Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Second query out

I queried Agent Two today. Have not heard anything from Agent One. Already I will count this as a victory of sorts: I know someone who got a rejection from Agent One within ten minutes of hitting the Send button. So I'll imagine there's some initial hurdle that I did make it over.

Agents One and Two are both heavy hitters, representing three of my favorite historical authors between them. They're longshots, but why not try?

I wish I were clever enough to post a sort of bar-graph showing the progress of my various queries and submissions. I have a mental image of it, but no idea how to make it and affix it to this blog.

Next up is the conference, and then, Agents Three and Four.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The First Transport is Away

Empire Strikes Back reference. No particular reason.

Anyway I've just hit the Send button on my first query letter. First query letter ever. I've sent materials to agents I've met at conferences before, but this is my first unsolicited query.

We will call this agent Agent One. All she wants is a query letter, so I'm starting with her. In the next few days I will query Agent Two (who wants a query letter plus a chapter) and Agent Three (who wants a query letter, five pages, and a short synopsis). Then we'll move on to agents who want bigger chunks of manuscript (like fifty pages) and fold them in with the partial requests I've been sitting on.

After that, the full requests. Hopefully by then I'll have a few more full or partial requests from next month's conference. And maybe, if luck is really with me, a bite or two from the queries.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Still on a Roll

My RWA chapter conference, which must be the coolest chapter conference in the nation, has a bonus contest this year: if you registered for the conference by a certain deadline, you got to send in the first hundred words of your pitch. Then a senior Harlequin editor, who'll be presenting a workshop at the conference, went through all the pitches and picked ten people to have appointments with. (She won't be having any other appointments at the conference.) And I'm one of the ten!

It has been a very good year, contest-wise. I fear to jinx myself by entering the Golden Heart.

Anyway, now I've got three pitch appointments at the upcoming conference. Crossing my fingers they'll result in some requests for pages. And this week, I plan to send out my first unsolicited queries. I've never sent an unsolicited query before, so I'll be curious to see how that goes. The statistics on rejection vs. requests for pages are certainly daunting - it seems a lot easier to get a request through a pitch appointment.

One of my first targeted agents (for query) wants a synopsis, though, and I've got to pull a new one together. Seems like most agents want either a 1-page, 2-page, or 5-page synopsis. Mine is four pages, a length apparently of no use to anybody.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Finalist again!

Loyal readers, if there were any, would recall that back in May I took a short break from the current MS to begin the next in time to enter it in a contest. And the call came September 1st - I'm in the finalist round!

This will make the chapter conference even more fun than it was already going to be. And it gives me one more credit to drop into query letters.

Polishing on the main MS continues. Here's a development almost too mortifying to admit: I found out my word count was way off. I'd been using the old "one page equals 250 words" method rather than relying on Word's figure, only I didn't realize that method was from the days of nonproportional fonts. When I reformatted everything from Times New Roman into Courier, it ballooned and I learned my MS was too long by nearly 50%!

So I've had to cut, which feels a little like trying to do intricate carving with a chainsaw. Had to re-shape the arc, had to lose a lot of stuff I'd really loved. But I'm getting close. Now I just need to figure out in what order I want to send out my requested fulls, requested partials, and queries. And how I want to coordinate that, timing-wise, with the pitching appointments I'll have at the conference next month.

Enough! Back to work!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Going Temporarily Dark

Must cease blogging in favor of finishing manuscript. I'd wanted to write about Don't Tempt Me, and write more about Bound by Your Touch, but I will have to defer those thoughts.

Except to say that the wedding-night scene in Don't Tempt me made me squirm, and not in a good way! And I say this as a full-on Loretta Chase fan!

The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie came in on my library account, and I had to put it right back in the mechanical chute. (Cutting-edge in its technology, our downtown library.) I've put Pam Rosenthal's Rita-winning The Edge of Impropriety on hold, but made the hold dormant until some time in September. Just got an e-mail notification that Written on Your Skin is waiting for me, and... I can't pass that one up. (Damn you, Meredith Duran! I will read it only in those moments where for whatever reason it's not possible for me to be writing.)

