Monday, February 28, 2005

Yeah, It's Another Monday

I’m so annoyed. A lot of times I’ll get an idea for a blog entry and I’ll start writing it in Word so I won’t forget it because often it’s an idea for the future when I might be running a bit dry. I always save the file on my desktop in a document named “blog” (go figure) so it’s a no-brainer to find. Well apparently on Friday when I wrote my last entry, I must have started a new document, so when I saved it, my ideas were written over and are now lost to me. When I say lost, I mean that yeah, I still have the general idea. But I know I’ll never be able to rewrite what I wanted to say the moment I typed it up because, well, that moment’s gone for good. So bummed.

And also this means I’m kind of high and dry for topics since I’m too annoyed to restart one of my other ideas. Yeah, petulant much I am. Because it's Monday and dreary and cold and still two months until any real sign of Spring. I need a vacation. In Hawaii.

So…how about those Oscars? Actually, I didn’t watch a single minute. I haven’t seen any of the movies so, really, I couldn’t have cared less.

Here's something in the totally off the wall category. I just discovered that clothes dryers are not a staple in many homes outside of the United States. Or rather, I had always assumed that everyone in the world who owned a washing machine also owned a dryer. The two pieces of equipment go together, like peanut butter and jelly or Tom and Jerry. They are a matched set, sold side by side like life mates when you wander through Sear's appliance department.

But apparently this is not the case all over the world. I have several friends who live in the UK and Europe who only own a washing machine. And they are as baffled by the prospect of having a dryer as I am about not having one. They've asked if the constant forced drying doesn't ruin clothing. To that I have to honestly answer that I'm sure it does shorten the life of clothing. But as a counter argument, drying is the quickest way I know to get your jeans to just the right softness and perfectly faded.

Anyway, this just goes to prove that the way we live cannot be taken for granted as the way all others do. Even in the most mundane routines, there are a lot of interesting differences out there, and it's fun to find out about them. Makes you see the possibilities and appreciate the variety in the way people live every-day life.

Too, it makes me wonder what I'd do if I didn't have a dryer and the laundromat wasn't an option (because I have been down that road while waiting for the dryer repair man to show up).

And wondering "what if" leads -as it always does - to the idea for a story. Young American girl rents a house in an Italian village. She tosses her clothes into the washing machine and starts the cycle (after much contemplation as to how to operate the dang thing), only to realize there is no dryer. Clothes sopping wet, she knocks on her neighbor's door, desperate to find a way to dry her clean underwear. Who answer but a sleepy, gorgeous Italian hero...

I'm telling you. Even on a dreary Monday, ideas are everywhere!

Friday, February 25, 2005


I'm a happily married woman who has a great guy for a husband and who is many, many years past that age when pupply love rules the emotional rollercoaster. But one thing I'm always open to is a good old fashioned crush.

You remember crushes, don't you? When you'd see the object of your desire and get all heart-fluttery and excited. You'd doodle initials on any unsuspecting scrap of paper and drop whatever you were doing to listen intently should a song come on the radio that reminded you of the Crush. You'd go out of your way to put yourself in the Crush's path and become absolutely giddy with joy if you found out that the Crush kinda crushed on you, too. And heaven help you if the Crush ever managed to kiss you. Ahhh...what a moment of pure magic.

Since I'm not about to ruin a perfectly good marriage on a real crush, not to mention the pool from which to pick from is pretty shallow at this point in my life, I've had to limit my adult crushes to the unreachables. Movie stars, TV personalities. The usual suspects.

A lot of times my crush is not on the person (read: actor) but on the character he plays. I was really digging on Spike back in my Buffy days, and I don't admit that so you all can come jump on my head and say "Spike!? No way. It's Angel!!" I've spent time crushing on Dr. Doug Ross (from ER), Jack Traven (from Speed) and Aragorn (from Lord of the Rings), although he had to share the spot with Legolas.

Now, before you think me really shallow, there are some that I've chosen who aren't the run-of-the-mill superstar types. When I was in college I had a serious crush on Tom Brokaw, so I don't limit myself to just the glamour guys and pretty boys. Nothing sexier than a smart man. In fact, I can confess that my very first celebrity crush was on Davey Jones (the really short one) of the Monkees, and I still tear up when I hear "I Wanna Be Free."

Having a crush at any given moment keeps my blood flowing. Sure I love my husband. But there is nothing like those feelings evoked when you are in the beginning of a new relationship. The massive surge of endorphins that doctors and psychologists label the "falling in love" stage and what explains why over time that feeling diminishes as a course of normal physiology because no-one can sustain that high of level of hormones indefinitely. A life time commitment and the love that grows from building a home and life together is warm and secure and enviable. But it's different than the high you get with a crush. There's simply nothing else like it. In fact, I'd wager if drug manufacturers could figure out how to legally duplicate the sensation, Viagra would have a run for its money.

I think that's one reason I love romance novels so much. Over and over again I get to read about those first thrilling moments, when indifference or animosity turns into a crush and then into something more. There are so many variations on the general theme, but in every case there are those moments of pure electricity that, if done very well, can generate those feelings in me, too. It's how I determine if a book is a keeper - if it has the ability to make me feel like I myself have developed a new crush.

Even more, in the fantasy world of romance novels, that feeling never goes away. Even after the hero and heroine have spent time together - even a lot of time - you always get the sense that the electricity for them is as high as it was when they first met. They have an endless supply of those endorphins, apparently. Kind of like heroes having an endless supply of great muscles and heroines an endless supply of silky, touchable hair and creamy smooth skin.

Because this feeling is so critical to my own reading experience, it's something I feel is necessary to put into my own writing. And in order to do that, I need to maintain a steady stream of crushes of my own. So that feeling is always there, just beneath the surface where I can tap it and try to convey it. When I walk around in my daydreams, thinking up scenes for my heroes and heroines, I know when I have something when that feeling starts to bubble to the surface and my fingers itch to type.

Right now I'm currently between crushes. I'm thinking that Sawyer from Lost is a good contender because I have a really big thing for bad boys who are really heroes underneath (see, that's why Spike). Although, I also think that guy Sayid's pretty cool and a lot sexy, too.

Best thing about crushing on an unreachable - you can have multiple objects and no one complains.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Write Therefore I Am...Masochistic?

A fellow writer friend posed this question. Why do I write?

Or rather, why do we writers put up with all the crap we put up with?

And there is a lot of crap. Struggling for months/years over a story that might never make it past the bottom of an agent/editor’s slush pile. Eeking out time away from our real lives to sit, alone, at a computer with only the company of fictional people to keep us warm. Suffering through writer’s block, carpal tunnel, eye-strain, muscle aches, and sunlight deprivation. Mostly misunderstood by our families and friends who can’t fathom why we hear voices or why we walk around in a daze most of our waking hours or wake up to scribble notes from a dream in the middle of the night.

If...and that's a capital IF...we ever manage to see our names on the cover of a real live book, it's to the great pay of some $.0015 per working hour, if that. And I'd have to share that with my very annoying internal editor who doesn't seem to understand the concept of "Go away and die!" So it certainly isn't the incentive of any big financial payout.

Really, when you think about it, there’s not a whole lot to recommend the endeavor.

So why do we do it?

I can only speak for myself, but I write because I can’t help it. It is the only way I know to purge my brain of the stories and people who reside there. If I don’t put it down on paper, those people will hound me until I do require prescription medication.

I wish I could say I write because it’s fun. But I can’t honestly use that word to describe what I get out of writing. Mostly that’s because I find writing extremely frustrating. It could be simply that I don’t have the talent or mastery of the craft yet. Currently there is such a vast disconnect between the story that plays in my head versus the words I find to describe it. I’m never satisfied because what I write never exactly captures what I’ve seen and feel. I’ve not reached the point where I can tell when I’ve gotten close enough. I’m really hoping that I’ll finally know that moment when I find someone to publish something I’ve written, although I’m starting to think that feeling of pure satisfaction is the writer’s Holy Grail.

Too, I’m terrified and overwhelmed a good portion of the time. I know what I need to write to get the story out from beginning to end, and the list of scenes looms before me like Mt. Everest. That is, assuming I even have a full list of scenes rather than just a vague idea that this guy and girl meet and some stuff happens and they fall in love, maybe three scenes worth of specifics. How in the world will I ever show the action scene when the bank robbers grab the heroine and hold her hostage? How am I ever going to convey the depths of the hero’s despair when he thinks the heroine has married another man? All I wanted to do was tell a story, but it ends up being a whole lot of work! Really hard work.

