Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Tribute to Beat Sheets

Last year sometime when I was having an email conversation with Liz Fielding, she mentioned a a DVD by Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge that she was listening to. It was about the hero's two journeys -- and since I have found Vogler's work useful, I thought I'd check it out.

In looking for it, I stumbled across Blake Snyder's Save the Cat.

How can you not want to read a book called Save the Cat?

Well, my dogs might not -- though Gunnar was very fond of Kate Walker's best pal, Sid. But other than a few dogs, most of us want to save the cats we run across, especially ones that will help with writing. So I bought the book.

It's a terrific book. Primarily focused on screenwriting, it can nevertheless help any author spot the empty places in a story. And that's even after the fact.

Up front, before I even have a draft, Blake's beat sheet has helped me come to grips with Demetrios and Anny's story.

They were off drifting in the middle of the Mediterranean (in my head -- they were nowhere close to the water in the draft) and I couldn't see any point at which to bring them back. And until I'd figured out what they were coming back for, I couldn't seem to get them there.

Enter the beat sheet.

Writing down what I knew of the story so far, I had made it all the way to the "break into Act Two." I knew bits and pieces of what was coming after. But the beat sheet made me stop and think sensibly about it.

What would up the ante? Who was already there that could cause more trouble? What conflicts -- inner and external -- would put the screws even tighter to Demetrios and Anny? Amazingly, it was all there already in the stuff that had gone before. I only needed to mine it.

So I did.

And I found my theme!

Who knew? I've never had a theme in the 62 books I've written. Well, I suppose I have, but I've never been able to articulate it in less than 50,000 words.

With Demetrios and Anny I can. I did.

So, thanks, Blake. Your Save the Cat is going right up there on the shelf next to Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. I expect to be pulling it down often. It's always nice to find a book that inspires again. And again.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Savas' Defiant Mistress -- the back story

Every month on the Harlequin Presents site we have a feature called "Behind the Book" in which one or more authors of the current Presents on the shelves talk about the story behind the book -- one aspect or another of what brought this book out of the ether and onto the shelves of a bookstore, hopefully, near you.

I just finished my contribution by discussing a little about how Savas' Defiant Mistress, aka Seb and Neely's book, came to be. And I thought since I wrote it, I wouldn't just stick it up there, I'd post it here, too, so you have an idea of some of the bits and pieces that came together to make up Seb and Neely's story.

When Sebastian Savas and Neely Robson first turned up in my head a couple of years ago, they were working in San Francisco, not Seattle. Neely was living on a houseboat in Sausalito when Sebastian snapped it out from under her because he needed a bolt hole -- a place to live for a month while his own place was taken over by aliens (well, no actually, they were his sisters, but as far he was concerned they might as well have been from another planet).

But if he thought his sisters were trouble, he soon found he'd jumped from the frying pan into the fire when he began sharing a houseboat with Neely.

In typical Presents fashion, editorial called it Savas' Defiant Mistress. Er, well, don't tell, but she's not really his mistress and she's more opinionated and spiky than defiant. I suggested Savas' Annoying Roommate would be more accurate, but obviously that was a no-go.

I am philosophical about these things. I tell myself that sometimes indeed marketing does know best.

And it didn't matter because I had great fun writing the book because it had lots of things in it that I like:
  • a drop-dead gorgeous hero who is honorable, responsible, competent, successful, sexy and strong (not to mention stubborn and maybe just a tiny bit judgmental, as well as more than a little bit wounded) -- but still long-sufferingly kind to his family even when they drive him round the bend;
  • a heroine who can both nurture and take charge as needed and who doesn't play doormat for anyone;
  • a big noisy family who can't quite keep their noses out of anyone's business;
  • a chance to learn about a profession that interests me in a city I'm fascinated by (those would be architecture and Seattle);
  • a wedding;
  • a houseboat;
  • a bloodhound, five kittens, a guinea pig and some rabbits.
I think it was the bloodhound, the kittens, the guinea pig and the rabbits that had my editor blinking rapidly. Or maybe it was the houseboat. It might have been San Francisco, but I doubt it. "Are you sure?" she said.

I thought about it. I wrote Antonides' Forbidden Wife while I was thinking.

