Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back In The Saddle Again

Another cliched post title. Come to think of it, I'm full of cliches. Maybe that's what's wrong with my writing. Then again... romance (and probably many other genres) can be cliched, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes cliches provide an element of predictability that - if not over the top - can be comforting for a reader.

Coupling the cliched with the unpredictable is where a novel really satisfies. At the moment I'm reading Jennifer Crusie's 'Tell Me Lies'. I'm only a quarter through the book, and already I've been completely surprised at least twice. See, the romance itself is a bit of a cliche. This novel combines the 'Stranger Comes To Town', with 'Teenage Romance Reprise', with 'Revenge', with 'Romantic Suspense'. It all works very well despite the usual romantic cliches. Though we know when C.L. Sturgis comes back to his home town to find Maddie cheated on by her evil, oafish husband, that they'll end up together and everything will be okay in the end, the read is no less nail-biting.

And so we come to my post-rejection place. I'm fine, and back in the saddle. Sometimes I feel a bit pathetic, wondering how many rejections it will take before I take the hint and stop writing. But right now I just CAN'T stop. Maybe I will never be able to. I heard Steve? Carroll (recent winner of the Miles Franklin award) speak on the radio the other day. He talked about how he never cared whether people liked his writing, because he always did it to please himself. Maybe there's a lot to be said for that. Relax, enjoy the process, and savour the fruits if they come. I don't know if I could be that centred, but it helps to hear someone who's achieved substantial success say it.

This past week I have written a little bit but I've mainly concentrated on being kind to myself, watching telly (discovering 'The Tudors') and yesterday we went to see 'Guys And Dolls', which was fabulous. I still have all the songs going through my head. But this small hiatus has also been about reflecting on the journey so far, and figuring out a plan of attack from this point on. There are things I need to improve about my writing, and now is a good time to start fixing. Tonight, when I log my total word count for the 50k in 30 days challenge, I hope to be able to say I've written 25,000 words (currently at about 22,000ish). Not 50,000 words as planned, but I'm satisfied with that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Burnin' Down The House

Last week I was going strong. Two weeks into '50k in 30 Days', my word total wasn't quite on track, but not shameful either. I was coping with a fairly heavy workload in my paid work, coupled with finishing off one novel and starting the next. Beside the writing, there was a lot of peripheral stuff going on (including a building project), which I was managing to juggle because I had a feeling I was going somewhere.

And then, last Thursday, the letter came. I knew it a glance. The long expected reply from Harlequin Mills&Boon. The last two times I'd received such a letter, I'd torn it open, thereby rushing headlong into full-blown rejection. This time, I thought I'd wait and give myself a bit of time to prepare myself. Sure I didn't know it would be a rejection, but it was what I expected.

A half hour, a cup of tea, a couple of email and txt messages later, to the urging of both my Lisa friends, I opened it. It was exactly what I'd expected. The medical romance I'd sent off last September had been rejected.

On the bright side, it's the longest rejection I've ever received. It came with suggestions for my 'next' submission. It appears they've worked out I'm probably in it for the long haul.

So it's with a bit of a heavy heart that I announce this sad little bit of news to the cyber community out there, to the three women and their dogs who read my blog. Just another day at the office for an aspiring writer, I know that.

But though I wasn't surprised, though I fully expected this outcome, what a rejection letter does, is to shake the foundations. It burns down your carefully built house of cards. It makes you second-guess yourself so that you wonder if you ever wrote anything worth reading, and if you in fact didn't, whether you ever will.

So what now? It's a little hard to pick myself right up and continue to produce a steady stream of words for my 50k challenge. The novel that I started with great expectations now seems just another pathetic attempt at writing something that someone will find interesting.

More than anything, I think this provides a great opportunity to 'stock-take'. It's not so bad, every now and then, to examine what you're doing and to ask some really tough questions. What am I going to write next that's going to rise above the standard that's already been rejected three times? What is going to make any difference to the status quo?

These, and other issues will be subjects to ponder over the coming weeks leading into the RWA Conference. First and foremost, I'm going to copy down the four pieces of advice I received in the rejection letter, blow them up into 20pt font and paste them into my writing notebook. Then, every time I write I will ask myself if I'm following the advice, or continuing along the comfortable rut I've created for myself these past few years.

And please, no words of encouragement. No praise or commiseration. I get it. It's a rejection, and I understand its implications as well as its loud-and-clear message. What I hope to take from this, is a renewed commitment to writing, a dogged determination to be published despite the rejections. At the moment, I don't know if I have the strength. I guess I'm entitled to a few days' respite to mull it over.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Post Mortem

Though I'm way too busy (work and the 50k madness) to post at the moment, I just had to sneak in a little movie review.

