Saturday, December 24, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
When I was a kid, the CBC played The Sound of Music every Christmas. It was usually on a Sunday afternoon, and because of commercials it took the WHOLE afternoon to watch it. It was something I watched with my mother, because we both loved the music, Julie Andrews, Georg, and the little finger that got caught in Frederick's teeth.
When I moved away from home, The Sound of Music went with me. I don't know if I got Mom's copy or if she bought me my own, but the love of it is hereditary because when my first daughter was a baby she adored it. She would play it over and over again. If she were having a terrible two day, in would go Maria and the nuns and she would park herself on the floor in blissful happiness. Then tragedy struck.
By this time dvd's were on the scene, so we replaced it with a dvd. And we still watch it every Christmas, usually with hot cocoa and fresh cookies and a fire in the fireplace.
We sing along, because we can. It drives the husband crazy. We begin with How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria and our favourite line is throwing the whirling dervish out of whirl. There's I Have Confidence and Sixteen Going on Seventeen and Do Re Mi of course. And there are the quieter songs - My Favourite Things and Edelweiss and Must've Done Something Good are all songs I sang softly to my babies as I rocked them at night.
We never really get tired of watching it, and it's one of those traditions that I hope we'll carry on for many years to come. Maybe when they've flown the nest, they'll come back and have a Sound of Music afternoon with their old mom.
I might even make cocoa.
Donna's latest release is BREATHE from Samhain Publishing, out in print this month. You can find out more about it, and her upcoming Harlequin Romance releases, at www.donnaalward.com
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Every Christmas I re-read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This is the book which basically invented (helped to popularise) Christmas as we now know it. Cromwell had basically killed Christmas but with Dickens' help Christmas came roaring back. There are reasons why we often think of Christmas with Victorian scenes.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance. Her next book His Unsuitable Countess will be published in August 2012 in both the US and the UK. To read more about Michelle's books visit her website www.michellestyles.co.uk
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
When I was unpublished, before I knew anything about being an author, I had a lovely daydream about how fantastic an author's life must be. You know those authors you read about who follow their routine of getting up at a certain time, perhaps getting to the gym or starting the day with a brisk walk, then locking themselves away in a gorgeous book-lined study with an inspiring view and working solidly till lunchtime when someone else (of course) brings them a beautifully prepared meal. Alternatively perhaps they 'lunch' with writerly friends, enjoying a glass of bubbly or two and a good laugh before returning, invigorated, to the pleasant solitude of their sacrosanct study. They end the day satisfied with the knowledge they've put in a good day's work on their next masterpiece.
Cue real life. Sigh. While writing is a wonderful profession in many ways it's rarely quite so simple. For starters most romance writers are women and like women everywhere seem to bear the burden (and joys) of child care, elder care, husband care, house and pet care, community obligations etc. Not to say our men are slouches but facts are facts and the stats continue to show that working women still tend to do more of the 'work' in families.
Then of course, most of us work from home. That means we're there when the telemarketers call, or the lonely relatives with problems and before you say 'switch off the phone' there are times when I've been glad for the call because it meant I could be there in a genuine emergency.
Working from home also means you're the one who's there when the tradesmen come (or don't show up) to give a quote on work or possibly even do the work (with maximum noise and disruption), when the dog needs to go to the vet or when for some other reason someone has to be home.
Then there are the other distractions - like Christmas. Much as I love it there's no denying that in the lead up to my fave celebration of the year I know my writing output is going to plummet. Most writers I know continually juggle distractions - either time stolen from their writing or time spent brooding on how to deal with the issues in their 'other' life.
So, how do you write through the distractions? I can't pretend to have the answers. I'm still working that out myself but I do have some thoughts. Here goes:
- Set your goals knowing you're going to be disrupted. Add extra time for birthday celebrations, Christmas, school holidays or just the unexpected. There's nothing worse than staring down the barrel of a looming missed deadline and feeling guilty that you didn't meet it. Better to be sensible when setting those deadlines in the first place than lose faith in your ability to keep working (even at a snail's pace).
- Say NO. I'm getting far more ruthless at saying no to things people want me to do (and even to things I want to do) if it means I'm not going to be able to get words down on the page for a week or more because of other commitments. It might seem like a small commitment of time, but added to your other commitments the effect could be fatal on your output. Which leads me to:
- Write down what you want to achieve AND plot all the major things you know you'll also have to do in what is usually your writing time (x days for Christmas shopping, y hours for writing those articles you promised for the school/library/volunteer group). Having some feel for what you've taken on can help you prioritise (if it doesn't make you run screaming for the hills).