I was pretty sure. The setting was the only thing I changed when, a few months later, I came back to the book.

By that time Sebastian and Neely were clear and sharp in my head. So were the multitude of sisters. So were Sebastian's father and Neely's. (Yes, I know it sounds like a cast of thousands, but it really isn't).

The setting was wonderfully refreshing (never did a Seattle book before), and the houseboat became real when my son's in-laws took me to visit friends who actually live on a Lake Union houseboat and who have kindly 'lent' it to me for the book.

Trust me, I offered the bloodhound and the other assorted livestock the chance to decamp. But they declined. They chose to stay because they spoke to Neely's character. And over the course of the book, they gave Sebastian a chance to learn more about his.

Such as it is, it's Seb and Neely's story, and I'm sticking to it.

But the fact that the livestock and the houseboat and the nosey, noisy family exist to provide a context for Sebastian and Neely as they battle their way to their very own happily ever after proves again what I've known for the past twenty-odd years -- that one of the great joys of writing for Harlequin Presents is that in the end, they let me be me and my books my books.

This may be another way of saying they are always willing to give me enough rope to hang myself. But it doesn't matter. I'm eternally grateful for their faith and their trust, and I loved being able to tell Seb and Neely's story the way I understand it.

If you want a taste of Savas's Defiant Mistress, please check out the excerpt
on my website.

You can find the book at online booksellers and in stores across North America now. It's a May release as a Mills & Boon Modern.

And if you have any more behind the book questions that I haven't already answered, just ask.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

RITA nominees

Today was the day RWA announced the finalists for the RITA awards which will be presented at the national Romance Writers of America conference in Washington, DC this July. There is a full list posted at the RWA site, but I can't get the link to work so you can get there easily from here.

So I can't show them all to you, but I'm happy, thrilled, delighted, over-the-moon, gobsmacked and a variety of other adjectives to tell you that PJ and Ally's book, Antonides' Forbidden Wife, is one of the finalists!

Ally has been walking around with a smile on her face ever since we got the phone call this morning. PJ looks somewhere between amused and smug -- like he's caught the wave of the day, and nobody -- but nobody -- has had a better one.

I've told him that that remains to be seen, that there are other finalists. He wishes them well. And then he just grins at me. He's happy. He's vindicated.

I'm grinning, too, of course, because PJ was not expected to be a hero.

He was a surfer, for heaven's sake. When I wrote about him in his brother Elias's book, The Antonides Marriage Deal, PJ was a thorn in his brother's side.

He was the theoretically 'irresponsible' brother, Peter, who had taken off for Hawaii at age 18 and never really bothered to come back. Not until halfway through Elias's book at least -- and only then, as far as Elias was concerned, to annoy him.

Of course it didn't turn out that way. Unbeknownst to his family, Peter Antonides had reinvented himself in Hawaii. Or maybe he discovered who he really was beyond just one of those Antonides kids. He'd grown up, found a life, a purpose, even a new variation on his name. He found himself.

And incidentally, he found Ally.

He didn't tell me that then. He was a fun supporting character. I liked him as soon as he appeared. But I didn't know a lot about him because Elias's book, as PJ continually reminded me, was Elias's book. And Tallie's. It was their story, and Elias didn't want him horning in on it.

PJ didn't mind. He was a patient man. Easy going. Laid back. A maƱana sort of guy.

A Presents hero?

Perhaps not your usual suspect. Still, he was my idea of a Presents hero. He was strong and determined. Patient. Honorable. Competent. Patient. Pretty darned gorgeous. And did I mention, patient?

It's true. PJ bided his time. He waited for his book the way he waited for Ally. Though he did tell me he was glad the book at least hadn't taken ten years.

Still, he waited through Theo and Martha's book, through Flynn and Sara's book, through Spence and Sadie's book. He was even prepared to take a back seat to Sebastian and Neely's book.

But then, all of a sudden, Sebastian had issues. I had a deadline. And, guess what? I needed a book. I needed a hero. I needed PJ.

Just like Elias and Tallie had. Just like Ally did.

And there he was, my hero. PJ Antonides stepped in and took over. He eased Sebastian out for the time being and began telling me his story, introducing me to Ally, doing for me what he'd done for everyone else -- saving the day.

