Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Hallowe'en!

Once again it's time for all the little ghosts, goblins, witches, princesses and pirates to come to the door trick or treating. And for me to try not to consume mass quantites of (very small) chocolate bars as I await them. This year, I've been pretty good to keep out of the stash, mainly because my daughter hid them. At my request. I know my own weakness.

I fondly remember one of my best Hallowe'en costumes ever. I was a telephone. In an uncanny nod to our future of daily phone calls, my mother was inspired to paint a large cardbox black, cut out a hole for me to see, make a large dial and attach the earpiece from a child's phone, likewise painted black, to the side. This was put over my head, and went down to my knees. Voila, I am a phone! I note that today, that would be considered a Very Dangerous Costume. Black (and no reflecting tape!) and poor visibility. Alas, there's no picture.

When my own kids were little, I sewed their costumes. My favorite was the dinosaur costume I made for my son. It was quite elaborate, and has since gone through just about every male nephew born since. I don't know where it is now, nor can I find a really good picture of it. I know there's one somewhere, though. My daughter favored the princess look.

Last year, I decided to wear my son's enormous foam rubber cowboy hat when I answered the door. That was a little awkward, and I scared some poor little kid to tears, so I don't think I'll be doing that again.

What I will be doing is carving a pumpkin, although the zeal has lessened since my own kids stopped trick or treating. And editing between rings of the doorbell. I've been doing that for years now, too. Afterward, it's always obvious which pages I was working on.

The little bits of melted chocolate give it away.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Scary Stuff

The movie The Wizard of Oz was on last night. Those flying monkeys, the "live" apple trees, the witch and especially the Wicked Witch of the East's curling up feet scared the bejeebers out of me when I was a kid. Seriously. Terrified me. The tornado wasn't exactly fun viewing, either.

I can't even watch the trailers for some films they make these days, and I sure wish they weren't on TV. Those Saw movies, Texas Chainsaw anything, and that one about the hostel? Thank heavens the latter was made after my son had been to Europe, or I would have been in a constant state of panic while he was gone. You know, it's one thing to pay to see a movie about that sort of thing; it's quite another to be sitting in your living room, watching one of your regular shows, and then be hit with one of those commercials. Please, spare me!

In book-writing news, I have decided Chapter One is good to go (or at least not revise on computer anymore this draft). Chapters Two and Three need at least one more read this draft, but I'm hoping to move onto Chapters Four and possibly even Five today. Except that I added a little something to the last scene of Chapter Three that's kinda taken that in a new direction. Ah well, we shall see....

I tried to convince Daughter Who Wishes To Be An Editor that she should read Chapter One and Two to know if I'm on the right track with the characters (she's the only person who ever sees any of my work before it goes to the editor), but she keeps talking about essays and assignments she has due and should work on instead. Sheesh, where have I gone wrong?

Probably talking about how "deadlines are IMPORTANT" all these years. :-)

Saturday, October 28, 2006


The clocks go back to Standard Time today. I despair, the "extra" hour's sleep not withstanding. I hate darkness falling before dinner.

What the heck is up with Lost? I mean, really. Mystery upon mystery upon mystery. Too many questions, too many characters, not enough Sayid or Hurley. They're losing me.

Tonight, Battlestar Gallactica. I'm glad they're off the planet. But please, can Jamie Bamber get out of the fat suit?

I still haven't gotten over the death of Tweener on Prison Break. Why???? Why couldn't he be redeemed? OTOH, they're keeping the story moving along and interesting. Lost writers, you might want to take note.

Loving Heroes, specifically Hiro and sidekick. Also, Ugly Betty. The new office nerd? So very, very cute!

There was a review in the paper today about a book titled THE APOTHECARY by a woman named Martha Blum. She's 93. (!!!!)

In the same paper, there's a review of Stephen King's latest, LISEY'S STORY. The reviewer says, "I suppose, in the end, all writers of genre fiction (mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, horror) are forced to find their place between imperatives: the conventions of the genre and the need to innovate in language."

So romance doesn't even make the cut in a list of genre fiction types? Sigh....

I was at the library and spotted Janet Evanovich's ELEVEN ON TOP, and decided to give it a go, despite being extremely disappointed with the scene where Stephanie Plum and Ranger make love in a previous book. Well, the paragraph, really. After what? Eight books leading up to it? This book's okay, but I get a little weary of Stephanie's goofiness after a while. The charm kinda wears off. However, the clever insertion of an excerpt from TWELVE SHARP with the teaser of introducing Ranger's wife had me on the web ordering the book from the library. I'm number 571 out of 571. Guess I won't be getting that book for awhile, but that's okay. I can't read a lot of Stephanie Plum books in a row (see above re charm wearing off).

And now, it's back to Chapter One. Again. But I hope it will be only very minor tweaking after this. And then I have changes to input for Chapters Two and Three. I've cut 12 pages from those three chapters so far. But hey, ya gotta do what yo gotta do, and sometimes that means deleting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chapter One, Scene One, bane of my life....

So there I was last night, 10:30 pm, revising Chapter One, Scene One yet again. How many times is this? I've lost count.

Why am I still working on this scene? Because this is one of the most important scenes in the book. In fact, I'd be willing to wager Chapter One, Scene One is the most important chapter in any book, in no small part because it's got a lot to do.

Chapter One, Scene One has got to:

1. Be interesting. The first paragraph or two may be all you have to encourage a reader to want to read more (and therefore, buy your book). It doesn't have to grab a reader by the throat and drag her into the story if that's not the sort of story it is. It simply (HA!) has to be interesting enough to make a reader want to read more.

2. Set the scene. Where is this story? Time? Place?

3. Introduce at least one of the main characters, and better yet, both, if it's a romance. This doesn't have to be "in the flesh" -- you can have one main character who hears about the other. However, I think it's always a good idea to get both the hero and heroine into the story as soon as possible.

Why? Won't making the reader wait a bit increase suspense? Well, there's a fine line between suspense and frustration. I look at it this way: when readers pick up one of my books, they know it's a romance. It's in the romance section, for one thing. For another, the publisher (Harlequin) is a give-away. So they know there's going to be a hero and a heroine. To keep them waiting for one or the other to "show up" is like waiting for the party to get started.

