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

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 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!