12.10.2008

Immortalize your rejection

How many rejection letters have you amassed? Do you view them as a mark of shame, or a badge of honor? Do you rip them up and toss them in the recycling with the other shredded junk mail, do you let your gerbils poop and chew on them, do you hang them up to inspire you to keep going, or do you pass them around to other writers and loved ones to commiserate, laugh, and moan in community?

If it's the last, here's your chance to get one into book form so that even more people can read how much you suck!

Love LettersBill Shapiro, the editor of Other People's Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See is coming Other People's Rejection Letters. He's collecting submissions right now.

They don't have to be writing related, but all writers have one or two or a gazillion tucked away, right? They could also be Dear John letters or disinheritances, credit denials or a critique of an audition. They can be sent or received by you, and anonymity is available. Considering the imaginative layout of the last book, I'd say creativity counts.

So if you have a rejection letter or two tucked back there in the closet (or if you've written any) that you'd be willing to share, now's your chance to be part of the book.

You can send them to 1000rejectionletters@gmail.com.


If you're looking for something more immediate, there are always online forums to let it all out. There, now, won't that feel better?

Thank you to Brian at There Are No Rules for the heads up

12.07.2008

The genre fiction ghetto

paperbacksI came across this review in The Curator for a fantasy book, Cyndere's Midnight. The book is by Jeffrey Overstreet, and the article is by Annie Young Frisbie, titled "On Fantasy Fiction; Or, You Should Read Cyndere's Midnight."

Frisbie (or can I call her Annie? she sounds personable) talks about her history as a closet fantasy fan, her coming out, and now her advocacy for non-fans of the genre to lay aside their snarkiness and give a really good book a try. She declares: "I'm tired of seeing fantasy ghettoized. Genre was made to be transcended."

I'm one of those people who don't...quite...get fantasy. It's just not my thing. I love C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books, and I hear true fantasy fans disparage them as bad examples of the genre, so...I guess I'm just not a fan, although this glowing review might inspire me to give it another chance. Truly, no offense intended; I think I just get tripped up by names I don't know how to pronounce.

Because in any case, I totally understand feeling marginalized for enjoying commercial fiction that's not considered prestigious, in my case romance and mystery novels, and in fact enjoying them so much that I write my own.

When Frisbie (and/or Annie) mocks people who read "to pad your Goodreads feed with Booker nominees in order to impress your Facebook friends," I remember when I signed up for Goodreads at a friend's request and then feeling twinges of...oh, no, was that embarrassment?...when I listed recent books I'd truly enjoyed but were nothing like what my other friends were sharing with the world.

I didn't and don't want to fill this blog with apologetics and justifications and rants about how I feel ashamed or victimized by my preferences. I know other people just like me are out there, in large numbers, and I choose not to dwell on the naysayers' snootiness.

But I don't mind bringing it up once in awhile, just to discuss the phenomenon of creating a divide between "literary" and "commercial" fiction. (Isn't that a funny distinction all in itself? Literary meaning it's like literature, and commercial meaning it sells -- shouldn't both strive to be both? Kind of reminds me of "Republican" and "Democrat" -- shouldn't all Americans embrace the basics of both those words?)

I've been skulking agent blogs and writer forums whenever I need a break from revising my WIP (work in progress to those who don't skulk -- I've discovered all new terminology from all this procrastinating), and I found this uplifting A from a Q & A by the Evil Editor:
Authors don't get to declare what kind of prose they write. ... That's a job for critics, agents, and the people who make up the lies that go on the backs of books. Apparently you're unhappy with calling your book literary fiction. Don't be. Literary doesn't mean it's literature; it just means it's boring. My advice: add some sharks and a wolfman, and call it commercial fiction.

That made me laugh. I love that we have professional advocates out there to override any sneering voices.

I'll end with a great quote from Annie (I'm going for it -- I just read her bio and she loves LLL and cloth diapers [just like me, swoon]. Seriously, read her article; it's great, and here's a similar blog post she wrote):

Don’t let signs at Barnes and Noble or tags on Amazon.com tell you what kind of books you like to read. You’ll miss out on countless worlds of beauty.


Enjoy novels that tell a story! Enjoy characters you'd want to be friends with! Enjoy an adventure you'd like to go on! Embrace your chosen genre, and be happy.

Image courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert from stock.xchng

11.30.2008

I'm a novelist!

NaNoWriMo08 winnerI have officially finished one full novel and won NaNoWriMo08!

It's only a first draft, but I've planned out my edits and will get to work revising. I know, for instance, that I need to add scenes and descriptions, red herrings and clues, to get my novel up to the ~70,000 words expected of a cozy.

I've already put books on querying agents on hold at the library and will let you know how the process goes. I've been reading agent blogs to dip my toe in the water, and for once I don't feel like I'm just procrastinating from writing by doing that!

Right now I'm too excited to do much other than celebrate, but soon it will be time to work, work, work, and start writing the next in the series! For genre fiction like mysteries and romance, it's common to think in terms of series, and I am definitely on that train.

