Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blessings of the Season

Yeah, I know. Bad blogger. But I figure everybody is as busy as I am, and nobody would notice.


I'm running alongside it, desperately scrambling to catch up, but I'm pretty sure I'm gonna slip on the ice and slide under the wheels any second now.

My tree? Has lights. And I did remember to water it last night. But there's nary a sign of tinsel or popcorn or shiny glass balls to be seen. Only half my shopping is complete--no wrapping whatsoever. No baking. I lack festive clothing to wear for the obligatory family get-together. My children are sickly and my pets are ungroomed.

The holidays are kicking my ass this year, big time, and something's gotta give. Blogging makes the list.

So whatever you celebrate, be it Christmas or Chanukah, Solstice or Kwanzaa, or the Second Coming of the One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater, have a huge HappyHappy, and a Merry New Year. I will likely return sometime around the 3rd of January, when things return to what we laughingly refer to around here as "normal."

But as my holiday gift to you, check out this stress reliever. Very satisfying, in a violent sort of way. (Poached from PBW, who got it from Larissa.)

2006 or bust!

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Passing of Note

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big watcher of TV, but I do have my favorites. For the past few years, THE WEST WING has been one of them. (Yeah, I'm a big governmental policy wonk. Color you SHOCKED, I'm sure.)

As an aside, I urge anyone who's never had the pleasure of watching THE WEST WING to check out the reruns that air almost every weekday on Bravo. The writing and acting are superb, and's not REALLY a show about the government. It's a show about a bunch of smart, funny, interesting people who happen to work for the government, just like ER is a show about a bunch of screwed up folks who happen to work in a hospital.

Today, Emmy Award-winning actor John Spencer, who played the character of White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on THE WEST WING, died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 58.

Quoting Lynn Elber of the AP:

"Spencer died at a Los Angeles hospital, said his publicist, Ron Hofmann...

He was 'one of those rare combinations of divinely gifted and incredibly generous,' said actor Richard Schiff, who played [White House Communications Director] Toby Ziegler on the NBC series.

'There are very few personal treasures that you put in your knapsack to carry with you for the rest of your life, and he's one of those,' Schiff said. He said Spencer had been struggling with health issues but seemed to have rebounded.

'John was a consummate professional actor and everyone adored him,' said actress Allison Janney, C.J. Cregg on the NBC series. 'We will miss him deeply.'

'We have all lost a dear, dear brother,' said
Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman.

'We're shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of our friend and colleague,' Aaron Sorkin, who created the series, and Tommy Schlamme, one of the original executive producers, said in a joint statement.

'John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor. We feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. He'll be missed and remembered every day by his many, many friends,' they said.

'He was my brother; that is the most I can say,' said Martin Sheen, who plays the president, when reached at home yesterday. 'I just adored him. It's too big a hole.'

Series executive producer John Wells remembered Spencer not only for his acting but as 'a generous and
gracious friend.'

NBC and producer Warner Bros. Television issued a statement calling Spencer a 'remarkable man with enormous talent.' They did not address how his death would affect the Emmy Award-winning series, in production on its seventh season.

Spencer, who also starred on LA LAW as attorney Tommy Mullaney, received an Emmy Award for his performance on THE WEST WING in 2002 and was nominated four other times for the series.

The actor, whose world-weary countenance was perfect for the role of McGarry, mirrored his character in several ways: Both were recovering alcoholics and both, Spencer once said, were driven."

For me, the character of Leo McGarry was the grandfather I'd always wanted--solid, principled, compassionate, good-humored, courageous, and with "a map of the world on his face." The actor who embodied him earned my respect by breathing life into the lines written for him, and making him human--so human that the tears I shed this evening when I heard of his death were for both the man and the fiction he'd created.

Those who knew him say John Spencer was a man among men. Leo McGarry was, to my mind, the soul of what is arguably the finest hour of non-premium television on the air today. It is well that THE WEST WING is likely in its last season, as I cannot conceive of how it would continue without him.

The following is from a Season Two episode titled "Noel." In this scene, Leo is talking to his Deputy, Josh, who is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome following a shooting. Josh fears that he'll lose his job at the White House due to his ongoing problem.

Leo says:

"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.

A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?'

The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?'

The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by. 'Hey, Joe, it's me, can
you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole.

Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.'

The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out.' "

Leo always knew the way out. And John Spencer knew how to make us believe in Leo.

Godspeed, Mr. Spencer. You'll be missed.

