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Archive for the ‘My Non-Romance-Reading Family’ Category

Originally I intended to title this post “What Deadline did to my Fingernails,” and to start it off with a photo of said fingernails, accompanied by raggeder-than-they’ve-ever-been cuticles.  Only once I actually took the photo, and looked at it, I realized this was Something Nobody Needs to See.

Suffice it to say I’ve bitten the living heck out of my fingernails in this past month, and couldn’t even spare time to file them into short-but-even shapes, so they look… well, you don’t want to know.

The month before deadline turns out to be a little like the month after you bring a baby home:  things you’d thought were essential (yard work, social obligations, personal hygiene) just fall by the wayside.

And naturally it turned out to be a hectic month on the homefront, including two birthdays (just in the past two weeks), an unplanned wisdom-tooth extraction for one of the kids, and, to wind things up with a bang, a cold that kept both kids home on alternating days of this past week before striking me.

As with A Lady Awakened, I got about three-quarters of the way through the book when I realized there was no way all the stuff I had planned was going to fit in the word count that remained.  So I had to rethink, and cut stuff as I went along, and then go back and cut some more.  Continuity turned out to be a bear with this book, too.  Partly because of how much earlier stuff I had to cut, and partly because part of the plot revolves around winning money at cards, and I had to keep track of how much each character had at any given time.

Anyway, my editor is expecting Will and Lydia’s story on October first, and day before yesterday I sent it to my agent, who will read it and tell me if there’s anything glaring I need to address before it goes on to editor Shauna.  Agent Emmanuelle (doesn’t that just sound like she should have her own action-movie franchise?) called this morning to say she’s not finished with it but so far she’s loving it, so I’ve permitted myself one or two or three sighs of relief.  (It could still go bad.  I fear I may have gone over the top in places, and some of those places are near the end.)

So now I’ll take a week or so to tend to all the real-life things I’ve let slide the past month (this morning I took our vacuum cleaner to the repair shop – if I were cruel I would post a picture of our hasn’t-been-vacuumed-in-over-a-month floor), and then I need to roll up my sleeves and get started on the next book, which at the moment is terrifyingly nebulous.

Oh, great.  The vacuum repair shop just called and our v.c. is broken beyond repair.  So before I can start researching the next book, I have to research vacuum cleaners.  How anybody manages to combine writing with family with a full-time job is utterly beyond me.

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I don’t know whether this is an interesting topic or not. I always wonder, when I look at authors’ websites, about how exactly they arrived at that particular design. What made them choose those colors? How did they find their designer? How much input did they have? How much input did they want? Etc. But I never see other authors blogging about this topic, so perhaps I’m the only person to whom it’s of interest.

And, as my army of regular readers can attest, that‘s not about to stop me from blogging about anything! So here’s the story of how my website came to be:

How I found my designer: Back before I sold or even had an agent, I was reading a blog about author promotion, and in the comments thread someone said, “This is who I’m going to hire when I sell my first book for big bucks,” with a link to xuni.com. I followed the link and was just knocked out by her designs. They all hit me on a visceral level; I couldn’t tell you what worked about them except that they just felt right.

However as an unsold author (whose household runs on two part-time incomes), I couldn’t justify the expense of a professionally designed website by xuni or anyone else. So when I accepted my agent’s offer on November 9 I got busy trying to design my own. And basically squandered a lot of valuable writing time learning just how little I know about design.

The offer came from Bantam on December 4 and it re-aligned my priorities. They were paying me to write. I needed to be writing, not fumbling around trying to design a website that had no hope of being commensurate with what they were investing in me.  And you’re supposed to put half your first advance into promotion anyway, right?  I fired off an email to Madeira James at xuni.

I did not shop around at all, which is absolutely uncharacteristic for me.  She says her rates are reasonable, and I have no reason to disbelieve her, but beyond that, I did not care.  I thought “This is what I want, and I can afford it,” and that was as far as the evaluation process went.  I promise you I’m usually a much more conscientious consumer than that.

How we arrived at the design: You’re supposed to decide, before you build a website, exactly what your identity is.  You know, what is it that makes your historical romances different from other historical romances, and how can your website convey this?

