Thursday, December 07, 2006

Banter, Not Bedroom: A Plea

Here's the thing. I love American romantic movies. Really, I do. Sometimes, after a bad day at work, I'll indulge myself by spot-watching such sugary fluff as Just Like Heaven or While You Were Sleeping. But in all honesty? Unless we're talking about an old black-and-white film starring Cary Grant and... well, Cary Grant and anyone, really... there's just no contest.

The Brits do it better.

Why is this? I think that Americans have grown too dependent on the cinematically beautiful love scene. I'm tired of seeing the oh-so-masculine hand running smoothly up a toned, tanned thigh. I'm tired of the theatrical gasps, dewy-eyed gazing, and discreetly passionate music in the background. It's not romantic. Often, it's not even sexy. And if you're accidentally watching the movie with your father, it can be downright squicky.

So, when will American film producers (and American audiences) learn to love the Verbal Tease?

Brits don't torture us with gratuitous love scenes. Often if there is physical sex, it's awkward and funny and all-around entertaining. (Think Bridget Jones's Diary and the granny panties.) Mostly though, the Brits put eye sex and word sex into their films.

Case in point: Colin Firth gives the best eye sex of all time, especially in the A&E/BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. C'mon. Whenever he gives Lizzie a melty look over the pianoforte or what have you, all I can think is: hoo, boy. Shiver me timbers. You know that he's totally and hopelessly in love with her and the fact that he's so restrained and repressed only makes it hotter. Seriously. At the end of the six hours, when you finally see him smile for the first time, it almost feels like you're seeing him naked. Ooh, naughty! Teeth! What a reveal!

It's infinitely preferable to artificial Hollywood nudity, though I suppose I enjoy man candy as much as any red-blooded heterosexual woman.

Here's another lesson: word sex is important. Word sex makes the leading man. Even if he doesn't have an oiled six-pack, he opens his clever mouth and we fall in love. The banter. The accent. (Okay, maybe American cinema can't reproduce that, but really...) Again, case in point: Hugh Grant. Totally adorable in Four Weddings and Funeral as he stutters out, "In the words of David Cassidy, before he left the Partridge Family, I think I love you."

So, Hollywood, a task for the summer: I want banter. I want emotional suspense. I want the tease. In short, I want a decent script!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

October/November Lightning Log

Nobody's Baby But Mine – Contemporary (Susan Elizabeth Phillips) – Superb

Only a Duke Will Do – Regency (Sabrina Jeffries) – Superb

The Dance of the Gods – Paranormal Romance (Nora Roberts) – Superb/Very Good

The Valley of Silence – Paranormal Romance (Nora Roberts) – Superb/Very Good

The Masquerade – Regency (Brenda Joyce) – Very Good/Good

Night Play – Paranormal Dark-Hunter (Sherrilyn Kenyon) – Very Good/Good

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Eat Like A College Student, Write Like...

A Moveable Feast, indeed!

Every once in awhile I'm overcome with regret that I'm not an angry, chain-smoking ex-pat living in Paris during the 1920s. Tonight is one of those nights, and I blame it on the Hemingway lecture I'm preparing to give my students tomorrow. Why oh why couldn't I be a Great American Author, hanging out with other Greats as I pickle my liver in absinthe?

I suppose we all have our own form of greatness, just as we have our own Great Flaw. Hemingway wrote what are, in my opinion, the greatest American short stories of all time while he drank and wenched his way through life. My greatness? I'm still working on that one. The flaw, however, is over-committing myself to projects and people and then agonizing when I can't give every facet of my life the full attention it deserves.

Hence this evening. After a long bubble bath, I decided to forego the pleasures of finishing up my essay-grading. I should feel ashamed, I know, but I'm suffering a bad case of burn-out and it's only first quarter. So instead, I'm drinking red wine and eating my first tin of Danish butter cookies since the Great Butter Cookie Overdose of 2000. (Oh, the thrills of finals period my junior year of college... but that's a tale for another time...)

I'm also thinking about why I teach, and why I seem to be ignoring my teaching philosophies on a day-to-day basis. I'm thinking about the books I want to write, but never finish, and the vacations I want to take, but never do. I'm thinking about the relationships that are important to me, and the way I tell myself, "I'll let them know how much I love them tomorrow."

Perhaps this all sounds incredibly depressing and I suppose, objectively, it is. But hey, at least if I died tomorrow none of my friends would portray me horribly in their autobiographies, as Ernest Hemingway did to F. Scott Fitzgerald (basically calling him “a drunk, a weakling, a hypochondriac, a fool, an irresponsible writer, a nuisance, sexually insecure and wife-dominated…”

Ouch! With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Tonight, I'm wondering what I'm really doing with my life. When will I stop putting off my own ambitions? How can I be the writer, sister, daughter, girlfriend, friend, teacher and "wild woman" I feel that I was born to be?

When do we stop waiting for our dreams and actually take a step towards achieving them?
Deep thoughts, I know, and not the usual norm for the public side of DSW. But hey, when I'm avoiding grading it makes me philosophical!

* * * * *

[1] Matthew J. Bruccoli, Fitzgerald and Hemingway: A Dangerous Friendship (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995) 1.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Auntie Kate

Big Hand: the Brother
Baby Hand: a Nephew (Alex)

Just thought I'd let you all know that I'm now a proud aunt to triplet boys. Benjamin Thomas, Ryan Anthony, and Alexander Michael joined this rainy world on Thursday, October 18th. They made it to 33 weeks before demanding a birthday... which is pretty good for triplets, from what I hear.

Last weekend, I got to visit them for the first time. The family spent a marvelous hour or two tickling Alex's feet and laughing at Ben while he smacked Alex in the face (they share an incubator). The coup de gras: I got to actually hold Ryan. He was so darn adorable and wiggly.

Just a few weeks old and they're already proving what I suspected: they have my brother's energy, so we won't be able to turn our backs on them for a second!

My brother and his wife are doing well. They're back home in Olympia, but one or both of them drives to Seattle every other day to visit the boys. Ben's already hit his four-pound mark, and all three babies have begun to spend part of their day in an open-air crib before being returned to the incubator.

I am going to be That Disgusting Aunt. You know, the one who spends her entire paycheck on fabulous baby books and ridiculously cute baby socks? I think this is a lovely trait to add to my resume.

But what with nephews to spoil and parent conferences to survive, I haven't worked on my novel or--truth to tell--even thought much about the blog. Life's been a blur of Other Stuff. But today I have the day off from school... so, after I go into school for about three hours of grading and planning (see how that "off time" works?) I'm going to come home, clean my apartment, do a little shopping and then WRITE bef0re The Boyfriend gets here for our weekend.

Exciting, no?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

Would be me. If by "Black Lagoon" one means "Library." Thanks to Kate D for single-handedly keeping hope alive.

Don't get me wrong, graduate school is fantastic, and I'm so happy to be reading and thinking and analyzing literature again in a more professional setting than online (not that talking romance here hasn't been great, too). But the utter neglect of my completed-the-week-I-started-school final draft of Then Comes Marriage had me low and it had me down.

Until this morning when, perhaps still under the effects of Halloween cocktails from last night, I grit my teeth and took the step I've been contemplating for weeks.

That's right, I entered Then Comes Marriage in RWA's Golden Heart contest.

So, let's see, what's left to tackle by the submission deadline of December 4? Reformat entire ms, write exciting and interesting synopsis, and cull first five chapters of ms into a gripping and cohesive partial.

And write three 20 page papers while keeping up the normal reading course load.

I'm sure I'll regret this imminently, but I think it's time I force myself to get back to work on my other potential career, and there's nothing like a deadline to get me moving.

Bonus! By entering the contest, I'll have my synopsis completed, and with trimming and revising, should be able to begin submitting to agents next month! Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Get Rhythm

Theresa recently posted about the ten songs she's listening to most often these days. And since I can claim the happy responsibility of introducing her to "Maybe it Was Memphis" by Pam Tillis, I thought I'd honor her list by coming up with one of my own. And so, in no particular order, here are the songs that make up my recent addiction:

1. Chasing Cars (Snow Patrol)
In addition to being a fabulous song by a fabulous band (who, not surprisingly, happens to be highly entertaining in concert), this is a Grey's Anatomy song. They've even made a video to it!

