Friday, December 17, 2010

Titles Suggested by Mr. Spock

Novel titles, as suggested by my husband:

  • Bangers and Mash
  • Spotted Dick
  • Courtly $#&*&@^
  • The Dominatrix and the Clown
  • And That, You're Honor, Is Why My Butt Hurts
  • Orgasminastical
  • I Thought He Could Hold His Breath That Long
  • It Was A Harmless, Birthday, Tickle-Fight
  • Sir Humpalot Meets His Match
  • Lady Humpalot Meets Her Match (because this is a common spin off title device)
  • What Think You Of These, Sir Charles?
  • She Closed Her Eyes and Thought of England... and Passion
Yeah, I know. But I have nothing scheduled to post and didn't want dead air for too long.

Perhaps this is a time when dead air would have been preferable.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Bottomless Pit of Research

A friend recently reacquainted me with Throw Momma From the Train.

"Dive! Dive!" yelled the Captain through the thing! So the man who makes it dive pressed a button, or a something, and it dove. And, the enemy was foiled again. "Looks like we foiled them again," said Dave. "Yeah," said the Captain. "We foiled those bastards again. Didn't we, Dave." "Yeah," said Dave. The End.

She used this quote as an example of manuscripts where the author clearly has not researched anything. We've all read them and sighed. How do these books get published? My peeve, particularly, are costume inconsistencies. I'm sorry, but you cannot just rip a corset off. If you are going to include a corset in your story, make sure you research the construction and the nuances of design specific to the era. A highlander does not zip up his kilt. Medieval English peasants would not own anything made of cotton. A young buck of the ton could not physically slip off his Hessians. But I digress.

I thought of this the other day as I used the word Machiavellian to describe William Cecil, Baron Burghley. Would that term have been used in 1572? Research on Machiavelli led to research about book circulation and the education/literacy of nobility in England. I determined that, yes, many noblemen would have been familiar with The Prince, but there was not enough to support that they would have used the term to describe a person who believed the end justified the means. I ended up not using the word, but learned quite a bit. I probably put a few hours into the research in order to determine whether or not I should use one word.

The same thing happened to me when I was researching the 17th Earl of Oxford's land holdings. That lead me into research about wardship under the crown. This lead me into the political intrigue during the Jane Grey debacle and the 16th Earl of Oxford's obligations. This lead me to look into the Dudley family's perfidy then the Cecil's machinations... This was all to find the name of one property that the 17th Earl did have control over in spite of the inheritance issues.

Research, for me, is a slippery slope. I actually enjoy research and can waste a great deal of time learning things that I don't need to know when I should be writing. Then I have to resist the urge to share all my new found knowledge with friends and family. Or, it gets worse, I have to be careful not to get all history teacher-esque in my writing.

Ultimately, my story is historical fiction, not a history lesson. There are times where I take creative license with some time-lines (how long it would take to have a new gown made up, the rough date a certain choreography would have been introduced from Italy to England, how long it would take a courier to deliver a letter from Derbyshire to London during November). After all is said and done, the story has to flow and entertain. I can't let it get bogged down in data.

When I make my heroine clean and relatively free of body hair and my hero have good oral hygiene, is that cheating? Or do readers understand that it's part of the fantasy? Am I sacrificing the integrity of history for the sake of entertainment?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Harry Potter Blogfest

Thank you to Michael for coming up with this blogfest and competition.

In honor of HP, I would like to have an HP blogfest. In 500 words, I would like you to create a scene with any of the HP characters from any of the seven books. It could be anything you want. Funny, magical, serious, etc. And for an added twist, let's have it set during the holidays. Christmas or Thanksgiving.


Here is my submission, at 410 words:

"Mum, have you seen my book?" Eleven-year-old Hermione Granger shuffled into the kitchen from the back garden, her hair even more frizzy from the run through the November drizzle.

Her mother did not even look up. "No, dear."

Perhaps if her mother had taken time to look up from the Journal of Modern Dentistry and actually listened to the question, she would have remembered that Hermione had last been reading in a makeshift tent behind the sofa. If she had given a simple answer to a simple question she may have avoided frustrating her daughter. Of course, she had no idea that Hermione's level of frustration and sheer desire for her book would lead to...

CRASH

Bits of plaster and insulation sprinkled around the room as the well worn copy of Nesbitt's Enchanted Castle came crashing though the kitchen wall. Hermione stood in shock as the now battered novel flew directly into her hand.

"Er..." Hermione knew what had happened was somehow her fault, but could not think of a reasonable explanation as to why. All she knew was that she had really, really wanted her book and her mother was ignoring her – again. At least this was not as bad as the time she had gotten angry at that snobby Agnes Milford at school who would not shut up about how dentists were not really doctors, in spite of the title. Poor Agnes' mouth had suddenly sealed shut and no one could figure out why. Rumor had it that the surgery, performed by real doctors, had been quite painful.

A book flying through the wall at home was not nearly as publicly mortifying as maiming a classmate.

Her mother shook debris out of her perfect curls, looked at Hermione with an expression that may have been fear, and left the room without a word.

Hermione stood still a moment longer until she heard the door of her mother's room click shut. Breathing a sigh of resignation, she retrieved the broom and dust pan and started to clean up. It would be much nicer if she could make spontaneous bouts of cleaning happen instead of all the random, usually destructive, unexplainable incidents.

A shuffling sound at the front door caught her attention and she dropped the dust pan to investigate.

There on the floor by the door was a letter sealed with red wax. It was addressed to her, Hermione Granger. The return address, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Fairy God-Agent

Agentless as I am, I have no real experience for what to expect from an agent.

In my dream world, my agent is someone who believes in my writing and is dedicated to marketing it. They are not afraid of telling me how things work and what steps I need to take in order to make that happen. Likewise, they are working equally hard to get me published in a way that suits both of our interests. I mean, they don't get paid if I don't get published, so they can't afford to be complacent.

My agent would keep me abreast of what's happening in the industry. They have connections with editors and publishers and know the best fit for my books. They also let me know what I need to do in order to make things fit.

We are honest with each other and share a mutual respect. They are my most steadfast advocate and my harshest critic -- but always in the name of making progress. They will always pursue the best contract, if not always the easiest. They want me to succeed because that means we both will be succeeding (and because they like me -- it could happen).

I am being proactive in making the dream come true. Of course, I occasionally hear stories about agent/writer relationships that make my dream look like a fantasy. Perhaps I am still innocent enough to think the fantasy can become my reality.

Someday my agent will magically respond to my email with a personal note that indicates they read my query/partial, love my writing, my voice, and my direction. They will offer me the guidance I need and put my book in front of publishers who will respond, both to the noted good judgment of my agent and the quality of my story. When that day comes, I will magically lose fifty pounds and ride away on my unicorn.

