Monday, March 31, 2008

The Big Book Give-Away

Those of you who have been hanging around a while know that I'm in the midst of what might euphemistically be called "home improvements."

Basically this means, gutting our bedroom and starting over. Except for the dressers, that's pretty much the case. And in the process of doing so, I've gone through the bookcases (those were the dusting episodes).

Now then, I have accumulated a GIGANTIC bag of wonderful books that I want to find homes for. I'm going to give them away and several lucky souls are going to get them. I could, of course, lug them down to the local used bookstore (because the owner is a good friend of mine and she let me read about 400-500 of them when I was first starting out writing romance just because she's a good person). But taking her books -- especially not completely current books -- is a little like taking coals you-know-where.

So . . . I figure I will give them away here. If you comment, you get chance to be selected to receive a book or five. I'll post up one or two every day. They're good books. I wouldn't have kept them if they weren't. But there is only so much space in this house, and I want them to go to good homes.

If I post a book you particularly want, post a comment. If you've read it and you have a comment (particularly if you want to rave about it), post a comment. If you have too many books in your house, but you want to make a comment anyway, say so, and I promise I won't send you the books.

The idea is to find them happy homes and get some discussion going.

The first book on the Give-Away pile is, Dark Lover, the one that started J.R. Ward's series of books about the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Definitely a book to get your teeth into! Sorry, bad pun. Great book.

Want it? Comment.

I'll add a book a day and post this week's winner on Friday.

So, what do you want to talk about? Anyone know any good additives for what I should be using to wash down the walls before George comes to paint them?

Oh, and celebrate with Kate Walker who finished up Santos's book today. Congrats, Kate. I know it was a long slog. I hope I can celebrate Seb and Neely's ending a month from now.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

10,000 Words Down . . . A book to go

I realized this morning that I have a month to finish Seb and Neely.

Last week that sounded like plenty of time. But last night I threw out the better part of a chapter. And so I'm in the hole.

I've also got other commitments this month. Seb and Neely and I, sadly, do not live an in vacuum. We have taxes, we have articles, we have wallpaper to scrap off (remember the wallpaper?). We have paint to choose and walls to scrub, and we have blogs -- like this one -- to write.

So this morning at 6 a.m. I got up and set to work.

I wrote three articles today. I wrote four blogs. I sorted and added all the expenses columns for my quarterly taxes. I'm too fuzzy minded to add them tonight (I do know my limits). But I still managed to sort them.

I figure that today I have written -- conservatively -- 10,000 words. If I could write a book at that rate of speed I'd have it done by Friday.


What is it about non-fiction that is so darn easy to write? I guess it's that you've got facts, building blocks, as it were. And while you have to make it make sense and sound like someone over the age of four wrote it, you aren't obliged to make up the motivations of everyone you're writing about.

I can't tell you how restful it to write 10,000 words none of which has anything to do with motivation -- at least not any motivation that I'm responsible for. It's positively liberating. I love it. I know if I did it every day, I wouldn't love it at all. I'd feel worn down by it.

But right now, I'm feeling really accomplished. As if I've scaled a foothill and dumped half a dozen rocks out of my rucksack on the way up. It's pretty much me and Seb and Neely now for the rest of the month (once I add my columns of figures).

Wish us luck!

If you write, do you multi-task? I mean, of course, most of us do to some extent, but do you like to multi-task? Or do you like to focus singlemindedly on the story at hand? I'm usually a multi-tasker. But there is such a thing as being toooooo fractured. That was going to be me if I didn't have a day like I did today.


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Prowling the bookshelves

Or, dusting, part II . . .

One of the books I dusted the other day was Donald M Murray's Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers.

A Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and writing teacher, Murray died in late 2006. But his books live on and continue his mission to teach.

Shoptalk is a book I've had for probably ten years. And it isn't one that I have listed in my top four or five that I turn to again and again, but it probably should be as it's a collection of significant writerly wisdom. It's definitely a book to keep.

If you're unacquainted with Shoptalk, it's sort of a commonplace book for writers. In it Donald Murray has gathered quotes from many writers -- novelists, poets, non-fiction authors, pretty much a Who's Who of those who make their vocation working with the written word. He introduces each chapter with thoughts of his own on the topic, then he lets the authors speak for themselves.

It's not a book you read from cover to cover. It may not even be a book in which you read an entire chapter.

It's a book to dip into, to read here and there, to listen to soundbytes of wisdom,
and find one that speaks to you right where you are.

It's sort of an I Ching of writing aphorisms.