And good night, Mr. McGarry, wherever you are.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Storming the Gates of (ahem) Heaven

This week, a group has formed to explore the idea of approaching the RWA Board of Directors with a request to revisit the issue of publisher/author recognition. We include among our number many already-published authors both from RWA-recognized and non-recognized companies, unpublished authors, industry professionals, and RWA members and non-members, including at least one land-based chapter president.

You can read more about the group

You can join the group here.

* * *

In other news, yesterday my dear friend Watcher_Don called me, and I quote, "mad as a spoon."

Why, you ask? Or maybe you think you already know. You probably don't, as this particular quirk isn't one I've discussed at length...

Here's the deal:

I do this "total immersion" thing into the world of whatever manuscript upon which I'm working. Or as total as I can accomplish, at any rate.Like, right now, I'm working on a story set in North Yorkshire, England in 1822. In order to feel really comfortable writing about my setting and characters, I studied the politics of the time, the fashions, the manners, the slang. I looked at pictures of houses, and furniture.

My story takes place on a moor -- I studied moors in North Yorkshire -- the flora and fauna.

One of my characters is Jewish -- I read up on the history of Jews in England. He also happens to be a doctor. I learned about the difference between doctors and apothecaries and surgeons, and how each were educated, paid, and addressed in public.

Last, but not least -- and what earned me the "mad as a spoon" insult -- was looking up the longitude and latitude of the village in which I set my story and using them to ascertain the times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset for the particular day and night in 1822 during which my story takes place.True, this is a lot of work for a 12K word story. Most of this information I'll never use. But I can close my eyes and live inside this story now. In my mind, I can walk in and out of the rooms of Merrybourne Hall, and see them fully furnished. I can think back and remember Dr. Adam Brewster's days as a medical student in Padua, Italy. I can step out on the Urra moor and know what time it is by where the sun or moon is fixed in the sky.

Mad as a spoon? So be it. I write fiction because creating worlds in my mind and inhabiting them for short periods of time is what keeps me sane and happy. The more detailed and realistic I can make them, the happier -- and saner -- I am.

P.S. -- The remainder of those "fifteen things you should know about me and books?" Monday. For sure. Because I'm certain you're all just DYING to know about my love/hate relationship with Stephen King... :p

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fifteen things you should know about me and books: PART THE FIRST

I've been tagged by Briana, and we like to humor those folks who are about to spawn. For the SEVENTH TIME. Oh yes we do.

1. The first book I ever succeeded in reading by myself, cover-to-cover, was titled: WHAT IS THAT? (I was five and a half at the time. I know this makes me a literary late-bloomer compared to a lot of folks.)

The entire plot of the book involved a hatchling bird (note to self: see if Briana has spawned yet) hopping about, asking the question, "What is that?" regarding every object he stumbles across. I followed my mother around the house for an entire weekend, holding the book, "reading" to her.




On Sunday evening, sometime between dinner and bathtime, the book MYSTERIOUSLY went missing and was never seen again. I was devastated. However, in its place, an entire collection of Golden Books soon appeared.

* * *

2. When I was eight -- having made up for lost time -- I read George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM. To say I didn't understand it is a bit of an understatement. When I started asking questions at the dinner table, my parents got the idea that maybe the book wasn't appropriate. Neither of them had ever heard of Orwell, and had assumed I was reading know...animals. On a farm. Which I was.
* * *

3. Shortly thereafter, my mother introduced me to Nancy Drew. I liked Nancy. I didn't love her. She was a little too...well-behaved. Which is not to say that I was not a well-behaved child -- I was. Extremely. Studious and polite and quiet and ladylike and mature for my age in a way that wasn't TOO threatening to the adults around me. But when you're already that way, who wants to READ about some OTHER chick who ALSO does everything right? PLUS...pretty. Which I WASN'T. Nancy got old fast. Luckily, by the time I was nine, I discovered...
* * *

4. ...Harlequin Romance! Old ones, from the early seventies, and quite chaste. "Punishing kisses" -- no tongue -- were about as raunchy as they got. And the girls were still pretty goody-goody, but at least they made mistakes once in a while. But the HEROES. Hot DAMN! I couldn't wait to be out on my own, so I could meet captains of industry, doctors who owned their own hospitals, princes of small-but-wealthy countries...and all of them just waiting for young, marginally-educated, attractive-in-a-fresh-and-virginal-way ME!!
* * *

5. When I was ten, GONE WITH THE WIND aired on television for the first time. I was...entranced. Enraptured. Moved beyond my ability to express it. My mother, bless her, recognized the stars in my eyes and produced her old, worn hardback copy of Margaret Mitchell's novel. And Oh. My. God.

I lost myself in that book in a way I've never lost myself before or since. I lived in it for months. I dreamed of crinolines and soldiers dying of dysentery. I drew pictures of antebellum mansions and cotton fields. I wrote impassioned extra-credit fifth grade English essays on the evils of slavery compared and contrasted to the evils of Reconstruction. I developed a southern drawl.

In short, I lost my tiny mind.
* * *

6. In my quest to read other books set in the antebellum South, I found...ermmm...other books set in the antebellum South.




Thus began my study of smut on the page. As parental supervision of my reading material was fairly light at this point, my exploration was wide and varied. Wherever I found books of a questionable nature -- the bottom drawer of my father's dresser, the back of a bookshelf in my college-aged uncle's bedroom, the bottom of a box in my grandmother's attic -- there I conducted my investigations. I soon learned what fascinated me and what bored me silly. By the time I was twelve, the chaste Harlequins of my youth were relegated to a pile beneath my bed.

The books I was reading were all written with a masculine audience in mind. I won't call them pornography (apparently, my uncle, grandfather and father had somewhat finer taste in fiction than THAT) because each of them contained a fairly detailed plot and a male protagonist who DID things other than have sex.

Most of them tended toward the spy/thriller/suspense mode, with lots of disposable dames and broads who occasionally got whacked after they got laid, but sometimes didn't even have names. Misogynistic, yes. Porn? Hmmm...probably not. Colored my view of sex and relationships between the genders? I dunno, doc, whaddya think?

Of course, by this time, I'd also discovered that Harl's little category section didn't have a lock on the romance market. Rosemary Rogers, how DO you do?

To be continued...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In Which No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Again, please check the Haloscan comments for two separate posts by author/editor Terese Ramin on this issue. Ms. Ramin makes some good points, asks some good questions, and makes a few exceedingly reasonable requests.

Thanks to her for commenting.

*UPDATE: 12-9-05
Check out the Haloscan comments (as in, NOT Blogger comments) below for a note from Gail Northman, Executive Editor at Triskelion. She clarifies some details of the arrangement between the publishing company and the authors of BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEVAMPYRED.

Thank you, Ms. Northman, for taking the time to comment.

* * *

I'm sure there are two sides to the story. There always are, right?

And there are so many other, more important things about which to feel weary and sickened and angry. People dying, children hungry, families torn apart by a stupid, meaningless war...

But I'd hoped for better.

Triskelion Publishing, a small press and electronic publisher, put out a book called BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEVAMPYRED. Some of the authors contributing to the book -- and remember, this is just a partial list -- were Mary Jo Putney, MaryJanice Davidson, Alesia Holliday, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Gena Showalter.

The book did well. So well, in fact, that Triskelion was able to apply for RWA recognition based on its sales numbers.

The results of this application can be found here and here and here, on author Ellen Fischer's blog.

There was an initial tussle over "'s not really ROMANCE!" that was effectively squelched when the Board was reminded that a Chick Lit novel won the RITA this year.

Then there was something iffy about how maybe BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEVAMPYRED isn't really a novel, or even an anthology of novellas, but merely a grouping of short stories because of the length of each offering by the different authors. And yet each section in the book is delineated as a "chapter" and NOT a separate story, which, to me, would indicate that the book IS a novel written by all the authors listed, much like a book written by two authors -- like, for instance, the upcoming release from Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer.

But, apparently, what it finally comes down to is that because Triskelion chose to give away the proceeds from BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEVAMPYRED to charity, the book is ineligible for recognition. At least, that's the case according to someone or a group of someones at RWA.

And I can TOTALLY see the logic behind that. let ONE small press/epublisher get away with giving away profits to the less fortunate among us and reaping the reward of the coveted RWA Recognition, and soon ALL the small press/epubs will just be THROWING cash at the Red Cross...the Salvation Army...criminy, AIDSWork won't know what to DO with all the money...the Children's Defense Fund will be sending the cash BACK...

Like I said, I'd hoped for better from the new RWA Board of Directors. In this case, holding to the letter of the law instead of its spirit seems, at best, short-sighted and stupid. At worst? Punitive. Spiteful. More concerned with looking good than doing good.

And heaven knows, the RWA is looking SO good these days, aren't we?

