Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Assisted Pursuit of Love

As I was speaking to Theresa on the phone while she was visiting Kate D., I realized there must be no better dating consultants than a pair of romance novelists (or, if you must, aspiring romance novelists, though I refuse to accept that designation).

After all, there are only a finite number of dating scenarios that crop up time and time again. It's the details that differentiate them. And we've examined them all, from the prosaic ("You're both too proud to admit you have feelings for each other" and "You're just not in the right place at the right time" ) to the extreme (somehow I doubt many of our friends have secret babies fathered by sheikhs, an inexplicably and perennially popular classic romance plot).

But we're especially good at reading the motives lurking in impassive male minds. His jaw clenched slightly and his eyelashes flickered while you were discussing your Friday night plans? Clearly he is overcome with jealousy and bound by honor not to confess his love to you. Just watch his hands. If he makes fists or grips the edge of a table until his knuckles turn white, you're golden.

Of course, I can't claim all powers of romantic-analyses for romance novelists alone. Even Theresa -- as medicinal a medical student as ever flipped the pages of a medical textbook with a scalpel -- had her time to shine as an inventor of romantic fiction (and I'm not just speaking about her senior year project on romance novels...sheesh, some colleges). I recall vividly several impassioned discussions we had in high school about a certain fellow I knew and his mixed signals. "I think he likes you," she said, "But he has a calling to the priesthood." When I informed her the fellow-in-question was a Protestant, she immediately followed with, "But maybe he believes in a celibate clergy."

While I can't promise feats of imagination on a par with that, I can stake a claim for Kate D. and my ability to slice to the heart (with medical precision!) of any romantic dilemma, and offer RWA-approved solutions. All free of charge.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Green Eyed and Bushy Tailed

My esteemed blog partner and my best friend (Theresa of the impossible-to-overpraise Knitting Underway) are currently enjoying ten Pacific Northwest days of knitting, in-depth romantic analysis, blog-maintenance tips (expect a vastly improved Damned Scribbling Women after this visit) and lots of novel-talk. And I'm...well, I'm feeling a little jealous. I want to be there, too!

I don't know if envy is an essential part of every writer's psyche, but it's certainly part of mine. Sometimes I think it spurs me on to work harder. I want what other writers have so much (namely, to be published) that I force myself to work even when I don't want to and would rather just watch Grey's Anatomy (though really, shouldn't the well-organized writer be able to do both?)

Then there are those times when I'm so jealous of another writer's talent, talent I know I'll never have, that I feel sick and sad. That's not good jealousy.

Living in New York refines your envy trigger to a whisper's touch. After all, most people outside this densely-packed city don't have the experience of walking past multi-million dollar properties on their way from their sad little fifth-floor walk-up one-bedroom converted on their way to the subway. Oh, and the townhouses look so pretty decorated for Christmas! They all have ivy and evergreen wound around the iron railings and wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights shining through the windows from huge, heigh-ceilinged rooms.

Ah well, have fun Kate D. and Theresa. Try not to miss me too much!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Happy Anniversary?

Somewhere along the way, this blog took a terrible detour, at least on my end. From being a forum to write about writing, it's become, for me, a forum to write about complaining about NOT writing. Thus, in my shame, I have been hiding from it a little bit.

But the ms and I recently had our first anniversary, which has compelled me to come back. I'm not sure of the exact date, but roughly a year ago, I banged out the prologue to the Wedding Widow in a slow moment at work and e-mailed it to Kate D, intending it to be a little germ of an idea to take my mind off my "real" project. Well, she loved it, and a year later, the real project is lost in the cyber-graveyard of my infected old computer and the Wedding Widow is in the process of painful revision. Weaning? Teething? Some other child-rearing metaphor?

It's so hard to know what to cut and what not to. Which additional scenes would provide great color and depth to the characters and which will disrupt the novel's flow? I've edited up to about chapter 8 (of 21) in the past month. Not an output I'm happy with. But that pesky thing called "the rest of my life" insists on pestering me.

Here's the real rub. I've told myself I can back off the revisions a bit until Christmas, when I intend to have all my applications for graduate school done. But is that...okay? Oughtn't I to be writing constantly. Writers write, that's the mantra. So can a writing writer...take a month-long sabatical and still be serious, motivated and pushing forward.

All I know is my senior project is still about 8 pages too long to be my NYU writing sample. Get out the scissors

Monday, November 14, 2005

Rave of the Week

Even before I saw all the promos and commercials for the new version of Pride & Prejudice (ampersand their addition) I was prepared... well, not to dislike it, because it would be impossible for me to dislike anything even tangentially Austenian, but not to love it. The stupid tagline (The greatest love story ever told...Sometimes the one person you can't stand is the one person you can't live without") the promos that kept pushing a line that wasn't even in Austen ("You have bewitched me, body and soul") and the presence of the irritatingly thin and chipper Keira Knightly sort of repelled me.

I was so, so, so wrong. It was just utterly, perfectly lovely. In some ways even better than the Ehle/Firth version. Maybe that last part's the head cold talking, but I don't think so.

I'm feeling a bit better, but still tired and weak, so I took another day off work. I went to the 1:45 showing at the theater a few blocks away, figuring it would be empty. It was completely full and I was the only person under 65 there. There were walkers lining the aisle.

So, what was to love...I liked Knightly's take on Lizzie. She wasn't as bracingly smart and superior as Ehle's Lizzie. She's a younger, livlier, laughinger Lizzie. She has moments of real insecurity, confusion, just feeling ill equipped to deal with the changes her life throws at her and her feelings for Mr. Darcy. Ehle's Lizzie always seems in command, and I think I like this version a little better.

The casting was perfect. Lydia actually looked and behaved like a 15 year old (something no one would buy Julia Swahalla as in the BBC version, as good as she is). Jane is actually kind of prettier than Lizzie is, for once! And has the exact amount of sweetness and placidity in her disposition without being too dull. (Incidentally, Kate, the actress who plays her is the perfect Calla...Rosamund Pike. Just see it and tell me she isn't. And I think I might have been channelling Mr. Bingley when I wrote Peter.) Donald Sutherland is a very good Mr. Bennett, and the film plays up his complicity in his daughters' downfalls by his absentee parenting, rather than just his wittiness. Even Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins get some sympathy.

And the film is GORGEOUS. The cinematography, the landscapes, everything. Even though it's only 2 hours, they manage to hit every major scene, though the final scenes require more condensing than I would have liked. There's even a coda that reminds me of the perfect ending to the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds version of Persuasion, my favorite adaptation of my favorite novel.

So, go see the movie and be prepared to walk down the street humming the film's musical theme (another improvement over the last version. I now want to write only to the movie's soundtrack) and pretending that you are walking through English hillsides rather than past the 2nd Avenue bus.

I just want to make sure everyone knows that I'm well aware of the historical/character inconsistencies in the novel and many, many, many lines that were added by the screenwriters. I would have loved to see the lines about Lizzie's "fine eyes," "We neither of us perform for strangers," and many others. But I can look past that, if the movie did a good job of conveying the characters as a whole. And I don't expect any movie version to supplant the book.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

230 Questions... And Not One on Jenny Crusie

I am a bad, bad NaNo contestant and I deserve to be spanked. Or at least dropped by my critique/blog partner.

I am officially out. I thought I could handle a new ms, but I was beaten before I even started. Well, you know what they say. Don't hate the game, hate the size of the dog in the player. And now I suddenly want to watch Laguna Beach.

The revisions continue. I've reached the middle and the real work begins. Mashing chapters together. Removing characters -- I killed off an entire family of servants, and took a little too much joy in it. Oh, Jarvis family, we hardly knew ye! And adding scintillating yet wacky tidbits about Parliamentary procedure.

And getting my ass kicked 18th-century style by the GRE subject test in Literature. I think I may have finally uncovered the most perfect instrument of torture ever devised by man or woman. Take a small child. Teach her to read early. Tell her how very, very good they are at English all their life. Encourage her to apply for a freaking PhD, for God's sake. And then spend 3 hours slowly stripping away any ounce of belief she had in her ability to do graduate work. Add a massive head cold and a fever, and the pain is pretty much complete.

Seriously, is there not something massively wrong with asking one to differentiate between excerpts of Pope and Johnson when they're both written in heroic couplets? That's just stacking the deck!

If it weren't for blueberry pancakes, a wonderful house guest from out of town and a massive plate of bacon, I would probably be crouched on the sidewalk somewhere near Washington Square, rocking back and forth and asking passers-by to hold me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Day 1: NaNo-1, flitgirl-0

Today marks the first official day of NaNoWriMo. It was also All Saints' Day for all you Catholics in the house (big ups to my peeps), so I was singing with the choir this evening and...yeah, I didn't work on the NaNo book. I'm right in the middle of editing chapter 4 of Wedding Widow and I'd really like to get to a good ending point before putting the revisions away to (briefly) work on another project. And apply to grad school. Sheesh.

So the plan is to start tomorrow. And after almost a year of working on my first draft I'm a little intimidated by the thought of a new project. Maybe it's because I'm not actually done with WW yet, so I don't feel ready to put it to bed and move on. I have this fear that I'll be unable to get back to it. Probably irrational, but there you go.

I also have to confess I'm taking the coward's path to NaNo. You have to write 50,000 words in one month, which I plan to do. But 50,000 words as a publisher counts them, not Microsoft Word does. You see, I had a bit of a nasty surprise when I finished the Wedding Widow, thinking it was about 15,000 words too long. I didn't write it in proper manuscript submission format and I kept track of my length with Microsoft Word Count function. When I switched it over to proper ms form, I realized it's waaaaaay too long. Like, 200 pages too long. That's a lot of cutting.

So, for November YA, I'm bagging the competition aspect and writing the whole thing in proper ms format from the very beginning. I don't like cutting.

Ideally, I'll be able to post my first excerpt sometime this week.

Kate, how goes things on your end?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Of Collages and Collapses

In honor of finishing my first first draft of a novel ever, I took a vacation from writing for a week.

It was terrible.

I have been anxious, tired, confused, and constantly beset by this nagging feeling that I'm not doing something I should be doing. I've also been remarkably unproductive in all other aspects of my life, including revising my statement of purpose, getting my recommender forms to a professor and studying for the Literature GRE. Clearly, I need to be writing again.

The boyfriend printed out the entire draft of The Wedding Widow on his computer at work (the little desktop one was not going to be able to handle this). It's so thick! And big! I regret sounding like a porn star, but it really is! So exciting.

I have also made my first writing collage and derived far too much pleasure from doing so. I always loved cutting out paper dolls when I was younger, the more complicated the better. I had way too much fun cutting all around the tiny little prongs of a diamond comb in a magazine last night.

Of course, due to the cropping of catalogue photos, most of my characters look like victims of an accident with a land mine. I had to artfully drape the skirt of another woman's dress entirely over Calla's poor absent legs. At least she looks quite fetching in her sea-foam green lace trimmed cashmere sweater from Nordstrom's.

Now comes the tough part...figuring out what any of this means. What message is my subconscious blaring to me through this medium? Damned if I know. I'll upload a picture of the finished product later tonight and see if anyone else can make sense of it...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Movies, Misery, and My Health

With every change of the season, I make a list of goals. I suppose this could be viewed as highly anal-retentive... but the sad fact is that I haven't a prayer of keeping any sort of sweeping New Year's Resolution, and so I look at taking baby steps every season. Autumn Ambitions for this year include a) posting on the blog each week, and b) sending some installment of Jessi and Jude to my estimable critique partner each week. Well, (a) is obviously taken care of here, but (b) is getting a little sticky. My grad school workload just picked up with a vengeance, coinciding quite horribly with the Headcold from Hell. Super bonus: I got to attend my womanly appointment with said cold.

I don't know if you've ever gone to Planned Parenthood for any reason. I will say, I am grateful for them. Without PP, women without health insurance would be utterly screwed. Having said that, however, I am so tired of leaving my annual appointment convinced that I have a fatal disease. This year, I was told that I 1) have borderline high blood pressure 2) may be developing a goiter and 3) might have breast cancer. I'm not kidding. I asked if the fact that I was sick (and high on Day Quil) might make my blood pressure fluctuate. And could my "swollen thyroid" actually be my tortured lymph nodes? No, no, no... being sick wouldn't change my body at all. (Huh?) "Because you are 25, you are probably developing all sorts of conditions that you never had before... conditions which will kill you if you're not careful... so have a nice day and pick up your birth control pills at the window!"


So as you can imagine, it's been a fun week. Gloom, doom, and lesson-plan rewrites because my professors want to give us as much busy-work as possible. Grr. My verbal brain is in stress-management overload, and Jessi and Jude are suffering as a result. Happily, however, my visual brain is unplagued. And so, in honor of the flitgirl's finished first draft, I ask:

When The Wedding Widow is inevitably turned into a top-grossing romantic movie, who should be cast in each part? (Feel free to also post and assure poor Kate D. that she isn't dying.)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Convention Wrap up, Part I

I've just returned from the New Jersey Romance Writers' convention. And what a busy, baffling two days it was. First, the bad news:

- Despite all my stressing, I didn't get an agent/editor appointment, after all. So no chance to pitch the Wedding Widow.

Now, the good news:

- Despite all my stressing, I didn't get an agent/editor appointment. So I will now not be forced to finish and revise in two weeks just to send off an inferior ms to a potentially indifferent publisher.

Other good news: I met a bunch more published authors, including another who is willing to read my book, and reconnected with some of the one's I'd met at a previous convention in April. This is clutch for a couple reasons. a) It's fun to talk to authors. b) It's fun to make new friends. c) When I go to the RWA national convention next summer (and, yes, Kate you are coming with me. Trust me on this one) I will have published friends with agents and editors to introduce me to.

I also spoke to one of my writing/life idols, who happens to work at one of the schools I'm applying to for grad programs. That's always good. And I attended a couple of great workshops, one about revising, one about plotting. I've always been resistant to "writing classes" in any context other than workshops, but this practical advice was actually really useful...particularly to our own, beloved Kate D. I believe one of the sub-topics was "How to jump start your plot."

More about the practical advice in a future update.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Practice Swing

In only two days (Friday, to be exact) I'll be attending my first-ever writers' conference, the New Jersey Romance Writers annual conference. It's a two day affair, and while I'll be going to both days, I won't be staying over night. The budget can only accomodate so much, and stays in hotels in Iselin, NJ were not on that list. Besides, there's a Beck concert in the city on Friday night I have to get back for. At least I have my priorities straight.

I'm pretty nervous. Who am I kidding, I'm terrified. My social anxiety does NOT respond well to situations in which I am thrust into the teeming midst of hundreds of strangers. I have a few writer acquaintences through work connections (one of whom is an NYT bestseller!) and some of them will be at the conference. But I don't want to be that lame fan who hangs around too much, doesn't know when to shut up and is generally a nuissance.

I also signed up for an appointment with an agent or editor. Yeah. And I haven't worked on a pitch at all (for God's sake, I haven't even finished the book!). Clearly I am prepared for this.

Another writer, the wonderful Erin McCarthy, advised me that I should treat my first conference as a complete learning experience: sit with a different person at every meal, ask tons of questions, think of my editor/agent meeting as a practice. And hey, that was the attitude I took into my drivers' test, and I wound up passing. Stranger things have happened.

If I make it through the weekend without passing out or having a heart attack, expect updates next week...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Music and the food of love

I've taken to listening to the radio on headphones at work... the most delightfully decadent activity you're actually allowed to do on company time. I mostly listen to WRTI, the classical music station out of Temple U in Philly. I'd tried listening to regular NPR, but I get too distracted by talk radio. And this is a really wonderful station that plays all the chestnuts along with some more unconventional choices and ocassionally ambitious pieces (Mahler's entire Resurrection symphony, selections by Charles Ives, etc.)

I love almost everything, especially the opera (a huge interest of mine). But the pieces I'm finding most enjoyable are the Romantic piano pieces by Schumann and Liszt and Chopin. Which sets me to thinking... what story could I write that would fit with this music? I'd want to set it during the time the music is from, but the mood of the piece is just as important as the era. My interest in all that emotive piano stuff tells me I should think about working on some Victorian-set books, moving out of the Regency, with lots of big feelings! and grand pronouncements! And I'm dying to use Gilbert and Sullivan in a farce-y contemporary. Those sublimely ridiculous plots would be the perfect complement to the more fantastical coincidences and quirks of current rom-coms.

It's amazing when you stop to think about the elements that go into writing a good book, the little details that make a story sing. And music is one of them. I've only read a few Jennifer Crusies (Kate's the resident expert, so I defer to her greater knowledge) but I was struck in both with how much she integrated music into her stories. The '60s girl-group juke box in Faking It and the Elvis songs in Bet Me. They added so much to the mood and feel of both books. And you could really tell that she immersed herself in that music while writing.

So, following my critique partner's poll-blazing lead, here's a question for the fans:
Which books do you remember that used songs in an interesting way? Or is there a favorite novel or two that reminds you of a certain song? A song that reminds you of a favorite novel?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


It was a typical Saturday night. I was out doing a little celebrating over the fact that I'd just taken -- and aced, I must add! -- my GREs that day (scores available upon personal request. Seriously, I'm aching to brag about them). It was my boyfriend, his friends, a few friends of mine.

And suddenly I turned into Barbara Walters. "J, do you have an MO for approaching women at bars? Deciding who you want to talk to? Do you scan the whole room over a certain period of time? No? You figure it out at a glance? There's a certain something? Tall, blonde, confidence. Got it."

"P, would you have qualms about dating an older woman? Would the fact that she's past prime childbearing age ever factor in? Interesting."

And now I walk down the street passing shops, thinking things like, "Ah, a rare book dealership. I wonder what kind of hero a rare book dealer would make. Could I use my friends at Christies to set up interviews with someone in the -- ah! an Irish pub. What if there's a family of brothers who collectively own a pub. Need to start talking to publicans, stat."

My journalistic instincts have kicked in more now that I'm committed to writing than they ever have in my career as a pseudo-journalist. I'm itching to talk to people, to get down in the muck of their lives and figure out those details. Only problem is my terminal shyness and hatred of calling people I don't know.

I only hope those instincts kick in three weeks from now when I attend my first writers' conference ever. And have my first meeting with an agent or editor.

More on that later...

Friday, September 09, 2005


I hit 100,000 words today. I thought I'd be done by this point when I started the book back in December, and I have 15-20,000 more to go.

But there was a time I never thought I'd be able to write as much as I already have. With my head, I know I'll finish. But never having actually finished a novel, it still seems like an impossibility. And I'm getting that writer's wanderlust...other projects seem so appealing just because I'm not actually working on them yet. Not actually screwing them up yet.

As soon as I type "The End" I'm going to put the book away in a drawer, take a week off from writing and buy a big bottle of champagne. And drink the whole thing myself. With potato chips.

Bonus points if anyone can identify that movie.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Chocolate and Pineapple

I recently came to a disturbing realization: I think my hero and heroine are starring in different books. He's this sweet, sincere, bumbling, handsome but not very competent, reluctant duke who probably belongs in a Julia Quinn novel...very Colin Bridgerton. She's this cold, closed off, wounded, disgraced widow with a daughter who belongs in...I don't know, one of those romantic-suspensey historicals, where the heroine is so strong! and so beautiful! and resists the horrors of her life but must be saved by the hero from the ravenous villain! Maybe an early Mary Jo Putney.

What are they doing together? How did I not see this before? I suddenly understand why my tone has been ping-ponging between high jinks and quirks and pratfalls and morose brooding and breathy whispers and long silent stares. My protagonists are in an out-and-out war for the soul of The Wedding Widow!

I recently read a writers tip on Jenny Crusie's web page...making collages of images and items that call to mind your book -- whether they remind you of the characters, incidents, details, etc. -- as a way to get a better grip on what the book's really about, what should be emphasized and what should be minimized. I'm going to try this when I finally finish in a month or so.

Is it possible to turn this flaw into a strength? If I can combine these characters well into one uniform book, maybe I'll have something really good.

Or will I be stuck with a giant mess, like a chocolate pinapple upsidedown cake?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Slacker's Lament

I've spent the past two weekends in beach paradise, in Quogue, Long Island and Sea Girt, NJ in the company of good friends and good food and lots and lots of sun. I've also spent the past two weekends wracked with guilt over the fact that I had to sacrifice a day of writing, as my laptop was stolen a good year or so ago and I have no transportable writing implement (except paper and a pen...but that would be, like, so not 21st century of me, right?).

Refecting on this, I've realized that guilt is my dominant writing mode. I haven't written enough, this chapter's getting too long, my characters are behaving erratically, and the whole thing's a pile of crap. Oh, and I've been neglecting my studying/friends/reading/whateverelseyoucanthinkof.

This could be a symptom of runaway Catholicism. But maybe it's just that I write historicals. Think about it: all those Waterloo vets/impoverished gentlewomen/responsibility-laden heirs are always stressing about their battle-wounded friends/underage orphaned siblings/tenant farmers. Do I write romance because of my superabundance of guilty feelings? Do I read it as a way of neutralizing and exploring guilt, as much as a way of solving the eternal romantic dilemma's of the world, if only for a moment?

Maybe I need to switch to contemporaries. I've even got a great plot all picked out, set on the Queen Mary cruise ship. And that would clearly involve some first-hand research.

So I could take my vacations without the guilt.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Queer Ache

I'm in the middle of cramming for the GRE Literature subject test, so the above title immediately sets me to thinking about queer theory (though I have only a passing familiarity with it thanks to not having been an english major in college and not having taken an intro to theory class. And now I'm thinking about my lack of preparation for grad school and the impossibility of my getting in anywhere...STOP!)

But, all LM Montgomery fans can explain what it actually refers to...and I now come to the point of this rambling introduction...that queer ache I get when I read something so beautiful and wonderful I love it for itself and wish painfully that I could have been the one to write it.

I just read Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and its sequel, Rebel Angels. Imagine Harry Potter, but set in a late Victorian girls boarding school rather than at Hogwarts. Imagine Harry Potter, but written by an author with a lushness to her prose that is almost Victorian in its beauty and vivid imagery. Imagine a world of magic that is about exploring the boundaries of feminism, female friendship and female power. And imagine a story that is gripping, characters that are complex, contradictory and alive and relationships shown in all their maddening incomprehensibility.

The novels are technically for young adults, and they took me back to the almost mystical, transcendent experiences of reading books like Anne of Green Gables, the Chronicles of Narnia, Jackaroo or A Wrinkle In Time when I was young. I stayed up until at least 3 am for four nights in a row reading these books and even later thinking about them after I finished each. Gemma Doyle's world, her friendships with Felicity and Pippa and Ann, their quests in the realms as they discover the power that hides inside them all and then their struggles to contain that power when they're back in 1895 London...I didn't want to leave any of this after the books were finished. Thankfully, she's writing a third and final book in the series, though it won't be out for at least a year.

But my joy in these books was complicated by the fact that I wanted so much to be the person who had written them. There was a burning envy combined with my yearning for the characters and their world. And this happens more and more as I become more involved in my own writing...I either fixate on all the things I would have done differently to make a book better, or I want to weep because I didn't get a chance to write something that means as much to me as Bray's books did.

In any event, I highly recommend both novels. Now I'm off to re-read the Harry Potters, which are a much less complicated pleasure.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Can you have too much sex?

Chapter 14 has just been put to bed...and I should follow suit. But one question floats around my mind like a miasma, infecting all my sleepy thoughts with revision-y thoughts.

Does it contain too much of what some quaintly call the sex?

I know, I know, it's a romance novel. You can't have to much sex, right? That appears to be the uneducated assumption. After all, when I told my boyfriend I was nervous about writing my first sex scene a month or so ago (after what he knew were at least six months of working on this novel) he said, "But isn't the whole thing just sex scenes? Isn't that what a romance novel is?"

Uh, no. Not quite. I just read one over the weekend (How to Marry A Marquis, for all you Julia Quinn fans) in which there wasn't any sex at all until the very last chapter. That's chapter 36 or so.

My characters were very happily fighting and flirting and doing nice things for each other and misunderstanding each others' motives throughout the first 70,000 odd words of the novel. And then they had sex and it was all well and good and created all kinds of complications and led to scenes with secondary characters and that was good too.

And now they won't stop doing it.

Which is a problem, because while I'm sure they're greatly enjoying it, I'm not so sure anyone who reads the chapter will. There's nothing so easy to write as a boring sex scene.

I guess I can always hope they get tired of each other.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Three Events

There is such a difference between knowing and feeling. I know I should be unashamed of my reading tastes, and yet...

I deplore the fact that being woman-like, enjoying female things, is still denigrated and considered inferior in our society. I don't believe that romance novels are, of necessity, any worse than any other genre or form of literature, and they're certainly more entertaining than most. I just wish other intelligent, generally right-thinking adults could be made to understand that, as well.

There were a few turning points in my still-incomplete evolution as a reader (and burgeoning writer) of romance. The first was finding other intelligent women who were not ashamed to admit what they read in their free-time. My best friend, a marvelous young lady with whom you are well-acquainted, a doctor-in-training and history scholar, was the first of my friends to proudly discuss romance novels, and read them in public. Now I knew that this woman was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. EVERYONE who meets her knows that. So anyone who could question her mind just because she likes romance novels...is obviously blinded by their biases.

Another turning point was an interview on NPR with Eloisa James. I've long been an admirer of hers. Of her books and of her ability to balance being a full-time professor of English with her writing and family life. Even Caroline Bingley would be forced to admit that Eloisa James is a truly accomplished woman. And yet the (woman) interviewer on NPR was laughingly dismissive of Eloisa's writing, labelling her books "bodice rippers" despite Eloisa's refusal to accept that term. The interview was polite, but I was shocked that a woman, a journalist with as fine an institution as NPR, could so obviously style herself as superior to a woman with Eloisa's background and successes just because she writes romance.

FInally, I was lucky enough to attend a romance industry convention in April and to meet many authors of all sub-genres of romance. Established legends, popular newer writers, up-and-comers and debut authors. College-educated women, graduate degree holders and those with only a high school degree. Women with full-time jobs outside their writing, with families, women who make their living writing full-time, and younger, single women. They were an amazingly diverse group, from all over the country. One thing they all held in common, though, was their excitement about and love of books and their intelligence. These women were friendly, warm and above all, interesting to talk with...about more than just writing.

I like to think that I've put together an informal support group for myself. And that each woman I introduce to romance (most recent convert was just last year) becomes another support bolstering up my fragile but determined resolve to stop feeling guilty and start feeling proud.

Maybe we can't change people's opinions about the genre in the abstract. But if people who know us, who know we're smart and motivated and sophisticated, learn that this is what we do, maybe they'll stop and think the next time they want to dismiss an entire sector of the publishing industry, or genre of film, or type of tv show without even checking it out first. And especially if they want to pretend to understand something fundamental about the people who enjoy said cultural product.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Question...and a Justification

Did I say uninterupted writing time? I must have meant uninterupted blogging time. Because the only thing worse than a young woman excited about staying in on a Friday night is a young woman who stays in to blog. Did I mention I live in New York? Night-life is a full time occupation in this city. And a demanding one at that. But the things that seemed so impossibly cool to me at 20-- getting past the doorman, having the dj comp your drinks-- now just seem like too much effort. (And yet methinks the lady dost protest too much).

So here's a query to Kate D. to get us started on this joint project of ours. What draws an intelligent woman to romance novels? It's a question I've asked myself countless times, usually when I'm in one of my shameful moods-- not quite the mean reds, more like the timid pinks. I'm a feminist, yes. I'm smart, yes (or at least my college degree tells me I am). And by every rule of conventional wisdom, I should despise these books as inferior fluff that are not worth their weight in paper.

But I'm so drawn to them, I not only read them at a gluttonous rate, I'm working nearly every night toward adding another one to the vast store already in existance. On top of having a fulltime job, and that's not an easy balance.

For the most part I've reconciled myself to the fact that if people want to judge me for liking Laura Kinsale or Julia Quinn or Eloisa James, they're more close-minded than I care to be. And it's perfectly alright to enjoy both War & Peace and Nicole Byrd's Gilding the Lady (the current reads...always more than one). And yet it's War & Peace I bring with me everyday on the subway. I shouldn't care what total strangers think of my choice in reading matter. But I do.

Weekends of the Young and Bibliophilic

My esteemed colleague likes to sell herself short. Her "rambling" reads to me like absolutely hilarious character-building. Not that I've had the chance to read Chapter 6 yet.

But God forbid this blog become a forum for critique partner backscratching. I don't even know if that would be interesting for the parties involved to read.

Chapter 14 is proceeding at a slow and intermitent pace. I was unfortunately Potterized for much of the week and studying for the GREs the rest of it. What was I thinking, telling myself I could read the last five chapters of Half-Blood Prince and then get any of my own writing done? The tissues came out about 50 pages before the "Fin" (who am I kidding, I never have tissues on hand-- the deli napkins, I should say) and I cried solidly for an HOUR after finishing the book. Then I went to the computer, sat in front of the keyboard, positioned my fingers for writing and wailed, "But he was my faaa-vooo-riiiite." And yes, I am 25.

But tonight, I have no distractions and no excuses. I am making a big bowl of lemon-parmesean angel hair pasta (courtesy of my girl, M Diddy), locking the doors, unplugging the tv, sending the boyfriend to a baseball game and settling in for what I hope will be hours of uninterupted writing time. On a Friday night. And I'm excited.