Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Naked Edge by Pamela Clare

Naked Edge is Pamela Clare’s latest release in her I-Team series, romantic suspense novels featuring the members of a team of investigative reporters at a Denver newspaper. I’ve read one other book in the series, Extreme Exposure, which I enjoyed, but didn’t find extraordinary.

I’m not a big romantic suspense reader. I find that very few achieve a good balance between romance and suspense, and characterization suffers for the sake of action. Even so, the intriguing excerpts on Ms. Clare’s blog tempted me to order Naked Edge. I wasn’t disappointed.

This book is a prime example of an author writing what she knows. Ms. Clare uses her experience as an investigative journalist and her knowledge of Denver’s rock-climbing and skiing community to make her characters three-dimensional and her plot authentic. The heroine, Katherine James, is a member of the I-Team, a Navajo who holds to the spiritual traditions of her people even though she has chosen a future away from the reservation. Those traditions require that she save sex for marriage. Not many authors would take the risk of writing a twenty-six -year -old virgin as a heroine in a contemporary romantic suspense, but I found Kat James to be a completely believable, strong and sympathetic young woman.

The hero, Gabriel Rossiter, is a Boulder Mountain Parks ranger with an adrenaline addiction. Gabe lives for the rush – quick, casual sex, extreme skiing, crazy rock-climbing. Where Kat has deep-rooted spiritual beliefs, Gabe believes in nothing. His faith in life and in people has been shattered, and he is determined not to look beyond the moment.

Gabe and Kat meet when, climbing off-hours, he sees her fall off a mountain trail. He saves her life, and that’s the end of it – until the two become involved in trying to protect Mesa Butte, a piece of sacred Navajo land, from looters who are stealing Native American artifacts. Looters who will kill to protect themselves.
As the danger to Kat heightens, Gabe starts to question his belief that love boils down to pheromones, and she begins to wonder if he isn’t the man she’s been waiting for – her ‘half-side’. In the end, in a life-or-death situation, Gabe shows just how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the woman who has made him re-evaluate himself and his life from the inside out.

It’s that journey that made this book special for me. Gabe evolves from a man who’s easy to dislike – and who loathes himself – to one with immense courage and heart. Kat accepts Gabe for who he is, without betraying her beliefs. The suspense builds relentlessly to the blackest of black moments, and the resolution left me with tears in my eyes. Naked Edge has the same kind of passionate intensity and rich characterization I enjoy in Ms. Clare’s historicals. She’s working on the next I-Team novel now, and I’ll be pre-ordering it when it’s available. This author is quickly becoming an auto-buy for me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Words and Music

Music has always been a big part of my life. My mother tells me that when I was very small I used to sing to myself in bed at night. When I was a little older, I sang in the car. I had a fixation on Johnny Cash when I was about six, and cheerfully belted out Fulsom Prison Blues and Ring of Fire as we drove along. Later I learned to play guitar and fell in love with Celtic music. I enjoy other musical genres as well, but the simple, heartfelt tunes I can play and sing myself are closest to my heart. Luckily for me, Nova Scotia has a wonderfully vibrant music scene.

I suppose it’s inevitable that music has found its way into my writing. Martin Rainnie, the hero of McShannon’s Heart, is a talented fiddler who also sings. He gives up his music when his wife dies in childbirth, but finds the will to play again thanks to his baby daughter and Chelle McShannon. Whenever I think of Martin, I think of this tune, She Moved Through The Fair. It’s a haunting story of lost love.

Some authors I know choose music that suits their characters or settings and play it while they write. I don’t – I think I’d find it too distracting – but I do find that my characters evoke songs. Or is it the other way around? If I could score a movie of McShannon’s Chance, this tune, Shady Grove, would be there somewhere. I think Trey would like it.

One of the secondary characters in Chance is a teenaged girl, Holly Greer, who has aspirations to be a professional singer. I gave Holly this tune to sing at the Wallace Flats concert. It’s an old tune I first heard at the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival about fifteen years ago, called Siuil a Ruin. I’ve heard it done as a slow lament, but I think Holly would sing it with less pathos and more youthful defiance. She needed it. I like this version.
It’s an iffy thing, putting music in fiction, but I couldn’t resist. Do you associate music with fictional characters? Do you listen to tunes while you write? Do they influence your writing?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Revisions, revisions

At the May meeting of Romance writers of Atlantic Canada, Julianne MacLean, author of many beautiful historicals, gave a presentation on revision. Her session gave me several lightbulb moments and took a sizable weight off my shoulders.

I know that many experienced authors have critique partners, and I find feedback from other writers and readers invaluable. That said, I’ve always had this idea in the back of my mind that really talented authors can see most of the weaknesses in their writing for themselves. I’m not talking about technical glitches like grammar, but deeper issues like characterization, POV and plot. When a reader makes suggestions on my writing, I ask myself “Why didn’t I see that?” I found it very reassuring to hear a multi-published author whose books I admire say that she doesn’t always see those things either. As writers, most of us are just too close to our work to see the forest for the trees.

I’ve written before about being a pantser. My natural tendency is to start each writing session by going back over what I wrote the last time and polishing it before moving on. I depend on that process to help me figure out where the story is going next. If there’s something in the MS that bothers me, I can’t go forward until I’ve fixed it. It turns out that Julianne’s process is similar. For me it can lead to painful episodes of being bogged down, but the upside is there’s less work to be done after the first draft, because it isn’t really a first draft.

I’ve tried various revision methods, hoping to become more efficient. I’ve found Holly Lisle’s “one-pass revision” technique useful. It’s explained on her website. In a nutshell, you go through a printed copy of the MS from beginning to end and make notes on the pages, and when you’re done – you’re done. Only I still find myself going back and making more changes. I seem to be hardwired that way.
So, I’ll go with the flow. Write, polish, write a little more. See where the story takes me. Go back and detour. Been there, done that. Should design a T-shirt. But in the end, I get there.

I'll be getting first edits back on Heart before too long, so Julianne's workshop came at the perfect time for me. I'll go through the MS again, and keep in mind that just because I didn't see all the flaws for myself doesn't mean I can't write. It'll be a better story, and that's what it's all about.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Just popping in to wish a happy Mother’s Day to all who act as mothers in any capacity.

The older I get, the more appreciation I gain for my own mother. I’m truly blessed in that my relationship with her and my father has always been a positive one.

I’ve heard it said that the best thing parents can do for their children is to love each other. My parents have done that for 52 years. I can honestly say that I have never heard them fight. My father is sensitive, quick-tempered and rather intense, while Mom is naturally upbeat and easy-going, good at defusing disagreements before harsh words are spoken and at asserting herself when necessary. They complement each other well. As parents, they knew how to set limits and instil values with love when my brother and I were growing up.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. Today, and always.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Review: Highland Rebel by Judith James

Highland Rebel is the first book I’ve read by Judith James, who is a fellow member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. For the past few months I’ve been reading very little as I focused on finishing Heart, but I dove into Judith’s story on the weekend and returned feeling as if I’d been time-traveling.

Set in turbulent 17th-century England and Scotland, Highland Rebel tells the story of Jamie Sinclair, the unwanted bastard son of an English nobleman, and Catherine (Cat) Drummond, daughter of a Scottish clan chieftain, a woman who is used to taking her place among men, even in war. Jamie rescues Cat when she is captured in battle and marries her to save her life, but the marriage is highly inconvenient, not to say disastrous, for both.

Jamie needs to marry a woman with wealth and the right connections to escape from the mountain of debts left him by his father. Cat feels a strong responsibility to her people, and her relatives are furious over her marriage to an enemy. They want Jamie dead. Eventually the unlikely newlyweds strike a bargain: To serve both their ends they will appear as a happily married couple for a time, then get a divorce. Only, as time goes on, parting becomes less and less attractive as an option.

Cat Drummond is one of the most original heroines I’ve ever come across in romantic literature. She is strong, even fierce, without being shrill or strident. She smuggles Jamie away and nurses him back to health after he’s beaten within an inch of his life by her family, but she doesn’t hesitate to have him knocked on the head, bound and shipped back to London once he’s well enough. Cat is nobody’s fool. Her reaction to London and the English court, with its vicious gossip, adultery and political intrigue, really shows her character. Disguised as a boy, she follows Jamie into the intellectually vibrant coffee shops of the city and finds them exhilarating. Jamie is a complex character as well, and his relationship with Cat progresses from hostility to a complicated friendship to love in a completely realistic manner.

This book drew me in with its wealth of historical detail, fast-paced plot and the emotional and sexual tension between Jamie and Cat. I’d recommend it to any reader who likes meaty, detailed historical romance.