Thursday, December 28, 2006

Done Is Only Just Begun

If you're hoping to be a bonafide published author, writing a completed manuscript is only a little more than a baby step in the right direction. To be sure, it's a step you must accomplish, but in some ways, it might be the easiest one.

As you all know from my incessant musings on the topic, Living in Sin might be finished, but it's not anywhere near being done. Aside from any other issue, it's simply much too long to be saleable in its current form. And this means hefty revisions. It means, in all likelihood, that I'll have to eliminate some secondary characters and their scenes, and invent new (hopefully shorter!) ones using the characters who remain to fill in the gaps in motivation or plot that occur as a result of the cuts. It's a huge task and not one I can say I look forward to.

So I've found other things to do this week instead, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that they're not the things I promised myself I would do, starting with finishing a project for my paying job that I've been struggling with and dragging my feet on for what feels like months. Oh, I've been working on that project. It's just that I haven't done it at anywhere near the pace or with anything like the exclusivity I told myself I would because I keep getting sidetracked by "writey/publishey" tasks.

It started with taking a stab at my query letter. One of my goals in 2007 is to apply for PRO status through RWA (note that you might not be able to get to this link if you're not an RWA member and signed in to the site) because I'm told it gets you a better priority for appointments with agents/editors at the national convention. And one of the requirements for acheiving PRO status is that you prove you've queried an agent or editor.

Writing a query letter was every bit as hard as I expected. After making an initial attempt at 2:00 a.m. (I was up nursing a tickle/cough I just couldn't shake) that sucked about as much as you'd expect something you wrote in the middle of the night to suck, I went through a series of versions with Lacey, Darcy, and Janice. Just when I thought I'd nailed it, Lacey showed it to her brother, Luke, who instantly tore it apart by saying, "Yeah. So what?" (Thanks, Luke. I think!) Another few rounds later, we got something we all agreed was pretty good, although whether it's good enough to sell my manuscript is whole 'nother thing. It's entirely possible that after a few attempts with this version, I'll toss it out the window and start from scratch.

The weirdest thing about the query letter, though, is that I couldn't find a way to work in that "high concept" sentence you all helped me with last week. It just didn't fit, no matter how hard I tried. Square peg, round hole and all that.

Then, after knocking off the query letter, I started on my character backstories and synopsis for the next book, Lady Libertine. And that, my friends, has been a real kick. Neither the heroine's nor the hero's backstories are written in anything approaching a historical, Victorian voice, which means I'll never get to use them except as my own prompts, but it was so much fun to write something new, to invent new people. Even though the heroine, Amelia, is featured in Living in Sin, we don't find out much about her in that story. Before I could write her book, I had to understand why she's as selfish and vain as she is, why she hates her husband and step-son, and why she's promiscuous. Now I know. And finding out the answers, which just flowed out of me without much thought, as if I'd known them all along when I really hadn't, was definitely interesting and exciting!

The hero's backstory turned out to be even more enjoyable to write, though. Keeping in mind that this is really a rough draft primarily for my own edification, here it is:

Remy Giroux isn’t blessed with his eldest brother’s primogeniture, his middle brother’s religious calling, or his youngest brother’s Midas touch with finances. But the third son of a minor French barony has to make his own way in the world, and Remy has the right stuff to embark on a career in the post-Napoleonic French military: innate physical toughness, a sharp wit, and nerves of steel. The top brass quickly takes note of another characteristic it can use to its advantage: Remy has a surprising facility with languages accompanied by a face and form tempting enough to invite even virtuous women to sin. Remy soon finds himself posted on various ostensibly “diplomatic” missions—to Russia, to Prussia, and to Mother England—with express instructions to gain as much intelligence as possible from the wives and mistresses of the men who control government.

Remy is good at his job, but he finds it has its drawbacks, starting with the inability to ever be honest and ending with the inability to trust anyone, ever. After making the near-fatal mistake of believing himself in love with a woman he’s been sent to shake down only to have her betray him to her government’s authorities, he decides it’s time to get out of the military intel game. But he doesn’t know how to do much besides gain information from unsuspecting marks and so he strikes out in the private intelligence market. It’s not overly profitable, but finding missing people (who usually want to be missing) and misplaced valuables (which usually turn up right where you’d expect them) is a living, and one he doesn’t have to sell his soul to make. At least not until his next client hires him at an exorbitant retainer to retrieve a set of blueprints from beneath the nose of England’s most beautiful and passionate lady.

Hey, it’s dirty work, but someone has to do it.

So, what have you been doing with this curious time between Christmas and New Year's?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Comes But Once a Year

And thank God for that!

Oh, not because I'm a Scrooge or anything like that. I adore Christmas. And I love watching my kids light up with delight as they open their presents and discover both the things they requested and the things they didn't expect. What I don't enjoy is getting all of those wonderful toys out of the packaging (have they raised Harry Houdini from the dead to design these things so only magicians can open them?) and cleaning up the trash! Oh, and finding a home for all the new stuff. Oy!

Speaking of things you didn't expect, my husband surprised me with a 30 GB iPod. I suppose this means I have actually entered the 21st century. Now if I can only figure out how to use the darn thing!

But the best part of Christmas this year was knowing I'd finished my first manuscript in 20+ years. Thanks to everyone who congratulated me, either here or in personal email, on finishing. You all know who you are!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Two Best Words in the English Language

Bet you know what they are. And I just wrote 'em.

The End!

Merry Christmas to me! (And you, too, of course.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Here's My Line (Round Two)

Okay, so the basic structure of this seems to be holding some water. With input from a variety of sources, here's the new version:

Lady Rosalind Brighton knows knights in shining armor are more interested in winning castles than princesses, so when her knight turns out to be an Irish racehorse trainer with lofty ambitions and an unexpected penchant for altruism, she faces a thorny dilemma: defend her castle or surrender her heart.

Given that it's ideal to cut the sentence to the fewest possible words, however, I wonder whether the following isn't a bit better, length-wise if not structurally:

Lady Rosalind Brighton knows knights in shining armor are keener on winning castles than princesses, so when her knight turns out to be an ambitious Irish racehorse trainer with an unexpected penchant for altruism, she faces a thorny dilemma: defend her castle or surrender her heart.

What sayeth the masses?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Here's My Line (Round One)

Okay, I made my first stab at this. I don't know if it's great, but I don't think it bites like a pit bull with a raging case of rabies, either.

(Deep breath) Here goes:

Lady Rosalind Brighton knows that knights in shining armor are more interested in winning the castle than the princess inside, so when her knight turns out to be an Irish racehorse trainer with lofty ambitions and an unexpected penchant for altruism, she’s faced with a thorny dilemma: surrender her heart, her castle, or both.

Okay, maybe it does blow. But it's a start, right?

I'm open to suggestions here...

Monday, December 18, 2006

What's My Line?

As I mentioned earlier in the month (or maybe all the way back in November), I enrolled in a query workshop given by Rosemary Clement Moore through Candace Havens' Write_Workshop Yahoo group. Now, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that one of Ms. Moore's suggestions was that we all distill our books to a single sentence, a sort of one-liner we might imagine could be used to describe our story in TV Guide. That one sentence is the "high concept" of the novel.

So, I tried to come up with a high concept. And was hopelessly unsuccessful. Oh, I wrote a few one-liners, but they all sucked like a Hoover on steroids. (That's a darned good phrase, by the way, and I'd use it in my high concept except I'm reasonably certain they had neither Hoovers nor steroids in 1839.)

But one of the problems I kept running up against was whether to write the "high concept" from the hero's perspective or the heroine's. Whose story am I telling here? It seems whichever character I choose, my one-liner must necessarily demote and devalue the other. And to me, at least, it seems I am telling (or trying to tell) both their stories, equally and even-handedly.

The germ of the idea for Living in Sin was so simple, it's hard to consider it a "high concept". I had two characters in my head: a highborn English lady disenchanted by marriage and high society who takes the unconventional step of managing her own estate and a working-class Irishman with a thirst for self-improvement and a disconcerting penchant for achieving noble ends through decidedly ignoble means (that is, con artistry, though the Victorians didn't have that phrase, which is darned inconvenient when writing a novel that involves a con game!). I knew these two people belonged together, but I didn't know how to get them into the same room, much less give them enough time with one another to fall in love.

From that germ came a plot involving a thoroughbred breeding estate brought to near ruin by a thieving steward. The hero's profession became clear: a racehorse trainer who offers his services to the heroine when he discovers his former employer purchased horses stolen from her estate and raced them under false pedigrees. Along the way, the hero concocts a "pig in a poke" scheme to fleece a neighboring landowner who also purchased stolen horses in hopes of ensnaring both the steward and his former boss in the process. And the heroine befriends the local tavern wench, whose insights into life and love offer a striking parallel to her own.

In the final analysis, though, the conflict in the story isn't the plot, but the heroine's certainty that men care more about winning the castle than the princess and the hero's fear of being nothing more than a rich woman's plaything. Pretty conventional stuff, really, except that perhaps the genders are reversed from the typical historical romance.

So, having written all that, I've distilled the most essential elements of the story and characters, but I still haven't found anything I could call a high concept one-liner.

I'm doomed! I'll never write a query letter, LOL!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tagged Again!

