Thursday, November 30, 2006

One Last Chance . . .

December 1st (which is rolling around here in a couple of hours) and which is already well underway Down Under is the last day you can provide the answers to my scavenger hunt and get yourself entered in the Here Comes Winter contest.

You can enter by posting the answers to the following questions to me from the "Contact Anne" tab on my website.

Get yourself a bunch of books and other goodies to see you through the snow and cold by sending in your entry today.

Gunnar has got a packet of treats that he is eager to have at, so do him a favor and enter. He gets a treat on every entry. The first one he picks is the Grand Prize Winner.

Here are the questions:
  1. Which book by Harlequin romance author Liz Fielding won the RITA in 2006?
  2. What day is Hugh Jackman's birthday?
  3. What country is Presents author Miranda Lee's home?
  4. British author Christina Jones wrote a book about a woman who owned a greyhound. What is the book called?
  5. Who plays Mark Antony on the television series "Rome?"
  6. Harlequin romance author Sophie Weston's latest book is called The Cinderella Factor. What's the hero's name?
  7. Presents author Kate Walker has four cats. They are called Dylan, Spiffer, Bob and ?????
  8. Who is the sculptress heroine of my book McGillivray's Mistress?
  9. Theo Savas and Martha Antonides are the main characters in which one of my books?
  10. What character does Hugh Jackman play in the X-Men movies.
I've had some suggestions about where in Ireland I should plonk Flynn's castle down. I'm still looking. If you have any ideas -- or castles -- please send them along. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Calling All Irish . . .

Okay, it's like this -- I've been to Ireland once. For less than 8 hours. In fact I wasn't supposed to be there that long, but the plane was delayed. So what I know about Ireland in person is confined to the airport. So I need help.

Flynn, my hero, is Irish. He's spent a lot of his adult life elsewhere. But home is Ireland, specifically a drafty old castle of sorts in Ireland. Flynn is, to his dismay, an earl. He has traditions and responsibilities and hundreds of years of history at his back. And it's gaining on him.

He also has a woman he loves, but that I can deal with. Or at least that I'm familiar with. What I need is advice on Ireland. I need somewhere to put his drafty old castle.

So, if you are Irish, or have been to Ireland, or have stumbled across a nifty website that you think would make a great setting for Flynn to have spent his childhood in -- please tell me. I am perfectly open to suggestions. I would love to get a virtual look at some great places. So if you know any, tell me about them.

You can leave a comment here, or you can go to my website and click on the Contact Anne tab to send me an email. I will be very grateful, believe me. So grateful that if I pick your spot, I'll be sure to send you a copy of the book when it's a 'real book.'

And if you know a great place and don't tell me, then don't grumble when you see what I pick. The time is NOW. Let me hear from you! Thanks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Emotional Arc

The synopsis is finished. All the pieces came together at last. Somehow they always seem to do that about 2 a.m. I'm not sure why that is -- desperation, perhaps?

Or maybe it's just that the few brain cells I still have functioning at that point get right down to things and see with considerably clarity because none of the other fuzzy brain cells which would ordinarily be going, "What about this?" or "Have you thought of that?" are still awake.

Dunno. It's done, though. Great relief. And I think it works.

I re-read Noah Lukeman's chapter on The Journey in his book The Plot Thickens. It's another way of thinking about the emotional arc that a character takes from the beginning of the book to the end. He makes good distinctions between "surface journeys" and "profound journeys."

Surface journeys are what happens in the life of a person when they experience things like physical change, material gain or loss, friendship, enmity, or even romance. Those can change circumstances, but they may not have a real effect on who the person is. He or she may or may not change because of them.

It's the profound journeys that reflect change. They are the ones that may result from a surface journey, but they are much deeper. They change who a person is. And that's what I was dealing with last night.

I knew that what happened between Flynn and Sara six years ago had an effect on both their lives. It changed who they were. It actually changed Sara's life much more than it changed Flynn's. Her journey might even have been called profound. But it wasn't finished. It's still not finished.

But what happens to them both when they come together again has significant impact on both of them. It starts a surface journey -- a romance, a physical journey -- to Ireland, a change in life circumstances for both of them. But it's the inner journey that they both make that underpinned the whole synopsis, that is the story I'm telling in their book.