Is it any wonder I fell in love with him?

So I am incredibly happy that he and Ally have made the RITA finals. And I really wish I could take them to Washington for the conference and the awards ceremony.

But I'm going to be celebrating it from afar this year. I'm going to have grandkids here in summer camp that week and, I hope, a brand-new one to go see in Seattle right after.

PJ says he understands. He says he doesn't mind. He says he knows we'll be there in spirit, anyway, and he's just basking in the joy of his nomination. It's true, of course.

But lest you think that besides being patient, competent, strong, determined and drop-dead gorgeous, he is also terribly terribly noble, let me tell you the whole truth.

PJ is thrilled that Antonides' Forbidden Wife is a RITA finalist and we're not going to Washington, because he still gets all this glory -- and he doesn't have to wear a tie.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Books On The Move

I had an email this morning from a friend who lives in Oman.

He said he'd just picked up a copy of my book Cowboy on the Run in the teachers' room at the university where he teaches.

I was pleased -- and a little surprised -- to learn that Rance and Ellie have made it halfway round the world to be discovered by a friend in Muscat.

But his email reminded me again of all the places our books go.

Of course I know that they are translated into lots of languages. I've seen mine in over 20 now, and it never ceases to give me a thrill to open the boxes or envelopes that bring me these foreign language editions.

But it's even more fun to hear of people I know who have found them "in the wild," so to speak.

I've found a few myself. I found a copy of the Spanish version of Dream Chasers at a flea market in Barcelona quite a few years ago. And a few weeks later when I was in Budapest, I found a French copy of one of my early Presents at the train station.

I ran across a much worn and, I hope, read copy of another at a church sale in near Gore on the South Island of New Zealand.

And a couple of years ago a friend brought me back a copy of a Japanese language version of an Anne McAllister book when she visited her family in her hometown near Tokyo.

Now that Harlequin Mills & Boon are officially coming out in India, I am hoping to see a copy of one of mine from there.

I have had lots of letters from Indian readers, so I know the books get there one way or another. "From Singapore," one reader told me a few years back. But now I'm hoping that they will be even more widely available.

Have you seen my books in bookshops or flea markets or church rummage sales where you live?

If you see an Anne McAllister book where you are, please drop me a note an tell me where.

I'd be thrilled to know where they are turning up -- even though I must admit to envying my books the fact that they are more widely traveled than I am!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Today on the Pink Heart Society blog, I have a post about sound or silence when writing. I thought about this as a result of reading Fiona Harper's blog the week before when she talked about finding music that matched her books or even creating sound-tracks for them.

I thought it sounded like a great idea. And it still does -- if you can do it.

I can't. Music interferes with my brain when I'm writing, which surprised me at first because I'm pretty much an auditory learner.

I always learn stuff better if I hear it. I think in terms of sounds -- and when I write it's the voices of my characters I hear, and the background sounds I pick up far more than any sort of visual cues. Even "seeing" Hugh Jackman in my head doesn't work for me if I can't hear the 'voice' that would go with the man. Well, Hugh-in-a-towel works on one level, but not on getting the book written.

Once I have a character's voice, though, things flow. But until I do, nothing happens. It's like moving paper dolls around on a stage. And while I might be able to pick up songs that capture a side of a character, they have done their job if they spark that voice. They can't come with me on the trip. If they do, I get stuck.

But just working from auditory details makes a book, um, one-dimensional. Even though I'm not primarily kinesthetic or visual, I need both to round things out.

The kinesthetic isn't as hard to come by as the visual. I understand emotion. I know those pit-of-the-stomach feelings, the highs and lows of euphoria and despair. I know how they make me feel and I can mine them, even if I don't do it as readily as I do aural memories.

It's usually the visuals that give me trouble. I can tell you how snow sounds at a variety of temperatures. I can tell you how cold it feels. But as far as visuals? Well, it's white. And . . .

Exactly. When I need 'visual' details in my books I tend to have to work much harder to come up with them. A number of years ago I learned to keep notebooks about places I went that I wanted to use as settings. I didn't write down the sounds I hear. I had no trouble remembering them. But I needed a detailed list to remember the visuals.

