Archive for April, 2011

I don’t have enough time.

Yeah, I know, I’m not the first person to say that. But it’s starting to get on my nerves. For the first time in decades, I actually like a whole lot of shows on TV, and they’re starting to stack up in my DVR. His Highness is grumbling (mildly) about how the HD hours are running out.

Here are the shows I’m hooked on these days:

THE BORGIAS (with Jeremy Irons. Need I say more?)
The Mentalist (with Simon Baker. Ditto.)
Dancing With The Stars (with sequins and corny music.)
30 Rock.
Upstairs, Downstairs.
Game of Thrones.

It’s hopeless. I’ll never catch up!

And then there’s the book problem. When the Borders near me closed, it was my solemn duty to help them clean off their shelves. Right? Here are a few of the books I couldn’t resist, which are now stacked up on my desk, sending out their siren song as I try to finish my essays and PowerPoints and lesson plans for school:

The Distant Hours, Kate Morton
Inside the Victorian Home, Judith Flanders
The Girl With Glass Feet, Ali Shaw
The World from Rough Stones, Malcolm MacDonald
The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Joyce Carole Oates
Mrs. Astor Regrets, Meryl Gordon
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Changes, Jim Butcher
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
At Home, Bill Bryson
Nation, Terry Pratchett

What about you? What’s stacking up on your desk this month?

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I’ve just done something very exciting. I’ve decided to revisit a past love.

Okay, not a living, breathing human being kind of past love. This heartthrob is one who lived only between the pages of a book I read when I was…maybe 16? But frankly I’m as nervous about meeting this guy again as I possibly could be about meeting the real boyfriend I had that year. Maybe more so. What will I think of this man now? What will re-reading his story tell me about my 16-year-old self? What will my new, middle-age reaction tell me about what I’ve gained through the years–and what I’ve lost?

Back then, I was a big fan of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. One day I woke up and discovered I’d read all the Heyer books. So I went hunting, and I ran across a book that promised me it was “IN THE TRADITION OF GEORGETTE HEYER”!

The book was Barbara Cartland’s Desire of the Heart. I know today that Barbara Cartland was a romance machine, and her dozens of books make “real” writers and readers smirk behind their hands. But I didn’t know it then. This was my first, and last, Barbara Cartland novel. I had no preconceived ideas, except that she might provide a temporary Heyer fix.

Somehow, that book was perfect for me. It starred Cornelia, a plain, unglamorous Irish girl sacrificed in marriage to the dark and dashing Duke of Roehampton. The Duke was already having an affair with a sophisticated older beauty, and he wasn’t at all interested in his boring new wife. So Cornelia ran away and created an exciting new identity for herself as an exotic mystery lady named Desiree. And of course Desiree’s first conquest is…the Duke!

For decades, I thought about the book off and on, wondering if it could have been as magical as I remembered it. Why would an insensitive, adulterous husband, however handsome, be appealing in any way? Why would I love a book whose message pretty much was…get glam, or your brute of a husband won’t love you? Through the years, I forgot the title, forgot character names, forgot everything but the broadest outlines of the plot.

When Google came around, I casually searched databases of Cartland titles, wondering if I could find the one that had meant so much to me. But my details were too sketchy, and her library is too large. I never found anything I recognized.

Until last week…Last week I stumbled onto a site that provided plot outlines, and I was able to narrow it down to one title. Desire of the Heart. I went to eBay and found a used copy just cheap enough to seem worth the risk. Today the book arrived at my door. I’m neck deep in other commitments, so I can’t take time to read it now. And I’m almost relieved.

As I look at the cover, so many memories from that year come back that it’s almost overwhelming. The summer I turned sixteen–I’d forgotten how tumultuous that year was. Our family moved to a new neighborhood, the first move I’d ever made. I started a new school, very tough for a shy girl. And for the first time in my life, I fell in love. Or at least…let’s say that I got a serious crush on a boy, the first one who actually seemed more important to me than Paul McCartney.

I was such a kid, really, but I could see adulthood from there, and it was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. I had so much to learn. Somehow I feel as if this might have been the last book I ever read with a totally romantic heart, if that makes sense.

What do you think? Will I be disappointed? Will I be annoyed with that silly girl who still thought bad boy Dukes were romantic?

Should I even read it?

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I’m so excited. Terri Backhus, one of my best writing buddies, has just finaled in the Golden Heart! She’s written a wryly funny romance about a washed-up guitar player getting a chance to take his revenge on the columnist who sank his career. Appropriately, it’s called GETTING EVEN.

Terri had entered the Golden Heart before. She had not finaled. Most people don’t. But the amazing Terri, who is a lawyer by day, a drummer by night, and a writer…God knows when…isn’t a quitter. Here’s her story about how she tried again:

My father used to say, “Terri, even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.” So, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise when I became a Golden Heart Finalist for my single title manuscript, Getting Even. Was it because of talent? Hardly. Luck? Not so much. Perhaps editing? Yes. Yes. Yes.
I’ve seen the light. I’ve sipped the Kool Aid and become a true believer. Repent sinners and kneel at the altar of the red pen. The secret to success is in the edit.
It took a friendly wager before I finally realized the value of killing your manuscript darlings, their spouses, offspring and pets. You see, my critique partner bet me $100.00 that she could edit my first few chapters so that they would final in the Golden Heart contest. Mind you, the partial had finaled before at the Moonlight and Magnolias contest a few years before. But, the ultimate prize…the Golden Heart was always beyond my grasp…until the bet.
I should have known. Kathleen O’Brien had taught me the value of the edit long ago. My friend, Donna Pruneau, and I sat in her romance writing class gobbling up bits of wisdom she tossed our way. When Kathleen kicked us out of the romance nest, we were too young (figuratively speaking) to appreciate what she meant in class. Finishing a manuscript was such a huge accomplishment for us that re-writing it seemed unthinkable. The manuscripts were safely tucked in our hard drives while we suffered rejection after rejection. We remained editing non-believers.
Still, we didn’t quit. Donna worked hard and became skilled at composing a kick ass partial. She finaled in almost every contest she entered; the Golden Heart, Daphne Du Maurier and Moonlight and Magnolias contests.
I procrastinated. I never met a botched tense or sentence fragment I didn’t like. And, I finished one book for every two Donna completed. Contests were not my friends, until manuscript number three– Getting Even. It was a story about Cadillac Carl, revenge and romance on Wilde Mountain in Nashville, Tennessee. What made manuscript number three a Golden Heart finalist?
The edit.
Donna’s $100.00 edit. Kathleen’s teaching, and despite my best effort to cover it up, Ann Evans’ faith that my writing had a voice.
The takeaway is that editing by someone you trust is not an option. It’s a requirement. A good editor can see the tense problems, the renegade commas and the logic blemishes on your beautiful baby. Like a moyle at a bris, it’s essential to have a steady hand on the red pen.
Whether I win the Golden Heart for Getting Even or not is almost irrelevant (I said almost). I learned a lesson…finally. What’s important is that, win or lose, Getting Even is a good story. It’s better because I had good editors. Yes, even the lowly unpublished need the best editors we can beg and bribe into helping the cause.
If I don’t get a chance to say it on July 1st, I’m a better writer because of Donna, Ann and Kathleen. If I win, I’m planning a tent revival for the faithful believers in the red pen at Ruby Foo’s on Broadway. Sake and green tea sundaes for everyone. Donna’s buying. After all, she won the bet.

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I love that song! Remember it? Air Supply…super corny (my favorite kind)…ultra romantic!

I’m guest blogging today over at Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs , and I’m trying to find out what you, the readers, need in a romance novel to convince you that what the hero and heroine feel is really True Love.

Is it just a matter of the author conveying the feelings clearly enough that you recognize them as love? Or do you have to see specific reasons why the two people are made for each other? Does the heroine have to offer something specific to the hero, and vice versa?

It’s a dilemma all writers face, and I’m eager to hear what you think!

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