Peace, Quiet, and Historical Romance

Wintry winds blow outside my office window. Skye kitty waits in the office doorway, where she can see me, smell the Thanksgiving leftovers warming in the oven, and see Real Life Romance Hero, also the love of her life, as soon as he emerges from behind closed doors. The space heaters in bathroom and living room take turns, and it has become second nature, by now, to put on handwarmers, an extra sweater, and flip up the hood on my sweatshirt.  The Irish fisherman blanket is a cozy weight in my lap. My new, blank, berry colored Leuchttrum 1917 notebook, aka my planner-to-be for the winter months, waits for me to finish my writing tasks for the day, because starting the new planner is the carrot on today’s stick.

Last night, Real Life Romance Hero and I spent a few hours in the familiar territory of the emergency room. I got the better end of the deal, as I got to read, while he got poked with needles and otherwise examined by the medical staff. All should be well, though I feel a close kinship with the walkers of The Walking Dead. This may necessitate a third cup of tea. I already hear H’s voice in my ear, whispering “coffee,” but we will see about that.

The small, blue, Eiffel Tower book in today’s picture is my new morning pages book. The pages inside are pretty, though it’s the same image all the way through, but I can rotate pen colors, and that will do. I can always count on Punch Studio for gorgeous paper that makes me eager to open the cover and get to work. This book is smaller than the last few, and I am fine with that, which surprises me, but not going to complain on that front. Two pages, as close to first thing in the morning as I can get them, every day, no exceptions.

This includes zombie mornings after ER visits. Butt in chair, notebook open, select pen. Click pen (because I am using clicky pens this time around) a couple of times, to get into the zone, and then get at it. By the time I reach the end of the second page, part of me wants to keep going, even if I’ve been seriously reaching for something to write. Well, fine, I can write about that, and, in morning pages, I frequently do.

Fiction is different. Fiction is creating a world and the people who live in it, and making their lives interesting enough for people we’ve never met to want to spend time in those worlds, with those people. Maybe these people I’ve never met will want to spend time in these worlds, with these people, while also spending time in the visitor chair (or patient bed) in the ER, in line at the DMV, on a five hour flight to the other side of the country, or twenty-four hour flight to the other side of the world. Maybe in the stands at their kid’s swim practice, in the car waiting to pick up a loved one, maybe in an upstairs bathroom because it’s the only place family members won’t follow, for five minutes of peace, quiet and historical romance.

The book I finished reading last night wasn’t historical romance, but I did have a historical romance in my bag. I wasn’t ready to read something else, though. Instead, I took out my traveler’s notebook, flipped to the brain dump section, now marked with a strip of washi tape between one entry and the next, and I wrote. It was brain dump, not salable fiction, but what it did give me was the emotional immediacy that my characters need.

I’ve often said that people in a historical romance (or any historical fiction) don’t know they’re in a historical. They think they’re in a contemporary. They storyline isn’t the plot to them; it’s their life. Stuff happens, and they choose how they react to it (apart from the times when they react on instinct. Hero of Her Last First Kiss, I am looking at you) and they get through it somehow. The only exception is the characters who don’t get through it, but I write romance, so my hero and heroine find some way to make it through, and to make it through together. There may be collateral damages, because I, personally, find the HEA works best for me when it’s even slightly bittersweet, but the lovers are always going to come out on top in the end. Other than that, I can go nuts.

Today is a quiet day, apart from the wind and the work crew doing sidewalk work out in front of the house (other end of the apartment from my office, so I don’t hear them when I’m back here) and, when combined with zombie-tiredness and a brain at once hungry for and full of story, well, that’s when it comes in handy to be both reader and writer, snuggled in a sweater and blanket cocoon.

 

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A Tale of Two Covers (and maybe a bit more)

Still waiting on the new boiler, which marks the start of our second week with what I am going to call accurate period heating. Toss on the heavy sweatshirt, bring the Irish fisherman blanket to the office chair, on with the hand warmers, and away we go. This week, I am excited about Friday, even though Friday is at the other end of the work week, because Friday means December first, and, because there are not enough pages left for an entire other month in my current planner, that means I get to start a brand new one. Purists might be miffed that the new planner doesn’t start in January, but I like having the end of one year up against the start of another.

This means that I also get to embark on the journey of setting up that new planner, since I now make my own, in blank (or dot grid) notebooks. Back in September, I wanted to start my autumn planner in an orange Exceed notebook. Orange is a great color for autumn, with Halloween and Thanksgiving, plus it makes me think of the House of Orange, so there is a Dutch connection, and also a tie to the orangerie scene in Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose (one of my favorite scenes, period) but there was only one flaw in this plan; it took me too long to find an orange book, so I started my autumn planner in a black one (always classic) and now, orange does not strike me as particularly wintry.

