Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The cats of Galway and other tales

Remember The Cat?

Maybe not. But when we were looking for a place to stay in Galway, I eventually narrowed it down to two places -- one advertising a cat and one not.

The cat won.

And when we got there, it turns out he wasn't real.

Well, I suppose the cat is real, but he doesn't live there. He has a tapestry counterpart who is enormous. And the non-tapestry cat's photos are there. But HE is NOT.

I was disappointed. I realize that realistically "boutique hotels" cannot provide cats for all their guests. I know a B&B in Minnesota that does, but that's not the same thing. AND it's a B&B. And it is Minnesota. And Ballyvolane had Archie, of course, which made up for it.

Still . . . it was a sad moment of truth -- rather like discovering there is no Santa Claus. Sigh.

But even though the lack-of-cat was a disappointment, the choice of hotel was not. It was a lovely place. Very posh. AND it wasn't right above the streets where all Friday and Saturday night the revelers with their Drinks stood around and made a lot of noise.

The other hotel, it turns out, was. You'll have to imagine them here because I took these photos on Sunday morning when it was dead quiet.

Still, it didn't take me long (about a single split second, if that) to decide that we had gone to the right place -- and while I'm sure the other hotel was fine, this lack-of-cat one was quieter.

The cat, wherever he was, would have approved.

We arrived there on Friday. Saturday morning we left Kate and her husband to their own devices and we took a day trip to the burren and the cliffs of Moher. When I told Kate we wanted to go, she visibly shuddered and said, "You're not getting me anywhere near that again! Even lying flat on the ground I still thought I was going to fall off."

Not being one with a great love of heights, I wondered what I was getting into. But "progress" has spend something like 31 million Euros to gussy up the approach to the cliffs of Moher. Kate wouldn't have to worry now. It's all very civilized. They apparently wanted to charge admission, but were prohibited by law. Hooray, law, is all I can say.

The cliffs themselves are spectacular -- like looking at the Grand Canyon. I'd seen so many photos, it was hard to think I wasn't just looking at another one -- in 3D. But the sound of the waves breaking against them was impressive. And the fact that we got a fabulous, reasonably warm, very sunny day was definitely God's gift to us. The coach driver said many times he brings groups of people up who can't see a thing for the rain and fog.

We marveled at the cliffs, then also at the burren, the rocky limestone outcroppings that make the landscape in this area of County Clare almost lunar in their inhospitality. I can't imagine anyone thinking they could plant anything here and have it grow. Well, obviously some things do -- there is even a species of orchid that grows amid the rock. But I wouldn't want to have to make a living there, I can tell you that.

We got to visit a limestone cave that descends beneath the burren. And for all that the landscape above didn't even remotely resemble where we live, we are blessed with an abundance of limestone caves along the Mississippi River. Ours are every bit as amazing -- or even more so -- than the one we visited there. It was interesting to see how similar the subterranean landscape was since on "ground level" things were totally different.

We also got to take some pictures of Clarin Bridge, County Galway for a friend whose family emigrated from there to England and a generation later to New York. Two years ago I took pictures of the village of Bole in Nottinghamshire for her and sent them to her. Now I'm adding photos of Clarin Bridge. It was one of those places without much topsoil and a lot of rock. They must have thought Nottinghamshire was the breadbasket of the world after that!

I'm happy to report that FINALLY Flynn seems to be cooperating.

At least he didn't stalk off and refuse to do anything today. He's about to dismantle a coffee shop in his impatience. But that's progress. Michelle Styles says I'm having trouble because James Purefoy is my Flynn inspiration and he's difficult to get a handle on. Good idea. Blame it on James.

We're expecting another blizzard. Maybe while it's raging outside I can get Flynn moving two days in a row. Maybe he'll wreak mayhem in the coffee shop.

It wasn't in the synopsis. But then the best things rarely are.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Brief Travel Respite

I'll get back to Ireland tomorrow.

