Friday, July 28, 2006

Gone Readin'

This is where I'll be next week, reading in the hammock at the folk's cottage. That's my knobby knee sticking up; the other reader is my daughter, and behind us, down that little road, is the beach.

This is my idea of A Vacation. Although I enjoy traveling every couple of years, I don't find it particularly restful. For that, I need to go to what's known in the family as "the Shack." There is no TV. There's a radio, and sometimes we listen to the local sports guys because they're funny, and the laptop will be going because I'm deluding myself that I might actually write, but otherwise it's a reading room. Sadly, the local general store doesn't carry the big city papers, but a trip to the Big Town will solve that lack.

The Big Town also boasts a lovely mini-golf park across from a fine steakhouse (which we discovered the year the wind was blowing from that direction) and a movie theatre. It used to be part of a very small chain, and part of the Shack experience is singing the Stinson theme song (which has no words, actually).

Outside the closer Small Town, where my mom grew up on a farm, is the place where we get fresh fruit and vegetables, and especially home-made pies. We joke that our Shack holidays consist of hoisting ourselves out of the hammock, having a piece of pie and staggering back to the hammock.

We play a lot of board games, including our own modified verion of Life. For those of you not familiar with the game, your piece is a little car, and as you travel around the squares, doing things like buying a house, investing, etc, you also get married and have kids. When we play, we get to choose a celebrity spouse. I think I've been married to James Marsters a couple of times. My daughter once divorced Jamie Bamber (i.e. kicked his piece out of the car) because he kept making stupid investments and losing all the money. We also name the kids.

If we're playing Careers and somebody wins an Oscar, they have to make an acceptance speech. Anybody buying Mediterranan and Baltic during Monopoly is immediately derided as "Slum Lord." I myself aim for the light blue streets (Oriental, Vermont and Connecticut) or the golds (St. James, aka St. Jimmy's, Tennessee and New York.) And then there's Free Pork.

But most of all, we read. This year, I'm taking A Clash of Kings, Book II of A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin. I'm about half way through it now. I'm also taking Book III, A Storm of Swords, Destiny by Helen Kirkman, who really knows her Dark Ages and whose heroes are wonderful, and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. I may not post on message boards but I do occasionally visit them, and I've seen many a fulsome post about this book.

Until later, folks! I'm off to the Land of Pie and Sloth and Much Reading. When I return, I'm planning to have Random Blog Giveaways of several of my out-of-print books.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

RWA Conferences Past...

For various reasons (including have the wrong week of July in my head when I was thinking of the dates -- duh!), I'm not attending the Romance Writers of America national convention this year. I've attended and enjoyed them in the past, though.

The first RWA conference I went to was three years before I sold, in 1988 (i.e. The Dark Ages). That one was in Boston, and what I mostly remember is (a) the excitement and (b) sleeping like a log. It was the first time I'd be away without my husband or kids since the children had been born, the first time I met an agent, the first time I'd been around so many writers.

My first conference as a published author was in Chicago in '92. That was the first time I met Tracy Farrell in person, and the hotel was the same one as in the movie, THE FUGITIVE. I went to my first Harlequin party, too -- exciting and pretty swell!

I think the next one I attended was Dallas, back in '94 (oh, the dates are fuzzy!). I did a workshop at 8 a.m. in a very stuffy room. The moderator and I were on a stage, quite a distance from the audience -- which was a problem, because there, in the very front row, was a woman nodding off. I mean, I was as perky as I know how to be (believe me, that's pretty darn perky) but to no effect, and given how obvious it would have been for the moderator to do anything, nothing was done. I just carried on and ignored her the best I could. I could probably pick her out of a crowd today, though.

I attended the St. Louis conference during the year of the big flood. The husband and kiddies came along, too, so we rented a van and drove. This was back in the days when they still had a banquet before the RITA ceremony. I don't think my husband will ever forget the sound of 1500 women in a banquet hall! My daughter came to a booksigning and got an autographed book. She was about 8 at the time, and the book was not, shall we say, for the innocent, so...come to think of it, I think it's still in my cupboard. I suppose she's old enough now...although do we mothers ever think our daughters are old enough for some things? The same way my daughter will read my books but not the love scenes. Because eeeeuuuuwwww! Mom's not supposed to know that stuff!

The whole family went to the conference in Orlando, too. The hubby and kids did Disney World and Universal Studios and that sort of thing, which was fine by me because that's not exactly my idea of a fun time. I played a round of minigolf with my editor, though.

I sweltered at another conference in Chicago, with the hotel with the weirdest air conditioning system ever. You couldn't leave it on when you went out. You had to turn it on every time you came into the (by then) roasting room. That was the first conference where I was with two publishing houses. Made for a lot of running around, which is not something you want to be doing with it's 105 with 100% humidity.

The last conference I attended was in Dallas again, in 2004. Me, about 1800 romance writers and what seemed like millions of Mary Kay reps. That was a scene, man. Expecially since my idea of makeup is lip gloss.

