Friday, February 26, 2010

The Hopeful Anguish of the Writer's Life

On Valentines Day I had lunch with some writing friends from my local RWA chapter before we spoke at the Duxbury Free Library. Whenever writers get together, we talk about the writer's craft and the topic always seems to lead to "what's next?"

Writers live in a perpetual state of hopeful anguish. We scribble away furiously before "the call," uncertain whether we've got the juice to be published. But the dream of seeing our name on the cover is so potent, we can't help but have stories dripping from our fingers.

Then once the magic happens and we take those first steps into the world of the "Published Author," we live in fear of being a one-book wonder until we snag our second contract. Even multiple books doesn't lessen this fear. STROKE OF GENIUS will be my 8th title, but the nagging "Will there be a 9th?" is always there.

I tend to write more slowly as I near "the end" on my manuscripts. Probably because once I finish, I have to face the next round of pulling together a proposal for another book. In some ways, published authors have an easier time of things since we don't have to write the entire manuscript before we submit it. A proposal is typically 3 chapters and a synopsis, though it can be less. I sold STROKE OF GENIUS on the strength of the title and a paragraph, but that's not the norm.

Contrary to what you might think, a book proposal is not a slam-dunk, even for NYTimes Bestsellers. I was visiting my friend Elizabeth Boyle's website the other day (love, Love, LOVE her work!) and on her blog she shared that she was in writer's limbo--that space of time between submitting a proposal and getting it accepted by the powers on high. If a writer of Elizabeth's calibre has to wait on pins for approval, there's no surprise that the rest of us do too.

Back to lunch with my writing buddies . . . I've always played things pretty close to my vest. If I talk about what's in the works too much, I'm afraid I'll jinx it. That's why I was surprised when Marie Force was telling us about a proposal she had pending with Carina (Harlequin's new ebook imprint). I'm waiting for an answer on a proposal myself, but I just couldn't open my mouth to share it. Then a couple days later, Marie emails to tell us that her proposal was accepted in a multi-book deal.

So I got to thinking... maybe it's good to toss my hopes on the wind. Can speaking it make it so?

It's worth a shot.

What are you working on, hoping for, or waiting to hear back on?

PS. Today I'm also at The Chatelaines, so hope you'll join me there as well! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

World Building ~ It's not just for Fantasy Writers Anymore!

Last Saturday, my fam and I went to the Museum of Science to see the Harry Potter exhibit. Props, costumes, sets and music from the movies swept us into JK Rowling's richly imagined world.

Every author engages in world building, whether you write fantasy, paranormal, historical or contemporary. Yep, even contemporary. Not everyone lives in a huge urban setting. Some people have never walked a small town square. Part of the writer's job is to paint such a vivid picture of that small town, readers can smell the geraniums in the pots outside the victorian courthouse. Every book is a world--a special place where the reader's imagination fills in the details based on a few specifics suggested by the author.

So do we build our fictional world with dumps of description? Not if we want anyone to come with us to our world. We start by dropping in some specific details. Here's a sentence from the first couple paragraphs from Maidensong, my debut Diana Groe book:

Flickering light from the central meal fire kissed the newborn and danced across the smoke-blackened beams of the longhouse.

The world of Maidensong is lit only by fire. I've given my readers a whiff of a smoky longhouse. In a few more sentences, the midwife wraps the baby in a catskin blanket and my reader knows she's not in Kansas any more. Or Regency England. The world of this story is older, darker and more dangerous.

Setting (topography, level of technology, etc.) isn't the only part of worldbuilding. The reader needs to know what's normal in our fictional world. If everyone else is able to fly, an earth-bound heroine is unique. Is she pitied or revered? Every world has its own rules, and the characters defy them at their peril.

A fictional world needs a history. After all, our characters and their progenitors have been living in that world since its creation. What are the values of our world? The religion(s)? The historic feuds and grudges? (Every author can use a little extra conflict. Why not build it into the fabric of our world?)

As writers, we need to know far more details than we share. I confess to having drawn up floorplans for my hero Crispin Hawke's unique home (Stroke of Genius). Some writers design their character's closets and know to the last ribbon what outfits their heroine has to choose from each day. My oldest daughter is writing a fantasy and has drawn some pictures of some really cool, very ornate weapons. Many writers sketch maps.

Do whatever you need to to do in order to be able project your world so deeply into your psyche, it will flow naturally out your fingers in vivid slices of life.

There are so many elements involved in world building, I've just dabbled my toes in this particular ocean. What helps you feel established in a special world of a story? If you're a writer, what sort of things do you concentrate on when you create your fictional world?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Going Global Once Again!

Just had to share a quickie before I brave the icy mix in Boston to see my dentist today. Nynke, one of my international readers and cyber-pal, sent me the link to this Dutch version of VEXING THE VISCOUNT. She says the title has been changed (which happens a lot!) to WHEN HE KISSED HER. I love the colors!

Thanks, Nynke!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Only 7 Stories . . .

Depending on who you talk to, there are supposedly only 7, or 20, or some other arbitrary number of basic stories in the world. (Sort of a secular version of Solomon's lament "There is nothing new under the sun.") What they mean is there are only a few foundational themes and all stories are variations of these seminal ideas.

There are Revenge stories--Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo fall into this category. Quest stories--Lord of the Rings, and basically all fantasy literature falls into this column. There are Buddy stories, Coming of Age stories, Child in Jeopardy stories, Redemption stories and of course, Love stories.

The underlying themes are the same within each category. What makes it interesting, we hope, is the author's execution of the theme.

For STROKE OF GENIUS, I drew on my passion for mythology for inspiration, specifically the Pygmalion myth. Pygmalion was an incredibly gifted sculptor who fell in love with one of his creations--an ivory form of a woman whom he named Galatea. Problem--As lovely as ivory is, it's no match for flesh and blood. So Pygmalion went to Aphrodite and begged for her help. The goddess of love was in a giving mood and turned the statue into a real live woman. Pygmalion and Galatea got their Happily Ever After handed to them on an Olympic sized platter. The end.

As you can see there are several problems with adapting this story for a romance. For one thing, there's not nearly enough conflict. Pygmalion's problem is solved by a third party instead of through his own efforts. Not terribly heroic. And what about Galatea? She's pretty much a cipher who does what's expected of her, whether she's in ivory or skin and bones.

So I made my Pygmalion (aka Crispin Hawke) an arrogant SOB, brilliant but with a chip on his shoulder. He delights in messing with people's heads. He's not looking for love. It blindsides him.

And my Galatea (Grace Makepeace) is a Bostonian heiress who is seeking a titled husband to please her mother, but really wants to see her secretly penned mythological stories in print. Bookish, overly tall, and opinionated, Grace isn't the sort of woman most titled gents seek. When Crispin agrees to help make Grace fashionable, he doesn't intend on falling for her himself. He only wants to manipulate the ton for his own amusement.

When Grace catches the eye of a marquess, Crispin is no longer amused.

So you see how I've taken the basic shape of the Pygmalion myth and altered it for my purposes. Think for a moment how many Cinderella stories you've read. How many variations on Beauty and the Beast?

Noted psychologist Carl Jung thought the building blocks of stories are floating in our collective consciousness because we all tend to respond to certain hotbutton touchpoints along a story's path. Humans crave pattern and repetition. But we also enjoy variation on a theme.

I recently read and enjoyed Loretta Chase's LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. It was Beauty and the Beast all the way, but recognizing the bones of the story didn't diminish my enjoyment of it one bit.

What was the last book you read? Is there a ghost of a fairy tale or myth embedded in the structure of that story?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Joys of Big City Life

In addition to insane traffic and a high cost of living, Boston boasts one of the best orchestras in the world. My DH took me to a BSO concert over the weekend and as I wallowed in the pure joy of sound, the negatives of big city living faded into insignificance.

I know classical music isn't for everyone, but it moves me. My imagination goes into overdrive when I hear violins. The symphony subscription was a Christmas gift from my DH. He knows me well. Three dates with my sweetie accompanied by world class music--it doesn't get any better.

The Boston Symphony is conducted by Maestro James Levine and performs in beautiful Symphony Hall. You can't see them in this picture, but in each of the arched alcoves around the room there is a larger-than-life statue of a Greek god (anatomically correct, I might add!). Despite the ornate embellishments on the walls, the acoustics of the hall are fabulous.

The program was all Strauss and the highlight for me was the overture from Die Fledermaus. When I was a professional singer, I sang the role of Rosalinde, the heroine of this sparkling operetta.(Yeah, that's a pic of me in my Rosalinde costume. See why I empathize with my corseted heroines?) In Die Fledermaus, the heroine seduces her own wandering husband by posing as a Hungarian countess at a masked ball. It's a light-hearted froth and utterly delicious, both the story and the music. It was a treat for me to relive it a bit yesterday afternoon.

The rest of the program featured Don Quixote, a Richard Strauss tone poem, which was amazing. At one point they cranked up a wind machine to simulate Don Quixote's battle with a windmill. But the audience really got into the Johann and Jospeph Strauss waltzes. Just hearing that music brings hooped skirts floating around a glittering ballroom to mind.

And remember, when it first became popular, the Waltz was as scandalous as the Lombada. Here's a bit from the program about it:

"This fiend of German birth, destitute of grace, delicacy and propriety, a disgusting practice," spluttered one English writer of the 1830's about that diabolical instrument of immorality, The Waltz. Why, in this depraved display, he ranted, the couple actually danced in each other's arms, refusing to keep the respectable distance that characterized all the good old dances. . . . "a stronger narcotic than alcohol" arousing "passions bordering on mad fury." Alas for the poor Englishman, anything that delicious was bound to be a success!

The DH always stresses over what to get me for Christmas and Bdays, but he certainly chose well this time. I can't wait for the next concert!

What moves you?

Friday, February 19, 2010

In Praise of Comfy Clothes

When I had an 8-5 job, I did the whole skirted suit and heels thing each day. Now that I'm writing full time, I know I should still dress well and slap on some make up, if for no other reason than not to scare small children when I go out to walk Mack the Wonder Dog.

But to be honest, I do my best work in my jammies! And my DH seems to consider it a feather in his cap that I'm able to greet him still in my jammies when he comes home from work. (Though it does feel a little weird to take off my jammies for a shower so I can put on fresh jammies.)

So I'm glad there is a second level of comfy dressing I like to call "plathing around in my sluvvies." (This is a saying borrowed from my daughter and while it may not be standard English, it fits.) Though the folks of What Not to Wear would dispute it with their dying breath, comfy people are happy people. And "fashionable" and "comfy" are two circles in a Venn diagram that rarely overlap.

