Friday, November 30, 2007

On Heroes and Contests

So I struggled for awhile with the idea of writing a Native American hero. Alex Gray just popped up of his own accord in Finding His Child, my April 2007 Intrigue. I didn't worry too much at the time about his being Lakota, because he was a pretty minor character--which meant I didn't have to try to flesh out his background too much and run the risk of making some horrifyingly offensive error.

But then when it was time to write the next book, Alex popped into my head again and started talking spin-off. And he refused to go away, even when I told him flat-out to take a flying leap off my universe, because he was done. The last thing I wanted was offend every Lakota who ever lived by adding yet another erroneous Native American representation to the genre-fiction canon. We Latinos aren't off our heads over stock Latino characters that pop up in books, TV, and movies--you know, the pool boys, maids, border crossers, illegals, gangbangers, and skeezy "Latin lovers"--and I didn't want to inflict something like that on the Lakota because I'm not deeply immersed in the culture.

But Alex just wouldn't go away. So I got out my trusty notebook and started sketching out a plot, hoping that once he saw me write myself into a corner, he'd leave in disgust and I could go back to my comfort zone.

That's when I realized that Alex and I had a lot more in common culturally than I'd thought--and not just because my great-grandmother was Chorotega (a little-known and now very tiny indigenous tribe in Honduras). After Alex's father inexplicably shot and killed the first female tribal president of the (fictional) Pine Woods reservation in South Dakota, his father went on the run, and Alex's mother fled with her then five-year-old son to Washington State.

No, my dad didn't shoot someone and go on the lam. (He's a former church council president and Peace Corps volunteer who works for a farmer's credit union in Wisconsin and occasionally travels around the world giving workshops on the various aspects of farmer's cooperatives. He's awesome, but not really dramatic enough to make an appearance in an Intrigue.)

But like me, Alex lost part of his culture when his mother left Pine Woods, just like I lost some of mine when my mom moved with my dad from Honduras to Wisconsin. Don't get me wrong--mom always did her best to help my brothers and I experience and value our Honduran side. But walking the line between two cultures can be a strange experience sometimes. I've always been just a little louder and a little more demonstrative and a little more dramatic than many of my friends. (Of course, not that all Latinos are loud and demonstrative and dramatic--but my aunts and my mom could probably star in their own Central American soap opera. And yeah, it rubbed off.) And the first time I went to Honduras as an adult, my cousins were surprised at how "stiff and reserved" I was. I get the whole "You don't LOOK Latina" from some people when they find out my background (probably because I left my fruit hat and chihuahua at home.), but others--especially Latinos or Native Americans--see something of themselves in me almost immediately upon meeting me.

To my surprise, Alex had similar issues--his dark hair and dark skin mark him as different, but he didn't have the day-to-day experience of living with other Lakota. So he feels a little out of place around people who share his background but grew up immersed in the culture he and his mother left behind--a sense of belonging and yet not really belonging.

With the (unsolicited and, at first, unwanted) help of a self-professed "psychic who sucks" named Sophie Brennan, he starts searching for the truth about his father--and he ends up exploring his own identity as a result. (Not to mention atttracting the attention of a homicidal villain who wants the past left in the past. Wouldn't be an Intrigue without one!) Like me, when he goes back to his roots, he feels simultaneously out of place and a real sense of coming home.

Long story short, Alex got his story--December's Telling Secrets--and I tried my best to get the more specific details of his background right. As I do with all the people living in my head, I took great care to make him much more than a stock character, too.

So it was a little ... shocking for me to get my cover and see 26-year-old Alex, who normally runs around in sweatshirts, jeans, and a Mariners baseball cap, looking significantly older and wearing a vest that looks like it was stolen from the pseudo-Native American in the Village People.

I take full responsibility--I didn't do a comprehensive enough art fact sheet. I respect the cover artist's talent and think s/he did a lovely job with Sophie and the forest behind them. :::::White light. White light.::::: The model, while obviously older than Alex, isn't hard on the eyes.

But the vest ... it deserves mockery.

So come back tomorrow for my First! Contest! Ever! and help me mock it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


So I'm having an "eh" kind of day. You know, one of those days where it's overcast and dumpy and you have no energy or enthusiasm for any of the stuff you usually find fun. I'm supposed to be busy working and keeping my house in pristine shape because it's currently on the market (NOT that we've had any visitors. NOT that I'm bitter.), but other than the work I've had to do, I've pretty much spent the entire day looking at the piles of clutter and handprints on the walls going, "eh." Pulled out a book, went "eh." Made myself a sandwich, went "eh." Went shopping for a badly needed new pair of glasses, went "eh" at most of the frames. Stared at the contents of my cupboards trying to figure out what to make for dinner, went "eh."

And no, I'm not depressed. Just "eh." I'll be better tomorrow. I think it's mostly because Maggie and Marin have been taking turns not sleeping, so Mommy's not sleeping either. So now I'm tired, but I can't nap because of the piles of clutter and juice stains and handprints all over the walls.

But judging from what I've been reading on a few blogs and hearing during some in-person conversations, some romance readers are getting kind of "eh" about the whole romance genre. Angela at the Reading While Black blog admits to being in a year-long reading slump that only Ken Follett could shake her out of. Mariann, the smart woman who unwittingly introduced me to the joys of blogging, has confessed that she sees too many similar "patterns" within category romance lines that suck the fun out of reading them. (That whole fun-sucking thing was my phrase, not hers.) A couple of good friends tell me that they don't read as much romance as they used to, because they're just eh about it all. Other friends aren't off their heads about erotica or paranormals--the current It Girls of the romance subgenre world--and have turned to mainstream fiction for light reading instead. (Please note that I am not dogging paranormals or erotica. We all have our subgenre preferences, and theirs are not paranormals or erotica.)

On the other hand, my friend Caridad Pineiro blogged today that she thinks the romance genre is "coming out of the closet," so to speak. Not because authors like Suzanne Brockmann are writing multi-faceted, heroic gay characters into their books, which is great in and of itself, but because women are taking ownership of it and are proud to read and write it. She's giving a talk at Swarthmore College about romance to a group of women who read it and are studying how it empowers women.

But it can't empower women if we're feeling eh about it and avoiding it altogether. Look at the romance stats on RWA's website, and you'll see that romance is still as popular as ever, so there's really no worry there. So why, then, are a lot of women I know (or know of) feeling eh about romance?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

T-minus One Week to a New Contest!

WATCH THIS SPACE! On December 1st, I'll be posting the rules for my first-ever major contest on this blog. (Hint: I'm going to let all of you out there have a laugh with me over my TELLING SECRETS cover. Or at me, if you prefer.)

The clever winner will receive a $25 BookSense or Barnes & Noble gift certificate, and your choice of any book from my backlist. (I even have a secret stash of some of the out of print ones. Or you could have a French copy. Or an Icelandic copy. Or an Italian copy. Or....)

So come back December 1 to find out the details and enter.

(Please. I'll look like a huge dork if no one enters.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

E-Readers: Suckfest or ... Not?

So I've never been in love with the idea of e-books. I'm too cheap to buy a reader, because to me they just look like heavy, carpal-tunnel-aggravating little monsters with blindingly bright screens--a headache in a box, if you will. And as I spend so much time on my computer all day, the LAST thing I want to do is read books on it during my leisure time. When I've bought e-books (generally by friends), I usually print the things out--an act of environmental terrorism that I'd rather keep to a minimum. (Can't give a printout to charity or a used bookstore for reuse, after all.)

But I clicked on today to find a letter from CEO Jeffrey Bezos introducing a little e-reader called Kimble, and I have to confess, my curiousity is piqued. OK, I'm actually kind of salivating over the thing. Not that I'm ready to convert all of my books to Kimble, but I'll be watching this little device to see whether my fellow readers (who aren't technophobes when it comes to all things book-related) are feeling the love.

Bezos' first two paragraphs didn't set my hair on fire. First, he says:

The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author's world.

For me, that's not true. I love the reassuring weight of a book in my hands. I love the crack of a fresh binding and the crisp smell of new paper and fresh ink (hopefully it's soy ink, or I'm probably giving myself a lung condition...). I love flipping a book over sporadically while I'm reading to look at the cover art and reconsider the artist's interpretation of what I'm reading. I REALLY love beautiful books--with interesting fonts, beautiful cover art, or even evocative illustrations or photos. The physical book is very much a part of my reading experience--it's never disappears on my planet.

Then, Bezos says:

I've also been infatuated with the idea of electronic books. The booklover in me often has asked the nerd in me, "Is there a way to get the emotions and experiences I love from books, but combined with the possibilities of advanced technology? Can something as evolved as the book be improved?"

He almost lost me there. For the reasons stated or implied above, I've never been infatuated with e-books. And I don't think the paper book can be improved--other than perhaps printing it on more eco-friendly paper that isn't going to eat the rainforests, decimate entire animal and medicinal plant populations, and exacerbate global warming to the point where my family's future destination of Minnesota might actually become warm and beachy within my lifetime.

I have to admit, I find a geekalicious joy in shelving my pristine-as-possible favorites on my beautiful oak bookshelves, occasionally pulling them all down to dust and re-alphabetize, just because for some peculiar reason, I find that soothing. I love going into brick and mortar bookstores and losing myself among the shelves, pulling down book after book and feeling its promise like a weight in my hand--it's my therapy after a week gone wrong. The thought of all of that disappearing makes me want to pelt anyone who would dare render the paper book obsolete with clunky, garishly bright e-readers until they cry, "Aunt!"

(My brother is shrieking, "NERD!" at his computer screen right now. Shut up, Tom, who has every Voltron, Defender of the Universe DVD ever made on his Christmas wish list.)

But because I'm procrastinating (Shocker.), I kept on reading Bezos' letter. Kindle, it seems, is a wireless, portable reading device that enjoys access to more than 90,000 books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers, downloaded in 60 seconds or less.

The wireless part is intriguing--you don't need a WiFi hotspot or a wireless modem at home, because it uses cell phone technology (satellite, maybe?). Best of all, there are no Faustian, interminable contracts where you pay the monthly equivalent your children's college tuition for spotty, unreliable, perpetually call-dropping service. That spotty, unreliable service is free!

It weighs 10.3 ounces, so no carpal tunnel aggravation there. And, Bezos claims that the "electronic paper" technology used on the screen is sharp, natural, glare-free, and nothing like reading a computer screen.

They've got a little video on the Kimble product page featuring none other than Toni Morrison endorsing it, if that kind of thing matters to you. As well as some dude with the unfortunate name of Guy Kawasaki. Neil Gaiman claims it's "just like paper," and James Patterson calls it "kind of magical."

I promised myself I'd try to calm down with the book buying next year and calm down with unnecessary purchases, as well. But I have to confess, for the moment, I'm not hating on the thought of an e-reader. I think I just drooled a little, too....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Psychic Vibes

So I got this email this morning about psychic Melissa Alvarez being on a romance podcast and doing free psychic readings. Utterly unable to resist the lure of a free psychic reading or an excuse to procrastinate, I called in. Our house just went on the market today, and I was curious to know how long she thought it would take to sell.

Basically, I just wanted someone to say, "It will sell by early January at the latest, for FAR more than your asking price, and don't listen to the mean, wicked realtor who's telling you to put all of your bookshelves into storage."

Unfortunately, Melissa did not say that. She predicted six months. I am hoping that knowledge of today's truly craptacular real estate market interfered with her psychic vibes, and what she REALLY meant to say was, "It will sell by early January at the latest, for FAR more than your asking price, and don't listen to the mean, wicked realtor who's telling you to put all of your bookshelves into storage."

(BTW, my realtor is actually a very nice man who is just trying to help me stage my house so it sells well. But honestly, put my BOOKS in the GARAGE? He might as well ask me to put my HUSBAND in the garage. And yes, I'm exaggerating, but STILL....)

I also told her we were headed into a time of major life transitions, and asked if she thought that the direction in which we're headed (in JANUARY, dammit! JANUARY!) was the right one.

Melissa said that our move is going to be a good one. She said it's going to be colder (and with a plan to go to Minnesota, we can't really get much colder. Unless I wanted to be Cathy's neighbor. Which, lovely as she is, I do not.). She also predicted that I'm going to have some kind of new opportunity, which will unexpectedly fall into my lap, where I will be working with books and rolling files. I have never had a burning desire to be a librarian, but I do love editing, so we'll see! And she said that the book I'm working on now will be published in a year and two months.

Guess I need to get cracking on finishing that proposal. (It's not an Intrigue, though I still plan to keep writing for Intrigue for as long as the editors can stand me.)

It will be fun to see what happens.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dear Jane Espenson

For all of you out there who are not painfully geeky uber-geeks, Jane Espenson was one of the head writers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer--the most excellent TV series, not the one starring the stocky, violent, husband-stealing skater girl.

My brother Troy and I geeked out so completely over that wonderful, fabulous, hilarious, never-to-be-equaled series, we not only knew the names of its writers but could often identify who wrote a given episode without looking at the credits. And we lurrrrrrved our Jane Espenson episodes.

So lately, spurred on by my sci-fi loving husband, I've been trying to fill the Buffy void, that gaping, Joss Whedon-shaped hole in my heart, with the Bionic Woman. Centered around a young woman who kicks booty--check. Based on beloved series from childhood (unlike Buffy, but it was a point in its favor)--check. Subject of considerable network marketing muscle, so it stands a very good chance of not being canceled in its first season (Unlike the late, much-lamented Firefly.)--checkeroo.

The only reason I'm still watching is because Jose refuses to give up on it, but I'm about ready to strangle the Bionic Woman writers with a string of their own cliches. Lately, while Jose watches, I have resorted to entertaining myself by pondering whether my seven-year-old self could have come up with better dialogue while playing with my circa-1976 Jamie Sommers doll (complete with roll-back latex skin and tiny bionics beneath the little trapdoors in her legs and right arm). "You're a stupid dummyhead. No, YOU'RE a stupid dummyhead. Let's go beat up Barbie, 'cause she's blonde."

But I digress....

The mess that is the new Bionic Woman saddens me. But I still love the IDEA of the Bionic Woman, and my daughters need strong female superhero role models, dammit! So I have come up with a plan to save the show: I am asking the divine and supremely talented Jane Espenson to come on board and save this series. (After checking on, I've discovered that she's working on Battlestar Galactica right now. But it's my blog, so I'm still asking. Perhaps the divine and supremely talented Jane Espenson could multitask....)

Here are my top five reasons that Jane Espenson should become Bionic Woman's head writer:

1) So picture this. You get into a horrible, horrible car accident, lose two legs, one arm, an eardrum, and an eye, and to save you, your secret agent doctor boyfriend installs some nifty bionics, thereby giving you shiny new legs, an arm, an eardrum, and an eye that look EXACTLY like your old ones, except they're better, stronger, faster than the ones you had before. And, as a bonus, you are not dead. What is your reaction?

Is it:

A) You're PISSED. You rip off your hospital monitors and throw your boyfriend across the room.

Or is it:

B) You tell your boyfriend, "Gee, thanks so much for saving my life and preventing me from living the rest of my life as Stumpy the One-Armed Wonder!"

The Bionic Woman writers went for A. Why, I cannot say, as it makes zero sense. Because WHO THE HELL WANTS TO BE STUMPY THE ONE-ARMED WONDER?

I certainly do not, and would have been plenty grateful to have working parts that looked like my old ones, instead of a nifty wheelchair for my stumpy, one-eyed, one-armed self. And I know Jane E. would have given Jamie a reaction that actually made sense, so confident am I in her writing powers.

2) Jane E. would NEVER have let a line like, "I'm not looking for Mr. Right. I'm looking for Mr. Right Now" be uttered by a main character ... at least not without a healthy dose of irony. :::mental forehead smack::::

3) Picture this: A young woman with newly installed super powers goes walking in a dark alley.

Watching from her perch on the couch, Tracy addresses her television thusly: "Ugh, if someone tries to mug her and she kicks his ass, I'm going to throw up."

Back on the TV screen, someone tries to mug the young woman, and she kicks his ass.

Jane E. would NEVER have allowed that cliche into my living room on any episode, much less the freaking PREMIERE.

4) Since Jane E's writing was a huge part behind Buffy's underlying "peace, love, non-bigotry" philosophy, I am confident that she would not have been pleased with the casting of Isaiah Washington and his bigmouthed, f-word blurting self. (The gay slur f-word, of course, not the other f-word.)

Why is this guy still getting work on anything, much less a very popular prime-time drama? From now on, I think the guy should only be cast on after-school specials about tolerance, if at all.

5) Jane E. rocks. That is all.

Where Have I Been?

Finishing book contract, chasing pre-schoolers, frantically de-cluttering, cursing my pack-rat tendencies, cursing my husband's love of entropy, cursing wall paint that smudges when you LOOK at it, putting our house on the market, trying to keep Jose from panicking because he's RETIRING FROM THE NAVY (Can I get a WOOT! WOOT!? Anyone?), and all in all, being cranky.

But I'm making an effort to resurrect my blog, as in RIGHT NOW. Random post to come shortly....

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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