God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Of Titles, Tits and Cl...

So PBW posted today about what she dislikes in titles.

She says:

"As a reader, the longer another author's book title is, the less likely I am to buy the book. Sometimes simply the title wording will nix my interest...jarring titles make me edgy, and depressing-sounding titles chase me away from the shelf, while complicated titles make me suspicious...Then there are the titles that for whatever reason simply irritate the hell out of me. Like the ones that include punctuation (Title!) or try to be cute with symbols (Title & title). Exclamation! Points! Are! Just! Annoying!"

Yikes. Let's see...keep it short, watch the wording, don't be jarring, and stay cheerful and simple while avoiding punctuation and ampersands like the clap.

No pressure there.

As it happens, I could strip chrome from a trailer hitch with the way I suck at titles. And I'm in the market for one right now. Remember that erotic/Gothic short I mentioned for the Amber Heat Wave contest?

The original working title was "Come Twilight," but it doesn't really capture the whole 'Gothic' vibe.

So I considered "The Widow of Merrybourne Hall," which, on the pro side, is very classically Gothic (see THE BRIDE OF PENDORRIC and anything else written by Victoria Holt), and on the con side, is sort of...I dunno...meh.

So then I considered "The Imp of Merrybourne Hall." Why? I dunno. BECAUSE, okay? It popped into my head, and it's not like I've FINISHED the story or anything. I could VERY WELL work the concept of an "imp" into the manuscript. Probably not an ACTUAL imp, since I swore this one wouldn't be a paranormal...but the CONCEPT...


I don't know. I'll think on it.

WARNING: The rest of this post? Decidely NC-17 rated. The easily offended may want to head on over to Squawk Radio.

In other, somewhat related news, the Smart Bitches gave us a list of bad, bad romance language.

I agree with almost all of it... for "tits" -- which most guys may not say out loud because they value their testicles, but many, many men THINK in their little pea-brains...

...and the ban on the various substitutes for "clitoris."

Because honestly, folks...not many humans, prior to the latter half of the 20th century, are going to call THAT little bit of anatomy by its proper name. So if you're using Deep Point of View (tm), and every scene is depicted through the eyes of your viewpoint character, it's damned inconvenient to be told you can't use "bud" or "pearl" or any one of a handful of other references more appropriate than the proper Latin term that, for example, a 15th century handmaiden to the royal Princess simply wouldn't know.

I understand the euphemisms get old. I'll do my best to come up with some new ones. But I'm not going to put words in my character's mouth or in her mind she couldn't use even if she wanted to.

Defensive? No, why do you ask? :p

Friday, December 02, 2005

Who Needs TiVo, Wiki, or Google? I Have Family and Friends...

One of the ways in which I'm a lucky, lucky girl is that I'm virtually surrounded by really smart people who know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. Consequently, I never have to look very far for cheap education or entertainment.

For want to know anything about anything having to do with houseplants? Ask my mother, whose thumb is green all the way up to her elbow.

Want to know anything about anything having to do with oral hygiene? Ask my baby sister, who was a much-loved-by-her-patients dental assistant for several years before settling down to marry and spawn.

Want to know the best way to set a piece of glass into a window, or cut a mirror? My dad is your man. Forty-five years as a professional glazier. The man has glass in his bloodstream. Sometimes literally.

Want to know the proper manner in which to find psychiatric and/or medical help for your batshit-crazy relatives? Ask my OTHER baby sister, who is the world's finest, most dedicated and gifted social worker.

Want to know the proper dosage of a given medicine for high blood pressure, diabetes, low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, arthritis, and a host of other illnesses that attack the body as it ages? Ask my husband, who specializes in geriatric medicine.

Want to know pretty much anything about any stringed instrument made? My husband again -- he can play them all, or make an excellent attempt at it.

Want to know about contemporary vocalists, fine food, and reasonably-priced-but-stylish fashion?
Barb Ferrer is your woman. She knows so much about stuff I didn't even have a clue existed...I'll never catch up. I've quit trying.

And finally...want to know about books and/or films? Ask my friend
Watcher Don. He eats both for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Classic literature, historical nonfiction, mythology, contemporary genre fiction...horror flicks, raunchy comedies, gangster movies, still more historical name it, the man reads and watches it. (With the exception of romance, of course. Within that particular genre he consumes only my work, and only as part of some bizarre Roman Catholic ritual of penance, I'm sure. :p )

Which leads me to my essay by the Watcher on author Stephen King's DARK TOWER series. Fascinating reading, at least to me. Here's a tease, and then a link to the rest.


Of Roland the Destroyer and the Decline of the King

"In the 1966 Sergio Leone classic, 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,' Clint Eastwood plays a laconic gunfighter who makes his living capturing criminals, bringing them into town to collect the reward, then rescuing the crook from the hangman so they ride to the next town and collect the reward again. After a disagreement about splitting the take, he abandons his latest 'partner,' a swarthy bandido named Tuco (Eli Wallach) in the middle of the desert to die. He miscalculates, however, and Tuco survives, emerging from the sands on the very edge of death, vowing revenge on the cheroot-chomping 'Blondie' (Eastwood.) There follows a famous scene in which Tuco tracks Blondie across the desert, searching through the ashes of abandoned campfires and gauging his progress by whether the ashes are still warm. He knows he has caught up to Blondie at last when he reaches a campsite that still has a cheroot smoldering in its detritus.

And therein, with that scene, commenced Stephen King's mammoth 'Dark Tower' cycle, a group of works that lay at first in the shadows, but gradually came to the forefront of King's work as a novelist of the past thirty-five years."


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Love. Ew.

This month's RWR (Romance Writers Report) includes an interview with Dorchester editor Chris Keeslar. Mr. Keeslar has the usual things to say about his "ideal" romance manuscript submission: "perfectly realized, needs very little cleaning-up, has a great hook with broad appeal...has potential for more books of a similar nature that aren't derivative." His answers to the other standard RWR editor-interview questions are fairly prosaic as well, and why shouldn't they be? Everybody is looking for essentially the same thing: a good book that sells.

But there's one query--the dreaded (paraphrasing here) "Why does Romance Fiction have so many image problems?" question--that Mr. Keeslar does address with something akin to a fresh perspective. He says:

" many other forms of genre fiction get less of a bad rap, I have to believe that a greater problem is the general American spurning of the validity of emotion. Good luck working past that. Until people believe and are unashamed to admit that finding fulfillment through a personal sexual relationship is valid, romance as a genre is going to have problems."

Well, hello and howdy do. Basically, what he's saying is that we Americans have a huge stick up our giant collective ass when it comes to romantic love and sex. (I refer you to my very first blog post, from way back in the spring of the year.)

And in the end? It doesn't really matter if you're writing smut...sorry, EROTIC ROMANCE...or squeaky-clean, no-kisses-before-wedding-bells-and-no-sexual-tension-or-references-whatsoever romance. I've spoken to folks who write for everything from the hardcore Erotica market to the Inspirational market, and they ALL say they take crap all the time for what they write. And they take that crap from an array of critics, ranging from rightwing uber-religiosos to leftwing super-snobs.

Why? Well, because, silly. Romantic love, sexual attraction, and their attendant issues are:

a) a necessary evil that exist to encourage procreation, but not something to be glorified in print

b) a gift from the Creator, and therefore a thing of beauty...but also sort of icky, and VERY private, and wouldn't it be better if you did something like...oh, I dunno...the Left Behind series? Now THAT would be cool, Praise Jesus.

c) a part of life, certainly, but the lowest common denominator and therefore nothing to ponder in any depth, much less kill perfectly good trees over

d) girly, dammit, and SO beneath the notice of real men, and therefore negligible in terms of value

e) all of the above

Funny how the folks--men, usually--who write gory thrillers featuring as many detailed scenes of destruction and bloodshed as, for example, I do of sexual congress, don't hear the same criticism. (And yes, Watcher, I'm looking at you.)

Ah, America, where violence is sacrosanct, but love is gross.

Our Puritan forefathers would be so proud.


In other news, "MOONDANCE" continues to be well-reviewed:

"Selah March opens this short story in the midst of panic and quick decisions, and does not let up there. Although this story is short, readers will be engrossed in Zoey's crisis immediately. The character of Johnny is a wonderful contrast to the one of Lou. I enjoyed the wonderful addition of musical elements to this story. It only makes it more humorous and goes to show that Selah March has worked diligently to add subtle hints along the way...Readers will find a wonderful story within a small number of pages..."

5 FLOWERS and a "SUPERIOR" rating from MAY REVIEWS:
"Ms. March has written a fantastic story. I was gripped with suspense, and couldn't wait to read what was going to happen. The characters were great and it also points out the dangers of trusting merely because of a handsome face. The story was smooth, the sex intense. Although a short this is a great story am happy to recommend."