Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meet The Hecks

The motorway coming east from Manchester was closed for a ways on Sunday. It may be closed today too for all I know, but Sunday was when we were coming this way.

So we got off the motorway and drove through numerous villages en route to Kate's home. My favorites (or should I say, favourites) were Great Heck and Little Heck. I don't know what Hecks were when they were at home -- and got villages named after them, but I found the names very impressive indeed. (I was also fond of Snaith, but today we're talking about Hecks).

There was, however, no middle Heck. I feel this is a shame. The world cries out for a Middle Heck. Also, perhaps, a Lower Heck and an Upper Heck and a Heck If I Know. But they are not there. Yet.

So, I've solved the problem of the missing Hecks by naming Kate's resident hedgehog family after them. There are, as she's told you, 3 generations of them. And last night they all appeared to enjoy the cat food Sid & Co didn't finish.
The chap at the top of the page is Little Heck. He's a newbie in Walker Household hedgehog terms. The guy or girl on the right in the middle is Middle Heck. And the one who has taken exception to being photographed and is hieing off at a rate of speed (the one who reminds me of the three-legged Manx chap) is Great Heck.

I never thought hedgehogs had long legs. I certainly never thought of them as having knees. Apparently they do. That seems like it would be a good useful simile -- as shy as a hedgehog's knees. Or something. Anyway, I am delighted that Blogger has allowed me to post them and I hope you enjoy them all. And I hope any hedgehogs currently residing in the Heck villages do not take offense at having their village name usurped.

Stay tuned. We're off to London tomorrow.

Pix - Writers, Cats and Hedgehogs at last!

So, here they are. The pictures that I couldn't post yesterday.

First we have the Famous Author Kate Walker admidst her office chaos, looking kind and benevolent and exactly like someone who has just bestowed a copy of a Hugh Jackman magazine on a grateful jet-lagged friend. This is Kate's newly refurbished office -- not that you can tell. But the new bookshelves and carpet and lovely settee are worth remarking on (if not photographing).

And then there is Sid -- A Cat Of Superior Breeding -- who has made me very welcome and who has deigned to let me scratch him behind the ears and under the chin and let me feed him Greenies and salmon, and who even came in and tromped across the bed last night.

And then there are the hedgehogs. We have here Mr Tiny Hedgehog. He was the only one who came out the first night. But last night all three generations were represented. I will, Blogger permitting and camera being found, post some of last night's pictures later today. I have a particularly interesting one of Mr Giant Hedgehog hightailing it off with one of his back legs clearly visible and reminding me of those three-legged running Manx symbols. Do you suppose they are based on hedgehogs?

Also, I have a new ClustrMap. And things are really getting red and blotchy. I'm very impressed. However, I could certainly use someone in Perth, Western Australia to show up. And China. China would be nice. Lots of places in Africa under-represented so far. But I'm very glad to see all those new South American dots. I keep hoping one will appear in Fortaleza, Brasil because one of my sons went there with a Brazilian friend when he was working down there. He loved Fortaleza and brought home great pictures of the area.

In the meantime, North Lincolnshire hedgehogs on the internet, you are vastly under-represented on my ClustrMap. So let's get busy. Get online. Visit! And I will post more pictures anon.

Still trying to think of a new first line for Spence. Hmmmm.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Writers and Cats and Hedgehogs, oh my!

Made it.

Considering the state of air travel these days, my trip to Manchester on the weekend was remarkably swift and painless. Certainly far more painless than trying to get home from my son's wedding last month was.

It was not, however, without its moments of interest. I was supposed to meet Kate Walker and her husband at the coffee bar outside the customs area, which is where my husband and I have met them every time we've come to visit and flown into Manchester. It was, in effect, the one thing we were sure of.

But when I arrived, I found that things had changed. Updated. Moved. The coffee bar was no longer where I'd left it. Nor was anything else. But airports do that. You can't trust them that way. They are always reinventing themselves. So I wasn't surprised, really. (Dallas-Fort Worth, for example, creates an entirely new airport every time I go down there. It's amazing). Still, I found the coffee bar. And I waited . . . and waited . . .