Today I want some advice. When we were discussing "world-building" on eharlequin the week before I left for the Emerald Isle, I explained my rather rudimentary method of keeping track of who was where and doing what in my Code of the West series.

There were 16 books by the time I wrote A Cowboy's Christmas Miracle, and in fact, besides the connections between one and another of those, they also connected sporadically to my Quicksilver books (Charlie Seeks Elk, hero of A Cowboy's Promise was the sixteen year old troublemaker in Gifts of the Spirit, the last Quicksilver book I did for Harlequin American). And Mariah Kelly, heroine of Rhys's Redemption, a Harlequin Presents, interviewed cowboy turned actor Sloan Gallagher, who later went on to become the hero of The Great Montana Cowboy Auction.

Suffice to say, I had to do something to make sure I didn't send Charlie to Afghanistan when he should have been on the streets of L.A. and I didn't send Taggart Jones's daughter Becky to high school when she was ten.

After five books in the series, no longer able to keep it all in my head, I consulted with my editor who tried to help, and several other people who were -- and still are -- far wiser than I when it comes to computer stuff. I knew I needed to create a database or a spreadsheet or whatever I might need to be able to pull all these people out in whatever form I needed them in. But no one could suggest how to do it.

So I ended up with a simple timeline that began at year ZERO, which was when Cowboys Don't Cry began, and I counted back 34 years, to the year its hero, Robert Tanner, was born, and I wrote -34: Robert Tanner born in Colorado. Then I wrote -30: Maggie MacLeod born. . . And then I began adding in Tanner's brothers and any events that happened while they were growing up and when he got married and all the various "events" in the plot.

I wrote everything that happened in that book in hot pink. Then I put the events from Luke and Jill's book, Cowboys Don't Quit, in using deep gold. Noah and Tess's book was dark purple. Taggart's was navy blue. Jed's was forest green.

As the books moved forward I added +1, +2, +3, until by Deke's book (emerald green. I was running out of color variations after 16 of them) I was up to +12. It worked, but it was getting unwieldy. And the reason I'm bringing it up is two-fold 1) I'm writing Flynn and Sara now, which is a Code of the West book in a different cover (Harlequin Presents) and so I need to be sure everything meshes, and 2) I've recently discovered some software that I think might be what I was originally looking for.

The software is called Tinderbox, from Eastgate, developed by Mark Bernstein. And from what I can see of the way it works, it could do everything I wanted my timeline to do and more. It is a Mac program. I do Windows (literally and figuratively). A Windows version is in the works. I guess I can wait.

But in the meantime, I'm wondering if anyone has any good ideas for other software to keep these folks sorted. (Or good ideas for buying a Mac cheap)

The book will go on even without it. But it would be nice to have the timeline and event sheet in a less cumbersome form. Right now it is beginning to remind me of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I am curious if anyone has discovered any equally promising software for such projects. Jenny Crusie mentioned Scrivener on her blog recently -- also (sigh) a Mac program. Anyone else?


Well, let me know. I need to get back to work. Wondering why I'm starting this book over. Well, no. Actually not wondering. Knowing. I've started from the wrong point of view. Again. And the wrong place. Again.

After this many books you'd think I'd realize, wouldn't you? Maybe it isn't software I need. Maybe it's a new brain.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Tour With Wriggle

Wriggle is a wonderful hostess.

She had other duties around the house, I'm sure, but she took her responsibility for showing us around very seriously indeed. And she didn't want us to miss a thing.

Sadly, because of time constraints and enough rain to turn the normal trickle into something rather broader, faster and deeper (without wellies), we didn't visit the donkeys. But not because Wriggle didn't try.

She thought we were pretty wimpish not to just plunge in and walk straight across the stream. She did it -- half a dozen times at least. In fact she stood in the middle of it and stared at us with disgust.

But we had to be in Dublin that afternoon to turn in the car, so we decided to save the donkeys for next time.

That way, we promised ourselves, there would be a next time. We certainly hope there will be one.

After all Trish Morey has indicated she'd like to join the Expeditionary Force next time we invade. You're very welcome, Trish! Maybe you can bottle a bit of the rain and take it home with you. They've plenty.