2. When You Come Back Down (Nickle Creek)
This is the ultimate song about Jessi and Jude and who they were in high school. I've been thinking about that a lot lately (teaching, as I do, at my old high school... where I can still feel the ghost of my old stress and insecurity lingering in the halls). I listen to this song and then I agonize over not working on my story.

3. The Heart of Life (John Mayer)
During my first long week of teaching (lately they're all long...) I became addicted to this song. I would listen to it ad nauseum on repeat on my way to work at 6:30 in the morning. No matter how miserable I am, no matter how much grading I didn't do, and even on days when my second period Evil Seeds beat each other with crutches, it helps to remember that the heart of life is good! Hey, whatever helps me get up in the morning...

4. I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
No playlist is complete without the Man in Black. 'Nough said.

5. I Know What I Know (Paul Simon)
Graceland is just a fabulous album, even more so when your coffee hasn't kicked in and you need a little Paul Simon to help you wake up. This I like to listen to in the morning. Currently it's on my classroom CD player, for a little pre-first period pick-me-up.

6. Night Train (Amos Lee)
I think I have to put Amos Lee on my list. (What list? C'mon, you've all seen Friends.) The man is talented, sexy, and drop-dead gorgeous. Plus, he's got the most awesome stage presence I've ever seen and an absolutely wicked sense of humor. I've seen him three times in concert now... the first being when he opened for Norah Jones at the Key Arena with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Hot, hot, hot. And this song is very soothing.

7. Superstitious (Stevie Wonder)
When I'm tired from a long day of work, and I worry that I won't be able to make it through another night of grading, I wake myself up by dancing to this song. (Bonus of living alone, and it being fall: with the glow of my living room lights and the darkness outside, my sliding glass door functions as a mirror. I can watch myself do all sorts of stupid dance moves and no, sadly, it never gets olds...)

8. Stayin' Alive (Beegies)
See above re: dancing around like a madwoman. This is also one of The Boyfriend's favorite songs. I'm always listening to it on a Monday night, when I have a long stretch of time to go before I see him again.

9. Easy Silence (Dixie Chicks)
This is probably my favorite song on the Chicks' new album. Makes me think of The Boyfriend. Check it: "When the calls and conversations / Accidents and accusations / Messages and misperceptions / Paralyze my mind / Busses, cars, and airplanes leaving / Burning fumes of gasoline / And everyone is running / And I come to find a refuge in the / Easy silence that you make for me / It's okay when there's nothing more to say to me / And the peaceful quiet you create for me / And the way you keep the world at bay for me / The way you keep the world at bay..."

Yes, could do with a little Easy Silence these days. Teaching, thy name is stress...

10. Creeque Alley (Mamas and the Papas)
This song is just a delight to sing along to in the car. And it makes for good desk-chair-spinning in time to the music when I'm trying to make entering grades just a little more fun.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Old School

Teaching at your old high school is, in a word, surreal. The worst is when my students accost me
in the hallways, asking if I remember their older siblings/friends/etc. (This is awkward, as often the answer is "no," followed up by, "Well, he remembers you. He said you hung out all the time!" The super awkwardness, however, came when a student tried to place me in her brother's high school experience by mentioning my ex-boyfriend and the girl he dated after I left for college. Very weird. Check out my full accounting of the experience here.)

But thus far, I'm actually having a good year. It's early days yet, but I prefer to be an optimist. My 6th period class alone would give me a reason for optimism! Those honors sophomores kids are fabulous; not only are they hard-working and self-motivated, they're well-read! And by "well-read" I don't mean that they sit around debating Sophocles and Kant all day. No, they bring books like Twilight to class with them. And one of my students--after talking to my mother--even loaned me the new Nora Roberts, Morrigan's Cross.

Now, I haven't read Nora Roberts in years. This is partially because (a) most of her books now release to hardback (b) I don't always like all of her novels and (c) sometimes it feels like if you've read one Nora, you've read them all.

But then my delightful student loaned me Morrigan's Cross, and I was instantly reminded why Nora Roberts is the Queen of Book Sales, and why she makes such a great gateway drug to people dipping their toes into the genre. MC is the first book in a paranormal trilogy that involves time travel, vampires, prophecies, and Irish deities... a combination which could have made me hate it, but actually that wasn't the case at all.

I loved this book! Hoyt, the hero, was deliciously broody and somber. Glenna was his perfect counterpoint, and you'll love the secondary characters as well... some more than others, admittedly. The most fascinating part of the book is actually Hoyt's relationship with his family. We meet him as a medieval sorcerer whose twin brother just got vamped; then Morrigan charges him with a quest that sends him to the 21st century in the blink of an eye. He loses his whole family... and they were very important to him... except for his twin brother who, as a vampire, lives on. And this is the most interesting bit of all, because for Hoyt it's been merely a day since the last time he saw his brother and for Cian it's been a millenium. Oh, the awkwardness! The guilt! The ties that bind us through time! Yum.

I would suggest reading this book, if only so you can keep up with the reviews on this site... I get the sense that I'll be posting about the other two in the trilogy as well, though how they could top the opening remains to be seen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where Have All the DSW Gone?

You may have noticed a dearth of Damned Scribbling Women on this website lately. Well, there's good reason for it:

(1) the Flitgirl recently acquired a puppy, and this adorable new member of her household keeps her up every night (barking). Not a distraction that a newly-minted graduate student needs as she sets out to make a name for herself!

(2) Kate D. has discovered that teaching high school students about the glories of Great Gatsby is rather akin to climbing a mountain of pudding. In her first year of teaching at a public high school, she's exhausted and a little cranky. Not much time for reading romance... or writing it... when you're assigning ever-piling heaps of work (that yet remain ungraded...)

(3) Both of these Damned Scribbling Women have joined their friend
Theresa at Anatomy Lab, where they'll soon be picking apart the Season Premiere of Grey's Anatomy! In our minds, Thursday can't come quickly enough... although our need to obsessively review the doings at Seattle Grace Hospital means that our pathetically limited time is now divided between two blogs. Sorry.

If you're a Grey's fan, visit our new blog and add your comments to our own! And we promise to post more regularly once our lives settle down. Really. We mean that. Okay?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Movie Review - The Illusionist

The Illusionist is the perfect late summer movie. It's mellow and warm and golden-colored, like rich summer days turning overripe to autumn. It stars Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, which is reason enough for anyone to see it. It's set in fin-de-siecle Vienna, which is reason enough for me to see it. And it's the kind of engrossing, classic fairy-tale like love story that all fans of romance would enjoy, which is reason enough for you to see it.

Edward Abramowitz was the son of a cabinet maker who began studying magic after a chance encounter with a traveling magician. As a teenager, he befriended Sophie von Tesschen, the daughter of a local nobleman. At their secret meetings, he would show her his magic and they would plot to run away together to the Orient. Then her family separates them.

Fifteen years later, Edward appears in Vienna as Eisenheim the Illusionist and takes the city by storm. Even Crown Prince Leopold attends one of his performances, at which he offers up his lovely almost-fiancee as Eisenheim's assistant. The woman in question is of course none other than Sophie.

After the lovers reunite, they begin a game in which they seek to be together, the Prince seeks to keep Sophie for his own and debunk Eisenheim's magic act, and the Prince's right hand man, Chief Inspector Uhl, seeks to untangle and increasingly complicated web of illusion, reality, love, politics and violence.

The cinematography is breathtaking. The director uses techniques from the early days of cinema, like irises and slow dissolves, to create a movie that's feels more like an artifact from 1900 than a mere period piece. The acting is uniformly good, with Norton's quiet intensity and Giamatti's slightly fussy, detached Inspector the two stand-outs. And the love story captivates like a fairy-tale -- it's heavy on mood, light on plot, and the characters are as familiar as archetypes from a legend.

The Illusionist is in limited release, but should be expanding to more theaters soon. If you get the chance to see it on the big screen, you'll be well rewarded.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Soul Maintenance

painting by Nicole Etienne

Before I launch into the heart of my post, I would like to apologize to all my fellow scribbling women that I haven’t been as present lately on your blogs. Alas, upon moving to Olympia I relinquished easy access to the Internet. I can’t hook up my townhouse until I get my first paycheck… and hurray for teachers, that doesn’t happen until the end of September!

In the mean time, I hope you’ll all excuse my somewhat erratic e-presence. Today I embark for a week-long stint of house-sitting for my aunt and uncle. I'll be at the house they built on the bay, with gorgeous hardwood floors and doors from antique European churches. I'll be sitting on the back porch, listening to music on their outdoor speakers, and drinking wine from their impressive collection.

I will also be writing.

Doesn't that sound like heaven? I'm excited to have such a lovely place to come home to, as next week I begin my professional development and, to tell the truth, I'm a little nervous. But this weekend is all about revising Revising Mr. Right. (My, that sounds awkward!) Not only will I finally be working on my novel again, but I'll be following the "routine maintenance schedule" as advised by Monica Wood in The Pocket Muse:

once a week: skip to the next part of what you're working on.

once a month: write all day without talking to anyone.

every three months: send something out for potential publication.

every six months: remove the detritus from your work space (sadly, yes, this includes the panapoly of useless file icons currently sprayed across your desktop).

once a year: take at least three days and give yourself a "Do Not Disturb" writerly vacation, wherein the creative muse stops only for eating and sleeping.

This is my once-a-year vacation for 2006... and unfortunately, the three days will be broken up by professional development for my day job. But this Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday I'll be writing, writing, writing... and wining and dining myself in high style, I might add!

It begs the question: how do you all take care of your inner writer?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Ticking Clock

After a week away in Sag Harbor, NY and Santa Fe, NM, I'm back home in New York and the days are ticking down:

2 weeks until I begin school
3 weeks until I begin sending queries to agents and entering contests.

I finally have all four of my author (and Kate D) inspected manuscripts back. And it's unanimous...all five of us agree that my ending sucks. So while consulting the OED to find out if the phrases I use are Regency-period appropriate, fixing typos, and cutting about 20 pages, I also have to rewrite a good portion of the ending so my characters don't behave in ways that were pulled out of my ass. Oh, and I changed Peter to a viscount from a duke and changed his brother-in-law's name from Geoffrey to Alfred, so now I'm going through looking for every instance of "duke" and "Geoffrey." And there are a lot of them.

In good news, I chose a new title, not one that was previously listed here. Then Comes Marriage.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Relocated... and soon to be scribbling

Since I’ve been whining about the horrors of moving, it seems only fair that I admit to the fact that I absolutely love my new home. Olympia, the small but intriguing port city of my youth, has reclaimed my affection along with my residency!

(Yes, I know this is a website devoted to Damned Scribbling Women… but forgive me! I’ve been so busy lately with baby showers, weddings, and moving that I haven’t had time to scribble. Or even, tragically, read romance novels. For now, all I can offer you is an Ode to Olympia.)

Being an hour south of Seattle means that I can get more for my money, and I must say I’m loving the apartment amenities. I haven’t had a dishwasher in two years, so having one now is lovely… and I’ve never enjoyed having a washer and dryer in my own home. Three cheers for that innovation! No more wandering down to the basement with a bag full of quarters and underwear, hoping no one else is already washing her knickers…

I’m also fully settled into my kitchen which, unlike my last kitchen, contains (a) storage space and (b) electrical outlets. I’m happy to report that, after a mere fortnight in residence, the spice cabinet has already taken on an alluring odor of marshmallows and cinnamon. Mmm… makes me want to bake…

In fact, I christened the oven with a blackberry pie. This baby was homemade from the crust on up—I even picked the blackberries myself, from a wild patch on the other side of my little patio. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been exceedingly spoiled in the berry arena. When I lived in New England, I hated buying berries at the grocery store. It seemed like cheating, somehow. But now I can get sticky, prickly purple fingers to my heart’s content… I’ll be making at least one more pie before the season’s over.

Three of my five items already listed, and (like Erica) I’m still focused on the proper care and feeding of my oh-so-spoiled stomach. I’m happy to report that I now live within walking distance of my favorite coffee roaster, Archibald Sisters, my favorite store on earth since approximately 1988. It’s not the random assortment of Curious George lunchboxes and statue of David magnet sets that attract me. No, those are fun, but it’s the perfumery in the back that’s held my attention for almost twenty years. I used to spend hours trying all of their different scents—much to my mother’s chagrin. Sadly, I am no stranger to the phrase “You smell like a whorehouse,” though these days I stick to the demure Peach Rose blend.

And there you have it. Reasons to enjoy my new location. Next time, I promise, I shall wax rhapsodic about something involving romance novels! But in the mean time... tell me five things you love about your home!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

An Unwholesome Love

I would like to apologize to our readers for my serious delay in posting anything remotely new and/or interesting on DSW. I would love to tell you that my lack of attention to blogging stems from the fact that I've been holed up in my office, frantically improving upon my first draft of Revising Mr. Right.

Sadly, this is not the case.

Instead, I've been enmeshed in that horror of horrors that some people in this country refer to as "moving." That's right. As befitting any hapless young renter, I moved out of my Seattle apartment on the last day of July. Of course, my apartment in Olympia was not yet habitable, and so I had the great fortune to place my belongings in my parents' garage for several days. On this past Sunday, we removed said items from the garage and made our second U-Haul trip to the Olympia townhouse.

Bonus: the new apartment has stairs.

Now, I do not consider myself a materialistic person. And it used to be that I could fit all of my belongings into the back of a Ford Sedan. (Ask Theresa; she was on that particular road trip.) And yet, upon this particular move, I realized that I've been compromised by an unwholesome love. A fetish, if you will.

My friends, I speak of my overwhelming obsession with books.

There were boxes of books. Bags of novels. Paperbacks squirreled away in suitcases (ostensibly) full of winter sweaters. As I pulled my collection from the various nooks and crannies into which it had been packed, I had to ask myself: do I truly need all of these books? They make a decorating statement, and they're quite delightful to have around, but oh, how I HATE moving them!

And so, I petition the DSW readers for advice. Specifically, I want to know how you all weed down your romance novel collection. Because right now, I've removed the sad paperbacks that should never be read again in my life. I've enshrined my favorites on a special shelf. And I'm left with piles upon piles of books that were good, but don't quite merit "favorite" status. I reread them occasionally, but not often... so do I keep them, or pack them off to the used bookstore?

For the love of my big brother's aching muscles, give me some advice: how do I winnow down my most beloved, bulky book collection?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Best of the Bridgertons

I started the final Bridgerton novel last night (and finished it, uh... last night) and I'm feeling nostalgic for the series. I heard from Kate that there was some disappointment over Gregory's story in the romance world, at least online, but I was nothing but satisfied. In fact, it's inspired me to do a little list-making of my favorite Bridgerton books, in order:

1. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Colin was my favorite hero and Penelope was my favorite heroine. I loved that they were writers, I love the "unrequited crush on the popular guy" plot, and I loved the resolution to the Lady Whistledown mystery. Still one of my favorite romances.

2. The Viscount Who Loved Me
I just re-read this last weekend, and enjoyed it just as much the fifth or sixth time. Quinn's humor is so sharp in this book, the conflict is light but still compelling and serious for the characters, and Anthony and Kate are so delightful as they squabble. Plus the pall mall scene!

3. The Duke and I
All of these first three books are very close together. This one is third mostly because I haven't read it as many times as the others. But Simon and Daphne are a lovely hero and heroine and Quinn sets up the rest of the Bridgerton clan (and her trademark humor) so beautifully with this book.

4. On the Way to the Wedding
Kind of surprising, I know, but I was impressed with what Quinn did with Gregory's character, and how sharp and fresh her writing still is eight books into the series. I liked the way she played with the trope of love at first sight. As someone who is prone to panic attacks myself, I could relate to Lucy's well-described but not over-emphasized anxiety problems. And aren't the nine children a perfect end to the series?