And half an hour later, a lady sat down beside me and made a call on her mobile phone and I overheard her say, "Yes, luv, I'm just waiting for George by the coffee bar in terminal 3 . . . " and I thought, Hang on. Terminal THREE? Is that's what's changed?

It was. I discovered that I was accustomed to arriving in Terminal ONE. Which is where Kate and her husband were accustomed to picking me up. So I trundled myself and my suitcase to terminal ONE -- and there they were. Disaster averted. Until we reached the car park and the level FIVE they were sure they'd parked on was in fact the miles per hour one was supposed to not exceed. Life is like that sometimes. But I'm happy to report we did finally get to Sid's house.

Sid was front and center, ready to greet me. He was delighted to get the Greenies I brought him and his cohorts. And he's stomped across me several times since, head-butted me in an effort to move me closer to the open bag of Greenies when he's decided he needs more of them, and is in general making me feel right at home. Or as at home as one who has three dogs can feel in a house full of cats!

He even laid on an evening of hedgehog entertainment. And tiny Mr Hedgehog obliged by not running off when I took his picture. In fact, he turned toward the camera and preened.

So it's been a lovely start to my visit. I even have a Hugh Jackman magazine courtesy of Kate (she's going to tell you I stole it, but it isn't true -- she gave it to me in a fit of kindness and generosity. She just doesn't want anyone to know!). Sadly there is no Hugh-in-a-towel in it, but the photos are very nice indeed.

I am working, though, I want you to know. We talk writing ALL the time -- and I'm trying to come up with a new first line to my book since my editor has now rendered the previous first line obsolete. A writer's work is never done, I tell you. Never!

I intend to put up a pic of Kate at her desk, a Stunning Picture of Sid, and a hedgehog having dinner. But at the moment Blogger is resisting all efforts to add pix to this entry. So, for the moment, you just get text. Sorry about that. Come back soon. Maybe the pix will make it by then. I hope so.

Friday, September 15, 2006

England, Here I Come!

I'm about to follow Spence and Sadie across the pond.

But I'm trying to clean my office first. It would be easier if there were places on the bookshelves to put the new books (why are there always new books? why is it so hard to part with the old ones?). But at least I have found the floor again. It is covered with dog hair, which I have spent the better part of the past hour cleaning up. It seems to simply embed itself in wall-t0-wall carpet. All I can say is 'God bless Mr Dyson and his wonderful vacuum.' I never could get it out without that.

Now that the rug is clean and the books are, well, sort of put away, I am making copies of everything I think I will need on the trip in the way of family history research. That means printing out family group sheets and genealogical reports on the various families I'm hoping to work on.

It also means going over my "annotated census" of a couple of Crowan parish enumeration districts, where I have used the IGI and parish records to fill in who married whom and any other relationships that seem pertinent. I really wish there was some kind of software that would let me lay out these relationships geographically. I'm printing a bunch of maps to take with me as well, so I can at least plot them out as I discover where these people all lived.

I feel like I'm going to forget something vitally important. But I don't want to take my laptop and fight it the whole way. So I'm taking what I need on a flash drive and hoping that that's enough.

Besides doing the family history, I'm looking forward to a dinner with a bunch of Presents authors one night, a lunch with all sorts of Harlequin Mills & Boon authors another day, "drinks" with the editorial staff at HM&B, and "tea" at Fortnum & Mason's.

I'm also going to be visiting Sid, Kate Walker's cat. He's sitting on my bed waiting for me to come visit, Kate says. I'll miss the dogs, but I know Sid will show me a good time. He's even promised to try to lay on a performance by the local hedgehogs.

I'll try to check in with the blog and tell you what's going on. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone there -- and saying hi to Spence and Sadie, who will be enjoying Fiji while I'm there, and gearing up to revise themselves when I get back.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Emotional Throughline

In my last blog I mentioned the three things I wanted to preserve in Spence and Sadie's story -- the things that, in my opinion, were the basis for the whole effort.

The first, the premise, is the hook which I used to start the story. It's the sudden change in circumstances that makes it necessary for Sadie and Spence to begin this adventure together. Without that particular premise, it would be a very different book.

The second, the characters' back stories and identities, is pretty self-explanatory. Who Spence is is a result of his family background, his personality, the things that have happened to him, the decisions he's made. The same is true of Sadie.

And these are people I've grown to know and love over the course of the past few months. So when I was considering revisions, I knew I couldn't play fast and loose with who they were when the book began and still find the same emotional arc of growth in the book.

Different characters have different issues. They bring those issues to the story. How they grow and reach a strong, healthy and fulfilling relationship within the confines of the book is a result of how how they feel about those issues and the decisions they make regarding them -- and each other -- scene by scene in the course of the book.

And that is the emotional throughline. Michelle Styles asked me about this, so let me explain.

I borrowed the term from my son who spent his teens and twenties doing a lot of extreme skiing around the American west. He climbed up and skied down mountains that made my heart leap up and lodge in my throat -- and, of course, while he was doing it, he took plenty of pictures.*

Often these pictures would be shot from the bottom of the mountain where he would be, having already made the run. And the photos he showed inevitably had a single tiny speck on an almost vertical mountainside threading its way through massive jagged rocks and past overhangs and down into the moguls and so on.

And he would point at the speck and say, "That's Brian." (Brian is still alive, too, in case anyone is wondering. But for Brian's mother and me, it was often an eyes averted experience, looking at these slides they showed. Only knowing they were here to show the photos allowed us to breathe easier.)

How, we asked, did they get down the mountainside without killing or maiming themselves? How did they know where to go?

They studied the terrain, my son said. They looked for the throughline -- the single path that, if followed, would bring them not over cliffs and or impaled on jagged rocks, but safely down the mountain.

They had to study every inch, learn all the dead ends and disasters, and finally find the one that would take them all the way down. Then they had to visualize it so completely that they could see it in their minds clearly before they started out. They had to commit it to memory and ski it mentally over and over, imprinting the path on their brains before they ever set out. It was the only way to get down the mountain (except, of course, in a helicopter being medevac-ed out).

It made sense to me. In fact it makes much more sense in writing than in skiing. Lots safer. But then, that's me. I'm not a skier. I'm a writer.

But I like the term because it describes so well what I do when I'm looking at a story, making sure it works, trying to understand how each character gets from beginning to end in a coherent believable way.

So when I began Spence and Sadie's story, I had to know where they were emotionally in the beginning of the book. I needed to know this in order to understand -- and write -- their responses to the premise. And then, at each succeeding turning point -- basically in each succeeding scene -- I have to understand how they feel about things now. How they feel dictates what they do next.

Every emotional twist and turn the plot takes has to make sense, it has to bring them closer to the end without them taking a wrong turn -- and going off an emotional cliff.

Thus, changing that emotional throughline would have taken me right off that story's mountain and put me on another one. Nothing wrong with another mountain, but it wouldn't have been the same mountain with the same throughline, the same story. On a different mountain, the journey would have been very different.

So that's why I was guarding those things very carefully. And all of those things are preserved. What has changed is the trigger. But it creates the same premise (yay!) and works perfectly for the people that Spence and Sadie already are (yay again!) and, most important of all, it allows them to follow the same emotional throughline from beginning to end (whew!). So I'm happy. Now all I have to do is write it!

*The photo above is by Colin Meadows (who is not my son, but who seems to hang out in many of the same places) You can see more of his spectacular shots on his website. My son's are in a portable ice chest a thousand miles away, not on the web where I could nab one to show you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It works!

I don't suppose it's a divine revelation to report that my "writer's serenity prayer" actually worked. But I believe it has. And this morning I couldn't have told you that was true. In fact, this morning I was not sure at all whether Spence and Sadie might not have lived out their lives as a part of this blog and had their story on my website, because there were some things that were not going to change. And fortunately they haven't had to.

This is not to say that some things didn't. They did. One very big thing changed -- but I would agree it changed for the better, that the book can be a better book with this change. And I'm happy to make it because what I wanted to stay, stayed: the premise, the characters' integrity, and the emotional arc they travel in the course of their story.

