Saturday, September 25, 2010

Golden Heart Contest

It's that time again -- Romance Writer's of America's Golden Heart contest opens for entries on September 21st. Crazy. Didn't they just finish up the last year?

The good news is that you have until November 15th, 2010 to submit your entry form and until December 2nd, 2010 to get your submission to the RWA offices.

That is right on the heels of NaNoWriMo... if I'm focusing on finsihing my w.i.p. for the Golden Heart, I won't be able to start my new project. Hmmmm. Of course, I could just finish my w.i.p. for NaNoWriMo without actually participating in the contest aspect.

The date just snuck (not 'sneaked') up on me and took me by surprise. I know, it shouldn't have, but it did.

I could also resubmit Courtly Pleasures (previously known as Courtly Love). It has gone through some major changes since I submitted it last November. Who knows? I certainly don't.

Last year was exciting. The contest dates gave me a real deadline. Once I had done everything to their specifications and sent it off (I think it cost about $50 to mail it all, it was such a big package) there was that feeling of accomplishment and some closure. Then the date came when I knew the judges were going to start reading. It was neat to think that some author was reading my first fifty pages. The date came when I knew the judges had to turn in their score sheets. Finally the day came where the finalists were going to be notified. I stayed home, watching the RWA site get updated. I cried when I was not included.

But I would do it again in a heart beat. It was like my novel was a part of something. The judges had to read the first fifty-pages -- my entry fee guaranteed it. My novel was really out there in the world (to an extent). It was a good feeling.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Starving for a Blogfest


Thank you to Angela for hosting this blogfest.
The idea is to have a scene where food is central, or at least included.

I was very excited because I have something this time! Hurray for me! In fact, I even blogged about writing this scene. Read that fantastic blog here.

So, here it is, from my WIP, Courtly Scandals (by the time I finish this book, I'll have posted every scene. Oh! And then I'll get published and have to redact all of it. If only...).


The banquet hall was the largest hall of the palace, but swaths of fabric draping from the beamed ceiling created a more intimate setting. Looking around, Mary noted that the meal was rather intimate as well. She saw the Queen’s favorites, costumed of course, and a few other courtiers that she recognized but could not name. Really, this must have been a Queen’s invitation only affair – she had never been included in something like this before. Then again, tonight she was not herself. Mistress Parry had made sure that.
It was hard to eat, as tight as her borrowed corset was. Then again, it did give a little more cleavage that she usually had, so maybe it was worth it. As she eyed the glazed pear in heavy brandy cream sauce, she wished she was not quite so confined. Course after course was delivered; the rice pudding was carried in by acrobats who seemed sure to drop the savory dishes all over the guests. Each food and each presentation outdid the last, until the main course arrived.
Toga draped servants came in, each group of four bearing a regal gilded swan with wings poised for flight. This was the chef’s coup de grâce: It was magnificent. The gilding on the skin of the swan was from saffron powder and flakes of gold. It had been deboned and stuffed with goose which had been stuffed with a gold ringed pheasant, stuffed with a black bird, French hen, turtle dove, parteridge, and, finally, a pear. One of the servers sliced the whole swan in half with a razor sharp saber, exposing the layers as one half teetered forward on the platter. There were three swans in all – one for each table. Each layer of meat was distinct as the servers cut thin wedges for the guests. The very fact that non-royalty was being allowed to eat swan was overwhelming. What would they serve next? Horse? Peacock?
Court was an amazing place. Oddly enough, Mary realized she would much prefer a simple mutton pie to the decadent fare. Not that she could have eaten that either.
“My dear beauty, if I may present you with a goblet of lambic?” Mary could not remember the nobleman’s name, but she knew him. He was excessive at the best of times – who knew how he might behave at Christmas.
She smiled at the young lord even as she eyed his magenta satin slops with hesitation. What had she gotten herself into?
“Lambic! I thank you must kindly.” Mary took the offered goblet from the young lord and placed it on the table. “Now I must insist you take your seat and enjoy the rest of this feast. The palace staff have gone above and beyond and deserve our appreciation.”
“As you say, your Grace.”
“Your Grace? I am simply a lady of the court – and a woman in disguise. Do not hope to see past my mask and I shall not look past yours.” Mary held her head high, but wore a broad smile. She hoped she was regal enough. Then again, she wasn’t really impersonating the Queen, she just wanted to keep people guessing.
“Oh, Indeed!” The young man winked broadly and deepened his reverence before turning to leave. He was probably very proud of himself.
“That was well done.” Sir Nicholas placed his hand on her thigh under the table, while he took another bite of beef and blood pudding with custard. “You may be the Queen or you may not. Either way, a lovely woman accepted his gift.”
“I do like lambic.”
So do I, Mistress Mary. So do I. I do not, however, like blood pudding. I had it once as a child and I gagged. Of course, I was also being melodramatic.