"Sex And The City - The Movie" is now on our screens, and I was there on opening night with a bunch of friends. It was quite an experience getting dolled up, having drinks first and then queueing outside the cinema for the 9.30 showing. I'd never done that before, and the cinema seemed rather unprepared for the jostling crowd. With ushers calling out names of theatres for patrons who had pre-paid tickets and women almost shoving each other to get in their seats, we finally got good seats up the back. All except for one of our group, who didn't have such a good view and opted to sit on the step.

And the movie... Well, it was always going to be hard to top the series' ending. I can't say the movie achieved that. It was a pleasant reprise to a fantastic show, but in the words of my friend Lisa, the movie was nothing but an epilogue. Granted, it was a very enjoyable epilogue, but probably unnecessary.

I loved seeing the four girls again, watching their interactions and being delighted, or surprised, by the fashion. There were a few laugh-out-loud lines, and more than one touching moment. Mr Big was at his sexy, fabulous best, and he more than adequately maintained his spot as leading man to Carrie's main plot.

In one of the early scenes, the four S&TC girls are having their usual round table chat at a cafe, and the topic of how often - or not often, in Miranda's case - they have sex, comes up. To protect her young daughter's innocence, Charlotte suggests they talk in code, and use the words "colouring in" in place of saying "having sex". The girls agree, and the conversation continues in code, with the girls taking turns to put forward their personal information. Charlotte ventures that she and Harry "colour in" three or four times a week. Samantha is equally candid, but when it's Carrie's turn to reveal, she declines the opportunity to give specific details.

Her remark, however, is a gem of clever writing. With one line, the writers manage to show so much about Carrie's and Big's characters, the chemistry between them, as well as to raise the stakes so that when the trouble starts, the fall will be all the more brutal.

Carrie smiles smugly and says, 'When Big colours, he never stays inside the lines'. Cut to the next scene, and we are given a tantalising hint of how expertly Big "colours outside the lines". Nothing explicit, but just enough to show the height of passion between the lovers, titillating the audience shortly before everything changes and it all gets taken away. Pure S&TC magic.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

50k in 30 days

On Sunday, I began the 50k in 30 days challenge. This is much like the American (I think) NaNoWriMo. The aim is to write 50,000 words in a month, which for us writers of category romance means coming up with enough words for a novel.

Of course, these words are banged down fast, which means there will be a lot of fluff written and a lot of editing afterwards. Sometimes I wonder whether it's all a waste of time for me, world champion 'waffler'.

So far, I've written just under 8000 words. This has been absolutely fantastic, as it's allowed me to 'put to bed' my current WIP. For months now, I'd been languishing in the middle of the last quarter of the novel, using every excuse imaginable to justify my hopeless procrastination. Well, the 50k in 30 days challenge has gotten me to a point where I aim to finish the novel today. It may not be a terribly polished ending, but at least the words are there. In the words of a famous romance writer, 'You can fix a bad page, but you can't fix a blank one.' (Apologies to the source of this quote, whom I can't recall).

I expect my word count will slow considerably after today, seeing as I'll have to begin my new novel, which I've been thinking about a bit, but not enough to work out the major components. All I have at this point are the characters - and very blurry at that - but no emotional conflict, no plot... no nothin'. Still, forcing myself to plunge into the project and push all procrastination aside might be just what I need to get off to a productive start.

Sex And The City significant male characters: Steve Brady

Finally, we come to Steve (played by David Eigenberg). Easily one of the series' most likeable characters. Miranda met Steve early in the series, and quickly fell into a casual, on-again, off-again, never-too-serious relationship with him. After every break-up with other men, she would inevitably end up on Steve's door, or in his bar.

Theirs was an unlikely coupling (a bit of a theme for the series), she being the Manhattanite lawyer and he the high-school-educated bartender from Brooklyn.

One of the funnier storylines of the series was centred around Miranda becoming pregnant to Steve. That was as unlikely a scenario as possible. She with the lazy ovary, he with only one testicle (the other lost to cancer), their relationship status in 'off' mode meant that conceiving a child was... well, inconceivable.

Steve's cancer crisis brought them together. But though officially they were only friends, Miranda took her role as support person very seriously. When Steve voiced doubts over his ability to attract women now that he was only 'half a man', Miranda kindly offered her services. Samantha called it a 'mercy f***'.

Hence, Brady Hobbs was conceived.

The Miranda/Steve storyline continued to entertain right through to the end, and provided some interesting character growth for both protagonists. Steve softened Miranda's hard line personality to the extent that she allowed his mother to move in with them when she became ill - a very 'big' gesture for Miranda the control freak.