Monday, July 31, 2006

Celebration!

The RITAs, the Romance Writers of America's awards for best books of the year, as judged by their peers, were presented last Saturday night. It's always a gala occasion and the sequin fallout in Atlanta must have been something to behold.

Even better to behold were a couple of the winners -- Marion Lennox for writing the Best Traditional Romance of the Yearand Liz Fielding for the Best Short Contemporary! Both Marion and Liz are second-time winners, too, which tells you something about the level of quality of their books.

My dear friend Anne Gracie, whose own wonderful The Perfect Rake, was also a RITA finalist this year, was on hand at Marion's for a champagne celebration and has sent me a wonderful photo of RITA, Marion, Mitzi (the one with all the hair) and Anne herself (as she says, "attempting to steal RITA). I do notice that it is Anne who is holding RITA while Marion gets to prop up the champagne swilling dog. But now that the celebration is over, I have been assured that RITA is still in Marion's possession. Wish I'd been there!


If you haven't read The Marriage Miracle, Liz's winner, or Princess of Convenience, Marion's RITA winner, track them down. They are great reads.



Congrats to both Marion and Liz and all the winners of this year's RITA competition. And to all the finalists, congratulations, too, because you all wrote terrific books.


The virtual party at Lucy's blog has ended as all good things must. We have come back to earth and are hard at work again. I'm happy to report that the 146th take was the one I'd been waiting for -- the one that means Spence and Sadie are finally off the blinkin' airplane -- and we can get on with the story. (I hope).

In the meantime, there is still a day to sign up to win a copy of The Great Montana Cowboy Auction. So if you haven't dropped me a note at anne.mcallister(at)gmail.com or signed up on the comments page here, please do so and I'll put you in the drawing. The winner will be posted the evening of August 1st, and she will have 24 hours to contact me. If she doesn't, another winner will be chosen. Gunnar is getting excited about this because he is the one who gets to pick winners.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

How to get off an airplane ? Let me count the ways. . .

First, business:

For those of you who have dropped in from Lucy Monroe's party, welcome, and please leave a comment or email if you want to join the drawing for a copy of THE GREAT MONTANA COWBOY AUCTION which ends August 1. And anyone who didn't drop in from Lucy's, if you want to take part in the drawing, do the same. I'll post the winner the evening of August 1st. You will then have 24 hours to contact me to claim your prize.

It was great at Lucy's. We had a blast. And I met lots of really fun and interesting readers and writers. I hope some of you who met me there will continue to drop in here. Always glad to have visitors!

Now then, airplanes.
Spence and Sadie (we remember them, don't we, class?) have been on a blinkin' airplane for the last eight days. They have disembarked at least ten times. They have spent, conservatively, 10,000 words getting off the damn plane. And they haven't done it right yet. I feel like the director shouting, "Take 145! Roll 'em!" And we go through it again. How many ways are there, for heaven's sake?

Skip it, you say? Tried that. Can't. Need a particular thing to happen during the getting off the plane. Can't make it happen elsewhere. No time. Apparently Spence and Sadie think that we have all the time in the world. They would be wrong. We don't. We have exactly 20 days to get this right, get this book finished and get on a plane ourselves to go to The Son's Wedding.

So, back to the drawing board. Take 146, here we come.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Jess and Hugh and all the rest . . .


Back in April I wrote about Jess Harper, my childhood crush. He was the character played by Robert Fuller on the TV program Laramie. The program was good (and has stood the test of time rather better than many westerns of its day). But Jess was better.

Well, today I wrote about Jess again on Lucy Monroe's party blog. And I wrote about Hugh-in-a-towel, because the appreciation of a good man doesn't die an early death, believe me.

Coincidentally it's Robert Fuller's birthday today (as well as the birthday of my one and only granddaughter!) and also the day my book The Stardust Cowboy won the RITA at the RWA National conference in 2000 when it was in Washington DC.

It actually beat my own Gibson's Girl which was also a finalist in the same category that year. So . . . a very good day indeed. Coincidentally, too, there is another RITA award being given tonight. I wish all the contestants good luck. I'll be keeping an eye on the proceedings (albeit from a distance this year).

In the meantime, happy birthday, Bob. Happy birthday, Grandkid. Happy RITA, Riley and Dori.

Back to Spence, who is driving me insane!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Virtual Conference

The virtual conference (aka non-stop party) over on Lucy Monroe's blog has exceeded all our expectations. I hope you'll stop by. It's continuing through July 29th and there are still lots of prizes to go around -- not to mention interesting discussions, suggestions of good books and lots of fun people to share ideas with. Check it out.

I cut out all of the last scene I'd written and re-wrote it from Spence's point of view. He had things to say, and Sadie, as he pointed out, was pretending to be asleep, so why would I want to write from her point of view? Smart man.

So, I gave him the scene and he's flying with it.

He'd better be flying with it because he has a long way to go before we get to the Happily Ever After he's hoping to find. Actually at this point he's just enduring the whole mess -- but it's about to get a little more interesting for him -- tonight he and Sadie will start sharing a bed.

Islands . . . where do we go from here?

I've been researching resorts in Fiji. Sadly, not firsthand. I would love to do it firsthand, believe me. But I don't have the time right now. And I thought a break from the Caribbean was a good idea, but I can't seem to get islands out of my mind.

One of my favorite things about writing is the research -- even when I don't get to go to Fiji. It's so much fun to learn about other places and other occupations and lifestyles. I've always loved the times I've spent in New York City because it gives me a whole different view -- and energy -- than I get in Montana or Iowa. When I grew up in a small beach town in California, that had its own charm. And my recent Seattle visit confirmed that I will never quite get the 'ocean' out of my blood.

