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?