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.