Thursday, December 31, 2009

HAPPY 2010, all!

2010 is the Year of the Tiger....

...and I was born in a Tiger year...so watch out world!

(if you go by the skewed version of the Chinese calendar that the Japanese use. Our New Year starts Jan 1. The Chinese New Year starts later. So I'm not sure the Chinese would say I'm a tiger.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

So here's the problem with a prolonged writing project: it can take a while.

I'm not quite up to the two-year process I've heard from authors like Ian McEwan and Phillippa Gregory, but over the course of a few months, life happens. And when life happens and brings changes, it affects the writing. Not just the quality of it, but the sense of inspiration and the pattern of work that carries a writer through the process of writing an entire book. The longer the book goes, the longer it takes to write, the more chances that that kind of thing happens.

And I'm afraid that I'm losing it. I've lost it before--many, many times--and usually, in the past, I just stopped. I quit the story, making it unable to work or unable to get totally enamored and obsessed with it again, and moved on.

I don't want to do that with this one. I think this one is special and when the draft is done, the revision could really polish it up. The concept still excites me, but I can no longer remember every single detail (thank God for outlines) or certain story threads.

When I was a teenager, it used to be because I'd move on from the flavor of the month and inevitably, Flavor of the Month was the male character. It's not the cause of the loss of it this time. It's just time away from writing--which happened because in the run-up to Christmas, my work hours ballooned and I'm just fucking tired and out of sorts.

So I'm writing through it, trying to thread my way back into my own novel. Trying to get my head back in it, trying to get back to an established "I have to write something everyday" schedule.

Has anyone ever lost "it"? Why? How? What did you do about it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Adventures in Retail: Working Overnight

1) It's boring. There are no customers in the store after about 1 am. Maybe today there will be. Procrastinating shoppers.

2) Thank God for that $5 Starbucks card.

3) The lights on the display under the mannequins make this weird mooing noise. And it's really, really funny at 4 in the morning.

4) I put the clothes on the rod from the fitting room away all night and made new tickets for the items that didn't have tickets. Oh, yeah, I did all the stuff that associates want to do during shifts, but don't 'cause they have actual customers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowstorm



This is Queens Boulevard at Union Turnpike, right by the Q46 stop. Lots of snow--there's a good 6 inches on the ground in Queens.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Music Tuesday

First of all, David Cook sang this on the Carrie Underwood Holiday Special Monday night:


Umm, RCA--I don't know whose in charge of releasing his singles and all, but y'all are out of touch. Release "Lie"!

On another note, there was a blog recently at Word Wenches about music

that I thought I'd play off of. The majority of comments there suggested that when writing, professional authors tend to listen to songs with no lyrics while writing to keep them in the mood but to not distract them.

Sometimes I listen to music when I write, sometimes I don't, but I listen to music off of my iTunes list, which all contain lyrics. I played classical and instrumental music when I played (read:was forced to) the violin as a preteen and while melodies and harmonies are intricate and beautiful in their own right, it just doesn't do it for me. I'm a word girl, so I like lyrics.

I had a song that kept me going while writing the Regency romance novel--it's a post-grunge song by a band called MWK and it is "One True Thing." I had a playlist while writing Book the First as well. And I have one for the story I'm writing now.

Warning: Here be spoilers. Whatever. It's not like a) anyone reads this and b) none of you know what happens in this story anyway. Ahh....it's great blogging to yourself.

1. Circles' Anthem, MWK describes the first scene: Eva Fontaine is running away from her brother's wedding rehearsal dinner, away from her estranged father. The first verse in particular ("What I say is not what you mean/How I love is not how you feel, right?/How I am is nothing to you/How you leave is nothing to me, right?), plus the sort of dark and sinister-ish instrumentation gave me the kind of vibe I was looking for.

2. Losing Grip, Avril Lavigne takes off from where "Circles' Anthem" leaves off. I think it's got Eva's anger toward her father in it ("Why should I care? 'Cuz you weren't there when I was scared/I was so alone") and the disorientation she feels when she wakes up in Jade Preston's body ("I'm starting to trip/ I'm losing my grip/ And I'm in this thing alone").

3. Mother, John Lennon encapsulates Eva's past. "Mother, you had me/ But I never had you" was John Lennon's reference to his mom giving him up to his auntie to raise, but for Eva, it's about her mother dying before Eva can even remember. "Father, you left me/ But I never left you" is Eva's dilemma with her dad. He leaves the kids to be raised by his parents, visiting every once in a while, making promises he doesn't keep.

4. Breathe Tonight, David Cook "Can you breathe tonight/ As the air is leaving you/Scream tonight/Like the words are new to you/Can we go back to the last time my arms could carry you?/Breathe tonight/ You're alive" is the chorus--I keep hearing it as the accident and then Jade coming to in a dark space, not able to move. Especially this line: "Lost, don't leave me in the dark alone."

5. You're My Best Friend, Queen High school age Eva, making close friends that play parts in her adulthood. It's especially relevant to Eva and Brixton, since Freddy Mercury was singing it about his female best friend.

6. Anodyne, MWK I adore this song, so....really all of it fits in with the larger themes of the story.

7. Because of You, Kelly Clarkson Eva in her teen years, resentful of her father, angry over her mother's death, fearful that her dark moods will lead her over the edge like her mother.

8. Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson There's one scene where Eva is standing at the Esplanade on the Charles River in Boston and looking out at the view. A chapter later, she and Brix have moved away to New Orleans for college and stand by the Mississippi. I kind of imagine this song playing over those parts.

9. A Place in This World, Taylor Swift "I'm alone/On my own/ And that's all I know/I'll be strong/I'll be wrong/ Oh, but life goes on/Oh, I'm just a girl/ Trying to find a place in this world." Eva finding her way through college.

10. Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton Brix receives tragic news: his father has died in a car accident--though the accident turns out to be intentional. The only person who knows what it's like to lose a parent in that way is Eva, though she can't remember it and is grieving with Brix.

11. Don't Let Me Stop You, Kelly Clarkson plays double duty. On the one hand, Jade is saying the lines to Brix, "If you wanna leave, baby, you can leave." On the other, in college, Eva is saying that to her college boyfriend after he insinuates that Brixton, who is, um, sewing his oats as it were, has the ideal male lifestyle.

12. Bar-ba-Sol, David Cook is a song about getting drunk. Which Brix does a lot of after his father's death.

13. I Do Not Hook Up, Kelly Clarkson is Eva, post-break up with her boyfriend Daniel. She's had it with men and puts a lot of work into her two majors.That's not to say she's not tempted.

14. Womanizer, Britney Spears is what Brix is. Imagine a montage of a lot of different women, lots of making out, lots of beer, and lots of sex-- sex against a wall in a bar, which Eva happens to witness. Yup.

15. All In Your Head, Rooney is a time jump from college to 2006. Brix is fresh out of culinary school, has a job, has lost many of the darker impulses he had in college and reconnects with a high school friend named Lana. They begin dating, but Brix doubts that he's the right one for her ("You need somebody nice/ Someone with patience") and Lana isn't in love with Brix, but an idea of him ("Well I'm not what you think or dreamed of/ It's all in your head")

16. Lie, David Cook is a time jump. In the past (2006), it is Brix not wanting to face that he's due back to the States and he has to leave Eva in Paris, where she lives. ("So lie to me and tell me that it's gonna be all right/ So lie to me and tell me that we'll make it through the night"). In 2009, the entire song fits Eva-as-Jade, who feels increasingly desperate to find a way out of this body, and Brixton, who has to readjust his perception of what's real and what's possible.

17. Hotel Paper, Michelle Branch is Lana's thoughts on Eva and Jade's thoughts on Brix: "And I wanted to be/ giving you everything/ She's not giving."

18. Incarcerate, Axium "I'll swim in you/ If you'll drown in me/ Search everywhere for a happy ending/Incarcerate, rest peacefully/ Where you are." Love? Death? Spiritual? An overall kind of song, then.

19. Yesterday, The Beatles You know I had to get one in here! "Yesterday/ All my troubles seemed to so far away/ Now it looks as though they're here to stay/ Oh, I believe in yesterday." Regret over lost love. Check.

20. Forever Fall, MWK This is Brix's thoughts on Eva and their daughter, Aimee, born in 2007. "I love you more than the sands and the rains and the winds could ever say" is about Aimee. "My jaded love, all I have for you is pain" is about Eva.