Well, maybe not that last bit.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Side Kick Spin Off

Eloisa James' Duchess Series is almost one big story. The characters are consistent throughout each book, showing up naturally within the flow of the story, not stuck in at intervals as a nod to the rest of the series. Non-main characters get a lot of face time and have a POV. They evolve from book to book, so much so that by the time the almost villain from the first book becomes the hero of the last book, his evolution is entirely believable.

Though these probably qualify as spin offs, they do not read that way. They can read as stand alone stories, but I think you need to read the series consecutively in order to really appreciate how well it is done. In general, these books are a break from the norm in regards to spin offs.

Many novels in the romance genre are written in groups of three. Three sisters/friends/cousins/whatever, each who have to marry to please their families. A group of men recently returned from Waterloo/members of an elite special ops team/brothers within a large family famous for marrying for love. Young men of the ton recently come into their titles, each with their own story. For the most part, each book is independent of the others (not counting the little nods here and there for the sake of readers who are reading it as a series). Usually you meet everyone in the first book and you KNOW that they will have spin offs.

My first book features Frances' romance with her husband. She has two friends, Mary and Jane.

My second book is about Mary's romance. It is a spin off, but can stand alone.

My third book is about Jane. But I have a problem... I did not mention Jane once throughout all of Mary's story. It wouldn't have made sense to do so as Mary's story was happening in London and Jane was holed up in the country. Mary could have spent some time thinking about Jane, but that would probably end up being something I would edit out since it wouldn't have progressed the story. Mary and Jane could not realistically write to each other either because Jane is at least 4 day's hard ride away from London, it's winter, and the story only lasts for 12 days. Frances comes up from time to time, but that was a natural progression because she used to be Mary's boss.

I have just started Jane's story, but since she's been conspicuously absent for a whole book, is she really a spin off?

What I don't know is if this is a problem or if it does not matter. For my part, I'm treating it like it doesn't matter and am writing the story that wants to be written. Of course, when, someday it gets to the point of publication, I will obey the edict of my publisher/editor/whathaveyou.

As for the image above, my middle school students assure me that Sonic the hedgehog's sidekick Tails did spin off into his own game, so I'm trusting their expertise in this field. Personally, I was looking into the Batman/Robin-esque combination's, but couldn't think of one where the side kick ended up with their own story. :(

Addendum: My students have just informed me that Robin did, in fact, spin off and was much more kick-butt than I gave him credit for. My bad.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unpredictable Forces of Nature

My five-year-old drew this. My husband scanned it and then helped her use paintbrush to add color. She wanted me to use it on my blog.
So here it is.

My four-year-old wanted to do one too -- so she went through all the same steps but didn't want me to have it. I'm going to use it anyway eventually. :)

Anyhoo, given it is a volcano, I will write about forces of nature.


In real life, nature is one of the few things we cannot control. I know someone with a severe anxiety disorder whose primary fear is weather. Don't mock it -- besides being very real to him, if we all took a step back and considered the possibilities, we might gain a healthy dose of fear. Our culture is so educated and technologically advanced. We have means of interpreting weather far beyond simply looking out the window. We can retrofit our homes to account for earth quakes and create break-away crawl spaces for floods. We can be prepared, but we can't stop nature from happening. Nature is a true wild card that can, without a moment's notice, crush us like the insignificant parasites we are. Smoosh.

Then there is the make believe world that occurs within writing. We are in absolute control (except when characters decide to deviate from my plans without telling me, but that's another topic) and can program setting details like the weather to suit our needs. So we do. We take advantage of our god-like powers and modify our environments to suit our stories.

Just to challenge myself, I decided to screw with the weather. My scene required a snowstorm, and I threw my outline for a loop when I made it a pleasant night. Now my characters were not trapped by weather. What would they do?

It was sort of fun. I mean, in real life, weather does neither cooperates or works against us. It just is. It was a fun challenge to throw a real life curve ball into my story.

What do you do to keep yourself on your toes?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Balance


I watched an episode of Glee the other day (this post was written and saved as a draft over a coupled months ago). I managed to see it without having seen any commercials or spoilers, so I had a genuine response when bad things happened. Serious sobbing, crying. Big fat tears, aided, I am sure, by the second glass of wine I had just had. The shockingly terrible situations (which I will not disclose in case some people have not seen it and still want to) was balanced out by equal amounts of unadulterated silliness.

The theme to this episode was about spirituality. While some students are dealing with loss and the unwelcome outpouring of sympathy, Finn has discovered God.
Specifically, Grilled Cheesus -- an iconic image in the burn marks of his sandwich. He prays/makes wishes to Grilled Cheesus and gets what he wanted. Grilled Cheesus is magical.
It was awesome.

The phrase, "I laughed. I cried. It became part of me." was especially true for this episode. It hit all the right buttons, and the music was not even that great.

My point? Balance.

I have read books that were conflict piled upon conflict with no resolution in sight. The situation is so bad that when the happy ending happens, I can't buy in to it. Likewise, I have read books that were silly, happy, and full of laughs. So much so that when conflict did rear it's necessary head, it was unbelievable, as was the character's response.

Courtly Pleasures is about a woman coming into herself and falling in love with her husband. When I wrote it, it was very outlined. On the first major revision, I realized I had to much personal growth for my mc and not enough conflict/tension, so remedied that.

Courtly Scandals had too much happy/humor/silliness for the conflict to seem big enough to balance it out. I've been working to that end, but it's been difficult because my male lead is a crinkly-eyed rake who laughs huskily at everything and my leading lady likes to have a good time. I had to rewrite them individually in order for the dark moments to be real. In all, this resulted in them both being less archetypal and a better story. It was worth it. I just wish I had the foresight to see what was going to happen before I had written 60k words. Que Sera.

If this sounds familiar, it is because I touched on this briefly in my post Romance Genre No-No's, but watching Glee gave much such a great, pop culture example, that I had to write more.

I recently had a critique that the humorous aspects in Courtly Scandals lead to 'chick flick' style read rather than a romance. Personally, if the plot has both tension and laughter, I don't know that that is something genre specific so much as the elements of a good story. I can't think of a genre (except for emo poetry) where humor would not be a welcome relief.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Worst Query Ever (just for fun)

This was inspired by listening to my brother-in-law playing Beatles Rock Band in the background while I was chatting with my sister in Switzerland via Skype. I had never thought about it before, but the song is really just a very bad query.

Paperback Writer by Lennon/McCartney

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? You should really be specific in your query. Research the agent you plan to send to. If you don't care about me or my agency, it implies you don't understand our client base, preferences, or have the common decency to address us respectfully.
It took me years to write, will you take a look? You just told me that you are not prolific.
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear Copy-write infringement?
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer, You sound desperate here
Paperback writer.

