Saturday, January 26, 2008

Favorite heroines

I've seen lots of blog posts lately about favorite fictional heroes, and that makes sense because we often read romance or watch movies and/or TV programs because of the heroes. I have to say, I like a heroine who can hold her own too. I like heroines, and even write some of them, who can kick butt and take names and still be feminine at the end of the day. All you have to do is scan the bookstore shelves, the TV Guide or the DVD selection at Best Buy to find that this type of heroine is popular. I think it's because we, as women, want to feel that we can hold our own with men, we can be in control without giving up those aspects that make us uniquely women (oh, say, like enjoying buying cute shoes).

Let's take a look at some popular gals who fall into this category:

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- I admire show creator Joss Whedon a great deal for the strong heroines he writes and his dedication to showing the strength a woman can possess. Buffy was a cute little blond teenager when she came into her powers, but looks were deceiving. She could kill vampires and various demons with an ease the grown men in her world couldn't even dream of. And the vast majority of the time, she was stylin' when she did it. Even if she was a badass, she still dealt with things like dating problems, losing her first love, and sibling rivalry. Willow Rosenberg, her good friend, was a very powerful witch who could even kick Buffy's behind if she fully tapped into her power.

2. Wonder Woman -- She was the first superheroine I remember, both on the Superfriends cartoon on Saturday mornings and in the Lynda Carter primetime show. Being a fan of Wonder Woman led to being a fan of other superheroines like Elektra, Firestar, Jean Grey, Rogue, Storm, Sara Pezzini/Witchblade, and Xena.

3. Max Guevara -- from the show Dark Angel (one of Jessica Alba's easier roles); she was a genetically enhanced super-soldier.

4. Bionic Woman -- Lindsey Wagner's version of Jaime Sommers was a childhood favorite, and I've been enjoying the new version played by Michelle Ryan.

5. The heroines of urban fantasy -- Urban fantasy is a very popular genre right now, and many of the protagonists are women. Authors such as Patricia Briggs, Rachel Caine, Laurell K. Hamilton, Tanya Huff (her Blood books have made it to the small screen in the form of Lifetime's Blood Ties), Rachel Vincent and others bring strong heroines to the reading public.

6. If I think about just the TV shows I watch now, there are very strong women in Bionic Woman, Blood Ties, Heroes, Supernatural, Smallville, and Stargate Atlantis.

Even though many of these heroines either have superpowers or are just trained to be able to handle themselves in tough situations, that isn't the end all and be all of strong heroines. An everyday woman like those who appear in our Harlequin American novels can be strong too. They can face adversity, weather it, and come out the other side even stronger. I'm in the midst of writing my second American (actually that's why I'm late blogging today -- oops), and the heroine has had to be strong because her life was totally turned upside down by something someone close to her did. She's having to start over even though she doesn't know if it'll work out. That takes a different kind of strength, but strength nonetheless.

Give me a heroine who is strong any day, whether that strength is superpower in nature or just the strength of the Average Jane. Just don't give me a wimpy, whiney heroine. That will make me close a book or click off the TV faster than anything.

Okay, now it's your turn. Who are some of your favorite fictional heroines from books, TV or movies?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Power of Positive Thinking

No one likes to be sick and I’m sure there isn’t a person on the planet who likes being in the hospital, but I’m of the opinion that the power of positive thinking goes a long way to helping a person feel better and get well. This philosophy of mine was put to the test two weeks ago when I had surgery, followed by a two-and-a-half day hospital stay.

I was in a room with two other patients, a man and a woman, both elderly. The man had recently recovered from pneumonia, probably had emphysema, and was in the early stages of delirium. He kept taking off his oxygen tubes and getting out of bed without calling the nurse. The staff was concerned he’d fall break a hip, so even my first night, while I was still coming out of the anesthetic, I was having to buzz for the nurse to come and help the poor old fellow.

On my last night there, a nurse pinned the call button to his gown so he couldn’t get out of bed without calling her. But in the middle of the night he took off his oxygen and the gown and went to the bathroom, stark naked! Then the next morning, after yet another trip to the bathroom, he said to the nurse, “There’s a water problem on the floor in there.”

“What kind of water problem?” the nurse asked.

“I peed on it,” he told her.

In my opinion, the nurses all deserved gold medals. They had infinite patience with him, and although they seemed to be run off their feet, they did their very best to keep a close eye on him.

The other person in my room was one of the most cantankerous old women I’ve ever met. There didn’t seem to be much wrong with her, yet she never stopped talking about how terrible she felt, how much pain she was in, and how the incompetent doctors and nurses were doing nothing for her. She even complained to the cleaning staff, the people who deliver meals, and other patients’ visitors. It turned out that her malaise had been brought on by taking too much of two different kinds of medication. She lived alone, but I suspect needs to be in a care facility where her medication can be monitored. The nurses did their best to make her comfortable, although how they kept their patience with her I’ll never know. She didn’t acknowledge anything they did for her, and her litany of complaints never let up.

While I was recuperating, I did my best to let the staff know I appreciated the care they were providing and all the attention they were giving me. And because of that, I think I got even more attention than I deserved. One nurse helped my daughter fix my hair, which had managed to turn itself into a matted mess. Seriously, I managed to take a bad hair day to a whole new level. Another nurse helped me have a shower.

In spite of the great care I was receiving, it was a huge relief when my surgeon consulted with the nursing staff on my third morning there and decided I was ready to go home. Home! I was finally able to get a good night’s sleep, which further strengthened my resolve to think positively. Now, two weeks later, the surgeon says that as far as healing goes, I’m in the top five to ten percent of the population, and that I’m now at the stage where the average person would be in two months.

So yes, I do believe in the power of positive thinking. It’s working for me!

And while I’m at it, I’ll send a huge thank you to the nurses and other health care providers who did such an excellent job of caring for me. Thank you is something they don’t hear often enough.

Lee McKenzie

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One Chore I Don't Mind

The other day I was standing at the stove fixing breakfast for my twin son and daughter (they're seniors in highschool and will graduate in May). My husband came into the kitchen, stopped in his tracks, and said, "What are you doing?" Though I thought it was obvious, I patiently explained (grin). He couldn't believe it and started to lecture me on how the kids were old enough to fix their own breakfasts and hadn't they been doing exactly that since starting school in the fall.

Okay, he was right. I won't argue the point. But I'd been struck with a sudden and overwhelming case of my-children-are-almost-grown-and-will-be-out-of-the-house-soon. I can remember when they were in first grade and I'd fixed French toast sticks or scrambled eggs with cheese, then hurry them to finish eating before they ran outside to catch the bus. For just a little while, I wanted to be that mommy again. Not the one with a son who's a full nine inches taller than her or an absolutely stunning daughter who looks twenty-five when she's all dressed up.

I know my children are old enough to take care of themselves. Heck, I hardly see them anymore except in the mornings before they head to school. To my husband, fixing them breakfast is an extra chore to add to my already long list for the day. But to me, it's a chance to sustain the magic for just a little longer because soon enough, they'll be going off to college.

I guess when that day comes I could fix my husband breakfast but he just doesn't have the same happy reaction when I serve him French toast sticks.

Cathy McDavid

PS - how funny that Shelley's post is about breakfast, too. Must be on our minds.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Pancake Breakfast

Lately I’ve been on deadline. Actually, I’ve had a lot of deadlines…so I haven’t been doing much other than writing and looking out my office window.

However, I do have yet another installment in my continuing drama as a wrestling parent volunteer. This involves the annual pancake breakfast, of which I was in charge.

I’m a very hard worker, but I’ve never been particularly organized. So, it was with a little bit of trepidation that I accepted this job. It basically involves getting about ten volunteers together, buying a bunch of pancake mix, orange juice, milk, and sausage, then making and serving it all to six wrestling teams after weigh-ins on a Saturday morning.

Now, I’ve helped with this before. Actually, I’ve helped every year my son’s been in high school. Last year’s parent in charge actually made a binder listing everything to do. I just had to do what she said. But still I was nervous.

Last week, in between writing and well, writing…I went to Sam’s Club and bought all the ingredients. I went to a parent meeting and solicited parent volunteers. I stressed over griddles, crock pots, extension cords, and storing five gallons of milk. Luckily, my husband helped with the heavy lifting.

