Saturday, May 30, 2009

Learning to Sail

If you've noticed my absence (and I sort of hope you have), it's because of the looming deadline and the basic need to learn to sail in order to reach it.

My characters have sailed before, as I've said, thanks largely to Peggy Nicholson who has taken them (and me) by the hand and sailed us through all sorts of seas and manuevers.

But Peggy isn't around to help this time. Her friend (and mine, but more hers) Antoinette Stockenberg has done a brilliant job of providing me with a boat and advice, but I haven't felt as if I should be asking Antoinette to answer every question.

So I've been trying to figure it out myself. I have a CD now that is teaching me how to sail. I have a couple of terrific books on sailing that I've mined for detail. And the internet, bless it, has introduced me to a variety of sites and message boards that are answering almost every question I've thought to ask.

The issue isn't really sailing. The issue is Demetrios and Anny's relationship. But it's played out against a sailing backdrop at this point in the book. And the relationship has to be integral to the environment. They have to support each other.

So I'm working on that. I'm also working on recipes using sea bass and saints who have feast days in late May and I'm so looking forward to Santorini where I've got a house I know and family I'm familiar with and every other minute won't be spent trying to figure out the appropriate telling detail -- I'll just know it instinctively.

Still, the challenge keeps the story fresh. And I'm learning tons.

I just wish I could learn how not to get seasick!

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

What you always wanted to know about passport control . . .

... but were afraid to ask.

Or in my case, had no idea who to ask. But I needed to know so I didn't end up with a plot in which Demetrios or Anny got arrested for entering a country illegally.

Ordinarily this would not be a problem because ordinarily when you send your characters on commercial flights or regularly scheduled public transportation between two countries, it's understood that they do what they're supposed to do (unless you're writing a thriller in which case they might very well not).

But when they're hopping on and off a private sailboat, you want to know -- or at least I do -- that they are not breaking laws that are going to complicate the plot somewhere down the road when the customs and immigration people turn up.

So . . . I went searching.

And I found the Schengen Agreement.

The Schengen Agreement is going to solve all my plot problems. Or at least all the ones that would have occurred if customs and immigration had shown up.

They won't because of the Schengen Agreement which was first enacted in 1985 among five countries in Europe who created a common border of immigration and within it travel was conducted as if it were a single country. More countries joined this pact, which is not, interestingly enough, coterminous with the EU (some EU countries, like the UK and Ireland are not in it and other non-EU countries, like Norway and Iceland, are in it). There are 25 countries currently participating in this agreement.

The dark blue countries on the map above are Schengen participating countries. The purple countries who have either opted-out, like UK and Ireland, or they are, like Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania, working on their own external border controls. When they are on a par with the others in the pact, apparently they, too, will be admitted to the Schengen Agreement.

Demetrios and Anny are thrilled to learn about the Schengen Agreement. They had no idea starring in a book would be so educational.

While they are not deeply into political science, Anny at least has certain governmental responsibilities that would make her aware of this (pity she didn't tell me). In any case, they are glad it exists because it's going to make grocery shopping much easier.

I'm delighted because they are complicating their own lives quite enough in this book. They don't need the help of a passel of government bureacracies!

In fact, chances are you will never find mention of customs and immigration issues in this book. As long as they don't have to comply with any border control, there's no need to.

But just between us -- those of you who read this blog will have the straight "behind the book" stuff.

You will now know about the Schengen Agreement.

And every time Anny and Demetrios stop to buy groceries or have a meal or walk around a village, you can nod sagely and say to yourselves, "And they can do that because of the Schengen Agreement."

See? You learn something new every day.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

One more research question

Thanks to Rach and to Antoinette, I now have a time frame for Demetrios and Anny's sailing adventure. And Antoinette has provided them with a fabulous boat.

So I currently have just one more question for those in the know.

If you are sailing on a private vessel between European countries -- in this case France, Italy and Greece -- how do you comply with customs and passport control when you enter and leave a country?

If you moor your boat off an Italian coastal village for a night and go into town for provisions, officially what do you need to do?

Maybe that's two questions, but I think it's just one. I'm going to be checking online to see if I can find the answer. But if you've ever done it yourself and want to enlighten me, I'd be very grateful.

The book is halfway there now. And the rest seems to have at least a clue about what it's supposed to be doing. This is a good thing as it's due June 15th.

Anny has told me that she wants LOTS of time available on the boat as she has several things planned.

I said, "We'll see." Ever since she's been giving me narrow looks.

As I quite agree with her ideas, though, I will probably allow her all the time she needs.

Poor Demetrios.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Research help!

Miss me?

I got caught up in taking care of Ellie and Henry last week. And when I wasn't doing that, I was hard at work on Demetrios and Anny.

The interminable (or so it seemed) chapter two finally ended (after 7500+ words) and I was able to move into -- and straight through -- chapter three in a couple of days.

I came home on Saturday and made the wonderful discovery that being stuck in the Minneapolis-St Paul airport for almost 5 hours had no downside at all. The food court has counters with electrical strips running along the back and there is an outlet for every seat.

