Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book 42 - Broken

After three weeks of vacation, I should be way past the halfway mark of my 100 Books in 2010 challenge, right?

Not even close.

I've not hidden my affection for Kelley Armstrong. Ever since Bitten, I've been obsessed with Armstrong's skill, her characters, her plotting. I figured Broken, the sixth book in the Women of the Underworld series, would be a sure bet.

Sadly, it took me three weeks to read it - and I was on holidays! You know, the time when you ought to be able to kick back with a good book and a cold drink. In theory, I should have been able to plow through at least ten novels.

To be fair, it wasn't the author's fault. While Broken lacked the rapid pacing I've come to expect from Armstrong, the premise was brilliant, and the characters familiar - and endearing. I couldn't wait to revisit Elena, the werewolf and her sexy mate, Clay. To sweeten the deal, the plot involved time portals - and Jack the Ripper.

Like so many people, I've always been fascinated with the Ripper files - so to experience this history with a supernatural bent? Heaven.


Elena is pregnant and of course the pack is encouraging her to be cautious - which meant she wasn't as feisty as she was in Bitten. And Clay, while still brooding and smoldering, failed to excite me. The steamy scenes were lukewarm. And parts of the book dragged thanks to a weak supporting cast. (It almost hurts to type that.)

All that said, I'll read the next Armstrong book because despite my nit pickiness with Broken, Armstrong's mastery of the craft is well above many of the novels on the shelves today.

Thanks to Jamie and Sue, I have two Nora Roberts books burning a hole in my TBR pile - but I suspect it won't be either of them I pick up next. (Eep!) The third book in Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series has glued to my hip for almost two weeks, spine begging to be cracked. A girl's only got so much willpower, you know?

Monday, August 30, 2010

More vampire aMUSEment

I admit, I have a thing for vampires.

At least the ones on TV. Specifically, Damon from Vampire Diaries - and Eric off of True Blood. (Edward's too sparkly pretty for me - I prefer the bad boys.)

My obsession casual interest in these two fanged hotties isn't entirely frivolous. As last week's muse, Damon truly stepped up to the plate. Despite my laptop completely dying, I finished a record number of revisions on ABSOLUTION, reviewed several chapters for my crit partner and roughed out plot outlines for two NEW projects. (Rocky and Kyle, please stop rolling your eyes...)
In fact, Damon was such a perfect muse avatar, I considered keeping him for one more week.

But after death threats from rabid fans playing catch-up and watching three episodes of True Blood in a row last night (Thanks, Karen!), it's Eric FTW. (Admit it, you're ALSO on Team Eric, no?)

Admittedly, Eric's got a much tougher job than Damon had last week. I'm back at the day job after three weeks off and as always, there's a lot on my plate. I'm excited about how several of my projects are shaping up - including the completed first draft of a fun and fabulous kid's story about canola - and I need Eric in top shape if I want to keep up this crazy momentum.

Based on some of the footage I saw on True Blood last night, I'd say Eric's form is pretty damn tip top.

The Book In My Bag Today: Broken, Kelley Armstrong

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A little late aMUSEment

I'm counting down the days (minutes?) until Vampire Diaries starts again. I'd love to be noble and suggest my obsession has to do with the fact that my stepdaughter and I watch each episode religiously (bonding) or that the script is so well written that I have no choice but to absorb its genius.

But I know better than to try and pull the wool over my eyes - or yours.

It's true I have grown to love the story line, and have forgiven the show's slight cheese factor. But I'm mostly watching the calendar because of Ian Somerhalder.

He's been my muse before, but for me, he's worthy of a repeat performance. In truth, I could use him for a lot more than a writing muse.

Since returning from holidays, I haven't been blogging. I haven't been dancing. And I certainly haven't been writing. I could start spouting off excuses, but really, it's a matter of getting back into the groove after vacation. Well, that and my laptop dying, making writing and blogging virtually impossible.

I know it's asking a lot since he's probably busy preparing for another awesome season of Vampire Diaries, but I'm hopeful Ian will take these next few days to give me the strength to plow through on writing and edits. I have some beta reading to catch up on. A book to finish. Reading to enjoy. Blogs to become reacquainted with. And hopefully, some dancing to get me back in the creative flow.

If anyone can get me out of this funk, it's Ian. Even if MUSE MONDAY happens on Wednesday this week.

The Book In My Bag Today: Broken, Kelley Armstrong

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book 41 - Ink Exchange

Melissa Marr is brilliant.

I'm just throwing that out there.

