Monday, April 14, 2008

The Bride Can't Cook

So, have I mentioned that I write? I do. Romance novels, mostly. I’ve titled this blog after my most recently completed manuscript, “Mistaken By Moonlight” since that’s the one that’s been getting all the attention lately. I’ve posted a blurb over there on the right side—check it out.

You’ll notice it’s set in Regency-era England. It is, and that’s my fave time period to read about. Obviously I enjoy writing about it, too.

But I’m not stuck in the past. I have also written a couple manuscripts with contemporary settings. Today I’m blogging about one of them, “The Bride Can’t Cook.”

This is the story of Marti and East, former Best-Friends-With-Benefits who must overcome Marti’s unfortunate knack for kitchen disasters to win a state-wide cook-off and save her Granny’s Diner.

Mixed in are plotlines involving Marti’s passion as an Environmental Biologist, Granny’s geriatric meddling, a married couple with a pyro-maniacal little boy, and our hero’s fried chicken phobia that would make even Colonel Sanders shudder. It’s a recipe for ruin but through it all Marti and East cook up a happy ending.

I had a lot of fun writing it. I’d spent a year writing two other historical romances that really weren’t all that great. An insightful critique partner said, “You’ve got a modern voice. You ought to try contemporary.” So I did. “The Bride Can’t Cook” was my second attempt at that. I learned some surprising things!

First off, when you’ve been writing stiff, historical language and plotlines that can involve no electricity or mass communication, the switch to modern language and familiar appliances is very freeing. Wow, I could be wittier and cleverer in my own native tongue! And it was sooo much easier to get into my character’s heads, since now I lived in the same would they did. I had a blast being back in my own lifetime and wrote two Single Title manuscripts back to back, “Thanks for the Mammaries” and then “The Bride Can’t Cook”.

But I also learned something unexpected. I thought there’d be less research writing contemporary. Heck I already know how we speak and what sort of clothes we wear. What is there to research? Ah, I learned. Writing these Contemporaries I was bound by reality. Ugh. I’ve tried so hard to avoid reality for much of my life, but now I was trying to profit from it? Not as easy as it sounds.

In both manuscripts, my heroines chose a career I was unfamiliar with so I had to hit the library and the internet, studying up to at least fake it believably. It dawned on me that what I wrote about with these Contemporaries was much more relevant to a wider range of readers. I’d really have to be accurate on the details since EVERYONE knows about modern day life, while those who might find the odd anachronism in my historicals are fewer. At least, I hope they are.

After “The Bride Can’t Cook” I returned to my first love and crafted another Regency-set Historical. It was nice to be back in that fantasy world. Sure, I had to re-learn the dialog cadence and re-remember if an Earl outranks a Marquise (he doesn’t, by the way), but it wasn’t that much of stretch.

Jumping back and forth between eras, I’ve learned one thing; people are people. The same emotions and fears that motivate my 19th century characters will just as easily motivate my modern ones. That much requires no research. In all my writing I try to convey the universal longings we all feel, the hopes and fears—and passions—that are common to everyman. Really, the only research it takes for that is living.

I’ve never been seduced by a Regency lord, but I have fallen in love in the moonlight. I’ve never been an Environmental Biologist, but I have been a bride. And I couldn’t cook, either. Some things are universal and timeless. Love and laughing are top of the list.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Who the heck am I?

My mother named me Susan after the actress Susan Hayward. I always thought that was flattering until I actually grew up and caught a couple of the woman's movies. She was elegant, sophisticated, and seemed to have an unnatural talent for portreying dramatic deaths, as I recall. I understood then why I'd always had this feeling I wasn't quite what my mother had hoped for. Unlike Susan Hayward, I was boistrous, awkward, grossly naive, and had an unnatural talent for keeping frogs in the bathtub. Unauthorized frogs, I should add.

But did you know Ms. Hayward was actually born Edythe Marrener? I guess I should be thankful she chose a stage name! Then again, as I scan the Romance shelves at the bookstore, I don't see nearly as many Edythe's as I do Susan's. Or Suzanne's or Sue's or Susanna's or some other variant of the name. If Ms. Hayward had gone out into the world as Edythe, perhaps I would be Edythe today and not feel myself such a part of the crowd.

But I gave up trying to be a part of the crowd way back in high school when I realized I was still too boistrous, still too awkward, still way too naive, and still had an unnatural affinity for catching frogs. No way was I ever going to fit in with those more normal individuals around me who comprised "the Crowd".

Now it feels unnatural for me to find myself just one amongst many.

Oh, there are some great Susan's with our name plastered proudly on book spines, and maybe that's my problem. It irks me that it is their name and not mine I see on those shelves. I'm jealous, I suppose.

But I also want to be unique. I want my name to conjure all sorts of wonderful things that lead people to think of only me, not any of the other fine Susan's of the world. Perhaps young Edythe Marrener felt something like that when she adopted her new moniker. Or perhaps her studio said, "Here's your new name. Get used to it." Either way, it seemed to work for her.

So how to I transition from being Susan Number Whatever to being (insert fabulous pen name here)? First, I suppose, I need to come up with said fabulous pen name. That's the tricky part, isn't it? I've been asking around for advice and here's what I've heard:

Many authors have chosen their pen name based on some beloved nickname they have. Well, I haven't got any of those. My husband calls me Susan. My sisters call me Susan. My kids try to call me Susan and I scold them. Occassionally folks drop off the -zun part and I end up just being Sue, but that really doesn't take me very far from the trouble. I'm still in the Susan Family.

In junior high some boys in my neighborhood had a nickname for me. They called me "Raisin". I didn't like it. There used to be a commercial on TV about the raisins in a certain cereal. According to the earnest announcer, these raisins were always "plump and juicy." Hence my nickname. I wished to be neither plump nor juicy. (Remember, I was hopelessly naive and failed to recognize that those boys may possibly have not been insulting my physique quite so much as my purpose in life, but either way, it was a yucky nickname.)

Another technique authors use in seaching for a pen name is to consider family names. Their own maiden name, their mother's maiden name, Grandma's name, etc. So, I did this, too.

My maiden name is Gee. Pronounced like the letter of the alphabet. It sounds Chinese, though I'm not ethnic in any way. My mother's maiden name is Stickradt; it's prounounced like "stick-rat". Yeah, I crossed that off my list pretty quickly.

My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Deike--sounds like, er, "like." Not that there's anything wrong with it, but that's not exactly the sort of Romance I write. I'm looking for something a bit more evocative of my chosen genre.

So, I'm on the prowl to reinvent myself. Any and all suggestions are welcome. I'm hoping one day something will just leap out and grab me, sweeping me passionately into its embrace and convincing me unequivocably this is who I should be.

Until that happens, though, I'll just go on being Susan. It's a good name; a familiar name; a respectable name. But for some reason, no one expects a Susan to have a tub full of frogs in her bathroom, do they?

Friday, April 4, 2008

When the Make-Up Gets Scraped Off

Well, the photo shoot was a blast. I know I'm not supposed to admit to such vanity, but come on. How can I not love being the center of attention? There were bright lights aimed on me and a man pranced around with a camera in my face saying, "Work it, baby, work it! Aw, the camera loves you, honey!" (So what if I had to pay the guy a little extra to say all that? He was fairly convincing.)

Now if I can figure out how to do it, I'll post a new photo here at this exciting blog site. I'm sure the suspense will be maddening, but try to restrain yourself.

After the hour was over and we'd filled the memory card in the camera--and the photog graciously photoshopped A LOT--it was sadly time for me to retire from Supermodel-hood. I hurried back to pick up my kids from school. The ball was over. Sigh.

The kids didn't really care how much time I spent on make-up; they were hungry. They wanted entertainment. They needed to tell me how unjustly they'd been treated all day long at that horrible institution of learning. I figured life would be easier if their mouths were full.

So, we hit MacD's and went home where I scraped off my make-up and tripped over a pile of laundry. I spent the next hour sorting underwear.

Yep, so much for Cinderella. I was back to being the ugly step-sister.

But not really. The clock might have struck twelve, but it hadn't erased my memory. I knew what I'd been up to that day.

For just a little while I was 17 again, posing for senior pictures and imagining the wonderful life ahead of me. For just a little while I was a star, strutting my own personal red carpet, beaming at an adoring public. For just a little while I was more than I usually am. And sometimes that's enough.

I don't know how long it will be enough, but for a while I'll have a little more mischeif in my smile and a little more pep in my step. I have a little more hope, too, because I've been reminded of something I must have forgotten: that big bag of make-up is still waiting there, under my sink. I can trowel it back on anytime I want.

Just because I may choose not to TODAY doesn't mean I might not choose to TOMORROW. Cinderella is still lurking there, just waiting for the next ball to come around. And it will; it always does.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

ASHD--Attention Surplus Hyper-commitment Disorder

Hello. My name is Susan and I suffer from ASHD--Attention Surplus Hyper-commitment Disorder. It's chronic. It's incurable. It makes you insane.

An April Fool's Joke, you might be thinking? Perhaps. Or is ASHD real, and could you yourself be a victim? You be the judge.

ASHD makes sufferers do things a normal person would have the good sense to avoid. Major symptoms of ASHD are: chronic volunteerism, over-extended calendaritis, and throat spasms that continually form the word "Yes". Worse, the disorder affects cognitive capabilities, as well. Often victims are found to have an absolute incomprehension of simple facts, such as that there are but 24 hours in a day and that most humans possess only two hands. Tragic.

For me, ASHD manifests iteself in a variety of ways. Today it's making me prepare for our first day of Drama Club rehearsals at the kids' school. I'm in charge. Of everything. I'm insane.

Fortunately, I'm not alone in my disease. Several other women I know suffer this same disorder. We're using Drama Club as our support group. Twice a week from now until the end of April we'll get together and feed our disorder, volunteering for this, spear-heading that. We'll become the virtual servants of 50 screaming children, all of whom feel their role is too small and their talent is too great. And this is not even taking into consideration the various parents of said screaming children. Indeed, we'll find all sorts of dysfuncions to cater to there!

If you have never suffered from ASHD, be thankful. Enjoy your peaceful, chaos-free life. Take the time now and again to laugh at those who do suffer. Go ahead. We won't mind.

Heck, we probably won't notice. We're too busy managing our disorder, making things happen and assuring that non-sufferers enjoy fun-filled, excitement-rich lives. I know, I know. That's very gracious of us, but that's what we do. It's part of the disorder. Don't bother to send a thank you card, though. I won't have time to open my mail until halfway through May.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Picture Day

I get my head shots done today! Yes, actual professional photos for publicity purposes. Yipee!

Of course my face broke out like a teenager two days ago. But that's why God created concealer, isn't it? I'll just gob the stuff on and hope for the best.

The thing about photos is that we spend exorbitant amounts of time getting ready for them. We put on make-up, fix our hair and select an outfit that gives just the right impression, but then we complain how the picture doesn't look like us. At least that's what I plan to do. It coerces folks into responding by saying, "Oh, sure, it looks just like you!" And that will make me feel good.

I generally believe I look great. I wander through life imagining that if I ever run into Heidi Klum at Kroger or out buying sheep food, folks will just naturally mistake us for sisters. Ms. Klum being the elder, of course.

Understandably, I'm often surprised, then, when confronted by a mirror. No wonder vampires always exude such confidence! They can go around believing they look like whatever the heck they want to look like. Forever! Hmm, I think I'm beginning to see the allure of this sub-genre.

But I don't write vampire novels; I write light, humorous Regencies. (With enough sexy parts to keep them interesting, of course.) And subplots. Boy, do I love subplots!

What would life be without subplots? Dull, two-dimensional and predictable, I think. That's why photos never really capture the full essence of us.

A photograph is just a moment in time, and studio shots like I'm heading for today aren't even natural moments in time. They're fake. They're pictures of moments that never really even happened.

At best a photo is nothing more than a hint at reality. It doesn't capture the subtle shift from one thought to another, the gradual fade from smile to smirk, or the passage of time and the experience of it. Click! Whatever is right now gets digitized and preserved without any record of the context or intent. Poof! With enough concealer, a blond wig and some borrowed clothes, I could actually become Heidi Klum. (All right, I could become two of her.)

But I don't want to be Heidi Klum. Seal is hot, and all that, but I'm me and that's just going to have to be good enough. I will use plenty of concealer and pose in clothing I might not wear every day, but it's still going to be me. At least, it'll be the me who existed for just that tiny fraction of a moment when the photographer pushed the magic button.

Then I can have the rest of my life to ponder that photo and wonder who I really was.

More likely, though, I won't bother with such lofty thoughts. I'll probably be more like, "Why in God's name did I wear that? And what was up with all that concealer!"

Monday, March 31, 2008

Doing it head first!

Well, I'm doing it. I'm blogging!

I've never blogged so naturally I'm a bit nervous. The first time's always awkward I've heard. The logistics seem a little complicated until you get the hang. But so far so good, right? I think I'm liking it. I hope it's good for you, too.

I guess the best way to do something is just to dive in and figure it out as you go along. At least, that usually seems to be the best way for me. Well, maybe it's really not the best way, but it's the way I seem to always end up doing it so I try to make the best of it. I try to find the purpose in it.

Ah, and there's a purpose to all this awkward blogging, too. The purpose is to journal. Journalling is writing. You see, I really do like to write. I write emails, I write newsletter articles, I write children's plays, and I also write romance novels. Yeah, I know! How cool is that?

I've been at it for a while so I've got a nice little collection of unpublished manuscripts. It starts to get a bit discouraging after a while, let me tell you. But last week a good thing happened.

My most recent manuscript, "Mistaken By Moonlight" finaled in RWA's Golden Heart contest in the Regency Historical category. This is a great honor and a very big deal. It's also turning out to be a very big deal of work. I wasn't expecting that. I've got this to-do list that's growing faster than the pile of laundry in my bedroom, and that's saying a lot, unfortunately.

I've got to get professional photos, I've got to make up some business cards, I've got to get a list of places to send press releases, I've got to re-polish the manuscript in case an editor actually wants to see the whole thing, and I've got to establish some sort of web-presence. Now here's where my head-first blogging comes in.

Here I am, Susan Gee Heino--Blogger. I have a web-presence. Ta da! I've titled my blog after my darling manuscript and I'm going to journal here as I go through this fun, exciting, stressful head-rush leading up to the big RWA National Conference and the grand announcement of Golden Heart winners. That's on August 2nd, so I'll be at this for a few months at least. Hopefully I'll get better at it. They say you generally do get better at it the more you do it. I'm hoping that's true.

Pop in and say hi any time you like. I'll try to say hi back!