So I'll be thinking of everybody in Atlanta this week, among the mobs in the conference hotel, talking up a storm and having a swell time at their publishers' parties. I'll be here, sweltering with no air conditioning, writing but also taking a nap at midday because...well, it's hot. And did you know that anything you eat during RWA conference week when you're not actually at the conference has ZERO calories?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fixing misconceptions

As I was wandering around Blogland the other day, it became apparent that some folks believe I wrote for Harlequin, left to write for Avon, then came back to Harlequin. Let me correct that. I was still writing for Harlequin Historicals while I was writing for Avon.

My first Avon book, A SCOUNDREL'S KISS, (set in Restoration England) was released in March, 1999. My last book for Avon, KISS ME AGAIN, (set in the Regency) was released in January, 2004. Between those two releases, here is the list of books I had out, their publishers, date of release and setting.

A ROGUE'S EMBRACE,, Avon, February 2000 (Restoration England)

A WARRIOR'S KISS, Harlequin Historical, March 2000 (medieval)

THE DUKE'S DESIRE, Harlequin Historical, September 2000 (Regency England)

HIS FORBIDDEN KISS, Avon, March 2001 (Restoration England)

THE OVERLORD'S BRIDE, Harlequin Historical, May 2001 (medieval)

THE MAIDEN AND HER KNIGHT, Avon, October 2001 (medieval)

TEMPT ME WITH KISSES, Avon, April 2002 (medieval)

GWYNETH AND THE THIEF, Avon True Romance, July 2002 (medieval -- a Young Adult novel)

A WARRIOR'S LADY, Harlequin Historical, September 2002 (medieval)

ALL MY DESIRE, Avon, October 2002 (medieval)

KISS ME QUICK, Avon, May 2003 (Regency)

IN THE KING'S SERVICE, Harlequin Historical, October 2003 (medieval)

My first HQN book was BRIDE OF LOCHBARR, out in August, 2004. So I was, in fact, writing for two publishers concurrently.

Another misconeption seems to be that I've only ever written medievals. Nope. In fact, and apart from the time periods of the books listed above, my second book,CHINA BLOSSOM, was set in Victorian England, with a heroine who'd been raised as a slave in China (!!). I've written three other books set in Victorian England (THE WASTREL, THE DARK DUKE, and THE ROGUE'S RETURN). I've written two books set in the Dark Ages (THE VIKING and THE SAXON). I've even written a book set in 19th century Massachusetts, VOWS. While I was writing those books, I was also writing my Warrior series of medievals for Harlequin Historicals (14 books in all). So while the majority of my books have been medievals, I like to try new things and new time periods.

Apparently some people also consider my efforts "hit or miss."

Well, okay. As long as I want to try new things and new time periods -- and I do -- I think that's the price I have to pay. Although I hate to think I'm disappointing readers at any time, it's a price I'm willing to pay to keep the work fresh, interesting and exciting, at least to me.

I also note, though, that it's a price I can afford to pay. For one thing, Harlequin's foreign sales means I'm much less dependent on the North American market. For another, writing is not the sole source of my family's income. And the kids' braces are off, their university tuition covered. Otherwise, right now I'd probably be writing nothing but Regencies featuring strong, silent heroes, and probably with less joy than I approach my current projects.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Release Day!

Egad, that sounds like I'm being let out of prison! It's not that, I assure you!

Today's the official release date for my latest book, HERS TO DESIRE. Here's a description:

Vivacious Lady Beatrice yearns to capture the heart of cynical, world-weary Sir Ranulf...but she's the daughter of a traitorous nobleman. Believing marriage to the man of her dreams impossible, she nevertheless dares to hope for at least one night of passion in his arms.

A knight with a past he'd prefer to forget, Ranulf believes he's too tainted to be worthy of the love of innocent, naive Bea. Yet from the moment he met her, a hope that happiness and contentment might yet be his began to blossom in his lonely heart. Both Ranulf and Bea also have duties to perform -- Bea's brings her closer to Ranulf, while his puts her in mortal danger.

Can he overcome the past that haunts him still to save her? And will "little Lady Bea" get the wish of her heart and have her night in Ranulf's bed?

Romantic Times calls HERS TO DESIRE "a sparkling, dynamic tale." Romance Junkies says it's "completely captivating from the first page to the last." And A Romance Review said it had "pure romantic chemistry at its best."

And hey, there's even smugglers, all you Pirates of the Caribbean fans!

Here's an excerpt.

Mickey Spillane and peanuts

For those of you who don't know already, Mickey Spillane, author of various "hard-boiled" detective stories, passed away last week. He once said, "Those big-shot writers...could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than cavier."

Clearly, he believed he was writing "salted peanuts" -- and likely would put all genre fiction in the salted peanut category.

Here's the thing -- as much as I love the fact that salted peanuts sell more than cavier, in my own mind, I'm always writing cavier. Of course, plenty of readers and critics of literary fiction would disagree, but I never, ever think I can do less than my best with a book. I never think, "Oh, well, it's just the fictional equivalent of a bowl of salted peanuts, so I can just toss it off and call it a day." No doubt my life, and especially my writing life, would be a lot less stressful if I could. But I would have to be a different person.

