Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pants R Us


We’ve already established that I’m one of those pantsers---I start something, or something starts me, and off I go. This was especially true of Paradise, which appeared in a rather unsettling fashion just over a year ago. It took about eight months to finish, with frequent interruptions (two novellas, the last third of another book and its revision, life). And as I was nearing the end last year, I started Mistress by Midnight. I made myself stop, then revised Waking Beauty and Paradise. I’ve got all the time in the world for MBM now, but at 45,000 words in, I’ve realized, as usual, I don’t have much of a plot.

Hmm. Halfway home and what to do? Research. I’ve set some of the book in Dorset, a county in England I’ve visited at least twice that I can remember. Yeah, I know. Hardy country. Nothing like setting myself up for a great big fall. But Dorset remains very fresh in my mind. I can picture Con and Laurette skipping rocks and fishing on the River Piddle, going to All Saints Church in Piddletrenthide, a perfectly charming village I've stayed in. We even went to church (pictured) one Sunday, along with about six other people total, including the vicar, and we were the youngest there, hands down. That doesn't happen all that often anymore, LOL. Right now I’m moving around some rocks in my head and creating Ryland Grove and Vincent Lodge from a couple of historic houses. I’m going to follow Con’s footsteps to Egypt thanks to the fabulous memoirs of Giovanni Finati. Yikes.

I’ve already accidentally found some pivotal stuff that’s perfect for my storyline. Crop failure? The heat wave of 1808 with fireballs in the sky and hail the size of a Robinson baby's head (see post below). And somewhere in my milk crate are folders with even more information. Now all I have to do is write the book on my brand new computer!

Do you jump right in or think and plan before you write? Are you mindful after recent publishing scandals of translating your research into your own words? Do you just make stuff up? Where is the closest Plots R Us store?

Please don't forget to visit Vauxhall Vixens on May 29 for our very first guest, the awe-inspiring, artful, amazing and absolutely audacious Loretta Chase, whose Your Scandalous Ways is bound to be a bestseller. One lucky commenter will win a copy!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Clean and Fresh


I've whined about my computer problems for several weeks. I'm happy to say I'm typing on a sparkling new keyboard with a gigantic flatscreen in front of me. I took the old system down and put the whole new thing together in less than an hour, discovering in the process dustballs the size of a Robinson baby's head--- and Robinson babies had big heads.

The fresh computer inspired me to look at the rest of my writing/dressing room, which is a tiny third bedroom on the first floor of my house. This space is my sanctuary. There's a twin bed I can lie down on to read or think or possibly nap if the thinking becomes tiresome. The closet is filled with my clothes. My dresser holds my wrinkled stuff. There are two tubular plastic stacking shelves that stack an odd assortment of essential things. Quite frankly, everything was a bit of a tip, as the English say.

So the other day, I sat on the floor surrounded by a pile of stuff. I found all my rejection letters. There weren't as many as I remembered. A part of me wanted to chuck them, but instead I put them in a manila folder and hid them away in a plastic box in the closet. I collected my RWR magazines; the one with my name in it now has a sticky note. My keeper books are vertical and reach almost up to the ceiling. Envelopes and stamps and address labels are actually together and within reach. The plan is to celebrate Memorial Day by dragging the dead things out of my closet and cleaning that too.

Will this new-found organization help my writing? Probably not. But for a short while, I'm going to enjoy it. It can't last.*g*

What's your writing/reading space like? Do you keep everything you read? Did you spring clean?
Don't cook. Don't clean. No man will ever make love to a woman because she waxed the linoleum - "My God, the floor's immaculate. Lie down, you hot bitch." ~Joan Rivers

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Omm


For you faithful readers, you know a couple of weeks ago I decided that I needed to limit my Internet time. I wobbled in my adherence to the new regime, but was saved by the Dell. Yes. She crashed like crazy---right after I sent out a bunch of queries (see her obituary below). It's as if she let me write the book and the letters but had quite enough. Amazingly, I have emerged from this experience whole and relatively sane. I've discovered the world still rotates without me commenting on blogs and reading the New York Times online. I've even gotten some requests for Paradise, which have gone out between computer seizures.

I haven't worked on my WIP or super-poked people, though. But with my new-found free time, I've begun to think about the next book (Yes. Will wonders never cease.). As I tried frantically to make sure all my files were backed up, I came across things I'd almost forgotten about---things that with a little pruning and prodding might keep me busy for the foreseeable future.