Because for me, the story-generating part is easy. Wait…let me explain that because there has been some very interesting discussion about writing versus storytelling over at Alison Kent and Sylvia Day’s blogs. I guess I am a storyteller. The story part comes easy for me. Who the characters are and what they are doing and why and what happens then and so forth. But the writing part – the translation of that story into something that is readable and engaging and – okay, let’s be honest – publishable is a whole other kettle of fish. There are so many things to think about. And you start to wonder if it’s worth the bother.

I’ve reached the point where I think I’ll be satisfied if I can just get my stories out of my head and onto paper/screen. If they never get published, if no one else reads them but me and a few kindly friends or critique group partners, I’ll be okay with it.

Because I think the real reason I write is that I have stories in my head that I wish someone else had written so that I could read them. And I’m pretty much the only person volunteering for the job.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Name Game

I know I'm hardly the first person to blog about choosing names for characters in a book, but lately this topic has been high in my mind. I have a hero who has undergone several rounds on the name treadmill, and it's struck me how bizarre naming fictional people can be.

Sometimes a character's name comes to me instantly, almost the same moment the character him- or herself arrives on my doorstep. It's a no brainer - they just are who they are. Other times I'll have a guy or a girl who just refuses to be named. Nothing sticks. Anything I come up with is either too trite, too boring, or has too many stereotypes tied to the name.

It's at those times I whip out my handy-dandy baby naming book (I use a very good one, A World of Baby Names, that has names from 31 different nationalities and cultures). My problem is that so many of my characters end up with names that start with A, B, or C because I work my way front to back. I need to just open a page and go with whatever I find there. I usually don't pay attention to the meaning of the name unless, of course, it so happens to perfectly fit my character.

I notice that writers seem to swing in one of two directions. There are those who stick with the clearly roguish for heroes and extremely exotic for heroines. The Raffes, Tristans, and Wesleys paired with the Esmeraldas, Rowenas, and Andriannas. Then there are those writers who seem to actively try to be ordinary when naming charactes. Mikes, Nicks, Lous find love with Sarahs, Kates and Kellys. One of my favorite ordinary named characters can be found in Suzanne Brockmann's Over the Edge in the form of hero Senior Chief Stanley Wolchonok. His name actually served a great purpose, because the man SB described was far from glamorous and movie-star handsome. Neither is the name Stan. It was an easy connect to make because when I saw the name, I could clearly imagine the kind of guy who I think would have it.

I tend to fall in the middle of the naming spectrum. I like names that are unusual, but I don't want to be so out there that the reader is constantly reminded that they are reading fiction. I mean, how many guys do you really know named Wolf? Or women named Anastasia? Sadly, most of my favorite hero names are also the favorite hero names of a lot of other writers. My own son is named Jake because I love the name so much, but do you have any idea how many Jakes there are on the romance novel shelves? Gads!

My other concern when coming up with names is how true I can be to original spellings. I have a book started that is set in mid-eighteenth century Scotland, and I'd love to use the Gaelic spellings for the names I've chosen. However, is it worth giving some readers who don't appreciate such authenticity a reason to put down my book simply because I like Ealasaid better than Elizabeth? I know that when I can't mentally pronounce a character's name, I always think to myself "That E girl" whenever I come across it in the story. Surely that has to add to the distance between me and my involvement with the characters? That I wouldn't even be able to pronounce their names if I actually met them in person?

Today I found the perfect name for my recent un-named hero in one of the most unlikely of places - real life. I won't go into details to protect the innocent, and I did alter the last name quite extensively. But even so, I do have a tiny fear that this person (a man) will some day happen to pick up my tiny little romance novel (not likely on multiple levels) and gasp with a "Hey! That guy has my name!" Even so, I'll take the chance because finally, finally I've found a name that really works for both me and my hero. It starts with an A (coincidence) but can be shortened to a non-A nickname, which I plan to do anyway.

Nice thing about naming fictional characters is that they can never complain to you about your choice. I suppose if they really hated the name, they could complain about it via the story. But unlike real live children, they'll never try to make everyone call them "Silver" simply because they don't like the name you've sweated over. Don't ask. It was a long, long...long time ago.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Blogging Around the Clock

There is an amazing amount of irony in the fact that I started my own blog in order to help myself stop procrastinating and really work on my writing and I now find myself spending entirely too much time blog-hopping. There are just so many interesting things out there to read - advice, opinions, fun stuff. My list of must-reads has grown as long as my arm, and I now spend a good hour or more each day simply making the rounds. Not to mention the time I spend writing my own blog, which can take a while if I get some steam rolling behind it.

Here's a question for you. What's the proper tolerance level for blog posting frequency? I mean, I have some blogs that I love - LOVE - but I'm finding that the bloggers post entries very sporadically. There's that certain sinking of my heart as each day I check back only to find the last entry over a week old or more. It's then that I start to wonder if I shouldn't remove said blog from my must-read list because it's kind of a waste of time to check in every day. Except then I might miss something really cool once a new entry is posted!

Because this blogging thing is a free, personal endeavor, I understand that some bloggers simply don't have the time/energy/desire/ideas to blog every single day. No one owes anybody anything in this blogging world, and I'd never want a blogger to feel guilty because she/he didn't blog for an extended period of time. Once blogging becomes a chore that has to be done, it's just no fun, and why bother? They certainly don't pay bloggers very much. Or do they? Is there a bloggers union nobody told me about?

I'm trying very hard not to go more than a day or two without blogging (figure I'm allowed a full weekend if I need it), both because I don't want to get out of the habit and also in case there are a handful of readers who do check in regularly. I admit there is a certain amount of guilt that creeps up on me when I don't blog every day, like I'm letting somebody down. I am Catholic, so perhaps that's got something to do with it. Guilt is a fundemental aspect in everything I do. But I certainly don't want to feel it because so far, this is fun for me and I don't want it to become another of my must-do burdens. I have enough of those just trying to keep up with the laundry.

One thing is for certain, I need to limit myself to a certain amount of blog-time every day. Because at the rate I'm going, I'm going to have 100 blogs I read every day and no time to do important things like eat, shower or sleep.

Monday, February 21, 2005

True Confessions

All right, I swore I would never do this in this blog, but I’m going to bare my soul. Splay the whole of it out for all the world to see. Why not? I have no shame. Might as well let all of you know my deepest, darkest secrets and sins.


Okay, how about this. I’m going to confess my lamest guilty pleasures. Last night I indulged in one of them and it got me to thinking about how many times I cringe when I read a scathing review of a movie/book/song/tv show/food that I secretly love. Usually I can understand the reasons for the lousy reviews, but I still love the piece of crap anyway. I can’t help myself. It’s a weakness.

Here goes:

Guiltiest Movie Pleasures

1. Staying Alive starring John Travolta
Just caught this one on TV last night. I know it’s cheesy. I know the dancing is over the top and the costumes are straight out of an S&M nightmare. But I just love JT in this movie, his angry bewilderment at being dumped by ice bitch Finola Hughes and fierce determination to succeed on Broadway. Not to mention the buff bod…yeah, this one’s bad but, dang, I just can’t stop watching.

2. G.I. Jane starring Demi Moore
I confess. I love this movie. All of it. Demi kicking some SEAL butt, shaving her head, and generally shaking up the male-dominated world of Special Forces. I know it’s unrealistic and Viggo Mortensen is borderline psychotic, but I admit it – I own the DVD and watch it regularly.

3. Clash of the Titans starring Harry Hamlin
Textbook example of a B movie, but it is so great. The special effects are so incredibly bad - stop motion claymation badly blended with the real actors. So very, very bad. But the story is a classic. Literally. Perseus, son of Zeus, battling the monsters and gods all to save the fair Andromeda from sacrifice to the sea Titan. Good stuff!

Guiltiest Book Pleasures

1. A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey
This was one of the very first romance novels I ever read, and I read it a long time ago, before bodice rippers were seen for the trash they are. The story is just awful, full of rape and forced seduction at every turn. But I still have my original copy, and time and again it survives the sweep to the USB. At least I can admit that I don’t reread it very often.

2. Half a dozen titles from the old First Love by Silhouette line
These are the greatest - sweet tales of first love, written and read back when I was a kid and things seemed so much more innocent. I read these books like a fiend and gave most of them away. But a few titles I loved so much I've kept and on occasion pull out for an afternoon of pure feel-good.

Guiltiest Song Pleasures

1. Mmmbop by Hanson
How can you not smile when you hear this song? Come on. Admit it. It makes you smile. And sing “mmmbop”. Yeah, it does. I do claim redemption on this one, though, because I don't own any Hanson CDs. Just this one song, downloaded from i-tunes.

2. Anything by Abba
This may not be a true guilty pleasure because a lot of people like Abba. We all probably shouldn’t, though. Except I can honestly tell you that the musical Mama Mia is amazingly good. So technically, I suppose if you own the Mama Mia soundtrack it’s culture and nothing to be ashamed of.