4. Give a hint of the conflict(s) to come and/or spell some of them out directly. What's the problem here? Why won't these two just get married and start a family? Is it personal (issues within the characters), social, political? Two or more of those reasons?

5. Give a little info about the physical appearance of the characters. Not necessarily a lot, but some, so the reader can get a visual.

And finally, and this is where I've been meeting my Waterloo, if the book's a sequel and the hero or heroine's immediate actions are a result of something that happened in the previous book, I have to provide enough information that a reader can understand the character's motivation even if they haven't read the previous book without having chunks of exposition that intrude upon the current story like a loud and obnoxious relative at family reunion. Tricky, that.

Speaking of pacing, the opening of a book should also reveal the pace of the story about to unfold -- fast (lots of activity), more leisurely (activity plus introspection/description), very leisurely (lots of introspection/description, less activity). Neither sort of pace is right or wrong, as long as the story moves forward. However, if the book's going to have a generally more leisurely pace, I think it's a mistake to open with a very fast-paced scene just to create a dramatic opening. It sets up an expectation in the reader that you're going to thwart, and that's not good.

Chapter One, Scene One is also going to introduce your author's voice -- the way you tell a story, which also means the way you balance the elements of a story (character, action, setting, etc.). Some people will like your voice, some people won't, but that's the way it is. The main thing is, your writing should sound like you, and nobody else. And no matter how much work, sweat, sighs and mutterings go into Chapter One, Scene One, it shouldn't sound like it's been labored over it ad infinitum. It has to have life, energy, "jazz", a certain vitality that comes from balancing all of the above.

Now you know why I'll spend hours and hours on those first few pages and why, although I may moan and groan about the revising, I do it anyway.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fabio does nothing for me

As some of you may be aware, Fabio was the special guest model on America's Next Top Model this week. I shall pass over what were given as romance "plots" for the photo shoot because it's a show about modelling, after all, except to say that perhaps a producer or somebody should have, you know, consulted with an actual romance editor or writer. Because some of their suggestions were just so wrong.

Anyway, about Fabio: I have never found him particularly attractive. I don't really understand his appeal. I have never, ever imagined him as the prototype for my hero, or anyone else's, for that matter.

What men on my covers have I found attractive and appropriate? Well, sometimes, the pictures of the menfolk are really too small for me to say one way or the other, so as long as the hair color's right and he doesn't look goofy, I'm pleased.

However, there have been a few where I've thought, "Excellent choice!" and there's one that, if I could only ever have one male cover model for every book? He'd be the guy.

This is the cover of my very first book, A WARRIOR'S HEART.

While I'm not too enamored of ye olde medieval mullet, I think this guy has nice lips and a good chin, and a fine nose, and a lovely eye -- and let me tell ya here and now, never underestimate the sales appeal of an eye patch.

I also like that he looks like a man old enough to have seen battle and lived to tell about it.

Model John DeSalvo is featured on the cover of THE SAXON. He's been on a few of my covers, and not only does he look good, I like the way he often looks a little worried. I like to think of my heroes as often worried about what the heroine's up to. Sometimes he can look a little too young, but usually, I'm very happy to see him on one of my covers.

Most of my heroes tend to have dark hair. I guess I just like tall, dark and handsome. The hero of THE WASTREL, however, was fair-haired. And doesn't he look fine? Nice features, and especially nice pose.

I should mention one other thing I like about this model. I'm not a fan of the "muscle-bound" types, the ones who look like they've spent several hours a day in the gym. The body type I always assume my heroes have is more like Olympic rowers -- well-muscled but lean. Working muscles, not "pretty" muscles.

And last but certainly not least, we come to the fellow I would chose to be my cover model if I could only ever have one. What do I like about this guy who could be a cousin of Alex Baldwin?

Dark hair, good looking, and most of all, he looks like a resolute, mature man whose had some major life experiences.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cover Couplings

I just received a copy of a Christmas anthology being published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon in England containing a novella I wrote six years ago. It's called YULETIDE WEDDINGS (20% off at Amazon UK, so far not available at the Mills & Boon site

This isn't an anthology of new stories, though. It includes "The Wise Virgin," by Jo Beverley and my story, "The Vagabond Knight," which first appeared in THE BRIDES OF CHRISTMAS, which was re-released in trade size in North America last Christmas. However, the third story is now "Christmas at Wayfarer Inn" by Shari Anton, which was published in a different anthology ('TIS THE SEASON). Why the change? I have no idea.

But to be honest, that's not the first thing I noticed. That would be the lovely cover, and not only because it's pretty. I first thought this cover was pretty when it appeared on Terri Brisbin's Harlequin Historical, THE COUNTESS BRIDE.

I was checking out YULETIDE WEDDINGS on the Mills & Boon site when I realized Terri and I have shared another cover, and this time, it was first used for one of my Harlequin Historicals, IN THE KING'S SERVICE. This is the cover of her upcoming Mills & Boon rlease, THE NORMAN'S BRIDE. The black and white picture is from the inside cover of IN THE KING'S SERVICE.

This is the back cover of IN THE KING'S SERVICE, which uses part of that inside picture, and also the front cover. Because I really, really like it.

How do I feel about this sharing of the covers? Well, to be sure, it was rather disconcerting the first time I realized this was happening, because I do tend to feel that the artwork on the cover of one of my books is mine. But it isn't. Harlequin or the artist owns it. And given the current publishing environment, if this is a way for Harlequin to keep costs down so they can make more of a profit so they can stay in business and keep buying my books? Then I'm okay with it.

Unity of Voice

Speaking of revisions and rewriting and editing and all that good stuff...

One other thing I work on as I revise my manuscripts is unity of voice. I want my books to read as if I wrote them in one sitting, to make the reading experience more enjoyable and less disruptive to the reader.

I know there are some writers who write basically only one draft. They "get it right" the first time. I can't, and one reason I can't is that my "voice" is too susceptible to the daily influences of what's going on in my life. If I'm having a bad day (bad news, PMS, it's been raining for the entire week), my writing, and the "voice" in which I'm writing, tends to reflect that. If I have a good day, that affects my writing and my voice, too. So one thing I aim to do when I revise is to make the voice consistent, so that the individual highs and lows aren't obvious.