Maybe that's why I visit islands vicariously in my books even when I can't go in person. One of my favorites is Harbour Island in the Bahamas. We spent two weeks there a few years ago, and in one way or another, Harbour Island has become Pelican Cay and every other Bahamaian island I've ever written about. I made long lists of details while I was there, so I could dip into them when I was home and needed something to convey a sight or sound or emotion. I also took a load of pictures and the last time I was there, I took my video camera and took movies.

That was before I could just go back by making a few mouse clicks and thus get there via the internet. I've been mouse clicking my way around Fiji and other South Pacific destinations. Seeing some great places I'd love to visit for real. And Spence and Sadie are enjoying the tour.

I had to rip up four pages that I wrote from the wrong point of view yesterday. So now I think I'm back on track. I hope so. Time is running short.

If anyone has suggestions for a great Fijian or other South Pacific destination, please comment. I would love to have more ideas. Thanks!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Devil in the Details -- part II

In case you think you missed part 1, it's not here -- it's on Lucy Monroe's blog which I've linked to below.

But it came in response to something I was thinking about after I just answered an email this morning about how to find "experts" to talk to when doing research. I spent a happy half hour remembering all the great people who have taken time out of their busy schedules to talk to me. What I learned from them gave me such a better handle on the book (whichever book it was) and the characters and led me to write scenes and details that I never could have come up with on my own.

Details make the difference -- both to readers and to writers. If the details are wrong, then the necessary suspension of disbelief doesn't happen. The reader who knows more about a topic than the writer and who finds significant errors is likely to throw a book across the room rather than enjoy it. And the chances of her ever picking up a book by that author again are negligible. Writers need details to make books believable both for readers and for themselves.

I often start out thinking of details as the hangers on which my story hangs. They give it support. They hold it up. But to be honest, by the time I get done, the details aren't so much hangers as fully developed characters who have had life breathed into them by the details of their existence. And the story rides on their shoulders from beginning to end.

This morning, too, I wrote a similiarly title entry for Lucy Monroe's Blog Party (y'all come!) which she's having on her site. I'll be dropping in there again this week -- and I hope some of you will come along as well. Lots of interesting comments and blogs and some great prizes. Stop by.

Writing both the letter and the blog entry made me stop and think about getting to know characters and their backgrounds. It's the same sort of stopping and thinking I did when I wrote my entry here about the Brazilian film, Possible Loves (Amores Possiveis). It's all very much a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" issue. In fact, the characters, setting, and details of both combine inextricably to create a story that, given even a small change, would lead to a far different end result.

That's where consistency is important. If characters do not behave in a consistent fashion, if their actions do not proceed from motivations that can easily be understood as being part of who that character is, then the story won't work. That's the hardest -- and most interesting -- part of writing: getting a deep enough understanding of the character in question (are you listening, Spence?) so that you, as the writer, know instinctively how he would behave, what he would do, what would matter to him, what details would be important and reflective of his personality and who he is.

Characters are as distinct as "real people." And, to writers at least, they are as interesting. Discovering what makes them tick is what gets me to the keyboard every morning. And when they don't give up their secrets easily, it's hard work trying to crack their minds. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love these characters. I love the tiny details that make them real for me -- and ultimately, I hope, for you.

I asked readers at Lucy's blog to tell me what life they would like to try out that they've never had a chance to live -- or what occupation or other interest that is outside of their current frame of reference. I'll do the same here. Writing has brought me a chance to discover what life is like for a high-fashion hair stylist, an orthopedic surgeon, a baseball umpire, a rodeo cowboy, a charter airplane pilot, an archaeologist, a soccer goalkeeper, a photographer, a bull riding instructor, a movie star, a lifeguard, a wildlife biologist, and lots of other people I will never get to trade places with except in my books. Through them I've lived on Wyoming ranches, New York hi-rises, Southern Cal beachfront properties, Caribbean islands and Devon estates. I've built 11-ton sandcastles, restored Victorian mansions, run a bed-and-breakfast, rescued a business from disaster, been a naval architect, a nanny, a cross-eyed librarian, a 19th century trail drover, and a famous artist.

It's been a wild wonderful ride. So, what would you like to do or learn about -- for yourself or your characters?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ferries, Waiting and Life in the Pacific Northwest

We took the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston today. Lovely trip, glassy sound, not a cloud in the sky. The only problem is that there are always LOTS of other people taking the ferry, too. So we got there in good time this morning and we had a great day in Port Townsend where I found lots of interesting places that would be great to live and intriguing bookshops and great food and nifty houses. But I would doubtless never leave because I wouldn't want the hassle of waiting for the ferry.

We intended to catch the 4:30 ferry back to Edmonds. And we were there in time. But, of course, there were LOTS of other people intending to catch the same ferry, and so we all queued up and waiting. And the ferry left and we were still waiting. And so were LOTS of other people. But eventually the other ferry returned and we did catch it, and as we walked through the cabin we got to hear people on cell phones all saying to whomever they were talking to, "Well, we're FINALLY on the ferry and so we won't be there by 6:00, but we'll be there by 7:00 for sure." Apparently from what the in-laws say, that's a typical conversation.

So, it's a great place to be if you aren't on a schedule (which we weren't) and it was absolutely beautiful and it made me want to whip out lots of my old Washington-set Jayne Ann Krentz books and re-read them now that I have a better idea of the countryside she sometimes writes about. It's just no place to go if you need to be someplace at a particular time that's on the other side of the water.

But lateness is a small price to pay for such astounding beauty.

I bought a couple of birthday gifts today. Now I have to figure out how to pack them and get them home. Fortunately I didn't pick heavy stuff for a change. Only one book. What a miracle.

Am going to make Spence work all the way home. He's got to get off his plane by the time I get off mine. He's been on his quite a bit longer, so it's time. We are now deep into the middle of the book and we need to push for the end.

Thanks to Kate Walker for dropping by. I'm glad to see she reached Wales and will start teaching soon. I'm sure there are lots of lucky students out there ready to learn. And congratulations of VITO getting the editorial blessing and acceptance. I hope he is an inspiration for Spence!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bridal showers and other fun times

Greetings from Seattle where I appear to have brought the hot weather that Iowa was having before I left. It cooled off precipitously on Friday there -- and was something like 92 degrees in Seattle when I landed late Friday night. 92? Who'd believe it?

Anyway, it has been beautiful and sunny (and HOT) since I got here. And I've had a marvelous time. The bride got great gifts at her shower and, judging from the sort she got, she's going to have to cook all of us wonderful dinners and serve them with great style and panache (which I'm sure she will do). It was not a 'silly games' sort of shower -- if you don't count the bride getting a bridal gown made out of TP! It was definitely a lot of fun. And I'm sure the wedding in four weeks time will be even more memorable.

Today everyone in Seattle appears to have been either on the water or in the water or next to the water or driving to get to water. So we encountered lots of traffic while seeing gorgeous sights. It's been many years since I was here, and I never saw much the first and only time, so this has been a very eye-opening visit. I can see wonderful potential for settings for books. It's too bad that there are so many other books already set here -- especially by people who know it much better than I ever could.

I wrote some Spence and Sadie on an airplane while I was on the airplane, but then I got distracted by the views and by a book I was reading. So they are still on the plane winging their way across the Pacific to Fiji, while I will have to get them off it tonight before I go to bed, so I can do something more useful on the way home. It's interesting writing about a plane trip while I'm actually flying. Certainly the details are easier to come by -- except that Spence and Sadie are traveling in business class and I was not!

Back Tuesday. Hope Kate Walker is having a good time teaching in Wales. That sounds like a lot of fun. Almost as much fun as riding the ferry in Puget Sound, watching the salmon climb their "fish ladders" and having the best Vietnamese food I've ever had tonight for dinner. Seattle is a great city. I hope I get back before another 30 years goes by!

Friday, July 21, 2006

100 posts

Wouldn't you know? I get a milestone number -- 100 posts on this blog -- and what am I here for? To tell you I'm leaving for Seattle in an hour and so I won't be able to say anything useful for several days.

I can also tell you that it's pouring rain, the oldest grandson is doing something outdoors at sports camp which his long-suffering mother and even longer-suffering (because she's been at it longer) other grandmother are watching, and I am trying to remember what I need to pack.

I've also discovered that my long-distance carrier is not carrying long distance at the moment in 14 states because of some outage or other. Which makes letting the people who are going to pick me up know if I'm leaving on time a bit problematic. There are cell phones, of course, and I might actually have to break down and use mine.

Spence has just dug himself into a very very very very deep hole as far as Sadie is concerned. Of course he has no idea, poor sod. He's trying to make things very casual and non-threatening (for both of them) and has managed, in doing so, to offend her deeply. One of the things about writing from both points of view is that it's very easy to understand both why Spence is doing what he's doing - because given the way he sees the situation it's the best way to behave -- and why Sadie is ready to kill him -- because given the way she sees the situation, it's the least she ought to be allowed to do. Ah, tension.

Anyway, I'll be sitting on the plane (I hope) writing it out and getting the work done I didn't get done yesterday and, so far, today.

If I can, I'll be back before I get home again. If not, play among yourself for a few days, and on the 26th we can all drop in at Lucy Monroe's blog for our very own conference with discussions and contests and prizes.

I'll also keep my eyes open for something suitably "Seattle" and maybe we can have a "Seattle contest" when I get back. There are LOTS of Seattle-and-environs based authors -- Lucy, Jane Porter, Debbie Macomber, Jayne Ann Krentz, Stella Cameron Maybe I should just get a lot of their books and do a drawing. Any other ideas?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life . . . and other distractions

I was supposed to be getting 7000 words done this week. So far I've managed 4,500. I had to take all day yesterday away because 1) the thunderstorms rolled through with such amazing frequency that every time I got going, I had to shut down again; and 2) I needed to figure out the sequence of upcoming scenes for the new chapters.

Some authors figure that out early. They know every step of the way how their book is going to develop. I know roughly what's going to happen. I don't know when and how and I certainly don't know which scenes will develop. That's something I realize as I go along. So Spence and Sadie were in flight -- and I was like the air traffic control person, figuring out where they were going to land, and then the tour guide who was going to get to pick the places they go. I think I've got it pretty much figured out now. I hope. So today we get back on the bus. Er, plane. And then we get off again.

In the meantime the grandsons have been here going to summer sports camp which is good for them and fun for us. Nothing like a houseful of exhausted boys starting at 9:00 at night. They are gone all day and all evening and then they come home and eat and eat and eat (but they assure me they also eat during the day) and then they do guy stuff and by 10:30 they are dragging off to sleep without my having to say a word. It's lovely what flat out running all day will do.

I'm also packing. Off for Seattle tomorrow to the bridal shower of the almost daughter-in-law. Looking forward to that very much. It's been YEARS since I've been to Seattle. So that will be fun. But mostly I'll enjoy meeting her family. And, of course, seeing the groom. As you might imagine, I am very very fond of the groom. I will get to see him for part of one day, and then he has to go back to work. But I'll take what I can get.

Got a new camera, so hope to get some good photos. Anyone want to see shots of Seattle? I hope to oblige. Right now I'm still trying to figure out how to get rid of Mitch's red eyes. I have NEVER mastered 'red eye reduction.' If anyone has a clue how to do it, would you please comment and tell me?

The RWA conference will be being held in Atlanta July 26-29. I'm obviously not going to be there. But I am going to be dropping into Lucy Monroe's blog where she is hosting a "virtual conference." I'm looking forward to that. Will also be giving away copies of the Pelican Cay trilogy there as well as some Code of the West books. So do drop by -- and send everyone you know who is missing Atlanta this year. Maybe we can have our own conference online every year if this works. I'd be happy to host a session or two!

I'll put up links to Lucy's blog on Monday. I should have time to breathe then. Will still be in Seattle, but hope to be able to get online and at least do that much. Then will fly home on Tuesday. So I'll be at Lucy's on Wednesday and probably sometime each day during the rest of her conference. Stop by.

If you read my blog entry about Possible Loves, here's an update. A Brazilian friend of mine said she thought Amores Possiveis (the Brazilian title) reflected Brazilian life in all its variety very well. She also recommended another Brazilian film, O Homen Que Copiava, (The Man Who Copied) as being even better. I've just put it on my list and should get to see it when I get back from Seattle. In the meantime, if anyone has seen it or has opinions, let's hear them.

And just for the record, Sadie wasn't snoring.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What's a guy to do?

Women! They don't make any sense. Well, one doesn't, at least.

I tried to talk to her. You know which HER. I tried to be polite, sane, rational, explain that I completely understood why she had done what she did (which I can't tell you about or it'll wreck the book. Sorry). But I was TRYING to be understanding.

And she snarled at me.

She got all huffy and bent out of shape and acted like I was in the wrong -- as usual. Or maybe not 'as usual' but certainly 'as recently.' Ever since Tuesday she's been like this. And we both know why. All I was trying to do was TALK ABOUT IT. We need to before we land. We're somewhere out in the mid-Pacific now heading toward Nadi, Fiji. We get a charter flight from there to our island. And we NEED TO TALK BEFORE WE GET THERE.

But is Sadie talking?

No, of course not. Sadie has reclined her seat, curled up in her blanket and put that stupid eyeshade over her eyes. She even has plugs in her ears. The better to blot me out with, I suppose.

She's even pretending that she's asleep. Wait. Maybe she actually IS asleep. I wonder if she knows she snores?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Possible Loves

Writers often tell editors that if they gave us each the same set-up and even the "same" characters (name, occupation, general family background) we would each come up with a very different story. It's absolutely true.

It's even true if you give the same author the same characters (name, occupation, general family background) at a different time (as different as, say, five minutes) that that single author could write you two -- or more -- different stories.

I know because I've done it. I did it in A Cowboy's Promise. I still have the story I was going to write -- but couldn't seem to get off the launching pad in time to make it work. But it's still a good believable story (they did, after all, buy it based on that synopsis). It just didn't turn out to be who those characters were when I got around to writing them.
Of course, figuring that out wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done. But it was, shall we say, a learning experience.

Two nights ago I had the very great pleasure of watching a film that did the same thing -- only it took the "same" characters and set them up in a situation and then played out the ensuing story three different ways. The film is called Amores Possiveis (in its original Brazilian Portuguese) or in English, Possible Loves.

It's the story of a young man, Carlos, who is waiting for his date, Julia, to show up at the movie theater. He waits. And waits. And then you skip forward 15 years to discover three variations of what might have happened after that.

When you read about the film it makes it sound as if these three scenarios are all based on whether or not she shows up. That's not really true. Whether or not Julia appears is not going to make Carlos gay, which is one of the story lines. It also isn't going to cause him to live with his mother for the next 15 years. Or marry another woman. But all those possibilities exist within the characters.

It isn't just one event that determines a story. It's a whole sequence of choices, of attitudes, of predispositions. But watching it played out on the screen -- three sets of Carloses and Julias in tandem, as it were -- was fascinating. While the director changed their appearance slightly for each story line, it was barely even necessary after the first half hour. The characters were so clearly NOT the same as the other Carloses and Julias that they were easy to distinguish even when the cuts from one story to the next were instantaneous.

I enjoyed it immensely, felt like I got three movies for the time spent in one, and had the opportunity to reflect on what creates character besides. It was very instructive -- and it reminded me of all the time I spent with Spence and his scotch bottle in chapter two. In the end he never picked it up, but in an alternative Spence story, he certainly would have.

That's the fun -- and the pain -- of writing: discovering who my people really are. Now that I know, things are going much more smoothly (for me, not them, but don't tell them that!). If you have a chance to watch Possible Loves, do so. It's definitely worth the time.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wedding Night, ha!

Wedding night? Spence thinks he's having a bad wedding night?

Let me tell you about wedding nights! Well, actually, I'd better not. He wouldn't thank me for it. And I still have to get along with him for another week.

But he needn't think this is easy for me, either. And if Anne had to keep us up until 2:00 a.m. to get it right, I for one didn't care. It's not as if anyone else was vying for my attention, sweeping me off my feet, throwing me down on the bed and making mad passionate love to me . . .

