Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas came early

(and no, no James Bond jokes, thank you)

I got a TRS CAPA nomination! Woot! It's for Get Lucky, which I'm so pleased about because I love that little book, it's bright and sparky and fun and has not one but two very hot incubi. Unfortunately, no one actually bought it (the exact same thing happened with Naked Eyes, no one bought it but it still got a nomination from eCata).

Also nominated is the cover art for A is for Apple, which I'm so pleased about because I love, love love the covers for these books! Scott Carpenter created them, and I'm hoping he's going to be working on the next one, for Still Waters (for which I was filling out a cover request last night).

And I spotted a nomination for my good friend Amelia Elias's Chosen, which I'm so happy about because it's a fantastic book, and I just adore the hero, Gareth. He's a big bad vampire who runs his whole clan and contends with various kinds of nasties...and also take vampire tours around New Orleans. I love a guy with a sense of humour!

Anyway, I'm about to be late to go pick up my best friend for lunch (we always do this on Christmas Eve: go for lunch, laugh at all the harrassed last-minute shoppers, panic when we realise we've forgotten to get something vital, then go and see something suitable festive or cheerful at the cinema. Then it's off down the pub when I get home. Nice way to start Christmas). So, in case I don't catch you all before--or if you live in Australia or somewhere else Christmas has already started--let me wish you a very merry Christmas and a wonderful new year, and I hope both of them are filled with everything that you both want and need.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last lines

So okay, I've finished the Untied Kingdom, or at least I think I have. It's the actual ending that's giving me trouble. I mean, I know what happens at the end (and in fact for several years afterwards), but I don't know where to stop writing. and I've really got to figure it out, because it's 133k and I'm going to have to cut a whole load of it anyway.

So, do I end it with the happy scene, the super-duper happy scene, or just the you-know-what's-going-to-happen-next-anyway scene? Do I go for the Life on Mars ending where the credits should have rolled, or the one where they actually did? Because honestly, I liked seeing Sam go back to 1973, but to end it where he jumped off the building would have been a hundred times more dramatic and brilliant.

Tell me your favourite endings, and the ones you thought should have been fixed...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Boy, it's been quiet

Was it really Tuesday when I posted last? Well, busy busy, Christmas and all. There's always so much to do, isn't there? Funny how we create all these things to do, then complain about them.

Anyway, went out last night for a Michaelmas dinner (far too posh to be just a Christmas dinner) with the family, which involved putting on a posh frock and then spilling port on it (FYI: Port and silk are not very mixy things). Am out again tonight at the neighbours' house. I know, it's all too thrilling. There are some pictures, but you don't really want to look at me in a posh frock, do you?

Um. I don't actually really have much else to say right now, so here's a picture of my gorgeous boy helping me with the Christmas decorations. And, as ever, a reminder that I'm donating all the December royalties from my two Christmas novellas to the Cats Protection League, so go and buy one and keep a cat warm this Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I made an Amazon Bestseller list!

Okay, it's not the overall bestsellers, but it's a start! Almost Human is at 81 on the Gothic Romance list. It's the first time one of my books (and I have five listed, count 'em) hasn't just languished in total obscurity. Even it's only for an hour (because that's how often it's updated, according to Amazon, I'm ranked more highly than Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

So it's SQUEEE from me, and a picture of Richard Armitage looking nummy to celebrate!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Winter warmers

It's cold here. It's dull, and it's rainy. In fact, the last few days it's rained so much I've expected there to be a man with a big boat collecting pairs of animals.

This morning, the heating wouldn't come on. Pilot light won't...light. Now, we've lived in this house 14 years (moved in five days before Christmas, must have been mad), and the heating has never been perfect. It rattles, it groans, and it occasionally throws a hissy fit and refuses to work at all. A few years ago, a friend of my brothers (who he now actually works for, so fingers crossed) came to fix the hot water tank. His verdict on the boiler was that he was amazed it was still working--he reckoned they don't usually last more than ten years, and we'd been in the house that long. Before that, it had been empty a year, and we had to get someone to fix the whole thing. He was dubious about how long it would last, too.

Also, in The House Where Nothing Works (I wouldn't mind so much if it was a 300-yr-old character cottage, but it was built in the 1960s, so it isn't even pretty), one of the garage lights has been broken for about five years. Today, Dad decided to fix it. So, on top of no heating, we had no electricity for an hour or so. Considering that the only working heater we had is--you guessed it, electrical, that was a cold, dark, boring hour.

So I made soup. Because we live in The House Where Nothing Works, we have alternate ways of doing everything. The hot water tank is gas fired, but has an electric-powered top-up. The oven is electric but the stove is gas (although the ignition is electric, how stupid is that?). With a candle for lighting (because there's no natural light, just a charcoal-coloured sky), I stood at the hob, absorbing heat, and cooked. Want my recipe? It's nummy, I promise.

Winter Warmer #1: Cheese and onion soup

Chop up three onions, fry them in butter, and when they're soft and translucent, chuck in a handful of flour and stir it all around until the flour has melted (or does it dissolve? Who knows). Add a can of chickpeas, three chopped potatoes, and a couple of pints of vegetable stock (I did make it with chicken stock once and it wasn't quite the same, but it's up to you). Throw in a few handfuls of grated cheese (something like cheddar, reasonably strong) and a couple of spoonfuls of cream cheese. You can also add seasoning like bayleaves, sage, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30-60 mins until the potatoes and chickpeas have softened and the soup has thickened up. You'll need to stir it now and then to keep the cheese from sinking and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

It's not a precise recipe. I tend to cook with howevermuch of whatever I've got in the house. If you want to reduce the calorie content a little, try cooking with iolive oil (okay, not much less calorific, but very good for you) and reduce the cheese content to just the cream cheese. It's still a nummy soup and very good for warming and filling you up!

Winter Warmer #2: Buy one of my Cat Marsters titles.

No, really. They're precisely formulated (unlike the above soup) to warm up up in fun spicy ways.

Winter Warmer #3: Buy a book, save a cat.

For a different kind of warm glowy feeling. Spike has been curled up smugly in his very own thick fur coat, the only one of us not freezing today. Other cats don't have thick fluffy coats or large quantities of top-quality cat food on offer, but if you buy one of my Christmas titles, you can help keep one warm this winter.

Winter Warmer #4: Richard Armitage.

Makes me warm, anyway.

Update: The heating has miraculously started working again--without even being touched. What a house.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My Daemon

Yep, I'm a Pullman fan, and I'm looking forward to the Golden Compass (although I don't know why they couldn't have called it the Northern Lights). And I really hope it's good. In the meantime, here's a cute little timewaster from the official movie site:

Hmm. not sure a gibbon is really me. And what the hell is with 'Tarquin'?

ETA: Ooh, I changed it. Apparently now Tarquin is a...what is that, a mink or something?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...?

How lovely are your branches? "Well, not particularly lovely, actually I spend most of the year dismantled, stuffed in a box and shoved in the garage. So I always smell kind of musty. Plus I'm shedding a bit. Still, I don't fall apart like a real tree..."

We used to get a real tree every year, and since Christmas Day is my brother's birthday, we always got one the same height as him. Trouble is, when a tree is in the ground it's significantly shorter than it is once it's been potted. And when said brother grew to be 6'2", the ceiling just wasn't high enough. Plus, every year we had to buy a new Hoover because sucking up all those pine needles every day just killed it. And it had to be done every day, because the cats thought it was their personal playground...

Anyway. Fake tree installed, along with the little fiberoptic one (I can't spell that, can I?) in the sitting room (perched well back on a chest of drawers where Pepper can't, with any luck, reach it). And, new for this year, the miniature pink tree with the white feather lights, which was in the sitting room but which offended my brother's masculine eyes (the neighbours might think he was gay or something!), so has been relocated to the piano room where it can be seen from the road, but won't offend his manly heterosexual eyes. (And yes, we have a piano room; it was billed as a dining room but it's too small for a dining table--God knows who built this house--so it's been variously used as a bedroom, office, study and reading room. However, due to its intensely heavy nature, the piano has always been there).

Here's Spike helping me with the decorations. He and Sugar were totally disinterested last year, when they were only nine months old and I thought they'd cause havoc. This year, Mister Spike sat on the stairs--cats-eye view!--and helpfully showed me which bits of the tree and decorations were within batting or biting range for him. The tree's in the hall this year, out of Pepper's way. I know without being told that she would completely murder the tree, given half the chance, and the presents under it too.

Have you got your tree up yet? Or don't you bother?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thursday Thirteen...things I love about cats

Thirteen…things I love about cats

1. Their stress-relieving properties. No, it's actually been sort-of-scientifically proven that stroking a cat relieves stress. So they're good for your mental well-being.

2. How low-maintenance they are. Okay, a cat requires 24-hr adoration from you, but in terms of what you actually have to physically do for a cat? Feed them twice a day. That's it. No walking, grooming or mucking out (get a cat flap, no litter tray, bish bash bosh, done). I can't think of any other pet that's less hassle. Even those virtual pets you get are more demanding.

3. They're actually useful. Unlike dogs, which require you to tell them what and how to do things, cats go out and keep the place vermin-free without even being asked. In fact, the Post Office used to employ cats to keep the mice down (can anyone tell me if they still do? I would love it if they still do!).

This brings me to...

4. Cats are good for the health of the nation. No, really! Back in the 1600s, when all those witch trials were going on, a lot of the targets were old ladies with cats, and a big target area was the south-east, where I live. Not only were the old ladies killed, but their cats too. And what do cats do? See above re: killing little squeaky things. And what do little squeaky things carry? Disease. Specifically, plague. What hit London in 1665? Plague. All because Matthew Hopkins didn't like old ladies with cats.

5. Cats are pretty. They just are. With those big eyes and soft fur and swishy tails. Think about it. Did you ever see an ugly kitten?

6. Cats are affectionate. A lot is made of the aloofness of cats, and the comparison is always made with dogs, who adore everyone instantly. Dogs want to be loved. They're the needy co-dependants of the animal world. Cats, on the other hand, don't need anyone or anything. But if you give a cat some affection, it will be repaid. And have you ever dragged a piece of string along the ground for a cat? They act like kittens. It's brilliant.

7. Cats don't slobber. Well, not usually.

8. They purr. I don't think any other species does. Scientists don't even really know how, or why, they do it, but all over the world it's been adopted as a description for huge contentment.

9. A cat curled on on your lap, or on your bed, or next to you on the sofa, purring happily and allowing you to stroke him, is one of the most wonderful things in the world. It just is. And if you don't understand why, you probably never will.

10. Cats love the supernatural. While dogs bark and growl at ghosts, cats purr.

11. For this and many other reasons, cats enjoy an unrivalled position in myth and folklore. From the Egyptians through the Vikings to TS Eliot, they've fascinated and inspired people for centuries.

12. At eight weeks old, a kitten can survive independantly of its mother. That's astonishing. The equivalent age for a human would be about a year old, and you don't often see year-old babies walking, feeding themselves and teaching themselves to hunt, do you?

13. Cats are survivors. For every person who deifies cats, there's someone who thinks they're vermin. People kick them and starve them, they take out their own anger and insecurity on a creature smaller and softer than them. But you know what? Unlike a dog or an abused wife, a cat is never too scared to leave. A cat doesn't live in vain hope of you changing. A cat thinks, "Bugger this for a game of soldiers," and gets the hell out of there to find someone who will give it the adoration it deserves.

Please support my Christmas appeal for the Cats Protection League. I'm going to keep mentioning this all December, and I'll deliberately post the cutest pictures of my certifiably adorable cats that I can find, all month long, so get used to it.

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It's easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hurting the ones you love

No, I'm not going around bashing friends and family. I'm taking my title from an RWR article by Collen Thompson on creating conflict in stories (I just got my Dec. RWR today, having received the Nov. issue yesterday...bah, stupid post). A story without conflict is, as the article rightly says, a bit flat. Imagine a book where only nice things happened to nice people. No one is ever sad, no one ever loses anything or anyone important to them, and everyone attains their goals without any problems whatsoever. Even children's cartoons are grittier than that.

When I started out writing, I didn't really understand what people meant by 'conflict'. I thought they meant it literally: characters fighting with each other. I hate books where all the hero and heroine do is fight, fight, fight, and then miraculously realise they're mad about each other on the last page. Characters who fight can of course be a whole lot of fun--one of my favourite romantic pairings is Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, but their fighting is a sort of foreplay, and they're becoming increasingly attracted to each other the whole time. And, crucially, once they've acknowledged to each other how they feel, they don't go all lovey-dovey and stop fighting.

But conflict isn't about arguing. It's about the barriers that come up between your characters--between characters realising or admitting their feelings, or between them and their goals. Say you have a man avenging the death of his brother. He wants to find the person who is responsible. Imagine his distress when he discovers it's the girl he spent a hot night with a week ago! He's already admitted he finds her incredibly attractive, but hell, she killed his brother, and he's sworn to kill her for it. That's conflict, and it's also the basis of a lot of hot, angry sex between Chance and Dark in Almost Human.

How about a man who is dedicated to his job, and who has learned through an unhappy childhood that friends and family aren't really worth the bother--until he gets landed with a protégé who's a total liability, requires lots of close mentoring, and pushes and challenges him every step of the way? He doesn't want to get involved with her, but bit by bit he can't help it. That's Luke and Sophie in I, Spy?, Ugley Business and A is for Apple.

Al right, enough of the pimpage. I'm going to apply this to my WIP, The Untied Kingdom. Thompson gives a few tips for ramping up the conflict and forcing your characters to grow, and without giving away the whole article (because I reckon you ought to be an RWA member to take advantage of their articles!), here are a couple of them.

1. Take away your protagonist's one indispensable tool or ally.

I'm doing this for both Harker and Eve in The Untied Kingdom, but Harker's is more devastating, forces him to rely on Eve even more, and happens gradually throughout the book. His biggest ally is his faithful sidekick, his indispensable lieutenant (literally), Sam Riggs. Sam is his backup, his confidante, his friend and his undisputed second-in-command. He's managed to get the commander of the army on-side for keping her with him wherever he's assigned. Sam knows what's best for the major, and also what's bad for him--like getitng involved with a potential spy. And not only is Eve a possible enemy, but she's also a huge distraction for Harker when they're engaged on a very important mission. She challenges and provokes him, and she does it in front of his men, undermining his authority and questioning the cause they're involved in. Sam knows that if Harker gets involved with Eve it could spell disaster not just for him, but for the whole army.

So, when she begins to warn Harker, she begins to create a rift between them, because Harker is sure he's not remotely interested in Eve, and he reckons Sam is over-reacting. The more he finds himself attracted to Eve, the more annoyed he becomes with himself for it, and with Sam for reminding him how obvious, and how dangerous, it is. He starts to lose Sam as an ally, which is a terrible thing.

Here is a picture of the actor inspiring Harker, Richard Armitage, because a) he's looking pretty conflicted and b) he's looking pretty hot.

2. Destroy the relative safety of the 'ordinary world'. Eliminate any possibility that the character's life can simply go back to normal.

Poor Eve has had her ordinary world demolished a couple of times. Once, when her career fell down around her ears and the taxman took everything she owned, leaving her in a smelly little flat doing temp work. Now it's happened again, when she falls through the hole in the world into the Untied Kingdom, where absolutely nothing is familiar or sane.

Then, just as she's beginning to find her feet in this mad world, making friends in the squad and falling for the exasperating major, everything is pulled out from under her. Can she ever go back to being a dreary temp after fighting battles, reattaching limbs, being captured and beaten and risking her life for the greater good? No, not really. Is there any possibility of her making a happy life with Harker, when he's in deep trouble with the general and she's destined to go back to jail for being a potential spy? Nope, there really isn't.

3. Force your character to choose between two evils.

This happens to Eve and Harker at more or less the same time. When she's taken prisoner by the rebels the army is fighting, Harker is forced to choose between his orders to move on and leave her behind, and his pretty strong feelings for Eve. If he goes after her, he'll almost certainly be court-martialled for disobeying orders. If he leaves her behind, she'll probably be tortured and killed.

For Eve, the choice is less obvious. While she's being held prisoner, she's beaten for information. A hot poker is produced. Eve knows it's intended to cause her a world of hurt, but she's determined not to break and show fear. She's got to stop them hurting her so badly she'll forget herself and betray Harker. So she grabs the poker to force their attention, badly burning her hand as she does, and feeds them the name of Harker's sworn enemy. They take that, and leave her alone. But at a price: because Eve is a musician, and without her hand she can't play her guitar or her piano. If she ever gets back to the real world, this will cripple any chances she has at ever getting her life back on track. And here in the Untied Kingdom, it's destroyed the biggest asset she had: entertaining the troops and drawing the admiration and friendship of people who might otherwise treat her like a prisoner.

Those are three of the things I've been doing to build conflict. Does anyone else have any great examples of how those nasty little devices have been used?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Buy a book, save a cat

See, who could resist such cute, tiny little fluffballs? Not me, for sure--I adopted these two last year from the Cats Protection League. And as soon as I think Pepper can handle it, I intend to adopt another couple. I think Spike is lonely now without his sister, and besides...I just really want to, okay?

Anyway. This year, as well as donating my Christmas card money to the CPL, I shall also be donating December's sales of my two Christmas-themed novellas.

Elf Gratification came out in 2005 from Changeling Press--that's the erotic paranormal one. It features an elf with an attitude problem and a new Kris Kringle who looks like Santa's Little Stripper. It earned a Recommended Read from Fallen Angel Reviews.

The Twelve Lies of Christmas was my Christmas novella last year from Samhain. It's a sort of prequel to the Sophie books--it tells the tale of Luke's old partner, Nate, and his last mission before he retires. This one involves Russian arms dealers, con-artists, and a gun called Belinda. It's a romantic comedy. With guns.

Both books are available in a variety of ebook formats, direct from the publishers.

According to the charity, their various shelters housed 7, 000 cats last Christmas--it'll certainly be similar this year. If you buy sixteen copies of Elf Gratification, that will buy a fleece-lined 'cat igloo' to curl up in at the shelter, for warmth and privacy--you know how cats like to hide away. Twenty-five copies will feed a cat at the shelter for a whole month. Eighty copies will vaccinate a cat.

So, this year, enjoy yourself with a free conscience: buying one of these books means supporting some adorable cat or kitten like my two babies, one of whom is now a big, fluffy and incredibly beautiful cat called Spike. His sister, Sugar, was well on her way to fluffy adulthood when she was hit by a car in August. Donations of December sales will, therefore, be made in her name.

Thank you.