I came across Chef Heston Blumenthal while I was researching this peice. After I found him, I spent hours on YouTube, not getting anything written.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 TV Shows

Thank you to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting this blogfest.
I can participate without having to write something new and I don't have to sieve through my existing work to find something that may or may not loosely meet the guidelines (even though I enjoy posting my writing, obviously). This is refreshing in a getting-to-know-you kind of way.

If I had to pick from what I currently watch (when I can, usually in marathon sessions), I would almost have to sub-categorize by genre and have multiple lists of 10. I mean The Closer and Bones are technically in a different genre than Psych which is completely separate from Project Runway and Top Chef which is again, different from The Daily Show... too confusing. So, for the sake of nostalgia, I will include favorites from my past.

X-Files
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Allie McBeal
Hex
Murder She Wrote
Spin City
Scrubs
The Cosby Show
Dead Like Me
Monarch of the Glen

Friday, September 17, 2010

No Such Thing As An Objective Reader

Whether or not a reader enjoys a books is an entirely subjective experience. I have always known this, and yet I did not apply it to my own writing.

I am about 80% finished with a romance novel. Usually I would have finished it by now. I don't want to even though my ocd demands that I must. It is just that bad. Seriously.

I don't like the author's voice. There is no believability to the thoughts/actions of the heroine. She is not a sympathetic character. Plot twist after plot twist drags the story on forever, all of which would have been avoided of the two leads had had an honest conversation. All of it, dialogue, narration, and inner monologue, is written in a very archaic and formal way designed to reflect the era it is set in. Just not a good read.

It was one of those moments when I wondered how the book got published in the first place. It turns out this was the author's first historical fiction. Since then, that she actually has had multiple books published. Her reviews are stellar, yet when I read the pages available through Amazon, her writing style is just as off-putting.

I have read more books than I could count. In the past, the only times I have not finished a romance was when a rape was involved and the main character ended up liking it and loving the guy (Sorry, no means no all the time). So, unless I'm totally disgusted, I finish every book I start -- and almost every book has some entertainment value to it. I like to think I can see the good in most books in my genre. In fact, when a book is able to get through all the hurdles to publication, I assume it must have some redeeming quality. I really could not find any in this particular book, and yet it seems that many people enjoyed it. Heck, it got published!

My point: I entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart contest last year. Of course, I thought my book was quality enough to at least be a finalist. It wasn't. Eventually, RWA sent me the judge's score cards. There were five judges. One gave me an 8/10 and one gave me a 7.6/10. This means they liked it. Those judges thought it was good enough to go through to the finals. They wanted to read more. Awesome.

But wait, there are still three judges....

One gave a me a 6/10. To me, that means she didn't hate it or like it. Meh. Another judge gave me a 6/10 (and marked that it was not a romance). Okay, so I'm not connecting with everyone. I've read books that I would give a 6/10. I might not seek that author out on purpose, but if another one of his/her books came my way, I would read it.

The fifth judge gave me a 4/10. Really? That bad? At the time, I just didn't get it. What did I do wrong? How could the scores be so across the board? Either it's a good book or it isn't.