I have to thank Lacey for supplying me with today's topic, as I'd have been hard-pressed to get an entry done today otherwise. (Holiday insanity has hit full-bore and I'll barely have more than an hour of computer time today if I'm lucky!)

Four jobs I've had:

  1. Girl Scout camp counselor
  2. College dormitory maid
  3. Technical writer
  4. Instructional designer
Four places I've lived:
  1. San Diego County (during childhood and now)
  2. Santa Cruz, CA (college)
  3. Dublin, Ireland (college year abroad)
  4. Chicago, Illinois (grad school)

Four favorite foods:

  1. Sushi
  2. Mexican
  3. Any Mediterranean cuisine (ideally while in the Mediterranean)
  4. Okay, I admit it, all foods are my favorites (with the notable exception of brussel sprouts!)
Four movies I could watch over and over (some of which I often do because my kids watch them):

  1. The Princess Bride
  2. All That Jazz
  3. Blazing Saddles
  4. Any movie ever made by Pixar
Four TV shows I enjoy (do these all have to be current, I wonder? I hope not, because if so, I'm cheating!):

  1. Curb Your Enthusiasm
  2. PBS's Mystery series
  3. Nova
  4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
Four Places I've Traveled (Only four? So limiting! I have to find a way to sneak in more, because I'm an inveterate traveler):

  1. Every US state except Alaska, Maine, and (I think) Rhode Island
  2. Asia (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, and Canton)
  3. Europe (England, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain [twice], Italy [three times], Greece [twice])
  4. Mexico (Tijuana and surrounding, Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo, and Mexico City)
Four websites I go to (almost) daily:
  1. Lacey Kaye's Fantabulous Blog
  2. Romantic Inks
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary
  4. Slate Magazine
Four people I'm tagging to do this, too:
  1. Lainey Bancroft
  2. Annie Dean
  3. Pam Skochinski
  4. Jody Wallace
Of course, you can do it even if I didn't tag you!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I know I was AWOL on Monday. Sorry about that. I had the stomach flu. As have all of my children and my husband. Such fun it's been around here the past few days. And I have absolutely nothing interesting or funny to write today. Just posting to reassure anyone who was worried that I'm still alive. (Ah yes, my public. All ten of you, LOL!)

Love everyone's Spice Girl names. Keep 'em coming!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

If You Were A Spice Girl

I know, I know. I didn't blog on Friday. I always try to blog on Friday, but yesterday, it was just not happening.

Today's entry will be short and sweet. I have Darcy to thank for this topic. She told Lacey and me in email yesterday what her name would be if she were a Spice Girl. I won't tell here (if she wants to tell you, she can comment!), but I've decided mine would definitely be Flaky Spice.

Maybe this is why I can't finish my book--too flaky!

Okay, share! What would your Spice Girl name be?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006



The doctor called during dinner. We normally don't answer the phone at dinner time but I made an exception because I thought it might be him.

He's really a great doctor and so nice/reassuring. I love him to pieces. Even more because he called me at 7:00 at night to give me peace of mind.

Good night!

If You're Waiting for Results...

...well, join the club. Because I haven't heard either.

I was told they'd be in yesterday or today and that I'd surely have a call from my doctor today with the biospy results. When I hadn't heard anything by 3:30, I called myself. The receptionist says the results are there and the doctor will call me back either today or tomorrow morning.

Of course, being me, I promptly freaked out. And I haven't quite stopped freaking out. I'm sure that if the results were anything other than benign, they'd want to let me know as soon as possible, so I should be taking their apparent lackadaisacal attitude towards informing me as a good sign. But I'm a headcase, so of course, it's just making me crazy.

The radiologist who took the sample told me I could call her for results if I didn't hear from my doctor, so I tried that. Got placed on hold for a long time and was then told she was with a patient and she'd call me back to tell me.

It's now after 5:00, both offices are closed, and no one's called me. Will I sleep tonight? I have my doubts...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

100%, But Not Done, Darn It!

So, I hit my projected page count of 510 about 15 minutes ago. And have realized I have at least one and possibly two more chapters to write. This ending just doesn't want to be rushed!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Thank God, It's Monday!

Okay, I know that's not a popular sentiment. But I love Mondays. Much more than Fridays, in fact.

I particularly love the Monday when my former housekeeper comes back to work for me after a six month hiatus. I could never bring myself to hire someone else to clean for me because she knew us so well and did such a wonderful job, but I simply couldn't keep up myself. And I knew once her new baby got a bit older, she'd want to come back, so I couldn't bear to fire someone else to hire her back.

Anyway, six months of dust and grime has been lifted from my shoulders, and it might as well be the weight of the world.

Obviously, I haven't had any word yet on the biopsy, but I want to thank those of you who dropped by and left me comments and well-wishes. I haven't heard from Beverley or Laura since FanLit, so it was sweet of them to stop by. (Beverley, if you want to use the wordcounter I use, you can find instructions at It's so easy, it's scary!)

The most painful part of the whole experience turned out to be untaping myself. The medical tape actually pulled off the top layer of my skin in spots. Ouch! The small puncture from the needle turned out to be nothing by comparison. Well, except for the time when my 4yo decided to dive on me and stick his elbow right there!

Meanwhile, I continue to make slow (painfully, inexorably slow) progress towards the end of Living In Sin. Today I may exceed 1,000 words, but I typically don't get out much more than 500 and some days, it's less than that. But something is something.

I know at this point I won't be done when I reach 510 pages. I'll be lucky to finish at 525 pages! But I'm not changing the word meters any more. I'll just overshoot them and when I'm done, I can be 110% finished instead of 100% finished. (That's got to be better, right?)

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Saga Continues

Since I posted on Wednesday about the lump and freaked ya'll out (well, Lacey anyway, apparently!), I thought I'd better post an update since I've had my mammogram and ultrasound.

The mammogram (aka "mashogram") on Thursday was uneventful. I didn't talk to the radiologist afterwards, just was told to have my ultrasound the following day, which told me they saw something. (I looked at the films myself on the off chance I could understand them. I mean, I did once read my oldest son's x-rays and knew instantly that his arm was broken! But it all looked like...I don't know...tissue to me!)

This morning, I had the ultrasound and, again, it all looks on the monitor like tissue to me. (Not like a cute, waving little peanut/baby, which is my only other experience with ultrasounds. At least breast ultrasounds don't require the Chinese Water Torture experience.) The radiologist reviewed the films and then did her own scan. She said the mass was "very non-specific", which I could certainly agree with, since everything on the screen looked pretty non-specific to me.

Her guess is that it's an inflamed milk duct and when I told her I'd only quit nursing at the beginning of the year, she thought that made the explanation even more reasonable. But, she said, while it didn't "look like cancer", it didn't look like for sure "NOT cancer", so she wanted to do a needle biopsy just to be sure.

The good news is the needle thing, while looking scarier than hell, didn't hurt at all after I was anesthetized. It does make a rather startling snapping sound when they take the tissue sample, though, that makes you think it hurts even when you don't feel it.

So now I'll all patched up with steristrips and tape and an ice pack. So far, it actually itches more than it hurts, though it's a bit tender, I'll admit.

Of course, no writing has been accomplished thus far today and the rest of the day isn't looking much better. I've got to get all the awards ready for tonight's cub scout Pack meeting plus help my son put a casserole together (it's a potluck) and then actually go to the meeting. See what I mean about life.

Results of biopsy expected by Wednesday. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Confession Is Good for the Soul

Or so they say. And I'm feeling confessional today.

The closer I get to the end of my book, the harder it's becoming to write. That's not because I don't know where the story is going. Au contraire, I know exactly what has to happen between now and the end. And perhaps because I'm very much a pantser when it comes to writing, my certainty is getting in my way. It's just not as much fun to write when I know precisely where I'm going, in the same way it wouldn't be as much fun to read if I knew exactly how the story would turn out. (Hmmm, I think I've just had a revelation as to why I'm more of a pantser than a plotter!)

It's just as likely, however, that I'm a little afraid to finish. Paradoxical as that sounds, since I want to finish this book if for no other reason than to prove that I can, I suspect there's an element of truth here.

Because, first of all, finishing means saying good-bye to my characters in some fundamental sense. Yes, Patrick and Rosalind will likely make appearances in other stories in the future, but once they reach their "happily ever after", their story is over. And there's something just a little sad about that, especially after spending the last nine months in their company trying to get them to their "happily ever after."

More than that, though, I think I'm a little afraid to finish because it means it's time to start doing the work to actually get Patrick and Rosalind published and out in the world. It means revisions. (I know some writers prefer revising to writing, but I am not one of them. In a perfect world, my first draft would be my last. Obviously, the world will never be perfect...) And it means writing the dreaded query letter.

I know it's the idea of writing a synopsis that makes many writers shiver in their boots, but for me, it's the query letter that represents my greatest single fear in life. (I should mention here that I have absolutely no fear of speaking in public. I can get up in front of a room full of a thousand people and feel as comfortable as I would if we were sitting down for a chat in my kitchen over a cup of coffee. Assuming I'm prepared, of course. Don't ask me to do it off-the-cuff when I'm not expecting it. But I digress.)

Query letters scare me because so much rides on them. How can I distill my characters and story into a single page that's snappy and witty enough to convince an agent or editor that it's worth requesting my partial (or better yet, a full)? I mean, let's be honest here: even if I manage to cut 100+ pages out of my manuscript during revision, it takes me 400 pages to tell the story. And you want me to get that down to ONE page? Oy vey!

I'll admit that a great attraction of the contest route in my mind is the potential to get my partial read by an editor and, from that, to get a request for a full. All without having to write the dreaded query letter.

You can see that this terrifies me. More, in fact, than the lump I found in my left breast last week.

Ah, yes, I told you I was in a confessional mood.

I discovered this lump because it was quite painful--it hurt when I was toweling off after my shower on Thanksgiving morning. I kept quiet about it and didn't panic for several reasons, not the least of which was that I knew there wasn't a blessed thing I could do about it on Thanksgiving Day.

The lump has already shrunk quite a bit and it's not nearly as painful any more. I saw my doctor yesterday who reassuringly confirmed my suspicions that it was very unlikely to be cancerous for all the reasons I'd already come up with, those being:
  1. It hurt, and cancer usually doesn't hurt until it's very advanced.
  2. The lump coincided with my period.
  3. I'm at an age when breast cancer is extremely rare unless there's a genetic factor, and
  4. There is zero history of breast cancer among any of my female relatives (which sort of goes with #3).
He's pretty certain it's a benign cyst and I tend to agree. I'm still going for a diagnostic mammogram (tomorrow) and an ultrasound (Friday) to verify that it is a cyst, but I'm pretty certain everything will turn out just fine.

Still, the thought of it has been sapping a fair amount of my emotional and intellectual energy over the past several days, which could be another reason I haven't been able to power through to "The End."

There are also three other reasons. Yesterday, I said I'd been on the Interruption Express all day, not least because of these three reasons:

Monday, November 27, 2006

One Chapter and an Epilogue

That's all that stands between me and "The End." Well, that and a complicated thing called "life!"

But I've written every day for the past week except Thanksgiving and even if it's only a couple of pages a day, my write-o-meter keeps inching (centimetering?) to the right. Daily feedback from Lacey and Darcy has definitely helped me stay motivated and reasonably comfortable that I'm pointed in the right direction when it comes to wrapping up this little monstrosity.

And when I'm done, you ask? Well, I'm definitely not going to Disneyland (although my kids would no doubt be thrilled if I decided that would be my reward).

No, my reward to myself will be to synopsize the next two books in the series, Lady Libertine and The Book with No Name. And then I'll decide which one to write first or whether to write them side-by-side. And after I finish one of them, I'll likely come back and revise Living in Sin. Because I'm going to need to get rid of roughly 100 pages and I'll be way too close to it come the end of next week to be that brutal!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex, Part II

Okay, so it's a day late. But hopefully not a dollar short.

Your responses to the first post on this subject made me want to write a second. However, now that I'm actually writing it, I'm not exactly sure what it was I wanted to say. I feel a bit like a car that has a funny noise right up until you get it into the mechanic's shop, at which point, it stops making it!

However, one of the questions I asked was about the differences between the "genres": romance versus erotica, erotic romance, and romantica. Alice seemed to think there wasn't a difference between the last three. I have no idea, since I've never read anything that fell into any of those three categories! But I have read that one of the distinctions between romance and the other three is supposed to be in how graphic the language is. The more "dirty" words, the more "erotic" seems to be the theory.

The problem I have with that definition is that it seems to me that mainstream romances these days pretty well include all the dirty words, although perhaps at a slightly less frantic pace! In newer historicals, at any rate, c*cks and clitori abound. And frankly, I prefer that to the "manhoods" and "members" and "hoods of Venus" I remember from the romances I read two decades ago.

Another question I had was about whether or not the degree of explicit sex we're seeing now in romances and the related genres will ever ramp back down in popularity. Lacey asked whether there were ever that many sweet, traditional romances. Well, aside from referring to Jane Austen, I do recall the first romances I read were contemporary Harlequins and the hero and heroine never did more than kiss until they were married, and even then, the references were pretty oblique. I got bored of those pretty quickly, but it does seem to me that those kind of stories wouldn't be publishable now except, perhaps, as inspirationals or by very small market presses and e-publishers. I could be wrong about that, though.

Lainey has it right when she says romance is all about emotion. though. I couldn't agree with that more. I do feel, however, that a well done love scene demonstrates and amplifies emotion in ways other types of interactions between the hero and heroine can't. And if it's really well done, a love scene can even heighten, rather than relieve, sexual tension. Which is probably why I like them!

And as of yesterday, I finished writing "the Big One" in Living In Sin. I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, too. Is it explicit? Oh yeah. Is it emotional? Damn, I hope so. Does it up the ante between the characters? Definitely, but in ways the reader might not completely understand until she gets to the next chapter.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex

In romance novels, of course.

I have to admit, I take it practically as a given that a romance novel includes "on-screen" sex. While I realize there are readers (and writers, of course) who prefer their characters "get a room" when the moment comes, I am definitely not one of them. Part of what makes a romance satisfying for me is being in the characters' heads at the most intimate moments in their relationship. And there is no more intimate moment, no moment more demanding of trust, mutual respect, and caring, than sex.

As it happens, I don't believe in casual sex. Or, put another way, I don't think sex is ever truly casual. Certainly, good sex isn't.

Oh, I'm sure there are folks out there who would disagree with me just as I disagree with the "no public displays of affection in my romance novel, please" contingent, but it's my proposition that physically and emotionally satisfying sex can only happen between people who can completely give themselves up to one another, foregoing ego and inhibition in the pursuit of mutual pleasure. Love isn't required, but I believe affection is, and people who hook up in a bar or at a party for a one-night stand can't possibly care about each other, however hot they may be to get into one another's pants.

My point here isn't to bust on folks who believe in and enjoy casual sex, though. It's to explain why onstage, explicit, hot sex is an essential element of a romance novel for me: it demonstrates how deeply the hero and heroine care about each other, even if they haven't realized it themselves yet. I want to be there, feeling what they're feeling. It's the ultimate "show."

Now, don't get me wrong: the hero and heroine don't have to fall in bed with each other either early or often for me to find a romance satisfying. Nor do the love scenes have to go on for pages and pages. Some of the best, hottest love scenes I've ever read were only a page or two in length. Loretta Chase is a master of this. Two of my critique partners, J and Lacey, also write hot, short love scenes, but since neither of them are published, you can't read them yet. As their critique partner, I'm one of the few, the proud, and the lucky!

The best romances, in my opinion, build sexual tension for quite a while before the characters finally give into their desires. If the payoff happens before the level of emotional connection between the hero and heroine justifies it, the love scene will fall flat. I've read a few romances where the author deftly managed to create a believable and satisfying love scene between characters who scarcely know one another (e.g., Mary Balogh's Slightly Wicked and Lisa Kleypas' Devil in Winter), but by and large, it's difficult to do well enough that it works for me as a reader.

I find it even harder to do as a writer: it took me eight chapters to get to the first kiss in my WIP and another eleven after that to get to something you could reasonably call sex (and it's not even consummation!). After the nineteenth chapter, things get hot and heavy fairly fast and frequently, but I simply couldn't bring these characters to fall into bed with each other before their emotions caught up with their physical attraction.

Of course, it doesn't help that I find love scenes exceptionally difficult to write. Not because I am shy about them, but because it takes immense effort on my part to describe what is going on in my characters' heads and bodies without resorting to hackneyed, worn-out cliche. (You may remember that I never met a cliche I didn't like. It's true. Which makes it even harder to avoid them in love scenes!)

All of this musing is appropo of the fact that I have just reached the point in my story where my hero and heroine are about to do the horizontal hula for the first time. They've had some previous sexual encounters, but they have so far not achieved the whole enchilada. And, as usual, I'm hella intimidated by the prospect. Because I know it is the ultimate show and I want to get it just right.

So, what about you? Do you like your romance novels hot and steamy or a bit more oblique? Do you think the trend in the industry--which has unquestionably been toward hotter and steamier in recent years--will continue or will the sweet, traditional romance come back into fashion? And do you even understand the distinction between romance, erotic romance, erotica, and romantica?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Little More NoNo than NaNo

This week's writing progress has been somewhat less than spectastic: only eight pages in the past three days. I put this down to a combination of burnout from last week's NaNo pace, the new additions to the family, and the fact that I'm writing the pivotal chapter in the story: the Black Moment.

My normally dictatorial characters, who regularly push me around and tell me what they will and won't do or say, have suddenly become very taciturn and unhelpful, perhaps because they think I am cruel to to torture them with this black moment in the first place. "Just skip right through to our HEA," they demand.

But, of course, I can't do that. The Black Moment, when the reader wonders how the hero and heroine will ever surmount the obstacles that divide them and live happily ever after, is as essential to a romance novel as a murder is to a murder mystery. Without a Black Moment, a romance novel would be little more than a voyeuristic foray into someone's nice life. And aside from being weird, it would just be boring.

And so, I have to put my characters through theirs, kicking and screaming. No one ever said this would be easy!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Awwwww Factor

I didn't get as much writing done today as I'd originally hoped. For lots of reasons. First, I was released from jury duty by 10:30, much earlier than I'd originally expected. You'd think that would be a good thing, but unfortunately, it meant I had to do real work: less than an hour after I got home, I had to attend a departmental meeting (by conference call) that sucked up another hour and change of my time. And then there's the fact that I am writing the Big Black Moment, and it's just slow going.

But there's another reason. Well, two actually:

Aren't they adorable? A friend of the family brought them home from the school at which she teaches, where they were found today. We don't know if their mother was feral or whether they were abandoned, but they seem to be only about five weeks old, which is too young to be without their mom. Fortunately, they seem to be eating solid food all right, so they should be okay. (Although I'm a little nervous about whether they'll get the hang of the cat box right away.) They're both boys and as yet unnamed; they're so little and unformed, it seems foolish to name them before they develop some personality.

We've been talking about getting a cat/kitten ever since one of the three we had disappeared back in July. I didn't initially think I'd take both of these little guys, but when I called my husband to clear taking one with him, he told me to take them both. Awwwwwww!

So, how was your day?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Why Historicals?

I've been asked this question more than once since revealing that I am writing a historical romance novel (and as often from other romance novelists as from non-writers), so I figure it must be a fairly common one. The question is usually prefaced by one of the following observations:
  1. I could never write a historical. The research just seems so daunting.
  2. I could never write a historical. The research would bore me to tears.
  3. I could never write a historical. The research takes too long.

Are you sensing a pattern here, LOL? Now, I'm not dissing on writers who choose contemporary or paranormal or chick lit or any other romance-related genre because they don't want to do the research it takes to write a historical. (Frankly, I'd find the amount of world-building it takes to write a satisfying paranormal much more intimidating, but I digress.) But I do think an interest in and a willingness to do research (though perhaps less than some folks imagine) is an essential characteristic of the historical romance novelist. And it doesn't surprise me that it's something I enjoy.

You see, in one of my former lives, I was a Classicist. I spent five years as an undergraduate and another three as a graduate student studying Greek and Latin literature, as well as classical history, religion, art history, and archaeology. Which means I spent a lot of time doing research. And I loved it. It was fascinating, marvelous stuff. So much that I fully expected to be a Classics professor at some rinky-dink college somewhere in the midwest until I could work my way up to a full professorship at a more prestigious institution.

What happened, you ask? Life! I met my husband when I was home for Christmas in 1989 and we married the following year. I was done with my masters at that point and started to work on my dissertation proposal when the economy struck. My husband took a big pay cut and I had to go to work full time. And the rest, as they say, is history. I took off on a new career path in technical writing and instructional design and never looked back. (Well, almost never. When I hears a technique for reading previously illegible portions of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus had been discovered and expanded by roughly 20% the codex of ancient literature, I was mightily tempted. Unfortunately, it would probably take me several years just to get my Greek and Latin back up to snuff. You lose a lot in 15 years!)

Now, I don't write historicals just because it gives me an opportunity to do research. The truth is, I just find it much easier to create sexual tension and conflict in a historical setting where good girls really don't, social status is much more rigidly defined, and the rules are stricter and much more stringently adhered to. I can't dream up a contemporary story line to save my life. Historical story lines pop into my head on an almost daily basis.

But the research is a part of what I enjoy. I don't research every single aspect of my story's setting, of course. I wouldn't ever get any writing done if I did that. Instead, I write until I hit a point where I realize I don't know how the actors should behave (e.g., the etiquette of calling cards) or whether some historical event might conflict with a detail in my story (e.g., the date of Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert). Then I look up what I need to know, read it, deal with it, and move on.

One aspect of my story I did have to do a bit more research on, however, was British horseracing in the early Victorian period. My hero is an Irish racehorse trainer, my heroine a breeder. Initially, this was merely a conceit to bring together two people who would otherwise never know one another: a working class man and the daughter of duke. But it quickly became an important and essential part of the story. I still don't know as much as I'd like to about British horseracing during that period, but I've come across some fascinating historical details that completely validated some aspects of my plot that I'd been a bit concerned might be implausible.

One of those details is that the hero's former employer substituted an ineligible horse for an eligible one by claiming the ineligible horse was the eligible one. (How's that for a convoluted sentence?) I wasn't sure this was feasible, however, until a few weeks ago when I discovered that the winner of the Derby in 1844 was disqualified for exactly this reason. And since my story is set in 1839, the facts line up almost perfectly. The character in the story initially gets away with his fraud until it is revealed at the end, after which the Jockey Club (horseracing's governing body) will be more alert in future. Which is perfect when mated with this little piece of historical fact (from

It was a Gladiator colt of 1840, MACCABEUS, who was used by his unscrupulous owner, Goodman Levy, to run in Orlando's Derby of 1844, substituted for the three year old Running Rein. Maccabeaus (a.k.a. Running Rein in this race) won, but subsequent inquiries in the notorious court case following the protests lodged by Orlando's owner, Colonel Peel, proved "Running Rein" to be the four year old Gladiator colt. Lord George Bentinck, a member of the Jockey Club, who had declared war on the crooks and defaulters of the turf in that era, was instrumental in exposing the fraud and pursuing those involved in the deception.

It's a case of fiction filling in a missing piece of fact. Which totally tickles me.

After I learned about Maccabeus, one of my critique partners came across an even more fascinating detail about Bloomsbury, the winner of the Derby in 1839. It turns out there was a kerfuffle over that horse's eligibility to race on the grounds that his nominating papers incorrectly identified his sire. Better than that, Bloomsbury's owner when he won the Derby was also his trainer, a Mr. William Ridsdale. And just like that, the following scene was born:

“I understand you were at Epsom Downs for the Derby, Mr. O’Brien. Do I have that a’right?”

Patrick snapped his gaze to Viscount Hamptondale. The gentleman regarded him with friendly brown eyes. He did not appear to have noticed Patrick’s moony-eyed reverie. “Aye.”

“Perhaps you could explain to me, then, the rumpus over Bloomsbury’s pedigree. It was in the papers, of course, but then I gather the matter was dropped and I never quite understood the problem.”

Patrick’s gloom lifted a fraction. The question of Bloomsbury’s parentage had been the scandal of the Derby. “’Twas a problem in the nomination papers Ridsdale originally filed for the race. They didn’t match the General Stud Book.”

Hamptondale’s forehead wrinkled. “I gathered as much from the newspaper reports, but as I understood it, Ridsdale named one horse as Bloomsbury’s sire while two are listed in the book. But since the sire he named is one of the two in the book, I’m at a loss to understand why this would be grounds for disqualification.”

“’Tis a matter of verifying a horse’s eligibility to race. Since only listed animals are eligible to race, nomination must be precise to ensure accuracy. When Ridsdale entered Bloomsbury with Mulatto as his sire, rather than Mulatto or Tramp as in
the stud book, it raised the possibility that the horse entered was not the one listed in the book.”

“It seems a petty matter. Does it happen often that breeders enter ineligible horses under false pedigrees?”

Patrick felt the sting of righteous indignation in the center of his chest, along with the corresponding salve of his soon-to-be-delivered retribution. “Aye, it happens. And I’m sorry to say the perpetrators are rarely caught.”

“Do you think Mr. Ridsdale is guilty of such a crime, or merely of having made a mistake?” This query came from Lady Hamptondale. She regarded him with wide, aquamarine eyes so like Rosalind’s, he was briefly jolted by the resemblance.

He shrugged. “I could not say, my lady. I can say there are not many who consider Mr. Ridsdale and his brother to be a beneficial influence on the sport.”

“And why is that, Mr. O’Brien?” Aylsbridge drawled icily. His contempt was palpable.

Patrick gritted his teeth and swung his gaze to his host. Although he doubted the Hamptondales or Lady Cordelia understood the duke’s implication, Patrick did. Robert and William Ridsdale were commoners. The former had made his fortune as a gambler, the latter as a racehorse trainer. Their honesty was naturally suspect. As was Patrick’s.

“It is because they have shown themselves unworthy of trust by their behavior, your grace. As have other breeders I could name, were I so inclined.” Starting with Ashbourne. Suddenly, Patrick discovered one more reason to relish Ashbourne’s well-deserved fall from grace: a certain duke’s comeuppance.

“But you are not inclined,” Aylsbridge returned, his eyebrow arching skeptically.

“No, your grace. After all, I believe gentlemen do not disparage one another unless they can substantiate their criticisms.”

Aylsbridge lifted his glass and tilted it in Patrick’s direction, the tiniest hint of a smile touching his lips. “Touché, O’Brien. Touché.”

Now, a question for my beloved readers (all three of you :->): Does it matter to you whether your historical novels contain elements of historical fact like these, or do you care more about the feel of the historical setting? Does it bother you if the author makes up historical facts or alters them to suit her story?

N.B.: This has relevance to Living in Sin, since I have already altered history by having a non-existent filly place second in the Oaks in 1839 and need to have her win another race at the end of the story. And one of the things I'm still chewing over is whether to have her win a real race and thereby rewrite history or whether to invent a race and thereby add a fictional race to a well-documented race history. Tough choice!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The End Is Nearer...

...but not near enough, damn it!

I know, I know. Write, don't blog. But the next scene isn't quite formed enough in my head yet, so this blog post is really procrastolation1.

I was hoping to finish this weekend or Tuesday at the latest, but I can see it won't happen. I thought I could pull off a chapter each day for three days and get to the end, but that turned out to be non-starter. Time isn't the issue, I've discovered. Rather, it's that I can only write somewhere between six and eight pages a day before I go into synaptical meltdown. Even if I have more story clearly defined in my head, eight pages is about the most my brain can manage in a day, even with virtually unlimited time. And eight pages a day over three days is a nice amount of writing, but it's nowhere near three chapters!

So, I've been making good progress since Friday and at NaNo-style pace, but not enough to get to The End any time soon. I'm starting to think maybe by Thanksgiving. Which would give me something to be truly thankful for.

1procrastolate v. -s, -ed, -ing to percolate a half-formed thought to brilliance under the guise of procrastination. (Definition stolen from Lacey's blog.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

The End Is Near!

No, not of the world. I speak, of course, of the end of my book.

Yes, I know what you're thinking. "Jacqueline, if the end of your book is near, you should be writing it, not blogging!" And you're right. Which is why I'm going to keep this short and sweet.

My progress meter1, as you may have noticed, has been moving steadily from left to right. Not necessarily quickly, but steadily. I had a couple of NaNo quality days this past week and a couple of more typical ones, for a total of 6,000 words in the past four days.

I have what should be an excellent three-day weekend for writing ahead of me. The holiday today means I don't have to accomplish any "real" work (although I have three kids home from school, which isn't exactly conducive!), so I can write all day, kid-related interruptions aside. In addition, my husband is tied up in a Cub Scout training program tonight and most of the day tomorrow, and then on Sunday, he's taking both of the boys to the NHRA drag racing finals in Pomona. I normally don't dedicate any time to writing on the weekends because it's usually "family" time, but when my husband can't be with us, I feel perfectly sanguine about letting the kids play with each other and friends all day while I pound feverishly on the keyboard.

I originally committed myself to writing The End by this Sunday night, but I'm not sure now I can pull it off. It seems I have more story to write than I thought when I promised myself that. (Which is scary when you're already well over 100,000 words, but that's another story altogether.) I'm still going to give it my best shot, but it might be more realistic to project next Tuesday as "D-Day"2. Lucky me, I have jury duty and expect to spend most of the day in the jury lounge, banging away at my laptop3.

Before I sign off, I want to extend a special thanks to two of my critique partners, Lacey and Darcy. Since we've all been trying to write first drafts without getting trapped in the neverending cycle of revision based on line edits (which no doubt extended the time it has taken me to get to this point in my book by weeks, if not months), we're not doing any serious critting for the time being. What we have been doing is sharing small excerpts from what we write on a daily basis and giving each other encouraging pats on the back. And I have to say, that's been enormously helpful and motivating. I know I wouldn't be anywhere near as close to the end as I am now if it weren't for that positive feedback. And I think it's working for them, too, since Darcy finished Notorious last week and Lacey's well over halfway through her first draft of If You Asked a Rake to Reform. We must be doing something right (for a change, LOL).

1I replaced the pretty progress meters from Zokotou with the much plainer picometer last week because Zokotou's site was down and my meters were therefore broken. And while I like the look of the Zokotou meters much better, the picometer is much easier to update (all I have to do is change the word count in the html code and, voila, it's updated), so I think I'm sticking with it.


3Of course, if I get into a jury pool, all bets are off. Judges and bailiffs, I have learned, frown on people in the jury pool doing anything other than listening in awe to the stupefyingly, mind-numbingly boring voir dire process. And since I am never selected for juries (prosecutors somehow peg me instantly as an overeducated bleeding-heart liberal and use their peremptory challenges to dismiss me), it is a total waste of my time. But as a good citizen, I do my duty anyway.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thank You for Voting!

It will probably be days, if not weeks, before we know the outcome of the Virginia Senate race and whether the Senate switches from Republican to Democratic hands, but today's a very good day for those of us who oppose the dangerously arrogant and incompetent Bush Administration. And since none of my votes changed that balance of power, I have to thank each and every one of you reading out there who voted in a national race in a swing state or district. You have my sincere gratitude.

As of this morning, good old Rummy has fallen on his sword, we are about to have our first woman Speaker of the House in Nancy Pelosi, Rick Santorum (aka Rick Should Be In A Sanitorium) has been soundly defeated in Pennsylvania, and the Democrats are one seat away from controlling both houses of Congress. All that's left is for Karl Rove to exit the White House in disgrace.

Yep, life is pretty sweet, folks.

Now, to finish my book by Sunday. That's my target, anyway. If I can keep up my pace for the next few days, I may just succeed. After Saturday's rather prodigious eight pages, I wrote seven pages yesterday, including a very steamy, four-alarm fire love scene that I'm exceptionally pleased with (and that doesn't happen often on the first pass!). If I can keep up my NaNo pace through the weekend, I could just make it!

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Anal Retentive Grammarian Weeps

My daughter, who is in the second grade, has been doing her homework. Tonight's homework is to practice this week's spelling and dictation sentences. When I read the last of the three sentences, I nearly gouged out my eyes. It read (and I assure you, I'm not making this up), "Which show is Mother and Father going to watch together?"

Augh, the pain! And I hasten to add that my children attend one of the very best public schools in the county. Ay yi yi!

I wrote a note to the teacher explaining that the sentence is grammatically incorrect and why. And apologized for being a frustrated English teacher.

But really, if anyone wants to know why today's children and young adults don't have a proper command of the English grammar and sentence structure, I suspect the fact that their teachers apparently haven't got one either goes a long way toward explaining it.

Oh, and a friendly reminder: tomorrow's election day. Go and boot the bastards out of office for me, will ya?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Own Personal NaNo Day

My husband and oldest son went camping early this morning, leaving me to my own devices for a whole day. And my own devices, by definition, include writing.

Now I haven't exactly been fast today. I started at 6:30 this morning and, fourteen hours later, I've written a little over seven pages. But then, I've been interrupted by my two other children (who thoughtlessly insist on being fed, bathed, and helped with the DVD player) on more than one occasion, had to make a trip to the grocery store and Starbucks*, and of course, the laundry and a bit of housecleaning must still get done.

But, all in all, I'm thrilled with my progress. I can smell the end. I can't quite taste it yet, but I can smell it .

If only every day could be a NaNo day! I'd be finished in no time.

*I had to go to Starbucks because my husband forbids me to operate Miss Sylvia, his precious $500 espresso machine (and rightly so, as I have no interest in learning to drive it correctly) and he had the unmitigated gall to take the single cup drip cone with him on his camping trip, thereby leaving me with no means to make a decent cup of coffee. We got rid of our drip machines years ago because we never used them.

When we first got Miss Sylvia a couple of years ago, my husband couldn't get a decent pull out of it. After many attempts, we did some research and concluded the problem was our grinder. It wasn't producing a consistent enough grind to suit the touchy new machine. My husband hemmed and hawed about spending an additional $400 on a grinder that would do the job. I finally looked at him and said, "Honey, without a good grinder, Miss Sylvia is like a very expensive prostitute you can't have sex with." Except, I used coarser words for "prostitute" and "have sex with." The next day, he ordered the grinder.

Okay, back to writing!

The Other Contest

Just looking at the "rules" for the CTRWA Contest, it dawns on me that they say finalists will be contacted by phone or e-mail "by the beginning of November". Since it's past the beginning of November and I haven't heard anything, I think it's safe to say I didn't final.

Ah, well, time to finish this baby! Only 2-3 chapters from the end, I think.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Contest Results

Well, it's official. Right before I went to bed last night, I received notification that my manuscript finished third in the Golden Rose. I was actually pretty pleased about that because, as I mentioned earlier in the week, it looks to me like I was fourth in the first round, so hey, I moved up a place, right!

But this morning I went and looked at the site and, darn it, I'm bummed because the first and second finishers both got requests for fulls from Hilary Sares at Kensington. Arrrrrr. So close!

Honestly, I was so pleased to final that I shouldn't complain. I really don't think that version of the manuscript was quite ready for prime time. It's certainly better now and, if it can get to the final round in the CONNections contest (and there are no guarantees!), it might have a realistic shot at getting a request for a full from Tessa Woodward at Avon. And I should know next week, if not before.

Congrats to Erica, whose Witness received honorable mention in the very competitive Romantic Suspense category (which had five finalists).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Avast Ye, Mateys!

Ah, the things you discover when searching for the music from the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean ride for a Cub Scout Pack meeting!

My pirate name is:
Captain Morgan Bonney

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone
recognizes you're the one in charge. You can be a little bit
unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties,
so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
part of the network

Go Darcy! It's Your Birthday!

Not really. But I bet it feels better than a birthday to be finished with Notorious!

That's right, folks, at the stroke of midnight last night, Darcy finished her manuscript. She doesn't have her own blog yet so she can't make her own announcement, which means Lacey and I get to do it for her. (Lacey and I keep trying to convince her to get with the program because Blogger is so unbelievably easy, but now I'm thinking maybe she's smart not to blog. Because when I think of how many words I've blogged in the past week versus how many words of my manuscript I've written... Well, let's just say, it ain't a pretty ratio!)

So now two of my critique partners have finished their first books. (Actually, Kim and Erica both already had completed manuscripts when we started working together, so I really have four critique partners with completed books, but somehow, it's more exciting when you were there before the book was finished.) I am trying hard not to let this give me an inferiority complex. After all, I did start my book after they started their completed ones. But then there's Erica, who seems to write a complete manuscript every three months or so! I've been working on mine for nine months now.