What we have agreed on now preserves that and I am delighted. I'm actually eager to tackle the rest because it all flows from a premise I believe in. It lets Spence and Sadie be Spence and Sadie. Even more so than they were, I think.

So I'm happy. Ed's happy. And Spence and Sadie can have a working vacation in England, which ought to please them no end. Not, of course, that they were getting bored with Fiji!


Monday, September 11, 2006

Writer's "Serenity Prayer"

The interesting thing about revisions is they make you take another look from a distance at the book you've been involved in so very up close and personally for a long long time.

You see the things that seem reasonable to do and will make it better, and things that make you stop and say, "No, that doesn't feel right. It doesn't ring true." I can say that about Spence and Sadie now. I learned this again as I listened to the suggestions that my editor has offered for their book.

The whole thing, as far as I can see, comes down to making it a better book. Looking at these particular characters and their specific story and finding the heart of that story, then trying to enhance that, make it clearer, sharper, more vivid and tell it in the most effective way possible is, I believe, what writing is all about.

For me at least, it's not about lines or about length or about a certain setting or type of hero or heroine. It's about story. And in a romance it is about the relationship of two very specific people, not a cookie-cutter couple. Not characters whose lives can be interchanged or simply "changed" to make it "make sense" to someone else.

I learn this all over again every time I listen to someone else's take on my book. Often I find myself nodding in agreement when my editor suggests something. I say, "Yes, I can see that. Yes, he could do such and such and it would make his intentions clearer." But sometime I find myself going, "Oh, no. He would never do that!" And it's absolutely true.

It's odd how well I know those things. Or maybe it's not so odd. I have spent months with these people. I have lived in their souls and they in mine for half a year now. It is a gut level reaction at this point.

So I have come up with my version of the serenity prayer for writers dealing with revisions.

It goes like this: Help me to "tweak" the things I can in order to communicate the core of Spence and Sadie's story; help me to find the words to convince my editor that there are some things that cannot be changed . . . and then help us both have the wisdom to live with the difference!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Blogging as an avoidance activity

I don't know about you, but I thought I would blog more when I finished off Spence and Sadie and despatched them to The Land Across the Pond. No, really, I did.

But it turns out that when Spence and Sadie aren't around, I get a life. I don't spend my days at the computer (well, not much of them) and consequently I am not looking for a way to avoid working on chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four . . . well, you get the idea.

So, it's been 3 days since I actually wrote anything here. It isn't that I don't have anything to say -- but I haven't been around. I've been cleaning my house (which desperately needed it) and mailing off books to contest winners (they went out today, gang), and walking dogs and taking dogs to the vet for yearly checkups, and grumbling about the fact that our neighbors a couple of doors away just had FOUR TREES cut down on their property and now we have WAY MORE SUN than is good for us. Not to mention that it's sad to see old trees go.

Spence and Sadie haven't been in touch. They flew out of here at rate of knots, and they have not been heard from since. The ed tells me she might be able to read them this weekend. I hope so, because if she wants much in the way of revisions, it's going to be tricky to get them done before I head off across the pond myself. We shall see. I'm not a big fan of "no revisions" because frankly, I have never yet met a book of mine that couldn't be improved. Not that it wouldn't be nice if she decided this was the time. However . . . I can still think of ways to improve it.

When I'm not cleaning or dealing with dogs or mourning trees, I'm reading books. I've been catching up on several Loretta Chase books that I hadn't read. I love her books! Also just got a new Stephanie Laurens and Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Match Me If You Can, which I read in hardcover when it first came out, but I liked enough to splurge for it for my keepers shelf.

I'm also reading The Cornish Landscape (one of my two copies that I'm still offering the other of to someone who doesn't have one and is desperate for their very own copy) in anticipation of my trip there with Sophie Weston in a couple of weeks.

I'm working on trying to sort out the many William Ralphs who have been set in Cornwall to plague me. That's one of my challenges while I'm gone -- to learn as much as I can about them and see if I can finally sort them out (and their brothers John, John, John, John, John, John and John).