So I might as well have helped Anne.

And I hope stupid stubborn Spence helped her a little bit, too, instead of just complaining all night, because she is, after all, trying to get us to a happy ending.

I can hear him now, muttering, "Fat chance!" Well, I pretty much agree. Things are going to have to change before there's any possibility. And while I've been an optimist for my entire life, I think any sort of optimism is unfounded now. Things are going to go from bad to worse.

But at least it's only a week. I just need to get through the next week.

And, don't tell anyone, but there is a tiny tiny part of me that is continuing to hope. I can't help it. I've hoped for too many years. It's like a birth defect. But I'd stay up well past 2 a.m. if I thought I could make it happen.

Not that I expect any help from you-know-who. (And I'm not talking about Anne).

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wedding Night?????

Spence here. Who else?

It's my wedding night.

But since I have nothing more exciting, interesting, pressing, demanding -- I'm sure you get the idea -- to do, I'm writing in a blog. Probably I'm writing in the blog so I won't go across town and strangle a certain woman who shall remain nameless. And if anyone else strangles her first -- which I wouldn't blame anyone at all for doing -- I'll at least have an alibi. Right here in print. Damn it.

Theo Savas told me he had a very memorable wedding night. I suppose he must have. He sure as hell grinned a lot whenever he thought about it. I figured mine would be memorable in its own way. But I never thought it would be memorable THIS WAY.

There's a bottle of scotch on the shelf over there. And it's almighty tempting, believe me. But there are reasons not to drink it, reasons to stay sane and sensible. If I can just keep remembering what they are . . .

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jane's Book

Don't forget that Jane Porter's new book, Flirting With Forty, should now be gracing the shelves of bookstores near you -- if you live in the US anyway. And with the advent of online bookselling, any book is orderable no matter where you are.

Jackie Laurens's life turns upside down when she finds herself divorced, raising kids on her own, trying to find her way in a career that has to pay the bills, and trying to find out who the real Jackie is as a person now that she's on her own.

If you are looking for a fun, laugh-out-loud, yet very moving read, give Flirting a shot. You'll be glad you did.


And while you're at it, if you haven't read The Frog Prince, what are you waiting for? Jane's first foray into mainstream lit had me staying up all night reading and loving every minute of it. I've bought four copies and given them to family and friends (and, no, Jane is NOT paying me to say that!). I loved the voice. I loved the heroine's relationships. I loved how she grew in the course of the book.

On my own writing front, Spence and Sadie, bless 'em, are working hard. They might get to the island before the weekend and the grandsons (mine, not theirs) arrive for a week of sports camp. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Going to the Dogs . . .

A couple of weeks ago, Gunnar, Mitch and Micah got an email from their good friend and spectacularly scary suspense writer Anne Frasier. Anne, it seems, writes not only her own blog, static (and its auxiliary, pale immortal) but is part of a group of Minnesota based authors who have a community blog called Riding With The Top Down. Frankly I don't know how she has time to write books with all this blogging, but apparently she is better with time management than I am. She also writes shorter blogs, which might be a smart thing for me to start doing!

Anyway, Anne said that the Riding With The Top Down gals were featuring their pets and other animal friends soon, and would Gunnar, Micah and Mitch like to participate. Well, Gunnar shoved the camera into my hands, and the others agreed to pose, and today their pictures are featured on the Riding With The Top Down blog. They are most pleased.

They also enjoyed reading about the other animals who have also already been featured. As a several-hand dog himself, Gunnar particularly enjoyed reading about Emma, Susan Kay Law's wonderful lab mix who has brought joy and peace to their household, particularly in a time of great stress. And the tiger pix that Anne posted are absolutely not to be missed.

So, do Gunnar, Micah and Mitch a favor and go visit them at Riding With The Top Down and look at the other great blog entries, too.

I'm thinking we should do something similar here now that the men in shorts have faded into the distance. Got any ideas? It would be nice to have a few intriguing blogs while I'm up to my eyeballs in Spence and Sadie (who continue to behave, bless their hearts).

Also, if you haven't enlarged my ClustrMap recently to see where the readers of the blog are, do it -- and particularly go up and click on the "map with smaller clusters" link by the Navigation sign on the upper left side above the map. If you do that it then sprouts literally hundreds of little dots representing places on pretty much every continent. It's so exciting to see the new dots every time they redraw the map. I love ClustrMaps, and apparently my attitude is shared by a number of other Mills & Boon authors because I notice that Michelle Styles and Kate Walker's blogs are now sporting ClustrMaps of their own.

The biggest gap in mine is Russia. I have one dot in China, but Russia is still empty. Anyone know anyone in Russia they can send by to read the blog so next time they redraw I can have a dot in Russia? Of course I need lots of places in Africa and South America, too. But Argentina is now represented and Egypt and Morocco have come on board.

I love seeing all the dots. If you've got farflung friends, send them by to visit. I'd love to cover the world with little -- or big - red dots. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

When a plan comes together . . .

When my kids were little and George Peppard was running "The A-Team" and they used to occasionally go watch it at a friend's house (we didn't have a tv, which was a great blessing, but got my kids some odd looks for their "cultural deprivation" now and then), he used to say (I know because I have seen it, too), "I love it when a plan comes together!" -- as inevitably it did right when it needed to.

I know exactly how he feels. Because Spence and Sadie (who can once again be named because they are back in my good graces) finally came together.

Not "together"together. Not like that! Not yet!

