Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Total Eclipse of a Mullet with Headlights

Recently, I begged my school librarian to do some research for me regarding book trailers. This is all part and parcel of my "work smarter, not harder" campaign. I figured I could have my students compose book trailers as a final project. Through teaching them, I would learn how to do it on my own for later promotional purposes. Day job, dream career--two birds, one stone.

Lovely, isn't it?

I have yet to implement book trailers in my classroom. Happily, however, my librarian went on a hilarious research tangent that I simply must share with you all. Have you heard of literal videos? It's where someone changes the lyrics of a song so that they describe what's happening in the (ridiculous) video.

This has to be my favorite literal video. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing! Let me know what you think.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meowy Christmas to All

By this point in December we've covered all the holiday topics - cooking, writing while busy, gifts for readers and writers. What's left for me?

One thing only - Christmas Kittens!

Several of my fellow romance writers - including members of this blog - have claimed to be unfamiliar with one of my absolute all-time favorite romance sub-genres. What? Truly you do not know of Christmas Kitten books?

I pulled four Christmas anthologies from the scary-basement book bins. To my shock, only one cover prominently featured felines, Winter Kittens (1999). From the back blurbs: "Having lost his wager, his intended bride, and his favorite horse, Lord Carrington is in no mood to be enchanted by the sweet kitten that tumbles down his chimney." Or "Every afternoon, the cat that belongs to Lord Stonehill's sister disappears, only to return with a new toy or a bright ribbon." I could rhapsodize about the rest, but doesn't the cover tell you everything you need to know?

Despite having feline-free titles, kittens lurk in my other Christmas anthologies ready to pounce. From Boxing Day (1997, Jill Barnett) in A Stockingful of Joy: "She sat in the middle of her convenient bed, surrounded by mangy cats with the bright Christmas bows." From Christmas Wish List (1999, Barbara Metzger) in A Regency Christmas Present: "They went up to the nursery together, the kitten complaining at being in the basket so long. Gerry spoke softly: 'Hush, Mistletoe. It's not every cat that gets to be a Christmas wish come true.' "

For a dash of happiness with fur, search Amazon for "romance kittens". My 581 results began with Mistletoe Kittens, and proceeded through Bewitching Kittens, Christmas Eve Kittens, Valentine Kittens, Wedding Day Kittens, and Snowflake Kittens before stumbling over Stocking Stuffers.

Before you begin a quest to read hundreds of holiday kitten anthologies, let me alert you to the dark side of the genre. Yes. A dirty secret about kitten anthologies. Many books are reprints with new cover art. For instance A Stockingful of Joy from 1997 was reissued in 2005. Other anthologies will mix a popular old kitten story with a couple new ones as a "new" book. I'm sure the publisher does not intend to trick a reader into buying something she's read before, and it's wonderful that the authors continue to receive royalties, but savvy kitten-readers check copyright dates inside the front cover.

The genre did not end with the '90s. It transcends treacle. It is not limited to Regencies. Nalini Singh (of the Psy/Changeling series) and Lora Leigh wrote novellas Stroke of Enticement and Christmas Heat, respectively, in The Magical Christmas Cat (2008). I have a very hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the author of the Breed series and the Nauti Boys books has a Christmas kitten story.

Why? Why do some people, like me, love kitten romance anthologies? How have others never noticed them? Are we romance readers blind to sub-genres we don't read? Do we not see cars when we cross the street? At this time of year Christmas kittens are everywhere, like lit-up plastic candy canes, like icicle lights, like red-kettles and bell-ringers. Enjoy one with cookies and good cheer.

Me-owy Christmas to all our readers.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing Through Holiday Mayhem

For most people, calling the holiday season chaotic is an understatement - regardless of which religious/traditional celebrations you keep. For me Christmas is all about family, but the to-do list still seems to get longer every year.

Picking out, wrapping and mailing presents. Getting the tree, lighting and decorating it. Cookies, carols, elementary school holiday pageants. Snowball fights, sledding, and snowmen with the niece & nephews. Free time is a forgotten luxury this time of year.

Which can be particularly stressful for writers whose "free" time is actually writing time.

So how do you keep your writing mojo strong during the chaotic holidays? Do you vow to write every day - even if you can only spare the time for jotting down one sentence? Do you take a hiatus from the writing grind and come back to it refreshed after the holidays are over? However you do it, odds are you're going to have to find some method that works for you, some way of keeping the writing fires burning as bright as the yule log.

I like to take into account holiday madness when I'm making out my writing schedule. This year, I have an added obstacle. One of my very best friends is getting married, in St. Thomas, the week before Christmas (this week!). The bridal party is sailing down together - away from email and cell phones for a real vacation! I don't have any writing goals for the next two weeks (cruise & Christmas), but I'm taking my computer with me. I may not write much on the ship, but I would go through withdrawals if I couldn't write for ten days. And who knows what inspiration will strike me on the high seas? Maybe this vacation from schedules and goals will be just what my writing needs to be reinvigorated.

What are your writing plans for the holiday season? A holiday from the demands of the pen or a diligent continuation of your usual good habits? (I'm giving you the benefit of believing we all have good habits. If not, that's what New Year's resolutions are for, right?)

Happy Holidays and Happy Writing!

P.S. I have a free holiday story now available at the Samhellion - mistletoe and mischief, shape-shifter style. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Titillation for the Tiny Tot

Check it out! My niece has already ditched the G-rated books in favor of steamier romance reading. And she's not even 2 years old yet... I'm so proud!

My brother and I couldn't stop cracking up when his daughter made a beeline for the bodice-rippers. It made me wonder when she'll actually start reading romance... a question that already has my sister-in-law nervous.

I am not a parent yet. As both a high school English teacher and an aspiring novelist, I'm a big fan of free speech. I'm against censorship. I was also a pretty lucky kid with a truly awesome mom who never told me I wasn't allowed to read something. Consequently, I always felt comfortable telling her what I was reading. I wasn't forced to hide my romance novels under the bed. I never thought of them as soft-core porn or something shameful.

And yet... I'm not sure how I'd feel if I had a precocious 9-year-old daughter who wanted to read erotica.

So I want to know... what was your first romance novel? What are your favorite books to reread, and why? And if any of you are parents, how do you feel about your own children potentially reading romance someday?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Pert Turkey Recipe

Before I share my turkey recipe, I must first admit to (1) never having cooked a Thanksgiving turkey and (2) co-opting this recipe from my husband's Aunt Diane, who is not an American, does not live in America, and will not be cooking a turkey this week. Decide for yourself whether you want to risk this turkey. It will wake up your guests and bring the men-folks in from the television, but I'm not sure if you can serve it to relatives with heart conditions.

To delay the denouement, why have I never cooked a turkey? Because I am lucky to be a potluck goer and side-dish bringer, not a potluck hostess and turkey maker. Our families live far to the east so for many years the Dear Canadian and I have turned off our lights and gone to neighbors' homes or the community center. A college friend moved up near the Canadian border, and now they host Thanksgiving and we gladly drive. This year I will be making potatoes two ways, pumpkin pie, a test run of Christmas cookies, green beans amandine, homemade chunky apple sauce, and probably some sort of roasted squash, barley, hearty greens salad. While my sweet spouse loves to cook, this week he's painting our living room so I'm on the hook for the food. I'll be stirring with one hand and polishing TWO Golden Heart entries to be mailed Sunday night with the other. Yes, I work best when I'm crazy.

What's your Thanksgiving style? Are you a pot luck goer or a hostess? A side dish bringer, a beverage bringer, or a turkey roaster? What's your favorite dish and what can you skip?