What I want to remember about winning the contest: 1) the instant, the surreal instant, in which that slide came up with my name on it, a second or two before the announcer read it out loud. 2) the idea of some one person reading all eight finalist entries and saying, "This one. This is the one I pick." 3) And everything else, of course.

Enough! Back to work!

Monday, August 3, 2009

I won! I won I won I won!

Damn! My little plot-challenged story took first place in the Romance category! I have not fully processed it yet.

But now I really need to double down on finishing the rewrites. Some agents asked to see it. I told them it was done. Now, I must make it so.

I get a prize. Six hundred dollars, if the writer's-association website is to be believed. That's just about enough to pay for RWA membership and my local chapter conference this fall!

Monday, July 27, 2009

What I'm Writing: 10.1

I finished Chapter 9. Turned out to have four scenes, with a couple POV switches in the lengthy second scene. What I thought would be the final scene turned out to be too long, so I took another scene from elsewhere in the book and booted the original 9.4 down into Chapter 10. I think that will work. A lot of stuff I wrote in the last draft is just not going to make it into this one, I can see. Oh well.

Then a new scene came into my head and demanded to be the opening for Chapter 10. I'm almost done with that. Maybe I am done. It changes the dynamic of the following scene, of course. The hero is beginning to have his doubts about what first seemed such a no-brainer of a bargain. No-brainer undertakings don't suit him quite as well as they used to do.

Constantly, I have to make a deliberate effort to get back to the external conflict/plot movement. The quiet h/h scenes, in which they learn more about one another and correct their perceptions, are just inherently more interesting to me.

This weekend is the awards dinner for the contest in which I've finaled. I'm really looking forward to it. When I went as a finalist two years ago, I didn't enjoy one minute - I had butterflies in my stomach all evening, worrying about whether I'd win (or place or show) or not. I can't even remember what we ate for dinner. This year, with a better appreciation of what an honor it is just to be a finalist, I'm going to have a better attitude. I'm looking forward to meeting the other romance writers who presumably will be sitting at my table, and I'm going to enjoy the heck out of whatever food they give us to eat.

What I'm Reading: Bound by Your Touch

This was pretty fabulous. I'm still distilling my thoughts. Meredith Duran writes such intelligent characters, with both speed and depth to their perception (they're both witty and complex), that it really makes her h/h dialogue soar. I could have happily read another fifty pages of James and Lydia challenging one another, dissecting one another, figuring out just who one another is.

James's final gesture - yes, making the first move to reconcile with his father, but even more than that, remembering, from a long-ago argument with Lydia, her interest in the Indians of Canada, and proposing a honeymoon there - is one of the most romantic things I've ever read in a romance novel.

The one thing that clunked a little for me was the intro to the next novel's heroine. The hero, Phin, was integrated seamlessly enough, but the scene between Lydia and Mina had so damn much detail about Mina that the gears ground a bit. Enough about this eccentric girl-woman! Can we get back to the James & Lydia story, please?

However I'm looking forward to Written on Your Skin. Finally it has appeared in my library catalog (though there's always a lag between that and when the book is physically present in the building) and I'm one of the first people to have it on hold.

What I'm Reading: finished Skylark

I have to think this isn't one of Beverley's best. I don't need a lot of plot in the books I read, but this one had so little plot movement that even I eventually grew a bit restless. I got the impression Beverley was more invested in the love story of the long-lost heir and the cabin boy (their names have not stuck with me, though I remember they nicknamed one another Othello and Desdemona) than in the central romance.

But as I said, her language is excellent and you get the sense that she really knows her Regency history details. I'll have to do a little backlist research and read one of her better-loved books.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What I'm Reading: March

Geraldine Brooks's imagining of what the March father was up to while Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy muddled along in Concord.

Her language is so beautiful. I felt a little pang reading it, because when I originally set out to write historical romance, part of the attraction was the idea of writing in this kind of formal, elaborate language. Then of course I got serious about market research and discovered that hist-rom, these days, is written with sentence fragments, lots of contractions, and other vaguely anachronistic things like the liberal use of sarcasm.

I don't mind that. It's fun to write. But when I come across something like March, written in language that seems really true to the period, I do get a bit wistful.