On Friday night, it all began. I had to cook 250 sausage links. It took three hours. I finished at 1am. I had boys over who were running on the treadmill in the basement because they had to make weight for the weigh-ins. No, they did not appreciate the smell.

And, boy, did my house smell! The dogs were barking and begging. Grease was everywhere. I worried about keeping those darn sausages relatively moist until six am the next morning. It was a pain. My husband and I and all the boys were back up at five, loading cars, then going to the high school. You can imagine the next few hours. Setting up griddles and syrup stations, making pancake batter, carting those sausages around.

Finally, at 7:30, we were ready. Our team’s boys got to eat for free. Boy did they eat! The other teams, well, they elected not to pay the $3 for breakfast and brought their own food.

That’s when my pancake breakfast came to a screeching halt.

Yep, that’s right. Imagine 7 volunteers, two large containers filled to the brim with pancakes. Over 200 sausage links (still moist and very edible, I might add!) ready to go. 8 o’clock came. 8:30. 8:45. We only sold another 7 breakfasts. That’s when things got desperate. The emphasis went from making money for the team to getting rid of the food. Parents started eating pancakes. We asked the janitors and referees if they wanted free breakfasts. Only about half did. At 9, we had to clean up. I gave away four gallons of milk. We uh, threw the sausage out.

I ran to Starbucks, got more coffee, ran home and put on orange and black, and went back to watch my son wrestle. He won his first match. Yay! He uh, also threw up. Yep, several of the boys found that the pancake breakfast wasn’t really the best thing to have before wrestling in five matches. It was a pretty nasty thing to watch. The coach shook his head in dismay. I wished I could slink out the back door.

My husband looked at me and shrugged. He told me it wasn’t my fault this breakfast had become, well…The Worst In the Team’s History.

But I know better. There’s a reason I spend most of my days sitting in an office, staring out the window, making stuff up. Things just go a lot better that way!


Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Editor

On Friday, I found out I was getting a new editor.

As an author, getting a new editor can at first be like losing your boyfriend or spouse. You’ve grown accustomed to having that person in your life. You don’t want them to go. You have rapport and friendship. You’ve been through many books with them. You’ve leaned on them, and they’ve pushed you to make your writing better. You know what to expect.

The first time I got a new editor was immediately after I’d sold. Melissa Jeglinski bought my first book way back in Sept. 1999, and soon after I was shifted to Patience Smith since Melissa already had a full list of authors. I loved having Patience as my editor. She and I did many a book together, and while with her I got to work with a few other editors as well, for at times someone else in New York would guest edit a particular book. I remember the day Patience called me to tell me the line was moving to Toronto and that she would no longer my editor. I wanted to cry. I might have once I hung up the phone.

Then my new editor called me and introduced herself and we started working together. At first the transition was rough, but everyone kept telling me how lucky I was to have her. I’ll admit, it took a few books for me to know what her other authors were talking about. My new editor pushed me in new directions and made me work harder than ever before. She was demanding and relentless. Still, she worked tirelessly with me to sharpen my prose, and suddenly I was no longer a one or two book per year author, but a three-four book per year author. I’d reached a new level, and all because of her tutelage and refusal to let me settle. Then one day she called and said she was moving to a new line and I was getting a new editor. I wanted to cry again.

My new editor and I did three books together before she ended up being downsized in a Harlequin restructure. I went back to my former editor—hooray!—who I was with until the call came on Friday that she had left the company.

This time I took the news in stride, but still, I was depressed. I’ll miss her and I’m always nervous because now my new editor and I have to get accustomed to each other. It’s like getting a new English teacher. Each one teaches the same language skills, but all have slightly different techniques.

I’ll officially meet my new editor via a phone call next week, although we’ve chatted before. She’s reading a few of my books now to learn my voice. She’ll start by editing the book I just turned in, and on Monday she’ll have the proposals my agent just sent. Thus, we’re going to jump right in.

When it comes down to it, I’m sad to have lost my editor, because she taught me much more than I ever thanked her for. At the same time, I’m very excited and looking forward to working with my new editor. Each editor has pushed me in a new direction, and ensured my continued growth as a writer. I have no doubt my new editor is going to do the same, and I can’t wait.