Without further delay: one whole turkey, the largest lemon you can find, and a stick (or two) of butter. Cut lemon in half. Carefully, carefully, with a knife and your fingers, lift the skin of the turkey breast gently away from the meat and slip each lemon half under, peel facing away from the meat so the juice seeps into the turkey. Put about half a stick of butter in little pats under the skin. Rub the rest all over the outside of the skin, generously salt and pepper. Put in preheated oven and roast according to weight of turkey, etc. Baste every 15 - 20 minutes until done. It should look as perky as this bird:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Harlequin Brouhaha

If you follow many romance industry blogs, you're probably sick to death of hearing about Harlequin Horizons by now. It seems the denizens of Romancelandia have been talking of little else this week.

If you haven't heard, here's a quick primer: Harlequin Enterprises opened a new line called Harlequin Horizons. Unlike their other lines, like Harlequin Presents or Harlequin Blaze, this new line is a pay-to-play vanity publisher - instead of the publisher paying you for the right to publish your work, you are paying them to put it into print (just don't expect it to be stocked in bookstores).

Several aspects of this new enterprise caused a kerfuffle in the writing community. Brand dilution, preying on uneducated aspiring writers to monetize their slush pile, and the misleading verbiage on their sales pitch were all brought up as concerns by writers far and wide. (The thread at Smart Bitches was one epicenter of the discussion if you'd like to see various arguments re: HqHo. They were creeping up on 600 comments when I posted this.)

Romance Writers of America responded by announcing Harlequin was no longer considered an "eligible" publisher according to their definition of such, Mystery Writers of America threatened sanctions & Science Fiction Writers of America jumped into the fray with a statement of their own. Harlequin has now announced that they will be changing the name of Harlequin Horizons (perhaps because there is already a Horizons line in France?) to something less closely tied to their brand.

I'm sure there are still many developments to come and I predict that when everything shakes out, the effect of Horizons will not be as drastic as it originally seemed. Or maybe it'll be more drastic. What do I know?

My question for you is this: if you were a writer interested in publishing with a Harlequin line and you received a rejection letter which included a referral to a Harlequin vanity-publishing company asking you to pay hundreds of dollars to have your book printed, how would you feel? Would you be tempted? Insulted? Would it impact your willingness to submit to Harlequin again in the future? As a writer being targeted by what some are calling predatory business practices, would you feel preyed upon? How do you think Harlequin Horizons will impact Harlequin's reputation in the long run, if at all? Anyone care to speculate?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Tortoise & the Hare

With NaNo going strong and aspiring writers making that last push before sending in their Golden Heart entries, I've heard a lot of people talking about and comparing word count productivity this month. If that motivates you, awesome! If not, never fear. Writing doesn't have to be a sprint.

I've got a lot to do this week, writing-wise. What's "a lot" you may ask? Well, here's the thing. I could tell you exactly what I have to do, but that wouldn't mean anything because you wouldn't have the context of what I normally achieve in a week. No two writers are going to have the same goals, because no two writers are going to write at exacty the same rate. So the vagueness of "a lot" means more than the specificity of "first draft 20,000 words, final edits 23,000 words, revise 25,000 words, tighten synopsis, compose query letter & hit send".

It is easy to fall prey to comparing ourselves with other writers. How long does it take them to write a book, how many times do they have to revise, how many people give them feedback on their work? As writers, we often compare notes on our processes, but I think it is invaluable to remember that your process isn't a competition. Whether you write slow or fast, draft once or seventy times, you have to do what works for you.

I've heard people say, unapologetically, that they write slow, but it was a real revelation to me when I heard someone say, with the same unapologetic air, that she wrote fast. No bragging. Just a flat "I can't do it any other way."

Me too!

I write fast. I have to. I need the momentum and I need the pressure of a looming deadline. And if I don't go fast, I get stuck rewriting every word I've written and I never get to The End. Others need time for deliberation and thought, but if I'm not writing from the gut, I won't finish. Is my way better than anyone else's? Hell no! But it's my way. I have to be me.

Are you a tortoise or a hare? Do you write like the wind, or does slow and steady win the race? Whatever your speed of choice, odds are you have a writing-rate comfort zone. Whether you're a thoughtful plodder or a neck-or-nothing speed-racer, I'm here today to say: Embrace it!

Find your pace. And if you want to challenge yourself, don't worry about competing with someone with a different pace. Try setting your own goals for 10% higher than your usual productivity. But whether you're a tortoise or a hare, the important thing is crossing the finish line, whenever you get there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writerly Gift-Giving

The holidays are coming up, which means that we're probably all scrambling to buy gifts for our loved ones. There is nothing more delightful than giving or receiving the perfect gift, the one that says "I know you like no other, and here's something that will improve your life/make you smile/fit perfectly with your style."

Now, I don't know about you... but I always feel guilty when I'm forced to give the generic gift. You know, the "oh, crap it's almost Christmas and I'm obligated to get you something but have no idea what you want." Depending on gender, I usually give the generic someone a Best Buy gift card or set of vanilla-scented bath products. I feel like what I'm really giving them is a big sign that says "Hi, I didn't really make the effort" or "I guess I don't know you all that well."

Does anyone else have this problem?

As I grow older, I'm becoming less enamored of gift clutter--both the giving and the receiving. I'd rather spend time than money. Goodness knows, Mr. Marvelous doesn't need yet another electronic gadget (whatever it is, he'll buy it for himself whenever the whim strikes him). Instead, I usually gift him with some sort of vacation or super-extravagant date... something I know he'll enjoy, something that won't collect dust in our home.

He, in turn, honors my specific starving artists qualities. In order to support my writing, he hired a maid service for a year. He also gave me a Patricia Kay writing class. Receiving these gifts made me so glad--which may sound obnoxiously materialistic, but it was more than that. It was the fact that Mr. Marvelous so clearly knows me, loves me, and wants to support my dream.

So, here's my question: what's a good writerly (or readerly) gift that you've received in the past? Alternatively, what's a gift you're excited to give this year?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Writerly Book Rec

Tonight I finished Bob Mayer's book, Who Dares Wins. It was an excellent, eye-opening read... and I strongly recommend it to all writers out there.

This isn't a book about craft. It won't tell you how to write a break-out novel or edit more tension into your scenes. Instead, it will help you to clarify your vision. To improve your habits of mind. To force you to confront some of your blind spots and flaws and recognize what it will take to change them. Big undertaking, no?

As Mayer states, reading the book is "most likely the equivalent of trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant." (183) No kidding! I get the feeling I'm going to be re-reading this constantly in the years to come.

This book helped me narrow down my goals and consider the fact that they have to align. Yeah, maybe this sounds like a no-brainer to the rest of you, but I'm the girl who once tried to finish up a semester's worth of grading, write two chapters, and make a three-course meal from scratch... all in one night. (Hey, Kate! There's this really cool place called reality. You should try living there sometime.)

So, I've looked at aligning my goals for the rest of 2009. I'm leaving my day job every day at 5pm and resisting the urge to bring grading home. I'm going to eat dinner at the table with my husband every night. And I'm going to write (or at least stare frustratedly at my Word document) for one hour every weekday.

Check that out! Alignment! I rule.

I'm sure in the weeks to come I'll have updates (confessionals?) about my progress or lack thereof. And don't worry--I'm still hard at work on the promo/writing separation experiment. More soon!

For now, I'd love your input. What are your favorite writing books? What's one goal you hope to achieve before the end of 2009?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bruce Springsteen, Romance Novelist

You laugh at my love for The Boss? I was a teenager in 1984, unlike my fellow DSWs, and that pair of faded jeans and the white t-shirt ... that inspired me.* I'm here to share my belief that my favorite musician is also a closet romance novelist under his guitar. Or could be.