But the story -- it works. Finally. I thought it would. Actually they knew it would. But no one knew how until yesterday. Yesteday all the pieces finally fit. The wording at the pivotal point finally came together, the magic occurred. The door to the happy ending opened. Now . . . all I have to do is write it!

Which doesn't leave me a lot of time, granted. But it does mean that I know the lay of the land. No gulleys or gulches or unexpected volcanoes. There will be surprises, I'm sure. But the "there be dragons" warning signs have come down. The plan has come together. The map has appeared. Someone even lit the road lamps along the way (thanks, Jason!). I'm grinning ear to ear.

It's interesting the way it works. The point upon which everything hung was very simple. It doesn't even look pivotal. Unless you pivot wrong. And then you fall. And you pick yourself up and start again, and turn again. And fall. And fall. And fall.

The good news is, you know where to start looking for answers. They don't fall far from the pivotal point usually. And in this case, they came early enough in the book that I didn't have a lot to rethink. So . . . now we'll see if Spence and Sadie cooperate for the next few weeks. I dare hope. They were on the mark yesterday. Working up a storm.

I do love it when a plan comes together! And I'm very grateful for friends who will talk about people who don't exist (not in this reality anyway) and treat them and their problems like real irritating people who need to be sorted out. It really helps.

The books have gone out to the winners of the Lessons From A Latin Lover/Men in Shorts drawing. So if you were a winner, keep an eye out for your book.

I've just finished reading Twelve Sharp, Janet Evanovich's new Stephanie Plum book. I have read all of the Plum books and I have my favorites, but I believe Twelve Sharp has gone to the top -- or very close to the top -- of the list. The reason? Because the plot is so personal to the characters. It stems out of who the characters are. It's not a mystery that needs to be solved "out there." It cuts close to the bone for Stephanie and Ranger and Joe -- and that's what made it a great book.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Winners!

Congratulations to the Italian men in shorts for their penalty kick shootout win over France in the World Cup final today. It was a great game to watch, and I'll certainly miss all the soccer.

I hope the US starts putting some of the European and UK matches on television (I know they put some on, but they are rare around here). It isn't that I don't like watching US men in shorts play soccer. It's that I really do not like the camera work. Every time I try to watch a match, I get frustrated because the cameras are in too close. You can't see the play develop. It might be nice for the players' mothers to get to see their sons close up on television, but it doesn't do much for the appreciation of the game. So I pretty much confine my watching to Premier League soccer when I can find it. And I hope that will be more than every four years.

Other winners, according to Gunnar, who did his job of picking them today, are:
Minna Puustinen
Carol Thompson
Tiffany Whipple
all of whom won copies of Lessons From a Latin Lover in whatever language they requested.

To the rest of you, thanks very much for entering the contest. I'll be posting another soon on my website and will announce it here as well. So please check back. Last year we had a Wedding Bells contest when one of my sons got married. As another one is getting married next month, I will be doing it again this year.

And if there are any baseball fanatics out there, drop me a note anytime to participate in the baseball book drawing. Two of my early Harlequin Americans, Quicksilver Season and A Chance of Rainbows were books that had an undercurrent of baseball in them. As my oldest son was just the starting pitcher in our local semi-pro All-Star game, I feel like a drawing for those books is in order too. But it will take me some time to track them down in the attic.

So send emails to me at anne.mcallister(at)gmail.com any time and I'll enter your name, but I don't know when the drawing will be yet. I need to find the books first!

Hope all the writers who attended the RNA had a great weekend and are home safe and getting back to work.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Writing against type

It occured to me this afternoon as I was working on the book we will not discuss, that one of the problems I have with my characters is that they instinctively behave in ways that I know all too well -- and they don't behave in ways I'm unfamiliar with. Which is fine if they are like me, and not if they're not.

In this case, they are emphatically NOT. But sometimes they still tend to react to things the way I would react because, let's face it, I'm the writer. And so when I get stuck it's not because I don't know what will happen, it's because I don't know how this particular person will react and I end up writing against type -- either my own or theirs.

Right now The Hero Who Will Not Be Mentioned has been jolted way out of his comfort zone -- his nice sane sensible world has been turned irrevocably upside down -- and he is trying to come to grips with this.

He's not doing well. And in true McAllister fashion he's doing it off camera. And that's not him at all, I've realized today. He is an on-camera sort of guy. So . . . one of us has to give.

And since I'm the non-entity here (and he's very glad I have finally realized that), it's going to be me who's going to have to get out of his way, figure out what he would really do in a case like this (not what I would do) and let him do it.

So I need to think. And I might have to call a friend of mine who gives me "guy advice." The Prof does not dole out "guy advice."

I know Kate Walker takes her husband The Babe Magnet out for coffee when she's stuck, and she asks him, "Okay, what would you do when . . . " and he tells her. And she says, "No, no, no. Vito (Amir, Joaquin, Ramon, Whoever) would never do that . . . " and she's off knowing somewhere in her brain what Vito/Amir/Joaquin/Ramon etc would do.

The prof doesn't do coffee. And he doesn't give advice -- except to call someone else. So I will. Once upon a time I had an editor who was a guy. When I was working on a book that came to be named Call Up The Wind -- my hero did something outrageous, and the heroine challenged him about it. And he reacted a bit sheepishly because he'd been caught out.

And my guy editor said, "No way. Wouldn't happen. Men are NEVER sheepish. If they get caught, they brazen it out." So I went back to the drawing board and, lo and behold, Mitch brazened it out -- and became much more believable in the process. So, thanks, Luigi, for that sterling bit of advice. It has stood me in good stead for a lot of years now. Since that time I don't believe a McAllister hero has ever admitted to sheepishness.

