Sunday, January 29, 2017

The enormous appeal of romance novels - why we love them

I'm giving a talk in a library in a few months on the appeal of romance novels so have been thinking a bit about it.
Everyone no doubt has a different reason for why they like a good romance. Just as those who read thrillers like the anticipation and the ride of the journey, those who read romance novels are effectively, I think, reading a story that ends in a better world than the one it started out with: the reader promise or reader expectation, as they say. It has to have a happy-ever-after but within that, there are a number of elements that make a romance such a great read, and that actually tie in
Cover photo of upcoming story "Belinda's Valentine"
with real life.
For a start, experiences change us. Whoever we meet, whatever we do, we're often influenced, and that's just the way it is, and is generally a good thing. Generally,  a good thing.
Relationships, whatever they are, are the essence, if you like, of being human. Helping, loving, serving, mentoring, parenting, caring... and in a romance, there's more to it than just the two people. More elements to life that come into the story whether it be the single mum getting through life with her children (one of my favourite themes) or the CEO facing corporate problems with widespread effects, or those military themes - there can be a ton at stake in the wider world, there. There are always other relationships going on, and as people, as humans, that interests us.
Some years back I heard a talk from a bookstore owner on the appeal of the genre and she said that they were 'empowering' books. Now, that sounds like a very 70s term (or 60s, or 80s?), but it made so much sense to me. I thought about reading in my early teens, reading stories of young women starting off in life, moving out of home, going flatting, getting jobs, being independent, managing their own money, making their own important decisions, and those books had huge appeal for me. Generally there was some sort of love-interest going on, as happens in life, but they were stories that made you think of all the possibilities out there, how life could be, how challenging it could be, and how you would deal with those problems when they came up, but also how exciting it all was, getting to be a grown-up. Romance novels, while they are about the romance, are also about the individual on the cusp of a new life - a new adventure in life. It's more than coming of age, too, because the older you get, the more you realise... we are constantly, coming of age. At what age, are we meant to have magically arrived? Oh gosh, that's a whole other blog post right there.
I think it was Nora Roberts who once called her books "relationship" books. They're all about the people. Often it's the relationships surrounding the couple that are hugely important - the single mum with children and a dodgy ex, for example - where it lends itself to all the different themes - getting over past hurts, forgiveness, redemption, all that heavy stuff.
And it's all great stuff.
I'm pretty sure I'll be thinking a lot more about all this over the next few months!

Friday, January 20, 2017

DIY Home Improvement and the floorboards

I am so not a DIY home-improvement, get-excited-over-renovation kind of person. I fully think that any couple who are even CONSIDERING renovating, especially if one of them is anal a bit fussy, should have a marriage guidance counsellor on tap. This stuff is rough. I also don't much care for it when, of course, I could be writing a book and doing legitimate things, like making stuff up.
But there are times when wielding a crowbar, a rusty hammer (cos I never put tools away correctly), the (now munted) screwdriver, and copious breaks to make instant coffee and check the web (like now), are a necessity.
It has taken me  the fam - no,  it has taken ME, I'm the one who goes down to Bunnings to stick the stuff on the credit card - two years but finally, the last of the rooms is soon-ish about to be polly-ed. IE polyurethaned.
This would be the carpet gripper.

Fortunately, one of the fam doesn't mind polyurethaning and actually takes quite a bit of pride in it, and so being as I am on a budget (who am I kidding? Budget? There is no such thing when you do renos it is just DEBT), and he does such an amazing job, finally, there'll be another nice room, ridded of manky carpet and with the glorious matai floorboards exposed.
There are however downsides to floorboards.
One is the noise. You can hear everything. You don't realize how much carpet mutes the sound until you don't have any.
And two... well, actually that's about it. I pretty much like everything about the floorboards, and even in winter when carpet would be warmer, well, it's not like we live in Dunedin where its freezing.  But even the noise can be okay, like the racket the cat makes racing up and down the hall. Dear kitty kat, you think.
On another plus side, there have been no injuries in the process so far. No flying tacks, no treading on dodgy nails, agonizing splinters and the like, and once I'd got into the groove of ripping up the carpet gripper (after YouTube videoing to find the best way and improvise cos I didn't have all the tools) it was quite relaxing. True, the flat-blade screwdriver will never be much use as a screwdriver ever again, but there's another one... somewhere... I hope think.
But the sanding will begin soon and there is something incredible about watching the floorboards become so smooth you can't stop touching them, and then the polly-ing. And then you just stare at the floor and it's almost a shame you have to go and put furniture back in there and cover it up, and you think, why didn't we do this years ago?
But that is a wee way off yet.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The "C" word, chickpeas, and a yummy recipe that did not fail

The longer I have chickens (the half dozen that reside in my back yard) the harder it is to write that ingredient in shopping lists or recipes. It  feels very, very wrong, and I know it's only a matter of time before that white meat will disappear from the diet altogether.
But it hasn't, not just yet, and the other night I did a rare culinary creation of some magnificence. Essentially it was this:
Stir Fry (with vegetables and the "c word) and Chick Peas (or Gabanzo Beans)
Roasted Chickpeas - pretty tasty and good!
I stir fried the "c" word with vegetables - we had broccoli, carrot, red onion and I added in some frozen vegetables as well - some green beans, and the diced corn, carrot and pea mixture you get.
Next, I mixed it all up with fairly decent amounts of lemon juice, salt and pepper. 
The second bit was the chickpeas. I'd seen for a while how you can roast chickpeas in the oven to make a snack, kind of in lieu of nuts I guess. You just take the canned, drained, rinsed chickpeas (I used two cans, just of basic, cheap ones) and coat them in spices (I used paprika and cumin; am not a fan of too much heat), and you then roast (I used a few splatters of oil) for half an hour or so around 200 degrees.
So, I thought, why not do the chickpeas as a side dish for the stirfry, instead of rice or noodles or pasta?
And so I did, and honestly? It was pretty good. There was a nice lemon flavour to the stirfry, and that
lemony goodness provided some of the "sauce", if you like,  otherwise it would have been pretty dry. But the real flavour was with the chickpeas and best of all? It wasn't carb-tastic.  The chick peas did well in place of pasta or rice or noodles.
If you don't eat meat, tofu would go well in place of the "c" word. Way cheaper, too, and actually, I would suggest, the whole thing is possibly even good for you.
Give it a try and if you do, let me know how it goes. 
I may do a tofu next week and report back.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Jane Austen, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, Tolkien and the Luminaries

In a nutshell, I have not read Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter, The Luminaries, Lord of the Rings or Fifty Shades of Grey. (That's a pretty spectacular list, I must say.) This post was originally written for a different blog but being that "content re-purposing" is the in thing, I present it here. 

A friend was reading some fiction I’d written the other day and after telling me what she did like about it, commented, “But you’re no Jane Austen.”
I believe this is the book she was reading.

I once read a Jane Austen.  It was Emma. It was read under duress at university. I consider myself a person of not massively low intelligence, but it took three reads to get my head around it. Interestingly, that paper was not only my first and only complete Jane Austen experience, but my first and only experience of analysing English literature. I did get an A but not without suffering a degree of depression as a result. Yes, I gained an appreciation for some things (Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnets, oh my gosh!) but analysing Emily Dickinson was enough to sap the will to live right out of me. Fortuitously, at the end of that semester, I watched the movie Stargate on TV,  and promptly un-enrolled myself from Shakespeare, signed up for Egyptology, and all became well again. The literature of Egypt's Middle Kingdom? Now, that I could get into.

It would be dishonest to say I never tried to read Jane Austen again. I have read the first page of “Pride and Prejudice” many, many times, and the second page a few less. I believe one year I may even have finished the first half of chapter one. Another time I got "Northanger Abbey" out of the library and looked at the cover for quite a while. I can’t recall actually opening it, but that’s not to say I didn’t.

But it got me thinking about those books that are acclaimed either for their literary merit or their popularity, and the ones I've never read. All the other Jane Austens, of course, but what else comes to mind?

Harry Potter 
I did start the first one, but when Harry arrived at Hogwarts, it lost me. I have actually vowed on many occasions to read them all but since the first book came out in 1997, it's looking unlikely unless I’m in prison or somewhere with nothing else to do.

The Luminaries 
I feel I should run away and hide for a few months after admitting this but the truth is, I will never read it. I did read the first six pages or so but the thought of making my way through it all when I can barely make it to the end of a 70,000 word romantic comedy… No. I feel no guilt over this either because Ms Catton doesn’t need me to like it.

Fifty Shades of Grey
I once gave a talk related to romance publishing and got asked what I thought of the trilogy and when I said I hadn’t read them, it felt a bit like when people used to say 'I read Playboy for the articles'. Like I was lying, or something. A lot of the criticism over the books seems to be due to the writing-style, and given that I’m no Jane Austen, I  must assume E.L. James isn't either and we thus have a bit in common.  But then I tend to read more on the sweet and light side, and I don’t believe Christian Grey is at all about sweetness and light. Or maybe he is… I mean, how would I even know unless I go and read for myself? Oh, the quandary... But then there is, of course, the movie... Hmmm.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
Many’s the time I’ve driven through Matamata and thought, “I must read Tolkien.” Many’s the time when in Wellington I’ve spotted the Embassy Theatre and thought the same thing. Many’s the time I have picked up an actual Tolkien book, opened it, and thought, "I’m going to finally read this genius and see what all the fuss is about."  Every time I have gently closed it, placed it reverently back on the shelf - and reached for Bridget Jones instead.
Bridget Jones is so good , you forget to eat the chocolate anyway..

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Being sick, losing weight

No, I am not sick, but I have been reading Debbie Macomber's latest book "Twelve Days of Christmas" and there's a great bit where the heroine is sick.
She, Julia, has the flu, and the hero is in her apartment helping her.
He asks what he can do for her, and she says "Can you help me to the bathroom?".... whereupon she asks him to pull out the scale. (Or as we say in NZ, the scales.)

"The scale?" he repeats.
She looked at him knowing she was pitiful. 'I want to weigh
myself and see how much weight I've lost."

I did not know that was a thing that other people except me even did.
But it gets better.

Julia weighs herself and says, "Five pounds."
He says, "You weigh five pounds?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I lost five pounds."

"Is that good?"
To which she replies, "Of course. It's everything."
Written by a woman who surely knows the madness of the battle.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fare-thee-well Santa Bears, et al

A week, almost, into 2017.
Eiphany is upon us which means - time to take the decorations and the tree down, pack the santa bears away, and hope all the excess chocolates have well and truly gone.
(Please let all the chocolate be gone so the recovery process can begin...)

Over the new year, I've been planning my writing out for the next twelve months. Always subject to change and actually always does change. But as it stands....
Book Two in the Frazier Bay series is being written. I had toyed with the idea of making all the people related, with family trees and all that stuff, but in the end thought, nope, its about the town, its about the setting of Frazier Bay. Interestingly, the first time I wrote about Frazier Bay was as a short story which won a competition and years later I thought, hmmm. This would make a great place to set a novel.
I also have book three of the Clearlake County series in the pipeline. Quite excited about that; introducing new characters but also bringing in some of the people from the previous books.
And all going well, there will be Michelle's story,  Michelle from Dating Daisy. She was a fun and kind of crazy girl so that will be a bit of a hoot to plan out and write.
There are some neat promotional opportunities I'll be part of coming up, so if you haven't already signed up for my newsletter to hear about them in good time, please do so. Newsletter sign up link.
I've also decided (just this week, actually) to take the Instagram plunge because why not? Its not a bad way to pass the time on the bus to and from work, scrolling through other people's gorgeousness, and it has to be far better than scrolling through the news websites, which one tends to do a lot and then pretty much regrets. Not that I'm likely to post anything amazing to Instagram. How many pictures of the chickens and the cat can you take, anyway? Actually, dozens I imagine. Or things like a pic of my all time favourite Christmas tree decorations, still, amazingly (you have no idea how amazing it really is) in their box. And all twelve of them are still there, neither lost nor broken. A Christmas miracle indeed.
Enjoy taking the tree and those decorations down... until ..... Christmas!!

Two Free Books

I have a couple of books that are going for free on Amazon over the next few days, until the end of March, I think. The link is HERE . ...