Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Those wonderful "d'oh!" and "ah ha!" moments

So I've finished SON OF THE SHADOWS by Juliet Marillier and I enjoyed it. Not quite as much as the first book, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST, but yes, as per Daughter's remarks, definitely an interesting hero.

There was also what I'd call a classic "d'oh!" moment on the part of the strong, reticent hero. Here it is:

"'Your kind are all the same. Catch a man in your net, draw him in, deprive him of his will and his judgment. It happens so subtly he is lost before he ever recognizes the danger. Then others are dragged in after him, and the pattern of darkness stretches wider and wider so that even the innocent have no escape." He stopped abruptly, clearly regretting his words."

In other words, d'oh!

I love those moments because they signal one of the first changes in the relationship between the hero and heroine. He's let his guard down enough to reveal something he prefers to keep to himself, either because of shame or pride or the fear that revealing such information weakens him. The strong, silent types I write have a horror of appearing weak, in any way, shape or form.

This also serves as a warning signal to the hero -- that woman is dangerous because she makes me drop my guard and reveal things. I'd better steer clear of her, no matter how interesting or sexy she may be.

For the heroine, such revelations trigger an "ah ha!" moment, because they're a window on what really makes the hero tick -- what's behind the strong silentness. She may pretend she doesn't care, but she'll never think of him in quite the same way again. She won't be able to completely dismiss him as an arrogant jerk.

On a deeper level, such revelations, whether conscious or not, are a form of intimacy, the beginning of a bond of trust. And whether they'll admit it or not, both realize that, and that their relationship has, therefore, changed. It's also one of the first indications that this relationship is going to be different from any others that may have preceded it.

It's also the sort of small step that if left out, causes readers to be mystified if the hero and heroine suddenly proclaim their love. The smaller stones lay the foundation for that profound emotional relationship, and if they're missing, it can seem as if the profession of love comes out of nowhere.

I tend to use this dynamic with the heroes having the "d'oh" moment and the heroines thinking "ah ha!", but there's no reason it couldn't work the other way around.

Either way, I just love those moments. In fact, I love 'em so much, I'll have more than one sometimes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reading just for fun

There was an article in this week's New York Times magazine by Virginia Heffernan called "In Defense of Lurking: Solitary consumption, not interactivity, may be the best thing about the Web."

In the article, Ms. Heffernan confesses to lurking a lot on the web. She likens it to taking without giving. However, she also makes the point that lurking isn't exactly new. "This practice of anonymously sitting back and taking in long sequences of words without producing any yourself? Hey, wasn't it once called, perhaps, 'reading'?"

She refers to the National Endowment for the Arts' survey that reported less than half of the population of adult Americans read literature in their leisure time. But, wait! says she. What about reading literature when it isn't a leisure activity? Some adult Americans read literature for work.

Furthermore, hasn't reading for fun become sort of, well, shameful? Aren't we wasting valuable time when we could be learning something? And then she says, "Even Harlequin readers, according to Janice Radway's superb 1987 study "Reading the Romance," praise the books they read as education: aspirational love stories evidently double as seminars in subjects like wine, furs, tiramisu and Tuscany."

Passing over the disparaging, disrespectful subtext to that particular quote (which seems to be "bless their poor, simple little minds") for a moment, I have to say, I think Ms. Heffernan is on to something here, and that is the notion that reading simply for pleasure, not education or "enlightenment" has become somehow bad. Never mind that reading for fun might reduce stress or make you a happier person. No, no! Reading for fun bad, reading to learn good.

I think there are two other reasons people are reluctant to either read for sheer pleasure, or admit they do.

It's a solitary pastime. Heaven forbid, in this day and age when people can't seem to walk down the street without having to tell somebody via cellphone where they are every single minute, that you choose to do anything alone. Talking to people (about anything) good, reading about people bad.

Reading is sedentary. I know people read while on treadmills, but a lot of the time, you're sitting. And sitting is bad. Exercise is good. I can't argue with that, although I think of reading as exercising the imagination. Still, sitting bad, activity good.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the efforts to make reading a guilty pleasure, I'm not buying into the guilt. I like to read for fun. Always have, always will. It relaxes me and makes me a happier, better person who's more pleasant to be around.

And perhaps Ms. Hefferner should consider that Harlequin readers might have made such comments as a defense, to prevent other people from making disparaging, disrespectful comments about their reading choices.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take the excellent book I'm reading just for fun (SON OF THE SHADOWS by Juliet Marillier), make myself a tea and read for awhile.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Cornucopia o' Stuff

First up: We went to see the new movie Enchanted. Very nice, very sweet and amusing. I also turned to Daughter and whispered, "I notice they've got the guy in Regency-type clothes." Very clever, costume people! I don't watch Gray's Anatomy, but I can sort of see the appeal of McDreamy. He's no Richard Armitage or Gerard Butler, but I can see it.