I highly recommend that you try out NaNoWriMo next year if you haven't done it already. Write 2,000 words a day, in little chunks if needed, and you'll have a whole fricking novel by the end of the month! What could be better?

11.28.2008

Getting your characters in trouble

T Rex growlingNaNoWriMo very kindly and wisely provides emailed pep talks each week, some from regional liaisons, and some from published authors. Here's an excerpt from Week Three's pep talk from Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black:

When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don't let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. ... In life we try to avoid trouble. We chew on our choices endlessly. We go to shrinks, we talk to our friends. In fiction, this is deadly. Protagonists need to screw up, act impulsively, have enemies, get into TROUBLE.

The difficulty is that we create protagonists we love. And we love them like our children. We want to protect them from harm, keep them safe, make sure they won't get hurt, or not so bad. Maybe a skinned knee. Certainly not a car wreck. But the essence of fiction writing is creating a character you love and, frankly, torturing him. You are both sadist and savior. Find the thing he loves most and take it away from him. Find the thing he fears and shove him shoulder deep into it. Find the person who is absolutely worst for him and have him delivered into that character's hands. Have him make a choice which is absolutely wrong.


When I started writing my romance novel, I knew I wanted my hero to suspect the heroine was lying, to manufacture plot trouble for them. But I was cheating the system. I wanted my heroine not to be a liar. I wanted her to remain pure and blameless.

And then I came to my senses. A perfect protagonist is boring (look at Fanny in Mansfield Park -- sorry, Jane!).

I had to throw my characters into trouble. I had to make them flawed so they had somewhere to progress to during the course of the novel. It's frustrating when the novel starts out with an ideal relationship and situation that has problems thrown at it. It's less frustrating and more suspenseful when there's just a vision of an ideal relationship and situation that the characters need to move toward.

NaNoWriMo 08In my current novel, I made sure to place my heroine in danger. She needs to have the possibility of failing and even dying to create tension, to create a story. Along the same lines, she has to take steps and try things out that I would never have the gumption to, because it would be really boring to read about me!

It's similar to being afraid to kill off characters, as in my other post. Sometimes being a writer feels like too much power, but we have to learn not to be afraid to use it.

How have you hesitated in creating trouble for your characters? How have you convinced yourself to throw them into danger and face the consequences?

Scary dinosaur courtesy of Rodolfo Clix from stock.xchng

11.26.2008

Pushing through to the finish line

NaNoWriMo 08It's coming down to the wire for NaNoWriMo08, and I'm on track with 41,561 words so far. If I write up to 42,000 before bed tonight, I can keep writing 2,000 a day and, assuming I get them in by midnight the last day, finish at exactly 50,000 on Nov. 30. I was feeling really discouraged a couple days ago, but I'm energized now and have a vision of the plot going forward to the end. Now it's just putting it on paper (or screen, in this case).

My husband, Sam, has been making remarks like, "It's ok if you go over by a few days. What's the difference?"

"No, because then you don't win," I told him.

"What do you win?" he asked, rightfully skeptical.

"A PDF certificate," I said sheepishly, "and a widget. And the satisfaction of knowing you're a winner."

Sam laughed at me. "So it doesn't matter," he said.

No! It does matter. Finishing a novel in a month, a specific month, is the whole point of NaNoWriMo. If you could write in anytime, you would. If you can go over by a few days, why not a few months, a few years?

Like all the other times. Like with all the other half-manuscripts in drawers and hastily typed ideas in forgotten files, languishing. Like all the other projects and passions and ambitions you've set aside till the perfect moment, only you never quite find it.

pole gameBack during the first season of Survivor, there was an endurance test toward the end where the remaining contestants had to keep their hand on a pole. That was the only rule. One of the contestants, good old Rudy, absentmindedly removed his hand from the pole to scracth his nose or something, and then tried to play it off, but was deservedly disqualified.

As The Daily Show mocked when replaying the clip, "What's the first rule of Keep Your Hand on the Pole Game?"

What's the first rule of NaNoWriMo? Write a novel in a month.

Anything else isn't NaNoWriMo.

Keep your hand on the pole.

See you at the finish line in just a few days!

11.23.2008

Dashing off a draft

speed typingI've learned a lot from NaNoWriMo. The main thing I've learned is to be quick and dirty.

Anything to get that first draft in.

I think what's held me up in the past is an obsession with perfecting as I write. For a short story or poem, this can sometimes work. For a novel, it was bogging me down and hurting my brain.

I would decided to change one thing, say, the year the story takes place, or the color of my main character's eyes (no, really! I did this), and I would feel compelled to go back through what I'd written so far, making all those changes before I could move on.

Now I've come to realize that it's more important just to tell the story.

Get it out there, and then go back and polish. I've been using the "Comments" function in Microsoft Word to help me out there. A text-file list or a sticky note on your desk would work just as well.

Whenever I decide that I screwed something up that happened earlier, or that I should shoehorn another event into the narrative, I make a comment to myself, such as: "Change character's name to sound less like main character's."

Voila! No time wasted pondering names. I can continue to use my rough-draft name throughout this first go, and after I'm done with the important part -- the story -- I can start flipping through phone books and baby-name books and getting bogged down in the editing side of things. If I do all that now, it will derail my train of thought, and the story will never get told.

This works for small things like characters' names and eye colors, and for big things like "Make Ann be a blackmailer" or "Add tension between Joe and Betty" or (true story) "Change it to first person." In that last case, I just kept going with the first person from there on out, resolving to edit my first pages to match at the end.

I also, when stuck at a particular word or phrase, instead of wasting time haring off through the thesaurus, just bracket it and, if necesary, add descriptors that make it into one long word indicating "Fix this later." For instance, I have brackets around such things as [LastNameHere] and [DifferentWordForSaid] and [SomethingLikeSmelly] and [HospitalName]. (I didn't want to unfairly inflate my word count by making those into separate words.)

It doesn't matter if it's messy and ugly. This is not my final draft. No one has to see this draft. It is not going out for immediate publishing. I have time to edit...but later!

NaNoWriMo 08I'm not promising to continue to write at the breakneck pace of 50,000 words a month, but I will take this little tidbit of oh-duh advice with me when I return to my first novel.

I will write, I will tell the story, and I will finish a first draft! Be it purely awful or pure gold (or purest green, which is maybe somewhere in between), I will finally have a complete story arc, and something to edit.

P.S. I think I need to think of first drafts of novels more like blog posts... Sorry to all my blog readers who now know what quality I put into my blog posts!

Perfect illustration of speed-typing hands courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski from stock.xchng

11.22.2008

New love vs. true love

Senior Couple Holding HandsI hope no one thinks I'm being disloyal for writing a murder mystery for NaNoWriMo08. I'm working on a romance novel in non-NaNoWriMo life, and those are my two favorite genres.

As a palliative to those of you who prefer romance over murder, let me tell you that I've included a married couple as my protagonist detecting team. The main character is Christine, a church praise team leader in her late 20s. She narrates the story. Her husband is Rob, a graphic designer by day and newborn sleuthing partner at night.

NaNoWriMo 08I love love. I love marriage. That's why I love romance novels so much. I adore the giddiness of finding true love, that first spark of interest, the rapturous wondering of "is s/he interested back?", the relief of finding out "yes!". and, of course, in novels, all the interesting barriers in between and/or after those steps.

But, having been married ten years now myself (sooo long, I know!), I will play the old wise woman and say that a committed marriage is just as fascinating, just as satisfying. It's a different emotional kick, but it appeals to me just as much. Obviously, or I wouldn't believe so strongly in marriage!

What I think is missing from most novels, movies, TV shows, and so on is portrayals of real, positive marriages. There's plenty of cat-and-mouse flirtatious bickering of an odd pairing, plenty of tingly first-kiss experiences, and, sadly, more than enough of sour and negative relationships, whether continuing or ending. Many popular sitcoms have made their married couple characters barely tolerant of each other, constantly sniping and undermining, rather than true partners on the same team.

Have you ever read Kate Wilhelm's Constance and Charlie series? There's a wonderful example for me to live up to: a middle-aged married couple who like and respect each other. The tension is in catching the murderer, not in whether or not they'll stay together. Their commitment to each other is a given.

Nick & NoraOr look at the delightful Nick and Nora!

I like to think I'm doing my part to promote the naturalness -- the unostentatious joy -- of a good marriage, both in real life and now in fiction.

ETA: I forgot, and we're even watching them on DVD right now! There's also Hetty Wainthropp! I think my characters are a young, newlywed version of Hetty and her husband -- very grounded and very committed.

Photograph of beautiful hands courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert from stock.xchng

11.21.2008

Writing exhaustion

NaNoWriMo 08Is it just me, or is it hard to keep writing all day long?

I'm a little behind in my NaNoWriMo word count. I've been trying to write 2,000 words a day, and I ended up skipping a day to catch up on sleep, so today's assignment was to write 4,000. Well, I've gotten 2,500 done so far, but that still leaves a normal-amount 1,500 to finish up tonight.

And I'm feeling spent.

I took a year off a few years ago just to work on my first novel. I wrote every day, but I could never manage to write all day every day. Does anyone do that? Can anyone write for eight hours straight?

Maybe in the throes of a passionate Muse, but on a daily basis, I find it fatiguing to write even four hours in a row, at least in one medium and on one topic. Even switching to, say, a blog post, affords me and my poor brain a little break.

Just wondering if I'm alone in that.

I'll take a rest now and come back to finish up my words tonight. Carry on, all you NaNoWriMos and other fellow novelists!

11.15.2008

The uneasiness of killing off characters

Leaf on grave


I'm halfway through the timeframe of NaNoWriMo, though not halfway through my word count since I started late. I have daily writing goals of 2,000 words that if followed (or caught up on...) will get me to 50,000 words on exactly the last day.

Now it's just down to two things: 1. that I have the story told by 50,000 words, and 2. that I remember to verify my word count by midnight! (I tend to fudge my "days" a little.)

As for #1, I'm trying to be bare bones about this writing assignment and make sure I get the plot told. I figure I can fill in all that fancifying description and character development later!