This brings me back to my original point. I would give the book I mentioned earlier (which I may or may not finish) at most, a 4/10 (in general -- I do not know all the criteria the Golden Heart judges were using to determine their scores). I just don't relate to it on any level even though it's set in a era of history I enjoy (but am not an expert on, so I'm not analyzing the accuracy). But many people would give it an 8/10 or better. It got published, for goodness sakes! I probably will not enjoy anything by this author, ever. Yet many people do. There is nothing that author can do to court my good opinion -- and there's no reason for her to try. Not everyone will like her books. That's just the nature of reading. It's entirely subjective.

As for me, I know that not everyone will like my book. The 4/10 judge? I don't think there's anything I can do about that. I can't please everyone, not even when those people are already predisposed to like my genre. There was something about my writing that they actively disliked. I can't let myself be upset about that.

The judges that gave me the 6/10 -- they're on the fence. Something about my writing did not engage them, but whatever that something is, their opinion leaves enough wiggle room for me to fix it. So long as 80% of my readers do like my story to some extent, there's no reason I can't be a success.

As a result of really disliking this book I'm reading, I am able to let go of any residual feeling of inadequacy left behind by the 4/10 score. In fact...

Dear 4/10 judge,

You have the right to dislike my book. I understand it is just a matter of personal preference. I absolve myself of the need to please you. I will be the best author I can be and understand that I cannot please everyone.

I thank you for your honest evaluation.

Yours,
Erin Kane Spock

So, there was my spout off about hating on books and being good enough, smart enough, etc... Have you ever received harsh criticism? Something beyond a helpful critique? How have you handled it?

Addendum: I have since finished this book. I put it in the bathroom and made it through the last 50 or so pages a paragraph at a time. The good news is that the lead characters finally got their happily ever after. I wasn't sure they would. Then again, it is a genre requirement that the lead characters find true love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

Turn to face the strain...

And it was a strain, but I did it.

As posted previously, I allowed myself a day of wallowing. That was followed by an insane day at school which completely distracted me from any additional pity-parties (at least, in relation to my writing). Today is the proactive, problem solving day.

It was easier than I had anticipated. With the help of Word's 'replace' all feature, Pierrepont became LeSieur (I researched Norman names that dated back to the Conqueror then made sure there were no noblemen/gentry at court during the 1570's with that same name. I did actually find one, but he was from France. Anyway, it worked). Shrewsbury became Spencer (a little nod to future generations). Hardwick became Hartford. Lumley became Ludlow. Any reader with a smattering of Elizabethan history will see the obvious resemblances to the real historical figures, but for the purposes of my historical romance, I think we're good.

Courtly
Love is hereby known as Courtly Pleasures. I am happy with this because I was able to keep 'Courtly' involved. 'Pleasures' gives it that hint of sexy it was missing, and, as an added bonus, it doesn't sound so much like Courtney Love any longer.

The story still works because Frances LeSieur (no longer Pierrepont) goes to Queen Elizabeth's court where flirtation and pursuit of pleasure is the name of the game. The Rules of Courtly Love are still appropriate as a theme, especially as Frances learns that shallow courtly wooing doesn't hold a candle to honest passion.

Courtly Christmas is tentatively renamed Courtly Scandal. My heroine deals with scandal after scandal and the gossip that ensues. It works but I'm not super excited about it. I couldn't think of anything Christmasy given this is a Christmas niche book feel, but the title actually reflect the story better. Of course, the craziness of the Elizabethan twelve days of Christmas allowed for the scandals to occur, so Christmas is a dominant role... And my husband doesn't think the word 'scandal' implies anything sexual in nature (probably because the word makes him think of Watergate and such). I think the demographic of readers that would pick up a romance novel and look at the title in the first place would assume scandal was something, well, scandalous, but in a sexual way.

For now, Courtly Manners is renamed Lady of the Court. And I have no clue about Courtly Consequence. That title also had a double meaning and I was proud of it, however a reader wanting to escape into fantasy doesn't want to think about consequences. So that will need to change.

