Friday, July 30, 2010

Writing From Real Life

So, the joke goes something like this: “Be careful, or I’ll put you in my novel.”  People laugh when I say it, but I have to admit, there is a smidgen of truth to the joke.  Oh, don’t worry; when I finally break into publishing, no one is going to have to worry about me turning them into some dreadful villain in a novel, fully recognizable to all.  That would be wrong on a lot of levels, but the reality is our lives and our personalities seep into what we write.  Every experience, every person, is part of who we are, and inevitably these things wind up on the page.

We collect experiences.  That’s what life is. Our bodies and minds become vessels that catch laughter, tears, frustration, and joy.  Our parents, our siblings, our teachers and our friends are in there, along with the mean girls, the bullies, and the negativity they bring with them.  They bad stuff fights for control and sometimes, it wins.  That happens to me.  I let the bad overshadow the good; it’s one of my biggest faults and what usually happens is it takes something or someone to give me a good kick to get my mind, and my attitude, on the right track.

I wrote a short post at the beginning of the week about my recently-held class reunion.  A couple of things that happened over the course of the weekend really upset me.  I tend to be oversensitive, I know that, but usually some time and space allow my feelings to settle.  When I had time to process, I was able to put the weekend in perspective and while there is no doubt there are a couple of people I would be happy never to see again, the vast majority of it was really great.  I went to school with some unbelievably nice people. The work the organizers of the reunion did was truly appreciated and when I look back at the pictures, the smiles tell me we did a really good job.  And even though I didn't have as much fun as I could have had, the pictures don’t lie.  I did enjoy myself, and I was really glad to see my friends.  It had been too long, but it will not be that long again.

So the question is--who’s going in a book?  What experiences have I collected this time?  For those of you who thought I had too many cosmos to remember, you’re wrong. (HA!) Here’s what I have so far:

The high-school sweethearts:  I can relate to them as I have been with my husband since we were seventeen-years-old, but I think this couple has been together even longer.  She’s still beautiful, he’s still handsome and even though there were no overt displays, you can tell they are totally devoted to each other.  There were little things--mentions of what they’ve done together, their obvious pride in their children, the mutual respect they share and then there’s the way they look at each other.  I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I did and it warmed me to see a love story still going strong after all these years.

The long-time friends:  These women have known each other since middle school, in many cases, and they’ve been through everything together--love and heartbreak; marriage and divorce; birth and death.  Their relationships aren’t perfect, but they have a deep bond that has developed over time.   There were several groups that fit into this category.  I got to know one bunch a little better as we were planning the party and the dynamic is amazing.  I’m a little envious because this isn’t my experience, and I know I’m not going to be a part of it, but it’s nice to know friendships like this are out there.

The happy guy:  He’s still happy.  Everyone still loves him and with good reason.  He sees the best in everyone.  He’s kind, has a big heart and drives a really cool truck.  When he tells you you’re awesome,  he means it.  He’s definitely going in a book. 

The really brilliant guy:  He sat near me in AP European History class all those years ago and we laughed together as our teacher talked about his dog, Tiger.  This guy has an Ivy League education, but he doesn’t have a pretentious bone in his body—he never did and he never will; he’s still friendly, still enthusiastic about everything and I hope I don’t lose touch with him again.

People I wish I'd known better in high school:  There was a woman I spent some time with whom I've been in touch with through the planning process.  We had breakfast together when she got into town and two hours flew by like it was nothing.  She's sweet, witty and has had an interesting life. New friendships are always good. (Honestly, there are a number of people who fall into this category.)

The cool gay guys:  I don’t think I have to say anything else.  What’s better than being happy with who you are?

Finally, the mean girls:  Believe it or not, the mean girls are easy. (Noooo, not that kind of easy. Well maybe they were, but that's not what I meant.)  They’ve always been vapid caricatures, and that’s what they’ll remain.  Thanks for the material ladies…you make writing a bitch a no-brainer.

I guess, when you think about it, it's not about what's going to go in a book, but instead I should be asking the question--what isn't?  There is no way I can detach myself from my life experiences.  Why would I want to?  I need the people and the emotions to keep my writing interesting.  The words on the page are just black and white, but my experiences, and the people I've known over the years, give the stories color.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sorting It All Out

So, the reunion has come and gone, and I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.  People were perfectly nice and very appreciative of all the work the people on the organizing committee put forth.  And I mean GENUINELY appreciative.  I was thanked constantly all night and I was happy people had a good time.  I wouldn't say I had a great time, mostly because I'm a control freak and I didn't really relax until the last hour.  I was a little tipsy, too, and fear I made a bit of a fool out of myself.

Friday night, when the group hit town and spent the night drinking in a local bar, was much more fun for me than the official catered party which was last night.  It was relaxed, informal and there weren't any little details to worry about. But I also know I'm not being fair.  I'm a little hormonal, I'm experiencing the let down from two constant weeks of stress and I know my vision about the main event is clouded.  I'm sure I will feel differently in a week or two when everything calms down and I'm not so tired.  Maybe I'll be able to focus on the people who deserve the effort.  People like the ones who were my friends thirty years ago and the new friends I've made because I worked on making the reunion happen.  There were classmates I was truly happy to see after such a long time, men and women who are fun and interesting and I hope we won't lose touch again.

The bad points?  I will say that two people from last night will appear in my next book and it may not be pretty.

That's one way to dump the baggage, eh?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward: High School Reunions

A few months ago I wrote about how I'd gotten myself  involved in the planning of my high school reunion.  In the post I talked about wrinkles and weight and face creams and I touched on my insecurities.  I vowed to get to the gym and lose some weight.  I didn't lose much, the reunion is two weeks away and I find that my outlook has changed quite a bit.  It's not so much about how I look anymore, but more about all I missed.

When I wrote that post, I had no idea the kind of flashback it would trigger.  To say I was insecure during my teen years would be an understatement.  I had a small group of friends, didn't go out much and participated in very few activities.  Granted, my friends are great people and we had some fun times, but I was always guarded and I didn't take any risks.  I didn't get involved in many aspects of high school because I was afraid of being rejected.  Parties, I didn't go.  Talk to the 'popular' girls?  Why would they want to be friends with me?  Flirt with the boy I'd had a crush on forever?  Never.  I could go into why I felt this way, frankly it had a lot to do with how I grew up, but the bottom line was, I had no faith in myself; I was afraid.  I felt invisible and life went on around me.

Jump forward thirty years.  I carry more than the twenty extra pounds I had in high school, but I have a lot to be proud of...I have a wonderful family and a fulfilling career, for starters.  You see, when I went to college I reinvented myself.  I explored my talents, found my place in space, took risks, and was burned on more than one occasion.  In other words, I grew up.  Yet when the reunion planning picked up speed, and I thought about how invisible I felt in high school, all my old insecurities flooded back.  I kept thinking that I should forget about being a part of the planning and fade back into the woodwork.  Outside my small circle, very few people even remembered me, right?  Wrong.

I love learning new things, but I'm even happier when I learn more about myself.  Because I've gotten involved in this event, I've discovered something...I could have felt much more connected to my high school years if I'd let more people get to know me.  If I'd found my niche, been a part of something consistently rather than haphazardly, I'd have changed my story.  I didn't have to feel invisible.  Working on the reunion has brought me a lot of satisfaction and has connected me to people I never would have gotten to know otherwise.  I'm looking forward to seeing my old friends that weekend and getting to know some new friends a little better.

People malign their high school years and I often think it's more about regrets than anything else.  Maybe I'm romanticizing this more than I should, but if you could change something about your years in high school, what would it be?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Where the Magic Happens

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my office lately.  As many people know, I was lucky enough to receive a letter from an editor that outlines some areas and changes that she feels would make the plot of my book stronger.  I was invited to resubmit if I chose to make the changes.  I thought about the letter for a few days and decided to work with her suggestions.  There would be little disruption to the core of the story, I would have to rewrite the last chapter, but again, the outcome for my main characters remains unchanged, even if I tweak the plot. I had nothing to lose and a sale to gain.  

So, since I’ve been pretty much living in my writing space, I thought I’d share some pictures.  I’m a firm believer in having a space to work.  If you don’t have the luxury of a room like I have (albeit a tiny 10 x 10 converted bedroom) lay claim to some space so people in your house know that when you are there, with a computer, you are writing.  It's good for you as a writer and it's good for your family.  For the record, I rarely close the office door.  My family has full access to me most of the time, my kids are in and out of the office all day long, but they know how important this project is to me, so they respect my space.  

With my DH’s help, I have quite a pretty little office.  We painted the room this deep teal two years ago.  I wasn't sure about it for a long while, but it's grown on me and now I find it quite soothing.

This is my desk.  Yes, there are two computers.  Originally, my husband and I were going to share the space. He gave up, the dear man,  and either gets all his paperwork done at the office or uses his laptop.

Coffee is required.  I love the mug I bought from Cafe Press.

This is the comfy chair I just added to the space.  The binder you see open on the ottoman contains my manuscript.  There are hundreds of Post-its marking the parts to be revised.  I'm not done yet.  The little table has my Kindle, my notebooks, a glass of water, some copies of RWR and a basket of necessities.

The basket: it contains Post-its, colored pens and highlighters, my iPod, binder clips and a spare pair of glasses.  Usually there are a few pieces of chocolate, too.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make with this post is that no matter what you do, whatever your passion, make a space for yourself and give yourself time to pursue it.  You don't have to cut out the ones you love, or ignore the world, you don't even need a separate room, but try to find a space that allows you to enter your creative zone and visit it every day.  You deserve it.

Tell me about your creative space.  Is it working?  Is it not working?  What would you change if you could?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rogues and Scoundrels (Or this is not your mama's bodice ripper.)

It’s not a secret that I read romance.  I write it and I’ve loved the genre for years.  Even as a child, I was drawn to love stories and the happily ever after. My favorite book growing up was a version of Cinderella, from the original fairy tale by Perrault, that was translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown.  It was a beautiful book, but more than the award winning illustrations, I was drawn to the story.  I believed in finding Prince Charming.  So years later—me and romance—it was a perfect fit.

I fancied myself a contemporary romance reader, especially when I really started devouring the books in the late 1990’s.  Sometimes I threw in romantic suspense, but I never read historical.  I’d tried.  I wasn’t drawn in by Kathleen Woodwiss or Victoria Holt.  I knew what they meant to the genre, but the books weren’t for me.  I was pushed away by the stereotype.  You know the one--the book with a long-haired, shirtless rogue staring hungrily at a maiden in a low-cut gown.  I never felt like I could be the cowering maiden in the picture, so I didn't read about her.  Instead, I learned to love the genre reading Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Barbara Delinsky.  Modern women, modern sensibilities.  Historical and regency romances were not for me…until now.

I’d been seeing these names pop up—Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan and Victoria Dahl.  I heard their books were fabulous with great writing, heroes to die for and heroines that knew their own minds.   I was not disappointed.  I started my new secret love affair with One Dance with a Duke, by Tessa Dare. Plain Amelia is blessed with a great mind, but she’s a spinster who one night is swept off her feet at a ball and ultimately has to marry to save her reputation and her family.  It may seem like Spencer, the aforementioned Duke, has all the power in the relationship, but don’t be fooled.  Amelia is smart and knows what she wants and she wants Spencer.  (Hold onto your wonder bras, these books will have you running for a cold shower!) There are the usual complications…the lack of faith in each other, the inability to completely commit, the lies and misunderstandings, but in the end I got my sweeping love story and a happily ever after.

So what was different about these books? I think what I found in all the books was a commitment to the heroine.  The stories belonged to them and ultimately they had control over their fate.  Oh, there may have been a marriage of convenience or the saving of one’s honor, but unlike the romances of the past, the women in these historicals had choice and it was this modern twist that converted me.

There are the requisite heaving bosoms, bare chested men on horseback and in one the hero had been a privateer, which means he was, kind of, a pirate.  (Don’t laugh; the book was awesome!) There are gowns and governesses, breeches and boots, waistcoats and afternoon tea.  The settings are sumptuous, meticulously researched and fun.

I have four still unread books in my Kindle and I’m saving them for an afternoon when I need a break from reality.  Because honestly, is there anything better than a gorgeous rogue on horseback to take your mind off the everyday? I think not.

Of course, I have some recommendations.  Give these books a try; you won’t be sorry:
Tessa Dare
Stud Club Trilogy
One Dance with a Duke
Twice Tempted by a Rogue
Three Nights with a Scoundrel (available next month)

First Trilogy
Goddess of the Hunt
Surrender of a Siren
A Lady of Pursuasion

Courtney Milan
Proof by Seduction

Victoria Dahl has a number of good books, check her out at: