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."