Guiltiest TV Show Pleasures

1. Smallville
Yep, I’m a…well, a non-teenager…but I like this show. Minus the teen angst, of course. And I’m on the respectable end of the spectrum of Smallville fans because I hate Lana and I love Lex. Even so, I rarely tell me friends I need to rush home on a Wednesday night in order to catch the newest episode.

2. Tarzan
This WB show lasted all of eight episodes before it went off the air. And I was pissed when they took it off although I knew why they did it. It was horrible. Uneven writing, bad guys who weren’t used to their full capacity. It had a lot of problems, not to mention that no one watched it. But dang, Tarzan, played by Travis Fimmel, and Jane, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, had this amazing chemistry. Every episode they came thisclose to kissing but never did. Those dang producers didn’t even throw us a bone in the last episode! But Tarzan did do some very sexy smelling of Jane. I know, it sounds gross. But it was actually very, very hot.

Guiltiest Food Pleasure

1. Pilsbury chocolate chip cookie dough by the spoonful. I lived on this stuff when I was in college.

2. Brownies with chocolate frosting. I know this isn’t necessarily a guilty pleasure because most people think brownies are good. But I’m talking the eating-half-a-batch-in-one-sitting guilty pleasure *g*.

Okay, I've aired my dirty laundry. I'd love to hear of some others that you all have. Believe me, it's kind of liberating to come out of the closet. *g*

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Crash and Burn

Remember in my last entry I said that as of page 57 I was really enjoying my current read, Mackenzie’s Pleasure by Linda Howard? Well. I’m sad to say that it all fell apart on me. In fact, it fell apart so spectacularly by using some of my most hated romance novel clichés that it warrants a discussion.

There are spoilers in this post, so if you were/are planning to read this book and don’t want to know what happens, come back tomorrow. Also, this is a rather long entry. If you don’t have the time, might want to back away slowly. Otherwise, grab a cup of hot chocolate and pull up a seat.

To catch you up to speed: Barrie Lovejoy has been taken hostage. Zane Mackenzie is the Navy SEAL sent in to rescue her. He finds her trussed up, naked, in a building, hauls her out after some narrow escapes, and the two of them hole up in a derelict building to wait out the day so they can escape under cover of darkness.

Cliché Pet Peeve #1: Stupid Excuse for Having Sex Masquerading as a Good Reason

Let me say, there are a lot of stupid reasons for having sex. But most of the time, everyone involved (including the writer) admits that the reason is stupid and goes for it anyway. No one pretends that the stupid reason is really a good reason. That's the part that really rubs me.

Barrie was not raped by her captors, but she did suffer some major manhandling and had figured it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. She’s no simpleton. She knows she and Zane aren’t out of danger yet and there’s a chance she could end up right back where she started, facing rape or worse. Here’s the kicker – Barrie is a virgin. She determines that her first sexual experience isn’t going to be a rape. Oh no. She’s going to pick the who, what, where, when and why. Enter our hero. He’s buff and sexy. He’s protective and warm and secure. He’s male and breathing. A perfect candidate.

I would have bought almost any other premise than the virginity angle. How about she had been so traumatized by what those men had done to her that she wanted to forget it all in a bout of mindless sex? How about she had witnessed so much death and bloodshed she needed a confirmation of life, which could be found in a bout of mindless sex? Or how about she was in such a state of shock, she clung to the nearest man, which led to a bout of mindless sex? Any of these reasons would have made some (albeit dubious) sense to me because I can understand the reactions of a victim such as Barrie to be a bit crazy, her need to reaffirm that she’s alive leading to a bout of mindless sex with a hunky guy.

The entire situation is so far out there – so unbelievable – that trying to plaster a sensible explanation onto it is pointless. OK, Zane and Barrie needed to have sex for the plot, which in itself is debatable. But don't try to elevate what this really is by forcing a pretty bow on it. It's stupid sex. Call it that and move on.

Cliché Pet Peeve #2 – Hero’s Unprofessionalism

When darling Barrie asks Zane to make love to her (yep, those are the words she used), what does the guy do? Does he protest heatedly, knowing that she is suffering from shock from her ordeal, incapable of making a truly rational decision? Does he point out to her that she is suffering a serious case of hero-worship toward the man who rescued her? Does he push her away, assuring her that he won’t let anything happen to her so her concerns about rape are unfounded? Does he remember that he’s currently in the midst of a mission, hiding in a fairly insecure place?

No. He lays down on the floor, gestures toward his nether regions and basically says “Have at it.”

What kind of hero goes along with this? He’s a Navy SEAL, on a mission. She is his rescue-ee, a victim who is in a state of shock. And a self-confessed virgin, no less. Sure, he wants her. He wants her bad. But don’t they all?

Howard explains Zane’s un-hero-like reaction by having him “understand” Barrie’s need to control her own sexual destiny. In effect, he’s doing her a big favor, letting her use his body to not only devirginize herself but to get back at all those nasty men who poked and prodded her during her capture. What a great guy!

I'll just skip what Zane's willingness to go along with Barrie's "deflower me before they have a chance to rape me" scheme says about his confidence in his ability to get her out of danger. Maybe he's just a realist.

Cliché Pet Peeve #3 – The Orgasmic Virgin

Despite being an inexperienced virgin, somehow Barrie manages to straddle her big SEAL and figure out what goes where. And as a nod to realism, her efforts to insert tab A into slot B are quite painful. So painful, in fact, that she has to ask for help, which the ever-accommodating Zane is more than happy to give. In short order, the pain is forgotten and copious amounts of pleasure ensue. Barrie not only gets a generous mate on her first try, she gets the big O in spades.

Now, to further make me scream in laughter, Barrie and Zane proceed to make love several more times throughout the day. Please. I don’t care how masterful the lover or how mind-blowing the orgasms, no woman would be able to endure what would have to be excruciating pain that would come from making love all day long after having just lost her virginity.

Cliché Pet Peeve #4 – Sex Leads to True Love, Forget About All the Getting To Know You Stuff

I’m going to skip the part about how once Barrie and Zane do the nasty, it becomes “making love” and not sex. I just don’t have the words to go into that.

However, I will point out this. Before Barrie mounts her new man, she knows a sum total of three things about him:
1 – his name
2 – that he’s a Navy SEAL
3 – that he has blue eyes and a great body

Since they are hiding, long discussions and sharing of histories, likes and dislikes weren’t possible. I would guess the couple spent less than a full 24 hours together, a good 95% of that time probably silent. When they are finally rescued, there is not chance for lingering good-byes because Zane has been seriously wounded and Barrie doesn’t even get to see him before she is whisked back home.

So imagine my dismay when Barrie confesses tearfully to her father how much she loves this man who saved her life. Whaaa? When did that happen?

What's really laughable about this is one of the reasons Barrie mentally lists for falling in love with Zane. If you'll recall, when Zane found her, Barrie had been stripped naked. He gallantly removes his own shirt and gives it to her. She interprets this as an example of Zane's goodness and perfection. I'm sorry, but what else was he going to do? Drag a naked woman through the streets of Benghazi? Any remotely competent SEAL would do the same thing, wouldn't he? Is it really a reason to fall in love with the guy?


It’s funny because I liked the characters in this book. I liked Zane - he's a dream boat of an Alpha hero, the kind I love best. I liked Barrie - she's no simpering miss, instead sucking it up like a trooper in order to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. I liked the scenario and the promise of the story. All of the elements were there for me to just love this story. I wanted these two kids to get together. Really!

And I do believe that love or (even more likely) an intense physical attraction can arise out of a crises situation over a short amount of time. Larissa did a wonderful job outlining the components necessary to create such a believable scenario and a check list that I think bears following when attempting this kind of feat. Sadly, given the circumstances surrounding Barrie and Zane, I don't see how some of the most basic elements were even touched upon much less met. Thus I felt we readers were forced to buy stuff so completely off the plane of reality that it all fell apart. This is all the more annoying since I can see no good reason for it.

What could have happened that I would have liked/believed/accepted and still would have allowed for the future happenings in the book?

Zane could have rescued Barrie, along the way being forced to kill a few guys. Barrie, so traumatized by her experience turns toward Zane for comfort. Zane offers that comfort, and before either one realizes what’s happening, they are having sex. Once. Because afterwards, Zane feels awful about it. Absolutely full of regret for his complete breach of ethics. And a non-virginal Barrie is apologetic, trying to ease Zane’s guilt with a lot of “It was my fault, too.” They go their separate ways, and afterward both of them continue to be haunted by their one passion-filled encounter. Maybe it means something. Maybe they should get to know each other better to see if love is in their cards.

Pick up story, continue.