Okay, then. Being a collector of notebooks, armed with the tip from a Facebook group of like-minded individuals, I sniffed out discounted Leuchtturm notebooks at a local outlet. and snagged a lovely berry model. Only catch there is that the pages are blank, not dotted, but no worries; there’s a guide sheet with lines on one side and a grid on the other. Berry strikes me as much more wintry, there are more pages, already numbered, and there are perforated pages in the back.

For those readers disappointed that this post is about notebook covers and not romance novel covers, I’m getting there. Saturday night, I finished the YA novel I’d been reading, and needed to pick another book to bring with me to the laundromat this morning. I was in the mood for a historical romance novel, a paperback, and spent some time staring down my TBR shelf. before I ultimately tossed Beauty Like the Night, also by Joanna Bourne, into my bag, because A) I am halfway through it already, and B) it already occupied the lime green cover I’d picked u pat a UBS double-digit years ago, when I had a different aesthetic.

These days, I prefer darker, richer colors, though the types of books I prefer to have within those covers have mostly remained the same. Historical romance is still my favorite, still preferably with generous portions of both (hence the love of Joanna Bourne, among others) though I also now co-write contemporary romance with Melva Michaelian, and realistic YA is a close second to historical romance in my reading preferences, the cover still does matter.

This holds true for both books and notebooks. I’m a visual person, and then there’s also the harder to qualify feel of a book or notebook. Not the physical sensation of holding it in my hands (though that also factors) but the mood, the impression, the essence. That’s why I can’t do an orange cover in December, but will  be happy to call it into service when September rolls around once more. The bright side is that now I get more time to prepare it, so it will be at its full autumn-ness, and I can throw myself into winterizing the beautifully berry colored planner I have now.

As for the lime green paperback cover, I’m more conflicted over that. I’m not ashamed of reading romance novels in public. Proud romance reader and writer, here, and longtime collector of covers by the incomparable Elaine Duillo. I like using a cover for some paperbacks, not only to keep the cover art private, but to protect the truly gorgeous covers from any accidental spillage, droppage, or what-have-you-age. Lime green, though? Not my thing anymore, and it feels odd to take a lime green paperback shaped thing out of my smoky grey tote, especially when the pages inside that lime green cover are nuanced with history, danger and emotion, deftly woven together like a tapestry of old, not something that puts me in mind of toucans and pink lemonade.

This probably means that I am soon to be on the hunt for a book cover more fitting for the books I am likely to toss in my tote on a given day. I know, I know, my Kindle has a lovely purple cover, but there are times I want an e-book, and times I want a paper book, and, well, lime green isn’t doing it anymore. Granted, I’m not sure where to look for this sort of thing, and I now live triple digit miles away from the store where I first snagged the lime green cover. We’ll see what happens on that front, and I will most likely blabber about it here.

For those who are curious about this sort of thing, yes, whether/how well the book cover (or book cover cover?) coordinates with my planner is going to factor into my ultimate decision. While it’s true that the cover does not dictate the contents of books written, or books read, it’s still the first impression, and there’s still that indefinable something that gives a hint about what’s inside. Hopefully, good stories on both fronts.

 

Breeding Unicorns and Other Things

Welp, it’s a Monday. I have the big mug out, second dose of Lapsang Souchong tea to fuel me, because I’m going to need it. Right now, I am in my office chair, under the Irish fisherman blanket Housemate knitted for me and Real Life Romance Hero. I am wearing an oversized sweatshirt, hood up over my sleep braids, flannel pajama pants, and thick socks. Tomorrow, N and I are shifting the focus of our weekly meetings from planning/critique, to actual live writing. I may or may not still have a free birthday pastry on my Panera card, and, although I am cutting back on sugar, there may still be a cherry Danish with my name on it.

Last night, I watched Outlander with Housemate, in the living room, at the same time, something I haven’t done since I started recapping the show for Heroes and Heartbreakers. It’s a different experience, not only knowing that I did not have to recap (would not have been recapping that episode anyway, as it was an even numbered episode) but knowing that I would not be recapping next week. Oh. Right. That happened. Watching as a fan is a different matter than watching to recap for a website post. No need to count scenes where the OTP are together (zero, for this episode; some habits are hard to break) or write down memorable quotes (Nothing on that front, but the final stitch on a sailor’s shroud going through their nose, and that it needs to be performed by a friend, that, I remember.) No need to chart the course of the ship (as in relationship, not the actual sailing ships, but those, too) although Claire has a plan to warn Jamie, and Fergus chooses an interesting time to man up, but we will see how things go.

I also didn’t  watch as closely as I would for a recap, though I will be interested to see if I’ve trained myself to do that when next week rolls around. Some habits are hard to break, and, as I look for more freelance gigs, this may be a skill that comes in handy. One never can tell. I am not ruling out a re-watch, possibly on a smaller screen and/or closer to my face. This may mean moving the comfy chair closer to the TV, as well as a trip to the optometrist, but rearranging furniture counts as a creative pursuit, right? I’m going to say it does.