It was the last bit -- the change of mind and heart -- that I was struggling with at 2 a.m. I knew what had to happen. I just didn't know how. And I needed the story elements to tell me. Stripped to their basics, bless them, they did.

Remember when I talked about yesterday's distraction being today's inspiration. That's exactly, in the end, what happened. So all I can do is say, Thank you, James.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Synopsis . . . Thinking ahead

I'm trying to put the last pieces of my synopsis together. Some books lend themselves to this more easily than others. I've got mega amounts of back story for these folks. But just exactly how they're going to work out their issues is harder to nail down.

It means that I have to think ahead -- figure out what lessons they have to learn so that they can grow and become the people they're meant to be as their best selves -- and until I've actually done it, that's tricky.

I've got bits and pieces. Like a jigsaw now. And I've got all the bottom bits put in -- and the edges and I'm working toward the middle. But I'm not quite to the point where I can see how all the pieces totally fit yet. It's a growing process for Flynn and Sara -- and for me.

We're getting there, though. I have faith in them. And in an hour or so the puzzle will be roughed out and ready to send. Keep your fingers crossed

By the way, we have 30 countries already in just a little over two weeks of keeping track. I'm impressed. Thanks all of you who have showed up to make my flag list grow.

I'm not sure exactly what brings people here, though I noticed in the summer when I wrote a blog about Shaka Hislop, the goalkeeper for the Trinidad and Tobago soccer team that I got a lot of hits from T&T.

I'm pretty sure they turned up because he was on my blog, not because they had suddenly developed an interest in romance novels. But I was delighted they dropped in.

I'm delighted, too, to discover that Shaka is now with the Dallas FC and has been since shortly after the World Cup, having been signed from the premiership club of West Ham in Britain. I really loved watching the game he played against Sweden in the World Cup.

Next time I got down there to visit my daughter and family, I might have to drag my son-in-law, the baseball fanatic, to a soccer game. Both are much better enjoyed in person. Television doesn't do either justice -- at least not in the US. They get in too close and don't allow viewers to step back and watch the plays develop.

Thinking about watching plays develop, though, is taking me back to thinking about my synopsis and how it's not developing while I'm doing this. So I'd better get to work.

Found a couple of more pics of James Purefoy in my blog file which I'll share with you and then I'm getting back to work.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


We're still eating leftovers from Thanksgiving. In the US it's what we do this time of year. I like them, although I admit that thrice-reheated green bean casserole is making me think longingly of a fresh green salad tonight.

More important, though, I have other leftovers, too, from my Male on Monday post which went up a few minutes ago on the Pink Heart blog site.

Hey, it's Monday in Britain. And it's been Monday so long in Australia and New Zealand and that part of the word that they're probably eating lunch!

Anyway, the man of the day is British actor, James Purefoy, whose films and television appearances I've been enjoying since I saw him in The Knight's Tale several years ago. And I was delighted to be able to share some of James's roles -- and photos -- on the Pink Heart site.

But I'm even happier to have some left over that I am posting here. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. Enjoy!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Everywhere a Homebush . . .

There are three of them!

I put "Homebush, Australia" in Google, and I had my pick. Did I want Homebush, Queensland? Homebush, New South Wales? Homebush, Victoria?

Who knew? It's like Springfields in the USA. Every state has one. Or almost every.

The Aussies tell me that the Homebush referred to as a 'recent city' on my neo-counter is near Sydney. It's where the Olympic Games were held, they say. Probably they are right. But how do they know this? Who's to say there isn't a lone romance reader in Homebush, Victoria (or Queensland, for that matter) who can't wait to read my blog every day?

Not me.

If you want to raise your hand and identify your whereabouts, Homebush, I'd love to narrow things down. But if you prefer anonymity, that's fine, too. I'm just very glad you're here and that you've come back!

I've tracked down Espoo, Finland and Leixlip, Ireland. I've found Derrimut, Australia and Curitiba, Brazil. The map search thingy thinks that Italian Gully is in New Zealand, but the flag said Australia. I suppose it's comforting to know that the software designers are almost as geographically challenged as I am. I just won't be asking them for directions any time soon.

But I have to stop spending so much time on this, no matter how much fun -- and education -- it is. I have a synopsis to write. Flynn has got to get to the coffee bar and beyond. And he's got to do it by Monday. I told the ed that I'd been hijacked by Thanksgiving, and she accepted that. But I doubt she's going to be quite as thrilled if I don't turn up with Flynn on Monday, instead telling her that I was abducted by multiple-identitied Australian towns.