Yeah, I know. I’m not Linda Howard. *sigh*

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Even the Best Fall Down Sometimes

This entry is meant to demonstrate two important things to all writers. First, even the best, most successful writers make mistakes (I mean, the dumb kind that make you go "doh!"). Second, choosing names for your characters really is a big deal and can help you avoid those "doh" moments.

I just started reading Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Pleasure. And before I go any further, let me tell you that as of...hang 57, I'm really enjoying this story. So this blog is not in any way meant to dis this book, because I do like it so far.

However, I came across this mistake that caused me so much confusion I actually had to reread several pages to work it out. This is one of those mistakes that is so dumb and should have been caught during copy editing. I can't call it a type-O, though, because it happens more than once. This is why I was so confused.

Here's the background. Zane Mackenzie is getting information via a phone call. On the other end of the line are several men of importance (Zane is on speaker phone). One of those men is named Admiral Lindley. He's the one giving Zane the sit rep and issuing orders. Another of those men is Ambassador Lovejoy. He's the guy who's daughter has just been kidnapped and who is hoping that Zane can help rescue her. Keep in mind how similar these two names are because it really goes to show something.

Bear with me while I quote bits of paragraphs directly from my copy of the book to illustrate the problem. I've snipped for brevity:

"Damn it," Admiral Lindley muttered. He was in an office in the U.S. Embassy in Athens. He looked up at the others in the office: Ambassador Lovejoy, tall and spare, with the smoothness bequeathed by a lifetime of privilege and wealth, although now there was a stark, panicked expression in his hazel eyes; [snip]

...Admiral Lindley swiftly weighed all the factors. Granted the SEAL team would be two members short...[snip]

As the admiral hung up, Ambassador Lindley blurted, "Shouldn't you send in someone else? My daughter's life is at stake! This man hasn't been in the field, he's out of shape, out of practice - "

"Waiting until we could get another team into position would drastically lower our chances of finding her," the admiral pointed out as kindly as possible. Ambassador Lindley wasn't one of his favorite people...[snip]

Ambassador Lindley shoved his hand through his hair, an uncharacteristic gesture for so fastidious a man;...[snip]

Did you see it? Did you see how Ambassador Lovejoy became Ambassador Lindley? Not just once, but three times! I was so confused. I knew the heroine's name was Barrie Lovejoy (from the blurb on the back of the book) so I had to read this section several times to figure out that this was a mistake.

Not that this passage is critical in any way to the story. But it did trip me - the reader - up. Big time. So much that I had to reread, and we all know that needing to reread for clarity is right up there with a VCR in a Regency era historical in its ability to yank us out of a story.

My point then, is to show that it happens to even the best. I consider Linda Howard a great name in the romance genre and have thoroughly enjoyed her work. So I suppose I should feel a lot better knowing that stuff like this happens to the Big Guys as well as us newbies. And that no one is ever big enough that careful attention to this sort of detail is unimportant. No matter how big you get - how many hardbacks you have on the NYT Bestseller list or how deeply publishers bow and grovel at your feet - it's the tiniest details that make a difference.

My second point is that from here on out, I will take care not to name any two characters so similarly that such a mistake is easy to make. Ambassador Lovejoy is only a few keystrokes away from Admiral Lindley, and since these two men share screen-time, it was almost bound to happen.

Now, I'm off to go read. Zane has just found the ambassador's daughter and is attempting to get her out of the building where she was being held hostage...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Teeniest Tiniest Complaint

Never thought I'd do two entries in one day, but I just have to get this off my chest. I have a teeny, tiny little miniscule pet peeve that bears mentioning because perhaps others have the same issue.

I have a lot of trouble reading blogs and websites where the text is white on a black or very very dark background. It really strains my eyes, and the resulting after-image lingers for a good fifteen minutes after I've stopped reading and returned to a normal dark type on light background screen. If the type is also very small, even a small time spent trying to read it makes my head hurt. Just a while ago I went to a white text/black background site and even now I can barely see my own screen because of the haze burned into my retinas. It makes me sad because a couple of places I've recently visited have content that really intrigues me but I just can't look at the screen long enough to actually read it all.

I know it looks really cool. Heck, when I worked in creative design reverse out type was all the thing. But it is pure murder on the vision when it involves pixels and a computer monitor.

Not that I'm expecting anyone to run out and change their blog or website to please me. Just know that if you decide to go that route - a light colored text on a very dark background - that you might lose a couple of readers to eye-fatigue.

Thanks. Complaint done. Back to my normal, positive self. *g*

The Dirtiest 8-Letter Word

Remember yesterday I was all psyched about this new story idea I had? And I was thrilled because the idea came to me so completely, so stocked with specifics that it was like a puzzle all fitting together to make the prettiest picture. Well, there's a little snag in my Grand Plan. Turns out it's the quintessential example of too good to be true, leading down the primrose path to you don’t get something for nothing. OK, how many points do I get for using three clichés in one sentence?

Anyway, I sat down and started to brain-dump on this Great Story Idea, and the horrible truth snuck up on me like a three-footed cat. This story idea is great, but in order to pull it off, I’m going to have to do some serious (cue da-da-dum music) research.

Let’s get some things straight right off the bat. I loved school. I loved learning things and writing papers and reading text books. Well, okay, I didn’t love it so much at the time as I do now that I look back on it all fondly. But I do love nothing more than heading down to the library, pulling stacks of books off the shelves, pouring through them and scribbling notes all while my brain is just sucking up information about medieval daily life or the French and Indian wars (there was more than one of them – did you know that?) or how to use certain herbs to concoct a sleeping potion. Research does not scare me. I know how to do it and I like to learn new things.

But research has two major downfalls for me. First, I’m one of those 110% people. When I get it into my head that I want to know about some topic, I will read every single thing I can get my hands on about it. I once wrote a story set in Colombia and I now know more about that country than people who live there! This can be a good thing – having the drive to become a mini-expert in the field so you can inject realism into your writing. Except that it takes a lot of time. Time that I should spend writing. Or sleeping. Or reading. I haven't learned the art of knowing when enough is enough, when I have the details I need to make my setting realistic and have started to cross into who cares what color thread Betsy Ross used to mend her husband's socks.

Second problem – sometimes what I have to research is not that easy to actually, well, research. Either the amount of information about it is so overwhelming I can’t decide what’s worthwhile or where to begin, or the subject is so elusive that unless I interview real living people, it’s hard to glean any pertinent information. And if I don't happen to know "people" to interview, I'm really up screwed creek. I'm not one for cold calling. "Hello, Mr. Hickles? You don't know me, but I read in the paper that you once wrestled a bear. Would you mind if I come over...?"

Specific examples, in my case. This new story features a hero whose family members are FDNY firemen. Major Research Hurdle #1. Do you have any idea how much stuff there is out there on FDNY firemen? It’s a big organization with a long, proud history. I could spend the next six months researching this stuff easy. So how much is enough? How much do I need to know to make the story realistic without going into info overload? Not to mention that fine line between reality and fiction – if I want to reference a fictional fire company, it’ll take me days to make sure I haven’t inadvertently used one that really does exist. If I want to name a comrade who fell in the 9/11 tragedy, I have to make sure that I'm not hitting too close to home.

Second example, my hero is from a large Italian family. Now, I have friends who are Italian. But they aren’t New York City Italian. And if I want to make sure that my hero and his family members don’t come off looking like ex-cast members of Goodfellas, I’ve got to be careful to avoid stereotypes. How, exactly, do you research something like that? "Hello, Mrs. Piccolo? You don't know me, but I got your number from the NYC phone book and I understand you're Italian. Do you have a few hours to talk to me about...well, everything in your life?"

I wanted to set the story in Brooklyn. Why? Because it seems like a place where my hero and heroine would have grown up. Somehow I can't imagine that an Italian guy whose family has a history with the FDNY would live in Cincinnati. But I’ve never been to Brooklyn. And I’m not going to have the chance to get to Brooklyn any time soon. Maybe it’s not the best place for this story. But then, where? Where do I go?

When I realized the scope of the work I’m going to have to do to get up to speed enough to write this story, I started to become overwhelmed. And a lot less enthused. Which really irritates me because I like the premise and the characters already. I don’t want to not do this simply because I don’t know enough. I just need to figure out how to get the details I need without taking graduate-level courses.

Do you think they make Cliff Notes versions of “The Life of an Italian Fireman Living in Brooklyn NY”?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Quickie

This is just a quickie since I really do need to do some actual writing today. You know, on those pesky books I'm determined to finish so that my good name will be restored.

