Under the Influence

No, not that kind of under the influence, and yes, that is a vintage (recent vintage)  workspace picture for today’s entry because A) burning daylight here, and B) it’s pretty. I like the contrast of the retro robot and the Paris travel mug, and the mere thought of carrying yet another owed blog post (I will get that long-ago Wednesday post redeemed at some point, I promise) makes me shudder, plus I have had an occupational hazard of typing with wet nails, meaning I have to do it all over again, polish-wise, so here we are.

Last week, I got tagged by the equally fabulous Jodi Coburn and Kari W. Cole for the prompt to list fifteen writers who have influenced me. For the curious, here it is:

Bertrice Small – historical romance
Valerie Sherwood/Jeanne Hines -historical romance and gothic romance
Aola Vandergriff/Kitt Brown – historical romance and gothic romance
Nick Hornby -general fiction/lad lit/screenplays
Angela Hunt – inspirational fiction and nonfiction/historical fiction/women’s fiction 
David Levithan – Young Adult fiction and poetry
Rainbow Rowell -Young Adult and adult fiction
Jennifer Roberson -fantasy with romantic elements, historical fiction with romantic elements and historical romance
Erma Bombeck  – humor, memoir
Billy Joel  -singer/songwriter
Mary Chapin Carpenter – singer/songwriter
Ben Folds  – singer/songwriter
Marsha Canham – historical romance
Barbara Samuel/Barbara O’Neal/Lark O’Neal/Ruth Wind -historical, contemporary and category romance, women’s fiction, New Adult romance, nonfiction
Anita Mills – historical romance and traditional Regency romance

A diverse bunch, and I don’t consider the additions of Joel, Folds and Carpenter as cheating, because some of their songs are amazing stories in their own right. Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” Ben Folds’ “Brick,” and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Goodbye Again” (which is on my playlist for Her Last First Kiss, oh so very much) definitely count; even the first few notes of any of those, before the lyrics start, are enough to engage my emotions, and I’m going to need a minute after it’s over because they give me feelings…which is exactly what an emotional story, musical or not, is meant to do.

What they all have in common for me is a strong emotional impact, across genres, formats and decades-of-origin. All of them have had a strong influence on why and how I do what I do. The moment I cracked the cover of The Kadin, by Bertrice Small, which I’d stolen from my mother’s nightstand, and first inhaled the opening pages, I knew I had found what I wanted to read and write for the rest of my life. I first heard “Brick,” by Ben Folds, in the passenger seat of BFF’s car, when the clock on her dash slid over to 6AM on December 26th, and the mournful first line, “6AM, day after Christmas,” chilled my blood, and became part of me.

That’s how it works with an influential book, song, piece of art, etc. We can appreciate it for what it is, in its original state, and most of us would probably fight those who suggest  changing it, but then something else happens – it meets us, and new life begins. We aren’t the same after we’ve experienced the original work, and, for those of us who also work in creative fields, neither is what we produce. We’ve been changed. We can’t go back to the way we were before, whether we want to or not, because now we know. Everything we’ve known and seen and done and hoped and feared and imagined and wondered combines with this thing we’ve never encountered before, and something new now exists.

Under the big brass bed in my parents’ guest room, with that purloined historical romance, in that front seat of BFF’s car as the saddest music of ever started in the predawn hour, I got that YES. That THIS. That mixture of discovery and recognition. THIS is mine. THIS is part of me. THIS is my fuel for the journey. THIS is what I need to get to the next level. I want more of THIS.

Fifteen is a pretty short list, and that’s okay. The instructions were to take the fifteen off the top of my head and I tried, but, for me, that isn’t where my favorites live. They’re not in my head. They’re in my heart, in my writerblood, combining with each other to make wholly new what-ifs and if-onlys while I’m off doing other things, waiting patiently for me in quiet moments, or chasing after me, calling my name, because no, they will not wait. It does have to be now, and the world is going to have to deal.


Writershead Revisited

“I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.”
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

My favorite movie of all time is the original 1980 Brideshead Revisited. Okay, technically speaking, it’s a miniseries, as it ran on PBS and clocks in at a whopping twelve hours, but to me, it’s a movie, and so I am counting it as such.

If you’re a purist and insist on theatrical releases, my preferences are thus:

  • Comedy: Love Actually
  • Drama: Remains of the Day
  • Other: Saturday Night Fever
  • Obscure: Lords of Flatbush

People who know me in the really real world, am I forgetting anything? I have not seen the Emma Thompson theatrical version of Brideshead Revisited, nor do I plan to,  because I do not mess with perfection. Sorry, Emma, not even for you. I’ve read the novel by Evelyn Waugh (Hevelyn, for those in doubt about which Evelyn wrote this one) and will correct any who try to call the building known by non-devotees as “Castle Howard.” They are wrong. It’s Brideshead. I know. I’ve lived there, with Charles and Sebastian and Julia, and I have deep emotional scars from the first time I saw the graffiti on Charles’s mural and the empty :sorry, I need a minute: fountain :sniffle: with barbed :I can’t, I seriously can’t: wire. Sebastian drove that car around the bend of the road on that first school break, and BAM, I, as well as Charles fell deeply, irrevocably in love.

