Monday, January 29, 2007

Had we but world enough, and time


For you careful MRMR blog readers out there, you know a few weeks ago we went to visit our youngest daughter in Boston. Forgive me for a minute for bragging about her (and eventually you’ll probably read a bit about her siblings, too, but I won’t overwhelm you today with the depth and breadth of my maternal pride. And yeah, this is going to sound like one of those insufferable Christmas newsletters. Feel free to give me a virtual smack.).

She was valedictorian of her high school class, captained the basketball and tennis teams, went to college tuition-free and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in anthropology and museum education. She’s tall, beautiful, artistic, has long, naturally curly hair, a stud in her nose and an Egyptian eye tattooed on the inside of her ankle (Nobody’s perfect.). She has the cutest studio apartment on earth for which she is paying more for rent than we do for our house. She’s juggling several interesting jobs and has her whole life ahead of her.

The visit got me thinking. What would I do if I could have a do-over on MY life? I have no complaints, mind you, and have had several interesting jobs myself since I got out of college. I believe most of you reading this would say you have ambition to be a published romance author. I know that’s what I’d like to add to my resume too, so let’s factor that out. I’m waving my magic wand. I’m the owner of a quirky antique/junk shop on a well-traveled street, with windows filled with sly, amusing and glittering treasures that stop people in their tracks. The store is called Magpie, of course. You can be anything. What would it be?

And…do we create our heroines to be who we aren’t? Will I one day be writing about my shop owner so I can live vicariously?

You will note an addition to the sidebar. I’ve added Maggie’s Manuscripts, where excerpts of my WIPs will be posted every now and then. Feel free to check them out and leave a comment. Or not.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Dissection


What makes a great romance novel? No matter how carefully we examine, analyze and deconstruct it, it’s always ultimately a matter of opinion. I know it when I smile as I read, and the passage isn’t remotely funny…it’s just well-written and I am firmly in the author's world. I’m reluctant to finish the book and leave that world. But what works for me might not work for you. And here is where I need your help.

I have two completed manuscripts, both sort of fairy-tale based. Currently they’re operating under the titles By Midnight and Waking Beauty (They used to be Bride by Midnight and Bride by Chance, but I kept thinking Bride of Chucky.). I’ve sent out half-a-dozen queries and was not surprised to see the self-addressed, stamped envelopes come back to my mailbox. One rejection letter had a nice hand-written note---I had been in the “maybe” pile for several months, but ultimately wasn’t loved enough.

I believe I may have done the unforgivable in BOTH books---my heroes are unfaithful to my heroines. For good reasons, so the devilish, dark-haired dummies think. Talk about a Big Misunderstanding and possibly a Big Mistake for the Author. I don’t know why my characters stumbled into the beds of women from their past---it just seemed right at the time to make them so wrong. I do so love a good grovel scene. And I wanted to give my characters something important to overcome, although I would personally eviscerate my own husband should he stray. I know he’s going to read this. Hi, honey.

So, what do you think? Have I broken the ultimate romance taboo? If (When. WHEN!) I finish Third-Rate Romance (in this corner, weighing in as of this morning at 70,230 words), should I go back and smarten up those bad boys and give them something else altogether to bring them to their knees? I’m willing to slice and dice!

Have you ever had to chuck a huge chunk of your book? Say something encouraging to me.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Discard Dilemma



For the past two weeks I’ve been doing something shocking, some might even say evil.

No, I’m not talking about writing this blog.

I’ve been throwing away BOOKS.

I work in a high school library. I’m not a librarian, but I run the circulation desk, do all the displays, new book prep, and supervise the after school library program. My official title is Library Educational Technician III. It may sound fancy, but it absolves me of all the tough stuff: the purchase orders, painstaking cataloging and making the crucial decision each year as to which books get tossed. The teachers and library staff are offered the discards, but most of the books are outdated and/or in poor condition, fit only for the school dumpster.

This year we’re weeding the 900s. For those of you who don’t know the Dewey Decimal system, that’s geography and history. Out goes Life in the Soviet Union, a biography of the five Eisenhower brothers, Singapore 1983 and Hallam’s three volume Middle Ages history set….printed in 1864. No way could I throw the latter away. I’m not writing medievals, but you never know. They’re going on my bookshelf, joining Lucille from last year’s purge, written by Owen Meredith c.1880 (real name Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton and son of that dark-and-stormy-night guy).