It's quite true that I was also distracted by my 'male on Monday' blog post which took me until 2 a.m. to finish. It's ready to be uploaded now. At last. What a lot of work. I don't know how Ally and Nic and Trish and Natasha do it week after week! Check in on Monday and read all about it on the Pink Heart blog -- and the 'leftovers' will be turning up here for those who haven't already had a surfeit of pictures.

Now then, back to Flynn and his drafty (draughty?) Irish castle.

Geography Lesson

Since Neocounter 2 has arrived on the sidebar I've become woefully aware of how bad my geography is.

I don't do too badly with countries. But I'm falling apart at the cities. I need to find out where Long Gully and Homebush Australia are -- and quite a few other places as well. Does no one in Sydney or Melbourne read romance? Or visit blogs? Not mine, they don't.

What about Illzach, France and Damansara, Malaysia? I need a new world atlas. I think I'll have to ask for one for Christmas. And then one of those big wall-size maps that I can stick pins in with a pin for every visitor. It's exciting, discovering all these different places.

Thanksgiving was lovely. Actually too short. It was over almost before I got to sit down and enjoy much of it. Good thing I enjoy the doing -- the baking, the chopping, the slicing, the cooking, the sampling -- as well, and even the cleaning up.

The other good thing about Thanksgiving is that it's not just an excuse to get together with the people we love, but also to make a stab at cleaning up the house. And it didn't look bad, if I do say so myself.

The Prof put the table back under the window this morning after he took out the leaves. And when I came downstairs and looked at it, I was terribly impressed. There was nothing on it save a plant. Amazing. See, if we hadn't had Thanksgiving there would have been two stacks of Christmas presents, some mail order catalogues, a bread pan, half a load of folded laundry, and a new DVD (still trying to find time to watch Hugh in Scoop). Too bad I didn't take a 'before' picture so I could show you the difference. But I think you can imagine, and you probably don't want the gory details anyway.

Tonight I'm going to be putting the finishing touches on my 'male on Monday' post for the Pink Heart blog. Then I'm going to throw myself at Flynn's synopsis and -- dare I hope -- find enough time to watch Scoop.

I'm also going to Google Earth and find out where you all are. If you look up and see me, wave!

Thursday, November 23, 2006


The bird is just about to go in the oven. Great-grandma's turkey dressing (we call it dressing. Lots of people call it stuffing. Is this a cultural thing or a geographical thing or . . . ?) is ready to go into the bird. From here on out, the timing is the thing.

And besides the turkey, I have the male on Monday to get ready. Need to send him to Ally today because it's already tomorrow in Australia! Yikes.

Also there is Flynn to synopsize and send off, Scoop to watch (Hugh is sitting here waiting for me to watch and I don't have time! Life can be cruel.), those Christmas presents still sitting on the table which need to be wrapped (the wrapping paper has appeared from the attic, though, thanks to The Prof) so they don't just get shuffled off somewhere, and then several pounds of dog hair to vacuum up off the carpet (and the chairs and the sofa) before guests begin to arrive.

But before I start any of that, I want to stop for a moment to reflect on what I'm thankful for:

  • The Prof
  • The kids
  • The grandkids
  • My mother
  • The dogs and cats -- all of them, past and present
  • The family wherever they may be all over the world
  • Great friends (ditto)
  • Good health
  • Freedom
  • Opportunity
  • The ability to communicate with so many people near and far
  • All the ancestors who made my life possible
  • Hugh-in-a-towel
  • good editors
  • good covers
  • all the people who drop by the blog and read it and comment (or not)
  • and way too many other things to even mention
Blessings on you all whether you celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday in your country or not. Know that we'll be remembering you here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The best holiday

Thanksgiving is, without doubt, my favorite holiday.

It's so non-commercial. It transcends any particular religion. It exalts family and friends and togetherness. It began out of a tradition of sharing and helping each other out. And it has really good food associated with it. What's not to like?

So, after last night's 'research' watching the film Lucy Gordon sent me starring 'the male coming up on Monday' (which was very interesting, indeed and yes, Lucy, he does indeed strip well), I've managed to write a few words. But tomorrow is Thanksgiving here and the male on Monday is going to have to wait while I throw myself headlong into preparations for Thanksgiving.