This becomes easier to do with each subsequent draft, as I can work on more pages at a time. I can write between 10-15 pages a day for the first draft. I can revise many more pages/day, so the "mood shifts" in the prose become easier to spot and correct.

This isn't to say I don't change tone or mood during the course of a book. Sure I do, but if I've done my job right, those changes depend on what's happening in the story, not whether or not I'm having a bad day, or (I hope!) a good one.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back to the beginning...again

Yesterday I went back to Chapter One, scene one, to begin revising THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT. I was working away when I realized there was one bit of backstory that I might have written better in the original draft of Chapter One. You see, while there's only one complete first draft of the entire book, there are actually four drafts of Chapter One.

Draft #1 consists of Chapters 1-4, with a "scenette" (part of a scene)

Draft #2 consists of Chapters 1-13 with a different scenette

Draft #3 consists of Chapter 1-11 (which includes parts from what was Chapters 12 and 13) with yet another different scenette

Draft #4 consists of Chapter 1-22 (in other words, all the chapters) plus Epilogue (which may or may not make the final cut)

So I went to the archives and checked it out. Yep, I think this bit is better in Draft #1. Then I went back to the first few pages of the first draft of Chapter one and thought, "In fact, I like this version of the whole first scene better."

See, somewhere between the original version of Scene One and the fourth version of Scene One, I decided Original Scene One wasn't dramatic enough. So I rewrote it with a different setting and different activity, although much of the same dialogue/backstory revelations. Upon rereading Original Scene One, I realize the tone of the OSO was more appropriate. Revised Scene One was too dramatic -- too "heavy." If my hero was Sir Brooding d'Angst, the revised one would indeed be better. And certainly later on in the story, Bayard has much to brood about. However, at the start of the book, things are pretty straightforward for Our Hero. He knows who he is, he's (pretty much) okay with that, and he's got a fairly uncomplicated mission. The one potential fly in the oinment is the heroine, but he thinks he can "negate" any problems she might cause because, hey! Women like him! Of course, OOOPS! But that's later.

So now I have Draft #5, Chapter One, Scene One rewritten. And I like it. The first two lines may not be quite "there" yet, but almost. Now I have to decide if Scene Two stays, or bites the dust. I have no problem cutting out material. If it doesn't "feel right" on subsequent readings, out it goes. But I never delete from the computer.

Because I might just decide I like it (and need it), after all.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

And on to the next step!

Oh, happy day! I finished the first draft of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT at 8:30 p.m. Friday night, writing 29 pages that day (and I had the slightly aching shoulders to prove it). I really wanted to finish because I had a social engagement that took up all day Sat.

And now begins the next step -- rereading, reworking, revising. Cutting. Deleting. Moving. Writing new material. Getting really into the story -- delving even deeper into the characters and what makes them tick. Making sure everything makes sense. Adding "color" with descriptions and weaving in more historical detail.

I find this part of the process really exciting and -- dare I say it? -- fun. The first draft can be a tough slog, because it seems like every sentence (or practically) is a decision. If I write this, then this, that or the other can happen. Which one should I choose?

Now those difficult decisions have been made. I have all my raw material assembled and hammered into its basic shape; now comes the fine tuning, the polishing and reshaping until the finished book is the best it can be.

Yeee haaaw!

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Big Decision

As I've been nearing the end of the first draft of my work-in-progress, there's been a plot element I've been finding more and more of a worry, as in "How am I going to make this work?" It's not a main plot element (something vitally important to the developing relationship between the hero and heroine); it's more of a lead-in to the next book, which is about the current w-i-p's heroine's sister. It does have a function in the book as I've written it, to "up" the suspense and dramatic tension, as well as introduce the heroine of the next book and give more of a sense of the relationships in the current heroine's family.

But -- and this what's been bothering me -- I'm worried that this element is "too much" in the current w-i-p, and since I don't plan to resolve the sister's situaton in this book, I'm worried that readers will be upset/disappointed, feel cheated and also see it as a shameless attempt to compel them to buy the next book.

Now, I do want readers to be intrigued enough by what they've heard about the heroine's sister to want to know more about her; if they read MY LORD'S DESIRE, they'll have met the hero, too, and I want them to be curious about his fate, as well. And I want them to understand that Sis is in jeopardy.

This dilemma has been in the back of my mind all week as I've been approaching the final scenes, to the point where I've been thinking, "What wrong with a nice, simple marriage of convenience story? Sigh...."

This morning, the solution came to me. I'm going to have to take out much of the material dealing with Sis, and only use some of it at the end. This is going to make for a lot of work, and I'm going to lose several pages, but this decision "feels" right. I don't want a subplot really distracting from the main plot and characters, and I certainly don't want the readers to get to the end and think, "What the --?!?"

Having come to my decision, I'm going to carry on to the end as if I've already done the revising, then go back to the beginning with this new notion of the story, and rework the entire book with that in mind, among the other things I mentioned yesterday.

Yep, this writing. Walk in the park. Piece o' cake. Sit down and tell a story.

I wish!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Good Mistake!

I've been laboring under the impression that THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT is due in New York on November 15. It's been going relatively well, but as the remains of the fingernail on my right index finger will attest, I was getting a wee bit stressed about the deadline, which is par for the course. However, I haven't checked my contract lately, so this morning, fearing that I might be wrong, suddenly worried the deadline is actually Nov. 1, I looked at my contract.

My book is due November 30! Oh, kaloo, kalay! Two "bonus" weeks! Picture me grinning.

Does this mean I'm going to change my self-imposed deadline to get the entire first draft done by the end of the week/weekend? Nope. It means I have extra time to edit and revise before my editor sees it and makes suggestions and I revise some more.

What will I be looking at when I revise pre-editorial submission? The development of the romance -- does it make sense? Have I shown why the hero is drawn to the heroine and vice versa? In other words, why do they fall in love with that particular individual and not somebody else? Does that development seem believable? Are the characters believable? Do their actions/motivations make sense as I've described them?

There's a conspiracy afoot -- does that make sense that way I've described/portrayed it? Do things happen in a realistic manner? I know some people think romance is just pure fantasy, so things happening in a believable, realistic, even logical way is not a concern, but I'm not one of them.

What about my secondary characters? Have I introduced people in the beginning, then "lost" them? Have I introduced characters in the second half who should appear in the first half now? What about the suplot romance? Does that seem believable?

I know I'm going to have to add more description. Where and of what?

These are just a few of the things I think about with revisions; more crop up as I go through the manuscript. But once I know exactly what's going to happen (which I only know after I've finished the first draft), everything else seems easy, or at least easier.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How Much History In A Historical Romance*?

* I've changed this title since this entry was first posted because I want to make something more clear than in the first version: I'm only talking about historical romances, not historical novels. What's the difference? I think that in a historical romance, history is used to enhance the romance. In a historical novel, romance is, or can be, used to enhance the history. Different genres, different focus, different use of history. And I'm speaking about the North American market as I see it right now.

Now back to the blog:

I've been participating in a very interesting discussion on a writers' loop about the nature of history in a historical romance, as in "how much?"

Here's my take on this subject: I don't think there's any right or wrong when it comes to the amount and/or nature of historical events an author chooses to use. That's a matter of style, similar to the number and nature of love scenes.

I do think there's a distinction between political history (major political events) and social history (how people lived from day to day). As a person and a writer, I'm much more interested in social history than I am political history. To be sure, the big events are going to have an impact on the characters and the story, but not to the same extent as if I'm putting my characters in the equivalent of the Oval Office.

This discussion tends to get heated, I think, because of the implication that writers who prefer social history to political history are lazy. Or less intelligent. Or worst of all, they just don't care. It's not that they have a different preference; they are wrong and lesser writers for it.

To me, that falls into the same category as chastising other writers because they choose to write about sexual intimacy in a way different from you. It's a style choice, and not a question of one way being "right" or "better" than another. It's a writer's personal preference.

I've also heard that some readers miss so-called "meaty" historicals (again, let me emphasize I'm talking about historical romances, not historical novels), with lots and lots of historical facts. Here's why I don't write such books. First, I don't get a thrill out of describing big battles or major political machinations. It just doesn't float my boat, and writing has enough angst inherent in the effort that I don't want to force myself to write something I don't enjoy. Second, the sales simply aren't there. Maybe people have shorter attention spans -- although those George R.R. Martin tomes would seem to contradict that -- or maybe the next big blockbuster historical romance just has yet to be written. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that for now, the big, "meaty" historical is a tough sell. So basically, I'd be doing a lot of work and spending a lot of time (I think at least a year, if not more), on something that I really wouldn't enjoy writing and then might not sell. And in the meantime, my income would take a serious nose-dive. Not exactly an attractive proposition, is it?

Does that mean nobody should try? Oh, heck no! If you're really missing those big meaty historicals, write one. You might be the one to turn the tide. Or at least wow a publisher enough to give it a try. And who knows? The time may be right that the readers will welcome your book with open arms. There's no predicting what will "hit it big" in this business, which is both a good and bad thing about it.

Now pardon me. I must go serously wound both my hero and my villain, who are not fighting a major historical battle. It's personal and one-on-one. 'Cause that's the way I like it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hiro's my hero!

I've started watching the new show, Heroes, and I love Hiro, a young, slightly plump Japanese fellow who's discovered he can stop time and also teleport. Why? Let me count the ways.

1. He's enthused. Boy, is he enthused! Of all the people discovering he has superpowers, he's the one who's really excited by it. No "Oh, poor me. I'm different. Wah!" from Hiro. He's like "Wow! Cool! This is so neat!"

2. He's cute. Not as in hunky cute, but as in "cute as a bug's ear" cute. I want to give him a hug. And have him home for milk and cookies.

3. He's a Star Trek fan/nerd!

4. He says things like "It is my destiny!" and strikes a pose. Like I said, cute. Also, nerd. Also, keen.

5. He has a sidekick I also enjoy. Watching him realize Hiro wasn't just nutty but could really do what he said he could? Priceless.

6. He's honest. He had to be persuaded to use his powers to cheat in Vegas, and then refused to do it more.

7. At the end of this week's episode, he comes back from the future as Ninja Hiro, with cool sword. Wow -- cute and charming and then carrying a sword and looks like he knows how to use it? As somebody at Television without Pity dubbed him, Hiro the Highlander! Heee!

And whatever happens in the episode, they have got the best "chapter ends" going. Two weeks in a row, my jaw has dropped. Yep, they've hooked me.

Who's lost me? Jericho. Just too unbelievable. Everybody seems way, way too calm to me. Also, they waste their precious resources. Why burn one candle if you've got ten, never mind that you don't know how long it'll be before you can get new ones? That sort of thing just drives me nuts.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Didn't like about any of the characters, and watching a "writer" at work can cause all kinds of teeth clenching.

On the maybe list: The Nine. So far, not bad, but I could get bored if they don't start showing more of what went on in the bank.

Also liking: Ugly Betty and Battlestar Galactica, although Hefty Apollo elicited cries of "NOOOOOOO! in this house the first three times he appeared. And we'd even been warned.

Back and better than ever: The Amazing Race, now with new and improved non-elimination penalty, although Peter is beyond aggravating to watch.

Still enjoying: Survivor, America's Next Top Model and Project Runway

And just so y'all don't think I sit and watch TV all day: Up to page 340 in the work-in-progress. Currently writing the Big Fight Scene. Came up with a new plot twist yesterday. Still hoping to finish the first draft by the end of the week. Go me! :-)

Monday, October 16, 2006

On the downward slide...

Oh, happy day! I've passed Page 300! I've still got a ways to go, but the end of the first draft is in sight -- perhaps even this week!

Some writers have compared writing a book to racing a bike up a hill. When you first start, you're excited and rarin' to go! Then, after about the first third, you start to get tired. The top still seems far away. Your legs start to get tired. Eventually, you're pumping and pumping, and maybe wheezing. And then, finally, you're at the top and whizzing to the bottom.

When you start a new book, you're excited. New story, new characters, maybe new setting. You write the first few chapters where you set up many things, and hint at many things, and it's still all very interesting and exciting. Then comes the middle, where you have to keep up the pace, and add more complications, and work some things out. What seemed so simple at the start becomes trickier. Some ideas aren't working as you thought they would. You may have too many characters, or not enough. Ditto the activity in the book. Too many talking heads? Not enough introspection? By now, you're getting weary.

But then, you get closer to the end. You've resolved most of your issues. So have your characters. You've just the Big Finish to do, and you know exactly how to get there. Sure, you'll be revising, but the big slog is over. Yeah!

I'd like to add something to this analogy. Once you sell, it's like you're riding a bicyle built for two. Sure, the second person (the publisher) can offer assistance and guidance, but they're pretty much extra weight because now you've got to please them, as well. You're not just riding without baggage; you've got expectations.

Now add some reviewers to the handlebars. They're along for the ride. Some may offer encouragment, but others may be telling you it's not worth it. Get off and take up a hobby.

Add readers to the sidelines. Again, some will cheer you on and you'll be heartened by their support. Some won't. There may be some catcalls. Or offers of water when you feel you can't go on.

So you keep going. No matter how arduous the process, though, when you get to the bottom of the hill, before you give your book to the publisher, the reviewers and the readers, there's still that thrill of accomplishment that you've actually completed a book. A whole book. And you like it.

And that's really something.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


This week, I went to see the musical Wicked. There was much to enjoy, but I had some reservations, mainly because I tried to read the book, and didn't get very far. I didn't find one character I liked or sympathized with or cared about. For me, this was an insurmountable problem, so I stopped reading.

Fortunately, the musical skips most of the beginning, where I stopped reading, and the first half of the show was really quite enjoyable. I enjoyed the second half for quite a bit, too. I especially liked the explanations for the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow.

But. But, but, but... Just because I write romance novels doesn't mean I think every story should have a "happy" ending, and in this case, the writers reached for one that didn't work for me. (And it isn't the same as the book's, I understand.)

If you're planning on seeing the show and don't want to be "spoiled", read no farther, because there is a "surprise" at the end of the show and I'm going to talk about it. First, I'll leave some space, and what better way to do that than a picture of, oh, say, my upcoming beautiful cover?

Okay, the set-up is this: The (future) Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, falls in love with the handsome Fiyero. Glinda, (future) Good Witch of the North, wants Fiyero for herself. But Fiyero winds up falling in love with Elphaba, getting involved in her political cause and running off with her. Just after their tender ballad, they are found by the police. Fiyero enables Elphaba to flee, but he's caught, bound and carried away. Since she can't free him, Elphaba does a spell that...turns him into the Scarecrow, so he can't be killed. Now this, I thought, was neat.

However, the story also includes what happens after Dorothy's house crashed on Elphaba's sister (which was the villains' way to trap her), up to and including the melting. But lo! That was just a trick, so Elphaba and Fiyero/Scarecrow can live happily ever after, albeit not in Oz.

Why didn't this ending work for me, professional romance writer?

Because we've seen the Wicked Witch in action (in my case, many, many times). We've seen her set the Scarecrow on fire and more than once. She's going to kill a kid for a pair of shoes, fer pete's sake. The woman is wicked.

What would I have done differently? I would have had the love triangle, same backstory, and same reason for Elphaba to turn her lover into a scarecrow. BUT I would have had the Scarecrow left with no memory of his past with Elphaba, including his love for her (he does go to the Wizard for a brain, after all). I would have had Glinda convince him Elphaba is totally evil. Elphaba's saved his life, but she's lost his love. Worse, now he's terrified of her and believes her evil incarnate. I would have ended the story with the villains conjuring up the tornado that brings Dorothy from Kansas and killing her sister, so that Elphaba's completely alone in the world, the victim of forces that have taken away everyone she loves. That's what makes her wicked. That turns her into the bitter, vengeful witch we know. So she's still going to do all those things she does, but now we know why, and can have some sympathy for her.

Maybe that's how the book ends. I'm tempted to find out.

But would that version be as much of a crowd-pleaser in a musical version? Probably not. It's a musical, after all, not an opera.

Friday, October 13, 2006

My Bad Luck This Week

Friday the Thirteenth is associated with bad luck for a number of reasons. However, the one I'm most familiar with is the arrest and subsequent torture and execution of the Knights Templar, ending the order. No coincidence that I'd go for the most medieval one, I don't think.

But I had my bad luck on Wednesday, when, due to a scheduling change, I missed taping Lost. Now, that show is falling out of favor for me because I really want some answers to what the heck's going on. On the other hand, there's Sawyer and Sayid and Hurley to keep me interested. So you must imagine my howl of dismay when I realized I had missed the kiss between Kate and Sawyer. Also, Hurley was in that episode. Also, a Sun and Jin flashback. I'm still miffed.

Fortunately, writing-wise, it's been a pretty good week. I've finished the revising of the first half of the book and written about a hundred new pages. If I "push", I might be able to finish the first draft by next Friday. That would be great, but if I don't quite make it, I won't be wallowing the Slough of Despond. I'll finish it soon, and then comes the revising. Which I actually enjoy. Once I've got down exactly what happens when, that's when I start adding "layers" of emotion and meaning, and description. And smoothing out the prose. And expanding (my first drafts tend to be quite lean). And start obsessing about what my editor will think. Because that's part of my process, too.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"She was my baby, Ray."

I just finished my usual lunch hour viewing of a Law and Order rerun. And once again, I am in awe of the late, great Jerry Orbach. That man can make me weep with one line. One of the most moving, amazing moments in any TV show I've ever seen occurred was when his character's daughter on Law and Order was murdered. Father and daughter had been estranged, and yet when he approaches her body, you can tell he is absolutely gutted. And then, as his partner helps him move away, he simply says, "She was my baby, Ray." And you know he's totally devastated.

I'm weeping just typing this, remembering. There's no Jerry Orbach there. The man is Lenny Brisco; that is his dead daughter. Suspension of disbelief? No. No "suspension" involved. I believe.

He's so believeable as Lenny, I could not convince my son he was the voice of Lumiere in Disney's Beauty and The Beast. He had to see his name in the credits, and even then, he was utterly gobsmacked.

The world lost an amazing performer when Jerry Orbach passed away.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Love Scenes

I just finished writing a love scene in the w-i-p and I'm ready to call it a day, because those scenes are far and away the most difficult ones for me to write. And here's why:

I don't write "sex" scenes. I write "love scenes" -- and yes, I think there's a difference. When my characters are making love, it's not simply a description of sexual activity. I'm showing two characters (and let me make that perfectly clear -- characters, not me and my husband) being as emotionally intimate as they are physically intimate. Their feelings are as exposed as their bodies.

Because such scenes are about emotional intimacy at least as much as physical intimacy, they're extremely important in terms of the developing relationship, which is the key element of any romance. So those scenes are key to the key. Hence, not something I can just toss off, like, say banter in a ballroom. (Note: Even banter gets revised when I'm writing it, but the first draft of that sort of thing is much faster to write than the first draft of a love scene.)

I also like to have dialogue in such scenes, but again, because of the importance of such a scene, it's not often the sort of dialogue that comes trippingly off the fingers the first time around.

I also don't want the prose to sound ridiculous, the sort of sentences and paragraphs those who would denegrate romance love to take out of context. I know it's out of context, but why provide any ammo?

I don't use anatomical terms for some parts of the human anatomy, but euphemisms. I know some readers think that's a cop-out and maybe it is. But that's what I'm most comfortable with; it's become a part of my style and I'm sticking with it. I do try to avoid the ridiculous here, though, as well.

Speaking of love scenes, I had an interesting experience with my latest release, HERS TO DESIRE. One reader wrote to say how much she enjoyed the fact that it was "tamer" than many romances when it came to the love scenes. Another reader wrote taking me severely to task for not enough "sex scenes."

My response is the same to both: the amount and intensity of the love scenes in any book of mine is determined by the setting (time and place), the plot and especially by the characters. Some characters are more physical than others, because of their backstory. Others are not. Some plots lend themselves to more sexual activity than others. For instance, if I've got two people in a marriage of convenience that happens near the start of the book, there will be more scenes of intimacy, because they're married. Bearing in mind that I write books set before the 20th century, if they're not married, they're probably not going to make love until much later in the book, and probably not as frequently. They don't have the pill, after all. I personally have a very difficult time with heroes and heroines in historical romances who just blithely fall into bed (or the carriage or the nearest haystack) with nary a thought that she might get pregnant and then what will they do? Obviously, since I have heroes and heroines who make love out of wedlock, I'm not saying that the H and H should never do that; I'm saying I think pre-marital sexual activity in a historical romance without any thought to the possible consequences bothers me.

One thing I don't worry about is what people will think. As in, say, my mother. I've been at this long enough to be waaaay over that. And after my Dad read the first one? No problem!

My daughter reads my books, but skips those parts because, EEEUUWW! I'm her Mom! Moms aren't supposed to know that stuff! She has no qualms about her friends reading them, though. I understand her school librarian was a bit taken aback by the sudden interest in THE VIKING, by Margaret Moore.

So while I'm not embarrassed to write love scenes, I do find them the most difficult to do well. And it's still all about the characters for me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Back to the basement....

This is a picture of my office mid-book. Those are some of my covers on the wall, along with my university diploma, which clearly was not for keeping a tidy office. But you should have seen it when it was a mess and was still in its original 50's era state, with the charming cheap wood paneling. A few years after I sold, we (and by we, I mean a contractor), ripped the room apart and redid it, including upgrading the wiring.

However, one thing remained unchanged. There's no window in that room.

After working window-less for several years, I had the brilliant idea to create the Franken-computer, using the computer tower from my son's old computer, the keyboard from another old computer, and a new flat monitor and to put it in the living room, which has a window -- and how! It's six feet by twelve feet. Kinda like living in a fishbowl if the sheers are open.

Nirvana -- until my daughter pointed out that I'd originally moved the desk into the living room so that she could work on her laptop there. Also, the desk is, well, small. Nothing like the arrangement in the office. Also, I prefer silence when I work, yet I had moved myself into the house equivalent of Grand Central Station.

But I had a window! A honkin' big window.

Still, and although Daughter is not one to whine or complain, I felt bad when she was sitting with her laptop on her lap, writing an essay with her papers on the sofa beside her. And the desk really was too small. As you can see in that picture, I tend to have a lot of notes, etc. around me when I'm writing. And it really was like trying to write in Central Command.

So yesterday, the Franken-computer was installed in the office, to the right of the computer in that picture, which is an IBM Ambra with Windows 95 (ie an antique). That we still use, and that, in fact, I must print from, because the Franken-computer is not hooked up to the printer. Hopefully this will change soon, but first, we have to figure out what we need from the Ambra.

I don't think I'll be doing that until the book is done. At least now, although I don't have a window, I just have to swivel in my chair from one computer to the other to print.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Whose point of view?

I'm getting to ready to write a fairly emotional scene this afternoon, dealing with grief and guilt. Last night, I fell to pondering whose point of view I should use, the hero or the heroine's. This became a question because I've just written a scene from the heroine's point of view. Then I fell to pondering the general guidelines I use for POV decisions. (I say general guidelines because I break my own "rules" from time to time -- I'm telling a story, not baking a cake.)

One of the things that really appeals to me about romance is that I have two strong characters with their own points of view to work with and that they should be fairly equally represented. That's one reason I shy away from first person, both in my writing and reading. Given that our readers are mostly women, I'd say if I had to tilt the balance more in one direction, it probably should be the heroine. However, I love strong, interesting heroes, so if the balance is more in the guy's favor, no complaints from me.

But the main consideration I use to decide whose point of view I'm going to use is who's going to have the greater emotional reaction to the action of the scene? Who's more "invested" in what's going on?

That's why, although I've just done a scene from the heroine's point of view, I'll probably stay there for this one. What's happening is going to hit her much harder than it would the hero.

Do I ever give secondary characters a point of view? Oh, heck, yes, especially the villains. I like to know why they do what they do, even if it's just because they have an enormous sense of entitlement, and I think being "in their head" is a more interesting and better method than having them suddenly start explaining themselves. And this way, I can show what they're up to when the hero and heroine aren't around, which enables me to create tension and suspense.

What about switching point of view in a scene? Do I do it? Sometimes. If I think it's more effective in terms of conflict and drama and plot development, I'll do it. But I do think about it.

I believe one reason many people will tell you to stay in one point of view per scene, or even chapter, is that so many people do the change-over poorly, or too often, so that the reader is pulled completely out of the scene. Ideally, the transition should be so smooth and so good in terms of telling the story, the reader doesn't even notice.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oh, to be in England....

Because today is the day the new BBC Robin Hood premieres there. Here's a new picture of Richard Armitage as Sir Guy of Gisborne (ignore the apparent use of ye olde pleather for the costume). Need I say more?
(This comes courtesy of the Official Richard Armitage website here. More pictures, news, etc. abounds!)

However, this is also the day Battlestar Galactica begins again in my neck of the woods, and that's no small compensation. Hooray!

Friday, October 06, 2006

What's in a name?

I was standing in the check-out at the local grocery this morning when I noticed the clerk's nametag. Terah. Tara, only spelled uniquely. Different, I thought, but not outrageously weird.

Which brings me to character names and how I choose them as the subject for today's blog.

First, I go by time period. I have to think a name at least sounds appropriate for the time, at least to my ear. I'll fudge a little, as in the case of the lovely "Rhiannon" which I used in a medieval, although it wasn't commonly used by the Welsh for a person's name until about the 19th century, if memory serves. But you're not going to see any "Tiffanys" or names that seem too 20th century to me in any of my books unless I switch to contemporaries.

Then I think about how the name actually sounds to the ear, and how it looks on the page. I like my heroes to have strong names, so I have a lot of names with hard syllables in them.

I have to actually like the names of my main characters. After all, I'll be living with these names for several months.

I care about my villains' names, too, so I lot of the time I'll pick names for them that are, well, kinda ugly or harsh, at least to me.

However, I was hoist on my own petard by this with the sequel to my first book, A WARRIOR'S QUEST. The hero of that book had started out as the villain's "yes man" for my first book, A Warrior's Heart, so I named him Urien. Obviously, this looks a lot like another word for a certain bodily fluid -- which was fine when he was the villain's yes man. But during the course of A WARRIOR'S HEART, he developed a conscience, and with it, hero potential. Unfortunately, by the time I got the okay for the sequel, the first book was out and my hero was "stuck" with that name. I understand "Urien" was used as an example of what NOT to name a hero in the editorial offices for a while. So if there's a baddie who might have hero potential? I don't give him a fugly name.

I think I've been specifically asked to change a hero's name by my editor before writing a book only once. She didn't like "Edmund". Why, I'm not exactly sure, but okay. This book wasn't a medieval, so I changed his name to...Paris. The heroine was something of a bluestocking and I've always found it interesting that in the Iliad, Paris keeps getting whisked off the battlefield by some goddess and finds himself (oh, surprise!) in Helen's boudoir. I made that my heroine's interpretation of the legendary figure, too, and as I wrote THE WASTREL, that name for the hero seemed to work better and better, until I couldn't imagine him with any other name.

Sometimes writers get asked to change the name of a character in the finished manuscript. I have a vague recollection (it has been 42 books) that maybe I was asked to do this once; even if I haven't, I can appreciate that it's really tough to do. As with my man Paris, the name becomes part of the character as I envision him or her.

I did have one character once whose name was pretty much inconsequential to me, and that would be the hero I simply thought of (and still do) as The Voice. His first wife had tried to strangle him and his voice box was damaged, so he could only ever speak in a sort of husky whisper. That book was The Baron's Quest.

I've also taken some grief over the years for my Welsh characters and the names I've given them. My own sister once asked me "What's with all the Welsh?" This would be the one who told me that in her mind, she pronounced "Griffydd" (the hero of A WARRIOR'S PASSION) as "Griff-id-da-da". In case you're curious, in Welsh, "ff" is pronounced as "f", a single "f" is the same as a "v", dd = th and "w" is literally "double U". So his name was, simply, Griffith, as in Andy. Why so many Welsh characters? I love their accent. Rent the director's cut of the film King Arthur with Ioan Gruffudd and listen to the actors' interviews. The way he says "Kiera" and "arrow" are just...well, I could listen to him all day. Also, their names are just plain neat.

However, it does help if a name is easy to type (see above re working with it for months).

I don't generally give my characters a lot of nicknames, and I don't think I ever have in my medievals (although I could be wrong, especially when it comes to some of the earlier books). I have given secondary characters nicknames, most notably (to me, anyway) "Foz" (Sir Fozbury Cheddington) and "Buggy" Bromwell (Lord Justinian Boswell) in the books I wrote for Avon. I have a lot of affection for these guys, so it seemed only natural. My heroes tend to be a little more...imposing, perhaps? Not the sort of guy you give a cute moniker to, anyway.

There are several things I consider when I'm creating my characters, and their names are just one aspect. However, I obviously think names are an important one, or I wouldn't have so many criteria!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Delight from Down Under

Today I got an email from my friend and fellow HQN author Helen Kirkman to let me know that our two-in-one release,MYSTERIOUS ALLEGIANCES, containing my book, THE UNWILLING BRIDE and Helen's book, A FRAGILE TRUST, is now available Down Under. You can also order if from eHarlequin in Australia.

Here's the back cover copy:

The Unwilling Bride

Promised to Merrick of Tregellas when she was but a child, Lady Constance was unwilling to wed a man she remembered only as a spoiled boy. Sure he had grown into an arrogant knight, she sought to make herself so unappealing that Merrick would refuse to honour their betrothal. Yet no sooner had this darkly handsome man ridden through the castle gates than she realised he was nothing like the boy she recalled.

Haunted by secrets from his past, Merrick was reluctant to return to Tregellas—until he caught sight of Lady Constance. She was everything he wanted in a wife and the only woman who stirred his passion and his heart. But what would happen when she discovered the truth?

A Fragile Trust

Those defending the land had pledged their loyalty to the new king. Though English by blood, Ash had been raised among Vikings, and was driven beyond reason to prove his allegiance to king and country, only to find himself left for dead by an English traitor.