It's the dirty story of a dirty man Good, you're getting into the story. Try to be more specific. What's his name? What's dirty about him?
And his clinging wife doesn't understand. Doesn't understand what? What's her name? Why is she clingy? Why should we care?
The son is working for the Daily Mail, Again, his name? And is the story about the son or the dirty man? Who is the lead character?
It's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer, Is this autobiographical? Is it just about a man trying to get published? Where is the conflict? Why should I want to read this?
Paperback writer.

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few, You should really check with your genre word count guidelines.
I'll be writing more in a week or two. Please don't query a book that is not finished.
I can make it longer if you like the style, I don't think it needs to be any longer than it is, thank you.
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,That's nice that you are flexible
Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights, Well, yeah, that's what I do here -- why else would you be querying me?
It could make a million for you overnight. If I had a dime for every author that made this claim...
If you must return it, you can send it here You didn't include a SASE and I'm not paying for postage. Your freakin' book is over 1000 pages long!
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer, I hear that a lot.
Paperback writer.

6 weeks later the Paperback writer receives a rejection form letter on a snippet of paper.

Dear Paperback Writer,

Thank you for your query. Unfortunately our agency is not currently accepting submissions of this kind. Thank you for considering us.

Yours,
A. Gent

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaNo


Sigh.

Even thinking about it stresses me out.

I was so excited and gung-ho to participate. I was going to make amazing progress and show myself how prolific I could be when I was focused.

And then I realized that it was physically possible to finish my w.i.p. for this year's Golden Heart, and buckled down to get that done. As result, I wrote about 22k over the month of October. 22k in a month is not as impressive as 50k, but it's a chunk of words and helped me make my point to myself. And I finished Courtly Scandals and started my edits. My book will not be at 100% polish, but it shouldn't embarrass me.

The problem I have is that I'm hosting a class for my students for YWP NaNo. It's a little embarrassing to not make my word goal when I'm encouraging them to write every day to achieve their's.

I did go ahead and take a brain break from Courtly Scandals and started pantsing something for NaNo, but it's 23 days into November and a paltry 1800 words is a drop in the ocean.

How's NaNo going for you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Warning: This is unrelated to writing in any way.

I host Thanksgiving for my husband's family -- which can range anywhere from 11 guests to 32 guests. This year, it will be closer to 11 so it is less stressful in regards to how to fit so many people around tables at my home. My husband usually smokes a turkey, I provide the mashed and sweet potato dishes, and our guests bring the rest. I also always make Cranberry Chutney.
And I almost always forget to set it out with the food, so we end up discovering it the next day in the fridge and eating it all week. This is not a terrible thing because it's pretty delicious. Much better than a can of cranberries upended in a bowl.

I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com. I do use whole canned cranberries instead of fresh.


Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup apples - peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan combine the water and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add the cranberries, apples, cider vinegar, raisins and spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes stirring often.
  2. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce. Cool to room temperature and serve or cover and refrigerate. Bring chutney to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In which I realize that good writers do not have to be restrained by genre


My critique partner and I were discussion our next projects. I said I was planning to write my third Elizabethan historical romance and she asked me about the contemporary paranormal romance I had been playing with. I said I that since I was trying to establish myself in the historical romance genre, I should stick with that for the purposes of brand name.

Of course, she writes a wide and varied range of genres. She said she would rather people see her name and think of her as a writer of good books than a writer of a specific genre.

That made me think about my personal reading habits.

I got to know Susan Wiggs through her Civil War era historical romances. I did not bat an eyelash when she came out with Just Breathe, a contemporary women's fiction. I bought it, read it, and loved it. Shockingly enough, I have not yet read her Tudor era stuff.

I started reading Lisa Kleypas' Victorian/Industrial revolution era historical fiction. Again, I knew her to be a writer of good books, so read and enjoyed her contemporary romances/women's fiction (I generally do not read contemporary -- why escape into now?).

Shana Abe wrote some good medieval era romances -- so I gave her dragony book thing a try. The Smoke Thief and the other drakon books have become some of my favorites.

Karen Moning... well who doesn't enjoy a hot highlander? When a friend recommended the fever series, I jumped in with both feet. Awesome stories, more erotic than romantic (but no gratuitous eroticism), definitely paranormal, and kick-ass. AND she linked it with her highlander series.

Conclusion: I am limiting myself by not pursuing the non-Elizabethan stories percolating in my head.
Action: Heck if I know. I probably will still jump into book 3 of the Courtly series anyway. Or not.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Word Auto-Summarize is Awsome

I'm writing my Courtly Scandals synopsis for Golden Heart. I'll get them my contest application tomorrow, then have until the end of the month to edit and revise like crazy before I have to send off the hard copies of the manuscript.

This means a couple things.
1. I finished Courtly Scandals. I did not announce it with fireworks because I don't feel done. There was no satisfaction in completing the last chapter, partly, I think, because I'm going to be rewriting that last chapter.
2. I have two weeks to fine tune a manuscript. I have no delusions of that happening. In fact, my husband told me to look on the Golden Heart as a growth experience instead of hoping to win anything. Worst case scenario, I'll get a score card that will give me a very loose idea about reader response.

Anyway, I'm taking a break from editing to write my synopsis. I got frustrated with that and decided to let Microsoft Word do it for me. Do you think they'll like it?

>Tools >AutoSummarize >500 Words

Mary suppressed a smile. Anne? Mary was shocked. “Mary, leave it be.” Mary smiled sweetly. “Lady Oxford.”

Anne. Mary smiled softly. “Oh Mary! Mary was aghast. Mary was surprised. Mary stopped. Was Mistress Parry sad for Mary? Mary nodded. Mary could scarcely breathe. Mary hissed. Mary interrupted with a laugh. Mary was shivering. Mary was surprised. Mary repeated her words. Mary felt cocooned in warmth. Mary leaned back against Charles chest. Mary smiled and kissed Charles softly. Mary had been numb. Mary’s jaw dropped. Mary smiled at the thought of Charles. Mary’s chamber felt different. “Mary!” Mary smiled at the gesture. Mary was hurt. Mary laughed. Mary laughed through her shivering. “Mary.”

Charles.

Mary laughed. Mary nodded her understanding. Mary had a child? Mary stilled. Charles stood, raising Mary with him. Mary blinked once. Charles smiled. Mary left the room. If Mary could…

Mary sighed. “Mary, there you are!” Mary was pleased when Anne smiled. Mary laughed at the thought. Mary smiled at the memory.

