Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unpredictable Forces of Nature

My five-year-old drew this. My husband scanned it and then helped her use paintbrush to add color. She wanted me to use it on my blog.
So here it is.

My four-year-old wanted to do one too -- so she went through all the same steps but didn't want me to have it. I'm going to use it anyway eventually. :)

Anyhoo, given it is a volcano, I will write about forces of nature.


In real life, nature is one of the few things we cannot control. I know someone with a severe anxiety disorder whose primary fear is weather. Don't mock it -- besides being very real to him, if we all took a step back and considered the possibilities, we might gain a healthy dose of fear. Our culture is so educated and technologically advanced. We have means of interpreting weather far beyond simply looking out the window. We can retrofit our homes to account for earth quakes and create break-away crawl spaces for floods. We can be prepared, but we can't stop nature from happening. Nature is a true wild card that can, without a moment's notice, crush us like the insignificant parasites we are. Smoosh.

Then there is the make believe world that occurs within writing. We are in absolute control (except when characters decide to deviate from my plans without telling me, but that's another topic) and can program setting details like the weather to suit our needs. So we do. We take advantage of our god-like powers and modify our environments to suit our stories.

Just to challenge myself, I decided to screw with the weather. My scene required a snowstorm, and I threw my outline for a loop when I made it a pleasant night. Now my characters were not trapped by weather. What would they do?

It was sort of fun. I mean, in real life, weather does neither cooperates or works against us. It just is. It was a fun challenge to throw a real life curve ball into my story.

What do you do to keep yourself on your toes?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Balance


I watched an episode of Glee the other day (this post was written and saved as a draft over a coupled months ago). I managed to see it without having seen any commercials or spoilers, so I had a genuine response when bad things happened. Serious sobbing, crying. Big fat tears, aided, I am sure, by the second glass of wine I had just had. The shockingly terrible situations (which I will not disclose in case some people have not seen it and still want to) was balanced out by equal amounts of unadulterated silliness.

The theme to this episode was about spirituality. While some students are dealing with loss and the unwelcome outpouring of sympathy, Finn has discovered God.
Specifically, Grilled Cheesus -- an iconic image in the burn marks of his sandwich. He prays/makes wishes to Grilled Cheesus and gets what he wanted. Grilled Cheesus is magical.
It was awesome.

The phrase, "I laughed. I cried. It became part of me." was especially true for this episode. It hit all the right buttons, and the music was not even that great.

My point? Balance.

I have read books that were conflict piled upon conflict with no resolution in sight. The situation is so bad that when the happy ending happens, I can't buy in to it. Likewise, I have read books that were silly, happy, and full of laughs. So much so that when conflict did rear it's necessary head, it was unbelievable, as was the character's response.

Courtly Pleasures is about a woman coming into herself and falling in love with her husband. When I wrote it, it was very outlined. On the first major revision, I realized I had to much personal growth for my mc and not enough conflict/tension, so remedied that.

Courtly Scandals had too much happy/humor/silliness for the conflict to seem big enough to balance it out. I've been working to that end, but it's been difficult because my male lead is a crinkly-eyed rake who laughs huskily at everything and my leading lady likes to have a good time. I had to rewrite them individually in order for the dark moments to be real. In all, this resulted in them both being less archetypal and a better story. It was worth it. I just wish I had the foresight to see what was going to happen before I had written 60k words. Que Sera.

If this sounds familiar, it is because I touched on this briefly in my post Romance Genre No-No's, but watching Glee gave much such a great, pop culture example, that I had to write more.

I recently had a critique that the humorous aspects in Courtly Scandals lead to 'chick flick' style read rather than a romance. Personally, if the plot has both tension and laughter, I don't know that that is something genre specific so much as the elements of a good story. I can't think of a genre (except for emo poetry) where humor would not be a welcome relief.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Worst Query Ever (just for fun)

This was inspired by listening to my brother-in-law playing Beatles Rock Band in the background while I was chatting with my sister in Switzerland via Skype. I had never thought about it before, but the song is really just a very bad query.

Paperback Writer by Lennon/McCartney

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? You should really be specific in your query. Research the agent you plan to send to. If you don't care about me or my agency, it implies you don't understand our client base, preferences, or have the common decency to address us respectfully.
It took me years to write, will you take a look? You just told me that you are not prolific.
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear Copy-write infringement?
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer, You sound desperate here
Paperback writer.

It's the dirty story of a dirty man Good, you're getting into the story. Try to be more specific. What's his name? What's dirty about him?
And his clinging wife doesn't understand. Doesn't understand what? What's her name? Why is she clingy? Why should we care?
The son is working for the Daily Mail, Again, his name? And is the story about the son or the dirty man? Who is the lead character?
It's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer, Is this autobiographical? Is it just about a man trying to get published? Where is the conflict? Why should I want to read this?
Paperback writer.