Now, I've had books that "wrote fast." It was almost like taking dictation. I think that happened because of a magic combination of characters and where I was in my life. Out of 42 books and novellas, it has happened three times. But even then, I never thought I was just "tossing off" a book. I was thinking, "Holy moly, this is wonderful! And wow, wouldn't it be nice if every book went like this?" However, since these were not my first three books, I knew that they were minor miracles of creation, and should be celebrated as such. A very lovely exception to the rule. And every book has moments like that -- where a scene just flows. But otherwise? There's rewriting and reworking until I get the book as good as I can make it.

When one of my books is on the shelves, it may look like the literary equivalent of salted peanuts, and go down just as quick and easy. I sure hope it sells like salted peanuts. But before it hits the shelves, I'm treating it like cavier, and nothing but my best effort will do. Or I might as well go sell real peanuts.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

When Characters Do An About-Face

I see they're making a movie of THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory. Which I've read, in part because my agent suggested I read historical fiction, the unspoken part being "It's hot now and maybe you should give it a shot...if you want..." (My agent now knows from sad experience that if I don't choose what to write about and don't get to write it the way I want, I am not a happy writer.)

Anyway, I read the book, in another part because I remember being absolutely gobsmacked the first time I saw the movie Anne of a Thousand Days and discovered Anne Bolyn's sister had been King Henry's mistress first, and had even had a child by him. Whhhaaa??? They left that out in history class (too scandalous even then, obviously). But heck, now there's a PG obviously thought.

The book itself, however, was not my cup of tea. For one thing, I really don't like first person narrative. I want to know what other characters are thinking and experiencing, too. For me, it makes for a richer fictional tapestry.

The other thing that really bothered me was something that seemed like a 180 degree character shift part way through the book. Mary, the "other" Boleyn girl, is presented in the beginning of the novel as naive and the complete pawn of her family. Yet later, she apparently has to instruct Anne, who I thought had a pretty good handle on such things from living with the French court, in the methods of pleasing a man in bed.

What the --? When did Mary get to be such an expert? It wasn't inferred that Henry was a patient tearcher of such things, and if there was another character who taught Mary, I blinked and missed it. And of all the people to be asking her advice, I'd say her ambitious, self-confident, sexy younger sister would be the last person. OTOH, maybe it was that way. The thing is, the notion of Mary as Sex Expert just didn't ring true given the way she'd been presented up to that point, at least in my mind.

Giving this popular author another try, I also read THE QUEEN'S FOOL. Nope, just not working for me, so I've decided that even if the historical fiction market is hotter than the pavement outside my house in July, first person historical fiction isn't appealing enough for me to give it a shot. For now.

Because one thing I've learned in this business is, Never say never.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Where are the men in the movies?

I was reading the paper today, and an article really jumped out at me. The writer was talking about the general gist of male roles in recent films, particularly how they aren't men so much as overgrown boys.

I've thought about some recent movies, and I think she's right. When did being self-centered and immature get to be considered cute, attractive and/or desireable in male characters?

Exhibit A -- Failure to Launch. Six pack abs do not make up for the fact the "hero" still lives with Mom and Dad. A friend tried to explain to me that the main male character has committment issues. To which I say, so what? I don't care if a guy like that finally gets the girl or not. Give me Russell Crowe's gladiator, who's so committed to his wife and son, he takes on the Roman empire.

Exhibit B -- You, Me and Dupree. YUCK! was my honest reaction to the trailer, and it hasn't changed since. I mean, who cares what happens to a character like Dupree? What does he do, other than mooch and make his friends' lives a living hell? I'm supposed to be amused? I think not.

Lest you think I'm picking on the guys, women aren't spared, either. How else to explain My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Girl with super powers has a hissy fit. Wowzers! (And no thank you!)

Superman Returns. When he gets back and finds out his ex has a new fella in her life, he's peering in the windows? I enjoyed the movie, but that? Creeped me out, and hellooo...not mature. (And was it just me, or was Superman shot through a soft lense, like an aging Gloria Swanson? Weird!)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Now, what does it mean that as I tried to think of a mature male character in recent films, Captain Jack Sparrow was the only one who came to mind? He's not exactly oozing machismo, but it's no surprise to me that Kiera Knightley's character finds him more appealing than Orlando Bloom's boy. Man's got a past, ya know?

The Devil Wears Prada: I actually forgot there was a guy in this (except for Stanley Tucci), until I remembered the boyfriend, who's consigned to the sort of role usually reserved for "the girlfriend." More mature than the heroine, but not on the screen much.

Those who come up with these boy-men will say, "We're making comedy here, not Gladiator or Braveheart." To them I say, what about Cary Grant? That guy was no little boy in a man's body, yet I seem to recall he made several fairly decent comedies. And Tom Hanks never struck me as a little boy trapped in a man's body...well, except for Big, and that was the plot, not a characteristic.

I find fewer things less attractive than self-centered self-interest, and I sure don't want to pay money to see such characters, unless they're the villain. To me, this explains why so many so-called "romantic comedies" are box office flops. Give us men, not overgrown, self-centered boys, no matter how cute or handsome or ripped they are! Give me the next Cary Grant!

Hold the phone -- I just thought of somebody who might fit the bill. Hugh Jackman. Whaddya think?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's so purty....

Now here is what I call a wonderful cover (although this isn't the final version. I gather they need to add "USA TODAY Bestselling Author". Works for me!):

This is for my February, 2007 book, so don't go looking for it now.
(Look for HERS TO DESIRE now!)

Why do I love it so? Let me count the ways:

The colors, especially the sky, the font and the heroine's dress.

The hero's mail. Okay, maybe a little skimpy on the sleeves, but I can live with that. At least his chest is covered (unlike, say, this one . Great looking guy, but why not just paint a target on yourself, fella?)

The heroine's dress. I think I've had this one before, but I like it!

The hero's face. Granted you have to see it larger to get the full effect, but yummy! The eagle-eyed Michelle Rowen thinks this may be model Nathan Camp. I'm thinking yes. Take a look. What do you think?

And last but not least, my name is HUGE! This means the Powers-That-Be think my name is a Very Important Selling Point. Yippee!

I have to say this cover ranks with my other favorite covers, also for HQN Books.

HERS TO DESIRE will be out (officially) next week. What can I say? I love the blue!

LORD OF DUNKEATHE was out in February, 2005, and is still available at Amazon.

Having looked at a larger version of the cover of LORD OF DUNKEATHE, I do believe that may be Nathan Kamp again. No complaints about that here if it is!

If you're wondering why they look similar, that's quite deliberate. It's a marketing strategy and one I quite like!

As for the new book, I've come to a sort of crossroads -- the next scene could be any one of three choices, and I'm trying to decide which one to do! This is where having a very general outline doesn't help. OTOH, I wrote a really cool short scene this morning that wasn't even in the outline.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blog Brouhaha Du Jour: When writers review....

After I've done my writing for the day, and my email, and blogged, I sometimes wander around other author blogs to see what's hitting the fan...ahem, generating discussion. Thus it was that I happened on the latest brouhaha. Here's the tale in a nutshell:

An author discovered a scathing review on Amazon. Author tracks down website of Review-Writer and discovers said Review-Writer is an aspiring author who will be at the RWA national conference in Atlanta. Author suggests Review-Writer stop by her table at the booksigning to get a refund. (If you wish to read the original post, it's here.)

But there's more: Review-Writer wrote, and I quote, "... any author who can convince her publisher to run with this deserves the income."

("This" refers to something I personally found distasteful, but I also know, via a nurse acquaintance, that it's not implausible. If you're dying of curiosity to know what "this" might be, you can find an excerpt here. If it grosses you out, you have been warned.)

In light of that comment, the discussion has included the following: Was criticising the publisher a bad move if Review-Writer wants to be published in the same genre and possibly at the same house? (I gather this is the case.) Bad enough to slam the book, but to imply the publisher was, you know, stupid or "fished in"? Has s/he committed career suicide?

Which brings me to my Quote o' the Week, courtesy of Bruce Holland Rogers, in Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer: "Publishing is a small field, and I don't need to add any unnecessary complications to my already commingled social and professional affairs."

Yes, this may not have been the most savvy thing to do in the age of the internet. Indeed, many people believe that Review-Writers has seriously shot herself in the foot. Others argue that she has every right to express her opinion. Or perhaps she should simply have left out the comment about the publisher.

Here's what I think: If you hope to be a published writer, by all means, read in your genre and analyse what you read; find out what works and why. But if you want to write books, why are you wasting your precious time, creativity, talent and passion on somebody else's work? Good golly, use it for your own! You'll not only be honing your craft on something you might actually get paid for, you'll avoid being embroiled in something like this.

That said, I think the same applies to the author in question, too. I don't know how long it took for her to track down Review-Writer, but was it really the best use of her time? Having had some bad reviews in my day, I can sympathize with the urge to respond, to do something so you don't feel helplessly whacked upside the head. And obviously, the author's getting some PR mileage out of it. However, I also agree with Bruce Holland Rogers when he says, "Posterity will judge our works, and will judge our critics, too. If a critic savages you, the best response is to keep writing anyway. That'll show them."

And here's the other thing: I have yet to find evidence that reviews, good or bad, have had any effect at all on the sales of my books. That's why I think responding to a bad review is like arguing with the TV. Might be entertaining, might relieve your feelings, but in terms of actually accomplishing anything? Pointless.

For the record, I know of two instances where writers who later sold to the same publishing houses I was writing for reviewed my books. One loved a book, the other gave me one of the most upsetting reviews of my entire career. I have never said a word about either review to either author. But I certainly remember what they wrote. One author I would gladly do favors for; the other, I sincerely hope never to meet.

Beautiful cover update: Thanks to the wonderfully multi-talented Michelle Rowen, author of BITTEN AND SMITTEN and ANGEL WITH ATTITUDE (out now!), I have a jpg of the cover of MY LORD'S DESIRE. I'll be posting it here tomorrow. Also many thanks to Nienke for likewise offering to make a jpg.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


So I get one of the all-time greatest covers EVER and I'm all keen to post it everywhere, kinda like when I made the USA Today bestselling list -- that time, I even briefly entertained the idea of a tattoo. On my forehead.

BUT...but, but, but, I cannot get the pdf file to convert to something I can post on my site. Oh, woe! Oh, misery! I have not the software! Neither does my husband, he who works for a Major Computer Company. Although he did try. (And I don't know how come I'm the one needing glasses after peering at his teeny, tiny screen.)

There was one thing I could do. I posted it in the files section of the yahoo group for my email newsletter subscribers. I was going to give them a "sneak peek" anyway, because that's one of the bonuses for subscribers (along with being eligible for my monthly draw for a $25 electronic gift certificate from Amazon), but for now, they're the only people who can see it.

I did wind up phoning my editor to squee like a rabid fangirl. When they get it right, I let 'em know. If the art director had magically appeared at my house, I would have prostrated myself in gratitude. Because believe you me, a great cover is cause for gratitude and much rejoicing.

And I gotta tell ya, something like this makes it really easy to get your butt in the chair to write. (Picture me tossing back my short hair and cackling like a mad thing. Or pounding my keyboard, while cackling and tossing back my short hair, like the Phantom of the Opera on a musical bender.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

I'm grinning from ear to ear today!

And why? you may ask. First, I got another wonderful review for HERS TO DESIRE, which is supposed to be on shelves July 25, but is probably already on shelves in some places. Alane at Romance Junkies called it "completely captivating from the first page to the last." *sighs with happiness*

Then I asked my editor about the cover for my next book, MY LORD'S DESIRE, and she sent me a pdf. I nearly collapsed with delight when I saw it because oh, my dears, it is GORGEOUS! When I opened it, it was quite large, so the first thing I saw was the sky and my name (always a pleasure, and yes, I still check the spelling!). Beautiful sky and I love the font color, so this is boding well. Then I scrolled down to the hero. Cue the palpitations, because oh, my word! The man is a dream in chain mail! The heroine isn't bad, either, nor is the castle in the background. All in all, it is a thing of beauty and I'm thrilled! I'm waiting to get back permission to post it on my site, but as soon as I do, I will share.

Yep, today, I am one very happy author!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ten down, only 390 to go....

Having done my file card outline, I started THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT today, as in Chapter One, Page One. This is the 42nd story I've written.

What do I worry about, or have I written so many books and novellas I don't worry about anything? Oh, baby, I could write a whole separate book about writerly worries! In fact, I think the book I had the fewest worries about was the first one I wrote. I had nothing to lose, so I just wrote it. Now I try not to burden myself with lots of "rules" or fears, but I do have things that lurk in my mind as I write.

I want to make my characters as individual and compelling to my readers as they are to me.

I want my readers to love my hero and like my heroine at least as much as I do.

There's always an element of writing I'm trying to do better. Description, a mystery element, dialogue in love scenes. I also try to ensure that my love scenes aren't repetitious or, well, over the top.

Sometimes I worry that I won't have enough plot for 400 pages. Not this time, I'm relieved to say.

I have a bit of sticky wicket with the beginning of this book, because it's a sequel. In the first chapter, I want to refer to recent events, but I don't want static talking heads, or the medieval equivalent of the heroine sitting on an airplane thinking about her life. I also want to create some sympathy for the heroine, who may come across as too uptight if I don't. I think I've managed it pretty well in the first scene; nevertheless, I'm sure I'll be making several changes later just to be certain I've achieved what I want.

Because one thing's for sure: this won't be the first time I work on Chapter One, Page One of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT. In fact, it's likely to be reworked anywhere from five to fifty times until I'm satisfied.

Did I mention I worry?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sisyphus - the man, the myth, the punishment....

I've often compared the sensation of starting a book to feeling the way Sisyphus did while looking at the boulder he had to push up that mountain, knowing full well that once he reaches the top, it will roll down and the process will have to be done all over again. Once you finish a book, you eventually have to (or should, if you want to have a career as a writer) start again. Since I'm at the point where I'm facing Chapter One, Page One again, Sisyphus has been on my mind. And then I realized I didn't know why he was thus condemned, so I decided to do a little research.

Not surprisingly, Sisyphus was not a nice guy. He was supposedly the founder of Corinth (and hey, I've been there!). He was also big on marketing and promotion, encouraging folks to come to his fair city. But then he'd murder them. Kinda negates the whole "Come to Corinth!" thing, and no wonder he had to keep up with the promoting.

He also seduced his niece and stole his brother's throne. But there's more! Not only is he a lascivious, disloyal murderer in life, he's still trying to pull fast ones when he dies, more than once.

The first time Sisyphus shuffles off this moral coil, it is decided that he should be chained in the underworld. The God of Death (who apparently was some guy name Thanatos -- Hades being the God of the Underworld instead) decides to put him in this new invention. We would call them handcuffs. Sisyphus plays stupid and asks for a demonstration. Thanatos, not being the smartest god in the pantheon, complies, with the result that he finds himself locked in the handcuffs. He also may or may not have been shut up in a closet; reports vary. I think Rod Serling used this idea for an episode of the Twilight Zone, if memory serves, except it was the devil he had in the cupboard.

So there's Thanatos, locked up, with the result that nobody can die. Good for everybody...except that warmonger, Ares. He whines to Hades, who takes action and goes for Sisyphus. (And many years later, Hollywood decides to make two movies based on this idea -- Death Takes A Holiday and Meet Joe Black).

But our boy Sis ain't done yet. Oh, no, it takes more than death to get that man down! He tells his (no doubt long-suffering) wife not to give him the proper burial rites. In fact, he tells her to just toss his body in the public square. I'm thinking her reaction was probably, "Hey, no problem, Loverboy!"

So down he goes to the underworld, but he then manages to meet up with Persephone, Hades' wife, and gives her this whole song and dance about how his wife didn't bury him properly (!) and Persephone takes pity on him and lets him go to get his proper burial.

Really, what was Persephone thinking? Sisyphus has been down to the underworld not once, but twice. He's a liar, cheat, murderer and all-round bad guy. But you let him get back to Earth again and expect him to come back? Was she really that dim? Or was he that convincing a talker (I think the evidence says "yes.") Or maybe she and Hades had a spat and she wanted to get back at him. Or did Sisyphus amuse her, and amusements are few and far between in the Underworld, so she let him go?

Anyway, and no surprise, he doesn't voluntarily return. He's finally found soaking up the rays on the beach and is taken back to Hades by Hermes. I can just imagine Sisyphus's next move: "Hey, Hermes, cool footwear! Winged boots! Wicked! Where'd ya get 'em? Can I try one on?" But alas, the jig is up for ol' Sis, and he's chained to the rock which he's doomed to push up a mountain only to have it roll back down when he gets near the top.

I wonder if his wife, upon reaching the underworld, ever went to watch?

And thus, having discovered some interesting bits about Sisyphus, wondering if I can use that handcuff trick somewhere in one of my upcoming books, I hie myself to my file cards to begin "fleshing out" THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT. (If you want to know about the file cards, go here.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Keeping it going

Inspired by Nancy's comment to yesterday's blog, I've been thinking about career longevity, specifically why I've been able to keep writing for fifteen years, while others have not.

First and foremost, I was extremely fortunate to have, for my first editor, somebody who liked what I wrote the way I wrote it. Believe you me, if there is one thing more precious than gold, awards and good reviews in this business, it is that. I have a new(er) editor now, and she also really likes my work, and the way I write it. Not that she doesn't ask for revisions, but it's always about making the work even better. I never get the feeling she's trying to salvage some horror, or that she'd rather be working on something else. She makes me feel valued and appreciated, and that is truly more precious than rubies.

Which brings me to another point. I simply do not understand the "publishers are evil and editors are out to destroy us" attitude so many writers seem to profess. Without my editors and publishers, my books would not be published. They are not my enemies; they are my partners. To be sure, I'm not tickled by everything that happens, but I understand they are running a business, not an arts co-op. They must make a profit, or...well, good-bye my career, too.

I figure if I want something from them, I have to give them something in return. And preferrably more than they ask for. That, to me, is just good business sense and just about any book on how to succeed in business says the same thing.

And thus I come to another point. Deadlines to me are not some vague suggestion. They are part of a legal, binding contract, and there's such a thing as a "production schedule," to which editors are also bound. If you get a rep for being unreliable with deadlines...well, how keen do you think editors are going to be to work with you?

I've learned to pick my battles. If I'm upset about something and it cannot be changed, like cover art or some other production boo-boo, I don't have a hissy fit. Because nothing can be done. It's water under the bridge, so what would I accomplish? This doesn't mean I don't register my dismay and/or disappointment; I certainly do. I just don't go ballistic -- at least to my editor. My mom may have to endure some major whining, but she's okay with that. And my agent certainly hears about it, although I try not to whine to her. But I once had a hissy about something that couldn't be changed, and afterward, I realized I'd come perilously close to damaging the one thing that I should never jeopardize -- the excellent relationship I had with my editor.

I think there's one other quality that's kept me in this business. I don't take myself seriously, but I do take my work seriously. In other words, I can make jokes and complain creatively about writing as much as the next person, but I don't treat my work as anything less than important. I still agonize over scenes and characters. I still work very hard to get my books as good as they can be. I'm always trying to improve.

When it comes to first sales, there's an element of being in the right place at the right time with the right manuscript. That's true for many writers; it was true for me. However, there are things beyond the writing that will determine how long you're able to keep selling. I've touched on what I think enables me to continue, and you'll notice I haven't talked about how to write to the market, writing the book of your heart, PR, "branding" or the internet. That's because I believe that longevity in this business, as it is in any business, has as much to do with how you conduct yourself as it does with how you well you write. There may be writers who are miserable human beings who still sell, but in that case, the excellence of their writing makes it worthwhile to the people who are forced to work with them. And that writing must be excellent, because editors are people first, and who really wants to work with someone who treats you like the enemy, who whines and complains, and who can't make a deadline?

So unless you're a genius with words, unless reviewers and critics are falling all over themselves to praise your work, unless you sold the first thing you wrote to the first person who read it for a huge advance...well, consider the importance of conducting yourself in a manner that makes you a pleasure to work with, not somebody whose very name makes an editor roll her eyes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


If you're a fan of reality TV shows and you also visit various related websites, you'll know what FUTR means. For those of you who don't, it's Flying Under The Radar, and it refers to those contestants who don't get much air time or make much of an impression in the first episodes of the show.