The highlight of my day was getting two hardcover copies of Lessons From A Latin Lover in Afrikaans. I'm not sure I've ever had any books translated into Afrikaans before. Maybe one quite a while ago. Anyway, it was a surprise -- and a very nice one. Also in the same bag was a Japanese translation of the book (not a palm tree in sight).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Drinks, Nudity . . . and Croquet

No, I haven't gone completely round the bend since I sent Spence and Sadie off yesterday. I just promised to post a blog entry about my good friend Anne Frasier's new book, Pale Immortal, which is on sale as of today.

Anne, in a fit of industrious blogging, invited any of us who wished to write about Pale Immortal today. As I think Anne writes terrific -- albeit seriously scary -- books, I took her up on the offer. I'm incredibly sick of writing about Spence and Sadie, and now that they are someone else's problem for a while (thanks, ed!) I have the freedom to write about someone else.

Enter Pale Immortal which takes place in Tuonela, Wisconsin a sleepy Wisconsin town haunted by events of 100 years ago, when a man who may have been a vampire slaughtered the town's citizens and drank their blood. Now, another murderer is killing the most vulnerable...and draining their bodies of blood.

Evan Stroud lives in darkness. The pale prisoner of a strange disease
that prevents him from ever seeing the light of day, he lives in tragic
solitude, taunted for being a "vampire." When troubled teenager Graham
Stroud appears on Evan's doorstep, claiming to be his long-lost son,
Evan's uneasy solitude is shattered.

Having escaped Tuonela's mysterious pull for several years, Rachel
Burton is now back in town, filling in as coroner. Even as she seeks to
identify the killer, and uncover the source of the evil that seems to
pervade the town, she is drawn to Evan by a power she's helpless to
understand or resist....

As Graham is pulled deeper and deeper into Tuonela's depraved,
vampire-obsessed underworld, Rachel and Evan team up to save him. But
the force they are fighting is both powerful and elusive...and willing
to take them to the very mouth of hell.

Scary enough for you?

Anne, with the help of her video-savvy daughter, has even created a video to go with the experience and a soundtrack or mp3s to put you in the mood.

You can check them all out at the Pale Immortal blog

So if you're looking for something a little bit different -- and a whole lot suspenseful -- let Anne show you around Tuonela. You won't regret it.

Pale Immortal was released today by Penguin/NAL/ONYX. Check it out.

And as for the drinks, nudity and croquet -- drop by Anne's virtual party on her blog. You never know what might be going on. Check it out. BYOM. (Bring your own mallet)

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Duck Stops Here

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Look who's in a row! So, the duck stops here. Or the ducks stop here. Whichever.

Spence and Sadie have been launched. Time to celebrate!

ps: Whoever called this Labor Day spoke the truth.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Phalanx of Ducks?

Michelle Styles has first hand experience with ducks. Real ones, apparently. And her ducks, she says, do not go in rows. They move in a phalanx. This is, I believe, the sort of thing Roman ducks would do. Novelists of the Roman period would know about things like that. So would Roman ducks.

Mine, not being Roman, do not understand about phalanxes (phalanxi?) . Neither they nor I are exactly sure what a phalanx is. Or why they ought to move in one. (We like the word, though) Rows we both understand. It's sort of like "follow the leader." With ducks.

It has, I explained to the most reluctant of them this evening, to do with motivation. If you see where you ought to be going and you are motivated to get there, you will fly straight toward your destination. So will all the other ducks. You will be in a row. They understood.

Most of them have lined up now. Seven chapters worth of them are on the runway ready to fly to Richmond on Monday. By tomorrow the eighth will be ready to go. Possibly even the ninth. The tenth is still gestating. But the motivation is clear. That duck will be born with Goals. And expectations.

And he'd better get them accomplished by Tuesday if not sooner. Otherwise he'll be out looking for a new phalanx to join.

The Wedding Bells II contest is over. The winners will be notified tomorrow by email. Gunnar is excited at the possibility of all these treats. Thanks to all those who entered!

Have you checked out The Pink Heart Society? It promises to be a lot of fun. Drop in when you can.

The Chapter Ten Duck, still trying to figure out his place in the row.