Take the first song on Springsteen's latest Working on a Dream. Like a twenty-year old Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel you find at a used book store, printed when publishers trusted readers to have sufficient attention spans, Outlaw Pete is a ballad by a man who trusts his listeners to stick with him through a full eight minutes of music. Eight minutes, one song. Remind anyone of Diana Gabaldon? He's penned one of the classic Western romance plots: Very Bad Dude reforms, falls in love (with a Navajo maiden, no less) and starts a family. Then a bounty hunter shows up to remind him that a fresh start's not that easy. Bruce Springsteen, historical romance writer.

Queen of the Supermarket could be a perfect category romance if a publisher retitled it The Billionaire's Secret Checkout Clerk.

I take my place in the checkout line.
For one moment her eyes meet mine ...
I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket.
Though a company cap covers her hair
Nothing can hide the beauty waiting there.

You think The Boss can't tackle paranormal despite the night elements on the album cover? Try This Life. "Chained to this earth we go on and on and on ... This life, this life and then the next. I finger the hem of your dress, my universe at rest." No undead vampire lover ever said it better.

What musicians or songs remind you of romance novels? Post your own favorites in the comments. I'll reply after I finish cruising around with the car radio cranked to 28 (shocks the Dear Canadian when he has to drive my car; makes the kids yell at me.).

* Born in the USA cover. Seven Top Ten singles back when Casey Kasem mattered.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Identity Crisis

It's T-minus three days until the e-release of The Ghost Exterminator: A Love Story. I'm psyched, folks. It's my first book-length release from Samhain.

I like writing in a variety of different lengths - novella, novel, and epic novel - and each one is a little different. One thing I enjoy about the longer formats is the ability to delve a little deeper into the characters.

The Ghost Exterminator was fun for me because I got to really get to know my heroine, Jo Banks. She isn't your average romance heroine.

Though is there really an average romance heroine? We all want our characters to be unique and memorable, but at the same time easy for readers relate to.

Jo is definitely unique. She sees ghosts and exterminates them for a living. She dyes her blonde hair black and dresses up like a punkette, but she has the body of a Playmate and the disposition of a snarky cheerleader.

Jo is a mish-mash of styles and she's very defensive of her status as a rebel, but what really makes her real to me, what makes me love her, is the fact that through all her experimental phases, she's just trying to figure out where she fits in the world. She isn't sure who she wants to be - and it just might turn out that rebel-ghost-girl Jo Banks is really a soccer-mom waiting to happen. This story, and her relationship with her polar-opposite Wyatt Haines, give Jo the chance to figure out who she really wants to be. Whoever that is.

What makes your heroine unique? What do you love most & hope readers will love most about her?

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Dating Game of Publishing

Rejection. The Big "R". It's a part of every writer's life. Even Shakespeare got booed a time or two. There are beaucoup articles and blogs out there on the interwebz (like this one) telling you how to cope with rejection, from sources much more credible than lil ole me, so I'm not gonna do that. Instead, I'd like to talk about not just coping, but finding the good in the rejections.

Sometimes the good is in the critique - like five big agents all telling you in unison that your Knights-templar-time-traveling-space-opera-romantic-comedy-cozy-mystery-with-serial-killers-from-Mars idea might be a little difficult to market until you narrow your focus a bit more. When they're all saying the same thing, there's a learning opportunity.

I can, on occasion, be a bit of a Pollyanna. I tend to think things will turn out for the best. So I take each rejection as a "something better to come" notification, rather than a "you suck and should stop writing right this instant to save humanity from your crappiness."

Lately, I've been seeing a trend in rejection letters. This one sentence keeps popping up. "I liked X, Y, and Z, but I just didn't love it as much as I wanted to." I'm pretty sure this is just the kiss-off du jour, but I've been thinking about that phrase and it has me thinking about dating. (Stay with me, this is a good analogy, I promise.)

Let's say you date three guys. Bachelor #1: You meet, sparks fly. Zing, baby. It's all chemistry, all over the place. You're climbing on one another like a hero and heroine in a romance novel. But then, as you get to know one another, you realize you aren't compatible outside the bedroom. You're opera, he's punk rock. And opposites may attract, but what are you going to talk about? Eventually, the passion fizzles and you go your separate ways.

Bachelor #2: After the debacle with Bachelor #1, you let your mom set you up with a "nice boy". He's sweet. He's charming. He's educated. He cooks, he cleans, he wants three kids just like you and he already has your dream vacation in Bora Bora planned as a honeymoon getaway. He's perfect. But where's the zing? When you look at him, you feel nothing. Nada. Zilch. Kissing him is about as appealing as making out with an iguana. You like him. You really like him. Maybe you even love him a little... as a friend. Eventually, you have to pull Bachelor #2 aside and have The Talk. I'm sorry, darling. I love you, but I'm not in love with you. Can we still be friends?

Then comes Bachelor #3: He's the trifecta. Chemistry, companionship, and love. There's zing. There's conversation. And he makes your little heart go pitter pat. You're so glad you didn't cling to your zing with Bachelor #1. You're so glad you didn't settle for the stable friendliness of Bachelor #2. Bachelor #3 may not be perfect. He may leave the toilet seat up or track mud all over the house with his manly boots, but he's The One. You can see your fiftieth anniversary in his eyes. This one is a keeper.

So what does this have to do with rejection? Bachelor #1: An editor may love your voice, love your story, love you to pieces, but if he/she can't fit you into the market somewhere, that love is going to fizzle in a hurry. This is a business and don't you forget it.

Bachelor #2: All the elements are there. You have solid writing, you have a somewhat marketable premise, and it might actually sell a few books, but the zing, the passion, it's missing. The editor may like you, but the editor is also smart. They know Bachelor #3 may be right around the corner.

You know why I love this analogy? Because one woman's Bachelor #1 is another woman's Bachelor #3, and vice versa. We're attracted by different things and willing to compromise on different things. The same is true of editors & agents.

You keep getting rejection letters? Good for you! You're putting yourself out there. You're dating! You can't meet Bachelor #3 if you aren't on the market. I know it sucks to go through all those people who aren't the right fit, but the right one is out there. Keep submitting.

Your happily ever after may be just an email away.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Partied Out

On Monday, I was planning to do a recap of the Emerald City Writers' Conference. Clearly that didn't happen! Apparently you have to recover from a conference before you blog about it.

All week long, I've been in slug mode: lots of laying around, reading my new books (the swag was awesome this year!) There was also all that family stuff that fell by the wayside while finishing up my conference committee obligations. Today's been the week for calling back cousins and actually making dinner for my husband. (That's right. Mr. Marvelous subsisted on Cheerios and did ALL of the housework for two weeks--without complaining! I felt he deserved some super suppers in thanks.)

Happily, I am all rested up now and the husband has been duly fed. So, here is my belated recap!

The best part of conference is always the people: reconnecting with old friends (Shelli Stevens, Anna Richland) and making new ones (Chassily Wakefield). We were lucky to have some excellent agents and editors this year, and I enjoyed conversing with them. I also had my first conversation with the fabulous Cherry Adair, which was an unexpected treat. In addition to being talented and generous, she's also incredibly funny!

I was behind a desk for most of Saturday, but I did get to attend "Warrior Writer" with Bob Mayer... and now that I've sufficiently recovered from conference, I think I need to put some of those workshop ideas into practice. Details later--for now, I've got to get off Blogger and finish reading his book!

In closing, thanks to everyone who made it such a great conference. As a committee chair this year, I really appreciated all the support! As an attendee, I appreciated the fun. And as a shameless fan of kareoke, I appreciate the discretion regarding my rendition of "We've Only Just Begun." More and more, I'm coming to realize that I'm a social being in a solitary field. Going to conference always recharges my writing batteries, and this year was no exception.

Question: what inspires you to write? Alternatively, what is the most inspiring memory you have of a writing conference?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Promo or Procrastination?

It's Anneliese's week to post. For all you Ms. Kelly fans out there, I'm sorry to report that she won't actually be posting--I have bribed her and stolen her promo time! (The deal was that I'd take over her blogging duties while she completed a major editing request from me. Since I didn't give her nearly enough advanced notice for the editing, it seemed like the least I could do!)

This actually brings me to my topic for the day: the clashing hats we wear as writers. Lately I've been really good about wearing that promo hat. But it's been stuck on my head so long, I'm wondering if it's really about procrastination. After all, if I'm promoting myself then I'm doing legitimate "writing work"... all without actually having to write!

As she so often does, Debbie Ridpath captured this dilemma perfectly (click on the picture for a bigger view):
There have been several great articles out there about social networking for writers. I don't mean to knock any of them. And I certainly believe the excellent advice over at 1st Turning Point: in today's marketing climate, writers have to establish their identity before they're even published!

But the same people who've encouraged me to promote myself are also the same people who'd remind me that social networking is no substitute for actually writing. Nobody can buy your book if you're not writing. And nobody will buy your second book if your first book was a phone-in flop. In short, we must balance promotion with output!

I've been doing an okay job, but I feel that I could definitely improve. And so it is that, even as I take over for Anneliese this week, I'll be looking for ways to wear my writing hat more often. Here are some of the experiments I'll be trying this week:

(1) Keep off the internet during my writing time! I will set a timer. While the minutes are ticking down, I can only be working in Microsoft Word.

(2) Provide mental separation between writing and promo. I heard about this trick from a friend who worked at home! He was feeling incredibly unproductive and someone suggested to him that he get up every morning at a set time and then prepare as if he were actually going to an office (shower, pre-make lunch, pack a briefcase, etc). He'd do this, and then he'd leave the house, walk around the block, and come inside. It was no longer his home... it was, for the duration of his work day, the office. I'm going to try something similar in my attempts to draw that line between writing and promo. I'll let you know how it goes!

(3) Limit promo time. I'm going to bust out the timer again. Maybe I'll set goals for my promo (as many people do for their writing). That way, I won't be working over or under my goal... in theory, at least!

My experiment starts today. I'd love your support! Please post an encouraging word or two. Also, I'd love to hear how you manage your writing/promo time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cake Time! Train Cakes!

Last week was my Big Boy's sixth birthday and we walked him to school with cookies shaped like the number six. It's great his teacher allows kindergarteners to bring class treats and greater that my sweet husband made them all, as well as this knock-me-over cake designed after LINK, Seattle's new light rail.

Perhaps my domestic bliss is why I don't read "mommy lit." I'm not interested in reading about the work vs. stay home conflict, having made and lived with my choices with open eyes. Lots of the other perceived staples of mommy-lit (self-sabotaging women old enough to know better, tooth and nail competition over stupid stuff, carpool angst, doofus spouses) have zero appeal to me as plot points. What's your opinion of "Mommy Lit"?

This week I found the first mommy-lit-light book I'm enjoying, Saving Face, a free on-line serial at Slate Magazine by my favorite writing lawyer, Dahlia Lithwick. Read past the first chapter (school pickup angst - almost stopped me reading. I hate the "I can't do anything right anymore because I've become a flabby loser with kids boo hoo" whine). After the first chapter it gallups into grown-up friendship, how easily the internet can dominate your life, and the lure of being snarky with strangers. These I like to read about. (Full Disclosure: I too am a former lawyer who misplaced her black suit - but it wasn't Armani - and I can't get my post-baby feet into my amazing red suede hiiiigh heels.).

In Saving Face Dahlia Lithwick harnessed her loyal readers' efforts for chores like naming characters, one of the the hardest parts of writing. In my first novel I named characters after San Francisco BART train stations because names are soooo hard. For my current book I used the social security database to find popular names in certain decades - workable but boring for given names. But surnames? If you write, how do you decide on those?

Dahlia poses reader questions at the end of each chapter and incorporates answers into her writing, letting her fans do the research. Amazing collaboration and yet the work is her voice. Read it and come back and tell me what you think. Want to help with Warrior's Hilt? Even though it's "finished" I have a few less-than-inspired names for secondary characters and I need a New Jersey suburb location, among other things. If you're interested drop a comment and I'll post more details.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Insider Tips on the Golden Heart!

The 2010 RWA® Golden Heart Contest opens for entries TODAY! Are you unpublished with a completed romance manuscript just itching for industry recognition? This is the contest of contests in the romance writing world. Are you one of next year's big winners? Get ready for Nashville, y'all. GH2010 is here! Click here for contest details.

And if you're interested in getting a jump on the competition with some insider info from those who've been there before, the 2009 Golden Heart class, The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, is launching a blog today at All during this month there will be daily giveaways - from mugs to manuscript critiques. Join the Ruby Sisters as we navigate the lions and tigers and bears of the romance writing industry and its biggest contest.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fan-Tastic Procrastination

Well, I managed to survive the first week of school. Goodness! I'd forgotten how exhausting it can be to run herd on 150 teenagers every day. Then there's the grading, the planning, and the interaction with colleagues and parents...

In short, a teacher's work is never done. And neither is a writer's. I was staring at my calendar for the upcoming school year, trying to figure out how I was going to meet all of my obligations for two demanding careers. Oh, and then there's that whole "friends and family" thing. My husband probably needs to spend time with me, not just looking at the back of my head!

Needless to say, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Happily, however, a friend sent me a lovely means of distracting myself. (Thanks, Martha!) I now know what I would look like if I went to Hogwarts (oh, and had impossibly long legs).

Here's the picture of Kate Diamond, at work and at play in J.K. Rowling's fabulous universe:

You should visit the website yourself! I'd love to see your own Doll Divine, whether you're dressing up as a Hogwarts student or trying on some warrior babe chic. Give us a link! And perhaps this is a dangerous request... but I'm going to go there anyway. What's your favorite website to visit when you're procrastinating and/or unwinding?

I hope you enjoy Doll Divine! Of course, those of us with dirty minds just might use the site to live out our prurient Potions fantasies...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Heroines & Life Lessons

First off, I’d really like to thank the Damned Scribbling Women for having me today. I love stopping by this blog for a laugh or a thoughtful blog post and am thrilled to be here today.

When I was getting my MFA in creative writing, my fiction professors always told me that a good short story or novel must make its readers think. It must have a message and characters that transcend time and race and culture and creed. It must be real. These are, of course, many of the same professors who scoffed at me when I told them I wanted to write romances. The same ones who told me writing genre fiction was a waste of my talent—little did they know how little their advice was going to end up meaning to me.

Well, here I am a number of years later, writing romance novels and loving every second of it. And while their advice about romance novels was complete idiocy (I’ve been reading love stories since I was in fifth grade and I certainly have no plans to stop anytime soon) a lot of what they taught me has stuck with me—including the fact that a reader should be able to learn something about the human condition from the books she reads.

Now, I write two very different types of books—erotic suspense and family oriented contemporaries, both of which will soon be joined by paranormals when my first novel of dragon shapeshifters hits the shelves next year. And though my books lend themselves to very different plotlines, language and heat levels, one of the things I’ve found has remained the same between my NAL Heats and my Harlequin Superromances, is my characters—and what I (and hopefully my readers) learn from them. Whether I’m writing a kick-butt police detective (my September 2009 release Tie Me Down) or a surrogate mother on the brink of emotional collapse (my June 2009 release From Friend to Father) I tend to gravitate to the same kind of heroines—strong, smart and self-assured. Heroines I can respect and heroines I can learn something from. So, with no further ado, here’s a quick look at some of the life lessons I’ve learned from the women I’ve written in the last year.

Genevieve Delacroix (Tie Me Down—September 2009) A tough-as-nails homicide detective, Genevieve survives the violence of New Orleans’s streets by staying in control at all times. But when she meets her hero, Cole Adams, she learns that some of the most important things in life—friendship, passion, love—can’t be controlled. Genevieve has taught me the value of spontaneity and that coloring outside of the lines is often more rewarding than doing the same old thing.

Sarah Martin (Heroine of From Friend to Father—June 2009): Mother of twin boys and surrogate mother for her best friend’s baby, Sarah has taught me the importance of hanging on to my sense of humor. No matter what life throws at her—from overflowing toilets to a deadbeat husband to falling in love for a second, scarier time, Sarah never forgets to laugh.

Serena Macafee (Full Exposure—January 2009) Serena’s been through the emotional wringer—when she was seventeen, she survived the brutal attack that ended up killing her twin sister. Ten years later, her sister’s murderer—and her own assailant—is being released early from prison and Serena must deal with the emotional and actual fall-out. With her past, she is scared to death of being vulnerable—to anyone, including her lover, Kevin Riley. But as the book unfolds, Serena realizes that being strong doesn’t mean doing everything alone. So from her, I’ve learned the importance of standing on my own two feet—and of asking for help when I need it.

Vivian Wentworth (A Christmas Present—December 2009) Vivian reminded me of the importance of keeping an open mind. An attorney who’s spent her career fighting for women who can’t fight for themselves, Vivian is shocked and upset when she ends up defending a seventeen-year-old boy accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend. But things aren’t what they seem in the case and Vivian must work with her client’s mentor and guardian to keep an innocent boy out of jail, even after he’s given up on justice and himself.

So, have you learned anything from a romance heroine—one you’ve written or one you’ve just liked reading about? Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of my June release, From Friend to Father.

The winner will be announced on Friday, September 18th, so be sure to check back!

Friday, September 04, 2009

What Makes A Good Book Good?

Earlier this week, I was having a hardcore wallow over the uninspired pap I was scribbling all over my WIP. I knew I needed the jolt of eagerness and excitement over the written word that I can only get from a Really Good Book.

My RGB of choice was Dogs & Goddesses by the divine Jennifer Crusie, deific Anne Stuart, and transcendent Lani Diane Rich. And it worked. Whammo! Popped me right out of my funk. I'm writing great gobs of goodness into my WIP and life is good again.

But then I got to thinking. What makes a RGB so good?

We could dissect it. Break it down into pieces and examine the parts, but a book autopsy only works on dead items and Really Good Books are alive to me. Please, let's not kill them. They are so pretty as a whole, must we suck the life out of them and hack them apart? Does it have to be the dialogue or the characterization or the plot arc? Could it possibly be some kind of magical alchemy? An X-factor that takes a good book with all those dry ingredients and adds a juicy slug of wow to the pages.

I don't think a truly excellent work of literary fiction is any more quantifiable than popular/genre fiction. Can you describe to me exactly what makes Dickens more enduring than his contemporaries? What separates Steinbeck or Alcott from theirs? Entire literary theses are written in the attempt, but those theses tell us as much about the reader and what they bring to the work as they do about the work itself.

In one of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books (RGBs!) - I think it was The Well of Lost Plots, but I can't be sure - he talks about how much work a reader does, what percentage of the book experience is fueled by the reader versus the words themselves. Words are just words. The reader is the one who makes them worlds and people and ideas.

I was lucky enough to see Jennifer Crusie speak while I was in Ohio a couple months ago. One of the things she mentioned was leaving enough room in the manuscript for the reader to get inside and make themselves at home. This really got me thinking about the accessibility of books. Some are thick and dense, with not a lot of wiggle room, and not terribly cozy for a reader to crawl inside. But sometimes those difficult reading experiences can be just as, or even far more, rewarding than the easy ones which throw out the welcome mat.

I'm kind of in love with that metaphor now - the book as a living space. I'm picturing some of the difficult ones as being cramped and having major electrical problems, so you're pressed up against the wall and get periodic shocks as the book jolts you into opening up a part of your brain you hadn't accessed before. Electro-shock-reading!

To me, a RGB is not any particular kind of book, but rather a reading experience. I love classic literature. (Well, some of it. My hatred for James Joyce is a living, breathing thing.) But I also read copious amounts of genre fiction. I tend to think that genre fiction exists to take you out of yourself (those wide open doors of the accessible book) whereas lit fic exists to put you back in and make you take a hard look around (and maybe shock open a few new neural pathways). And both are valuable.

You cannot force someone to love electro-shock-reading any more than you can force them to respect the "easy" read. In this article at Smart Bitches, Candy talks about mandatory reading lists and the cold war between lit snobs and genre slobs. Can't we all just get along? Why does one have to be better than the other?

Eloisa James told a story at the National Conference about the difficulties of being a genre writer in a family of literary snobs. She kept being asked when she was going to write a "real" book. (If you've never read Eloisa James, do it now. Those books are real. And utterly brilliant.)

I can understand her frustration, but (don't hate me!) I can also see the other side. I love romance. I love writing romance. But I want to write a Big Book someday that examines and impacts society in a way a happily-ever-after could not do. So I can't take offense when people ask me when I'm going to write something real. Yeah, it sucks that they don't respect what I'm doing now, but I understand that to them a RGB has to be electro-shocky and romance just ain't. One man's RGB is another man's uninspired pap (or James Joyce).

And now I'm off topic... does anyone remember what I set out to say when I sat down to write this post? Something about Really Good Books? And what makes them good?

My verdict: Magic. And a place for the reader to climb inside. Really, it's all up to the reader. Not to diminish the work writers do, but without the reader's imagination, where would we be?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Our own Kate Diamond is a DOUBLE FINALIST in the Emerald City Opener Contest!!! Congratulations, Kate, and loads of luck in the final round for both fantastic manuscripts!

Here's to your success!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Nerves, Nerves, Nerves

Yesterday I got an email pointing me to a great review for The Ghost Shrink, the Accidental Gigolo & the Poltergeist Accountant. Do you know what my first thought was as I read the heady praise being heaped on my undeserving head?

Oh, no.

Yep. No jumping for joy here. I actually thought Oh, no, she liked it. Quickly followed by: She's gonna hate the next one... (which hits the ebook stores October 27th) and really hate the one after that (which I am in the middle of writing).

Yeah. Way to think positive, Vivi.

I've been a nervous wreck for a few days now. On Wednesday I hit that point (that awful, awful point) in my WIP where the rosy glow wore off and I became convinced the entire thing sucked. It wasn't funny. It wasn't romantic. It was a big, sloppy, disjointed mess. My characters were inconsistent and unlikeable. My plot was plodding and unbelievable. In short, junk. All of it, junk.

It doesn't help matters that I'm in submission-waiting limbo on another manuscript and will-readers-like-it-waiting limbo on the October release. Stress piled up on stress and turned me into a walking basketcase. I'm visiting some friends at the moment and I actually gave one of them instructions to throw water in my face if I look like I'm stressing myself out about the writing crap. So far I've narrowly dodged a couple dousings.

I know I need to plod on through on the WIP. I need to push past my current welter of insecurities and get to the finish line. I can make it funny in revisions. I can make it romantic in revisions. I can make it good. Later. Right now, I just need to get to THE END.

Nerves suck. But they are part of being a writer. I worry that I won't be good enough to get published. I worry that once I'm published, no one will like my book. And I worry that even if they loved that one, they will hate this one. There is always fresh worry baking in the Andrews household.

My question for you: How do you get past your own insecurities and fears? How do you convince yourself that your current project (writing or otherwise) is worth completing? How do you silence that nasty doubting voice telling you it isn't good enough?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunshine Delay

I was supposed to post my final dialog comments today but I ran off to the circus (well, the Evergreen State Fair) with Big Boy, Miss Busy Boots, two all-you-can-ride wrist bands and a pony ride punch card. The rule in my household: you must tour all the animal barns, at least one hokey show (clap for those All-Alaskan Racing Pigs, especially Harry Porker), milk the fake cow and admire the 4-H displays before any midway rides. Am I a grinch or what?

In lieu of much here, please visit Amanda Forester's fabulous website that went live last week. She's a fellow Greater Seattle RWA member with her first book due soon and she dares to undress the knight in shining armor.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

He said, she shrugged, I rewrote.

Today's technical advice for polishing raw dialog is a long post but I hope you come away with something for your own writing or follow the links to fun free reading stuff.

I had an ah-ha moment at Elizabeth Hoyt's Writing Between the Lines workshop at 2008 RWA Nationals. She emphasized that a reader can only separate the identities of two speakers for four exchanges - only four lines - before needing a tag or beat to keep from getting lost. Think about that. We've all lost track of the speaker before and had to count "that's him, that's her, him, her, him, so this line is her." I shared this revelation with a friend who thought she was the only person who counted lines and blamed it on her dyslexia. Don't make your reader doubt her own brain! After four exchanges, tag or beat it. (I wish I could cue a little music but maybe I'll make it play in your head ... their words are really clear, so beat it, just beat it...)

What are tags and beats? Tags are "he said" or "so-and-so inquired." Like a scrap of paper dangling from a shirt, they identify the maker (or in this case, the speaker). "Said" scans neutrally and is often preferable to words like "screamed" and all its synonyms. "Said" won't jar the reader out of the flow the way yelled, muttered and spit do.

Beats are things that happen in a section of dialog that identify the speaker. A beat might include movement or it might be internal thought. Examples from Chapter 2 of Elizabeth Hoyt's free online novella The Ice Princess are "Isaac cleared his throat" and "Isaac turned to Lord Howling and raised his eyebrows." The reader knows who says the next line so Hoyt doesn't have to add "Isaac said." A bit more:

  • Avoid the redundancy of using a tag and a beat such as "he said as he shut the door."
  • Movement is preferable to a tag. It emphasizes and shows emotion.
  • But - too much movement or internal thought chops up the dialog and distracts the reader. Hoyt suggests one short paragraph of internal thought per half page. One more thing to check in my edits.
  • If you must convey explanation or backstory through dialog, create interesting movement around the speakers. Hoyt described the hero shaving his face during an otherwise mundane conversation. In Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder called this principle "The Pope in the Pool" moment in screenwriting. You can tell the audience anything if their eyes are watching the Pope swim in a pool during the talking.

Terry McLaughlin shared a checklist of layers that turn dialog into an emotion-laden conversation worthy of publication:

  • Hands (no wringing, but do you know where they are? touching chin? in pockets?)
  • Props (twisting purse strap? earrings? stabbing food at a tense dinner?)
  • Facial Expressions (I am frequently guilty of adding high speed eyebrow movements that I must later edit away, but some are good.)
  • Body Language (leaning in, leaning out, turning toward, slumping, straightening?)
  • Movements (sitting or standing? walking away and turning over shoulder to talk?)
You can see Terry's multi-layered dialog in her free excerpt from A Small Town Homecoming. With all this in mind, and tweaking the earlier words so they fit Wulf and Theresa's characters, here's my second version of the snippet (apologies for blogger's paragraphing problems):

He put the box down carefully and she felt an unfamiliar urge to pout. A package was more important? Then he leaned closer and cupped her cheek in one hand. "Thank you."

"For what?" His palm was warm and calloused and she wanted to rub her face against it but they were standing in the middle of Macy's so she held still.

"For listening to me for once and staying safe. For going with Ivar."

Watching his lips move sent memories of their warmth shivering across her skin. She gripped the railing that separated them from the escalator well to stop from reaching for his head and pulling it down to her. Not here.

"I saw Ivar's rune and knew you were safe." His lips came closer as he leaned across the space. Even though his mouth filled her vision she could barely follow his words. "It took a day for me to reach Copenhagen, another before Mulla rigged my return."

"Wait --" she thrust her palm out to stop his advance. "Two days in Mulla's apartment and you didn't call?"

"I have this problem with telephones." He flashed that dimple, always so unexpected on her warrior.

She would not give in that easily. "Many men do. They still call."

"Figured I might as well make it here."

She rolled her eyes to no effect since he was staring at the box between their feet. Yeah, she already knew he had no sense of time passing. Who would after fifteen hundred years, really? "No friends on your flight, I hope?" She tried to keep her voice light but it would be a long time, if ever, before she could forget the chaos and fear of their flight to Copenhagen.

"Mulla crated and shipped me air cargo. Seemed like the easiest way to avoid a chatty seatmate."
Back to Me: Improved since Monday? Did you notice that I removed some of Wulf's pronouns and two repetitive lines of the exchange? I tried to make him more direct - he is a special forces soldier and immortal warrior, not a chatty bff. I added hands (she grips rail, holds palm up; he cradles her cheek) and a prop (the box - what's in it?). A question for you - does rolling eyes work when you read it on a page? His dimple shows he smiled. Should I end it with a period after dimple or does the "unexpected" phrase work?

I still need to up the emotion and tie it to the overall conclusion. This dialog feels hanging in space to me, even when I read it in its full context. Theresa is being remarkably cool - neither angry nor happy to see him - so either I have to develop a reason for that or I have to change her reaction.

Please tell me what you think! Anything that's not clear? That I should edit out? Any more to add? Friday I'll share the final version but until then keep writing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yadda Yadda ...

Dialog. If you hear it in your head, you might consider being a writer. If your lips move while you drive, wash dishes or take a shower, you are a writer already even if you haven't put anything on paper.
Dialog. It's what I write first. I explained in a previous post how I organize to write a lot, quickly, with forward momentum. My system of writing dialog, a product of my trials and errors as well as classes with Elizabeth Hoyt and Terry McLaughlin, usually requires at least three visits to a scene. That breaks down nicely to a week of blogging, doesn't it?

First, I put down the words the characters say and nothing else. At the Emerald City Writer's Conference Terry McLaughlin said "get out of the way and let the characters talk." That's what I try to do. I don't bother with quotation marks because they interrupt and distract me by making me wonder about subsequent punctuation. I manage to capitalize where necessary because I'm a moderately fast touch typist, but if you're not, don't worry about caps either.

