Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nineteenth century manias

Child #1 is addicted to collecting Dr Who cards - and, rather weirdly, his finger nail clippings (although I think the latter is more about grossing me out than a serious hobby). 

Child #2 collects marbles. And child #3's vice is caterpillars. Dead ones.

All a little bit odd. But hey, they're my kids, they can  blame their kooky genetics, so who am I to cast the first straight jacket?

However, I  was recently leafing through a wonderful old tome, GOSSIP FROM PARIS (for the third time - the book is just like a nineteenth century version of People magazine) and I'm feeling a little relieved. Some of the collection and hobby fads of nineteenth century Paris make my kids seem very, well, normal.

Such as:-

"Potichomani" - the transformation of plain old glass jars into glazed works of art;

"Seal collecting" - not the collection of flippered sea-mammals, but of the wax seals of royals and celebrities (Victor Hugo's seal apparently bore the motto "faire et refaire", sound advice for a writer!);

Pottery and china - the more avid collectors were known to cover every square inch of their walls, and ceilings, with soup tureens, saucers, tea cups and plates; and

Autographs. Not so unusual, you say. Except that the briskest trade was done in the exchange of autographs of convicted murderers. Apparently, the autograph of  President Lincoln's murderer, John Wilkes Booth, was the big time.

The more things change, the more they stay the same ...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mission: Accountability

So, the esteemed Jennifer Hendren had the brainwave of setting up Mission:Accountability. 

There are fourteen of us so far, and our mission is to put our writing goals out there and make sure we all stick to them. There'll be cheering when goals are met, "punishments" when they are not. (g) But overall, it's a great way to get serious about writing. The last month or so, I've been making a real effort to write 600 words every day. Been making that goal most of the time, but I'm hoping that Mission:Accountable will give me that kick in the pants to hit that goal every day. 

Wish me luck!

"It's only the beginning ..."

My dear, never-finished, First Act,

I sat down to write today, and my iTunes random playlist coughed up a dust-covered tune from 1991-  Deborah Conway's  It's Only the Beginning. 

It's only the beginning
But I've already gone and lost my mind
I feel like making daisy chains
And playing hide 'n' seek

When it's only the beginning
The fairy dust is still in flight
And this could be the love of a 
lifetime, even if lasts a week

Or maybe just a daydream ...

I listened to those lyrics in stunned, sweaty silence; for, my dear First Act, they could have been written for us. 

We have a toxic relationship, a sick co-dependency, you and I. Oh, I can hear you tutting beneath your breath - "How dare she watch Dr Phil when she should be writing ME!" But whatever psycho-babble label you wish to apply, it is clear that you are my addiction, my vice, and for the sake of the manuscript, not to mention my sanity, I must break free of your seductive clutches.

Oh, but you're a hard habit to break. The intoxication of finishing you for the first time is still such a sweet memory. You were complete, you were just as I had envisioned you would be, and you were perfect. The time had come for us to part. I felt a pang at letting you go, but you were strong,  you would be fine without me.

But you would not let me go. You hounded me with frantic whispers, day and night - you'd fallen apart; your meticulously woven tapestry of elegant prose now resembled a moth-eaten dish rag; your plot, once water-tight in its logic, now leaked credibility like a sieve. You would be so, so much better if only I'd come back, you sobbed. If only I'd re-write you. 

Ego stroked, I dumped poor Act Two like a hot potato and back I went. I could not ignore you - you were, after all, my first love.

So I tinkered with your opening chapters. Started in medias res, started with dialogue, started on a train, started with a fight, started in Paris, started in London, started with the villain doing his evil worst ... Every time I'd come close to finishing, convinced that this time I'd got you right and I now had the perfect beginning, you'd lay on the guilt - "Don't leave me! I'm a much better First Act when you're around. Stay, and make me perfect." So  I re-wrote you again, and again, and again, adding and subtracting scenes like a woman possessed. And maybe I was. Possessed with the notion that I must write the perfect first act before I could move on. 