You can take your current problem -- a scene, a character, an inability to sit down at the computer (or anywhere else) and actually write -- and find someone else whose words resonate with your dilemma. It gives you a different perspective from which to study it, someone else's view to filter it through.

It's a comfort -- and it's a challenge. And I'm glad I plucked Shoptalk off the shelf to dust -- and re-read bits and pieces of.

The quote that resonates with me at the moment is in the chapter called "Planning for the surprise."

It's about that curious dichotomy that exists between planning a story and being surprised by it as you go along. While certainly some of us are more plotters and some are more pantsers (those who fly by the seat of theirs), each book, I think, has an element of both.

I'd be hard pressed to imagine a book plotted so tightly that the author was never surprised by anything the characters did or said. And equally, I would find it hard to imagine a book coming to a satisfactory conclusion if the author had absolutely no idea at all where it was going or whether he or she was writing horror or romance or a western.

So . . .

as I am in the "oh-gosh-there-is-a-Saturday-in-Seb's-week" and something has to happen then (surprise!), and I have lots of plans for Sunday, should we ever be lucky enough to get there in the book (debatable at this point), I particularly appreciate William Maxwell's comment.

He wrote: "Undoubtedly if I knew exactly what I was doing, things would go faster, but if I saw the whole unwritten novel stretching out before me, chapter by chapter, like a landscape, I know I would put it aside in favor of something more uncertain -- material that had a natural form that it was up to me to discover."

Ah, yes. I, too, am a fan of the surprise. And I don't think I would like everything plotted and sorted and neatly boxed.

So I'm out here in Saturday of Seb's week and looking for the surprise. It's not exactly comfortable, but it's challenging.

I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

American Accents

There are lots of internet quizzes, most of which I don't take (although I did make an exception for "what kind of dog are you?")

But this one on American Accents interested me because I've always loved accents and tend to pick them up by osmosis by simply being somewhere for an hour or so.

Just ask The Prof who sent me off to a meeting of 'grad student wives' one night years and years ago and asked me where on earth I'd been when I got home because I seemed to be channeling someone from Perth!

It was sitting next to Irene, I told him. She'd grown up right outside Perth.

When I go to see my daughter in Texas, I can fall right into that accent in a matter of minutes. My sons used to roll their eyes. But then the youngest came home from Brazil and told me he totally understood. He'd started speaking English with a Brazilian accent because so many of his friends did.

Anyway, I digress. This quiz tests what sort of "American accent" you have. And I answered it the way I grew up speaking, trying to remember my 'native' pronunciations. I think it turned out reasonably reflective of the way I talk when I'm not 'influenced' by whoever I'm talking to.

Here's mine:

The "Western" doesn't surprise me at all. I did the test twice and came up with the high western count every time. The two questions which I had to look twice at reversed my Boston/South accent depending on which way I answered them. While I went with the "Boston" answers in the first instance, I realized I hadn't even acknowledged the third choice. When I did, my dad's Southern roots definitely showed.

It's an intriguing quiz. If you're American, try it and see what accent you come up with -- and let me know if you think it's accurate. And if you're not American, give it a try anyway and see who you might be if you spoke American English. And if you're English, I'd really like to know what accent this test thinks you have.

And if you're interested, there's a terrific article in Wikipedia on American accents which you might enjoy.

Keep me posted!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The trouble with dusting

Dusting is no bad thing. Let me say that up front.

Dusting blinds is, if not entertaining, at least mindless and usually (but not always) there is a view to behold behind the dust cloth.

Dusting pictures is trickier because you pick them up and look at them -- and then you remember where you were when that happened, and how young your youngest looked then (Was he only twelve? And sitting at a bar on a Caribbean out island! Good heavens). And you do that, say, times twenty odd pictures and you've frittered away a whole afternoon.

You have some very good reminiscences, but it is
  • a. not getting the book written
  • b. not getting the room ready for George the school teacher turned painter
  • c. making you want to go to the Caribbean again. Also to Barcelona and Vienna and Scunthorpe and St Erth and Fermoy and all the other places in those photographs.
Worse, there is dusting bookshelves.

It wouldn't be bad if you could just dust the shelves, but you have to take out the books and open them. Not to dust them, of course, but to see if that scene you remember in Jill Mansell's Perfect Timing is as good as you remember it being.

And it is, and so you stand there reading it. And then you go sit down and read it because it's swept you right up in the story again and you can't not read it.

