Monday, March 27, 2006

Inspiration Point

I'm still basking in the glow of the warm Bermudean sun.

Well, not really. It was windy and fairly cold throughout Toasty Joe and my Bermudean sojourn over the weekend. But we managed to have fun: visiting historic lighthouses and the old Dockyards, getting massages and eating spiny lobsters and fish chowder.

And finding writerly inspiration. During a summer visit a year and a half ago, I first learned of Bermuda's importance as a base for Confederate blockade runners during the Civil War. While I toured a preserved colonial mansion, I pictured the life of a young woman on the island, growing up in that home, the conflicts that could arise from a non-slaveholding island supporting the slave states of America. Returning to the island only whetted my interest in researching this topic. I'm certain there are the makings of a great book here.

I generally feel that way when I go on vacation. Maybe it's the distance from my ordinary life that allows me time to brainstorm. More likely it's my obsession with visiting historic homes. Writing historical novels (for now, don't get me started on my plans for contemporaries), visiting historic sites. I think that's what they call synergy!

Now if only I could publish one of these books and finally deduct my "research" trips from my taxes. That would be inspiring.

But the bigger question is, what makes an idea a fruitful one? I think I've really got one with this Bermuda book. Can you tell when you've hit upon something real? I certainly did with Wedding Widow: sat down and wrote the prologue the day after visualizing the first scene in my head, before I even knew who the hero was.

Other writers?

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Problem With Mary Anne

My friends, I have succumbed to the evils of Mary Anne. And just who, pray tell, is Mary Anne? She is Mary Sue’s quaint but still socially awkward second-cousin.

For those of you not yet in the know, "Mary Sue" is actually a writing term that refers to a new type of insidious heroine. She comes to us from the wonderful, wacky world of fan fiction. Basically, a Mary Sue is created when the author projects an idealized version of herself into someone else's story... I, for instance, might write myself into a fantasy episode of Grey's Anatomy as George's sexy new love interest. Perhaps we would arrange for a candlelit picnic at the Fremont Troll, or exchange witty quips over dinner at Bleu on Capitol Hill. And then Meredith would get jealous, and George would be totally over her (and into me)... oh, and while we’re at it I’d be a natural redhead with long, thin legs…

But I digress. I was supposed to be talking about Mary Sues and Mary Annes, and not my fantasies involving fictitious surgical interns. Having defined Mary Sue for y’all, I now move on to “Mary Anne.” This is a term I’m using to refer to my own terrible tendencies. A “Mary Anne” is a character in an original creative world that bears a striking resemblance to the novelist who summoned her forth.

And I’ll admit it. When I write “fiction,” I’m usually writing dramatic versions of my own life. Hence a romance novel about a romance novelist (set in the Pacific Northwest), and lately the urge to set that draft aside and start a romance novel about a teacher… because really, there’s so much potential for conflict in the education system. And if I wrote a romance novel about teaching, I could create a Frankenstein Villain who exhibits all the obnoxious tendencies I've ever seen in school administrators.

Now, doesn’t that sound like fun?

Let me know where you stand on the Mary Sue / Mary Anne issue. And while you’re at it, check out this hilarious comic by GMonkey, lampooning Mary Sues and Harry Potter fan fiction.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

SOS--Parting Gifts

I need your help!

My student-teaching stint is almost over, and I want to procure parting gifts for my cooperating teachers. What would be most appropriate? Books, of course!

I'm very close to one of my cooperating teachers and I want to get her something humorous. She knows that I read romance novels and that I'm attempting (not so much, lately) to write one. So I want to find her a really well-written romance novel starring a teacher as the heroine.

Any recommendations? I need these ASAP--last day of teaching is April 7th!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sexual Pervisity in New York

There's a danger in writing about fictional sex and romance for a living (well, an aspiring living): not just the danger that people will think the incidents you write about are biographical. That's to be expected. No, the greater danger is that people will assume sexual experiences you haven't written about are yours, too. Let me explain...

I recently became a staff writer for a startup literary magazine, Lost Writers. I'm writing in several different departments: Sex & Relationships, Travel, Reviews. My first piece, a look at aspects of my relationship with my fiance, went up last week in the S&R section, and I e-mailed several friends and family members about the article.

Unfortunately, by the time some of my more laggardly acquaintances checked out the link, the editors of Lost Writers had switched the featured content in the Stay In Bed department. Instead of my personal essay on being in an interfaith relationship at the holidays, my friends read 23 haikus about Cynthia Taylor's former sex partners.

And yet, several people (including one of my sisters) e-mailed me to say, "Love the piece. Is Cynthia Taylor your new pseudonym?"

What? Excuse me? You people, who have known me for years, thought that this piece was mine? When would I have found the time to have 23 sex partners? I've been in a monogomous relationship for the last 5 years! Do you honestly think I've dropped acid? Dated a felon? Slept with my best friend's husband?*

Either they assumed the piece was fiction...or writing romance can really wreak hell on your reputation.

*As a clarification, let me say I enjoyed Ms. Taylor's writing very much, found it funny and worthwhile. This is not meant in any way as a comment on her experiences, fictional or not. Live and let live, and all that.