It's that time of year again when all my good neighbors are out in their gardens, making our neighborhood a lovely, colorful, vibrant place to live.
And then there's me.
I consider it my duty to make my neighbors feel better about themselves. Yes, their tulips may not be the biggest or the longest-lasting, but hey, they're LOADS better than mine, which, yes, my daughter ran over last week backing down the driveway. I think it was a mercy killing.
And when you come to my house for dinner, sure, you're not going to get fresh-grown tomatoes, still warm from the sun. But I'll order you a heck of a pizza--with as many toppings as you want. Also--dessert. Mmm...chocolate chip cookies! Can't grow those in a pile of dirt.
My kitties are crazy-happy playing Lion King in my overgrown grass.
My kids know exactly what poison ivy looks like, 'cause it's growing up the walls.
One day, I'll have a garden that will be the talk of the neighborhood. That is, when I can hire gardeners to do all the work.
But until then, dandelions sure are pretty, don't you think?
Hilary Mantel, beloved author of the Man-Booker-prize-winning books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, is currently on the hot seat, despised for dissing the lovely Kate Middleton in her recent speech at the British Museum, Royal Bodies from Kate Middleton to Anne Boleyn. According to Mantel, “[Kate]…appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.”
But Kate wasn’t the only one Ms. Mantel dissed.
Overlooked in this beautifully written, devastating assault on Middleton was Mantel’s framing of Kate as a heroine in a romance novel. Mantel begins this extended metaphor with a quote from a critic who describes Kate’s first official portrait as looking as if it “might pass muster as the cover of a Catherine Cookson novel.” Catherine Cookson, Mantel tells us, writes “simple tales of poor women extricating themselves from adverse circumstances…the nation’s favourite reading.”
Mantel then quotes Princess Diana’s biographer as revealing that Diana “…enjoyed only the romances of Barbara Cartland.” Thus, the poor woman “didn’t know the end of her own story.” Diana was “a fatal non-reader.” That is, she expected a happily ever after a la romance fiction, the only books she knew.
Diana’s ignorance did her in.
Mantel asks, “What does Kate read? It’s a question.”
Hmm…Mantel seems pretty sure that the princess is not reading Wolf Hall.
Mantel concludes that poor, simple, hapless Kate—a woman “without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character”—doesn’t control her own fate. We do. We are the ones who appropriate this beautiful, romance-novel, cardboard cut out as the heroine of our royal fantasies. We “are happy to allow monarchy to be an entertainment.” But is Kate a person or is she a princess? We have to choose, because she can't be both.
“We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago…"
Here, of course, she means Diana.
"I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes. Get your pink frilly frocks out, zhuzh up your platinum locks. We are all Barbara Cartland now. The pen is in our hands. A happy ending is ours to write.”
But of course, Mantel has no love for the romance novelist. She doesn’t believe in happy endings for real people, just for lightweights like Kate. Mantel admits she’s “too snobbish to have read” a Barbara Cartland novel. But she’s quite sure it’s about a non-person, non-character, empty vessel of femininity, happy with marriage and breeding—Kate Middleton to a tee. Diana was flawed and worthy of real fiction, the stuff of Wolf Hall. Kate, empty and perfect, is worthy only of those “lady writer” books. We shouldn’t “be brutal,” after all. By ignoring history (and good historical fiction) we get, Mantel implies, the ditzy, dumb, empty romance-novel heroine we deserve in Kate.
I don't think Mantel is far off the mark with her assessment of Kate, but who knows what's under that "plastic" smile? Still, I think I'm going to send Mantel a copy of anything by Loretta Chase. Or Elizabeth Hoyt. Romance novels, like princesses, can be empty or impressive--if you can just get past the lousy covers.
A fascinating new feature debuted today on amazon.com: author rankings. So interesting on so many levels--like JK Rowling isn't in the top ten?!?
And look how many self-published authors are in the top 100. Amazing.
My favorite thing about this list, though, is that in at number nine, Susanna Kearsley. If you haven't read her, give her a try. "Quiet" historical romance comfort reads. I highly recommend if you like that kind of book.
Sorry it's taken so long to get the final, full version of Small Town Romance Writers in the Big City up and running here. RWA 2011 (the Romance Writers of America national conference) was so much fun and so crazy-wild, I think I'm still recovering. I'll try to get my write up of the highlights up before next year's conference. No promises.
Making a video at a conference is like herding cats, but we got it done! Note the rabid Mets fan--she is the mother-in-law of Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.com.
If you follow twitter, you know there's a hilarious hashtag starting up: #rwasurvivaltip. My survival tips for the biggest romance writers conference in the country took more than 140 characters, so I thought I'd post them here. If you're going to RWA 2011, you might learn a thing or two. And if you see me at RWA this year in New York City, please stop by and say "hi." Then, whatever I'm doing--do the opposite!
Without further ado, my top five dumbest moments at the RWA conference:
1) When stranger complements my “RITA Finalist” ribbon in elevator, feel superior and mighty. Realize during keynote speech stranger was Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
2) At first ever mass booksigning, think I’m there to sell books. No, I’m there to graciously take photos of Hannah Howell with her fans. Contrary to nasty rumors, I did NOT take the pseudonym Sophie Gunn so I don’t have to sit next to her anymore as Diana Holquist. (I’ll miss ya, Hannah! Come look me up in the G’s!)
3) Forget that RWA tapes all its sessions, and curse like a sailor in my workshop.
4) Am touched and honored when famous-author friend comes to my workshop—as if I could teach HER anything. Also, mortified, as I now realize (too late) that I should have gone to all my friends’ workshops to support them. Duh!
5) So excited can drive to nearby conference. Listen to Victoria Dahl audiobook on way down. Forget it’s on sound system when car breaks down. Puzzled when mechanic returns w/ car saying, “Sorry the test drive took so long. It was at a really dirty part!” Think he’s referring to car engine. Realize when get back onto highway and switch on sound system why repair was free! Thanks, Victoria!
Just got back from the Connecticut Fiction Fest in North Haven, Connecticut. What a great conference! I brought my camera everywhere, but was so busy, I never took a single picture. I know, I know....but hey, I'm a writer, right? So I will create pictures with words.
My Top Five Moments of the Connecticut Fiction Fest:
1) Sitting next to a newbie writer at lunch who had gotten two requests, one from the editor of her dreams and one from a superfamous agent. She was still shaking and couldn't wipe the smile off her face.
2) Kristan Higgins's talk, The Top Ten Mistakes in Characterization. Is she funnier in print or in person? That's a toss-up...
3) Hanging w/ my roomie, Ellen Hartman. Even if she *did* let a certain someone (!) into our hotel room to use the...um...phone. Yeah, whatever. That's my story and I"m sticking to it.
4) The Eloisa James keynote speech. Yes, she tugged a pencil skirt on over her pants to demonstrate why one can try to dress like a Parisian, but will fool no one. A true Parisian, obviously, would have stripped down to her black lingerie and put on the skirt properly. Plus, a true Parisian would never have been up at 8 am...
5) Meeting the brilliant and knowledgeable Terri Brisbin. Holy cow, does this woman
know everything about publishing. (Plus quite a few things about hockey. Who knew?) She's my newest hero.