Sunday, September 30, 2007

Film Fun

This week’s US magazine caught my eye because of the shameless exploitation of poor Britney’s poor toddlers, but it was worth the purchase price. I read “US Picks the 20 Most Romantic DVDs.” I am such a sucker for lists, and I was curious to see if I had been swept away in a swoon by the magazine’s choices. I’ve seen most of the movies mentioned and bits of others channel-surfing; the ones I haven’t will probably remain unwatched. How about you? Any romantic movies to add to the list?

1. Four Weddings and a Funeral (Seen it a million times. Would watch it a million more.)
2. Pretty Woman (Yes. Love the Rodeo Drive comeuppance scene.)
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Sorry, no and probably never.)
4. Casablanca (From the time I was at my mother’s knee. A guilty repeated pleasure.)
5. Dirty Dancing (My girls and I can recite whole chunks of dialog. Nobody puts Baby in a corner.)
6. Moonstruck (Yes, but wouldn’t really want to see it again. Not a fan of Nicolas Cage, although I liked Cher saying, “Get over it!”)
7. Jerry Maguire (Yes. And I don’t like Tom Cruise, but I’d probably watch it again if I had to.)
8. Annie Hall (Yes, but no interest in seeing it again.)
9. Sleepless in Seattle (Oh, yes. Love it every time. So sweet. Love Meg Ryan’s apartment.)
10. The Notebook (I confess I haven’t seen every minute, but I sure cried enough anyway. Even my manly husband was moved.)
11. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (Snippets only. And the snack does not make me crave the full meal)
12. Out of Sight (Snippets. I’d watch it all if I came across it. Yum. George.)
13. Pride & Prejudice (The new one. Loved it.)
14. Ghost (Pass the Kleenex. A staple of my girls’ youth.)
15. A Room with a View (Strangely, I don’t believe I saw this. 1985 must have been a busy year.)
16. Notting Hill (Love it. One of my favorite movies ever. Horse and Hound. Snicker.)
17. The Way We Were (Yes. Why, why, why couldn’t they work it out?)
18. Finding Neverland (No. Don’t beat me, but Johnny Depp leaves me completely cold. Sorry, Hellion.)
19. Say Anything (Yes. I’d like to see it again, too.)
20. Knocked Up (No, not yet.)

True love stories never have endings. ~Richard Bach

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Date Night


It’s official. It’s fall. The leaves are turning and falling here, and we’ve even had the heat on at night, despite the fact that it was it was an uncomfortable 91 degrees yesterday. The end of summer always makes me nostalgic for convertible nights. Not especially for my old college boyfriend, but for his sea-ish green Karmann Ghia. I remember lots of nights driving with the top down out to the beach or to an ice cream place. Our dates were very uncomplicated and pretty cheap. Maybe a movie---one with subtitles if we were feeling especially artsy---or just a drive to nowhere, listening to the radio and debating the meaning of life. Nowadays, gas costs too much, and the meaning of life is as elusive as ever.

My old beau is long-gone, and my husband and I have gone through a couple of convertibles ourselves. When we moved to our current town, we decided every Thursday night was going to be our date night. One of our sons-in-law owns a sports bar, and our daughter worked there one day a week, Thirsty Thursday, of course. How fun, we thought. Grab a burger, have a beer, see them both. I don’t even think we made it there half-a-dozen times all year. We’re just too comfy at home.

How do you like your heroes and heroines to mix and match up? Do you do a date night with your mate? What was your favorite date/hangout growing up? I used to love going to Vesuvio’s Pizza Parlor. If you sat in the booth long enough, just about everybody in town came in. There were some great diners around, too. I’m glad I grew up in a time where I could just hang out with a root beer instead of dancing the quadrille--- kind of like Happy Days, but without the Fonz and the laugh track...and of course we were discussing existentialism.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Class Act


Hey. I’m a classy broad. I’ve lost count of the number of twin sets I own. Plaid skirts hang in my closet, and I wear them with flats. My blond bob is many decades old. I have two strands of cultured pearls, one from eighth grade graduation. I nearly have an orgasm when the L.L. Bean catalog comes. In my eternal quest for the classic, I even chose the “classical” incision for my unplanned C-section, not realizing then the “bikini” cut was the way to go even if my bikini days were over.

I have flirted with other styles, but find comfort in the clothes I’ve been wearing all my life. Give me a turtleneck sweater, some penny loafers and a pair of jeans and I am a happy if not stylish woman. But lest you think I’m totally boring, I like funky, chunky hippie jewelry to jazz up my Town and Country self.