First of all, I'm adding a site-meter counter to my blog. I hope that's kosher. I feel kind of like I'm spying, but I'm one of those intensely curious people who just can't stand not knowing if anyone at all is stopping by. Too, I got this really cool book out of the library last night that tells about all these bells and whistles you can add to jazz up your blog. I'm working my way through them. *g*

Second, I just want to say that last night, my Big Three shows all pretty much rocked. Lost was a work of pure genius (and no, not just because I worship the ground Sawyer walks on). They way the writers are weaving this story is just jaw-dropping to me. Yeah, some of the backstories have made me yawn (Michael and Walt and last week's segment with Charlie), but last night? Wow!

Too, The West Wing really bowled me over. I love Jimmy Smits. Have since his LA Law days. I really want to see him win the election, but so far things had been looking so bad for him and my dearest Josh that I was starting to pick up objects to hurl at the TV. Then, last night, the balance shifted. It was just so cool. Plus Donna got in an argument with a chicken. How can you not love that?

Even my guilty pleasure show was a pleasant surprise. Just one of those easy-0n-the-brain makes-you-smile stories. One of these days, I'll confess.

Finally, can I just tell you that in the space of time between yesterday at 11 am when I picked my son up at preschool and this moment, an entirely new story has blossomed in my head? A new heroine to match with a hero who'd been languishing, loveless, as part of a bigger group of guys, along with their meet-cute and complete with the conflict - both internal and external - needed to keep them apart for a good healthy portion of the book. They've joined the party with the rest of my characters but not until after they'd stopped at the door long enough to unload their histories on to my already heaping plate. It's nice to meet them. I just wish they'd have stayed home a little bit longer.

Okay, this wasn't as short as I expected. But it did ramble quite nicely, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

It's a Party!

I have a little problem. All of my characters have declared a full scale mutiny and are currently in the midst of a huge keg party smack in the middle of my head. And they haven't invited me!

Does this happen to anyone else? You have more than one WIP going at a time or characters from your next project have started to take shape, and then they meet each other. They begin to mingle, sharing their histories and current stories until you start to get a bit confused. Sometimes it's a good thing, like being at a party full of really cool people, all of whom you'd like to be friends with. Other times - like what's happening to me now - they either start to fight with each other or they just hunker down for long term walk-out.

Which leaves me completely unmotivated and torn. Each person is jumping up and down Arnold Horshack style screaming "Oh, oh! Oh, oh! Pick me, pick me!" They all want their story to be told right now. No, not when I'm finished with the current book, but right this very minute.

And if I don't do what they say - drop whatever I should be working on to spill their best scene ever immediately - they just refuse to talk to me altogether. They mill about, blending and mingling with each other so none of them gets the spotlight of my focus. The age old sour grapes approach of "If it's not me, then it won't be anybody!"

This is why I have a hard drive full of great scenes. They are the defining moments for these people - the place in their stories where who the characters are really takes form and shape. It's the only way I know to exorcise them from my brain and get them to turn down the stereo so I can bloody think.

This blog entry from Steph Tyler made me smile big time, because I know exactly what she means. Problem with creating over-the-top, dynamic bigger than life people (especially those dang alpha-heroes) is that they can be pretty darn persistent. Ignoring them is sometimes not an option.

So what do you do? Well, I'm thinking of opening a bottle of wine and joining the party.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Walk I Won't Soon Forget

Last night I watched the movie A Walk to Remember. I’ve seen it before, both on the big screen and on DVD. But I hadn’t dusted it off in a while and felt this urge to watch it. Man. I’m still reeling. It’s one of those movies that haunts me for days. Lingers in the corners of my mind, able to evoke raw emotion that makes everyone around me ask if I’m alright when I tear up out of the blue. And, IMO, it represents one of the purist romantic stories out there.

Before I go any further, I’ll warn you that this entry contains SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want the full impact, don’t read after the spoiler warning. I’ll put the spoiler stuff in italics – don’t read the italics.

When AWTR was in the theatres, it was one of those love it/hate it movies. The critics absolutely panned it. Hated it for a sappy melodrama that pulled heartstrings so exploitively the mafia had to be involved. I happened to be in the camp that loved it. I hadn’t read the book the movie was based on (A Walk to Remember, written by Nicholas Sparks), so when I sat down in the theatre, having picked it as the only movie playing that night that had even the remotest appeal to me, I had no idea what I was in for. When I left a little less than two hours later, dazed and heartsick, I couldn’t believe what a treasure I’d found.

For a brief summary for those of you who have no idea whatsoever what the movie is about, Landon Carter is a high school bad-boy with a good heart. After a stupid prank – and let me interrupt here a minute. That stupid prank is what opens the film, and sitting through it, I groaned out loud thinking “Oh, god. Not another stupid teenager flick!” Believe me, this movie is not another stupid teenager flick. Back to the summary…after a stupid prank gets him in trouble, Landon is made to join the drama club and to do some community service work as punishment. Through these two activities, he comes in direct contact with Jamie Sullivan, the goody-goody preacher’s daughter he’s known and disdained all of his life. Turns out Jamie is every bit as good as she puts forth, and for reasons beyond Landon’s understanding, he finds himself drawn to this confident girl. Things progress and Landon has fallen in love. Deeply. Purely. And this love brings out the best in him. He changes his bad-boy ways, wanting for Jamie to be a better person. He becomes Dream Boyfriend.

The best part about this movie is how well it showed Landon’s growth from an obnoxious party-boy only concerned with himself into a guy who cares so much for his girlfriend that he puts himself through pretty much a living hell to be with her. I have to give major, major kudos to actor Shane West, who really made Landon come alive for me. His eyes spoke volumes during many key moments in the movie, and he neatly sidesteps what could have been a teen heartthrob vehicle to infuse Landon with a realism that still haunts me.

As for Jamie (played by Mandy Moore), she is, to a certain degree, a one-note character. She’s good at the beginning of the movie and she’s just as good at the end. (In fact, one point of annoyance I had with the movie was Jamie’s easy acceptance of her preacher father’s dictatorial rules (no dating) and overbearing manner with Landon. I wanted her to stand up to him and tell him to lay off. This frustration was compounded when I learned some things about Jamie later in the movie that made her father's actions both more understandable but also, to a degree, more unforgivable.) While that could be a bad thing, IMO this movie isn’t really about Jamie, it’s about Landon and his journey into adulthood. Jamie is the catalyst. She doesn’t need to be more than she is, so it’s easy to excuse any lack of depth. Besides, what’s there is plenty enough. She’s good, but she’s not perfect. She’s not cloyingly sweet. She’s a better person than Landon and that’s what she needs to be.

Beyond the characters, what makes this movie so good for me is the pure romance it contains. When Jamie and Landon fall in love, it is the real deal. Since these two are only eighteen at the time of the story, it would be so easy to write their love off as the test drive. The puppy love, it’ll never survive college, teenage hormones run-amuck variety. But it’s not.

One demonstration of this (and this warrants an entire blog entry, believe me) is the lack of sex between these two kids. Jamie is a virgin. The hard-core, wait-until-I’m-married kind of virgin. No convincing this girl - she will not change her mind. Landon is a popular kid, surrounded by sweet young things who look more than willing to give it up for him. But Landon never pushes Jamie. He’s more than happy with the fairly chaste kisses they share. His feelings for her transcend what has to be the near earth-moving forces of normal teenage male sex drive. Not that all teenage boys are horn-dogs without the ability to see beyond it. Just that it is such a non-issue for Landon, it has to mean something.

OK, here’s the SPOILER PART. If you want this movie to be a surprise…stop reading.

Another big component of this romance that makes is so perfect is Landon’s willingness to stay with Jamie after he learns a horrible thing about her. You see, Jamie is sick. Very sick. So sick, in fact, that she is dying. When Landon learns this, the heartbreak in his eyes is so intense that you have to be without a heart not to be affected by it (and here’s more mad props to Shane West). Clearly this news devastates him – the girl he loves is dying. What he could do, to save his own tender heart, is to run as far away as he can. Cut himself off and try to minimize the damage. After all, he’s young. They don’t have a long history together, and he has a whole life ahead of him to help him forget about her. The less contact he has now, the more shallow the cut.

But Landon doesn’t leave. He stays with her. Until the bitter end. He suffers probably the hardest thing we humans have to endure – the loss of a love one to an untimely disease – because he’d rather have those few months of the real thing with Jamie. He walks through hell, a hell that doesn’t end with her death because he will always carry the scars of his love and loss, and he does this willingly. If that isn’t a pure love, I don’t know what else is.

End of spoiler.

I highly recommend this movie. Yes, it has moments of melodrama. But it is honestly one of the best examples of the kind of romance that truly moves me. I mean it. I’ll be haunted for days by this. It’s the kind of romance I’d love to be able to capture and infuse into all of my books, the level of love I want all of my characters to feel and reach. It’s the ultimate redemption story, of love having the power to change people.