It’s the same feeling I had when I stole the then-new copy of The Kadin by Bertrice Small from my mother’s night table and read it under the bed in the guest bedroom during a power outage. I knew then and there that I’d found what I wanted to read and write for the rest of my life. The same way a lot of my SF/F reading/writing friends fell hard for Star Trek, Ray Bradbury and others, that’s how I fell for historical romance, and that’s what’s been, increasingly strongly, calling me back home.

Today, I took the bulletin board off my office wall. If I haven’t been utilizing it in the three years and change I’ve had this office, that’s not where it belongs. Later, I’ll take the items off it, find them new homes, and figure out the board’s new purpose. There will be one, because I crazy love vintage office supplies. In its place, I put the Union Jack poster above, purchased at a local art store about two years ago. it’s been rolled in brown paper, waiting for “the right time.” Which would be when, exactly? When we could spring for a fancy frame? The right fancy frame? When life calms down? When (fill in the blank?) If there’s one thing loving historical romance and historical fiction has taught me, it’s to seize the moment. So, up it went, with blue tacky stuff holding it to the place where whoever painted the room a lovely moss green had obviously painted around the mirror that Real Life Romance Hero took down for me the day we moved in. Much as I like to work on my selfie game, I don’t want to stare at myself the whole time I’m writing.

Taken in a different room, but it would be pretty much this.

Taken in a different room, but it would be pretty much this.

I also unearthed a pub sign that I honestly don’t remember when I acquired it, and had been waiting for, you guessed it, the right time and perfect place to put it up. Maybe the right kind of hook, whatever, whatever. Baloney. I still has blue sticky stuff, so I slapped some on the back and then affixed the sign to the door. My office may technically now be the King’s Head Pub, and I am fine with that. We even have a pub cat instead of a pub dog, and I am fine with that, too. The two Georgian era prints I kept from my dad’s house and had wanted since I was a wee little princess, do need to wait for command hooks to come home before they can go on the office wall, but when they do, up they go. The right time is now.

This means I'm allowed to have pub food at home, right?

This means I’m allowed to have pub food at home, right?

Doing things like this gets me excited, makes me want to dive headlong into the story world, climb inside the characters’ skins and see through their eyes. Writing longhand with a fountain pen, at least initial notes, is another way I find I can connect. Today, I also added another notebook to my shelf of the usual suspects on top of my desk’s hutch. It’s one of those story ideas I’ve been on and off with for years, and, as the flip side of the bulletin when story ideas and characters and settings and such have been in my head for long enough that they are old enough to vote, drink, marry or join the military without parental approval, they probably aren’t leaving, period. Better for me to get their rooms ready. That feels right.

Today, I met my Ravenwood editing goal a lot earlier in the day (for the day, not the whole project) because I wasn’t focused on word count or verb tense, but telling the story and living in that story’s world. This afternoon, I jump to Georgian England and Her Last First Kiss, and I’m excited about that, too. I don’t consider myself old, ugly or miserable, but dusting off things I love and displaying them proudly in the now, that’s a piece of the puzzle sliding into place. The road to The End, on both of these current projects, and others, has never seemed clearer.

Another Week, Another Journey of Discovery

Another Monday begins another week. This one is going to have some logistical challenges, and that’s okay. Still battling the cold sore here, temperatures are going to be hovering near ninety degrees for at least a week (no, the weather does not care that it is practically September) and today is a full house in Stately Bowling Manor, all humans with some degree of crankiness, so this could get interesting. Already, I’ve wrangled with getting a carefully photographed shot up here, which was not working out for some reason, so we adapt. Go with the all purpose Typing With Wet Nails banner, which I love, and on with the show.

Today, I am ensconced in my office, travel mug filled with ice water at the ready, disposable straw stuck in it to minimize contamination. First things first, and today, that’s getting a blog post up before noonish. Any idea of what to talk about? Not yet. Let me consult the scribbled notes on the page from my paper mousepad.

Lists are always good when stuck for something about which to blog (yes, I do have to be grammatically correct; my blog, my rules.)  Top Ten Tuesday, which I only figured out was a thing in the last few days, is tomorrow, though, so that’s probably going to be that, which may do double duty as a unicorn chow post.

There’s the matter of handling a sick day as a writer (hint; it’s like any other day) and the fact that I still haven’t reread any Bertrice Small novels since her passing and the acceptance that I am flat out not ready yet. When I do, it will probably be a single title, though, instead of an installment in one of her series. I did not do a lot of reading this weekend, though I’d planned on it. Instead, I wrote most of the time, which really is relaxing for me, as long as I do it my way, and shut out the shoulds..

What my way is can change from time to time, and it’s by doing a lot of that writing, that I can see the shifts in patterns. Right now, I’m not as concerned with finding one perfect method to get things done, as I am with getting things done and then figuring out how I did them. I am not ready to turn in my plotter hat entirely (the black netting does marvelous things for my complexion) but I have come to accept that I am more of a puzzler. This goes along with something that surprised the heck out of me when I was in college, studying early childhood education (the biggest surprise was that I did not like early childhood education, which is a big part of why I am not doing that right now) While I had always thought I would learn best (and what I was told by pretty much all of the grownups in my life up to that point) was that, because I liked to read and write, that I would learn best by reading. Following written instructions and all that.

Good in theory, but not in practice. What I found out, while supposedly learning how to enlighten very young minds, was that I fit better in what’s known as kinesthetic learning. TLDR version – I learn by doing. Let me get my hands dirty and mess around and in the messing around, I will figure things out. