Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Speaking of guest blogging, the fabulous Anne Mallory will be guest blogging with us on Wednesday, August 1! Come by tomorrow to check out the scoop on Anne's new release, the story on her cartoon trailers and her favorite pizza toppings!
You've all heard people say it, I know I have. It's either "I love the beach!" or "Ugh, I hate the beach, let's go to the mountains." It seems that everyone has their favorite and the opposite is to be vilified and despised. I'm a mountain girl, through and through. Alas, I'm currently at the beach.
Among the many reasons I'm not a "beach girl" are that I'm fair skinned and burn easily, and the heat (WHY are we here in late July?) just disables me for days if I stay out too long and, last but not least, I'm a tenderfoot, so walking on the sand littered with crunchy shells and seaweed is pretty much torture.
So you might well ask why the heck I'm at the beach. Well, it's all about love. My husband and sons are beach lovers. So are their cousins and my brother and sister-in-law. Since I love them, I'm steadily, year by year, working on loving the beach experience. :> They are ecstatically surfing/boogie boarding and soaking in the rays. I'm in an Internet cafe talking to you. Trust me, we're all happier that way. Thankfully, the Delaware town in which we're staying, namely Bethany Beach, HAS an Internet cafe. (There's no phone or internet at the newly-renovated house in which we're staying.) This way I'm connected to my writing pals, my friends and family, so despite the heat and the "beachness" of it all, I'm content.
In fact, for all that I really dislike the beach, I can find a lot about which to be happy. This is one of the great times of year where I get to hang out with my husband for extended periods of time. My brother and sister-in-law will watch our boys and let us go for a walk or catch a movie without it costing us $100. (Babysitters and movie tickets are expensive in DC) The boys are in heaven because they get to play with their cousins, act macho, run wild, scream, yell, chase gulls, and eat BBQ from the grill. We grill at home, but somehow, it's just better at the beach, according to my sons. Then there's the ice cream.
It's a family tradition that every night we all walk to a specific ice cream place and eat a variety of weird flavors or sprinkles. Just because. To my joy, my sons are building memories of shared fun, creating relationships with their cousins who live far enough away that we don't see them often, and growing wiser and stronger every day.
My eldest son is learning to boogie board, tutored by his proud and knowing older cousins. My younger son is enthralled with the ability to dig large, messy holes in the sand without getting fussed at for ruining a flower bed or anything else. He's in heaven. My husband doesn't have to do anything but play with his sons, take walks with me, and finish leftover ice cream cones the boys can't manage. No pesky work. He's in heaven too.
So, even though I'm at the (ugh) beach, even though I wilt in the heat and don't leave the house much except after dark, I'm in heaven too. Watching them explore, hearing about their exploits - which they proudly recount in great detail - makes the experience magical.
What are some of your magic moments? Are you a beach or mountain gal/guy? Did you ever vacation with your family and extended family, and if so, where? What did YOU do on your summer vacation?
Monday, July 30, 2007
Most banditas confessed to being good students. I'm not surprised because writers by default must be good readers, lovers of the written word, and shapers of gripping characters and the worlds they occupy. They must be moderately well organized and superbly disciplined, all traits that make for good students.
When I was thirty-seven, I flew back to Virginia to attend Hopewell High School’s twentieth class reunion (go Cougars!!!). Like many of you, in high school I was in that undetermined class between the “cool” kids (we had Greek letter fraternities and sororities on our campus – so NOT cool) and what we called the “hoods,” students who regularly got into trouble, ditching school, smoking on campus, or flunking tests on a regular basis.
Our little tweener clique consisted of the scholars, the smart kids, not exactly fitting in with the jocks and cheer leaders, but respected because, well, we were the top graduates, we got the scholarships, and we helped the others through their trig and physics classes.
Life is such an amazing leveler. At my twentieth class reunion, I was so surprised to find that I was the cool kid! I was one of the few college graduates, the one who could still fit into her wedding dress, the one who had a respectable job, and the one who had miraculously transformed from a skinny girl with no boobs or hips into a moderately attractive woman, albeit with no boobs. There's a name for us girls: we’re called late bloomers.
I have three daughters, all of whom are gorgeous and tall and slender (this from their Dad), but they bloomed “late.” My husband always said a late-blooming daughter was God’s blessing to worried parents. Somehow their common sense anchors them until their beauty takes over.
I’ve been teaching adolescents for over twenty years and I know this for sure: I’ve NEVER met a beautiful, talented girl who felt extremely confident. There seems to be in most of us that little unsure girl who’s positive she’s not as pretty as everyone says, who’s fat even though she weighs less than my jeans, who can’t see her creamy complexion for the zit worming its way to the surface.
I had a student a few years ago who lives in Las Logos, a very pricey gated community near where I live. To give you an idea, Eddie Murphy (yes, that one!) just sold his $10 million house – estate is more appropriate – out there. I was helping my student write her college application essay and we began talking about girly-stuff. Here is this beautiful (really), talented (really, really), smart (triple really), little cheerleader whose life is very hard. She cooks and cleans for her entire family (mom and dad off making money), she maintains a 3.9 grade-point average, and she is universally liked. I have no compunction about eavesdropping on teenage conversations, so I know this for a fact.
I just hugged her and told her how much better life would be in a few years. She’s a mental late-bloomer and doesn’t even know it.
So my question to you, gentle readers, is: What’s the most poignant event YOU can recall about high school – good or bad? Lay it all on the line. And then think, like my granddaughter golfer in the picture above: What a long way you’ve come, baby!
Sunday, July 29, 2007
We've Bandita's have had a lot to celebrate lately. Golden Heart wins & finals, Contest successes, and the big whohoooo's -- Sales!
I'm going to guess there have been celebrations for those biggies. I used to go out to dinner and have a margarita for every contest win, I kept all my certificates from finals and scrapbooked them (as well as my GH ribbons for each final, along with a picture of the big screen), and not only did I have a huge family celebration when I sold (complete with a trip to Build A Bear Workshop... really!) I had a fun party to celebrate my debut. I'm all about the celebrations.
But what about those steps, those events that aren't exactly champagne and roses worthy (and really... aren't they???)? The finishing a manuscript - whether it's your first or tenth? Contest finals, editor or agent requests? Getting a good review, hearing from readers, sending in a proposal? Each of these are steps on the path to success. But sometimes these steps are easy to ignore, to shrug off.
I think part of it, at least for me, ends up being my avid goal setting. Yes, the little steps count, but I'm always eyeing that goal - the next sale, the next review, the next event. But a year or so ago, right after I'd sold, a very smart lady in my local chapter asked me what I'd done to celebrate my last unpublished contest final. I shrugged and replied, nothing. I'd finaled before, I was more excited about the sale. She pointed out that the finals, the little steps, all helped me reach that sale, and that I should be celebrating every single step.
She's right. Whether it's writing, raising kids, our education... anything. All the big moments are made up of the little steps.