Anyway it's the best book I've read in a while. Liberal deployment of shame, which always makes me happy, and lots of complex, tangled motivations for major and minor characters. Plus she digs into a theme that I like to visit in my own writing: miscommunication. How an exchange between two people can be understood in radically opposite ("opposite" shouldn't need a modifier, should it? Things are either opposite, or not opposite. There's no "mildly" opposite.) ways.

I'd read Brooks's nonfiction before, but never her fiction. Now I'll have to look up Year of Wonders.

What I'm Writing: 9.2, 9.3 & 9.4

Funny what a looming (possible) pitch opportunity can do to one's motivation: I cranked out the rewrites to chapter 8 in one intense weekend, and dove into 9.

And I have to say, the love scene (if you can call it that - at this point in the book there's no love to speak of) that ends chapter 8 is probably my favorite I've yet written. Hero and heroine are both in their element; all the wrong sparks are flying, and somehow it all works out for the best.

Nine point one and 9.3 are new, short scenes; 9.2 and 9.4 are scenes that originally occurred later in the book, hauled forward to where they can do more good. I'm almost done with 9.2, and pleased by its clearer purpose. I know what it's about, now, in a way I really didn't (at least my conscious mind didn't) when I originally wrote it.

What I'm Reading: Skylark

A Jo Beverley book from 2004. This is actually the first Beverley I've read. Her agent will be at the conference, and, though I'm only going to the awards-dinner part, on the off chance I get a moment to pitch to her, I'd like to have some knowledge of at least one writer she represents.

So honestly, the going is a bit slow. The hero didn't show up until page 40. And I'm not grasping why Laura, the heroine, is so convinced her brother-in-law means her son harm. Anyway, peeking ahead (I'm currently on page 104 out of 361), it looks like there will be a lot of intrigue and mystery-solving. That's tricky business for me. So often it feels like a distraction from the story I picked up the book to read: how two people grow to be significant in one another's lives.

That said, Beverley is obviously scrupulous with her research, and I like her language too. And there are a few little details I really enjoy, like the fact that, although Laura's marriage was disappointing overall, she and her late husband had great sex together. Not sure how realistic that is - if your husband is a womanizer and you can't respect him, doesn't that spill into your sexual relationship? - but I'm willing to go with it for this book's purposes.

Now I must catalogue the attitudes of widows toward sex that I've seen in my romance reading:

Widow had a lousy husband and never enjoyed sex

Widow enjoyed sex, and was shamed for it by her lousy husband

Widow had a decent husband, enjoyed sex, and knows she will enjoy it again

Widow had a basically-decent-but-unreliable husband, enjoyed sex, but will enjoy it even more with the reliable hero

Skylark is the first time I've seen "lousy husband, except he was generous and attentive in bed."

Oh, and I have to say something about the cover of my paperback copy. In the foreground are some big old flowers; I'd like to say what kind but for the life of me I can't remember the name even though there's a bush of these things in the yard of the house where I grew up. Bluish-purple sort of snowball clusters; sometimes they're pinkish-purple depending on the acidity of the soil or something. Those ones.

Anyway behind these flowers, so far in the background that he only takes up maybe 18% of the cover's real estate, is this open-shirted guy. And his open-shirted anatomy is very strange. I think I'm supposed to be seeing abdominal muscles, but they're curvy, almost like extra pecs only kind of off center. It's hard to tell because the library bar-code sticker partially obscures him. But it's one more reason these romance heroes ought to keep their shirts on, in my opinion.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Did I mention I'm a FINALIST?

I'm almost ready to shut up about this. Almost. But my critique sheets came in the mail yesterday, and this year they actually show your score in numbers. One of my two readers gave me a perfect freaking score, one hundred out of a possible one hundred.

How do I describe the feeling of finding a reader who loves your book exactly the way you want it to be loved? It's like a kind of intimacy - is that the right word? - that I didn't even know existed. It's like the way it must feel to shoot a quiverfull of arrows and hit the bullseye with every last one. It's a deeper, truer satisfaction even than being told you're a finalist.

Last year this same MS failed to final, and the critique sheets, while initially painful to read, proved in the end to be invaluable, particularly the harsher one. I wish I could track that person down and thank her. (I assume it's a she - can't imagine too many men sign up to judge in the Romance category.) I wish I could get in a critique group with her. She really made me take a good hard look at my plot and pacing, and thank goodness for it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finalist! Finalist! Finalist After All!

What I'm reading: an e-mail from my husband saying "Congratulations; they called to say you're a finalist for your romance manuscript." Apparently they're not sending letters this year?

So maybe the barometer's not entirely out of whack!

Now the bad part: They want a color photo for the awards-dinner slideshow. Crap. There is not a good photo of me in the world that I know of.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I'm Writing: 8.2

Okay, the new scene was not 8.1. Another scene - hero calling on one of his cottagers - made more sense in that slot, so the new scene - solicitor comes to heroine with bad news - is now 8.2.

Rewrites on 8.1 went quickly, which is encouraging after the slog that was 7.2/7.3.

Tangent: The Clinical Sex Scene

Very odd. Both of the romances I've read this week, Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast and Sherry Thomas's Not Quite a Husband, feature a scene in which either the hero (TBB's Alistair, who's a famed naturalist) or the heroine (NQAH's Bryony, a physician) get all seductive by examining their partner's relevant anatomy and describing it in clinical terms. ("This part is called the clitoris..." "Here's how an erection works...")

For me, this is pretty much the polar opposite of erotic. I remember encountering it with a sort of shudder of horror in Loretta Chase's Not Quite a Lady, where the hero, an unsentimental science-head, insisted on using words like "pudenda" (if there's a squickier word than "cunny" to encounter in a sex scene, it's got to be "pudenda") and mentioning orgasm as a sort of pedestrian occurrence.

I thought it was an oddity in NQAL, and certainly didn't expect to see that device again. But now twice, in two books released within months of each other? Maybe this is actually something lots of readers like, and I'm out of step?

Again, that feeling of the faulty barometer...

What I'm Reading: Not Quite a Husband

Soooo much right about this book.

When I say there are better romance wordsmiths than Elizabeth Hoyt, Sherry Thomas is the first one I have in mind. Her prose and her imagery are lovely, and since I'm a prose > plot person, her books just plain work for me. Especially this one.

I was a little lukewarm about Private Arrangements, and, though I liked Delicious quite a bit, by the end I was more invested in the secondary romance than the primary. But NQAH fired on all cylinders. I can't think of an HEA more hard-earned than Leo's and Bryony's (even Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth hadn't done such outright awful things to one another), and, sadistic fan of H/H suffering that I am, I loved every misstep, every regret, every moment when one or the other had to face the fact they'd let something precious slip out of their grasp. (Or maybe "willfully thrown it away with both hands" is a more accurate representation.)

I'm an absolute sucker for shame, and Thomas deploys it beautifully, in Bryony's reaction to Leo's pre-marital betrayal (not rage, or disgust, or even heartbreak, but overwhelming shame, which I wouldn't have expected but which rang incredibly true) and of course in Leo's feelings about his own behavior, as well as the failure of his and Bryony's intimate relationship. (Yes! More shame! Bring it on! Put 'em through the wringer! Seriously, there's a reason that particular emotion drove all the Greek tragedies.)

I'm also a sucker for a warm-hearted, quietly confident hero and a prickly, no-nonsense heroine. I will read about that pairing any time, anywhere.

The book only weakened a bit toward the end, when they were back in England and the barriers to their HEA seemed pretty much to have been overcome. (Once Leo makes up his mind, on the boat, that he's going to take that leap with her, as far as I can see there's really nothing holding them back.) The appearance of Verity/Vera is a tangent that sort of stalls the plot, and only seems to be there to set up a future story with her grown son as the hero. I think. (If she wasn't in there for that reason, then her appearance was really a weird, dead-end, railroad-spur kind of tangent.)

But so what. By that point I loved the book enough to forgive a whole roll-call of irrelevant character cameos. I can't imagine what Thomas could write that would work better for me than NQAH, but I look forward to finding out.

