Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunfire Romances

Last week, I wrote about my love for Jayhawk. This week, I want to talk about Sunfire Romances.

Do you remember these? Scholastic put them out in the '80s. It was a line of (sweet) young adult historical romances. Each book featured a different era of American history and a teenage protagonist who had to choose between two men. (Check out the Smart Bitches take on Sunfire covers as spoiler art.)

These were already out of print by the time I discovered them in my middle school library. (Yes, I distinctly remember my 7th grade self checking out Amanda to enjoy and Great Expectations to impress people.) Sadly, I did not get a chance to read them all--but I certainly sampled a representative variety.

As with all romance novel series, the quality of books definitely varied. Of the ones I read, my favorite romances had to be (in chronological order):
  • Marilee (Jamestown: Mary Francis Shura)
  • Amanda (Oregon Trail: Candice F. Ransom)
  • Caroline (Gold Rush: Willow Davis Roberts)
  • Susannah (Civil War: Candice F. Ransom)
There are several reasons these books had such an impact on me. First, they encouraged my love of history. Second, they influenced my writing. Even now, I use my favorites as excellent craft examples. Amanda changed dramatically (but convincingly) over the course of her story. Marilee fought against compelling conflict on every page--and all of the villains were satisfyingly punished. Ransom pulled out all the emotional stops in Susannah, and I remember bawling every time she raised the emotional stakes. Finally, Roberts gave a classic device new and interesting life in Caroline (heroine disguised as boy = most excellent!)

I have actually promised myself that, once I finally finish my National Boards portfolio, I'm going to reward myself by tracking down a few of those Sunfires I never read.

Did you ever read any Sunfire books? If so, which were your favorites--and why?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

And the Mountains Bore Witness To Their Love

Recently, I wrote about children reading romance (how parents should handle it, etc). This made me think about the path I took to becoming a romance reader, and I suspect the subject will preoccupy me for awhile!

My first official romance novel was Jayhawk, by Dorothy Keddington. My friend Tara loaned it to me in 7th grade. I remember reading it behind my pre-algebra book while she watched, grinning, occasionally giving the thumbs up sign and passing notes to ask what part I was at.

I also remember being a bit disappointed by the end. I spent the whole book waiting for them to "do it." There were several frustrating scenes where the hero and heroine would start making out, but right when things got good they'd break it off to have a conversation about waiting until marriage. Then they finally did get married and went on their honeymoon, and all I got was one sentence... the mountains bore witness to their love. So sad!

Where, oh where, was the detailed steaminess?

Not in this sub-genre, of course. At age 12, I didn't realize that there were different lines marketed towards different audiences. I didn't even know that I was reading a Christian romance (specifically marketed towards LDS readers).

I've got to say, though, that the romance between the hero and heroine was fairly hot. Even if they weren't acting on it physically you could just feel them oozing desire for each other. (The murder mystery and death threats for the B-story certainly helped escalate the tension!) And I still find the hero sexy, even if he is a victim of the '70s (the poor man gets married in maroon velour).

As a writer, that's a lesson to me--character chemistry requires something more than a detailed description of how often they exchange bodily fluids. (And, also, I should be sparing/vague in my description of clothing.)

That's one of the reasons I keep returning to Jayhawk. As a reader, I just love revisiting it. But as a writer, I have much to learn from Keddington's tight pacing. After all, she can keep me turning pages... even after 17 years of familiarity with the book.

I want to know... what are your favorite books to reread, and why? And what is the sexiest non-sexual book you've ever read?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Now We Are Four ... and Forty Behind.

The holidays passed at our house without any Christmas kittens or stockings meowing by the chimney. Then January brought birthday butterfly ballerina cupcakes. Like the "dark moment" of the heroine's journey, bad things happened to those ballerinas, namely, the four-year olds celebrating with Miss Bossy Boots.
The cupcakes* to celebrate Miss Bossy Boots' big day started off fabulously arranged, as many parts of life do, and ended up resembling the current version of Chapter 19 in The Soldier. As part of the Cherry Adair "Finish the Damn Book" Challenge, I scheduled myself to spit-shine fifty pages a week so I can start my new 2010 book in February. Last week I spun pages 199 - 210 over and over without progress. Saturday I took a printed version with me to Summit Central at Snoqualmie Pass. After sending Big Boy and Miss Bossy Boots off with their teeny-tiny skis and instructors, I sat down and lined up my pages on a long table in the lodge. I could see the whole thing, and it is indeed ugly.

I only managed part of Chapter 19 before retrieving Miss Boots from her lesson, which is barely longer than her skis. Here is a photo of my edited pages (taken at home, not at the lodge).

Revisions. Fixing. Fine-tuning. No matter what I call it, it feels like it takes more time to polish ten pages than to write them.

Can you make out the yellow highlights? I mark the first sentence of each scene to figure out if it reads like a rock dropped on the reader's foot or a smooth transition. I ask myself if the first sentence or two answers the questions: 1) whose point of view? 2) time of day and time elapsed, if any, since previous scene? 3) place or setting? Because I want to jump in to what I see happening, those two sentences are hard for me to craft. I also highlight the last word of each paragraph and look at them, and only them, on the page. Each one should be interesting enough to make the reader jump to the next paragraph. On one page I had: nicotine, van, attention, soon, organizations and watch. I immediately eliminated the boring word soon as a paragraph ending. Organizations - dull - will have to change but I believe nicotine, van and attention are keepers.

Unfortunately I didn't finish last week's fifty pages of revisions and darned if I don't have another fifty scheduled this week. I called this post "forty (pages) behind" but it feels like ninety right now. By the end of Monday I will finish revising Chapter 19! I'm committed because I want to start the next book but I can't until The Soldier is a lot shinier. I could use motivation (or cupcake stories) as I check back in with the blog.

* Cupcakes courtesy of the household birthday baker, "Mr. Richland."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Getting Better All the Time

There are times when being a writer can feel a bit like being Sisyphus. No matter how many times you roll that rock up that mountain, there is always another mountain. At least that's what it feels like to me when I'm staring down revisions on an old book I've already revised a dozen times over.

The good news is I'm getting better at this. Every revision brings something new that I've learned as a writer to the manuscript and so every revision is a little better than the last.

The same can also be said of my new projects. Not that each one is better than the last, necessarily (such a subjective question!), but rather that with each new manuscript I bring something new as a writer.

Tomorrow I have a new ebook release. Serengeti Storm is the second in my lion-shifter series and when I sat down to write it, I was simultaneously trying to please those who had loved the first story and bring something new to the table. The newness turned out to be a new understanding I had of writing deeper emotions - the conflicts based in our family lives and long-term lovers. There is a power in those emotions that the love-at-first-sight affairs in most romances can't compete with. I found the act of writing this story helped me grow profoundly as a writer.

Those leaps as a writer can happen when you least expect them. Sometimes it's a class or a book about writing that triggers a shift in your writing. Sometimes it's a critique or a compliment. And sometimes, it's just slogging through another draft, trying to see what you've seen a million times with new eyes, pushing that rock up that mountain one more time.

What has helped you grow the most as a writer?

This week, to celebrate Serengeti Storm's release, I would like to give away a copy of Janet Evanovich's How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author. Just comment on this post by Friday at noon (Pacific) and you are automatically entered to win.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Year, New Books

I am not making any resolutions this year, for the simple reason that I need less stress in my life. Rather than resolutions, I have a hope: a hope that I spend more of my time doing what will make me happy, instead of what I think will make other people happy. (Teaching: a dangerous day job for anyone with martyr-complex tendencies.)

Well, one of the things that makes me happy is reading, and some of my favorite authors have books coming out this year. It's also a chance to catch up on my TBR pile. So, without further ado, here's my TBR list for the year!

I'd also love to know which books you're looking forward to reading in 2010, and if any of you are brave enough to make resolutions.
Finally, if you have any reading recommendations for September, November, or December I would love to hear them!

* * * * *

January: Knight of Pleasure (Margaret Mallory)
I love me some medieval romance novels. And Ms. Mallory is a member of my local RWA--bonus!

February: Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Kresley Cole)
I've been waiting a long time for Garreth and Lucia's story. Cole's werewolves are so hot--all alpha-male, lusty, and elemental. Yes, please!

March: Wild Ride (Bob Mayer and Jennifer Crusie)

April: Prep: A Novel (Curtis Sittenfeld)

May: Chasing Perfect (Susan Mallery)

Book 1 Fools Gold series

June: Ten Things I Love About You (Julia Quinn)

July: I Kissed an Earl (Julie Anne Long)

Fourth book in the Pennyroyal Green series.

August: Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (David Kennedy)
Okay, a big departure from my genre reading... but this behemoth Pulitzer-Prize winner has been in my TBR pile since 2002, and I can never get past the Hoover presidency...

September: ???

October: You Again (Jennifer Crusie)
Emmeline takes a job caring for two orphans in the middle of nowhere (also known as Southern Ohio) at the behest of her ex-husband, and ends up with a houseful of delinquents, ex-in-laws, and ghosts. Plus there’s a haunted couch. Trouble ensues.

November: ???

December: ???