Friday, August 27, 2010

Pillars Blog Picture

Yes, I've been watching Pillars of the Earth--the series finale is on tonight and I'll have to pant in anticipation on Netflix over my (so far) work-free weekend because we don't have Starz.

As I've been reading Elizabeth Chadwick lately, an author who writes in the medieval period from Conquest down to The Anarchy (which is when Pillars takes place) to Angevin kings to Bad King John and his sinking treasure, Pillars fits in with that time period.

Plus, it fills a little bit of the void left for me by the departing Tudors. British boys! Yes, one of them plays a total psycho, which is unfortunate, as he's actually quite good-looking. But even my lust has boundaries. (Which basically means that near-mute, shy, sensitive artist types get me every time...)

I digress. Upon clicking around on the Interwebs, just reading about the actors, the characters and the time period, I came across author Ken Follet's website. Along with an incredibly confusing character web for Pillars' sequel, World Without End, there's also a map of Kingsbridge, the village the stories take place in, and most valuable for me...

A map of the fictional priory/ cathedral which is central to the story in Pillars.

All right, Sunflower, why is this a big deal? It's a frickin' map!

I've been mulling over a story that takes place around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. The protagonist is the son of a monk and a nun. He's also something of an adventurer (I'm going to send him to Italy in the 1520s, just to eat pasta and primitive pizza. Yum!). I decided that he's from Yorkshire, England, because in 1536ish that part of the country rose up in rebellion against Henry VIII.

But he grows up in a priory and while I figured that a library, church, and cloisters were part of the whole deal, I wasn't entirely sure. And if I can't figure out the facilities of a Catholic priory in Yorkshire, then how am I going to get this boy on the Silk Road, I ask you?

But now I have an idea of what a typical priory may have looked like and I drew a map out for my own story uses. Yay!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Utterly Innocuous Post

Most of the historical romances I read take place in England, during the Regency Era, among the upper classes. Thus, many of them have titles. In Romancelandia, there seem to be a dearth of dukes running around England, all of them young, hot, single,rich, with names like Raven-this and Hawk-that, etc.

So, to be a little bit more realistic--and because at heart, while I might like reading about the upper classes, I can't say I'm particularly fond of the idea that the upper 1% holds more than half the wealth in a nation (oh, wait, that's our country)--my "romance novels" have a minimum of titles in them.

I mean, come on, Jane Austen wrote about the gentry, who were plenty landed and usually, well-off. And there were more gentry than aristocracy, so....that's where I went, for the most part. Gentry and rich merchants.

I had two titles, both Viscounts (lower on the aristocracy ranking order...under earl, before baron). The girls don't marry either of these Viscounts, by the way. One is their uncle, the other their guardian. Nope, in my stories, the girls are heiresses, their husbands are either equal or lower on the social scale.

Then I decided that I wanted one minor character to have a distant chance of inheriting a title. I decided on an Earldom, for variety, and then...what to call it?

I've read that many authors in this genre look at Google Earth, look at the names of towns and villages in England, and steal the name for their fake title. I didn't do that.

I was in the car when we passed my old elementary school--which is on Gravett Road & Main Street, across from a giant Jewish cemetery that I once snuck into with my friends on a Friday night...


Thus, the Earl of Gravett was born. It sounds reasonably English and a bit stuffy, doesn't it? I mean, it's better than calling him the Earl of 69 (the street I grew up on).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Experiment, Part Three

Summer 2008:
Lily Carlson walked into the familiar rehearsal room, glancing into the mirrors long enough to see that her reddish brown hair was still in place and that the cover-up she’d applied early that morning still covered the emerging blue half-circles under her brown eyes. Then she turned away large mirrors that tended to mock American Idol finalists—especially since none of them could dance. “Dance” belonged in heavy air quotes.
She’d hardly left American Idol before it was time to come back, to perfect more music, to learn to at least look as if she was in step with everyone else. Had it really been only four days? It felt longer, a lifetime of answering questions such as, “How does it feel to be third place? Was the experience worth it? Who do you think will win?” Her reaction to being voted off had been played over and over again. Lily had even endured having to watch through her original audition in Philadelphia a few times, when she’d sung Janis Joplin. Then there was the loaded question: “Are you and David Cook together?”
Lily had nearly burst into laughter the first time that question had come up; she could only surmise that it had come about because of the top three, she was the only girl, and she, David and David were all single. David Cook was 25 and Lily had just turned 24. Although they were great friends now, based on bare facts alone, they had nothing in common. She was from New York, the youngest of two, had gone to an overcrowded New York public high school, and had hung out with the studious but artsy crowd in college. She was practically morally opposed to frat boys, which was what David had been in college. And he was from the Midwest, which was a different planet compared to New York. Then again, American Idol was foreign compared to any sort of existence.
Lily walked into the lounge near the dance studio to drop her bag and found David Archuleta sitting in one chair, eyes glazed over as he listened to his iPod. David Cook was sprawled on the couch, a guitar carefully placed next to him. He opened his eyes as she approached.
“Lils!” He said, trying to sit up. “You’re back!”
“I am, I am,” she said, dropping her backpack on a chair. Archie stood to give her a hug. Cook simply held his arms out for a hug, like a little kid, giving up on sitting up.
“We saw you on TV,” Archie said.

An Experiment, Part Two

11/12/04, date this document was saved, apparently:
The crew was swarming around the set, which was a small kitchen-like setting, with a table and chair and fireplace. Shari looked around and found Jessica doing her duties. She saw a few of the other actors hanging around; she was disappointed to see that Lij wasn’t one of them.
Eventually, Shari settled herself near the monitor. The lights had been set up around the table and leading to the closed door, which she could see. One of the cameramen was going to shoot it on a handheld camera. Shari anticipated more repetitive takes. Her jaw dropped when Amanda appeared, directing the cameramen and doing some last minute rehearsals with Orli. Amanda had on a relatively simple dress—simple for that time period. She wasn’t wearing a hood this time, but she did have a corset and a shift on underneath the voluminous dress. Orli was dressed in simpler clothes. Shari decided that she preferred the men’s costumes. They were practical. If she lived back then, she would’ve worn those clothes everyday. Amanda had only given Shari a look in response to that comment.
College. 2005:
Eva hadn't left the house in three months. She spent her days in the lavender room at the corner of the house, where the sunlight came in the best and she could be comfortably alone. It was the most inviting room in the house and Dominic used to spend a lot of time there, lying on the daybed while Eva sat at her desk and wrote. When they'd moved into the house three years ago, they'd agreed that Eva needed a room to work in. She'd fallen in love with the corner room and its views of green, suburban Lancashire and promptly made Dom help paint it her favorite color. They ended up covered in bright lavender at the end of the day.
February 2005:
I try not to go home very often. I use all sorts of excuses when my mother or my siblings or one of my best friends ask me to come home and see them. "You only have to take the subway," they say. "It's only an hour. Not that far."
"Oh, I have to work,"I tell them. Or: "The Boy and I have plans. The fare's so much now. I can't go back to Queens all the time." The fact is that Queens isn't home anymore. My life is in Manhattan.
But I found myself on the subway going into Queens one Saturday morning. Occasionally, I glanced up and saw the advertisement above the opposite seats. Smiling college students. A list of majors. LaGuardia Community College.
January 31, 2006. Memoir writing class:
Rei's sitting on the end of her bed, wearing a T-shirt that says I Heart NY and pink, polka-dotted pajama bottoms. She sits upright at the foot of her bed, hands gripping the rail. Her intense, nearsighted state is on the TV, barely eighteen inches away. Her mouth opens and a loud gasp escapes. Then a litany of curses: "Holy shit! What are you doing, you idiot?" The one-sided conversation continues for the next hour. Most people would say she's completely lost her mind. But in fact, the girl does this sort of thing every week--Wednesdays, 9 PM--in the exact same position. It's almost religious in the way she does it, with the zeal of a religious convert. Sitting so close to the TV, she couldn't possibly miss anything. And no one in the TV can hear her yell. But she doesn't care. When "Lost" is on, she forgets everything else in the world.
April 2006: Ongoing Saga, Take One:

“I hate February,” Lennon declared as she sprawled in one of our beanbag chairs, Pippin curled up with her.
“You say that every February,” I reminded her.
“Yeah. ‘Cause it’s true,” Lennon mumbled back. I looked at Pippin, who was basking in the glory of being petted by Lennon. I wish I were a cat sometimes.
“Now that’s a happy cat,” I pointed out, stepping over Lennon to get to the kitchen behind her.
Lennon smiled down at the stretching cat. “Aw, Pippin loves me, don’t you? Huh, Pip?” Lennon’s smile turned into a scowl and then that terrible neutral expression shifted into place. It was two days after my birthday, about three weeks after the death of Lennon and Kevin and she was in a hole. And I couldn’t bring her out of it. She would have to dig herself out eventually, on her own time.
“Pippin’s very loving.”
“For a cat,” Lennon said, wiggling her butt to get into a more comfortable position. “Brian coming over?”
“Yeah,” I answered, reaching into the fridge for milk. “He’s working on some sketches with his comedy troupe. And they keep late hours.”
“Most of you performers keep late hours,” Lennon said, voice hollow.
“So do writers,” I replied, looking through the cupboards.
“Oh, but I’m not a writer,” she answered. “I’m an editor’s assistant. That play was a fluke.”
“Was not.” I opened the next cupboard, looking for my lime green bowl. I wanted cereal. “You’re always writing something.”
“Not for public consumption,” she said. “And thus lies the crux of the matter…what are you looking for?”
“My bowl,” I answered. “The lime green one.”
“Scottie, it’s right on the counter.”
I looked down. Sure enough, there it was. I picked it up and glanced at it for a second. “Thank you. This is why we still live together. Now where are the Lucky Charms?”
“Oh, because that’s real healthy to eat at ten o’clock at night.”
“Says the woman who used to eat Cocoa Puffs for dinner several times a week in college.”

September, 2006.
My father says that when it comes to photographs, Athy men don't smile and Athy women always have their mouths open, ready to add an acidic comment to the conversation. He claims that this goes back generations through the taciturn Northern Irish men and the talkative Irish women who are my ancestors. By this logic, out of three brothers, my father is the only one with his full share of quirky Athy genetics.
December 2006:

I spent a good portion of my senior year of high school pretending that I was engaged to my friend Greg. I was not the one who started this twisted joke nor did I necessarily understand what deficient part of Greg’s brain came up with it. All I know is that one day, early on in senior year, Greg, who can only be described as doofy and very tall, came up to me in journalism class, put an arm around my shoulders and said, “We’re getting married in June.”
“Oh, yeah?” I replied. “Where’s my ring, you dork?”
“You’ll get it later, cupcake.”
Summer 2008. Grad school thesis:

With only a minimal and passing knowledge of psychology and architecture, I quickly learned how to write sales pitch letters and emails for books ranging from geriatric psychiatry to the history of public markets to how to make paper out of plants and vegetables. Similar to an essay for school or the practice press releases I wrote for an undergraduate marketing class, the method for writing pitch letters came down to whom the letter was being sent to. As with any piece of writing, audience matters. Kevin Olsen, the marketing director at Norton Professional Books, told me that although he tried to read all of the books he was in charge of marketing, finishing them all was impossible. I learned how to write pitches based on scraps of information from flap copy, catalog copy, and sometimes from reading the first few pages of the book to gain a sense of the tone. Pitching includes writing to organizations with conferences or annual meetings who might be interested in a bookseller, or to academics who might be interested in buying books in bulk as part of a course adoption.

An Experiment, Part One

I was just reading a post on a favorite blog about an author's voice...and how it may, or may not, change as the author matures and becomes more fine-tuned.

So here's an experiment. Me, posting a bunch of excerpts from various times in my life. Let's see how things have changed. All spelling and punctuation non-corrected. In rough chronological order:

4th grade:

On Monday I played and played in the snow. I made a huge snowpile. I made tunnels in it. I called them secret passageways. It was so cool. I loved it. On Tuesday I played with it again. But this time I brought out my plastic doll stuff. I made them the furniture. I threw snowballs. I wished I had more days off from school.
* * *
6th grade:
April 15, 1996
Everyone was coming. All of Kit's relatives, her children, grand children, and three great-grandchildren. The family always gathered for New Year's and Christmas and Thanksgiving and some Easter Sundays too.
But they also gathered on April 15. Then Kit could tell why. Her brother and sister had died on this date 84 years ago. In 1912. She would always serve a basic meal. "Things we ate for 5 or 4 days in 1912" and then she would tell her truthful account of her reason for everyone gathering on a basic meaningless day to everyone else. "Why are we here, great-gran?" asked little Molly Nolan. "Well child it was something that happened to me a long, long time ago...In 1912..." Kit gestured to her thousands of black'n'white photos. "That was my oldest brother Frankie and my sister Annie-"
Kit stopped, "He was my other brother, Jack." she said carelessly. "This was taken in 1911, before us four left New York to visit Ireland and relatives..." Cory asked "Great-gran, isn't today the day in 1912 the ship Titanic crashed?" Kit nodded "Yes, in fact that's what my story is about..."

8th grade (?) :
I will never forget the last time I was in Lyton. It’s ingrained in my memory. The last time I was in Lyton-god, I remember the exact moment like it was yesterday instead of five years ago.
It was April, 2001, and it was raining like hell. I remember being absolutely soaking wet, my clothes and hair all sticking to my body. I was wearing a gray tanktop, blue jeans, and sneakers that I threw out afterwards and never wore again. I was stalking down the sidewalk of York Street, the shopping district, in a rage and also, at the same time, paralyzed with grief.
My brother, Andy, was running after me. His longer legs allowed him to catch up to me faster than I was running away from him. His hand grabbed me by the elbow and I shoved him away from me. I continued walking determinedly, though I had no clue where to go. I only had the clothes on my back, a bracelet, necklace, five bucks and my house keys in my pockets.
“Amanda!” he hollered. I must’ve really pissed him off. Very few people ever called me by my real name, Amanda. Nearly everybody called me by my childhood nickname, “Lucky.” Andy was one of those people. I didn’t even think he knew what my real name was. “Amanda! Yo! God dammit! Amanda!” I continued walking. He chased after me. “Lucky!” he shouted out. I came to a stop and turned around and faced him.
He stopped about two feet away from me. He knew that I had a good reason to kill him. He also knew that I would’ve tried to kill him if he came any closer. I looked him up and down. He looked pathetic. He was wearing a bandana on his head, a dark green one, and his white T-shirt was covered in blood. He was wearing loose, baggy jeans and expensive, stolen sneakers, the picture of ghetto fabulous.
“Don’t come any closer, you asshole!” I shouted at him. “Shut the hell up and leave me the fuck alone!” I walked backwards as I screamed at him. “I hate you, Andy! I hate you! I hate this damn town!” I turned my back towards him. “I hate this life! I hate this town and I sure as hell hate you! Leave me alone!"
I know perfectly well why I turned my back on my upbringing, family, friends and the only life I had ever known at the tender age of eighteen. I know why it was such an easy thing for me to do at the time. It was a genetic thing. It runs on my mother’s side of the family. Daughters run away and then end up miserable.
11th grade:
It's right before the PSATs and my pencil is poised above the long, tedious form that has about twenty choices for a person's race. I skip over them all, simply circling in the bubble for "other." Some people can easily fit themselves into one race. I can't. I'm two races, white and Asian. I'm a true other. I'm such an other that my features morph from Irish to Japanese within a matter of seconds. I walk down the street and Asian women look at me, trying to figure out if I'm one of them or not. I get stared at when I visit the suburbs, too. I think they're trying to see if I'm white.
Why are the PSATs asking me this, anyway? Isn't their job just to tell me how badly I'll do on the SATs?
11th or 12th grade:

Amanda opened the door to the clean but stuffy room at exactly eight o’clock. Auditions would begin at nine. Amanda set her coffee cup down on the long table where she, her casting director (who also happened to be her assistant director), her producers and two studio executives would sit in judgement against some of the best actors Hollywood had to offer.
Amanda sat down just as the door opened again. She smiled and waved at her A.D/casting director Jessica, who entered looking just as uncharacteristically peppy as she did. Directing created adrenaline for them.
“Hey,” Jessica, sitting down beside Amanda at the table. “Are you ready for this?”
“Yes,” Amanda said, gripping the edges of the thick script. “And we thought they wouldn’t take a teenager-based flick.”
Jessica shrugged.
“So, who’s coming today?” Amanda asked. Jessica thought for a minute, failed to remember the names of Hollywood’s best, and pulled out her planner.
“I wrote it all down…where is it?…Oh, here it is,” Jessica said, paging through the book that contained her life. “Um…Josh Hartnett…he’s a little too old to play Jimmy, but we’ll see. Elijah Wood—can’t see him doing that either. Colin Farrell’s coming in for Steve…” Amanda whistled. “Yeah, I know. Oh, and…Orlando Bloom.” Amanda’s eyes opened wider and her mouth did, too. Jessica laughed. “I see that we’re still obsessed with Orli.”
Amanda blushed and sunk down in her chair. “Oh. My. God. Orlando Bloom’s auditioning for my movie? How is that possible?”
“He has an agent. We—well, you—have a really superior script,” Jessica grinned all of a sudden. “And we’re gonna make all those teachers who told us to ‘talk up’ pay.”
Amanda laughed. “Yeah. No one can spot it except us, Shari and Edie, but I based the teachers in here,” she said, pointing to the script, “on some of the meaner ones at FHHS.”
“I was just thinking…” Jessica started. “Well, okay, we’re casting for Jimmy first, right?” Amanda nodded. “Well, then, whose gonna do Grace’s lines or Jolie’s lines to Jimmy? I don’t think it’s fair to make actors read with monotone studio executives.”
“We should’ve cast for Grace first,” Amanda mumbled. “Oh, well. I guess I’ll do it. I wrote the damn thing, I know how to read it.”
“Besides,” Jessica added, eyes sparkling, “you’re the director. They’re just actors—what do they know?”
They both cracked up, stopped laughing, and then started up again until they had tears of laughter and giddiness running down their cheeks.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Meeting My Waterloo

I finished the outline of the third book in my romance novel series last night. These being the same stories I was fiddling with last summer (seriously--the whole series is planned). I wrote the first one through, submitted it to a contest, got some pointers and honest-to-goodness feedback on the first 35 pages.

Then I got into Last Request and left the Regency historical novels on my desktop.

Well, the spark came back about a month or two ago. I acquired a new Regency-set romance (one by an author I'd never read before, in fact, though I read the blog she shares with other historical romance writers). I indulged my interest in Waterloo by reading Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army. Then I bought Sherry Thomas' latest release--His At Night--which is actually late Victorian, but her writing is so good, her prose is so beautiful, that it made me want to write a historical romance again. I'm girly-geeky. I like a good historical romance novel.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hiroshima + Nagasaki

Today is the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I was at my grandma's house today (well, yesterday) and the memorial ceremony was on TV (since in Japan, it was already the 6th). It was held in Hiroshima's peace park--right where the above building, which was damaged in the bombing, still stands as an eternal reminder of what happened.

140,000 people died in Hiroshima, as well as thousands afterward from the effects of radiation--cancer, wounds, injuries. This is the first year that an American ambassador is going to the memorial ceremony.
I mean, really. It only took y'all 65 years to attend the memorial service--why even bother at this point? On the one hand, as an American-born young woman of Japanese descent, I am glad that my birth country is acknowledging what it did, since it's never apologized. On the other hand, it feels too little, too late. And yes, I've heard (and was, in fact, taught in school) that the Americans felt they had no other choice at the time--either use the devastating bomb or lose thousands, possibly millions, of American lives. I heard one American guy reiterating that opinion on Japanese TV today.

Excuse me while my cynicism rises to the surface. That, and a good measure of disgust.

Perhaps an invasion of Japan would've lost more American lives. My father's father was in the occupation forces, actually. My mother's father was training. He would've been in the next bunch out of Japanese and into the Pacific islands had the war kept going. My mother's uncle fought in the Philippines and several of the islands--against my Irish-American grandfather. I can't say if the American lives lost would've been quite as devastating in number as the ones lost at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; they certainly wouldn't have echoed down the generations as the bombs did, what with radiation causing cancer, infertility and other diseases over the decades.

BUT--I'm not going to argue the faulty policies of 65 years ago.

The bomb was dropped from the Enola Gay at 8:15 am.

More pertinent to my family is the Nagasaki bomb--because my family is from a nearby city, in the same prefecture, called Sasebo. That one was dropped on August 9, 1945, 11:02 am and it's still within living memory of my family. My grandma was still a teenager at the time, but she remembers seeing the cloud over Nagasaki from Sasebo.
The Secretary General of the UN visited the Nagasaki memorial site yesterday, I believe. It's the first time that has ever happened, too. 70,000 people died in Nagasaki.