OK, so I'm rarely in jeopardy, but I write woman-in-jeopardy novels—otherwise called "Modern Gothics"—and this is my blog. It will probably have lots of time between posts, but I'll try not to bore you. Welcome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Heads-up on an upcoming NOOK Book deal...

If you own a NOOK and were thinking of buying The Winter Sea....WAIT!!

I've just learned it's been chosen to be a NOOK Book "Daily Find" on Monday, January 2nd, so instead of costing $7.39 it will be on sale all that day for just $1.99.

I would feel terrible to know you'd bought the book at full price Sunday, just to wake up Monday morning and discover it on sale.

So please wait till Monday, and then use this link to Barnes & Noble's NOOK Books page to use their "Daily Find" link (halfway down the page).

And if I ever find out in advance of any other deals like this one, I'll be sure to let you know.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Favourite Christmas Films

While You Were Sleeping

This is, hands down, my favourite time of year, so I was very, very excited to come across Marg and Kailana's awesome annual Virtual Advent Tour, and even more thrilled when they let me sign up to participate (an author sneaking in amongst the bloggers, here :-)

Every year, come the first of December, my family lets out a collective groan as I begin to haul out my collection of holiday films. There used to be an unwritten rule in our house that only Christmas DVDs and videos got played in the few weeks before the holiday, but over the past few years that's been relaxed a bit.

Still, there are films without which Christmas just doesn't seem to be Christmas, for me, so I watch them each yearon my own, if I have to. Apart from the more well-known ones, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the black-and-white original Miracle on 34th Street, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (which I never actually saw as a child, believe it or not, but fell in love with in my twenties), and the classic Alastair Sim version of Scrooge, retitled A Christmas Carol for us North Americans (which I still watch every Christmas Eve, in keeping with our family's long tradition), I have some that have become my special favourites...

In 1978 I was twelve and already a sucker for romance, and I fell in love with the made-for-TV film The Gift of Love, starring a young Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottoms in a story inspired by O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi". I watch it each year for its sweetness, its shameless romance, and its message that love truly is the best and bravest gift that we can give each other. (And as a bonus, you get to see a young James Woods before he started playing evil bad guys...)

A few years before that, while visiting my grandparents for our annual pre-Christmas Christmas dinner, I had snuggled with my family in my Grampa's den, with its wood-panelled walls and slowly ticking clocks, the organ and the colour console television set (we only had a black and white set at our own house, in those days) and watched enthralled as Albert Finney scowled and danced and made me cry in Scrooge, the musical.

I remembered it for years until, in 1983, when after living in Korea for two years we moved to Texas, we saw it listed in our TV guide and bought a tape so we could have our own recording of it (no such thing as Netflix, way back then). That tape was worn through by the time I found a proper copy I could buy, but I can watch this one a hundred times and never tire of seeing Anton Rogers sing and dance his way through "Thank You Very Much". It holds up well, and never fails to make me cry.

While You Were Sleeping makes me cry, too, but in a good way. My sister introduced me to this film when I was staying with her one year. I was single then, and something in this film just struck a chord with me—the whole idea of loneliness and wanting to find somebody to share your Christmas with—I just connected with the character of Lucy. And although I'm not alone now, this is still a favourite film of mine to watch each year. Is anything more perfect than the moment that Bill Pullman gives her Florence? I don't think so. And this movie doesn't only make me cry, it makes me laugh. Out loud, in places, which is always a good thing.

Not being alone means I've had to expand my traditions a little. One year, after suffering through yet another of my Christmas Eve playings of the old Alastair Sim Scrooge, my husband got up from the sofa and put in his own movie: Die Hard. When I raised an eyebrow, he said, "It's a Christmas movie, too." And he was absolutely right. It is. So every year now, once the kids have gone to bed, we watch Bruce Willis battle Alan Rickman. Because nothing's quite as Christmassy as having a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.

Finally, it's not exactly a movie, but it's always at the heart of my Christmas video viewing: Leo Buscaglia's Stories of Christmas Love. I first saw this on PBS years and years ago, and each year I use it to centre myself in the midst of the holiday chaos; to remind me what Christmas is really about. Here's a taste of it:

So there you are: my own favourite selection of holiday films. What are yours?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I'm Failing NaNoWriMo

Photolink http://cheezburger.com/2397522688

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month", a major annual event wherein writers (both published and unpublished) sign on with a single purpose: to write 50,000 words (or more) in 30 days.

It's a great idea, a great initiative, and provides both support and a kick in the pants for a whole lot of new and experienced writers. In recent years, my children have signed up on NaNoWriMo's Youth site. And this yearpartly to show my support for them, and partly because I was getting a bit tired of having them come down for dinner each day in November with word counts that left mine behind in the dustI signed on, too.

What better way, I wondered, could there be to drive me through the middle of my current work-in-progress than to have the whole machinery of NaNoWriMo keeping me on track?

Just after signing up, my fellow writer Stephanie Draven (who's done this a few times, successfully) sent me this link to her post giving great advice on how to take on the "50k death march into the writing desert" that is NaNoWriMo, and I read her points and nodded and said, "Yes, that's what I need to do."

And then I started work on my next chapter, and I realized I was never going to make it. Why?

