Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Favorite-est Game Ever is Free

But only until December 27.

Ah, Wonderland.

I totally luuurve this casual game series. It is the cutest thing you've ever seen until you realize how challenging the harder levels are.

How much do I love it? With my club membership, I can buy any game I want from a game portal for $6.95, but for these games I go to the original publisher, Midnight Synergy, and pay $20 because I want the company to prosper.

Now they are giving away the game that started it all. If you want one, go here and scroll down. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 08, 2008

No Rest for the Deadline-Addled

It's been a week since I turned in a pseudo-complete draft of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND and I feel completely out of breath. I've been running around the house trying to put some organization into our sadly disorganized existence, in front of the computer replying to all the accumulated emails, updating my website, and making a Xmas newsletter, and doing the usual mommy stuff, including freezing my rear off on the coldest day of this season--so far--helping out at the junior kidlet's school trip.

And after a whole week of rushing about (okay, there was a day of writing in my contemp romp and a half-day of frowning over the next historical project), I look around and these are the things I have not done:

1)Send Christmas presents to agent and editor
2)Read either of the manuscripts I promised I'd read for possibly blurbing
3)Sort and shred the mountain of statements that have been accumulating since I was still in grad school
4)Put up our paltry few strings of Xmas lights, b/c junior kidlet delights in them
5)Laundry (His Hawtness dealt with the previous load, and since I'm not currently on deadline, I feel like I should do more.)

Boy, more and more I'm beginning to think people love historical romance for the abundance of servants! And maybe they read Harry Potter for the house elves. :-)

Before I rush off to fight the neverending War on Dirty Clothes, let me point you to RT's website, where you'll find the video interview I did with the awesome Morgan Doremus during RWA San Francisco. You can also see the videos here and here.

I was rather wondering about the timing of the videos being featured on RT. Morgan Doremus had told me that usually they'd haul out the clips when there's some news about me or my book. And then Meredith Duran told me that PA has been nominated for a RT Best Historical Debut award. I haven't seen it posted anywhere so I'm going to have to trust that Meredith wasn't just having fun with me. :-)

Okay, off to the seasonal frenzy again.

Dec 10 Update: Sent presents. Put up lights. And did laundry. :-)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Christmas Giveaway

Jan 2, 2009 Update: Did I say I was going to announce the winner on Dec 25? Well, Christmas day saw me snowed under revisions. But finally I found some time to visit my dear friend the random number generator, and here is the winner: Jenny Schwartzberg. Congratulations Jenny!

Yay, free stuff!

I recently chucked over a $25 Christmas bonus to my web designer, Frauke Spanuth of Croco Designs (whose latest showpiece is the Dear Author overhaul). And Frauke, as fabulous a woman as she is a graphic designer/code master, offered me a $25 X-mas voucher to giveaway.

What can you do with a $25 design voucher? Well, you can get yourself a set of banner/badge ads designed for All About Romance, for instance, which she has done for me recently. I think my bookmark design was for about that much too. Throw in a bit more cash, and you can get yourself a web template, which I got at the beginning of 2008 for $75, if memory serves. (Of course prices are subject to change without prior notice, etc.) And if you don't have a webpage, she does great myspace layouts too--I'm going to have her do mine next year.

(I host my newsletter through Frauke's other company, Janus Portal, and let me tell you, a more economical deal on e-newsletter hosting I couldn't find.)

Sooo, what do you have to do for a chance to win this fun little prize? Well, since I've recently said that I should do more for my publisher, I'm going to do just that. Tell me about your favorite Bantam author(s) in the comment. (And since this is already my blog, you can leave me out.) :-)

I'm going to start.

First up Shana Abe, one of the most lyrical writers working today.

Mary Balogh, who's going to have 4 books out back-to-back early next year.

Sarah Addison Allen, whose debut Garden Spells I enjoyed very much.

Linnea Sinclair, a fellow Nelson Literary Agency client, is published with Bantam Spectra.

Jill Sorenson will have her Bantam debut released January 27, 2009.

Sharon Page will have her Bantam historical debut released February 24, 2009.

And my agent keeps telling me that if I want to do a big martial art epic, then I need to read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander--and of course, Gabaldon is a Bantam Dell author too.

Wow. Pretty darn good covers one and all.

Now it's your turn. Tell me which BantamDell authors rock your world. And if you have testimonials of Frauke's fabulous work, feel free to gush also. :-)

Updated to add: The winner will be picked on December 25, of course. :-)

Monday, November 17, 2008


The Smart Bitches happen to link to an article in Publishers Weekly on the clinch cover. And the verdict is, the clinch is here to stay.

One particular quote from Sue Grimshaw, Borders' romance buyer, struck me. “A tastefully done clinch is a must-have for debut authors,” said Ms. Grimshaw, which is more or less what she said when she had breakfast at RWA SF with a few of us Bantam authors.

So now my wonderful publisher is giving me the must-have clinch covers for debut authors. Bantam will reissue DELICIOUS and PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS with new covers to coincide with the release of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND. And here, without further introduction, are the preliminary versions of the new covers.

I do love the background on this. There is something very fairy tale-ish about it. I am not crazy about the mantitty--I'm never crazy about mantitty to start with, and this one is bigger than mine. So...wish he had some clothes on. But chest is de rigueur so I'll go with what sells.

Now this is much more my thing. Love the pose. Love the dress. Love the presence of the man without the actual mantitty. I'm, however, slightly torn about the color. On the one hand, I personally love it. On the other hand, there is something slightly poison apple-ish about it and rather startled the spouse when he looked at the high-def image. But there are certain colors that don't translate as well in jpeg and I trust Bantam to get it just right in print.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Little Book That Could

This news is actually two days old, but I'm still going to consider it news. PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS made Publishers Weekly's Best of the Year list! It is one of the five books picked for the Mass Market category. Also on the list is my Levy Tour compadre Jordan Dane whose book NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM actually came out on the same day as PA. Congratulations, Jordan.

It's been years since I read PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. And recently, during an online chat, when asked my favorite character of mine--Gigi's mother from PA--I misspelled her name. :-) So getting on the PW list has been fun and sweet rather than rolling-on-the-floor thrilling, like watching a childhood friend succeed from afar.

Now back to work on NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, which is, of course, going to be my best book EVA! :-)

Sunday, November 02, 2008


And here it is. Bigger, bolder, with a better tan on him and a fuller head of hair on her. (I specifically requested more hair on her, since her hair actually begins and ends the story, in a way. In fact, I requested a great deal more of hair on her--I wanted the old fashioned, will-engulf-small-villages-and-smother-unsuspecting-farm-animal kind of ginormous hair. But I was shot down, because the art department said that much hair might make the cover look muddy. :-P)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Not Quite a Husband Update

The good news is I have a rough first draft. The bad news is that I still have to write the bulk of the secondary romance and that the 2nd half of the rough draft is truly skeletal. So much work still remains, but oh boy, does this book have a fantastic epilogue. :-)

And here is the preliminary cover design for NQAH.

The cover isn't final. The border might go, since it juxtaposes rather weirdly with the rest of the image. The background color might change to make the red pop more. The art department thinks the cover will feel bolder and sexier if the couple take the whole cover. And I'm all for it. I write pretty darn sexy stuff. And my previous covers, although gorgeous, didn't reflect The Hawt.

So just a little news before I hunker down and go back to work. Until then, everybody vote! (And yes, I did already.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

One Last Post Before I Unplug

My wrap-up of my excellent Levy adventure is up at Dear Author.

The ladies at The Romance Roundtable review DELICIOUS.