5. To Sir Phillip, With Love
I wasn't crazy about the plot or hero of this book, but I love Eloise, I loved the letters that started off each chapter, and I love the scene when the Bridgerton brothers confront Phillip about their sister's honor -- menacing but still so funny.

6 & 7. It's In His Kiss and An Offer From a Gentleman
This is a tough call. Both of these books were fine, okay romance, but I didn't sigh over them when I closed the book. I never was a big fan of Hyacinth, which could explain why her book left me rather cold, although I liked the importance of Lady Danbury to the plot. And the Benedict-Sophie take on the Cinderella story feels out of place in the series, though I enjoy it more in retrospect.

Which leaves:
8. When He Was Wicked
I admire what Quinn did with this series immeasurably, but with eight books, she was bound to have one dud, and this was it. So angsty, and that's just not where the charm of the series lies. I liked the hero, Michael, quite a bit actually, but I didn't enjoy Francesca, whom I found boring and mopey and rather incomprehensible. And to me, a bad heroine means a bad book, much more than a bad hero does. I suppose that explains why she barely appears in the rest of the series.

So no more Bridgertons. I'm quite excited for Quinn's new work, as a change in scenery so to speak will probably revitalize her writing. And as much as I'm opposed to it on principle, I won't be able to resist reading the "2nd Epilogues" for sale on her website.

So tell the DSW, which are your favorite Bridgerton books (you know you've got 'em).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Rule of Four

As seen on Holly's page, as applicable to Kate D:

4 jobs I've had in my life:

(don't worry. My other category responses are much shorter!)

1. Beer Girl (Ostensibly driving a cart around a private golf course and serving beverages to the patrons while they teed off. Actually spent a lot of time hiding my cart in the bushes and picking blackberries into a 7-11 Big Gulp cup. Fabulous. What can I say? I was young. Carefree. And who could forget The Coworker Who Actually Looked Sexy in Raingear... le-sigh.)

2. Circulation Desk Assistant at
Orwig Music Library (Also fabulous. Work-study rocks. Spent three years working the quiet Sunday shift with a fantastic immediate superviser. Copious amounts of time to do my homework, check email, and surf the web for such weird treasures as fainting goat fan sites... hey, they exist. I'm not kidding.)

3. 5th grade teacher (Loved this. Did it through Americorps. One of the best experiences of my life... yet I seem to have a lot of those. I'm one lucky scribbling woman!)

4. barista (all I can say is: be kind to the latte guy or girl. Not only do we put up with your crap, but we deal with homeless people throwing sugar packets at us and coworkers who don't believe in cleaning the espresso machine. Oh, and $3 buys you a Smoothie, not a smoothie + the right to condescend to service employees.)

4 movies I would watch over and over:
1. 10 Things I Hate About You
2. Pride and Prejudice--Colin Firth version
3. Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea
4. Overboard

4 places I've lived:
Snoqualmie, WA (yes, of Twin Peaks fame)
2. Providence, RI
SeaGirt, NJ
4. North Attleboro, MA

4 TV shows I watch:
1. Grey's Anatomy
2. Real Time with Bill Maher
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (mmm... Spike-a-licious...)
4. Road to Avonlea (yes, as you've noticed, I love cancelled shows)

4 places I've vacationed:
1. England
2. Ashland, Oregon (delightful
Shakespeare Festival)
3. Prince Edward Island (need I say more?)
Lake Chelan

4 websites I visit daily:
1. hotmail
2. all of the reader blogs listed in the DSW sidebar
4. (Okay, not daily, but very often!)

4 favorite foods:

(Just four? Too hard. So I'm going to get seasonal here and tell you my favorite summer foods.)

1. pink lemonade cookies
2. chicken jicama salad
3. salmon with orange-dijon glaze
4. Triscuits spread with Laughing Cow cheese and topped with Tomato Garlic Salad

and my alternate (because I love food, so I'm allowed to have an alternate...) Marscarpone Risotto with Peaches.

4 places I would rather be right now:
Cape Disappointment
2. at a bookstore cafe
3. in Europe... yep, basically anywhere in Europe
4. also, basically anywhere getting a backrub, facial, and/or scalp massage (ooh, and while I'm at it can I imagine my novel revisions and unit planning finished as well? Talk about relaxing!)

4 friends I think will respond with their own lists of four:
1. Erica, who believes that
E is for Eating
2. Miss Scarlett, the
3. Flitgirl, right here at Damned Scribbling Women
4. Renee, of
Yarns & Tall Tales fame

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Four Cheers For Kate D.

Because three are never enough.

Last night at 11:30 west coast time, Kate finished the last chapter of the first draft of her first complete novel, Revising Mr. Right. As the critique partner who has had the honor of accompanying her throughout the process, I can't say emphatically enough how proud I am of her and what a fantastic achievement this is. If half of success is showing up, then even more of success in writing is sticking with it when your characters morph into bizarro people and you feel like they're physically assaulting you.

So well done, Kate! Your fans salute you!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Title Bout

I need a name change. The Wedding Widow was never going to cut it. Too cut and dry, not eye-catching enough. And now an inside source informs me that publishers find widows depressing. So, in my narcissistic way, I turn to you for help.

Quick summary:
Heroine is a lovely, snobby young girl who gets married to her childhood sweetheart on the first page. He's still a bit drunk from the night before and is run over by a cart and killed while exiting the church. She turns out to be pregnant. Oops. Family casts her aside, and she spends the next five years on outskirts of society, not so snobby anymore.

Hero is a younger, irresponsible son and best friend of the dead husband. He blames himself for the wedding accident (he was out drinking with the guy the night before) and runs off to join the army. Spends five years fighting in Europe, returns home when father and older brother die and he gets the title. Runs into heroine. Learns about baby/outskirts of society situation.

He feels guilty. She hates him for "killing" her husband. She meets a bunch of other widows and hangs out with them. He avoids debutantes and hangs out with army buddies. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The book's a little angsty, but not dark, dark, dark, and it has some humor. Here are the titles I've thought of:
His Best Friend's Wedding
Not Quite Married
The Bride Wore Black
After the Wedding
Dancing In the Dark
Running to Find You
The Thrill of the Chase
Waiting For You
Putting the Groom Before the Cart
The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Wedding

Okay, those last two aren't serious.

Please comment and let me know which (if any) you like. Or suggest your own. I want to catch the attention of those agents and editors from the get-go!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Buying Books Ain't No Fun At All

Yeah, that's what I said. Not at all.

At my last job, I had access to all the mass market fiction released in any given month. Truly, all of it: YA novels, suspense, mystery and, of course, romance. And a certain amount of comtemporary literary fiction, as well. I have three packing boxes worth of novels I sent home from my office before I left that I still haven't read through, and piles of untouched books beside my bedside table. And seeing that I'm starting graduate school in English Lit in September, lack of reading material will not be a problem.

But...I just realized that the latest (and final!) Bridgerton novel came out last month. And I'm going to have to (gasp) pay money for it myself.

Should I email my old colleagues and see if loyalty counts for anything these days?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Radio Silence

I did it.

I actually signed up for a writing workshop and, yesterday, I went to my first class. It's "A Vacation From Procrastination" being offered through Richard Hugo House. For two hours, I sat in the classroom and thought, "Ha. I don't need this workshop! This is so elementary! After all, I only have two chapters left on my first draft!"

... and then I went home and avoided my writing, and it occurred to me that I've had "two chapters" left for at least three weeks now. (I know, I know: you have much to learn, young Grasshopper.)

So obviously I do need this workshop, and I'm grateful to be able to take it. For those of you who may lack free Saturdays and/or proximity to Seattle, these are the exercises that will keep me occupied until the next class:
  1. Word of the Week: CLOUD (write 500 words somehow associated with it).
  2. Get up earlier or stay up later, and see how that affects my writing.
  3. Do an interview using a childhood photo of myself as the subject.
  4. Walk around my neighborhood and write about what I observe.
  5. Eavesdrop for dialogue.
  6. Collect sounds and smells (very visceral).
  7. Before I go to bed, write a phrase or sentence on a Post-It note and put it on the coffeemaker. When I first wake up, take that phrase as a starting point and write for 15 minutes.
  8. Turn "no" into "yes"... give in to something I normally refuse and see what happens.
  9. Sit at my desk every day for at least 15 minutes, even if I don't do anything.
  10. Observe a media boycott--turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, and go without stories so I feel forced to create my own.

