Monday, October 17, 2011

Vote For Dale

Small town politics, particularly in the South, has been fodder for writers for generations. Why should I be any different?

Almost as soon as we moved into our home, my husband was targeted by the Old Guard in our little town for signing up for public service. Dale, a small-town boy with a lifelong passion for politics, was savvy enough to know that the absolute LAST thing he wanted to do was run for City Council within ten years of moving here. With no family and no ties to the area, we were outsiders. We don’t share the same history and memories as the other three hundred eighty-nine residents of this tiny rural hamlet. Why, we’d be little better than carpet-baggers!

But, five years on, we’ve watched changes come into this sweet little Mayberry-esque town that we’ve grown to love. Not all of them are good changes. In fact, we’ve watched the grocery be replaced by a biker bar a scant block and a half from our home. The sexual predators we left Tampa to escape now count among our next door neighbors. Where I once had the idyllic vision of my children riding bikes to town to purchase an ice cream, I’m now afraid to let them out of the yard. Where I once strolled with my children, I am now afraid to pass, having been accosted by drunks on more than one occasion. Where we used to sit on the front porch late in the evenings and enjoy the quiet of a Summer’s evening, we now shut ourselves tightly in and turn up the TV to drown out the bar noise.  The town has been through three City Clerks and as many Chiefs of Police. Reputable businesses are closing and liquor stores and tattoo parlors are vying for a market share in our town.

The City Council, looking at revenue generated, without looking at the cost in quality of living and declining property values, seems content to approve any vice-based industry that seeks to open here. Indeed, if we were looking to purchase our home today, much as we love it, we’d pass, simply because of what the City Council has allowed the neighborhood to fall into.

My husband has watched and encouraged those who have deeper roots into the community to stand fast. But he can’t take it any longer. I don’t know what the straw was that broke the camel’s back, but this election cycle, when the Old Guard came knocking, my husband agreed to run.

Dale Hicks for Barwick City Council.

  • His platform? To bring the Council into compliance with its Charter under the laws of the State.
  • His vision? A return to the idyllic town we fell in love with and chose for our children to call their Hometown.

I’m not really keen on being a politician’s wife. The demands on one’s time are intrusive. But I support him on his bid for City Council because I want to be able to stay here and raise my family here. If our town continues down the road the current Council is following, I’m afraid of where it might lead. I’m fairly certain it is to a place I do not want to go. If I wanted to raise my children in an environment filled with vice, predators, and fear, I would have stayed in Tampa.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Rose in WinterA Rose in Winter by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is one of my top five favorite Romances of all time, and brother, I've read a LOT of them.

Beautiful Erienne Fleming is sold on the block to cover her family's debts. The stipulation is that she will be wedded to the man wealthy enough to satisfy the notes being held by charming gambler, Christopher Seton, who wants her for himself.

When Erienne is bought by the masked, crippled Lord Saxton, and properly wedded, she finds herself torn between two men: The vexing Seton, who happens to be somehow related to the Saxtons despite his Yankee upbringing, and the tender lover her badly scarred humpback of a husband turns out to be.

That, in itself, would be a compelling enough story for me, but in typical Woodiwiss fashion, there is swashbuckling adventure and enough mystery to move this book from a simple Historical Romance to a Romance Classic and a must-read for any fan or would-be fan of the genre.

Woodiwiss redefined the Historical Romance Genre. The formula followed by today's stars of the genre are only following the pattern set by Woodiwiss.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. This one earned a place on my bookshelf nearly thirty years ago and it has become an old friend I turn to again and again.

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Romance Is In The Air

Recently, my mother had a dental emergency and called me to chauffeur her to my dentist's office and wait for her. She pressed a paperback romance into my hand to entertain me while I waited. 

My mother has been a voracious reader of romances for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, she was a charter member of the Harlequin Book Club. Every month the wide, flat cardboard box would arrive and my mother would eagerly tear into it and consume the half-dozen or so books within. Over the last several decades she has purged her library many times over, yet still the paperback romances seem poised to take over the seldom-used rooms of her home that she’s lined with bookshelves and filled with the colorful bodice-rippers. 

As a ‘tween, she indoctrinated me into her world by handing me the innocent romances of Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland. I learned about sex and relationships by reading Johanna Lindsey and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novels. When I started writing, it was only natural that my first attempts be romances. I'll never forget the pride with which I brought home my membership card for the Romance Writers of America in 1990.