But the scales have fallen from my eyes. I know now that you are my crutch; that I will never move forward if I keep working on you; that I will never finish this manuscript if I keep working on you; that I will never, ever, have to discover whether I can actually write a whole damn novel, if I kept working on you.

So I'm breaking up with you until the book is done. 

Aw, don't cry. It's not you - it's me.

You'll be fine, my brilliantly flawed First Act. You're stronger than you think. And I'll be back when it's time for revisions.

But for now, it's a definite "adieu".

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Serenity now ...

I've been flying solo with the three kids all week. 

Hubby's been away. Conferencing. At a schmick resort. With harbour cruises. And champagne. Hmm ...

But now he's home. And he's sent me off to write. A glass of wine has just been delivered to my desk, and as I type he's downstairs doing the yelling (cough) disciplining.

Kinda reminds me why I married the guy ...


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blood of the Heart

So, about this book of mine ...

I started it about two years ago. I wrote a chapter that will never see the light of day, but it was the first fiction I'd written since I was a teenager and even though it was terrible, it felt good. 
Really good.

Now, after many twists and turns (not to mention the bouts of hair-pulling and self-doubt) I'm reasonably confident about what my story actually *is*, and have some hope it'll be something others will want to read. 

Set in 1864, and with the working title of BLOOD OF THE HEART, it's an historical mystery, of the suspense sub-genre, with a side-serve of romance and a generous helping of the oddities and extravagance of mid-nineteenth century Paris, and nineteenth century medicine.

My main character, Isabel Knight, is an Englishwoman in need of no one and nothing but herself and her ambition. A newly-minted physician fresh from medical school in America, she dreams of becoming a surgeon; quite an oddity herself. She accompanies her father to Paris, the global centre of medical advancement, where she has the rare opportunity to further her clinical experience. 

But she has a secret. She's suffered a trauma her conscious mind cannot fully recall. Her body knows exactly what happened, however, and the result is that she has lost her nerve with the scalpel. She simply cannot cut.

But this soon becomes the least of her worries. Her attendance at the birth of a child leads her to form an uneasy partnership with a Parisian midwife - a sage femme - who has secrets of her own, secrets that seem to link her with the mutilated bodies of urchins that begin to appear on the streets of the slums of Paris. When the midwife is also murdered, Isabel comes face to face with the real killer - but it is she, in the wrong place at the wrong time, who the police suspect. 

On the run from the authorities and the killer,  Isabel follows the scant clues to Daniel Ricard, the young owner of champagne vineyards in Epernay.  Together, Isabel and Daniel must unravel a mystery that takes them from Daniel's murky past, to the court of Napoleon III and the intrigue surrounding the  French conquest of Mexico, and finally, into the clutches of a sadistic serial killer. 

With Daniel, Isabel stands to discover the truth of the trauma that her mind has erased, and to learn that love and vocation are not mutually exclusive - that is, if they ever make it out alive.

Da-da-daaaah! (g)

So, that's it. I'm slogging through the first draft, and I'm sorry to say that even after two years, I'm not all that far into the thing. I've got all my scenes sketched out on index cards, and I recently broke down the whole thing into four acts - only to find I'm just three-quarters of the way through Act 1. Gah!  My life is busy - three kids will do that to a person (g) - plus I have chopped and changed directions with this book A LOT. But the main reason for my lack of progress is the opening of the book. Or, to be precise, the multitude of ways there are to open a story. And the temptation I have to write them all. 

But I'll talk more about that particular little death-trap later ...

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I kinda feel like I'm talking to an empty room, but here goes ...

Cos all the cool kids are doing it, and cos I'm seriously addicted to all my writing mates' blogs, I thought I'd better stop being a major voyeur and put myself out there. 

So, I'm writing a novel set in nineteenth century Paris. Learning volumes about both writing and Paris. Why blog about it all? The tales of my travails may help others. Then again, they may not. At least you'll have laugh.