I suspected this after reading Wicked Lovely, the first in her dark faery YA series, but it was reenforced (tenfold) in Ink Exchange.

More than just a wonderful plot, Marr gives readers incredible visuals that not only evoke intense (dark) emotion, but also explode with sensory detail. Ink Exchange is all about taste - and every page left me starving for more.

Leslie is living a rough life, slave to her delinquent and dangerous brother and dismissed by her absent father. She hides her secrets and shame beneath false bravado, surviving by pushing forward, working towards a brighter future. Part of that transformation for her means getting inked.

But when Leslie selects her tattoo, she is pulled into a very dark - and sensual - faery underworld.

Two faeries have chosen her, each with their own grip on her mortality. And their attention changes Leslie's life forever. Her senses, once numb, are awakened. She is filled with unexplained longing and can taste - yes, taste - every emotion. The salty brine of anger, the sweet cinnamon flavour of jealousy.

Marr's use of sensory detail is second only (in my opinion) to Patrick Suskind's Perfume, where scent is explored with immaculate (and jealousy-inspiring) precision.

As with Wicked Lovely, Marr has created a strong female protagonist. I loved her.

Strangely, I also grew to love each of Leslie's potential suitors - so much so my heart ached wondering how she would ever choose.

Ink Exchange is beautifully written and wonderfully paced. I'm now on the hunt for the third book in this series. And Melissa Marr has securely planted herself among my list of favourite authors.

The Book In My Bag Today: Broken, Kelley Armstrong

Monday, August 16, 2010

Like sands through the hour glass...

I've been watching Days of Our Lives for a long time, friends. Not consistently, of course. 

What started as as an after elementary school tradition with my Nona (grandma) became a slight obsession in high school, and then tapered off during the University period of my life. 

For the last ten years, I've mostly watched it while home sick from work or on holidays. In true soap opera form, the story line is easy to follow so missing a few months, or years, inbetween episodes isn't a big deal. (As long as I see Bo Brady every time I watch the show, I'm good...)

But now that I've got a PVR, it seems my Days obsession has resurfaced - with a vengeance. I'm on the last day of holidays with handsome hubby and by the time we get home tonight, I should have just over a week's worth of Days recorded. Oh, how easily I am sucked back in.

I'd be lying if I said it's been a productive holiday. I haven't written a word, truly, since we got in the car nine days ago. Hubby and I celebrated our anniversary, and spent much-needed time with family. (Nona and I even had a brief conversation about Days...she's still a fan...)

But tomorrow, it's back to reality and I'm geared up to make writing the focal point of my world. I'm in need of a super amazing muse avatar.

Jason Brooks should do the trick.

Don't have a clue who he is? Don't feel bad - only a true Days buff would remember him. He portrayed (briefly) Peter Black and was married to Jennifer Horton.

I actually had to look that last part up because the reasons he is so memorable to me have nothing to do with his role on the show. While working an internship at the Calgary Sun, I was asked to interview Jason Brooks for a very small article about his visit to the Calgary Car Show. What was supposed to be a ten-minute interview turned into two hours of chit chat, netting me a lot more material than the three inches my editor allotted for the story.

So I wrote a longer piece - and freelanced it to Soap Opera Weekly magazine. Jason Brooks' picture graced the front cover of that issue and my article was the centerfold (and feature) piece. More importantly, it marked my first official PAID freelance article. The editor gave me a cheque for $1,000 (U.S) and a promise of more work in the future.

That never panned out (few soap stars made it to Alberta), but I'll never forget the thrill of my first official sale. 

Writing has never been about the money for me, but just thinking about that article reminded me of the dedication I once committed to making a career out of what I love to do. Jason's role of muse avatar this week will be to inject some of that inspiration back. 

The Book In My Bag Today: Broken, Kelley Armstrong

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The day I married my prince

One year ago today I married my best friend, the one I laugh with, the one I live for, the one I love.

Happy anniversary, Jeff.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dancing to a different (heart) beat

I woke up this morning feeling like a fraud and it caused my heart to stutter.

Over the past few weeks, emails have flooded my inbox regarding my dance journey. What began as a friendly challenge to get fit, cure writer's block and tap into a different kind of creative energy has morphed into something bigger, something more intimate than I ever imagined possible.

And to be truthful, it's overwhelming.

Of the hundreds (thank you!) of emails, many people have expressed gratitude for inspiring them to step outside of their comfort zones. And a larger contingent have congratulated me on my courage.

I didn't feel very brave last night.

J'Adore Dance cultivates a safe, inspirational and fun place to learn. Women (and the occasional guy) of all shapes and sizes can sweat it out on the dance floor, without fear of being judged. The writer in me can't help but observe the various commitment levels of my dancing peers - the women who flail their arms with abandon, the girls who hold back, the dancers who feel the beat, and those of us who are reminded weekly of our two left feet.

Everyone is not watching me. But I am - and sometimes, I can't get past that image in the mirror. The frumpier, uncoordinated Dawn.

Last night was one of those nights.

An hour before the first of two classes, I sat at my kitchen table mediating a conversation between the angel and devil on each of my shoulders.

Tell Jessica you had to work late.
No, that would be lying and you respect her too much for that.

Tell her you don't have the energy to try Old School Hip Hop.
But you made a commitment.

Pretend you lost track of time.
And then that's all you'll think about all night. Why put yourself through that?

In the end, the angel won - but not with a clear victory. En route to class, I got caught in a traffic jam and considered turning around. As the clock ticked closer to start time, I worried I wouldn't make it there before someone slipped into my coveted back-row spot. And just when the devil on my shoulder had given me one more excuse to just go home, I called Sue and asked her to talk me through my fears.

If you've read my dance posts then you know this: I always have fun. I love being surrounded by inspirational women, and instructors who are committed to helping me grow as a dancer, but also as a person. And selfishly, I've enjoyed reconnecting with Jessica, and can't help but be proud of the life she has built for herself by following her passion, chasing that dream.

And yet, every morning, I wake with a bubble of insecurity. As the day progresses, that bubble expands, sometimes into anticipation and excitement, but often with fear. Most days I can quash it, remind myself that this journey I'm on is helping me in so many ways. But last night, that bubble grew until it almost choked me with dread.

Jessica often asks us at the end of class to focus on the one thing we did well - and forget the rest. Last night, I focussed on surviving. (If that sounds dramatic, join me next session...)

Old School Fit Hop is hard. Jessica choreographed a routine that was like interval training. Instead of weights, we did the Roger Rabbit, and the Running Man, and criss-crossed to Ice Ice Baby. (Do you remember Vanilla Ice?) I loved the music, and even rejoiced in learning some of the steps. But for some reason, the bubble in my chest never truly went away and by the time we finished class, hot and sweaty and gasping for air, I considered going home instead of pushing through Naughty Hotties.

But there was Jessica, with her pep talk and brilliant smile, listening while I lamented about a crappy, emotional day. She did not judge when I said my breakfast, lunch and dinner consisted of pizza. And she didn't flinch when I confessed to going home after Salsa Burn and eating a bowl of ice cream. How could I not stay?

EROTICA didn't make an appearance at Naughty Hotties. Though the Lady Marmalade chair dance is absolutely fun - and sexy if you understand the concepts - it was definitely ME struggling through those steps and insecurities. The mirrors felt stifling, and my alter ego never came out of hiding. I worried about breaking the chair, or falling on my ass, or, as always, looking ridiculous and definitely unsexy. Feelings I never actually shook.

I'm leaving for holidays tonight, which means missing a whole week of dance. There's a piece of me that is saddened. But there's this other piece that is a bit relieved. I'm going to Christina Lake, where there are trails for me to hike, a massive body of water for me to swim, and a path I love to run. These fitness activities are familiar to me. I know the mechanics of running and have been swimming Christina Lake since I was a kid. For a few days, I'll be in my comfort zone and I admit I'm looking forward to it.

Don't get me wrong - I'll jump right back into dance the week I return.

Because I've made a commitment to this, and because in honesty, I can see the difference. My body feels stronger and leaner, more energized. But more than that, so does my mind. My most recent pages have been crisp and well crafted. Ideas are flowing and I don't dread that blank screen. Dancing has helped re-open that creative gate when other tactics have failed. I can't quit. Not now.

I owe it to myself to complete this journey.

The Book In My Bag Today: Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Somebody call 911, this shorty's burning on the dance floor

Envision this...

You're home from work, looking for a little R&R. You grab yourself a beer, strip down to your bra and undies. No one's home, so you crank the music - maybe a little Miley Cyrus since your hubby's not around to give you a hard time. Next thing you know, you're sliding across the floor like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. You know you look ridiculous but that's ok, because you're dancing in your living room. Alone.

And then WHAM!

A giant spotlight descends upon you and you're on a massive stage surrounded by dancers - REAL dancers - as though you're slam dunk in the middle of a broadway show. Maybe its Chicago or Rent, but all you know is you're not in your comfort zone anymore and you left your ruby red slippers by the back door.

Your heart races until you see your first familiar face. Hey, it's KASHA, Salsa Burn instructor extraordinaire. And there's MEL, ready to remind you how to shake those hips like Shakira. You inhale your first breath. It's ok, you tell yourself. You're at J'adore Dance - a safe zone. And look! JESSICA, the original Naughty Hottie is also joining the class. Oh wow, and LIESA, too. You've never taken one of her classes before. This should be fun you tell SUE. (SUE fixes you with a murderous glare...)

But wait! There's more. Is that...?

No. It couldn't be.

But it is.

MEAGHAN is here?

You pinch yourself but she has not disappeared.

YOU: *mouth goes dry* I'm so excited to see you!
FORMER CRUSH CHEERLEADER M: I'm reading your blog. I thought I'd come see first hand.

The splotlight hones in on you in your underwear ratty t-shirt and sweats and highlights the perspiration already dripping from your forehead. MEAGHAN and JESSICA are whispering... They're talking about Vlogs, and new challenges for you, and you're just trying to ignore it all and figure out what. the. heck. KASHA is demonstrating. New steps. She knows how you hate them. It's only now, after four weeks, you've learned the difference between the Cha Cha and the Salsa - and now, here you are doing the mash potato, and the twist...

SUE: Looks like a good day for an exorcism.
YOU: *watching MEAGHAN'S hips circle with no warm-up at all* I agree.

Maybe it's lack of sleep from the previous night, or the sudden realization that you're surrounded by so much dance talent, but you're starting to get disoriented. Your dance GPS feels a little off kilter, your Meringue is flopping - your face has even taken on SUE's murderous glare.

Deep breathes.

You remind yourself that Salsa Burn is hard. That KASHA is supposed to work your butt off (it's not that she's mean, even though you're cursing her name today.) Beside you, BLAM PAM is dancing her heart out, and NATALICIOUS is working it in the front row (traitor!). To your left, SUE is dancing, too.

So you suck it up. And you dance.

And sweat.

You keep moving even when the steps feel foreign. You continue waving your arms in the air, careful not to smack BLAM PAM in the face, or SUE in the head. You sweat through MEL's Shakira routine, and giggle your way through KASHA's mash potato choreography (fun!). And you even grunt through JESSICA's grueling abdominal / butt workout, careful to keep your curses to a mutter in case she booty pops you into submission.

On the way home, you plot with SUE. And when safely in your living room, you strip out of your sweaty "dance" attire, pat yourself on the back and crack a beer.

No doubt about it - another week of Salsa Burn has kicked your butt.

The Book In My Bag Today: Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr

Monday, August 2, 2010

An aMUSEing likeness

Like many writers I know, I fantasize about my books becoming movies. Yes, I understand the odds are even slimmer than actual publishing statistics but as my former teacher used to say: Dream big or go home.

Over the years I've juggled dozens of potential actors for various characters in my novels. Like Robert DeNiro as Nico (ha!) and Angelina Jolie for...well, actually, I think she's been cast in several roles, including muse avatar. (I totally want to be Lara Croft...)

Often I'll see a new actor and recast the character's role in my book, not changing physical characteristics but rather envisioning how that particular performer would mold themselves to fit the profile of the character I've written. Dream big, remember?

But ever since I started writing Absolution (and let's not go into that, shall we?) I've truly considered only one actor for the role: Paul Bettany.

I first fell in love with Paul in A Knight's Tale, where he played a mighty funny - and sexy - Chaucer. I've watched the movie more than a dozen times and always swoon. It's a combination of his voice and his face - and a certain kind of swagger I'm at a loss for words to describe.

I immediately pegged him for Mario - one of Absolution's truly evil characters. In the first two drafts of the novel, Mario played a small-ish part. But over the years, his role has grown substantially. He's handsome and smart, a bit sarcastic, and definitely obsessive. Mario is also deeply troubled, unable to shake his tragic past.

I considered taking Paul off duty - and even briefly (gasp) replaced him with Ian Somerhalder. But despite my (cough) huge celebrity crush on Ian, he isn't the right muse avatar for Mario. The scenes I did revise while on a brief (I swear!) Paul hiatus feel flat. The voice doesn't sound right. Something's missing.

Paul is missing.

I'm on the home stretch of the revisions for Absolution and it's the Mario scenes that require the most work. With that in mind, it seems logical - even destined - that Paul Bettany should reacquaint himself with his duties as muse avatar this week.

And perhaps I'll start the day off by watching A Knight's Tale. Strictly for research purposes, of course.

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead Sea, Brian Keene