In this first hashing, I do NOT interrupt my writing with "he said" tags or action beats such as "the viscount shook his head." If I have more than two people, I might use the speaker's first initial here or there to keep things straight in my head, but nothing else. If I have a really important event that the characters must react to and I need a note to myself to recall how the scene blocks out, then I write [car rolls in ditch] and continue with the conversation. Here's a first draft of part of my last scene in Warrior's Hilt, the reunion that ends with happily ever after. Wulf and Theresa meet at the top of an escalator at Macy's in New York. She's been waiting at his brother's home for three days after they fled an explosion at an open-air historic village museum outside of Copenhagen:

Thank you.
For what?
For listening to me finally. For going with Ivar and staying safe so you would be here for me.
What took you so long?
His lips hovered over hers. I saw the rune in the snow and knew I could stop looking for you. He kissed her and didn't stop. [her feeling]. It was a day before I could make it to Copenhagen and another before Mulla had me fit for public.
And you didn't think to call?
I have this problem with telephones.
Many men do. They still call.
Lately they seem to be bugged.
Handy excuse.
I figured I might as well come home.
No repeats of our other flight?
Mulla checked me as air cargo. Seemed like the easiest way to avoid chatty seatmates.
Me again: So I have some problems making indent work in a blogger block quote. If you know how, please tell! How hard was it to follow which character, Wulf or Theresa, is speaking? If I did a bang-up job, each character's voice would come through in word choice and structure. The reader would know immediately what a man had said and what a woman had said without tags. I'm not that good on the first pass.

My thoughts: The first couple lines were unclear and need tags or action/movement beats to clarify speaker and add interest, but I hope readers feel that "you didn't think to call" and "many men do" were said by the heroine. This raw dialog could play various ways. Is Wulf penitent or unrepentant? Sorry or cocky? He's a bit wordy for an immortal Viking warrior turned Special Forces soldier, unless he's nervous (he is; he's about to propose). The heroine's terseness could indicate anger, frustration, sarcasm or maybe teasing, confidence or flirting, depending on her body language and emotions. I can see her face in my imagination but I need to translate that to paper.
Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It: Write the dialog only leading to a marriage proposal and post it in the comments. As in my example, you can use two sentences for set-up. Wednesday we'll tackle the next phase - editing - and we can all work on any posted samples. Or you can comment on mine!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Favorite Foodie Romance?

Every summer, I rediscover my love of cooking. I bike to the local farmers market. I pick blackberries. I make everything from scratch. In short, it's lovely, and it serves to remind me that food can be many things: calorie-laden comfort, a sign of affection, or the start of something sensual!

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite romance novelists seem to agree with me.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to appreciate Jennifer Crusie's food descriptions! Who could forget the chicken marsala in Bet Me--the "golden-brown fillets and huge braised mushrooms floating in luminous dark wine sauce" (44). And don't even get me started on Emilio's bread, or the Krispy-Kreme makeout scene...

Then we have Agnes and the Hitman, where food-loving takes a close second to Shane-loving. The food columns! The raspberry sauce! The trauma of evil fondant! And those fantastic breakfast scenes wherein suspicious individuals come together over buttery eggs, and the pancake syrup falls in sugary ropes... what's not to love?

Clearly, I am a fan of food in literature. I am hoping you have some recommendations for me. What are some other romance novels that get your taste buds tingling?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Love and Marriage

Today is my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Four decades of marriage: pretty impressive, huh? Even more impressive when you consider that they're high school sweethearts. Yeah, they started dating back when my mother was 15 (or, as she likes to say, "we've been together since we were fetuses"). They've never been with anyone but each other!

Over the past few years, I've learned a little something from watching my parents. (Before that, I was a teenager and I knew everything.) I think one of the reasons they're still happy together is that they're not complacent about their marriage. It would probably be very easy to get lazy after so long. But they still do new things together--they vacation in new places or try new restaurants. They laugh together A LOT and still create their own personal in-jokes with admirable frequency. They're friends as well as spouses.

I hope, in 40 years, that Mr. Marvelous and I can say the same!

Their story would make for a terrible romance novel. They've never dealt with secret babies or arranged marriages. My father is not a vampire. My mother is not a plucky FBI agent. They don't fight crime and the state of their relationship has nothing to do with bringing about or averting the apocalypse.

And yet, they inspire me every day by the way they treat each other.

And so, to honor my parents, I ask the question: what real life romances inspire you? Maybe they inform your writing. Or maybe they inform your life. Either way, I want to hear about them!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Must Read Romance

In my quest to locate the definitive list of Must Read Romances to test the true romance devotee, I found a variety of lists, but none of them reflected my romance preferences (and were therefore inferior, ha).

I found This List, from the Romance Reader, but it seemed to be more "Old Skool" romance and I was disappointed by the absence of the New Guard. Nary a Lani Diane Rich or a Kresley Cole in sight. And paranormal was woefully underrepresented.

A couple weeks back, the Smart Bitches were in People Magazine, plugging Bosoms and romance novels as a whole. They sent along to the people of People a list of their favorite romances and the people of People distilled that list down to these five:

1. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
2. The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale
3. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
4. Magnate's Make-Believe Mistress by Bronwyn Jameson
5. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

I have to say, this is a nice list. Diverse, high quality stuff. But it isn't my list. I doubt you're ever going to get romance readers to agree on a top five (or even a top fifty), but that's part of the beauty of this business. There is marvelous variety and plenty of readers who love every inch of the romantic spectrum.
(And if you're interested in Candy from SBTB's Favs you can find that list HERE.)

Anyway, here's my nit-picking of the SBTB list, along with a list of my very own:

1. Bet Me is not my favorite Crusie. Not by a long shot. (Though of course, I still love it, because it's still brilliant.) I also wouldn't say it's the most universal. I would definitely have a Crusie on my list (no question about that), but mine would have to be Welcome to Temptation. The book that popped my Crusie cherry, so to speak.

2. What? No paranormal? No vamps? No shifters? Say it ain't so! My #2 slot has to have a paranormal slant. Shana Abe? Kresley Cole? This is a hard one to choose, but I think I'm gonna go with Jacquelyn Frank's Nightwalkers. Jacob.

3. Okay, I like Loretta Chase and all, but if I only have to pick one historical, of all the historicals out there, it's gotta be Julia or Eloisa. Quinn or James? How to choose? There is a glut of Regencies, so I'm going to go Georgian on this one. Desperate Duchesses, baby

4. Honestly, I am not a big fan of category romances. I just don't have one of these on my list. I'm afraid I'm going to fill this slot with, ahem, the rather hot side of the spectrum. My favorite naughty romance would have to be an Emma Holly guilty pleasure: Prince of Ice.

5. J.D. Robb. It wouldn't be a romance list without a listing from Dame Nora, eh? I did really like Naked in Death, but as romantic suspense go, not really my fav. I tend to veer more toward the action edge than the darker side. I like my romance fluffy, thank you very much. So my list is going to showcase the lighter, adventure-ier edge of the rom-suspense genre: Roxanne St. Claire & her Bullet Catchers. Kill Me Twice.

What would be on your top five? Which books would you give to a genre-newbie to try to turn them into a lifelong card-carrying romance-reading addict?

Monday, August 03, 2009

100 (or so) Books

A few months ago, a list put forth by the BBC made the blog rounds. 100 Books. The BBC estimated that the average person would have read only 6 books off this list.

Now, I’ve read substantially more than six (and I have a feeling the more literarily inclined DSW will have read far more than I), but I still found myself with a discomfiting number of "Oh, I should have read that!" moments.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
1) Look at the list and bold the ones you have read.
2) Put an ‘X’ after ones you’ve started but not finished.

3) Italicize the ones you LOVE with a passion that cannot be described.
4) Star (**) those you plan on reading.
5) Tally your total and post it in a comment here. (You do not get partial points for wanting to read or having read part of… that’s just to keep you honest.)

And now, without further ado, THE LIST:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (Oh, Jane, how do I love thee…)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien XX (I read the Hobbit & the whole Fellowship, but I just couldn't get any farther.)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (Someone needed to give the Bronte sisters some happy pills. Of course, think of the literature lost if they lived in the days of Prozac.)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (What is with lumping the series all together? There are clearly more than 100 books here.)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (yes, the whole thing, and I'm not even religious)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (Can I smack Catherine & Heathcliff over the head with something heavy?)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (I am such a sucker for dystopian literature.)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (I think I spent as much time arguing with my friend Leslie about whether or not this was a crap series as I did actually reading it. I was not a fan. She was vehemently in favor.)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (See Wuthering Heights above for smacking of Pip & Estella)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy **
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (Amazing book. Beyond brilliant)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I'm counting this one even though I missed two of the histories. No one has read King John. I defy you to find one person who has actually read that play. One!)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier**
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks (Never even heard of it. Ignorant me.)
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (I find I love this one in spite of the fact that it made me cry buckets and was irritatingly fatalistic. Can't wait for the movie.)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot**
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens**
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy** (This one was assigned reading in college and I skipped it. It's been eating away at my soul ever since...)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh** (Shut up, Brian. I’ll get to it.)
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky** (See War & Peace and eating away at my soul...)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (I’ve got a weird thing for Steinbeck. He flips my switch. Don’t ask me why.)
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (Weird. Seriously weird.)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy**
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens **
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
(Dude, Item 33? The Chronicles? I protest the redundancy. I’ve read the whole series but I am appalled by the BBC’s lack of precision.)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (Crap book. Absolutely hated it. If you liked it, you are wrong. Email me if you'd like an in depth argument of all the ways it sucks.)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden** (I'll probably read this just because someone gave me a copy.)
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown** (I'll get around to it. I have to work myself up to Dan Brown lest I dent my walls chucking them across the room. I had a small problem with the jumping out of a helicopter without a parachute part of Angels & Demons. I bitched about that for days on end.)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (In Spanish! Take that! I am a literary mogul!)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (And after I saw the movie I have no urge to ever read this. Blech.)
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel**
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens**
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon**
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez X
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov**
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac** (Must read, if only because I have a freakish need to travel constantly.)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie**
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (Yeah, the whole thing.)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (Never never never. I had to read Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. After that Joyce never gets another second of my life.)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath X
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome (I’ve never heard of this book… but the title sounds kinda dirty… I find myself intrigued)
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt**
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (Read this? Only every single Christmas!)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert**
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton (Again, never heard of it. I’z so unedumacated.)
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole**
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (And yet again, never heard of it. *sigh*)
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (And is there a reason this isn’t included in Complete Works above?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
(And I love the play, too.)

My number is 47. I’ve read not-quite-half of them. I’d say that’s not too shaming. Although, I have to say, I’m not too keen on the BBC’s list. There’s an odd mix of popular and classic which leads me to wonder how they picked these 100.

How do you come up with a list that lines Douglas Adams up right next to Shakespeare? And I love Jane Austen, but why everything she ever wrote and no Mark Twain? No Ayn Rand? No Robert Heinlein? No Vonnegut or D.H. Lawrence? Narnia is on there twice but no Mary Shelley? Faulkner? O’Hara? Robert Penn Warren? Who made this list? I guess these are the 100 books you should read growing up British.

My questions for you: How many have you read? (If you've read them all, I will be suitably awed, amazed, and ashamed of myself.) What books should be on this list but aren’t? What books do you think should be required reading for everyone?

And later this week... a list of must-read romance novels to test your smut-o-meter.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Savor a Rake, Win Some Cash

The second book in Delilah Marvelle's School of Gallantry series comes out on August 4th! To celebrate, the author is running a very cool contest over at her website.

You can wander over there for contest details, but we have them here. Email Ms. Marvelle (Delilah at DelilahMarvelle dot com). Send her the School's quote from Lesson 27, and you will be entered to win one of three $50 Visa Cards. Winners will be contacted via e-mail by September 10th.

And don't forget to buy Lord of Pleasure, on sale August 4th!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Not Wednesday?

On Monday I promised both a Wednesday and a Friday post. Why didn't I post Wednesday? Because I have a schedule I prioritize over blogging. I have a weekly page count for Warrior's Hilt, my paranormal romance in progress. I weighed my commitment to blogging against my writing schedule and I chose to write my novel.

Writing a whole book - 95,000 words, 300 plus pages - is that simple. You choose writing over other things. That might be instead of sleeping in or replying to email or cleaning a closet. Maybe you send the husband to the zoo with the kids and decide to skip it this time because after all you went to the playground yesterday and hey you can write three more pages while they're all out. I'm by no means a motivation or planning expert, but after fourteen years tinkering with Shooting Stars, I started writing Warrior's Hilt in January 2009 and today, July 31, I have 290 pages. I am on track to be finished September 1 and polished in time to enter the Golden Heart. Here's what I've learned.
  • Plan your writing realistically in weekly chunks. I use a 3-column Word document with three months of Wednesday and Saturday dates on the left. The middle column contains blank lines for pages achieved each date and a pre-printed weekly page goal. On the right I note expected events (my week to blog, vacation, camping) that add or subtract writing time. I vary my page goals based on the week. On the road for vacation, 5 pages. A so-called regular week, 15 pages. Both kids at camp 9 am to noon for a whole week, 30 pages (didn't quite make that but it was a great goal).

  • Print the plan and put it on the fridge. Forget weight loss, I want to write. I track pages achieved on the fridge instead of wasting computer time opening the chart. Not only does seeing my goals all the time keep me aware, I'm accountable to anyone who looks at the fridge.
    I've had failures. The week my laptop died I wrote nothing and I'm still catching up. I grew distracted the whole month of May and let my writing priorities drift. They slipped so far I had to revise my accountability chart from an August 1 deadline to September 1, and that's why I ended up with a 30 page goal one week and waaay too many 20 page weeks. But now I'm past the hump (see Monday's entry for the rhino). That's how normal slow people run marathons and that's how you raise kids and that's how you mow the grass. You keep going.

  • Write anything, even crap. This is Cherry Adair's view of writing and I believe in it. You can edit the crap out of anything but a blank page. If I can't figure out a transition from a chunk of dialog to the next action sequence, I [add transition here] and move forward. Brackets and speed are my friends.

In this system, do not under any circumstances agonize over phrasing. Maybe spend time choosing one word, but you can put a [boring word] in brackets and come back later to jazz it up. When I write what I know to be a cliche, I add [cl] after it to remind me to freshen during editing.
Two months ago I described three scenes in Warrior's Hilt as [go to his tuscan castle - dinner - bad guys invade]. I wanted to move to the morning after the fight scene, which I could see clearly at that moment, but I think moving linearly is important to character development and manuscript integrity.
By this week I was one hundred pages past that point, stuck at the final part of a snow mobile chase. I couldn't tackle that frigid mess in Seattle's hundred degree heat, so I flipped back to my Tuscan castle brackets and it all flowed, the fight scene with tipped over candles lighting a tapestry on fire, the dining room's historic weapon collection, the hero's anger that the heroine didn't follow his commands.
In sum: make a realistic accountability calendar, print and post it visibly, write fast and sloppy to move forward. You will have a rough draft faster than you imagine and you will be able to edit, polish, tweak and fiddle as necessary - with a new calendar or you'll be at it fourteen years like I was.
Do you have a different system that works for you to get your writing done? I'm always interested in tips and tricks to squeeze more writing out of a day, so please post here. And I promise to post my dialog editing comments when I get my page count back to green-light status.