Another great find: a month-by-month accounting in 1815, “the most dramatic, exciting and pivotal year in history,” according to its author John Fisher. From Wellington to Waterloo to Byron to Barbary pirates, I just might learn something about the era I write about. And it’s illustrated!

I weed my own collection, too, usually giving books to friends or donating them to the public library. Who’s on your permanent reserve (keeper) shelf? Do you discard? Don’t send any volumes my way; the dumpster’s pretty full.

And for future reference (another library allusion), I’m starting each week with a new post, so Mondays mean Maggie Robinson Means Romance!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Change Your Life For Only $2.99!


I have in hand a copy of OK! Magazine. Now I could lie and tell you I bought it for my daughter, because I’m going to give it to her this weekend when we visit her in Boston…but you know that’s a lie, 'cause I just told you.

I confess. I read People. I read Us. And Vanity Fair and InStyle. And Time and Newsweek, too, but their gossip section is not their strong suit. Because I am someone who rarely watches TV, I must stay au courant somehow. Without watching one step, I know Emmitt Smith won "Dancing with the Stars." And that Evangeline Lilly (what a gorgeous name) is now homeless because her house burned down in Hawaii. Have I ever seen "Lost?" Sadly, no

So I’ve indulged in a guilty reading pleasure, but there was a nugget of nutrition in this issue that I want to share with you. There are ten remarkably remarkable and easy steps to transform your life. Never let it be said that my shelling out $2.99 was in vain. Red is OK!’s wisdom, black is mine.

1. Team up. Friends, just say no to chocolate, yes to expanding your word count together.
2. Take a breather. That’s right. Just stop and breathe deeply and chant whatever you wish. You know what I’m chanting. ;) Maggie Robinson Means Romance. I am a legend in my own mind. I am a legend in your own mind.
3. Drink up. That’s water, silly, and lots of it.
4. Add fruit. An apple a day, a pomegranate a day, whatever.
5.Be grateful. For big or small things. We’ve all got more positives than negatives.
6.Leave room. My grandmother always said a lady never finishes all that’s on her plate. My mother said children in China are starving, so eat up. Listen to Granny. Sorry, Mom.
7.Start with one. Each journey begins with a single step…a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter. Set bite-size goals and pretty soon you’ll have a book.
8. Get some rest. Did you know when you’re tired you “snack recklessly?” Now you do.
9. Think positive. Be the little engine that could.
10. Love yourself. And we’re not talking vibrator. Take care of yourself so you’ll be ready to take care of everybody else.

There. Now all our lives will be perfect in 2007. Can you think of a good #11?

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Virgin or Vixen?


“Damnation! You’re a little witch. You know how much I want you, have wanted you since I first saw you at the Chapel Royal all those years ago.”
Eleanor wrinkled her faintly freckled nose. “I’m not sure that’s acceptable. She might have to rethink that. There’s a taint of obsession to it, and it’s not entirely natural. You’re a good twelve years older than I am.”
“So, I was twenty and you were eight. What does it signify? I knew from the first we were fated to be together.” Lionel ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation. If an ordinary man did such a thing, it would stick up every which way, but he only succeeded in making himself look even more handsome, if that were possible.

The above scene is from my WIP, Third-Rate Romance. As you can probably tell, it’s a spoof of some of our favorite romance clich├ęs. The Regency protagonists, Lady Eleanor and Lionel, the Duke of Cleves (who doubles as the spy The Bluejay---and isn’t he beyond irritated that The Hawk and The Falcon are already taken) are conversing as they wait to be written into another ridiculous or anatomically incorrect position.

Their poor aspiring middle-aged author (Huh? What’s that you say about a roman a clef?) is in the middle of three different books. Her characters can’t wait for her to leave her computer so they can behave, or misbehave, as they wish. Just as she has influence over them, they decide to get her out of their hair and get themselves published.

The young virgin-older rake scenario remains ever popular, despite what happened to Diana and Charles. Much was made recently over the age difference between Josie and the Earl of Mayne in Eloisa James’ perfect, pleasure-inducing Pleasure for Pleasure. Ms. James made a convincing case that fresh, tart-tongued Josie cleansed Mayne’s jaded palate. But the innocent heroine-worldly hero trope of historical romance has driven some authors to write contemporaries. The lady can have a “past” and not suffer for it.