It really is my baby, LOL!

The good news is I think I got over the hump with the scene I was having so much trouble with. It's going to need quite a bit of beefing up in revision, since right now it's basically "talking heads", but I was able to write a little over three pages yesterday (almost entirely dialogue) and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whew!

So, congratulations again to Darcy! Way to go, girl. You rock!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Little Politics to Go with Your Romance

I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a liberal. Shucks, how could I not be proud of being liberal when the word has the following definitions:
  • broad: showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; "a broad political stance"; "generous and broad sympathies"; "a liberal newspaper"; "tolerant of his opponent's opinions"
  • having political or social views favoring reform and progress
    tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
  • a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties
  • big: given or giving freely; "was a big tipper"; "the bounteous goodness of God"; "bountiful compliments"; "a freehanded host"; "a handsome allowance"; "Saturday's child is loving and giving"; "a liberal backer of the arts"; "a munificent gift"; "her fond and openhanded grandfather"
  • a person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets

I can't imagine why anyone would want to be viewed as the opposite of those things. It never ceases to amaze me that the political right has managed to redefine the word liberal to mean something bad. Or that liberals have accepted this redefinition and now try to call themselves progressives instead.

Because I'm an unabashed liberal, I'm awaiting the upcoming midterm elections with more hope and optimism than I've had about the political process in years. But that doesn't mean I expect to get much pleasure out of my own trip to the polls next Tuesday. Because even though I live in a blue state (California), I live in a red district (the 52nd) within a red county (San Diego).

I have, heaven help me, Duncan Hunter, the father of the 700-mile border fence and head of the Armed Services Committee who famously tried to force the military to limit women's role in combat, as my Congressional representative. And despite the Republicans' troubles nationally, Hunter will win my district by a landslide even though I'll be voting for his Democratic opponent, John Rinaldi.

Yesterday, Hunter announced that he'd formed an exploratory committee to make a bid for the presidency in 2008. Heh, the Democratic party can only hope he gets the nomination, because if John McCain gets it, the Democrats could nominate God himself and not win.

But the lack of the competition in my district's congressional race is just the tip of the iceberg. The governator is well on his way to his first full term in a landslide and, while I can't vote for the man because the way he says "California" makes me cringe and he's got serious sensitivity problems, the guy has pretty much reinvented himself as a Democrat in Republican's clothing. I'll be voting for Angelides, but I know it's purely symbolic.

Because my district is heavily Republican, all the state senate and assembly races will go to Republicans. The high school district board will probably remain in the hands of the right wing nutjobs who've been running it for years. I'm also pretty certain that none of the ballot measures I'm voting in favor of will pass and equally convinced that the ones I'm voting against will. It almost always turns out that way.

Of course, I'll vote anyway. Even if my vote won't have much affect on the final outcome, if I don't vote, I'm not expressing my liberal values. I figure at worst, I'm letting the politicians I didn't vote for know that people who don't like their policies exist.

But oh, how I wish for once in my life I lived somewhere with a competitive race. I'm envious of the voters in places like Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Ohio. And I really hope those folks appreciate just how much their vote matters this year. Because those of us who can't make a difference are counting on them not to let us down.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Of contests, that is.

The final results of the Portland Golden Rose and the first round results of the CTRWA's CONNections are due "in the first week of November". November, as I'm sure you've all noticed, starts tomorrow. However, since November starts in the middle of a week, I'm not entirely certain I should expect to hear anything from either of these contests until next week, since it's the first full week in November. And not knowing when to expect the announcements is driving me insane.

I'd like to say that this obsession is the reason I've only managed to write three pages in the last two days, but alas, it would be a fib. The truth is that I'm stuck in a scene. The irony of that is I knew this scene was coming a long time ago and I've had portions of it visualized for what seems like ages. But once I actually sat down to write, I realized the stakes were much higher for the heroine than I'd originally imagined but for an entirely different reason. This means a lot of what I thought would happen no longer works in the story, but I haven't quite been able to figure out what will work.

Usually, when I back myself into corners like this, my characters show me the way out. This time, it hasn't happened, possibly because my heroine is as uncertain as I am how to proceed (she usually knows, but this time, darn her, she's not helping!).

So, what do you do when you write yourself into a corner? Any clever tricks for getting out, aside from just ditching the scene entirely and replacing it with something else? That might work in this situation, but I'm rather fond of the way this scene ups the tension and conflict, even if I can't quite see how to resolve it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Truth or Dare

Just read Lainey Bancroft's blog and discovered that I have been tagged in a new game started by Jude Hardin on his blog. The idea is to come up with five scintillating facts about yourself, one of which is untrue. Your readers then get to guess which one is the lie.

I must admit, I had a hard time coming up with five suitably improbable facts about myself to throw you off the scent, but perhaps I've succeeded.

  1. In college, I had a boyfriend who called me during Christmas break and asked if I wanted to go to Hong Kong with him. I said I'd love to, but I didn't have a passport. No problem, he said, neither did he. We got our passports overnight in Honolulu and went to Bangkok and Hong Kong. Upon our return, customs said they'd been waiting for us and separated us for questioning. They asked me if anyone had offered to sell me drugs. I considered, then truthfully answered in the affirmative. Excited, they asked, "Where?" They weren't impressed with my answer. "In Honolulu, before we left."

  2. I was eliminated from the eighth grade spelling bee on the word "connoisseur". The kid who won spelled "hermit."

  3. My husband proposed to me under the influence of a fortune cookie. Nearly 17 years and three kids later, I still wonder whether that fortune cookie was a plant.

  4. I once fainted at Tom Cruise's feet, but not because I was impressed by his stardom. I was just dehydrated. I blame it all on the Sports Car Club of America. I am, incidentally, taller than he is.

  5. I had to be helicoptered out of Mineral King Valley after I tripped early in a backpacking trip and broke my nose. My first thoughts when I opened my eyes after falling were, "I hope blood doesn't ruin contact lenses and, boy, do I have to pee." My contacts cleared up right away, but it was five hours before I got to pee.

So, now it's up to you to figure out which one is the clinker. Good luck!

And, to follow Lainey's fine example, tag Lacey, Lynne, Jody, Sara and Erica: you're it!

Chronologically Challenged

I have a love-hate relationship with the whole daylight savings time/standard time thing. For the most part, I hate switching back to standard time in the fall. Even though I find it much easier to get up in the morning after we go back to standard time, I despise the fact that it gets dark at 5:00 in the afternoon. I mean, really, when do we need to "save" daylight more? Seems to me like there's plenty of it to go around in the summer! So from that perspective, standard time in fall and winter seems perverse.

But I do love the first week or two after we go back to standard time. First, obviously, there's that extra hour of sleep on the Saturday night when we "fall back". Who doesn't love that? But more importantly, it takes me a week or two to fully adapt to the time change, and so I find it easy for a little while to get up early in the morning, before the rest of the family is stirring, and get things done. Eventually, of course, I lose that edge and wind up sleeping until 6:30 or 6:45 instead of the 6:00 I'd prefer, but for this little honeymoon period, I am extra productive and I love that.

Of course, if it were up to me, I would abolish standard time altogether. When I was in high school, California actually tried this. For one full year, we had daylight savings time all the time. I liked it. My mother liked it. But a lot of people hated it. They complained that in the winter, their kids had to go to school in the dark. (My father, who hailed from Minnesota, laughed. In Minnesota, kids have to go to school in the dark in winter, even when they're on standard time.) But the experiment failed.

I think the politicians' mistake wasn't the basic idea of setting the clock to one time and keeping it there all year, though. They just chose the wrong time. My proposal for chronological sanity is that we set the clocks half an hour ahead of standard time and then just leave them there. It wouldn't be pitch black at 6:30 a.m. in the dead of winter but it also wouldn't be pitch black at 4:30 p.m.

Admit it. It's an inspired idea. But, of course, inspired ideas are nearly always doomed to failure.

Speaking of inspiration, as I mentioned yesterday, my book has reached its 400th page. And seems almost as far from finished as ever. You see, I'm too inspired. I have more story for these characters than will fit in a standard full-length romance novel. I see a 480-500 page monster looming before me. And that's after I cut/combined some of the subplots to get to the end more quickly. If I hadn't done that, I would no doubt have been looking at a 600-page behemoth!

What to do, what to do? Well, I've resolved finish the damn book as plotted and then worry about whittling it down to a respectable length. It is, after all, a first book. Given how few first manuscripts are actually published, perhaps I shouldn't even be worrying about writing a book that's of a "saleable" length, since it's not particularly likely to be saleable anyway!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

100,000 Words...and Counting

I reached page 400 this morning. 100,000 words. And I'm way more than 40 pages from writing The End.


Friday, October 27, 2006

So, Is It Fun?

When I was in the office teaching last week, I kind of let it slip to my students that I was writing a historical romance novel. Since I normally try to keep my writing life and my professional life as discrete as possible, I was a bit irritated with myself for spilling the beans, but for some reason, I just had to tell. And it was a very small class, populated primarily with people I've worked with for years and only one client. Somehow, that just loosened my lips.

It's only after you share your aspirations as a writer with people who are not writers that you begin to understand how thoroughly alien the entire process is to the vast majority of people. Despite the fact that 81% of people feel they could write a book, only 27% of them would write fiction (you gotta scroll down that page a way to find this statistic). Clearly, while most people fancy themselves writers on some level, they don't have imaginary people carrying on imaginary lives inside their heads.

This difference between myself (and my fellow authors, both published and unpublished--see new links at right, by the way!) and the rest of humanity was made more apparent to me than it had ever been before when one of my students asked me, on a break, "So, is it fun?" Her tone clearly indicated she could not begin to fathom how it could possibly be fun to sit at a computer and spew words onto the page about people who never existed.

Worse, though, I couldn't really answer an unqualified "Yes." Because it isn't always fun. Sure, it can be. But sometimes, it's downright painful. And I have definitely reached the painful part of my manuscript. The part where everything comes slowly and with great difficulty, even though I have great clarity as to what scenes have yet to be written in order to reach The End.

So I told her the truth. I said it wasn't so much "fun" as a compulsion. Something I have to do. What I didn't say was that I'm not feeling particularly compelled to finish the book I've been writing for the past eight months. Because I'm not. Instead fighting the urge to ditch it and start the new book (or books), whose characters are becoming increasingly loud and insistent about their need to get out of my head and onto the page.

I know I have to be strong. I have a history of starting books I never finish. It's a history I don't want to repeat. If I don't finish Living In Sin, it'll be proof positive that I can't finish a book. And if I can't finish a book, I certainly can't get published and I'm just wasting my time. So I'm digging in my heels and ignoring those people in my head so I can finish. Even though I did register for NaNoWriMo, which starts November 1.

For those who don't know, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a new work within one month's time. I don't know if I'd manage that, even if I started on November 1, but since I've promised myself I won't start the new book until I finish the first one, I may not be starting until later in the month. But I thought committing myself to NaNoWriMo while simultaneously vowing to finish Living In Sin first would give me the kick in the pants I need.

And I think maybe it did. I've written 8,000 words since signing up. And actually, it was even fun!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's Official!

Courtesy of a link from Annie Dean's blog, I have discovered that I'm officially a nerd. A low-ranking nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. (I knew it!)

I am nerdier than 67% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

See, Lacey, we can graph our daily progress reports. It's too late for me, anyway.

And yes, I'm procrastolating again, LOL!

Making Progress (Sort of)

I refer you once again to the lovely meters on the right hand side of the screen. Yes, 'tis true, 'tis true! I've finished my plot revisions to Living In Sin and have started writing new stuff again. All two and a half pages, LOL!

I have to admit, the revisions needed to accommodate the new plot line turned out to affect only a few scenes and only in small ways. Which is what I was hoping when I came up with the idea. I wasn't keen on making any major changes to what I'd already written. I was just looking for a way to get to The End a little more expeditiously.

And while I did manage to remove a few thousand words along the way, I regret to say that I added just as many, so I still have a manuscript that is way too long. In fact, for an Avon book, the desired length is between 90,000 and 95,000 words or between 360 and 384 pages. A quick glance at the Write-O-Meter will tell you that I'm currently sitting at exactly 384 pages and I'm easily 50-75 pages from the HEA.

There be a lot of cutting to do.

That said, I'm not going to touch the first 384 pages of this thing again until after I write The End. Nor am I letting anyone critique anything else between now and then. Trying to re-engineer the past is keeping me from the future, LOL!

So now, in the words of Jack Black as Dewey Finn, let's get rockin'!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Starting a New Project

If you actually pay attention to all that garbage on the right hand side of the screen, you may have noticed that I added a Write-O-Meter for a new manuscript, tentatively titled Lady Libertine. This book is a sequel to Living In Sin that's been floating around in my head for the past few months. The heroine, Amelia Manwarren, started out as a villainess in Living In Sin, but before long, I found I enjoyed writing in her voice so much that I couldn't bear to let her go when the story ended. This meant I had to find a way to redeem her at the end of LIS so she could go on to have her own book.

Amelia is definitely not your typical historical romance novel heroine. Far from being a virginal innocent in the dewy bloom of youth, she's a mature twenty-eight years old and newly widowed in the opening scenes of Lady Libertine. She's also, not to put too fine a point on it, promiscuous. Or has been up until she meets her hero, Remy Giroux, a former spy for the French government who has gone into private practice. They meet when Remy is hired to retrieve some blueprints for his client that have been in Amelia's husband's possession since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

I resisted starting Lady Libertine for a long time because I was afraid it would distract me from finishing Living In Sin, but my FanLit experience taught me that working on two projects simultaneously isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may even be a good thing, for the obvious reason that if you get stuck in one story, you can always switch to working on the other one. And sometimes, it seems changing gears shakes loose ideas and gets the creative juices flowing so you can go back to the other project and pick up where you left off, fresher and more energized than before.

The danger in starting a new project when you haven't completed the first is, of course, that you get so wrapped up in the new project that you completely abandon the old one. And I have to admit, that worries me because I am notorious for starting stories and never finishing them because I get sidetracked by a new story. (Come to think of it, that's my M.O. for life in general. I am the quintessential absent-minded professor type. I start things, get distracted, and forget to finish what I started. No wonder my husband finds me frustrating to live with!)

So I do have to be careful here. I've actually written only the first paragraph of Lady Libertine at this point--not even enough to show up on the meter. And my plan for today is to keep plowing forward with my plot revisions to Living In Sin in the hopes of picking up again from where I left off either late today or early tomorrow. But I wanted to put the meter up there because I decided to take the chance and see if writing my own second project would give me the oomph I need to finish Living In Sin before the final results of the Golden Rose and the preliminary results of CONNections Contest are announced.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FanLit Finals Alert!

I didn't enter a FanLit chapter this week, but a couple of my critique partners did. And this week, one of them made the finals. Big congratulations to Leigh on a well-deserved place in the top ten (of 179 entries)! Way to go! I won't tell you what the name of her entry is, but if you're motivated to vote, there's a rather well-placed hint in this sentence.

Also, I was so excited about my own final last week that I neglected to mention that another of my critique partners, Kim, had a chapter, Friends in Deed, in the finals last week as well. So this is my belated congratulations to her. Kim rocks!

Monday, October 16, 2006

I Just Didn't Do It

After making my public announcement last week that I would no longer be submitting any entries to the FanLit contest, I spent last night tossing and turning, unable to sleep because an idea for a Round Five chapter had wormed its way into my consciousness and refused to leave me alone. Even though I knew I didn't want to go down that road again, I was mightily tempted. I even started writing the darn thing.

Now, before you castigate me too much for my momentary lapse, you should know that over the weekend, I managed to churn out eight pages of Living in Sin. I had a brainstorm last week for a way to replace some internal dialogue in the fifth chapter that really amounted to a long, boring section of "telling" with a couple of scenes that would "show" the same information. And I'm quite pleased with the result. It needs a bit of spit and polish, of course, but it's much better than what I had before and I'm so glad I did it. The only problem with it is that it's so good, the scene that comes right before it now suffers by comparison because it was written months ago and isn't as "snappy" in terms of showing the characters' emotions as the new one!

This is probably why you should write a throwaway novel (or, perhaps better yet, FanLit entries) first to develop your craft and then write the story you really care about. The trouble I have in revising these scenes that I wrote when my craft was in its infancy is that I'm so close to them, I can't see what's wrong with them unless someone hits me over the head. But when I do see what's wrong, I can't always find a way to fix it without throwing off the pace and flow of the entire scene. I should probably just start again from scratch when this happens, but that feels a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. After all, it's not like there's nothing in these older scenes worth saving. And so I end up with a scene that's serviceable, but shows signs of having been patched up one too many times.

Since I was actually able to write something other than a FanLit entry, you might be wondering why I flirted with writing another one anyway. Well, first Avon guidelines for this week's chapter were tough. The requirements demanded the writers fill a plot hole that the voters had steadfastly ignored when choosing the winning entry for four weeks in a row. Entries that had tried to fill it in past rounds were steadfastly shot down in flames. Everyone on the forums complained that the premise had killed their muses. So, when I came up with an idea that seemed rather clever and unique, the desire to show it off was pretty darned strong. Especially with the knowledge that others were finding it difficult and that likely meant there would be far fewer entries this round than last.

Yes, deep down, I'd still like to win a FanLit round. Not for the prizes and not for the fishbowl head, but because I want the publishing credit. Even if it's just a single chapter in a silly e-book novella about nothing. That's all I really care about.

But despite the urge, I managed to be the master of my own domain. I just didn't do it.

I can't claim it was solely a matter of willpower, though. If it had been a normal work day and I'd been at home in front of the computer all day, I suspect I'd have succumbed. As it was, I had to go into the office and teach a class all day, which meant I had less than an hour and half in which to pump out my ~1,500 words and post them to the site. I probably could have done if I'd put my mind to it.

But I didn't. And I'm proud of that.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Getting the Monkey Off My Back (or Why FanLit is Hard to Quit)

That's right, boys and girls, another round of FanLit has come and gone. I am pleased to say my entry, The Best Little Whorehouse in London, did not win.

Yes, you heard me right. I'm glad I didn't win. Recent events have convinced me that wearing the fishbowl head is not all fun and games. It can be an out and out pain in the neck. And while it would have been nice to have a teeny-tiny publishing credit as a result of a win, I'm not sure it's worth all the hassles that go along with it!

Here's the thing: I set out very deliberately to get at least one entry into the top 20 this round. I wanted to know whether I could "write to the market" that I saw developing in FanLit. That "market", as I understood it, wanted fun and witty with a good hook at the end. So that's what I tried to write, mainly as an exercise to prove to myself that I could do it if I set my mind to it.

As it turned out, I proved it to myself twice over. Not only did the aforementioned entry finish in the top 10 (its final ranking was 6th), but my other entry (written and submitted first), And Snydley Makes Three, wound up 12th. So all in all, it's safe to say I nailed my goals in this round and there's really no reason to keep playing, especially since I need to work on Living in Sin! (Anyone who posts comments may feel free to flog me over my neglect of my manuscript. A little public humiliation would probably do me good.)

But deciding it's time to bow out has made me examine my addiction to FanLit with a more analytical eye. It took me four weeks to figure out why it's so seductive. Because it's certainly not that it forces you to write compelling stories with strong character development and solid goals, motivations, and conflicts! And it's not that it forces you to put in peculiar elements dictated by the panel such as a feather or a pot of chocolate. And it's certainly not that we all produce our very best work when we are constrained by characters and a story premise created by someone else. Or that we have only 72 hours in which to craft our small miracles. So what, exactly, is it?

My epiphany came when I finished writing And Snydley Makes Three on Saturday and sent it to Lacey and Darcy, hoping for validation of my feeling that it was the best thing I'd written for the contest thus far. I think I even titled the e-mail, Quick, before I succumb to temptation and post it!

As it turned out, I couldn't even wait an hour for them to get back to me. Okay, maybe it was two hours before I gave in, but when I hadn't heard from them for what seemed like forever to me, I did give into the temptation and posted it. And immediately hopped over to the My FanLit area of the site to watch my scores roll in.

For those of you who haven't been sucked into the FanLit universe (and if you're reading my blog, it seems highly unlikely), My FanLit shows you all the entries you've submitted in the current round and their "last rating" on a scale of 0 to 5, as well as all the entries you've read and rated with the score you gave and the last score they received. And based on the forum posts I've read, most of us spend an inordinate amount of time in the My FanLit area, periodically clicking the refresh button to see if our scores have changed. And then hopping over the forum to moan that our poor little darling has just received a low score (a 0.5 or a 0 or, worst of all, the dreaded "--", which we have been told is a 0 but somehow looks even worse than a 0) with no comment from the voter explaining what s/he didn't like about our masterpieces.

I'm sure there are some people who submit a chapter to FanLit who are actually able to submit it and then pay no attention whatever to its scores. They just let their entries fend for themselves and find out how they did first when the finalists are announced and then, if they didn't finish in the top ten, on Friday when the final rankings of all the entries in the round are announced. I'm just not sure who they are or whether they are actually human.

And the fact that so few people are able to ignore how their entries are doing is part and parcel of the reason FanLit is so compelling. It's because you get virtually instantaneous feedback. The problem with being a writer is that you do so much of your work in a vacuum. Even if you have critique partners, you can write something and not have any idea for a very long time whether it "works" as well as you thought it did or not. In addition, critique partners don't constitute a particularly wide audience. I have an unusually high number of critique partners, but that's still less than ten people who read my work and provide me with feedback on a regular basis. When you compare that to the hundreds of people who are voting on FanLit entries, you can see why it's hard not become obsessed with watching those scores.

And even if the voter doesn't leave a comment for you, the score you get tells you something. Maybe most of the really lowball scores are coming from people who are trying to help their own entry (or a friend's) by giving exceptionally poor scores to everyone else. But maybe it's also just that some voters give their scores based on their gut level reaction to your story. It might be well-written, but for whatever reason, perhaps they just didn't enjoy reading it. And a low score without a comment is no less valid as feedback than a high score with no comment, yet everyone seems to like those!

In the end, I suppose all writers have an obsessive-compulsive need to find an audience and, more, to gain approval from that audience. In the "real" world, of course, there are agents and editors to accept or reject us, but that generally takes a long time. If we are lucky enough to be accepted by an editor and have our manuscript published, then we have the audience of book buyers to accept or reject us. That generally takes even longer. Worse, once you get to the stage of being a published author, it's hard to judge your audience's approval by book sales unless you're one of the lucky few to reach bestseller status. And that takes even longer than getting published in the first place.

FanLit is so successful because it offers a shortcut to audience and approval (or rejection, though of course none of us wants rejection). Instead of the weeks or months it might take for an agent or editor to get to your query or partial and respond to you, you discover within minutes of clicking the Submit button whether your audience likes you or not. You read the comments on your entry and find out what some of your readers liked or didn't like about your story. And you keep finding out, score after score, comment after comment, hour after hour, what your audience thinks. For writers (even published authors, some of whom have participated or continue to participate in the contest), this is almost as irresistible as the urge to breathe.

But I've decided it's time for me to resist the urge. Not because it hasn't been fun and not even because it's been a colossal waste of time (okay, I admit sitting on the My FanLit page and hitting refresh every few minutes was a colossal waste of time, but writing my entries was not as I definitely learned from doing them), but because I want to have to suffer with the longer route to audience approval. And FanLit has been distracting me from that goal.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Kind of Story Writers Love to Tell

So, here I sit alone in my hotel room, a Samuel Adams draught lager on my left and a TV remote on my right. No kids to put to bed (my husband gets to do that tonight), no dinner dishes to clean up after (housekeeping gets to do that), and no one to interrupt me while I'm trying to write. Ah, this is the life!

I don't go on business trips very often. I avoided doing them for years when my kids were younger because I just couldn't stand to leave them and my husband for any length of time. And of course, when they were still nursing (and I nursed all of mine well past the recommended one year), it wasn't really practical for me to leave.

But now, business trips (as long as they are only one or two nights long) are a godsend. They are a little gift to myself--peace, quiet, and nothing to do but please myself and (during the work day) the client. Believe me, I love my husband and children beyond anything, but there is something so blissful about being beholden to no one, even for just a few hours a day, that I never fully appreciated before I had a family.

Maybe at this point, you are wondering what I do for a living. I am an instructional designer. (Cue puzzled expressions.) Don't worry, no one else knows what it means, either. I always tell people it's shorthand for someone who creates corporate training materials. Then they usually nod and say "oh" in a tone that clearly indicates they wonder why I don't call myself a corporate training writer.

And I guess the answer I'd give is that there really is a design element and process to writing training materials. It's so much more than just knowing what your students need to know, but about knowing in what order they need to know it and then, once you figure that out, building documentation and demonstrations and activities that use only what they've learned up to this point and nothing more. Do anything out of order and it's a bit like trying to put the roof on the house before you've framed the walls--it all falls down around your ears. In addition, a good instructional designer writes course materials that can be delivered by many different instructors in essentially the same way. The course has to be repeatable in a way that's consistent and doesn't depend on who happens to be the teacher on any given day. That makes doing instructional design well a real challenge. And I love a challenge!

The company I work for provides data processing software to credit unions. I'd link to the company's website because I'd love to promote it, but I'm a little hinky about sharing my secret aspirations as a romance novelist with most of my coworkers, and I'm thinking the link might get tracked backward at some point. Still, it's a great place to work or I wouldn't still be there after more than 12 years. (It doesn't hurt that they let me telecommute despite the fact that I live 20 minutes from the office!)

As an instructional designer, I rarely travel or see clients. Mostly, I sit at my computer and research how the software works and then design training to teach people how to use it. But every once in a while, a client wants training on an aspect of the software in which I'm either the acknowledged expert or I'm the only available instructor. And when that happens, I'm generally willing to do it as long as it's not more than a couple of nights. Any more than that is just too hard on my family.

Okay, it's 9:40 and my beer's almost gone, so it's about time to wrap this up. The real reason I started this post was to share a story my husband told me about our seven-year-old daughter when I called earlier this evening. Now, the first thing you have to understand is that our daughter is very literal-minded. Ever read an Amelia Bedelia book? If you have, then you will understand me perfectly when I say my daughter is Amelia Bedelia. She is so much Amelia Bedelia that she usually doesn't get the joke in Amelia Bedelia stories.

For example, one morning, when she was about four, she came downstairs very early, one of her Kelly dolls in each hand. My husband said, "My, you're up with the chickens." She looked from one hand to the other then at him and said solemnly, "No, I'm up with my dolls." God, I love that story!

Today, she went to a Brownie meeting after school. As one of their projects this year, they are making a pair of knitting needles from soft wood. One of the leader moms is going to teach them to knit and they are each going to knit a square which we'll assemble into a blanket and give to a charity at the end of the year. So, this mom sharpened all the needles between the last meeting and this one and gave them to the girls, but the wood was still quite rough.

When my daughter arrived home with her knitting needles, she immediately took them out in the back yard and began covering them with dirt. My mother, who babysat this afternoon, saw her and was extremely puzzled.

"What are you doing?" my mother asked.

To which my daughter promptly responded, "I'm sanding them." Which was, of course, exactly what the leader had told her she should do.