So I bought my personal pizza and a nice cup of tea and set up the laptop (with its wonky battery I despaired of being able to do much work) and got almost 1500 words done before I had to catch my next flight.

Right now Mpls-St Paul (MSP) is at the top of my favorite airports list. If I could figure out who to write a fan letter to for all those electrical hookups, I'd do it in a minute. If you know, tell me.

And now I'm in chapter four. Which requires sailing knowledge. Not a ton, but more than I have. And my sailing friend -- at least the one I usually consult -- Peggy Nicholson who wrote Run So Far, one of my favorite Harlequin Presents of all time, is up to her eyeballs in work of her own right now.

I've put out feelers to my other sailing friend, Antoinette Stockenberg, and I hope she can answer.

But in case she can't, if any of you have sailing in the Mediterranean knowledge, can I please pick your brain?

I need to get Demetrios from Cannes to Santorini realistically. The internet is letting me down.

So if you can come to my rescue, I'd be much obliged. So would Demetrios, who has assured his brother Theo that it won't be a problem.

Well, he didn't think it would be. Neither did I.

I'm still hopeful that it won't be!

I'll bore you with Ellie and Henry pix another day. Right now I have to do the stuff I can do in chapter four without the particular details I'm going to need before the final draft.

First off, I need to find a sailboat.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mothers and Babies Contest Winner!

Ellie and Henry have picked a winner from among the entries in the Mothers and Babies contest!

Congratulations to Tara Woods!

Tara, I will be posting your goody box to you when I get home from visiting with Ellie and Henry this week. So it should go in the post around May 18-19. I'll let you know when it has been posted!

Thank you everyone who entered. I hope you'll come back and visit again.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Kids and Babies

Deep in the throes of grandparenting, and getting not very much writing done, I decided that my post this weekend on The Pink Heart Society blog would have to be about babies and kids and their role in romance fiction.

Sometimes I feel personally responsible for the population explosion in our books because of my first Harlequin American (and first book published) back in 1985, Starstruck, which was about a heroine with five children -- and a rabbit. (See, all the livestock in Savas' Defiant Mistress had early precursors in my books).

So please drop by and let me know what you think about all the babies and kids in romance. You can read what I think while you're there. And if you have keepers that feature babies and kids, please let us know in the comments section here or there what the titles of your keeper books are.

Those of you who haven't entered my mothers and babies contest, it ends Saturday night at midnight my time (Mountain Daylight right now). So if you want to win some great books and other goodies, drop by the contest page and enter.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

From Sid the Cat

Salutations and Felicitations on your birthday, dear Kate!

The Lady Across the Pond (TLATP to those who know her well -- aka Ms McAllister) has invited me to be a regular, albeit sporadic, contributor to her blog.

She has even, you will note, given me sidebar billing.

This is so I can send personal good wishes and head butts and purrs to my dear Lady of the House, Kate Walker, on her birthday!

If you have not gone to my dear Lady's blog and wished her the best of the day, please do so. Or, if you are lazy, Anne says you can leave them here in the comments and I am to see that Kate reads them. But I feel sure you will make the extra effort to click on her name and allow her to simply read them on her own space whilst eating bonbons and sipping tea or that light-coloured stuff she thinks of as tea, which is what you get when you wave a tea bag in the direction of the cup.

But I digress.

I could extol her virtues endlessly, but it would be teatime before I got finished and I really can't miss meals. And if I kept on, that cat Dylan would show up withh a 'pome' he had writ, and he'd want to recite it, and we can't be having that.

Suffice to say, dear Lady of the House, that I wish you the very best today and all the coming year (as does TLATP), and I hope that you have a salmon, er, present filled day and that you will share it all with those of us who are on your side of the pond and wish you well (even that floozie, Flora, if she behaves herself).

Your official blog contributor and handsome esteemed noble self-effacing feline of distinction,

, Earl of Blubberhouses, Thane of Spital-in-the-Street, etc etc etc, ACOSB (a cat of superior breeding).

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Using the Real World

The real world is very handy.

Margaret Mayo reminded me of that today when I saw her comment on my granddaughter Ellie's fall in my previous blog piece.

Margaret wished Ellie a speedy recovery (good news -- she's basically recovered. Just has to get the staples out next week). And then Margaret went on to say she hoped I -- and Ellie -- didn't mind if she used a similar incident in her book, that she needed something to up the stakes, heighten the tension.

No, we don't mind.

In fact, in a few years, when she's old enough, Ellie will probably think it's super to have been an inspiration (though no doubt her mother will be happy if she's not inspiring anyone again any time soon).

And I totally identified with Margaret's comment because 'real life' events are, let's face it, the hangers on which we hang our books.

Yes, of course there is imagination. But writers use their imagination the way potters use their hands.

It's hard to make a bowl or a pot or a pitcher out of a potter's wheel and a pair of hands and nothing else. Likewise, it's hard to write a book without something concrete to work with, to let our imaginations play with, to mold and shape and make an integral part of our story.

