Archive for the ‘My Non-Romance-Reading Family’ Category

So if your teenager goes and gets a tattoo without telling you, is the offense at all mitigated by the fact that it’s a literary tattoo?

tattoo, black cat w/red scarf


(I’m curious – were these books generally well known, or are they an obscurity particular to my family?)

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This has nothing to do with romance or writing (or giveaways). But it’s a month today since my dad left us, and I’m missing him a lot. So here’s a picture of me and my dad.

Picture of me and my dad, from many years ago

This is a long-ago Thanksgiving. The stainless-steel bowl contains jello salad.

Dad was – it still takes a conscious effort not to say “is;” to speak about him in the past tense – a very private person and probably would not approve of my posting this picture. (“Would not have approved,” I guess I should say.)

That’s all. No point to make; this is just where my thoughts are today.

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Here’s a too-long-for-Twitter update for the many kind people there who’ve offered their sympathy, *prayers, and good wishes during my family’s recent medical crisis.

As of this writing, Dad is in the rehab wing of a nursing home, working to regain enough strength and independent function that he can go home, where the plan is to enroll him – I think – in either palliative care or home-hospice care. (We’ve had the difference explained to us twice and I can’t seem to remember it, besides the fact that home hospice presumes a shorter remaining lifespan, and that you’re allowed to go out of the house, whereas with palliative care you’re required to be basically housebound.)

I guess that sounds like a sad outcome. But two weeks ago he was in the critical-care unit with multiple organ failure and uremia-induced delirium (oh, and also an apparent heart attack somewhere along the way), and I was asking the medical team if it would be possible for my daughter, who was flying home from college early the next morning, to see his body and say her goodbyes if he didn’t make it through the night.

That he’s recovered as much as he has – excreted the fluid from his lungs, kicked the delirium, worked his way from high-flow oxygen to low-flow oxygen to mostly breathing “room air” (one of the many new terms I’ve learned in this experience), gotten back enough kidney function to limp along with – feels nothing short of stunning to me. I did not expect it, and neither did the doctors. For as many times as I’ve seen Dad pick himself up off the mat over the last few decades, I really thought he was down for the count in the CCU.

So that’s where we are.

I don’t have enough brainspace to do this next thought justice, but I’ve worried for awhile that I’m mismanaging social media; getting friendly with people to the point where they might be uncomfortable saying “My god, I hated this book” about one of my books. So I think I need to find a way to dial that back, and I think, in the past couple weeks, I’ve unfortunately dialed it forward instead.

Words of support from online acquaintances – from “I feel your pain; we just went through that with my mom” to “Just want you to know you’re in my thoughts” to “Here’s how to do that thing in Scrivener you were asking about before your life went haywire” – have meant the world to me, but I’m not sure I should have gotten into a position where they would mean the world to me, if that makes sense.

Anyway when I get back to where romance writing is taking up more of my thoughts, I’m going to try to work on that.

*I probably should have disclosed, when soliciting prayers, that my family is not really religious. I’ve just read those studies about how prayer makes people get better, even non-religious people being prayed for by people they’ve never met. I think it worked, at least a little.

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(*I hate it when stories I like turn out to be apocryphal. Legend has it that Winston Churchill, in response to an editor who corrected his ending sentences with a preposition, scrawled on the manuscript:  “That is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”  No documentation exists, though, and it’s a pretty good bet it never happened.)

1) The blog has been silent for quite a while, I know. I’ve been in head-down writing mode. I’d always sort of shaken my head and pursed my lips when I heard writers talk about being too busy to read, but I’m off that high horse now. I have not read a full-length book for over a month. I wish, wish, wish I were able to write faster. I don’t believe prolific-ness (prolificity?) is necessarily a good measure of success, and I do think there’s such a thing as oversaturating the market with your stuff, but I’m still slower than what I’d like to be.

2) I went to Paris in September. It was a wonderful Trip of a Lifetime thing, starring my mom, who’d never been off the North American continent before, and co-starring my sister, my brother, and me. Mom is artsy beyond any of our ability to keep up, so we divided up the museum shifts, and she and I spent an excellent, not-long-enough day in the Louvre.