So far this means I've made four loaves of pumpkin bread (two with cranberries, two without), have put together my mother's traditional lime jello salad (it's not really a salad, but if you serve it on lettuce, you can pretend it is), have made enough cranberry sauce to feed the Russian army, have washed the serving dishes, and am in the process of wrapping Christmas presents. No, we don't have Christmas on Thanksgiving. But I have to wrap the presents - they're stacked on the dining room table. We can't eat unless I get them off there.

It's going to be a small group tomorrow. Somewhere between 5-9 people, depending on who shows up. Most of our kids live too far away to make the trip, especially if some of them are coming this way at Christmas. It doesn't matter. They're here in spirit -- and other people are here to enjoy the food and the company and the tradition and the memories.

When I was a kid we had Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house every year. It would have been an 'over the river and through the woods' experience, except we were living in Southern California and they lived five miles away over the railroad tracks and through the suburbs. Still, it was fun. The food was great. The conversations were absolutely predictable. My uncle George always asked why we weren't having rutabagas. My dad always commented on how moist the turkey dressing was. My aunt Martha always lost her brandy flask and sent us kids looking for it. And my grandmother always scalded all the dishes -- and very nearly us -- when she was rinsing them after she'd washed them after the meal.

I remember it all -- and I've done my best to recreate the joy of it for years. I discovered a number of years ago that you don't actually need to wait until the fourth Thursday in November to do it. The Canadians, for example, do it in October. And we did it in October one year, too.

One of our sons has not been able to be here for Thanksgiving in fifteen years. But one autumn he was here for a week at the same time my aunt and cousin were visiting. This is the aunt who cooked the turkey every Christmas, the one who made fantastic (very moist) dressing, and didn't possess a brandy flask. She loved the holiday as much as I did.
And so while they were here, we had Thanksgiving. It was the third week in October. It could have been the third week in June. What mattered was the spirit, the ritual, the food, the sharing. It was, I think, one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had. I remember them all fondly, but that one, perhaps, more than all the others because it wasn't dictated by time, but by our hearts.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Writer's Block

I've had my share of fiddling with paragraphs, changing the sentence, "On the way to the store, he stopped for coffee," to "He was on the way to the store when he stopped for coffee," to "Stopping for coffee on the way to the store, he . . . " to "He really preferred tea when he stopped for something to drink on his way to the store."

This is writer's block. The sentence is immaterial. It's the thought process that has ground to a halt. It's the story that isn't going anywhere (not even to the store). Several months ago Spence Tyack (hero of the moment) was dithering his way to get take-out food. It took him, literally, weeks to get there. Why? Because I had no idea what he was going to do when he got it. Turn around and come home, yes, but THEN WHAT? And he sure wasn't telling me.

Recently Flynn and Sara have spent a week walking from her brownstone to the coffee bar. They're not there yet. Why? Well, in this instance I was waiting for my editor to say yes or no to whether she was comfortable with Flynn's backstory. She is, so presumably we can reach the coffee bar any day now. But we're not there yet.

Ordinarily, when this happens I will keep writing and throwing out. Or I will write something else -- like a genealogical article or review or one of the several things usually hanging fire that needs attention but has been sitting on the back burner. I'm rarely blocked on those.

Now, however, I'm stuck. I have to write this coming week's Male on Monday for the Pink Heart Society blog. This is something I want to do. Trish and Ally say that I begged, pleaded and groveled to do it -- and while I wouldn't quite go that far, I certainly did offer. Strongly. And if I was drooling while I did it, they have politely refrained from mentioning it yet.

But as this guy is pretty much Flynn, just as he was in my head for Spence as well there toward the end, I want to do a good job. This is hard to do when mostly I just want to stare and, um, ogle. I certainly don't want to write. Fortunately my dear friend Lucy Gordon has just sent me a DVD of a recent production which arrived today in which my male on Monday starred. So I can't possibly write until I have done this research, can I? Of course not.

So, I'm off to do research. Then we'll work on getting over the writer's block. And the male on Monday. And if nothing else, by sheer displacement, I'm counting on Flynn and Sara finally getting their cups of coffee.

Monday, November 20, 2006

You Guys are Stars!