Sheepishness is not the issue here. But the principle is the same. This isn't my book -- it's theirs. I need to let them tell it. Right now I need a guy to bounce things off. Someone as outrageously opinionated as The Hero. Fortunately I know one. So I'll talk to him and then get out of The Hero's way.

Don't forget Portugal-Germany on Saturday, followed by the final, France-Italy, on Sunday -- and to drop me an email and enter the contest to win a copy in English, French or Italian of Lessons From A Latin Lover. Gunnar is counting the days until he can pick the winners!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Romance Novelists Association

In America we have Romance Writers of America - aka RWA - which is the professional organization for both published and unpublished authors of romance fiction (as well as editors, agents, etc). In UK there is the Romance Novelists Association -- aka RNA -- which is a similar but not identical group that many romance novelists in the British Isles are members of.

This weekend they are having their annual conference at Penrith. And I am missing it. Three years ago (that long? Good grief!) I was invited to speak at the RNA conference when it was held in Guildford. And I had a wonderful time meeting authors whose books I'd read, other wannabe/gonnabe authors some of whom are now published. I really enjoye talking to them about publishing in America and learning more about publishing in UK.

It's a much smaller conference than the RWA national conferences which run well over 1000 and sometimes over 2000 people. And one of the really great features of it is the intimacy of the setting and the opportunity to get to know almost everyone at least a bit if you make an effort. The classes were very interesting, too. Some of them were very much like the ones we have in the US. But some are particular to the types of books that sell well in Britain, but don't "translate" to sales in the American market.

It was a challenge to figure out why that is the case, especially because the books themselves don't need to be translated. What makes one sort of romance sell in one particular country and not in another? It has to do with the romantic fantasy. There are what you might call "universal" romantic fantasies. And then there are those that speak to people on, perhaps, a more national level. People who share a history share certain fantasies. And other people who read them do not relate to those fantasies in quite the same way.

Sometime when I don't have to go off and write more book -- as I do tonight -- I want to get into that more deeply. But for now, just let me wish all those attending RNA a wonderful conference. Enjoy yourselves. Learn lots. And think of me. I really wish I were there!

Don't forget -- if you want to win a copy of Lessons From a Latin Lover in English, French or Italian, drop me a note at anne.mcallister(at) gmail.com by Sunday morning, July 9th. Gunnar is getting ready to pick the winners!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Romance Lessons

That's what they're calling Joaquin's book in Italy. Romantiche lezioni. And it came out in February, so I guess the Italians, like the French, had the good sense to put it out in a World Cup year, too.

So, now that we have a final between Italy and France, I've added an Italian edition to the prizes. So if you read Italian or know someone who does -- or if you just want a lovely Italian book to add to your To Be Read pile so you look more multi-lingual than you are, send me an email at anne.mcallister(at)gmail.com and I will add you to the contest. Winners drawn Sunday, July 9, 2006 by Gunnar (who as far as I know doesn't read Italian, but does eat spaghetti, so I guess that counts for something).

Great match today. I told The Prof that if the French won it would be a case of age and treachery triumphing over youth and enthusiasm. I'm not sure that's fair to players like Ribery for the French who is young and enthusiastic, and Figo for the Portuguese who has some years on him. But it was a hard fought game and the Portuguese seemed to always have possession of the ball in the last half. A nailbiter. My friend Linda, who likens soccer to watching paint dry (as I have mentioned before) called me all excited about it. Of course, she's watching it in High Definition, and I couldn't tell if she was excited about the match or the men. No matter. At least she doesn't think it's watching paint dry anymore.

There are cats moving in on us. Three of them. I think they have it in their heads to replace the dogs. They have canvassed the neighborhood, checked out who might really like animals, and have decided that we must be a particularly soft touch as we have THREE d.o.g.s. So obviously they feel sorry for us and want to spare us the misery of the d.o.g.s by kindly offering to replace them in our household with themselves.

Sorry, kitties, it isn't going to work. We like cats, but we have two kids who are very allergic. And when one of them practically lives on an inhaler when she's got a cat in the house (even if she's the one responsible for bringing the last cat into the house) we have thought better of having cats. We love them, but it just doesn't work.

So, they are living under the porch next door and my neighbor (an even softer touch) is feeding them. It's a family, apparently. Mom, Dad and kitten. Where they came from is anyone's guess. But they make life interesting for the dogs who have become avid cat-watchers this week.

Did you notice? Never once did I mention That Hero and That Heroine.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Men in shorts and in books

I lied.

Not intentionally. But remember the other day when I was complaining that, in my infinite wisdom and bad timing I had written two books about soccer-playing heroes, and neither one of them was coming out in the year of the World Cup?

Well, the French, bless their hearts, have remedied that. Une le├žon de charme is the French version of Lessons From A Latin Lover -- about striker Joaquin Santiago and tomboy Molly McGillivray.

It is out now, apparently -- or was out in June -- just in time for those wonderful French men in shorts to pull out all the stops and play better soccer than they've played in a while. I'm quite sure they are not doing it in honor of my book (I wish), especially because Joaquin is (shh!) Spanish. But I'm just thrilled that one way or another the book is actually coming out somewhere that a) they like soccer and b) they are playing it well at the moment.

In honor of that, I'm giving away two copies -- one in French and one in English -- of Lessons From a Latin Lover. Just send me an email at anne.mcallister(at)gmail.com if you want to win one of them. Please let me know if you prefer the French or the English version.