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few, You should really check with your genre word count guidelines.
I'll be writing more in a week or two. Please don't query a book that is not finished.
I can make it longer if you like the style, I don't think it needs to be any longer than it is, thank you.
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,That's nice that you are flexible
Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights, Well, yeah, that's what I do here -- why else would you be querying me?
It could make a million for you overnight. If I had a dime for every author that made this claim...
If you must return it, you can send it here You didn't include a SASE and I'm not paying for postage. Your freakin' book is over 1000 pages long!
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer, I hear that a lot.
Paperback writer.

6 weeks later the Paperback writer receives a rejection form letter on a snippet of paper.

Dear Paperback Writer,

Thank you for your query. Unfortunately our agency is not currently accepting submissions of this kind. Thank you for considering us.

Yours,
A. Gent

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaNo


Sigh.

Even thinking about it stresses me out.

I was so excited and gung-ho to participate. I was going to make amazing progress and show myself how prolific I could be when I was focused.

And then I realized that it was physically possible to finish my w.i.p. for this year's Golden Heart, and buckled down to get that done. As result, I wrote about 22k over the month of October. 22k in a month is not as impressive as 50k, but it's a chunk of words and helped me make my point to myself. And I finished Courtly Scandals and started my edits. My book will not be at 100% polish, but it shouldn't embarrass me.

The problem I have is that I'm hosting a class for my students for YWP NaNo. It's a little embarrassing to not make my word goal when I'm encouraging them to write every day to achieve their's.

I did go ahead and take a brain break from Courtly Scandals and started pantsing something for NaNo, but it's 23 days into November and a paltry 1800 words is a drop in the ocean.

How's NaNo going for you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Warning: This is unrelated to writing in any way.

I host Thanksgiving for my husband's family -- which can range anywhere from 11 guests to 32 guests. This year, it will be closer to 11 so it is less stressful in regards to how to fit so many people around tables at my home. My husband usually smokes a turkey, I provide the mashed and sweet potato dishes, and our guests bring the rest. I also always make Cranberry Chutney.
And I almost always forget to set it out with the food, so we end up discovering it the next day in the fridge and eating it all week. This is not a terrible thing because it's pretty delicious. Much better than a can of cranberries upended in a bowl.

I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com. I do use whole canned cranberries instead of fresh.


Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup apples - peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan combine the water and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add the cranberries, apples, cider vinegar, raisins and spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes stirring often.
  2. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce. Cool to room temperature and serve or cover and refrigerate. Bring chutney to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In which I realize that good writers do not have to be restrained by genre


My critique partner and I were discussion our next projects. I said I was planning to write my third Elizabethan historical romance and she asked me about the contemporary paranormal romance I had been playing with. I said I that since I was trying to establish myself in the historical romance genre, I should stick with that for the purposes of brand name.

Of course, she writes a wide and varied range of genres. She said she would rather people see her name and think of her as a writer of good books than a writer of a specific genre.

That made me think about my personal reading habits.

I got to know Susan Wiggs through her Civil War era historical romances. I did not bat an eyelash when she came out with Just Breathe, a contemporary women's fiction. I bought it, read it, and loved it. Shockingly enough, I have not yet read her Tudor era stuff.

I started reading Lisa Kleypas' Victorian/Industrial revolution era historical fiction. Again, I knew her to be a writer of good books, so read and enjoyed her contemporary romances/women's fiction (I generally do not read contemporary -- why escape into now?).

Shana Abe wrote some good medieval era romances -- so I gave her dragony book thing a try. The Smoke Thief and the other drakon books have become some of my favorites.

Karen Moning... well who doesn't enjoy a hot highlander? When a friend recommended the fever series, I jumped in with both feet. Awesome stories, more erotic than romantic (but no gratuitous eroticism), definitely paranormal, and kick-ass. AND she linked it with her highlander series.

Conclusion: I am limiting myself by not pursuing the non-Elizabethan stories percolating in my head.
Action: Heck if I know. I probably will still jump into book 3 of the Courtly series anyway. Or not.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Word Auto-Summarize is Awsome

I'm writing my Courtly Scandals synopsis for Golden Heart. I'll get them my contest application tomorrow, then have until the end of the month to edit and revise like crazy before I have to send off the hard copies of the manuscript.

This means a couple things.
1. I finished Courtly Scandals. I did not announce it with fireworks because I don't feel done. There was no satisfaction in completing the last chapter, partly, I think, because I'm going to be rewriting that last chapter.
2. I have two weeks to fine tune a manuscript. I have no delusions of that happening. In fact, my husband told me to look on the Golden Heart as a growth experience instead of hoping to win anything. Worst case scenario, I'll get a score card that will give me a very loose idea about reader response.