NaNoWriMoHere's something I didn't expect, though. As a huge fan of reading murder mystery novels and watching American and British versions of same, I thought of myself as hardened and jaded in terms of committing fictional murder. But in my first chapter, I had to kill off a character (otherwise it's not, you know, a murder mystery), and I felt guilty! She seemed kind of nice, and I'd barely gotten to know her before she was dead. In a horribly agonizing way, although not overly gory. (This is a cozy, so I'm going with things like poison and booby traps.)

I accept with no qualms the deaths of characters in mystery fiction I read or view, but somehow being the perpetrator of the death made me feel bad. I could see it being even more wrenching if I'd really "known" the character and become attached.

How have you experienced the death of a character? Has it felt necessary and acceptable, or has it upset you as much as it did the other characters?

Photograph courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski from stock.xchng

11.06.2008

NaNoWriMo time!

NaNoWriMoNovember is National Novel Writing Month. You can visit the NaNoWriMo site to learn more about it.

The crazy goal is to write 50,000 words of continuous fiction in 30 days. Words and speed count; quality doesn't.

As you can see, I'm a little slow off the blocks. I had heard about it back in April when I was doing the Poem-a-Day challenge, and I resolved to file it away in my memory bank for November.

Apparently, I didn't too so well with retrieving the file, because I forgot about it this month until happening upon a fellow writer friend's Facebook page.

But I am not discouraged. Words per day aren't the requirement, as long as I get to the 175-page target by the end of the month. And I'm a pretty fast typist!

So...what to write? I was thinking a mystery novel, specifically a cozy, because that would be the kind of light-hearted thing that would fit a flurry of writing and a short novel length. I had thought about one set in Northwest Indiana, where I used to live, so I could dust off that idea.

Another path would be a romance novella, because it seems like publishers enjoy putting collections of those together, and I could see it as a good way to get some exposure and new readers. Hmmm...I'd better decide tonight. Maybe I'll just start typing and see where it leads me!

Want to join me? Let me know what you're writing, and post your word count at the NaNoWriMo site.

9.24.2008

Simply Perfect lends itself to a cheesy blog-post title

I really loved Mary Balogh's latest in the Bedwyn Series spinoff the Simply quartet, which follows the stories of four teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. Simply Perfect tells the story of Miss Claudia Martin herself, neatly finishing off the package. Though, of course, there were enough colorful incidental characters that I wonder if we'll come back both to Bath and to the Bedwyn peripherals in the future!

You can read an excerpt of Simply Perfect here at Mary Balogh's site as well as keep up with the series upon series she's written.

I love when authors write in series and have old characters weave into new stories. I feel like I'm coming upon old friends, and it deepens my appreciation for those characters. I will fully admit that I don't always remember everyone -- I'm terrible with names and faces in real life, so some details are always lost to the fog -- but I remember enough to feel fond and enjoy meeting everyone again.

Simply Perfect lends itself to this sort of reunion nostalgia, because as the headmistress of the girl's school, Miss Martin has a perfect excuse to further her friendships with her former (is there another F word I can think of? No? Shame) teachers. And since her school's story is inextricably linked to that of the Bedwyns -- in particular her erstwhile charge, the incorrigible Miss Freyja Bedwyn as was, and her employer at that time, Wulfric the duke -- she rubs shoulders with all the Bedwyn crew as well, despite her reservations about doing so.

This, of course, is where romance novels, particularly series, can fall into absurdity. Almost every one of her friends has made an advantageous match with a noble, and this plain schoolmistress finds herself neck deep in titles as she spends a summer out in the country with her charity girls, enjoying aristrocratic hospitality. Balogh acknowledges the humor in the situation by having Claudia herself continually refer to the unlikelihood.

But to the love bits: Claudia's match is with Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough and heir to a dukedom, a delicious tidbit in that she particularly despises dukes. Much of the novel he pursues his family's socially acceptable choice for him in an unromantic but fully understandable manner. I don't buy heroes and heroines from other cultures who flout their society's expectations without a second thought, so it made sense to me that it would take so many gradual degrees to move each of them into admitting and accepting their love for each other -- and then working to overcome the obstacles in their way. The same applies to how Joseph works out his situation with his blind, illegitimate daughter, figuring out how to truly care for a person society would have, for two reasons, put far away from public notice.

Whether everything works out in the end -- well, I'll leave you in suspense. You'll have to read the book!

And, yes, I see that it's been two months since I last read anything fun like this. Eep! Even writing this post was interrupted by a certain 15-month-old.

That reminds me that, when I was reading, I kept critiquing some of the parenting in the book with the daughter! I wanted them to stop saying "good job" to her, as if they could have read Alfie Kohn or somehow intuited his ideas! Oh, well.

It does make me think, as a writer, how much indirect influence you can have on readers. I do find myself in my own writing wanting to put in elements of my life and philosophies that are important to me. In writing historical fiction, of course, you always have to keep it plausible, though. I want my heroines to matter-of-factly breastfeed, for instance, but I know wet nursing was very common in the nineteenth century, so you almost have to make a point of saying how unconventional your heroine is for doing so.

Food for thought: How have you as a reader enjoyed or deplored "lessons" you felt novels were giving you? How have you as a writer tried to insert your own social agenda into your fiction writing?

7.25.2008

Hilarity in The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid

I have checked out The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid, by Lisa Cach, approximately a gazillion times. Well, let's say twelve. I kept putting off reading it -- I would renew it twice, turn it in late, get back in line for it, get it again, and put it right back on my to-read shelf. I had liked a couple previous books by Lisa Cach, but I think I was slightly unnerved by the sultry cover of this one, and my library's categorization of this in "erotic fiction" vs. "romance novels." I was sort of excited by the idea of reading it, and sort of turned off.

This last time that I was turning it in, I finally read the back synopsis, something I often avoid in case it gives away too much of the plot (or mischaracterizes the plot, another pet peeve -- sometimes I wonder if the cover designers, editors, illustrators, and writers have read the book. Have you seen women on the front with flowing blond hair, only to read that she has short dark curls? But I digress...).

To summarize the summary, Emma is a wannabe architect and current housecleaner who meets and falls in lust with Russ, a decade-older software engineer who overworks himself in his grief over his brother's recent death. She half-jokingly suggests that she would be open to becoming a kept woman, and he later takes her up on the offer.

BUT...

The way he takes her up on it is HI-larious. I'm only a third of the way through the book, so I can't comment on it as a whole, but I just want to share part of the scene where he hires her to do more than housecleaning. I forgot how funny Lisa Cach is -- I remembered sexy, but I forgot the humor aspect of her books. This scene had me snorting and trying not to wake up my sleeping boys.

What Russ is trying to take her up on is her offer to shop and cook dinner for him along with the cleaning, but he fumbles the invitation in an effort not to make her feel like he's accepting out of charity. He knows she's looking for a place to live, so he starts off with offering his empty Belltown apartment to rent and then ambiguously states that he'll take her up on her offer.
"You're not offended, are you?" he asked warily.

She blinked. "No, I don't think so. I mean, I offered, right? [...] If I said yes, how often would you want..." She trailed off, finishing the question with her eyebrows.

"I don't think I need it every night. Maybe, oh, Monday, Wednesday, Friday? With something big on Friday to last me through the weekend?"

[...] "Er, what type of 'big' did you mean, for Fridays?"

He shrugged "Big. You know, lots of it. I'll leave the details up to you."

You gotta love that.

7.07.2008

Give readers a taste

I was writing an article for a friend's magazine about parenting books I've found helpful, and I realized that I'd come to almost all of the books on my list through online resources. It reminded me of Jo Beverley's plug of Google Book Search, and my note that current books are also wonderful to have in full or in excerpted form online.

I think sometimes authors try so hard to "protect" their work -- their ideas and their copyright -- that they forget that the point is to get their writing out there. For some, it might be selling more books; for others, the message might be paramount. Either way, it's best to reach the widest audience possible.

I wouldn't have read 95% (I'm guessing here) of the books on my list if I hadn't been able to come to them in some way online first. Whether it was reading detailed reviews or blog entries, looking at excerpts online, downloading articles from the same author, discussing the ideas on forums, or whatever avenue, I needed frequent exposure to the book and author in question before I was intrigued enough to seek out and read the book for myself.

If you're an author or self-publisher, what does this mean for us?

Here are some suggestsions for the online world of marketing:

  • √ send out review copies whenever they're requested

  • √ start a blog to talk about and get readers interested in your work and ideas

  • √ host contests and polls to generate excitement, such as a vote on cover art or a character's name

  • √ hold drawings to award copies of your books to lucky readers

  • √ offer live chats with readers

  • √ start a fan email list and send out occasional newsletters

  • √ post short stories, articles, or sample chapters on your website

  • √ allow and encourage others to link to your work

  • √ visit other appropriate blogs and leave helpful comments with a link back to your site

  • √ check out Google AdWords for targeted pay-per-click ads

  • √ join and post on online message boards and create a tasteful signature that links back to your site


If anyone has other good online-marketing ideas, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

6.05.2008

Why are heroes always fluent?

I always envy romance heroes and heroines, because they always manage to be fluent in whatever language is most convenient at the moment. It reminds me nothing of slogging through German and Spanish classes in school just to be able to make a fool of myself in both languages!

In that spirit, I bring you a realistic look at a modern-day bilingual hero. From the makers of "Ooh Girl!," here is "One Semester of Spanish Love Song":

5.31.2008

Googling books for research and pleasure

A Lady's SecretI'm on a Jo Beverley kick and have just read A Lady's Secret. In her notes at the end, Beverley points out a good resource for writers, particularly of historicals: Google Book Search.

I'd been using it unwittingly for my other blog -- I found old-timey books on wet nursing such as A Treatise on Hygiene and Public Health.

You can also often search selections of current books to see if there are passages to interest you, such as The History of the European Family, which also gave me invaluable information on breastfeeding rates from days gone by.

Google Book Search is trying to scan in many copies of old and rare books to preserve and share them for free, and publishers and authors of newer books can offer a glimpse into their pages as a service to potential readers.

As a writer doing research or a publisher promoting a book, it's worth looking into. As a reader scouting out good new reads, it's also a treat!