That last one will be the most difficult for me. With the current situation in the Middle East--not to mention midterm elections on the horizon--I can't in good conscience stop reading the news. I have, however, resolved not to watch television, read novels, or surf blogs for more than 15 minutes a day. The horror! The horror!

So if anyone wants to cheer on my efforts, feel free. And if anyone wants to join me doing these writing assignments, let the DSW know so that we can cheer you, too!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nick Hornsby's Got Nothing On Me

I'm imminently off to Chicago for Wrigley Field-age, Art Institute-age and Drake Hotel Wedding-age, so I won't be able to write/post/read for the rest of the weekend. So in my absence, some list making:

The Top Ten Romantic Couples in Literature (According to the Flitgirl)

10. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane -- Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries
(Placet-ne, magistra? Placet)

9. Elnora Comstock and Phillip Ammond -- A Girl of the Limberlost
The first half of the book is all about Elnora's growth to womanhood and reconciliation with her mother in swamps of the Limberlost. But once city-boy Phillip appears, Elnora truly meets her match. He's smart and devoted and honorable, she's smart and original and honorable.

8. Leda Etoile and Samuel Gerard -- The Shadow and the Star
My favorite romance, and the loveliest depiction of people finding their true match in spite of their anglings otherwise.

7. Natasha and Andrei -- War and Peace
They don't end up together, but while they are, they are simply electric to read about. Andrei's death scene is one of the most moving pieces of literature I've ever read: aesthetically, spiritually and romantically. And while Andrei's death is supposed to mature Natasha, I liked her better when they were together.

6. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. (Edmund?) Knightly -- Emma
Austen knew how to write all kinds of love relationships, and this is one of her best. He starts out paternalistic, she starts out pert and full-of-herself. By the end, they've each realized how much they have yet to learn about the other.

5. Beatrice and Benedick -- Much Ado About Nothing
It's been 500 years and still no one's matched Shakespeare's depiction of love-to-hate-you-lovers. The passion in their wicked insults is so barely disguised, it's cathartic when they finally admit the love they felt all along.

4. Jane Eyre and Mr. (Edward) Rochester -- Jane Eyre
The book that launched a thousand Gothic novels is of course so much more than that. At the heart is Jane's personal/spiritual development, but the evolution of Jane and Rochester from unequals in love to true partners is thrilling no matter how many times you read it.

3. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe -- the Anne series
How often does one get to explore a romance from beginning ("Carrots!") to, if not end, then comfortable late middle-age? Gilbert was my dream boyfriend when I was young: kind, funny, friendly, but deeply, passionately, wonderfully in love.

2. Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy -- Pride and Prejudice
The prototypical "He hates me, no he loooooves me" story and still the best done. Don't we all wish we were one-third as witty while flirting?

1. Anne Elliot and Fredrick Wentworth -- Persuasion
My favorite book, my favorite characters. I'm a sucker for (re)declarations of love via letter. But was there ever a more perfectly matched pairing of personalities in print with a more beautifully executed love story?

Those are my top 10 today. Ask me next week and I may give you a different answer. If you haven't read any of these books, please do. And tell the DSW, who are your favorite couples?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bring on the Mad-Libs

He pumped his piglet when he saw her thrust her clavicle.
Now, can he lick her stunted mint? Find out in…
Love’s Sticky Campfire.

Oh, sweet Lord. The Smart Bitches have a Mad Lib posting on their website. Have you done it yet? If not, you really should. Scan what everyone else came up with, too. Personally I'm a big fan of Love's Awkward Fisherman and Love's Tight Fur Coat... and I may just have to change Revising Mr. Right to Love's Sticky Campfire!

You should also share with the DSW your title and tagline. Please, please! I want to laugh until I snort chocolate milk out my nose.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Late, As Usual

I'm coming late to the recent no-hold-barred discussion about snark and reviews that waged across the romance blogosphere (no surprise for anyone with first hand knowledge of my time-keeping skills). Kate D. did an admirable job of keeping all damned scribblers up to date on the dispute and adding her own judicious opinion to the mess.

Recently, though, I've been thinking of that debate in context of the reviews on this site. I love reading snark. I visit Television Without Pity regularly. I've long been a fan of Mrs. Giggles and the Smart Bitches. They're funny! They write well. They can be mean, no question, but they make me laugh.

And they get a lot of web traffic. Far more than humble little Damned Scribbling Women. I can see why. Romance reviews--and specifically, funny, biting reviews--will appeal to far more people than the assortment of writing updates, reviews, links and rants we feature. But I don't write that way, and it's not because I'm incapable of the art of the humorous put down or because I like everything I read or because I'm just so sweet and sugary all the time and think the world is made of candy and rainbows.

For the most part, I only write reviews of books I liked. I read a lot of other books, some quite stinky, some merely mediocre, but I don't review them. It's partly because I don't enjoy revisiting a subpar book if I don't have to. But it's also, on a more cynical level, because my goal in this industry is not to be a reviewer or run a great website. It's to be a writer.

We've all heard the horror stories about ill-conceived emails that cost people jobs or dates or friends. About blogs and websites that came to the notice of employers. I hope to become a peer to the women whose books I review, and I know this website will live on in some fashion long after Kate and I accomplish our goals. So I try to review as though I am already their peer, a fellow author.

Fortunately, the web is big enough for everyone and for all kinds of reviews and voices. We can each find her particular poison, whether it's smart reviews of "trashy" books or recommendations from published authors or a sanctuary for readers or the sporadic musings of two unpublished wannabes.

Kate's philosophy may be a little different than mine (and I hope she'll elaborate in the comments), but this is what guides my reviewing. Other bloggers, what guides yours?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Kate D's Auntie Update

Remember when I announced that my brother and his wife are having babies? Yes, triplets to be exact. Well, yesterday they found out the sex for their little bundles of joy... and I discovered that I'm going to have three nephews.

My poor sister-in-law. She's going to be surrounded by testosterone! And if they're anything like we were growing up... well, they'll be raising a house full of spirited little monsters. (My brother, by the way, is so excited. The first thing he said to me was, "This is great! I'm not gonna have to buy a shotgun before prom!")

Those of you who were waiting to make yarn purchases can stock up on blue. As for the rest of you... they're currently at a loss for one more male name and think they may want something that starts with a "C." Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Chick Power

I was delighted to see Libba Bray's web link devoted to the songs she listened to while writing A Great and Terrible Beauty. Because I, too, love a good playlist I will soon be posting an entry on songs that inspired Revising Mr. Right.

In the mean time, however, I submit to you the Dixie Chicks.

Let it first be mentioned that I love a good female bluegrass band. Let it also be said that, as a Civics teacher, I am a firm believer in free speech. And finally, as a feminist I think it's worth noting that the Chicks are the first female group in American music chart history to have three albums debut at #1.

They are also, however, one of the most controversial acts to ever play the Grand Old Opry. This Wikipedia entry summarizes their intriguing free speech brouhaha, but of course I can't resist giving you my own version! Basically, traditional country music fans' adoration of the Chicks turned to loathing when they criticized George W. Bush during a 2003 London concert. This faux pas engendered boycotts on most country radio stations, caused former listeners to toss their CDs under bulldozers and, of course, inspired the ever popular avalanche of death threats.

The protesters explained their disgust with the Chicks' actions as follows: "entertainers don't have a right to talk about their personal beliefs in music." Yet if that is the case, why do these same people love Toby Keith's song Red, White, and Blue? Why do they cheer at concerts when he shows doctored photos of Chicks singer Natalie Maines cuddled up to Saddam Hussein?

Back in 2003, even Diane Sawyer jumped on their cases and told them that people aren't allowed to criticize the president's choices unless they offer a planned out political alternative. (Um... what?)
Maines responded to Sawyer with a Theodore Roosevelt quote: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public."

Speak softly and carry a big stick, indeed.

Readers, I have no notion of what you may believe politically. Whatever your views are, I respect your right to have them. That's my brand of patriotism. But I also agree with Times author Josh Tyrangiel that, "however you vote, it's tough to deny that by gambling their careers, [these] three Texas women have the biggest balls in American music."

Because of their courage, and because I enjoy their musical talent, I frequently listen to their albums. Home and Fly have lately dominated my CD player, and I've added tracks from Taking the Long Way to my Revising Mr. Right playlist. At some point, I'll be posting that playlist in full. But in the mean time, I encourage our readers to celebrate the basic human right to free speech... and by standing up for your own beliefs, as well.

And to all my fellow American scribbling women out there: Happy Independence Day.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Moment to Boast

The Wedding Widow has had its first review...sort of. I just heard from one of the authors I sent it to. She said she's read through chapter four and thinks it's WONDERFUL so far. That's how she wrote it! All caps. She thinks my characters are vivid, my writing's great and she's hooked and surprised by how much she likes it!

Sorry for the braggadocio, but I need to store away every good moment as fuel for when the inevitable rejections come.

I have to say, I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Kate's June Reading: Lightning Log

Though I didn't title it as such, I did a lightning log back in March. Since then, I've confined myself to long-form reviews. But then I made my monthly pilgrimage over to Tara Marie's book list, and it occurred to me that some readers might appreciate a basic review list with no frills... a TBR index, if you will.

So. My rating scale is in the sidebar, if you need a refresher. If I did a longer review of the title in question, there's a link to it. I arranged the books by rating. Unless you loathe the author or genre, you should check out the "superb" titles. I think the "very good" books are definitely worth a glance, too. If you like an author or genre, you should exercise your discretion over the "good" ones. As always, this list represents my own personal opinion... but I flatter myself it will be useful for the rest of you!

A Great and Terrible Beauty – Gothic Young Adult (Libba Bray) – Superb

The Runaway Heiress – Historical: Western (Stef Ann Holm) – Superb

A Hunger Like No Other – Paranormal (Kresley Cole) – Superb

Ex and the Single Girl – Chick Lit (Lani Diane Rich) – Suberb

To Wed a Scandalous Spy – Regency, 1st in series (Celeste Bradley) – Superb

One Night With a Spy – Regency, 3rd in series (Celeste Bradley) – Superb

Surrender to a Wicked Spy – Regency, 2nd in series (Celeste Bradley) – Very Good

Three Little Secrets – Angsty Regency, 3rd in trilogy (Liz Carlyle) – Very Good

Time off for Good Behavior – Chick Lit (Lani Diane Rich) – Very Good

She Woke Up Married – Contemporary (Suzanne MacPherson) – Very Good

Undressed – Contemporary (Stef Ann Holm) – Very Good

His Every Kiss – Regency, 2nd in trilogy (Laura Lee Guhrke) – Very Good

Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Review -- The Perfect Stranger

I'm always looking for new Regency/Historical authors, as my old favorites don't publish as often as I would like and as much as I've come to appreciate contemporary romance, it just doesn't sell the conventions in the same way that historicals do. Secret babies? Much better in historicals. Marriages of convenience? Ditto. Anne Gracie's The Perfect Stranger takes the marriage of convenience convention and spins a lovely story out of it.

Stranger is the third in her "Perfect" series about a gaggle of sisters who lost their parents at a young age, survived years under their abusive grandfather's brutal hand and are now searching for the "love and laughter and music and sunshine" that their mother once promised they would have as adults. I previously read the first two books in the series. The first, The Perfect Rake, I found enjoyable but nothing special. A little too precious for my tastes. The second, The Perfect Waltz, I lost interest in halfway through and abandoned. There was nothing wrong with it, but it felt like so many other "innocent-but-spirited young girl in London captures attention of nobleman with some minor problem" stories.

I was a little trepidatious about giving Gracie another chance, but the back cover blurb drew me in. I'm happy to report that Stranger was, in Kate's termination, Very Good and bordering on Superb.

First, a little plot: Faith Merridew is alone and abandoned in France just after the Napoleonic Wars. She followed an itinerant musician to Paris, where she thought they were married, and lived with him for a month. Turns out he's lied about his identity, his nationality and his marital status -- he's got a wife and five kids back in Hungary (or Bulgaria, I can't remember which was the fake nationality and which was the real).

Penniless and ruined, Faith flees. She's on the verge of being caught and raped by some miscreants when she finds a former English soldier on the beach, who protects her. After learning her sad story, Nicholas commits to a marriage of convenience with Faith. He'll give her his good name, send her back to his mother in England and then continue with two of his soldier friends on what he calls his "mission." But Faith refuses to leave his side after they're married and sets about becoming a good soldier's wife, much to Nicholas' reluctant pleasure.

There's considerable angst in the protagonists' situation, which I always enjoy. And Gracie does a wonderful job with Nicholas and Faith's relationship. Of course he would marry her, and of course she would take her vows seriously and want to be a true wife to him. And of course they would fall in love in exactly the way they do -- and of course he would continue to push her away, given his predicament. The characters are both appealing, behave in ways admirable and pigheaded but always believable, and the dilemmas don't feel contrived. The secondary characters are also interesting. For once a secondary romance doesn't feel like a way to rot the time spent away from the main story.

In addition, Gracie's prose is very nice. I always feel conflicted when a writer does an excellent job with characterization, plot and even dialogue but has awkward, workmanlike prose. No such conflict here.

Part of my enjoyment of this novel probably comes from its subject matter. The journey through France and Spain is somewhat similar to that in one of my favorite romances of all time, The Suitor by Sandy Hingston. But whatever the reason, I finally feel that a Gracie novel is as gripping and enjoyable as I always hoped they would be but never quite were. Keep it up, Anne Gracie. By my count there's at least one more book left in the Perfect series. Fill it with this sort of action and intensity, and you'll hit the big times!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

She Woke Up Married

Title: She Woke Up Married
Author: Suzanne MacPherson
Genre: Contemporary
Year published: 2005

Series information: a stand-alone title, but you can read about friend Marla's earlier romance in MacPherson's
Risky Business.

Book Review Rating: Very Good

Why did you get this book? I've been trying to read books by members of the
Seattle chapter of the RWA. MacPherson's a member, and this title intrigued me.

Do you like the cover? Love the cover! Great cartoon figures--especially the expression on the female. No
uncanny valley here.

What were the high points of the book? To those readers who wish that writers would tackle realistic, modern issues in their books: this is a book for you! We've got post-partum depression, money worries, and even confidence issues based in the hero and heroine's income gap. Moreover, the secondary folks were strong characters, portrayed as complicated individuals and always pushing the plot forward. Turner Pruitt was an intriguing hero, as well. As a devout Elvis-impersonating minister, his relationship with God played an interesting role in the text. (Flitgirl, remember that discussion we once had about religion in romance tending towards the obnoxiously sappy and/or melodramatic? Meet Turner, a totally believable and complex man of faith.)

What really got to me was the relationship between the two characters. As we all know, I'm a sucker for couples who started out as friends. Plus, I just think that it's more believable when the hero and heroine have a prior relationship before they go at it like rabbits. I won't spoil the nature of their history for you. Suffice to say that it's sweet.

Finally, this writer created some truly hilarious moments. Witness:

She'd been like a vision: same crazy red hair, same beautiful, flashing green eyes. Granted, she'd had a champagne bottle in one hand and had been swigging straight out of it every few minutes. Also, it had been slighlty indelicate of her to catcall at him to "Take it off, preacher boy! Take it all off!" But he'd thrown her his silk scarf just the same. (6-7)

Any low points of the book? These two were also so clearly meant for each other--and struggling through such compelling problems--that I really wanted more page time to enjoy their happy ending!

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? I vaguely remember reading something by this author when I had my wisdom teeth pulled... so for all intents and purposes, yes, a new author. I would definitely read something by her again!

Are you keeping it or passing it on? This is a library copy, so I don't own it. However, I'm recommending it to you. I'm also going to put this on my UBS must-buy list.