Until finally you need to go put the dogs out. And call George and tell him maybe next week the room will be ready to paint.

And then you have to go back to dusting because there are several more shelves on that particular bookcase and unfortunately they are all "keepers" or you wouldn't have kept them, would you?

But maybe you could get rid of a few of them. Of course you have to read them first to be sure you were ready to part with them.

Which is why I hate dusting.

What about you?

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Cleaning

I'm not a big fan of spring cleaning.

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of cleaning (the act of) in general.

I acknowledge that it's necessary and it makes life more livable. But I don't go around looking for things to clean, dust, sort, straighten and otherwise meddle with. I'm a live and let live sort of person when it comes to, um, clutter.

Which is not to say I don't vacuum and dust and deal with it as it comes along.

However . . .

There comes a time, say, every twenty years or so, when it's time to paint a bedroom.

And if we're going to paint, we probably ought to put down new carpet. And if we're going to go to all that trouble, the mattress on the bed is pretty awful and isn't that a spring jabbing me in the back every night?

And, well, one thing leads to another (though I've tried telling Seb that to get him through this chapter and he just shrugs and goes back to his CAD program as if to say, That's your problem, not mine).

So I've left him to his CAD program and I'm stripping wallpaper.

Did I mention the wallpaper issue? Probably not. The wallpaper is, thankfully, only on one wall. It will be gone by noon tomorrow. I guarantee it. Then I can get the paint and call George my friendly retired school teacher painter person and say, The room is almost ready.

And that, of course, will galvanize me to get the rest of the stuff cleaned out, boxed up or thrown away. You'd be amazed at the books I've discovered that slipped off the cedar chest and are lurking behind it. Well, maybe you wouldn't be -- but I am.

And while I'm doing my painting, Seb will be doing his. Always nice to have art imitating life as well as the other way round. I started feeling a bit smug when I wrote that. And then I turned back to the chapter and discovered he's just showed up with a violin that belonged to his grandfather.

Where did that come from?

It seems to be staying. So I'm going to have to think about that. It will give me something to do while I clean.

Does cleaning inspire you with creative thoughts? Are you a Natural-Born Neat Person? If so, I'm really impressed.

What do you do to get creative juices flowing?

Cleaning the oven seems like overkill somehow. But what do I know? I so rarely try it!

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Have an Eggcellent Easter!

If you're celebrating Easter today, as we are, I wish you the very best of the season. I'm celebrating as well by NOT having to cook Easter dinner for a change. Or writing much on the blog.

Seb, however, will get a bit of attention because he's finally doing something and I'm not giving him the day off. He's had a week off -- or more!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Alpha heroes

There's a lot of talk about alpha heroes in romance novels.

They are often accused of being cruel, arrogant, haughty, and downright nasty -- until, of course, they understand how wrong they were about the heroine and then have a metanoia sort of conversion somewhere around page 186.

Far be it from me to deny they can exist. Though I wouldn't necessarily call all the men who behave like that "heroes."

But I suppose really, it depends on what your fantasy is. If you like those guys described above, that's what works for you.

It doesn't work for me.

My alpha hero doesn't do 'cruel.' And he doesn't do 'mean' or even 'downright nasty.' Arrogant, yes. Haughty, sometimes. Silently judgmental? He can.

Oh, yes, he can. (Ask Seb). He can even be judgmental out loud.

He can also be wrong. (No surprise there).

But when he is, he has to be honorably wrong.

If he's going to make judgments, he's got to have a believable reason for it. He's got to have a backstory that predisposes him toward such a belief. He's got to think he has evidence for it. And he's got to be believing it in service to a higher good.

He doesn't jump to conclusions just because he's the hero -- especially wrong ones -- just so he can repent in the end.

And if he's a McAllister hero, even if he believes the worst, he doesn't do anything that would make the heroine rightfully hate him. If he did that would simply prove he has no right to be her hero.

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about this because I am dealing with that issue in Seb's book.

I'm also thinking about it because I just re-read Jane Donnelly's story The Man Outside. Last Thursday on the Pink Heart Society blog, I wrote about Jane's books and, especially, her heroes.

To do so, I got a stack of JD's keepers off my shelf and began to re-read them. Several of them have heroes who believe the worst of the heroine. Not always -- not in my favorite, Behind a Closed Door, in which the heroine believes the worst of the hero.

But in The Man Outside, Piers Hargreaves gradually opens up to Polly's interest and then learns the truth -- but not the whole truth -- that she was dared to try to reach him. The implication is that her interest is a sham, that she is manipulative and doesn't care for him at all.