Then Lady Gemma risked all to rescue the mysterious Ash. But though the wounded stranger consorted easily with the enemy, she could not fear him. And as the growing danger surrounded them, Ash would prove to be a man with the courage to risk not only life, but to save Gemma and earn her love!

I gotta tell ya, as an author, this is the icing on the cake! Lovely cover and a most excellent author to share that cover with!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Orphan" Scenes

Sometimes when I'm writing a book, I'll write a scene that I quite like, but realize it's not appropriate to where I've put it. It doesn't "feel quite right" - which usually means it's altering the pace of the story, and not for the better. So I take it out and save it. Since I like it, I don't want to abandon it completely, and generally try to find a way to work it into the story.

I have a scene like that in the work-in-progress. I like certain elements of it a lot -- it's a sort of "domestic" scene between the hero and heroine, and it shows how the hero's starting to find her attractive/sexy, even though she's not a great beauty. I think this is important, so I also think that scene, or at least certain parts of it, should survive to appear somewhere in the book.

Ah, but where? And how much? Because it is a "quiet" scene, it's a bit slower paced, so that's a concern. Things are moving along plot-wise, and I don't want to put in the writerly equivalent of a speed bump. That's why I took it out in the first place.

However, I've got another part of a scene that I'm concerned is a bit too intense for where I've put it. It relays important plot information, ups the suspense and also demonstrates to the hero just how strained the relationship between the heroine and her steward has become.

So now I'm thinking, "What if I take out Important Plot Development bit from that scene, start a later one with Pleasant Domestic Moment, and then go to Important Plot Development from there?"

The suspense that comes from the Plot Development bit might work even better later, the pacing should be "smoother" and I can still use my little Domestic Moment.

I'm going to try that, and see if it works. If not, it's back to the original plan. Because sometimes, some scenes I like just don't fit into the book after all, and have to bite the dust.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nooooooo! Not Tweener! Not Tweener!

So there I am, after a hard day of revising, looking forward to Prison Break. I've been hoping that young Tweener, who was thrown in jail for stealing a baseball card (albeit an expensive one) is going to get a new start in life thanks to the love he's found with the short-haired cutie.

Well, I am a romance writer, after all. And I like redemption stories. And I really thought Tweener's Tale would be the ray of happy light in amongst the heavy-duty tension.

But noooooooooo!

They killed Tweener. Okay, the evil, crazy FBI guy late of Invasion, where he played Creepy Alien Sheriff, shot him. But dang! So much for my little ray of sunshine.

I really, really wish they hadn't done that.

In other news, I was ordering the gift certificate that is the prize in my monthly draw and discovered that Amazon has credit card expiry dates available to 2024. My mind, she is boggled!

Monday, October 02, 2006

My TAR is back!

As I take another break, let me just squee a moment about my favorite reality show, The Amazing Race. This season, they seem to have gone back to some of the aspects that made the first season so great -- clues that are clues, not just directions; interesting locales and tasks; and diverse teams, some of whom are actually "regular" folks, not models.

So far, I'm loving the Cho Bros, especially after their moment of silence in Hanoi. I was sorry to see Duke and Lauren go, and I want to like Mary, the Coalminer's Wife, but her interruption of David's moment of reflection in the car was disconcerting. There's really only one racer who makes me froth at the mouth with annoyance, and that would be Peter, Sarah's teammate. I simply can't think of them as a couple, because it's pretty obvious he doesn't. What was with him running ahead and leaving her to crawl in the rice paddy? Sheesh.

One thing I'm also enjoying is the obvious friendship among some of the teams, another element that made Season One such a standout. And, as always, I enjoy the Amazing Host, especially when he lets that Kiwi accent come out. :-)

How much?

Yesterday, I briefly mentioned one dilemma I face when I'm writing a series, and that is how much information from a previous book to include in the book I'm currently writing.

The short answer is, as little as possible. For one thing, I don't want to bring the pace to a screeching halt while some Basil Exposition relays the plot of the previous book. For another, I want every book I write to "stand alone" -- I don't want readers to feel lost if they pick up a later book in the series.

That's why I usually move the action of the current book away from the other books in the series, to a different castle or town. That way, the main characters of this book aren't meeting up with the past characters, although, as in the current w-i-p, they may think about them sometimes. But those thoughts also have to do with the backstory and motivation of the current characters, especially if we're talking family members. Even so, I try to keep them to a minimum, because those previous characters have already had their story. Now it's the "new" characters' turn to be in the limelight.

That said, I do want readers to think, "Oh, there was a book before this? About some of the same people? I've got to buy that now!" Sales mean I can keep writing, after all. So I'll sometimes have the previous book(s)'s hero or heroine or both make a cameo appearance, usually at the beginning or end of the new book.

In some ways, writing sequels is easier -- I've already "met" the main characters -- but finding the line between what a reader needs to know from a previous book and what you can/should leave out can make it tricky, too.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Plot Points

So yesterday, after revising Chapter Three again, I had a few epiphanies.

First, I totally understand the appeal of using the same basic plot over and over again, as some authors seem to do. Talk about taking a lot of the angst out of the writing. Mind you, I'm not saying all their books are the same, because to my mind, it's really the characters that bring the unique to a story. Still, rather than having to make up a new pattern every time, they just have to change the colors.

Second, the first half of the book is always the most difficult. Comparing writing a book to bowling, the first half is setting up the pins. If I'm not using the same basic plot, I'm also coming up with a new layout for the pins. The second half of the book is knockin' 'em down. A lot easier, to my mind, although believe you me, the second half can have plenty of problems of it's own, like the crisis and the satisfying ending, so I'm not saying the second half is a breeze. Just easi-er.

And finally, in every book, I have a Chapter O' Doom that takes much more work any other chapter in the book. In this case, it's Chapter Three. Why? Because this book is a sequel, for one thing, so I'm not just setting up the characters' backstory, I'm also trying to figure out how much from the previous book to include, and a lot of those elements seem to be converging in the aforementioned Chapter Three. I spent literally hours on it yesterday, and I know I'm not done yet.

On the other hand, there are worst fates. And so far, I think Book III has a less complicated plot to develop, although complications have a way of creeping in as I write, so no doubt there'll be a Chapter O' Doom in that book, too.