Monday, March 31, 2008

The Name Game

This week's Question from Kimber:

"You've written 50 some novels. That is a lot of names to keep straight. Do you reuse secondary character names (excluding Kings, etc)? How do you track what names have and haven't been used? Do you have a giant worksheet?"

And this is where I confess I don't make notes. I don't have a system. Bad author! Bad, bad author!

I simply didn't think that far ahead. Nor did it occur to me that eventually, finding names I liked that I hadn't already used would be a problem.

I have a binder with lists of names organized by country of origin that I made back in the days before the internet. I used a baby name book from the library and went through it, name by name. It was time-consuming, but I hadn't typed in a few years and thought it would help get me up to speed.

If I'd been thinking ahead, I would have crossed off names as I used them, especially the Welsh ones.

So what do I do? Well, I rely on my memory. I spend months writing about the characters, so the names of the main characters are fairly easy to remember. I don't worry too much about reusing secondary characters' names, unless the books are linked, although I try not to do it. I don't want readers thinking Frank from Book I is the same as Frank in Book II if he's not!

The trickiest names for me are medieval servants. I don't want fancy, I don't want too weird, and I want new ones if I can manage it.

It helps that I write in different time periods and different settings. I don't worry about reusing a name for a secondary character if the books are that different.

One thing's for sure: after I given characters their names and I've written about them for a few weeks, it becomes very, very difficult to change those names. By that point, they're too much a part of the characters.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When lightening strikes...

There was an article in the New York Times today that noted that the fellow who writes the blog Stuff White People Like (Christian Lander) was apparently offered a $300,000 advance for a book based on that blog.

Now, this is wonderful for Mr. Lander, but this is also the sort of thing that makes me nuts. First, that's a whole lotta money for a concept and a list.

Second, it's going to make many people think all you have to do is start a blog and wait for the offers to come in, the same way, back when websites were new and shiny and some people got book offers or agents based on the writing on their sites, lots of people thought all they had to do was post their work on their websites and wait for the offers to roll in.

Which isn't that much different from the even older days when people would think all they had to do was simply get their work to an agent or a publisher and the offers would come in.

Many people still have this belief -- and that's because these sorts of lightening-strike successes are reported often enough to reinforce the notion that yes, Virginia, it really is that easy.

If only.

For the majority of authors, publication does not and will not come so easily. Long hours of work and doubt and hope are required before they get the life-changing phone call.

Unfortunately, those long-term struggles aren't nearly as exciting as "I was just writing my little stories to amuse myself and posting them on my blog for something to do when suddenly, I got an email from a Big New York Agent who landed me a six-figure deal!"

But even if the author's initial sale does come easily, publishing is still a gamble. The article also says, "A book based on a popular Web site focused on fashion disasters has sold 2,000 copies in its first seven weeks of release, according to Nielsen BookScan."


It's true that lightening does strike in the book business. A book is pulled from the slush pile by some under-paid assistant who loves it, champions it in house and it goes on to become a huge bestseller. Or, in the case of the first Harry Potter book, an assistant to an agent is intrigued by the unique clip holding the manuscript together, takes it home to read and...the rest is history. But these are the exceptions -- that's why they're reported. They are not the norm.

Time will tell if books-based-on-blogs sell well. I have my doubts. After all, there's a difference between clicking on a blog and shelling out money for a book. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

But then, I thought Transformers were the dumbest idea for a toy I'd ever heard of, until I wound up spending a small fortune on them for my son and his friends. Then I wished I had stock in Hasbro.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Too much information?

I read something rather shocking the other day. It was in a biography of Jane Austen, by Carol Shields, a quote from a letter Jane wrote:

"Mrs. Hall of Sherbourne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright -- I suppose she happened to look unawares at her husband."

Whooo, Jane, that's harsh! Was she trying to be funny? Did she hate Mrs. Hall of Sherbourne?

Whatever her motive and although this was in a letter to her sister and not "out in public," it's such a cold and nasty remark, it's changed the way I look at some of her work.

And then I got to thinking, what if she'd written this in a blog?

Today, writers today are being encouraged, even pressured, to reveal more about themselves than ever before, as a way to build name recognition and increase readership.

But except for the few who get in on the ground floor, does it? And what about the potential for the opposite effect?

How much information do readers really need? How much should the author reveal for the sake of PR and sales? And if an author chooses not to go these routes, should that be considered a flaw?

Is there still room in the publishing world for the author who prefers to remain a mystery?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stargate SG-1 and sexual tension

I caught a bit of the end of an episode of Stargate SG-1 yesterday, and was instantly reminded of something I really enjoyed about that show: the sexual tension between Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping). The first time they meet, O'Neill is dismissive and condescending toward Carter, but she holds her own. And then slowly, over time, it becomes apparent that they like each other -- a lot. Unfortunately, any relationship between O'Neill and Carter is off-limits because they are both in the Air Force and O'Neill outranks Carter.

Unlike shows like Remington Steele (am I dating myself with this one or what?) they kept that tension simmering for years and me on the edge of my seat through several episodes, while giving me just enough of a relationship to know they wanted to be together. Yet although they shared some passionate kisses, they never actually had a real relationship, off the base or on it.

It helped that SG-1 was science fiction. They could (and did) have a more complete relationship in parallel universes and different time lines -- this is when the kissing happened.

But one of the best episodes for establishing the depth of their unrequited love didn't have such a plot, and they didn't kiss. It featured a device that was like super truth serum and the search for a traitor. It became clear that O'Neill and Carter were hiding something.

What they were trying to hide wasn't betrayal, but the depth of the feelings they had for each other, which they finally had to admit. Oh, be still my heart!

I tell ya, when that kind of conflict and tension is done right? There's nothing like it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Okay, now that I've got your attention....

I'm beginning to think I need a regular feature, called Questions from Kimber, because once again, she provides the topic for today's blog. (When my response to a comment gets to be more than two paragraphs, I figure it's worthy of a post all its own.)

In response to my blog yesterday about physical intimacy in romance, Kimber comments, "The issue I have is with novellas. Obviously I'm not going to have my same three or so love scenes in a novella but if I have sex scenes in all of my novels, are my readers going to expect at least one sex scene in the novella?

Are the expectations different with novellas? Or not?
I don't want to disappoint anyone."

To answer that question, I'm going to address a broader issue: How does an author deal with the issue of reader expectations, real or suspected?

The first thing for the author to figure out, I think, is how comfortable they are with writing to somebody else's criteria, whether it's real or imagined. This is tied directly to that particular author's goals when it comes to writing itself. A writer who has making the New York Times bestseller list as their primary goal will react differently than a writer who doesn't have that as a primary goal (maybe they don't want that pressure, for instance, and the constant measuring of their progress by that yardstick).

However, I think it would be safe to say that most published authors want to keep on being published, and they'd like to increase their sales. So then the question becomes, how much and in what ways do I have to consider my readers and their reactions/expectations in order to do that?

Again, this will depend on the author and her comfort level with writing with somebody else's expectations in mind.

One key thing: note that we're talking about pleasing readers -- plural. This means that there will likely be several reactions to your work, ranging from love to hate, depending on individual reader's preferences and hot buttons. It's nearly impossible to please all of your readers all of the time.

You can try writing to the majority, based on reviews and past reader responses. In that case, you have to keep track of those things and yes, bear them in mind. If you write sexy novels, your novella should be sexy. There are lots of ways to write "sexy" -- use the one that works for those characters and that plot.

I've had letters from readers asking me why I don't write sexier stories, including one that pretty much demanded to know why I was writing romance at all if I didn't. My response? That element of romance isn't what brought me to writing in the first place, so to put the focus on that would be like asking somebody who really loves chocolate truffles and really wants to sell chocolate truffles to produce and market liver pills instead.

Also, I have never liked or enjoyed group work. It was the bane of my existence in school. Writing to please one particular group of readers feels too much like group work to me, thanks.

The other thing is, I don't get a lot of feedback anyway. I don't get masses of readers letters, and my reviews -- for the same book -- can be all over the place.

So here's whose opinions I pay attention to when I'm writing:

First and foremost, my own. It's my story, my characters and my name on the book.

Secondly, my editor. This is the one person who always gives me feedback and perhaps more importantly, this is the person who decides if my books will be published at all.

Sometimes Daughter will read the start of my books (she has usually been too busy with school to read more). If she has a problem with something in the first chapter or two, I will make changes.

That said, I am affected by reviews and reader mail (they can upset or elate me) -- but the effect on my writing is minimal. The one reader comment that did have an impact was actually in a reader blog, written by someone who had read several of my books and noticed something consistent, and not in a good way. I've since tried to improve that aspect of my stories -- because the problem wasn't confined to just one book. And frankly, I paid more attention because the tone of the comment wasn't snarky or condescending. It was an observation of the sort one might make to a friend in a bookstore. She wasn't out to impress me or anybody else with the depth of her perception and informed opinion. It was just something she'd noticed.

And now I notice it, too.

So how sexy should Kimber make her novella and should she worry about reader expectations? The answer is that it's all up to her, depending on her personality, what she wants to achieve and how she wants to go about it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Physical Intimacy in a romance is like....

I was watching a movie that could best be described as a suspense recently, and as I was watching it, I had a wee epiphany.

Physical intimacy in a romance is like the danger in a suspense. It raises the stakes and puts the characters in jeopardy. In a suspense, it is often literally a matter of life and death. In a romance, it's the life or possible death of the relationship that can be at stake.

And then I thought, physical intimacy in a romance is also like the scary parts of a horror movie -- a time that provides, for both the characters and the reader, a heightened emotional response.

Those are also the times, whether it's making love in a romance, running from the bad guys or facing a monster, when the characters are shown in high relief. All pretense, all their social masks, are stripped way. In the case of romance, they are often literally naked, but that's not nearly as important as the laying bare of their emotional selves -- their hopes, their fears, their needs and lust and longing -- just as in a suspense, a chase can show the characters at their most determined, most clever, most self-sacrificing. Facing the monster shows a character's bravery and urge to protect others.

But let's not be all gloom and doom.

Physical intimacy in a romance can be like the pratfalls in a comedy -- when the characters do something embarrassing ("Oh, my gosh, I kissed that guy and now I find out he's going to be my boss!") and we laugh because, well, we're not them. What's happening may be painful to them (emotionally) but we know it's a romance (comedy), so it'll all work out in the end. If a character slips on a banana peel (real or figurative), we can chortle safe in the knowledge they won't suffer serious, debilitating consequences.

For some people, physical intimacy in a romance is like the forensics in those CSI shows. They expect it, and a lot of it. Don't have it, and they simply aren't interested.

You know, I can spend hours on this sort of thing. However, I have a book I should be writing, so I leave further comparisons to you. :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Public and Private

The other week I mentioned to some writer buddies that I see my website as "formal" and my blog as more "personal."

I've been thinking about that this morning and found another way to look at the same thing, and also apply it to my writing.

I produce a product -- my books. My website is like my showroom. Here are my wares, presented in a specific layout, and although there's some personal information, the website is designed to describe and sell my books, not to reveal a whole lot about me.

My blog is like the workroom in the back. Here's where I talk about how I produce the product. The nuts and bolts, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the revisions and rewrites. Sometimes I invite folks into the lunchroom, where the discussion is less about the work than about what I'm watching on TV or books I've read. And sometimes I talk about my family.

But that's still less intimate than if I invited you into my home. This is where I invite my friends and family, where I'm the least formal and most truly "me" of all. Except for one other. Let's call that the bedroom, although I'm not talking about physical intimacy. I'm talking about emotional intimacy.

It's like that with the characters my books, too. Often (but not always) when the characters first meet, they are their "showroom" selves. It's them at their least intimate, most formal. Eventually, as they get more comfortable, they let the other character into the workroom, revealing more of themselves and how they work. Occasionally, they share lunch and talk about their family and friends.

Then, as they fall in love and become more comfortable, they invite the other character into their home, another level of intimacy. And finally, when they are in love, they reveal their most private, intimate self to the other alone.

This is the most common relationship journey I use, but as I said, not always. Sometimes the characters meet in the workroom, which means that if one then shifts to the "showroom" persona, the other character can be surprised and baffled by the change and believe that they were somehow deceived by the workroom persona, not realizing which one is actually the more representative. Or they could meet in the family persona, then switch to the workroom (confusing) or the showroom (really confusing). What has changed? Is it me? Is it the other person? Was my first impression right, or very, very wrong?

If time and space is limited, as in a novella, sometimes I have to skip layers, going straight from showroom to home, or from workroom to home or home to bedroom or some other combination.

However, I always try to have at least two layers to the characters. I don't like it when I seem to be getting only one layer of a character -- usually the workroom or family version -- and that never changes. That's my definition of a one-dimensional character.

Does this mean your characters should behave totally differently depending on the circumstances? No. It's more subtle than that. People who meet me in different circumstances probably wouldn't notice a huge difference in behavior, except at the more extreme ends of the spectrum, say prior to a root canal versus Christmas morning. Usually, the biggest difference is in my own head. I feel differently.

So should your characters, especially since this is the advantage of a novel over film or other media -- we are privy to their thoughts and true feelings, regardless of their outward behavior. AKA the joy and power of point of view.