4.24.2008

Truth in sexual advertising

I'm loving this YouTube R&B song I first saw on Jo Beverley's blog:


My favorite line has got to be: "Chafing...." Or maybe: "I could give you 7 minutes if you don't move around too much."

4.23.2008

Back to romance with Lady Beware

I've finally had some time recently to pick up some fiction. I've been enoying Lady Beware. I always love Jo Beverley's writing. She's a very skillful writer, with obvious competence in plotting, characterization, and dialogue. She's one of my biggest inspirations for what I want my romance writing to be like. I don't feel like I'm up to her level yet, but when I'm editing my work, I always compare it to writers like her.

I also love her Company of Rogues series. I think if you came in on the series in the middle that it would be confusing, which is why I always check bibliography lists to make sure I read series in the right order. Usually the library will have any earlier works as well as the current ones, and often they're automatically arranged by publication date. But to be sure, I check the author's website, such as Jo Beverley's book list here (it's not the easiest site to navigate, but it has a lot of info, including links to her blog and for joining her Yahoo! Group).

Anyway, I'm not done yet with Lady Beware, so I won't comment too much yet except to say -- man, I missed romance novels! It's so fun to be reading one again. Hooray! I love how drawn up I can get in the story, and at this point the Rogues characters seem like old friends to me. I'm always rooting for them, and for the romance, and Jo (I call her Jo) has never let me down!


4.03.2008

A poem a day

I mentioned in my last post that I get WritersDigest.com emails, and I was fortunate enough to read the latest one in a timely manner.

Because...

Robert Lee Brewer who is a poet and has a blog called Poetic Asides --

http://blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides

-- is hosting a poem-a-day challenge for April, which is National Poetry Month, to get some good raw material going. These are supposed to be quick and dirty attempts to achieve some first drafts -- then, at the end of the month you'll have 30 poems to start working on during May, which is apparently National Poetry Revising Month.

(A separate topic to muse upon would be the dubious necessity of magazines anymore given the quantities of information and entertainment now online, as WritersDigest.com and its bevy of blogs is proving. Remember when some online sites, apart from porn, charged money just to be read? That was lame. Thank goodness for advertising revenue!)

So, I know this is a romance writer's blog and all, but I'm so geeked by this challenge. Is it all right to be a poet and a romance writer? I usually try to keep the two separate in people's minds, because be honest -- are you wondering which one I must suck at? The truth is, I'm awesome at both...)

But, seriously, if you're eclectic with the genres like me, feel free to play along. You can post your poems in the Poetic Asides blog's comments, or you can be a reclusive wretch like me and just accumulate privately.

Today, as Day Three, is haiku day, a three-line form (as practiced in English, anywho). I've learned a lot about haiku from reading Robert Lee Brewer's various blog entries on the subject and the links he gave. I especially like the easy-to-follow run-down with lovely example haiku in this resource by Michael Dylan Welch. (Does having Dylan as a middle name automatically make you a poet?)

I did not, however, learn enough about haiku to be brave enough to post my attempts. But I welcome future prompts that motivate us to wrestle with poetic forms. I love freestyling it, too, but I love the way a framework can provide security at the same time as inspiration. Being a fan of puzzles, I love the challenge of fitting my words and ideas into the form. Being a fan of history, I love knowing that a multitude of poets have come up with countless other conclusions to the same challenge.

I guess that's what intrigues me by the whole idea of the poem-a-day prompts in general. The first two were to write a poem on firsts, and to write a poem from someone else's perspective. (You can see that attempt at my parenting blog here.) I love being given a little bit of structure that I can add my own creativity to.

To all my fellow poets and poetry lovers out there, enjoy April!

3.21.2008

WritersDigest.com

I had a subscription to Writer's Digest magazine for years, and I still receive their e-newsletters and visit their website. They've recently updated it and said to help them get the word out, so I figured why not. So here it is:

http://writersdigest.com/

I've found a lot of helpful writing advice and inspiration in their pages, whether paper or virtual.

If you're looking for nitty-gritty, you can't go wrong with their series of writing books. They probably have something published on just about any topic that interests you or would help in your writing -- and, if not, maybe you're just the person to author it! For my own writing, I found especially helpful summaries of research on everyday life in Victorian England and America, and I know I'll be looking to their bookshelves and website again when it's time to start submitting to agents.

3.01.2008

Theological injunctions against romance novels

In the spirit of the Cracked piece, I share this advice against romance novels from a conservative Christian advice column:
Almost two years ago I nearly gave my virginity away to the first guy who asked for no other reason than loneliness. Since puberty I've had sex on my brain. I'm a 23-year-old Christian woman and it just doesn't seem normal for me to think about sex as often as I do. ...

Sometimes I think I am a sex addict and that the only reason I am still "pure" is that after that near-miss, I just knew that I shouldn't date until I was ready to get married. I guess my main problem is that during my weak times, if I get overtired, overstimulated, or overstressed, I'll give in to more than just the thoughts. I'll read a heap of those secular romance novels then repent and pray that when I am half asleep I won't touch myself in an inappropriate manner. Last night was one of my failures and I've yet to repent because I am afraid I'll do the same thing tonight. There are times that I feel like my prayers go unanswered because my behavior is nearly habitual. I may only fall in this area six or seven times a year but I've been going on like this for at least eight years. There is supposed to be no limit to the number of times one can repent of the same sin, but . . . [...]