Thanks to everyone who answered my blog question "Who is this?"

He is, by unanimous opinion, Eion Bailey, of Band of Brothers and various and sundry other films and television programs. And, as it happens, he is appearing in the Hallmark film, Candles on Bay Street, this coming Sunday evening. Amazing. Usually I discover something I wish I had watched AFTER it's been on. But now I might actually remember it in time to see it. I hope.

He has a certain resemblance to Flynn, as I said, though I think next week's Male on Monday at The Pink Heart will continue to be my inspiration. Stop by there next week and take a look. You can stop today and take a look as well since Ally Blake has outdone herself by providing us with three (count 'em) males on Monday today!

On the comments there, I promised I would tell my Cary Grant story over here. So for Mags, who is waiting with bated breath and for anyone else who cares, here it is:

When I was in university in California one year a friend and I were planning to travel by train up the coast to San Francisco to spend several days of our spring break there. The only train then (and maybe now for all I know) left at midnight. The dorms closed at 5 pm. We got a bus into town and had 7 hours to kill. We also had suitcases, which made wandering around a little problematic.

So we went to dinner in a rather posh place (beyond our budget, but we were celebrating a week off classes) because we figured we could sit there a long time and it would be better than standing on a street corner for hours. The waiter looked askance at our suitcases, but he stowed us in a corner where we couldn't be seen or tripped over by anyone, and we had a nice meal. And we dawdled over the meal. Believe me, we dawdled. But after nearly two hours, we had to leave.

Looking around for something to do that the suitcases could do, too, we discovered that one of the local theaters was showing a double feature -- some romantic comedy I don't remember now and a "sneak preview" of who knew what. We were not enthralled. It wasn't a romantic comedy we were dying to see, and who wanted to spend hard earned money on something that they wouldn't even tell us the name of.

But the ticket seller said yes, the suitcases could come, too, and they would store them for us behind the popcorn, and with luck it would take about 3-4 hours and we would just have time to get to the station to take the train. No standing around on corners with suitcases. A place to sit. So we went in.

We watched the romantic comedy. I can't remember anything about it now except that someone who might have been David Niven or maybe wasn't David Niven but had a moustache like David Niven (it couldn't have been Peter Sellers, could it?) was in it, and there was a lot of pink. I don't remember why there was pink.

And then we had intermission and we went and visited the suitcases, and then came back and sat down again. The lights went down, and the sneak preview came up on the screen -- on the boat in the water -- and moments later on Cary Grant in Father Goose.

It was a wonderful, fun film, though as the boozing irascisble Walter, Cary Grant was hardly the quintessential Grant hero. The warmth and wit and love of a good woman, of course, won out. And Trevor Howard's exclamation when Cary Grant's character married Leslie Caron's later in the film, "What? Goody Two-Shoes and the filthy beast?" has lived in our family quotations forever. It's also a wonderful premise for a romance novel.

We were delighted. It was a great way to spend the last two hours before we dragged our suitcases down to the station and then got to spend all night on the train. When the lights came up we were grinning and refreshed, feeling cheerful now, and that our money had been well spent.

We stood up and turned to leave -- and sitting in the seat right behind us was Cary Grant!

Not just Cary Grant, of course. They were all there in the row behind us -- Leslie Caron and Trevor Howard (I think he was there) and probably the director and lots of bigwigs and even a couple of the French schoolgirls from the story.

But who noticed? Who looked at anyone besides Cary Grant who was tan and drop-dead gorgeous (I still understand the meaning of the term from that moment), absolutely stunning, and resplendent in a cream colored suit (he wore them to much better advantage than Mark Twain or than Robert Preston in The Music Man)?

We stared. We couldn't help it. We tried not to, of course. It wasn't polite. Our mothers had brought us up right (well, sort of). But if our eyes were out on stalks and our necks on a swivel, trying to just look and look and look, well, we weren't the only ones. He got up and walked out. So did everyone else. So did we -- looking. And looking.

There were limos outside to collect them and take them somewhere. We tried to stand around and look casual as we watched (not staring. Oh, no. Not us). They shook hands and chatted with people (no, not us. We'd have been too tongue-tied anyway) and finally they all got in the limos and were whisked away. We stood there stunned on the sidewalk and watched them go, and numbly began to make our way in the other direction.

We got maybe half a block when we heard a voice yelling after us, "Hey! Girls! Don't forget your suitcases!"

By the way, Turner Movie Channel is showing it Wednesday, November 29th in case you don't already have the DVD.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Who is this?

No, not this. I know who this is. Keep reading.

The question occurred because I was reading a post this morning about Keane, the film that Damian Lewis starred in last year which has been released finally on DVD and which, if I'm feeling brave because it's apparently a somewhat harrowing film emotionally, I will be watching. I like pretty much everything I've seen Damian Lewis do -- but most especially I loved him in Much Ado About Nothing. I think I've watched it at least half a dozen times, maybe more. Delightful film. (I think I like it better than the play, but don't tell Will.)

Anyway, in getting to the article somehow I wandered through a site where someone had made icons of Damian Lewis for the computer, and while I was admiring them, I also found this next to them which, presumably, someone also made and this person was responding to the Lewis icons. I admire their talent for doing the icons, but what I want to know is: who is this guy?

Can somebody please tell me? He looks almost like he could be Flynn (he of the enormous heating bills and the Irish castle). Not quite. But worth considering. But I'd like to know more. Please?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

And the Winner is . . .

Back when I started the Scavenger Hunt contest (which is still running until December 1st when Gunnar will decide the winner), I offered an early prize of a pre-publication copy of my February book, The Santorini Bride, to the first person to send me all the right answers.

It happened almost before I turned around. Cheryl in Ohio had those answers so fast I couldn't believe it! And I still didn't have a book to send her. But yesterday they finally arrived. So, Cheryl, your book is on its way.

And everyone else who wants to win a copy of that and some other great winter reads plus some other goodies to get you through the long cold winter nights (no, I'm not sending anyone-in-a-towel) you can still enter by going to my website, clicking on the contest blog to get the scavenger questions, then sending me the answers via the "contact Anne" tab at the top of the homepage.

Or if you're very lazy and you don't want to go to the website (though I can't imagine why), here are the questions (but you still have to go there to send me the answers -- it saves you going to the contest site, though).

  1. Which book by Harlequin romance author Liz Fielding won the RITA in 2006?
  2. What day is Hugh Jackman's birthday?
  3. What country is Presents author Miranda Lee's home?
  4. British author Christina Jones wrote a book about a woman who owned a greyhound. What is the book called?
  5. Who plays Mark Antony on the television series "Rome?"
  6. Harlequin romance author Sophie Weston's latest book is called The Cinderella Factor. What's the hero's name?
  7. Presents author Kate Walker has four cats. They are called Dylan, Spiffer, Bob and ?????
  8. Who is the sculptress heroine of my book McGillivray's Mistress?
  9. Theo Savas and Martha Antonides are the main characters in which one of my books?
  10. What character does Hugh Jackman play in the X-Men movies?
Send me your answers. Gunnar LIKES entries! So do Micah and Mitch (aka The Trouble Twins).

I should have asked who that guy in the towel was to see if you were paying attention.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Distraction . . . aka Inspiration

I've written about inspiration before. It's whatever happens that triggers something in a writer's brain and -- wow! -- all of a sudden it's clear what needs to come next. The writer is inspired, sits down at the keyboard and all of a sudden the fingers fly. It's great.

And then there's distraction. It's whatever happens that doesn't trigger anything much but keeps you from getting your work done that day and should be avoided at all costs.

Or so it seems.

In fact that's not really true. One writer's distraction is another writer's inspiration. And in truth, one writer's distraction one day can be that same writer's inspiration the next. It's all in the way you look at it.

In an essay on writing published some years ago in the collection called A Thorny Paradise, noted British author K M Peyton wrote that she never knew what bits of 'real life' would turn up in her work. She said she had not spent a day crawling around on the ground in the woods at some country house looking for the gravestone of a dog who had fallen through the ice of a pond seventy years before because she intended to put it in a book.

She was simply doing it because she wanted to, because she was intrigued. Several years later, though, when she was working on a book, that interesting distraction became a pivotal piece of her book A Pattern of Roses.

Writing is funny like that. Life, I guess, is funny like that. It gives you ideas -- more ideas than you know what to do with -- and some you have no idea what to do with ever. And some you mess around with for a while, then move on, forgetting them or setting them aside. And amazingly, some reappear years later -- no longer distractions at all, but inspiration now, the very thing you need to make your story work. It's the piece that was missing, the catalyst you need to make things happen.

It happens that way in genealogical research, too. Genealogist Helen Leary spoke in a lecture about looking at old information from a new perspective. If you're looking for the dime you dropped on the floor, she said, staring straight down often won't help you find it. You need to get on your hands and knees and look across the floor sideways. This different angle can make all the difference.

It's the same when you're trying to figure out who's who in a village where every other man has the same name. Finding them in the church minutes or the jury list or the road crew can give you a new perspective. Believe me, reading road crew lists is the ultimate distraction. But it can give you neighbors. It can sometimes help distinguish one man from another of the same name. It can be the distraction you need to become inspired to look at your data from another angle.

Myers-Briggs temperament tests do that for me with my characters. When I'm stuck it can give me a new way of looking at them. Dropping them in a completely new environment can do the same thing. If Flynn is silent while he's walking down the street with Sara (odd -- he was rarely silent before he got his own book), I can toss him into a scene with his mother and tell him he's sixteen years old again and step back and watch the sparks fly. Or I can find him a nice Irish castle on the internet (for example, this one) and tell him he' s expected to pay its heating bill all next winter, and silence is no longer a problem.

And you thought all that time I was "wasting" looking at drafty Irish castles was just a distraction, didn't you?

Well, it might be if my editor thinks it is. Then again, you never know -- it might not.

(And you thought I was going to write about inspiring men-in-towels, didn't you?)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Muscle Memory

I was going to follow the What I'm . . . theme and call this blog "What I'm doing . . ." but what it's really about is muscle memory.

Muscle memory is what your body -- and your brain -- learns to do from having done it. More than once. Again and again. Over and over. Day after day.

It's what Yo-Yo Ma uses when he plays the cello. His fingers can do what they do because they've done it so many times. He's spent so much time playing that his fingers simply remember what they're supposed to do.

It's what Brett Favre uses when he's in a game situation. He knows the playbook. But what he does is react on an instantaneous level to whatever is coming at him. It changes -- but within parameters. And the more he plays, the more he has seen the many things an opposing team can throw at him. He's been there, done that -- and done it more than once. And so chances are good he can do what needs to be done again.

It's what Tiger Woods uses when he hits a golf ball. All those stories about his dad taking him out and teaching him how to swing when he was barely knee-high support the notion that his muscle memory is so deeply ingrained that they know what to do.

It's the same when David Beckham makes a corner kick, when Andre Agassi hits a tennis ball, when Adriano Moraes rides a bull. They do it with the confidence and competence that comes with long years of practice -- of their muscles and their minds learning what needs to be done.

It's what artists do. It's what actors do. It's learning the craft and then trusting what you -- and your well-trained muscles -- know.

As writers, we have trained our own muscles -- not just to work and play with words which are, of course, our material and our tools -- but simply to show up.

Most people think they have a book in them. Everyone has a story they want to tell. But the ones who actually tell the stories are the ones whose muscles have been trained to sit down at the keyboard or curl up with a pad and pen or bang away on a typewriter day after day after day.

On days when Flynn and Sarah, the current hero and heroine, are incommunicado, I still show up. I try to prod them. And if I don't get anything useful out of them, I still write. Sometimes the mere act of writing will unleash something creatively useful. Sometimes sitting at the computer reading what someone else has written will make some synapse inside my brain click.

Today it was reading Trish Morey's comments on the Pink Heart Society blog. She, too, was writing about muscle memory, though she never used the term. Her words about the rower who made it look easy resonated with me. It's what we all strive for in what matters to us, in what we value and want to be good at.

I've been corresponding with a number of genealogists on an email list recently about British records sites. I remember when I knew next to nothing about what was available in the way of British records once I got beyond parish records and civil registration. But by virtue of showing up, reading, studying, ordering films -- doing the research -- I learned. My brain learned. My muscles learned. And now, faced with a new challenge, they remember. They know what to do. They're not always good at it yet, but they have ideas. They are ready to go out and meet more challenges, to dig deeper, learn more.

So that, basically, is what I'm doing -- writing, researching, cleaning my house (check out FlyLady if you want a take on using muscle memory and routine for getting your house and life under control), and looking for tickets to Ireland. I'm getting pretty good at this last, too!