What is there to look forward to?

aveda-kadavra

A couple weeks ago, Facebook offered to show me a video they’d made of my highlights for the last year. I was all, “Why would I want to revisit the shitshow that was 2016?”

No thank you.

Looking back over the last 12 months, it’s easier to find the lowlights than anything else. I mean, what can you say about the year Prince died? He started hitting big when I was a sophomore in college, and honestly, he was my 20s. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, he’s the only one who got me ugly crying.

prince

Another reason for tears was the death of my good friend and critique partner, Amanda. She was only 35, she was in the middle of writing at least a couple books, and damn it, I know in my bones she wasn’t done yet.

I still catch myself composing emails to her.

And then there’s the national and international political scene. It’s hard not to absolutely panic when I think about it. This presidential election has brought a me number of firsts. Until this November, I’d never called a senator. I’ve never felt compelled to speak up about what I believe in or to get involved with the political process.

I’ve never prayed so hard for my country as I have in the last month.

Yeah. 2016. Good times.

Not.

Even though I have to dig a little deeper to find the bright spots, 2016 wasn’t all bad. Irene and I self-published Vespers and the holiday novella/sequel Bonfire, and readers have been very supportive, which is awesome. The husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary, and both our kids are becoming amazing young adults. After almost 20 years, my day job as a nurse practitioner is still satisfying.

Honestly, I have little to complain about.

And you know, there are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2017. Irene and I are already working on the next installment of our Hours of the Night series, and we’re hoping for a release date in late June or early July. The husband is planning another big and very cool home improvement project, which I’m excited about. And with a little perseverance, our oldest will graduate from high school this spring.

So yeah, there’s reason to hope that 2017 won’t be as bad as this year. New year, new beginning, blank slate, right? I’ve got family and good friends who support me, and an outlet for my creativity that continues to challenge me and force me to grow as a person and as a writer.

Just as important, as a cis/het, middle-class, white woman,  I’m protected from most immediate threats brought on by the change in our government. However, if things go crazy politically, I’ve got the means, the resources, and hell, the responsibility to help others fight back.

Every so often, I just need to remind myself how very, very lucky I am.

Cheers, mates. Here’s to a better 2017!

snow

 

Politics aside…

never-surrender_suffragettes

 

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re about to have an election here in the US. Actually, if you haven’t heard about our election, I want to be where you are, because I’m so ready for it to be over. Maybe not the election itself, but the divisive rhetoric we’ve been drowning in just needs to stop.

I’ve already voted, so no amount of advertising dollars – or November surprises – is/are going to change my mind. And if you haven’t cast a ballot yet, I’m pretty damned sure nothing I say in this blog post will change your mind, either.

Though to listen to some blogging gurus, it might keep you from buying my next book.

And I’m not really sure how I feel about that. See, I write because I have something to say, and to an extent, I believe that anyone who’s going to be interested in reading about Thaddeus the gay, vampire, monk probably won’t come down too hard on my liberal leanings.

Because the stuff in Vespers will likely require a more open mind than the occasional #ImWithHer meme.

There are writers I follow who’ve been very vocal about their support for the Democratic Presidential nominee and a slew of other socially progressive causes. Other writers I know keep their Facebook and twitter feeds full of writing-related posts, cute kid pix, and kittens. Or sometimes puppies.

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PUPPIES!

I believe two things. First, now matter how you’ve approached this extraordinary election, you do you. I know people both from the internet and in real life who are voting differently than I did, and I respect their right to do so.

However, it’s important that whatever public platform I’ve been able to develop expresses my values. To me, that means sharing thoughtful articles or thought-provoking memes, making it clear where I stand on the issues. It doesn’t mean trolling someone else’s discussion threads and blasting everyone who’s opinions are different than mine. It also doesn’t mean un-friending people who share thoughtful or thought-provoking material from opposing points of view.

This election’s going to be over soon (please God) and we’ve all got to live together afterwards.

True confessions: I’m more likely to be aggressively liberal on Twitter, because stuff goes by so fast and as a medium it doesn’t seem as substantial as Facebook. I’m @LivRancourt. You’ve been warned. (lol!)

In the end, I think it’s like that rule we learned for taking multiple-choice tests: if the answer has ‘always’ or ‘never’ in it, it’s probably wrong. One of the guiding principles behind social networking is to allow others (like, you know, potential readers) to see the real person behind the novels. And well, this real person votes Democrat.

To say “never post about politics” is unrealistic, at least, and potentially harmful. Social change requires all of us to participate, and to speak up. Although, you know, we might need a time out from now until a couple weeks after the election.

Peace out…

Liv

Hey, in case you’re ready for a holiday read, check out Bonfire…

bonfire-teaser-1

Silent night, holy hell.

Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.

When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.

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How a book saved my life…

As I’m writing this post, I’m suffering from a huge book hangover. (“Suffering” in the best possible way.) Be warned.

reading gif

This morning I stumbled on a Two Nerdy History Girls blog post about a doll. Not just any doll, though. A Well Loved Georgian Doll and Her Wardrobe, c.1790. The thing about this doll is, not only did she survive intact from 1790, despite being designed and utilized as a child’s plaything, but so did her extensive wardrobe.

Reading the post slammed me right back to the age of ten, when Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess was one of my favorite books. Do you remember that story? Sara Crewe is brought to London by her wealthy father, who leaves her at a boarding school and returns to India. To keep her “company”, he buys her the most extravagant doll, with velvet dresses and lace underthings an even a fur coat – just like the doll in the post!

Back in the day, that book carried me away to Victorian London, to a lost little girl living in a garret, and by the way fueled way too many rescue fantasies.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit that last bit in public.

At any rate, a simple blog post brought back a flood of feelings for a book I haven’t though about in years. Which started me thinking about other books that have stayed with me, or turned up in key moments. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which taught me to love historical fiction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which showed me the possibilities inherent in one man’s imagination. The Vampire Lestat, which sowed the seeds for ideas I’m still working through.

I’m old enough to have a head full of gray hair, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities for one  book to change the course of my life. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’ve got many, many key memories linked to the books I was reading at the time. My 20s, when I devoured Michener and The Thornbirds, and Dune. My early 30s, when I attempted to raise my brow with literary fiction(ish) books like A.S. Byatt’s Possession. My 40s, when I basically realized I didn’t have to impress anybody, and allowed myself to indulge my love of genre fiction.

(Thank you Janet Evanovich. You rock.)

Beyond the big, broad strokes memories, I have some very specific connections. The sweet, cozy romance I read one harrowing night in an ER while waiting for a kid to be admitted to the hospital. (And I honestly don’t remember the name of the book, but it kept me from losing my mind.) Sitting in front of a huge stone fireplace on the Sunday evening of a Gregorian chant retreat, absolutely devouring Dead Until Dark, the first Sookie Stackhouse mystery. And before you laugh at my choice of reading material for a chant retreat, that was the book that made me say, “I want to DO that.”

And so a writer was born.

More recently, there was the time I went for a pedicure and decided to play Kindle-kamikaze, where I scrolled through, opened a book at random, and started reading. I picked a book called Scrap Metal by Harper Fox. I still don’t remember when or why I downloaded this book, but at the time I was somewhat startled to realize the POV character was just as male as the man he’d got down on his knees in front of. Scrap Metal was the first m/m romance I ever read, and it opened me up to a whole new world of fiction.

Which brings me to my current sorry state. I am SO hungover, you guys. Was up till all hours, reading one of the best books ever! Just thinking about it gives me little shivers. Also, tbh, I needed the distraction after spending most of the evening dealing with teenager drama. Mom needed a mental health break, and this book was the perfect answer.

The book? A Gentleman’s Position, book 3 in the Society of Gentlemen series by KJ Charles. You could read this one as a stand-alone, but really, one of the great pleasures of the series is how the stories are linked. Events that happen in one book are retold in the next, from different characters’ perspectives and carrying different levels of impact. It’s fascinating and elegantly done and adds so much to the stories overall.

If I had more space between these books and this post, I would have done something on how the trilogy, along with the prequel The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, comprise a masters’ class in plotting. Not only are the stories interwoven, they’re constructed around actual historical events. For me as a reader it felt effortless. None of the seams showed.

As a writer, it blew me away.

I guess a more accurate title for this post would have been How Books Saved My Life, because they have, time and again. I’m going to let the original stand, though, because on any given day, there’s been ONE book that’s made a difference.

What book is that for you?

(And Nan, thanks for the tag.)

 

Gray Hair: Trend or Political Statement?

This is a different kind of post for the Spellbound Scribes, but it reflects what I’ve been thinking about lately, so you’ll have to bear with me.

Gray Hair Games
Gray Hair Games

I got my first gray hair when I was about 23 years old.

I started coloring my hair at 24.

Once when I was in my early 30s, I was getting my hair done, and the woman in the chair next to mine started talking to her stylist about “a friend” who plucked all her grays. My stylist looked at me through the mirror and said, “Don’t even think about it, sweetie. You’d be bald.”

That was over twenty years ago.

I let my hair go natural when I was thirty five and pregnant with my first child. FWIW, I didn’t want to expose the fetus to any potential toxins in the hair color. Two years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I did color my hair. Twice. Because thirty six was too young to be invisible.

When I was in my early forties I gave up on coloring my hair for the second time. I was sick to death of trying to hide the roots and negotiating appointments with popular stylists and paying $150 every two months to look like myself.

Except, without hair color, the combination of mostly-gray hair, fair skin, and light blue eyes made me feel like a ghost.

I mean, it’s sort of a fact of life. Most middle-aged women tend to fly under the radar. As a whole, society values youth – an attitude so pervasive, I don’t feel like I need to justify or validate it. And, for all the progress towards equality women have made, men still hold the power cards. So what happens if you’re neither young nor particularly powerful?

No one really takes you seriously. No one pays  much attention to you at all.

If you’ve got a minute, scroll through this slide show of Hollywood actresses who are between the ages of 50 – 60. They all look terrific, but only one – Jamie Leigh Curtis – has gray hair. Most of them have a sentence or two under their pictures, where the prevailing theme is, “but she looks so YOUNG!”

Because god forbid a woman in her 50’s actually look her age.

An actress in her 50’s may be beautiful, but she’s not likely to be cast as the movie’s love interest. Those roles go to actresses who are under 35 – regardless of how old the hero is. Check out this link for a look at the twenty-five largest age differences in movie couples. Or better yet, just ask Johnny Depp how old his costars are.

In the interest of bringing some actual science to the discussion, I found a paper from the journal Frontiers in Psychology that examines facial attractiveness as a perception of an individual’s value or worth. Their study sample was relatively small, only 60 people (30 men & 30 women) but their data supported their three hypotheses:

One study with a small sample shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but if nothing else it makes me feel like I’m not completely crazy. There’s a reason women work so hard – sometimes pathologically so – to look young. And if aging is bad and gray hair is associated with aging, why would a woman decide to go gray?

“They” say gray hair is trendy these days. Here’s a link to an In-Style article with some pretty pictures of twenty-something girls who have “gone gray” (which means they bleached out their hair then put on a silver toner – though I’ll give Kate Moss partial credit as she’s actually old enough to have some gray hair). They look really pretty, but it’s not my mama’s gray hair.

I will say, though, that articles about celebrities who are aging gracefully generally feature women who are ten, fifteen, or twenty years older than I am. Seriously. Except for Jamie Leigh Curtis, no celebrity close to my age has gray hair.

Because yeah, a couple years ago I gave up on all-over color and went with chunky high- and low-lights to blend my almost-completely-white roots. And then about six months ago, when the time for my appointment came around, I sorta forgot to make it.

I can’t decide whether I’m old enough to have internalized the expectation of invisibility, or if the silver-white thing is more striking than it used to be, or if I just don’t give a damn.

The other day at work, I ran across someone I hadn’t seen in a while, and she greeted me with, “hey, it’s another silver fox!”

She’s about my age and her hair is lovely, a glossy, silver, shoulder-length bob. I said something lame about, “well, you got the silver right”, because it’s not in me to admit to being a fox. But maybe I am.

Or maybe there’s some secret bonus to aging that I have, as yet, not appreciated.

Only time will tell.

 

When did you start writing?

A simple question. One that many of us have been asked before. A question I think about all the time because it’s a reminder of what I’ve always wanted to do. Write.

This past week I got to meet some amazing people at Authors After Dark. One reader was sixteen and an aspiring author. She was asking everyone about when they first started writing.

There is one key moment in my life that I remember wanting to be an author. It was in elementary school. Fourth or fifth grade. We had a local author come to school and tell us about her career. How she started. Why she wrote realistic fiction. I was hooked. I wanted to be her. There was a contest we could all enter. All we had to do was write a short story and submit it in the contest. So I took the leap. And I got to go to the mini-conference they had for everyone who entered. For one whole day I got to talk to authors, I got to learn how to write a book.

Now, I don’t remember all the details of the day. But I remember the amazing feeling of knowing I could write. Knowing I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I wanted to go to a school and inspire kids the way she had inspired me. Of course back then I thought I would write realistic fiction.

Things change. Our perspectives change. I’m not the ten year old with a dream anymore. Now, I write. One day I will make this my career and I won’t have to worry about the day job. Until then, I’m so happy to have the chance to publish what I can. To edit for authors who I fan girl over.

My dreams are coming true each and every day. I hope the young lady I met at Authors After Dark will get the same opportunity. I hope she will follow her dream. I have a question for you…when did you start writing?

Is Kit Harrington Right?

KHarington
In the article Kit Harington Has A Point About Women Objectifying Men, writer Eliana Dockterman describes how the actor is “sick of being called a hunk”, and when members of the media asks him how he feels about being described that way, he generally says, “That’s not what I got into it for.”

The guy’s an actor, and he’d prefer to be asked about, well, his acting.

Ms. Dockterman cites other examples of actors who are constantly being asked how they feel about their “heartthrob” status. Actors like Benedict Cumberbatch whose legion of fans refer to themselves as Cumberbitches.  And John Hamm, for whom there are whole Tumblr blogs dedicated to the bulge in his pants.

I’ll take M. Dockterman’s word for that one. I haven’t looked. No, seriously. Mr. Hamm can get pretty harsh when he’s asked about those blogs, and I can’t really blame him.

While Ms. Dockterman makes it very clear that women are subject to the same kind of “you’re famous because people want to have sex with you” crap, part of me wants to greet Mr. Harington’s complaint with a big ol’ BOOHOO.

KHarington2
Is touching a standard part of the interview process?

 

In protesting treatment that focuses on his looks, it seems to me Mr. Harrington is complaining all the way to the bank.

Objectification is part of the Hollywood game, and women have been played since the beginning. The news that 37-year-old actress Maggie Guyllenhal was told she’s “too old” to play the love interest for a 55-year-old actor demonstrates how endemic the cult of youth and beauty is. Women are held to a different standard than men, and most of the time it seems that the sum total of their contribution is tied up in their appearance.

BCumberbatch might get asked how he feels to be a sex symbol, but only after reporters ask him  about his work. And pretty much only fashion bloggers care who made his suit.

Name an actress who is accorded the same level of respect. There aren’t many.

“And though it’s tempting to even the scales by caring as little about men’s feelings as misogynists care about women’s feelings, that attitude doesn’t help to stop misogyny or advance feminism.” E. Dockterman

The thing is, this level of objectification isn’t limited to actors and actresses. When I look at my on-line presence objectively – true confession here – most of my social media sights would fall under the category ‘NSFW’. (I blogged about it HERE a couple weeks ago.)  Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being a romance writer, but my Facebook and Pinterest streams, in particular, are pretty much full of lovely masculine images.

Lovely, mostly naked, masculine images.

And some of them forget the mostly.

Which begs the question: After years of feminist bitching about the way men ogle young women, why is it right or fair to objectify young men?