Anything else? I think more romance novels should feature Men Who Sing. Carrying a tune is sexy--worked for Turner Pruitt, worked for
Cal Morissey. Authors, it could work for your hero, too!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Update -- State of the Novels

Flitgirl: Despite a hectic week since leaving my job (four freelance assignments, younger sister's high school graduation party and my own engagement party, and bridesmaid dress shopping with my sister), I've managed to get started on the next book in the Merry Widows series. I'm two chapters in to Aimee's story and enjoying it so much. In the sludge of all my revisions I'd forgotten what fun it is to discover a novel for the first time.

I also...[drum roll]... sent out five copies of the ms of The Wedding Widow to friends and authors I know for critiquing. This may seem like no big deal, but having objective eyes look over my draft is a huge deal for me. Up until now, my criticism (provided by the lovely Kate D. and Theresa) has been more of the cheerleading, You can do it! variety. I'm excited to get feedback, but also bracing myself.

As far as Kate's Revising Mr. Right goes, I quote from her e-mail: "Coming down to the final chapters... writing diligently... so excited."

You can do it, Kate! Everyone, get into the comments and give her those good cheerleading vibes.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Snarkilepsy: a LONG rant

Audience or author: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous blog posts
Or to take arms against a sea of critics
And by opposing... multiply them?

Picture this: Changeling Press has just published the bard’s latest masterpiece, the erotic novel Shrew Taming. The cover portrays a muscled naked man (clearly CG) walking through flames (also clearly CG). Petruchio, perhaps? Whoever it’s supposed to be, the cover strikes you as ugly. You immediately make fun of it on your blog and, since you get so much site traffic, Shakespeare hears about it. Should he:

(a) address your comments on his own site;
(b) briefly and intelligently respond to your blog post;
(c) spend hours of his day torpedoing you (and any other potential readers who dare criticize any aspect of his work);
(d) ignore the Internet entirely as he composes his next masterpiece?

This may seem like a rhetorical question because, of course, Shakespeare hasn’t been exhumed to write erotica. But since modern authors must negotiate so much online criticism, it’s not rhetorical at all to ask yourself about bad reviews, rumor-mongering, and cover snark. Bloggers: how much is too much? Authors: what’s the appropriate response to critique?

Put on your seatbelts, readers. It's going to be a long and bumpy rant.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love intelligent snark. This is one of the reasons DSW heartily recommends you to follow the Smart Bitches link in our sidebar—their
Ranty McRants defend our right to mock everything about the genre we love, from the medieval cover models sporting eye-shadow to the virgin secretaries who suffer amnesia after being knocked up by dashing Arabian sheiks. And if you don’t feel like producing your own criticism, satisfy yourself by reading theirs: it’s intelligent, it’s funny, and it’s clearly rooted in love for the genre’s authors and readers. (Similarly savvy soapbox thoughts to be found from Mrs. Giggles.)

Lately, the snark has spread. In fact,
Karen S’s post about Changeling Press prompted a snark storm. Some of the writers’ responses prompted Indida to post this little diatribe about the relationship between readers and writers. And an anonymous someone clearly thought that the blog rants were getting out of hand, because she’s decided to criticize people who criticize other people. Sweet lord, folks: meta-snark.

I don’t know how to feel about all of this. On the one hand, I love a good blog post that sparks intriguing debate. On the other hand, I know that—regardless of whether or not I like her novels—a writer’s process and efforts deserve some respect. So, is it possible to simultaneously value and mock the romance genre? I think so. After all,
a sense of humor and perspective does wonders in any aspect of life.

I’ve come late to the debate, but I can’t resist putting on my Civics Teacher Hat to share some of my thoughts:

To everyone who has an opinion: good for you. I hope you exercise your
First Amendment rights and shout whatever you’re thinking to the intrigued masses. With that in mind, though, might I make a suggestion? Consider the purpose and potential impact of your words before they go public.

Put another way: don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

To readers: Authors don’t “owe” you anything except their best possible work. If you have a blog then, by all means, critique away. As a reader, I especially appreciate other readers who give me information I can use. That said, if you absolutely can't stand an author, tell us once and then stop reading her. It's really that simple. Yes, authors are responsible for the gems and the dross that they produce—but as a consumer, you are responsible for whatever’s lurking in your TBR pile.

Indida, I thought your blog post was funny as hell, but I disagree with you. Yes, authors provide a service—but that doesn’t make them servile. Teachers and doctors also provide services, but shouldn't we respect the time, money, effort and education they’ve invested in their craft? I believe authors deserve the same respect. After all, they spend countless hours creating a novel, seeing it through publication, and enduring the reviews. That can’t be easy.

To authors: Please keep in mind that readers have a right to critically evaluate the texts that you provide—be they best-selling novels or blustering blog posts. Once it’s out in the world, it’s available for public consumption and critique. Specifically on blog posting: anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of the cash register! Your blog entries and comments become part of your public persona; which can help you (Angelina fights child poverty!) or hurt you (Author fights free speech!)

Don't get me wrong, though. I believe in your right to defend your work. There’s nothing I love more than an author’s
salty, intelligent response to her critics. Just keep in mind that messy, incoherent outbursts tend to alienate people. Just look at what happened to Tom Cruise post-Oprah: he went from “A-List Box Office Sure, Sexy Thing” to “That Crazy Dude Who Jumps on Couches and Can’t Carry a Summer Blockbuster.”

Everyone, let this be your couch-jumping cautionary tale: don’t succumb to the Tom Cruise Overshare.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kate D's June TBR Challenge--met!

As per the monthly TBR challenge over at Brianna's Mommy...

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: YA Fantasy
Year published: 2003

Why did you get this book? I got this book for several reasons. First, I enjoy young adult literature. Second, the
Flitgirl spoke highly of the series last August, and I've been meaning to read it ever since.

Do you like the cover? Very much. If I'd seen it in the store, I would have been compelled to pick it up. A young woman's graceful back, bound in a lacy shift and her laced corset... what's not to love? Victorian underwear on display perfectly conveys the book's themes: freedom vs. constraint.

Did you enjoy the book? Yes! The only thing I don't enjoy is waiting to get my hands on the second book, and waiting for Libba Bray to actually publish the third. Because, really, who wouldn't want to read a series about teenage girls in Victorian England playing with potentially sinister magic? And then there's that dark, omnipresent edge of imperialism... did I mention that it all starts in India? Oh, and the mysterious Hindu hottie that I'm totally in love with, even though he's probably only supposed to be 18? I'm a dirty old woman... and there's so much here to keep me hooked...

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? The author was new to me, and I am aching to finish the next book in the series (hurry up, other library patrons!)

Are you keeping it or passing it on? This is a library book, so I can't pass on the particularly copy I just read. However, it's now on my Amazon Wishlist. I'm hoping The Boyfriend gets it for my birthday, so that I can have my very own copy to reread (and loan to my friends!)

Anything else? I must endorse the writer's style once more: the content is JK Rowling meets Sharon Shinn and Robin McKinley, written in the lush prose of the Victorian era.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Writing Life?

So here I am. Noon on a Monday, papers all around and no one but myself for company. I finally feel like a writer. Can I get myself together and act like one?

I quit my job. It's not entirely as scary as that sounds, as I'm going to graduate school in the fall. But for two and a half months I have no employment that I don't find for myself. Freelance articles, freelance press releases. And writing, writing, writing.

The first day's going well. I spent the morning contacting authors for a story I'm writing for the magazine I just left. But this whole "manage your own time" thing is a lot more terrifying than I thought it would be. All my writing assigments for this week have formed an unsettling miasma of anxiety. They swirl around, vague and indeterminate, until one pops out clear and focused to scare me a little more: Bridal Blog entry! Lost Writers assignment! HarperCollins press release! And bridesmaid dress shopping with my sister for two whole days.

How will I find the time to just sit in the park in the sunshine? How will I get to the yarn store for cones of cashmere? How will I work on Secrets & Spies (Wedding Widow's sequel) or Katie Malloy's Last Con? How will I get myself to the Library for all the research I need to do on Napoleonic spies and contemporary conmen?

