The Romance Reviews

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

State Secrets?


I was involved in an interesting conversation the other day on Facebook about shampoos and grooming tips for collies.  (For those of you who don’t know, my alter ego is a professional dog handler—mainly collies, but I’ve shown many breeds over the years.)  The gist of that conversation was most people don’t like to share what’s hidden in their tack boxes or what goodies might be lurking in the totes full of spray bottles.  Seriously?  When did grooming a dog at the show—or at home, for that matter—become a state secret?   

That failure to share knowledge made me think of a handler several years ago who had cans of shaving cream in their totes, covered with plain paper or a lot of duct tape, and each can was labeled “secret mousse.”  Like it wasn’t incredibly obvious those cans were simply shaving cream?  And, when asked what that shaving cream was used for, the majority of people were told it wasn’t shaving cream and the question was put aside.  Honestly???? 

I stated, for the record, that my tack box and the tote of bottles is an open book.  I am more than willing to share the knowledge I’ve garnered over the decades (OMG—it has been over three decades of dog showing!) on how to groom a dog to accentuate virtues and downplay faults.  If we don’t share our knowledge with those just starting out in this crazy hobby of showing dogs, where will the next generation of fanciers come from?  I had several mentors, some of whom were/are giants in the breed.

From my mentors I learned the things I needed to start “playing dog show.” I learned the bloodlines I was working with, what puppies did at certain ages in their development, how to groom to make that dog look his/her best, and how to present that dog.  I will also be the very first to admit I am still learning, and I pray that the day I stop learning is the day that I am placed in the ground.  I also learned that paying it forward reaps its own rewards.  I have promised myself that I will be a mentor to those who ask me for help, and I will NOT take the role of dictator and assume that if the dog doesn’t come from the lines I have incorporated into my breeding program that dog is automatically a “pet.”  I will also admit, it’s taken me a while to reach that point in my life, but every dog has redeeming qualities—it’s up to all of us to find, recognize, and appreciate those qualities.

And that started me thinking about the writing life and the mentors I’ve had in this incredible journey.  This is my chance now to name just a few of these people.  First of all, there was Barb Wright.  She and I met a long time ago at a creative writing workshop offered by the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, when I lived in Wisconsin when my kids were little.  I’ve lost track of Barb, but she was also a writer.  She wrote fantasy and she was one of the first to read my pitiful attempts at novel writing.  She had such wonderful insights and suggestions and she steadied those first, toddling steps to completing a manuscript. 

And, then there are my old AOL writing buddies: Cyndia Depre, Ellen Recknor, and Rebecca Green.  Cyn  is an incredibly talented mystery writer.  I can’t really call what she writes as “cozies” because her novels are a bit too edgy for a cozy.  Cyn could spot a plot hole a mile off, and then start throwing suggestions out to fill in that hole faster than a puppy can destroy a new pair of leather shoes.  (I’ve had experience with puppies and new leather shoes, by the way.)  Ellen Recknor, who I bow down to.  Published under several pen names, winner of the Spur Award, nominated for a Pulitzer and author of such great reads as Prophet Annie, Leaving Missouri, and Me and the Boys, and just a great friend.  I think I was one of the first people she talked to when she started writing The Legendary Kid Donovan.  Imagine this premise: A sixteen year old boy goes west to meet his uncle, his only surviving family, only to learn his uncle has been murdered for a share of a failing mine, and the kid has inherited his uncle's only other possession: a brothel.  I know I laughed out loud when Ellen told me the premise of that novel.  Ellen has taught me the value of perseverance and determination.  She kept prodding me to keep sending my manuscripts out.  And, Rebecca Green…one of those people who is among the best at brainstorming.  I still have pages and pages of conversations saved from the AOL IM brainstorming sessions we would have until all hours of the morning.  One of these days, those sessions will turn into my next manuscript.

Lastly, but certainly not the only person who has guided me along this path is a member of my master’s committee: Mr. Aaron Michael Morales.  Aaron is one of the edgiest, brightest, sharpest up and coming Latino writers in this universe.  (For an incredible read, find Drowning Tuscon and make sure that you’ve got time to read this, because not only is it written with such an edge the words cut, it is breath-taking in its characterization and insight into the human psyche.) Aaron pushed me to go in directions I never would have thought to go with my writing, was incredibly hard on me (but, as he said, he knew after the first class I had with him that I could take the heat and I would also craft a better story with that kind of intense pressure), and made me a better writer for all of it. 