You may not be able to tell the book from its cover, but clothes announce to the world how we want to be seen. Writers use clothing to telegraph the character of their characters. Who doesn’t know exactly what J.R. Ward’s leather-clad vampires are all about? In Kasey Michael’s The Secrets of the Heart, Baron Christian St. Clair uses his outré outfits to conceal his serious side. Here’s a passage from Shana Abe’s Georgian-set The Dream Thief:

He wore ebony when everyone else was done up in pastel flowers. His wig was a simple tye when all the other men sported curls upon curls.

We know immediately that Zane is simply dressed and simply elegant.

What are your characters wearing? When you think of a style icon, who do you see? What makes you feel classy?

A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you. ~Françoise Sagan

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hunt and Peck



You all know I’m as old as dirt, and this post will prove it. When I was growing up in the Dark Ages, the only job opportunities available for young women seemed to be as teachers, nurses or secretaries. I once actually interviewed at a large insurance company where I was told I was too blond and too pretty to get the job. Yes! Retroactive lawsuit, anyone? But I’m sure the statute of limitations is long over. Flattering yet frustrating, they did not think I’d make a credible witness in court. I wound up taking a quickie exam and began my career as a second grade teacher in a slum school in NYC.

I had assiduously avoided learning how to type all through high school and college. Typing was only offered to those in the “Commercial Course” anyway. My father nagged and nagged me to take typing at night school to have “something to fall back on when your husband leaves you.” Yes! Retroactive therapy, anyone? But I’m used to my craziness and would miss it if I were cured. I did sign up for typing in adult ed with my college boyfriend, but we left at the break to go make out. I guess that’s “hook up” now. So I’m a typing class drop-out.

Computers have vastly improved my secretarial skills, such as they are, but home row and I are not friends. Although I use most of my digits, they do not go where the Typing Master intended. I can’t believe I’ve written close to three-quarters of a million words these past few years primarily with two fingers.

Several years ago my PC died and I wound up starting Third-Rate Romance in longhand on a yellow legal pad. I didn’t type it up for ages, mostly because I could not read what I wrote. I find I actually think better typing, which makes no sense at all, but there it is. In order to write, I have to be sitting at my crowded little desk in my crowded little room. In order to read, I have to be lying down on a bed, hurting my middle-aged elbows…or in a chaise by a pool or in my Adirondack chair in the garden. No planes, trains or automobiles.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d achieve more success if I could type faster, but then I remind myself my husband hasn’t left me yet. There’s still time to learn to type. How about you? Quill or computer? Where do you get cozy to read?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Backstory Blues


Action is what it’s all about. And here I sit, mired in infernal internal monologue and bad backstory. But how come I keep reading it in other people's books, page after page?

I’ve been revising Third-Rate Romance the past few weeks, yanking out the weeds. Here’s an excerpt, where the hopeless heroine-writer Kelly King has gone to great lengths and adverbial phrases to pick up the pace of her Inspirational-Historical-Western. After a decidedly not cute meet-cute, her characters debate the wisdom of their story. Bold typeface is Kelly’s wobbly work, the rest is her characters’ conversation after she’s left the scene of the crime.

Taming the Texan/King

She had seen the cloud of dust long before she saw the lone stranger riding across her barren field. Clutching her faded skirts and running as fast as she could, she clambered up on the porch where the shotgun lay propped against the ripped screen door.

It could be Jack Darcy. It could be any outlaw down on his luck, looking to take advantage of a young widow in the middle of nowhere. As the man rode inexorably closer, she knew she didn’t know him. With the sun behind him, his face was masked in mystery.

He dismounted and walked lankily toward Eliza’s crooked front steps. It didn’t seem to bother him at all that she had leveled her shotgun squarely at him.
Eliza’s heart hammered in her chest. “Get off my land.”

“You won’t shoot me, darlin’,” he drawled, his deep voice penetrating her tattered senses. ”And it’s not your land. I’ve got me the papers to prove it.” He reached inside his coat for the sealed envelope from Judge Archie.

Mistaking his intention, Eliza took a hasty step backward, tangling her feet in her torn petticoats. With a terrified shriek, she overcorrected and stumbled forward over the basket of corn just waiting to be shucked. The gun discharged with an unholy roar. Tumbleweed blurred by the porch, and a blossom of blood seeped through the dusty coat of the stranger.

“I reckon I was wrong,” the man said, still standing, though unsteady. He sank into the painted blue rocker, a look of mild surprise on his deeply tanned face.

Eliza scrambled up, her russet hair a fiery corona around her pale worried visage.

“I didn’t mean to---oh, I’m sorry---who are you?”