Mary was in awe.
Mary was stunned. Mary took another sip. Mary almost sighed. Mary made a disapproving face.

Of course Mary knew. Mary almost laughed. “No?” Mary was amazed. Mary understood the sentiment. Mary felt terrible for her. “Sir Charles!”

Charles nodded. Mary had no response. Queen Elizabeth turned to Mary. Charles laughed.

Mary laughed. Mary sat as directed. Sir Charles laughed at Mary’s happy chatter. “Nay, Mary. Charles nodded. Charles turned at Mary’s yell. Mary was miserable.

Mary groaned again. “Drink up, Mary.” Sir Charles. Mary snorted in disdain. Mary sighed. Mary nodded. Charles noted Mary’s stoicism with pride. Charles smiled. Mary stood silent. “Anne…”

Mary sighed at Oxford’s tactics. Turning to Mary, Anne’s eyes narrowed.

Mary stepped closer, the aggressor. Mary stood firm. “Mistress Mary.” Oxford. Mary pulled away. Mary pulled away. “Charles, please…”

Mary wanted to scream. Mary felt hot, ravenous. Mary could hardly breathe. Blanche handed Mary a farthingale. Mary smiled to herself. “Sir Charles.” Mary calmly nodded. “Mary! Mary – open your eyes.” Mary could hear Charles’ voice. “Mary, hang on!” Mary felt like laughing. Thomas, Mary called him. “Mistress Parry, why has Mary never married? Charles helped secure the blankets over Mary. “Charles…” “Mary.”

“Yes?” Anne.

Mary almost smiled at Anne’s pout. Mary’s relief was sincere. Mary pretended to sleep. With Mary.

Mary felt fine. “Sir Charles.” Mary went too far.” “Mary assaulted me.”

Mistress Parry.

Charles?

Mary was stunned. Charles. Mary was neither. “Charles.” Charles chuckled. Again, Mary nodded. “Mary, are you well?”

Mary recoiled as if slapped. Mary stopped short. Mary had said no. “Mistress Mary?”

“Charles.” “Mary?” “Mary?” Mary? Any lady but Mary. Mary looked startled. Mary nodded. Charles smiled. Charles straightened. Mary twisted it again. Mary sighed. Mary nodded. Mary was silent. Mary whispered.

“Mary is no whore. Mary had never seen Charles like this. Mary felt sorry for her. Charles

Charles groaned. Mary couldn’t help smiling. Was Mary crying?

“Mary, this is ridiculous. “Yes, indeed,” Mary agreed. “Mary, you outdid yourself. Mary shrugged.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Should I Be Embarrassed?

I remember reading a romance novel while on the treadmill at the gym. I got to a steamy scene, then became acutely aware that I was reading it in public. Of course, the people around me didn't know I was at a steamy scene, but they could see the romance novel quality of my book. I was 18ish at the time.

A few years ago I was alone at a restaurant between work meetings. I brought my book, The Lady's Tutor (one of the two erotica I have read). The title and cover were innocuous, so I was not worried about what passerby's might think. I was putting the book back in my purse as I left the restaurant when I noticed that it had "AN EROTIC NOVEL" written across the back cover in bold. Nice. I was a little embarrassed.

During the first example, I was very young and insecure in my right to be a sexual human. There were still a lot of questions and labeling and vulnerabilities. I understand my embarrassment at being perceived to be reading something 'smutty.' Of course, the covers were a little bit ridiculous then, so the perception of smut is more understandable. The covers now are much more elegant (Fabio = then, Eloisa James = now).

BTW, what is Fabio doing to her back? I hope he brought a towel.

As for the second example, well, it is embarrassing that it was embarrassing. I am an adult and I can read what I want to read. As

long as the cover image is not pornographic, it should not offend anyone in a public setting. I should be able to own my reading choices.

I bring this up because I recently read about a writer that was embarrassed to be known as an author of sensual romance. To each, their own, but I just don't get it. I am proud of my writing and I write romance. Unless you are a Shaker, passion is part of romantic love. That, and the passion is just a smidgen of the story. That's right, I said story. Romance novels have stories. Actual plots. Just like any other commercial fiction.

Then again, maybe the concern is that it is commercial fiction and not high literature. Hey, if you're writing something that is marketable and readers respond, CONGRATULATIONS! You are awesome and I envy you. Writing commercial fiction is nothing to sneeze at. Many of the authors I read are educated professionals who were successful in their careers before choosing to write romance. They were drawn into the field for a variety of reasons. There are professors of Shakespearean literature, bio-chemists, TV journalists, former models, and a lot of teachers.


So the question is, why would someone write something they were ashamed of? I'm not talking about using a pen name -- authors choose to do that for a variety of reasons. I'm talking about total embarrassment about the genre they love to create. Does society really judge people's reading and writing choices so harshly? Is there really such a stigma to the romance genre. 20 years ago I would have said yes... but now?

Addendum: In reading blogs this weekend, I came across this blog from Teach me Tonight. It's a great look at the stereotype of both the romance writer and romance reader along with addressing the stigma of romance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grammar Is Not The Boss of Me!

I have had critiques where the suggested changes were limited to what spell and grammar check had to say. I have had critiques where entire sections have been reworded so much so that the characters and the plot were no longer my own. But by far, the most useless critiques have been from people who more or less graded my manuscript. They did not concern themselves with story, characters, flow, pacing, continuity, etc... they looked at each sentence individually and made comments and recommendations in regards to structure. They spent hours and hours, but never actually read my book; they just read a series of sentences. They probably held back from giving me a C- and asking me to redo for a better grade. Their commentary, when all was said and done, was limited to grammar.


In which I discuss my thoughts on grammar rules:

Grammar is only important as it pertains to furthering the story and connecting to the reader (it does have to make sense).

Writers are not English 9 students learning sentence structure. We know it already, sometimes intrinsically. We know it well enough to know how to use that writing structure, or, as is more often the case, to break the rules in order to play upon emotion, theme, set the pace, make the reader anxious, etc... We could not do that if every sentence we wrote had a clear subject, verb, and modifier and/or every paragraphs was 5-7 sentences and had a clear topic sentence. We write in fragments and run ons. We create words and break away mid sentence.

Why?

We're not writing an English paper, we are writing characters. Characters need to be real. They think. They feel. They are not always logical. The reader gets to know them through the way we write them. Sometimes the character's thought processes are random. And sometimes they start sentences with 'and' or end in a preposition. I like to refer to these things as stylistic rather than grammatically incorrect. These things make the author's voice clear and unique. The first first chapter (I wrote several) of Courtly Pleasures (previously known as Courtly Love) was like a term paper. It was grammatically beautiful. Each paragraph was organized around a central theme. It was eleven pages of back story, so it was very much like a research report on Frances Pierrepont and Elizabethan culture. Once I got involved in the action of the story and the dialogue, my writing adapted to tell a story.