I take a lot more photos now that I have a digital camera. And I go over them carefully when I'm writing, looking for something that will capture the details and show (I was going to say 'resonate' -- how's that for an auditory attempt at visuals?) the ambience to my readers.

I also learned to put my visually-oriented friends on my speed dial. I have one who is my source for all things visual to do with skiing and winter stuff. I have another who does glitz and glamour visuals for me. They're very tolerant of my questions, though occasionally they will say, "Um, why are you asking me? You were there, too."

Yes, but I didn't 'see' anything -- not the way they did. But I don't think they heard the snow underfoot the way I did or caught the sounds the insects made zapping against the huge spotlights at the outdoor concert.

There are some interesting tests to determine whether you are primarily a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner. I took a couple on the internet this morning which confirmed my very auditory approach, but offered suggestions on how to compensate in the other areas. If it's a topic that interests you, too, put "tests of learning styles" in Google and check out the variety of resources available.

Let me know what style you prefer!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Two and a half weeks ago we celebrated St David's day here because of our Welsh and our personal "David" (#1 son) connections.

Today we're celebrating St Patrick's day because of personal "Patrick" (#2 son) connections and lots of Irish from County Mayo in The Prof's mother's family and those deep Celtic mt-DNA roots (pre-St Patrick) in mine.

It's bright and sunny and getting on toward "real" spring hereabouts. The Prof has just finished the reconstruction of one of the 90 year old storm windows and put it back up "for the season," as he says, because after all, there is still one more week of winter!

But I'm very impressed with his handiwork. Those windows are not standard sizes, so you can go buy ready-made windows. You either have to commission someone to make you one. Or you do the work yourself. The Prof is a dedicated Do It Himself guy. And he did. My biggest fear was that he'd kill himself rehanging it -- teetering on a none-too-steady ladder on uneven ground in the middle of a mammoth hydrangea bush at dusk.

But the patron saint of window hangers and Do-It-Yourself guys was apparently with him. The window is hung and the drafts are no longer whistling down the backs of our necks.

I'm getting dug into Demetrios's book. I left him and Anny in the middle of the Mediterranean for a week while I tried to figure out what happened next. And then I was reading someone else's book, which had nothing at all in common with mine, and suddenly a light went off in my head. Why? Who knows? But I'm not complaining. And I figure Demetrios and Anny will be glad to get to shore. At least in one respect.

I'm thinking about doing a collage for this one. At least on the computer screen. Something to get me into it visually, though I'm not a visual writer.

I've been thinking about what inspires and influences recently. This is leading up to a post on the Pink Heart blog on Thursday, and because Kate Walker is talking about more writing issues on there tomorrow.

Is it one of the ways writers cope, do you suppose? Talking about writing instead of doing it?

I've also been talking to Seb about coming on board and writing a few blog pieces now that his book, Savas' Defiant Mistress, is almost on the shelves., will be at the end of the month. He's pretty single-minded, though, and not exactly given to being 'chatty.' In fact that's what he said to me: "You want me to chat? You're joking."

He's not exactly the poster boy for gregariousness. They call him "The Iceman" at the office.

Neely, on the other hand, is quite eager to come and "chat." She said, "Sure, just name the day."

Seb rolled his eyes and went back to his CAD program.

I'll have to see what I can do. Got any ideas? Unlike Mitch and Micah, Seb probably doesn't even accept bribes, er, treats.

He just walked past and said, "Depends on who's doing the bribing," and went straight into the other room without even looking my way.

Neely is laughing. And now she's going after him.

I think we should draw a veil over this!

Happy St Patrick's day, everyone!

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Reading RITA books

The silence you've heard from this quarter is due to my having been stuck into galleys on Christo (not my favorite pastime) and reading the RITA entries whose scores are due on Monday.

It's always interesting to read RITA books because they are almost always by authors I am not familiar with. There is a sort of grab bag experience about it. When I open a book I never know what I'm going to get -- and none of the regular reasons I pick up a book (I like the author, I like the back cover copy, I like the cover art, it's in my line, I like the way it begins -- or ends) apply.

They are just here -- and I read them.