And, I know I haven’t mentioned everyone who I consider a mentor.  But, if these people had not been willing to share knowledge, had not been willing to offer constructive criticism (unlike one person in the old AOL chat circles who offered to be a critique partner and so literally tore my MS to shreds that I stopped writing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING for two years), and had not been supportive over the years, I would not be the writer I am today. 

I’ll admit I’m not a great writer.  I’ll argue I’m a good writer and with everything I write, I become a better writer.  I have to admit also, that even though I’ve long since forgotten the name of that person on AOL who shredded my MS, I have never forgotten the pain or the sheer, breath-taking brutality of that attack.  Every workshop I enrolled in while working on my master’s degree, and every critique I have ever been asked to do for anyone has been influenced by that cruelty.  I know how deeply wounding a non-constructive critique can be, no matter how tough the writer claims his/her hide may be.  I promised myself, when I finally forced myself to write again, that I WILL NEVER offer an unconstructive criticism of any one’s writing, and no matter how bad the writing may be, there are still gems to be gleamed within that work.  It is my job, as a critique partner, as a member of a workshop, as a fellow writer, to find those gems, bring them to light, and gently push/prod/guide that writer to also see those gems. 

So, I have to ask.  Is being a mentor, sharing knowledge, really a state secret?  If we don’t mentor one another, guide one another, offer insights into this writing life, where will the next generation of writers come from?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Just teasing

I've noticed that a lot of my fellow signed authors at The Wild Rose Press use their blog to post excerpts from their upcoming novels.  That got me to thinking...if I would post an excerpt from The Devil's Own Desperado, what would it be?  Would I post the first meeting between Colt and Amelia?  Or one of those scenes where the sexual tension is starting to really pull on the two characters?  Or, would I post the blackest hour, the moment when it seems that all is lost and Colt and Amelia just aren't going to be able to make it work?

So, I decided to post a little bit from one of those sexual tension scenes.

Colt walked to her and caught hold of her shoulder. He gently turned her and pulled her away from the window. “Or bring them back to you, Amelia? How did they die?”
Damn it, he shouldn’t care. It didn’t matter to him. All that mattered was getting his gun back and leaving here…leaving her. He couldn’t afford to care about anyone other than himself and yet, he cared how her parents had died. He cared that she was raising her brother and sister by herself, that her slender shoulders were carrying that weight alone. He cared that the longer he was with her, the greater the odds became that the Matthews brothers would find him here and that she or those kids could be hurt.
She shook her head, the loose tendrils of her hair brushing her face. “It doesn’t matter how, it just matters they are dead, and I have to raise Saul and Jenny.”
“Did a gunman kill them? Is that why you’re so opposed to a gun in your house?”
Amelia didn’t answer. Colt brushed several long, wispy tendrils of strawberry blond from her slender cheeks. “It’s not an easy job you have. Raising kids, especially a boy, can’t be easy.”
She stilled under his light touch, and her eyes widened. Colt trailed his fingertips down the length of her neck, resting them for a moment in the hollow of her throat. Her pulse leaped under his fingers. She scarcely took a breath.
Dear God, she was innocent as a newborn. Colt’s chest tightened and a heavy weight settled in his groin. He caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilted her face up to him. He bent his head to her. He doubted it would have been possible, but she stilled even more.
Colt hesitated. “You’ve never been kissed, have you?”
Her tongue darted out, skimming along her lips. Colt ground his teeth with the effort to keep from claiming her mouth at that instant.
“Yes, I have.” Bright color splashed on her cheeks, matching the defensive tone of her voice.
“Really kissed, or just a peck on the cheek by some sweaty-palmed boy behind the church?” He bent closer to her, his mouth nearly on hers. “Did some boy press his lips to yours for a second and tell you that you’d been kissed?”
The bedroom door flew open and Saul raced in. “Amy, the cows got out again.”
Amelia leaped back as if scalded. Colt smothered a groan when Amelia slipped from his fingers and brushed past him. “I’ll help you catch them,” she said to Saul.
Colt dropped his head to his chest, ruthlessly quelling the desire firing through him. The tormenting, faint scent of vanilla lingered in her wake.

Don't have a release date yet, as Susan (my editor) and I are still working on edits, but as soon as I have one, I'll let everyone know.  


Monday, April 9, 2012

Wronged Women


While taking a break from working on the new story that the plot bunny brought the other night, I just started looking at a few of my favorite Internet pages for mythology—places like http://www.greekmythology.com/, http://www.pantheon.org/areas/mythology/, and http://www.maicar.com/GML/index.html.  And, inevitably, I started reading about Medea and Medusa—probably two of the most wronged women in the whole of the Greek pantheon.  I’ve always been drawn to both Medea and Medusa. 

Medea, according to the play by Euripides, killed her two sons to exact revenge on Jason (yes, that Jason—of the Argonauts fame) when Jason spurned her to marry a princess, because he thought it would look better for him to be married to a Greek princess, not a barbarian princess.  And, Jason tells Medea all of this AFTER Medea helps him complete all the tasks necessary to win the Golden Fleece and he then takes Medea from her homeland to a place where she is a stranger in a strange land.



Jason: O children, what a wicked mother Fate gave you.
Medea: O sons, your father's treachery cost you your lives.
Jason: It was not my hand that killed my sons.
Medea: No, not your hand; but your insult to me, and your new-wedded wife.
Jason: You thought that reason enough to murder them, that I no longer slept with you?
Medea: And is that injury a slight one, do you imagine, to a woman?
(Euripides)

Ummmm, Jason…you’re an idiot. 

Older myths have the people of Corinth killing Medea’s children and blaming her.  Euripides, of course, has Medea killing her own two children. 

Medusa was a priestess of Athena and almost as beautiful as the goddess she served.  Unfortunately for Medusa, Athena was “one of the guys.”   Remember, Athena sprang from Zeus’s head, fully formed, without a mother.  She was girl in form only.  When Poseidon saw Medusa and wanted her, Medusa said “No” because she was bound to remain virgin if she was in Athena’s service.  Poseidon wasn’t about to take “no” for an answer and he raped Medusa in Athena’s temple.  Now, did Athena get angry at her uncle and demand Poseidon’s proverbial head on a platter for debasing one of her priestesses, in her own temple?  Hell, no!  Athena was furious with Medusa.  Athena is the one who turned the beautiful Medusa into a Gorgon, complete with hissing hairdo and the original “looks that kill.” 

Western myth is full of wronged women, unjustly condemned just because they were beautiful, smart…and all the gods forbid…WOMEN!  But, it’s the myths of Medea and Medusa that I relate to the most.  I’ve never quite understood why, but those tales resonate deep within me.  Maybe it’s because I try to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters that I write that I can empathize with Medea and Medusa. 

Imagine that you’ve met the love of your life.  He’s smart (as guys go), the gods know he’s got brawn and bravado (he better, or he isn’t going to last five seconds in this crazy, bloody world of the Greek gods and demi-gods), and he’s drop dead gorgeous.  Now, you’ve got the goods he needs to be able to defeat a fire-breathing bull, a field full of soldiers who pop up out of the ground, and a dragon who never, ever sleeps.  You promise to help him on one condition: he take you far, far away from this little backwater place and marry you.  Even though your daddy is the king here, and that makes you a princess—this isn’t the happening place.  So, this guy agrees to your terms, and you proceed to defy and betray king and kingdom to follow your heart.  And, once he’s got what he wants—the Golden Fleece and you’re now in a strange land, hated by everyone around you—this guy tells you, “Gee, honey, it’s been great.  Thanks for giving me two kids, but I’m a Greek hero.  I need to be married to a Greek princess, not a barbarian princess.”  (To the Greeks, anyone who wasn’t a Greek was a barbarian.) 

HELLO???????  Frankly, Jason should be really, really thankful all Medea did was poison his new wife and father-in-law.  Myself, I would have castrated the philandering jackass and then killed him.

And, then there is Medusa…my heart aches for Medusa.  Sworn priestess to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and by all accounts of the myth, Medusa was devoted to her goddess.  Medusa was a stunning beauty, but she took her responsibilities—including remaining virgin—seriously.  Enter the God of the Sea, Poseidon, Athena’s uncle.  He sees Medusa and tries to seduce her.  Medusa tells him to go soak his head.  This doesn’t play with a god who fooled around almost as much as his brother, Zeus.  Like Zeus, he doesn’t take “no” for an answer.  Apparently to these guys, “no” didn’t mean “no.”  So he chases Medusa into Athena’s temple, corners her, and rapes her.