Anyway, I'm taking a break from editing to write my synopsis. I got frustrated with that and decided to let Microsoft Word do it for me. Do you think they'll like it?

>Tools >AutoSummarize >500 Words

Mary suppressed a smile. Anne? Mary was shocked. “Mary, leave it be.” Mary smiled sweetly. “Lady Oxford.”

Anne. Mary smiled softly. “Oh Mary! Mary was aghast. Mary was surprised. Mary stopped. Was Mistress Parry sad for Mary? Mary nodded. Mary could scarcely breathe. Mary hissed. Mary interrupted with a laugh. Mary was shivering. Mary was surprised. Mary repeated her words. Mary felt cocooned in warmth. Mary leaned back against Charles chest. Mary smiled and kissed Charles softly. Mary had been numb. Mary’s jaw dropped. Mary smiled at the thought of Charles. Mary’s chamber felt different. “Mary!” Mary smiled at the gesture. Mary was hurt. Mary laughed. Mary laughed through her shivering. “Mary.”

Charles.

Mary laughed. Mary nodded her understanding. Mary had a child? Mary stilled. Charles stood, raising Mary with him. Mary blinked once. Charles smiled. Mary left the room. If Mary could…

Mary sighed. “Mary, there you are!” Mary was pleased when Anne smiled. Mary laughed at the thought. Mary smiled at the memory.

Mary was in awe.
Mary was stunned. Mary took another sip. Mary almost sighed. Mary made a disapproving face.

Of course Mary knew. Mary almost laughed. “No?” Mary was amazed. Mary understood the sentiment. Mary felt terrible for her. “Sir Charles!”

Charles nodded. Mary had no response. Queen Elizabeth turned to Mary. Charles laughed.

Mary laughed. Mary sat as directed. Sir Charles laughed at Mary’s happy chatter. “Nay, Mary. Charles nodded. Charles turned at Mary’s yell. Mary was miserable.

Mary groaned again. “Drink up, Mary.” Sir Charles. Mary snorted in disdain. Mary sighed. Mary nodded. Charles noted Mary’s stoicism with pride. Charles smiled. Mary stood silent. “Anne…”

Mary sighed at Oxford’s tactics. Turning to Mary, Anne’s eyes narrowed.

Mary stepped closer, the aggressor. Mary stood firm. “Mistress Mary.” Oxford. Mary pulled away. Mary pulled away. “Charles, please…”

Mary wanted to scream. Mary felt hot, ravenous. Mary could hardly breathe. Blanche handed Mary a farthingale. Mary smiled to herself. “Sir Charles.” Mary calmly nodded. “Mary! Mary – open your eyes.” Mary could hear Charles’ voice. “Mary, hang on!” Mary felt like laughing. Thomas, Mary called him. “Mistress Parry, why has Mary never married? Charles helped secure the blankets over Mary. “Charles…” “Mary.”

“Yes?” Anne.

Mary almost smiled at Anne’s pout. Mary’s relief was sincere. Mary pretended to sleep. With Mary.

Mary felt fine. “Sir Charles.” Mary went too far.” “Mary assaulted me.”

Mistress Parry.

Charles?

Mary was stunned. Charles. Mary was neither. “Charles.” Charles chuckled. Again, Mary nodded. “Mary, are you well?”

Mary recoiled as if slapped. Mary stopped short. Mary had said no. “Mistress Mary?”

“Charles.” “Mary?” “Mary?” Mary? Any lady but Mary. Mary looked startled. Mary nodded. Charles smiled. Charles straightened. Mary twisted it again. Mary sighed. Mary nodded. Mary was silent. Mary whispered.

“Mary is no whore. Mary had never seen Charles like this. Mary felt sorry for her. Charles

Charles groaned. Mary couldn’t help smiling. Was Mary crying?

“Mary, this is ridiculous. “Yes, indeed,” Mary agreed. “Mary, you outdid yourself. Mary shrugged.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Should I Be Embarrassed?

I remember reading a romance novel while on the treadmill at the gym. I got to a steamy scene, then became acutely aware that I was reading it in public. Of course, the people around me didn't know I was at a steamy scene, but they could see the romance novel quality of my book. I was 18ish at the time.

A few years ago I was alone at a restaurant between work meetings. I brought my book, The Lady's Tutor (one of the two erotica I have read). The title and cover were innocuous, so I was not worried about what passerby's might think. I was putting the book back in my purse as I left the restaurant when I noticed that it had "AN EROTIC NOVEL" written across the back cover in bold. Nice. I was a little embarrassed.