I didn’t do that.  I tried, during the month I was struggling to build my own site.  But the problem, I’ve gradually realized, is that I embrace a lot of opposites.  There’s a slightly arch sensibility to my books – I get a kick out of giving a prototypical brooding-hero surname like Mirkwood to a sunny-optimist hero – but there’s also earnest swoony stuff and angst.  I don’t know yet how to distill that into a single message.

So the design happened without a lot of conscious thought on my part.  Madeira had a waiting list at the time I contacted her, and proposed to build a temporary “holding page” until she could get to the real one.  She pointed me toward a few stock-photo sites and told me to choose one or two images out of which she’d build the holding page.

Several numbing hours later (those sites can be really overwhelming), I came back with a few images of gloves, which seemed vaguely historical.  Madeira put a couple of them together, and when I saw it, the colors (sort of peach and tan, with black in the background) reminded me of 1930s-40s lingerie.  Which has absolutely nothing to do with the Regency period, but which connotes all kinds of things – some of them opposing each other! – that I suddenly wanted for my site.

Forties-vintage lingerie, to me, says elegance and sophistication, but also warmth.  It’s sexy almost as an afterthought, merely because it’s lingerie.  And it is straight-up pretty.  And I realized that yes, I wanted my website to be sleek and professional and suitable for an author who expects to be taken seriously, but dammit, I wanted it to be pretty too.

So when the time came to pick more images, for the real site, I gravitated towards peachy-pink colors.  I even found vintage writing on pinkish paper.  And while the left side of my brain forced me to include some images that more explicitly said “Regency” or “romance” (a photo of a building in Brighton; a photo of a couple models in period dress), Madeira deftly steered me away from those (the models did look a little costume-partyish) or just couldn’t find a way to fit them into the design (the Brighton building clashed with the color scheme), and assured me anyone looking at the site could tell I wrote historical romance.  And then humored me by actually adding the words “historical romance” when I wasn’t 100% assured.

So there is my website.  It makes me happy to look at.  And you know what’s funny?  Back when I first started trying to design my own, one of my kids said, “Just don’t make it pink,” because my kids, like 88% of the population, believe we romance writers are like a bunch of high-powered Mary Kay saleswomen driving around in our pink cars in our pink feather boas, pink martinis in hand.

And I laughed, and said, “Don’t worry; it won’t be pink.”  So the joke is on me.  Now where’s my pink martini?

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Yesterday my elder daughter (code name Prima) and I watched New Moon.  Prima is a persnickety reader, and the Twilight books are not actually to her taste.  Snarking over movie adaptations of those books, however, is very much to her taste, and after four-plus hours of taking the SAT, she was in the mood to rent New Moon.

Since I’m the one with the Blockbuster card, I went out to get it.  And I did not realize that its actual title is The Twilight Saga: New Moon, so I went to the N section of New Releases, and did not find it there.  Checked the Top 20 Most Popular New Releases section; it wasn’t there either.  Maybe it didn’t count as new anymore?  Went into the Drama section; no New Moon.

I had to approach a clerk.  He told me about how its title began with a T, and pointed to the far corner of the store, adding, “It’s right under the poster of Jacob.”

And suddenly it became very important to me that this Blockbuster employee, with whom I may never interact again, not believe that I was actually renting New Moon for myself.

So I gave a sort of vague, no comprende shake of the head and said:  “I don’t know who Jacob is.”  Right.  Because I have been living in a CAVE!

He explained, not only which poster was the poster of Jacob, but who Jacob is in the story world (“secondary heartthrob”), and suggested maybe I wanted to start with Twilight and progress to New Moon.

I said, “No, I’m supposed to get the one called New Moon.”  Like a befuddled sitcom husband at the supermarket with a shopping list.  Because I am only following orders for teenagers awaiting me at home, Mr. Blockbuster!

That did the trick.  He said, “Oh, this isn’t for you,” and I muttered something about teenagers, and paid for the DVD and got out of there.  At the time I actually thought I was pretty convincing, but transcribing my lines up above, I realize it doesn’t come off as very convincing after all.  Anyway I told the story when I got home.  Prima and younger sister Seconda thought it was hilarious, but I think my husband found it slightly odd.