Heaven knows, I've taken bits of real life to use in my books right from the very start.

My first book, Dare to Trust, took a man with malaria and a teacher with a fiance she was having second thoughts about, and threw them together for the summer in the house right behind my own.

Oh, I moved the house to another state not far away. And the man with malaria in my book was Colin Davies, an archaelogist, but he reacted to his malaria pretty much the same way a professor friend did when he suffered the same disease. The teacher with second thoughts -- well, she was a reflection of a roommate I had once who had similar second thoughts.

In all these cases, the 'real life' part was a starting point -- bits of reality on which to hang the story I wanted to tell.

Over the next 60 odd books, bits and pieces of real life have been starting points. Or high points. Or low points. Or turning points.

Miles Cavanaugh, in Body and Soul, broke his foot sticking it in a door. I knew how his foot felt. I'd broken my own (not sticking it in a door).

Did his crisis about leaving the seminary come from real life? You bet it did. Not the particular events in this case, but the conflict of emotions behind it.

And then there was the stick Jill accidentally clobbered Luke Tanner with in Cowboys Don't Quit. Yep, another real life event. As was Jake Brosnan's jelly fish sting in Lightning Storm.

Lest you think all the real life events are disastrous, they weren't. Real life was the inciting moment that began one of my books. I'd asked for a particular Penney's dress shirt model to be my hero on the cover of Dream Chasers. He really looked exactly the way I pictured Owain O'Neill.

Amazingly enough, the artist got him. He did a lovely cover. And later, when I was interviewing him about cover art for a workshop, the artist said to me, "You know your hero? He said no one had ever asked for him specifically before. He'd like to meet you."

I ask you, how can any writer pass up an idea like that?

Thus was Jack Neillands born -- and turned up on the doorstep of writer Frances Moon, completely disconcerting her and pretty much turning her world upside down.

That book was called Imagine because, basically, that's exactly what I did -- and so did Frances. (This was in the days when titles were not nineteen words long and stuffed with hot button words).

In any case, I'm all for using the real world. That's what I went to Cannes for, after all.

So, by all means, Margaret, use Ellie's 'event.' If you need blood and gore details, send me an email!

Hope it works for your story. Be sure to let us know when to watch out for the book!

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

What You Never Forget About Being A Parent

What you never forget? How things can change in a split second.

Your kids grow up. They have kids of their own. And the grandkids are fine one minute. And the next minute one is on her way to the emergency room.

Just like that.

There we were at dinner, just finishing up when Ellie decided she was done.

Kicked her feet out. Shoved against the table. Tipped herself right over backwards and we all watched in horror as she and the chair nailed the hardwood floor at a rate of knots.

You know how kids sometimes don't cry because it hurts so much they are gearing up to split everyone's eardrums in three counties. That's pretty much the way it was -- dead silence as her dad snatched her up -- and then came the shriek.

And then the blood.

Concussions are one thing. A bad thing. Blood along with concussions is worse.

It makes everything so much more -- red.

And obviously urgent.

So we left Henry and his mother at home -- Henry colicky and his mother beyond anxious -- and were on our way into town to the ER in less than a minute. We arrived no doubt faster than the speed limits allow.

Ellie was a trooper even though we spent three hours there. She hung onto her dad while she got the lay of the land. Then we all read books and looked at the pictures on the ceiling (good idea, that) and waited. They were doing a land office business in the ER tonight.

Ellie endured. She pretty much only screamed when someone was trying to do something dire to her -- like put staples in her head.

In the end, they gave her three stickers which she loved, a headband to keep the leaking blood off the sheets, which lasted, um, until we got to the door of the hospital, and then we drove home through a rainstorm that turned to a snowstorm as we got closer to the foothills. Glad my son was driving.

Now she has gone to bed and is due to be awakened every couple of hours tonight by her mom who said, "Of course I'm going to do it. I won't be able to sleep anyway."

How well I remember. It comes right back.

So while we are waiting, I am writing my scheduled bit of Demetrios because I can't sleep either.

There's nothing like a bit of adrenaline to focus the mind. I remember that, too.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

On my way!

I'm leaving bright and early Saturday to go visit Ellie and Henry.

I have Demetrios and Anny packed and they had better cooperate while I'm out there or we are going to be in serious trouble when I get back. Think good thoughts for them.

I'm getting a handle on George. Not the 'inciting incident' -- but the actions he takes once it happens, whatever it turns out to be.

Have fun while I'm gone. I'll touch base when I can, which might be every day or so. And I will for sure be back with Ellie and Henry to choose the winner of the Mothers and Babies Contest which ends at midnight between Saturday and Sunday next week.

If you haven't entered, you should. There are some great books in the goody box by authors like Julia Quinn, Christie Craig, and Jodie Thomas, among others, as well as books from me and Kate Walker and Liz Fielding. There will be other goodies as well -- and a frog from Henry. Who could pass that up?

Check out the contest page on my website, answer the three questions there and send them to me from that page, putting Mothers and Babies Contest in the subject line. I'll be sure your entry gets in the folder.

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