And on Wednesday, October 1, I will be paying a visit to the Word Wenches, which is where the historical romance goddesses hang out. Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice, Jo Beverley, Edith Layton, Miranda Jarrett, Susan King, and Loretta Holy-@#$% Chase. Yes, I know I'm on deadline, but you tell me you have the will power to say no to THAT. :-)

And here's a picture of me signing. I love how harmless I look, given that my new nickname from the tour is the Imp from Hell. Hehe.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Other September Offensive

Just want to mention that I will be on the Levy/Meijer READ THIS! Author Tour, barnstorming 9 Meijer locations in Michigan in mid-September.

Friday, September 19
10:30am Kalamazoo/5800 Gull Rd.
3:00pm Grand Rapids/Cascade
5:00pm Grand Rapids/Knapp's Corner

Saturday, September 20
10:30am Lansing/2055 W. Grand River Rd.
3:00pm Ann Arbor/5645 Jackson Rd.
5:00pm Canton/45001 Ford Rd.

Sunday, September 21
10:30am Rochester Hills/3175 Rochester Rd.
12:00pm Royal Oak/5150 Coolidge Hwy
4:00pm Monroe/1700 Telegraph Rd.

Please check here for updates.

Also, for folks who are on Google Read or other blog feeds and wonder why I haven't been updating on my writing progress, I have. They updates are appended to the original post.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The September Offensive

The official due date for NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is end of the year. But because DELICIOUS required such enormous and pervasive rewrites, I told my editor that I would have the first draft of NQaH on her desk by the end of September, to give us three months to fix it, should it too be catastrophically off-track the way the first draft for DELICIOUS had been.

I have about 25-26k right now--need to delete most of what I wrote yesterday, therefore the uncertainty. So I'm looking at minimun 2000 words per day to finish the darn thing. Feel free to bet that my editor wouldn't see anything until the first week of October is over--that's just how I roll. But I do honor my deadlines in an approximate fashion so I will be going after it.

To make sure I'm honest, I'm going to post daily (probably) updates here.

In the meanwhile, here's a recipe addendum to DELICIOUS, in case you are hungry. :-)

September 1: The word count stands at 27k exact at the end of day. I spent most of it writing in the master bathroom (where most of Delicious was written, and you'd have thought it would have been the kitchen, wouldn't you?), while His Hawtness spent a lot of quality time with the kidlets.

September 2: 27,500 words. Spent most of the time kidlets were in school getting together a mailing list for the published author network of my local RWA chapter. Need to do better tomorrow.

September 3: 28,800 words. Did do better, but not by that much. My favorite way to write is to have a 14 hour day and spend the first five or six hours doing nothing, and then get alarmed as the end of the day approaches and start typing. Alas, can only do that when the kids are away at Grandma's. 2nd graders have to be picked up five minutes after they've walked to school, it seems.

September 4: 1,200 words progress; total, 30,000. Not impressive, but okay considering that most of my day was spent following politics, which I haven't looked at since 2006, and most of my evening spent having fun at The PHADE.

September 5: 2000 words progress; 32,000 total. His Hawtness came home early in the pm and picked up junior kidlet from school. Then Mom had the kids for the evening. So I got my 14 hour day.

September 6: Eked out 1000 words; 33,000 total. Usually after a good writing day I'd be totally chillin'. But I guess this public reporting is making me stick to my goal better than I otherwise would. Not sure how much of everything I'd be keeping in the end. But this story in the middle sections has an actual external plot--H/H have to get from place A to place B in time for big trouble at place B--so it is the external plot that is moving.

Interestingly enough, I had several days of awful time moving the story forward--see the bit at the top of the post about having to delete most of what I wrote on 8/31. And that was because I was stuck trying to sketch something of a big picture of the political situation of the Northwest Frontier of India (today North West Frontier Province in Pakistan) in the summer of 1897, right before the lid blew off. You'd think that with all the information already at my fingertips, I'd have no trouble doing a bit of a summary. But no matter how I summarized it, it was boring, boring, boring.

Long time ago, when I listened to the commentary on Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the editor talked the big battle at Helm's Deep, a few hundred men and Elves against ten thousand Urukhai. Their first cut of the battle was 28 minutes. And they thought it was awesome. So they expanded it a few minutes and expanded it a few more minutes. But with each expansion the fight became flabbier and less interesting. Their revelation? Just a battle, no matter how well shot, does not interest people. They had to keep the focus tightly on the protagonists and never leave them for more than a few seconds.

That's a similar lesson I'm learning here. By itself, the danger that my H/H face isn't interesting, even as we move toward the big fecal-matter-hitting-oscillating-mechanical-device moment in terms of the external plot, it still must be the conflict in their relationship that dominate the narrative.

September 7: 700 words today; 33,700 total. Writing barebones scenes can only take me so far. At some point, I lose my grip on my characters. I miss the little details that actually make a scene, and I cannot dig as deep into their hearts when I have not been dealing with their emotions, only their actions. So I took off much of the day to potter around the house, cleaning up stuff and cooking. Tomorrow I will be revisiting the half-scene I wrote today to put in paint on the wall and a rug on the floor, so to speak, cuz right now it's just all bare plaster and concrete.

September 9: Aha, I took Sep 8 off totally. Read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed instead. It's my favorite kind of nonfiction, informative AND entertaining, with a strong narrative. (And besides, disaster stories have a certain fascination of their own.) Will have to read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies next.

Yesterday sort of got back into the groove. Progress: 700. Total: 34,400. I can truly say even when I'm working, I'm not blowing anyone away. :-)

September 10: Progress, 1,200; total, 35,600. It is the kind of day where I actually ran out of hours in the day, what with running errands and kids homework and what not. I stopped at a very easy point. So should resume tomorrow without much problem.

September 11: Very decent day of writing. Progress, 1,600; total, 37,200. And I got to chat with Janine. And I surf around a bit. And I did homework with the junior kidlet. And I went to sleep at 10:30. Tomorrow might be less productive with Ike breathing down our Texas. Would be cooking most of the perishables we have in the freezer in case electricity went out. Was in Baton Rouge when Andrew landed in Louisiana and we were without electricity for three days.

September 12: 600 words; 37,800 total. Spent a lot of time looking at Ike stuff--like I need to feed my already chronic case of blog-titis. Then cooked a few things to last us the weekend should power go out. Chances are nothing much would come to Austin, Hurricanes tend to turn east when they hit land, and Austin is way west of the Galveston-Houston area.

Had a thought today. The kind of historical romance I like to read and write is sort of analogous to old-fashioned painting, sometimes even like miniature portraits that require a lot of precision and very fine brush strokes. But when I try to go really fast, as I do right now, it feels like I'm pouring buckets of paint on canvas. Or rather, to borrow another analogy, the story as it currently stands is like an impressionist painting: okay when you look at it from a distance, a mess up close!

September 13-14: Progress, 2,200; total, 40,000. Yay, finally moved into a new 10k band. And I did something I rarely do. I jumped forward a couple of scenes to write a crucial turning point scene--again, thanks to that scaffolding of external plot.

As for Ike, it didn't even touch Austin. A bit of breeze and no rain at all--we put out our wash in the backyard as we usually do. But it looks like the situation on some part of the TX gulf coast might be dire. Best hopes to minimal damages and the swift return to normalcy.

