Writing

The Day Updike Left Me Speechless

Certain shades should come with a warning label and pink plaid should be banned.

All I learned about networking I learned from John Updike’s pants.

Pants and a very annoying bird, to be exact… The pants were pink plaid, the bird a phoebe. As I stood before this author-of-greatness, chatting robotically about what sort of bird was nesting underneath the eaves of his porch, all I could think about were his pants. They were a crazy shade of pink. Like, Jersey shore salt-water taffy pink. My mind was a disorganized jumble of nonsensical thought, staring at this man’s pink nether regions when I should have been like that damn bird.

Phoebes are little birds with big attitudes. They’re not afraid to speak up and scream their name: PHOE-BEEEE! They fly around with their mouths open catching tidbits on mid- wing and glutting themselves on the result. Their acrobatics get noticed. Their voices are heard So when John Updike smiled at me our little chance encounter, happy with the information I gave him about his phoebe; he left me behind banging my head and cursing my ineptitude for organized thought.

I had just sent out my first query letter, and here I had the chance to chat about writing with a Pulitzer winner, and I wanted to run like a damn rabbit. Pun intended. Never again. Granted, Mr. Updike probably appreciated not being hounded by a new writer, and in hindsight, I learned a valuable lesson. What was the point in keeping my writing secret? How would I ever learn to progress my career if I didn’t speak up?

Annoying, arrogant little things but they know how to market themselves as a bird.

At this time I had been writing for a year, and no one knew. I knew networking was going to be a significant step in the business, but I was too scared to open my mouth and scream like that bloody bird. After learning a valuable lesson, and thinking I should grow a spine, I took my first networking plunge and called the president of a major New York publishing house. I had a way to that top rung of the ladder.  Here I was a new writer with an acquaintance in the business, one who I was on a first name basis with, and even he didn’t realize I was a writer. So I organized my thoughts, dialed his number and enjoyed a lengthy conversation where he told me, in polite terms, to scream like that blasted bird. Start marketing myself before I ever got published and I would be a leap ahead of the game.

He was right.

Why do unpublished writers hide in shadows cowering from industry professionals? The best thing an unpublished writer can learn is that published authors love to chat about their books and the journey into the trade. Owners of small presses are eager to discuss marketing. Presidents and CEO’s are not as unapproachable as one might think, and agents are on our side.

So what’s the first step in learning how to network correctly? Understand your GMC’s and know how to roll them off your tongue. No matter who you chose to network with, introduce yourself and ask a well-constructed question that is not only specific to their house need but your writing career as well. Don’t give them a reason for not replying; wow them with your professionalism and drive to write. Find your favorite author and contact them. It may take some time, but they may respond. List your credentials. Toot your horn. Tell them something you admire about their writing and ask that specific question. It has never failed for me. The key there is presenting yourself as someone who understands where they are going with their career and are professional about doing so. It separates the writers from the fans.

Don’t limit yourself to authors or publishing professionals. Think outside the box. Do you have your blog up yet? Your website? Establish a following with an excellent blog, and you will establish readers. I started mine with the idea of being the punching bag and guinea pig for new writers who wanted to know the dirty details of trying to publish. I promised readers I would list every triumph and every failure. It seems like a million years ago now. I was like that bird, not afraid to shout my name and admit what I was doing. My blog led to my first full request by an agent.

All it takes to market yourself correctly as an unpublished writer is a bit of confidence and the understanding that those big-wig bestselling authors were once greenhorns too. No one will get in the way of your writing career but you.

And if you love pink pants, wear them with a smile.

 

 

 

Flirting with Death: The role of the mother and father in Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera

Image by Greg Hildebrant in his illustrated edition of Phantom of the Opera. Find this book, find it now!

I have a confession to make that should be obvious to those who have read my Phantom series or follow me on Facebook. I am a firm believer that the idea of a relationship between Erik and Christine would not have been healthy. This stems from the original novel and the unhealthy love between Erik and Christine born from the idea of the mother/son and father/daughter relationship that Leroux crafted into this pairing.

First off let me say that the age difference between Erik and Christine doesn’t bother me in the original novel; however, it does in the stage show and especially in Webber’s movie. In both adaptations, Erik and Christine were portrayed as too young, although the stage show was slightly was closer to the novel in that. Leroux’s age difference of an assumed 50-year-old man and an assumed 16-year-old girl was natural in the mid to late 19th century. Many men, especially those of the aristocracy, did not marry until well into their 40’s and often with women many years their junior. So while historically that isn’t an issue, the moral implication it bears on a modern-day reader is. The reader sees Erik as a man old enough to be Christine’s father who is pursuing her with a need for object and maternal love.

Erik clearly had issues with his mother whether spoken or unspoken. His home beneath the opera house was not the image most in the Phandom think of thanks to Webber’s movie interpretation of it: a cluttered, cavernous, lakeside cave. In the original novel, it was a house with all the natural amenities a house has. Erik’s primary possessions were his mother’s furniture stored in a room that was nothing short of a shrine to what was left of his relationship with her. This is the very room he gave to Christine and the same room that was filled with Freudian indicators of masculinity and sexuality.

Michangelo was genius.

He tells the Persian he was moved to tears (or as some believe redemption) when Christine held him in the final “Pieta” scene. For those of you not familiar with the “Pieta” by Michelangelo, it is a famous sculpture of the Virgin Mary (here the virginal Christine) holding her dying son, Jesus Christ (here the already “dead” Erik). In the novel the position as Christine leans down to cradle Erik after allowing him to kiss her forehead, therefore mingling their tears (maternal fluids according to Freud) is very similar to the pose of this famous portrait of mother and son.

Christine associating Erik as a father figure is far more believable. The idea of a young girl hero-worshiping an older man is a theme familiar with many ideas of a father/daughter relationship. From the beginning, Christine was in love with the idea that her beloved father, with whom she was extraordinarily close, promised her the “Angel of Music” upon his untimely death. Erik becomes for Christine the living vision of her dead father. While not an actual angel, Erik was a musician with an angelic voice in addition to being a walking embodiment of death. For Christine, this translated into a reincarnation of all her father was returning in another form for her to love and worship.

Some may think it a stretch to believe that anyone would love a walking corpse or even yearn for a physical and sexual connection with it, especially if it reminds us of our fathers. In art history, “Death” plays a major role as both a father figure and a sexual seducer of young women. Many paintings and sculptures depict Death either teaching or luring maidens with enticing gifts, music, or just good ‘ole seductive looks. Death was the ultimate and attainable, albeit unwanted, element to life. Even today you hear of people “flirting with death.” Why? Is it so alluring because they want to actually die, or because the idea it conjures up of being able to conquer and overpower death?

Christine being seduced by the reincarnation of her father and being lured into a quasi-incestuous relationship was, in a way, “flirting with death” and the power and control it portrayed.

How to create a compelling opening chapter, er, blog.

Opening chapter rule number one:  Grab your reader’s attention.

 “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single blog in possession of a good author, must be in want of an audience.”

Rule number two:  Ground the reader in your setting.

Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

She picked her way across the drawing room. The fluttering of her fan drown out the ball as she tried to extinguish the fire on her cheeks yet to burn out from his kiss.  The satin skirts of her ball gown rumpled in her hand as she crept about the room, not so as not to trip over her too-swollen feet, but because she didn’t want to wake the snoring loaf of bread on the settee.

Rule number three: Intrigue the reader with an interesting character.

Why couldn’t the duchess have a cat? Cats don’t care who crept into rooms after forbidden kisses. They wouldn’t give a fig if her aching feet made her trip over the rug and  fall on her nose. They’d purr and yawn then expect a better performance next time around.  But the pug… the pug was always there, stubby legs tucked under his fat body, his already smashed in face rammed down into a pillow. That dog was a sentry of  enormous proportions, ready to wake at the sound of a clementine being unpeeled,  let alone her attempts at fanning away the evidence of a tryst on her face.

Rule number four: Give the reader a puzzle to solve.

Don’t wake up the dog. Don’t wake up the dog. Don’t wake up the dog.  Don’t wake up… Eventually she’d stop repeating that, but eventually wasn’t good enough with Lord Delaford on her heels.

There was nothing to do but ride the sequence out. Anxiety wrapped tight bands around her chest, making it difficult to breathe. Well, who needed air, really? Lord Delaford would only steal her breath anyway…

Rule number five:  Always keep them reading.

Welcome to the first blog post on my new website. My old site was redesigned in anticipation of my new releases, so I am glad you found your way here. Sorry, this is not a blog about creating a compelling opening chapter, although the four steps above pretty much cover how you do it.  I’ll be blogging from time to time about anything that strikes my fancy be it the writing process, the stranger sides of the Regency and Victoria eras, or life as a romance writing single mom.*  I love hearing from my readers and eager new writers! I hope you’ll keep coming back.

Croyez!

Jennifer

*who owns a pug and a cat, and has Pure O, OCD. No shortage of stuff to write about guaranteed