As pictures are worth at least a thousand words apiece (Hmmm. . . I wonder if my editor would let me substitute about 20 or so for the words I haven't written yet?), I'll let them speak todau while I go off to deal with Flynn and Sara and -- I hope -- get them moving on their way again. Maybe they'll catch a glimpse of these and feel inspired.

Me, sitting in the front parlour waiting for Wriggle to begin our tour.

First she showed us the piano and Archie's favorite sofa . . .or is it a chesterfield? Or . . .

Clearly antique furniture pieces are not my forte.

The front pa
rlor fireplace.

Archie who came in and took over his favorite spot in the front parlour did NOT want to be disturbed. So we left him in peace and moved on.

We peeked into the dining room.

Then pushed open the door . . .

Next we went upstairs to our room overlooking the front drive and lake. We'd show you Kate's but maybe she'd prefer to do that. If not, I'll do it later.

A glimpse out the window made Wriggle decide we'd seen enough inside. We needed to go out and experience her domain first hand -- or paw.

First we went around the farm buildings.

John Deere
has joined the Expeditionary Force! I think Liam will recognize that little tractor at once.

Wriggle stopped briefly to give a pop quiz on
house and garden history to Kate Walker's husband aka The Babe Magnet. She also got a piece of bread. Clever Wriggle.

After the farm buildings, she showed us inside the fifteen-foot high walled garden.

A look at the
wall from between two hedges. When they're in bloom maybe I can figure out what they are. I asked Wriggle. She didn't know.

She showed us the dovecote. But frankly she didn't think they we
re very impressive. She gets free run of the place. They have to stay under their net.

There were LOTS more things she would have showed us . . . but unfortunately our time had run ou

We left her surveying her domain, waiting for more guests to show around its delights. Lucky Wriggle. I thought about her a lot today while I was out shoveling 10 inches of snow!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Flynn's Castle . . .ah, Research!

Got back from Ireland Thursday night. It was wonderful -- and I would have been here earlier but I got food poisoning on the drive back home from the airport! Argh.

I will spare you details of that, but just say that I'm now vertical for the first time since Thursday evening.

We had a wonderful trip with lots of high points -- but for me the "highest" point was my experience with Flynn's drafty castle.

It was, of course, the reason I went. I needed some first hand experience with old manor houses of Ireland, a sense of what it would have been like to grow up there -- and a sense of how it would have felt to Sara to suddenly be thrust into that world.

I got it at a wonderful country house called Ballyvolane.

You can read all about the real Ballyvolane on their own website. I won't reproduce it here. But I wil say that it was a marvelous venue for a "house party" which I had with Kate Walker and her husband, another couple from Dublin and my friend Nancy who came along as gadget-master, voice-over artist, key-misplacer and potential cat-slayer (no, not really, it just looked that way).

The day we arrived at Ballyvolane -- after a drive from Galway -- we were just in time for afternoon tea. I must get the recipe for the lemon cake which was superb. We enjoyed sitting by the fire in the drawing room and getting to know Noodle, a terrier with opinions, Wriggle, a spaniel chocolate lab mix who was a wonderful hostess and absolutely determined to share every inch of her domain with us, and Archie, the largest cat in Christendom -- or at least Ireland, here in Kate's arms. Noodle, Wriggle and Archie alone would have made our stay memorable.

But then we had dinner. And what a wonderful dinner it was. I'll dig up my menu and post in sometime soon. I still haven't dealt with the contents of my suitcase. Suffice it say it was a grand meal, after which we spent more time lazing about the drawing room before tottering up to our beds.

The next day we awoke to the "soft day" I wrote about earlier -- the one where the rain was bucketing down and the winds were howling. I was sitting in the drawing room by the fire typing that. It was a wonderful blustery day. We learned first hand about drafts -- and how to avoid them. I can see that Flynn will have his hands full making his castle airtight. If he can!

We spent most of that day indoors. But Nancy the intrepid braved the gale early and came back to report on wonderful paths through the woods and a magnificent walled garden. So while it was still windy but with a break in the rain, I went out and wandered around, too. Early spring flowers were already in bloom -- some daffodils, with more waiting in the wings, crocuses, snowdrops. The rhododendrons were almost ready to burst forth. In another few weeks Ballyvolane will be awash in spring colors. It will be -- if possible -- even more beautiful than it was when we were there a few days ago.

We dined out that night and came back to a clear night sky with the most incredible profusion of stars imaginable. I haven't seen that many since the moonless night I was driving from Wichita to Dodge City and the milky way was spread before me in such a dazzling display of starlight that I didn't expect to ever see anything come close. Last week at Ballyvolane, it came close.

And then there were the trees. I was looking for trees because Flynn and Liam are going to build a treehouse (nothing like giving away the book, right?). But I knew I had to have a place they could do that. And Ballyvolane came through. It has treehouse potential in spades. Perfect places for father and son to do a bit of bonding.

And I didn't even have to imagine it as a home for little boys. It has its own in residence right now. And their own children's room -- not to mention the vast gardens complete with soccer goal -- provided plenty of inspiration for how Liam will cope.

I couldn't have asked for a better castle for Flynn. It was a great success.

The book is here in my head. Now, as Kate says, all I need are the words!

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Soft Day

It is, as they say here in Ireland, a "soft day."

That means it's raining.

It is actually pouring. The rain is coming down in buckets. It's enough to make you reconsider the sign in Abby Green's day job office that says there is NOT a never-ending supply of water, so please conserve. There is -- pretty much -- a never-ending supply here.

But that's just today. Every other day since we've been here it's been beautiful. Amazing, really. And since we left home in a blizzard, we are impressed. It's a funny thing about weather. It's entirely subjective. While we were sitting in the airport contemplating the swirling snow that made entire buildings disappear, we said things like, "I think it's letting up. No problem. We should be able to get out easily."

But at the same time we were taking photos and mini-movies of it which, when we show them to people now, they gasp in horror and say, "You left in THAT?"

Well, we wanted to get here. And we figured the pilot did, too. And we did. And he did. And we've had a wonderful trip so far. And if you notice Sara dealing with a blizzard when she takes off for Ireland, you'll know that she is speaking from experience -- my experience.

I found a few copies of The Santorini Bride in Galway. That was fun. Of course it might have been more fun if they'd been sold out. But then I might simply have worried that they had never appeared at all. So it was probably better this way.

Been taking lots of pictures. Have met two great dogs -- Wriggle and Noodle -- and a tuxedoed cat called Archie. Archie is sawing wood rather loudly in the next chair even as I type this. I'll post his picture later, when I can actually upload them.

Have enjoyed the whole trip. Fantastic time with Abby Green in Dublin. Super couple of days in Galway. Now we're deep into the drafty Irish castle part of the trip. This isn't a castle. It's better. It's a real country house, built in 1724. Exactly the sort of place that Flynn would have loved as a child. But later . . . well, later he had to think things out.

Kate has been charming Archie. He has taken a great liking to her pashmina with its scent of Sid -- and wrapped himself up in it. I think he wishes Sid had come along. They could have gone salmon fishing together.

Back to work . . . (Well, somebody's got to do it).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Blogday!

It's the year anniversary of this blog. I can't believe it's been a year.

Basically what that means is that at this time last year I had just finished Theo and Martha and had sent them off to my editor. And now they're out and about leading their own lives, going on a honeymoon, having a kid. Wow.

A lot has happened this year. I've had comments and correspondence from people in far-flung corners of the earth. I met a real Theo Savas. I've had comments from a rodeo supply guy about bull-riding school. I've had correspondence from CJ at ClustrMaps and Roberto at Neoworx. Just the other day I sent a query to a company about their software after reading about it on a blog. The next morning I had an email from the software's developer. I'm smiling.

This year on our first blogday I'm off to the airport to go to Dublin. We weren't supposed to leave until tomorrow, but I think we're going today because there seems to be a momentary lull in the snow fall. It's supposed to pick up again in a few hours and continue into tomorrow. So today looks like the better bet. I hope.

Domenico has announced his winner in the Grooms' Contest -- she is Mona Hassan of Egypt. Congratulations, Mona. I have your books packed and will be sending them off this afternoon as I leave town. I hope you enjoy them. Max must be having too good a time on his honeymoon to bother to announce his winner on Liz's blog. But she told me he'd sent her an email, so her winner will be getting books as well. But the announcement will have to come from Liz or Max on her blog.

I will hope to get a chance to post sometime while I'm gone. Maybe internet cafes will abound in Dublin, Galway and points south. We shall see. I'm not taking the computer, only my DANA, which is great for notetaking and doesn't cause near the hassle getting through airports. It doesn't "boot up" either -- it just turns on and off. So I'll be taking lots of notes, but it isn't configured to go online, so I'll have to be at a computer for that.

When I get back I want to write a "thank you" post to the two people who got me into writing romance in the first place. One is a childhood friend. The other is the Harlequin author whose book became my first "keeper."

In the meantime, check back and see if I've found an internet cafe. Read lots of books. Track down Theo and Martha (aka The Santorini Bride) and put them at eye level! Ditto Domenico and Alice. Buy a copy of Max and Louise -- they are now on the bookshelves as well. I saw them last night.

See you soon!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Hansel and Gretel Approach To Web Wandering

Sometimes when I'm on the internet I feel like Hansel and Gretel, wandering through the forest with a back button instead of a loaf of bread to leave a trail. I start out in the known and pretty soon I've wandered off my beaten path and I am in a part of the universe I have never seen before.

It's almost always mind-boggling.

Usually I go with a purpose. When I was looking for Irish castles I spent part of several days where I jumped around Ireland from blog to blog, from website to website, getting more and more bits and pieces of information about castles and country homes, about salmon fishing, about the Irish peerage, about ancient neolithic burial sites, about Finn MacCool, about St Brendan, about holy wells and the state of Irish cinema.

When I was looking for pictures for my collage, I spent a lot of time on Flickr and other photo site looking for inspiration. But if I started with Irish castles and 6 year old boys, I ended up with policemen in Dublin, Doubtful Sound in New Zealand and ice floes in the Bering Strait. One thing led to another, you know.

A while back I had an email conversation with a friend in Scotland who was trying to learn about baseball while I was trying to make sense of cricket. That took me to Major League Baseball sites and minor league sites on which I discovered the son of an old friend had pitched for a AA ball team, which then took me to discovering his sister the artist, which took me to Seattle, which took me to another friend's website about quilting and then to her inspiratioin in China. About that time I remembered I was supposed to be looking up cricket as well as baseball.

So I started there, got to the West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and India in a matter of moments, and half an hour later, ended up renting the Bollywood film Lagaan. It wasn't quite as big a jump as you might think.

The other day I read Michelle Styles's blog, then clicked on one of the blogs she reads and got hooked by someone talking about creating blogs, which led me to another blog, which led me to an discussion of information retrieval and management, which is something I have to write an article about for a genealogy magazine in a couple of months. And I found some software I think might be very useful and also useful for my books. But I need to think more about it -- and I have been -- which means I haven't got much done on dear long-suffering Flynn and Sara.

But I did figure out how to connect their various bits of story that have been hanging around expecting me to do something with them. So it feels as if I've actually come out of the woods on the other side for a change and I won't have to try to follow the bread crumbs back through the forests.

Just as well, as I believe Gunnar, Micah and Mitch have already eaten them.

* * * *
I'm waiting for Kate and Liz to announce the winners to Dom's and Max's part of the Grooms' Contest. I expect they will do that tomorrow.

Theo sends congratulations to Jennifer Yates who won his part! So does Martha who says she is very happy that Theo is now out of the contest business and can finally concentrate on their honeymoon.