21. What Can I Say, Carrie Underwood feat. Sons of Sylvia is Eva and Brix in the past and Brix and Jade in the present, if that makes any sense. "And I'm not sorry that it's over/ But for the way we let it end." "How did it come to this? I think about you all the time/It's no excuse, but I wish/ I'd never made you cry."

22. Better Day, To Have Heroes Brix and Jade. "All apologies, my dear/ I know you feel like I'm not here/And part of me is missing all the time/ I only give you half of me/ 'Cause I'm afraid the rest of me/Will scare you into leaving me behind."

23. Fall To Pieces, Avril Lavigne"I don't want to fall to pieces/ I just want to sit and stare at you/ I don't want to talk about it/ And I don't want a conversation/ I just want to cry in front of you" illustrates Eva and Brix's friendship.

24 & 25 Let Go, David Cook & Why Don't We Do It in the Road,Dana Fuchs. Sex. Okay?

26.My Last Request, David Cook is my working title.

27. Fall Back Into Me, David Cook Everyone is back in their correct bodies, but everything has changed. "We've been here before/ We'll be here again/ So go on and rest your head/ Before you lose it again" are the first lines. Angst, people, angst.

28. Peace of Mind, Axium"With life on hold/ Say goodbye to old habits of circumstance" is my overarching theme. Plus it's the ultimate love song. "You are love/ You are life/ You are peace of mind."

And that concludes my playlist.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I don't think it's a well-kept secret that I am a naturally anxious person. I worry--about nearly everything--and get nervous easily. It's not really anything I understood about myself until I was 14 or 15 and in therapy, that yes, what I thought was shyness and a general disdain for other people was actually anxiety.

I can't ever remember being anxious about writing something down. Which is quite funny because I've read quotes in the past of people who say things like," writing is audacious". It's a little bit egotistical (totally true). It's "brave" (I think of that as one of those general artsy-fartsy terms). I think writing is egotistical ( I mean, seriously, who do you think is going to read your shit? And who's going to care about it?) and I personally believe that the pen can be mightier than the sword and expressing yourself in any clear, sharp way that may make people squirm can be considered "audacious." But I've never feared a blinking cursor.

I started writing outside of school when I was 9. That I remember very clearly because my best friend was a good storywriter in school and I wanted to do everything that she did. Plus, I'd always been told that my little one-paragraph descriptions of whatever were good and I was a voracious reader, so why not?

I rewrote Interview with the Vampire (with girls in the lead, obviously). After I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I tried my hand at something far too similar to that. That only lasted a few pages, then I tried writing my Civil War epic (I think I'd just read Gone With the Wind), which had great chapter titles, but no actual chapters that lasted more than a single, wide-ruled page.

Then came Titanic, this juggernaut of a movie, with attractive leads and an epic love story and tragedy. I hated the ending, so I rewrote it. Then I tried to write a short story sequel. Then I wrote a "mutli-generations" later version of Titanic--Rose's great-grandkids or something. I did manage to write a 5-page short story about a steerage family on the Titanic. My first actual completed work, lol!

Then came a WWII story--I'd just seen Saving Private Ryan--then another Depression era-through the war story of an Irish immigrant family living in Kentucky. That ended up being about 50 pages and remains the only piece of fiction that I have ever allowed my parents to read. The only thing of note there was that the characters had twisted Queens-Jewish grammar though they lived in Kentucky. Yeah.

There was Lucky, which came out of a Britney Spears song and The Outsiders. It was about a town run by gangs and this girl who witnessed one of her brothers kill the other one and then ran off, only to become the most famous rising actress in Hollywood within a few years. I never finished it. It's 54 pages long and I still have it on a thumb drive, but I can't end it for some reason.

I've had a lot of page-long beginnings and germs of ideas.

Then there are the fanfics. Orlando Bloom fanfics *winces* and one Pirates of the Caribbean and one of Lord of the Rings one, which I still add to from time to time. Those things were endless. Epilogues on top of epilogues. But that was my first tentative step into writing for other people--used to email those off to friends, much as this blog does. Those things might add up to 2 million words on their own.

College stuff--nothing significant, really. Well, there was the Ongoing Saga, but it's best not to mention that, considering how bloody autobiographical that one was.

And now.

I started this off thinking of anxiety because a friend, who hasn't written in a while, wants to start up again and doesn't know how. She has an idea and characters, but she keeps mentioning how she's nervous about it and I was trying to remember if I'd ever been nervous about probing myself for amusement or ideas. Maybe for workshop, but not on my own. Granted, I couldn't stop writing even if I tried and even if I never get published, I will always write. So I have trouble figuring how people drop things like writing or whatever their pursuits are anyway--I forget that sometimes things are hobbies for people, though writing is so ingrained in my own life that it's fucking compulsive.

I've gotten past the writing-as-therapy deal, I think, and have begun to actually craft it and more importantly, finally understood how to shape it. And maybe that's why, when I used to keep a journal in my teens, I was more nervous about writing that than about any piece of poetry or fiction. I didn't want to face my own emotions or my flaws. I didn't want to be faced by my perceived failures.

But if you go around worrying about failing all the time, even as the cursor blinks, then you're not getting anything done. And the beauty (and yes, frustration) of writing is that it can be anything you want it to be.

So get crackin', buddy. I expect an outline by the end of January. ;)

Monday, November 30, 2009

40,000 words and counting

I have hit 40,000 words of the book--15 chapters, 152 pages--and I'm sort of proud to say that I don't think one part of this story is mere filler. I keep thinking, "Oh, this is an important part," then I realize I say that about all the parts. Which is good, right?

Anyways, I survived Black Friday. It was busy for a while during my shift, but then it quieted down and we had to clean, i.e.,pick up clothes off the floor and sort them out. Also, this woman tried to buy three cashmere sweaters that had the wrong tags on them--those tags listed those sweaters as $20 each. Had to call security, find the items on the 3rd floor, note down the prices and go down to the security office. Guess what? Those three sweaters are actually worth something like $300 total.

So, basically, I saved the store a lot of money.

It was pretty busy on Sunday. A steady stream of customers. I hit 192% of my sales goal (yay!) and had a HUGE $113 Pre Sale.
And someone agreed to sign up for the card. I'm relieved, because now I can stop worrying about that and just do my job.

Oh---and just a general question. My story takes place in 2009, with flashback chapters through the 90s. I'm now flashbacking around 1999 and the timeline will move up to the 2000s and such. Does anyone with a better memory than I remember when cell phones, texting, laptops and digital cameras became so huge?

I had a laptop when I was 15, which means around 2001, and I used my mom's cell phone around the same time and remember thinking that those things were everywhere in the city. But digi cams, anyone? My protagonist is a photographer, so it's kind of relevant.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adventures in Retail

So far I've learned that...

Standing for five hours is not foot-friendly.

Sensor removal machines are evil. And temperamental.

Always read the tags before you scan them.

People need to learn to put the shit back where they got it from.

People really do buy more if you say "Hello" to them when you see them.

No one wants a friggin' store department card. Shit, I wouldn't get one, so I can't really blame them. The interest is too high, it's another credit card, and 15% off on your first two days is not terribly enticing when there's a sale coming up.

Clearance racks are the devil. And no, that shirt is full price. I know it was on the clearance rack, but it scans up full price. Someone must have left it there and not put it back where it belongs.

Ahhh...not working till next week's sale. I'll let you know if I survive.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just bringing this over from another blog, Risky Regencies...

href="http://riskyregencies.blogspot.com/2009/11/characters-take-over.html">Characters Take Over

See? I'm not the only one who argues with her characters. Or has elaborate conversations with them as I'm about to fall asleep. Or has arguments with them, once in a while. Out loud. It might be an only child thing, this talking to myself thing.

And I am definitely not the only one who yells at Mark Teixeira when he grounds out to first when Johnny Damon is on base, there are two outs, and A-Rod is up next. Despite this, I want Damon and Teixeira T-shirts for Christmas.

Yankees in 6! *crosses fingers and toes*


Quote from above blog: "As the creator of the tale, I can make the characters do what I want--in theory. In fact, if they don't like where I am taking them they often make the story stall. It won't move forward no matter what I try. They're like stubborn toddlers who sit down in the middle of Target and start shrieking because they don't like where things are going. Once I figure out how exactly I am going against their characters, how the story is being forced on them, things usually start moving again."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm pretty sure that I've repeated the phrase, "Where were all these ideas when I needed them in college?" several times over the last few days. I just noticed that I posted the summary on October 10th, which means I finished the outline around that time or soon after. Which means I've written 8 chapters and 80 pages in less than a month.

