Thursday, October 25, 2012

Just a quick post on musical inspiration

Busy week.  They all seem to be busy weeks.

Listening to NPR's Fresh Air this morning on my commute to the day job, I heard an interview with Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report about some of his favorite music. One of the songs he mentioned triggered my reflection on the songs I attach to some of my characters and story lines.

Colbert talked about a song by Ben Folds Five that I'd never heard of: "Best Imitation of Myself."  When he recited the lyrics, I immediately realized that it's THE song for heroine Miss Sumaki of ALWAYS A STRANGER (Book 2). "Best Imitation of Myself" touches on how we present a version of ourself to others, particularly a version we think they want or expect to see. In Miss Sumaki's situation, this version of herself is a matter of self-preservation and commercialism; the song even talks of needing to entertain others, which is exactly what her public persona requires. Over the course of the novel, the hero glimpses her true identity, her plight, and strives to know her true self.  His interest in who she really is helps her find opportunities to be her authentic self, regardless of the expectations and limitations everyone else places on her.

When I wrote NEVER TOO LATE (Book 1), I decided THE song for heroine Honoria Duchamp was Florence + the Machine's "The Dog Days Are Over." I'll admit the meaning of the lyrics are contested, but I think this song captures the way happiness rushes to Honoria, despite her reluctance to accept it, and the tone of the song captures the exuberance and intensity of joy bowling Honoria over. Perhaps the key internal conflict for Honoria throughout the story is how she avoids or deflects her own happiness by focusing on her business and her social activism. Ultimately, happiness comes at her with overwhelming force, accepting nothing less than everything from her.

Perhaps in the coming weeks I'll talk about the songs for the heroes of these stories...or maybe about the real-life Victorian love relationships I find fascinating.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Perversity

Note: being perverse is not the same as being a pervert...or at least not inherently.  I'm using the following definition: "willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/perverse) Being perverse also isn't the same as being rebellious. I'm fond of following rules, especially if they are reasonable; what I find intriguing is the effort to exceed and expand expectations, not just oppose them.

So, after some revisions based on my agent's feedback, I submitted the synopsis of Book 2 (tentatively entitled ALWAYS A STRANGER) to my editor last week!

Reflecting on the heroines of both NEVER TOO LATE and ALWAYS A STRANGER, I realize that both female characters reveal a lot about my streak of perversity. While the settings for these novels grew out of my interest in Victorian England in general and the Great Exhibition of 1851 in specific, these heroines grew out of thinking about what we don't often see in Regency and Victorian historical romances.

While widows are fairly common in Victorian historical romances, Mrs. Honoria Duchamp's age is what makes her unusual. She's 40, which is almost unheard of, and she's a middle-class businesswoman. Many heroines in this genre are young women in their late teens and early twenties--primarily because they are of marriageable age. In Regencies, they also tend to be young ladies of the ton, either newly introduced to society or "on the shelf," meaning they've gone through a few London seasons and are almost considered unmarriageable. Please keep in mind that there are plenty of exceptions too (Joanna Bourne's Black Hawk, for instance, involves a dual bildungsroman where we get to see the mature hero and heroine after all they've been through...probably in their 30s, maybe 40s). My point is that there are some common, and very enjoyable and entertaining, tropes about Regency and Victorian romance heroines, and Honoria was perversely created to run counter to those tropes. Yes, she's much older than the usual heroine. And, yes, she runs her own business with moderate success.  And, yes, here's another perverse twist--she finds herself in a romantic relationship with a man in his twenties. This might seem unbelievable to some readers, but nothing about Honoria is historically unrealistic. Unusual, perhaps. Potentially scandalous in their time, maybe. But not out of the realm of possibility. And I suppose my point in creating her was to stretch common tropes and to explore other possibilities.

Miss Sumaki, the heroine of ALWAYS A STRANGER, grew out of my observation that Regency and Victorian romances occasionally lack cultural diversity...and, in fact, I can probably count on both hands the non-Caucasian heroes and heroines I've read in these genres.  Two of my favorite historical romances featuring non-Caucasian main characters are Meredith Duran's Duke of Shadows (a half-Indian hero) and Mary Jo Putney's Angel Rogue (a half-Native American heroine) in her Fallen Angels series. They're rare.  (I greatly enjoy the cultural diversity in Zoe Archer's Blades of the Rose series, but that's historical paranormal romance, which I see as a distinct genre.) And so, as I considered the international emphasis of the Great Exhibition, it made sense to highlight a non-Caucausian character--in this case, a linguistically talented half-Asian woman.  Miss Sumaki also suited other elements of the plot that echo our modern society without being historically inaccurate.

At heart, I suppose, like most other writers, I write what I'd like to see more of, and I'm very fond of these two heroines, both strong and intelligent women who are somewhat outside the "norm." I don't know that I'll always feature characters who challenge convention, but I find it enertaining to consider what's not being done and try to do it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A quick update...

I am still alive, even though my blog has been silent for a bit.

In my other life, I'm an assistant professor of English at a community college. On average, I teach five courses per semester. It's both exhilarating and exhausting. I just finished grading paper portfolios for two sections and am in the midst of grading two more sections, and one of my classes is being observed by my dean today for my annual teaching evaluation. And I'm the lead on a major faculty/pedagogy project.

So things are hectic.

Meanwhile, in my author life, I'm finishing up the synopsis for Book 2 (tentatively entitled ALWAYS A STRANGER). It will go first to my agent and then to my editor. After they've given me feedback and the synopsis has been approved, then I get to write the actual book. (I have a little of it already drafted but put it on hold until after the synopsis gets the okay.) I have to admit that it's exceedingly strange for me to write a synopsis before writing the actual book. On one hand, it's wonderful to work through potential plot stumbles before drafting. On the other hand, it felt easier to write a synopsis of NEVER TOO LATE, since I just followed what was already written.  Plus, the NTL synopsis was much shorter, ranging from two double-spaced pages to four, depending on what was requested. The AAS one is at eight pages and counting; the difference makes sense at this stage...how can my agent and editor give substantive feedback without getting a comprehensive sense of the plot and major characters?  But it's definitely a new experience for me.

Oh, and I've completed my publisher's author questionnaire, submitted an author bio for the end of NTL, and submitted an author photo.  I know I keep using this word, but surreal is really the best word I can use to describe all of this.

NECRWA 2017 Follow-up!

*ahem* *looks around* *sweeps away the dust bunnies and cobwebs* So...hi! It's apparently been quite a while since I last sa...