September 15: Progress, 900; total, 40,900. Good review day. Bad review day. The Chicago Tribune liked DELICIOUS. Mrs. Giggles did not like PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. I am relieved she didn't review PA when it first came out. I used to get much more affected by a negative review than I do now--if I came across a bad review then I'd spend the rest of the day googling anxiously. Yesterday I said "Oh well, maybe next time,"--cuz you gotta give Mrs. Giggles credit, she does give authors second and third chances, unlike moi--cooked dinner, and then went back to writing.

September 24: I had a blast on tour. Account coming soon. Now must stop most other kinds of voluntary online activities. Not Quite a Husband has just been given a June 2009 pub date. And it's only half-done. So I'm freaking out and will be going underground any minute now. (Don't worry, freaking out does good things for me.) :-)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Food and Sex (a Quickie)

And no, it's not what you were expecting. Sorry, I really should have gone into (false) advertising instead. :-)

DELICIOUS begins with a quote from M.F.K. Fisher, from her foreword to The Gastronomical Me:

When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied."

I've been reading M.F.K. Fisher again lately. And working on NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, in which one of the couple's biggest problems during their married life--though no one was ever so ungenteel as to bring it up--was the heroine's reluctance in the bedchamber, a stand-in for all their other problems. And suddenly I thought, what M.F.K. Fisher wrote about hunger for food could be equally well applied to the other driving human hunger. To wit:

When I write about desire, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied."

And that is why I write about desire.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Karma Is a Nice Doggie

I've been waiting to tell this story.

This is not a complete story, because I'm sure the heroine will go on kicking ass chapter after chapter, but the end of Chapter 1 reads something like this:

Golden Heart Nominee Courtney Milan’s PROOF BY SEDUCTION, about a rigidly logical marquis who uses the scientific method to save his heir from the clutches of a fraudulent fortune teller, only to fall for her and discover that the one hypothesis not susceptible to proof is love, to Ann Leslie Tuttle at HQN, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (World).

Now I have a small role in this story. Back when PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS came out, I held a pay-it-forward contest on this blog. The prize was a query consultation and Courtney was the winner as chosen by Random.org.

I find query letters relatively easy to write. For PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, I knocked it out in one morning. I've done a number of pitch critique sessions where I helped people retool their pitch/query, usually in 30 minutes or less. So when I took a look at Courtney's query, I figured, a few questions, a couple of hours, and I'm done.

It took a whole months and twenty-some e-mails back and forth, before we finally hashed out an acceptable query. I think I probably drove poor Courtney nuts with my endless questions. The upside was, the book was so hard to summarize, all my questions weren't enough. In the end I had to ask to read some scenes and chapters.

Oh, wow.

This was what I wrote to Courtney after I read her stuff: I truly believe you've the potential to be the next Loretta Chase. And so I did--and so I do. Courtney's story reminded me firmly of my favorite Chase book (Mr. Impossible), in the wit and the energy of her prose and the emotional depth of her characters.

I've one of the best agents in the business. And so naturally, after Courtney and I were done drafting the query, I asked if she planned to query Kristin Nelson. It turned out that Courtney had a pitch appointment with Kristin at a Chicago conference that very weekend. So I fired off an e-mail to Kristin that basically said Major talent coming along--hurry up if you know what's good for you.

Kristin requested the full at their meeting, read it in a week or so, loved it, and offered representation. Courtney, being the smart woman that she is, accepted. And some weeks and furious bidding later came the Deal Lunch announcement as seen at the top of this post.

Now so far, this story as I've told it is basically a mirror image of Courtney's own account, except she accorded me a far greater role than I really played: Kristin would have requested a partial in Chicago anyway, and in time Courtney would have had her Call with or without my participation.

But what Courtney didn't tell is the story of how she came to save my precious behind--and truly, I can't think of another person who could have done what she did for me.

That story went like this:

After we agreed that the query that I concocted was usable, Courtney told me that if I ever found myself in need of post-1700 historical legal expertise, she would either already know it or have fun finding out.

To which incredible offer I said--and looking at our old e-mails confirms this--absolutely nothing. Not that I wasn't grateful she offered, but I saw no need of it. I was perfectly happy to stay far away from legal things as much as I can.

And then, that very weekend, as Courtney was in Chicago getting acquainted with Kristin, I discovered a possibly fatal research oversight in DELICIOUS as I was on the very last round of proofing.

The hero in DELICIOUS was born a bastard. In the book he was later legitimized by the marriage of his parents and consequently inherited the family estate from his elder brother when the latter passed away without heirs--the estate where the heroine worked. So the entire story hinges on his inheriting the estate.

And then, what should I find out when I consulted a late-19th century edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the subject of bastardy? A bastard was legitimized when his parents married--under Canon Law and Scottish law and Continental law, but not @#$%ing English Common Law! The E.B. kindly listed case after case of bastards whose parents later married who weren't allowed to inherit various pieces of real estate in England.

I was distraught, practically in tears. Granted, probably not too many readers would know this piece of historical trivia. But now I did. I couldn't in good conscience let the book be published when the entire premise was impossible. And could I really move the estate to Scotland when 1) I didn't know enough about Scotland to fill a teaspoon and 2) the book had been typeset once already for the ARC, and I was supposed to make only minor changes?

Consulting another late-19th century encyclopedia informed me that there was an out: the bastard can be legitimized under English Common Law by an act of parliament. But now my confidence was well and truly shaken. I didn't know anything about anything. If only I had an expert on historical law who could help me out...

So I e-mailed Courtney and laid out my problem before her. And let me just say, I think I understand the lure of the Rescue Fantasy now. Because it was sooooooooooo wonderful to be pulled to safety by someone stronger and greater, and all I had to do was say, "Really? You mean I need to insert only a few sentences and change a couple of paragraphs and Stuart and Verity will be ALL RIGHT?" (Strangely enough, I wasn't so much afraid of consequences for myself when and if I had to tell my editor that the story couldn't be publish as-is, but I was heartbroken for my H/H, who'd had such tough lives and who needed each other so--I felt I was destroying their happiness.)

Courtney was my knight in shining armor. She explained concepts; she dug up cases; she gave concise interpretations on passages of law that otherwise made about as much sense to me as Linear A.

She made everything all right.

I've always considered myself pretty fortunate. But in this instance my luck has been truly spectacular. That Random.org would select for me the one person whose help I would desperately need in exactly one month's time--it gives me the chills.

So here's to Karma, which says that the person you help most when you help others is yourself--couldn't be more true here. And to Courtney, may this be the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

(I owe you, girlfriend.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Beyond Boobs and Buttocks

I know what you are thinking, what is there beyond boobs and buttocks? Truly there isn't, but one must occasionally lift oneself out of the puddle of shallowness to contemplate such things as lips and eyes and elegant fingertips. Or--gasp--emotions!

That's what I did in a guest blog at Plot Monkeys on physical desirability, or the successful, non-clichéd portrayal of it. Go have fun with it.

Also, if you live in or near Austin, Texas, I am giving a little talk on query letters at Barnes & Noble Arboretum at 2:00 pm this afternoon, followed by a quick signing. I'd love to have more than just my mother in the audience!

Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Of Embassies and Napoleons

No, not that napoleon. This napoleon:

Otherwise known as a mille-feuille.

And there are no embassies involved in this story either, only a consulate. The Chinese Consulate in Marseille, to be precise.

I was an exchange student at the Université d'Aix-Marseille III in Aix-en-Provence. It was autumn. The consulate was hosting a dinner party on its grounds to celebrate the Chinese national holiday and all the Chinese students in surrounding universities were invited.