I did some writing in Paris, so now I can say I’ve been to Paris and written there. Mostly I wrote in a minuscule office in the flat we rented, but one day I walked up to the oldest library in Paris, the Bibliotheque Mazarine, and wrote for a little while there.

Exterior of the Bibliotheque Mazarine

Bibliotheque Mazarine. You have to stop at the office to get a visitor’s pass, for which you leave your driver’s license or other ID.

You’re not allowed to take pictures in the reading room, but here’s a picture on a Wikipedia page.

Okay, stuff coming up:

1) This weekend I’ll be at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, which is the annual conference put on by the Seattle chapter of RWA, in cosmopolitan Bellevue, Washington. In fact I should be packing right now instead of writing this, as the first workshop starts in just over an hour.

If you happen to be at the conference, there are two formal chances to encounter me:

  • Saturday I’ll be signing at the Book Fair, 4:30 – 6:00 on the 3rd floor of the Bellevue Westin Hotel. Actually this is open to the public, so even if you’re not attending the conference, if you happen to be near Bellevue then stop by! Lots of more-famous-than-I authors will be there, too. Oh, and I’ll have candy.
  • Sunday morning I’ll be on the annual “Chapter members who became published authors in 2012” panel, AKA “How Did They Do That?” It’s at 8:00 a.m., so I’m expecting kind of a sparse turnout, but we’ll do our best to make it worth your while. I’ll give away books, and try to have edifying advice.

Also, if you’re at the conference and just see me around, please say hi.

2) Author Susanna Fraser is going to be stopping by the blog on November 20 to talk about her upcoming release, An Infamous Marriage and to give away a copy. If you’re a fan of trad-flavored Regencies with a military emphasis, authored by someone who really knows her stuff, then you should be reading Fraser. And if, like me, you’re a fan of love stories that get off to the worst possible start, then you definitely need to read An Infamous Marriage.

Okay, I’m going to pack now. Will try to send updates from the conference!

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I’m at the Romance at Random blog today, talking about how a person who grows up without reading romance novels can wind up writing them.

There may be some mention of Shakespeare.

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Crawling out of the Cave o’ Nonstop Writing to report that I now have release dates! Release Months, at least. A Lady Awakened makes its bow in January 2012, and A Gentleman Undone follows in June. Approximately 205 days until my mom can read my sex scenes!

(Ohhh, boy. Did I really need that one where he tells her to imagine she’s the queen and he’s the stablehand?)

In other exciting news, I have a lovely new cover quote from the magnificent Eloisa James. Also, I’ve seen the Lady Awakened cover and it is BREATHTAKING. I’ll be posting both those things on my website and giving you more of my impressions in this space soon.

Also to catch you up on: my first experience with copyedits! In which I tear out my hair over whether to change my hero’s name to something more historically plausible! Stay tuned!

In off-topic news, is anyone else watching The Bachelorette? Do you buy this Bentley guy? I guess I’m extraordinarily cynical about reality tv, but I can’t help suspecting that he’s faking his evilness and Bachelorette Ashley is faking her gullibility and subsequent devastation. If she’s genuinely crying as often as the soundtrack would have us believe, then I need to buy stock in whatever waterproof eyeliner she’s using.

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Somewhat by accident, I took 14-year-old Seconda to her first rock concert this past December.  It was one of those radio-station-sponsored affairs, with a lineup of ten bands and a running time of seven hours, and I bought the tickets assuming 17-year-old Prima, usually an exemplary sister, would be willing to go with her.

Bad assumption.  Prima had no interest in seeing any of the bands, no stomach for the seven-hour ordeal, and insufficient sisterly devotion to just grit her teeth and go anyway.  Reason didn’t sway her.  Strategically applied guilt had no effect.  She would not even consider a bribe.

Assuming (again with the assumptions!) a 14-year-old would rather wade a mile through leech-infested waters than go to a rock concert with her mom, I proposed other escorts.  Cool childless aunt?  Guitar-Hero-playing cousin?  Maybe… Dad?

No, no, and no.  For reasons I still can’t fathom, my daughter had made up her mind that, if her sister couldn’t be persuaded to go, I was the escort of choice.  And so it happened that I went to a seven-hour, ten-band rock concert.  Nine hours and ten minutes, actually, counting the time we spent standing in line and the twenty minutes the thing ran over (and believe you me, I was counting).