That’s not for today, though. Today is for working on Drama King and getting ready to work on Her Last First Kiss tomorrow. N and I have already extended our meeting time so that we can allow for more writing time. Having another person across from us, doing the same thing, expecting there to be more story than there was when we took our seats and opened our notebooks, is a powerful motivator. No distractions, no quick checks on Facebook or other social media, no looking something up on the internet real quick, only pen to paper, and the knowledge that we get to talk about what we’ve written, immediately when we’re done writing it.

This reminds me of a writing group I attended, for many years, with M.P. Barker, and Melva Michaelian, where we came to the group with paper and pen (no electronics) and wrote to prompts (or not; going rogue was allowed, as long as we wrote) for a set amount of time. I want to say it was about fifteen or twenty minutes at a stretch, and we would have two such sessions, with a break to chat and snack in between. I liked that dynamic, both the actual writing, and the knowing that, while I put pen to paper, the others were doing the same thing.

Even on evenings when getting into my groove took longer than I’d like, I eventually did, because there was that energy of other writers doing their thing, of being surrounded by others of my kind. I was, to my knowledge, the only writer in the group with an eye on a career writing historical romance. I have a talent for being a unicorn in these kinds of groups, the only X in the bunch, whatever X might be for that particular bunch.

I do get semi-unicorn points for my meetings with N, as she is writing contemporary romance, and I am writing historical, but it’s still romance, and N does have some historical projects in the pipeline, so only semi-unicorn. Half unicorn? Unicorn/horse hybrid? Is there a name for that? Halficorn? Theoretically, can unicorns and horses breed? This is not a question that I spend a lot of time pondering, but it does arise now and again. I don’t think I’m the only one to have this question, in the entire time of human existence.

Today will probably be a day for filling the big mug yet again, as I put on the big girl panties (flannel today, because we are now in late November) and move the Drama King scene from notebook to screen, then get my notes ready for tomorrow morning, so I have a roadmap for the new scene. Today feels, to a small extent, the way I felt riding home from that long-ago writing group. There’s that same flutter in my stomach, that yes, that this buzzing around me, the story people as real and alive as the person next to me, hands on the steering wheel, bright as the headlights that cut through the dark, as we talked about where our respective stories were going, what we’d written that night, what we planned to do with that during the week to come.

 

 

 

The Unblank Page

There are ten days left in my current morning pages notebook, and I do not know what notebook I will use as its successor. Having notebooks is not the problem. I have notebooks. I have a lot of notebooks. Some might say I have too many notebooks. Some would be wrong. There is no such thing as too many notebooks. There is, however, such a thing as not having the right notebook, and for those, like me, who take notebooks seriously, this can become an issue.

I am also moving into a new planner at the end of the month, and I have that book on hand already. Morning pages are different. Those are for whatever is on my brain first thing when I wake, and, for those, I prefer for some design element to already be in place. If there are multiple designs that repeat through the book, that’s ideal. I got the same effect by rotating through different colors of ink for each entry, so I’d be fine with doing that again, as long as there is something on the page already.

I have tried, in the past, taking plain lined pages and adding stamped images or fancy washi tape to give some interest, but it’s not the same. I want to come to a page that’s move-in ready. This is going to involve some research, which will mostly consist of combing the shelves at local chain stores, flipping through notebooks and journals on display. There are a few factors at play here. The format of the book, size, cover material and design, whether or not there is a bookmark, the design and texture of the pages, and what sort of pen, what color of ink I will use on these pages, all come into consideration.

This may sound touchy-feely, or special-snowflake-y, to some, but every writer is different. I can only speak for myself. When the right notebook and I find each other, I’ll know it, and that’s going to have to happen within the next ten days, because that’s when this notebook will be full. I kind of like having that kind of a deadline.

Deadlines are great. Deadlines mean there is a limit to how much thinking, how much preparation can be done, because there is an ultimate destination. A post has to go live, there are no more pages in the book, the story is told. I love writing endings, and, since I write romance, that means I get to write happy endings. No matter what went before, the hero and heroine are going to be together at the end of the story, and they’re going to be happy about that. Anything up until then? Fair game.

My favorite endings aren’t sunshine and rainbows all around; there’s an element of the bittersweet to them as well, which only heightens the HEA for the lovers. They may have made important sacrifices along the way, lost people important to them, but they’re still breathing, and they have each other, and that’s a good place to start the rest of their lives. If we don’t see these characters again in related books (and I would love to see more true standalone romances) that’s all right. we know they’re going to be fine. I love sending a pair of lovers off into the sunset that way. After all they’ve been through in the course of a book, they’ve earned some time alone, and there are more lovers to meet. more adventures to be had.

It’s not that different from coming to the end of a notebook. I don’t normally write-write (as in writing fiction) in my morning pages, but I have used those pages to work story problems out, on occasion. So far, I haven’t had a manuscript and morning pages book start and end at the same time, but that could be a goal for 2019. Not saying that it is, but not ruling t out, either. I’ve done a lot of thinking, recently, about why it is I prefer a predesigned page for my morning pages, and why it matters what notebook I choose when I pick out a dedicated notebook (and/or pretty legal pad) for a new project.

