Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bird by Bird

There's a wonderful writing book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird. The author explains that when she was young, her brother was assigned to write a report about birds, but he put it off until the last minute, then panicked about how he was ever going to write such a long report in one day. His father told him to just write it "bird by bird." Ms. Lamott took that advice to heart, and that is how she keeps the enormity of writing a novel from overwhelming her--she doesn't think about the whole novel, just one scene, or one chapter, or even one good description, at a time. (I hope I am doing the book justice; it's been a while since I read it but I remember that it is wonderful.)

I am both a writer and a birdwatcher, and this month I've had the pleasure of spending a month in "the birdiest spot in the country," the Texas Gulf Coast near Corpus Christie. I'm really only a novice birdwatcher, so when I came here almost every bird I saw was foreign to me. I would walk along the beach and feel overwhelmed by the number and variety of shorebirds; I would stare at a bird, then check the field guide and find half a dozen different birds that looked just like it.

But gradually, with much studying, I started to sort them out. I learned what markings to look for, the length and color of the beak and legs, the way it flew or fed. Now I can spot and identify dozens of water birds with a mere glance.

To bring this back to writing, I think we learn to write a novel the same way. At first, all the terminology is baffling and overwhelming; internal conflict vs. external, motivation, pacing, point of view, internal dialogue, transition, scene and sequel, high concept, theme, three-act structure, hero's journey. If you try to take it all in while you're writing your first book, you'll drive yourself crazy.

But if you study just one aspect--point of view, maybe--and you read different books and passages looking for examples, suddenly it clicks. You'll understand point of view the rest of your life, just like I'll recognize a marbled godwit on any beach next time I see one. Pretty soon, you're incorporating all those esoteric writing terms into your stories without even thinking about it, because it's become automatic.

I could probably take the analogy further; learning to cook is the same way. Probably learning to sew or garden--bird by bird.

(By the way, this blog is very late because I was out birdwatching all day! My bad.)

Happy New Year to you all,


Friday, December 28, 2007

Congrats to the 2007 RT Award Nominees

THE MAN FOR MAGGIE Lee McKenzie Harlequin (June 2007)

FROM TEXAS, WITH LOVE Cathy Gillen Thacker Harlequin (April 2007)

THE TEXAS RANGER Jan Hudson Harlequin (May 2007)

HOME TO THE DOCTOR Mary Anne Wilson Harlequin (July 2007)

THE RANCHER'S CHRISTMAS BABY Cathy Gillen Thacker Harlequin (December 2007)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ah, what a lovely list

I like this week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because it’s when I make my goals for the next year. It’s when I take stock of what I’ve done the past year and decide what I want to accomplish in the next 12 months in several areas – writing, personal improvement, home improvement, and entertainment/fun. This week of planning is just an extension of who I am the rest of the year. Hi, my name is Trish, and I’m a list maker.

My list making began when I started school (as in first grade). I made daily lists of what homework I needed to complete, what I needed to take to school the next day, and what I wanted to wear each day. These lists grew in complexity as I progressed through school. I eventually added calendars and daily planners. Okay, this is really nerdy, but I still like the look and feel of a fresh new daily planner. They have to show a week at a time, and the paper can’t be slick. I hate it when ink smears on glossy paper. I also enjoy printing off blank monthly calendars from the Internet too and plotting my daily writing progress, deadlines, blog dates, etc. There’s a nice sense of accomplishment when I’m able to check off one of those items as completed.

And you know what’s the coolest thing currently residing within the crisp pages of my new 2008 planner? My very first book release date! Come next September, my first Harlequin American will hit shelves. I might pass out from excitement. But in the meantime, I have to write in deadlines for my second American and my second young adult book. Let’s just say, my winter is going to be busy. But it’s definitely a good kind of busy.

So, are you a list maker? Do you enjoy setting goals for a new year? What are some of your goals for 2008?

Monday, December 24, 2007

White Christmas

Where I live on the west coast we won’t be having a white Christmas, but last night I watched the film version. Yes, White Christmas, the 1954 classic, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. It’s my favorite holiday movie of all time and I watch it every year, even though my family thinks it’s cheesy and can’t figure out why I love it so much!

Maybe it’s the costumes. I adore the dresses with the full skirts and narrow waists worn by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Not that my waist was ever as small as Vera-Ellen’s. At least not since I was ten. My favorite dress is the black evening gown Rosemary Clooney wears to do her solo performance at the nightclub in New York. In my imagination, I look just as stunning as she does in that dress. Isn’t an imagination a wonderful thing?

I love that the sets and backdrops that so unabashedly fake. In an industry now governed by computerized special effects, it’s refreshing that the simplicity of a cardboard set still works. At least it works for me.

And then there are Irving Berlin’s masterpieces. After all, who doesn’t love the title song? And Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen’s "Sisters" routine? Although I must say, I love Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s version even more!

The humor and the love stories are wonderfully heartwarming and innocent. And then there’s the way everyone helps General Waverly. Would somebody please pass the Kleenex?

At the end of two hours everyone's hoping it'll snow on Christmas Eve—and it does!

White Christmas is one of my annual traditions. When my shopping is done, the gifts are wrapped, and the house is completely decorated, I settle in for an evening with Bing and Danny and Rosemary and Vera-Ellen, and then it truly feels like Christmas.

Today and tomorrow are my two favorite days of the year. As I post this blog, my husband is driving to the butcher shop to pick up our free-range, organic turkey. This afternoon, as is our family tradition, we’ll put up the tree and decorate it, and then family will arrive for a Christmas Eve buffet supper. Tomorrow morning we have our gift opening and brunch, and in the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. And although there won't be snow, everything will be perfect.

My very best wishes to all Harlequin American Romance readers and authors for a wonderful holiday!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday Cheer with Friends

I'm almost done with my holiday preparations. For the first time in two weeks, my husband and kids are out of the house. Finally, I can retrieve their presents from the back of my car and wrap them away from prying eyes. I do have a little shopping left to take care of this afternoon. Mostly food, we're having dinner at our house on Christmas day (a tradition I love). And, I have to find "one more thing" for my mother and my mother-in-law. If your Moms are anything like mine, they're hard to shop for, and I'm wracking my brain for ideas.

This last week has been very harried, as I'm sure it was for everyone here. But harried in a good way. Among my customary holiday celebrations is a dinner out with my critique group. We've been together four-and-a-half years, and I credit them with much of my success as a writer. More than that, they have become some of my closest and dearest friends.

Normally, we meet at more casual places, Starbucks, Ihop or the like. During the holidays, however, we go to a nice restaurant for dinner and exchange token gifts. It's fine that the gifts are just mementoes because what these wonderful ladies give me during the rest of the year is too valuable to put any kind of a price on.

Here we are at the Olive Garden. I'm the one on the far right. We took over a small corner of the dining room and for nearly three hours, celebrated with good food, stories, and enlightening conversation. If I could grant one wish for each of you, it would be for a close and supportive friendship like the one I have with these ladies.

To all our Harlequin American readers, authors, friends and family out there, have a lovely holiday season and a joyous New Year. Thank you for letting me be a small part of your life and for making mine all the better because of knowing you.

Warmest wishes,

Cathy McDavid