Athena comes totally unhinged.  Instead of comforting her priestess, instead of smacking the crap out of her uncle, instead of demanding Poseidon make retribution to this poor woman, Athena blames Medusa for being raped.  Remember when I said Athena was “one of the guys”?  Trust me on this.  This was a goddess in name only.  She wasn’t a female in her thought patterns, actions, or emotions.  Perhaps, because Athena didn’t have a mother…but whatever the reason, Athena thought and acted like one of the guys.  Can’t you just see her sitting down to the Saturday night poker game with these boys on Mount Olympus? 

Athena is so furious with Medusa for allowing herself to be raped, she curses this beautiful woman to a fate worse than death.  She changes her into a Gorgon—Medusa’s hair becomes a writhing mass of serpents and her very gaze turns all she looks on into stone.  And, then, Athena banishes Medusa to solitary confinement (as if her new state of being wasn’t solitary enough) on a deserted island.  Can you imagine what that must have been like—as everything you look at turns to stone and the island becomes quieter and quieter as every living thing turns to stone when you look at it?  And, the rock garden continues to grow with every want to be hero arriving, trying to kill you?  I’d imagine that death, when it finally came in the form of Perseus, was welcomed and a blessing.

And, I’m thinking, somewhere in these myths, is the kernel of another romance.  Dangit, dear Muse, can we work on one thing at a time?

Hmmmmmmm…

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Voices Won’t Shut Up!


In between doing laundry (it’s amazing how many dog blankets I have to wash after a Nationals), answering the telephone, playing ponies with Jadelynn (there was no school today for Good Friday), and working on the edits for The Devil’s Own Desperado, I became very aware of a plot bunny hopping around inside of my head.

Now, I was very happy to see this little plot bunny, because it means my Muse has decided to make an entrance.  She has been on sabbatical for almost two years now.  She’s sent a baby sister for some of the creative work in the form of short stories, working the show leads (which actually is an incredible creative outlet), and other smaller creative projects, but SHE has not been around.  I recognized this plot bunny, fuzzy ears and all, as a full grown plot bunny. 

This little bunny hopped around inside of my head while I was sorting dog blankets, whispering names and scenes to me.  While I was playing ponies, more scenes began filling in the landscape.  With every twitch of its nose, every flick of its tail, every jerk of its long ears, more and more began to fill in.  I’ve got a hero—complete with full name: Leigh Caden Rockland.  The ever generous Muse even let me see him, to get a good look at him.  He’s tall, a long drink of water.  Think John Wayne, about age 30.  (Frankly, in my humble opinion, they don’t make ‘em like the Duke anymore.)  Sandy blonde hair, cobalt blue eyes, light on his feet, a man of few words…maybe my Muse likes John Wayne as much as I do.  There’s two shes in this one: the girl he left five years before and the girl he grows to love now.  The girl he left before is a blonde-haired, dark-eyed haunting beauty who hates Leigh so much she’ll do anything to ruin him…and I think, unfortunately for him, I do mean anything.  She’s Katherine Hathaway.  She’s pure poison, sugar-coated to be sure, but poison, none the less.  The girl he grows to love now is Delia McCord: dark-headed, blue-eyed and the opposite of Katherine.  Delia is the grand-neice—by marriage—of Ethan McCord and she is Ethan’s only known living relative.  She’s come to Federal to inherit her uncle’s ranch, the Diamond Bar M.  Ethan, however, was not a very good man while he was alive, and he’s got a few kids wandering the scenery, kids who know they’re Ethan’s and who want a piece of the Diamond Bar M.
And, now, the voices won’t shut up.  Those scenes are being populated with dialogue, action, emotions.  There’s a land speculator in here, somewhere.  The Muse hasn’t told me yet how he figures into all of this, but I know—sooner or later—She will let me know how he plays into the story line.   I’m not seeing any gunfights at this stage of the process, but I’m willing to bet that Leigh can handle a gun pretty well, considering that it seems he’s been cast in the Duke’s image, if there are any gunfights.   

Leigh comes back to Federal, a letter from Ethan in his pocket, and he’s supposed to go to work on the Diamond Bar M as foreman.  Ethan’s dead when Leigh arrives in Federal, shot in the back.  (I know I really have to have a long talk with Harrison Taylor, because the crime rate in his county seems a little high…)  I think this is where the land speculator is going to come into the story, but don’t quote me on that because She hasn’t told me yet.