During the first example, I was very young and insecure in my right to be a sexual human. There were still a lot of questions and labeling and vulnerabilities. I understand my embarrassment at being perceived to be reading something 'smutty.' Of course, the covers were a little bit ridiculous then, so the perception of smut is more understandable. The covers now are much more elegant (Fabio = then, Eloisa James = now).

BTW, what is Fabio doing to her back? I hope he brought a towel.

As for the second example, well, it is embarrassing that it was embarrassing. I am an adult and I can read what I want to read. As

long as the cover image is not pornographic, it should not offend anyone in a public setting. I should be able to own my reading choices.

I bring this up because I recently read about a writer that was embarrassed to be known as an author of sensual romance. To each, their own, but I just don't get it. I am proud of my writing and I write romance. Unless you are a Shaker, passion is part of romantic love. That, and the passion is just a smidgen of the story. That's right, I said story. Romance novels have stories. Actual plots. Just like any other commercial fiction.

Then again, maybe the concern is that it is commercial fiction and not high literature. Hey, if you're writing something that is marketable and readers respond, CONGRATULATIONS! You are awesome and I envy you. Writing commercial fiction is nothing to sneeze at. Many of the authors I read are educated professionals who were successful in their careers before choosing to write romance. They were drawn into the field for a variety of reasons. There are professors of Shakespearean literature, bio-chemists, TV journalists, former models, and a lot of teachers.


So the question is, why would someone write something they were ashamed of? I'm not talking about using a pen name -- authors choose to do that for a variety of reasons. I'm talking about total embarrassment about the genre they love to create. Does society really judge people's reading and writing choices so harshly? Is there really such a stigma to the romance genre. 20 years ago I would have said yes... but now?

Addendum: In reading blogs this weekend, I came across this blog from Teach me Tonight. It's a great look at the stereotype of both the romance writer and romance reader along with addressing the stigma of romance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grammar Is Not The Boss of Me!

I have had critiques where the suggested changes were limited to what spell and grammar check had to say. I have had critiques where entire sections have been reworded so much so that the characters and the plot were no longer my own. But by far, the most useless critiques have been from people who more or less graded my manuscript. They did not concern themselves with story, characters, flow, pacing, continuity, etc... they looked at each sentence individually and made comments and recommendations in regards to structure. They spent hours and hours, but never actually read my book; they just read a series of sentences. They probably held back from giving me a C- and asking me to redo for a better grade. Their commentary, when all was said and done, was limited to grammar.


In which I discuss my thoughts on grammar rules:

Grammar is only important as it pertains to furthering the story and connecting to the reader (it does have to make sense).

Writers are not English 9 students learning sentence structure. We know it already, sometimes intrinsically. We know it well enough to know how to use that writing structure, or, as is more often the case, to break the rules in order to play upon emotion, theme, set the pace, make the reader anxious, etc... We could not do that if every sentence we wrote had a clear subject, verb, and modifier and/or every paragraphs was 5-7 sentences and had a clear topic sentence. We write in fragments and run ons. We create words and break away mid sentence.

Why?

We're not writing an English paper, we are writing characters. Characters need to be real. They think. They feel. They are not always logical. The reader gets to know them through the way we write them. Sometimes the character's thought processes are random. And sometimes they start sentences with 'and' or end in a preposition. I like to refer to these things as stylistic rather than grammatically incorrect. These things make the author's voice clear and unique. The first first chapter (I wrote several) of Courtly Pleasures (previously known as Courtly Love) was like a term paper. It was grammatically beautiful. Each paragraph was organized around a central theme. It was eleven pages of back story, so it was very much like a research report on Frances Pierrepont and Elizabethan culture. Once I got involved in the action of the story and the dialogue, my writing adapted to tell a story.

I grade student's papers to help them better understand the English language. I write so my reader better understands my story. Totally different. I did not write a paper. I am not a creative writing student. I am a writer and I wrote a book.

Ending this diatribe, I give myself permission to gerund away(ha, I used it as a verb! Take that Strunk and White!). Grammar is not the boss of me. It takes more of a middle management type of position. Grammar is like the supervisor who feels like he has contributed when he made a list of rules about how to use the copier and then goes and makes idle threats when he notices someone did not dispose of the Styrofoam padding that came in the replacement toner cartridge box in the manner designated by the list of rules, so then he laminates the rules so everyone will know he means business and he feels good about the power over copier etiquette until someone else does something else wrong which results in the copier making copies with a thick black line across the middle of every page and then the employees who care about that sort of thing wish they had followed the rules at least some of the time. Like I should have in regards to grammar rules about run-on sentences.

Is grammar your friend? Do you even think about it as you write? Or do you just write?

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