Excuse me while I let out a lot of expletives...in disbelief, mostly.

Here's what I remember about college writing classes: none of the stuff I wrote for those classes was anything I was going to continue working on afterwards. We all wrote different types of fiction, if it was a fiction class. Emerson was a pretentious school. I say that lovingly. That extended to workshopping. It was more critical than constructive. I got the word "saccharine"(someone's word of the day) thrown around about stuff I'd written more than once. Oh, yeah, then there was "fluff."

I had one writing teacher for Fiction II, who tried to get us to lift our fiction skills.Kimberly McLarin writes a lot about race and race issues. It's heavy, serious stuff in some ways, obviously, and she wanted us to write stories that had some substance--any substance. It's hard to get substance out of 19-year-olds, especially relatively privileged ones who were able (mostly through bank robbing and loan carrying) to attend Emerson. Note that I was one of maybe two so-called minority kids in a class of 12 or 15.

I remember the class trying to puzzle out what she meant by "Fiction is not real life. I need more description. Okay, but why did that happen? It needs to have a purpose in the context of the story." I can understand and appreciate all that now, but at the time? In Fiction One, we'd worked on basics, like dialogue. Realistic dialogue, realistic fiction. I got tripped up on the difference between realistic and real.

Just because a story is meant to be realistic does not mean that it follows the pattern of real life. I used to use the "oh, but it really happened that way" excuse for some of my stuff. That's great and all, but fiction is an organization of life. There's a character who grows, there's a point in the theme, there are events to move it along. Everything has a purpose.

I'd write, but there'd be no overall point to it. What was I trying to say? Did I have anything worthwhile to say?

I remember often feeling like I wasn't digging deep enough. (Digging deep being a popular phrase at Emerson; we were mostly artsy-fartsy kids, after all). I wanted to be able to combine description with emotion in my narrative. It felt to me that I never quite succeeded. I tried writing stories about friendships that were changing, a couple in a crisis in their relationship because of a loss; depression, but nothing rang true to me. The emotions weren't translating and it was frustrating. The characters were flat or blatantly autobiographical. I think I just felt out of my depth a lot of the time.

For all that I've spent the last years going-going-going, I think I've grown the most as a writer, and as a person, this year.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Or as we say in my house, Happy Celtic New Year.




I've been on a writing spree since Thursday. I have 8 completed chapters, 80 pages, and 21,206 words. I am thrilled. I had something like 14,000 words on Friday morning. My, how time flies...

I finished some really important plot points, such as the first time Eva meets Brixton:

I noticed him in French class, the next period, when Brixton Davis was placed in front me, according to the rules of alphabetical order. The teacher, Ms. Quinn, went through the alphabet in French and then gave us an assignment.
“I am going to split you up into pairs. I want you to interview each other and then we’ll come together as a class and we will begin to learn some basic phrases, ok?” Ms. Quinn proceeded to split everyone up. Brix and I ended up together.
He turned in his seat, smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Brixton.” His hair was long, flopping over his forehead in bangs, his eyes were hidden behind black-framed glasses, and I’m sure his face had blooming acne.
“I’m Eva. Brixton? Like ‘Guns of Brixton’?”
He nodded. “Yup. Named after a Clash song.”
I quickly wrote that down on a piece of looseleaf. My hair was in a ponytail, tied back with a huge scrunchie. My braces had another six months to go and I hadn’t yet learned the mysterious secrets of makeup, though I admit to never really being fond of the stuff once I learned about it anyway.

And Eva's Confirmation:

“Gram!” I exclaimed. “I found my Confirmation name!”
Glancing up from a simmering pot, Gram turned around, wiped a hand on the cartoonish lobster on her favorite apron, and said, “Let’s hear it, Eva.”
“Dymphna.”
She put on a thoughtful expression. “Dymphna. Tell me about her, Eva.”
“St. Dymphna,” I began, “is an Irish saint. She was a princess. When her mother died, her father tried to marry her and Dymphna ran away with her confessor to Belgium. Her father found her and chopped off her head.” Gram’s eyes bulged for a moment. “She’s a virgin martyr,” I said helpfully. “And the patron saint of mental illness.”
“Hmm. And you feel strongly about this name, Eva?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Then you should take it,” Gram said.

Dad looked at me and I swear, his eyes went cold. I wonder if he still sees me as that colicky baby who drove my mother to sleeping pills, which drove her to suicide. Or maybe he looked at me and still saw the spitting image of Evangeline and that made him take pause.

“Yeah, but…” He hesitated. He wanted to ask me why I picked the patron saint of mental illness. “It’s your decision. But I hope you girls don’t think your mom…it was an accident, what happened to her.”
Vic and I stared at him. He turned awkwardly and left. I waited until I heard his footsteps recede down the stairs, then got up, went to Noel’s empty room and found his pack of Marlboros. I opened the window and lit the cigarette, coughing as the tar and nicotine hit my lungs.
After a few moments, I felt calm.

And back in 2009:

He steps away from me, disengaging his long-fingered hand, and undoes the buttons of his chef’s jacket. I see the thin white T-shirt emerge again. My mouth goes dry. I suspect that he’s flexing his arms a little more than he would ever do with me as he slips the jacket off.
Tonight, I think I saw Brixton-as-a-boyfriend, meaning he was solicitous and on some level, trying to impress me, despite the problems that he and Jade seem to have.
But now? Now everything’s uncertain. I thought for sure that I, the mother of his child, one of his oldest friends, would supersede any other woman who happened by in his life. That is awfully arrogant of me.
I catch the red line out of Harvard Square and I think, I only got a week of Brixton-as-a-boyfriend treatment. One week, and I ended up knocked up.

Senior year of high school (1997):
But I only smoked away from the house. It would’ve broken Gram’s nurse’s heart to know I smoked four or five cigs a day, that I went through a pack in little more than five days.

“Hey, what do you think about Tracey?” Lana practically whispered.
“I don’t like her. You know that.”
“Eva, you don’t like people,” Lana said, waving my statement away. “I don’t like the way she’s all over Brixton all the time. You don’t think they’ve…” Her hands twirled in circular gestures.
“Gone to the ballet?” I asked, watching her hands.
She sighed, exasperated. Jeez, it was only a joke. “No. You know. Do you think they have? This summer, anytime I saw them together, she was all over him.”

And once again, 2009:

Am I in a transitional state, between life and death? Maybe I’m like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, dead but not knowing it.
I fight against that thought. I am not dead. I’m merely spiritually confused. Right?

A little girl is running in between the little ducklings. Her back is to me, but I can hear her sweet giggle. I stop. It sounds like Aimee.
“Daddy!” She calls out, running. I want to tell her not to run across concrete—but I can’t. She doesn’t know me now. If anything, that stabs at the heart.

His eyes drop to my coffee. “Since when do you drink coffee?”
“I’m feeling kind of tired,” I explain. “Thought it might help.”
He looks like he wants to say something else, but Aimee is clutching his shoulder. Her big brown eyes—not mine, not his, but my parents’ eye color— fix on me.
“And who’s this big girl?” I ask. Aimee beams.
“This is my daughter, Aimee.” He peers down at her. “Can you say hello, sweetie?”
“Hello,” Aimee says in her tiny voice.
“This is Daddy’s friend Jade.”
Friend. Friend. He just called Jade his friend. Not girlfriend. Friend. Then again, I wouldn’t be too thrilled if he introduced our daughter to a girlfriend. Not that she’d know what the word means, but still…
He bounces her up in his arms. She screeches in laughter. We have a happy daughter, one with a sunny personality, who likes to laugh and dance. I’m not too sure where she gets that from, considering, but I’m glad for it. She must feel so secure clinging to her big, tall Papa.

“She works at a stock photo agency in Paris,” Brix says, accurately describing my job. “She’s also addicted to coffee.” His eyes rest on my half-finished Starbucks. He looks disturbed.
“I haven’t been feeling like myself,” I say in explanation.
His eyes soften. “Yeah, I’ll say.”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

10,000 words

I hit the 10,000 word mark today. Yay! So in honor of that and the Yankees going to the World Series *hopefully*, you're being subjected to more snippets, Chapters 2, 3 and 4.

As I walk through the square to Olivia’s, I hear the street musicians play, strumming beat-up acoustic guitars, and I notice impassioned activists passing out fliers on Ending War Now! or Everyone Deserves Equality! Get Rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or Darfur is our problem, too.


“So what if they did it?” I say aloud. “Right there, on that bed? Brix can’t live without sex for more than five days at a pinch. You know that already.” I straighten my shoulders. “C’mon, Eva. It’s only a room.”
I take a step.
“I’m fixing to change my clothes here,” I say to my reluctant self. “Just…think about Brix sitting on the bed, watching you with that dopey smile that he thinks is sexy.”
After three more steps, which bring me to the bedroom door, I admit, “It is pretty sexy.”


Much of what I think remember about this time in my life is just that: I think I remember it. They’re false memories, after years of asking my brother and sister about every detail that they can remember. Sometimes I can unfurl the false memories into a whole recollection.


My second birthday a week before Christmas was what triggered him. I’ll always believe that because not long after, he asked his parents, who were still spry in their fifties, to keep the children for the time being.
Next September, Matthew said, I’ll be back. Next September, I’ll know what to do.
I lived with my paternal grandparents in Brookline, in the same house that my father grew up in, until I left for college. I was seventeen years old.


My first confession before my Communion went like this: I painstakingly said to the priest, “I cursed at my brother. I disobeyed my grandpa. I hate my father.”


No human at death’s door can be assured that they learned all there is to know in the world, that they achieved a spiritual plateau and everything is fine and now we can die and ascend.
So maybe reincarnation does make sense, in a way. I never gave it much thought before. I’m a Catholic. God gives us life, we are born, we receive sacraments, we die, we ascend to heaven, hang out in Purgatory or go to hell.


It’s time to go to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and visit myself. God, that sounds so weird.


I’m afraid of what I’ll find. A coma seems so ominous. Unconscious really is a nicer word for the condition. Unconscious doesn’t signal respirators or a vegetative state, where my body lies prone with no activity at all.


“She’s doing better,” I lie. “I, um, I don’t remember much about accident. But I thought I’d stop by. I’m really sorry she’s in such a bad way.”
“Thank you, Jade. Really. You don’t have to—I know you don’t—” He turns to the wall and stops speaking. He squeezes Eva’s hand. “It’s really nice of you,” he finally says. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”


“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.” What does that mean? It could mean that Jade is actually nice. That she’s considerate and cares about Brix. If I have doubts about any of Brix’s girlfriends, it’s not because of some misplaced sense of jealousy. I saw what Brix’s taste in women was for a long time and “considerate” and “nice” are not the two words for those girls.


The photographer poses them on the paved path in front of the bridge. He might catch the pond behind them, the classic Bostonian look. It’s early afternoon and the sun is behind the photographer, giving the couple light, but not enough to wash them out.
The photographer moves them on to pose with the wedding party, in front of fragrant, colorful tulips. They look so happy. He laughs. She turns to look at him and her face lights up…
I turn away. Some things are too private, even if they’re in public.


But, no, it was her. I wonder how it’s possible. He called her Jade. Is she now inside of me and I in her? This cannot be real. Stuff like this does not happen. And if she is now in my body, apparently living my life, then God only knows what sort of wreck my life is becoming.
I feel it intuitively. She’s vengeful. Why else would she keep the kid in Paris and not be with Brixton? What possible reason could she have for not using her claim on that wonderful, but misguided man?

Boston

I'm writing the "Boston portion" of my story--the bulk of it takes place there. I'm also putting together my story playlist on iTunes.I had one for Book the First that I listened to on the subway and such and it helped keep me in the mood or remember motivations as I was going along.

There's a lot less research for this story than the last one. It alternates between the '90s-2006 and 2009. I've actually lived in (and frozen my ass off in) Boston, so there's that. The present tense keeps it interesting for me (and for those of you who read it when it's done, please check my verb tenses) and the outline lets me know what's up next.

Unfortunately, my characters are Red Sox fans. And unlike what a friend said to me today ("You can change that. You're God!"), I really can't change that. It's all right though. They have redeeming qualities, I swear. And it's not even an important plot point. It's background flavor.

This might crazy as hell to anyone who doesn't write, but really, it's the characters that see you through. I come up with characters first, then a premise (sometimes that comes together), then a plot. The characters develop, for me, as I write. They come to life. If there's something in the story that isn't true to them or their situation, then the story comes to a halt. The characters demand things. They're opinionated. They decide to change personalities or love interests or nationality or names. In effect, I decide direction. The rest...I couldn't even tell you where it comes from.

BUT--setting. That is one thing I control. And since Boston is a city that I actually know, here are photos. It'll help me to have them up here to look at as I go along. I like having things that remind me of my settings or characters in a file (on the computer, but also in my desk).

Public Garden, winter
Copley Square. Hancock Building, roof of the Boston Public Library & the Prudential Building
The Esplanade. Charles River. May 2007
Boston Common's gazebo. War protest.
Public Garden. Pond.
The Boston "non denominational holiday tree"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Update

It's 5:04 in the am and I've been awake for an hour, after being woken from a sound sleep. Insomnia is alive and well. This of course means that I've already checked my email, logged on to Facebook, checked on my various games, listened to David Cook sing "Lie" and stalked Chris Pine, who seems to my latest in a long line of unattainable boyfriends (I like 'em that way) via Google.

Before I go back to bed and start either chanting like a Buddhist in my head or conjugating French verbs or, God forbid, do mental math, here's a quick update:

Yes, I'm still writing.

It's going pretty well. I have 22 pages (double spaced), I'm in the beginning of chapter three, and so far, the present tense is going all right.

Here are a few lines, randomly chosen:

He sidled up to me, expectation all over his aging face. Expecting what, exactly? A welcome? After all these years, after all of the disagreements and disapproval between us, he wants me to jump up, hug him, squeal and be a daddy’s girl? Is he fucking kidding me?


Something crunches with a sickening thud—and I am looking straight up, flat on my back, unable to move. I lay on cold, gritty asphalt. Only the honking of a car, as if the horn is right against my ear, and the stopped sedan and a screaming woman glancing at me and inside her car in turn—only that is real. The car’s headlights blind me.
I can’t move. I don’t know what happened.
The man I was running from, my dad, kneels beside me and says, “You’re hurt, sweetheart. Can you hear me? You’re hurt. An ambulance is on the way.”
Then everything became sweet, silent darkness.


I shut my eyes tightly. The only thing I’m aware of is the darkness behind my eyelids, the blank confusion of my mind. And that’s when I try to push out of the confines of that mind, out of the realm of reality. If I did it once, I can do it again, so I try with my entire psychic might to push myself out of this blond creature’s body and into my own battered one again. Nothing.


A bolt of strong anger shoots through me at the thought. I’m almost breathless at the depth and strength of it before chuckling helplessly at the awesome power of rage. Me, jealous? Me, jealous of Brixton with a girl? That’s like being jealous that fish can swim and birds can fly.


Even Lindsay acknowledges that Massachusetts drivers are angry, angry people.


And the last thing running through my head was this: If Brix is cheating, then we should be through. If that bitch has wormed her way back into his heart, then I should be unspeakably angry with her and with him. Hell hath no fury like…
And even in that nanosecond of frenetic activity, I knew, somewhere in my heart, that I would never be any kind of opponent against Eva Fontaine in the competition for Brixton Davis’s heart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Look, an actual summary!

Hey guys,

Remember that soul-swapping story I may have teased some of you with? Well, I basically finished the outline, so I can actually write it now and I am very excited. But here's the cool part: there's an actual summary!

One September night in Boston, two women are involved in a car accident. Jade Preston comes to unable to move, unable to speak, but able to hear and understand everything around her. Eva Fontaine wakes up to discover that she doesn’t look at all like herself. She looks like Jade Preston.
Eva was hit by a car, running from her estranged father at her brother’s wedding rehearsal and now lies in a coma. Except that Eva’s interior wakes up inside of someone else’s exterior—as she sleeps beside Eva’s childhood friend, Brixton Davis.
Brixton and Eva have a long, complicated history. They went to high school and nearby colleges together. They each had a parent commit suicide. Eva has stood by and watched Brixton fall into debauchery and depression after his father’s death. Brix has watched Eva stonewall her father, who deposited her and her siblings to their grandparents to raise. As adults, Eva lives in Paris and Brix visits her, desperate to be away from another failing relationship, they give in to attraction and familiarity.
Eva becomes pregnant. Despite this, she doesn’t want a romantic relationship with Brix. Two years after their child is born, Eva is commanded to attend her brother’s upcoming wedding and finally, it seems that the romantic possibilities open up for Brix and Eva.Except that Brix is involved with another woman, Jade, though the relationship has reached a stalemate.
But the accident changes everything. Unable to reconcile what has happened, Eva researches extensively, until she must accept that this is all real—that her interior has jumped into the body of the woman she thought of as an abstract figure. Jade endures a body in a coma and overhears all sorts of information about the woman she thought was cold-hearted and incomprehensible.




I've read that Audrey Niffeneger wrote Time Traveler's Wife because she thought of time travel as a metaphor for her own failed relationships. Cecelia Ahern said she wrote P.S. I Love You because she wanted someone wiser than herself to tell her what to do and what to expect just as she was graduating college. Alice Sebold wrote The Lovely Bones years after she was raped as a freshmen at Syracuse University; another woman had been raped and killed there earlier and the police told her she was lucky to have survived.

I've never thought very deeply about the 'why' of my stories, of why I write them. As far as 'why' goes, I usually stick to why the story unfolds the way it does (and believe me, that's a recent phenomenon on my part; read past blog posts for that). The themes tend to develop on their own, which is fine, but in high school, I remember that we discussed themes endlessly. Our teachers made it sound like they were all purposefully inserted and some of them are--at least with the more controlled, better edited novels--but I insisted then and still insist that a lot of themes just kind of...happen.

(As Sparknotes puts it so well, theme is the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a work)

I suppose knowing why those authors wrote what they did is going into "author's intention," which I despised discussing in lit classes. In my adventures in novel writing, I'm learning that the author can intend all she wants, but sometimes the development of the characters or the plot or themes are out of your control. And that's fine, because some real gems can come out of that--in The Keegan Inheritance, I realized toward the end that Henry had seduced, then betrayed a French woman, seen her flogged by the French army and felt enormous guilt over that. It influences how he acts toward Mady, for one thing, and represents the reason why he wants to get out of spying so desperately.

"What the hell do you want to say?"
"Step into someone else's shoes." Sometimes, I wish I could be someone else, to have a wider range of experiences and emotions, to do things I will never get a chance or the guts to do and to meet people I'd never meet in my own sphere (or, that is, to meet said people and actually say something to them). Or to step outside of yourself for a minute to paradoxically see yourself better.

So, identity is a big theme. As is friendship. Overcoming obstacles. Spirituality and maybe even religion (gasp!). That's all I've got for now. Do you guys have any themes you gravitate toward in the books you read? Or any themes in what you write? How important are the author's intentions in the actual work, do you think?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Emily Contest

All right, y'all. It's entered. If I kept it until the due date, I'd lose my nerve because I'd be tinkering with it still.

The Emily is run by the West Houston chapter of the Romance Writers of America. They only want up to the first 35 pages of the manuscript, with no synopsis required.

Here's the timeline:
October 7, 2009 – Deadline for all submissions/fee payments to be received.
December 31, 2009 – Finalists notified by telephone and/or email.
January, 2010 – Non-Finalist entries/score sheets returned.
February 13, 2010 – Winners announced at the West Houston Emily Awards Luncheon.
February, 2010 – Finalist entries/score sheets returned.
February 27, 2010 – Finalists submit entries for the Best of the Best judging.
April, 2010 – Announcement of the Best of the Best winner!

I entered The Keegan Inheritance under the Historical category, with a sub category of Regency. So we'll what happens. In the meantime, I have a modern fantasy story to outline and the Keegan Inheritance manuscript to tighten up, along with the synopsis, maybe for other contests as I dig them up--or maybe even for a literary agent.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Past, Present, & Pecs

I'm handwriting the delicate beginnings of a new idea down in a notebook. It came out in present tense. I tried to correct it to past tense, but it didn't seem right somehow, so I'm letting it go as I'm writing and scouring the Internet for a decent epigraph on reincarnation or at least, souls jumping from one body to another.

Relax. That's the only sci-fi-like bit of the story. I promise.

I recently finished reading The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (she wrote The Other Boleyn Girl--good book, terrible movie--and a slew of other Tudor-era related novels. I've read most of them, except for The Other Queen, which is about Mary Queen of Scots. I am fascinated by this period in history--and by Charles Brandon's pecs on The Tudors on Showtime--but if you walk down the fiction section at a B&N, you'll see four million novels based around this period.

Tudors fatigue, my friends. At least until the next season of The Tudors premieres, when another wife gets killed and presumably, the king goes reallllyyy insane. I can't say what they'll do to Charles Brandon (*more shirtless scenes please*) because it's not entirely historically accurate. It doesn't actually bother me in the least. Maybe because I wrote fanfiction? Because I've read historical novels for years and years? Because Henry Cavill is hot?

The White Queen is book one of her new series, the Cousins' War, and it's about the Plantagenets. By the 1460s, they'd split into three factions, basically, and the Houses of York and Lancaster fought a civil war across England for something like 20 years. She writes, for the most part, in present tense.

I usually write in past tense. Maybe it's a holdover from academic writing, but I always felt sure of myself grammatically in past rather than in present. My grammar is kind of shaky when it comes to intricate constructions (blame that completely on growing up where I grew up and with whom I grew up). But present tense does give the story an immediacy.

So far, it's in present tense and first person. It also takes place in the 90s up to now, so also modern. Different for sure, but I'm just scribbling it all down in a notebook, then I think I'll outline it. Then I'll write it.

Have you ever written in present tense? What's your tense and POV of habit?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Leapin'



I stole that from Andy Skib's twitter. Someone on a message board commented that while Kyle and Andy (left and center) look like leaping rock stars, David (right) kind of looks like a cheerleader. :D

I was at my aunt and uncle's house on Long Island a few days ago for my cousin John's birthday dinner, when I was asked, "What are you doing?" I said, "Babysitting. Oh, yeah, and I wrote a book."

I was then asked, naturally enough, "What kind of book?"

"Fiction." I haven't found a sound elevator pitch to describe this story (I mean, hellooo....have you seen the awful, dragging synopsis?), so I thought I'd leave it at that. I'm not one to spill the guts of my stories to people at random. There's a time and a place for that...it's called this blog.

"What's it about? It's about us, isn't it?" My cousin Elizabeth demanded. I'm not sure why Liz thinks every story I write is somehow derived from our family because they aren't. Sure, we're quirky, but so's every other family in their own way. The only notable thing about the Athys is how freakin' loud they are.

I'm going over the first 35 pages of The Keegan Inheritance for the Emily Contest, given by the Houston branch of the Romance Writers of America. Due date is October 6th. Electronically submit (yay!) with a an application and certain formatting regulations.

Apparently 35 pages will give me up to Chapter Three, enough to establish the major plot points, plus Mady and Henry. In fact, it would end as Alex and Mady are calling on their estranged uncle's house.I think I'll cut it off in the middle of p. 35 in order for it to make sense.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Synopsizing

Hey everyone! Um, so, I finished a draft of the synopsis. Apparently, this is the purpose of them: Art of the Synoop
The Synopsis
I don't know who invented these damn things, but they're annoying. Prepare to be majorly spoiled.
On the other hand, I have a new idea floating around after finishing Time Traveler's Wife. Not time travel, but soul-swapping. As in, what would happen if what makes you you--personality, mental/ emotional patterns, intellect, etc.--was pushed out of your body into someone else's?

Synopsis: The Keegan Inheritance

When Madeline Keegan’s father, a wealthy shipping merchant and scion of one of England’s aristocratic families, dies, he leaves a business, an estate and his fortune to his widow and his daughters—especially his two eldest, with whom Miles had a special relationship. Alexandra and Madeline are eight months apart in age, with different mothers and are different colors. Alexandra is an exotic pale blend that Miles said would cause trouble for him when future suitors come around. Madeline is Miles’s daughter with Delphine, his free black Barbadian wife, the daughter of a wealthy planter.

In spring 1814, Alexandra and Madeline sit down one morning, only to discover that their new allowance, which is to sustain the family, is not enough to cover their expenses. Alexandra says they must speak to Lord Annesley, their guardian, about their concerns. Madeline represses panic. Business is not something she knows much of and her father’s money, which represents security, may not be enough now.

Security means a great deal to Madeline, for it has protected her and given her every advantage. But even an heiress has fears and Madeline’s are deep-rooted. Brand-new in England, Madeline saw shackled slaves being brought ashore in Bristol and suffered nightmares. Since then, Madeline has read every scrap of literature she can about the slave trade, abolition, and emancipation.

After speaking to their guardian and neighbor, Lord Annesley, about their allowance and financial issues, he agrees to speak to their attorney, since he and his family will be going to London soon. But Madeline and Alexandra enjoy a leisurely lunch with the Annesleys. Then a note arrives.

Their stepsister, Laura, has disappeared. Searching Laura’s room yields nothing suspicious. Madeline and Alexandra decide the best course of action is two-fold: lie about Laura’s whereabouts and go to London with the Annesleys, meet with their lawyer and search for Laura at the same time.

In Paris, Henry Cartland stands in the trees along the Champs-Elysees and watches a woman walk with a companion. Comparing her movements today with those of a year ago—when she bled, the way her body bent in pain and pleasure—Henry turns away and packs his meager belongings, intent on leaving behind his five-year-long spying career to return to England.

Green, peaceful England, the stuff of dreams. Before he leaves Paris, however, Henry takes on one last case, which will return him to his hometown, Bristol. Henry hasn’t been home in five long, weary years. A French spy is there, giving away the shipments and movements of cargo and naval vessels. Weary as he is, Henry decides that this will be his last mission. But before he returns to Bristol, he stops in London, where the Season is beginning. He reconnects with friends and gains more information about the spy he must capture—a man named Louis-Philippe de Portier. He works, Henry finds, at Keegan-Tilney Shipping in Bristol.

Madeline and Alexandra with Lord Annesley attend a meeting with the family solicitor, where the girls meet one of their trustees—the Viscount Halbridge, their late father’s eldest brother. The allowance and their inheritances are controlled by Miles’s extensive will—extensive, Alexandra notes, because he had to ensure that all of his daughters could inherit. Their allowance is dependent on the company’s profits, which Alex thought could easily carry them through.

The only thing to do is look at the office’s account books, in Bristol. But before that, Madeline and Alexandra are invited to their uncle’s home. He apologizes to them about not keeping touch; Miles did not want the family involved with his daughters. Madeline sees a portrait of her grandmother and sees a feature she might share with this dead, white English woman: high cheekbones, which Alexandra also has. Madeline ponders bloodlines and the mysteries of family. Unlike most women her age, Madeline does not yearn nor expect a husband to materialize or a family of her own. Her dream man must be accepting and understanding and not a fortune hunter. She is rather certain that a man like that exists somewhere, but more than doubts whether she will find him.

The girls are invited to a soiree at their uncle’s home, where they meet distant family, but also mix with friends. There, Madeline asks if any of them have seen Laura. She’s in Kent. She just passed through London. Oh, you mean you missed her?

Then Madeline is introduced to a tall, dark, green-eyed man named Henry Cartland. He accompanies a friend and the friend’s wife to this gathering, seeing a possible connection between Viscount Halbridge—whose surname is Keegan—and Keegan-Tilney Shipping.

But all Henry notices is the lovely dusky-skinned woman who is spirited away from the group by Lady Halbridge. Who is she? He has almost no time to ponder the young lady because Henry is soon in Bristol, with a new horse, a new set of rooms, and must learn his father’s business—while establishing a mini-spy network of his own, to observe de Portier, the French spy, who manages Keegan-Tilney Shipping practically carte blanche.

And then one day, there’s a young woman sitting by the upstairs window of de Portier’s home. No one has seen her come in or out of the house. As Henry gathers more information about Miles Keegan and his manager, he hears talk of Keegan’s family—four daughters, now very rich daughters. But they’re “irregular.”

Could the girl in the window be one of them? But the prospect doesn’t make much sense to Henry. One morning, he follows de Portier—called Potter in England—to work and finds himself face to face with a young, wealthy, nervous Madeline Keegan. Madeline has convinced her sister to let her retrieve the accounts and so she has arrived at the office, determined to put on her demanding heiress attitude.

She didn’t expect to see that dark man from London, Mr. Henry Cartland.

Madeline spots an advertisement in the newspaper, about an emancipation society meeting being held that night at a Quaker Meeting House. She decides to attend and is invited later to another emancipationist meeting, for ladies only. Madeline meets a mulatto woman who was born in Jamaica and alleges that she was able to pass for white in America as a child. Madeline could never pass.

The woman reports all Madeline said to her boss, Henry, afterwards.

By process of elimination, Henry thinks the girl in Potter’s window is Laura, Miles’s stepdaughter. She looks too old to be the youngest and she’s neither black nor exotic, as the other two are said to be.

So Henry travels to the small village of Bannersley, where the Keegan estate is located. And there, on the high street, he runs into Madeline and Alexandra Keegan. At their home, Henry tells them that he knows Laura’s whereabouts. He tells them that he is investigating Potter for gambling.

When he leaves, the girls begin projects around the house. They start by cleaning Miles’s study and welcome their uncle, who comes bearing the account books that Madeline has come home with and sent on to London. He examines the account books against Alexandra’s records, determines there is something wrong, and decides to go to Bristol. Madeline asks to go with him.

She asks Henry to call on her and they converse about Laura. Madeline wonders if Henry is a criminal and desperately doesn’t him to be. There’s no sense in that, she thinks. He’s a stranger. So she asks if he’s a Bow Street Runner, a detective, and Henry snatches the chance and says yes.

He asks Madeline to send a note to Laura at Potter’s house, to gauge the level of security she may be under. She does, but there’s no reply. One morning, while reading a letter from Alexandra with news of writing to Laura’s acquaintances in Bath, where she was in the spring of 1813, Henry calls again. They discuss whether to send another note or simply call on Laura. Henry is weighing whether it is time to remove Laura from the house and earnestly investigate Potter. No evidence of Potter spying has turned up. He offers to drive Madeline to the home to drop her calling card.

As he takes his leave, Madeline and Henry cannot look away from one another. They share a deep, drugging kiss, unable to resist each other. Henry curses himself privately afterward. Now actively lying to her about his real purposes, he knows she will never forgive him.

And then he will be alone again.

He drives Madeline to Potter’s home to drop her calling card. The butler takes the card, but won’t admit whether Laura is in or not. Madeline calls once again on her own, and gains admittance.

Laura is safe and regrets running away, but stubbornly says she will not return home with Madeline. The family is ruined if this escapade becomes known and Laura, in her guilt, does not want to expose her mother and sisters to derision. Madeline admonishes her, but to no avail.

With no evidence to move on Potter, Henry impersonates a French Bonapartist in the depth of Bristol’s late night pubs and docks. He quickly tires of the charade, but goes along with the act and soon makes contact with some of Potter’s men. Henry is unsure if they are French or English, but they all have Bonapartist sympathies, so Henry must play along.

He wishes this were over. During the day, he works at his company, learning the ropes, and calls on Madeline, to share information about Laura, but also to share company and kisses. His feelings toward her grow stronger, but Henry knows that she’ll never forgive him for his deceit. He feels worthless of her; after all, it is well known that Madeline is an heiress, with a fortune coming her way that is larger than what younger sons of the aristocracy gain. It’s too far a gulf between them for anything to happen.

That doesn’t stop Henry or Madeline from caring for each other, perhaps even loving the other. But their stations in life the practical Madeline from dreaming any further. What future can there be between an heiress and a Bow Street Runner?

Lord Halbridge has spent his time in Bristol, intimidating company lawyers and staring over Potter’s head at the office everyday, slowly straightening out the troubles and preparing for Potter’s imminent firing.

Madeline makes inroads with Laura. Laura leaves Potter’s home to call on Madeline. With this, Madeline believes that she can convince Laura to come away altogether. At the same time, Henry makes progress with Potter’s crew, even garnering a possible introduction to Potter himself. He takes it, after gaining evidence from Lord Halbridge of Potter’s wrongdoing to the Keegan inheritance—mainly, that he skimmed the profits and pocketed money, thinking no one would notice. So Henry arrives for a meeting at Keegan-Tilney, his own spies in place, only to find a bound and gagged man and Lewis Potter, Louis de Portier, waiting for him with a pistol.

Laura is violated and finally decides to leave Bristol with Madeline. So the girls take off toward Bannersley, stop at an inn, and are accosted by two men holding handkerchiefs, which they pull over the girls’ mouths. Then, everything goes black.

Madeline awakens to darkness and a strange bobbing sensation, which she quickly realizes is a ship. Unable to see, she finds and wakes Laura and the two explore their small hold. Laura comes across one man, while Madeline finds another: Henry, who was knocked out by a pistol butt to the head. The other man works for Lord Halbridge. While introducing Henry to Laura, Madeline learns that Henry is not a Bow Street Runner, as she thought, but a spy circling Lewis Potter. It’s a blow and Madeline wonders if anything that she and Henry have shared was real.