So - how about you? What are your biggies and how do you celebrate the little steps toward achieving them?
Saturday, July 28, 2007
By Suzanne Welsh
Recently I made two discoveries that have thrilled me both as a reader and a book collector.
For years I’ve been searching for a copy of a book I read in my early high school years. It’s titled “Black Horse Tavern”, by Janet Louise Roberts. I adored this book. I’m a re-reader—meaning that if a book captures me, I’ll happily read it over and over and over again. That’s the reason I have two copies of Julie Garwood’s “Saving Grace”. So when I had my original copy of “Black Horse Tavern”, I literally wore it out.
It’s a great story about a girl who lives in her creepy stepfather’s tavern during the Revolutionary War. Only she knows there’s a secret exit from the tavern, and uses it to spy on the redcoats and her stepfather. Then she gives the information she learns to the Sons of Liberty and the hero of the story.
As an American history buff even at the age of 15, I loved this whole book, but somehow lost my copy. Then I couldn’t remember the author’s name. About four years ago I managed to learn the author’s name through some sleuth work and a few good google sites. Finally, last week I found a copy on line in good condition and bought it! When I got home from the RWA National conference with 3 bags of books, my old favorite was waiting in a mailer for me.
The other find was a complete surprise to me. The week before the RWA National conference I always clean out my to be read (TBR) pile and my already finished pile (AFP) of books, this year to the tune of $35 at the half-priced bookstore nearby. But while going through the mountain of books I found a 1989 copy of “The Copeland Bride”, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. You know, the book she and her friend wrote before SEP went solo and became a NYT’s best seller. Imagine my amazement! I truly had no idea that book was in my possession. When I googled out of print books, I discovered that little paperback is now worth $50!
So, tell me, what books are on your keeper shelf? Any rare or out of print books? Is there one book you'll read over and over, maybe as a yearly ritual?
posted by Aunty Cindy
CONGRATS to Sonja Faust! You are the winner of Tina's current release Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress. Please send Aunty your snail mail info to cindymm18 at gmail dot com.
And I predict you will LOVE THE BOOK!
Thanx again to Tina for being a GREAT GUEST!
Please, everyone be sure to check back into the Bandit lair OFTEN for more great giveaways and surprises! Remember, on August 1st Anne Mallory will be our guest blogger, and TWO lucky winners will receive copies of her book.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Your old Aunty has been writer-buddies with the WONDERFUL Tina Ferraro for *ahem* some years now. Matter of fact, Tina and I were 'roomies' at RWA National in Reno in 2005. Tina got to wear her pink First Sale Ribbon and Aunty introduced her to the addictive TV series "Lost." Whereupon we immediately became perpetual fans of our mutual lust object Sawyer/Josh Holloway. But I digress... Tina's young adult novel, "Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress" came out earlier this year to rave reviews. Her next YA novel, "How to Hook a Hottie" will be out early in 2008 and is sure to be equally well-received!
Tina regularly blogs with a group of six other YA authors (including 06 Packer Heather Davis!) at Books, Boys, Buzz (http://yawriters.blogspot.com). Check it out! And now give Tina a BIG BANDIT WELCOME as she answers all kinds of questions from your old Aunty!
AC: Please tell us a little about your current release, "Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress" and your soon to be released, "How to Hook a Hottie."
TINA: All my recent ideas have started with titles. TOP TEN USES FOR AN UNWORN PROM DRESS came to me when I saw a nonfiction book called something like 101 THINGS TO DO WITH A BRIDESMAID DRESS. My brain came alive with what-if's: "What if it was a prom dress? An unworn prom dress because her date dumped her two days before the prom. And what if her mom--in an attempt to help her heal--started a list of 101, no, no, 10 silly things to do with it..." A week later, I pitched it to my agent, Nadia Cornier, and she gushed, "Oh, I could sell that on the title." Okay, it didn't exactly happen that way, but I loved her enthusiasm!
The title, HOW TO HOOK A HOTTIE, came to me while brainstorming with my teenaged daughter, but oddly enough, by the time I submitted the proposal, I'd changed it to something slightly different. When Nadia called to say they wanted to buy it and told me what they'd proposed as a title, I laughed, realizing I'd actually gotten it "right" the first time. And I'm very happy we went back with that because it encouraged me to come up with "how to tips", including a Six Point Plan, a hexagon for hooking hotties! (And how could THAT go wrong???) The basic idea is that kids at school hire 17 year-old Kate to help them hook their secret crushes, assuming she's got some insider info on the ways of the heart because how else could such a no-nonsense girl like her have hooked the hottest guy in the school? ("Thanks a lot, people!")
AC: Aunty knows that once-upon-a-time you wrote contemporary romantic suspense (and won some contests with your efforts). What made you decide to switch to YA? Any advice for other writers thinking of trying to break into the YA market?
TINA: I am also a Confession short story author, and over the years, have sold as many teen stories as I have adult. So the teen voice has always been with me. But I had always heard to "write what you love" and romantic suspense what was I loved to read, so when my youngest went to kindergarten and I joined the RWA with serious aspirations of selling a novel, I set my sights on romantic suspense. And yes, I did have some success with writing contests, but the truth was, I had trouble bringing a good idea or a good first few chapters to a good 300 page conclusion.
I knew that first person writing (the tense used for Confessions) was my natural voice. So when a couple of the Harlequin/Silhouette lines started accepting first person, I gave them a try, and found I was suddenly writing better books. Meanwhile, a friend had told me about the YA "Smooch" line. After hitting a bump in my professional life, and then one in my personal, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try writing a "Smooch". My daughter was a high school freshman at the time, and she read all the chapters to make sure I didn't sound like a grown-up pretending to be a teen, and when I'd finished, I could honestly say it was the best thing I'd ever written. Too bad it didn't sell, huh? But it got me my agent, and she sold the next one!
For those interested in writing YA, you will probably hear the advice to pay attention to the teen market. Read the books, watch the movies, go hang at Starbucks and listen to them talk. I completely agree. But here's something you may not hear: do not feel you have to be a representation of today's teen. Be yourself, just tap back to the teen you were, or the teen you wished you were. Write a book that the teenaged you would have wanted to read, and you'll have a much better chance of selling it. (Just make sure your heroine has a cell phone and calls her best friend her BFF!)
AC: Please give us a few highlights of your "Rocky (or not so) Road to Publication."
TINA: Highlights! Okay, at age 23, I sold my first story to True Love magazine, and still write for them today (when time permits). About 5 years later, I had the Big Boss at my job come into my office to tell me I'd been nominated for a special performance evaluation, all the while a first draft a romance novel gleamed behind me on my computer screen. It gets better: months later, he returned to tell me I'd won and hand me a check, and guess what was on my screen again? Yep. Jump ahead some more years, and I've joined the RWA, am finaling in writing contests. I made the switch to YA in 2004, signed later that year with Nadia Cornier, sold first book in 2005, second in 2006, third and fourth in 2007.
That's all the good stuff! Just know that in and around those highlights, there were numerous days and weeks and years when there were no advancements, and I wasn't even sure I believed in myself. But the simple truth is I love writing. I love being in-the-zone. I love looking back on the good pages and thinking, "I did that". And it makes all the other stuff fade in comparison.
AC: What is on the horizon for you (and your readers)?
TINA: In addition to HOW TO HOOK A HOTTIE, my January, 2008 release, I have two more books contracted with Delacorte Press (Random House) for Spring 2009 and Spring 2010.
The Spring 2009 book has the very silly title of THE ABC'S OF KISSING BOYS, and will have 26 chapters, each with a heading featuring a fun-fact about kissing. The premise is that high school junior Parker Stanhope watched her JV soccer team get promoted to Varsity without her...and she and her brother devise this crazy-but-just-might-work plan to get her on Varsity, which includes giving the prom king a kiss he'll never forget at the sports fair kissing booth. But first she has to learn everything there is to know about the art of kissing...
The next book has a crazy-ass title and premise, but until it's been formally approved, I need to keep my lips zipped!
Also, both TOP TEN USES FOR AN UNWORN PROM DRESS and HOW TO HOOK A HOTTIE have been optioned for film/tv rights, and I'm presently working with producers to get those projects rolling...
(AC falls over in a swoon at the thought of her buddy Tina writing a TV series or movie! Tina obligingly slaps AC with a wet cloth and murmurs something about hunks to bring her round and finish the Q&A.)
AC: What piece of advice or life-lesson has helped you most in your writing career? And any pearls of wisdom you'd care to pass along to us AYUs (As Yet Unpublished)?
TINA: Well, I have long lived by the belief that everything I have written--no matter how awful--was a step in the right direction. It's all about staying in the game. I'm also a huge believer in networking. Many doors have opened for me out of the kindness of others, and I try to "give back" whenever I can, by making introductions I hope are helpful, doing contest coordinating and judging, etc. I see other authors as friends or potential friends, and there's always room for more at the table.
AC: Finally, you didn't think Aunty would let you out of here without mentioning your connection of one of the GREATEST Bandit Icons of all time, . What has Cousin-In-Law Clint been up to lately?
TINA: LOL--you've "outed" me, Aunty Cindy! Yes, my cousin, Dina Ruiz Eastwood, is married to Clint, which makes for some very interesting family reunions! My favorite memory is from a pool party. He was telling my husband how great a particular movie was. My husband said, "We were going to rent it, but Tina thinks it's going to be too violent for her." Clint turns to me and explains it's more a drama, not all that violent, etc., and all the while, I'm biting my tongue from saying, "Excuse me! Consider the source here! You're !" But to be fair, we later rented it, and it was great. He was right. Imagine that!
I can also tell you that it's really hard to talk to him on the phone without giggling because he does this dead-on imitation...
As to what he's up to, we saw them a few weeks ago at a family reunion, and I heard talk about a new movie he's filming in LA this fall. And as a side note, Dina told me she bought every copy of my book they had in her local store, and gave them to teen girls in her neighborhood. Generous and kind--that sums the two of them up perfectly!
Thank you SOOO MUCH, Tina for hanging out here in the Bandit lair today and answering our questions and (as Foanna and Christine like to say) giving us the GOSS! Aunty happens to think Dina and Clint aren't the ONLY kind and generous people in your family. ;-) And not that we needed more convincing after her wonderful and insightful answers, but Tina will give away an autographed copy of her novel, "Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress" to one of our commentors (winner chosen by AC's handy-dandy random number generator)!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Yesterday morning at around 10:20, while sleeping because I was suffering from a sinus infection and a fever, I got The Call. My agent called to tell me I'd sold my first two books, young adult titles, to Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin. How did this fabulous event come about? Here's the skinny.
Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away...
Okay, so it was really the 1990s, and I was in Kentucky, but whatever. I began writing my first romance manuscript when I was in college at good ol' Murray State University in Western Kentucky. It wasn't an everyday kind of endeavor at that point because, well, I had a lot of studying to do and typically held two jobs while I was at it. I continued to piddle after I graduated in 1993 and started my first job as a newspaper reporter while the hubby did the grad school thing. The piddling continued when we moved to Tennessee in 1995 and I began working in the marketing department of an insurance company.
But in 1996, my local RWA chapter formed,I became a member of RWA, and I started learning more about the business and craft of writing. I continued to write when I left the insurance company and went back to journalism as a writer and editor at a magazine. I left that job 2 1/2 years ago to freelance write and edit, believing I was on the verge of sale (one of those that fell through.) Now, 11 years after beginning to submit to publishing houses, I finally have sold my first two books. Not the first two I wrote. Those are safely tucked away in the deep recesses of my computer and on floppy disks (yep, floppy disks). I've written 18 full manuscripts since beginning to submit to editors, and there have definitely been days when I got rejections or felt I was "thisclose" to selling only to have it fall through that the thought of just chucking it all occurred to me. I'm so glad I didn't. I will forevermore be the queen of preaching perseverance to other writers. After a point, if you are getting good critiques and finaling in or winning contests, you've got the grasp on craft you need to be published. You just have to find the right editor at the right time with the right project while continually studying the business side of the industry and endeavoring to always push your writing to the next level.
I'm, of course, not the only writer who has taken the long and winding road to getting published. My good friend Merrillee Whren, who writes for Silhouette Love Inspired, wrote for 15 years before getting published. Super YA and paranormal author Stephanie Rowe, like me, wrote 18 manuscripts before selling, and now she's a multi RITA finalist. I owe Stephanie a lot because she encouraged me to write young adult books, and that's what got me my agent and, three years later, my first sale. She also nearly hyperventilated on the phone when I called to tell her and sent me these beautiful flowers today.
I have so many friends who are in the boat I was in two days ago -- they're super talented, they've finaled in and won lots of contests, and they've completed lots of books. I'll do whatever I can to help them climb from that boat into this new boat. I'm hoping they get that wonderful, unbelievable call very soon.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Hi Banditas and Buddies!
Just popping in to say that my good friend Nicola Cornick has put up a diary of our trip around the stately homes of the West Country (currently being inundated!) on her website, if you want to check it out.
Regency Writers On the Loose!
Anna (who couldn't possibly have eaten that many cream teas. Um, just looked in the mirror, maybe I did!)
We LOVE having guest bloggers drop by the Bandit Lair, and judging from recent comments and stats from Google Analytics, YOU our wonderful readers, love them too! Well, Aunty is thrilled to announce that we are going to have a "Guest Blogger Blow OUT" for the next few weeks! We have some GREAT authors who have agreed to visit:
- July 27th (yes, this Friday), my good friend and SUPER YA author Tina Ferraro will do a Q&A (with a few fun surprises) and give away a copy of her current release "Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress."
- August 1st Anne Mallory, whose Regency romances come with a "...mysterious twist," will guest blog about her August release "What Isabella Desires." And not one but TWO lucky winners will receive autographed copies.
- August 6th erotica novelist, Collette Gale will chat about "seducing the classics" and the release of her retelling of the Phantom of the Opera in "Unmasqued". And yes indeed, an autographed copy will be given away to an erotica reader.
- August 9th Janet Mullany will be here just in time for us to help her celebrate the release of her "chicklit Regency" "The Rules of Gentility" and a lucky commentor will receive a free copy.
- Then on August 10th Julie Cohen will leap "across the pond" to hang out with us, do a little Q&A and give away a copy of her latest US release "McAllister's Baby."
- August 16th the incomparable Sabrina Jefferies will talk about her latest book in the School for Heiresses series and her new Mossy Creek anthology. Of course there will be a giveaway!
- August 27th best-selling super-star Lorraine Heath will join us to celebrate her latest release "Just Wicked Enough" with a free copy up for grabs. Lorraine will tell us about her historicals and her foray into YA!
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A few weeks ago I walked into my office…uh…Starbucks…and was greeted by one of the Baristas.
“How’s your writing going?” she asked.
It’s my job as a writer (or my excuse?) to notice people, and I’d first noticed this woman months before she worked at my office (Starbucks), when she was, like me, still just a customer. She’s a memorable person because she’s tall and beautiful and so obviously an artist of some kind. She exudes that “I do art” persona—from her gorgeous haircut that I could never wear, to her lovely, un-made-up, yet open and naturally beautiful face. The artsy tote bags she carries and the individual way she puts together clothing—cool but funky—made an impression on me the first time I saw her.
But to be honest, since most of my “co-workers” (Starbucks employees) know that I’m a writer (I compose new material at the corner table by the outlet in Starbucks—just me and my Dana word processor, a big bank of windows and a cup of something hot and steamy) I didn’t actually remember speaking with her specifically about my writing.
I told her it was my weekly outing to relax and that I’d been to a wine tasting. I love wine. Everything about it. The anthropology. The history of people who grew grapes and the places it was grown. How it's evolved yet remained the same mashed grapes. I’ve been studying wine for about three years, and can’t get enough of it. It’s my diversion. She asked if I’d seen the film Sideways, which centers around wine lovers and wine itself.
"Well yes," I said, "I have seen it."
I guess I looked sort of glum as I waited for my one-shot decaf grande’ iced hazelnut latte, because she said, “you didn’t like it?”
“Well,” I said, “I think it was very well made, and I suppose it ended appropriately for the film that it was.” I drummed my fingers on the table as I thought about it.
“But?” she prodded.
“I like happy endings,” I said. “I write romantic suspense. There’s a high body count, and plenty of angst, but I like my films the way I like my books. Ones that have a ‘happily ever after’. Guaranteed.”
“Really?” She looked a bit quizzical. “What’s realistic about that?”
I shrugged. “Well, I dunno.” I shrugged again. “But I have a slight clinical depression. Reality is overrated. I live in it every day. I don’t want to pay anyone eight to twelve dollars to make me sad. If I go and pay for entertainment, or spend my time on it, I want to feel better at the end.”
“I hear you girl!” She nodded in understanding at the clinical depression comment. She stirred the milk into my latte. “But what about film or works that call attention to the mediocrity of life?” She handed me my drink.
I pushed out my lips a bit as I considered this and poked my straw at the X cut-out in the top of the cup.
“I think they do a good job of showcasing the filmmaker’s talents,” I said. “I think they have their place…I guess.” I drummed my fingers again. “I appreciate the artistry that’s involved in making them.” I smacked my hand on the counter a bit. “But I don’t want to watch them.”
She nodded, and took me for what I was, and was thinking about it as I left, I could tell.
And I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
All of us—the Romance Bandits—we specialize in happy—or at least hopeful--endings. It’s our stock in trade. We don’t do it because it’s popular, or because that’s what our publishers demand. I think we do it because inside, that’s who we are. Believers in the happily ever after. Now some of my Bandita sisters may have deep thoughts with which to chime in here, and I hope they do so because I’m a bit perplexed.
Honestly, is there a person out there who NEEDS to be notified that life is generally mediocre? That no matter how hard we try, we may end up just exactly where we are right now? That the efforts of any one individual could be (I don’t believe this BTW) useless, wasted energy, and that all things devolve into the same mundane least common denominator?
How does that lift the human spirit?
And if it’s art, SHOULD IT necessarily lift the human spirit? What do you think?
I consider the works of Michelangelo, the paintings of Monet that I referenced in a blog a few months ago, and the amazing cathedrals I’ve seen, all testaments to the human spirit and its yearning for things heavenly—things higher. Stuff that inspires, that says “go for it….you are more than flesh…you can make a difference.” I think of the films that make me laugh out loud—the episodes of I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith that are perennially popular, and how good I feel when I watch even the reruns. And then I think of those critically acclaimed films and works of literary fiction that, almost inevitably, end in subtle tones of quiet desperation, leaving me with the sense that all effort is, in the end, useless, and I think, why?
Why would people need to view this?
I taught a class with one of my critique partners, a professor of literature and education, last January at the local university, and one of the points I made over and over to the students was that, in modern genre fiction, the point was for the writer to disappear, to become invisible, so that the reader can become so immersed in the story that it becomes real, and they can live and breathe and experience with the characters.
With that as my writing philosophy, it’s obvious how it was in direct conflict with the idea of drawing attention to the mediocrity of life. For in these films and books, most often it’s the brilliant filmmaking that is spoken of by the critics. The powerful writing style. The seductive cinematography. The concise editing that brings the hopeless, desperate tone to the work.
All that work, all to call attention to how good the filmmaker or the writer is?
Or is this self-serving on the part of the artists?
Is it not a higher goal to lift the human spirit? To leave the reader/watcher with renewed faith and hope that it really is worth not just existing through life, but LIVING it to its fullest?
The belief in happily ever after keeps me going at the end of some very long days. Am I the only one?
What do you think?
Monday, July 23, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Return plane ticket to Dallas … $300
Room and board … $700
Seeing your writing buddies and getting to hang out with them … priceless!
Earlier this year, I was in the doldrums. A big rejection. Stuck in my work. Writing going nowhere. My chances of finalling in the GH were, I thought, slim to none given my heroine wakes up in bed with the hero because she had too much to drink the night before (not exactly home and hearth category!). I said to my husband that I was debating not going to Dallas. What was the point? I could order the CD’s and save a heap of money.
He smiled patiently at me and said “But the main reason you go is to meet up with all your writing pals.”
He’s right. It is without a doubt the best part.
I’m glad I changed my mind and went. Writing can be such a solitary occupation. How authors managed it in the days before internet, I don’t know. I’d be lost and have given up long, long ago without my online pals.
The same friends who will critique a synopsis at the drop of a hat, will find a safety pin to hold you together when the top button of your skirt pops. They have band-aids for your blisters and ideas for your stalled plot. They cheer with you for the highs and hug you during the lows. They’ll stick voodoo pins in those who reject you and stick by you when you’re nervous before an appointment or workshop you’re giving. They understand the trials and tribulations of life and they get what being a writer involves. (Really, who else gets the voices, the way characters wrest control from you, the ideas that pop into your head at the strangest and often most inopportune moments?)
I’m so glad I followed my husband’s advice and went to Dallas. Not just because I had a great time and helped my writing career inch forward another step. But because that week in Dallas was filled with special moments with my friends.
The one who picked me up at the airport and gave me a bag of emergency goodies (water, cookies and crisps etc) for the week. The one who quietly mentioned me to her agent - I didn’t know until her agent told me! The gang who gave up workshops to sit with me and brainstorm how to strengthen my hero in time for my editor pitch. And the one who handed me a beer after I’d spent a couple of hours being 'line nazi' for the check-out line at the Literacy Signing.
These are just a few of the special moments, and there are more I can’t mention publicly, but for which I’m eternally grateful. All these moments prove that your writing friends are simply priceless.
So, tell us about some of the sweet and caring things your friends did for you in Dallas. Or any other conference.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I’m the newest bandita, and I’m excited to join the group! An ardent Anglophile, I love history, adventure, action, mystery and fantasy, so it’s pretty easy to find books I like. I live in the Piedmont (a fancy name for foothills) area of North Carolina, where the biggest city is Charlotte. When it comes to writing, I’m part pantser, with ideas coming as either the first scene or one of the last, and part plotter, spinning a synopsis out of that initial concept so I have a roadmap for the journey.
Today, of course, is Harry Potter day. We read the books aloud as a family, which is why I’m posting this in the wee hours. My husband will be going out to pick up a copy early in the morning, and we’ll embark on a family reading marathon. We just saw and enjoyed the fifth movie, so we’re well primed.
There are a lot of theories to explain the popularity of this series, which draws on many currents of literary tradition. At the bottom line, though, the explanations all seem to boil down to J. K. Rowling’s imagination. She took elements from literature, fantasy, and classicism and synthesized them with endearing and/or intriguing characters to hook the world. There’s power for you!
The weather here makes reading even more appealing than usual. This week hasn’t been so bad, but we’ve been promised a return to temperatures in the 90s and high humidity. Of course, we can escape the heat by visiting some fine area museums or walking in the shady woods at a raptor center, where injured birds of prey receive medical care and, if they can’t survive in the wild, a home. They’re all great places to visit, but I suspect a lot of people here will be curled up with a big, fat book for the next few days.
Thanks for reading along on my first bandita blog. I hope you all have a great weekend. By the time you read this, I’ll probably be off in the company of wizards.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Thank you all so much for your congrats! I'm still in shock *g* Congratulations to Trish on her GH win and to KJ and Jo on their Daphne Wins!
Here's a quick rundown of my conference experience:
Roomed with three wonderful friends, Tammy Johnson (05 gh finalist) Janice Lynn (Harlequin Author) Lindsey Brookes (07 gh finalist, American Title III finalist, Winner of Harlequin's American contest) I've never laughed as much as I did last week!
Survived my trip on the Elevator of Doom which took me to the Tower of Terror (I prefer my restaurants DON'T rotate, thanks all the same)
Got to witness my CP and best buddy Tawny and our lovely Anna C sign their books at the Lit signing! (I was so proud *g*)
Had breakfast with Rita Nominee Stephanie Rowe, a wonderful and sweet lady *g*
Had a book signed by one of my favorite authors, Virginia Kantra, who is always so kind and funny.
Attended some awesome workshops including the TGN retreat (hosted so fabulously by Jeanne) the PRO retreat (put on by Trish -- great job!) a YA workshop and a workshop on developing the romance in your romance novel by Virginia Kantra (I hope she didn't think I was stalking her *g*)
Moderated (for the first time ever) Tawny's Standing out from the Slushpile workshop (it was a huge success -- standing room only!)
Met with an editor from Silhouette to discuss which story to submit to them next
Had a terrific date to the RITA/GH ceremony (that's me and Tawny, all dolled up for the night *g*) Loved the awards ceremony this year and the chance to cheer for so many friends up for awards!
Spoke in front of over 1,900 people and lived to talk about it (even if it did take me an hour to stop shaking *g*)
Finally got the chance to wear the tiara Tawny sent to me (after I whined one too many times that I wanted to be Queen of the World -- or at least my little corner of it) I was the dork in the bar Saturday night in the flip flops, black sweat pants, AC/DC shirt and Tiara ;-)
Coming Home to the poster my kids made me and receiving beautiful roses from some dear friends!
The best part of conference? Seeing old friends, meeting new ones and getting to spend time with some of the most wonderful women I know!! Can't wait for next year :-)
What was your favorite part of conference? Anyone else have any 'Firsts' in Dallas? (Those you can publicly share, anyway? *ggg*)
Thursday, July 19, 2007
1. Take lots of pictures so you can prove to your family back home that you know people. Important people. And they like you, really! (Here I am with this year’s American Title winner, the very important Jenny Gardiner!)
2. Just accept the fact that no matter how well you pack, no matter what special tips you employ, no matter how many plastic bags and tissues you stuff into each sleeve and fold, you are still going to end up ironing every single article of clothing in your suitcase. It's like a cosmic law or something.
3. Oh right, pack that bathing suit. Please. Like that’s ever going to happen.
4. Go ahead and drag your Alpha Smart across the country with you but don’t come whining to me when you realize you’re going home with nothing written. Nada. Zip. Zero. Seriously, who did you think you were kidding, packing that thing?
5. Make friends with a smoker. Smokers hear all the best gossip. Ashtrays are where it’s all happening. And breathing is highly overrated at conference, don’t you think?
6. Packing three different outfits for the Rita Awards ceremony is simply insane … or is it? What if you spill tomato sauce all over yourself? What if your gown is set on fire during a freak lightning storm? What if you discover the dry cleaners shrunk your beaded blouse and beads start popping like a fireworks display on the Fourth of July? It's not your back fat, it's the dry cleaners! Things happen. Pack extra stuff.
7. When dining in revolving restaurants, avoid placing personal items on the non-revolving portion of the table area. On second thought, avoid revolving restaurants altogether.
8. If a giant grasshopper dive bombs your head during dinner at the hotel restaurant, try to get your meal comped. It helps if you scream.
9. If a strange man pulls up a chair and tells you he’s got brilliant stories to tell if only he could find a ghost writer, maybe someone like yourself, direct him to a hotel across town. Or better yet, across the country.
10. The best way to stop the elevator doors from closing is to throw your entire body into the space between the doors. This will hurt. But it’s better than thrusting just your arm between the doors as this could result in permanent damage to your writing career.
11. If you fly on a plane for four hours, eat Mexican food for five days straight, drink vodka & tonic for five nights straight and dance all night at the Harlequin party, chances are good that those puffy ankles are NOT an indication of Deep Vein Thrombosis. (But you can’t be too careful. Check out Christie Ridgway’s story here.)
12. Ooh, don’t forget to take those very important pictures! (Here I am with best pals Maureen Child and Susan Mallery.)
13. Start your conference diet today and you just might reach your ideal weight by next July. Seriously, start today because pretty soon it’ll be Halloween candy time, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and then it’s just one long downward spiral into Fat Back City.
Now I know everyone has a conference tip or two to share—for real. Seriously, I packed three Rita outfits for Dallas. This must stop! Give me conference tips, people, please!
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
When I first began writing narration, as opposed to the analytical writing we teachers foist on our students, I wasn’t sure if I were in love with writing fiction, or in love with the idea of being a fiction writer.
Surprise! I adore the narrative writing process. I like everything about it: the drafting, the dump (what I call my first raw draft), the rewriting, and even the revising. Conversely, I abhor almost anything that takes me away from it.
My stories feel like Robert Frost’s “roads that diverge[d] in a yellow wood.” I want to take both paths, but “be[ing] one traveler,” can only follow a single trail. Each decision on the turn of a word or phrase, a single paragraph or minute description, every nuance of verb or adjective can steer my characters into an entirely new world with different texture and significance.
Did you know that Charles Dickens wrote two endings to Great Expectations? The novel was serialized in a magazine, a common practice at that time. When Dickens wrote the ending most often anthologized, he kept Pip and Estelle apart; they have that poignant meeting at the end and walk away from one another – forever. But his contemporary readers were so outraged with it that Dickens wrote an alternative ending. One where there’s a happily ever after, or at least the hope of a HEA.
It’s an awesome and frightening sensation, this power writers have to alter what essentially is fiction, a made-up and (wo)man-constructed falsity, but is so often stark reality in the minds of readers.
Sometimes you know that poetic justice has to prevail and the ending is literarily perfect, but still you oh-so-wish it were different. That Scarlett got Rhett back (and maybe she did!), that Heathcliff found his “soul,” that Juliet woke up before Romeo took the damned poison!
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
I've been loving all the stories from Dallas this past week. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to Dallas this year due to a scheduling conflict with my husband. But nothing is stopping me from going to San Francisco next year and to the Romantic Times conference in Pittsburgh next April. Well for all those lucky banditas who went to Dallas it's time to get back to reality--writing!
For those of you who received requests from editors and agents get those partials/fulls out immediately. I can't tell you how many editors say they request something and never get it.
So I have to admit it while everyone else was partying in Dallas, I've been home in Maryland struggling. I have a synopsis due on the 15th of August and I’m what we writers like to call a pantser. When I start a book I usually have a semi-solid beginning, a vague sense of some plot points (okay, I know how I’ll get them in bed) and I know the black moment. I have all those fuzzy ideas in my head but I can’t seem to get them down in a clear and somewhat coherent form.
For all the readers here, be ever so thankful you’ll never have to read a synopsis. Basically, what a writer has to do is tell the story with enough detail that the editor can see where the story is going, but not so much that the editor dies of boredom while reading it. Sounds easy, right? NO! Writers are taught to show the story, not tell it.
Needless to say, I’m looking for ideas on the best way to take a story not yet written and write it without losing the energy of the story. I did start to write the book thinking that might help me. So far, I’m not so sure about that. But I do know I can’t finish writing the book in less than a month. Now, to all my writing buddies, tell me how you write your synopses. Do you write them first, as you’re writing the story or when the book is finished? Do you have a well kept secret on writing synopses you’d like to share? Any ideas that will help me along?
Monday, July 16, 2007
Okay, here are the pictures I couldn't access earlier but can now. Here was our lovely basket (wasn't the bear so cute?):
And here was our lovely winner, Kathie DeNosky, just before we began plying her with champagne and TimTams:
And just for fun, so you can see how gigantic I felt all week long, here is a picture of me with Kathie. I'm the very tall orange one on the left (my hair looked much better earlier in the evening, before the champagne!):
I'm sure more pictures from the conference will be posted in the days to come.
It was a fabulous basket. I have a wonderful picture, which I will post as soon as the technology gods decide to smile on me. The "basket" was a bright pink rolling suitcase stuffed full of Bandit Booty! There were chocolates, a Bandits coffee mug, a Bandits t-shirt, a Bandits stuffed bear, a heart necklace, a lovely embroidered fan, tons of autographed books and lots of other awesome swag. There were also were many, many raffle tickets placed in our bag. People wanted the Bandit basket in a big way! Imagine our surprise when the lucky winner was none other than best-selling author Kathie DeNosky!
Kathie DeNosky, who hails from southern Illinois, is a multi-published author who writes for Silhouette's Desire line. She has published 22 Desires since her first came out in May 2000 and she was a 2007 National Readers Choice Award finalist for her book "The Expectant Executive". She was previously an NRCA finalist in 2002 for "His Baby Surprise". She is also a member of the Ditzy Chix, who some of our readers may already know and love. A winner indeed!
I had the pleasure of meeting Kathie and her lovely friend Roxann at the champagne and Tim Tams reception held in my suite after the RITA/Golden Heart award ceremony. Kathie said she was delighted to win the Romance Bandits basket. "That basket was adorable," she said, "and I am glad to have something to take my books home in!" She loved both the rolling suitcase and, especially, the fluffy Bandits Bear! Though her friend Roxann threatened to steal the bear for her collection, I am sure Kathie was able to stave her off with a Caramello Koala!
Kathie and I found several previously-unknown connections between her and the Romance Bandits. For one thing, Kathie was a two-time Golden Heart finalist. She said both times, "I prayed not to win!" She was terrified of having to give an acceptance speech. (I believe some Banditas may relate.) Another connection is that her dear friend and fellow Ditzy Chick, Bronwyn Jameson, is an Aussie and a friend of our own Anna Campbell! Kathie shared that Bronwyn taught her the correct way to eat Tim Tams. (Our Tim Tams, by the way, were hauled all the way from Australia by Anna, as were the Caramello Koalas. We were very grateful and pleased to eat them so she didn't have to haul them back.)
Kathie is currently working on three more titles for Desire, so look for her new releases in 2008. Her latest release, "Mistress of Fortune", was part of the Dakota Fortunes series from Desire, and is available on Amazon. Congratulations, Kathie! We hope you enjoy the basket and stop by to see us sometimes!
Did anyone enter our raffle at the Literacy Autographing and not win? Did anyone have an encounter with a Bandita at conference they would like to share? And speaking of Banditas at conference, tell us who you met that we need to know!
Sunday, July 15, 2007
photos by The Duchess (aka Jeanne P. Adams)
Okay, as promised here are some pictures of our Bandita WINNERS from the Kiss Of Death Chapter's Daphne Awards in Dallas.
Here's our "double" winner KJ!
Here's our OVERALL Winner Jo!
And here are both our happy Bandita winners!
No word or pictures yet from our Golden Heart winners but we will post ALL NEWS as soon as we hear it! Again WAY TO GO Beth and Trish!
Saturday, July 14, 2007
posted by Tawny Weber
Tonight is the culmination of a thrilling 4 months of what is a wild Golden Heart Ride. It all starts in that last week of March, when unpublished writers who entered the contest all sit by their phones, anxious and nervous, waiting for a call with those sweet words “Congratulations, you finaled in the Golden Heart.”
I giggle whenever I remember my first final. I hung up on the sweet lady who’d called. Well, not really ‘hung up’ per se, my phone went dead. Oops. I did better the next two years! That first time, though, like all firsts, was extra sweet. There’s the excitement of deciding on a Golden Heart photo, finding the perfect dress for the ceremony, and the flurry of submissions made while that golden window is open.
Better yet, there is the camaraderie, the sense of togetherness that happens with the other finalists. This blog is a perfect example of the best of that, I think. Fun, varied, interesting and a little quirky!
All that has been happening over the last few months for our 2007 Golden Heart finalists – a couple of which are Bandits! And now, tonight, they find out that ultimate question... who are the Golden Heart winners?
The ceremony is a fabulous blow out, with the big screens that show the stage and flash the finalists’ pictures for everyone to enjoy. Imagine a room filled with romantics, all dressed in their finest, waiting to cheer for their fellow writers. The energy is amazing. Then, when your category is called, the excitement twists with nerves, and in my case, often nausea (really – I did NOT want to get up that stage... color me chicken) until the envelope is opened and the name read. It’s a huge, exciting moment and one that honestly doesn’t dim when another’s name is called. I’ve seen the contest, or more, the RITA, compared to the Yes, its importance might only shine among RWA itself, having little impact on readers or even the buying habits of editors, but among the 9000+ RWA members who watch, with bated breath, the results of the Golden Heart and RITA, it’s an amazing thing.
I hope tonight’s gala event sees the names of our lovely bandits called – Beth Burgoon, Kim Howe, Trish Milburn & Anna Sugden .My fingers are crossed for each of them.But most of all, I’m thrilled and proud of them. The Golden Heart is a pinnacle of achievement that shines its light on some of the brightest and best writers in our industry... Congratulations, ladies. You all rock!!!, and I’d agree.
Then, when your category is called, the excitement twists with nerves, and in my case, often nausea (really – I did NOT want to get up that stage... color me chicken) until the envelope is opened and the name read. It’s a huge, exciting moment and one that honestly doesn’t dim when another’s name is called.
I’ve seen the contest, or more, the RITA, compared to the Yes, its importance might only shine among RWA itself, having little impact on readers or even the buying habits of editors, but among the 9000+ RWA members who watch, with bated breath, the results of the Golden Heart and RITA, it’s an amazing thing.
Friday, July 13, 2007
...I’m in , TX attending Romance Writers of America’s 27th annual national conference. Thanks to the generosity of our own Aunty Cindy I’m able to post my thoughts on this ideal setting to discuss one aspect of the romance fiction industry.
Now, the specifics of this particular conference will come out in the days and weeks following our return to the Bandit lair, but it is my seventh conference and I can tell you from previous experience there is no better place to watch and listen and learn about the business and craft of romance fiction.
My first conference was in . I decided to attend because I had made the decision to pursue this dream and knew that to do so I had to find out what it was all about. If I was going to be a professional, I had to join the professional organization. I was also learning craft and was dazzled by the vast array of workshops offered. So I packed my bags and my newbie starry eyes and headed off with two friends.
I’m not even sure I can properly convey the energy of that first conference. Remember, I was new and totally tongue tied the first time in line for the restroom when I was asked “what do you write?” Huh? Me? I write romance, of course. It didn’t take me long to realize that the answer to that question was not so simple. I write “Category, romantic suspense, paranormal, historical, chick lit, chick lit paranormal romantic suspense, “ You name it and I found someone who wrote it.
It didn’t take too long after that first encounter to find my voice and answer with self assurance “I write historical.” Well, darn if that didn’t foster another variation on the question. “What time period?” Well do I remember the looks of pity and shock when I answered “Ancient Rome.”
That was my first lesson learned about romance fiction writing…develop a thick skin. I steeled myself against the eagerly offered advice that that time period is worse than the black plague. I listened…I always listen…but I also felt deep in my burgeoning writer’s soul that a story…well written, well crafted…can be told in any time period.
Armed with this new insight I continued on at the first conference. Lunches were fantastic. I met a new person from a new place with every meal. I listened to keynote speakers. Some authors I read and loved. Some I’d heard of and decided I needed to read (ahem…one of those was . I’d heard of her, never read her and when she was pointed out to me in the bar I thought “How nice. She’s wearing a T-shirt that says Walking in a Wiccan Wonderland. Does she write paranormal?” She writes everything…wonderfully and I’ve about finished reading her entire backlist…when her new titles do not distract me). I discovered “the bar.” Now, I enjoy a drink once in a while but this is where after a long day attending classes, pitching to editors/agents the writers congregate to talk shop. I sat there that first conference in complete and total awe. The energy that filled me talking with writers at all levels just cannot be reproduced…except one a year in July at RWA.
And that first RITA/GH ceremony. I sat in that lovely old theatre and watched writer after writer go up and accept awards in stunning gowns and thought “That’s what I want.” I started writing my GH acceptance speech during that ceremony.
It took me five years to achieve the goal of finaling in the GH and while I did not get to use that speech…this time….I have grown and prospered and gained so much by attending the national conference.
As you read this I may be meeting with a published friend talking about my manuscript, or running into a favored editor and chatting in the elevator. I might be at lunch with writer friends or stealing a few moments reading one of the many free books bestowed on us and discovering a new author. I might be in the bar listening and learning. Or I might be in line at the restroom asking a newbie attendee “What do you write?”
PS I also want to take this time to offer my own salute to whose death was announced yesterday. I can only echo the honor and tribute to this woman who opened up the genre and inspired so many of us to find our voice, to write our stories. Recently, an editor judged THE PATRICIAN’S FORTUNE in a contest. She wrote that parts of it reminded her of “Shanna”. While she did not feel this made the story fresh enough I have to say I saw it as the deepest complement. My heartfelt thanks to Kathleen for being.
Yup, we heard the hootin' and hollerin' all the way into cyberspace to the Bandit Lair. Tonight at the "Death By Chocolate" party, the Kiss of Death chapter announced the winners of the annual Daphne du Maurier Awards for unpublished manuscripts and the Banditas kicked some serious booty!
Our very own KJ Howe took First Place in the Category/Series with her manuscript "Run Silent" AND she also took First Place in the Single Title with "One Shot Two Kills!"
And if that wasn't enough, our Bandita Jo-Mama, aka Jo Lewis-Robertson took First Place in the Mainstream division with her manuscript "The Warrior!" PLUS, Jo also won the overall Daphne award for Unpublished with "The Warrior!"
WAY TO GO, KJ and Jo!!! YOU ROCK!
We promise to post pictures as soon as they arrive.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
MANY MANY THANX to everyone who took the time to comment about the blog. Nice to hear that so many of you think we're doing a good job. We're definitely having a good time and hope you feel the same.
Obviously, our guest bloggers are a BIG HIT! We love 'em too, and will be lining up some extra special guest in the coming weeks. On July 27th, my good buddy and red-hot YA author Tina Ferraro will buzz by (her group blog is "Books, Boys, Buzz...") for some Q&A. Then in August the fabulous Sabrina Jeffries, Janet Mullany and Colette Gale will all be visiting the Bandit lair. (Hmmm, Christie, Cassondra, and Christine maybe we should take this opportunity to turn the cabana boys loose with some cleaning supplies and get this almost empty place spruced up!)
It's also very nice to hear that you like our variety of posts, and especially those with a humorous slant. Sometimes it's just too difficult to be serious when we are having so much fun here with all our Bandit buddies. You never know WHAT we'll be blogging about next (and neither do we)! So be sure you drop by often.
All right, Aunty will stop blathering now and get to the GOOD STUFF. Drum roll please! The WINNERS of our contest are:
Michelle -- please email Suz at swwelsh2001 at yahoo dot com to receive your autographed copy of Sandy Blair's "Thief In A Kilt",
Keira -- please email Donna at dmacmean at columbus dot rr dot com to receive your Jane Austen Action Figure, and
diane -- please email your old Aunty at cindymm18 at gmail dot com to receive your box of See's chocolates!
Super Congrats, ladies! And we'll be holding more giveaways SOON so please check back with us. Thanx again everyone for all your wonderful comments.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Posted by Christine Wells
Don't you love it when a girl gets nasty? Buffy, Sidney in Alias, Charlie's Angels, Wonder Woman. We love women who can defend themselves, whether it's from the Big Bad or against more human instruments of evil. Perhaps it's because women have traditionally been seen as passive victims--when a sister goes out there and kicks butt, we all cheer.
I, on the other hand, would never pass muster as a member of the Scooby gang. Sorry, Banditas, it's true confession time! A few years ago, I went camping with my boyfriend, my best friend Vikki and her boyfriend on Moreton, which is a sand island off the east coast of Australia. After a glorious afternoon sipping mango daiquiris on the beach, it started to rain. We managed a makeshift dinner and retired early to our tents, hoping the hole the dog had chewed in ours wouldn't let too much water in.
That night, a stranger came into our camp site. No, not the tall dark and handsome type of stranger, the tall dark and scary kind. There were people looking for him, he said. They were going to kill him and could he hide out with us until daylight? Short answer? Uh, no, I don't think so. The boys managed to persuade him to get out of the tent, but they couldn't make him leave the campsite.
Meanwhile, Vik and I stayed in her tent, scared out of our wits. The place was pretty isolated, and cell phone reception wasn't the best. The guy seemed like he might be on drugs and his wild talk of someone wanting to kill him didn't reassure us. I said to Vik, "Do we have anything we can hit him with if he gets violent?" Vikki held up a tin of baked beans with her usual eyebrow quirk. We both giggled nervously. And, I'm sad to report, we left our men to deal with it. They eventually got through to the police and kept an eye on the guy for the hour or more it took for the police SUV to arrive.
But when women show strength, it's not always in the physical sense, is it? What about the sheer courage it takes to love someone and believe in them and hold on to your integrity despite the temptations that lie in your path? What about Jane Eyre? Maddy-Girl of Flowers from the Storm? Soraya in Claiming the Courtesan? Even Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice showed inner strength in going against her mother's wishes and refusing to marry Mr. Collins. There is a lot to be said for a woman who can use wit, faith or integrity as their weapon instead of their fists.
So what about you? Do you like quiet strength or is the kick-ass heroine more your style? And when was the last time you kicked butt?
posted by Anna Campbell
My last blog a month ago (although because I’m going away, I only wrote it yesterday – with all these time warps, I’m starting to feel like Doctor Who!) was hijacked by the blog fairies. It was meant to be about how visiting stately homes relates back to my writing but it ended up just being about setting in general with a final twist where I talked about a castle I’d used in CLAIMING THE COURTESAN.
But, blog fairies, away with you today! Hi, diddly, dee, it’s stately homes for me!
There’s something magical about stepping into a house that has been lived in for hundreds of years. In the best old houses, you feel all that family history around you. It’s an odd and wonderful sensation to enter a space where generations of people have walked and broken bread and loved and laughed and cried. I’m a history nut from way back and that vivid connection with people of the past is one of the best feelings I know.
Of course you can get that feeling elsewhere that the past is still alive and present. Battlefields. Churches. Historic towns. But a house is so central to a person’s life. A house is where people reveal their most secret selves. In ages past, people were born and married and had their children and died in their houses. There’s something intimate about being in a domestic space. Somewhere people eat and sleep and interact with their family. Even now, if someone invites you to their home, they’re making a gesture to let you into their lives.
These stately homes were often closely interwoven with the larger world. The aristocrats who built somewhere like Blenheim (not that I find Blenheim an intimate experience—it always strikes me as a public gesture of self-aggrandisement more than somewhere you’d want to live) or Castle Howard or Ham House were at the center of their universes. They were confidants to kings, they were politicians, they guided the church and education and trade. Even if they weren’t involved in administering Britain and its empire, they ran little kingdoms on their estates. So you get a feeling of a whole society from one country house.
Often, the houses are breathtakingly beautiful. Clearly a Marxist would consider the wealth these people had at their disposal obscene. But riches on that scale offers an experience outside most people’s reach. I’d argue many of these aristocrats had taste and education and they used both to make their houses glorious. Go to Syon Park in London, still owned by the Duke of Northumberland, and see the Robert Adam interiors. Go to Ham House in Richmond and marvel at the original fabrics with their exquisite embroidery from the time of Charles II. Or visit the lovely gardens at Penshurst in Kent, especially in spring when the orchards are a riot of color and scent. Aesthetically, these experiences are not to be missed!
For a writer, other experiences are at least as valuable as the luxury and beauty that fill these houses. The feeling of cold uneven flagstones beneath your feet in the kitchens. The smoothness of a polished mahogany banister under your hand as you sweep down a magnificent staircase. Well, all right, I’m in my ratty travel gear so perhaps ‘sweeping’ is too strong a word! There’s the dank smell of a moat through an open casement window, something I discovered when I went to Ightham Mote in Kent which is one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been.
All this sensory detail adds another dimension to writing. It’s something I try to include in my historical romances so my characters are living and breathing people moving through a world full of concrete, realistic detail. In a way, I’m trying to create that link with a vital past that I feel when I’m in my favorite stately homes.
Do you like to visit old houses? Why? Do you have any favorites? Not necessarily in Britain. There are old houses in Australia that give you a wonderful insight into how our ancestors lived. I’m sure there are plenty in America. I’d love to know if I’m the only old house fanatic here!