woman who loves Pride and Prejudice and other Austen books and who winds up going through a portal into P & P, landing at the start of the story. From there, things go...shall we say...awry?

I honestly didn't think I'd like it as much as I did. Of course, much depends on Darcy, and this Darcy was quite acceptable, unlike the Keira Knightley-starring version. I liked the actor who played Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen, but he's not anywhere near my idea of Darcy.

The Lost in Austen Darcy, Elliot Cowan, was, above all, suitably angular in feature and scowly in manner, so I was sold.

Immediately afterward came an adaptation of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. This isn't a well known book of his, but I quite like it. Unfortunately, Dickens has a real problem writing women. They're not at all realistic, either angelic martyrs or really repressed villainesses. It's as if he never met or had a relationship with a normal woman. Maybe he didn't, or maybe this was just the Victorian view of womanhood - that we should be dutiful to the point of being invisible and completely self-sacrificing, or else something's seriously wrong with us.

This adaptation creates a more modern version of Amy. In this version she doesn't blindly worship her self-deluded, enabled father. She knows he's created a fantasy world that allows him to exploit her, yet she won't abandon him as his other children have done.

Matthew Macfadyen is much better cast as Arthur Clenham in Little Dorrit, the man Amy Dorrit falls in love with.

There's one other thing about this version of Little Dorrit - the relatively minor role of John Chivery, son of the keeper of the gate of the Marshalsea prison who will one day take over his father's place. He's completely in love with Amy Dorrit, who falls in love with Arthur. John is most excellently played by Russell Tovey and when he proposed? Oh, my heart broke for the poor guy! If I were writing this story, I'd have to give him a happy ending.

Here's what I'd do: At the end, he sounds rather like a love-lorn teenager suffering the first pangs of heartbreak. I'd have a young woman walk by and have young John do a double take. Young Woman glances back as if she's interested and John wanders after her.

I just want a hint that he's going to find love after all. As for Lost in Austen, I have no idea how that's going to end, and look forward to finding out.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Guess my socks

There's a fun challenge over at eHarlequin today - Who Owns These Socks. Can you guess which ones are mine?

There's a prize if you guess correctly!


Snip, snip, here, snip, snip, there...

I have that song from The Wizard of Oz running through my head a lot these days as I revise the second draft. Once again, I'm finding what I refer to as pointless off-shoots - little bits of dialogue or characterization or plot that might seem to be leading somewhere, then don't.

That sometimes means cutting some bits that I quite like. This is never easy, but since I feel it's necessary, the cuts are made.

That's one reason I do so many drafts. With every draft it becomes clearer what is necessary in terms of story and character, and what's not.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Weight Loss Challenge - New Goal

So last week I make my lowest weight yet - 135.4. Then I go to a conference, which means no exercise (save wandering a mall) and not my regular diet. This week there is also cake. Uh oh.

Yep, today I am back up to 137.8. But I'm mindful that I would have been beyond thrilled with that number only a few short weeks ago, when I was stuck on the plateau . And the clothes I bought at the mall? Size 10!!!

Now I have a new goal. I want to reach 130 by July 1. I'm small boned, so that's about right for me. There will be cake and parties before that, but I'm hopeful I can get close to what I really ought to weigh.

I'm also going to start using hand weights to tone up the ol' arms. I'm going to cut back a bit on the exercise ball, though. I think I did myself a bit of an injury, so while I don't want to stop completely, I think I'll take it a bit easier for awhile.

This week's treadmill tally (no step count and no exercise ball workout):
March 30 - 1 hr. on TM
March 31 - 1 hr. on TM
April 1 - 1 hr. on TM
April 2 - nuthin'

Tomorrow, I'm helping somebody move. I'll wear the pedometer but I think the lifting/carrying will be quite enough for the day!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Eighteen years ago today...

I got The Call: "This is Tracy Farrell from Harlequin Historicals. We love your book and want to buy it."

Cue the mental screams of overwhelming surprise and joy!

But whooo! Eighteen years! That is one long time.

What's changed since I first sold?

The first thing that comes to mind is the amount of PR authors are expected/encouraged to do (whether by their editors or peer pressure). Back in the day (when I was a young whippersnapper, I feel I should add), the biggest question was whether or not to take out an ad in RT and/or do bookmarks.

Yep, no internet, so no feeling that you should be promoting yourself over all it.

Apparently I sold in the Golden Age when it was a piece of cake to sell. Oddly enough, when I first sold, I was under the distinct impression that the Golden Age was in the 70's and 80's and I had missed the Boat of Easy Sales.

I started writing on an IBM Selectric (a typewriter, for all you current whippersnappers). Now, of course, I use a computer. But I still prefer to edit on paper.

My kids were in elementary school when I first sold. They're all grown up now, finished their post-secondary education and gainfully employed.

Some things haven't changed. Writing is still both agony and ecstasy for me. Bad reviews do not get easier to take. I just get over them faster - although that's taken eighteen years.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Time's a-wastin'

Due to other activities, I'm not yet back up to speed with my work, so no major topic today. I did, however, do a new Story Seedlings blog post the other day, about a female Fagin.

Now to work with me!