Pears Watercolor by Victoria Morgan
This world is but a canvas to our imagination - Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stuck in Europe

My daughter and I at Castle of St. George
       My recent summer vacation to Lisbon, Portugal was extended a week. Thanks to Hurricaine Irene's drenching the eastern coast with her wet fury, I ended up getting five extra days in Lisbon.  I can't complain (other than about my bills) because as my son says, there are worse problems to have than being stuck in Europe.  And -- my husband was home to watch over my home (thankfully no damage) and being an ocean away, he couldn't complain about my bills either :).  Even better, Lisbon has gelato, fresh fish, palaces, and bright, sunny Mediterranean weather.  But best of all, the wonderful Castle of St. George hovers above the city, beckoning you up the hill and into its mysterious ruins.

     The castle dates back to the 6th century. It first served as the Moorish royal residence until Portugal's first King, Alfonso Henriques captured it in 1147 with the help of northern crusaders on the way to the holy land.  Dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, it remained the royal residence until it was replaced by another castle.

      Not much remains of the castle except its labyrinth of walls.  A statue of King Alfonso Henriques greets you when you enter through the main gate.  Single file, you can climb the steep steps to traverse the castle walls and get incredible panoramic views of the city and the River Tajus.  I dragged my sister up to the steps and back in time.  She surveyed the ruined remains and wondered what so fascinated me.  And she made me wonder, too.

      Just what is so fascinating about castles?

      I think the stark reminder that home, sweet home in a castle conjures very different meanings than when we think of our own welcoming hearth.  Castles are more than a place of refuge or luxury comfort, but a defensive arsenal.  They were fortified buildings built on hills, not for the scenic view but because it is a strategic position of defense.  Their ramparts were thick, solid stone so they could not be stormed by battering rams.  Parapets, the defensive walls lining the roof have cutouts known as crenels, which provide openings for the archers to fire down upon the enemy and enable projectile missiles to be launched.  Stones and burning oil were dropped on unwelcome intruders.  How cool is that?  Definitely not in Kansas anymore....

       Archaic words like turrets, keeps, porticullis, moats and baileys tumble off our tongue and come alive.  We step into a long lost past and picture the world of kings, queens, and sword wielding armored knights. We remember Camelot, Robinhood and Ivanhoe.  Or better yet, we recall our childhood dreams of being a princess locked in the tower awaiting her prince.

       Okay, so you see why I love writing historical romance.  All roads lead to romance.  Or so they do, in my castles.

        If you're not into castles, there is the fairytale palace in Sintra, or the Monument of Discoveries that is a tribute to Vasco de Gama and Magellan. There is also the 16th century Belem Tower on the Tagus River that provides the first gateway of defense for Lisbon.  Okay, I'm back to defensive fortifications....

        Well, there is always gelato -- rich, creamy and delicious!  I guess I should thank Irene for my extended stay in Portugal.  Being stuck in Europe is a problem I can handle :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Surviving Nationals

  Okay, the 2011 RWA® National Romance Writers Conference was in June, so I apologize for being late on this blog.  However, in addition to needing time to recover and catch up with work, I over booked my July with sporadic family vacations. One of these included a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains with no cell phone service and no electricity. Tough blogging conditions... It was a lovely back-to-nature excursion and a reminder that we don't always need to be plugged in, but I do love my lap top and my cell phone and my blow dryer and my...  Well, it's nice to be home.

    But back to RWA® Nationals.  The conference was in the heart of Times Square, New York City which by itself is billboard, neon blazing dazzling.  Toss in 2,400 writers, incredible workshops, fantastic speakers, multiple book signings and an award ceremony hosted by Meg Cabot and you have all the makings of any writer/readers best fun-filled fantasy.

     The Readers for Life Literacy signing was the first event I attended, and the minute I saw Diana Gabaldon, the names of all my favorite authors flew from my head. My friend took this picture of me with her, and I was pleased to see I wasn't drooling. I'm a huge fan of the Outlander series. Okay, I'm a Jamie Fraser junkie. He is hands down the ultimate romantic hero.  Don't fight me on this or it could get nasty. :)  Diana spoke at an opening session with Steve Berry and Terri Gerritsen. All three were a riot.  Madeline Hunter was the Keynote Speaker and Sherrilyn Kenyon the Awards Luncheon Speaker.  I would have paid for the chance alone to hear these authors. They made me laugh and cry and were an inspiration to anyone struggling to follow their dreams. Steve Berry had 85 rejections before going on to become a New York Times best selling author.  So it is true that persistence can pay big.

    I enjoyed the few workshops I managed to fit in between Golden Heart events, book signings, an excursion to the MET as well as much needed trips in to Starbucks for caffeine infusions. I chatted with Mary Jo Putney, a historical novelist who is an old favorite of mine, listened to Susan Elizabeth Phillips give us the six magic words to make our books a best-selling novel, and watched Deenne Gist dress up in Victorian clothing from the inside out.  I've decided having an incredible sense of humor is a pre-requisite to being a best selling author as most these women were really funny and just a pleasure to hear speak.

  Then there was the Golden Heart® Awards Ceremony.....

      Wow.  They do it up like the academy awards, complete with flashing lights, big music, and drum rolling anticipation.  Alas, I did not win, but being recognized as a Golden Heart® Finalist by RWA® was award enough for me!  I got to dress up and wear kick-ass heels (check out my fashion statement below), and I went to a champagne reception where I received my RWA® certificate of recognition from the board. Even better, I chatted with Cathy Maxwell, whom I wrote to when I was first embarking on my writing journey and who introduced me to Romance Writers of America.  It was nice to thank her in person!

      All in all, I didn't trip in my heels, didn't drool meeting some of my favorite authors (Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Julia Quinn, Mary Jo Putney, Suzanne Brockman, Madeline Hunter and too many others), and got to meet my agent, Laura Bradford for the first time.  I offered her my hand, and she gave me a warm hug. How welcoming is that? Pretty nice.

  I'd say it was all good and I'm ready to do it all over again....  Maybe next year.....

Friday, June 24, 2011

Getting 'The Call'

It's been a roller coaster ride of a spring, and I'm liking it!  

Last Friday, June 3rd, Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency called me and offered me representation!

Laura said she was up until 4:00 in the morning reading my manuscript so she had me to blame for her sleepless day. Admittedly, I felt a pang of guilt at keeping her awake, but it was fleeting. I mean, honestly, what writer doesn't want to keep a reader awake to all hours of the night turning those pages? Isn't that the goal?  Touchdown!  

So now my writing journey is really beginning.  Next week, along with about 2,500 others, I am attending RWA's 31st Annual Romance Writer's Conference, Bright Light Big Stories in New York City!  So exciting.  I received my invitation to a reception to honor the Golden Heart Finalists, and it looked like a mini wedding invitation -- so of course, I had to buy another dress!

I can't believe I will be lifting a glass of champagne surrounded by the likes of big name authors like Nora Roberts, Cathy Maxwell, Eloise James, Loretta Chase, Madeline Hunter and so many talented others...  And Meg Cabot is hosting the Golden Heart® Awards ceremony on Friday, July 1st. It just gets better and better.

I will take lots of pictures, hopefully without my jaw hanging open.... some videos, hopefully without my tripping over my heels.... and remind myself to have fun!

I'm excited and nervous, but most of all I can't wait!

Nationals here I come!


Friday, April 15, 2011

Two Creative Muses

I'm really excited about being a RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist.  I love to write and have been compiling stories all my life. I completed my first serious manuscript in junior high and titled it The Last Ten Days of My Life. I couldn't understand why my mother didn't want to read it...

As much as I was spinning stories in my head and jotting them down, I also had a second love -- art.  Sometimes my pencil went to paper and a heroine's journey came alive, while at other times, pencil went to paper and I captured their world in vivid detail. I've always been an amateur artist, taking numerous classes and dabbling in several mediums from graphite to charcoal, pastels, and pen and ink. Then I discovered Winslow Homer's paintings and fell in love with watercolor.

I love the beauty of the flowing, merging washes. I love its transparency. I love how it can be extremely detailed like some of Edward Hopper's works or incredibly loose like those of Maurice Prendergast. I love the wet, luminous qualities of J.M.W. Turner's London sunsets and the dry, scraped, churning seas by Winslow Homer.

I've studied under wonderful New England watercolor artists such as Nancy Walton and Andrew Kusmin .  I am presently doing a five week workshop taught by Marla Greenfield http:/ who was featured in the Winter edition of American Artist Watercolor. I'm learning to do layered glazes and loving it!

Through the years, I've discovered a lot of similarities between the two arts.  In writing, a story comes alive through conflict. In art, the contrasts of lights and darks make a painting more vibrant. Both need good composition with a compelling subject matter.  While one can revise a manuscript forever, it's also hard to know when painting is quite finished. Both can become overworked.  While sharp dialogue makes the characters jump off the page, adding a shadow to a shape can make it spring from the canvas. Writers struggle to find their voice, artists strive to get a signature, something that makes their work recognizable.  

Alas, in both mediums, one can get blocked.  So when my writing muse is stubbornly silent, I pick up brush and palette and hope to release my creative outlet there. When the blank canvas defeats me, I turn to writing.  If both outlets fail me, I pick up a good book and dive into another love!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Inspiration for Changing Fortunes

I love historical romance because while I want a romantic happily-ever-after, I enjoy learning about the time period in which the book was set.  Whether it's learning about how ships were built in the 19th century or the strict rules of social etiquette during the Victorian era, I love books that weave small kernels of historical facts into the story (without giving a tutorial information dump).  

Changing Fortunes was inspired by Lord Alfred Tennyson's infamous poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.  It fascinated me that the poem glorified a battle that was a colossal failure.  The men who rode were embarking on a suicidal charge, as Tennyson eloquently laments 'into the Valley of Death Rode the six hundred'.  I started wondering about those men and what the survivors might have felt when so many of their comrades had died in battle.  These men lived in a period before post traumatic stress was identified.  Thus my hero, Garrett Sinclair, the Earl of Kendall was born.  I then introduced Lady Alexandra Langdon, a practical heroine who is strong enough to combat Garrett's demons.  Below is a book blurb and a short excerpt.

Changing Fortunes is the story of Garrett Sinclair, the Earl of Kendall who is a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Suffering from post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt, he has spent the last six months trying to drink himself to death. It is not until he learns of a plot to kill him, that he is surprised to discover he wishes to live.

The only person holding clues to the men plotting his murder is Lady Alexandra Langdon, who recently lost her fortune to Garrett in hand of cards. While preferring to see the murderous plot succeed and Garrett six-feet under, Alexandra reluctantly agrees to assist Garrett in identifying his assassins. If the two don't kill each other first, Garrett might survive.

Despite these obstacles threatening to tear them apart, the two are drawn together when Alexandra assists Garrett with his post-traumatic stress and Garrett begins to unravel the secrets to Alexandra's past. Defenses are lowered, hearts are opened, and they find that their life together is worth fighting for.

Changing Fortunes Excerpt:

Chapter One

London, England 1855

         Sometimes a woman runs out of choices.

         Alexandra Langdon glowered at the door, willing herself to turn its brass knob.  She didn't belong inside the chamber.  She risked discovery, expulsion and scandal.  Her stomach growled and reminded her why she was entering anyway.  What did the pampered heirs inside their exclusive chamber know about hunger?  The hollow, empty rumble of it.  The slow insidious gnaw of it.  She had experienced it for so long, it was like a familiar adversary.  One she vowed to conquer.
        That is, if she could open the damn door and cross the forbidden threshold.
        There was money to be had inside the gentlemen's card room.  The Duke of Hammond hosted the grandest balls of the season.  The cream of society attended, and while wives and debutants danced the night away, husbands and bachelors sought refuge behind those doors. Rich men with fortunes to win or lose at the turn of a card.  Alex just needed to possess the winning hand -- and she would.
        Her father had given her a gift and she planned to use it.  It was the only thing he had given her.  For this, she loved and hated him.
        She shook her head, wiped her clammy hands down her black trousers, and for the third time in her life, crossed into forbidden territory.

The Golden Heart

On Friday, March 25th, my life changed -- or rather, my writing career. I learned that my manuscript, Changing Fortunes, is a Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® Finalist in the Historical Romance Category.

I had a Sally Field moment of, 'they like me, they really like me' -- finally. Then I hung up the phone and screamed loud enough to have my dog cowering.  Okay, before I hung up, I might have also screamed to the board member who called me that she had made my day and something about never winning anything...  It wasn't a Sally Field moment, but it was close.

It's an incredible honor to be a finalist in such a prestigious contest.  I feel like my writing has been riding a wave that has finally crested.

I still might get knocked around on this journey to publication, but for today, I'm so enjoying the ride.