Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

I’m visiting with Melanie at the Bookworm2Bookworm blog today, talking about deleted scenes. I share a scene I cut from A Gentleman Undone, and talk a bit about the decision to cut it.

Also, I’m giving away a copy of the book. Stop by and leave a comment for a chance to win!

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Congratulations to commenter kiwi1124, winner of my ECWC book haul! And thanks to everyone who entered.


Let’s start with the bad news: I didn’t win an e-reader. I think there were six or seven raffle baskets that had them, and I put tickets in every single one (I put 25 tickets in one!), but to no avail. So I think Plan B is going to revolve around Black Friday.

Here’s a highlight: look what was in my hotel room:

Hotel-room chaise-longueA chaise-longue! [Brief tangent: weird spellings stay with me. I will never, never misspell the name of the basketball player Dwyane Wade, precisely because it’s not spelled the way you’d expect it to be spelled. Same thing with chaise-longue, which you always hear pronounced “chaise lounge.”] I had happy visions of spending much of the weekend stretched out writing on this thing; unfortunately I only did that for a little while. But it was pretty great!

Now here’s a picture of all the freebies I got in my tote bag at conference check-in:

Conference FreebiesActually, that’s not even everything. There were a bunch of postcards and bookmarks too, but those aren’t so impressive to photograph. And in addition to all this, there was a table set out with more swag, some of it duplicates of the tote-bag stuff, but some entirely new! I will not have to buy a pen for about six years, I estimate.

So besides the e-reader failure, a quick review of my conference-goals checklist:

1) Learn to write faster. Well, I definitely learned that workshop presenter Susanna Fraser is kind of a superwoman for being able to juggle a kid, a husband, a full-time job, deadlines, and the occasional king-size monkey wrench (she had nerve problems in one hand this past year and didn’t get a correct diagnosis until recently). She highly recommends doing NaNoWriMo at least once, if only because once you’ve produced 50k words in a month, a more realistic pace of 20k/month will seem eminently do-able.

She’s also a big believer in checklists, which is something I haven’t yet tried. A lot of my problem is brain space devoted to other things (must write school-absence note for daughter’s orthodontist appt.; must make sure money is transferred from savings to checking to cover property-tax payment), so I like the idea of off-loading that stuff onto a list. I’ll try that for sure. I’m also going to try to follow her advice to “Write at the earliest time of the day that makes sense for your schedule and your body rhythms.”

2) Learn about branding. I guess this was on everybody’s to-do list, because Angela James’s workshop was packed. They had to bring in extra chairs and there were still people standing, and sitting on the floor!

I wrote pages and pages of notes on this session (including you-had-to-be-there quotes like “Your boobs should not be part of your brand”), and, while I still can’t articulate what my brand is, I’m now convinced of the necessity of being able to do so, and I have some ideas of the steps to take that will result in my figuring it out.

3) Introduce self to Smart Bitch Sarah. This just went smashingly well. She recognized my name and told me again how much she loved A Lady Awakened, and she was gracious as could be. I was only middlingly inarticulate, when I had feared being terribly so. I got a second chance to chat with her, when I went over to get one of her books at the bookfair, and not only did I manage to get out a more lucid thanks for her support of my book, but… bonus! She was sitting with Courtney Milan (who wasn’t officially at the conference but had dropped by to see some people), and not only did she introduce me to Courtney, but she started raving to her about my book, and made her promise to read it! It was a tiny bit mortifying, but mostly just a thrill. And I got to tell Courtney some specific things I’ve loved about her books, hopefully without looking like a crazy-eyed fan.

All in all it was a great conference. I went to two invaluable working-session workshops: Elizabeth Boyle’s “Building a Romance Novel from the Idea Up,” and Rose Lerner’s “Making your Hero(ine)’s Job Work for You.” Both of them had specific prompts to which we had to write answers (“List 20 things that will happen in this story.” “What is your hero’s relationship with authority? How does that play out at work, and in his personal life?”), and so I came away with, in one case, new insights into the hero of my WiP, and, in the other, a foundation for a future book. Usually I view a conference workshop as time I’m taking away from writing but for a good cause. In these two, I actually felt like it was writing time.

Okay, book giveaway. I got five excellent romance novels in my tote bag:

Books you can win

Some of them I’ve already read, and my TBR stack is too big right now to admit additions. So I’d like to send them to a good home. Just leave a comment on this post some time this week (that is, before midnight Pacific time on Friday, November 4) and I will draw a name and send that person all five books. Will ship internationally. The books included are:

A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, Angie Fox

The Angel in my Arms, Stefanie Sloane

Tsunami Blue, Gayle Ann Williams

Shoulder Bags and Shootings, Dorothy Howell

Night Veil, Yasmine Galenorn

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So as I mentioned before, Bantam tentatively contracted with me for a third book. I mean, I guess they did, because there was a sale notice in Publisher’s Marketplace, but I fear to jinx myself if I say “Bantam bought another book” before I’ve actually signed a contract. (Publishing contracts move very slowly; at least they have for me.)

Anyway once a publisher has said “Yes, go ahead and write another book,” there’s another intermediary hurdle to clear, and it’s called Progress Materials. For my second book, this consisted of three chapters and a synopsis. For this one, they’d already okayed a synopsis and only required one chapter. (??? Am I viewed as a proven commodity now? Do they not want to wait the amount of time they fear it will take me to crank out three chapters? Not sure. Didn’t ask.)

I sent in the one chapter this week, and once again found myself biting my nails worrying what my editor would think of it, and, more specifically, what she’d think of the heroine.

Kate is my first really beautiful heroine. Martha I think of as pretty rather than beautiful; Lydia is neither pretty nor beautiful (except of course to the hero), but Kate is a knockout, and keenly aware of it, and has maybe a bit too much of a sense of entitlement in consequence. Basically I kind of want to take the girl who’s usually the heroine’s trounced rival, and make her the heroine instead.

So I feared my editor would say, “I do not like this shallow social-climber who’s mortified by her bluestocking sister, and I don’t believe any self-respecting hero would like her either.” But no! She said she loves the set-up, and can’t wait for more!

So I’m feeling blessed today. To find anyone who likes the things you write is a blessing; to find a publishing professional who does is good fortune practically beyond measure.

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Plugging away on a few revisions to Lydia & Will’s story, plus digging in to Nick & Kate’s; scrambling to find out as much about them as I can, because I’m not one of those writers who drafts comprehensive character biographies before starting on Chapter One.  I start writing, the characters start talking and doing things, and gradually I piece together who they are.

But remember when I said that thing about how “high art” has more of a role for the muse, and posterity, while populist art – pop music, romance novels – aims itself more consciously at individual people alive right now? Well, the hero of the new work in progress just had this thought:

To be a London barrister was to walk every day in the paths of greatness, the prospect of taking one’s own place in the pantheon — Plowden, Congreve, Fielding, Dr. Johnson, Blackshear — always hovering.  Paradoxically, to be a London barrister also meant a daily engagement with posterity’s opposite:  the concerns and transgressions and immediate fates of the people who shared this planet, this city’s streets, this fog-heavy breathing air with him now.

Heh. My real-life preoccupations don’t usually show up quite so baldly in the stories I write. I feel vaguely plagiaristic.

But the more I find out about this hero and heroine, the better I’m liking them. Must cross my fingers that my agent & editor will feel the same.

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Starting work on my third consecutive heroine with likability issues.  Because that seems to be the kind I write.

Having already churned out Humorless & Judgmental, and followed it up with Unscrupulous & Unkind, I will now try my hand at Snobbish & Impractical.  Simmering on the back burner are Vain & Mercenary, and… actually, my other pending heroine is pleasant and positive, and not to a degree that annoys everyone around her.  How did that happen?

Anyway this time I am determined to fill out a Goal, Conflict, & Motivation chart right at the beginning, and to identify my Fifteen Beats pretty early on.  I am a dreadful pantser, which is odd because I’m pretty left-brain about everything else in my life, and the pantsing is just not working for me.  I was horribly inefficient in writing the first two books (reams of stuff written, revised, and ultimately thrown out) and I need to get my act together.

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My sighs of relief turn out to have been premature.  Agent Emmanuelle sent back her editorial notes on Will & Lydia’s book, and now it’s time for some heavy-duty rewrites.  (Darn it!  I knew there was too much card-playing and not enough plot!)

So the blog goes dark again until I get this done.  Wish me luck and an uncharacteristically fertile imagination.

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Pile of research books

Somewhere in here, I’m hoping hard, is the plot for my next book.  I know who the hero is, and the heroine is starting to take shape, and I have some ideas for the dynamic of their relationship, but beyond that it’s all a daunting blank.

Plot = blood; Cecilia = turnip.

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I picked up Sherry Thomas’s latest, His at Night, and tore through it in three days.  (For me that’s fast.)

It was a pretty rich book and I have a lot of thoughts on it, which I may or may not distill into something worth saying later, but for the moment this is the thought at the tips of my fingers:

Last week I wrote a scene for my WiP that referenced the image of Prometheus chained to the rock with that eagle chowing on his liver.  I was kind of proud of this scene.  Such a dire, powerful image, and I liked the use I found for it.

Well, it turns out that the heroine of His at Night has a recurring nightmare in which she’s chained to the rock, like Prometheus, while an eagle comes down and tears at her innards!  For crying out loud!

This is not the first time Sherry Thomas has beat me to the punch with something, and done it with more panache.  Way back when I started on A Lady Awakened – the story of a sexual bargain with an heir as the goal – I actually used the phrase “their private arrangement” to refer to the bargain.  And then I started hearing rumblings about a book that was actually called Private Arrangements, and that featured a sexual bargain with an heir as the goal.