I'd never been to a party in a consulate before. It sounded like a posh affair. I put on a prim, neat dress that was various shades of very pastel mauve, and a pair of white stiletto-heeled sandals. (Come to think of it, this was back in 1994, it was somewhat fashion forward to wear strappy sandals with dresses--I was certainly alone in it. And that was probably the last time I was ever fashion forward.)

We drove 30 kilometers to Marseille. But no sooner did we arrived than it started to rain. To pour. The garden was out of the question. The dinner, a buffet-style affair, would now be served inside.

We milled around and chatted and waited. And waited. And waited. After a while my stomach began to cave in on itself. The conversation, too, reduced in scope to the dinner and only the dinner. What was going on in the kitchen? Would we have been fed already had the buffet been laid outside? And when, oh, when was food going to be served?

And then there came urgent news, dinner was in sight! We rushed to the small dining room, which was crammed like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on parade day. There were two doors leading into the dining room, one by which we stood, unable to push our way in further because of the sheer population density inside (3 per every square foot, by my estimate), another one at the opposite end of the room.

The first two platters of food arrived. I don't remember what they were. All I remember was the astonishing speed with which the platters emptied as soon as they reached the dining table--around which the guests were piled four thick.

We soon perceived our severe error in not coming sooner to the dining room to lie in wait. Because the other door was the one by which food was being introduced from the kitchen. The people squashed in that corner were as far from dining table as we were, but food must pass through them in order to arrive at the table.

And so they turned to plunder.

I watched, agape, as hands descended upon a steaming platter of dumplings. By the time the food-bearer arrived at the table, the dumplings were all gone. On the plundering went, with me drooling and desperate, and dinner might as well be on the other side of the Channel.

Now I wonder, had the party actually taken place on the other side of the Channel, whether the British stiff upper lip would have prevailed and some sort of more equitable pecking order imposed. But we were a gathering half French, half Chinese, both known for their fanatic devotion to dining. If any civil society was three meals away from unraveling, the undoing of ours required probably only one and a half.

I don't remember much of what happened immediately next, not when I finally got my shaking paws on some edibles, and no idea at all what they were either. What I do remember was a little something from later that evening when I was in a different part of the consulate. I was no longer starving, but I was still hungry and my mind still in piranha mode, when a plate of mini desserts strayed close to me.

I fell upon it, and the first thing I picked up, I swallowed whole, not caring what it was or how it tasted, intent only on getting more stuff down my gullet. As I swallowed, however, I suddenly realized that whatever it was, it was the most amazing thing I'd ever eaten. But by then I'd already swallowed it.

When I recovered somewhat from my stupefaction, I went after the dessert tray again. But since I was I was hardly alone in my abdomenal unfulfillment, the contents of the tray was long gone.

I'm not sure whether I've ever fallen for any man so hard and fast, but oh that little mille-feuille, that marvelously little mille-feuille. That was the beginning of my love affair with French pastry, or rather, my love affair with pastry cream in any incarnation. And I can't think of a better memory with which to launch a book called Delicious. :-)

And now I'll have to go eat something.

P.S. The Romance Reader has awarded Delicious a five-heart review. According to them, "Readers who are worried that Sherry Thomas is a one-book wonder should be assured. If anything, her second novel tops her outstanding debut." Hehe.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Would You Buy a Book from This Woman?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting Bettie Sharpe when she and her husband drove through Austin on their way to Dallas for a family reunion.

It is always an interesting experience meeting an author in person. I'm a huge fan of Bettie's, who writes spectacularly badass heroines before whom the likes of us lesser mortals could only cower in fearful admiration--and sometimes just plain fear. If I'd only ever read Bettie's fiction, my impression of her would be "awesome and badass." But I'd also been reading her blog, so while the awesome part remained, the badass part has been, bit by bit, revised.

Well, she arrived in a cute little minivan--which held, among other things, a darling floral parasol and a large-brimmed straw hat pretty enough for the Ascot--and brought with her a polka-dot valise. And badass-ery is deader than Caesar, after Brutus was through with him.

(His Hawtness, looking over what I was writing, said, "Bettie? Badass? But she's such a lady!") :-)

So that made me think. I'll be meeting people at RWA. RT is going to do a video interview with me in SF. And I'll be meeting even more people when I go on the Levy/Meijer authors tour. What impressions will I shatter will I show up in person?

My guess, sophistication.

I like the idea of sophistication, of being devastatingly witty, and able to charm men and women alike with my worldly charisma. You know, kinda like this woman,

She looks very, very sophisticated. She looks like she'd know what to do with a pound of Beluga caviar when she flies on a Gulfstream G550 to Davos. Not sure that she necessarily looks like an author, but if someone tells me that she is one, I'd believe it.

But I don't know that I'd buy a book from this woman.

In fact, you'd have a hard time convincing me I haven't seen that girl waiting for the school bus. She looks like she still needs to finish her trig homework before she can sneak out to meet her boyfriend.

On top of not looking very sophisticated, I'm afraid I don't sound very sophisticated either. Bettie Sharpe had this idea that I had an "expat-in-a-smoky-Parisian-cafe" voice, until she heard my voice on the phone for the first time. Then she turned to her husband and said that she'd bet I probably got whatever I wanted from people.

That was such an intriguing opinion that after she left I taped myself saying "Hi, my name is Sherry Thomas. I write historical romance." Perfectly serious, harmless words, right? When I played back the tape, I sounded like an adolescent Minnie Mouse propositioning her sugar daddy.

So...you have been warned. Partially, that is. You must still throw in some general silliness and empty-headedness and a bit of occasional lewdness. And that would finally begin to approximate what I'm like in person.

And it's like people say, don't judge a book by its author. :-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Look What the Husband Brought Home

After hosting the inimitable Bettie Sharpe Friday night, I was still in bed Saturday morning when His Hawtness, the spouse, came back home with an impromptu present for me. He'd been jogging in the neighborhood and came across a garage sale. And for $2, he bought me this:

Which opened up into this little marvel:

I oohed and aahed. It was the cutest thing. And then I said to His Hawtness, "Hey, you know what I could use this for? As background to make a book trailer for DELICIOUS!"

"Why do you think I got it for you?" replied His Hawtness.

I'd been half-heartedly thinking of a DELICIOUS trailer for a while, just so that darling book wouldn't feel less loved than PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. (And it's not, if anything I love it more.) But I was all publicity'ed out, there's no evidence that book trailers sell books, and I couldn't think of a scene in DELICIOUS that would easily turned into a script.

But the dollhouse got me started.

In the end, I didn't photograph the dollhouse. The little paper dolls that came with the dollhouse were either unsuitable or damaged. My own paperdolls were too big in proportion. Bettie Sharpe and her husband gave many helpful suggestions on how I could accomplish it as a simple bit of computer-generated graphics by merging a shrunk-down paperdoll into a digital background in Photoshop. But I was not quite in the mood for doing battle with Photoshop--and it would have been a battle, given my general ineptitude around both graphics and sophisticated software.

But I did make a trailer, a simple, barebones teaser.

And His Hawtness still gets credit for inspiring me, because without his lovely present, it would never have happened. Thank you, sweetie.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lisa Kleypas, Richard Burton, Nora Roberts, Sherry Thomas, and Julia Quinn in Bangalore

I realize that, with the exceptionally generous quote Lisa Kleypas gave me, every word I say about her could be construed as deliberate bum-kissing. And I’m perfectly at peace with that. I’ve met Lisa Kleypas, bum-kissing her is no task at all, figuratively or literally.

But it was also a fact that when I picked up my ARC of Blue-Eyed Devil to take with me on my trip of India, I didn’t remember that she’d given me a quote. Not out of ingratitude, that’s just how my brain functions/malfunctions from time to time--I can be relied upon to forget just about anything for some period of time.

No, the reason I picked up BED was because I’d been reading books with various supernatural/paranormal aspects, and I wanted a straight comtemporary. I packed it in my backpack and took it with me on the plane journey. But oh boy, Emirates Airline has the most awesome in-seat consoles and entertainment system. I did not stop watching movies and TV shows long enough to read anything other than the menus.

So it was in my first few jetlagged days in Bangalore that I read BED. I’d started reading it at the end of 2007, right after I finished reading Sugar Daddy. But then, because BED featured a battered woman as the heroine, and I have this huge problem reading about injustice, I stopped after a while when the heroine, after escaping her evil husband, finds herself with a cruel female boss.

But in Bangalore the second half of the book went zooming by. It was hot. It was intense. It was satisfying. And it was such a treat. Every time I read a contemporary of Lisa’s, I feel I get this privileged glimpse into her beautiful soul--she writes with such compassion and wisdom and understanding of human nature.

Bangalore has a reputation as a good place to be for readers. We came across three very good used book stores. At the first one, which was sort of a hole in the wall that was packed floor to ceiling, we bought comics (Tintin, Asterix, Tinkle Digest) for Senior Kidlet. We also bought a copy of Arabian Nights that was still in its plastic wrap. Senior Kidlet enjoys folklores and such, so we thought Arabian Nights would be perfect.

Soon, however, he complained that he couldn’t read the thing. So I opened it to take a look at what was the problem. And this was what I came across:

...when the woman said to the Barber’s second brother, “Doff thy clothes,” he rose, well-nigh lost in ecstasy; and, stripping off his raiment, showed himself mother-naked. Whereupon the lady stripped also and said to my brother, “If thou want anything, run after me till thou catch me.” Then she set out at a run and he ran after her while she rushed into room after room and rushed out of room after room, my brother scampering after her in a rage of desire like a veritable madman, with yard standing terribly tall.

It seemed we’d inadvertently bought some old, High-Victorian translation, possibly Richard Burton’s. I read certain pages aloud to my husband, “yard standing terribly tall” and all, and laughed my head off.

While we were still at the bookshop, I took a picture of the romance section.

I thought it was not bad at all. But then a few days later, my sister-in-law, my husband, and I took our four collective children to bowling. Once they were settled in a lane, I left to check out a used-magazine shop we’d seen on the way. But right outside the bowling place was another used book store, this one much bigger and with several walls of romances (alas, I wasn’t carrying my camera). I bought Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, which I’d heard good things about—they had a good few stacks of Georgette Heyer books.

I did remember the used magazine shop. I was hoping to come across some old copies of Lucky—an interesting guilty pleasure, as far as guilty pleasures went, since I hardly ever shop--but what I did come across was more fun. A rack of Mills and Boon for 99 rupees (approx $2.50) each! I happily picked up a new one by Lucy Gordon, The Italian’s Cinderella Bride.

During the time we were in Bangalore, my sister-in-law took us and the kids to various places where the kids could have fun. But one day we decided to take a break from the fun. The kids stayed home to play with each other and my wonderful sis-in-law made a beauty appointment for me with a lady who worked out of her own home in the same apartment complex.

My beautician, Poonam, turned out to be a huge fan of Nora Roberts’ straight contemporary romances. She showed me her stash of NR romances and lamented that she had more NR books than did her lending library. So I was able to boast to her of having stood next to Nora Roberts in an elevator in Dallas, and not just any elevator, it was a darn long ride to come down from the top of the Reunion Tower. I remembered Nora started to say “Hail Mary, Mother of God.” J

Since I told her that I wrote too, Poonam very naturally asked me if she could find my books in Bangalore. And I wasn’t too sure. A fan in India had written me and she’d purchased her copy from Walden Books in Hyderabad. There were no Walden Books in Bangalore, so the good husband took it upon himself to call Landmark Bookstore, a big chain, and reported that while Private Arrangements was not physically available in the Bangalore location yet, copies of it had been received at their central warehouse in Gurgaon, outside Delhi. So…woot! I'm in available in Bangalore

And why Julia Quinn? Well, she was in Bangalore too, as evidenced by this mysterious comment. Now I'll have to track her down at Nationals so that I'll know exactly what she was doing there. :-)

And of course this is way too late (because Bettie Sharpe kept me up all night and then busy all day--hehe) but the Smart Bitches are doing a giveaway of 5 Delicious ARCs. It ends early morning on July 15th. But even if you can't make it by the deadline, you should still go over to check out the comments of what special delicacy would make people become very, very, very friendly with whomever brings that particular dish. I plan to. :-)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lightning Round Giveaway at AAR Afterhours Blog

Another Delicious ARC giveaway. Quick! The entry is up today and it is closing tomorrow at midnight (11:59pm, June 19, eastern time). I think the odds on this is pretty good, just comment and you'll be entered.

Good luck!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Holy Batman and Free ARCs

The 2008 Brenda Novak Diabetes Auction ended on May 31. And my box of lovely chocolate truffles went for $305!

::Picks self off the floor::

And today I got notice that the bidder paid. I'm not sure I believed she would but she did. I'm stupefied.

::Tells self that it is a beautiful, beautiful box of chocolates. And comes with an ARC of Delicious too::

Congratulations to the winner and my baffled and enormous gratitude too. And thank you also to everyone who bid on the chocolate truffles.

In other news, this time there are no chocolate truffles involved, but Romantic Times is giving away 5 signed ARCs of Delicious on its website. So go forth and enter and win yourself a free book. And I was still noticeably editing the book during the page proof stage (after the ARC was printed), so if there's anything you don't like in the ARC, just think that it was fixed in the end. :-)

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Super Interview

I'm off on vacation to visit the family. But before I go, I thought I'd give you guys a good, substantial post. Earlier this year, for my article for the RWR, I interviewed Wendy Crutcher, fiction buyer for Orange County Public Library, otherwise known as Super Librarian around bloglandia.

If you ever wanted to know what a fiction buyer does and/or how books get into libraries, well, here's everything you ever wanted to know. :-) So herewith, Super Librarian!

(Round of applause)

I think being the fiction buyer/selector for a library system sounds like an awesome job. Can you tell me how you got promoted/transferred/recruited to this position?

It’s not as hard as you’d think. All it took for me was having my Master’s degree in Library Science, some past job experience and a passion for adult fiction. One of the benefits of working for a system as large as Orange County Public is that there is a lot of opportunity to transfer. I started out in the organization as a branch manager for one of our libraries in Garden Grove. When a position opened up in the collection development department, thanks to a series of retirements, I got an interview and eventually got the job.

The trick is pouncing on the opportunity. As many librarians will tell you, awesome jobs such as this one do not come along every day. You usually have to wait for someone to retire or die. I can attest to that, as I’ve pretty much decided the only way I’m leaving is on a stretcher.

How many titles do you typically recommend/purchase in a given year?

On average I purchase anywhere from 40-60 titles per week. Obviously, with a system as large as ours, I’m purchasing multiple copies of those 40-60 titles.

What is a fiction buyer’s typical day like?

It varies depending on the day of the week, with Monday usually being the busiest. Every day starts out with e-mail. A lot of e-mail. Then I’ll look at my budget, and figure out how much money I can spend that week. I field questions from our branches on a regular basis regarding weeding, upcoming titles, titles their library patrons are asking for etc. I read journals, select titles to purchase, and follow up with our support staff regarding data entry on the order. I also field patron requests, am on several committees, and handle special projects.

