Sunday, February 10, 2013

For the Love of Chocolate

Everyone knows that chocolate is the stuff of Gods--that it's an aphrodisiac, and all that. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm not revealing anything new here.

What I *am* interested in, is digging just a little deeper to find the romance of chocolate. In other words, uncovering (or revisiting) some of the stories that feature the more mystical, magical, and romantical (yes, it's a made-up word) side of chocolate, along with it's sexy side.

Let's start with a few of my favorite books and films. Lunch in Paris: a Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard not only combines my adoration of chocolate with Paris, and most all things French, but it's her unexpected love affair with her husband, as well as with life in France and French cooking. The first chapter is a delight, in which she recounts how she meets said husband as a new expat in Paris, and--here comes "sexy"---sleeps with him on their first date, which I believe was lunch! Then it goes on to talk about one of their favorite restaurants, and how she discovered a Death by Chocolate dessert there.  And then, Voila--it ends with the recipe, along with every subsequent chapter. Even more splendid, she also has a matching blog in which she shares more delectable recipes and stories.

Now, who can forget Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel? I believe it was the little hens or quail with rose petals and chocolate that had the whole family weeping in that story. The film Chocolat, well that's self-explanatory. Of course Juliet Binoche and Johnny Depp hook up, but there's also the way the Mexican spiced chocolate touches Judi Dench's soul, and the way Alfred Molina succumbs to his own desire for the stuff and collapses in the shop window after an overdose, that make the film more meaningful.

I'm not just talking out of school, here; I don't need to rely solely on the magic of publishing and filmmaking to understand how romantic chocolate is. My husband and I were already engaged when I baked him a chocolate cake for his birthday.  But this cake was special, because we were living on opposite coasts at the time. I doctored the recipe from The Forrest Gump chocolate cookbook to include even more chocolate than originally called for.  I baked it in a metalic pan, and, along with a few pieces of mail, the box weighed eight pounds. I shipped it next day air. Now, we were already engaged, but I'm convinced this helped seal the deal.

About 7 years ago, he returned the favor by learning to bake  a sinfully delicious triple-layer chocolate truffle cake from scratch. I demand it each year for my birthday. And some other odd times during the year.

Now, I'm not one to kiss and tell, but I haven't forgotten about the sexy side of things here. Let's just say that chocolate body paint is a lot of fun!

So, if for some unknown reason you find yourself dwelling on chocolate this week---oh, wait, is there some pagan holiday coming up?---I say think outside the heart-shaped boxes, even the ones with cheap jewelry nestled inside. Think sexy and sweet, and find your own brand of romance. But most of all, don't just limit your love for each other--and for chocolate---to one day a year. Chocolate, like love, should be experienced 365 days a year, at least for a romance writer!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Look of Love

Today, I am finally understanding a little bit better why one writing teacher of mine insisted that physical descriptions aren't necessary. I, along with others in the workshop, argued vigorously to the contrary. I mean, really, did we expect our readers to invest in these faceless blobs of characters? I, for one, needed to be able to visualize who I was reading about, and as a writer, I'd do no less for my readers.

I did see over time, how physical descriptions can be a hindrance as in the case of the Lifetime film made of Nora Roberts' Northern Lights. Nate Burke and Meg Galloway,the bush pilot he falls in love with, are drawn by Roberts very distinctly. He is rugged, and a bit worn; she has some quirky features; neither one is classically gorgeous.  When it came time for Lifetime to cast the movie, they chose Leann Rimes (not really an actress as far as I was concerned) and Eddie Cibrian. Two pretty people who were hot items in Hollywood at the time. From what I understand, the movie, along with the rest of the series of Roberts novels they broadcast that year, was a huge success. I'm sure Lifetime and Roberts both enjoyed the ratings and returns.  Rimes and Cibrian made the affair they started on set legitimate by getting married.  All's well that ends well. But the characters in Northern Lights were too well-defined in my mind.  I just couldn't buy their relationship with these Hollywood types playing the parts.  I'm not saying they should have gone with complete unknowns. I was thinking more along the lines of Cibrian's co-star in the TV series Invasion William Fichtner for the role of Nate Burke, and a much more Ali McGraw-looking actress like Selma Blair for the Meg Galloway. I'm not at all saying that Selma is not beautiful, but she does have a unique kind of beauty----and she's not blonde.  Now before you all label me as a hater of blondes (the heroine in my first romance novel is blonde!) just pick up a copy of Northern Lights and you'll see what I'm talking about. Meg Galloway is not blonde and she's not meant to be, as far as I'm concerned.  But I guess Nora is happy, and Lifetime is happy.

And here I am today, working on a short story (which may very well become a novella by the time I'm finished), in which it's so important to me that readers of all physical types be able to identify with my heroine. It is a story of her vulnerability, and how her desire becomes desperation and obsession. I want any woman to be able to identify with her. I've been very careful to describe her in general terms of features and body type.  But I don't want to limit the reader's ability to relate to her by casting her as a certain race or ethnic type.  Am I making a mistake? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I think my writing teacher may have been on to something.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Love is in the Air

On January 2, 2013, at 2:02 am, a Romance Writer was born.  I finished my very first romance novel. And it came about in the most unexpected way.  Well, not the writing of it----that part, the sitting my butt down and sweating it out from the first timid paragraph, through the last triumphant sentence of the epilogue, was pretty normal.

What wasn't normal at all was the way I was feeling by the time Christmas hit this year.  As writers, we've had our disappointments and rejections.  But I aimed for the stars with a recent submission, and crashed directly back down to earth.  It was a huge disappointment.

A little over a week ago, a friend forwarded some information to me about a publisher she had worked with. She had done some ghostwriting for them, and they liked her work, so they asked her to submit a book proposal of her own, and her nonfiction book is now for sale on Amazon.

I was actually thinking she was going to help procure some ghostwriting work with the publisher, and that I might follow a similar path. But when I clicked on the link to their website, there was nothing on it about ghostwriting for them.  So I emailed her again for clarification. She responded that her ghostwriting gig had dried up long ago, but that I should definitely submit a book proposal of my own.

Their romance imprint caught my eye, and I'd been working on my first romance novel for about a year.  So, I queried, and lo and behold, they wanted to read it! I wasn't expecting to hear back from them for several weeks, in which time I had been planning to finish the manuscript and be at the ready in case they were interested.  But I suddenly found myself in the hot seat----holy crap, I had to finish writing my book!!!

Luckily, it was outlined all the way through the end. And so for about 5 days straight, I wrote.  I was the worst New Year's Eve date on record. But it was some of the most exhilarating work I've ever done.

Now, don't misunderstand.  It needs a lot of work still.  I was revising right up until I clicked "send" per their submission guidelines, and I'll be revising it until it gets published, no doubt.  I'm not going to make the mistake I did with the other great opportunity I had, of putting all of my faith in that one chance. Rather, I'm putting my faith in myself.  I believe in my book.  I'm not counting on being accepted by this first publisher.  And even if I am, they may offer me a lousy contract, or I just won't be comfortable with them.  The miracle here is that by just taking one step, I opened up a new path for myself as a writer. I am SO FREAKING EXCITED ABOUT THAT!!

I already know it's going to be a good year. I look forward to chronicling my foray into the world of romance writing, and my eventual success.  To a degree, I'm already successful---I finished a novel. 51,445 words to be exact. And counting.