And the response:
[...] Now about that self-fondling. Naturally it troubles you; but if you've repented, then God has forgiven you (yes, really), you needn't listen to the Accuser, and the practical issue is what you can do to avoid it in the future. The idea going through your head right now — that even though you're full of regret about last night, you shouldn't repent because you might fail again — is just another of the Accuser's tricks. In fact there are several things you can do. If you think a bit, you'll find that you have certain habits that awaken the temptation to touch yourself in inappropriate ways. You mention two kinds of awakeners just in your letter: One of them is letting yourself get overtired and overstressed, the other is trying to get a loneliness fix by reading secular romance novels. Exhaustion is the enemy of virtue, and those novels are the feminine equivalent of Playboy. I'm sure you can think of other such awakeners. It will be much easier for you to avoid wrong behavior if you first identify, then learn to avoid, the things that tempt you to it.

[emphases all mine, baby]

Wow. This is so me from junior high. Well, not the almost-not-a-virgin bit, because I was quite the never-been-kissed little dork, but the fear of sexuality. Fortunately, I'd gotten over it by age 23. Unfortunately, perhaps, it took marriage at 22 for that to happen.

When Sam & I got married, I was so mad that people no longer cared what we were doing behind closed doors. They'd made such a big deal out of it up to the day we wed (when we weren't doing it), and now that they knew for sure that we were doing it, it didn't matter anymore! What had all the fuss been about, then?

This is all bound up in the freaky-weird traditional Christian perspective of sexuality. After I got over being annoyed with people, I loved being married and no longer feeling any inhibitions or guilt.

When I was in junior high, a friend & I stumbled upon romance novels. They were the perfect insight into our budding sexuality, and I loved to read the most thrilling and naughty passages over again and again. At some point, my friend & I felt terribly convicted and we pledged to destroy all the novels in our possession.

I never touched another romance novel until my roommate in college, a Christian college, happened to be a big romance-novel buff. I started borrowing hers and loved them. This time, not just the naughty bits, though those were nice, but the stories. Oh, the stories! I was swept up in the ... well, the romance of them.

And it was about that time that I started to get a grip on what being someone who's sexual meant, and what it didn't mean. I started just not being so dang uptight anymore, like Miss 23-Year-Old Virgin who touches herself half a dozen times a year and is paralyzed with guilt.

This is one reason why, within my particular culture, I have trouble telling certain people in my life that I read romance novels and in fact am writing one. I know some people will just think they're trashy, and that's their prerogative. I just watched the movie of The Jane Austen Book Club and had read the book too, and there's a great interchange between the sole male member of the group, Grigg, and his no-nonsense dog-breeding amour. He keeps recommending science-fiction novels, and she keeps telling him that they're uncomplicated garbage with no character development, and he finally tells her [paraphrasing], Once you've read any at all, I'll be happy to hear your opions on them. I definitely get the impression from most people who diss romance novels that they've never picked one up.

But the slant of this post relates to the other group I fear to discuss romance novels with, and those are the people who truly think romance novels are wrong. If they could issue fatwas, they would. They're not evil people, they're not mean, they're trying to think through this issue, and they've determined that God doesn't want us reading anything too steamy.

I think it's all bound up in the notion that sex is frightening and dirty and shameful, and I now know enough to refuse to believe that. But how to get that across to people like the advice seeker or the advice giver above?

My hope with my romance novel(s) is to present a worldview that's both moral and sexy, where the good sex is the healthy offshoot of a healthy relationship. I think it's possible, and I think it's worthy.

And, my advice to the woman afraid to touch herself down there? Get over it, honey. Go to town.

2.27.2008

A little background

I thought I'd give an idea of my writing journey so far, just so you know where I'm coming from and where I have yet to go.

Three years ago, I guess it was, I took a year off from working to finish my romance novel. I made the mistake of telling people so.

Everywhere I went: Is your novel finished? How's that writing coming along?

And always, always: What's it about? 

After what ended up being nine months instead of a year, I was two-thirds to three-fourths done when circumstances dictated that I start working for actual money again. And how.

And then we had a baby, and everything was topsy-turvier.

But I'm back, baby. I'm determined to finish this sucker, and with the support of my husband, who has agreed to do more than his share of the paid work in our business, I just might manage it. He's admitted he's just looking forward to being a kept man when I get my fabulous advance and multi-book contract. Ha ha!

Now, the reason I hated answering the question "What's it about?" is because, for me, writing is all about an urgency to say something.  If I say it out loud, it takes the energy away, and I no longer have the unmet need to get it down on paper. So I never wanted to talk about my writing as it happened, because I was afraid I then wouldn't do the actual writing. For some reason, people took offense at this and thought it was some petulance of mine that I refused to spill, and they made fun of me and my top-secret plot. Oh, well. I figure if I tell you the truth straight out that you'll take my real reason seriously.