I grade student's papers to help them better understand the English language. I write so my reader better understands my story. Totally different. I did not write a paper. I am not a creative writing student. I am a writer and I wrote a book.

Ending this diatribe, I give myself permission to gerund away(ha, I used it as a verb! Take that Strunk and White!). Grammar is not the boss of me. It takes more of a middle management type of position. Grammar is like the supervisor who feels like he has contributed when he made a list of rules about how to use the copier and then goes and makes idle threats when he notices someone did not dispose of the Styrofoam padding that came in the replacement toner cartridge box in the manner designated by the list of rules, so then he laminates the rules so everyone will know he means business and he feels good about the power over copier etiquette until someone else does something else wrong which results in the copier making copies with a thick black line across the middle of every page and then the employees who care about that sort of thing wish they had followed the rules at least some of the time. Like I should have in regards to grammar rules about run-on sentences.

Is grammar your friend? Do you even think about it as you write? Or do you just write?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This Is Not Your Thing, Dawg

The audition process for American Idol is much more drawn out than we see. By the time the singers get to the point they that they sing for the panel of judges, they have been whittled down to a select few. It's no wonder that some of the worse performers are laboring under the delusion that they can sing well. They've gotten so much further than many of the other competitors, they must be pretty good.

But they're not. They are terrible. They are so terrible that they are down right funny. It's sad.

The other day I had a moment where I wondered if I was like them. No, not in singing, but in writing. Writing is part of my identity. I write because I love to write. I read what I have written and am proud of myself. My friends and family read my stuff and tell me it's good. Of course it is, I am a good writer. I have written a great book and have more in store. Thus armed with confidence, I step forward into the world of querying.

Rejection after rejection, I persevere strong in the knowledge that I am a good writer and someday the right person will read my ms and believe in me too. In the meantime, I continue to write because I love to write and am a good writer.

Then comes the thought....

What if I suck?

What if my confidence is based on my own poor taste? Most of my critiquers love me as a person for some reason or another -- will they be brutally honest or only give me their positive notes? I am too close to my own writing to be objective, just like those singers that think their voices are awesome because they can't hear themselves the way others do.

If I did suck, it would explain a lot. Then I could stop blaming my poor query skills or the industry. Then I would just be another bad writer.

This thought hits me from time to time and I pour another glass of wine. Then I get a great idea and start writing again. Then later, when I edit, I find myself chuckling over my own wit or impressed with a turn of phrase. Whether or not I actually suck, apparently my confidence in my own ability is ingrained deeply enough for me to rally back from the occasional funk. Heck, I was down about my ability when I started this post, and then I finished chapter 19 and started chapter 20.

Just for fun, here's a clip from one of the American Idol auditions. It's particularly bad, and the singer seems honestly confused that the judges are laughing. The judges, to their credit, are no purposefully rude.



How do you deal with bouts of insecurity? Or do you ever have them? Do you do anything special to pick up the pieces?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boo-fest: Not Quite a Ghost Story, But Close

Thank you to Quinn for hosting this boo-fest. The idea is to share a ghost story -- either a personal experience or a retelling of someone else's experience.

The thing is that I am really afraid of ghosts. I'm fascinated by them, want to learn more, drawn to haunted houses, but they scare the bejeebers out of me.

Seriously.

The Sixth Sense bothered me for months. MONTHS. I slept with the light on. All of my weirdo childhood hangups resurfaced -- like not being able to sleep with the closet door open. Being alone at home with any light off in the house. It was bizarre and my husband had no idea how to handle it. That was the first time he found out about my ghost problem. I still have issues when I remember the vomit girl or the mom in the kitchen. *shivers* Let's not even talk about The Shining.

We moved to Ireland right before my tenth birthday. My grandparents had bought a hotel and my dad and uncle were going to manage it. I knew the hotel had been a hunting lodge, but had no idea of what that meant. I knew it was surrounded by woods, but my Southern California based prior knowledge could not comprehend it. Not really. I was not prepared for the creepier aspects.

I remember the flight and meeting my dad at the car. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room. Room 18. I was in the middle of a huge, four poster bed. The type of bed so high off the floor that you should have a small set of steps to get in an out. I was tucked under a purple, velor blanket and alone. I had had all sorts of fantasy's about moving from Victorville to Ireland, all very princess-y and magical. This almost counted -- except the room was small, cold, and damp. My blanket, while probably very nice years ago, was patched and had a musty smell. The window looked out to an overgrown hill that was so steep and high that I could have reached out and touched the gorse from my second story hotel room. The overwhelming green outside filtered the light into a dusky gloom making the shadows that much more intense.

I remember climbing out of bed (there were no stairs) and going out the heavy door -- the type of door that took a big, fat key. Directly across the hall the door to room 17 was open. My Mom, brother, and sister were napping in there. We were all waking up from our jet lag. Their sleeping arrangements were less spectacular. Dad had chosen my once impressive bedroom for me on purpose.

Rooms 17, 18, and 19 were at the end of a wing. In order to get to these rooms, you had to walk down a long corridor. To the left were broad, shuttered windows with a view of the slate roof. To the right were inset cabinets that hosted the hotel's linens.


I still have bad dreams about walking down that corridor. The dreams are set both in daylight and at night. There were other portions of the hotel purported to be haunted, this wing disturbed me. I always felt watched. Really, it was a very well lit corridor, but the windows open to the first floor slate roof gave a feeling of being exposed. Vulnerable. Of course it was worse at night -- when you looked out the windows and only saw your reflection in the glass against the expanse of dark.

I still shudder.

My most recent dream I was with my husband, two daughters, and brand new baby (I don't actually have a brand new baby) . We were in the room in the main hall that faced that wing with rooms 17, 18, and 19. I opened the door and could see down all the way to room 19, the light streaming in the windows against the glossy white cupboard doors that flanked the corridor. I felt an inexorable pull as if I was being sucked toward that hall that went on forever. I knew I had to get my family out of the hotel or it would never let us leave. My husband actually believed me and helped get the girls and I went for the baby, but the hotel had already taken her. I woke up crying, my heart pounding.

I know, this is not a ghost story in the traditional sense, but I think it is a close cousin. I cannot wait to share Ireland with my family and revisit memories, but I don't think I'll ever be able to spend time in that part of the hotel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Never Ending Scene Blogest

Thank you to Brenda for hosting this blogfest. The premise:
Here's how it works. On your blog site, write a new scene or post a scene from your current project that is no more than 500 words, which has a rocking cliffhanger (pun intended). It can be any genre. Just leave us hanging, craving more, and cursing your name for making us want to turn a page that isn't there. Easy peasy, right? Right.

This is from my rapidly concluding w.i.p., Courtly Scandals. There is frost fair on the Thames and my mc, Mary, has just noticed that the ice is shifting. POV has now switched to Charles, the male lead as he notices the same thing. Charles, a member of Queen Elizabeth's Yeomen of the Guard, is on duty as escort to the Queen and Her party. This scene ends chapter 13.

Looking up he caught the eye of two more guards men and signaled them to him. What was the best exit strategy? If the ice was not secured against the bank and the entire fair shifted the weight on the river, it could crack or worse. He would have the guard split into two groups, escorting citizens and courtiers to either side of the ice. He would ensure the Queen’s safety.
“Sir Charles.” He heard Mary’s voice registered and he turned to find her right in front of him. Oh God. She had to get off the ice. Now.
“The ice,” Mary stammered through chattering teeth, “The ice is not safe.” Looking into her clear green eyes he saw her trust. He had to trust her, too.
“You are right. My men are already beginning escorts to either side of the river. We cannot panic and we cannot rush to one side. Do you understand?”
Mary calmly nodded. “I will join the ladies again and help keep them calm.”
Charles was relieved at the resolve in her eyes. Mary was a strong woman. “Thank you. I must go to the Queen. Now.” His reverence was almost imperceptible as he ran to the Queen’s side.
Again, Charles gave the briefest of reverences and removed his hat as he approached the Queen. Time was of the essence. “Your Grace, we must leave the ice now.”
Queen Elizabeth took in the situation immediately and moved toward the water steps at Banard Castle as Sir Charles directed. “You will see to it that my subjects are seen to safety as well.”
“It is being done as we speak.” Sir Charles could not help but admire the Queen’s ability to remain calm and smiling in the face of potential disaster. She held a tight hand on Dudley’s arm, but never betrayed any sense of urgency or fear.
Sir Charles had the Queen and Her immediate court safe on the watersteps when he heard the ominous groaning sound of the ice straining to hold, followed by a resounding crack as the glossy surface of the Thames splintered into jagged sections, jostled by the current. The court was safe and, he could see, his men across the way had the merchants and other patrons safe as well. Out across the icy expanse of the river he noted the merchant’s pavilions teetering on their unsteady ground. Many people would be loosing their livelihood this day, but thank the Lord that none would loose their lives. If it hadn’t been such a sad sight, it almost would have been comical to see the bright colors of the canvas tents bobbing slowly downstream. In fact, there was the leather merchant’s tent…
Charles’ observations stopped dead. There, next to the leather merchant’s tent, was Mary, bright in her red gown against the starkness of the ice, clutching a small child.
Duh-duh- DUHHHH!
Obviously the scene prior to this cut is much longer. I don't know if it has the cliffhanger aspect as much without any background about Mary, but it will do in a pinch. :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hallowe'en Party

I'm participating in my fist Hallowe'en party in years, thanks to Nancy. Seriously, I dressed up and trick-or-treated until I graduated from high school. Then I attended parties (each costume sexier than the last) until I married. Then we hosted parties. I got older and fatter and my costumes got less and less sexy. Then I had kids.

Now I make cute costumes and take my daughters trick or treating and worry about the scary decorations.

I have not worn a Hallowe'en costume in over six years. I love dressing up. LOVE IT. It's pretty much 80% of my reason for Renaissance faires. I take my costuming seriously.

This year my daughters will be Alice (the little girl, Disney version) and Wendy from Peter Pan. Why? Because those costumes will really suit their appearances. Last year I was sick and they were cats (cat ear headband, black clothes, and eye liner whiskers -- sad, I know).

We used to live in Ireland and they don't do Hallowe'en (American style). That sucked for 9-13 year old me, but it would be very cool to attend a Samhain bonfire as an adult. As a child, my brother, sister and I went from the front to the back door of our house and trick or treated. My parents pretended to be different people each time. It's a good memory.

My sister lives in Switzerland and forces American Hallowe'en on her multi-national friends. Good for her.

I thought this blog was scheduled to post this morning at 8:00 am. It did not and, for that, I am embarrassed and grateful at the same time. I have not finished making my kids costumes for this year and have no ambition to costume myself. Why? Because I've been writing.

Shown above is pic of kid #1 in her Elizabethan lesser nobility dress from this past year's Renaissance faire. Yes, it's a cop out, but it's better than nothing. She was collecting fairy tears -- the gal at the booth let her keep five of them.

I apologize for not posting this in a timely manner. People who sign up for blog fests and then don't follow through drive me nuts and I'm ashamed to have been one of them. Perhaps I'll be more forgiving of them in the future. Who knows?

BTW, to see me in my costume, go to this recent blog post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tag Style Blog: Eight Things About Me


1. If you could have a superpower, what would it be? I would read minds—but I’d be able to control when and where so I wouldn’t hear people’s thoughts shouting all the time. Why? I would chose to be a mind reader because (duh!) I’d be able to know what everyone was thinking.

2. Who is your style icon? Nicole Kidman. Edith Head.
3. What is your favourite quote? Oh you British folk with your extra vowels….
I have a lot of quotes, most them random. I find myself quoting “I’ve got something to say, it’s better to burn out than to fade away! Happy Hallowe’en, ladies.” From The Highlander.
I also use “Don’t get hot and flustered, try a bit of mustard.” And “Smiling makes my face ache.” Both from Rocky Horror.
Remember, I said these were random.
Also I try to figure out various ways to apply this (sometimes the accusations change) quote of Winston Churchill’s. In response to being accused of being drunk he said “Yes, but you are ugly, and tomorrow I will be sober.”

4. What is the best compliment you've ever received? I won first place in the nobility section of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire Southern’s costume contest in 2003. That was a big pat on the back, but not exactly a compliment. I’m sort of awkward with compliments. I have learned to say “thank you” instead of arguing, but I don’t actually accept them often. And when I do, I need clarification to make it make sense, which seems like I’m digging. I have issues.
Someone: "Erin, I like your earrings."
Me: "You do?" *reaches up and checks which earrings they are*
Someone: "Yes, they're pretty."
Me: "You really think so? What is pretty about them?"
Someone *shifts awkwardly*: "Well, they're shiny."
Me: "Yes, they are. Does being shiny equate pretty? I was worried that they were too flashy."
Someone: "Well, I like shiny things. Ummm... I have to go do a thing somewhere now. Bye." *backs out of door*
That is me with compliments. I suck.
5. What playlist/cd is in your ipod/cd player right now? I do not have an ipod. I have David Bowie’s greatest hits in the CD player of the car I drive to work. I have Jewell’s Pieces of Me, Roisin Murphy’s Ruby Blue, Scissor Sisters Ta-Da, ABBA Gold, The Beatles Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Rufus Wainwrite’s Poses in the CD changer in the van. I listen to a CD titled Music from Shakespeare and a Pandora station titled “Enya” (which includes all sort of Irish stuff along with Lorena McKennit, Joanna Newsom, and movies soundtracks like Last of the Mohicans) while I write.
6. Are you a night owl or a morning person? I like my sleep. I don’t care when I get that sleep as long as I get it. Sleeping is one of my favorite things to do. Don’t judge me.
Right now I’m one of the first people awake because my daughter climbed into bed with us at 7am and, when I came back from the bathroom, there was no room for me. So I chose to blog. J
7. Do you prefer dogs or cats? I am totally allergic to cats, but I like that they require no effort. I am not a pet person, but I did very much love Shelby – a black lab mix that my husband got as a tiny tiny puppy when we first started dating. It did take me four or five years to love her. When we moved to a bigger house with a yard, we got her a dog. Shelby has since passed on, but we have Portia, Shelby’s dog. She’s almost nine years old and she’s still a spastic puppy. I take care of her, but it is an obligation and I feel bad about that. I’m glad my four year old loves her.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name? Courtly Pleasures (then Courtly Love) started out so serious (dealing with depression) that I wanted to show that I had a sense of humor. So my original blog title, suggested by my husband, was “Doing It Elizabethan Style.” That changed to “Bursting Your Corset” which became “Hold On To Your Bloomers.” I actually blogged about the change when it happened and you can see my thought process here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hook, Line, and Sinker Blogfest

I feel woefully out of the loop in regards to blogfests. The last two in which I participated, I had scheduled almost a month in advance. Since then I have not come across anything new. This morning I decided to go on a spastic blog hunt. I came across this one by Justin W. Parente and promptly put this together, rescheduling all my existing posts for later.

Here's the blogfest description:
Just to remind you, the theme of the blogfest is such: Please post a 1000 word (a few over is okay) sample of your hook. Preferably, chop it right out from the opening of your manuscript. I'd like to see the range of openings various writers have to grab attention. Can you establish a great character relationship in just those few words? How about showing the world? Whatever your hook is, post it for the fest and we'll do the little jig around it (and give you comments along the way).



The selection below is the first 1051 words from my w.i.p., Courtly Scandals.

Mary’s corset bit into her back and hip as Anne gripped her in a firm embrace.
Anne appeared unaware of Mary’s discomfort. “Christmas will be so wonderful this year!” She grabbed Mary’s hands and threw herself into a reel, towing Mary with her. “I have you, my dearest friend, with me. It will be such a jolly time.”
Mary smiled as Anne pulled her into another swift hug. She had not seen Anne for almost three years. Mary had left Anne’s father’s household just before Anne had married the Earl of Oxford and become the Countess. She had never had high expectations for the marriage, but been horrified to see how sapped, how spiritless Anne had appeared upon their reunion at Hampton Court Palace. In spite of the fact that she had not heard once from Anne in the three years they had been apart, she felt like she had no choice but to accompany her to Whitehall palace for the Christmas festivities. Anne needed a friend.
While her smile seemed genuine, Mary could not believe that she actually intended on attending any of the twelve nights of Christmas revelry. Anne was much too somber to actually enjoy a good party.
Mary did not have that particular problem.
If everything she had heard was correct, the twelve nights would be full of the most amazing entertainments, some provided by the Queen’s household legitimately, some by the courtiers unable to control themselves under the guise of Christmas. She could hardly wait.
The two ladies finished two full twirls before collapsing side by side on a chaise, their full hoop skirts fighting each other in the limited space.
Mary stood and reached out her hand. “Here, let me fix you.”
Anne accepted the offered assistance and stood, letting Mary settle her skirts into a more ladylike fashion before sitting again, this time more elegantly.
Mary suppressed a smile. Anne had let the new high rank of countess go to her head. It was nice to see a moment of honest abandon – this was the first since she had witnessed since she had joined Queen Elizabeth’s court in late September. It was now the twenty-fourth of December. Three months and nary a smile.
“Will you join the Christmas festivities then, Anne?”
“Oh, my father would have an apoplexy if I did.”
“Then why the excitement?”
“Well, you shall go, of course. Then you will tell me everything.” Anne sat forward, the façade of the mature lady gone. “And I mean, everything. You might even have a dalliance.”
Mary laughed and settled herself onto a cushion on the thick hearth rug. “You wish me to have a dalliance so I can tell you about it?”
“Well, I expect you to enjoy yourself as well. It is Christmastide.”
“Christmastide is not an excuse for everything.”
“To some it is. I recall you felt the influence of the Christmas spirit quite strongly three years ago.”
Anne’s words hung in the air as Mary tried to form a response. The past few moments had tricked her into feeling as if the past three years had never happened. As if Anne was still her fifteen year old charge and Mary was a marriageable twenty-three year old gentlewoman serving in the Burghley house.
But no, time had passed and everything had changed.
Strumming broke the silence as Girard, the Oxford house minstrel resumed on his lute, reminding Mary and Anne that they were not alone in the room. Perhaps Anne did not care her ladies in waiting and various servants could hear their conversation. After all, Anne was a countess and did not have to worry about her reputation the same way Mary did.
“Alas my love you do me wrong, to cast me off discourteously…” Girard’s soft tenor soothed the tension in the air. Mary looked around surreptitiously, noting Anne’s ladies in waiting working on their needlepoint, their eyes down cast. Of course they had been listening. Girard was sure to have heard everything, but he was a dear friend of old and already knew all of Mary’s secrets.
Mary let the silence between her and Anne stretch and made a pretense of listening to Girard’s song. Anne did not seem to notice – probably lost in her own thoughts as usual.
The Oxford household had spent the last few days moving into the massive suite of rooms at Whitehall Palace. Anne, the Countess of Oxford, had insisted that her rooms be opulent as befitted her station, so the household had travelled with wagon after wagon of boxes full of tapestries, rugs, and furnishings – not to mention Anne’s wardrobe. The rooms were packed full of high quality items that had been positioned perfectly, and still they felt cold. Mary was a special guest of the Countess and had been instructed not to help with the move. It was not so for Anne’s ladies in waiting. Mary had to wonder if they resented her – after all, most of them outranked her.
Mary leaned closer to the fire, feeling the heat soak through her heavy wool gown. Winter had come late this year – which had been convenient in regards to the move from Hampton Court Palace to Whitehall. Over the past few days, the frost had struck with a vengeance and the world outside the limed stone of the palace was crisp and harsh, stripped of life. Looking around at the thick tapestries that covered the mismatched wood paneling, Mary prayed that it would be enough to fight off the chill.
“Mary, you do know I have forgiven you for leaving me.” Anne’s words were crisp and sharp.
Anne? Forgive her? Mary had always thought it was the opposite way around. And here she thought she was being the benevolent one. “Anne, you know I had no choice at the time.” Mary’s words came out louder than she had intended.
“So you say.” Anne sniffed with her newfound countess affectation. “But you left me alone…”
Anne’s statement was cut short by a loud crash as the heavy oak door leading into the sitting room slammed open. Directly into a standing cabinet. Apparently not everything in the room had been positioned as perfectly as Anne had demanded. Her amusement was short lived when the Earl of Oxford entered the room.
Damn and Blast.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Romance Genre No-No's

Thank you to Andrew at the WriteRunner for his list of Adventure Genre No-No's. Really, each genre is very specific. I write romance and there's a whole different set of rules. I think I have learned these much in the way one learns to swim after being thrown off a bridge (assuming the impact didn't kill you).

My blog is usually about my personal experience with writing and trying to become published. I make no claims to be an expert at anything, I just hope my blog is relatable and offers a sense of connection to people in similar situations. That said, I have never written a 'how to improve your craft' blog, I write about things I have done and/or will do with no expectation of being a mentor of any kind. This one borders painfully on being a 'learn from me' moment. For that, I apologize. If you feel I'm being too teacher-y, just know that all of the comments below were inspired mistakes I have made and irritations at books I have read. I am not a published author. The no-no list shown below is my brainchild, born of experience in not getting published. I have learned through a lot of mistakes and am still trying to align the planets just so. That said, I will not be offended at all if you choose to correct and/or ignore me completely.

Romance Writers of America describes the romance genre:

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you!

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific sub-genres within romance fiction.

With that in mind, here is my list of Romance Genre No-No's:

Do not get too gritty. Yes, things sometimes smell bad or are slimy or whatever. Chafing happens. Hygiene is a modern value. Do not forget that part of romance is the fantasy. We get enough of bodily functions in our real lives. The romance reading demographic wants to read about physical relationships without the mention of BO or flatulence.

Do not overdo euphemisms.
I had a great time drinking one night with some friends. We sat around coming up with euphemisms for male genitalia. We got very creative and I swore never to use any of them in my writing. Why? If the scene is from your main character's point of view, then the penis should be called whatever your character would call it. I doubt many people, in the throws of passion, would call it his 'lance of power.' What's worse? A reader starting to get into the scene may well start to giggle. I know some of the more crude sounding terms might be what the character would use to label their bits and pieces and, out of context, those words might come off as vulgar. However, if the scene is well written and the reader is engrossed in the moment (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), the words might seem more natural than 'man rod' or 'sweet, honeyed crevasse.'

Do not use sex gratuitously. What? Isn't that what romance books are all about? No. They are about the two main characters falling in love. Sex is part of that, but the story is not about sex. Passionate scenes should only happen to further the story. Sex should be included only as a natural progression for the characters, and only if it's integral to the story.

Do not be a history teacher (note to self): You are telling a story about romance. You are not teaching a course on the social mores or costume design of the insert era here period. Be accurate and do your research. Give explanations to help the reader (assume they know nothing about Restoration England or whatever) but cut out whatever is not necessary to the story. The story is the star -- the history is just a backdrop.

Do not be a tease: If you write sweet romance, your story has a more emotional arc than physical. While the physical still plays a part, be careful not to have too many heated glances or allusions to the physical chemistry or have too many kisses that go nowhere. I, personally, don't find that believable. Also, it's frustrating to read ten pages of heavy breathing and soft caresses, and then have the lights dim, bringing us to the next scene where they were both sated the next morning. Come on. You tease.

Do not be afraid to laugh: I think many romance authors forget disregard laughter in lieu of something more intense. Of course, we must have conflict -- conflict is a romance genre (fiction in general) requirement. But do not forget that romances, overall, are feel-good books. While conflict is expected, if it is not kept in check or balanced out it oftentimes adds a dark feeling to the story. Don't get me wrong, a little bit of darkness can be engrossing, I just have to be able to still have faith in the happily-ever-after. Poignant moments along the way add true depth, but I've read many stories where the conflicts coalesced into one big downward spiral where, when the happy ending magically happens, it's no longer believable. To balance out the terror, depression, etc., do not be afraid to be silly. Is humor a facet of your characters? Are they irreverent? Witty? Slapstick? Don't be afraid to let your character laugh at an inappropriate moment. Don't be afraid to make your reader laugh. Some of the best books have been one's that made me laugh and cry.

That's all I can think of for now, beside making sure your cover has something to do with your story (but then, that's not really the author's decision). Any ideas? What did I miss?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Confused and Betrayed

I had a sad experience today with a blog I follow. It is completely unrelated to romance or writing or publishing or anything. It is a collection of real estate pics that are just plain bad or totally awesome. The blogger is hilarious. Somehow the prevalence of cheapo plastic white chairs in the pics inspired a side project following the life of Chair. Good stuff. Many hours have been wasted on this blog site. The blog is Lovely Listings. The windmill house image featured to the right (also a link) is an example of an awesome listing.

To keep things fresh, they have brought in a second blogger. The person's first blog on Lovely Listings was a review of a consumer product. The product was ridiculous and her narrative was funny, but it was not a lovely listing. I did not click on the link to see a review of an egg cup. Give me bad or glorious real estate, please. You have betrayed the promise of your name brand. *sobs*

The section in which I bring it back to writing:
Name branding is an author's dream. There are many authors I know I will always enjoy. They have established their name brand and I would buy any book with their name on it. I am a loyal reader and fan... until they let me down. Of course, not every book is going to be gold, but when you have a name brand that promises quality and you don't deliver, there's almost a sense of betrayal. These authors are so prolific and widely read that their name sells anything. Suddenly their name is the host to novellas with newbie writers, some that are really, really bad. Recently one of these authors started a new series and I did not get into to the story until about 80 pages into the book. I never found the characters believable and started questioning my loyalty. I will probably not buy the next book in this series and feel a little sad about that. Name branding is everything. You cannot betray your name brand by simply getting something published because the publisher knows people will buy things with your name on it.

Don't get me wrong... I am all about progress. No author should let themselves stagnate in their success. Nor should they throw us curve balls. It would be like Candyland writing with perfect English grammar and talking about horticulture. Raquel including beatnik poetry in her blog and/or encouraging people to just wing it. Tim Burton making a holiday chick-flick that did not star Helena Bonham Carter. Steinbeck including car chases and exploding helicopters. Anne Rice writing about Jesus.
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