What it comes down to, for me, is the unblank page. Pablo Picasso said that all creation begins with destruction. The first mark or dab of paint on a blank canvas destroys the blankness of that canvas. I’m not a Picasso devotee, but have to hand him this one. It’s not only different colors and shapes on a physical page, but coming to the day’s writing with a sense of what will be on the page, be it paper or screen.

Having designs on the page when I pick up my pen for morning pages reminds me why I’m there. Not that I can’t figure it out without pretty pages, but they do make the experience richer. Maybe that has something to do with the kinds of stories I like to write, as well as read. I want the details. I want the information. I want to know what the room looks like and smells like and what the weather is, and if my people are comfortable or not, if they’re tired, hungry, impatient, if the room is too hot or too cold, who else might be around, that kind of thing.

With morning pages, and with writing, the hardest part is putting that first mark on the page. After that, it does get easier. Sometimes, pages are filled quickly, sometimes it takes a while longer, and I am fine with that. Fill one page, then another, and then, before I know it, the book is almost done. Not that hard when one looks at it that way.

Every New Beginning

Several years ago, I came across a website called Heroes and Heartbreakers, filled with posts on romance in books and television, and I instantly fell in love, liked, followed, friended, the whole deal, because I’d been looking for a romance community with which to celebrate my favorite genre. When I saw a tweet that they were looking for bloggers, my heart quickened, and I stuck out some feelers, wrote a sample post, waited for the reply, and then chair danced at the invitation to keep blogging for them.

Over the last few years, I got to recap shippy goings-on for favorite TV shows like How I Met Your Mother, Sleepy Hollow, Bones, The Big Bang Theory, and Outlander. I got to gush about romance novels that resonated with me, get advance peeks at exciting new books before they hit the shelves, and pick the best of the best books in times, tropes, and places I love. I got to read the work of other romance bloggers, engage in dialogue with other fans of the genre, and it even led to my first time co-presenting a workshop on blogging at last year’s NECRWA conference.

Late last week, I got the news that Heroes and Heartbreakers will be closing its website at the end of the year. The newsletter will remain, and I look forward to reading the new issues. Still, I’m going to miss the website. Thanks to Heroes and Heartbreakers, I’ve done a lot of reading, and watched a lot of romantic television, learned about writing to deadline, brainstorming, and getting straight to the  heart of the matter.

Sharing what I love about reading and writing romance fiction, on any platform, is part of the fun, and I am thankful for that. Any time I get together with romance-reading friends, there is going to be a part of the conversation when we touch on favorite authors, the books we love, the books we’d like to see. I’m planning on incorporating more of that on this blog, because the more I talk about romance fiction, the more of it I want to write.

Romance has been my genre home. long before I pilfered my first historical romance novel from my mother’s night table. I hardcore shipped characters in my favorite cartoons, among Greek, Roman and Norse mythologies, and no fairy tale was ever complete without a happily ever after, no matter how dark things got along the way.

I still remember reading The Kadin under the bed in the guest bedroom, the first time I got my hands on a magazine that was, at the time, called Romantic Times, the first time I walked the romance aisles of a used bookstore, no adult with me, because I was eighteen, and thus, I was the adult. I remember my consternation when I found that there were no traditional Tudors or traditional Edwardians to go along with the traditional Regencies. I remember the college friend who literally chased me across campus, to physically put Lovesong, by Valerie Sherwood, into my hand and announce that she had delivered my newest favorite book. I remember shielding myself from a chill wind at a pay phone (dating myself, but it was a good memory, so I don’t mind) so I could call a local indie bookstore and ask if they had a copy of Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, because the combination of a compelling love story with a faith based theme was new and exciting, and I wanted to reserve my copy. They did, and I did, and it remains one of my favorites to this day.

Romance has changed a lot since I nabbed that book from my mom’s nightstand, and it hasn’t. I find that fascinating. Cover aesthetics go through cycles. Subgenres fall in and out of favor. Authors reinvent themselves, retire, or manage to deliver the goods again and again, over years and even decades. I love the history of romance fiction as much as I love reading and writing historical romance itself, so talking about that here is a natural outgrowth. I look forward to sharing more about why I love what I love, and how it fits into my own work.

It’s late in the day, and that’s the magic seven hundred, so I’m going to leave this entry here, and go make some tea. I am proud and happy to be a romance writer and reader, and I will always be thankful for Heroes and Heartbreakers enriching my experience as both.

 

 

 

 

 

Gray Day Rambles

As of last night, I have officially read all of Adam Silvera’s novels. On the one hand, this means I’m current. On the other hand, this also means that now I want more, and the next one isn’t out yet. Though Mr. Silvera’s books are contemporary YA, they have a lot of what I look for in historical romance. The focus on character and relationship, the vivid use of setting, distinct character voice, which melds with an author voice that fits the story world and subject matter. I want more of that. Since his next book doesn’t come out until next year, this means I need to read something else.

Thankfully, this is not a problem. I am only half joking when I say I could build a small house out of my TBR books and read my way out. Right now, I am also reading (re-reading) To Love Againby Bertrice Small. Historical romance instead of contemporary YA this time, and the setting is Roman Britain, not modern NYC, but, here again, there is that full immersion in the story world, the clear author voice, and the knowledge that, when I pick up a novel by this author, I know what I am getting. Ms. Small is the author who got me into reading and writing historical romance in the first place, so re-reading one of her books is, in a way, like coming home. That’s a good place to come from, when one’s focus is on creating one’s own fiction.

Right now, I am at my desk, my Starbucks mug all but empty of my second cup of tea for the day. The weather is grey and intermittently rainy, which made for excellent foliage peeping as I walked through the park on my way to and from a doctor appointment this morning. My office assistant is on duty, currently catloafed on the small sliver of hardwood between my office door and the start of the carpet she refuses to cross.

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My “A Working Day” playlist is playing through my earphones, and the blinds in my window are open enough to let me peer outside and get a glimpse of the beautiful greyness that awaits on the other side of the window. The Canada Geese and their mallard buddies are still in the lake in the park. The weather has been mild enough, this autumn, that they are sticking around, patrolling their waters, and giving some waterfowl-y side-eye to humans who interrupt their routine.

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These are the autumn days I love the very, very best. Now that the days get darker, earlier, there’s an extra pep in my step. Apple cider (cold or hot, along with donuts made from/with same) and pumpkin pie are always welcome, as are steaming mugs of tea, hot apple pie and the requisite melty scoop of vanilla ice cream. This weather is perfect for walks around the lake, stories swirling in my head. Sometimes, these stories are the books that I’ve been reading, and, sometimes, they are my own.

Okay, always, they are my own. Even when reading someone else’s work, the repertory company in my head peers over my shoulder. This one wouldn’t have done that, this other one can’t wait to see a certain character’s choice bite them in the posterior a few chapters down the road, and, more often than not, my own imaginary friends work out some of their drama while I’m caught in the drama of others. Call it subliminal, or back-burner, or free-floating, all I know is that it works. If the worst thing is not knowing what comes next, then the best thing is immersing myself in the things that I love, and knowing that something is going to come out of that.

This morning, it was two walks through the park, with waterfowl, and a stranger’s Husky that had to give me a hand kiss before he would continue with his walk. It was the promise of Lapsang Souchong tea when I reached my destination, vivid word pictures swirling in my head. It was a few isolated drops of drizzle, the true deluge likely held at bay by the fact that I brought my vintage wood-handled umbrella with me, in case the sky did open. The sky did not open, apart from aforementioned drizzle, so the umbrella also remained closed. Better to have an umbrella and not need it, than need it and not have it. There’s also the fact that I like this umbrella. It’s kind of dapper. It’s plain black, but it has a presence, and it has a history, both things I like to have in my fiction.

If we had a fireplace in our apartment, I would stuff some firewood in there, maybe even toss in a pinecone or two, and scootch the antique rocking chair that I have loved as far back as I can remember, up to said fire, blanket in my lap, and pen and notebook in hand. Days like this are meant for stories, both the reading and the writing of them. For those of us who write for publication, that doesn’t mean we only write when the atmosphere is right; we wouldn’t have any books whatsoever if our favorite authors did that. Still, when these days come, they are all the more special for their rarity, a time to open the metaphorical windows of the writer brain and let the room fill, then put all of that on the page.

 

Ramblings of a Fictional Magpie

First off, in case you missed it, my Frank Randall Deserved a Happy Ending post went live on Heroes and Heartbreakers yesterday. Don’t tell Skye I blabbed it before she could share the link. When I first read Outlander, I actually didn’t. I read Cross Stitch, the British version (and original title) because A) it supposedly had more historical content, and B) Claire was “nicer” to Frank. I didn’t know anything about Frank when I went into this, apart from the fact that he was Claire’s original husband, and, really, had no good options when Claire came back from the past, in love with, married to, and pregnant by another man. I’m still not sure how the legalities of a pre-existing marriage would hold when a woman finds herself two centuries in the past, as Husband #1 wouldn’t have been born yet, thus could not have married her, because he didn’t exist, but he did exist, because Claire remembers him, and is wearing his ring at the time.

All of that is largely to get me over the hump of the blank page, because I’ve been staring at it for a while now, and this entry needs to be written, so going with the “throw something at the page and see where we go from there” stage. I think the first love triangle that I was aware of was King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot. Guinevere and Lancelot have some chemistry, and, if it weren’t for one of them being married, I could probably get behind them, but she was married, and to Arthur, and even at, hm, I want to say six, or so, I knew that something about this equation could not turn out well. Camelot came crashing down, both in folklore and the musical, which I watched on TV at the home of family friends. I didn’t entirely understand what was going on (again, six) but I was enthralled. This is probably more proof that I came out of the box, hardwired for historical romance.