By being in a character's point of view and privy to their inner thoughts, we can reveal, for example, that even the most confident, apparently secure hero ain't necessarily so. He may be and feel supremely confident in the boardroom (when he's in showroom mode) but insecure in a family situation, although he continues to act confidently. Same behavior, but very different emotional underpinnings.

But that's only half of it, because I also want to know why. Showing me a character with layers is good, but to make it great, I need to know how and why they developed. For instance, what makes the hero so confident in showroom room, while the heroine would rather eat dirt than make a presentation? Why does the hero feel out of his depth in a family/friends situation, while the heroine blossoms? It isn't enough just to show me this. I need to know why, or I feel the job's only half done.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Writing isn't easy, or simple. There's a lot more to it than somebody who only reads the finished product supposes.

Which is why, I suppose, I blog. :-)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Secrets and sins of omission

I've realized one of the reasons I'm finding writing THE WARLORD'S BRIDE so tricky: the hero has a lot of secrets. The difficulties arise when I try to decide what secrets to reveal when. If I reveal some too soon, I'm going to lose dramatic tension. But if I leave some too long, I fear the reader will get frustrated and stop reading.

Due to circumstances in the heroine's past, she's an open book - the opposite of the hero. No more secrets and deceptions for her, thank you very much. Well, that's not exactly true -- she keeps some of her feelings to herself, about what happened and her hopes and fears for the future. But the actual circumstances of her previous life and what she expects of a husband, she talks about openly, because she doesn't want to repeat her mistakes.

Because the hero has been open about some things, she assumes he's not kept anything important from her, either. Oh oh. Conflict a-comin'!

Secrets and sins of omission can be both the bane and the blessing of an arranged marriage plot. Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that the characters wouldn't know everything, or even a lot, about their new spouses. On the other hand, it can mean a very tricky tightrope of revelation.

How do I decide? Sometimes, it's easy to see, sometimes -- such as with this book -- not so much. Basically, it's trial and error until it feels right. I can't get any more specific than that, I'm afraid.

Which also means, unfortunately, a lot of revising for me.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring, where art thou?

It's supposedly the first day of Spring. Unfortunately, if you looked out my front window, you would not believe it. There is still a LOT of snow on the ground, although I do believe it is sloooowly melting.

However, I can remember going to the zoo one March break when it was about 70 degrees. Alas, I would need to bundle up a lot this year.

I was also recently reminded that the first snowfall of the winter was back in November, making this one of the longest winters of my memory.

Which is another way of saying I am dang sick of it. I want Spring! I want warmth! I want to open the windows wide! I want to go on a long walk without wearing boots and a parka and a hat and gloves!

Come, Spring! Please, come out and play! And bring your flowers with you!

In writing news, I am still revising and rewriting. Why do things seem so simple in a synopsis and so much more complicated when it comes to the book?

Actually, I know the answer to that -- because a synopsis lets you tell, not show. So much easier, that telling!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Read ebooks? Wanna save some $?

I just found out that Diesel Ebooks is offering 20% off on some of my books (pictured here). To get the discount, just go here and key in the following code: MOOR06478

That has to be activated, but it should be done soon, if not already.

What's really cool is that this offer includes KISS ME QUICK and KISS ME AGAIN, the prequels to my August, 2008 release, A LOVER'S KISS.

On another topic: Today, a travel agent was talking about companies "incentivizing" folks to go on trips. That made me cringe and I assumed he'd just made it up instead of saying the slightly more cumbersome "providing incentives". However, I checked the dictionary and yes, that word actually exists. But it still doesn't sound right to me.

This sort of thing can be a problem when you write historical novels. Sometimes, you use a word that actually existed much earlier than most folks assume. You may be right, but readers assume you're wrong and think you haven't done your research.

I'm guilty of jumping to that conclusion myself. I was once pulled right out of a Regency by the word "ego." Turns out, according to Merriam-Webster's, it was first used in 1789. So the author wasn't wrong; it just sounded like it. Nevertheless, I wondered if she couldn't have substituted "pride," which would have meant the same thing to me in that context and wouldn't have taken me out of the story.

That's something I try to avoid in my own writing, because jarring the reader in that manner is not a good thing to do. I don't think you can completely avoid it, but I try.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

And now....Estonia!

I've just received another foreign edition of one of my books. This time, it's THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT and it's from Estonia. The cover art is the same, but the Estonian version is hardcover.

I've never had a book published in Estonia before (that I'm aware of) so this is pretty neat. I also realized I didn't know much about Estonia, other than it was part of the Soviet Union, so I did a little research. Ya gotta love a country that has had a "Singing Revolution."

In other news, I'm still going through the second draft of THE WARLORD'S BRIDE and trying to get back up to speed after The Worst Cold Of My life. Which isn't completely gone yet. On the other hand, the clocks went ahead -- yippee yahoooo! My family will tell you I go a little nutty over that. I even have a little song and dance I do. What can I tell ya? More sun in the evening makes me happy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thanks for the Blarney

Happy St. Patrick's Day! And on this day, let me say a big thank you to my Irish ancestors who, I am convinced, gave me the gift of the gab.

Anybody who knows me will assure you I can talk. And talk. Unless I'm under extreme stress. The guy who tested me for my driver's license probably thought I was a very quiet, demure young lady.

Let me recount some of the ways this gift has stood me in good stead.

I've won awards, both trophies and money, for impromptu public speaking. Toughest competition: I was given a topic, thirty seconds to read it and think, and then I had to start talking.

I once won a solid silver medal for an impromptu speech with the following topic: "Beer bottles should be Canada's national currency."

Doing workshops or any kind of talk about writing is a lot of fun for me. I don't worry too much about making a fool of myself -- hey, I've talked in all seriousness about making beer bottles legal tender, so what's to worry about when the topic is something I do every day (or should)?

Most of all, though, my gift of the gab is what made me a writer. I love to tell stories, whether real or imagined. And most of all, I love to write dialogue. If I'm not talking, let's get those characters gabbing!

Whether my gift of the gab comes from my Irish ancestors (including the one who got shipped off to Canada because he was not, shall we say, turning out well), or some other source, I'm grateful to have it!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Moving On

You might think that after writing forty-some-odd books and being a published author for over 15 years, I'd have no worries about what I'm doing when it comes to writing a book.


If anything, I think I have more worries and concerns than I did in the halcyon days of my innocence, when I just sat down and wrote what I wanted in blissful ignorance. Now, I can all too easily imagine what some oh-so-clever reviewer will find fault with, or that I'm hitting too many readers' pet peeves, or my Esteemed Editor will think the pace is off. I question everything and anything.

The one thing experience has taught me, though, is that sometimes, I just have to move on, trusting that if there's something wrong, I'll figure it out eventually. Or my Esteemed Editor will, and I'll get to fix it.

That's what I'm trying to do at the moment, lest I wallow around the first two chapters for the next several days. See, there's a scene I'm not sure about. I can rationalize it's place in the story, but I'm worried it's too slow. But if I take it out, I might be leaving crucial information too late. What to do, what to do?

Well, move on. And hope that, when I come back to it again, I'll be more sure about whether I need that scene, or not.

ETA: Okay, so here's what else I should also know by now -- if I have doubts about a scene, that's a Big Freakin' Clue to take the dang thing out.

Which is what I'm doing now, because of course I found another place to add the material I was so worried about.

How long have I been at this again? Sigh.....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Back (cough) to work (sniffle), sort of

Well, I can now say I've had chills and a fever, which I have never had before, because I have had the worst cold of my entire life. No kidding.

So I spent most of the week lying on the couch, watching TV. There is some weird stuff on during the day. I could have seen the entire Charles Bronson ouvre. I could have watched Terminator Two: Judgment Day multiple times. I think there's a law that a Godfather movie must be playing at all times. Classic Law and Order really does put me to sleep. The Dr. Phil Show has gotten really weird. I can take the View only in small doses.

Saw that New Amsterdam show, about the immortal guy. The only paranormal idea I've ever had was about an immortal guy, but his immortality was a curse, not a reward. And while of course love was involved, not the whole "soul mate" thing (I have a problem with that concept, actually, but that's for another time). The show's okay so far (some good twists), but really, yak much about your long life, buddy? Not too subtle. I guess he figures people will just...I dunno...assume he's nuts? Just what I want in an armed policeman -- insanity!

Survivor is turning into one of the really interesting seasons! The blindsiding! The machinations! Ozzy!

I also did some reading, but no writing, so I may not be blogging much this week. I have to get back at it.

How am I doing that? I printed up the second draft and am starting again at Chapter One, Page One, revising and rewriting. And let me just say, ARGH. There is still too much backstory in there!

Monday, March 03, 2008

And thus, it hits...

I managed to get done what needed to be done in the time I was given to do it, but alas. The cold I'd been fending off hit me hard on Saturday. So no writing for me on the weekend, and likely not for at least another day. If I'm not blogging for a few days, that'll be why. I'll also be playing catch-up on the manuscript.