Monday, April 28, 2008

Cracking the Whip on the WIP


It occurs to me as I blog in three (!!!) different places, that some day I might run out of words. I think about the four full manuscripts I've completed, and the dozen or so novellas that have yet to find a happy published home. It's probably my fault, since I haven't been terribly aggressive or organized about querying or craft, or consistent in any one genre. Nor have I entered many contests. My luck with the first one I entered (first place!!!) has made me not want to jinx anything.
I recently broke down though and entered Mistress by Midnight in something. Mind you, the book is unfinished and has no plot to speak of, just a lot of angsty, thwarted desire and a generous dollop of indoor and outdoor sex. I want to get it finished by this year's Golden Heart. My last foray into Golden Heartdom resulted in scores of a 9, an 8.8, an 8.5, a 6....and a 2. Someone did not like Third-Rate Romance, LOL. Which just goes to show how very subjective reading, writing and publishing is. But one judge liked TRR enough to give it a perfect score. That's the judge I'll concentrate on when I'm muddling through the mucky middle of MBM wondering what to type next.

But aiming for the Golden Heart presumes I'll still be uncontracted by November. This summer will mark five years of haphazard writing for me. Those five years include four moves and three job changes. If it sounds like I'm making excuses, I'm not. I'm pretty stunned I've written as much as I have, even if you wouldn't want to read most of it. *g*
Five years seems like a long time. I've avoided thinking about how long. But I want to someday see "Maggie Robinson sold the ___th of ______ completed manuscripts. She has been writing for _____years."

And then? Why, I'll have to write another book! What if I've used up all my words by then, or lost all my marbles? I've decided to cut back my MRMR posts to once a week. Maggie Robinson Means Romance on Mondays, with the possible exception of something earth-shattering to share, like fellow Vixen J.K. Coi's debut My Immortal on May 15 (Check out the dynamite review she got here ). Every now and again there will be a contest. I'll still post Sundays on Romantic Inks and every two weeks on Vauxhall Vixens. That's plenty of Maggie, plenty of meaning, and I'll have more time to focus on the romance part.

I filled out a questionnaire the other day so I could win a bundle of books. One of the questions was, "How many hours do you spend online every day?" I lied and said 1-2 hours. I feel like an alcoholic looking for my next bottle of blue ruin already, but I've GOT to limit my online obsession. It's time to go on an Internet diet. Let's see how long I last!

Now, if I could just lose twenty pounds, things would be perfect. What do you give up in order to find the time to write, or lose the extra weight? Any suggestions as to how I can avoid clicking on to Internet Explorer 1,000 times a day? Do I need to join a 12-step addiction program? Will you be sitting next to me in the church basement?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bummer


You remember Henny Penny. She was that chicken who kept running around warning the sky was falling, because an acorn hit her on the head. “The sky is falling” has come to indicate an alarmist who's lost touch with reality, or a hysterical gloom-and-doomer.

Guilty as charged. Just call me Henny and hand me an umbrella. Lately lots of acorns seem to be raining down. One in four American teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Thousands of children in Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic are being cast out of their families as witches and left to fend for themselves, or even killed. An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. A survey of American teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that fewer than half the respondents knew when the Civil War (that’s the War Between the States to my southern friends) took place. Twenty percent didn’t know whom we fought against in WWII, twenty-five percent couldn’t identify Hitler. The U.S. has five percent of the world’s population but almost twenty-five percent of its prisoners. Something like 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Gas is $3.50 a gallon. Linens ‘n Things is filing for bankruptcy. The latter doesn’t seem so serious, but there are widespread retail store bankruptcy/closures across the U.S. which is going to impact a lot of people. It’s damned hard to find good news.

I read to escape inconvenient reality, so of course I picked up Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey. Fabulous book, but talk about thousands of years of blood running through the streets (and you thought it was limited to the French Revolution). Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. "We'll always have Paris" might not be such a good thing, no matter what Bogey said to Bergman in Casablanca.

So, cheer me up---or wallow in the pit of despair with me. What's your favorite funny book guaranteed to make be smile again? Share your good news or your worries about the future. We’re all in this together. Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

The painting is Gustave Caillebotte's Paris Street: Rainy Day (1877).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Books Are Obsolete


I had a student say this to me the other day, and I wanted to hit him on the head with a big fat volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. His class came in to the library to do research for their Pop Culture class, something to do with tying fashion trends and events in history together.

(Did you know when times are tough, people wear longer skirts? I’m not sure I believe that, but that’s what the teacher said. Guess we’ll all be tripping over our hemlines and falling on our faces pretty soon with the way the economy is going.)

Anyway, our library has an outstanding collection of fashions-through-the-decades books, as well as lots of history resources. Nearly every kid turned up their nose at my suggestion to go looking in the 624s and asked for a computer instead.

Now I’m a big fan of computer research. I’m an armchair traveler and Googler extraordinaire. But if I could get my hands on the right book and flip pages, that’s what I’d do first.

I know that to reach young people today, you’ve got to go digital, technological, fast-fast-fast. I blame it on Sesame Street with its bite-size scenes and endless hours of blowing up things in video games. I wonder if romance writers in the future will have to do this:

“Rblla, I luv u. U driv me wld w/pashun. B min 2nite.

So, am I completely archaic--- an old lady who’d rather soak in the bathtub with a book than read it on a screen? Please predict the future of fiction through your crystal ball. Are you a fan of YA literature? I recommend Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light.

You'll recognize Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, one of my kids' (and my) favorite books. It is only ten sentences long, but every word counts. Soon to be a major motion picture!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Library Lover


Librarian. The Original Search Engine.