So, that said, I'm unlikely to tell you anything about the novel until it's published, but I'll gladly share my thoughts about writing in general, and, after it's finished, the submission process. (Yipes!)

But, please, please, please, accountability can be great and all, but please no one ask me if it's finished yet! I don't need any more pressure than I give myself. :) But I'll take all the well wishes and writing dust you care to send my way!

2.25.2008

Cracked comment against romance novels

Sam enjoys the humor website Cracked.com and often directs me to hilarious posts. Today he found one that would be pertinent to my other blog, but I found one item that pertains to this blog as well:

9 Islamic Fatwas We Can Get Behind

Scroll down and read "#4. THOU SHALT NOT read romance novels." Keep in mind that Cracked is a humor site, so we can go to the source they cite and read the sheik's reasoning:
These stories take people from the real world and place them in a world of fantasy. In doing so, they give people an unrealistic concept of life as well as unrealistic expectations. These stories alienate the mind from practical concerns and impair the ability of people to cope with the real demands of society. Moreover, they are usually full of misguided ways and values. They often promote adultery, gambling, liquor and other types of immoral behavior.

I advise Muslims to avoid reading such stories. At the very least, these stories prevent those who read then from reading useful books or otherwise benefiting from their time.

Well, there you go. According to this sheik, romance novels promote fantasy at the expense of reality, immorality, and sloth.

This quote from Cracked is wonderfully purple writing:
It's not enough to satisfy your gal every single time out with a 15 to 120 minute routine, and an orgasm or two. No, according to her books with shirtless pirates on the cover, one thrust into her eager scabbard from your purple-headed warrior should be sufficient to induce several life-splattering orgasm within three seconds of penetration. Failure to do this means, of course, that you're not "the one" foretold by the romance novel; the one who would entice the feminine secretions from their velvety lair with unfailing intensity and volume.

Thus, millions of women feel like they are "settling." For their happiness and ours, let's end the madness by adopting this general boycott of romance novels, lest men everywhere wither in their fathomless impotence.

I might have to use some of that prose in my novel. :)

But, seriously, as to the point of the sheik's writing -- do romance novels promote unreachably high goals? Well, as a writer, I'm personally against suggesting that women can orgasm multiple times with penetration only, or that couples who are really in love always come at the same time. That's just my personal stance, that it's better to portray erotic and exciting, but mostly realistic, sex scenes.

As to dissatisfaction with the mundane side of marriage -- I don't agree. I think if you're satisfied with your mate that romance novels can only help. I know they put me in a good mood (if you know what I mean, and come on, you know what I mean) and make me happy that I, too, am in such a wonderful and lasting relationship. And, frankly, the other aspects of romance novels, such as pirates as mentioned above, I can do without in real life. I'd much rather read about people facing untold suffering and character building than go through it myself, thank you very much. I don't crave adventure, because I can just read about it!

I think it's grossly unfair to say that romance novels promote immorality. Adultery? Hardly! It's roundly condemned, since it goes against the core of the true-love philosophy. Gambling and liquor? Well, ok, if you're against those things entirely, which I'm going to assume our Muslim writer is, then many romance novels, particularly historicals, do portray such aspects of life. But they never endorse overindulgence. I will admit that premarital sex is very rarely taboo nowadays in romance novels, so there is that aspect of morality that many religions would frown upon.

But, at their heart, I think romance novels are very moral in that they promote healthy relationships over unhealthy. Lasting friendships, forgiveness, faithfulness to a spouse, justice against wrongdoing -- the list goes on. It's the same way that Christians like Dorothy Sayers could write murder mysteries -- the point of a murder mystery is that the murderer is caught, wrongdoing punished. It's the same with romance novels. They are, at heart, comedies, with the traditional U-shaped plot structure (as written about by Northrop Frye): happiness, struggle, ending with happiness and, as is frequent in other comedies because it's so symbolic of harmony, marriage.

I do like how Cracked calls attention to this quote:
It is only advisable for certain academics and concerned people to read such stories so they can be aware of what is out there.

Mm-hm. That's exactly why the sheik needs to read romance novels...um, for research.

2.24.2008

Snobs unhappy with happy endings

On Happy Endings postI'm loving this post on happy endings.

I've often mused on just this subject. Because I love love love happy endings and think that sad endings are, in most cases, pretentious.

My favorite Shakespeare plays are the comedies, because they seem unforced. Tragedy just seems so unlikely.

But maybe that's just my rosy experience of the world.

My mom favors Oprah's Book Club novels. You know, stick your nose in the air and sniff it like you just don't care: Literary novels.

I would make her very happy if I would write a literary novel. And I think I could do it, too. Just give the readers hope -- and then take it all away. Nothing simpler.

I think writing a good love story with a believable happy ending is much more challenging. I always appreciate the authors who can pull it off.

2.22.2008

Welcome!

I am finishing up my first romance novel, so I wanted to start a blog to detail my journey into submitting it for publishing, as well as other thoughts I have about romance novels, both as an avid reader and as a writer.

Please join me, and enjoy!
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