So for the past week I've been reading. I have found a couple of authors whose back-lists I'm now going to be looking for. I was delighted to find an author whose books I'd more or less lost track of is doing a bang-up job still. I was bored a couple of times. I tossed one across the room.

But I came away feeling that the genre is healthy, that there are more good books out there than bad ones, that new authors are coming along that I want to keep an eye on, and that "old" authors still have their finger on the pulse of what makes a good romance.

I've sent in my scores. I've almost finished the galleys.

And I have about half of Demetrios's story roughed out (not written, but rough drafted. Very rough drafted!). I'm going to have to figure out where they go from here, though. Here being out in the middle of the Mediterranean!


Monday, March 02, 2009

Micah and Mitch have picked a winner!

Micah and Mitch were up early and practicing so they would be sure to have the 'picking a winner' for my New Look Contest down pat.

The 'up early and practicing' entailed following me around and looking hopefully in the direction of the treat jar until I allowed them to sit and wait, then pick them off the slips of paper containing the contest entries. They are both very good at sitting. The 'waiting' is a bit tricky. I can assure you they have mastered the eating treats part.

The other bit is, they have to agree.

And this takes more treats and more sitting and less waiting, though still a fair amount of discussion (mostly, I'm sad to report, about more treats).

But at last, they have a winner!

Laurie of Florida is their unanimous choice. So, congratulations, Laurie!

Your goody box of books, including Savas' Defiant Mistress, and chocolate -- and a plush frog! -- will be on its way to you this coming week. I hope you enjoy them all.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to match my books and their heroes and heroines. You are all winners in my book. There will be further chances down the road -- I'm thinking of a Mother's Day contest -- to win back list titles and, perhaps, another frog. Not to mention chocolate. So I hope you will all enter then.

In the meantime, I hope you've all had a great St David's Day and that the spring flowers are peeking up where you are -- unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere, where I hope you're finally getting cooler weather.

I'm looking forward to spring. But this winter has been so much more pleasant than last winter that I'm still not minding the bit of snow underfoot. How about you?

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Happy St David's Day!

If you're not from Wales, you probably don't celebrate St David's Day.

You may not even realize it is St David's Day. Well, now you do. We have always celebrated it because, well, we have Welsh ancestry and a son named David. It seemed like a good reason every year.

Plus, March 1st means it's almost spring. The daffodils are -- hereabouts at least -- not quite poking their heads above ground. But the snow is mostly gone and things are definitely looking up.

Things are brightening up on the home front as well. I have a new best friend -- a Fujitsu 510 document feed scanner that swallows 18 pages a minutes (or so it says, and I believe it), reads BOTH SIDES of the document, throws out blank pages and turns the resulting files into searchable .pdfs.

It's amazing. I don't know how I lived without out it. Well, yes, I do. I had an office that looked like I papered the floor -- five layers deep. And this was AFTER I'd filled sixteen file boxes with paper first.

No more. The paper is dwindling fast. The floor has reappeared. The scanned files are building up in the nice new external hard drive I got to go along with the scanner. They are making my life so much neater, not to mention how much easier it is to find what I'm looking for.

And while I scan, I commune with Demetrios. He looked, at first glance, far too perfect and easy going. I felt like the old lady shouting, "Where's the beef?" because there didn't seem to be any conflict. I pointed that out to him. I said, "Anny has problems. You are on top of the world. What's up with that?"

He didn't answer for what seemed like weeks. But then the other day while I was scanning, he came in and stared at me and when I stared back, he said, "Shows what you know," and turned around and left again.

First cross word I've had from him. Hmmm. And now it turns out he's had things going on in his life I knew nothing about. Important things. Life altering things. And everyone knew it -- including, it seems, the paparazzi. Everyone but me.

So we're getting somewhere. He's talking a bit at last. Thank heavens. We need to get to work here.

I'm reading over Christo in galley form. I hate galleys. I've read the book too many times (especially this book) and I have no perspective anymore. I can't always even see typos, so I have to read it out loud. It's excruciating.

Meanwhile, Heather is sending me book pages to proofread and get read to link up. She's got the most current books loaded (the last three), and she promises a vast upload of backlist sometime this week. I'll be excited to see them again. I hope you'll check them out, too.

Happy St David's day! Happy almost spring!

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