- Treat your writing time as precious - otherwise others won't. Shut the door to your writing room, or lock it if need be or even take off to the library or a cafe or park with a notebook and no phone.
- Tell your family/friends/community groups that you're working (when they want you to take on more). DON'T explain. The magic word 'work' is usually all it takes. It doesn't matter if you're working in your pjs at home or in a business suit in the city. It's your job!
- Take advantage of the times when you can write. If you're going through a rough time (family illness for instance) broken sleep patterns are common. Rather than lie in bed knowing you'll stew on problems you can't solve maybe get up and force yourself to focus on one of the problems your characters have. Even deciding where and when the next scene will take place is an achievement and may just help you relax enough to put aside your other worries and sleep.
- Practice writing in places where you think you couldn't possibly write. We all love the comfort of familiar surroundings but sometimes the only time you get peace and relative quiet to think about your writing is surrounded by strangers. I've written in hospital waiting rooms, while waiting for children to finish after school activities and while 'minding' rambunctious children at a massive indoor play centre. I've jotted down ideas for a black moment after deliberately getting to a coffee date 15 mins early because I knew I'd have time alone. Before you tell yourself you couldn't possibly write without your scented candle, fave music or personal writing space, give it a go. Don't expect miracles, but you can achieve something.
- Think about the story. If you can't get a block of solid writing time, try to think about it in your down time and work out the next scene or your characters' feelings. No matter how busy your life you'll usually get some time alone - in the shower, cooking a meal, driving to an appointment. Use that time and jot down the ideas that come or even use a recorder.
- When you've only got small snippets of time and you know you won't get into your story properly use it to write blogs, articles, get your diary up to date or do any of the other writing-related tasks you have to finish so when you do get some solid time alone you can concentrate on the writing.
And now for a confession. I'm writing this because I'm facing several weeks of almost non-stop distractions, after a week where I produced almost zero pages because of a range of interruptions I couldn't say no to (sometimes you really don't have a choice). I'm thinking about the words I need to write and fighting a faint sense of panic. Five minutes ago my son walked by and asked what I was writing. On hearing my topic he grinned and asked if I was going to mention him. He even offered to interrupt regularly so I could get in the swing of things...Argh!
I'd love to hear how you deal with interruptions and distractions - either in your writing time, or if you're not a writer, in just coping with the other things you need to get done. Do you make lists? Do you get up extra early? Do you say no? Any suggestions gratefully received. I think we can all do with a few more ideas on how to keep our focus amongst all the distractions.
One commenter will received a copy of PROTECTED BY THE PRINCE and the other a copy of THE SAVAKIS MISTRESS.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Hearing? Yup – Puss in Boots. I’m trying to sell it to my eldest as good to dissect from an animation point of view, and to my youngest as a way of making her mum very, very happy.
Antonio was on the Graham Norton show in the UK recently with Salma Hayek to publicise the film, and I fell in love with him all over again. Why? His sense of humour. His smile. His warmth. The way he didn’t mind getting up and giving a quick fencing lesson. And the way he included everyone else on the show instead of being egotistical and expecting all the attention to be on him.
Wait. I might be describing the kind of hero I write :)
So. Just to remind you of why he’s been my heartthrob for more than 15 years (I remember seeing Evita at the cinema when I was pregnant, and clearly the baby picked up that his mum was a bit excited because he kicked like mad every time Antonio was on the screen), I give you…
The Mambo Kings. (When he could barely speak a word of English. Yup. Gorgeous.)
Desperado. (The fact he plays the guitar in this, and the long hair, and… sigh…)
Zorro. (The fencing. Oh to be Catherine Zeta Jones.)
Take the Lead (now, as the book I’m going to start writing in January involves ballroom dancing, this film - or to be precise the tango scene - will really help. I loved the character he played and the way he gave people hope and really changed their lives).
I could go on. Spy Kids, My Spy, Philadelphia (it’s the scene where he kisses Tom Hanks’ hands in hospital – stunning emotional portrayal), Interview with a Vampire…
Sigh. Antonio is the epitome of Male on Monday. Just gorgeous. Happy Christmas!
In the UK, you can get a copy of The Doctor’s Royal Love Child (from the first Penhally series) as part of a four-in-one book, ‘Secrets in the Village’; in the US, you can still get a copy of her ice cream book, ‘A Moment on the Lips’, from the eHarlequin website.You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/)