26 October 2010

Witch of Blackbird Pond

I haven't posted in a while because I've been cheating on this blog. Yes, I've become a polygamous blogger as I promote my new book, ENTHRALLED.

Today, I'm being interviewed at Terrific Tuesday and we're rediscovering the book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Have you read it? I think almost every woman did when she was a girl.

And if you're really interested in where I've been, here's a list:

21 October 2010

One Inch Closer to Hell

ENTHRALLED, my fourth historical romance, is officially on sale today.

It's a great day for several reasons. In many ways, Enthralled is the hardest story I've written to date. The relationship between William and Amilia is complex and layered from the very first word. They are childhood sweethearts, denied to each other because of social expectations and family ambitions.

Additionally, William of Ravenglas presented his own own unique challenges. He’s arrogant, in danger from the sins of his past and driven by a need to do “the right thing.” He can be rigid and judgmental, but he’s also quick to forgive and loyal to a fault.

He is how I imagine chivalry and courtly love collided with human failings. Duty and honor don't always go hand-in-hand for him, and his struggle between the two is partly what I love about him. He's a deeply flawed man who wants to live with honor and integrity in a world where he sees little of either.

Typically, I create heroes who are in desperate need of redemption. They don't fall from the straight and narrow path, but jump from it. For William, one step off that path leads to another misstep and then another. Like most of us, he falls one inch at a time and that is extremely hard to write and still make him heroic and lovable.

19 October 2010

Sometimes a really good villain is all you need

I love a good villain. The right villain can make a classic out of a B-movie and leave a reader reluctantly sympathetic to the cause. In my opinion, a good villain needs three things:

  1. An understandable goal.
  2. A firm belief that the ends justifies the means.
  3. A complex nature, complete with a good side, i.e. he may blow up the museum to stop the looting of his culture, but he takes his mother to church each Sunday.
In my latest release, ENTHRALLED, my villain gave my critique partner chills. I also shocked myself in that I took a historical figure that I've studied and in some ways admired, and then turned her into a dispassionate villain that will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

In the book, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine's attempt to murder her husband, King Henry II, and rule as regent through her eldest son. Although the historical record is more detailed for Eleanor than for many medieval women, we know little of her personality, her desires or her opinions.

She wed Henry of Anjou (later King Henry II of England) in 1152, months after her marriage with the French king was annulled. Henry was 10 or 11 years her junior. She gave birth to at least eight children during the marriage, and the youngest, John, was born in either 1166 or 1167 when she was approximately 45 years old.

However the marriage began, it ended badly. She encouraged estrangement between father and sons, and led her sons in rebellion against Henry in 1173. She spent 15 years locked in a tower, released by her sons on the king's death.

Given those facts, the Eleanor in ENTHRALLED is cold and calculating, yet understandable (I hope).

The story takes place seven years before she sparks rebellion among her sons, but at 44, her legendary beauty is fading, her husband is openly in love with another woman, and her children are no longer under her direct control.

Her motivation is simple: She’s standing at the edge of irrelevancy—and she doesn’t like the view.

15 October 2010

The World's Oldest Sport

Last week on the Hearts through History RWA loop, a casual reference to the 1900 Olympics in Paris noted that tug-of-war was part of the competition.
1908 U.S. tug-of-war team

Talk about intriguing.

I had no idea that tug-of-war was once an Olympic sport. To be honest, I assumed it wasn't played anywhere but on playgrounds, college campuses and family picnic areas.

Curious about this bygone sport, I spent a few days researching tug-of-war, and its gold medal history, spending a lot of time on the official websites of the Olympic movement and the site of the Tug-of-War International Federation.

Yep, there's an international federation.

For those who might not know (I know you know, but my journalistic training demands I explain the sport) tug-of-war is played when opposing teams, somewhat equal in number and weight, grab hold of either end of a rope suspended over a hazard of some sort, i.e. water or mud (history suggests Vikings played tug-of-war over the campfire). At a signal, both teams tug on the rope, trying to pull the other team into the hazard.

A few facts about the 1900 Olympics:
  • Events were held in Paris as part of the 1900 World’s Fair and were so under-promoted that not all 997 athletes realized they were taking part in Olympic competitions. Overall, only 375 tickets were sold.
  • Organizers didn't hold an opening ceremony. Events began May 14 and ended Oct. 28.
  • Women competed for the first time in these games. The first women's competition? Croquet.
  • Mixed teams (not gender but nationality) completed in five sports, including tennis and tug-of-war.
  • Tug-of-war made its debut as an Olympic competition. Other sports:
    • Archery
    • Artistic gymnastics (which included pole vaulting)
    • Athletics: combined, field, road (cross-country) and track
    • Basque Pelota (think team racquet ball played across a net and you’ve got the general idea)
    • Cricket
    • Coquet
    • Cycling
    • Equestrian, jumping
    • Fencing
    • Football (soccer)
    • Golf
    • Polo
    • Rowing
    • Rugby
    • Sailing
    • Shooting
    • Swimming
    • Tennis
    • Tug-of-War
    • Water Polo
Only two teams competed in the tug-of-war competition on May 14. Winner was the best of three, and a Danish/Swiss team competed against a French team and won 2-0. This was Sweden’s first gold medal.

During the 2004 Olympics in Saint Louis, six teams competed, four from the host nation. U.S. teams won all three medals. At the time, clubs fielded tug-of-war teams, so there wasn’t a national team from any country. In the 1908 London games, British teams won the gold, silver and bronze. According to the BBC, the final match was between two English teams comprised of policemen, with the London police team beating Liverpool's police team.

Tug-of-War was dropped from the Olympic games after 1920. But the Olympics were hardly the beginning or the end of the sport, which dates back thousands of years. Egyptians played tug-of-war, as did the ancient Greeks, the Vikings and other sea-faring nations. It's still a popular sport in India, Europe and South Africa where the 2010 Tug-of-War Championships were held in Pretoria.

Coming up: the International Tug-of-War conference is scheduled for January 2011 in Taipei. If that’s too far to travel, The European tug-of-war championship will be played in September 2011.

Cross-posted at http://historicalbellesandbeaus.blogspot.com/2010/10/worlds-oldest-sport.html

13 October 2010

Heads Up. 7.1.98

In March '97 or thereabouts, the makers of the film Armageddon sent me this promo item about the movie (I was the features editor for a newspaper at the time). The clock was set to "count down" to the movie's opening day. The marketing worked. The whole newsroom was all aware of the movie, but even more aware of the clock. As the days clicked by to 7.1.98, we all waited to see if the clock would explode or something.

Alas, it just turned into a regular clock. We were disappointed.

Since then it's counted down days to vacations, job changes, trips abroad, and during one memorable week, to Friday. But no more. Sometime this summer the Count Down clock died. Kaput. Extinct.

An era is over. R.I.P.

12 October 2010

Cleaning my personal midden heap

Somewhere a future historian weeps.

I'm getting ready to move, and as I go through my possessions, culling what I no longer need, wear or want, I've been digging through several boxes that I've carted from place to place but haven't opened for years. Going through the cards, letters and journals in these boxes is like an archeological dig into my life. Suddenly I remember:
  • Not believing the super-skinny girl from college who said her guilty-pleasure food was fresh kiwi (mine was a chocolate milkshake and onion rings)
  • Going out with one guy and running into another one that I was also dating (who knew they were friends)
  • Having to tell a friend I couldn't spend a month backpacking with her because I'd gotten a job (I should've gone backpacking).
I've found notes from friends whose addresses have long since been lost, letters from boyfriends past, and cards and photos from over the years that show how kids have grown, people have moved, lives have changed.

And much of it went into the trash.

I even tossed all my journals, but not before leafing through them and realizing what a maudlin, self-absorbed idiot I could be at times.

It's not that I don't value these sentiments or memories, but I find that paper, often saved haphazardly, doesn't mean much to me (heresy for a trained historian like myself). I'm more interested in finding these friends and seeing how they are now. 

What did I keep? Generally first and last letters, notes that completely captured the sender's personality and anything unique, such as the Christmas card from a guy and his cat decorated with kitty-litter snow.

Now that's something a future historian can use for his dissertation topic. I'm sure of it.

08 October 2010

The Birds

Back when I had a day job, I would have the occasional "closed door day." These basically meant I planned to disappear into my office to finish up a hot project. It was a signal to others not to call or knock unless something or someone was broken, bleeding or burning.

I'd planned for today to be a closed door day, too. I'm almost done with my WIP and I want to finish it. This means no email or trolling Facebook while I write in what I hope is a white heat of creativity.

But now there are the birds. These birds are sitting on my balcony rail, watching me with a gleam in their little eyes that make me think of The Birds (not the movie, which is scary, but the book, which is terrifying).

Birds have an odd affinity for me. Ask my friends. They'll tell you about me being followed down the streets of Charleston by a chicken. Or around a St. Louis zoo by a vulture. Or from room to room in the little gray bungalow by a wood pecker.

An owl even followed me home once in Charlotte, but that was OK. He ate the squirrels in my magnolia tree and I actually had blossoms that year.

I'm telling you this in case the birds turn feral and mistake me for Tippi Hedren. Someone should be able to tell the police the birds were local.

06 October 2010

Extreme connections

After a full day of writing, I spent Sunday night sprawled across the couch feasting on Mad Men and then destroying my brain with "Hoarders: Buried Alive and "Sister Wives."

I'm not usually one to watch reality TV, but as I was flipping through the channels these piqued by interest. In other words, they drew me in like a gawker at a car-train accident. As I watched, though, I realized these shows are at either end of the same spectrum. They're both about connections, or lack thereof.

The Hoarder's show is heartbreakingly raw as hoarders try to clean up their homes and lives. What is painfully obvious is the hoarders don't have any real connections to other people. Instead, they focus on things.

Most have suffered a traumatic loss and cling to things with the excuse (and very real fear) that they might need them one day. As a result, their house is a maze of trash,  empty boxes, mismatched socks, gloves and shoes, and too often dead rodents or pets. Their relationships often seem as jumbled and mismatched. Many have distant, hands-off relationships with family, including those who live under the same roof. The hoarders have withdrawn into their internal world and the reconnecting process is painful.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sister Wives, a show about a polygamous Mormon family with one husband, four wives, and seventeen children. Personal beliefs on polygamy aside, I suspect the kind of suffering in isolation that leads to extreme hoarding wouldn't happen in such a family.

The very nature and number of the relationships and household structure requires an openness and emotional intimacy that would make it impossible to hide away when something or someone breaks your heart.

It makes sense. Words are approximately seven percent of a conversation. Tone of voice is 38 percent and body language is 55 percent. In other words, it's easy to lie with words, to say we're doing great, to hide the heartache and the frightening loss of control that cause us to cling to stuff. Face-to-face connections force us to be more honest with others, and by extension ourselves.

The more numerous our connections the greater the likelihood of our honesty.

Connections are on my mind this week because I've been sorting through my possessions, deciding what to toss, donate or pack for my upcoming move. I'm always ambivalent about moves. I love the idea of going someplace new (in this case, someplace much warmer) and meeting new people. But I also hate to leave people behind.

Sure, there's email, IM and Facebook, but these can't replace meeting someone for lunch or supper and talking about your day, your boss, your muse. A quip on Facebook, a link on Twitter, a quick email to "see how you're doing" isn't really a connection. It's just a reminder that we have these connections. Keeping those connections strong and honest is up to us.

01 October 2010

What I'm reading

A few weeks ago, Kendra Leigh Castle on a blog asked posters to share who is our favorite, unapologetically bad boy. I answered Methos, from the old Highlander TV series. The character was a 5,000-year-old immortal who could be a loyal and trustworthy, but when it came to the sharp edge of a sword, he was always--always--out for No. 1.

My answer won me a copy of Kendra's new release, Renegade Angel. The book is about Raum, a fallen angel, who's also on the outs with hell. He works with a motley crew of other dispossessed demons to snuff out lesser demons and their half-human progeny. His latest assignment brings him to Vermont and to a half-human/half-demon woman he's determined to save--even if it destroys him.

Typically, I'm not a fan of vampires, weres and demons as heroes. Maybe it's my Southern Baptist upbringing or the heretical influence of gnosticism, but I like monsters who are monsters not monsters who are really just misunderstood.

So I was a bit skeptical about a book with a fallen angel/demon hero who is bad to his soulless bones and proud of it.

That said I enjoyed Kendra's voice immensely. Her characters are vibrant and her world-building so vivid and detailed that I could've sent a postcard from the Infernal City. I even found myself liking the hero who ends up with the key to something he doesn't want: redemption.

In the end, the story isn't about demons or monsters, but about the power of love to give us faith. At its core, Renegade Angel is a redemption story, and I'm a complete sucker for redemption stories.