Are you tired of that feisty-yet-untouched girl who somehow manages to disarm Satan’s disciple? What’s your favorite pairing? I still love Avon and Leonie in Heyer’s These Old Shades.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

I'm a Wenchling


When I first started to write romance, I had stopped reading romance. Something had to be done. So I visited online romance sites, discovered Jenna Petersen's Passionate Pen, and got myself back to the bookstore. Things sure had changed since Georgette Heyer! And not always for the good.

But I devoured every book of Jo Beverley's and Loretta Chase's, and it is their blog, Word Wenches, that I visit without fail. They share it with several other excellent historical writers. Often there are fascinating history "lessonettes" that I read in my pajamas and feel instantly erudite.

And they take questions. I was lucky enough to win the first book of Patricia Rice's Magic series. Here's how you do it:

FREE BOOKS
As we said in our previous newsletter, we love to give away free books! Last month, we put out a call for suggestions for future blog topics, and you responded with some great ideas. Please continue doing so. If we use your suggestion, we’ll send you an autographed book. Thanks for your suggestions, and keep them coming! If there’s a topic you’d like to see discussed, e-mail our Whipster, Sherrie, at
sholmes@holmesedit.com.

Plus, they have a wonderful blogroll of other insightful sites (I'm still trying to figure out how to do that here so I can link to the people who have linked to me!). So go on over there and win something.

I just looked at my bookmarks. There are almost a dozen blogs to visit, so I'm outta here!

Friday, January 5, 2007

Dear Diary



In sixth grade, I kept a diary. All the boys in the class were listed in kissability preference. #1, Michael Somebody (okay, Michael Cummings) actually kissed me. French kisses. Six times. And after he had his wicked way with me, we broke up. I must have whined about that, but the diary is long-gone.

Diaries are fascinating to me. For several years I worked in a historical society museum, where I did everything from design displays to transfer 100-year-old newspaper clippings onto acid-free paper, sneezing all the way. I came across an anonymous journal of a housewife circa 1902. Every entry started with a weather report, a real concern on the isolated island where she lived. The minister visited. She took a trip down island in her buggy to see a friend who had new kitchen wallpaper. Several weeks and several pages later, she was hanging her own new wallpaper. Homely information, but history nonetheless.

Blogs are twenty-first century diaries. No kissing and wallpaper here. But reading blogs is a great way to avoid my WIP but learn something about writing and writers without feeling too guilty.

How many blogs do you look at regularly? Any favorites? I'll post mine tomorrow.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Flying



I spent much of my time at Washington Elementary School and Hempstead High School outlining things. Roman numerals, capital letters, numbers, lower case letters---everything orderly and organized (and let's not even think about the sentence diagramming).

When it comes time to plot my writing, I wish I could travel back in time when everything had its place and space. There's always a vague idea of how to get to the HEA, but few specifics. When all the pistons are firing and the fingers are flying, it's great. It's not so hot when they're not.

So, I'm a pantser with a desperate need of an outline. I'm short about 25,000 words, unevenly distributed in the middle of my masterpiece. I invested in a cute red Notetote for my handbag so I can scribble down scenarios as they may come. It's still in pristine condition.

Are you a planner or waiting for the muse? If it's the latter, send her to my house when you're done.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Hill Street Blues


After the infamous Avon writing contest, I did almost anything I could to avoid the large sinkhole that's in the middle of my WIP (Starting this blog might even be an example!). I admire the people who began and finished books, entered NANO, caught on fire. I wasn't one of them.

I did, however, enter the Court TV search for "the next great crime writer." Now I don't watch TV, Court or otherwise, and don't write crime. So I stuck a dead husband into a plotline that had been kicking around in a little notebook for a while.

I have not as yet been arrested for murdering my husband. I don't watch any of the CSIs wherever they're filmed and don't know ANYTHING about crime procedure. I have written something I cannot Google my way out of.

We've all heard "write what you know." If we did that, our books would probably put us to sleep as we wrote them. So research is vital, and fun too. But it's also important to write something you feel comfortable with. I know I can't go into a courtroom or outer space. Give me a Regency drawing room or a suburban house and I just may have a shot at telling the story.