“Lincoln Harkness, ma’am, at your service,” he said, right before he toppled onto the splintery porch floor.



Wow. That was some powerful stuff, Kelly thought. She smiled and hit Save.
***
“Good God Almighty! Was that really necessary?” Link wiped the sweat from his impossibly handsome face with a red bandana. Damn, it sure was hot in this godforsaken book.

She read somewhere you’re supposed to start right off with a bang, in this case a shotgun blast. Too much exposition is a killer. Hold still. The shell bounced right off your badge, anyway. It’s hardly a scratch,” Eliza said irritably. “I’ve worked this land ever since my worthless husband died. I simply cannot believe she’s going to take it away from me. I mean, really, I went to an exclusive ladies’ seminary in Boston. I’m an educated woman. But I was tricked into coming all this way by a silver-tongued liar, and I’ll be damned if another man gets the better of me! I’ve worked my fingers to the bone!” Eliza spread her shaking hands in front of Link. He couldn’t disagree. She definitely had a point. They looked pretty bony.

“There’ve been locusts. Tornados. Off the page, but still. As it is, I’m barely surviving. I even had to give to give my dog away! He would have barked at you when you trespassed. I miss him.” A silver tear rolled down Eliza’s hollow cheek.

“What kinda dog?” asked Link, gasping as she none-too-gently slapped some foul-smelling ointment on his bare chest.

“A shepherd. A hungry shepherd. He didn’t much care for vegetables, and I couldn’t afford meat for him. When he ate the last chicken, he had to go.”

“Pity. A dog’s good company. I was fixin’ to get me one myself when I moved in.”

“You can’t move in! This is my ranch! It may not be much, but it’s all I’ve got.” She narrowed her sea-green eyes. “Don’t you have to live in town to keep the peace?”

“I think Chesterville’s a pretty quiet place. She don’t know nothin’ about sheriffin’ but what she’s seen on Gunsmoke re-runs. I ’spect I can sleep in the jail when I have an unexpected guest.” He paused, weighing his words carefully. “I do have the papers, you know. Even with that there hole in them, they’re still legal.” His black gaze never left her. She looked away and sighed.

She should have known. Her late husband had been written to be a feckless gambler. No doubt he’d lost their home before he had the kindness to go toes up in Madame Georgette’s whorehouse in Beaumont. Damn the man to Hell. She hoped he was roasting and sweating bullets. But he was a lucky devil. He didn’t have to live through the next 300-odd pages.

Link cleared his throat, his square fingers rubbing at his dark stubble. If he’d known he was going to meet the most tantalizing red-headed woman he’d ever seen, he would have seen to trimming his moustache and getting One-Eyed Willie to give him a good close shave. He might even have taken a bath. But he hadn’t had much preparation for his debut and didn’t know half as much backstory as Eliza seemed to. He leaned back in the rocker, furrowed his manly brow, and considered.

There was one way she could stay, but he didn’t want to stick around long enough for her to reload if she misunderstood his offer. He gathered up his courage. He was a hero, after all. He couldn’t let this little lady get the better of him, even if he’d only gone to school through the third grade afore he made his way in the cruel world. He may not have had much book-learnin’, but he was plenty smart and studly besides.

“Miz Eliza, there is one way you could stay.”

“Oh! Thank you, Sheriff! I knew you were a civilized man underneath all that---”

Link held up an enormous, elegantly formed hand. He bet she had big plans for that hand in future chapters. “Wait. I mean to move in. This place is mine.”

“I don’t understand.” The transparent joy evaporated, and realization dawned. She slapped his face roundly. “She’s writing our story for the inspirational niche! I won’t be your whore!”

The blast must have had a negatory effect on his reflexes. He scooched back to prevent further abuse and shook his head. Hell and eternal damnation. By the living Jesus, there’d be no fun ahead, he reckoned. Just his luck to wind up in the Wild West with all the wildness sucked right out of it. But he’d have to make the best of a bad bargain. She really hadn’t given him much choice. “No, ma’am, I don’t need a whore. I need a housekeeper.”

Eliza tucked a wavy strand behind her ear. “It wouldn’t be proper,” she said stiffly, “the two of us living out here alone together.”

“Well, then,” said Link with a trademark crooked smile, “we’ll just have to get us a dog.”
***

How do you slip in vital information when you write? Do you even notice infodumps when you read? Show/tell me about your Big Bang when your/your favorite characters meet!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hats Off



I’m very interested in period clothing. Everything seems more “more,” somehow, lots of embellishments and furbelows. Bustles, ruffles, buttons. Ribbons, lace, rosettes. My heroine Juliet in Spell Check keeps albums that show her fashion sense through the ages. Since she’s been around since 1762, she’s seen all the crazy things people put on their heads, from miniature barques at full sail to beady-eyed birds to Carmen Miranda’s fruit basket.