So I'm turning the frown upside down. I'm so Zen now my family wonders where Maggie went. It's time I realized what I have control over and what I don't.

Are you mellow or nervous by nature? Would you be scribbling on a yellow legal pad if you didn't have access to a computer, or biding your time? Do you have to write to be happy?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dell-ightful


Shh. Don’t tell my Dell. This is probably the last blog post I’ll ever type on her beaten keyboard, where the e and the a and the o are almost completely worn away. She has been malfunctioning lately, going black, going bright blue with dire warnings, going going gone. She is the computer I started my alleged writing “career” on almost five years ago, when I didn’t know there was a word count feature or how to copy and paste or clear my cookies.

She’s seen a lot. In her quiet blocky, boxy way, she’s hogged the desk and put up with ignorance and incompetence with insouciance. She was with me as I cried with joy when I finaled in the Avon contest and felt like a real writer for the first time. She’s gloried in the granddaughters’ pictures and the rest of the family slide show. She didn’t judge either me or the agent when I got this rejection: “I would like to see the next project you work on though. This project doesn’t fit my needs, but I like you’re [sic] writing and your credentials are good.” She’s gathered dust and crumbs and never complained. She's kept me in touch with old friends and helped me make new ones. She’s survived fatal errors and viruses and highjacking. She was the inspiration for Third-Rate Romance, when she went into a coma and I had to write something.

This week she’s getting a new sibling, who I hope will bring me as much luck, lunacy and laughter as she’s provided in this half-decade of half-baked writing. She holds all my secrets, most of which I pray I’ve backed up on my pendrive just in case she can’t be rebooted in her new location. I want to thank her from the bottom of my crusty, shriveled heart for dragging me valiantly into the twenty-first century. Love you, Dell I.

Have you had any computer disasters? Got a warm feeling for your toaster or another appliance? Spill, but not on the keyboard.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Invisibility Cloak


Fair warning: Not one word past the first and last paragraphs are mine. The following was e-mail sent to me by my friend Claudia, who has known me over three decades but loves me just the same. It made me cry. Happy Mother’s Day to all the quiet architects out there, and blessings upon you works-in-progress.

***

Invisible Mothers...It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. The Invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this ? Can you tie this? Can you open this?

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic,when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:'To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals -we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman replied,'Because God sees.'I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add,'You're gonna love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.


***
And after all that loveliness, come click over to give me your perspective on mothers in fiction on my Mother's Day Romantic Inks post!

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Sign from God


A couple of weeks ago, I decided to poach eggs. I used to have a fancy pan with little wells for the eggs, but now I just boil up water in a no-stick frying pan and drop them in. When I cracked an egg on the edge of the pan, quite a lot of the white slipped down the side and soon I had a merry little fire on the burner. I stared at it stupidly for some time until I grabbed the Morton’s Salt from the cupboard and doused the flames. I do have a fire extinguisher, but that seemed like overkill. And that cute guy to the left was not available. He must have been looking for his shirt.

This little Sunday morning adventure (see, if I had only gone to church I would not have been cooking) reminded me of the luck of life. If things had not gone the right way, there would have been more damage, or even disaster. It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong--- now I’m beginning to sound like an insurance commercial. But I started to think of all the luck I’ve had, and the disasters avoided. I thanked God, and am considering He just doesn’t want me to cook anymore, which certainly works for me. It would be a blessing, in fact.

So much in publishing depends upon luck too. I don’t know who the first romantic vampire writer was, but she spawned a lot of bestsellers. Those who write paranormal caught a corner of her luck and hung on for dear life, nipping (ha) at her heels. Right now, I’m trying to catch Anna Campbell’s corner (don’t say that I’m delusional---or at least don’t say it to my face). I’m right into hot Regency Noir with my Morton’s Salt at the ready. Mistress by Midnight is almost half done, and of everything I've written, it is my favorite so far. It's got the Regency version of prom night lust and will end like the Regency Brady Bunch, at least according to the synopsis I had to fake to enter a recent contest.

Publishing: luck or intensive labor? Or both? What disaster has been averted in your life? I'll share some of mine in the comments. Have you seen my friend's shirt anywhere?

Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice~my favorite fortune cookie phrase