About New Moon, I don’t have a lot to say.  We laughed and snarked at all the gratuitous shirtlessness, but the truth is I came away feeling a little bad for Taylor Lautner, the kid who plays Jacob.  Because of course not only do I know who Jacob is, but I know that the producers considered re-casting the role with someone manlier, and that Lautner worked to bulk himself up in order to be a credible rival to Edward, as the story sort of demands.

And honestly, to see all that bulk and muscle definition (seriously, that kid must have made a full-time job of it) on a boy who’s about my own daughter’s age, made me kind of… sad, behind the snark.  When he first pulled off his shirt to reveal it (conveniently standing up from his previous crouching position, with the camera positioned low so that he’d sort of loom over us in all his muscle-bound magnificence), it felt a bit like watching a 17-year-old girl reveal new breast implants or something.  Breast implants gotten in desperation because all the roles she auditioned for kept going to “sexier” actresses.

Anyway, that’s my take.  Prima gave a thumbs-down to the CGI, smirked at all the “You’re the only thing in the world that makes my life worth living” dialogue, and could not believe Bella’s friends would put up with her constantly blowing them off.


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Some years back I took my daughter to a bookstore for an appearance by Ann Brashares, who was at the time promoting the third in her four-book Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  Ann read an excerpt, and spoke a bit, and answered questions from the overflow audience.  And two things in particular have stayed with me from that Q & A:

1)  How sincerely interested she was in the opinions of the teen & tween girls who’d shown up to hear her.  “What do you guys think of the cover? Is the color okay?” she asked in the same way you might ask your best friend about a shirt you’re trying on in a department-store dressing room.  (This has nothing to do with the rest of today’s post, but I’ve remembered it vividly.)

2) What she said about writing the character of Bridget, the soccer jock.  Ann herself was not at all athletic, and so Bridget was her chance to sort of try on that life; to think about how a supremely confident athlete’s mind would work; to educate herself in the things Bridget would know about soccer, etc.

This is on my mind today because I’m struggling with writing a heroine whose brain readily grasps things that confound me.  Lydia is a gambler who possesses, as she describes it, “a certain facility with numbers and an excellent memory for what I’ve seen.”  People like that fascinate me, all the more because I’m not one of them.  Writing Lydia gives me a chance to try on a numberish brain at the same time I’m trying on life for a woman in the early 19th century, which is an irresistible double challenge.

But it’s also hard, hard work.  I’ve spent the morning taxing my poor non-numberish brain over Charles Babbage’s An Examination of some Questions connected with Games of Chance.  (Published in 1820, so Lydia couldn’t have read it, but it does give an idea of what a mathematically gifted person with an interest in gambling might have come up with around that time.)

I make it through page 1 okay.  Martingale betting; yup, I know about martingale betting.  I’m with him through most of page 2, when he introduces variables of p and q to represent number of hands (or coin-tosses, or whatever) won and lost.

But at the bottom of the page he assigns the value of 2u to the gambler’s bet.  And there’s got to be a reason for the 2, right?  Otherwise he would just call it u.  However he offers no explanation for the 2.  So I’m troubled.  But I’m forging ahead.

And then comes this:  we may represent the gamester’s profit after one event is decided by 2u(-1)a, a being any whole number; for since the nature of the number a is left undecided, whether it is an even or an odd one, the expression just given will represent either a profit or a loss.

Okay, but where does a come from?  What does it represent?  Dammit, Lydia would know this on first reading.

Seven lines later he’s brought in a cosine.  Okay, I can see that the cosine is optional.  But it’s still deeply troubling.  Then come thirteen lines of plain old text, and I’m actually following along for a bit.  But suddenly he’s referring to a b and a c in addition to the a, and a peek ahead shows grim pages of successively longer and more recondite equations, and I am feeling like a cartoon character with my fingernails dug into the side of a cliff, sliding inexorably down.  What on earth possessed me to write a character who was good at math?