All in all, I'm feeling good about the changes. I've fixed my website to reflect the new titles. I've revised my query letters and synopsis. I think I'm ready to start requerying.

The question is, with a new title and new character names, should I re-query agents that have already rejected me? Most of the rejections have been generic, so there was nothing to imply they had actually read anything. And this title is more marketable...

Any thoughts on the query question? Or about my titles? Or anything at all in general?

And, just because it's been in my head since I titled this blog...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blub, Blub, Bluuuuub

I'm a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face
And I spread the dreary-wearies all over the place
Blub
Blub Bluuuuuub

Right now I am having what I categorize as a 'pouty fit.' Usually I reserve this term exclusively for my two daughters, ages five and four, who are grand masters at pouting.

I am feeling sorry for myself. Tomorrow I will be proactive, but today I will be self indulgent. It's a shame I can't give it 100% with chocolate and wine, but I have obligations later. I may be letting myself wallow, but I am still being responsible.

Blub, blub, bluuuub.

Okay, so what's the fuss all about? I got a rejection letter (actually, not worth getting upset about at this point). The most interesting thing about it was that it actually implied they read my query and synopsis. Not only did they read it, but they must have researched it a little bit. The reason I know this is because they commented that they do not publish historical romance with real historical characters as the lead. Since my real historical characters (and they are real) are really obscure, they would have had to look them up. They did not say my premise was terrible, just that the use of historical figures did not meet their guidelines. This is all good, right?

Today I also received an email response from an author whom I really admire. I had asked for advice and she gave it. Basically, I need to know my niche. It's not the first time I've been told that I straddle genres, but I think I understand what that means now in regards to marketing (I had thought it would just appeal to a broader market vs. the fact that agents would not have a clear demographic). Marketing also would be difficult for my title, Courtly Love. I thought it was clever (and so did the author -- tee-hee) but it's not catchy or sexy in any way. She gave me some other pointers that I need to percolate on a bit longer. In all, her advice was honest and I really appreciate it.

Okay, so what am I pouting about? I just got awesome advice from someone I admire and a rejection that implied they actually took interest in my book -- I should be jazzed. I think I'm just overwhelmed. I have so much to do to make things right that I can't think right now. I can't even break it into baby steps.

I know I'll feel better about it tomorrow. The problems will seem so much more approachable and I'll be super-problem-solving-writer and go nuts with research. For today, I'll continue to feel sorry for myself and my unsellable books. Woe is me.

In regard to the image up top, my 5 year old has been reading this book in her first grade class. At the end, the Pout-pout fish learns he can use his pouty lips for something other than spreading dreary-wearies. He becomes a kiss-kiss fish.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's Too Darn Hot

I got ssssssssssssssssteam heat. We're having a heatwave, a tropical heat wave. The temperatures rising, it isn't suprising, it certainly can. Can can.

Thank you. Thank you, very much. Hold your applause.

By the time this blog posts, the heat will have broken. I hope. I pray. It doesn't change the reality of the sweaty, don't-touch-me, never comfortable, can't sleep kind of heat. The heat that I hate. Seriously, my genetic design is way too Northern European to survive in the California desert. Yes, occasionally I get fooled into content subservience by air conditioning and the fake suburban biome that I'm in, but then nature reminds me that people like me thrive best in places like Ireland and my particular location was never intended to host mammalian life forms.

So what's my point?

Well, as usual, it has to do with romance. Heat is almost synonymous with sex. The hotter it is, the sexier things get. It most likely has to do with the lack of clothing that goes along with hot weather. The sultry climates seem to ooze sensuality. Even sweat can be sexy -- the golden glow from the sun glittering on someones glistening skin. When it's so hot, people drop inhibitions in order to cool down.

Not me. Seriously.

If it's that hot, the last thing I want is to be touched by an equally hot, sweaty person. I don't appreciate the natural pheromones from sweat -- I see sweat as sticky and smelly. Hot is not sexy.

Thank goodness my setting is Elizabethan England. They wore layer upon layer of clothing because Europe was in the midst of a mini-Ice Age. Not only was the clothing opulent, it was practical. It kept them warm. And there's a lot to be said about the implied sensuality of what clothing conceals as much as it reveals. That, and undressing can be fun. Where's the anticipation and the mystery when the leads are already mostly naked?

Personally, I find the need to stay warm much more sexy than cloying heat. One time a stranger mentioned that he had eight children. In response to my look of shock, he told me it would have been cheaper to get the heater fixed. It took me a moment to get the joke.

My w.i.p. is set during Christmas. In the midst of the heat, it's been a definite escape to write about frost. It never gets cold enough here for me to long for warmth, so it's a good thing it was rarely truly warm in my historical world. My next book will be set in early spring, so there will be plenty of cold rain and gloomy days to satisfy the most sun-disgruntled desert dweller.

What do you find more enticing? Hot or cold? Which environment lends itself best to the fantasy of romance?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heroine Addiction

Aren't I clever? Look at my little play on words. Appreciate it.
Okay, the moment has passed.

I came up with the blog title long before I knew what I was going to write about. Now, here I am over a month later, finally editing my draft that, until now, only contained the title and the image pictured right. ---------------------->

Since I started this, Creepy Query Girl wrote a blog about how her lead character is based on parts of her.

Of course it is.

Frances, in Courtly Love, is a whole lot of me. In fact, writing about her getting over her issues was sort of like therapy. She looks like Kate Winslet. So do I. Sort of. Or I did back in the Titanic days.

When I started writing about Mary, my sister (also named Mary, by coincidence. Mary was a common Elizabethan name, which is how I picked it) asked me if it was another therapy book. Ummmm... yes. There are parts of me, but also parts of my sister, my mother in law and Emma. She looks like Julia Roberts.

And Jane, my lead in book three? Will she reflect me? That would be a yes. Although, as I create her character, she has a lot of characteristics in common with my four year old, Clara. She's super clumsy, jumps without looking, and does not think about cause and effect. Her love interest, not yet named, is based around the feeling I had back in high school with a boyfriend that never kissed me. She looks like Heather Graham. Then again, so does my 4 year old (but without the figure, make up, and platforms).

Book four is about Margaret. She's not well developed, but I know she's savvy and sophisticated. Independent. Unwilling to be manipulated. I think that's what I want to be. If I had been more like this character back in high school, I would have grabbed that cute boy by the ears and kissed him soundly. Don't tell me he wouldn't have kissed back. His youth pastor only had so much influence. I don't know who she looks like. She's a real historical figure, like Frances, and there are portraits of her, so I have to be careful. I do picture her more striking than pretty.

Then there is this project that has been niggling at me for the past few months. I may start it next instead of Jane's story. Contemporary Paranormal Romance. Gasp! Say it isn't so! Don't worry, there are no vampires or werewolves. This is the story of Karma, but she goes by Kay because Karma is much too whimsical of a name. Oddly enough, that lead female is based on aspects of my brother and brother in law. I don't think she'll have much of me at all besides my compulsive need to decorate. It's a great story. I hope I have the confidence to make it happen. Margaret would. Frances might, too. I don't know what Kay looks like, but I'm pretty sure she's a Taurus.

So where do you get your inspiration for your characters? I remember reading once that J.K. Rowling did not base any of her characters on anyone in particular, with the exception of Crookshanks (don't quote me on that). How much of yourself do you put into the characters you love? Or even the characters you hate?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo


National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us. For the month of November the goal is to write 50,000 words. No editing, seat of your pants, a spewing of words that may or may not make up a good story. We shall see.

NaNoWriMo website describes the process.
"Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."

The only problem here is I can see filling page after page with, "All work and no play makes Erin a dull girl." Then again, for me, writing is play. It's what I long to do. When I don't have time for writing, something is wrong in my world. I just hope that my real life calms down a touch by November.

I also hope to finish my first draft of Courtly Christmas. I plan to start Courtly Manners for the NaNoWriMo project.

For my fellow teachers out there, NaNoWriMo also hosts a young writer's version.
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