Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not a Hero

Maven Darcy BurkeEver read a book or watch a movie with a "not-hero?" Can't say secondary character in this case, because the person is bigger than that, but isn't the hero, if that makes sense)? I'm going to assume your answer is yes. Last night I watched a snippet of what is truly one of my favorite movies of all time: Tombstone. That's the OK Corral retelling from 1993 (God, is it really that old? Yikes) starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. A Kevin Costner-led Wyatt Earp came out around the same time and got more press, but it sucked in comparison. If you've never seen Tombstone, run, don't walk, to a movie store and rent it. I'll wait. You do not have to like Westerns to love this movie. It's not a romance per se (actually, imdb lists it as a western, action, romance, drama), but rrrraowr does it have hot heroes. And the hottest one of all has tuberculosis and looks like he's about to keel over throughout the entire movie.

How is that, you ask? It's one part script and five parts Val Kilmer's brilliant (and criminally underrated) performance as Doc Holliday. Who doesn't love a guy who taunts the baddie with lines as insipid as, "I'm your huckleberry." He even gets in a verbal pissing match in Latin with the villain, Johnny Ringo. Hawt! And when Johnny wants to gunfight, Doc fingers his pistol (yeah, I'm aware that sounds vaguely dirty, Maven Lacey) and drawls, "Say when." When the other baddies drag Johnny off, Doc goes back to the barber as if the entire episode were as mundane as well, getting a shave. Super hawt!

The only drawback is that Doc doesn't get his own book/movie, which is a travesty. I hate when that happens. Glorious features a secondary character (the heroine's sister) who gets enough attention by readers to warrant her own book. But I haven't written her book and don't have immediate plans to do so. Should Glorious be published, I'm really not sure Ivy will get her own book, but I'll have to think about that. I don't want readers feeling the same way about her that I feel about Doc.

So anyone else lurve Tombstone with the fire of a thousand suns like me (makes me want to write a Western romance, I swear)? How about not-heroes you love and maybe even wrote fan fiction for (hmmm, now that's an idea)? Anyone run out and buy our pal Elizabeth Hoyt's new historical today? I was nowhere near a bookstore, but I've a Borders gift card burning a hole in my pocket...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sharing the love

Maven Carrie RyanI spent last weekend at the WRW conference in Maryland (that's the Washington DC chapter of RWA). It was fantastic mostly because I was surrounded by people who loved writing as much as I did. Ok, it was also fantastic because I got to hang with my CP Diana and just chat about everything and I met super cool people who were fun to hang out with.

I wish I could remember when I first learned about RWA. I know that in 2000 I started my first book and I'm pretty sure I joined RWA a few months later. It was like this huge cache of knowledge that suddenly was open to me. I learned about series romance, I learned the proper formatting and length and how to write a query. I was on loops with authors whose names I recognized in the bookstore (and newbies whose names are now regulars on the NYT list).

I joined my local chapter, which at the time was WRW (to give you an indication, Nora Roberts is a member of this chapter). I went to their retreat in 2001 -- my first exposure to agent/editor appointments. The first time I ever heard Nora speak (every time I hear that woman speak I'm amazed and I learn so much).

Back then, the internet wasn't quite as every day as it is now. Sure, some people were using it all the time, but it wasn't quite as assumed or prevalent. It wasn't "understood" that all authors knew how to format a manuscript or pitch or all the other aspects of writing that are now easy to find out with a few google searches. I'm still amazed at the writers I meet who figured it all out without the benefit of RWA and the internet. Who just sat down and decided to write a book and it worked out!

Anyway, it was really neat to go back to this retreat, to be greeted as a newbie even though I'd once been a part of this chapter and at that retreat 7 years ago. It made me realize not only how much has changed, but also how much hasn't changed. In the end, these groups -- RWA, WRW, conferences, retreats, blogs, etc -- are all about spreading the knowledge. About writers loving writing and loving to talk about writing, to share what we've learned and to ask questions about what we don't know.

Perhaps it's a constant refrain in my posts, but it's always nice to be reminded what a great community we have. Unpublished, prepublished, published -- we all help each other out. And it was really wonderful to be surrounded by that -- the excitement and indulgence in what we all love.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Opinions Are Like...

Maven Jackie BarbosaGotcha, didn't I?

I'm not going to complete that thought quite the way you probably expected. You see, I've been following the kerfuffles in the blogosphere over some authors' bad behavior vis-a-vis negative Amazon reviews. While I have no intention of bringing the heated debate here, it's made me realize one of the most important mantras an author can learn after being published is:

Opinions are like backsides: it's best to keep yours to yourself.
Now, I don't mean published authors are enjoined never to express opinions about anything. I think, for example, it's perfectly okay to state their opinions about thong underwear (I hate them), brussel sprouts (am slowly coming around to them), and sushi (yum!).

But when it comes to other people's opinions about your work (aka reviews, particularly the negative ones), it is never a good idea to argue, explain, or otherwise defend yourself, even when the reviewer is clearly wrong. Because just like it's the kid who throws the retaliatory punch on the playground that gets sent the principal's office, when an author responds to a negative review, it never ends well for the author.

Before my first story was published, I worried a lot about how I'd feel about negative reviews. I'm an inveterate fixer, and if someone doesn't like something I've written, my natural impulse is to want to make it better. But a work of fiction, once finished and published, isn't fixable. It is what it is. And I didn't know quite how I'd handle that impotence.

As it turned out, I've only seen one review of the story that could be considered negative. And I'll admit, reading it didn't make me feel great. But it was also a very honest and well-reasoned opinion, and I appreciated that the writer took the time to think about my story and express her feelings about it so clearly. At the same time, however, my impulse was to explain away her criticisms, but I managed to refrain. It wasn't easy, but in the end, the story has to speak for itself, and it didn't speak to her. And that's okay.