What are sluvvies, I hear you asking. Sluvvies are clothes that could have been worn in the Matrix movies. Now I'm not talking about the slick, skin-tight leather and cool floor-length dusters the characters wore when they were kicking butt. I'm talking about the worn, tired, frayed and holey stuff they sported when they were chilling in Zion. I'm talking fabrics that caress your skin, that lower your blood pressure, that just plain make you feel at home inside them.

I have just such a Matrix sweater. It's faded and oversized. The neckline is frayed and the wrists are so stretched I could roll the sleeves up to my armpits if I wanted. But this sweater breathes. Pair it with old jeans and I'm "plathing in my sluvvies" big time. Usually, I save my sluvvies for days when I know I'm not going anywhere (ok, ok, I have been known to sneak out to the movies in it, but hey! It's dark in the theatre!)

I know I ought to toss my Matrix sweater. If one of my kids tried to go out wearing something as tired as this, I'd send them back to get redressed. But it's soooooo comfy, I can't bear to part with it until it literally unravels in the wash sometime.

How about you? Do you have a set of sluvvies and just didn't know what to call them?

PS. It's Friday, so I'm blogging at The Chatelaines too. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympic Stories

As I watch the Winter Olympics this year, I'm struck by how much coverage is given, not to the events themselves, but to the backstories of the athletes. We've been treated to a peek into their lives, their intense training, and their deeply held dreams. I care more and watch sports I previously had little interest in because of the depth of the athlete's committment to their goal.

As a fiction writer, I understand the psychology. A reader's involvement with a character is directly proportional to the intensity with which the character wants something passionately. But the Olympics aren't fiction. They're real life.

And this year, real death.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21 year old luger from Georgia, has been laid to rest. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that there were decisions made in the design of the luge track at Whistler that were intended to make it commercially profitable after the Games, but ended up creating the fastest, most dangerous slide run ever.

Nodar confessed to his father that the track scared him. I usually think fear is a good thing. It's designed to keep us from folly. But my DH had a different take on things. He says a man can't let fear stop him when he's trained so hard, and devoted so much to something. (BTW, the DH is a private pilot, so he knows a thing or two about gut-checks. Lots of guys start ground school, but bail when it's time to solo. I may be a sniveling Beta myself, but I do love my Alpha!)

And it's not just the guys taking extreme chances this year. Last night, I had to look away as 4 women took "agony of defeat" falls on the downhill run (another example of a run that's too steep, too icy, with dangerous curves and to top it off, in washboard condition! Note to future Olympic committees: It might be good to make sure you site the Winter Olympics in a place that consistently has record snowfalls!) I was terrified we were going to witness someone's death or life-altering spinal injury. By the end of the competition, the women were so grateful just to have reached the bottom of the run in one piece, they all started collapsing in near hysteria.

I don't want to take anything from Lindsey Vonn, who won the gold medal. She is the poster girl for playing hurt and not letting an injury impact her performance. But I think some of the other medal contenders pulled back after watching multiple competitors lose control at the same point on the run. They turned in slower times than if the run had been in better condition and not seemingly designed to induce catastrophic accidents.

I worry that in search of better, stronger, faster, we're pushing our athletes to take unparalleled and unnecessary risks. And there is an element out there that relishes disaster. The decision to air the training run that took Kumaritashvili's life was the wrong decision. I've taken pains to insure that I haven't seen it out of respect for the young man and his family.

I'm all for competition. I applaud the Olympic spirit. But I don't want to see our modern Games degenerate into a Roman colosseum mind-set. We don't need gladiators to entertain us.

Maybe I should start watching curling . . .

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. I celebrate the day with all the bells and whistles I can muster. The day before my birthday in 2007, I wrapped a car around a light pole. In 2009, I was recovering from cancer surgery. I love birthdays. They beat the heck out of the alternative.

But birthdays are also a time to reflect and check my bearings. Am I happy in my relationships? If not, what can I do to improve them? Am I doing what I want to do professionally? If not, what steps can I take to change matters?

This year, the answer to both questions is yes. Life is good and I'm grateful.

When my kids were younger, I was very happy with our family, but I used to fret, realizing how very fragile life is. Our joy might be shattered in a moment by an accident, an illness, just plain bad luck. I wasted time worrying about what might be.

Now I focus on what is. God will take care of tomorrow.

I share my birthday with a number of notable folk: Paris Hilton, Michael Jordan, Denise Richards and Renee Russo, to name a few! Do you know anyone with a February birthday (doesn't have to be today)?

PS. It may be my birthday, but I want to give you a chance to win a $100 gift card! Visit to enter today!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reasons for Rejection

There are many reasons a manuscript may be rejected, but given the number of submissions they receive, editors rarely have time to tell the writer why.

Sometimes, it has nothing to do with the writing itself. Perhaps the editor just acquired a story with similar elements and the list doesn't have room for two.

Maybe the story isn't right for the line or imprint to which you've submittted it. For example, erotic romance author Dalton Diaz recently told me there are no babies in any Ellora's Cave stories. So if you have a secret baby in your manuscript, one of the Harlequin lines would be a better fit.

Editors are people too. Sadly, your story might just land on their desk on a bad day.

But quite often, the rejection is all about the writing. I was checking the Carina Press blog and Angela James has listed a number of common problems there. I thought I'd elaborate on a few of them here for you.

POV problems~As a general rule, a writer should stay in one head per scene rather than pinging back and forth between characters. You risk giving your readers whiplash.

But wait, I hear you saying, Nora Roberts head-hops! Yes, she does. But she does it with such skill only those of us who look for point of view tells realize it. If you must switch POVs mid-scene, write a POV neutral paragraph before you place your readers into a new consciousness.

Overuse of Adjectives~There's no substitute for using specific nouns and descriptive verbs. Why say 'small bird' when you can say 'wren?' Don't let your characters walk when they can stride, shuffle or glide. I especially love using nouns as verbs. In STROKE OF GENIUS, my heroine's mother 'swans' across a room. In one word, you get a vivid image.

Telling rather than Showing~Readers read because they want to bring something to the experience. They want to use their imaginations and read between the words for the real story. If I say "John was angry enough to be violent" I'm insulting my readers by telling them something they could figure out for themselves if I say "John was a tornado boiling over the horizon."

Awkward Dialogue~Dialogue in a book cannot be totally realistic. You have to ping back and forth and leave out the boring stuff that clutters real life. And you absolutely cannot let a character give an information dump disguised as conversation.

Internal dialogue~If you invite your reader into your character's head, make sure it's real. A person's secret thoughts should be eye-popping, relevatory and unique. Don't bother inserting a thought that a reader could infer from the character's actions. A double no-no is having your character think something and then say the same thing.

Full of clich├ęs~Simile was a Victorian parlor game. At that time, the point was to name the common saying--quiet as a mouse, smart as a whip, etc. No one wants to read them now. Make sure your writing is fresh.

Grammatical errors and misspellings~Don't give your prospective editor/agent a reason to say no to you. If you don't have the grammatical skills, find someone who does. Spell check is your friend. Writing is an art and a craft. Grammar and spelling is the easiest part of craft. A writer's job is to make her editor's job easier. A clean manuscript means you understand your job.

Poor Characterization~From the first page, your characters need to breathe on their own. Don't introduce too many all at once. Give them unique names. Tolkien may have been able to get by with Eowyn and Eomer, but most of us give our characters names that start with different letters.

Hope this helps you. These are all things I remind myself of with regularity. When/if I receive a rejection, I want to make sure the problem isn't with the writing.

One of the things I have to watch for is sentence length. I never met a clause I didn't like. Commas are my favorite punctuation. Part of my editing process is going through and splitting my over-long sentences into more manageable short ones.

What do you have to work on?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Love & Laughter with Genene Valleau

My friend Genene Valleau has a timely new release called A VALENTINE ANTHOLOGY. After the way I trashed the holiday last Friday, I thought I'd make up for it by showing some love for Cupid and his arrows today. Please welcome Genene!______________________________________

Hello to everyone! And thanks to Emily for having me as a guest on her blog.

When we talked about topics, I mentioned that my latest release was a romantic comedy novella, "Chasing Rainbows," in A VALENTINE'S ANTHOLOGY from Rogue Phoenix Press. My previous three novels contained touches of humor, but sustaining the laughs all the way to happily-ever-after was new to me.

How did I do that? Ironically, the comedy story was drafted during one of the darkest times of my personal life. I can only tolerate things like sobbing and crabbiness and self-pity for so long. Since getting away from myself is a little tough to do and therapy is expensive, I write. So I tossed a bunch of zany personalities into outrageous situations they thought were perfectly normal and came up with a rough draft of a romantic comedy.

As my personal life brightened, the romantic comedy was set aside and I returned to writing stories with a darker edge of reality. Yes, that seems like a contradiction to me also, but that's the way it turned out.

A few years later, a friend asked if I'd be interested in participating in a Valentine's Day anthology. After I said yes, I needed to come up with a story and this romantic comedy came to mind. When I reread it, I still liked most of the characters and still laughed at their antics. However, I had learned a lot about the craft of writing in the meantime and cringed at "minor" details like bouncing point of view and lack of a character arc and weak motivation. Oh yeah, and the story would have to be trimmed from 60,000 words to about 30,000.

Fortunately, I enjoy editing. It gives me an excuse to shop for office supplies and use a half dozen different colors of highlighters. Pink for heroine's point of view; blue for hero's. Lavender to show the romance plot and yellow for the bad guy's role. Orange if there are subplots and, in this instance, a lot of red to show deletions.

After edits, the hero and heroine are pretty much the "straight men" to the heroine's zany family: an uncle whose inventions tend to explode, an aunt who ends up mentoring her kidnapper, a brother who impersonates their artist aunt to pick up women, and a mother stuck in a 1950s time warp. In spite of her family, the hero and heroine do reach their happily-ever-after.

In addition to being my first published romantic comedy, this story is special for a couple of other reasons:

--All three stories in this anthology have a "write-in" part--similar to a cameo appearance on TV--that was auctioned as part of a fundraiser for the Willamette Humane Society. I worked at that animal shelter several years ago, and all six of my beloved doggies are alumni of WHS.

--The other two stories in this anthology were written by my good friends, C.L. Kraemer ("The Lending Library," a faerie fantasy) and Christine Young ("The Gift," which is a romance set during the Civil War). We had such a good time collaborating on this project that we're doing another anthology for St. Patrick's Day 2011, which will include another romantic comedy novella from me.

It will be interesting to see how this one shapes up, since I'm at a fairly "sunny" time in my life. If you want to find out more about A VALENTINE'S ANTHOLOGY, you can visit our author blog at Rogue's Angels or visit my Web site at

As a thanks to all who comment, everyone's name will go into a drawing for a chance to win a print copy of A VALENTINE'S ANTHOLOGY, as well as chocolate and beautiful heart pin.

Many thanks to Emily for hosting me!


My pleasure, Genene. Thanks for the tip about color coding POV(Point of View) in the editing process. How lovely that this anthology supports the unconditional love of rescued pets! My Mack (pictured at right) is a puppy mill reject and destined to be destroyed before he was rescued. We're so glad to have him! Hope your animal shelter benefits big time!

Do you like to balance your mood with books on the opposite end of the emotional scale, comedies when you're sad, tragic dramas when you're happy? Do you have a rescued pet that's special to you? Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Genene's book.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Join me for some Valentine Fun!

Spend Valentine’s Day with three published members of Romance Writers of America – Emily Bryan, Marie Force and Dalton Diaz – at the Duxbury Free Library, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. We'll discuss the elements of the romance novel and our experiences with writing and publishing. The library is at 77 Alden St., Duxbury, MA.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Day is a Crock!

When people learn that I'm a romance author, they make several immediate assumptions about me.

1. They think I know a good deal more about having sex than most people.

2. They think my marriage must be filled with grand romantic gestures and endless spendy candlelight dinners.

3. They think I make tons of money on the sale of each book.

Two of those things are not true.

My DH and I have been married for far longer than either of us was single. Early in our marriage, we were starving students. My DH spent plenty of time walking me to class and carrying my books! We couldn't afford to give each other gifts for Valentine's Day. Then later when we could afford it, we weren't in practice. So now, Valentine's Day passes like any other day for us.

I've really never understood why it was so important to give and receive flowers or chocolates or gifts on this particular day. My DH often brings me flowers for no particular reason, which means far more to me than if he did it when he was being pressured by marketing forces to do something tangible.

We try to show each other love every day with words, physical affection and pleasing each other in little ways. We don't need a special day for it. We don't need champagne and chocolate. Every day is the right day to show love in small ways.

So what are we doing for Valentine's Day? My DH and I are driving to Duxbury, MA where I'll be speaking with Marie Force and Diaz Dalton at The Duxbury Free Library, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. We'll discuss the elements of the romance novel and our experiences with writing and publishing. The library is at 77 Alden St. If you're in New England, I'd love to see you there!

And what will my DH be doing? Carrying my books, of course!

So what are your plans for Valentine's Day? Have you had a really romantic experience on this day? Or did it happen on some other non-romance specified day?

PS. FYI, I don't make a ton of money on each book! ;-)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking . . .

Just got an email from my agent. Looks like I'll be speaking in Tennessee this summer. Our panel for Nationals has been accepted!

I'll be joining a terrific group of writers to talk about:
Writing As: The Trials of Being A Schizophrenic Author, for Romance Writers of America's 30th Annual Conference at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN from July 28 - 31, 2010.

There are so many authors out there who write under multiple names, we're coming out of the closet to talk about the why's and wherefor's. Even though it can be confusing, there are times when taking another pen name makes good business sense.

But Nationals isn't the only speaking engagement on my calendar. Here's what's on my list so far:

Spend Valentine’s Day with three published members of Romance Writers of America – Emily Bryan, Marie Force and Dalton Diaz – at the Duxbury Free Library, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. We'll discuss the elements of the romance novel and our experiences with writing and publishing. The library is at 77 Alden St., Duxbury, MA.

April 17th ~ Maine RWA Chapter, Brunswick, ME

April 24th ~ Connecticut Fiction Fest

April 26-May 1st ~ Romantic Times Convention, Columbus Ohio
If you're coming early for the Aspiring Writers workshops, I hope to be working with both Bobbi Smith's and Judi McCoy's groups!

Speaking to other writers, sharing what I've learned about writing and publishing, is one of my ways to give back to a genre that's given so much to me. Hope I'll see you at one of my stops along the way.

Question: If you could ask a published author anything, what would it be?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Ain't Afraid of No Snow!

I realize this is an abrupt shift, coming off a post on the verdant Vauxhall Gardens, but Boston is bracing itself for a winter storm today, so my thoughts have turned back to snow. We're expecting 4-8 inches--or as they say here in New England, "a dusting."

New Englanders are a hearty lot and they don't let snow slow them down. They can't. Snow is a fact of wintry life here. We get "nor'easters" (think of a midwestern blizzard and then toss in the extra fun of hurricane force winds!)

But I've lived in 9 different states, most of them seriously in the snow belt. Boston doesn't come close to pegging out my "too-much-snow-ometer." I've wintered in Minneapolis, Denver, Wyoming, northern Iowa--all places with wicked snowfalls. But the place than made me say "uncle" was Park City, Utah.

Don't get me wrong. Park City is drop dead gorgeous. I adored our place on the mountainside. (We were at 7200 ft. in elevation and I was in the best aerobic shape of my life. Just cleaning my house there was a workout.)

The short summers were cool and delicious and we could count on seeing moose in our extremely steep backyard. Because the town's economy was very seasonal, all the lovely restaurants and shops ran specials for the locals during spring and fall. The quaint little "downtown" is a picture perfect blend of art galleries and boutiques. For years, it was the site for the Sundance Film Festival and it wasn't unheard of to see Robert Redford in line at the grocery store. While we lived there, Park City was host to some of the 2002 Winter Olympics events. The world came to visit and it was a heady time.

But the first year we lived there, we got 5 FEET of snow over Thanksgiving weekend. We were out every hour trying to keep up with it and make sure we didn't get trapped inside the house. We started the winter with two snowblowers. We wore the older one out within the first month. While my DH was at work, I had to blow off the drive way a couple times a day, just to make sure he'd be able to get back in that evening. By December, our snow blower couldn't throw the new snow high enough to get over the twelve-foot wall of the stuff that surrounded our driveway. My DH would fill up the back of his pick-up each evening and haul it down to Salt Lake City the next day so it would melt while he worked.

Not only was there lots of it. Once the snow came, it stayed. The last of the snow finally melted in June. Seven months of snow is four months too many for me. When we left there for temperate Seattle, I felt nothing but relief. You don't have to shovel rain.

Park City taught us a valuable lesson. When we learned we'd be coming to New England, we took winter into consideration when we made our housing choice. We bought a condo with easy access to the T. We don't have to shovel. We don't have to drive in it.

I ain't afraid of no snow. Bring it on, winter. I'm ready for you this time!

How about you? Do you deal with snow where you live? Or are you a snowbunny who loves it?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pleasure Gardens

In Stroke of Genius, my heroine and her family visit Vauxhall, the public pleasure gardens famous for its romantic Dark Walks and intrigueing statuary.

Originally opened in 1661, the early days of the Restoration of the monarchy, the gardens were a return to the country for city dwellers. The alehouse surrounded by gardens was approached by a boat trip across the Thames, which was considered an important part of the experience. Revelers were sailing into a special world as they crossed the water. The entertainments were simple, often by street performers or spontaneous singing and dancing by the visitors themselves. It was popular with families but it was also a place where young men and women could meet informally without many of society's constraints.

Because the gardens were not exclusively for the upper crust, they were an ideal business environment for the working girls of London. Sir Roger de Coverley, who was shamelessly approached by a masked prostitute in 1712, told the proprietress of the alehouse "if there were more Nightingales, and fewer Strumpets" he'd be a better patron of the gardens.

Vauxhall Gardens was open for business for two centuries. By the time, the Makepeace family from STROKE OF GENIUS visits it during the Regency era, the gardens were lit by 15,000 gas lamps by night, had countless pavillions and was accessible by a new bridge across the Thames. Concerts were formal affairs and the supper boxes a premier place to see and be seen.

Admission was originally one shilling, though by the time of the Regency, it was 3 and 6 pence. Season tickets could be purchased for one guinea. Around twenty different patterns of these silver tickets survive, dating between 1737 and the late 1750s. Classical mythological scenes were on one side, with the subscriber's name engraved on the other.

In addition to the price of admission, the owners of the gardens made money selling food. The most famous item on the menu was ham, which was cut so thin that my heroine Grace Makepeace's father complains that he can "read a newspaper through it." Besides cold meats, salad, and cheese, Vauxhall also offered custards, tarts, cheesecakes and other puddings.

My heroine, who's led a pretty sheltered existence, is chiefly interested in seeing "the Dark Walks" (also known as the Druid Walks). This overgrown portion of the garden was known for being a trysting place and the scene of more bachanalian revels. The poet John Keats titled one of his works, "Sonnet to a Lady Seen for a Few Moments at Vauxhall." I doubt those few moments were filled with behavior beyond reproach.

Vauxhall Gardens closed on June 25, 1859 after the property had become increasingly run-down, tawdry and disruptive to the respectable neighborhoods which had grown up around it. The lease was sold and the property divided into hundreds of building sites. However, the garden was not gone forever. During WWII, the site was razed by the Blitz. It is now once again a park and conservation area.

Vauxhall has been featured in lots of books besides my STROKE OF GENIUS. One that comes to my mind is Jo Beverley's SOMETHING WICKED. Can you name a romance with a scene set in the pleasure garden? Or in any garden for that matter? What is it about green, growing things that turns our thoughts to love?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Contest Monday!

My publisher Dorchester has a new webmistress and she's just posted a new page featuring Author Contests. Contests are a great way to try out a new author, spend a little time on their website and see if there's something for you there! Oh, yeah, my quarterly contest spotlighting my free online novella A DUKE FOR ALL SEASONS is on the page! I am loving getting feedback on what direction the story should take for next month and unlike last month, the vote is very close! So if you haven't weighed in on whether or not Arabella should become Sebastian's mistress on his terms, please do.

And here's something interesting for those of you who want to flex your imaginations a bit.

Avon Books is giving away $1000 to the person who comes up with the best idea for a collection of Regency-set historical novellas. The novella collection will be titled It Happened One Season and the novellas will be written by best-selling authors Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro and Candice Hern. You job is to come up with the theme of the stories and three major plot points.

Click here for more info. The deadline to enter is February 14.

But part of me is thinking, "If you can come up with a theme and three plot points, why not just write the story and submit it for publication?" If you follow my editor Leah Hultenschmidt on you know Dorchester is engaged in an "acquisition frenzy" for their 2011 schedule.

Let me know if you enter some of the contests through the Dorchester or Avon site! Or are contests like book trailers (which I discovered last week make most of you yawn!)?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stroke of Genius Available for Pre-Order

I've been checking Amazon for a couple weeks now expecting to find STROKE OF GENIUS available for pre-order any day. I was always disappointed. Imagine my surprise when my friend Marcy sent me an email saying she'd found it there!

I clicked over super quick and typed in " STROKE OF GENIUS EMILY BRYAN". Nothing.


Then I decide to go with just the title and finally at #7, behind a couple tennis and golf books, there was my lovely STROKE OF GENIUS cover. And the author is listed as:

Eire and Europe UK and Emily?

My DH (AKA Mighty Webmaster and Computer Czar) checked it out and says if you click on Eire and Europe UK and Emily, Amazon has lots of books listed by that author.

I sent them a nice little email (Of course, it was nice. I'm midwestern, you know, and it's practically required!) So we'll see if they fix mine in a timely manner.

But the exciting thing is, even though it's very hard to find, someone has been pre-ordering STROKE OF GENIUS already! The ranking number was around 100K instead of over a million where books usually start. So if you have pre-ordered, thank you sincerely! Pre-orders help boost a title's print-run, which increases its distribution in brick and mortar stores, which increases sales.

Thanks for supporting my work! I hope you love Crispin Hawke and the rest of the cast of STROKE OF GENIUS as much as I do.

PS. Today is my Chatelaine posting day. I'm talking about Johnny Depp's The Libertine. Hope you'll join me there.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Was Published . . .

Everything about the publishing biz has a steep learning curve, from mastering the writer's craft (a never-ending proposition) to the "dollars-and-sense" decisions that shape an author's career.

Just to give you a little background, I've had titles on the shelves since May 2006 but I got "the call" in May 2005. I'd been scribbling away furiously for 4 years prior to that. As of May 25th of this year when STROKE OF GENIUS comes out, I'll have 8 books to my credit, with multiple foreign sales of all my titles. I'm the first to admit I've been incredibly blessed.

But if I could have had a "fairy godmother" to come alongside me and whisper wisdom in my ear right after "the call"--or better yet, before it--my journey through Published Land might have been smoother.

So if you're a pre-published writer, let me strap on my wings and be your fairy godmother for a moment today as I share . . . things I wish I'd known before I was published.

1. Make friends with the internet. Before I got the call, I barely had an email address. All of a sudden, I was expected to have a website, a blog, a presence on the social networking sites . . . Fortunately, my kids were able to walk me through setting up a MySpace and my DH (AKA The Computer Whisperer) figured out a way for me to have a website I could update and maintain on my own. After many incarnations, I'm finally happy with its appearance and functionality. In hindsight, I probably should have had the website professionally designed. But I'm the thrifty sort and I like being able to change the content whenever I want.

Why do I need to be online in such a big way? I hear you asking. Because of Number 2.

2. Build a platform. This is about developing a pool of people who are interested in your work and will be excited enough about it that once you sell, they'll run out and buy your book on the day of its release. (Incidentally, I didn't realize before I sold that the NYTimes list is not a function of the number of books actually sold. It's a measure of the velocity at which they fly out the bookstore doors during the first week of release.)

So an author needs to network (I know, I know. Most of us who spend our days huddled over a computer do so because we're basically shy, but this is the time to punch out of our comfort zone.) Join writers' groups. Attend conferences. Talk to your bridge club about your writing. Offer to speak at the library. Do everything you can to spur sales on that first critical week of your release.

Your fairy godmother wishes she could sugar-coat this, but then she'd be lying to you. And that's not nice. We like to think it's all about our lyrical prose, but publishing is a business. We live or die by the numbers.

3. Your first agent/editor may not be your last agent/editor. Publishing may move at glacial speed most of the time, but there is a constant--Change. Once you step into Published Land, you'll discover it's really a very small world indeed and the deck chairs are rearranged with regularity. Editors change houses and authors are orphaned. This has not yet happened to me. I've been blessed to have Leah Hultenschmidt as my editor for all my work. But plenty of my friends have been shuffled or cut off when their editors' careers take a turn. If/when it happens to me, I promise not to be surprised.

But if I've been blessed in the editor department, I've had some odd turns in the agency realm. I've only been published since 2006, but I'm on my 3rd agent. Lest you think I'm the demanding client from hell, let me assure you this is not so. A couple weeks after I got "the call," I got another call from my agent and her jr. agent, who was the one who actually signed me. The jr. agent wanted to branch out and form her own agency. I had to decide if I would stay with the original firm or go with the person who offered me representation in the first place.

I should have been only excited about my sale and my career's upturn. Instead, I was thrust into an intra-agency squabble. And I made a business decision based on emotion and friendship, which led to a couple years of wrangling with both parties. What I should have done was decide to leave them both for putting me in the position of having to make that decision in the first place.

Now I have an agent who's established enough to focus on my career instead of hers. Live and learn.

4. Rejections still come, even once you're published. This is the last piece of advice, I promise. On the flight home from 2005 RWA Nationals in Reno, flushed with the excitement of meeting my editor and feeling like a real writer, I was seated next to a woman who'd written straight Regency romances for years. The market for those sweet stories had shrunk so, her publishing house was closing the line. She was out of a contract for the first time in 20 years.

"What am I going to do?" she asked. "Write erotica?"

Obviously not. But the world still has room for cozy mysteries. If she could reinvent herself as a mystery writer who set her stories in the Regency era she loved, couldn't she keep writing? Or what about inspirational romance? I asked. The woman could obviously write. Why not try another genre?

I don't know if she did. But the encounter taught me something.

A writer writes. She invents. Sometimes that means reinventing herself as well. When my editor told me I needed a new name because DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS was such a departure from my Diana Groe books, I didn't bat an eye. This is not an unusual situation. If every author who had multiple names turned purple tomorrow, there would be a lot of purple authors in the world.

NYTimes Bestseller (and my good buddy) Bobbi Smith gave me this advice when my debut book came out. "Stay published."

To do that, I had to learn to be flexible. Roll with the changes that come your way because they assuredly will come. But above all, enjoy the ride!

Now, I'll slip off my fairy godmother wings and go back to my WIP. As always, I welcome your comments and questions and if I don't know the answer, I promise to make something up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

To Book Trailer or Not to Book Trailer?

I was wandering on the web this morning while sipping my DH's excellent coffee and I stumbled upon agent Rachelle Gardner's post on Book Trailers. Her blog is certainly worth a click, but the gist of her post is that book trailers are a completely optional portion of an author's marketing toolkit.


But they're soooo cool. I love to see a well done trailer.

Ms. Gardner argues they're pretty spendy and marketing dollars need to stretch.

I hear that. But for an author, a trailer is like imagining your book as a movie and that is the dearest dream of all of us. (Anyone who says differently is lying.)

But there is no empirical evidence that book trailers sell books, Ms. Gardner says.

Ok, she's stumped me. I have never bought a book based on a cool trailer. I buy books because I've read the author, know the author or had the author recommended to me by a friend or trusted reviewer.


But trailers are so the "done thing." What if we authors put together a trailer on our own, on the theory that it couldn't hurt to have one floating out there in cyberspace? For under $50, I can buy royalty free stock photos and have a trailer up and running in a couple hours. Being the thrifty sort, I confess I have done just that for several of my books (if you want to see them, there is a link to my YouTube trailers in the sidebar and the one for Vexing the Viscount is at the very bottom of my blog. You'll be scrolling a long time to reach it.)

But I'm no expert in that style of storytelling. And I worry that the amateurish feel of my trailers renders them a marketing drag rather than a plus.

I've also seen trailers out there (both professionally done and not) that give away so many plot points, reading the book becomes redundant.

I haven't done a trailer for STROKE OF GENIUS yet. (I did a fun online quiz instead! What kind of Genius are YOU?) So today, I hope you'll help me out. I'm looking for reader and writer input as I decide whether or not to bite the bullet and hire one done. I don't care if you like the trailers. I don't care how cool you think they are.

Have you ever bought a book based solely on a trailer? Has it made you click to a website to learn more? Have you decided not to buy, based on a shoddy trailer?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Regency Man Undressed

In my upcoming release, STROKE OF GENIUS, my heroine Grace Makepeace and her family visit the Vauxhall pleasure gardens. Grace's father is offended by the larger-than-life statue of the German composer Handel.

"Now wait a minute!" I hear you saying. "What's wrong with this fairly goofy looking depiction of a harpist?"

Handel is wearing his dressing gown and night cap. One stocking is off and his bare foot is tapping time on his discarded shoe. Why, the man might as well be naked! His outfit was fine for an intimate evening at home, but not in a public garden!

The point of the statue was to show the great composer as his family and closest friends might have seen him. Handel was from the 18th century, but Regency men (early 19th century) still wore dressing gowns called 'banyans.' They were inspired by kimonos and were often quite ornate and beautiful.

Last week I posted about Regency men's outer fashions--Hunks in History and The Joy of Being Properly Tied Up. If you're like me, you'll want to know the rest of the story. What did they wear under their tailed jacket and skin-tight trousers?

The primary undergarment was always the shirt. The fellow at right might be said to be in a state of undress because his underwear is showing. A gentleman never appeared before a lady without his jacket unless he was the lady's husband.

So why was a shirt considered underwear?

Because it might well be all that was between the gentleman and his trousers. The shirt tails were very long and could be tucked over and under like a diaper. Beau Brummell, the menswear guru for the Prince Regent, sometimes didn't wear drawers if he felt they would spoil the line of his trousers.

But if a man did elect to wear drawers, they'd look something like this with a laced up waist and drawstrings at the knees. Kind of easy to understand why "going commando" was appealing.

Stockings of wool or cotton completed a man's underthings. For formal occasions when knee britches were still de rigueur, he might wear cotton stockings beneath his silk ones to minimize the appearance of leg hair.

So now, the next time you watch Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice and see a fine gentleman done up in the height of fashion, will this question run through your mind?

Drawers or commando?

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Duke for All Seasons~Chapter Two!

The second chapter of my FREE online novella, A DUKE FOR ALL SEASONS, is up and running!

In case you don't know what's up with this, let me bring you up to speed. Each month I'm adding a chapter to a free read on my website. I've invited my readers to vote on the direction the story should take.

I had such fun reading all the suggestions from readers for how the story should continue. The characters are starting to really take shape and I know what's happened in their past to bring them to their present (not that I'll share all of that just yet!) Hope you enjoy the story of Arabella and Sebastian.

Please tell your friends about this free read! Here are the links:

Chapter One
Chapter Two

Each month when you vote you'll be entered in my quarterly contest. One lucky reader will win a $100 gift card in the drawing on March 31st!