One day at a time. One page at a time. Okay, back to work.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mohamed rips off a tiny chunk of the mountain

Kate D and I are busy women. We have work and school and relationships. We have friends and family we need to call occasionally, and we have novels to write.

We also have mountains of unread books. So we've joined Brianna's To Be Read Pile Challenge, in which we must read one book from our stacks that was recommended to us by another reader. Kate is reading Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty — based on my recommendation on this very blog, I'm proud to note — and I'm reading Lani Diane Rich's Time Off For Good Behavior, based on the recommendation of pretty much the entire romance community.

We've got till the end of the month, so we'll check back soon with our reviews. In the meanwhile, why don't you dig into your stash, too? We've got some past reviews here to guide you (turn eyes to scrollbar at right).

Cutting Room Floor

What happens when you have to cut a beloved part of your first draft? Oh, I am in agonies! I wrote the following excerpt from Revising Mr. Right in response to a writing group exercise, and it doesn't fit with the rest of my novel at all. For one thing, it's written in first-person and the rest of the novel is third-person POV. For another, if I included this excerpt then I'd have to write about a whole camping trip... and that leaves them up in the woods too long. Not good. I want the ex-boyfriend to have quick and easy access to SeaTac Airport, so he can get the hell out of my narrative.

So. I know I need to cut it. And yet... it's so fun to write about men behaving badly. I feel weirdly attached to this scene. I enjoy it more than the alternative "pissing contest" I've set up over a game of pool. And I also feel bizarre and slightly naked posting it on this blog, but I wanted it to exist somewhere in the world, if only for a little while.

Soon I will feel self-conscious and paranoid and ashamed of taking up so much space on DSW. At that point, I'm sure, I'll remove it from the blogosphere. But in the mean time... here's an excerpt that won't make any sense to anyone but the Flitgirl. With that warning, please feel free to wade through my prose. And if you manage to get through to the end, riddle me this:

What's an author to do when an alien chunk of cut text feels more fun than the rest of her draft, but would spin the final third of her (much beleaguered) manuscript in a wholly new direction?

* * * * *
Revising Mr. Right
by Kate Diamond
Jessica Jo Carter, the heroine, tells her story (excerpt):

Bad things happen when I feel generous. Case in point: Walter sitting in the cab of Jude's truck, his knees not quite relaxed because he doesn't want his khakis making any more contact than necessary with the old, duct-taped bench seat.

I'm literally sitting between the two of them, wishing I could be anywhere but here--except not really, because then they'd be alone in the vehicle without my specialized supervision. Perish the thought.

I never should have said yes to this. It was supposed to be just like old times, a birthday camping trip--leave the presents in the trunk, hike in enough cupcakes and Ramen to last us the weekend. The only difference was that now we were actually old enough to bring beer. Oh, and Becca was on her cell phone every five minutes making sure her deadbeat husband hadn't managed to lose, mangle, or kill their kid in her absence.

And Walter. Walter was suddenly there, too, an outlier with his oatmeal colored Eddie Bauer sweater and barely concealed hostility. Why my ex thought it so important to join us--to the tune of $800 in new camping equipment--was beyond me. Personally, I could have done without the Cape Cod contingency.

He didn't really love me. I think we both knew that by now. When I'd told him to get over himself and go back to Boston, I think he was just annoyed to hear the word "no." I mean, let's face it: we were never the best match on earth. He spent countless hours drilling me in etiquette and railing against my aversion to pantyhose and high heels. And from my point of view, no true romantic should ever marry a guy who thinks faxing a prenup counts as proposing.

He knew all this. I'm sure he did. But Walter? Walter hated to lose. For that reason he refused to leave without a fight, and Jude seemed more than willing to give him one. This left me on horrified standby, wondering why men's logic seems to drop as their testosterone levels rise. Suddenly, my childhood best friend felt the need to pose and beat his chest over me--would probably drag me around by my hair if I let him. It was creepy. More than that, it was obnoxious. After all, thanks to Jude's lack of maturity my nostalgic birthday trip was about to turn into some sort of nature boy pissing contest.

If he'd listened to me, we'd all be spared some heartache. I'd told him he'd win any kind of contest against Walter, hands down. I'd said that he was my choice, that I was staying the Northwest for good this time, and that I wanted to make things work between the two of us. But apparently Jude didn't believe me. Either that, or he felt the need to test my love by goading my ex in the great outdoors.

I'd tried to change his mind that night at the bar, when he first issued the invitation--or was it challenge? I'd made another effort when we were packing up the food supplies and adding extra rations for Walter. This morning was my last attempt. By mile twenty, I'd realized that Jude refused to hear anything I'd try to say to him. He was too busy being macho, singing along with Johnny Cash to the "Cocaine Blues."

"Don't you have anything else we could listen to?" Walter practically hissed.

"Sorry, Walt," Jude laughed, not sounding sorry at all. If we hadn't caught the insincerity in his voice, the fact that he then turned up the volume was a big tip-off. And I couldn't believe he had the audacity to glare at me, as if this was somehow my fault.

I crossed my arms over my chest and hoped he could read my mind: no sleeping bag nookie for you, Neanderthal Boy. Finished glaring at my annoying beloved, I stared out the windshield at the car up ahead of us.

Hmm. All things considered, maybe I should have ridden with Becca after all.

* * * * *

All rights reserved. No part of this Revising Mr. Right excerpt may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the author's written permission except in the case of brief, credited quotations embodied in critical comments.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Oh. My. Gawd

I'm done.



No more plot holes. No more rewrites. No more fixing.

I'm e-mailing it to my first writer acquaintence tonight. Sending it in the mail to others (and to the long-suffering Kate D.) as soon as I can get my ass to Kinkos.

Holy crap, I'm actually doing this. I know I'm not sending it to agents and editors yet, but I'm still nervous at the thought of someone who doesn't know and love me, someone in the biz with an objective eye, reading over this thing I've created. My people, my world, all 418 pages worth of it.

Okay, Wedding Widow, it's in your hands now. I've got to get started researching con men. The next book's not going to write itself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A blog by any other name...

Would not be Damned Scribbling Women, unfortunately. But if I haven't been blogging here much of late about romance and romance writing, I have been blogging elsewhere about love.

I'd love all of DSW's dedicated readers (however many that may be) to check out my new writing venture at the New York Observer's Bridal Blog, where I'm one of several brides and a few grooms blogging about our wedding plans. All names and identities are real names and identities, so here's a hint to identify my posts: I didn't recently discover I'm pregnant, I don't run a profitable wedding stationery business, and I'm having a full-on, girly-as-all-hell wedding in July '07.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Anyone for Travel Lit?

I ask this question for several reasons.

(1) I recently read Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, which is an excellent book. Seriously. Highly recommended for anyone who likes American history, historical plaques, and road trips to obscure landmarks and/or graveyards. (Yes,
Theresa, this means you...)

(2) I'm currently writing a course prospectus for my Pacific Northwest independent study. The students in this theoretical class I'm creating are writing a regional travel guide for their final Geography assessment...

(3) ...which makes me want to go on a real road trip to some of these places I'm looking at, but instead I'm stuck here, slogging away at all this stuff that's due June 5th. (Pause. Panic.)

(4) Writing a course for Pacific Northwest History makes me think about how much I'd love to teach an interdisciplinary humanities course entitled "Travel Literature," in which students read such edifying works as Assassination Vacation and Confederates in the Attic. Perhaps a bit of
Bill Bryson, as well? And then they go on their own road trip to inspire a final project travel memoir... a bit farfetched, I know, but a teacher can dream...

(5) And then I think, why aren't there more romance novels about road trips? Does anyone know any good ones? 'Twould be a great summer read.

(5) And finally, being stuck inside writing curriculum on a gorgeous Memorial Day makes me want to rip my hair out and/or take a mini-break away from it all. Alas, I haven't the time. Instead, I shall have to content myself with taking a mental mini-break, back to a more carefree time when The Boyfriend took me on a day-trip to the
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and I was free to take pretty photos of my beloved... Ah, memories...

So, to get back to the point: anyone have any good travel literature recommendations for the theoretical class I wish to teach someday? Or, better yet, can you add some road trip romance novel titles to my summer reading list?