And that’s where the guilt comes in. (Eldest child of an Irish-Catholic family, right? I can find guilt just about anywhere.) I do like to look, although it does bother me, and I try hard not to forget there’s a person attached to those abs. I don’t see following photographer Michael Stokes as some kind of feminist victory. He makes pretty pictures, and I like to look at them.

What’s wrong with that?

Does the power differential between men and women make a difference? Does the ubiquitous standard of youth and beauty applied to women matter? Is it somehow more wrong to objectify women, because so much of who they are is limited to how they look?

Yeah, I don’t know, either, but I expect M. Dockterman is right when she says we shouldn’t be dragging each other down to the same level, but rather lifting each other up.

So I’ll concede Mr. Harrington his point. He’s a serious actor practicing his craft, and we do him a disservice by focusing primarily on his appearance, regardless of how distractingly handsome he may be.

What do you think? Are beefcake photos as popular as cat pix in your Facebook stream? Can we really separate any performer’s appearance from their craft?

Cheers,
Liv

KHarington3
Honestly, if I met this guy in RL, basic functions – like speech – would desert me.

 

Three Things That Are Rocking My Writing World

Since this blog is primarily about writing, for writers, I’m going to share a few things that are making my writing life easier right now:

POV1) Diving Deep into Deep Point of View – This month-long, online class, led by Rhay Christou over at Margie Lawson’s Writer’s Academy, is one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my career. (And it was relatively cheap, only $60.) I’ve read books on Deep Point of View before, but there’s nothing like breaking it down in a lesson format and actually applying it to your own work. Plus, you get to learn from Rhay’s feedback and she is obviously a master at Deep POV.

For those who don’t know, Deep POV is when you remove as much authorial interference from your writing as possible so that the end result is that the reader feels like they are in the character’s skin, experiencing everything along with them. It works in both first and third person. This was my first time writing in third person, so it’s been fun to go back and take out all the filter words and stage direction that isn’t needed. It really does make a difference.  I can’t wait to apply these same techniques to my unpublished first person MS and watch them get stronger.

This class seems to be offered twice a year (last time was in November) so if this interests you keep an eye on Margie’s site or follow Margie (@MargieLawson) or Rhay (@RhayChristou) on Twitter to find out when she’ll be teaching it again.

Me taking notes with my smart pen. The pen transmits the to receiver clamped to the top of the page.
Me taking notes with my smart pen. The pen transmits the to receiver clamped to the top of the page, which relays what you are writing to a program on your device.

2) My Smart Pen – I read an article a few months ago about a pen that converts your handwriting into text and was immediately intrigued. You see, I do a LOT of research for my historical fiction novels (approximately 12-25+ sources per novel) and that means a LOT of notes. I hand write my notes because I retain information better that way than when I type it. But when it comes time to plot, or even write a blog post about what I’ve learned, I need those notes in typewritten format. After typing up two books worth of notes but hand, I realized there had to be a better way.

Enter the Equil Smart Pen 2. It uses blue tooth technology to record your notes as you take them on your smart phone, tablet or laptop. It’s kind of freaky to write on one surface (I write in notebooks since this pen isn’t limited to special paper like some others) and watch your handwriting appear on your device. The pen uses real ink, but relies on a program called Equil Note to capture your writing. It isn’t available for Kindle and I couldn’t get it run on my Windows laptop (as soon as I can afford it, I’m switching to a Mac), but it works like a dream on my iPhone.  I haven’t tried to convert it to text yet and I do expect some blips (especially with my horrid handwriting), but anything is better than typing from scratch.

1stplace_medallion_greatexpectations_v1_20153) Gaining Recognition for My Writing – Remember that post I wrote last month about not knowing if my romantic comedy will ever get published because it isn’t easily classified as romance, women’s fiction or chick lit? Well, it may not have a book deal yet, but it did win the single title romance category of the Great Expectations contest, sponsored by the North Texas chapter of RWA. This is one of the bigger romance writing contests, so I’m hoping that having this win in my bio will help when I start querying again soon. (For those who don’t know, my former agent is no longer an agent.) Plus, I’m in several other contests.

So, what’s rocking your world, writing or otherwise? Share the happy vibes!