The dead body has got to go.

Do you find you've sometimes written yourself or a character into a corner? Where do you do your research to get out?

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Sublimation, Part Deux


To paraphrase my fabulous The American Heritage Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary, when you sublimate, you're transforming something into a more socially acceptable form of expression...like changing your frantic rantings into a compelling, coherent query letter.

But sublimation is a scientific concept too. Alas, I am not at all scientific. I stand as a stupefied child at the wonders of the universe. I took the two-year "Science for Dummies" survey course at my college. And I'm not precisely a dummy---I did graduate when I was only nineteen, after all. Although I must say when I reread the English papers I wrote way back when, I don't understand them anymore!

My son and his wife own an art gallery in Key West, and they use sublimation every day. Here's what they have to say about it on their web site:


Now... call it art or physics, SUBLIMATION is the art form that we have been specializing in for the last two years.
What is sublimation?
Although the term SUBLIMATION sounds a little daunting, sublimation, as a process, is less intimidating:
It is the method of applying an image onto specially prepared items of ceramics, cloth, metals, and plastics using three primary ingredients: special sublimation inks/pigments, heat and pressure.
Sublimation inks are unique in their ability to convert from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid form (just like dry ice). The conversion is initiated by heat and controlled with pressure.
So what does that mean? It means beautiful colors and high definition images on your ceramic coffee mugs, tiles, murals, mouse pads, puzzles, etc.



I'm jealous. I want those beautiful colors and high definition images. Where is my sublimation equipment, dammit?

What images do you long to see on your pages, as a reader or a writer? And if you write, what steps are you taking to transform yourself from civilian to writer? You know mine. I'm chanting the blog's title!




Monday, January 1, 2007

Sublimation


On the blog's title---can I say it was an accident and not a hopelessly megalomaniacal choice? Having been a complete blog-o-phobe, I was just fooling around. Imagine my surprise (and embarrassment) when it turned out I actually created this title.

The dilemma. Should I change it? Delete it? Could I follow simple instructions?

And then I wondered. What if it were a sign? What if I'm supposed to read it, chant it, make it come true? So, I'm sticking with it for now. I'm not delusional. Really. Come chant with me.

And Maggie Robinson Means Other Things, too. Like Business. Writing is an art, but publication is a business. So, I'm trying to get more savvy when it comes to selling myself. For two years I just wrote for the alleged fun of writing. For the past year, I've been tentatively querying. The hard truth: very few agents read sample chapters. They look at query letters only. And boy, compressing 90+ thousand words into a one-page semblance of sanity is tough. Even I wouldn't want to read my two completed books after I described them!

I discovered Miss Snark's blog. She's a literary agent who hates romance but is so smart and funny (and snarky, of course) that I forgive her. She just ran the Happy Hooker Crapometer, where she looked at almost 700 assorted ravings of aspiring writers (for free!). I submitted two hooks to her for my unfinshed things, TRR and LRR. While she didn't give me the dreaded purple WTF?, I did not master the whole "hook" concept. According to Miss Snark, it goes like this:

X is the main guy;Y is the bad guy;they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.If they don't solve Q, then R starts and if they do it's Lsquared.

Think of it as the blurb on a back cover. After reading it, are you going to plunk down $6.99 US/ $9.99 CAN or stick it back on the shelf? We had to do this in 250 words (or less). Not too much backstory. And not really conducive to romance, as we hope there's not a bad guy! She described TRR as "spun sugar gimmick," which I'm sure to her was an insult, but that was EXACTLY what I was going for, LOL! It was amazing to read other writers' concepts for their books, intimidating sometimes---and other times quite unintentionally hilarious.

So, I learned a few things, the most daunting of which was that after reading almost 700 entries, she requested pages on about 50 of them. These are not good odds! Hmm, let's do the math. 1 in 14 has hope of advancement. But then she explained about half of those would probably turn out to be disappointing.

All right. Is that going to stop me? Nope. I just have to get stronger and sneak into that very brief window of opportunity I have in a query letter to knock someone's stillettos off. It helps if my story has a fresh twist, but if it doesn't, I have to be brilliant at my hook. And, of course, brilliant on the actual page. ...but sometimes the bulb seems pretty dim.