What I'm Reading: To Beguile a Beast

Elizabeth Hoyt owns me. I'm not exactly sure why. Among romance writers, I can think of better craftswomen. Better wordsmiths, better plotters, better delineators of character, not to mention writers whose sex scenes never involve the word "cunny." (Gack! Fingernails on a blackboard just typing it!)

But somehow I always seem to go along for the ride with Hoyt. Or almost always - the only book of hers I wound up skimming was To Taste Temptation, which just had too much angry/hostile sex in it for my taste (not a fan of the angry sex).

To Beguile a Beast had no angry sex and - first for Hoyt, IIRC - not a single instance of "cunny." Two entries on the plus side of the ledger right there. It had a nice "drawing the exile back into life/the community" story, too, particularly in the hero's growing relationship with the heroine's children. In fact I'd say that was the most effective, and affecting, part of the book for me; the gradual, mutual healing that took place between Alistair and the children.

I liked the choice of a horribly disfigured man for a hero. The early scenes in which he recognized his attraction to the heroine/despaired at her ever returning the feelings were powerful and rich, for me, particularly when he flashed back to his one post-disfigurement attempt to visit a prostitute. For whatever sick reasons, I always like seeing a hero or heroine brought low, and the image of him retreating, ashamed and humiliated, once the woman got a look at him and demanded double payment, really raised the stakes for whatever physical relationship might evolve between him and Helen, the heroine.

Unfortunately I don't think Hoyt really followed through on that setup. The H/H fell pretty quickly into that kind of "Girl, you know you want me" flirtation that's standard in historical romance, and I didn't see much of the self-doubt I'd been looking forward to in Alistair; I didn't see what a huge, huge risk it was for him to make any kind of sexual advance.

Probably not a re-read for me, but it definitely had its good parts, not least of which was the teaser chapter for the final book in the series, due out this fall. Damn.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What I'm Not Reading: a "Dear Finalist" Letter

I guess this would be one of those turbulents Prince warned me of, though I must say it all sounded a lot sexier the way he put it.

I entered the current MS (or rather 20-some pages plus synopsis) in a contest, the finalists for which should have been notified by now. Nothing's arrived in my mailbox, though, except membership-renewal notices from the writer's association.

What particularly frustrates me is that this is a contest I've previously finaled in, with an MS that had, in retrospect, all kinds of problems: distanced POV even to the point of head-hopping; persnickety formal language that excluded sentence fragments and contractions, and a barely graphable plot.

I think the current one is better. I do. But a little voice chatters at the back of my mind: What if you're wrong? What if my internal barometer is defective? What if, while I've been working to get better, I've actually gotten worse? How the hell do I get better if I don't have an accurate concept of what better is?

In my lower moments I think those things. Fortunately the lower moments are not nearly as frequent as I'd feared they might be. However, check with me again when I've gotten my critique-sheets back and they're full of "Your heroine is unlikeable," "Your hero is TSTL," "I've seen this set-up before," and "You don't have enough of a plot."

What I'm Writing: Chapter 8, Finally

It took me for-freakin’-ever to get through the Chapter 7 rewrites, but finally I’ve turned the page, as they say.

Eight will start with a new scene. Now that the internal conflict is subsiding a bit, I need to rev up the external conflict. Also I wanted another scene that’s not primarily H/H interaction - it gets a little claustrophobic otherwise - so I’m bringing back a minor character who will warn of impending menace. Hopefully (it is to be hoped) this chapter’s rewrites will go a lot faster.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I'm Reading: still The Indifferent Stars Above

I went back and read all the parts I'd originally skipped over, and strung them together with the cannibalism parts to make the whole story.

The figure who lingers with me is not Sarah Graves (the widow referenced in the book's subtitle), but Tamzene Donner. (Apparently that's how she spelled her name, though I've always seen it spelled in other accounts as Tamsin or Tamsen.)

Would anyone ever write her as the heroine of a love story? Her husband was some twenty years her senior, and three times widowed; she had already lost a husband and children herself. It's hard to imagine their marriage was anything but the union of two clear-eyed souls settling for what they could get at this point in life.

And yet. Through love, or maybe duty, or maybe just panicked poor thinking, she stayed with him until the end. She had four chances to leave their camp and go over the pass: the "Forlorn Hope" expedition for help (fifteen of the youngest and strongest party members, including Sarah Graves, set out on foot to send back rescuers and also to remove themselves as competition for the scant food resources), and three separate relief parties who were dispatched once the Forlorn Hope survivors reached civilization.

Tamzene Donner stayed behind every time. She sent her children to safety (or so she hoped) with the last two relief crews, but wouldn't leave her husband, who was dying of an infection in his injured arm as well as the starvation and cold that plagued everyone else.

It's hard to know, from this distance, what her thought process was. The last relief party described her as "distracted;" she asked them to please give her time to check on her husband (whose shelter was at some distance from the cabin where her children were) before she decided whether to come with them, so plain mental paralysis might have accounted for her ultimately declining to leave.

But it's also possible to imagine it this way: she knew her husband had no chance of making the journey down the mountain. She knew he was going to die, and she made up her mind she wasn't going to leave him to die alone in that terrible, terrible place, even though the longer she stayed, the greater the chance she'd die herself.

She did die. When a final relief expedition arrived at the camp, they found only one survivor, who confessed to having eaten her remains. (There was rampant speculation that he'd actually killed her for the purpose.) She must have known, staying behind, that there was a good chance she'd never see her children again, but stay she did.

Is this only a noble act if she was motivated by romantic love? Is it, perhaps, more noble if she wasn't in love with her husband, but acted out of Christian charity, or wifely duty, or simple empathy for a suffering man? It's hard to decide. One of the reasons I'm drawn to historical romance, though, is that I'm fascinated by all the reasons besides love that could lead two people into marriage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What I'm Writing: 7.2

Am I ever going to get them out of this damn pasture? Granted, I spent most of the past two weeks drafting and polishing the beginning of something else for a contest entry. But I need to be able to write faster.

What I'm Reading: The Indifferent Stars Above

By Daniel James Brown, subtitle The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride.

The ugly truth: I paged right ahead to the cannibalism. Poor Mr. Brown spent months researching Sarah Graves's early life in Illinois, literally following in her footsteps on the emigrant trail, gathering and synthesizing documentation on the physiology of hunger, hypothermia, etc. etc., and I flipped past it all to get to the part where people start eating each other.

I'm no better than the romance readers who skip straight to the sex scenes. Maybe I'm worse.

What I'm Not Reading Another Page of: The Steadfast Heart

This hurts. Among my favorite trad Regencies are a couple titles by Dorothy Mack: The Awakening Heart and The Unlikely Chaperone, both dry-witted tales with a rare and appealing willingness to let the heroine look ridiculous at times.

So when I found The Steadfast Heart at a used-book sale (someone was unloading her entire collection of Signets, it looked like, which made me a bit melancholy), I snatched it up. The h/h appear as the Established Couple in The Awakening Heart, so I looked forward to learning their own story.

But the going was kind of slow. Hero disapproves of heroine's candor and spontaneity, blah blah; misunderstanding; appearance of indiscretion; marriage of convenience; agreement to postpone intimate relations. And then the hero goes from irritating to monstrous. He suspects her of having an affair with his cousin (hero of The Awakening Heart! Dude, you leave Charles alone!) and says and does some things that are point-of-no-return unforgivable on my Hero Behavior Scale. Insults her with the infidelity accusation to the point where she threatens to get an annulment, and then breaks the postponed-intimate-relations agreement to make annulment impossible (legally not rape, as they're married, but pretty damned unpleasant nonetheless).

Incredibly, they patch things up and eventually have enjoyable sex. But he goes off to the Continent for some military reason, and when she shows up there a couple months later, pregnant but not as big-bellied as you'd expect a woman that pregnant to be, he assumes the child was conceived in his absence and accuses her of whoredom all over again.

That's when I quit. The guy has clearly demonstrated his nature. If she stays with him expecting him to change, she's a fool.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What I'm Writing: Beginning of the Next MS

It's getting there. I've changed the hero's name three times now, but I think "Will" is going to stick. Also I demoted a nobleman, got sidetracked by some research, and re-thought the hair color of my antagonist.

Anyway I'm pretty sure I'll have it done in time for this contest deadline. Crossing my fingers I won't get a judge who values scenic description above all else, because I'm a little thin on that.

What I'm Reading: Under the Banner of Heaven

This is Jon Krakauer's book about the Mormon religion and specifically the radical FLDS offshoot. Subtitled A Story of Violent Faith.

This stuff - specifically, the disadvantaged position of women in the FLDS society - fascinates me the same way I'm fascinated by Victorian marriage horror-stories. (Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Daniel Deronda.) Marriage, in a society where men have a disproportionate share of the power, can so easily devolve into a nightmare for women. And in an era where women didn't really have other options for supporting themselves, the stakes for choosing a partner and/or falling in love were incredibly high. I'd like to see a bit more of that awareness in historical romance.

Under the Banner narrates several instances of women whose husbands converted to FLDS ideals and became convinced it was their religious duty to take additional wives. Good God. After marrying in the church, and agreeing to the "forsaking all others" bit. How does any woman come to terms with that?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What I'm writing: 7.2 (still)

The hero and heroine have gotten into an argument, which they did not when this scene happened from her POV. Granted, when it was in her POV it came later in the story, too, and so maybe they were less prone to argue.

Progress has been slowed by that development, by not one but two sick kids at home this week, and by a sudden determination to crank out page 1 of the next MS for submission to Dear Author. Except yesterday I poked around that site and the First Page submission form is, ominously, no longer to be found. Maybe they've been snowed under with submissions and have decided not to take any new ones for awhile. (I'm sure there's something like a 2-year wait by now.)

At any rate my local RWA chapter has a first-few-pages contest with a deadline coming up very soon, so I think I'll aim for that.

What I'm reading: still The Old Curiosity Shop

Page 367:

Some men in his blighted position would have taken to drinking; but as Mr Swiveller had taken to that before, he only took, on receiving the news that Sophy Wackles was lost to him for ever, to playing the flute; thinking after mature consideration that it was a good, sound, dismal occupation, not only in unison with his own sad thoughts, but calculated to awaken a fellow-feeling in the bosoms of his neighbours.


And that, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order, is a sentence! Two semicolons, seven commas, seventy-four words, and absolute confidence in the reader's attention span.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What I'm writing this week: Chapter 7, scene 2

Finished scene 1, and I'm happy with how it came out. I fear I may be out of step with most modern readership on this, but I'm a sucker for quiet scenes where people are talking about something mundane -- e.g., the mechanics of making bread -- and not saying the things that maybe ought to be said:

"I admire you above all other women but/and I honor the rules and restrictions that have put you out of my reach."

"Your friendship, and your willingness to take me seriously, sustained me through the darkest days of this past year."


Scene 2 gets the h/h out into fresh air, to his immense relief. I'd already written most of it, but later in the story and from her POV. Now I'm flipping it to his, which I think/hope will be more interesting at this point in the story.

What I'm (re)reading this week: The Old Curiosity Shop

My local PBS station promised a version of this (they've been running Dickens adaptations all month), and so I've been re-reading to prepare. Though, honestly, I skim a lot of the stuff with Nell and her grandfather. Nobody does the treacly sanctification of children quite like Dickens does. (Though Harriet Beecher Stowe, with her little Eva, certainly gives it her best shot.)

To cut to the chase: the adaptation was a huge disappointment. For some unfathomable reason they decided to cram the whole story into 90 minutes. So, no Punch and Judy. No saintly schoolmaster or dying little boy. No Sophy Wackles (later Sophy Cheggs). And no allusion whatsoever to the Marchioness being the illegitimate spawn of Quilp and Sally Brass.

Most disappointing of all was the short shrift given to one of my top five favorite characters in all of English-language literature, Dick Swiveller. I don't know, honestly, if his comic richness can come across without that distanced, commenting authorial voice Dickens used. I don't know if it's possible to make him as delightfully lamewitted in the more immediate medium of film, or even in the now-fashionable tight-third-person narrative voice. (Though it probably is. Dick is a sort of spiritual forbear to Bertie Wooster, and his foolishness is indelibly sketched in first person.)

At any rate large chunks of his story were cut out, as was his habit of speaking in verse. He was shown marrying the Marchioness at the end, and it sort of came out of nowhere. (He never got sick; she never saved his life.) He lost his wonderful arc, from borderline-villainous buffoon to improbable hero.

Oh, well. I'll finish the re-read. Then maybe I'll look for Little Dorrit, which was the previous PBS adaptation and which I've never read.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What I'm writing this week: Chapter 7, scene 1

I am ruminating on the image of the Woman Discovered In Her Bath. It's as old as the Greek myths, at least (two unlucky souls walked in on Artemis bathing; she turned one into a woman and the other into a stag, who was promptly torn apart by his own hunting-dogs), and a popular device in plenty of books and movies. Red-hot versions of it occur in Elizabeth Hoyt's The Serpent Prince and Sherry Thomas's Delicious. And a month ago or so I happened to see the movie Witness (police detective Harrison Ford is forced to hide out among the Pennsylvania Amish) for the first time in years, and there, too, was a scene in which the hero walks in on the heroine and sustains the turbulent sensations (turbulents?) of shock, guilt, desire, possibility, and the bedrock decency that finally makes him turn and leave.

Chapter 7, as I'm rewriting it, begins with a scene where the heroine walks in on a man in what, for that time, would have been an alarming state of undress. I'm curious about what happens to that device when the genders are reversed, and when the man is the one with violable innocence while the woman is "fallen" and feels herself capable of tainting him with her gaze.

I'm not altogether sure it's a keeper, though. I might want to save the experiment for a book in which the walked-in-on man can be the hero, and thereby make the stakes higher. (The man in this scene is a supporting character, patiently if hungrily waiting for me to write him a heroine of his own. The hero, of course, would like nothing better than to be discovered in his bath, by the heroine or any other lady who cared to call; the more the better in fact. But that would take all of the electrical charge out of the Discovered in Bath device, and so I'll have to find other ways for him to be seen and admired as much as is his due.)

What I'm reading this week: Breaking Dawn

Actually, I'm going back and reading the parts I skipped the first time around. I've been working my way through the whole Twilight series, and by the time I got to this very thick book that ends it (had to wait about 3 months on the library holds list), I wanted to cut to the chase and find out a) what kind of payoff she'd cooked up for the sexual tension around which the first three books were largely built, and b) whether the childbirth scene was really as gothically horrifying as everyone said.

It's hard to speak critically about the Twilight books. If they work for you, then you're willing (I think) to let a lot of technical/craft things slide, and if they don't work for you, then chances are they fail on such a fundamental level that there's not much point in discussing the mechanics. I admit I fall into the latter group. These aren't books I would ever re-read, or recommend to any teenage girl.

But I have to say I'm baffled as to why so many readers who gobbled up the first three installments were so affronted by Breaking Dawn (to the point of returning books to the store, etc.). I actually saw a lot of improvement in her prose - the dialogue tags weren't nearly as obtrusive as in the first book - and while, for example, the plot is nonexistent in places and preposterous in others, wasn't that true of Eclipse and New Moon as well?

Anyway, as to the sex, I think she painted herself into a corner. Having made the decision that she wasn't going to write explicit scenes, but having made it so prominent a concern of Bella's and Edward's, she was forced to address it by having the characters talk and think about how amazing it was without letting us see/judge for ourselves, which, aside from whether readers who'd been looking forward to that part felt cheated, made it a massive writerly instance of Telling instead of Showing.

The childbirth scene... well, I tried to read it but as I was skimming at that point and hadn't figured out that it was being told from Jacob's POV, I had a hard time getting a handle on what exactly was going on. Anyway, yeah, it looked pretty gruesome, but I don't necessarily mind that. Jennifer Donnelly, in A Northern Light (YA with an early-20th-century setting), writes a vivid account of a rural birth with no drugs or proper sanitation, and I think it's my favorite, most true-ringing account of childbirth in fiction.

For better/worse, I'm nearly up to the childbirth scene again. Just got to slog through this last bit in which the werewolf pack are reading each others' minds with all their dialogue written in italics, and then I can give it a closer look.