Do you deal with library reps from big publishers? Do you read Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and other trade publications? What about book review sections of major newspapers? What about genre review publications such as Locus or Romantic Times? Do you give any weight to online reviews at reputable and highly trafficked sites?

I have some contact with big publishers, but not as much as I’d like. Publishers are much more focused on the retail market, and in some cases, I think libraries tend to fall through the cracks. That said, the library reps I have dealt with have always been extremely helpful, and attending conferences like RWA means my business card gets into the hands of editors who have been fantastic about passing my information along to their employers.

I read a lot of trade publications, the big four being Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus and Booklist. Since I also order some non-fiction, there are a handful of subject specialty journals I look at. Other sources include The New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and popular magazines that feature book reviews like Entertainment Weekly, People and Oprah magazine.

I don’t use the genre review publications all that much, but have found things like Romantic Times extremely helpful when it comes to finding information on reprints.

As far as online sources, I’ll admit I don’t look at their reviews all that often, but I do monitor “buzz.” If a book or author is generating a lot of discussion, I take notice and often times add them to our collection. Some examples from recent memory are J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and Anna Campbell’s debut novel, Claiming The Courtesan.

Do you get sent advanced reading copies? Do you actually have time to read any at work, or is that time entirely taken up with dealing with stuff?

Being such a large library system, we do receive advanced copies either from Baker & Taylor or direct from the publisher. The only ones I read are the ones that actively interest me, but I always peruse the pile to see what jumps out. That said, the only reading I really do at work in on my lunch break! I also take special note if a publisher includes any kind of special packaging or add-ons with the ARC because that tells me there are some PR dollars behind the book/author.

Please tell me a little more about your decision making process. How do you arrive at a list of books for the library? Is it done on a continual basis or do you come up with a major list per a set length of time? Do you try to order books as they come out or will you sometimes go, hey, I totally overlooked that one when it was released but boy it’s so good I’m gonna get it for the library now?

Since I order every week, I’m gathering titles on a continual basis. In a perfect world I like to order titles about 1-2 months in advance, because, as we all know, publication dates aren’t always firm. That said, I’m not perfect, and have been known to overlook a title. Since I don’t have a crystal ball in my office, this is where patron requests come in extremely handy. Also, I monitor books/authors that are making the media rounds. A book might get dreadful reviews, but if the author was on the Today Show that has a tendency to trump what Publisher’s Weekly said about it!

Do you have a staff under you or do you work alone? Does your boss give additional input into your list? Is your recommendation final or is there a review/approval process? Do you ever have to fight to acquire a title?

I mostly work alone, but my department does have a support staff that takes care of data entry, searching journals (to weed out titles we’ve already ordered), and scaring up information on titles that our patrons’ requested. My boss occasionally gives me input, but generally speaking she lets me do my thing and doesn’t look over my shoulder too much. My recommendation is essentially final, but problems can arise after the fact. Maybe the book has pull-outs or pop-ups that the reviews didn’t mention. In which case, nice for personal use but really impractical for library lending! Also, while I’ve never had to fight to acquire a title, we have been known to field some complaints about titles we house in our libraries. There is a review process for this, and management takes the lead. Given our service population size, and number of libraries, we actually field very few complaints, and most of them tend to be about children’s or young adult material more so than adult.

Given that it is impossible for anyone to read all the new books that are published every year, how do you decide which books that you don’t read personally to purchase for your libraries? Is it based on popularity, reviews, patron requests, publisher push, interesting subject/summary, or criteria that I haven’t thought of yet?

The vast majority of what I buy is decided on the basis of reviews, but the other factors you mention also come into play.

Do you have a list of authors whose works you purchase automatically? Is it because they are popular or you love them or both?

Pretty much all the big name, best selling authors get purchased automatically regardless of reviews. Putnam could decide to publish Nora Roberts’ grocery list, it could get horrible reviews across the board, but I’m still going to buy it for our libraries. When it’s a big name, people still want to read it regardless of bad word of mouth.

Do you have a different standard/process for acquiring debut authors?
Do you have a different standard/process for local authors?
Do you have a different standard/process for small presses?

No, but I would like to offer some tips for small press folks. Libraries do buy small press titles, but it’s extremely helpful to us, and will help you in the long run, if you provide as much information as possible. Author, title, ISBN, price, and publication date. Has the title been reviewed anywhere? Not just the big trade journals, but maybe ForeWord magazine (which specializes in reviewing small press titles) or a local newspaper? If so, it’s nice to have copies of these, or at the very least a blurb. Also, how can I purchase the title? Is it available through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Brodart, Amazon etc.? The more you tell me, the more likely I am to buy the book.

Do you pay attention to such advertising publications as Romance Writers of America’s Romance$ells? How much attention do you give them—i.e., read with interest or riffle through them once when they come in and recycle them? If you set them aside without reading them, what is your reason?

When I do receive material like this, I always look through it. A huge chunk of my job is staying on top of what’s in the works, and this type of material is helpful on that front. I can’t guarantee that I’ll buy your book just because you put it in something like Romance$ells, but it does succeed in putting your name in front of my face.

Do you receive author-generated publicity items? Do you pay attention to them?

Some, but not a lot. I give them moderate attention, but like advertising publications, just receiving one won’t guarantee that I’ll buy your book. My suggestion to authors is to highlight the fact that you’re a “local” author when sending this material to libraries in your immediate vicinity. Library patrons love to read local authors, and if you highlight that fact to a library in a nearby city, you’ll get some extra mileage.

Once you do decide to acquire a title, how do you decide how many copies to purchase for your system? If you have 10 branches and only 5 copies of a title, how do you decide which branches will house the copies—or is this a decision for other librarians?

Let me preface my comments by saying that there is never enough money. If I had my way, I’d purchase every romance published every month and there would be copies galore! Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility, so sometimes I have to settle for purchasing fewer copies than I would like. Since we are a county-wide system, I try to spread these out. I don’t want all of our copies to only be in one small portion of the county.

As for how I decide how many copies to buy? It’s not an exact science. Sometimes it is plain guess work, and I guess wrong. I do constantly monitor our holds lists though, and regularly purchase additional copies for titles that are proving to be popular among our patrons.

Do you have fiction authors that you love that you do not acquire in your official capacity for some reason? How much of this job is personal taste and how much is taking the general tastes of the public into consideration, i.e., is it a regular part of your job to acquire books that you’d rather eat worms than read?

The minute my job becomes about personal taste is the day I hope I get fired. It’s not about what I think people should read. It’s about providing people with what they would like to read. There’s a bestselling author that I purchase numerous copies of every time she has a new book out, and I swear a little piece of me dies inside every time I have to. But you know what? It’s not about me. I may think she’s a horrible writer, but a lot of people love her books, and who am I to argue? Likewise, there are authors I enjoy that other people just don’t get. You learn to take it all with a pretty heavy grain of salt after a while.

Does your budget contain a pre-determined breakdown by genre, as in this much percentage for romance, this much for literary fiction, this much for mystery, etc.? If it does, how was it determined? Does it change from year to year? Is it a reflection of what gets the greatest circulation?

If the budget does not contain a pre-determined breakdown, is it entirely at your discretion?

Our budget does not contain a pre-determined breakdown by genre. We do break down the budget by “type” (fiction, non-fiction, children’s etc.) and then we break it down according to library size and circulation. For example, I have a bigger budget for our large libraries that are open seven days a week than I do for the small libraries that might only be a couple thousand square feet and open five days a week.