Head coverings really took off in the Middle Ages after the church decided to follow St. Paul’s peevish dictates from I Corinthians 11:2-16:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be shorn!

You know, we’re still paying the price for some of his ideas. St. Paul is not one of my favorite people. But the wimple resulting from his words, which covered all of a woman’s hair, led us eventually to what we use as a bridal veil today.

I love gorgeous hats…but not on my head. I grew up in an era where little girls went to church with hats and gloves. St. Paul would have been proud of me. Now, I don’t even own a hat, and I’ve got gloves only because I live in Maine and I’ll get frostbite if I don’t wear them. In case you’re worried about my ears falling off, my winter jacket has a hood.

I hate wearing hats. Because I wear glasses, I just think I’ve already got enough stuff going on. Plus my head gets hot and my hair sweaty and/or static-y. Very attractive.

But I love to imagine a Regency miss with a feathered and flowered bonnet. Or a 1950s sophisticate with a flirty little black-veiled hat perched at a jaunty angle.

When I read, I refuse to picture all the married women with the little lace caps they should be wearing to be historically accurate. My heroes don’t let bonnets stop them from stealing a kiss in a carriage either, where more than likely they’d have an eye poked out before they ever got close enough to anything resembling lips.

I haven’t seen a man wearing anything but a baseball hat in ages. My father used to have all sorts of felt hats from the Knox Hat Factory, where he would take me once a year so he could get a hat that looked like all the others in his closet. He collected snazzy checked caps, too.

I know people still wear hats in Great Britain. When I watched Charles finally make an honest woman out of Camilla, I was mostly impressed with the creative designs. Alas, the United States seems to have lost its head when it comes to looking “proper.”

Own any fun hats yourself? Toss your comment into the ring.


A veil can bring on more shenanigans than forgetting your silk underpants.


I don’t think that’s what St. Paul had in mind. For a head-hopping trip through time, check out http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/content/view/604/75/

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Avon Homage


Exactly one year ago on September 7, 2006, I submitted the first of seventeen chapters in the Avon FanLit contest. It placed near the very, very bottom of all 513 entries. I was crushed and wanted to quit. By October 20, the chapter I wrote for Round 6 came in fourth out of the top ten (thanks to Tessa’s sainted sacrifice). I admit that felt good, but even better, I learned something about the writing process each week. And more about myself.

I’m sure some of my favorite bloggers/writers will be getting reminiscent right about now thinking of last September and October, where all our hopes were placed on two Regency Rebels Without a Cause named Patience and Damien. The Vagabonds have already done VagabondLit, so perhaps we’ve got FanLit Fatigue all over again. But I want it known that this post was begun a month ago at 6:10 AM on August 12, 2007, after I woke up and felt sorry that summer was almost over for me. Forget the fact that I had two full weeks left to do relatively nothing. I wanted more time off. I didn’t want to return to work. I wanted to be sitting in my garden with a book or in my pajamas all day typing away.

But when I thought of things ahead, my mind returned to the mists of time: last fall’s fabulous, frustrating Avon FanLit contest, several weeks of inconsistency, immortality and insanity. The contest, for those of you who don’t know, pitted hundreds of would-be writers against each other to craft a six chapter novella in a kind of round-robin, building the next chapter on the previous week’s winner. There were some glitches in the voting, but it was amazing to read chapters and see how others used the same bare bones, fleshed them out and fattened them up.

I was lucky enough to final twice in the top ten entries in Rounds 3 and 6, and I “know” quite a few of the participants and ultimate winners now, whose work was bound up into These Wicked Games. Here’s a salute to every man and woman who spent two months pouring their hearts out into a hysterical historical, where the husband didn’t recognize his wife, cats ruled the roost, and purple was the color of choice. I’m drinking the whole pot of chocolate in your honor, and soon, I’ll be reading your published books!

To get mushy, the Avon contest kind of changed my life. For the first time ever, I wrote something that other people actually read. I bonded with lots of great writers. I finished my WIP, two novellas and am 75,000 words through another book. I started this blog. This past year has given me some confidence, even with rejections. I’m more serious and focused---comparatively speaking. *g* So, thanks, Avon. Even if I grumbled a bit, I grew.

Any thoughts on writing contests?

Elyssany entered and won! E-mail maggierobinson8@yahoo.com

Love is the only game that is not called on account of darkness~Thomas Carlyle