To further illustrate my point, I entered Wickedly Ever After in a contest for unpubbeds a while back. It didn't final, and when the scoresheets/comments came back in the mail, I deliberately didn't open them because I didn't want to be discouraged from completing the story by what I found there. Good thing I didn't. I finally got around to opening them yesterday, and the scores and comments were not encouraging. Oh, they weren't horrible, but I'd certainly never have had the audacity to submit the story to Kensington if I'd read that feedback first.

Which just goes to prove--one reader's "meh" is another reader's "fabulous." And you just never know.

It's certainly difficult to separate our personal feelings from our work. We pour so much of ourselves into every page, it's hard not to want everyone to love our every word. Realistically, though, that's not going to happen. Not even the world's greatest writers are universally loved, after all. There is, as they say, no accounting for taste!

YOUR TURN: How do you handle "constructive criticism?" Do you think an author can ever respond to a negative review without coming off badly?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Making it click

Maven Lacey KayeMaveFave Keira Soleore and I were at Panera Bread last Sunday doing a little plotting for VHM, the novel. (Yes, even a book based on my super-sweet life needs a little plotting oomph occasionally. Sorry if that destroys any conceptions you had about me :-).

One of the discussions revolved around techniques an author of contemporary novels can use to show her characters falling into True Love. To explain: we feel like in historical novels, the men can be more macho (and sweeter) and the women can be more stubborn (and home-makery) without throwing your reader out of the story. In other words, the dichotomy potentially allows the author to show more growth in her characters. In addition (and sort of related), in a lot of contemporary novels, we feel authors often skip over opportunities for their characters to engage in deeper conversation. Dialogue is often glib and flirty without being meaningful, which can make it harder for the reader to know the characters are headed for a true HEA. Sure, it's fun now, but what will happen six years from now? Will the characters grow together? Do they want the same things out of life? How do we show this without hitting the reader over the head with the answers?

What do you think? Who should I read to get a better feel for the how? And what do you think makes a good contemporary 'let's fall in love' conversation?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where’s the Love?

A week ago Friday (that’d be April 11 for anyone who might be calendar-challenged, *cough* Maven Erica *cough*), Mr. Burke and I drove to Seattle (we live in the Portland-area) to see His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama at Seeds of Compassion. We bought tickets to see Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds in an acoustic concert and were excited the event included a “dialogue” between His Holiness and Dave (and moderated by a local newsperson, Margaret Larson). They spoke about using the media to promote compassion. My favorite part is when they talked about the power of women in leadership. Think about your mom and how important she is in your family unit, how her power feeds into the power of everyone in that unit. They talked about how the world is truly ripe for women leaders. How woman are innately more compassionate than men. Interesting stuff (and no, this was not a veiled endorsement for Hillary – I’m fairly certain Dave’s an Obama guy and I don’t know about His Holiness).

His Holiness also spoke about having compassion for our enemies and that this is what could bring us together in a global sense. This got me thinking about villains. I think most people agree that writing a villain is challenging and can often be as time consuming as writing a protagonist even though they may have less screen time. Really good villains have some sort of identifiable trait – identifiable to the reader and to the protag. Really? Do protags consciously identify with their nemeses? I’m not sure they have to, but a protag who finds compassion for their enemy? Wow, the possibilities there! Got me thinking about projects I’m working on. By showing our villains a little love we might just shine a light into the dark husk that was once their heart - and just might be again. Ah, the layers we can pull from the things we experience and learn in our daily lives. Thank you, Dalai Lama.

What’s your stance on villains? Misunderstood? All of them should suffer? Been to a neat event lately? Show us the love!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Authorial Responsibility

Maven Carrie RyanI'm a YA writer, and one discussion that seems to be continual in YA circles is sex in YA books. There's one such discussion going on here. It feels a little funny to bring this up here since most of us are romance novelists (with lots of sex!). But then a friend of mine and another YA author raised a question that I really found interesting (goes beyond just the questions of sex).

She asked if as writers for teens we have a responsibility to our readers (and their parents). I'm paraphrasing here and probably twisting her question, but essentially it comes down to whether we have a responsibility as authors to show the consequences of certain actions. I think it's actually a question that can apply to all writers: do we have a responsibility for the message that's in our books? Is it important that our readers get the "right" message?

Of course, this predisposes that there *is* a "right" message. One person's take on sex before marriage can be vastly different from someone else's take. And sex is always a hot topic. But what about something else that most people would agree on... is it important that murderers are always caught and punished? Should liars never profit? Should the drug user or alcoholic spiral downward?

And do you think this is something that applies to all authors or just to YA authors particularly? What are y'all's thoughts on authorial responsibility? Does/should it exist?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Jackie's Gems (and, er, Little Lumps of Coal)

Maven Jackie BarbosaLike most of the Mavens, I've been writing off and on almost as long as I could write (with a long stretch of mostly off between roughly 1990 and 2006). My bookshelf could therefore either be excruciatingly huge or relatively small. Being the kind soul that I am, I've decided to spare you you all of stuff I wrote before 1990. (Although I do have fond memories of a Star Wars fanfic I wrote when I was about thirteen. I'm convinced it was much better that what George Lucas came up with in Return of the Jedi. In my version, Emperor Palpatine had a daughter, and she and Luke became an item. Ah, even back then, I had a natural inclination to make everything a romance!)

Because I've written (or am in the process of writing) a lot of short stories and novellas, this list will probably seem a lot more impressive than it actually is!

1) Living In Sin aka A Scandalous Liaison aka Unbridled: This book (or perhaps more accurately, its characters) will always have a special place in my heart because it's why I started writing against after a 15+ year hiatus. The hero and heroine popped into my head and demanded to have their story told. The only problem turned out to be that I had to keep writing it. Over. And over. And over.

It ran the unpubbed contest circuit in many interations (I think I wrote the beginning at least a dozen times) and finaled quite a bit, but I kept getting comments from judges that there wasn't enough conflict. Um, the heroine's a duke's daughter and the hero's an Irish racehorse trainer! How much conflict do you need? But eventually, I did see the point. I reworked the heroine's backstory and rewrote the beginning to make the conflict stronger. And the manuscript not only finaled in two of the three contests I entered it in, it actually won both and got requests from an agent and an editor.