It’s all up to my discretion. A big factor is circulation numbers. I have one branch where I can buy any mystery, regardless of sub genre, and I know it will circulate like gang busters. Likewise, I have libraries where science fiction is hugely popular and others where it collects dust. This is where I rely heavily on feedback from our branch staff. My focus is the system-wide collection, and theirs is the collection at their individual branch.

The trick is to make sure everybody has a little bit of everything. You strive for a well-rounded collection. That’s harder than it sounds when you are overseeing the adult fiction needs for 33 libraries. That said, one of the benefits to being a patron of a system this large is that just because the local library you use regularly might not have it, doesn’t mean we don’t have it somewhere else. We have a team of delivery drivers that go out five days a week, delivering requested materials all over the county.

I imagine a buyer at a bookstore would closely watch the sales number to see how her picks are performing? What is the feedback process for a library book buyer/selector? How do you know that your choices are being embraced/deserted by your patrons? Do you look at the circulation history for a title to see how well it did? Is such aggregated data even available?

Computers have made this aspect of my job a lot easier! I regularly look at circulation numbers to monitor how titles/authors are doing. One of the great things about a library system this size is usually the audience is out there somewhere, you just have to find it! Maybe vampire romance is dead weight at one location, but people are begging for it at another. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason. Again, I rely heavily on the staff we have on the “front lines” to provide feedback on what people are asking for, what they’re checking out, holes in their collection etc.

Have you ever made a purchase that later had your boss/patrons come to you and inquire what the heck you were thinking? Were any of those romances?

I have a fantastic boss who has yet to second guess me. Sometimes there is no telling what title will spark a complaint, and you can’t really do this job if you’re second guessing yourself all the time. That goes for branch staff as well. I’ve had numerous librarians tell me “such and such” doesn’t circulate at their location, and when I check the numbers down the road I discover it did very, very well for them. Again, there’s no crystal ball and it’s hard to predict. However, if something like this does comes up, my boss always asks me what my criteria was for selecting the “offending” title, and management handles the rest. Thankfully, there have been no major scuffles regarding romance titles on my watch so far.

And a pair of follow-up questions

1)At Austin Public Library, mysteries are the most popular books--as a group--with the patrons, followed by romances. How about your your system?

This is a hard question for me to answer, because with 33 libraries what's "popular" can vary from branch to branch. That being said, what you think would be popular is. Anything Oprah is reading. Anything on the bestseller lists. If we're talking raw circulation numbers, mysteries would probably win out. Romance is starting to pick up some steam, thanks to the better budgets we've had the last couple of years. Money was very tight for several years, and our romance collection really suffered. I'm still trying to fill out the collection with what I consider core authors and titles. As this has happened, I have notice that circulation is picking up. Also, our romance reading patrons aren't shy about requesting titles and this has certainly benefited our collection immensely.

I will also add that while I keep hearing and reading that paranormal romance has hit it's "peak" it is still insanely popular at several of our locations, with readers being very loyal to series.

2)Can you tell me when did the Orange County system begin to catalogue its romances?

We started cataloging them in early 2003, roughly a year before I hired on. Thank goodness, or else I would have made myself a total pest about getting it done! Not cataloging paperbacks is easily one of my biggest pet peeves. How do we expect library patrons to find anything if we don't catalog it?

(Round of thundering applause)

Thank you so much, Super Librarian!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pancake from Heaven and Sherry Thomas the Grand Romantic

Part I: The Pancake

Actually, not a pancake, but a xian bing, or, as people from my part of China would say, xiar bing.

Those round golden disks on the very right of the image, those are xian bing--or at least they look that way to me--elastics ball of dough stuffed with some sort of cheap veggie and a bit of ground pork, then deep fried and served hot. So yum and so hard to find in the States.

The expression "a big xian bing from heaven" is probably somewhat analogous to "manna from heaven," but much more practical, like if a relative you didn't even know you had gifts you with a brand new Wii, or if Sybil from The Good, the Bad, the Unread emails you out of the blue, while you are trying to decide whether your hero should see this big old cabbage flower carpet on the floor of the servants' hall. The servants were having themselves an annual ball, you see, so wouldn't it make sense for the carpet to have been rolled up and put out of the way for the evening?

Begins bad re-enactment

Sybil: You around?
You: Yeah, what up?
Sybil: I's been working hard for you.
You: Oh yeah? What have you done for me lately?
Sybil: Need a quote? I have been told to send this to you and if you have need of it feel free to use it in any way you like...

"Sherry Thomas is the most powerfully original historical romance author writing today. She is a rebel, a rule-breaker, and above all, a romantic. Searing, tender and filled with passion, her writing is nothing short of a revelation. 'Private Arrangements' clearly heralds the beginning of a dazzling career, and I am looking forward to more brilliantly told romances from this accomplished writer."
You: (Look around for your glasses to make sure you are reading right)
Sybil:Oh wanna know who the quote is from? Lisa Kleypas!
You: Holy Batman! (Brain melts)

End of bad re-enactment

See what I mean about a big xian bing from heaven? One moment I was thinking about nineteenth century carpet, and the next, I had a quote from Lisa Kleypas.

Much gratitude goes to Sybil, for finding a copy of Private Arrangements to give to Lisa, when the latter was signing Blue-Eyed Devil in Houston. To Lawson, Sybil's lovely henchwoman, for paying for that copy when Sybil went to look for her phone. And to Lisa, who is much, much too kind. Really, ladies, none of you needed to go to such trouble.

(But I'm so grateful that you did.)

Part II: The Romantic

I don't know what strikes you about Lisa's quote (other than how many years I must have promised to clean her house for free). I'll tell you what had my heart thud.

Not the extravagant praises. They thrill me, but I have trouble reading extravagant praises. It is as if some part of my upbringing automatically kicks in and would not let me believe too much in it. (A very good thing, in a way, for writers get reader reaction only on books they'd already finished writing. To luxuriate too much in favorable opinions of a work finished months, if not years ago would be like a woman forever reliving a past soiree at which, for that one night, she looked smashing hot.)

Rather, what made me feel elated and exposed and a bit vulnerable was when Lisa called me a romantic--as if some Duke of Hawtness had whispered in my ear as we were waltzing around the the ballroom, me in my big Scarlett O'hara crinoline, that he knew I didn't have any drawers on and he liked it.

I guess I'm what you'd call a closet romantic. A cynics' romantic. For I am most certainly a cynic: I think the world is a brutal vale of tears; I'm not entirely sure intelligent life is in any way superior to trees and sea cucumbers; and I'm almost certain that love is the greatest stupid-pill of all time.

And yet despite my cynicism, or perhaps precisely because of it, I am moved beyond words by kindness, wisdom, and love. A clear blue sky is enough to fill me with hope. And every day that the world lugs on--stupidity, violence, and grief in tow--is another day of blue sky somewhere, another day of courage, compassion, and love somewhere and everywhere.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Bourne Supremacy

Joanna Bourne, author of The Spymaster's Lady, does not have much of a web presence. But she does have a blog, and she's posted a most useful writing class, the beginning of a series.


Word choice: Superfluous 'that’s'.

At the polishing stage of the redraft, do a search on 'that'. Every time a sentence reads fine without 'that', pull it out.

Not – It is clear that Joanie dunks donuts.
But -- It is clear Joanie dunks donuts.
Or better ... Clearly, Joanie dunks donuts, which frees the predicate from the verb 'to be', which is nearly always an improvement.
If you care about the employment and deployment of language in your writing, head over and read. She gives great examples--I can't learn without examples--and you are definitely learning from a master here. And even if you already know how to structure a sentence for maximum clarity, efficiency, and impact, you should still head over and read. It never hurts to review what you know.