He could react cruelly. He could do his best to destroy her because he does have all the power and influence an alpha hero should have.

But he also has the honor that allows him to absorb the pain, and the intelligence to look for the root cause of it (that would be the jealous other man who has told him this 'truth'), and to recognize who is really telling the truth.

He doesn't displace his anger. He does something constructive with it -- because that's the kind of man he is. And over the course of the story he has learned from Polly how to reach out to other people, how to risk his emotions, and ultimately how to demonstrate his love.

So when circumstances might allow him to be cruel, he is anything but. He is remote, he is standoffish, he is quiet and self-contained. But he is honorable. And because he loves Polly, he has a long range plan that will turn the tide his way.

As the end approaches and Polly fears all is lost, we readers trust that it's not.

We know that she has loved him well, that she has seen the man inside Piers Hargreaves -- and that her love has helped him find the means of expressing who he really is.

He is strong and steadfast, intelligent and powerful, relentless and singleminded in his pursuit of her. But he will do it in a way that proves to Polly he's every bit the man she believed he was -- an honorable man, a determined man, a commanding man with an inner core of gentleness that will never allow him to hurt the woman he loves.

For me that's a real alpha hero. It's the man I want to find inside Sebastian.

If you haven't read Jane Donnelly, seek her out. Discover that the alpha hero often gets a bad rap. He isn't at all what his detractors make him out to be.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Friendship and Johnny Depp

What are friends for?

Well, to take you to the airport, for one thing.

So that's what I did today, took my friend Nancy to the airport. This is Nancy-the-cat-slayer from the Ireland trip that we are talking about.

If you don't remember Nancy, herewith the incriminating photo of her with Archie the cat from Flynn's castle (aka Ballyvolane House) and the very nasty looking instrument that could have spelled Archie's demise -- if Nancy were the bloodthirsty type.

She's not.

She's a good friend. One of the best. Has been for years. She has taken care of Gunnar the Proust-reading dog and his mates, Micah and Mitch, many times. She took care of earlier dogs and cats in the McAllister household. She's knitted baby blankets for McAllister grandchildren, fed lots of McAllisters lots of meals, and has always been here in times of stress and distress to do the right thing.

So naturally when she needed to go to the airport, I took her to the airport.

And didn't go see Johnny Depp.

Imagine that.

Johnny and -- more interesting to me, but apparently not to everyone else -- Christian Bale are currently making a film called Public Enemies.

It's the story of John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson and the feds who are tracking them down.

And part of it is being filmed in a small town a little more than spitting distance (across the Mississippi) from where we live at this time of year.

There is a void in the Badger state now that Brett Favre has retired. Apparently Johnny is Wisconsin's attempt to fill his shoes.

Anyway, today Johnny is there.

Maybe Christian is, too.

The Hand-of-Depp was recently seen waving out a car window. Shrieks of joy were apparently heard.

I wouldn't know. I was at the airport.

Is he going to be there tomorrow? Is Christian? Was Christian there at all?

Maybe the local newspaper will shed light on this in subsequent editions. Unless I think to look online, I won't know because I don't get the local paper.

Tomorrow I might have to, just to find out what I missed while I was at the airport.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Every year I send my son Patrick the card about St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland while they kick and punch and swat each other in the backseat of his car and say things like, "He hit me!" "I've got to pee!" and "How much farther is it?"

I love that card. I've driven snakes -- and children -- out of a lot of places in my life. The children, at least, keep getting back in!

There are none here at the moment, though, and I miss them. We took the dogs for a walk just as school was about to let out (school here never having spring break and even less so this year when we've had 11 -- count 'em -- snow days). It reminded me of all the years of waiting for them to hurtle down the hill and bang into the house. Much quieter now.

Except for when the postman arrives. The children didn't make nearly as much fuss about the postman as the dogs do. Wonder why.

Seb and I have come to terms. He's working. My Jane Donnelly piece for The Pink Heart, which will go up on Thursday (or late Weds if you live in North or South America). It was such a treat to re-read her books in preparation for writing it. They never get old.

I will be talking about some of my favorites later this week. If you have a favorite Jane Donnelly book, please drop by and share it. If you haven't read Jane Donnelly, you ought to. For me she's the quintessential romance writer.

Everyone has their favorites. She's mine.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flynn's Getting a Big Head

Flynn was prowling around the office the other day wondering why no one was reviewing his book. (That's the trouble with heroes -- once they get to their happy ending, they are at a loose end, and they want to blog and cut down trees and save the world).

So he was thrilled when I showed him this review by the extremely insightful, very smart, absolutely brilliant Julie Bonello on the Cata-Romance site:

"If Susan Elizabeth Phillips ever decided to write for Harlequin Presents, then One-Night Love Child would be the sort of book she would write!

"Fast-paced, hilarious, poignant and wonderfully intense, One-Night Love Child is another keeper by the always outstanding Anne McAllister!

"Flynn Murray has got enough to worry about! As the new Earl of Dunmorey, Flynn has inherited Dunmorey Castle and has to find enough money in order to keep the Castle in the family. He certainly does not want or need any more complications, but when a letter arrives out of the blue telling him that he’s got a son, Flynn realizes that his life is about to get even more complicated!

"Sara McMaster had fallen for the Irish charmer from the very first moment she clapped eyes on him! Funny, charismatic and absolutely gorgeous, Flynn had been Sara's dream man, and she had enjoyed spending a torrid night of passion in his bed! However, when Flynn walked out of her life, Sara found out that he had made her pregnant with his love-child! But when he had failed to reply to her letter, Sara decided to try her best to forget about Flynn and to raise her beautiful baby boy, Liam, as best she could.

"What Sara doesn't know is that Flynn never even got the letter she sent – until now! Flynn is determined to get to know his son and to be a good father to little Liam – even if it means incurring the wrath of Sara, who has never forgotten his cruel treatment of her.

"Flynn had no intention of picking up where he had left off with Sara, however, under the beautiful Montana sky, the Irish aristocrat soon realizes that he is madly in love with the independent Sara.

"But has Flynn lost his chance with her? Or will he be able to convince her that he’s the only man for her?

"Anne McAllister is absolutely brilliant! She imbues her page-turning novels for Harlequin Presents with plenty of warmth, wit and charm and takes her readers on an emotive rollercoaster journey where she sweeps her readers off their feet with her brand of intense passion, dramatic emotional landscapes and moving romance!"

Romance does not get any better than this! Sexy, funny, dramatic and unputdownable One- Night Love Child is Anne McAllister at her glorious best!"

Gracious, Julie, I don't think I've ever been compared with Susan Elizabeth (even unfavorably), so I'm floating on air. Flynn says, well, of course, the hero had a lot to do with it. And I'm sure he's right, but even so . . . thank you so much for your kind amazing words. I'm delighted that you loved One-Night Love Child.

Julie also reviewed it on the Pink Heart Society blog which you can read there if you click on the link and scroll down a bit.

Flynn has been jumping back between the two, admiring himself in reviews. I'd like to, but beyond thoroughly enjoying them and being very grateful to Julie, I'm stuck in the middle of Seb right now (who has a big enough head as it is) and he's finally out of bed and standing on his own two feet. Now he just needs to DO SOMETHING!

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Big Thaw

This has been a long hard winter. The snow has been up to our eyeballs, literally, for months.

But this past three or four days we have seen temps above freezing -- and this means we have been outside chipping away at the alps of ice that have been accumulating in front of our house. We have, in fact, been chipping for most of the winter. But we haven't had much success until this week.

I am considering my success on the ice front to make up for the fact that Sebastian has been lying on his back thinking of a thousand sundry things, none of them conducive to getting me past where I've been for way too long.

Tomorrow, I told him, you move. You roll over. You do something! Anything! You've just got to get out of bed. It's not as if Neely is even anywhere in the vicinity. She's out sailing with Max.

Who's Max? you ask.

Well, Seb knows exactly who Max is -- and he's not happy about it.

That's one of the things that's keeping him awake. But ten days of indecision while he -- and I -- decide where to start this scene when we know exactly what it has to contain -- is tooooooo much.

So, tomorrow, Seb -- up and at 'em. If not, I'll be back with the ice shovel and shift you.

As for Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle -- it's everything I imagined it would be. Gross, funny, very much the sort of film that my teenage sons adored. It's deja vu all over again! I wonder if any of them have seen it. I'll have have to ask.

We didn't manage to see it all because the film was defective and scratched and so it's going back to be replaced by another one. Sigh. You'd think we would have seen enough of it to just call it quits. But when you're engrossed (and I use the term advisedly) in young men's angst, you have to see it through to the end. Leaving them where they were when they irrevocably locked up is, um, disconcerting . . .

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Class Participation

So, where are you guys?

I ask you for comments -- want to know what you think of Mr and Mrs Smith -- and I get dead silence.

Is this 'no opinion?' Or 'I haven't seen the movie?'

Or, 'Brad who?' and 'Angelina who?'

Somehow, I doubt it. Surely you can't all have avoided it. Well, I don't know . . . maybe you did. Maybe you were, like my flatcoat Gunnar, all too busy reading Proust.

Anyway, you're not being graded on participation here. But I would like to feel like I'm not talking to myself.

Then again, maybe I am.

Anyone seen Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle? That's coming next.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mr and Mrs Smith

I watched Mr and Mrs Smith tonight. You know, the movie that brought us Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a couple.

Or was there an earlier movie that did that, and I am behind the eight ball?

Dunno. Doesn't matter.

What matters, if anything does, is I want to know what you think of this movie.

I'm still trying to decide what I think of it. I mean, two hours of gratuitous violence and B&A slapping each other around and shooting at each other and creating serious mayhem for each other (not even mentioning the mayhem involving other people) has pretty much left me feeling . . . confused.

I know it's not supposed to be a cinematographic masterpiece, a deep literary work brought to the silver screen, etc etc etc.

But . . .would you call it a "relationship movie?"

In fact that's what seems to be the topic for discussion here. Amid the shooting and arguing and killing and whatnot -- there is a lot of coming to terms with what they expect out of marriage and what they've put into it -- which for "five or six years" (to quote Brad's John Smith character) is, frankly, not much.

And yes, I know it's not supposed to be "reality" based. I know it's action-adventure, tongue-in-cheek and all that.

But it purports, beneath the mayhem, to propose some thought-provoking questions about marriage and relationships -- questions we who deal with writing romance also tackle. Questions worth pondering and indeed writing books and making movies about.

And yet . . .

Besides those thought provoking questions there are all those kicks and punches and slaps and gunshots and bombs and such directed at each other as much as anyone else.

And where does all this on screen violence between this maried couple lead?

To sex.

Of course.

And that's one of the places in the film where I find myself wondering what the heck message they are sending here.

On the one hand they are making a very intriguing sort of 'let's discuss our relationship and telling each other the truth and finding the heart of our connection" here film set against a backdrop of over-the-top fantasy violence. Fair enough. The juxtaposition makes for interesting scenes and fun film-making.

And yet, at the same time, I couldn't get away from the notion that they were at the same time selling this violence as foreplay for sexual gratification.

And while the murder and mayhem that was over the top didn't bother me, the kicks and punches did.

That's why the jury is still out at our house.

Maybe I should just stop trying to understand what any film is 'trying to say' and just appreciate it for what it does provide. In this case, Brad Pitt.

What do you think?


Monday, March 10, 2008

A Rose is A Rose . . .

But what if she turns out to be Lily?

Or Gretchen? Or Cassandra?

In other words, names are tricky. With the advent of search and replace you can, as a friend of mine did, turn Marcus into Magnus, or as another did, turn Harrison into Michael (or was it the other way around?).

In theory it works. Unsuspecting readers have no idea that it's happened.

But as an author, can you ever get past the fact that a character named Rose will do something that Kelly or Saffron or Betsy would never do? I don't think I could.

I've never met a Michael who behaved like a Harrison. Or vice versa. And if I don't have a name for a person, he -- or she -- doesn't have a personality at all.

Most of the time heroes and heroines appear with names firmly in place. Sebastian, for example, could never be anyone else. The last hero I wrote was a bit tricky because he wasn't intended to be a hero. He was the hero (Elias's) brother, Peter.

That's The Prof's name. I have way too much invested in what that name means to me so I couldn't envision a hero who wasn't a two-dimensional version of The Prof. Ergo, Peter in the book needed an adjustment.

He was happy to comply. In fact, he told me he already had. And I discovered that when he'd left New York for Hawaii to go to university, he'd gone deliberately to find himself, to discover who he was when he was not a part of a large, demanding Greek-American family. The first thing he'd done was to change Peter for another variant of his name and thus begin to reinvent who he was.

He became PJ.

It worked for him. It worked for me. It worked for everyone but the copyeditor -- until she discovered she didn't have to go back through and put in periods after each of his initials. After that she was a happy camper, too, and we all got along fine.

Sometimes, when characters don't come with names attached, I send them away again. I figure if they don't even know their own names, they don't know enough for me to write about them.

But sometimes minor characters don't come with names and I'm obliged to help them out. For this I have a half a shelf of name books. Among the most useful are Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman and The New American Dictionary of Baby Names. They both take a somewhat historical approach to naming and so help me out with name popularity in times and places.

I've also spent more time than anyone not having sextuplets should with Beyond Jennifer and Jason and its sequel, Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana, not to mention its ethnic spin-offs, Beyond Shannon and Sean and Beyond Charles and Diana.

Let's face it, I'm a sucker for name books. I think it's the potential that I see there. I run across a name and I begin to envision the person who would wear it. And then I think, hmmm. What if ...? And sometimes I begin to see them in action, find them talking to other people whose names I also discover by reading more name books ...

Got any good name books on your shelves? Or good names you'd love to see in a book? As I'm working on my 61st book, I should be running out by now. I have a few on the wait-list hoping that I'll get around to them.

But if you've got a good one and you don't mind sharing, I'd love to hear it. Can't promise I'll use it -- I'd have to be able to envision the character . . . but I'm willing to try.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Out on a Limb

No, not me.

Not this time, at least.

Out on a Limb is the title of British author Lynne Barrett-Lee's recent book which I just had the pleasure of staying up far too late in the night reading for the last few nights. I was wishing away my days so I could get back to her book, eager to get back to her world.

And now -- sigh -- I'm finished. And I might just go back and read it again. If you aren't familiar with Lynne Barrett-Lee -- and you like books with a sharp, funny voice and a wry, weary yet still hopeful air -- you might want to take a look at Out on a Limb.

Abbie, physiotherapist single mum of two sons, has just changed jobs to one presumably less stressful in an effort to make her life a bit less stressful (stop running into the married chap she's trying to avoid having figured out that the affair is exactly that and never going to be anything else) and give herself a bit of a 'gap year' while her oldest son Sebastian (no relation to my hero, Sebastian) is off wandering around the continent with his mates.

Good idea. But, like most of us, Abbie discovers that life has a way of complicating her plans.

Her mother, who suddenly becomes a major factor, makes mine look restful by comparision. Her concerns and worries about her sons are ones I remember all too well.

And the TV weatherman who happens to be her mother's dead fourth husband's estranged son, well, let's just say, he makes her life even more interesting.

Can you see why I wanted the day to pass so I could get back to the entertaining shambles that was Abbie's life?

It made me laugh, it made me ache with wry recognition of maternal foibles and daughterly misery.

It was a treat. I'm so glad I read it. I'm so sorry it's over.

I hope Lynne Barrett-Lee writes faster. I loved her earlier Virtual Strangers and Julia Gets a Life. I love her voice. I'm looking forward to more.

Thanks, Lynne.

Now it's back to my own Sebastian who is looking for the right way in to his current predicament.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Holding out for a hero

I wrote about researching heroes on my guest blog at Tote Bags 'n' Blogs today. Naturally I flashed a pic of Hugh-in-a-towel. There would have been screams (notably from Kate) if I hadn't.

And I also put up a pic of the man who is becoming Sebastian. Or who Sebastian is becoming.

As I said there, he's no longer the guy I thought he was. He's more buttoned-down, more serious, more intense. He's one of those guys who thinks he has all the answers. More this guy.


Well anyway, I needed a pic that expressed the harder-edged, buttoned-down-ness of him, the unsmiling intensity of him. And because Kate was wrestling with Santos (not a bad pastime if you ask me) I said, "Who is he? Let me see him."

So she showed me a pic.

Not this pic, mind you -- but this man. And we decided he needed further research. And the more research I did, the more I found pix of a man who was everything that my Sebastian was becoming -- Intense. Unsmiling. Hard-edged.

A real Presents hero? Good grief. My editor might die of the shock.

I said, "I think I need him."

So Kate, dear friend that she is, is sharing.

Her Santos has his own incarnation in this guy. He will be no more like my Seb than any of our other heroes are alike. We just found visual inspiration in the same place -- and she was nice enough to share.

This means of course that I will have Mr Smiling Shaggy Hair standing on my doorstep looking for his own book now. But that's not precisely a hardship. We'll see what we can find for him.

And speaking of heroes -- here's one of my very favorites (Favourites? he would say. And then he would say, Favourite, dear lady. Singular.) Well, he would. He's that sort of cat. He has a starring role (by his definition) in One-Night Love Child.

He hopes you'll read it and send him fan mail. You will, won't you?

Oh, and happy St Piran's Day to all my fellow Cornish all over the world.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Growth Spurts!

Those who were here six months ago remember me taking off to visit my son and daughter-in-law and brand-new granddaughter Ellie.