I was the kid who, when given Jane and Johnny West figures for Christmas (maybe that same year? That feels about right.) did not fall in love with the mystique and adventure of the American West. Instead, I made them act out the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. My dad was big on the classics, if nobody guessed that by now. Still, I think that wasn’t entirely what he had in mind. To this day, I’m not sure if Jane and Johnny were meant to be siblings or lovers. No, scratch that. I checked. They’re married. They also apparently had four kids. My parents probably kept that information from me, to forestall requests for the kiddo figures. I also did not know about the homestead, dogs, or friend and enemy figures, to say nothing of articulated horses and a bison. A bison. Seeing as how we have a stuffed bison (cuddly toy variety, not taxidermy variety) on top of our dresser, six year old me cannot complain of a bison-less existence.

This is the part where I stare at the screen, notice I have about two hundred more words to go before I can sign off on this entry, and have no earthly idea how to tie this into anything that will make sense to anybody but me. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe every entry doesn’t have to mean something,  and I can put what’s in my head out there, for readers to take what they will. After this, I have a critique partner’s chapter to look over, and then get something together for my weekly meeting with N. What I would most like to do is snuggle into my comfy chair, with a blanket, some hot beverage (tea or cocoa, not sure which one I would want in this hypothetical circumstance) and finish reading Holding Up the Universeby Jennifer Niven, because I am still emotionally raw from blazing through her first YA novel, All The Bright Places.     What is left of my heart still wants to hang out there, hang onto that voice, and, as I did with my Best of the West figures, pick what I want from the source, and figure out how those elements would work in the world of historical romance.

I think I was hard-wired for that sort of thing, too. Meat Loaf (the singer, not the food) once said that people need to keep one thing in mind when listening to any song composed by his songwriter, Jim Steinman: that everything Steinman writes is from the same story world, and it all fits together. I think Meat called it Wonderland (not the Alice sort, IIRC) but I may be wrong on that one. Still, it stuck with me.

Maybe that’s why I go through periods when I know, without a doubt, I am in full magpie mode. I’m hungry for a certain kind of story, or setting, or character type. When magpie season hits, I have to inhale everything I can about the current fixation, process it, and trust that it’s going to come out again in my own work, in some fashion. At six, I probably did not register Romeo and Juliet’s ultimate fate, and, at more-than-six, I am not going to tell the Bard how to write, but, in a romance novel, the lovers would be alive, together, and happy about it. That’s hardwired, too, and I am fine with that.

TheWriterIsOut

 

 

 

 

 

Carrots, Sticks, and Nibbles

One thing I have learned about the way I write now, is that I am extremely self-bribeable. Today, the carrot on my stick is a chapter of Genuine Fraud, by E. Lockhart. In the alternate universe where I am in charge of everything, my plan for the day would be to snuggle on the bed with a fuzzy blanket, this book, and an endless supply of hot Lapsang Souchong tea. Throw in some shortbread, and my fully charged Kindle, so that I can gobble Tyburn, by Jessica Cale, after I finish Genuine Fraud. I am not, however, in charge of everything, but I am in charge of getting done what I need to get done today.

Some days, productivity comes on its own, I zip through the to-dos, and, especially now that it’s fall, and days are growing shorter (thankfully; these earlier dusks make me feel alive. I’ve always been that way. Early sunset feels like the world being tucked in for the night, with flannel sheets and handmade quilts.) but other days, not so much. Other days, and this is one of them, I need a carrot on that stick to move forward. One carrot, so I can focus on getting to that treat after I complete one task, instead of looking at the elebenty bajillion that swarm over my head, in chaos and motion. I highly suspect they are breeding, because there always seem to be more, every time I check.

That’s one of the reasons I am notebook-mad. Corral those suckers between their own covers, assign them colors and images, and assure them I’ll give them my full attention when it’s their turn. That seems to be working, so I am going to stick with that. I grabbed Genuine Fraud from the shelf, knowing nothing but that it was the new book by the author of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, We Were Liars. I didn’t want to know anything else, and actually preferred to go into this book completely, 100% blind, because the author’s voice is worth it. I trust the author, know ahead of time I cannot trust the narrator, and I am fine with that. For Tyburn, well, it’s called Tyburn. Sold. I am crazy in love with seventeenth century England, which was a huge motivator in writing my own Orphans in the Storm, though there is very little of that book set in England. Tyburn? Gallows? Yep, I’m there. Darker historical romance with a heroine who is a prostitute at the start of the story, and a tutor hero who has a side hustle as a highwayman? Shut up and take my money.

So. Carrots. One of the downfalls of being in charge of one’s own work is that, sometimes, one does need the additional enh (universal sound made when one cannot…quite…reach a desired object) factor. Some days, that’s write a blog entry, read a chapter. Research an article, read a chapter, do a thing, read a chapter, etc. At the end of the day, the stuff is done, and more chapters have been read, so everybody’s a winner. So far, that is the plan for the day.