Picture of rock band

I saw these guys, but I have no idea who they are. In my day, the people onstage at a concert looked like Boy George, or maybe Prince. Nowadays they all look like this, and you can't tell one from another. (Edit 2/1/11: Alert reader Karen has plausibly ID'd these two as Martin Johnson and Paul DiGiovanni of the band Boys Like Girls. There was indeed a band called Boys Like Girls in the lineup, so I'm going with it. Thanks, Karen!)

The headline act, and really the whole reason for going, was Seconda’s favorite band, Paramore.  And towards the beginning of the show, in one of about a billion attempts to pump the audience into a frenzy, the concert overlords reminded us of the lineup, with pictures on the big video screens:  “Coming up:  Blah-de-blah, blah-de-blah, blah-de-blah… and Paramore.”

And when they said “Paramore,” my fourteen-year-old daughter squealed aloud, entirely without irony, like a kid half her age.  It was as though, until that moment, she hadn’t quite let herself believe that Paramore was truly going to be there.  Like it all might prove to be some elaborate bait-and-switch somehow.  Anyway it was ridiculously adorable, and it made me glad no other escort had panned out.

I’m also glad I went because partway through Paramore’s eventual set, there came a kind of goosebumpy moment.  They played this one number – a quieter love song that had been a radio hit – and the audience, most of whom seemed to be young women and all of whom seemed to know the words, sang along.  And when the chorus came around for the second time, the singer stepped back from the mike and the audience kept on singing by themselves.


Paramore! These guys I can recognize, because the singer was tiny, red-haired, and female.

I suppose this isn’t uncommon in rock concerts, but in that moment, it just seemed like such a clear and lovely illustration of the audience’s role in realizing – completing – a piece of popular art.  The artist writes the song, records it, sends it out into the world, and it’s not really complete until it’s received by someone to whom it means something.  The audience gives it that last little spark; makes it real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

I don’t believe all art works this way, or all artists.  Some artists, I’m pretty sure, create what they feel compelled to create, and put it out there, and, while they certainly hope people will like it, that’s not really the point.  Maybe they’ll be appreciated in posterity; maybe not.  Doesn’t matter.  They’ve answered to their muse.

But in the romance genre, as in pop music – I guess I should speak for myself here but I’ll go out on a limb with the gross generalization anyway – it doesn’t work like that.  Posterity and the muse take a backseat, I think, to actual people alive on the planet right now.

Does that make the product more transitory?  More disposable?  Well, maybe.  Think of the Billboard Hot 100, or the romance shelves at Barnes & Noble.  There’s always something new coming along to push whatever’s there now out of the way.  Whereas nobody’s ever going to shoulder out Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or War and Peace.

Nevertheless there’s a value, I think, in that personal connection.  In that special, quasi-collaborative relationship between artist and audience.  And to see it so vividly enacted – to witness this crowd of young people laying claim to this song, with its resonant-to-them impression of love – gave me chills, and reminded me of what a privilege it really is to write the most popular of popular fiction, romance.

Am I off base?  Did I go too far out on the limb? Is a comparison between pop music and romance legitimate?  Or do you think the seven-hour concert might have impaired my critical faculties?

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Originally I intended to title this post “What Deadline did to my Fingernails,” and to start it off with a photo of said fingernails, accompanied by raggeder-than-they’ve-ever-been cuticles.  Only once I actually took the photo, and looked at it, I realized this was Something Nobody Needs to See.

Suffice it to say I’ve bitten the living heck out of my fingernails in this past month, and couldn’t even spare time to file them into short-but-even shapes, so they look… well, you don’t want to know.

The month before deadline turns out to be a little like the month after you bring a baby home:  things you’d thought were essential (yard work, social obligations, personal hygiene) just fall by the wayside.

And naturally it turned out to be a hectic month on the homefront, including two birthdays (just in the past two weeks), an unplanned wisdom-tooth extraction for one of the kids, and, to wind things up with a bang, a cold that kept both kids home on alternating days of this past week before striking me.

As with A Lady Awakened, I got about three-quarters of the way through the book when I realized there was no way all the stuff I had planned was going to fit in the word count that remained.  So I had to rethink, and cut stuff as I went along, and then go back and cut some more.  Continuity turned out to be a bear with this book, too.  Partly because of how much earlier stuff I had to cut, and partly because part of the plot revolves around winning money at cards, and I had to keep track of how much each character had at any given time.

Anyway, my editor is expecting Will and Lydia’s story on October first, and day before yesterday I sent it to my agent, who will read it and tell me if there’s anything glaring I need to address before it goes on to editor Shauna.  Agent Emmanuelle (doesn’t that just sound like she should have her own action-movie franchise?) called this morning to say she’s not finished with it but so far she’s loving it, so I’ve permitted myself one or two or three sighs of relief.  (It could still go bad.  I fear I may have gone over the top in places, and some of those places are near the end.)

So now I’ll take a week or so to tend to all the real-life things I’ve let slide the past month (this morning I took our vacuum cleaner to the repair shop – if I were cruel I would post a picture of our hasn’t-been-vacuumed-in-over-a-month floor), and then I need to roll up my sleeves and get started on the next book, which at the moment is terrifyingly nebulous.

Oh, great.  The vacuum repair shop just called and our v.c. is broken beyond repair.  So before I can start researching the next book, I have to research vacuum cleaners.  How anybody manages to combine writing with family with a full-time job is utterly beyond me.

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I don’t know whether this is an interesting topic or not. I always wonder, when I look at authors’ websites, about how exactly they arrived at that particular design. What made them choose those colors? How did they find their designer? How much input did they have? How much input did they want? Etc. But I never see other authors blogging about this topic, so perhaps I’m the only person to whom it’s of interest.

And, as my army of regular readers can attest, that‘s not about to stop me from blogging about anything! So here’s the story of how my website came to be:

How I found my designer: Back before I sold or even had an agent, I was reading a blog about author promotion, and in the comments thread someone said, “This is who I’m going to hire when I sell my first book for big bucks,” with a link to xuni.com. I followed the link and was just knocked out by her designs. They all hit me on a visceral level; I couldn’t tell you what worked about them except that they just felt right.

However as an unsold author (whose household runs on two part-time incomes), I couldn’t justify the expense of a professionally designed website by xuni or anyone else. So when I accepted my agent’s offer on November 9 I got busy trying to design my own. And basically squandered a lot of valuable writing time learning just how little I know about design.

The offer came from Bantam on December 4 and it re-aligned my priorities. They were paying me to write. I needed to be writing, not fumbling around trying to design a website that had no hope of being commensurate with what they were investing in me.  And you’re supposed to put half your first advance into promotion anyway, right?  I fired off an email to Madeira James at xuni.

I did not shop around at all, which is absolutely uncharacteristic for me.  She says her rates are reasonable, and I have no reason to disbelieve her, but beyond that, I did not care.  I thought “This is what I want, and I can afford it,” and that was as far as the evaluation process went.  I promise you I’m usually a much more conscientious consumer than that.

How we arrived at the design: You’re supposed to decide, before you build a website, exactly what your identity is.  You know, what is it that makes your historical romances different from other historical romances, and how can your website convey this?

I didn’t do that.  I tried, during the month I was struggling to build my own site.  But the problem, I’ve gradually realized, is that I embrace a lot of opposites.  There’s a slightly arch sensibility to my books – I get a kick out of giving a prototypical brooding-hero surname like Mirkwood to a sunny-optimist hero – but there’s also earnest swoony stuff and angst.  I don’t know yet how to distill that into a single message.

So the design happened without a lot of conscious thought on my part.  Madeira had a waiting list at the time I contacted her, and proposed to build a temporary “holding page” until she could get to the real one.  She pointed me toward a few stock-photo sites and told me to choose one or two images out of which she’d build the holding page.

Several numbing hours later (those sites can be really overwhelming), I came back with a few images of gloves, which seemed vaguely historical.  Madeira put a couple of them together, and when I saw it, the colors (sort of peach and tan, with black in the background) reminded me of 1930s-40s lingerie.  Which has absolutely nothing to do with the Regency period, but which connotes all kinds of things – some of them opposing each other! – that I suddenly wanted for my site.