Stephanie's second point is: "Research Later". She's right. If you want to write quickly, you can't stop to look up the decorative details until you get into the editing stage. "Put a note in the margin if you have to," she advises, "to remind you to research it later, but for now, shove all research questions to the side and keep writing."

Which is great advice, really. Except I've just learned I can't do it, myself. Let me illustrate:

There I was writing away, doing fine with the word count, when I reached a scene where my characters stop for a moment to look at a grave marker inside a church. I could—I should, for sake of speed—have simply carried on and made a note to self to properly describe the marker later, when I edited. My characters would simply have moved on, and talked of other things.But honestly, I needed to refill my coffee anyway (if I could add one thing to Stephanie's list, it would be to bring the coffee-maker right into your writing space, to minimize these moments of distraction) and along the way I passed the bookshelf where I stack up all those photocopied records that I keep for research, and right there on top I saw the drawing of the grave marker.

In real life, the actual church that I use in the scene is long gone, but with help from the National Archives of Scotland I happen to have a good copy of the original plan for the monument, showing the carvings and scrollwork and Latin inscriptions beneath the armorial bearings...

Armorial bearings, I thought. Hm. I wonder... The person who's buried there wouldn't have had his own coat of arms, so whose...?
I refilled my coffee and carried the drawing back to my computer, and opened a search window. (BIG no-no, by the way, for NaNoWriMo—you DON'T open search windows. But I'm a first-timer, what do I know?)

So I started refreshing my rusty remembrances of what the parts of armorial bearings mean, and by a wandering path, in a rather obscure private history on Google Books, I found my answer: I knew who was granted those arms, which in turn told me why they were used on that monument. Hm, I thought. That's very interesting.

There was a motto as well, which was written in Latin, and since it had been a long time since my own high school Latin class, I started searching again...

By the afternoon's end I had pretty much sorted out what every carved skull and symbol and word on that grave marker meant, and I saw how those meanings could shape the whole section of dialogue between my characters, making it better and richer than it would have been if I'd just pushed ahead with the story.

And not only better and richer, but different. I could have, perhaps, simply gone back and edited in some things afterwards, but it would never have been the same scene it is now. And the scene it is now has, in turn, moved the characters forward in ways that I hadn't predicted.
Could I have written the scene faster? Certainly. But I'd have sped by the chance to make something more out of it, and that's a chance I'd have hated to lose. 

The great thing about writing and writers is, none of us do it exactly the same way, and none of us do it the wrong way. We do what we do. So I guess I'll just have to embrace my distractable ways and the fact that I write at the speed of a glacier advancing, and realize I'm going to fail NaNoWriMo this year.

That's OK. I'll still cheer on my children, and everyone facing that "50k death march". I'll be right behind you. I just have to look something up...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Ivory Tower

(I originally posted this on my Not-A-Blog back in 2007, at this exact same time of year, when the kids were out of school and underfoot and playing havoc with my writing schedule. Re-reading it this morning made me feel a little better, so I thought I'd share it here...)

The first time I read Steinbeck’s
Journal of a Novel (the daily notes he wrote to his editor while he worked on his classic East of Eden) I remember envying his solitude - he always seemed to be sharpening pencils (he really liked sharpening pencils) alone in his room while his wife kept the world from his door. But on re-reading the book several years later, now that I have children of my own, I can’t help noticing the little things I missed the first time round, and seeing just how much of that apparent solitude was an illusion.

Sure, Steinbeck’s two boys lived most of the time with his second wife, their mother. And his third wife did do a masterful job of ensuring his writing-time wasn’t disturbed. But even when his sons were not physically there, he still thought of them; worried about them. And when they were there, they were...well, they were kids.

‘The children are unusually noisy today,’ reads one of his entries, ‘but I haven’t the heart to make them stop.’ I know exactly how he felt, just as I understand his constant efforts to squeeze his writing-time into a schedule of birthdays and holidays, his step-daughter’s school plays, and doctors’ appointments. Like him, I have no ivory tower to write in, just a completely unfortified corner that’s breached on a regular basis...and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Among the many gems in Stephen King’s amazing book On Writing is the tale of his ‘T.rex desk’. I won’t spoil it for you, because you ought to read it for yourself, but here’s the moral: ‘Put your desk in the corner,’ King advises, ‘and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.’


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Making Plans: The Surrey International Writers' Conference

Registration has just opened for this year's conference in beautiful Surrey, British Columbia.

A 3 day event, running from Friday, October 21st through Sunday October 23rd, 2011, the Surrey International Writers' Conference has been called the best writers’ conference in North America by presenters and participants alike, and this year I'm honoured to be one of those presenters, joining ranks with an incredible group of authors, agents and editors, everyone from Diana Gabaldon and Anne Perry to Meg Tilly and Donald Maass.

And it's all taking place at the beautiful Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, in itself a good reason to book an escape for the weekend!

I'll be giving talks on Dialogue and Research, and taking part in a panel discussion called "History Hints" with Jack Whyte, Margaret George, and Anne Perry.

There's also a Book Fair on Saturday evening that's free to the public, so even if you aren't a registrant this year, you still can come out and get books signed (or just say "hello").

Hope to see you there.