Unfortunately, I'd made the conflict (and plot complications) SO good that, at thirty-five pages, I discovered I'd written myself into a corner and I still have no idea what logically happens next. And thus, the manuscript now graces the Magical Mulch Pile.

2) Lady Libertine: Originally conceived as the sequel to Unbridled, this book features my favorite heroine ever--the snarky, jaded, and promiscuous Amelia. Amelia originally appeared in Unbridled as an antagonist/villainess. I loved her voice when I wrote from her POV so much that I had to "redeem" her at the end so I could give her a book of her own. The plot for this one is sort of a modified Da Vinci Code idea, with the hero and heroine looking for pieces of a blueprint based on the clue they find at each location. Coming up with the clues and their interpretations was fun. My favorite is the one that uses Robert Burns' poem, Of a Mouse.

This one's still unfinished (25K of 90-100), but I suspect it'll be the next historical I complete and submit to Kensington.

3) Carnally Ever After: This is a short story (<15k, so I can't properly call it a novella) that I wrote on a dare of sorts from Ann Aguirre early last year. She was doing a short for an Ellora's Cave call for submissions, and challenged her blog readers to do the same. I didn't think I had any ideas, but suddenly, this story popped into my head and went on to essentially write itself.

This is the story that got me my first contract for publication, though it turned out to be from Cobblestone Press rather than Ellora's Cave.

4) Going Greek: A complete departure from anything I had done before, I got the idea for this contemporary, first-person women's fiction/romance after attending a meeting of the San Diego RWA Chapter at which Sally Van Haitsma, a local agent, was the featured speaker. It's sitting at about 16,000 words right now, and is definitely high on my priority list to finish since my agent thinks it has great commercial prospects. (She described it as an updated How Stella Got Her Groove Back, which would never have occurred to me, since I've neither read that book nor seen the movie.)

5) Beyond the Red Door: This is the title I brainstormed with Kevan for the anthology that includes Wickedly Ever After, Scandalously Ever After, and Sinfully Ever After. As you might have guessed from the titles, these are all sequels to that little story that got me my first contract for publication. Wickedly is the only one that's finished at the moment, and it's also the story that got me my offer for publication from John at Kensington and landed me my agent. I love the way Kevan described it in the deal announcement on Publisher's Marketplace yesterday (er, yeah, I had to get that in here, didn't I?): "an anthology of erotic, historical romance, with three short stories rich in historical detail and the lusty escapades of London's Ton society at the infamous Red Door Brothel." Works for me!

6) The Gospel of Love: This is a quartet (natch!) of contemporary, first person novellas. The idea for this one started as the title, and the first in the series, According to Luke, fell out of my head in a little under two weeks in November of last year. Cobblestone will release it in June of this year. I hope to finish Matthew, which is about a quarter of the way done, in time for it to be released by Cobbelstone in either August or September. Despite the title, there's no big, overarching religious theme here--just the stories of four brothers finding love in the most unexpected places and people.

Of course, this actually only scratches the surface of all the ideas rolling around in my head. If I told you ALL of them, we'd be here until next week! Ah, a writer's dilemma: so many stories, so little time!

Do you have more story ideas than you can live long enough to write? How do you pick between projects when you have a dozen and they all seem like great ideas? Do tell!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lacey's Bookshelf

Maven Lacey KayeAs you must know by now, this week the Mavens are doing the Novel Meme. It goes like this:

Hey, Maven Lacey, what books have you written?

And the answer is...Not nearly enough.

1) As with a few of the other Mavens, my first-ever attempt to write a novel happened before I turned 10. I wanted to write a Babysitter's Club-style book because that's what I knew. I started it on one of the pcs at my mom's work, where it remains to this day. Needless to say, it also remains incomplete, which very well may be why it has yet to be published.

Or maybe that's not why.

2) My first earnest attempt to write a novel resulted in If You Asked the Devil to Dance, which is the launch title of my Romance with Color series. In DTD, the fierce, passionate Shawano warrior heroine is forced from her tribe into English society in the hopes she will be able to save her people from ruin. While attempting to collect her English father's inheritance, she meets the ton's idea of your cliched romance novel hero: He's reserved, dark and devilishly handsome, with wicked eyes and a lady-killing smile...only he doesn't know that because he's too shy to ask anyone why it is everyone backs away from him all the time. These h/h are about as star-crossed as they come, and even I wondered how the story could ever end happily.

3) The second novel in my Romance with Color series is If You Asked an Angel to Love. ATL follows the first story out of England into war-torn America, where the first heroine's brother continues the Shawano fight for independence. Armed with guns, money, much-needed supplies -- and a fiery, female stowaway -- he returns just a little too late. His people have surrendered to despair and given up. His attempts to lead them to victory are met with loss of life and eventual mutiny. As his life spirals out of his control, he becomes more and more attracted to the woman who dares to take what she wants. And therein lies the catch: to truly have her, she must want him. And the silent, unyielding warrior has yet to give her a reason to...

4) If You Asked a Rake to Reform is the third novel in my Romance with Color series. The hero is a moronic ninny whose primary purpose in life is to demonstrate proper wear of the latest cravats. The heroine is a half-black former slave with a burning desire to become an Abolitionist. These two collide in a darkly humorous battle of wits and parasols with a toss-up ending I still haven't quite decided on.

5) VHM, the novel is my contemporary Geek Lit romance. Also known as The Novel that Shall Never Be Published, the basic plot was conceived by my coworkers after they realized I write historical fiction and they'd never want to read my books unless they took my career in hand. (But their wives, I am assured, can't wait for the day they can snatch up my girlie books.)

VHM is about an engineer who writes a book about her coworkers because she's got writer's block between her first and second novels (cough, cough) and suddenly Real Life is more interesting (and easier to write about) than historical fiction. She never intends for it to see the light of day...

YOUR TURN: Which one do you want to read first? Why?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Darcy's "Library"

Maven Darcy BurkeAwwww, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump. Do me, baby! Hey, it's Hump Day! And we're strolling down memory lane, so why not reach back into the vault for a soundtrack while we're at it? I was in college when that song came out. Back when I still watched music videos. And wrote drivel...

I actually started out writing “news” reports to deliver to my great-uncle (fantastic audience, my Uncle Alec) when I was about 8 or 9 I’d guess. Silly drivel about the weather or maybe the plants in their (Uncle Alec was my grandma’s brother and he lived with my grandparents) awesome garden.

In high school I wrote maybe half of a godawful book about a heroine named Capricia (I literally just tried to type Crapicia, which says it all right there) who falls for the much-older hero. After she surrenders her virginity, nothing changes (yeah, this was before I knew squat about social mores during whatever historical period this was) and she leaves England, taking the bloodstained sheet with her. And then mails it back to him later which then gets him in trouble. Now: cringeworthy. Then: bitchen storytelling!

After that or maybe simultaenously, I tried to adapt one of my favorite romance novels, Seaflame by Valerie Vayle, into a movie. It has pirates! Political intrigue! The Sun King! I still think it could be great.

Next, I started an epic set during the American Revolutionary War with two heroes and two heroines. Actually, there might have been three of each. But maybe I planned a trilogy. Whatever I’d drafted is lost. What I do have is a list of characters and a very intricate timeline for about three generations of people.

The last project(s) I started before getting “serious” about writing (er, finishing) a romance novel in 2005 was a trilogy of books with the titles: Dawn, Twilight, and Midnight. The books are so named because each one starts in the applicable time. For example, Dawn starts with a duel at, you guessed it, dawn, and features a female spy who loses her memory (think The Long Kiss Goodnight) when she’s shot in the middle of said duel by the hero (he’s dueling with someone other than her). Twilight features his good friend, a total manslut, and Midnight is about their other friend who must gamble in order to keep his family’s finances afloat and maintain the image that they are wealthy nobility, when in fact they are near ruin. You see the theme? The fighter (duelist), the lover, and the gambler. I still plan to write the trilogy, but didn’t want them to be my “first” books. Instead, I wrote…

1) Notorious, which was originally called The White Widow. I conceptualized it as a woman who may or may not have killed her husband and wore nothing but white as a widow. This was before I realized that white was an acceptable color for mourning. Damn historical accuracy. It was while writing this book that I joined the Aspiring Romance Writers loop and met Mavens Lacey (we also knew each other a bit from the Avon chat board), Erica, and Jackie. I began to CP with Lacey almost immediately and soon realized Notorious was in dire need of conflict. So I came up with this (not) great subplot of the heroine wanting to help abused servants because her deceased husband had abused his servants. Man, that went nowhere. So then the heroine decided to go to London to look for information about her deceased reprobate father who mentored the hero (in reprobation – is that a word?). I conceived the hero and heroine of this book while watching Nip/Tuck and drooling over Dr. Christian Troy, a gorgeous manslut (hmmm, do I like mansluts?). I tried to come up with the perfect foil for him…and came up with Bree Van de Kamp from Desperate Housewives. Voila, Notorious was born. And 21 months later died a slow, but necessary death and now lives with the dust bunnies (the abandoned novel equivalent of sleeping with the fishes).

2) Glorious was supposed to be book 2 of the Black Bandit trilogy (Notorious, Glorious, and Dangerous). A bandit was going to arc over three books and his identity would be revealed in Dangerous. After I scrapped Notorious, I scrapped the arcing idea and just wrote Glorious without the bandit scenario (which I saved for Her Wicked Ways, see below). Glorious is about a subvillain (I just made up this term to describe a somewhat villainous character who is not the “actual” villain) of Notorious who redeemed himself at the end of the story by blocking a bullet meant for the heroine. He learns a terrible secret while he's lying there bleeding, and embraces the obliterating effects of laudanum while recovering from his wound. The latter bit is still present and Glorious (unlike Notorious) has been well-received in contests and is a Golden Heart finalist. It also landed me my agent.

3) Her Wicked Ways is the book about the bandit! And was supposed to be about the Glorious hero’s sister. I unlinked the books because I couldn’t make the timeline work for both (stuff that happens in Glorious to the hero’s sister just didn’t jive with what I needed to happen in Her Wicked Ways). The heroine is a delightfully arrogant Society chit who’s been banished to a backwater village after getting caught in a near-compromising position. She’s packed off to rural Wiltshire where she’s made to work at an orphanage owned by the hero. But can sedate country life inhabited by a too-tempting highwayman and a surprisingly sexy bumpkin cure her of her wicked ways?

4) The Tale of Gideon is not the title of the book I just started, but it’s all I have for now. Gideon is the brother of the heroine of Her Wicked Ways and he’s about as pompous as she is. Out to prove he’s as good as his brother the heir, and find his own niche in the world, he wins a broken-down manor in a card game. Excited by the prospects of a place he can call his own, he is further intrigued by the beautiful young woman who wants the manor for its hidden archaeological treasures. The battle for the right to the spectacular find becomes a battle for dominance between two strong-minded people who won't surrender their principles...even for love.

5) Fight Club: The Romance is, again, not the title of the book I’ve plotted and will write after The Tale of Gideon. But yes, it is Regency Fight Club. The hero is Her Wicked Ways’ heroine’s eldest brother, a man whose superiority and sense of entitlement mask something passionate and perhaps violent far beneath his gilded, frosty exterior. When he finds himself attracted to the most unsuitable female imaginable and worse, when she becomes his great-aunt’s companion, he must find a way to cope. Beating his friends into pulpy oblivion seems as good a solution as any…until the reputation of his entire family—the one thing he’s required to uphold—is threatened. Will he embrace his true nature and the love that will save him or conform to the ideal for which he’s been molded?

