Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cover Art, Part II: Enjoy yourselves, but don't expect me to join in.

Once again the perennial whipping boy of the romance world (aka cover art) is the subject of blogs and flame wars. Yes, much of romance cover art is downright ridiculous -- the poses, the hair, the muscles, the clothes. We romance authors, especially those of us who write historicals, know this. We do not suddenly go stupid or lose our taste when we get published.

But here's the thing: most of us have absolutely no control over this part of our book. We give our opinions, we send in pictures, and then we cross our fingers and hope we don't get a howler. And if we do? I explain it thusly: suppose you're a dressmaker and you work for months making a sample of your work, because of course you want others to hire you. You agonize over the fabric choice, the pattern, the type of thread, the trim, the fastenings. You work hard to get the finished dress as nearly perfect as it can be. When you finish, you are tired, but pleased.

Then somebody spills a glass of red wine all down the front of the dress.

It's still the same lovely dress. It's still just as well made. But is anybody going to notice much of anything beyond that stain? In the case of a book, are they even going to bother picking it up to read the blurb?

But it doesn't end there, not when it comes to the mockery. Now imagine that not only is your creation marred by a big stain, people are pointing their fingers and laughing. Would you really expect the dressmaker to join in? Or not be a tad upset?

I know cover art can be silly. I know people get a real kick out of making fun of it (although it seems like shooting fish in a barrel to me, especially if it involves old romances long out of print), and far be it from me to rain on your parade. But please, spare a sympathetic thought for the author who in all probability had no say in the matter and is well aware that her cover is ugly or historically inaccurate, or just plain ridiculous.

And don't expect me to join in the finger pointing. I've been in that dressmaker's shoes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cover Art, Part I

I recently got my box of author copies of HERS TO DESIRE and did what I always do -- open it, grab a copy, smile, then check out the back to see what's there (picture with bio? Check. Website URL? Check. Ads -- who and what?) and then I go back to the front, gazing on it fondly and look at the inside art, if there is any.

The cover itself is lovely -- I really like the color and font. I love the heroine's dress. To be honest, I was a little taken aback by the hero's striped vest, but not enough to cringe.

The special bonus was the inside picture. Very nice! Especially since Bea and Ranulf are larger. I only wish it wasn't covered up by that gigantic bar code, but we can't have everything. I've already uploaded it to my site.

I wouldn't be surprised if this picture winds up on the cover of foreign editions, either of my book or somebody else's -- the same way I get Helen Kirkman's gorgeous sexy male torsos on some of my foreign editions.

Here's Helen's cover. And here's mine for the Italian edition of THE VIKING, which was originally published in North America in 1993. I notice that I get more of the hero's face. He's got a wonderful chin! And you just gotta love that staff and the cuffs and the hand... In short, I love this cover.

Not that I don't find "my own" covers being "reused." Here's my cover for THE ROGUE'S RETURN (Harlequin Historical, 1997) and Paula Marshall's PRINCE OF SECRETS (Harlequin Historical, 2006). I'll confess the first time I saw this done, I was all "Heeey! That's MY cover!" But it's not like I own the art work. Or as if my book is still in print.

Here's the wackiest, most unexpected place I've ever found a version of my cover art: on an episode of the Highlander TV series, the one about the romance writer. There was my cover supposedly on her book, albeit with longer hair on the hero to make him look more like Duncan. And the story, as told in flashbacks, was certainly nothing like mine, which was a medieval, and the Highlander "romance" was most definitely not. If you're a fan of the show, does this look familiar?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Smooth as a tall glass of cold milk....or so I hope...

So once again I'm reading MY LORD'S DESIRE. What is this...fifty times? A hundred for some parts? Whatever. It must be done, because I've added and revised and I have to make sure the new or rearranged parts are indistinguishable from the "old parts." It should sound as if I just sat down and typed the book in one sitting, straight from the muse to my fingertips. Smooth as a tall glass of cold milk.

Which is why, I suppose, most people assume that writing is easy. If I've done my job properly, that is how it should sound, at least as far as I'm concerned. I don't write to draw attention to my voice or my style. I want the focus on the characters and story, not me. That's why I'll probably never be known as a great prose stylist. I can certainly live with that.

In other news, I got my author copies of HERS TO DESIRE, which will be out next month! There's another picture of the couple inside the cover, in a more intimate setting, that I love. I'll be posting it here and on my site in the next couple of days.

And since romance cover art seems to be the blog subject du jour, I'll be adding my two cents to the discussion. Believe you me, I do have an opinion about that.

Friday, June 23, 2006

This week's quote

"It's suppose to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great." - Tom Hanks's baseball coach in A League of Their Own

As much as I love this quote, I think they left something out: "It's the hard that makes it great when you succeed." If it was just hard and there was no reward of any kind, well, who'd keep going? Let's be honest here.

However, the reward doesn't have to be "big" to make it "great." It doesn't have to be obvious to the world, like a making sale or a list. The reward can be as "small" as the first time you finish a scene and think, "Yes! That's good!" (Although I could also argue that the first time you really believe you have talent is a huge step in your evolution as a writer.)

I've had many people say to me that they'd like to be writers. What they'd like is to have written. They don't want to do "the hard." But when you do the hard work, and you succeed, by whatever measure, large or small, obvious to the world or only to you, it is great. And that's what keeps me going through the hard.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wherein my daughter takes pity on me....

I've been doing revisions, and oh, baby, they are so NOT my favorite part of the process. I don't mind making changes if the book needs them. It's inputting the changes, which I always make on a hard copy, that gets to me. By the end of a couple of hours, my back hurts and my brain feels like mush. I think maybe I'm going cross-eyed, too.

However, my daughter found something on the internet to give me a boost, about the new Robin Hood series the BBC is making. It sounds...well, heck, I'm all for anything that gets people thinking medieval! And frankly, the entire series could totally suck, and I would be watching because, helloooooo! Richard Armitage as Sir Guy of Gisborne? Say no more! I love me a good villain and I think he'll be fantastic. Fingers and toes crossed a station I get will buy the rights!

Here ya go: Robin Hood.

And in case you haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing my man Richard in action, ENJOY!

And back I go to the revisions.... I think I'm gonna need ice cream, too, before the day is done.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I've posted a new article I've written for the July issue of my Romance Writers of America's chapter newsletter on my website. It's one of a series of columns I've written called "What I've Learned Along The Way." After fifteen years as a published author, I figure I've learned a few things. About the business. About life as a writer. Heck, about life. Sometimes, I'll confess, I feel like the grizzled old veteran sitting on the porch who begins everything with, "In my day..."

The new column is entitled Your Goals Are Not My Goals, Because Your Needs Are Not Mine.

In case you're interested, here's a link to the index of all my "What I've Learned" columns. I also have articles about writing aimed more at unpublished authors.

'Cause in my day, I received words of advice and comfort from other writers that made the journey less lonely and stressful. If I can do the same for somebody else, I'm thrilled.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

So I says to my mother, I says....

I was talking to my mom about my revisions. I had to move the consummation scene, so I was explaining that now I had to "make sure everything fit in right." And then I realized how that sounded. Ay yi yi!

Fortunately, my mom's used to the "author talk." Indeed, for a woman who's not actually in the publishing business, she could probably give a pretty good workshop on it, especially the ups and downs therein.

In other news, I got some work done on the weekend, but not as much as I wanted to. I missed my self-imposed deadline. But I'm not beating myself up about it. I'll get it done. I don't have to garden or do housework for awhile because I got things all tiddly-boo for the family gathering on Sunday. I don't have to cook for awhile either. Party left-overs are wonderful things. Which means I have plenty of time to make sure everything fits in right in MY LORD'S DESIRE.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Baroness is my fashion role model...

My son is graduating from university this week, and I subsequently realized I have nothing to wear. This is what happens when you're self-employed and don't have clients to meet. My usual fashion choices run from casual to dress casual, and don't include dresses or skirts. But I thought a skirt would be in order for that function. So I went back into the depths of my closet (it's not a walk-in, so it's a short trip) and found a skirt that I bought probably about the time my son was in Grade Two.

It's a simple, navy blue skirt, not quite ankle length but longer than mid-calf, light for summer, doesn't wrinkle and best of all, it fits! Whoo hooo! Problem solved.

Which brings me to the Baroness in The Sound of Music. Every time I watch that movie, I am moved to comment on her clothes and how she could wear them TODAY and nobody would bat an eye. They are Classic. I particularly like that red velvet number and the skirt/blouse combo during the puppet show. I'm thinking my blue skirt is a classic, too.

To think I share anything in common with the Baroness, even if it's only in my own mind, is a kinda kick. To be sure, she had the makings of a nasty stepmother, and she was pretty darn manipulative, but she showed grace under pressure when she "broke up" with the Captain, so as villains go, I think she's great. And she sure knew how to dress!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bonus Quote!

As per my blog yesterday, I found the part in Kate White's book, WHY GOOD GIRLS DONT' GET AHEAD BUT GUTSY GIRLS DO, about the "slicing the salami" method of dealing with large projects.