What I did not plan for, was an email from my co-writer, Melva Michaelian, letting me know that one of our queries has obtained a nibble. There is a publisher who would like to see the entire manuscript. Cue simultaneous celebration and nerves. What if they don’t like our baby? What if they do? Whoa, whoa, cool your jets, babe. This is a good thing. This is what we want to have happen. The Fraud Police have not (to my knowledge) been dispatched to my current location (if the doorbells rings in the next sixty seconds, I will jump through the roof, fair warning. Eh, if it rings any time, I will jump through the ceiling. It’s a prewar doorbell that buzzes through the walls.)

Not going to lie, it is exciting getting a nibble, that “okay, let’s see what you’ve got. I like what I read so far and want to know more.” Consider it the book version of a test drive. Somebody whose job is to find books people want to read thinks that maybe ours has a chance of being one of those. For someone in the process of getting back on the horse, that’s a nibble on ye olde carrot, and it does serve to add a bit of strength to the pull.

Another email brought comments on one of my chapters, from my newest critique partner, which reminds me I need to get my comments on their chapter back to them, which means better get cranking on the rest of the tasks for the day. Onward.

Past, Present and Future

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, lately. With anxiety, that’s usually par for the course, and, all too often, too much thinking, given to many bunny trails, several transfers on the old logic train, and sometimes veering off the tracks entirely, to go directly from A to Z. I honestly don’t remember what it was that got me swiveling the office chair around, to look at my Bertrice-Small-only bookcase, or what made me pluck Duchess from the shelf. Maybe it’s part of the “when you feel like quitting, remember why you started” idea, but A) I do not feel like quitting (and am not) and B) remembering why one started is always a good refresher. For me, it was that purloined copy of The Kadin, by Small, that got me started in this whole historical romance game, and I did want to touch that feeling again. Maybe I picked up Duchess because it was the closest book to my hand when I swiveled the chair, or because it’s a standalone, or maybe it was luck of the draw.

Duchess Desktop

book, and stuff inside book…

When I opened the cover, (Elaine Duillo remains my all-time favorite illustrator) I found not one, but two surprises. First surprise was a sticky note I’d written to myself while writing Orphans in the Storm, a snatch of dialogue between Jonnet and Simon. Second surprise was a long, thin, white envelope, so, of course, I had to investigate that, and its contents. Said contents proved to be a bookmark from a once-upon-a-time friend, whom I’d met through a once-upon-a-time fandom (not Once Upon a Time fandom, in case there’s any ambiguity) with a note declaring herself a fan of my work. At that time of the writing of the note on the back of that bookmark, said work consisted of fan works, one long manuscript that lives in a storage unit, where it cannot hurt anybody, and, if I am doing the math right, maybe My Outcast Heart. There’s not date, so I can’t say for sure.

I can’t remember if this friend ever read My Outcast Heart, as life took us in different directions, but I still love her dearly and hope she’s well, with lots of great books to read. I have no idea why that bookmark was in that book, and no, I did not make note of which page or scene it marked. What I do remember is that my first inclination was to arrange them all on my desk and take a picture, then ask myself what these three things had in common. Why did I have them all in the same place?

For the second question, I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure if I do for the first one, either. What I do know (and here I give away my secret for keeping writing when I have no idea what comes next: write “what I do know is:….” and then something will usually come, even if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. There’s probably a way to connect it later. First job is to get things written; they can be prettified later.) is that this collection of objects felt perfectly right for where my brain is at the moment: kind of jumbled, still madly in love with reading and writing, especially historical romance, and more determined ever to bring the best of my reading and writing roots into the work I am creating now.

There have been a lot of eras within the historical romance world, between the day I stole that book from my mother’s nightstand and my opening of Google Docs today. Whole careers have come and gone, and, for some, come back again. Other favorite authors have sailed off into the proverbial sunset, either to a hopefully happy retirement, or the great beyond. There have been a lot of eras in my own life, as well, both personal and reading/writing. I am no longer involved in the fandom in which I had met my once-upon-a-time friend, but I still cherish this bookmark, and have put it into my bookmark jar, to go back into rotation. I like using bookmarks that give me a sense of connection, and this certainly fits the bill.

Out of the three items, the one I find myself going back to the most is the sticky note.

OitSnote

No idea if this actually made it into the book.

Right now, I have no idea whether this exchange actually made it into the book, but if it didn’t, now we know why. If it did, well, good for me, because I like it.  (And no, Simon, you were never a coward. You have been many things, but a coward has never been one of them. Trust your author.) I also like sticky notes, and no notebook is truly mine unless it has a bunch of them sticking out from between the pages, covering pages, hopefully color-coordinated, but sometimes, obviously whatever was at hand at the moment I needed it. That’s kind of how this writing thing works.

Still getting my ideas on historical romance in general together, in semi-coherent form, but, on a personal level, finding these things all together had that feeling that always sends the right kind of tingle along my spine. Yes. This. Here’s why I do what I do. One book by the author who made me love historical romance, and recognize it as my genre. One bookmark from a reader who loved something I wrote. One note from myself, to myself, in the process of writing a book that has gone out into the world. Since all of my backlist is currently e-book exclusives, I have not yet reached the point of someone pulling one of my books from the shelves and finding anything inside it, but there’s only one way to get to that point.

The route to that point is made of a thousand more sticky notes, a thousand more hours of reading, the lovely surprise of a kind word from a reader, at unexpected moments, and a thousand other things. Write, revise, submit, repeat. Yes. This. Thanks for the reminder, writer, reader, and me.

What Happens To Everybody

I’m not getting philosophical here. That’s literally what I wrote at the top of the page in my notebook this morning, while the laundry spun. We are on day elebenty billion of a heat wave, though it’s almost October, I am wearing a white sundress because we are on day elebenty billion of a heat wave near the end of October, it is laundry day, and, for someone who has used the hashtag #gothlaundry on more than one occasion, one wears what one has on hand. None of this has anything to do with writing, but it does have a lot to do with why I wrote those words on the top of the page.

Original intent was to read, but, if I can’t muster more than a “meh” for the newest book by on of my all time favorite authors, it is obviously time to do something else. I did not bring any lettering stencils with me, so that left writing. Yesterday, N and I spent our critique time talking about direction and the outlining and/or re-outlining we both need to do for our respective WIPs. Outlining for her, mostly re-outlining for me. Change one thing in one chapter, and then whoosh, it affects the rest of the book. Even when has already written that book, or thinks one has written that book. It’s humbling.

Author and historical consultant, M.P. Barker, also a friend and, for many years, invaluable critique partner, calls this the mushroom effect. Pull up one floorboard to fix what one thinks is a minor issue, and whoops, there’s a whole farm of mushrooms underneath. Or something like that; I should probably get her to explain this better, but that’s basically the gist of it. The goal is not to burn down the house (note: M.P. Barker’s husband is a firefighter, so this may verge on an unintended pun) but to fix the floor. So, deal with the mushroom infestation, then get back to fixing the floor.

In this case, a generic character becomes a specific character, and logistics of who can be where and do what, when, call into play not only calendars, but phases of the moon, what Hero might have on his person at a given moment, travel times, what servants do what jobs, and, on the large scale, what happens to everybody.

This means everybody. Everybody. If they got a name, they get a fate. Though Critique Partner Vicki wants me to kill off two characters, there’s no reason for either one of them to die in this story, and, really, letting them live with themselves is the worse fate, anyway. Question is, where do they do that living? What about the servants? Supporting cast? Various relations, whether our hero and heroine are close to them, or not? When hero and heroine go on a sea voyage, who goes with them? As writer buddy H terms them, these are fancy rich people, so when they go somewhere, they are going to bring people with them. Hero’s valet, heroine’s maid, other people to deal with the stuff that has to come along with them, and does the one family member who goes with them get their own servant, or do they share with their relative of the appropriate sex?

This is the part of second drafting where the keen eye of a critique partner catches dropped threads, when questions like “what happened to the teacup?” (Spoiler: nothing of note happens to any teacups in any of my books so far, other than that people drink tea out of them. Presumably, people also wash them, because that would be disgusting if they did not. This is only meant as an example.) This is also the part where the author looks at the page and says something like, “Huh,” because they kind of wandered off after their character set down the teacup. There was a duel or something happening next, (there are no duels in any of my books, either, at least not so far) and the fate of a teacup is not the most pressing issue at that moment, except that it is, or, more accurately, it can be.

Bertrice Small once said that, if you have one thousand readers, nine hundred, ninety-nine of them are not going to catch those dropped threads. She also said to write for the one reader who will, because they will let you know about it. Seeing as she had over sixty titles to her name, and a Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement award, I think she may be onto something. Hence the notebook page, which will get transcribed, printed on green paper (you bet I color code all this stuff) and put in the notebook that I now need to completely overhaul, because I always set these things up wrong the first time.

I don’t mind the tearing-down-to-the-studs part of a book. Actually, it’s one of my favorites. The grunt work is done, and now I get to fine tune things. Sometimes, a lot of things. Sometimes, that does require tearing down a load-bearing wall, to keep with the renovation theme, but I’m okay with that. By this point, I know the characters better, and, when asked which servants are going along with our hero and heroine, it’s not all that hard to think about who would want to go and who would want to stay, who would have run off, and who says forget the whole thing, I’m marrying this other servant and opening a shop of our own.

There are still moments, though, where it all feels like a LOT, and the idea of a blanket fort (in this weather, one with central air conditioning would be a must) holds great appeal. Greater, though, is the appeal of getting it all on paper -has to be paper for me- and getting it all out where I can see it, because that makes the excitement greater than the fear.

TheWriterIsOut