I think of myself as a FUTR writer. I'm not a big blip on the radar screen of publishing; I'm more like a phantom blip on the edges, even though I just did another rough calculation of the number of books I have in print and it's over seven million worldwide. But to me, that's just a cold, hard number. When I try to think of that as people, I can't do it. Well, I can try. It's a large city full of people.

But the truth is, most days I think I have an audience of about ten. Not only do I have a hard time thinking of sales numbers as people, I rarely hear from my readers. I get the occasional letter or email, and comments here, but not a whole lot. Which seems to surprise people, until I ask them how many of their favorite authors they've contacted.

Does this bother me? No, because I honestly don't expect to hear from my readers. I sold in the olden days, when the internet was in its infancy and most people didn't have email. If they wanted to contact an author, they had to write the publisher, who then forwarded the letter to me. It still happens that way, actually, although it's rare. Now when I do hear from readers, it's usually via email. It's always a tremendous thrill, but it's still not something I expect.

I can't help but think that in a way, too, I was lucky to sell in those olden days. I could hone my voice and my craft without a lot of different opinions pulling me in different directions. I wrote what I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write it, and with few exceptions, there was no one to tell me otherwise. Mind you, there are days when a word of praise would go a long way, but I've learned to write without that, too.

I wonder how it is for newly published writers now, with all the feedback possibilities. Does this age of instant feedback put more pressure on writers and add to the angst that already comes wtih the job?

That being said, I do sometimes wonder if more than two or three people read this blog, so I've added a new feature on the side. It shows the location of folks who visit this page, and it'll tell me how many people stop by. I'm not sure how long I'll leave it there, but it should be interesting, at least to me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Joy of a Rainy Summer Day

I have to confess that as much as I enjoy the bright summer sunshine, I love a rainy summer day. Why? Because I can stay inside and read without guilt.

When you love to read, well, you're going to read, come rain or come shine. But if it's raining, I can stay inside, put my feet up and indulge guilt-free. Walking into a library gives me the same sort of thrill. It's almost primal, because it takes me right back to when reading was pure pleasure.

What did I read when I was growing up? Trixie Belden. Oh, I adored those books! I'd read them over and over. Ditto The Chrionicles of Narnia. And then there was the summer I discovered Reader's Digest Condensed Books. A Coke, an O'Henry (both rare treats when I was young), a new book and I tell ya, I was in a state of bliss.

So this afternoon, I'll be sitting in my chair with my feet up, Coke (C2 to be precise), an O'Henry and a book. On the recommendation of my daughter, I'm reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin right now. It's like Narnia for grown-ups! A really complex kind of Narnia, with sex and violence.

Would I ever write something like this? Not now. I love my own genre too much. If I got to the point where I couldn't sell a historical romance, I'd certainly consider giving it a try. For the time being, however, I'm content to don my reader's hat and lose myself in another author's world on this rainy summer day.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Hairdresser or Hercules?

"Be honest. Which one of you wouldn't rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules?" -- Mozart, in the film Amadeus

I've been thinking a lot this week about literary vs. commercial fiction (and it's generally presented as a conflict). This was prompted by a review in the New York Times Book Review section, written by Walter Kirn, about a collection of essays called "The Din in the Head" by Cynthia Ozick. Apparently Ms. Ozick feels that literary fiction is endangered.

The reviewer also talked about what Ms. Ozick and others present as "the image of the novelist as a species of intellectual royalty, administering vast realms of mental space with absolute, divine authority while resisting the claims of social relevance and popular amusement..."

This is, alas, a very common notion about literary novelists, and one I'm guilty of, too. With one exception. I'd be shocked if literary novelists thought they were "resisting the claims of social relevance." If anything, I'd suspect being socially relevant is something they strive for. Popular amusment, on the other hand, which implies a certain frivolity...well, maybe not. I'm sure, though, they'd love to have good sales, which means they're being widely read, the same as the rest of us.

But really, why must there be an "us vs. them" dynamic?

Everybody who reads for reasons other than school or work reads for pleasure, and it's no secret that different people have different ideas about what's pleasurable. Some people find intellectual stimulation and learning about something with social relevance pleasurable. Others find relaxation and entertainment, the opposite of stimulation, pleasurable. There's no right or wrong here, the same way one's preference for blue is not "more right" than a preference for red. Unfortunately, you've got folks in both camps arguing that their pleasure is more right or more valuable than the other person's pleasure. Red's better than blue! Blue's better than red!

Sounds kinda pointless, doesn't it?

As for literary fiction going the way of the dodo, I think that will happen only when the last writer who decides they're going to write what they want to write, the way they want to write it, gives up or dies, and that this has never been more true than now. With all the new technologies, never has it been easier to say what you want to say, to tell your story in the way you want, and find an audience. There's more room now for Hercules and his stylist than there's ever been before.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

So now what?

So what does an author when they've just finished a book? Bask in the glow? Get right into the next project? Collapse in an exhausted heap? Go to Tahiti?

Well, in my case, it's sort of all of the above, except for Tahiti (although I live in hope). First, as witness the previous post, my immediate reaction is euphoria. I am happy, happy, happy!

I give myself a few treats. Depending on the time of year, it might be jewellry, but usually it's something smaller. I also kind of collapse in a wilted heap. I don't leap into the next project, because I've got to do some things I've neglected, but I'm certainly thinking about it.

I always clean my office because oh, baby, by the time I'm finished a book, there are a lot of papers, books, post-its, correspondence, files all over the place. I know the basic color of the wood veneer of my desk, but only from memory. (Note: although I have Darlin' Darla to clean my house, I do not subject the poor woman to my office. Plus, she might "tidy" something and I'd lose it for days. Disaster!)

Right now, I'm still in the midst of Project De-Clutter. Yesterday, the kids' blocks got sorted and put in bins with lids. I tackled by old button box and sewing basket. The Lego is back in the bins, sorted and bagged. I've started on the rec room shelves, and the laundry room cupboards. I also have my office cupboards partly done. When we had the basement redone (thank you, Harlequin!), I had the builder put in LOTS of cupboards. Thing is, you can shove a lot of stuff in there and then forget about it, so I'm working on clearing out some of that. I tell ya, bin and box manufacturers are going to show a profit this year, judging by where some of my money's been going lately.

I've had the special delight of answering a reader letter for my Young Adult historical romance, GWYNETH AND THE THIEF. There's nothing like connecting with younger readers! I hope she's still at the same address, because it took over a year for this letter to reach me. Fingers crossed!

I've updated my website. Reviews are starting to come in for HERS TO DESIRE, and so far, they're wonderful. When you're already feeling euphoric? This is one tremendous feeling. I particularly like the one that mentions the "romantic chemistry". Whoo hoo!

I've got some gardening still to do, and some paperwork, but I hope to get started on Bayard's story soon. For one thing, I already love the guy and I'm anxious to get him together with Gillian, who is not going to be happy when he arrives bearing important news.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Doooooone! Done, done, done, done, done!

Oh, joy, oh rapture, I'm printing up the Very, Very Postively Final Draft of MY LORD'S DESIRE and tomorrow, my bestest buddy, the FedEx Man, will be picking it up to go to NY. I tell ya, it's been a trip, this one. When I found myself spending nearly an hour on two and a half pages yesterday, and this the what? Fiftieth draft of those pages? Ay yi yi! The Slough of Despond! Today, when I finished inputting the changes for the last chapter? Euphoria!

Then I went shopping.

Now, I ask you, is it wise to go shopping in a state of euphoria? And here's a tip: do not go shopping for white towels while wearing black jeans. Lint-o-mania!

But I have lovely new thick towels, and new linens and joy supreme -- a butter dish. Yer basic white china butter dish -- $8.99. What can I say? It's the little things that give me a thrill. (Don't get me started on the joys of the Dollar Store, or my children may disown me.)

There's something else that's adding to the euphoria this time. I know *exactly* how I'm going to start the next book. A lot of the time, thinking of the next book when I've just finished one is about as exciting as planning to climb Mount Everest barefoot. This time, such is not the case. It helps, I think, that it's a sequel, and I've already met the hero. He's one of those guys who walks into a book, looks around, cocks a brow and says, "Well, what about me?"

Ah, Bayard, my boy, fasten your helmet and hold on tight, because I have such plans for you....

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lego here, Lego there, Lego everywhere!

As I've been doing the final revisions for my February book (which are never-ending, apparently), I've also been trying to do some de-cluttering of the house. We've been in our house over twenty years, and oh, how the stuff does pile up! Every few years, it gets to me, and I decide Something Must Be Done.

So far, I've managed to clean out several small areas (junk drawer(s) in the kitchen and upstairs desk, my closet) and now I'm tackling the kids' toys. Not that said kids actually play with these toys, what with being in university and all, but like my mother, I plan to keep some for...well, let's just say my daughter played with my Barbies at Grandma's house, and I now have the same Barbies (plus Skipper Dream Room) at my house.

This is how I came to be sitting on the living room floor the other day, watching the start of Driving Miss Daisy while surrounded by Barbie clothes, shoes, purses and, of course, Barbies. Which prompted my husband to note, "Oh, here's little Margie playing with her Barbies." Well, what can I say? It was kinda true. I mean, I had to put clothes on them, right? And I have outfits from the years when they were outfits, not all-pink creations, because in those far off days, you bought ONE doll and then outfits, not a new doll per outfit.

But I digress (and really, don't get me started on this).

Today, I was sitting on the floor in the rec room, semi-watching part of the World Cup, surrounded by Lego. Much, much Lego. Little Lego heads in one bag, little Lego lights in another, all the greenery in one big bag, and so on.

Unfortunately, the Lego is still all over the rec room floor, because I still have revising to do. I'm almost there, though, and then it'll be Conquest of the Lego Space Station! And the Lego Pirates! And the Lego Castle! Ahoy, maties! Zounds and away!

And you thought us romance writers lived lives of unending glamor.....