Thursday, August 31, 2006

Seven reasons to love being a writer....

1. You get to control the world. Well, the world of your story, that is, and the people who live in it. You are the goddess, the supreme puppet master. You even make the weather. How cool is that?

2. There's no right way to do it. There are suggestions, and lots of people will tell you about "rules" and "musts" and "shoulds," but for every such rule, there are plenty of successful writers who break it. You're freeeeee!

3. There's no expensive education required. In fact, I think the best way to learn to be a writer is to read, and all you need for that is a library card and access to a library. Yes, classes and workshops and conferences are good, but it's not like a writer has to be board-certified or anything.

4. There's no expensive equipment required. Well, okay, a computer is, I think, necessary in this day and age, and probably internet access, too, but when you think of what it costs to set yourself up in many another business? Not a lot of overhead. In fact, you can get started with a pad of paper and a pencil from the Dollar Store.

5. No meetings! No sitting at a table in a little room listening to somebody drone on about something while all you can think about is the work waiting for you back at your desk.

6. You can do it in your jammies. (I don't, but I could). That also means you don't have to go outside in inclement weather.

7. When you sell, it's all yours, baby. You did it -- not a group, not a committee, you. You had the idea. You wrote the book. You sold the book.

Seven reasons it can be lousy to be a writer:

1. Once your book goes to the publisher, good-bye control. Now it's going to edited, tweaked, summarized (on the back cover copy) and given a cover you may or may not love.

2. Because there's no right way to write, plenty of people will feel free to tell you your way is wrong.

3. Because there's no education/certification necessay, many, many people will tell you that they, too, would be writers if only they had the time.

4. Although there's no expensive equipment required, it does cost something, and one of the biggest costs is time and attention. Until you sell, it can be very difficult to justify that expense to others.

5. No meetings. Well, unless you want to have one with your characters. "Now, Hero Man, what's your problem? Seriously. I need to know." But you don't have the excuse of "I had a meeting" to explain why you didn't get something done. And no pastries provided, either.

6. You don't get to buy work clothes, like cunning little jackets and smart pant suits and really cool shoes. I wear jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts and running shoes.

7. When you sell and the book doesn't do well and you get a bad review? You can't blame that jerk in accounting or anybody else. It's all you, baby. Because even if your editors and publisher have input and do things to/with your book, the bottom line is, you came up with the story and the characters and the buck stops with you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cover Oooo La La!

So I was all set to blog about seven great things about being a writer (to be followed by seven lousy things about being a writer) when there, in my mailbox, were cover flats of MY LORD'S DESIRE. My precious! My precious! Here's what the back cover says:

A Scandalous Vow

She had sworn never to marry, never to allow any man to claim her or her lands. Nevertheless, Lady Adelaide fended off fortune hunters aplenty when she arrived at the king's court. Yet when dark whispers in castle corridors threw her into the arms of a valiant knight seeking a wife, the beautiful heiress began to rethink her solemn vow.

A Brazen Betrothal

To ransom his captive brother, Armand de Boisbaston had great need of a wealthy -- and willing -- wife. Fate sent him the lady Adelaide instead. A woman who claimed she wished to avoid the marriage bed, yet whose lips told a different tale. Now dangerous intrigues forced them into a match as inescapable as the burgeoning passion that grew between them.

I don't usually show the back cover, but I really like how the couple are almost kissing here. Also, that guy has great lips. You can't really tell here, but believe me, they are nice. So's his chin. And nose. Heck, he's just all 'round good-looking!

MY LORD'S DESIRE will be on the shelves next January.

I got another treat in the mail recently. I received copies of the Japanese edition of LORD OF DUNKEATHE. The art on this cover was in the inside of the cover of the North American edition, which has one of the most beautiful covers I've ever had.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Amazing Race wins again!

They did it again! The swell folks who bring us The Amazing Race won their fourth Emmy! Well-deserved (although we shall, as my Brit friends say, draw a veil over the Family Edition).

This is a picture of my daughter and me being "Philiminated."

And there's me with Phil himself, the Amazing Host. We met him, and various reacers, at a party in New York where like-minded fans come to watch the last episode of the season (aka TARCon). The cheers when Uchenna and Joyce won were deafening.

In other news, I've got some work that must be done ASAP, so of course, life has conspired to throw up some roadblocks. And getting woken up at 6 a.m. by a cat falling into the toilet bowl? Not the best way to start my day.... The poor Count. His dignity was a little damp, as well.

Coming soon: Seven Reasons to Love Writing, and another Random Blog Giveaway!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

But what about the joy?

There's clearly something afoot in Romance Blogland. The cry for "discipline!" seems to be the order of the day. Heck, I've blogged about motivation myself.

But I've also got to ask, what about the joy? I'll admit I started to write because (egad!) I thought it would be fun. I enjoyed reading, after all. And okay, maybe I could earn a few extra bucks. And when I started, I had a blast. I especially loved making up my people (as I refer to my characters). Then I sold and made the extra bucks. I continued to love making up people who lived in the past, and who had troubles and issues and conflicts and danger as they fell in love, and thinking about why people do the things they do. I was having the time of my life and getting paid for it, too.

Then I got caught up in other people's ideas of what makes a "successful" writer, followed (not coincidently, I don't think) by the Dark Days, when I was having trouble writing. Nevertheless, I got the work done. I got my butt in the chair and was pleased with my books -- but I had lost the joy. I had come to see writing as a task, a job, a chore. A series of what to do and what not to do, of writing with an eye to material success and what other writers were doing, if I wanted to "succeed ." It wasn't fun any more.

The joy and the words, the pure enthusiasm for writing, the fun, came back when I realized I didn't start writing to fulfill somebody else's idea of success. I certainly didn't do it to be chained to my computer, although that's what I had allowed to happen.

Over the years, I've come to believe that writing with joy, with pleasure in the work, is the most important thing of all. For all the talk of what makes a good character or plot, I think enthusiasm is the element that makes your writing come alive and stand out from the pack.

So I say, strike off the chains! If you really want to write, if you're meant to be a writer, you'll find the time when you can, and you'll keep doing it, whether anybody tells you to, or not. Write the story the way you want, at your own speed.

And most of all, have fun !

Saturday, August 26, 2006

TV Potpourri

So I see the Emmys are on tomorrow night. I used to get very excited about them, but now, not so much. For one thing, I don't get HBO, so I've never seen a lot of the new nominated shows. I also don't watch any of the CSI shows or medical shows (I start thinking I have all the diseases). The only sitcom I watch is My Name is Earl; before that, there was a long dry spell, with the humor coming from reality TV. If I watch the Emmys, it'll be to see if The Amazing Race wins again.

Prison Break is back and T-Bag's trying to get his hand re-attached. Eeeuuwww. They killed off a character that, as far as I could tell, nobody much liked (and me, neither). I'm not too sure how it's going to go with the cons on the run, though. I think the show might need the more claustrophic, dangerous setting of the prison. Also, I'd like to know what Capt. Wentworth knows about folding clothes, so that when they're taken out of the ground after being buried for several months? They have not a wrinkle.

Speaking of HBO, I got Rome for my birthday. Loved it joyfully up until the episode we just watched, the one that introduces Cleopatra. New writer and new director, I note. Pullo and his friend seem to be venturing into Forrest Gump territory -- showing up at every major historical event either by incredible luck or amazing coincidence. Also, what was that bit with Brutus's mother and Atia's daughter? It served no purpose, as far as I can tell, except titillation.

Deadwood starts in my neck of the woods on Labor Day. I've never seen it, so I'm prepared to clutch my pearls and be shocked -- shocked! -- at the language.

Now it's off to watch an Amazing Race rerun.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Unexpected Writing Lesson

I'm currently reading TEACHER MAN, by Frank McCourt, the author of ANGELA'S ASHES. First of all, if you're ever not quite sure about voice? Read Frank McCourt's books. The man's writing voice is a lovely thing.

But something else leapt out at me, something I wasn't expecting at all, and I quote:

"Any playwright will tell you that when the actor sits down the play sits down."

When the actor sits down, the play sits down.

In my head, that immediately turned into:
When your characters sit down, the pace of your story slows down.

As somebody who writes a lot of dialogue, I try to keep my characters from being mere "talking heads," but I've never seen the "why" of that put so succinctly or so memorably.

To be sure, there are probably exceptions (there always are in writing), like, say a lot of quick, bantering-type dialogue while your characters are driving somewhere. That's going to read "fast."

But this line will remind me of something to avoid that could lead to "talking head syndrome" and sluggish pacing.

And here I thought I was just taking a break....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Birthday Quotes o' the Week

It was my birthday this week, and my sister gave me a family picture in a frame decorated with the following quote:
"Home is where your story begins." -- Annie Danielson

I immediately thought, ain't that the truth -- both in terms of my own life story, and the stories I choose to tell as an author.

That's why, when I hear "write what you know," I think it should always continue to include "emotionally." I mean, I never lived in the middle ages, so if I were to take "write what you know" literally, I wouldn't be writing romances set in medieval England, because I wasn't there. (Although I've certainly done plenty of research!)

But there are things I've experienced emotionally that often make their way into my books. For instance, we moved around a few times when I was younger, including just before I entered high school -- not an easy time for such a change. I don't think it's any coincidence that I tend to write stories of the "stranger rode into town" type. Emotionally, I understand how it feels to be an outsider, to want to fit in, even if you tell yourself it's not necessary.

I also learned very early on that home is not so much a physical place as an emotional one, a place where, whatever the surroundings, you feel loved and accepted, secure and happy. My main characters often crave such a state, and it's the relationship that develops during the book that ultimately provides it for the character who lacks it.

I also got a birthday card from a friend that said "Can't laugh too hard, too much, or too often." I think those are very fine words to live by!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Here ye, here ye, here ye!

The Harlequin Historical authors have started a blog! I've posted an entry today, with pictures. Check it out here!

And Harlequin's started an ebook boutique. You can order my latest book there.

How times have changed since I started writing.

On an IBM selectric.

Remember them?

Some days, it's hard to feel twenty-one....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

When the muse has left the building....

Okay, so as I noted in my previous blog post, I don't think you're a lazy, terrible writer if you don't write every single day. I think that there are times a break is unavoidable, and there are times a writer simply needs one.

However, there can also come a time when you've got the time to write, and nothing particular is holding you back, yet when you sit down at the computer, nothing happens. It's like your imagination has left the building. Your muse has taken a powder. Your writerly instincts are out on a long lunch. Maybe they've quit completely and are sitting in a Starbucks somewhere with your muse, talking about you.

I think there are a three general reasons people have trouble finding the motivation to write.

1. They're too distracted by other things (family crises or conflicts, moving, other errands, PR, etc.)

2. Your interest in the story seems to have gone the way of the dodo. In fact, your interest in writing seems to have dried up, which leads me to

3. It seems like you're never going to sell, or if you have, your career is stalled, so...what's the point?

What do you do if that happens to you? Here's what I do.

If I've got distractions, I acknowledge them. If I can get them out of the way, I do, but if I can't, I accept that's the way it is right now. Guilt is neither helpful nor productive.

I set priorities and let some thinks lag a bit. I don't have to go the Post Office the moment I have something to mail. I can do it once a week, or when I'm running other errands. I don't have to answer reader mail immediately. I can wait a day or two or three, and do it when I'm done my writing for the day. And you know what? The sky does not fall.

If I've got a lot on my plate, I divide those tasks into more managable pieces, or small things I can do over time so it seems less overwhelming. For instance, when the household clutter was really starting to drive me nuts, I did a little bit every day. I didn't take two days to do the whole house. I started with junk drawer one day, then did a closet the next.

That works for the writing, too. Thinking you have to write about 400 pages can seem overwhelming, especially if you've got other distractions. So think in smaller terms. Today, I will write five pages. Or two. Or a paragraph. Or just get my characters from the courtyard to the solar, or whatever.

PAY NO ATTENTION TO WHAT OTHER WRITERS ARE DOING! Really, I can't emphasize this enough. They're writing 15 pages a day? Good for them. Seriously, good for them -- that doesn't mean it's good for you, or should influence your schedule in any way. They're not better people or better writers because of their output.

Think about what you enjoy writing most. Dialogue? Description? Write that.
As others have said, let yourself write junk. You can fix it later. And if you tend to go back and revise, DON'T. Just forge ahead. Fake it till you make it. Write junk till it's not.

I'm aware some people simply cannot do this. They can't move ahead until they're perfectly satisfied with what they've written. Guess what? I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Saves a lot of revising later, so if that's your method, that's your method. And you won't have to revise later. Take a moment to bask in the glow of that as I'm working on the twentieth draft of the first scene of Chapter 10. Again. And it's still not right.

But what if you've lost interest in your story? Think about what you liked about it in the first place. There must have been something. Realize that you aren't chained to your synopsis, so let your imagination roam a bit. Maybe there's
something you can add/explore/jazz up a bit that will bring back the spark. If it's a major change, though, and you're published? I suggest you run it by your editor first.

And then there's envy's bitter sister -- the feeling that it doesn't really matter what you write, because you're never going to sell. Everybody else seems to be selling, but not you. Your writing must be terrible.

If you've sold, you think nobody's going to appreciate your work anyway. You don't get glowing reviews. If you've got readers, they're conspicuously silent.
You aren't moving up from midlist. Your career has hit a roadblock.

Well, I know one thing for sure about writing. You'll never be a published author if you don't write anything.

The average time to publication is five years. That's average -- some sell sooner, some sell later, and it's often a matter of being at the right place at the
right time with the right manuscript. But if you aren't writing and submitting, that time will never come for you. It's as simple as that.

There's something else to consider. How long have you been working on that project? Because if you've been revising a partial for over a year and you've sent it out and it's been rejected a few times? That story's (probably) dead in the water, and really, really dead to your imagination. Start something new.

But, you say, I love my hero!

Okay. Keep him and ditch everything else. Give him a new name, new identity, new location. If he was rich, make him poor; if he was poor, make him rich. If he was a playboy, make him a cowboy. You see where I'm going here?

But let's say you've already sold. Indeed, you've a got a contract and a deadline, but you can't help thinking that this book isn't going to do anything spectacular, so...I think I'll go fold some laundry.

Well, I know this feeling, too. I've seen writers published after me shoot up the
lists and win awards. It took me fifteen years and nearly forty books to make the USA Today list. I don't get bags of reader mail. I've also had some incredibly bad, hurtful reviews, including one that implied I was some kind of voyeuristic pervert. Not easy to shake off, that.

But then I ask myself, how many letters did I write to authors whose books I loved? Not a one, but I loved 'em just the same.

I'll read a good review. Maybe more than one. The bad ones tend to stick in the mind, so sometimes, I have to remind myself there have been good ones, too.

I also remind myself that if I've got a contract, I must be doing something right. And I've got readers all over the world. My royalty statements tell me so.

See, there may be times when the only person who tells you you're a good writer is, well, you. There are times you may have to be your own best cheerleader.

But here's the main thing to keep in mind: you've sold a book. You are a published author. How many people can say that? Haven't we all met people who've said, "Oh, I'd like to write a book some day." Not only did you do it, somebody paid you for it. I mean, seriously, how great is that?

As with selling the first book, though, that won't happen again unless you learn to take pleasure in your writing for its own sake, and keep at it.

I'm pretty sure that if you write even when you don't feel like it, even if you think nobody cares, even when you think in the secret recesses of your heart your writing's turned terrible, even though you're just doing a bit at a time, one day one of your characters is going to suddenly say or do something that makes you sit up straight and think, "What the--? WOW!"

And the dog days will be over.

At least for a while. 'Cause getting paid to make things up? Yes, it's great but it ain't always easy to get your butt in the chair.

Writers' Peer Pressure

Over the years, I've noticed an attitude among writers that bothers me.
And that's the notion that a writer must write every single day. Rain or shine. Hell or high water. Feast, famine or pestilence. Family crisis, death, broken limbs, sibling spats. Get those pages done! 'Cause if you don't?

Well, obviously, you are less worthy, less talented and less dedicated to your craft than those who write no matter what else is going on in their lives.

Maybe -- but maybe not. Maybe some people are just able to compartmentalize their thoughts and emotions in a way I can't and keep them more separate. Maybe they get really, really stressed if they don't write, or it's a way to ignore what else is going on. I don't know because I don't know them and -- newsflash! --they don't know me. They don't know what I've got going on, or what my values are. What makes me feel happy and productive. What made me start writing in the first place, and what keeps me coming back to it.

I can hear the Daily Writing Proponents saying, "But surgeons can't say, 'I don't feel like operating today.'"

True enough, but I'm not a surgeon. Could be one of the reasons I came to writing in the first place was so that I could set my own hours, work at my own pace and not be tied to anybody else's schedule.

As long as I get my book done on time, and well written, what's it matter if I take some time off? I feel better for it, and I think my writing's better
for it. Burn-out's a bitch. I know 'cause I've been there. Some writers can keep up a brisk pace for years, but I am not one of them. I've tried, and it was not good. Not for me, not for my family, not for my writing.

That said, I've met plenty of people who don't want to write; they want to have written. Very frustrating to deal with, because they just don't get it. The writing, that is. They want the glory without the work. Sorry, honey, doesn't work that way. At some point, if you want to be a published author, you have to write. If you want to be successful, you have to produce consistently, both in quality and quantity. If you want to be a published writer, you have to write at least one whole book. No way around it.

I've written through tough times because of a deadline, and I take my deadlines very seriously. I do think if you can write every day, it's a good idea. Keeps up the momentum. But I also think you shouldn't feel guilty if you want or need to take some time off. It doesn't mean you aren't a dedicated, self-disciplined writer. It means you had something else to do, or your imagination needed a little R&R, and that's all. A lot of times, writing reluctance tells me there's a problem with my story I need to discover and correct. Then, procrastination is my friend.

The important thing is, are you able to get back to the work? Do you get your work done by the deadline? Are you happy with it when you're finished? Is your editor happy with it? Your readers?

If so, stop and smell the roses! Color! Gab on the phone with your friends. Give your kid a hug! Play Monopoly (hotels on the light blues are key!) Watch that rerun of Law and Order for tenth time! Yes, writing may be your job, but even so, it's just a job. It's not your life.

Next up: what to do when you want to write, have time to write, but it just ain't happening.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Amazing Race and travels of my own

Whooo hoooo! CBS has posted the teams for the new season of The Amazing Race! My preliminary reactions:

1. It's season 10? Egad, how time flies! Will the clues be real clues this time? I've been watching Season One again (we have the DVD) and I gotta tells ya, those clues were tough.

2. Did Bilal and Sa'eed have difficulties in the airports, or did the producers do some pre-flight arranging so they wouldn't have a disadvantage? Hope so!

3. The beauty queens look identical.

4. I fear Tom and Terry's "playful nitpicking" will get really old, really fast and become nasty under stress.

5. Lyn has a lovely smile.

6. Erwin and Godwin: I fear "super competitive" means impatient and poor losers.

7. As long as Vipul and Arti don't make mistakes with the clues, I can see them going far, what with the travel experience and language skills.

Speaking of traveling, I checked the map that shows where visitors to my blog are located, and it looks like there might be somebody from Alice Springs, in Australia, stopping by. If so, g'day! One of the greatest thrills I've ever had as a writer was finding an anthology of my books in a shop in Alice Springs when we were there on holiday in 2002. Just too cool!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Great way to start my day!

So although I've been telling myself all week that I should write, then check my email, I checked my email first. And discovered the happy news that my book HERS TO COMMAND is nominated for a Reviewers Choice award at Single Whooooo hoooo! What makes this especially gratifying is that HERS TO COMMAND was such a BEAR to write. I had my first (and please, hopefully last!) full blown case of writer's block with that book.

I wrote the first 100 or so pages, and came to a wall. So I went back and revised, wrote a couple more pages and...nada. Revised again. Nuthin' This went on for a couple of weeks, but that was a couple of weeks too long!

I finally just forced myself to keep writing and NOT GO BACK. That worked. And I was pleased with the final book, and learned I can get through a block.

So, okay, here am I, all excited. And man oh man, it's like when I made the USA Today Bestseller list. NOBODY'S HOME! And the husband's not even in town. My editor isn't in the office. Neither is my agent.

The cats are looking at me strangely. I know they're thinking, "That woman who feeds us? Insane!" Not only am I currently grinning like a mad thing, yesterday my mom sent me a birthday card and when I opened it, this butterfly thing flew out. I screamed. And I was alone save for the kitties. Yep, they're thinking. Crazy.

Ah, but who cares! I got nominated for an award!!! Let the partying begin! Which means I will eat whatever the heck I want today, calories be damned! (Oh, such a wild life I lead!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Beauty and wisdom and aging

"The problem with beauty is that it's like being born rich and getting poorer." -- Joan Collins

I like this quote because it explains, or makes more understandable, how it must feel to be beautiful when you're young and see your looks change as you age. It also gives me more insight into why women will go to great lengths to preserve their looks (Botox, surgery, etc). If you saw your money trickling away, wouldn't you want to stop that? Or at least stem the tide?

Most especially, though, it makes me rather glad I've never been a beauty. As I age, I don't feel like I'm losing one of my great assets, because my greatest assets have never been my face or body. They're internal. One of the main ones is my imagination. Another is self-discipline.

To be sure, there's a downside to getting older. The knees ain't what they used to be. Or the eyesight. And okay, my hair color? Yep, covering the gray. But that's as far as I've gone.

Otherwise, every wrinkle is a badge of honor, a sign that I've lived and learned and loved and laughed and worried and cried. I can't imagine freezing my face to blank smoothness. If that's your thing, fine, but as I approach another birthday, I'm glad that I feel richer for my years, not poorer. I'm wiser. Calmer. More sure of what's important, and what's not.

And that's beautiful.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

We interrupt this blog...

To send you to Karen Templeton's blog, because I like what she says there. It sort of goes with what I said in one of my recent "What I've Learned Along the Way" articles, entitled "Your Goals Are Not My Goals, Because Your Needs Are Not Mine." (Read it here.) The point I make, like Karen, is that we don't know what motivates individual writers to write what they write, so we shouldn't assume we know and ascribe motives that may or may not exist.

On a similar note, I'll confess the idea that publishers are part of some Evil Conspiracy to foist junk on the unsuspecting public -- something that seems to crop up on message boards with disturbing frequency -- really bothers me. I appreciate that this theory springs from frustation, but it's upsetting nonetheless.

For one thing, those who believe in the Evil Conspiracy theory must then consider my work, which is being published with some frequency, part of the junk the Evil Empire is forcing upon them. Not too flattering.

Not any more more flattering is the notion that also follows, that writers are just a bunch of cowering sheep at the mercy of the Evil Publishers.

But see, here's the thing:
Most writers I know are wonderfully independent, with a fair helping of self-esteem, which you need if you're going to make it in this business.

Yes, there can be pressure to write a certain thing, some subtle ("We think your sales will build faster if you do X") and some not-so-subtle (rejections). Publishers are in the entertainment business, after all. They're not a charitable institution. They want to make money. And unfortunately, nobody can read minds -- or they'd be making buckets of money -- so the only criteria they have about what to publish in the future is based on what's sold in the (recent) past. If somebody else can come up with a better predictor, by all means, get thee to a publisher or marketing company, because you'll be worth your weight in gold.

That said, the ultimate decision about what to write is always the author's.

What if an author needs the money? That, my friends, is what makes walking the tight rope between writing what you love and writing what you can sell such a, well, tight rope. But when it gets down to brass tacks, there are other jobs, ones with a steady pay check and benefits.

Writers are independent individuals who make their own career decisions, for a variety of reasons as individual as they are. At the end of the day, the only person who decides what a writer writes is the writer. Maybe you like what's being published, maybe you don't, but if you don't like it...well, many a writer started a career because of discontent with what s/he found in the bookstores.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ebooks and other things

I was at a party on the weekend, and found myself talking to a fellow recently retired from the IT side of publishing. We got onto the subject of ebooks. He noted that when his company was first approached about ebooks, they didn't see it as a viable alternative to paperbacks. The ereaders were too expensive, too bulky -- just not a cost-effective alternative for most people. However, now that you can download a book onto a Blackberry, or some other gadget you already own, ebooks are looking a lot more viable.

I'd never thought of it that way, and can't see myself going for ebooks (I don't own a Blackberry or similiar device, for one thing) but I think he's right.

Since we had a bit of a drive to this party, I decided to "interview" my daughter about the books she's got me reading, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I particularly wanted to know what made her try the series.

In a word, LiveJournal. And hearing people rave about the books there. She likes fantasy to begin with, so it likely wasn't too hard a sell; it took her longer to persuade me, I'm sure. But I'm glad she did.

'Cause you know what George R.R. Martin does really well? He can make you hate a guy in one book, then sympathize with him the next. There are very few completely bad guys (or gals); most of the main players who start out "black" develop layers and shades of gray. Impressive. (There's a really good interview of him here.)

However, I'm in Book IV now ( A FEAST FOR CROWS), and alas, I'm not enjoying it as much as Book III, because two of the characters I find the most fascinating, Tyrion and the guy known as the Hound, have been conspicuously absent. ("Missing" characters seems to be a common complaint at Amazon, I note.)

Tyrion is really interesting and apparently many a reader's favorite character (and George R.R. Martin's, too), but if I were to write a romance based on anybody in those books, it'd be the Hound. My daughter was aghast when I said this, but it's true, and here's why: after setting up the Hound as BAD, George R.R. began sowing the seeds of sympathy by having him treat one female character with rather unexpected, well, kindness. In fact, I think the Hound loves her. The Hound also has a brother who's worse. WAY worse. Then, when I heard how the Hound got terribly scarred and that he has a very real vulnerability because of that, well...there ya go. Hero material to me. I'm really anxious about him. I'm worried he's not going to be back.

Even if I've seen the last of the Hound (and I just won't let myself believe that), I can only admire the talent that has me so concerned about a guy who was such a nasty at the start of the series.

Speaking of villains, I see Prison Break starts again next week. I totally missed T-Bag carrying his hand the first time I saw the finale. My sister told me and...EEEUUUUWWW! I watched it again later and... There. It. Was. EUUUUWWWW! But of course, I'll be watching. Not just because the guy playing T-Bag (Robert Knepper) is one fine actor. Does anybody do brooding and longing looks like Wentworth Miller? Mmmm....Captain Wentworth.... (Gotta love the fan who made the connection with Jane Austin's PERSUASION.)

First, though, it's Snakes on a Plane. Talk about yer high concept. Snakes. (Nasty, creepy crawling scary things). On a plane. (No escape.) Starring Samuel L. Jackson (oooh, he's tough -- although if you get a chance, rent The Red Violin to see him excell in a very different role). Can you not just see this in your head? What more do you need to know? And that, my friends, is "high concept."

Friday, August 11, 2006

The rumor mill

I see a rumor is going around the internet about the apparent impending demise of Harlequin Historicals. The source seems to be a report written about the RWA conference. I'll quote the pertinent part. The rest is here.

"And now...two rumors, heard from two different authors, neither of whom write for the effected lines: Bombshell is being "re-evaluated" and is in danger of being cancelled - apparently because too many readers do not realize that it is series fiction and not series romance and therefore does not require an HEA - and Harlequin Historicals may once again be terminated."

I don't know what's happening with Bombshell, and I don't know anybody who writes for it, so I'll admit the first part kinda went past without much reaction on my part. When I read the bit about Harlequin Historicals, though, my brows shot up.

Because this is sure news to me. After the initial jolt of surprise, my next reaction was skepticism, because

(a) the last time Harlequin made a major change with the line, they kept it all very hush-hush until they informed the authors. There's been no such informing.

(b) all the HH authors I know who went to the conference returned with a very upbeat attitude about the line and the editors. No words from them along the lines of "It was swell, and the gals were great, BUT..."

(c) the author quoted as the source doesn't write for the line. did s/he get this insider info?

However, stranger things have happened. I mean, maybe those HH editors are really, really good actors, fiddling while Rome burns. Or maybe even they haven't been let in on this deep, dark secret.

So I did what I always do with I hear something like this. I phoned my editor in NY. I don't just sit and ghash my teeth and worry. I don't ask other authors. I go to my editor.

Why would this bother me so much that I'd do that, you might wonder, when I don't write for HH anymore?

Because I care about HH. A lot. I first sold to them, and I had many, many happy, relatively secure years writing for them. Most of my writing friends are "Hussies," as we call ourselves.

This impending demise was certainly news to my editor.

So far, so good. Sounds like I'm right to be skeptical. Nevertheless, thinking two opinions are better than one, I contacted my agent and asked her if she'd heard anything about this. Even if she'd heard nothing official, I believe my agent, who's been in the business a long time, would be able to make an educated guess as to the rumor's likely validity.

She doesn't think it's true.

So now I'm 99.9% sure this rumor is false. Why not 100% sure? As I said, stranger things have happened. I mean, maybe the source is psychic. Or got a editor to spill some secrets. I suspect, however, that the author misunderstood what she heard or extrapolated from something said or overheard and arrived at this conclusion. So I'd be very, very surprised if there are any major upcoming changes to HH and if I were an HH author, I wouldn't panic.

That said, I think it's always good to have Plan B, for your own peace of mind if nothing else.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

And the winner is....

When I first started writing, there were only a few contests for unpublished writers. There was the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart, and perhaps two or three chapter contests. Now, in addition to the Golden Heart and the RITAs for published authors, it seems that every RWA chapter has a contest.

Which is fine for the chapters, as it's a way to raise funds so they can keep their dues low, and bring in speakers. And it can be good for writers, too, if they really want feedback. However, I'm seeing a huge downside to the proliferation of contests. It now seems as if entering contests has become not just an "extra" on the road to publication for many unpublished writers, but the focus of their efforts.

See, here's the thing: winning a contest won a contest. And that's all. It doesn't automatically mean your work is saleable or publishable. It means a couple of people who may or may not know what they're doing thought it was good.

Likewise, if you lose, that could well be meaningless. Because what some judges might consider faults or problems may be the very qualities that will make your work seem unique and fresh and different to an editor. Not only might those judges be bashing your ego, they could actually be sabotaging your chances for publication.

Ah, you say, but in the final rounds, editors are often judges. Yes, and that's good -- but if you don't make it to that round, you'll be getting feedback that may or may not be what you need to hear. And even then, it could be that the editor judging your work buys for a different house or line than the one you should be targeting. The feedback you'll be getting could still be way off base.

Does that mean I think contests are a waste of time? No, but -- and this is a big "but" -- I'd think carefully before entering. Here's what I'd consider if I was unpublished and thinking about entering a contest:

1. Do I have work already prepared that fits the requirements? If so, and the fee is small, and you think you can judge the feedback accordingly, go for it.

2. Who's judging? And do they edit books similar to those you write? If not, I don't care if your work's being read by SuperEditor. If they can't make an offer, why are you wasting your time and theirs? Write and submit something to the editor who can make you an offer. You don't need a contest to do that.

3. Are you tough enough to take the criticism and are you savvy enough to know what to heed and what to disregard? I knew a writer once who found any criticism crippled her attempts to write for days. Clearly, contests were not for her.

Won't getting criticism make it easier to take rejection and/or bad reviews later? you ask. I suppose so, but if I'm going to be rejected, I'd rather it be by an editor than somebody who has never actually purchased work for publication.

As for developing a rhino hide when it comes to bad reviews, I've been at this for fifteen years, and they still sting. The only difference is, I've been selling for fifteen years, so I know in the grand scheme of sales, a bad review means pretty much diddly squat. And yet...ouch! So why set yourself up for more torment and ego bashing? Why not wait until you're published? Then at least you've got a contract to prove somebody thought your work had merit, enough that they offered you money for it.

If you really want another opinion, especially an unbiased one, and you've got work ready, by all means, enter a contest. However, I suggest writers really think about why they're entering and what they hope to achieve before they spend the time, energy and money.

An addendum to my Random Blog Giveaway post to clear up any confusion: I'll be paying the postage. It's tax deductible. *G*

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

First Random Blog Giveaway!

This week, I'm starting a new thing -- random blog giveaways of my out-of-print books. Yep, it's time to clear the cupboard, because you know, those books aren't doing a darn thing in there. Well, maybe the characters come alive at night and start whispering to each other and...whooo...creeping myself out there!

Anyhoo, it's "random" because I won't be doing this on, say, every Tuesday. It'll be when the spirit moves me, or, more precisely, when I'm planning a post office run.

And now, with no further ado... The first five folks who email me at will receive autographed copies of a reissue of my very first book, A WARRIOR'S HEART. Don't send me your address; just put A WARRIOR'S HEART in the subject line and your name in the body. I'll email the first five who respond and ask for your addies then. That way, if you don't hear back from me by the next random blog giveaway, you'll know you missed the boat...or the book, as the case may be.

A word about A WARRIOR'S HEART: It was not only the first book I ever sold, it was the first book I completed, too. I started writing it and then, like many others, I took a bit of a detour into contemporary romance land, thinking a short contempoary would be easier to write and easier to sell. Oh, how the gods laughed. And somewhere, there may be Harlequin editors still chortling over those efforts. Fortunately, an editor who saw those efforts and knew I was working on a historical as well steered me toward Harlequin Historicals. A WARRIOR'S HEART turned out to be the first book in what was eventually a fourteen-book series, although I certainly didn't know that when I wrote it!

I've tried and tried to upload the covers here, and I've given up. You can go here to see them both.

An explanation about the rather unusual cover of the resissue, which was available only in direct (ie mail order). It was part of a special series focusing on families, so all the books had a white picket fence on the bottom. Didn't really go with ye olde medieval, but there it was. Also, the hero on the original is much the better looking, despite that mullet. I mean, the guy has some great lips and a mighty fine jaw, and the rest of him ain't bad either. The guy on the reissue -- I think maybe he's whistling. I hope so, 'cause otherwise, that pucker's kinda...eeuuuww. On the upside, he sort of reminds me of Guy Pearce.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Miami huh?

We're still at the cottage, where we ventured into the Big Town to catch a movie and bask in some air conditioning. The only film remotely appealing was Miami Vice. I was concerned because it has been called "stylish," which to me is code for "lots of visual fanciness, not so much character or story."

(If you haven't seen this movie yet and plan to, and don't want to be "spoiled", I suggest you skip the rest of this post.)

Sadly, I was right. It seemed to me that lots of effort went into the "look" of the film, but next to nothing in terms of story and character.

Clue # 1: I couldn't even understand one of the main actors most of the time.

Clue # 2: On a similar note, ask me to explain the plot, and all I can tell you is that drug smuggling was involved. At the start, though, it seemed to be about uncovering a "mole" in one of the government agencies charged with stopping drug smuggling. But that part of the plot literally just disappeared part way through.

Clue # 3: Apparently, we are supposed to sympathize with the ill-fated love affair between one of the main cops and a woman heavily involved in the drug business. The only reason they fall in love, from what I could tell, is that their eyes met during a drug deal, they had a swell first date and first night, and...there ya go. Now, I don't know about you all, but having a cop fall in love with a drug dealer does not mean I am automatically going to forget the sort of terrible effect her "business" has had on people, their lives and families when she expresses no regret or remorse. She's upset she has to leave the cop behind, but apparently nothing else. Nor are we really given any reason to feel she was "pressured" or coerced into her life of crime. So I couldn't care less if she's bereft at the end. Sorry, sister, cry me a river if you have to lose your lover. You've made many another's life a living hell. Oh, and cop-boy? ARE YOU CRAZY? You, of all people, should know what she's responsible for, so don't expect me to feel bad for your ill-fated love life. (And please, for the love of all that's attractive, wash your hair! When did dirty, stringy hair get to be considered a plus? Even after a shower, the guy looked scuzzy. I had troubles with Viggo's hair in LORD OF THE RINGS, but hey, there aren't many showers in Middle Earth. Miami, though, seems to have lovely plumbing so...UGH.)

Clue # 4: Okay, it's just a movie, but it seems Miami has no customs or coast guard or anything. Just drive your boat on in! Nobody'll stop you or question you!

Biggest Clue of All: Jamie Foxx was utterly wasted. That guy can act, but this movie didn't really give him much of a chance. I'm not sure Colin Farrell can act (I'm trying hard to forget Alexander!), but in this film, his expression seemed to be either blank or furrowed brow. Not a whole lot in between.

So definitely a thumbs down from me. However, there was a bonus: a trailer for Clive Owen's next movie, CHILDREN OF MEN. The story doesn't look like my particular cup of tea (bleak future tale), but Clive Owen is enough to get me to the theater.

Especially if there's air conditioning.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

From the sweltering shore.....

So here I am at the cottage, where it's about 100 degrees with 99% humidity. Using dial up and the hubby's laptop. Oh, I have been spoiled at home with the higher tech stuff, because this dial up? Is slooooowww....

And not only is it hot enough to fry a fish outside, I started Helen Kirkman's DESTINY today. Her heroes are...well, wonderful enough to make the Dark Ages seem like a right swell time to live. Ah, give me a battle ax and Berg, and I'll be a happy woman....

Which means I finished the second George RR Martin opus. Good, but long and complicated. It's hard to keep everybody straight when you don't want to do more than lie in a hammock with a cool drink. And there was a bit in there I could live without having in my imagination. Overall, though, I'm certainly interested enough in the main characters to carry on.

I've also been thinking about subjects to blog about later. Peer pressure in publishing is one. Contests. And I hope to venture more beyond the bounds of writing and the writing life. Interesting historical facts. Strange but true. And hey, I didn't realize that! (For instance, have you realized that no other British king has ever been named John? That's how bad the man's rep was, and is.)

Then, once the new TV season begins, I'll have plenty to say about my fav shows.

As already mentioned, I'll be having Random Blog Giveaways of my out-of-print books.

For now, though, it's back to the hammock and Berg and Elene and the Dark Ages.