Arrgh.  I have gone through manuscripts and changed certain wording because of encountering the same wording, only put to infinitely better use, in one or another of Sherry Thomas’s books.  More than once.  It’s getting to the point where I open up her vivid jewel-toned covers with a simmering sense of dread.

So what to do about my Prometheus reference?  For now I think it stays.  Perhaps I’ll put a footnote on that page:  Please note that, whatever may be your opinion in regard to the originality of this image, I did not technically rip it off from His at Night.

Now, about my nightmare-prone heroine…

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Some years back I took my daughter to a bookstore for an appearance by Ann Brashares, who was at the time promoting the third in her four-book Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  Ann read an excerpt, and spoke a bit, and answered questions from the overflow audience.  And two things in particular have stayed with me from that Q & A:

1)  How sincerely interested she was in the opinions of the teen & tween girls who’d shown up to hear her.  “What do you guys think of the cover? Is the color okay?” she asked in the same way you might ask your best friend about a shirt you’re trying on in a department-store dressing room.  (This has nothing to do with the rest of today’s post, but I’ve remembered it vividly.)

2) What she said about writing the character of Bridget, the soccer jock.  Ann herself was not at all athletic, and so Bridget was her chance to sort of try on that life; to think about how a supremely confident athlete’s mind would work; to educate herself in the things Bridget would know about soccer, etc.

This is on my mind today because I’m struggling with writing a heroine whose brain readily grasps things that confound me.  Lydia is a gambler who possesses, as she describes it, “a certain facility with numbers and an excellent memory for what I’ve seen.”  People like that fascinate me, all the more because I’m not one of them.  Writing Lydia gives me a chance to try on a numberish brain at the same time I’m trying on life for a woman in the early 19th century, which is an irresistible double challenge.

But it’s also hard, hard work.  I’ve spent the morning taxing my poor non-numberish brain over Charles Babbage’s An Examination of some Questions connected with Games of Chance.  (Published in 1820, so Lydia couldn’t have read it, but it does give an idea of what a mathematically gifted person with an interest in gambling might have come up with around that time.)

I make it through page 1 okay.  Martingale betting; yup, I know about martingale betting.  I’m with him through most of page 2, when he introduces variables of p and q to represent number of hands (or coin-tosses, or whatever) won and lost.

But at the bottom of the page he assigns the value of 2u to the gambler’s bet.  And there’s got to be a reason for the 2, right?  Otherwise he would just call it u.  However he offers no explanation for the 2.  So I’m troubled.  But I’m forging ahead.

And then comes this:  we may represent the gamester’s profit after one event is decided by 2u(-1)a, a being any whole number; for since the nature of the number a is left undecided, whether it is an even or an odd one, the expression just given will represent either a profit or a loss.

Okay, but where does a come from?  What does it represent?  Dammit, Lydia would know this on first reading.

Seven lines later he’s brought in a cosine.  Okay, I can see that the cosine is optional.  But it’s still deeply troubling.  Then come thirteen lines of plain old text, and I’m actually following along for a bit.  But suddenly he’s referring to a b and a c in addition to the a, and a peek ahead shows grim pages of successively longer and more recondite equations, and I am feeling like a cartoon character with my fingernails dug into the side of a cliff, sliding inexorably down.  What on earth possessed me to write a character who was good at math?

Well.  One thing that possessed me, undoubtedly, is that I do have a numberish brain in the family.  My brother has by now grown used to receiving e-mails with requests like “Please review these rules for a 19th-century version of blackjack and tell me how strategy would differ from modern blackjack strategy” and sending replies like “Well, the obvious big difference is you get to see your first card before determining your wager.”

(Right.  Obvious.  Totally obvious.)

So, off goes Babbage and his Examination, hopefully to be translated into understandable terms.  And next time, I swear, I will write a heroine who’s a spelling prodigy or something.

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Five days from now my second-book proposal is due.  It’s already part of my contract, based on a two-paragraph pitch.  But now I actually have to send three chapters and a synopsis for my editor to read.

I’m nervous.  Is there enough plot?  Is my tormented Waterloo veteran distinguishable from the many other tormented war veterans that populate historical romance?  And above all, is my heroine going to fly?

Lydia, as far as reader likability goes, may have a lot of strikes against her.  She cheats unrepentantly at cards.  She’s mistress to another man when she meets the hero, and continues to be for a good portion of the book.  And she enjoys her physical relationship with her protector while privately thinking him something of an idiot.  That might all be too off-putting for some readers.

But I love her, with all her sharp edges and icy middle.  I’m always disappointed when I read a book with a heroine who starts out difficult and then turns out to have a gooey center.  Disappointed, too, with celibate-courtesan heroines.  Personalities like Lydia’s are readily accepted in paranormal romance.  Is there really that absolute a divide between paranormal readers and historical readers?

Anyway, I am nervous.  Because this is my book and I’m loving these people’s journey, and I don’t have a Plan B.

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