Have I intrigued you with any of this? Are you dying to know what happened to Capricia and her bloodied sheet? (Me too, actually.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Carrie's Novels

Maven Carrie RyanSo this week in Mavenland we're pulling the bed-skirts off the mattress and dusting off old manuscripts hiding under the bed Yep, we're jumping on the novels meme that's been making it's way around the LJ community. This one is pretty simple: just list and chat a bit about your previous novels. So without further ado...

1. The Marriage Contract a/k/a Pledged to a Stranger (2000 - complete and "edited"). A 100k word sensual historical romance (western too!). And it just so happens that I found my old rejections file so I can just quote from the query to tell you what this one is about! *clears throat*

"I won't do it mother... I won't marry a woman I've never met simply to fulfill my father's gambling debts."

Cole Ide never knew that his life was pledged to a stranger until the day his mother died, forcing her only son to grant one last with -- retain the family honor by marrying Miss Baxter of Memphis, Tennessee. Cassandra Baxter is halfway to marrying another man before her father stops the wedding and tells her of her obligations to a marriage contract signed long ago. They meet and fall in love in Las Cruces -- each unaware of the other's identity -- and together they must face Cole's ruthless stepfather, Bartlett, who relentlessly pursues them. During the course of the novel both characters face what it means to have honor while learning that the absence of trust can shatter a relationship, and that second chances are rare but beautiful.
Bwa-ha-ha-ha. Ahhh.... *wipes tear from eye* How can you go wrong with secrets! coincidences! relentless pursuit! I actually got some requests from this one -- even some fulls!

2. Game, Set, Match (2000 - complete, never edited). After I realized writing historical required research and that I really loved to read RomComs, I decided to change my direction. This one opens in an autopsy suite with the heroine cutting up a corpse. A guy walks in, the heroine thinks he's the new detective and to prove she's got... cahones... she um... pulls the corpse's balls out (which you really do in an autopsy). And uh... turns out the guy is the corpse's brother. I'm sure everyone can see all the logic plot flaws here (ones that I didn't see until after finishing the rough draft). Anyways, blah blah blah the guy blackmails heroine into pretending to be his fiance at his brother's funeral so the family will get off his back about getting married. She pretends to be ditzy and it's actually fun in places.

3. Untitled (2006 - unfinished). Maybe about 20k on a RomComSuspense set in the Caribbean. I don't think I ever figured out the Suspense part of that story which is why I never finished it. Or even got that far into it!

3. Dead Bodies and Debutantes (2007 - unfinished). Maybe about 30-50k written on a YA chick lit about a yankee college student who has to spend the summer with her maternal grandmother and great aunt in South Carolina so she can "come out" (which is a phrase with vastly different connotations at her New England college). And she also interns at the coroner's office. Natch, her two worlds collide. I never finished it and was writing the scenes out of order which I found out really isn't my style!

4. Pyrean Academy (2007 - unfinished). Ill-fated NaNo book. I was writing it for a YA novel class and got maybe 15-20k in. It was about a school for the descendants of the Greek Gods (I later found out that someone else sold a strikingly similar idea so I'm glad I put it aside!). This is what I set down in favor of The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

5. The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2008 - complete). YA, apparently quite dark :) The book that my agent pulled from the slush pile and sold to Delacorte -- coming out April 2009. Set generations after the zombie apocalypse about a girl growing up in a village surrounded by a forest full of zombies and her fight against the status quo.

6. Untitled Book 2 (2008). Your guess is as good as mine - lol!

So there you have it! I started with historical romance, slid into contemporary romance, took time off, tried contemporary romance and then transitioned into YA and eventually zombies :) I'd only completed two books before selling, only one of those even "edited" (by editing I fixed typos and read it out loud one day -- hardly the revisions I put into FHT).

Anyone and everyone feel free to join us -- tell us about your own trip down memory lane and don't forget to put a link in the comments so we can all check it out!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Publishing Moves at Geological Speeds...

Maven Jacqueline Barbour...except when it doesn't!

This past week has been quite the whirlwind for me as my writing career has taken a giant leap forward in the span, literally, of days. I'm still pinching myself, not quite able to believe I didn't accidentally wake up in someone else's life.

So, to tell the story from "the beginning" (and no, I don't mean the "I was born in a small town..." sort of beginning), in early February, I sent queries to a couple of agents and John Scognamiglio, Editor-in-Chief at Kensington Books, pitching Wickedly Ever After. Within hours, I had a response back from one agent requesting a partial and one from John, requesting that I send the full.

I printed the manuscript and gave it to my husband to mail out from his office the very next day. I figured it would be easier for him to use his company's meter to figure and print the postage than for me to go to the post office. I later discovered that, though he did eventually send it out, he let it sit on his desk for at least ten days before he actually bothered to post it. Remarkably, he is still alive :).

At the end of February, I received an email from John, asking whether the two related novellas I mentioned in my query letter were completed or, if not, available in outline form. I shot back with outlines the following Monday afternoon and posted a rather excited comment on my blog that I might have some big news soon.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. THIRTY WHOLE DAYS!

Yeah, I know you're laughing. But seriously, that first nibble of interest, which came so quickly--and seemed even quicker once I knew that rather than having had the manuscript for a couple of weeks, John had had it only a few days--had me hoping I'd hear something, one way or the other, within a very short period of time. And it was short, as it turned out. It just didn't seem that way at the time! (Does it ever?)

"The call" came last Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Now, for those who don't know, I live on the left coast, which means the last call I was expecting to get at that time was one from an editor in New York City. My son answered the phone and hollered for me, and I made my way down to take it (in my bathrobe) expecting it was someone from my office or a client. When the person at the other end announced, "This is John Scognamiglio at Kensington Books," well, I think you can pretty well imagine my reaction. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest because I knew, even before he said another word, that I was about to get an offer of publication.

John rattled off the details of the offer, but I have to admit that I barely heard them. All I could think of was that I had an offer from a major New York publisher for a single author anthology. That my dreams were coming true. Words really cannot adequately describe how amazing and surreal that moment was.

When John finished telling me the details of the offer, I was still coherent enough to explain that I was searching for an agent and that I'd be in touch with him once I'd selected someone to represent me. I had the manuscript with one agent already, and I let her know I had an offer right away. She said she'd read it over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I contacted four other agents who were on my A-list and received four additional requests for the manuscript.

And then things REALLY got interesting. By Friday afternoon, I had two offers of representation. By Monday evening, I had five. I was floored. And it was a tremendously difficult decision, because I felt a real rapport with every one of them. At no time did I feel that any of them was in it "just for this deal." All of them seemed genuinely interested in helping me build my career and representing me for the long haul. Their faith and belief in me and my work blew me away.

In the end, I chose Kevan Lyon at the Dijkstra Agency (they don't have a website, so I can't link you up, but I'm told they're working on getting one) as my agent. She's been a literary agent for a relatively short period of time, but has been in the publishing industry in one way or another for something like twenty years. And the agency itself has an amazing reputation, with a client list that includes Amy Tan, Lisa See, and Chalmers Johnson, to name a few. I know I'm in good hands.

Even though I'm incredibly pleased with my choice, it was tough to write those rejection letters to the other agents. I honestly don't believe I could have gone wrong, whoever I chose. (And I tip my cap to all those agents and editors who have to write rejection letters on a daily basis. It is no easy task, and I look at my rejection letters with a whole new eye now that I've written a few myself!)

This post has already gone on quite long enough, so I'll close by saying how much I appreciate the friendship, support, and encouragement of all the friends I've made in these past few years of writing, but most especially Maven Lacey. We've told the story of how the Mavens got together, but Lacey was the first person who really worked with me and convinced me I could do this writing thing. Without her, I'd never have kept going, never have met the other Mavens, never have stepped fully onto the path that led me here. There have been lots of other people along the way who've made a difference, and I plan to publicly thank each and every one of them over the course of the next few weeks.

But in the meantime, Lacey, this one's for you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You'll always be a rockstar in my world.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Random Question Day

Maven Darcy BurkeHappy Wednesday MaveFaves! Ever have a day (heck, a week) where focus is just beyond you? Maybe you're gearing up for a vacation or, heaven forbid, you're sick. How about Spring Fever? I'm having that kind of week. I sat down to write a post and got about halfway through it before my focus wavered and then completely deserted me.

Because I lack focus today and wonder if it might just be something in the air, I thought it best to keep things short and sweet today. Let's do something fun!

Where's your favorite place in the world outside of where you live? Be specific. Why is it your favorite place? When was the last time you were there? When do you plan to go back?

I'll go first. And I'm also going to cheat by naming two places. One, which you might laugh at is Disneyland. The crossroads of New Orleans Square, Adventureland, and Frontierland to be exact. It's a great place to sit because you can hear the music from the treehouse, the music from New Orleans Square and you can see the Rivers of America, Pirates of the Caribbean, and in the distance, the Haunted Mansion. Yeah, I'm a kid at heart. Disneyland is my Happy Place.

The other place I'm going to mention is one of the amazing places I visited during my trip to Great Britain in October of 1999. Over two weeks I visited London, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, south Wales (my great-aunt and great-uncle live in Cardiff, which is where my grandmother was born), and the West Country. One of the most beautiful places I saw was Tintern Abbey in Wales.

Tintern Abbey was a Cistercian monastery founded in 1131. Under Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey was surrendered to the king in September of 1536. The remaining buildings are simply breathtaking, if not a bit overwhelming in their sheer size. I look forward to going back and simply sitting amidst the ruins, and contemplating...whatever comes to mind.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Learning to Love Revisions

Maven Carrie RyanI'm not going to lie, I used to hate revisions. In high school, college, law school -- I never revised. With my first completed novel I thought I revised -- I read it out loud, changed the flow of a scene or two to make sure the plot held and ran spell check. With my second novel I set it aside rather than revise a massive plot flaw.

I'm not sure what really changed with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Maybe it's because I didn't have a clear idea where the book was going so I kept changing things on the fly. Maybe it's because I really felt I had something with that book and I needed to give it the best shot I could. Maybe I just loved the story enough to get it right. But whatever the reason, I learned to love revisions. I'm sure every process is different (and in fact, authors are discussing their revision processes over here on Fangs Fur & Fey), but I thought I'd share mine. Or at least, what mine was most recently :)

After writing 20k in less than 2 weeks I had no idea if I had a viable idea. So I sent it to a CP and she said "Yes! Keep writing!" So I kept writing. I added another 20k, sent these pages back to the CP. This time she noticed some issues. I believe she hated one of my characters with the fire of a thousand suns. And I realized that maybe this book was going to take more work than I realized :)

So I finished the book, changing the plot as necessary. Relationships changed, attitudes changed, secrets changed. But I never looked back -- just kept writing. Because who knew if I'd have to reverse some of those changes or change them even more? I didn't want to waste time revising something I'd just have to revise again.

After I typed The End, I went through and streamlined, making the story hold together, making the relationships consistent, making the story "work." And then I held my breath and sent it out to the same CP and another CP who had no idea what she was getting. I also made JP read it (again!). All were wonderfully honest -- pointing out TSTL moments, telling me how they felt about the characters, etc. So I revised again. I think at this point I was up to draft 5. And then I read it again (and made JP read again!) making sure it really held together. That brought me up to draft 7! More drafts than anything else I'd ever written in my life!

I'm sure I could have gone on to drafts 8, 9, and 10 if one of those CPs hadn't kicked my rear and forced me to start submitting. But she was right -- it was time to stop tinkering and time to start submitting. How to make that distinction? I've heard the advice that when you're only working on the tiny details that don't affect the story, it's time to let it go. So that's what I did.

I have to say, I'm pretty proud of the revising I did on FHT. I'm proud that I actually did it -- that I stuck to it. I'm also pretty shocked because I'm usually not so good with the long term follow through (my guest room closet is a testament to that!). I think one reason I was so set on revising was that I never wanted to look back on rejections and wonder what I could have done more -- what I could have done better. I wanted to send my very best work out into the world just so I could then let it go. And I'm glad I did :)

So, what are y'all's revisions processes? Do you like revising? Hate it? Why?

Monday, April 7, 2008

He did what?

Maven Lacey KayeThere's a man in one of the meetings my team supports who I just know was the playground bully when he was a kid. Whenever a new person comes into my group, I have to help them overcome their fear of working with him. It's not that he's a bad guy, but he's intimidating. An ex-cop with massive forearms and very little patience -- and no problem telling you what you're doing wrong. He's one of my favorite people now, but I clearly remember a time when I wasn't as sure of myself around him.

Not too long ago he and I were put on a project together. Around Valentine's Day he said he wanted to tell me about the gift he got his wife because he knew I'd appreciate it. He went to an antique store and bought an actual Victorian-era Valentine, one in the shape of a heart about the size of a dinner plate. He traced the heart and hand-drawn curlicues onto a piece of expensive wood (like teak or something) and used a jigsaw to cut them out, making a lace pattern out of the wood. Then he cut the "card" down the middle. He hinged these doors onto a solid piece of wood so they would unfold. Then he bought some aged-looking paper, like a thick, pulpy card stock, and printed the Valentine message on it. The paper showed through the card's window, making a very pretty presentation, and the final touch was a hanger on the back so it could be displayed on a wall.

Needless to say, I was impressed. Not just with the extent to which he'd gone to make Valentine's Day memorable for his wife of 17 years, but by the way his eyes lit up when he talked about her. I asked him if this was normal for him, and he told me about the curio cabinet he'd made for her wedding dress. It stands in the corner of one of their sitting rooms and has little lights that shine down, etc.

Someone came up to us then and said, "Hey, what are you guys doing?" I looked at the intruder and back at my friend and said, "[He's] melting my heart." And the intruder looked at my friend and then back at me and went, "Yeah, right."

Because seriously, who would believe that?

I was telling Maven Erica this story (in preparation for her meeting said friend) and she pointed out that the reason this is a story at all is because of who my friend is perceived to be. Nobody cares about the nice guy who makes the extensive Valentine's card for his wife. But the motorcycle-riding ex-cop with a chip on his shoulder who takes off work for her birthday every year? That's intriguing. That makes you stop and go awww.

May have to rethink my love-affair with beta heroes.

YOUR TURN: Tell us about someone you know who made you stop and think twice. A nice guy who did something mean, a mean guy who did something nice, a pastor who slept with a member of his congregation -- something that became news not because of what they did, but because of who you thought they were when they did it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Finding the time and filling the well

Maven Carrie RyanSorry for the late posting. I am lame and not good when I'm outside of a schedule. Thank goodness the other Mavens are on the ball and prodded me a bit :)

And then thinking about just how much I rely on schedules has made me ponder time management. It's something I've been thinking about a lot recently as I've gone through an up-tick of time spent at work. People ask all the time how writers find the time to write and usually my response is that I give up a lot of other stuff. I don't watch a lot of television, I don't spend a lot of time just lounging around reading magazines or napping or whatnot. And I'm not going to lie, sometimes I come home from a long day at work and flomp on the couch and wonder what it would be like not to have multiple jobs. What it would be like to be *done* at the end of the day. Maybe I'd have a hobby. Maybe I'd paint again or do yard work. Who knows?

But I do know that the busier I am, the more focused I become. For the last few weeks I've been really busy at work, I've been walking the puppy twice a day, I've been cooking every once and a while. So I really honestly only have about 1 free hour a day and more and more I've found myself sitting down in front of my computer. Whereas days when I have a few more free hours (ahem... like the weekend) I usually put off picking up the computer. It's like when I don't have a lot of free time, I don't even have time to procrastinate or to come up with excuses not to write. It's just bam-bam-bam -- one activity to the next!

And once I find that routine and that schedule, I start to feel comfortable in it because I don't have to think "hmmm... what should I do next." And clearly, as my late post today shows, when that schedule goes wonky, I go wonky :)

Of course, I'm still a believer that your life can't be all about work, no matter how many jobs you have. As writers we have to find time to fill those creative wells. We have to spend time actually living! For me, the release has been walking. Taking the time to be in fresh air and admire the spring trees (of course spring weather would also be nice!). To just *be* for a moment watching the dog take pleasure in the smallest things (sticks, birds, smells).

How do balance writing time and life? And what are your tricks for filling the creative wells?

PS Our friends at the Romance Vagabonds nominated the Mavens last week for an Excellence in Blogging award, which we thought was pretty darned cool (not to mention flattering). The "rules" for this award are that the recipient, in accepting said honor, shall nominate ten other blogs for the same award. Since there are five of us, however, we thought we'd split up the task amongst ourselves, and each of us award to two blogs we particularly enjoy.My two nominations go to:

Diana Peterfreund -- I always learn so much from this blog.
Sarah Prineas -- she's running a week long blog on publicity which I think is very informative!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Maven Darcy's At It Again

Maven Lacey KayeI just finished Maven Darcy's Her Wicked Ways and let me tell you, wow. You are all in for a treat! The bitchly heroine is utterly lovable, the secret identity hero makes me want to tear into his mask and the in laws will keep you laughing until you hit The End. Fabulousness.

All this fabulousness makes me sit back and try to evaluate how she did it. As with any really good book, I tried not to pay attention to the craft while reading it. Given I was in on the planning for the novel, this is a difficult task, but there was enough time between our cping and reading the finished full that I found it pretty easy to glide through without too much heavy thought. What I did decide was that Maven Darcy is really good at two things (among others, naturally): a) Her use of deep POV draws you into the story without being intrusive and without depriving you of sensory details and b) she managed to contain the story within a handful of characters and subcharacters so that it really feels like every line in the book ties up to a purpose.