As a side bar, Alison Kent's column for today's Romancing the Blog discusses romantic moments in movies. I love this kind of stuff. I kind of touched on this in my Top 10 Probably Un-PC Hero Gestures, but she’s inspired me to do a Top 10 favorite movie moments blog. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’d be borrowing again!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2005


I'm going to give this writing by schedule thing a try. From what I hear, every successful writer lives by the chiseled-in-granite law of "write every day." And I'm so guilty of breaking that law. Heck, I've shattered it into microscopic pieces. I'll go days and weeks without putting a word down.

Mostly that's because I feel like my best work is done when I'm in the mood. And a lot of times, I'm just out of the mood. I've sworn up and down that my mood for writing is directly tied in to my hormones, but that is simply TMI for this blog so I'll leave it at me having one highly productive week, two totally blah weeks, and a week or so of in-between.

Anyway, seems that the key to actually getting a book written is to write even when you don't feel like it. Except, there are so many ways to not write when you don't feel like it. My list of must-read blogs has grown exponentially, to the point where I have to avoid certain blogs because they quite often point me in the direction of other really cool blogs that I then find myself getting sucked into. Not a good thing. And heaven forbid I stumble on a writer's tips website. You pretty much won't see me for days.

And now I've gotten involved with this critique group, so I can waste a good day or two critiquing someone else's stuff. Even when I don't feel like writing, it's always a good exercise for me and truly no hardship to look over a friend's work and add my two cent opinion. Kind of the best of both worlds - she's done the hard work of getting the words down on the page and I get to come in and offer ideas for the spit polish.

But, since I do want to finish something, I'm going to go to a schedule. I don't like the idea of setting myself a word-count goal. Then I'd feel much like I was writing crap simply to meet a quota. More, I need to set myself a time limit on distractions or a time period in which I'm not allowed to open my web browser at all (except to use Night times usually aren't a problem. By then I've caught up on blogs and e-mail and things in the world have quieted down. You know, it's that whole vampire writer thing.

What I should do is get myself a computer that doesn't even have internet access. Holy cow, I just shuddered after typing that. But really, what better form of discipline. If it's not there, it can't distract, right?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Those writers who set aside an hour a day (or half an hour or fifteen minutes) and plug away have all my respect. My one very good friend gets up sometime between 5 and 5:30 to do her writing before the family gets up. That'll never happen for me because I am so not a morning person. But she impresses the hell out of me.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Practice Story

Two years ago, and I can remember it was January, I sat down at my PC and said, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to write a book.” For years – my entire life, really – I have had stories floating in my brain. And for the first time I figured I might as well try and put one of them on paper. See if I had the right stuff, because everyone knows that the gap between a story-in-the-brain and a book is approximately the distance between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

I wrote. Every free minute I got, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I did research. I plotted and drew family trees. It was great. So great, in fact that I finished all but maybe 10% of the book, and it’s not even a hard 10% left to do.

Fast forward to today. In those two years since I first sat down to write, I’ve learned a lot. Since I’d decided to give the professional writing thing a fair go, I jumped in with both feet. I’ve read easily fifty books on writing, not including all the grammar books. It takes only a nanosecond for me to get distracted while on-line by any website offering writing tips and advice. I now read novels with a completely different focus (and in the process have become highly critical) because I know there is actually an art to this writing thing. I can spot problems from a mile away, name them, and even have ideas how to fix them. In a nutshell, I’ve really studied.

So, looking at that manuscript I so lovingly spilled out on paper? Holy cow, is it bad. I mean, baaaddd. I wince when I read it now. Can’t believe I’d ever thought to show anyone – thank God I never did get that far.

Here’s the deal. I still like that story. I loved the premise and the characters. Loved the twists and turns I had so carefully plotted. When I read what I've written, once I get past the bad writing (a whole heck of a lot of telling the story and barely any showing, pacing is horrible, dialogue weak, etc.) I get totally absorbed in the story itself. It's a book I'd like to read. Kind of like I wish I could dictate it to a really, really good writer who would do it justice just so I could then buy the book and read the story.

Except, today I came to realize that my story includes not only a secret baby but an amnesia line as well. What’s so hysterical about that was that I wrote this story long before I had read a word on any romantic novels genre website about the overabundance of such storylines. Some innate thing inside me steered me immediately toward those clichés (which is a topic for a whole other blog). But...that's a side issue. I'm just saying it struck me as funny that I'd done that automatically.

My question to myself is this. Do I forget that manuscript? Stick it under the bed like any self-respecting writer-in-training and focus on new things, new ideas. I have them. But there is something so compelling right now about going back to those 300 plus already written pages and using that idea that I still love. Rewriting it. Making it better now that I know how. Seeing if I really do have something. Or is that just a humongous waste of my time? That was my practice run.

I look at it like this – my first book is kind of like the gorgeous, wonderful rebound guy. You sure hate to waste him on something you know has no future. You’d rather save him until you’re healed and ready to commit again. I hate the idea that I wasted a cool story and some great characters on practice. They’ll never see the light of day just because I wasn’t ready for them when I wrote them. Now I’m ready, and I want them back. Is it too late?

I don’t know. I really don’t have the answer to that.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Yesterday or Today? Haven't Even Considered Tomorrow

When I first sat down to write a story – I mean, with the intention of actually letting someone else read it – I was sure my destiny was as an historical romance writer. I loved historicals, especially medievals placed in Scotland, and my first nearly completed manuscript was set in colonial America. It never entered my mind that I’d write anything else. Those were the books I loved and the stories I wanted to tell.

My experience reading contemporary romance was fairly limited. I’d read Judith Krantz and a few Danielle Steele. I’d also enjoyed Maeve Binchy, but I’m not even sure she’s considered romance when you apply the strict definition. As much as these books were good reads, nothing about them screamed epic romance. Too much quiet living and not enough excitement on a grand scale. The love stories I loved were all set in the past.

Because, after all, how could you have a true romance unless there were horses and damsels in distress and knights riding to the rescue? Not to mention the inherent romance in something as exotic as a completely different time and way of life. There can’t be any more romantic setting than a castle or pirate ship, neither of which are part of life today. (Unless you’re a Windsor. I’m not a Windsor nor a pirate.) Even the clothes screamed romance, such intriguing things as bliauts and chausses and mantles, and the most seductive of all garments, the chemise.

Too, the dangers of the past seemed far grander than those of today. Misguided fathers and evil uncles forcing virginal heroines into wedding contracts with dark, mysterious scoundrels. Abductions for political alliances and sieges and attacks. Ongoing clan wars where the hero could risk life and limb and prove his prowess and superior manliness. Pirates and Indians, warlords and nobles, mistresses and rakes. A cast of characters just made for excitement and romance.

The harsh environments and physical requirements of the past made for brawny, muscular heroes toughened to the cold and impervious to pain. Heroines were softer, more feminine with their long flowing tresses and gentle, innocent ways. There was nothing un-PC about a man protecting his woman and home, nor in a woman who accepted such protection. As a writer, you could lean on the backwards mores of those times without explaining yourself. It was okay for men to be men and women to be women, as long as the men weren’t boorish unfeeling brutes and the women weren’t wimpy doormats. Who would want to read about people like that, no matter when they lived?

In historical romance, you got the best of both worlds. You got all the pageantry, all the danger and the cool clothes. But because the hero and heroine always bathed regularly and had at least one healer in residence (or the heroine an extensive knowledge of all things herbal), you didn’t have to recognize the realities of poor hygiene, prevalent disease and even the ick-factor of having bathrooms that were really only glorified port-a-potties.

So, yeah, I was all set to write the next great line of medievals and Scottish highlander novels. I did my research, read about life back then, learned the names of the clothes and the difference between a keep and a donjon. Got my heroine a complete wardrobe of embroidered chemises and my hero a stable full of fine horses. Built them a castle and threw in a few conniving barons to mix things up a bit.

Then I picked up my first Suzanne Brockmann novel.

And I saw that today’s world held just as many dangers and opportunities for excitement as the olden days. Warriors still exist in the form of Navy SEALs and FBI agents and CIA operatives. Cops and firefighters and the hunky auto mechanic with the mysterious military past. Instead of clan wars or battles between warring nobles, the fight had shifted to the war on terrorism and drug cartels. Damsels in distress had become endangered scientists or innocent hostages, newspaper reporters and ambassador’s daughters.

And there was romance. Hot, steamy, sweet, romantic romance.

Which led me to take a closer look at exactly why I liked historicals so much. I started to think about which romantic movies I liked best. Were they all set in the past? Last of the Mohicans and Braveheart. The Count of Monte Cristo. Sense and Sensibilities and Pride and Prejudice. Yep. Loved them all. But, too, I loved the romances in Witness, Top Gun and Romancing the Stone. And I count many modern television couples among my favorite all-time romantic pairings – Buffy and Spike (shut up!), Lois and Clark, Maddie and David (from Moonlighting for all you young’ns out there), Josh and Donna. Okay, this last one is just a wish, but you get my drift.

Through this process, I learned something important about myself. What I had thought was a love for historicals turns out to be a love for romantic adventure. It doesn’t matter when the action occurs for me, as long as the story includes action. Even more specifically, my favorite romances are those where the danger is tangible, the hero protective and the heroine at risk. I’m a sucker for the save, the rescue, the pulling from the jaws of certain doom. And I’ve come to see that quite often these days, the heroine is just as likely as the hero to do the saving. That’s pretty cool!

Since that first Brockmann (which happened to be Out of Control if you’re interested), I’ve moved through Linda Howard and am working my way through Jennifer Crusie. I’ve discovered a whole new world of writers who stick with the here and now and do quite nicely with it. I’ve found humor and mystery. Heat and excitement. Heroes larger than life and heroines who match them inch for inch. All of it set within the last decade or so. Nary a castle in site.

Plus there’s the benefit of showers and modern plumbing. Hospitals for treating those bullet wounds. Cell phones and e-mail to help avoid those horrible communication snafus that always seemed to lead to the big Misunderstandings.

So the book I’m writing now? A contemporary. My ideas for my next three books (a trilogy)? Contemporaries.

I still love my first idea, that book set in colonial America. The writing is horrible and I wince when I read it, but I think the idea can be salvaged. Some day I plan to revisit it. And I know there’s a regency lurking somewhere in my head as well as that medieval. After all, I need to use all of that stuff about castles that I committed to memory.

If I could only figure out a way to work a chemise into my heroine’s wardrobe along with her cargo pants and bullet-proof vest, I’d have it all.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

My Top Ten Probably Un-PC Hero Gestures

There are certain things – little and big – that are pretty much guaranteed to make me melt when a hero does them. In a book, in the movies, on a television program. In real life. A lot of these things are un-PC by today’s standards or would set the women’s movement back a couple thousand years, and I could be run out of town on a rail for admitting that I like them so much. I don’t care. It’s a fantasy world, so I can like what I like.

I fully confess that I have a weakness for take-charge alpha heroes and rescue situations (in fact, this is the very topic of tomorrow's blog). The damsel in distress with her knight in shining armor and all of that. So much of what I love to see a man do echoes some form of that scenario. I'm sure that some of these things won't be appreciated by those who favor a quieter, gentler love story, and that's cool. To each his own.

Here’s my list, along with some examples from the movies, of what makes me weak in the knees:

1. When a man takes off his coat and gives it to a woman. Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) giving his coat to Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) in Contact. *sigh*

2. When a man places his hand on the small of a woman’s back to guide her somewhere. All right, I don’t have a specific example of this, but I love it when I see it.

3. When a man instinctively steps forward when a woman is threatened in any way. Bonus if he puts himself between her and danger. A good one for this is in The Princess Bride, when Wesley (Cary Elwes) steps in front of Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) when they are confronted by Prince Humperdink.

4. When a man wants a woman so badly, he sweeps items off the nearest flat surface – files off a desk, dishes off a table. Think Crash and Annie (Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon) in the kitchen in the movie Bull Durham. Spilled cornflakes never looked so good.

5. A true classic – the man literally sweeping a woman off her feet. And the textbook example: Zack (Richard Gere) sweeping Paula (Debra Winger) off her feet and carrying her out of the paper factory at the end of An Officer and A Gentleman.

6. A distraught man keeping a bedside vigil beside the woman he loves. My all time favorite: in Sense and Sensibilities, when Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) tells Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) to “give me an occupation or I shall run mad” in response to the near-death state of Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet).

7. When a man ignores the woman’s feeble protests and kisses her anyway, to the relief of both (and I’m not talking forced seduction here). Two good examples: Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) kissing a protesting Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Jack (George Clooney) kissing a protesting Melanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) at the end of One Fine Day.

8. When a man is more affected by a woman than he realizes and he isn’t able to control his reaction. One of my favorite on-screen kisses demonstrates this in Some Kind of Wonderful, when Keith (Eric Stoltz) kisses best friend Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) and finds it affects him in ways he never imagined. Benjamin (Matthew McConaughey) losing his cool after he kisses Andie (Kate Hudson) and forgetting his resolve to go slow, instead zeroing in for some more in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

9. The Look. And honestly, this is one that only works in the movies or television because it has to be seen to be appreciated. Plus all due props have to be given to the fine actors able to pull it off so effectively. I’m talking about Looks such as those given:
* by Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) to Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) in Pride and Prejudice
* by Georges (Gerard Depardieu) to Brontë (Andie MacDowell) at the end of Green Card
* by Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) to Donna Moss (Jenna Malone) both before she goes into surgery and after she awakens in The West Wing Season 6 episode NSF Thurmont.

10. Any time a man performs some extraordinary physical feat to reach a heroine in distress. Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) climbing the wall to reach Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) in Romancing the Stone or Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) crashing through the door to reach Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

11. When the hero risks his own life to be with or save the heroine. Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) staying with the handcuffed Annie (Sandra Bullock) as their subway train heads toward a dead end in Speed. Titanic’s Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) struggling in the frigid waters of the north Atlantic while Rose (Kate Winslet) floats atop a door. Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) entering the Huron camp, offering his life in exchange for Cora’s (Madeleine Stowe) after telling her that he would find her no matter how long it took or how far he had to go, in Last of the Mohicans.

OK, a little sidebar…did you happen to notice how many romantic heroes are named Jack? I’m just saying…

And yes, I said ten things but I’ve listed eleven. Got carried away, I guess.

I need to go now. I have about a dozen movies that I’m just itching to watch.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Idea Faerie

Some writers call it their Muse. Others don’t have a name for it, and when asked where they get their ideas from, they just shrug. I call it the Idea Faerie. She usually visits me at night, when I’m sleeping, and leaves me a little present under my pillow just like the Tooth Faerie. Maybe they are sisters or cousins.

Anyway, I wake up and there it is. An Idea. Sometimes just a tiny kernel. Sometimes an entire story. As I brush my teeth and shower and put on my makeup, my mind spins at a billion cycles per minute, scenes coming one on top of another. I don’t even bother trying to write it down. It’s there, solid as a rock.

Sometimes the Idea includes fully formed characters. Other times it’s just the premise and the characters have to be nurtured and fleshed out. A lot of the time it’s a beginning and a middle with no end. Once in a while it’s the end with no beginning.

These visits by the Idea Faerie are a blessing and a curse. She makes sure that I’ll never run out of stories to write, so if I ever get this fledgling career off the ground, I should be set for a good long run. But she also contributes to my position as a non-closer.

Because once a new Idea grabs a hold, everything else pales by comparison. All that matters is the new story, the need to get the new Idea out on paper as fast as possible. The current WIPs become redheaded stepchildren, relegated to the file cabinet of my hard drive until I’ve burned out the candle of the newest darling or another Idea hits me upside the head.

I think I’ve learned how to deal with this. At least, I’m giving something a try. Yesterday morning when I woke up with an Idea, I spent all morning rolling it around and giving it form and substance. Then I sat down at my laptop and did a brain dump. Got as much as I possibly could on paper (which should hopefully serve as a good synopsis at some point) and then I filed it in my “Ideas” folder. It’s safe there, not going anywhere. I can push the idea away and forget about it because when I’m ready, it’ll be waiting for me. I’m going to treat it like a reward. Until I finish – yes, that’s f-i-n-i-s-h – the book I’m currently writing, I cannot even consider working on the new Idea. I can’t write word one.

I have to eat all of my vegetables before I can have my chocolate.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Entering the Zone

Every writer will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say there is no better feeling than when you enter the Zone. It’s that point when you are writing when everything around you falls away and it’s just you and the story. The characters are talking to you, the scene is crystal clear, running like a movie through your brain. The words flow from your fingertips like water pouring from a pitcher. It’s why we put up with all the crap that comes with writing. Being in the Zone is addictive. It’s what I live for, what makes me feel alive. It’s then that the stories swirling in my brain come out for all the world to see.

I tend to enter the Zone late at night. Since I have children, I don’t have true, uninterrupted writing time until after they are in bed and asleep (the asleep part is crucial) which is usually around 9. It takes a good half hour to warm up, not to mention that last check of the e-mail and cruise around the block to see if any blogs have been updated. By ten, I have the music flowing and I’m humming along. Before I know it, my husband is asking me if I’m ever coming to bed, to which I grumble “soon” which really means sometime between two and three. And even then I usually have to force myself to shut down the computer because I’m both exhausted and I know I’ll never make it when the alarm goes off at seven. Thankfully getting older has meant that I don’t require as much sleep. Or rather, thankfully those around me tolerate my grouchiness.

Giving up sleep is a small sacrifice to make, though, since it affords me a good block of consecutive hours in which to work. I don’t know how other writers do it when they talk about writing a paragraph in the fifteen minutes while they drink their first cup of coffee or snatching a half-hour while the kids are napping. I can’t write in tiny snatches. It takes me too long to get up and running, to get the mind lubed up enough that I’m not just staring at the screen trying to remember where I left off and where I wanted to go or rereading what I last wrote simply to catch up. I’m like an eighteen wheeler – I’ve got to work through those low, slow gears first, ramping up to full speed.

Besides, it’s rare and precious to enter the Zone, and nothing is more frustrating for me than to have to leave it. That’s one reason I tend to avoid writing during the day even though I’d get a lot more done if I did. I’ll sit down with two free hours in front of me, but by the time I’m really getting warmed up, it’s time to go pick up a kid or make lunch or start dinner. Walking away from my story is almost physically painful, and the despair is nearly overwhelming because I know I’ll never get back into that same rhythm again. Not to mention the haze I walk around in, still so immersed in my fantasy world that I don’t hear the kids talking to me until they’ve screamed “Mom!” a couple dozen times.

I’ve heard more than one writer claim that having unlimited writing time is really not the blessing most would think it to be. When you have unlimited time, you waste a good portion of it knowing that there is always more. When you only have an hour here or there, you make the most of it. I know that to be true because when I worked my full-time job, I was waaayyy more efficient than I am now. I’m sure if I had a full eight hours a day to write – what I imagine would be the case if writing was my career and I approached it as a real job – I’d goof off for five hours instead of two or stare at the blank screen waiting for the muse to wake up.

Even so, I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the fall of 2006, when my youngest starts full-time school. From the moment I drop the kids off at 8:25 until I have to pick them up at 3, time is mine. Six glorious hours. Sure, there will be laundry and grocery shopping and the usual house-running chores. But for the most part, I can actually treat my writing as a real job. Get up in the morning. Get dressed for work. Sit down at my desk. Take a lunch break. Tie things up in time to get the kids. Go to bed at a decent hour.

Unless, of course, this night-time Zone hitting thing is really an indication that I’m a vampire.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

You're My Inspiration

I can't tell you how relieved I was to learn that I'm not the only writer who actually has soundtracks for her WIPs. I really was beginning to think I'd gotten into my stories a little too much. I mean, when you start casting actors to play your hero and heroine (honest, that file of images I have on my desktop is for reference purposes) and thinking of which songs will be running in the background during key moments, you've got to wonder where the boat of sanity went around the wrong bend.

Music is by far my biggest inspiration. I can be strolling through the grocery store, minding my own business, when a song comes pouring out the overhead speakers (thankfully my grocery store abhors Muzak) and I'll be clutched with this overwhelming sensation of absolute rightness. I'll see things about a story so clearly that it's all I can do not to sit down in the aisle between the boxes of pasta and jars of spaghetti sauce, whip out my battered notebook and scribble away.

It works on multiple levels for me. Sometimes a song will make me think of a specific character. Several months ago I was waiting in the check-out line when the song "Wildfire" - an oldie but a tear-jerker from my youth - inspired a fully-formed, three-dimensional man to pop out of my brain. Well, not actually pop out of my brain...but you get the idea. He became the hero of my next masterpiece, and now every time I need him to appear, I just pull the song off my laptop and he's standing there in front of me. I assign every character a theme song which, by either the lyrics or the overall tone, represents the person I imagine.

Music also puts me in the right mood to write. I have songs that make me feel every emotion - ones I use when need to write about rage (Evanesence's "Bring Me to Life" works well for me), ones for imagining a poignant, heart-breaking love scene (right now I've been going with Delerium's "Silence") and ones that make my heart ache with longing so I can imagine how lovers separated will do anything to be together again (Rod Stewart's "Broken Arrow" epitomizes this for me - the lines ...I'll get to you if I have to crawl, they can't hold me with these iron walls... pretty much chokes me up every time). No matter where I need to be mentally and emotionally, I can manufacture it by creating the exact playlist for the specific job.

The beauty of today's technology means I can get practically any song I need. I don't have to buy the entire Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction CD just so I can have "Sweet Child of Mine" (the only GNR song I like). Not to mention the software like iTunes and Media Player that lets you make playlists. With a few clicks of the mouse you get a custom made soundtrack to run behind the words on the screen better than any movie soundtrack CD you could find at Best Buy.

I don't know what our predecessors did, having to actually change the LP or cassette tape or CD simply to get the songs they wanted to hear.

Gosh, that prospect is almost as shudder-inducing as having to write with a pen on paper and use a typewriter to get a final manuscript ready to send out. How archaic!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

To Review or Not To Review

Okay, on this one, I tell you that I'm not stealing or even borrowing. Because, honest, I had this idea this morning. I was trying to think what to blog about today, and I had a spark of inspiration in the shower, where I do all of my best thinking and problem solving. In fact, I used to work with a woman who called them "shower thoughts" and I've adopted her phrase for any spark of brilliance that occurs sometime between lathering up the hair-do and the water running cold.

Anyway, I had this great idea, but before I could sit down to write it up (because of the hellish morning I had babysitting a friend's baby who cried inconsolably for 45 minutes straight which sent me immediately to the phone to make an appointment with my OB/Gyn for a refill on that prescription I let lapse...) I cruised over to The Red Pen Diaries to see that she had hit the nail on the head.

To review or not to review.

Remember I said I got inspired to do a website? I thought as part of it I'd include a section where I'd post my reviews. On books, movies, tv shows. I try to write Amazon reviews on books I read and I enjoy doing it. But it occurred to me as I mapped out my plan that maybe I was asking for trouble. If I post my opinion about something I've read, and if that opinion isn't necessary a glowing "best thing ever written!", am I risking the wrath of irate writers who will then take inordinate pleasure in ripping my (future) stuff to shreds? In other words, am I totally screwing myself?

I know, fundamentally, that the answer is "no, of course not" for a variety of reasons.

1 - It's pretty dang presumptuous of me to assume that any writer worth her salt would care a hoot about what I think

2 - I'm a fairly skilled diplomat. (Hey, I admit to being a non-closer. Give me this one.) I'm pretty good at pointing out things I disliked or problems I had in a constructive way. In other words, I don't get pleasure in bashing the heck out of book just because I can.

3 - It's pretty dang presumptuous of me to assume that if I ever get published, another writer will actually read my book, remember that I gave her/him a not-so-good review, and take the time to do likewise.

4 - There is a severe shortage of good, honest reviews out there. Reviews that fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes of nausea-inducing gush to the vitriol expressed by others who view the romance genre as inferior and will dis any book that includes the words “man”, “woman”, and “love” on principle alone.

5 - It's pretty dang presumptuous of me to assume I'm ever going to get published. Why worry now about something that might possible hopefully if I play my cards right and sell my soul to the devil happen?

I can’t speak to the nature of the industry as far as editors and writers reviewing books they have obvious biases toward (or against), so I’ll have to assume TRPD is correct about some incest going on there. And I have to wonder if there isn’t some kind of unspoken professional courtesy going on behind the scenes. Writers don’t review other writers' work, kind of like doctors not practicing medicine on their own family members. I can respect this and even go so far as to keep my opinions to myself.

Except I’m not a published writer. Yet.

I guess in the end it comes to my firm agreement with TRPD in that far too many review sites that cover the romance genre swing widely in one direction or the other, usually the one that gives stars out like they were free or something. For example, it's hard as a reader to take seriously the woman who is currently Amazon's number one reviewer because I don't think she's ever given any of the 3 gazillion books she's reviewed less than four stars.

On the flip side, as much as Mrs. Giggles' reviews amuse me, I cringe in sympathy for the authors whenever I read them and fear the day she ever wraps her hands around anything I might have to offer. It’s hard to believe that 99.9% of the books she reads are utter crap not worthy of the paper they’re printed on, but according to her reviews, that seems to be her general opinion. Come on, it's one thing to be very discerning. But geesh, my 93 year old grandmother is easier to please.

So, I probably will include book reviews on my site for now and revisit that decision if I ever get published. It'll give me good practice using those diplomacy skills. And hopefully those random strangers who stop by might get some use out of them, if even only to generate some interesting arguments when they disgree with what they see to be my complete moronic-ness.

And if any writer comes my way and is unhappy with my assessment of her work of utter genius, hopefully she won’t feel any big need to retaliate when at long last I have my own bit of heart and soul out there in the big world. decide what kind of rating system to use. I'm kind of leaning toward the A,B,C scale. Stars are a dime a dozen these days.