My first trip to London, I sought out the settings that are clich├ęs of Regency Romances. Regencies still hold a special place in my heart. I still think warmly of my brazen ex-husband opening the door of White’s and walking in, trying to talk our way into the hallowed halls. Yes, I realize it probably set back Anglo-American relations by centuries and reinforced the mannerless American stereotype that Brits seem to find so snarkily amusing. I don’t really care. I stood in the vestibule of White’s! (I even have video of the event to prove it.)

My romance with Romance goes back decades. I am a romantic. I’ve written them. I’ve devoured them. I’ve had to purge my own library many times over to make room for new favorites. My fascination with the genre has earned me the outright scorn and derision of friends and acquaintances, but I don’t care. I have my favorite authors who are like old friends whom I visit when the mood strikes or I’m feeling nostalgic.

A failed marriage, and a divorce, followed by a string of bad relationships with plot lines straight out of any Danielle Steel novel colored my relationship with the genre. (I’m not a Danielle Steel fan, by the way. Quite the contrary, actually.) I clung to my favorite authors, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Julie Garwood, Debbie Macomber, and Jude Deveraux.

I expanded my literary diet to reflect my own changing attitude. I read Science Fiction, Men’s Adventure, Ian Fleming’s original James Bond series. I found snarky and clever mystery authors and put new favorites Charlotte Macleod and Susan Conant up on the shelf among the bodice rippers. Eventually popular fiction by authors like Rebecca Wells and Alice Hoffman fed my need to consume other writer’s words.

But as I stood there, holding the book my mother pressed into my hand, I smiled to myself. I didn’t have to open it to know that the hero was impossibly handsome, larger-than-life and sexy as hell. I knew without reading the blurb on the back that the heroine was feisty, beautiful, young and that she would be drawn to this dangerous man like a moth to flame against her better judgment. Yes, I knew that flame would burn her before it consumed her, tempering her and gentling him in the process.

That’s the formula of Romance Novels. The fun is in seeing how the author interprets the age-old intricacies of the mating dance between men and women. Regardless of the sub-genre, Romance Novels are optimistic tales of two people satisfying that most basic of human needs – the need to be loved. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Around the Writing World in 30 Days

I’m going to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

It doesn’t have to be a good one, it just has to be a novel with beginning, middle, and end, with characters, conflict, and resolution. Oh, and it has to be from scratch, no cutting and pasting of previous words because that would be cheating.

What madness is this, you ask? November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. 

NaNoWriMo is all the buzz on the writing forums these days as veterans and first-timers are gearing up for the annual challenge. Founded in 1999 by Chris Baty and 20 other “overcaffeinated yahoos,” NaNoWriMo is now run by a non-profit organization called the Office of Letters and Light, whose stated goal is to encourage adults and children to reach their creative potential. Since its inception, NaNoWriMo has grown to over 500 chapters worldwide with more than 200,000 participants last year.

The blogs stress the importance of quantity of words over quality. In a complete break from traditional writing practice, from November 1 through November 30, participants are encouraged to churn out words with abandon, no editing, 30 days of uninhibited writing. All you have to do is tell a story in no less than 50,000 words. That works out to roughly 1600 words per day. Not only does this take discipline, it also takes time. Planning is essential.

Why 50,000 words, you ask? Because that is the magic number for most mass-market paperback novels.

Why is quantity stressed over quality? The idea of pushing volume of words is geared to free the writer creatively from the self-editing that leads to writer’s block. If it doesn’t have to be good, then you aren’t limited by genre or believability. If you get stuck you can always have a group of crazed penguins armed to the teeth fall through the ceiling, slap your main character with a herring, then shimmy back up a rope humming the soundtrack from “Spamalot.” Writers tend to get silly when they get blocked. This allows the silliness to spew forth unchecked.

The idea is that maybe, just maybe, you might have a decent first draft when you’re finished that you can shape and hone into a marketable novel. It’s happened before, roughly 90 times! But the goal isn’t to get your novel published. The goal is to write a novel – good, bad, or indifferent.

If you’ve ever had the idea of writing a novel, I invite you to join me in the attempt. I’m not sure I can complete a novel in 30 days, but I’m willing to try. Who’s with me?