Forties-vintage lingerie, to me, says elegance and sophistication, but also warmth.  It’s sexy almost as an afterthought, merely because it’s lingerie.  And it is straight-up pretty.  And I realized that yes, I wanted my website to be sleek and professional and suitable for an author who expects to be taken seriously, but dammit, I wanted it to be pretty too.

So when the time came to pick more images, for the real site, I gravitated towards peachy-pink colors.  I even found vintage writing on pinkish paper.  And while the left side of my brain forced me to include some images that more explicitly said “Regency” or “romance” (a photo of a building in Brighton; a photo of a couple models in period dress), Madeira deftly steered me away from those (the models did look a little costume-partyish) or just couldn’t find a way to fit them into the design (the Brighton building clashed with the color scheme), and assured me anyone looking at the site could tell I wrote historical romance.  And then humored me by actually adding the words “historical romance” when I wasn’t 100% assured.

So there is my website.  It makes me happy to look at.  And you know what’s funny?  Back when I first started trying to design my own, one of my kids said, “Just don’t make it pink,” because my kids, like 88% of the population, believe we romance writers are like a bunch of high-powered Mary Kay saleswomen driving around in our pink cars in our pink feather boas, pink martinis in hand.

And I laughed, and said, “Don’t worry; it won’t be pink.”  So the joke is on me.  Now where’s my pink martini?

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Yesterday my elder daughter (code name Prima) and I watched New Moon.  Prima is a persnickety reader, and the Twilight books are not actually to her taste.  Snarking over movie adaptations of those books, however, is very much to her taste, and after four-plus hours of taking the SAT, she was in the mood to rent New Moon.

Since I’m the one with the Blockbuster card, I went out to get it.  And I did not realize that its actual title is The Twilight Saga: New Moon, so I went to the N section of New Releases, and did not find it there.  Checked the Top 20 Most Popular New Releases section; it wasn’t there either.  Maybe it didn’t count as new anymore?  Went into the Drama section; no New Moon.

I had to approach a clerk.  He told me about how its title began with a T, and pointed to the far corner of the store, adding, “It’s right under the poster of Jacob.”

And suddenly it became very important to me that this Blockbuster employee, with whom I may never interact again, not believe that I was actually renting New Moon for myself.

So I gave a sort of vague, no comprende shake of the head and said:  “I don’t know who Jacob is.”  Right.  Because I have been living in a CAVE!

He explained, not only which poster was the poster of Jacob, but who Jacob is in the story world (“secondary heartthrob”), and suggested maybe I wanted to start with Twilight and progress to New Moon.

I said, “No, I’m supposed to get the one called New Moon.”  Like a befuddled sitcom husband at the supermarket with a shopping list.  Because I am only following orders for teenagers awaiting me at home, Mr. Blockbuster!

That did the trick.  He said, “Oh, this isn’t for you,” and I muttered something about teenagers, and paid for the DVD and got out of there.  At the time I actually thought I was pretty convincing, but transcribing my lines up above, I realize it doesn’t come off as very convincing after all.  Anyway I told the story when I got home.  Prima and younger sister Seconda thought it was hilarious, but I think my husband found it slightly odd.

About New Moon, I don’t have a lot to say.  We laughed and snarked at all the gratuitous shirtlessness, but the truth is I came away feeling a little bad for Taylor Lautner, the kid who plays Jacob.  Because of course not only do I know who Jacob is, but I know that the producers considered re-casting the role with someone manlier, and that Lautner worked to bulk himself up in order to be a credible rival to Edward, as the story sort of demands.

And honestly, to see all that bulk and muscle definition (seriously, that kid must have made a full-time job of it) on a boy who’s about my own daughter’s age, made me kind of… sad, behind the snark.  When he first pulled off his shirt to reveal it (conveniently standing up from his previous crouching position, with the camera positioned low so that he’d sort of loom over us in all his muscle-bound magnificence), it felt a bit like watching a 17-year-old girl reveal new breast implants or something.  Breast implants gotten in desperation because all the roles she auditioned for kept going to “sexier” actresses.

Anyway, that’s my take.  Prima gave a thumbs-down to the CGI, smirked at all the “You’re the only thing in the world that makes my life worth living” dialogue, and could not believe Bella’s friends would put up with her constantly blowing them off.

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