I envy both of those successes. I envy her book! Great job, Darc. Now to read Maven Jackie's latest...

YOUR TURN: What's your craft tip of the week?

PS Our friends at the Romance Vagabonds nominated the Mavens last week for an Excellence in Blogging award, which we thought was pretty darned cool (not to mention flattering). The "rules" for this award are that the recipient, in accepting said honor, shall nominate ten other blogs for the same award. Since there are five of us, however, we thought we'd split up the task amongst ourselves, and each of us award to two blogs we particularly enjoy.

My two nominations go to:

Tessa Dare (who never fails to amuse -- where DOES she come up with her blog topics?) (I set a new background image at work at least once a month. Keeps my peers amused to glance into the quirks of a writer's mind.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How Dark is Too Dark?

Maven Darcy BurkeFirst, let me take a moment for the Romance Vagabonds Blogging Excellence Award! Here’s where I admit a terrible truth. I’m an awful blog visitor. I lurk. My name is Darcy Burke and I’m a lurker. Wow, that feels better! Know that I read far, far more than I ever comment (though I wish I had more time to read—there are so many awesome places to visit out there!). I really wanted to select the other four Mavens because they post some great stuff on their individual blogs. Their links are over there on the right, so stop by some time! Here are a couple places I like to visit:

Word Wenches
Romance Roundtable

And now for the regular Wednesday program...I love me a tortured hero. And from what I read around the blogosphere (see, I do read!), it seems like lots of romance readers and writers love a tortured hero. What about tortured heroines? I love them too, actually. There’s something wonderful about enjoying another person’s angst without having to live it yourself, especially if you’re emotionally invested in them (see my last week’s post on people inhabiting books).

My Golden Heart finalist manuscript, Glorious, features a pretty dark hero. And it’s not that he’s been dark his whole life, he chooses a dark path during a period of deep despair. And the heroine isn’t dark—she’s a nurturer, a people-pleaser—but she makes some pretty dark choices. Choices that almost ruin those she loves the most. Yet, I still believe they are both empathizable characters people worth rooting for.

In the manuscript I just finished, Her Wicked Ways, the hero is a really good guy doing kind of bad things for a very noble cause. For some reason, I shied away from pushing him too close to the edge of darkness and when I revise in a few weeks, I’m going to revisit that because, darn it, I like dark. (Note: “kind of bad things.” Must. Be. Baaaaad things.)

I’ve had ideas for lots of characters or character traits that may be too dark, but I hope if done right, they’ll work. What about an opium-eater who has no shame about it? A man who carries on an affair with his mentor’s wife? (Keep in mind these are historicals.) A female assassin who kills the hero’s beloved father, not knowing he’s the hero’s father? Any of those put you off?

What is it about darkness that is so provocative? I think it’s the ability to be part of a situation in which we could never imagine ourselves. Characters People who have become our friends or confidantes doing things we can only dream about. Think of the worst thing you’ve imagined doing. Like humiliating that obnoxious mean girl in high school. No, worse. Slashing your cheating boyfriend’s tires. No, worse. Shanking your boss. Worse? I dunno, you tell me (or better yet, maybe keep it to yourself). Now, think of a story that includes that fantasy (oh yeah, it’s a fantasy - at least I hope it is) perpetrated by your new best friends. Almost like being there yourself, isn’t it?

To me, acceptability of darkness is all about motivation. If you can motivate a person’s bad decisions, bad attitude, just overall baaaaadness, I’ll buy it. I’ll probably even lurve it with the fire of a thousand suns.

So how dark is too dark? Any books that have done dark to perfection? How about what crosses the line? Take us to your dark side, Mave Faves!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Most Excellent in Blogging...and More

Maven Jacqueline BarbourI know, it's not "my day," but Maven Carrie graciously offered to swap with me, and you'll understand why later in this post. (And yes, I'm concealing my motivation and plans for the sake of suspense.)

First up on today's agenda, our friends at the Romance Vagabonds nominated the Mavens last week for an Excellence in Blogging award, which we thought was pretty darned cool (not to mention flattering). The "rules" for this award are that the recipient, in accepting said honor, shall nominate ten other blogs for the same award. Since there are five of us, however, we thought we'd split up the task amongst ourselves, and each of us award to two blogs we particularly enjoy.

My two nominations go to:

As you might expect, I like these blogs (one by a group of writers not unlike the Mavens, the other by an agent who doesn't even represent the romance genre) for completely different reasons, but they're both worthwhile and excellent stops on a writer's (or aspiring writer's) tour of the blogosphere.

Now, onto the reason you're getting me today instead of Carrie. Over the weekend, I got an initial mockup and then, yesterday, the final cover art package for Wickedly Ever After. And yeah, I'm in love...

Isn't it beautiful? I just adore the intimacy and serenity of it.

In case you're curious about the story, here's the "back cover" blurb:

Eleanor Palmer is relieved when her fiancĂ© cries off to marry another woman, but horrified when he suggests the dissolute Marquess of Grenville as his replacement. Eleanor may claim descent from the lusty King Charles II, but this proper English lady has no interest in pleasures of the flesh—she'd rather read the Classics.

Nathaniel St. Clair is infamous for his wicked ways—drinking, gambling, and fornicating—but he’s willing to give up all but one of his vices to initiate the lovely Miss Palmer into the joys of lust.

Maybe a little dirty Latin poetry will aid his cause…
You can also read an excerpt on my website and see the book video here. Cobblestone Press will release the novella on Friday, May 23, and I've very, very excited about it.

Finally, speaking of Cobblestone Press, two of my favorite Cobblestone authors, Anna Leigh Keaton and Madison Layle, have a new release this coming Friday in their very popular Incognito series. And if you stop by the new release chat at on Friday afternoon between 8 and 10 Eastern Time, you might even win a free copy of their book!

YOUR TURN: Got any excellent news to share? Excellent books or websites to promote? Do share!

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens