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. :-)