(I would love to be able to give similar lessons, but I don't know a predicate from a syndicate and judging by my desperate word-stripping during the page proof phase of Delicious, I still use far, far too many words.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This & That

A long time ago, I read that Barbra Streisand made some environmentally friendly suggestions to her fans on her website, one of which was asking them to line-dry their laundry. Some people demanded to know whether she line-dried her own clothes and there was a small-scale to-do over it.

I am not going to ask anyone to line-dry their wash. But, but, but, in honor of Earth Day, which came and went without my awareness, since at the Thomas household, everyday is Earth Day, much to the dismay of DH--I keep turning off the water when he's doing dishes...Okay, where was I? Oh, my solar-powered dryer, let me show you it.

Everyone had laundry lines when I was growing up in China. Shirts and pants fluttered from balconies and yards and sidewalks. I didn't realize how much I missed that sight until I passed through Hong Kong, after my first six years in the States, and could not get enough of all the "flags of ten thousand nations"--as we used to call colorful washing on a line.

There is something exuberant about a city district of apartment buildings all festooned with jeans and sweaters and sheets and pillowcases. My washing hanging in my backyard looks rather insipid in comparison. Suburban laundry. :-)

It takes me about half an hour to put everything out--sock-sorting included. I think of it as my weekly meditation, a time when it's just me, a sunny day, and my very ordinary backyard that for some reason is at its prettiest when I'm hanging up the washing.

In other news, book 3 (book 1 of my new contract) now has a title. I drew a complete blank on this one, so I pulled a title that had been suggested for Private Arrangements: Not Quite a Husband. Since the marriage between the H/H had been annulled, I figured it was accurate enough.

My editor replied that Not Quite a Husband had been put into the list over her strenuous objection. So I said no problem, we'll figure another one--the last thing one should be attached to in publishing is titles.

The title I really wanted was Untie My Heart, which is a Judith Ivory title. So DH, being methodical, suggested that I look up synonyms for "untie." We had a few good laughs over the exercise. "Oh look, how about Disembroil My Heart?" "How about Unclog My Heart?"

And then we came upon "unlock". Oooh. Unlock My Heart. I immediately e-mailed my editor and my agent. My editor loves it right away. My agent likes it and also suggests Unchain My Heart, name of an old song.

I like Unchain My Heart even better than Unlock My Heart. But in discussion with my friend Janine, she pointed out that "unchain" might have a slightly different connotation than "unlock." Untie My Heart had a scene where the heroine was literally tied to an upside-down chair while the hero had his way with her--an awesome scene by the way, though I still haven't quite figured out exactly how the physics aspect of that scene worked.

We then had a discussion about those messages certain words convey in titles. A dark book would often have "shadow" in it, like Shadow Heart and The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale, and the more recent The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran. And then I realized that omg, "arrangements" means sex is exchanged for something else. :-P

What to do? Unchain or unlock? Turns out neither. Marketing overrode my editor again and chose Not Quite a Husband. (I imagine my poor editor somewhere in a ditch, depleted from her valiant but ultimately doomed fight.) And so Not Quite a Husband it shall be, my most romance-y title yet.

And now, last but most certainly not least, I have put an ARC of Delicious up for bid in Brenda Novak's 4th Annual Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. But how can you put up a title called Delicious without having some goodies to go with it? So after a lot of strenuous research, I settled on a box of graphic print chocolate truffles from Viva Chocolato.

Isn't it gorgeous? And costly too. That little box set me back more than $20. So please be generous and bid at least my chocolate's worth! The bidding starts on May 1, 2008, at www.brendanovak.com. And as I've realized again, recently, karma can be a very nice doggy when you help others. But that's another post for another day.

Monday, April 07, 2008

My First Book Signing--a Survivor's Tale

When I was a teenager living in Baton Rouge, I sometimes went to a Books-a-Million--my mom would drop me off there and go to the K-Mart down the road. One fine, hot Saturday afternoon, I was there in the Books-a-Million, walking around, browsing.

Whenever I passed through the center aisle of the store, I'd see this man sitting there by himself behind a desk. I passed him probably five or six times before I looked at the little plaque in front of him: he was an author, there to sign his books. Once I realized that, I kept far away from him, because I didn't have any money to buy his book and could not stand to see his wistful face one more time.

That non-encounter left a powerful impression on me: Most authors are not celebrities, and do not have fans clamoring for their autographs. And as a member of Most Authors, I would suffer the same fate were I so foolish as to have a book signing where people have to pay to buy my books, as opposed to the fabulous publisher-hosted signings at RWA which draw crowds because the books are free.

Well, somehow I got talked into having a book signing, at a romance-friendly local B. Dalton's. I did not dread it in a sick-to-the-stomach way, but I did not relish the thought of it either. The bookstore is located in a mall, and I would be put on a table right at the front of the store, naked to the passing traffic.

Well, I needn't have feared. My friends from the local chapter of the RWA were there from the very beginning. They chatted with me, so I wouldn't be all by myself. They bought multiple copies for moms and moms-in-law. They brought kids and husbands and sisters. Some drove in from Bastrop and Fort Hood.

By the time my beloved sis-in-law showed up to my squeeing surprise and delight--she drove in from Dallas--I knew it was going to be a great time. Hubby arrived--looking very cute--with the senior kidlet and the camera that I always, always, without exception, forget.

It turned into a party. So much so that I was completely bowled over when strangers bought my books to be signed. One very lovely reader, who has 800 books at home and loves historical fiction, took the book on faith. A trio of gorgeous college students came to get a copy of PA signed for their roommate, who wanted to come but had to be in Dallas that weekend.

When Sybil and Lawson from The Good, the Bad, the Unread strode onto the scene, they triple-frosted my cake. Part of me still can't believe that they took the trouble, driving in from San Antonio. Really, I didn't deserve it. I didn't deserve a whole lot of this support and warmth and just wonderful consideration from everyone who came. It was the loveliest feeling to be so grateful to all the good people in my life and to the world for just spinning.

After the book signing, I took Sybil, Lawson, and my friend Catherine to Viva Chocolato, a rather scrumptious little local establishment. Lawson and Catherine were carded when they ordered wine, and Sybil and I demanded to be carded too, even though we were only having gelato shake and Italian soda, respectively. We also demolished a little chocolate fondue.

(And Sybil told me on our way out that she'd harassed the bookseller at a nearby Borders to re-order my book--I need to be more like that woman.)

I went back home and started to clean house--and it was great to do so, to be once again just another anonymous suburbanite. But my signing for the day wasn't over yet. My mom--who'd looked after junior kidlet when everyone else was at the signing--had bought a few of my books, and she wanted me to sign them for her so she could give them to her colleagues.

I show up at her house and almost fell backward. There was a very tall stack of my books on her kitchen table and she'd drawn up a long list of not only her colleagues, but her friends and neighbors to whom she wanted to give my book. This was the best moment in an already incredible day.

We are close, Mom and I. But Mom, for the longest time, didn't understand why I was wasting my time on a seemingly hopeless endeavor--we came from a family of scientists and engineers, solid professionals who did not sit home and doodle. So it meant a lot that she was out there buying all the copies of PA from two different Wal-Marts and a Target.

I love you too, Mom.

So has my opinion of book signings changed? Well, no. I just lucked out. And I already wonder why I agreed to hold a book signing for Delicious--it's only 4 months away, too soon to trouble everyone to come out again. But for now, I bask in the afterglow of it all.

Some people will always have Paris. Me, I'll always have that Saturday afternoon.