"To help me get over my procrastination problem, I wrote several pieces on the subject, and from a time-management expert named Edwin Bliss I learned a technique that made all the difference. It's called "the salami technique." His theory, and there are variations on this theme by other time-management experts, is that any big task staring you in the face is similar to a giant hunk of salami - it's very unappetizing to look at. However, if you cut the salami into thin slices, it is much more appealing; in fact, it will look quite attractive on your creamy white Italian platter."

When I read this last night, something immediately jumped out at me, besides the fact that Edwin Bliss would be a great name for a character and that this is a good example of an author's voice, and that I thought it was "slice" not "cut." I think the sibilant "slicing" sounds better than the hard-nose "cutting." I also like alliteration. I had completely forgotten Ms. White was talking about procrastination.

I know why I forgot this. I don't procrastinate. Well, okay, I do...sometimes. But not often. I can't. Because I worry. Having a deadline and doing nothing about it is, to me, like having a hang nail. It bugs. And then the worry begins and the stress builds until my imagination throws its hands up in the air and takes a vacation.

I've heard many a procrastinator say "I do my best work under pressure." What bothers me when people say this, whether they're smug at the time or not, is that it makes procrastinating sound tremendously exciting. I'm living on the edge, baby! My life is a thrill ride! By implication, whatever they produce, their "best work," is also going to be exciting and thrilling. Whereas we who don't wind up rushing madly to a deadline? Our lives are steady, dull and boring and our work is going to be boring, too. We're the tortoise to their hare. The tortoise may win in the end, but in the meantime, who would you rather hang out with?

And then I read these comforting words:

"...people often say they do their best work as the deadline nears. That usually is not the case. The truth is, that is the only time they do the work." -- Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Patler, IF IT AINT' BROKE...BREAK IT!

Now, I don't think being a tortoise or a hare gives you any particular advantage in the writing game, because there are successful writers in both camps. And being a tortoise or a hare is a product of your upbringing and temperment, as much as a part of you as the sort of stories you want to tell. You are what you are.

But hey, we tortoises do know how to party. We just party better when the work is done.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Slicing the salami

And no, that's not a euphemism for anything between the sheets. It's a way to deal with having a lot to do. Kate White, in her excellent book WHY GOOD GIRLS DON'T GET AHEAD BUT GUTSY GIRLS DO, uses this expression for dealing with such tasks. I can't find it right now, but I'm sure that's where I read it and I haven't got a lot of time to look it up.

Anyway, instead of thinking about the major task as one big huge job, you break it down into small parts -- you "slice the salami" -- and do a little bit at a time. I have two big huge tasks staring me in the face: the revisions I need to finish by the end of the month, and getting ready to have a party on the weekend. I thought, "Hey, I've got a whole month for revisions. I can have everybody for Father's Day." Silly me. But I digress.

So I think about what needs to be done, assign priorities (ohhh, how business-like!) and make lists. Revisions are key, but I'll still have two weeks after the party to finish them. So I made a "pre-party" deadline of what I want to have done before the weekend. In this case, I want to have the big changes done. That's JOB ONE. If I can -- and I'm really going to try -- I'd like to have all the other changes inputted, so I can print out a fresh copy and go through it again the day after the party, making sure everything makes sense and flows as if I wrote it that way the first time.

Then I looked at what needs to be done for the party, and I broke it down according to what can be done early, and what has to wait until closer to the party. I prioritized them. Then I assigned myself one or two of those tasks per day. I also made lists, so I don't foget anything and because crossing off something on the list makes me feel like I'm getting there. I'm "on task," as they say.

My blog is rather far down on the list, but it's not off the list. So I will have a quote later this week. Maybe I can find exactly what Kate White said about salami....

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Quote o' the Week

"Writing is essentially a private toil. You have very few things to work with -- the gifts you were born with, which nobody can change, and some ability to educate yourself in a literary way, which you must do on your own. There's only one thing that can be given externally, and that is the inspiration of praise." -- Cynthia Ozick

Since it's just about time for my next book to come out (July 25!), I've started to have niggling thoughts about reviews. Well, okay, I've started to worry about them.

I don't think it'll come as any great surprise to anybody that a writer wants his or her work to be appreciated, and preferrably, praised. We all want to hear we've done a good job, whatever that job may be.

What I like best about the above quote is the use of the word "inspiration." Praise validates us as a writer (other people think we've done well!) and it also makes it easier to write again -- to inspire us.

Not surprisingly, on the days I get a good review, working on the next book is a lot easier than the days I get a bad review. In that case, I'm the opposite of inspired. I feel defeated. I may be angry and defeated, if the review seems particularly snarky, but defeated nonetheless. On days like that, I may not write at all. I may go do something else, because at that point, I feel like whatever I do, it's not going to be "good enough."

Fortunately, this feeling passes. Now that I've been at this a number of years, it passes fairly quickly. For one thing, no review has ever cost me my career. Had some doozies in my time, and look, Ma! Still selling! Still selling well! So I know that reviews actually have very little power.

I've also learned to take note of the "type" of reviewer. For instance, many a "new" reviewer seems to feel the need to "make her bones" by being negative. Now that they've got an audience, they're going to prove they "know their stuff" and it won't be with praise.

There are some reviewers who take fiendish glee in being "clever" at the author's expense. They prove how smart, how discerning, they are by slamming your work. Fortunately, this sort of pride is easily spotted, and easily overcome. To them I say, "Good for you!" That's it, that's all. Good. For. You.

However, even when I can rationalize bad reviews into meaninglessness, they still sting like iodine on a paper cut. But that's the price I pay to write books. To get paid to make things up. And how sweet is that?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Donald has lost me....

Ah, it was fun while it lasted, Mr. Trump, but alas, The Apprentice is pretty much done for me. I had to be reminded the final episode was on this week, whereas the first season? Oh, my! My daughter and I were totally hooked. I knew just how serious it was when, as we were discussing the show, I actually said something about "Mr. Trump." Not The Donald. Not The Hair. But "Mr. Trump," as if he were my boss. The bloom is off the rose because it's become all about marketing. A little of that goes a loooong way with me. With The Amazing Race, you've always got new locations to liven things up and keep it fresh, as well as the teams. Well, not so much the Family Edition -- and those of us who are fans know how that went over....

But it's just as well there's nothing much on TV these days. I've got "real" work to do -- on my book, on my garden and on the house, because I'm having The Family for Father's Day.

Speaking of my dad, here's something I think's kinda cool: when my son crosses the platform at his graduation from university this month, he'll be the third generation to walk that very same platform to get his degree -- my father graduated from the same university 55 years ago, then so did I.

Monday, June 05, 2006

To read an excerpt...

I spent a couple of hours on the weekend posting an excerpt for my next book, HERS TO DESIRE, on my site. It took me longer than usual because aside from the usual coding to be added, I discovered I was using a pre-revision version, so I had several changes to make. But I got it done and all the links work. You can read it here.

I had such a blast with that couple. I've "worked with" Bea and Ranulf before (they were in the two previous books), so it was a pleasure to get them together at last. Plus, I just loved Bea. She's a "Chatty Cathy" (probably dating myself with that reference!) and I'm not exactly reticent myself, so it was a lot of fun to write her dialogue. And then poor Ranulf! So hopelessly in love, so determined to pretend he's not!

As I was working on the except, it struck me that this book has a tone more in keeping with my lighter Regency books. Not that serious things don't happen, but certainly in the beginning, there's a slightly different "feel" to the story. I blame -- or credit -- bubbly Lady Bea.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Dispatch from the revision trenches

Ah, revisions. The bane of many a writer, not so much for me. I don't mind being told something needs fixing by my editor. First of all, I trust her judgment and I've learned that when she says something needs fixing, it does. And I also know that by the time I've sent in my manucript, my own judgment is suspect. I've lived with the story and characters for so long, I think everything is perfectly obvious. It takes a fresh look to point out things like the lack of clarity for the heroine's decision to avoid marriage (oh oh!).

So how do I handle something like that? Some people might write a whole new scene, and in fact, in the first couple of drafts of this story, I had a prologue about the heroine and her family that would have made her reasons for not wanting to marry quite clear. Then I cut it, because it started off the story in a very dark place. I wanted the first meeting between the hero and heroine to be "lighter," so that the hero realizes that if the heroine seems aloof and cold later, that may not be the "real" her -- and it isn't. I still think that was the right decision, so I'm not going to simply stick that back in.

Nor am I going to write a whole new scene. Where would I put it? That would affect plot and pacing, and might bring the story to a screeching halt while fairly screaming Character Motivation: Margaret Explains It All For You! Not good.

What I'm doing instead is looking for little "opportunities," as I think of them, to insert small pieces of backstory that will add up to a plausible motivation. Giving hints and little flashbacks. I'm talking about a sentence or two, possibly a paragraph, but no more so I don't slow the pacing.

One thing that's extra nice about this revision experience is that I have plenty of time, so that the rest of my life doesn't have to come to a screeching halt. For instance, yesterday, I worked a couple of hours on the revisions in the morning, then spent the afternoon (finally) getting the front garden in shape. My kids and I ripped out all the old periwinkle (much of it being sent off to a good home at my sister's), then planted new and different perennials, some annuals, a shrub and a tree. Looks mighty nice if I do say so myself. If I'd only had a week or two to do the revisions? No way. Well, maybe way, but I would have been plenty stressed. Since I have more time, I'm a much less stressed-out writer, which is just the way I like it.