Soon enough, a gloating Potter minion comes to tell them that they are locked in the hold—headed for the Barbary States and there, to be sold into slavery. The news cows Laura, who is much subdued since her ordeal; frightens Madeline to silence—her biggest fear realized. But Henry springs to planning an escape. A day passes; the four sleep. Madeline awakens in the night, needing to take off her stays. Henry assists. The action and their whispered words turn into a promise for a full conversation in the future—guaranteeing some kind of future—and then kissing, then more intimacy, all in the quiet dark hold, on a ship taking them further away from the rules Madeline has aped her whole life.
The chance for escape comes after the ship docks in a French port. Henry breaks the hatch door, then picks a lock to let them onto deck. No one else is there, so he orders the others to begin preparing to sail back to England.

Belowdecks, Potter and one of his men are discovered. Henry drops them into the now-vacated cargo hold and steers the ship out of port. For the next four days, the four abductees guard the hold with the prisoners, steer, control sails, and for Madeline and Henry, fall deeper into feelings mired with complicated “what ifs?”

Onboard ship, by necessity, Madeline is less a lady than a girl remembering bits of sea shanties and all she learned about sailing. She also admits that she’s in love with Henry—there’s nothing for it.

Soon enough, he admits he loves her as well. As the journey goes on, Henry and Madeline dive from thinking their love is impossible to real and therefore, impossible to not pursue. Closer to Bristol, Henry knows that this journey will compromise Madeline’s reputation, if anyone ever finds out about it. So he asks Madeline if she’ll let him court her.
She says yes. Back in Bristol, Madeline is reunited with an anxious Alexandra, Lord Halbridge, and Lord Annesley. Henry sees Lord Upton take Potter and the other man off to prison and the courts in London. He is now free and dives into exciting plans for a future steamship.

Henry asks permission to court Madeline from Alexandra, who diverts him to Lord Annesley. Annesley agrees, but on condition that the girls stay at his home whenever Henry comes to visit. Annesley takes his guardianship of three marriageable, wealthy ladies seriously, after all their misadventures.

Summer of 1814 comes and Henry and Madeline’s courtship is short and intense. Almost immediately, he asks her to marry him. She, of course, answers yes. He has put aside his discomfort with her fortune, though he wants to purchase their future home on his own. Madeline is given household duties by her sister. Eventually, out of mourning, Madeline and Henry dance in public and perhaps observe the start of Alexandra’s own love story.

In December, 1814 Miss Madeline Keegan becomes Mrs. Henry Cartland. The newlyweds travel to their new home in Bristol, her very own home or her own creation, and fall into their four-poster bed. Henry now belongs to someone and has a place in his own country. Madeline’s fears have ebbed after facing them. Both are ready to look forward to the future.

Written out like that, I'm seeing that the romance is not the focus. There might be a bit too much plot, a bit too much backstory. The whole thing is plot-focused because it's the easiest thing to write down--though I personally think it's boring.

Any advice? Encouragement?Questions? Anyone out there want a Christmas present eventually?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Everyone's a Critic

I've taken a step back from the book to write the blurb, synopsis and gain some perspective on the story itself before taking comments and diving back in with a flurry of writing. But I was thinking about something Sonal said--not to put you on the spot, my dear--about this one class she had, full of business majors. It was a writing class and the prof was attempting to get the students to talk about their work, analyze it--you know, critique and then revise. According to Sonal, it didn't really work out.

Which kind of made me feel bad for just throwing y'all into the deep end with this book. I know not everyone took writing classes--specifically fiction classes. Nor does everyone read fiction and a whole book in your lap is a weighty thing. Not to mention that it's been my dream since I was a little girl to have a book published...

My first workshop was the Columbia University high school writing program. I think I was going into junior year. I didn't really know what to do or even how to express my opinion on a piece of literature. I wasn't analytical. We all had to be taught how to critique. If you don't like something, can you identify what you don't like about it? Even if it's not your taste, can you see potential in it? Be constructive. I've gotten used to workshop classes. Obviously, praise is better than criticism, but even criticism can be interesting because at least someone's talking about it. I'm not the most opinionated person in the world. Often, I think that the world would work better with less opinions floating around and more dictators, but when it comes to writing...it's obviously my thing 'cause I could talk about it all damn day.

Today, I asked Snowflake (I totally mean to put the spotlight on you...but you like that, don't you?) what she thought of The Time Traveler's Wife. I keep meaning to pick it up. Haven't gotten around to it. Here's what she said:

How did I like the book? That is a loaded question. I've been giving this a lot of thought and wondering if I just read it at a strange time in my life or if it really wasn't my cup of tea. But considering I read "Dry" days before I read this, I'm inclined to think it was the book. Firstly, the writing was not really for me. At times everything felt rushed and anti-climatic. And I can't for the life of me figure out why she would reveal pivotal scenes to us before they occur. I'm sure it's a stylistic thing but for me, it took the drama away from the places it would have been most useful. Also, everybody is heralding this book as "inspiring" and "a beautiful love story" but mostly it made me very sad in the wrong kind of way. Rather than, "Wow, what a powerful and poignant love story," I thought, "Wow, what a waste of two people's lives."
Now, don't get me wrong, it's very compelling; I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. I had to know how it ended... But when I turned the last page, I was shaking my head, unimpressed. It felt like a first draft that her editor hadn’t seen yet. Like no one had told her she needed to rewrite the whole end of the book. But what do I know? Read it, tell me what you think.



So why am I making you read this? Because I think it's specific. It's analytical. It's critical without being petulant, like "This story was a piece of crap." (you'd be surprised what you read in a fiction workshop...I remember the word "saccharine" being thrown around a lot about my stuff). I've gotten some great feedback about past scribbles (fanfiction much?) from many of you, so I hope that can continue.

Or as Jessica wrote to me about Chapter 12, Book the First:
Good chapter to get inside Gabriel's head, but it felt a bit disjointed. You put in like 4 mini-scenes in this chapter and jumped to different places and times without any transitions, which made it a bit difficult to follow. So perhaps order some things differently or insert some transitional phrases to help the reader follow the story better? I'm sending you an e-mail with more specific suggestions.


Plus, I'm at that stage where I can go back, read it and everything is awful, the plot's stupid, the language is off, there's no description, the history is overtaking the romance--if, indeed, there is any romance at all in this story--and I don't feel like there's any emotional depth, nothing has the impact I want it to, and I don't know how to make it better.

So, you know, riddled with self-doubt and coming off of menstrual hormones. Good times. Before, this is when I would've given up. Leave it as a personal best and move on. I really don't want to do that this time.

So--give it to me. I can take it. To paraphrase David Cook, "Love it or hate it, just don't ignore it."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blurb

I'm at this point--which I come to once in a while--of getting ahead of myself. By that, I mean that I have 4 million story ideas in my head and yet, let's remember that I haven't finished this one yet, officially. So I'm trying that whole writing down and doing some light research thing, just to get the ideas down and let them ferment for a while. I was thinking in my insomnia last night that I should blog about where the ideas come from, but truthfully, I don't know. I don't think the story ideas are anything particularly original; story ideas can be similar, but it's execution that counts and there are parts of this story that I can't judge the execution of yet. Still too close to parts of it. A writing teacher I had at Columbia's summer program told me, "Ideas are wonderful, but they don't get published." Heh.