Next up: THE BESTSELLER by Olivia Goldsmith. I haven't finished it yet, but I've realized it's making me kinda cranky. The dismissive, disparaging attitude to midlist books, paperbacks and romances is disturbing. I didn't think Ms. Goldsmith was in any particular position to throw stones, since her books aren't what I'd call literary fiction, so that's kinda surprising. And don't get me started on what is apparently considered a "small" advance.

Next, TV. I was reading THE BESTSELLER during Ugly Betty. Not good. I noticed last week that they've noticed that Betty is changing and not for the better. Uh, yep. It's like in a book when the author writes that the character knows they've done something stupid, and I'm thinking, "Uh, yep." If I ever put words like that in a character's mouth or mind? I know I've got some revisin' to do.

On the plus side -- Bryce is alive on Chuck. So I've got Chuck, Casey and Bryce all in one funny show. Sigh...

We've been doing our Armitage Aerobics to screen caps of Season Two of BBC's Robin Hood, thanks to the Armitage Army website. It's all about Sir Guy (since there are no screen caps of Robin Hood) and I think we're getting pretty good at deciphering Richard Armitage's facial expressions. And if it looks like he's going in for a kiss? Oh, the squeees. And then the groans because Marion continues to be an idiot and go for the kid (aka Robin Hood). Yes, in some ways, I am twelve, and I intend to remain twelve, thank you very much.

But please, what is up with Marion's clothes? I swear she was in a Laura Ashley creation in Episode Six.

And of course, I continue to work hard to get A LOVER'S KISS ready in time. I've got my man Drury in a very tough spot at the moment, but the heroine is about to arrive to save the day.

And next month, my Irish rogue, aka Oliver aka Finn, gets to make his feature debut in KNAVE'S HONOR. Between the arrival of Finn in bookstores and Santa, I'll be squeeing even more!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

First Review - whoo hoo!

My January release from HQN Books, KNAVE'S HONOR, (which is really out at the end of December) just got its first review and four stars from Romantic Times. Faith V. Smith at RT says:

"Moore's medieval starts on an exciting note and maintains that sensation over the course of the whole book. She's created a great hero and heroine who take on a vile, well-written villain, and the love scenes, even though they're mild, add a great deal to the story."

Whoo hoo! That's nice, eh?

But let me talk about my "mild" love scenes. No, I don't write super-sexy books. And the level and amount of sexual activity will vary from book to book. There are two basic reasons why.

First, I came to romance via the stories of Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and Errol Flynn movies, none of which has explicit scenes of sexual activity. So for me, romance doesn't necessarily include explicit sexual activity, and in fact, the real fun is to be found in the foreplay that isn't physical, but mental and verbal.

However, because I recognize that the physical component of a relationship is important, I will (usually) include a consummation scene. Note I don't call it a "love scene." I consider just about every scene of my hero and heroine together a love scene, whether there's a physical expression of passion, or not.

The other major factor that determines how much sexual activity takes place in my books stems from my particular background. I am old enough to remember when it was considered a great shame if a girl got pregnant without being married, and not just for the girl -- for her entire family. Was it fair? No, it takes two to make a baby and we're not talking a criminal act here, but that's the way it was. Why the shame? Because it meant the girl had been weak; she had lacked the self-respect and moral backbone to say no. So I simply cannot have my historical heroines blithely jump the hero's bones because hey, she wants him! without so much as a thought for what the serious, social consequences to her might be.

But wait! thinks those of you who've read my books. You have heroines who engage in premarital sex. What's up with that?

Well, they don't do it without considering the consequences. They are aware that they may suffer socially for making love with the hero if that's discovered, but what (hopefully) has happened during the course of the novel is that they have found the strength to overcome their fear of the possible fall-out. Their love and need to be with the hero, to express their love physically, is more important than the fear of being shamed or ostracized. They have found a different kind of strength.

So although sex sells, and especially now, I simply cannot shoehorn in sexual activity if I feel the story and characters don't warrant it. However, if the hero and heroine are married at the start of the story, there's no need for that angst, that journey to such a momentous, life-altering decision. Because there will be no social stigma if they make love, they are free to engage in sexual activity much sooner and more often during the course of the story (which is what will happen in my next medieval, THE WARLORD'S BRIDE).

I may hear from a few readers upset about the lack of sexual activity in KNAVE'S HONOR, because for them, romance novels require a certain amount, but my answer to them is what it is always is in such cases: I wrote the story about those particular people in that particular time the way I felt was true to both.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Really good reading!

I just finished a really excellent book, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST, by Juliet Marillier. It's a fantasy story, set in Ireland and what I think is either Wales or Cornwall (the natives are just called "Britons"). I'm not a huge fan of fantasy or paranormal novels, but this one works for me because the fantasy element, while vital to the story, takes a back seat to main characters. It's also first person, not something I seek out, but again, it works for me because of the characters. It's the start of a trilogy, and I've got the second book, SON OF THE SHADOWS ready to read, and Daughter considers it the best of the three (because of the main male character, to which I say, if he's better than Red? Yippee!). It was Daughter who found this series, so I owe her one.

However, there was an excerpt from Book II in the back of Book I, and the main characters seem quite similar. Well, why not? They're related. But I decided to take a break in between so I'll be able to consider the second book without getting distracted by similarities. Now I'm reading THE BESTSELLER by Olivia Goldsmith.

I'm enjoying it, although I imagine if you haven't been exposed to the inner workings of the publishing world, this would be a lot more fascinating. At the same time, I can see why Ms. Goldsmith was a popular author. It's interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and there's one character I really, really want to get his comeuppance, so I can hardly wait to see what happens to him. And I just hit a really interesting plot twist.

Now, back to my own novel. I wound up tossing about 75 pages when I took out The Subplot That Didn't Work, and have been busily rewriting and adding new material, including the aforementioned 33 pages in yesterday's post. I've still got two scenes from the second draft to rework, and then it's new material after that. But it's near the end, and while the middle of my novels may not always be clearly set in my mind, the endings are, so that shouldn't be tooooo bad.

Wait! What's that sound? I fear the gods are beginning to laugh....

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nearly finished!

The Mantle Men are here, putting in the new mantles around the two new gas inserts and oh, my, are they lovely! I have waited a long time to get this done -- now I'm sure I waited much too long! I've been taking pictures and will post the "before" and "after" when finished because...did I mention how lovely it looks? And now the rec room will be toasty warm in the winter!

In other news, I'm furiously working away on A LOVER'S KISS. I wrote a whooping 33 pages on Friday, which was good, because I had a lot less time to work yesterday than I'd anticipated, due to major traffic snafus on the way home from a family function. And my back was pretty sore.

So I wasn't feeling terribly chipper this morning. And then the mantles arrived and Margaret's World is a happy place once again.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's the little things.....

I've decided that from time to time, I'm going to blog about the little things that give me joy. I've been working through a rough patch, and it's so easy to focus on the negative -- what's not working and how miserable it feels -- rather than the good things.

So today, I shall celebrate...

Post-it Notes.

Now, I'm going to date myself here, but believe it or not, I remember a time when there were no post-it notes. In those olden days, I used book marks made of scrap paper or paper clips to mark an important page. I wrote little notes on the book marks. (I only rarely write in margins, always in pencil, and never, ever, in a library book. I think people who write in library books should have to replace the book.)

Then, approximately when I graduated university, along came the first yellow post-it notes. They were available in one size and only that color.

Then, oh, then! How they developed. Different sizes, different colors, different textures, lined, personalized... A veritable plethora of post-its!

I use them a lot. As you can see, I keep a variety handy. For a long time, I didn't use them to stick notes to the monitor because they'd fall off, but now they've got a super-sticky kind and whoo hoo! I'm golden! (The two larger ones on the upper left are super-sticky.)

I can write on them! I can use different colors for different things! I can easily find scenes in a ms. that I'm planning to move and put elsewhere because there's a colorful little tab sticking out. I can mark important pages in my research books.

Yep, I love me my post-its.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's in an adjective?

"Once you label me, you negate me."
-- Soren Kierkegaard

What's with the philosophizing, you may ask?

I had a long, delightful conversation with a fellow writer the other day. As we were yakking away about what we're doing, the state of publishing and the world in general, she did something that startled me for a milli-second at the time, but I've been thinking about ever since.

She referred to her romance novels as "novels." No adjective, no qualifier, no label, not the very general "book," but "novel."

I was startled because I don't think I've ever heard a romance writer refer to her work that way, simply as a novel. And I've been thinking about it and wondering, why not? We, and by we, I mean my fellow genre writers, do write novels, after all.

I think there's more to it than just describing the sort of novel I write. I believe there's a subtle stigmatizing afoot. A novel is admirable, literary, worthy of the Pulitzer or Oprah's magic wand o' promotion. A romance novel? Well, that's something else -- and to a lot of people, something a lot less worthy.

Should it be that way? No.

Do I think that's right? No.

Am I ashamed I write romances? Heck no.

I doubt my work will ever be described as "literary" and I won't hold my breath waiting for Oprah to give my book a nod, but I do think my novels are as worthy as some literary novels I've read.

So I'm going to start referring to my published works as novels. Not romance novels. Not historical romance novels. Novels.

Of course, if people want more information, I'll be happy to describe what I'm doing in more detail using those adjectives. But first and foremost, I am writing novels.

And that's what I'm going to call them.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Yikes! It's getting down to the wire, folks, so I'll only be blogging on Wednesdays or Thursdays until the book is done.

In the meantime, I've posted a new excerpt on my site for my upcoming release, KNAVE'S HONOR.

I also have a release date for Drury's book, aka the work-in-progress, aka A LOVER'S KISS. It's August, 2008.

Now, to work with me!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Update Day

I'm updating my website today.

And working on the major revisions -- but I'm so glad I ditched that subplot! It was a painful decision, but a good one, I think.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


So I runs out to do some errands, taking a break from the slashing and deleting and overall destruction of some chapters of my manuscript (cursing myself thoroughly although knowing it's all for the best) and discover that -- egad! (and yes, I really talk that way) -- it's snowing.

I tells ya, what is happening to the gradual change of seasons? It's like we leap from winter to summer, with spring about a week long. This year, fall...well, was there even an autumn at all? Maybe a day or two. But I was in short sleeves last week.

Now, I like the snow -- around Christmas. Or if it's sunny. But as the Number One Snow Shoveler in the abode, despite the present of other able-bodied adults? Generally, I can do without it.

And this wasn't so much snow as slush from the sky. AND I just missed the post office pick-up.

I need chocolate. Hot chocolate. Stat.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tough Love

I had to make a tough decision over the weekend. I thought I had solved my subplot problem with the work-in-progress, only to realize It was worse and deeper than I thought.

Because I'd made a very basic mistake.

I found a fascinating historical fact and was so keen to use it, I tried to shoehorn it into a story that it didn't really suit. As I said to my editor when I emailed her about it, I was trying to combine My Fair Lady with Law & Order, and it wasn't working. The My Fair Lady part (ie. the romance) had to have a certain tone (lighter), and the Law & Order part a different one (quite dark). However, I already had dark undercurrents to the romance, so add in the L&O, and oooh, baby, the balance tipped way over to the dark side.

If this were a medieval, or being written by somebody else, that might be perfectly fine. But this is a Regency, being written by me, which means I want lots of snappy dialogue more suited to a comedy than a drama. This also being me, however, I want those dark undercurrents -- but it wound up really ping-ponging between lighter and dark and very dark.

So it became not just a plot problem or a pacing problem, but also a tone problem. If there's one place I don't want conflict in my book, it's the overall tone. Scenes can have different tones, of course, depending on what's happening, but I don't want it sound like I tried to combine two very different stories into a Frankenbooken.

Fortunately, my Esteemed Editor agreed to the change.

I must confess, it was like getting an 800 lb. gorilla off my back.

That does mean a lot of rewriting, but I tell ya, it's a lot easier to do that than to try to make the wrong shoe fit.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Control Issues

I had a very nice email from a reader the other day. However, it also reminded me of the gap between what the reading public sometimes assumes about publishing and the realities of the publishing business for authors. Specifically, a lot of readers assume writers have a lot more control over the publication process than we do.

Here's what I control: I come up with the story idea. I'm more independent than some on this, by my choice. I never ask anybody what I should write next. Maybe that's a problem, but I'm stubborn that way.

I control my characters, except for the times words that I haven't foreseen pop out of their mouths and that take the story in a slightly different direction.

I control the plot. I decide what ultimately is going to happen to my characters. Sometimes I make mistakes and have to backtrack, but I'm still in the driver's seat.

Even after the manuscript has been edited, I still have some control over the story. I can ask that changes be reversed, or add or change some things, at least up to a point.

All the other elements of a book's production are pretty much out of my hands. Naturally, I'd love to have more control -- who wouldn't? But unless I want to start my own publishing company or become a mega-seller, the only part of the publishing process I truly control is my imagination.

And sometimes, apparently, not even that.

Monday, November 05, 2007

History vs Fantasy

My daughter has a degree in English and Medieval History. Her mother writes historical romance novels. Wanna know what she likes to read?

Fantasy, or as we call them around here, "Shadow of the Wolf of the Moon" books. Because really, it seems like wolves and shadows and the moon feature in just about every title. Kind of like Bride, Desire, Rogue, etc. in historical romance titles.

Anyhoodle, I finally asked her why she likes those books, especially the pseudo-medieval ones, but doesn't read historical romances or historical novels.

Here answer was, basically, because she doesn't know what's going to happen in the fantasy books.

That's her main problem with historical novels especially -- she knows what, historically, has to happen and so will happen.

With historical romances, there are also certain givens (the hero and heroine will survive, for instance) that take away from the surprise factor.

I'm wondering how many potential or former historical romance readers have wandered over to fantasy because they want a more unpredictable read.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Eureka Moment

I've been fussing and fuming over the first three chapters of the work-in-progress again, specifically wondering how I could avoid the dreaded info dump. You know, when the author has a lot of information to get into the story to explain what's going on, as well as the characters' motivations?

As it was, I had two characters having a long conversation about why the hero was where he was during the inciting incident, and the revelation that the hero's just got a new brief, to do with a murder (he's a barrister). Drury describes the crime and how he got involved in the prosecution. Unfortunately, it's a pretty static scene.

But what to do? The crime's important in terms of the plot. I cut and cut, but still...zzzzzz.... And he's going to have to explain it again to the heroine later, too.

Then, this morning, I came up with a solution. How? I don't know. I've been pretty much mentally complaining without much luck. Maybe my subconscious saw a way out while I slept.

All I know is, I realized that instead of having the story set just after the crime and Drury's meeting with the victim's brother, I can set it later, when it's nearly time for the trial. It still makes sense in terms of the inciting incident; in fact, in hindsight, it's better.

And now my hero doesn't have to explain to his friend what's going on, because the friend already knows. I can get the information in as required, but in much smaller pieces. And this way, I can keep the focus less on the crime, and more on the relationship developing between the hero and heroine.

Whew! I'm both relieved and excited. I've got a lot of re-writing to do, but it feels like a good decision, so I'm a happy writer today.

(Why the bathtub? It's a reference to Archimedes' realization about displacement, which apparently came to him when he got in his tub. He then went running naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting, "Eureka!" I wasn't quite that excited.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bee Gone

Sometimes, something comes along that is totally over-hyped and over-marketed to the extent that the marketing actually makes me want to stay far, far away from the product.

Jerry Seinfeld's new animated movie falls into that category. I am delighted Bee Movie is finally opening today because -- oh, please! -- now the marketing can stop.

I understand the marketing saturation on one level because I'm sure they paid JS the big bucks for this movie and they want to earn it back.

But here's where I get confused -- for all the commercials, personal appearances of Mr. Seinfeld, etc. etc., I don't have any idea why I should bother to go. What's so special or appealing about this movie?

Despite all the marketing, this is all I can tell you about the film:

Jerry Seinfeld's character is a bee. He flies around a lot. I think maybe somebody named Renee voices a character, but it's mostly JS's character flying around.

The movie's genesis was a pun -- a "b" movie that's about a bee! Get it?

If I were a huge Jerry Seinfeld fan, or simply desperate to get to a movie, that might be enough. As it is, it's not. I gotta have the sense that there's an interesting and/or funny story there. Maybe even, you know, a theme. One character flying around, even if it's voiced by a Jerry Seinfeld, and a cute title is simply not enough.

The result? The unrelenting barrage of ads, etc., has had the exact opposite effect to what they were hoping for. I can't wait for this movie, and all the hype, to bee gone.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Another Revelation

So last night, as I was editing while manning the door for the tricker treaters -- and don't get me started on the teenagers who arrive sans costume. Talk about taking the bloom off the tomb! -- I realized something.

I simply cannot write a book on the computer alone. I can't even do multiple drafts without a hard copy edit. I don't seem to get the right perspective, which means I wander farther off the path and wind up with more material to be cut than if I read the manuscript on paper.

Is it because having the book on paper gives me a little more distance? Is it because the screen only shows a part of the page, and I need to see the whole thing? Is it because I began writing on an IBM Selectric?

I don't know, but I do know that from now on, I'm going to make a hard copy every time I finish a chapter and not move on until I've done at least one pass with my red pen.

Sorry to the trees, although I do recycle as much as I can. Previous draft pages get cut up for making my many lists and other notes before they go to the recycling bin. But I think I've got to go back to the way I began writing, and that means piles of paper and lots of colored ink.