Librarians do it by the book.

Library card---better than a credit card.

Librarians have tighter buns.

Librarians do it in the stacks.

Just a little lame library humor. It's National Library Week. I’m not a librarian, but I play one every day. My degree was in English, but for the past three years I’ve worked in a high school library behind the circulation desk, designing all the displays and running the after school library program and girls’ book club. My official title is Educational Technician III, but basically I’m a library clerk who covers books, stamps cards, nags kids, inventories, straightens shelves, clips newspapers, mentors library aides and keeps attendance records. I love my job because I come in contact with hundreds of students and staff daily. I find weird holidays (Bulldog Day, April 28) and make weird signs. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read on the job, but I can override the maximum check-out limit on the computer and take home as many books as I want.

I also patronize our town’s excellent, elegant library, pictured above. Lately, I’ve tried to cut back on book-buying, and while the public library doesn’t always have the latest romances, I still find plenty to read.

What do you like most about your day job? Do you have a great library near you? Were you the kid who stuck the juice box behind the short story collection?

Congratulations to MRMR's Poet Laureate, Reverend Melinda, whose name was written on an itty bitty piece of paper and plucked from the pile! E-mail your address for your prize package to maggierobinson8@yahoo.com !

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April Is the Cruelest Month


...especially in Maine, where it is due to SNOW this weekend. But it is also National Poetry Month. I've done the usual display in the high school library, and have posters up from Poets.org and books ranging from Shel Silverstein to Edgar Allen Poe.

National Poetry Month gets knocked by some as a superficial attempt to lure people into poetry. That may be so, but one month is probably better than none. Even though I used to write it (badly), poetry is not really my favorite thing. I spent more than my fair share of time in school trying to figure out what the hell poets were trying to say when it seemed to my prosaic self they could have done far more efficiently without such obscure symbolism. I am a Philistine, I guess.

I found this really fun site (Magnetic Poetry Online Poetry Kit---just click onto the link) to tap into your creative side and kill some time at work.
Fool around with it (it's like refrigerator magnet poetry but you'll be clicking and dragging the little words onto the screen instead of the fridge), come back here and share your great poem. You have several choices from the the word kits---I picked the romance one, natch. I haven't had a contest in ages, so it's time. One poet will win a prize! Enter as many times as you want to bring culture (and amusement) to MRMR. Or you can post a poem you like. New post and winner announced on Friday, April 18.

Now I'll leave you with my favorite poem, Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold.
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Custom of the Country


Long before hunky Liam Neeson became Ethan Frome, I was forced to read Edith Wharton’s novella in high school. At the time, it seemed waaaay longer than a novella. I can’t say I enjoyed it the first time around.

But Wharton became a very much savored taste by the time I was in college. I devoured almost everything she wrote. There is something so deliciously bleak and thwarted in all of Wharton’s work. I don’t know what it says about me that I like her so much.

The Wharton world of old New York appeals to me. My grandmother and her six sisters (known collectively as 'the beautiful Miller sisters,' although I can't really see why) could have been Wharton heroines---they were all spinsters, divorcees, or those who married late and remained childless--- Brooklyn Blue Book society girls who fudged their birthdates in the family Bible in elegant copperplate handwriting and summered in the country. The photos I have of them and their friends in their Victorian/Edwardian finery in front of grand old houses practically scream for Edith.

You may have seen Wharton’s work which was made into popular splashy costume-drama films, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. I was surprised to find out that movies and plays were made of her stories in her lifetime, but you can’t find many happy endings.

I’ve been on a non-fiction reading kick, finishing Hermione Lee’s 869 page biography, Edith Wharton. Here’s Edith’s take on writing:

What is writing a novel like?

1. The beginning: a ride through the spring wood

2. The middle: the Gobi desert

3. The end: a night with a lover

What “old school” author do you admire? Any good biographies to recommend? What did you hate to read in high school? What gets you through the Gobi desert when you write? I think that's enough questions.

If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time. ~ Edith Wharton

I think my grandmother, the baby of her family, is second from the left. A cautionary tale: always label your pictures. One hundred years later, nobody knows who's who.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Shooting Blanks


I have snatches of ideas throughout the day, most especially the time right before I fall asleep. Scenes and blog post ideas scamper merrily through my fogged brain, only to vanish in the harsh light of morning. I sit at the computer, watching the cursor blink on the blank white screen, taunting me. “So where’s the brilliant dialogue? What about the Vauxhall Vixens post? You know you should have written stuff down, dummy.”

And so I should, if I could read my notes. I carry a little red notebook in my big red handbag. Here are some examples of what I’ve scribbled, with original punctuation, or lack thereof:

Hart teaching girls what?

Conflict body betrays guilt.

Clothes, boys.

Christmas holiday crisp, cold.

“She was killed in a robbery and that’s why you became a sheriff. And celibate. That makes you wounded and brooding. Sound good?”

Uh, no. None of it sounds good. And that’s what I’ve written at school when I’m awake. I mean, Hart and the cat during Eden’s bedrest. Where the f was I going with that?

Some years ago my husband and I argued over who was snoring. I admitted to a snort or three, but John denied he made any noise whatsoever. I hung a voice-activated tape recorder on the bedpost and waited until trees were being felled in the bedroom forest by the trusty chainsaw and whispered, “It’s 2 AM and that’s John cutting wood.” Ah, vindication. I need to find that tape recorder.

How do you corral your thoughts for writing? Do you storyboard, outline or otherwise outshine me in organization? Do you go to the grocery store and forget why you're there? Do you have a stash of "Happy Belated Birthday" cards? Or, even worse, have you started your Christmas shopping already?