Delia is on the same train as Leigh.  And, they both meet Katherine within minutes of arriving in Federal.  Katherine’s instant response to Leigh is to slap him across the face, tell him he’s about as low as a snake’s belly, and she has every intention of running the Diamond Bar M into the ground and then buy it out from under Delia.

Yeah, like I said…the voices won’t shut up.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

National hangover and edits

Okay, most people will probably think that somehow the "hangover" from the exhaustion brought on by the insanity which is the Collie Nationals and working on edits for The Devil's Own Desperado which came while I was in Philadelphia have nothing to do with one another.  Let me change your mind.

For one week, my life is defined by a grooming area and show ring.  I get to the show site as soon as the doors open and often don't leave until they're turning out the lights and pushing us out the door.  I'm grooming dogs, showing dogs--and in the case of this year's National, having a meltdown outside of the ring with every cut in the specials' ring that Snape was making.    I pour myself into these dogs.  I spend hours a day with them, brushing them, bathing them, caring for them.  To quote Roger Carras, the esteemed announcer at Westminister Kennel Club for years, "Dogs are not my whole life, but they make my life whole."  I have one client dog who carries so much coat, if he is not given a weekly bath and blown dry, his coat is so dense and so heavy, its own weight will cause his undercoat to mat down.  Right now, my smooths are losing every stitch of undercoat they own, so twice weekly baths are in order to bring them back into show coat.  Showing dogs and having them in prime condition is a serious commitment.  It is hard work, but the rewards are priceless.  Being told how wonderful my dogs look in the ring vindicates what I do.  Handing over a new champion to a deliriously happy owner is often the highlight of my show season.  Being able to show that new champion to an award of merit at the Nationals is incredibly gratifying.  Leaving an owner speechless with disbelief on the amazing condition of her dog does help to stroke my ego.
GCh. Gwyn Marc's Against the Wind

However, the whole time I was in Philly, I knew when I got home, there would be one e-mail waiting for me from my editor at The Wild Rose Press which would have an attachment with editing suggestions for The Devil's Own Desperado.  I opened up that e-mail when I got home, downloaded the attachment, and started crying.  I felt my editor had bled red all over the pages.  I immediately closed the attachment, saved it to my jump drive, and said, "I can't do this."

I went to bed, and I cried myself to sleep.  I couldn't help but wonder how in heaven's name my manuscript was contracted for publication if the thing needed that much editing.  There had to be some mistake--that following on the heels of that e-mail with its attachment would come a subsequent e-mail telling me that the publishing house had changed their minds and they really weren't going to publish it.

After a good night's sleep, I reopened that attachment.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it was.  Writing is just as much hard work and takes as much commitment as does this insane hobby I have of showing dogs.  I'm not afraid of hard work.  So, I took a deep breath and reread the e-mail and then began to read the editorial comments.  Frankly, the editing this manuscript needs is a lot of surface work, with some in-depth plot holes to repair.  But, one comment made me stop reading, made me sit back in my chair, and grin from ear to ear. That comment was "Colt is great! Readers are going to love him :)."


Colt is great...readers are going to love him. 


I've been told over and over to write what I love, and that I have to love my characters or else my readers won't connect with those characters.  I admit, I love both Amelia and Colt.  Amelia has always been this very quiet, very composed young woman who is so much stronger and resilient than her appearance would allude to.  She is the embodiment of the proverb about still waters running deep.  Colt is a character near and dear to my heart.  I loved him so much, I named one of my smooth collies for him.  Colt (the collie) was a lovely tri smooth boy with gorgeous detail of head.  Colt was registered with the American Kennel Club as Wych's Rolling Thunder (the original, working title of The Devil's Own Desperado).  He finished his championship with points awarded to him by both all-breed judges and specialty judges, something I strive for in my breeding program--to have dogs who have a pretty enough head to win at specialty shows and yet still have the body and movement to be awarded wins from judges where movement is more valued than head detail.  Colt (the character) has a very gruff, almost cold exterior--but inside he's a blasted toasted marshmallow.  His ability to "love 'em and leave 'em" ends abruptly when he meets Amelia, because with Amelia, he's found what he's longed for.  She offers him a chance to put his past as a gun-fighter behind him, to settle down, and live his life without the specter of his past rising up to destroy him.


So, as soon as this blog is posted, I'm back to the editing process.  Fortunately, the collies don't need a bath for a few days.  So, Colt and Amelia can take precedent.  Snape, Tucker, Vander, Diva and the rest will have to wait a few days...
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