I shared a pic of her then. I thought I'd share another one now -- an updated 6 month old Ellie, wearing a shirt which came to her mysteriously by an unknown donor (can't imagine who!).

She's grown a lot.

So has another young lady -- Ms Flora Floozibelle Walker -- feline daughter of Kate.

Flora is posing alongside the Easter card we sent her. She wrote me a thank-you note for it just this morning.

Ellie often writes me thank-you notes, too.

I'm very impressed with the manners of this younger generation!

While you're out wandering around the internet, check out the Tote Bags 'n' Blogs site on Wednesday where I am extolling the virtues of yet another sort of research.

You might even see someone you recognize there! And he might be wearing a towel.

And then on Thursday I'm blogging at Fresh Fiction. Drop by and say hi if you have a chance. No towels there, but some reflections on linked books and loose ends.

And be sure to come back here for a pic of one of my absolute favorite heroes on Wednesday.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

An American Eamon

I met an American Eamon the other day on the Blue Ridge Blog.

I thought he was such a stunning speciman of ovine charm that I asked Marie Freeman, who took the picture and writes the blog, if he would be interested in meeting Abby.

She said of course, which just goes to show what an imaginative creative interesting person she is (because imagine what you would think if you got an email from someone you didn't know asking if a sheep of your acquaintance might be interested in meeting an Irish writer of hers).

So anyway, the Blue Ridge Eamon is eagerly anticipating meeting our very own Abby Green. He's heard that she ditched the Irish Eamon, and he's thinking his chances are good. And now that he's learned that she is coming to the states for the RWA convention in San Francisco in late July, he is determined to meet her there.

I fear he has no concept of exactly how far it is from western North Carolina to Northern California. It'll be a long walk, I told him.

But a sheep can do anything if he puts his mind to it, Eamon says. And absolutely nothing if he puts his mind to that.

Frankly, I'm glad to see the 'can do' American attitude extends to our livestock as well as our humans. And since I'm going to be in SF as well for part of the time, I look forward to seeing them both there. (I'll take pictures).

So, Abby, what do you think? Up for a tryst with an American Eamon?

Anyone up for a wonderful blog with a great local flavor and terrific photos should check out Marie's blog regularly. My husband loves it, having spent many a summer in western North Carolina. And I've added it to my feed reader and am always delighted when she has a new post.

Thanks, Marie, for allowing your sheep to play on my blog! Much appreciated.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

We Have Winners!

Flynn, Tom and Raul are delighted to announce the winners of the second annual Here Come The Grooms! contest --

  • Flynn's winner is Carol Woodruff of New Jersey
  • Tom's winner is Jane Squires of Missouri
  • Raul's winner is Alison Bond of Manchester, UK
Congratulations to you all!

And many thanks to everyone who took the time to enter. The guys were delighted that so many of you took part in the contest. They hope you enjoyed it as much as they did.

I'm sure Flynn will be back this month to blog a time or two.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog. It's Mother's Day in Britain -- and for all I know other places as well, so we'll doing a drawing on comments tomorrow for all the mothers.

But mostly we will be celebrating a new suitor for Abby Green. A new Eamon -- a US version -- has reared his woolly head and asked to be introduced. You'll meet him tomorrow -- and a very special photographer as well.

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Happy St David's Day

No, I'm not in Wales where I could say that and not get odd looks.

But before I got married I had a reasonably common Welsh surname and a father who insisted that somewhere, generations back, we really were Welsh (what part of us wasn't Choctaw, French, Scottish, German and English).

And I do like daffodils. And the name David -- gave it to my eldest son, actually.

So I figure I'm entitled to celebrate.

I'm also celebrating because I did a guest blog at Liz Fielding's the other day (Liz lives in Wales) -- and it's still up so you can go visit and check out an excerpt from the new book (yes, I know it takes place in Ireland, but you can't have everything; besides Ireland was lovely).

I'm happy to report that Seb's book is coming along nicely at the moment. A whole 10 days of well-behaved hero . . . hard to believe. I do sense a bit of white water ahead (though hopefully not a waterfall). It's a matter of figuring out the 'dramatic structure' now.

Not my forte.

Not the planning of it, anyway. Gut reactions, yes, I can do those. So I guess I'll go try to come up with some stuff that I can have gut reactions to and either keep it and work on it or throw it out. At least I'll be getting somewhere.

The contest is over. Flynn will be picking the winner today -- unless Gunnar manages to convince him that he should do it instead. Stay tuned!

And many thanks to all of you who entered.

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