Gunnar the flatcoat (who reads Proust and who therefore must at least read French -- and maybe even speak it) will pick the winners, whose names will be announced on the blog. So enter early, enter often -- and check back on Sunday night to see who the winners are!



The fireworks last night were, I hear, excellent. I never saw them. I was inside the house commiserating with Roy, my grand-dog. He used to live with my oldest son, but when he could no longer keep him, Roy got to go live at the Hancock House. So he is still my grand-dog, even if he has new parents.


Roy is a perfect host -- makes everyone feel welcome. The only thing he doesn't like is -- fireworks. So he and I spent the evening sitting in the butler's pantry. I love saying butler's pantry. Like I would know anyone who actually had a house in which there was a butler's pantry. Amazing.

Spence and Sadie are busy working. Thank heavens. With luck you won't hear from them -- or about them -- for a while.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Fireworks

With impeccable timing, Spence has got out of his funk and is creating exactly the sort of fireworks I need to get through this chapter and -- finally -- into the next one.

And he didn't even have to put on a pair of shorts to do it. Of course, he doesn't know precisely what he's got himself into yet. But I'm sure the wake-up call will be coming soon. Not that I think Sadie knows what she's in for either. But at least she's (more or less) prepared.

That said -- and done -- I'm off to watch fireworks here tonight. For some reason known only to the local government, fireworks are routinely habitually and perennially set off on the night BEFORE the 4th of July. Why? Haven't a clue. Not sure when they started doing it, but they've been doing it for a good long time.

And we will be going to visit friends who live in a blufftop home overlooking the Mississippi River where the views are spectacular and we can enjoy the sights (except for those which happen to explode behind the neighbor's unfortunately placed tree which, as trees do, grows taller by the year).

Want to come, too? You can. You can actually stay at their house (but you have to pay) because it's a bed-and-breakfast. One of the very nicest (and I'm not just saying that) bed-and-breakfasts I've ever seen.

It's called The Hancock House and you can tour it virtually if you click on the link. You won't see the fireworks, of course. But you could book a room for next year. Check it out.

I actually set a book in this house once. Fletcher's Baby took place in Dubuque -- and I just sort of "stole" the house, renamed it, and gave it to my hero Sam, along with a few assorted animals and an innkeeper called Josie Nolan.


That allowed me to go "inn-sit" for the owners as a means of "research." It also permitted me to spend a couple of nights there "researching" too. Josie's room was the one called "Anna's." And when he was there the first time Sam stayed in the room with the turret. In real life it's called "The Doll's Room," but don't tell Sam!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Shorts Don't Make The Man

It was brought to my attention this morning -- by Sadie snickering and Anne making inappropriate suggestions -- that I ought to put on a pair of shorts.

Anne seems to think -- or claims that Kate Walker says -- that putting on a pair of shorts (like those soccer players) would inspire me to get out of the court house and get into chapter three!

Not likely. It would probably get me thrown into jail -- where I've been a time or two when I was a kid -- and have no desire to be again. Jail wastes time. It's counter-productive. Just standing around this stupid courthouse wastes time.

And regardless of what Anne or Kate or anyone thinks, this is NOT MY FAULT!

I'm not the one who keeps tearing up the pages and going back to page 32. I'm not the one who says, "Oh, I don't think that works. Let's try it THIS way." Nope. None of it works as far as I'm concerned because, believe me, this day is NOT one of my favorites.

And it is definitely one I do not want to repeat endlessly. The sooner we get through it, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

If I thought stripping down and changing into a pair of shorts would move the plot along, I would be the first guy dropping trou. But I don't. I see it as a quick route to complete disaster. Not that the last hour hasn't been.

But I think we're getting closer. Finally. Because Anne, when she was tearing things up yesterday, tore up my point of view and gave it to Sadie.

Fine with me. I don't mind being enigmatic.

But not, (just so you know, Kate) in a pair of shorts.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Penalty kicks . . . aka futility

I know how England feels. Only I can't blame my problems on Wayne Rooney. And they probably shouldn't (entirely) either. Because while his getting a red card for losing his temper and kicking a Portuguese player where it was certainly going to hurt caused England to be at a disadvantage for the rest of the match, it was all pretty much equal when it came to the penalty kicks.

And then they blew it.

I have a sense of the same sort of futile blowing it every time I contemplate pages 32-50 in Spence and Sadie. The end of chapter two and the beginning of chapter three (on those amazing occasions when I actually get that far) make me think Ricardo must be standing at the Chapter Three sign, repelling every one of my advances.

How hard can it be? I ask myself. It's not like I don't know what has to happen. It's not like this is a very tricky deal. But apparently it is. Because I keep running up to the beginning of chapter three and kicking the ball -- and every time blinkin' Ricardo (or his literary equivalent) knocks it away and I retreat and try again.

And again. And again.

The difference, I suppose, is that I get to keep trying. Ricardo will stay out there until I get it right -- and then he will smile and wave me on and say, "Way to go." Which, I suppose, is one of the good things in writing as opposed to soccer. But at the moment, it sucks.

As you may have guessed, I didn't get my five pages written. Well, actually I did. But then I threw them out. And, for good measure, I threw out another five besides. Which puts me in something of a hole. Like England, playing a man down.

But I've made a couple of substitutions and, hey, what do you know -- fresh legs. I'm getting up a head of steam again. Trying again.

All of soccer is not England, anyway. How about Zidane and the rest of the French team? They didn't let it get to penalty kicks. With my fresh legs, I'm going to go for it again.

Wish me luck!