But in the meantime, I'm writing a synopsis. I've discovered that I dislike them. I've already deleted one and begun another and hopefully, it will go better. Contests require a synopsis--your entire storyline, written out in about 5-10 pages, with some key scenes described, characters, major plots points, etc. No mystery allowed. Yes, the ending must be there. Subplots can be omitted. But the writing can't be dry because a synopsis is given to contest judges and also to agents and editors. So, pretty important. A lot of the query letters an author sends to agents are culled from the synopsis, too. So we'll see if that marketing minor came in handy at all. Here's a good link on what a synopsis is

On the other hand, I wrote the "blurb"--my try at back cover copy, which is a building block to a full synopsis (hopefully!). Here it is:

When Madeline Keegan arrives in her home country of England at age five, she feels like a stranger. Born to a prosperous merchant and a free black woman in the Caribbean, Madeline and her sister don’t fit in. As the years pass, the sisters grow into their roles as young gentry women. But in 1814, after their father dies, the girls find that their finances are not as they should be and their stepsister disappears on the same day. These challenges put Madeline in the path of Henry Cartland, a spy fresh home from the Continent and war—and determined to take down one last foe in Bristol, his hometown, with a connection to the Keegan family.
Half-Indian Henry is determined to build a new, stable life and leave the risky and soul-searing spying behind him. But as he attempts to bring a French spy to justice, Henry falls deeper into the Keegan family's concerns and finds himself falling in love with Madeline, though he knows he will never be good enough for her.
Together, they must overcome prejudice, social expectations, national and business interests and a terrifying ocean voyage to gain the courage to face fears and doubt--and fall in love.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Five

I was doing one of those "Pick Your Five Favorite" lists on Facebook a few days ago. So I thought I'd give it a try. Plus, in case you are reading (in which case many thanks and you'll get your present roundabout holiday season), but are going "I don't know if it's actually good or not" because you're not a historical romance junkie,there are short excerpts included. They're mostly first chapters, alas and alack, but since most book contests want a partial manuscript (basically the first three chapters or so), that opening is pretty crucial.
My top five romance novels (with linked excerpts):

1. Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas (2009, Bantam). Setting: Northwest Frontier of India (now Pakistan), 1897.
Short excerpts

2. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (1995) Setting: Paris & England, 1828. 384 pages. Google Books Excerpt

3. To Rescue a Rogue by Jo Beverley (2006). Setting: London, 1817. Excerpt

4. Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney (1996, reissued 2000). Setting: Waterloo, 1815. England, 1816. I like the first half better than the second. Chapter One

5. A Lady's Secret by Jo Beverley (2007) Setting: northern France & England, 1764. 416 pages. Excerpt

Honorable mentions: the entire Malloren series by Jo Beverley for a great family series. Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney for a half-Gypsy earl hero and a Welsh schoolteacher as the heroine. There's a difference in culture, religion and social class that underlies the whole thing. I also really enjoyed Sherry Thomas' first novel, Private Arrangements, because of the 1890s setting (which I haven't read much of). The Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn was awesome, because it's not too bogged down with drama and the writing is light-hearted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Titles

I am shit at coming up with titles. Always have been, always will be. It's hard to come with that one essential slogan that encompasses your entire story and it was even harder when I didn't have an entire book to name.

I was calling the book The Barbadian Bride for a minute because Madeline, the heroine, is from Barbados and a lot of her inner conflict stems from her childhood there (more free, but also with her mother dying and plantations full of slaves) and her life since living in England. And, at the end, she becomes a bride. It's a play on Mary Jo Putney's The Bartered Bride.

But I'm not sure that it really fits the story as it is now.

I could call it something generic like Smashing the Rules (Mady is, as you will note, very into social rules), but is that particularly romantic? Or Love in a Spy's Arms. The Tide of Love. The Keegan Inheritance might work, since that's where a great chunk of conflict comes form. Plus, if I ever do get around to writing Alex and Laura's stories, I could have a theme.

Maybe something like The Silver Thread? An Unlikely Love? Improbable Love? Caught in a Cargo Hold? Is it even legal to call it One True Thing, after the song I kept listening to in relation to this story?

Or...I could just use this romance novel title generator I found:Hilarious Title Generator.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What's the sound of one hand clapping?

Not to get all Zen Buddhist on y'all, but...um...*taps blog*...I finished it. Yeah, that's right. 5:06 am on August 16, 2009--the first romance has officially been tracked changed, which basically makes it a second draft.

254 pages at 1.5 spacing. 90,214 words (minus all the Chapter titles, dates, and occasional city identifiers)....meaning that the actual story itself is 90,214 words.

Good. Lord. I didn't I was so stinkin' verbose.

So, my pretties, I'm uploading to MegaUpload the book itself. It's all tracked changed in red for your delight, just waiting to be read and ripped apart. I have it set to by author, so apparently, if you are so inclined, you, too, can crayon-via-Microsoft Word all over it and it'll show up in a different color up to eight people.

However, it is 254 pages long.

I'm also uploading my revision letter to myself on Google Docs. Try not to laugh, because it's so fiction class 101. What can I say? I learn at my own pace. This revision letter might be a more effective way of commenting on certain aspects--I have specific questions in there that require answers. Plus, I have notes in there and I want to see if this makes sense to anyone not named Annrei--and if I achieved anything I noted down in those notes.

Thank you very much! I know you're all busy, busy people, so don't feel obligated to read. There are chapters. You can do it one chap at a time...and you have the entire work there, so no worries that I will suddenly lose the thread and stop writing.

It's too late for that, baby.

But if you want Christmas presents this year...then I suggest you read at some point. and remark. I'll even take a "that was good."

The book: Mady's Story *this is a pretty big file, so if there are any problems, let me know and I'll see about splitting it up.
*Edited to add: I split them up into two docs. Here are the URLs: Prologue-14 & 15-Epilogue

The revision notes: Revision Notes

Monday, August 3, 2009

Regency/Romancelandia Glossary

Largely from Candice Hern's website here, just a list of a few terms I used in my story.

Almack's : Assembly rooms in London, where balls were held every Wednesday during the Season. Patronesses of Almack's determined who could come in and who could not. Anyone in trade, even aristocrats associated with trade, were not admitted.

Bath: A city in the southwest of England, located 13 miles southeast of Bristol, Bath is known for its natural hot springs. Very fashionable in the Regency era (Jane Austen lived there for a time).

bluestocking: A woman with unfashionably intellectual and literary tastes.

Bow Street Runner: Established in the 18th century, the Runners worked under the magistrate of Bow Street in London and were the first London police force. The Runners were detectives who pursued felons and cases across the country.

Bristol: A city in the Southwest of England, built on the Avon River, Bristol was one of the country's largest ports. In the 18th century, Bristol's prosperity was built on slave ships and Thomas Clarkson, an abolitionist, went to Bristol to collect information on the slave trade to bring back to Parliament as evidence. In the 19th century, Bristol's status as the largest port in England was slowly being overtaken by Liverpool.

Courtesy Titles: If a duke, marquess or earl has a son, the son can use one of their father's lesser titles as their own until they inherit their father's title. The title isn't official and it doesn't give them a seat in the Lords, so it's called a courtesy title because the heir is a commoner until they inherit the big title. Only the younger sons of dukes and marquesses use "Lord" with their first names, no one else does. So the Duke of Jamaica isn't also Lord John, he's Lord Jamaica. But his younger son can be known as Lord Tom LastName. All daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls use Lady with their first names. The younger sons of earls and all children of viscounts and barons use "The Honorable" before their first name as a courtesy title. Confusing? Yeah. Don't worry. I only went up as far as viscounts.

Debrett's Peerage:An encyclopedia of the aristocracy, listing titles, estates, family histories. Still exists.

Duke of Slut: Popular in Regency-set romance, the Duke of Slut is a manwhore who has reputedly slept with every woman in the ton, yet miraculously does not have an STD. For some reason, there are hundreds of Dukes running around in the Regency, when in reality, there are usually less than 40 alive at any one time in Britain. The Sunflower solemnly swears not to use dukes at all in her stories, as she's rather tired of everyone being a duke.

Floating Harbor:Bristol Harbor, on the Avon, which was a major tidal river, meaning that the tides were crazy in difference, making it difficult for ships to get in and out of the city and putting wear and tear on ships. In 1804-09, lock gates were installed in the harbor, giving the section of harbor a constant water level and diverting the river into a cut beside it.

Gretna Green: The first village over the Scottish border, where marriage laws were much looser than in England. Minors could marry in Scotland without permission, so Gretna is the Vegas of its day with quickie weddings.

Hackney: Regency era taxi.

Post chaise: Regency era bus

The Season: Refers to the London social season, lasting from early spring until late June, while Parliament was in session. This is when the rich converged on London to attend balls, lectures, opera, ballet, the theatre and when young ladies made their social debuts.

Titles: The British aristocracy goes like this: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron. They are all accorded seats in the House of Lords in Parliament. Baronets and knights are titled, but not considered peers (the aristocracy was collectively known as the peerage) and do not have seats in the Lords. Dukes are addressed as "Your Grace;" the others are "my lord" or "your lordship." See courtesy titles for what the heirs to various peers were called before they inherited.

TSTL:"Too stupid to live." As in, a heroine who is "feisty" or "unconventional," but does incredibly dumb things in the course of the story, to be unbelievable entirely.

ton: From French, bon ton, meaning the fashion or good manners. The upper classes were referred to as "the ton."