Well.  One thing that possessed me, undoubtedly, is that I do have a numberish brain in the family.  My brother has by now grown used to receiving e-mails with requests like “Please review these rules for a 19th-century version of blackjack and tell me how strategy would differ from modern blackjack strategy” and sending replies like “Well, the obvious big difference is you get to see your first card before determining your wager.”

(Right.  Obvious.  Totally obvious.)

So, off goes Babbage and his Examination, hopefully to be translated into understandable terms.  And next time, I swear, I will write a heroine who’s a spelling prodigy or something.

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Among my non-romance-reading family, I have the highest hopes for my sister-in-law.  She’s a sharp, poised, thoroughly modern woman who I believe might actually be able to get through my book without going, “Oh, my God, there’s sex in here!  And my sister-in-law wrote it!”

And indeed, she’s been the first in my family, since I announced I’d sold a book, to take it upon herself to read a romance novel and see what they’re all about.  Systematic person that she is, she went to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (through odd coincidence, it turns out my brother – her husband – is slightly acquainted with SB Candy) to look for a recommendation, and settled on Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me.

“It was okay,” was her assessment when I spoke to her the other week.  “It was funny and all.  But the ending was just so predictable.”

And I laughed, and told her if she was looking for unpredictability, she’d better look in some other genre.

But I’ve thought a lot, since that offhand exchange, about this whole question of predictability.  My SiL isn’t the only one who uses “predictable” as a pejorative.  I have a friend I go to movies with who’s always guessing the ending, or predicting plot revelations before they happen, and then thinking less of the movie because of it.  And of course, “predictable” is used in a derogatory way in book reviews all the time.  Readers, by and large, want to see something they haven’t seen.  Readers want to be surprised.

And I… don’t, necessarily.

I’ve got nothing against a good plot twist.  The bombshell that goes off a couple chapters into Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady floored me in the best possible way.  But I also get a deep, delicious satisfaction from that moment, very early in the average hero & heroine’s acquaintance, when I can think, “Boy, do these two need each other, and they don’t even see it at all! But they will.”

There’s a pleasure in inevitability, isn’t there?  And I don’t mean the comfort of an escapist happy ending, partly because I reject the idea that happy endings are necessarily escapist, and partly because even uncomfortable inevitability carries a certain satisfaction.  When I saw the movie Up in the Air (skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled), I suspected from about the halfway point that Alex must be married.  Seeing my suspicion confirmed didn’t compromise my enjoyment of the movie at all.  It gave an extra weight of rightness to the ending:  Yes, this is the only way this could have ended.

I’d be curious to know whether impatience with predictability is a recent phenomenon.  People enjoyed the Greek tragedies, even though they must have known, going in, more or less how it would end for Oedipus.  Surely part of the enjoyment of watching Macbeth is that sense that he’s stepped on a conveyor belt of doom, drawing him closer and closer to his inevitable end.

Even as recently as the heyday of Rodgers and Hammerstein, audiences embraced Oklahoma! (not a second of real doubt that Curly and Laurey would have their HEA) and The Sound of Music (of course Maria was going to win over the children, capture the Captain’s heart, and escape from the Nazis) right alongside Carousel (Billy Bigelow dies!) and The King and I (the king dies and there isn’t even a romance!).

So I’m curious:  when did we make the decision that unpredictability > predictability?  And does anyone besides me still like both?

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My mom, I have no doubt, wishes I’d decided to write something other than romance.  She understands what an accomplishment it is to get published in any genre, and she is genuinely proud of me, but at the same time I know there’s some part of her thinking, “This is why we paid for that fancy liberal-arts education?”  It’s been awhile now since she asked me what happened to my onetime plan to write YA, but I know she’s still holding out hope that I might cross over into some respectable genre.

But she knew I had a big deadline yesterday (3 chapters + synopsis of new book to my editor), and so she stopped by with a store-bought roast chicken that I could reheat so I wouldn’t have to take time to cook dinner.

And I was so touched.  To be supported by fellow romance writers, or friends who think romance is awesome, is one thing.  But this gesture, with its subtext of “I don’t quite get what you’re doing, but I know it’s important to you, and so that makes it important to me,” makes me… just so grateful for the family into which I was born.

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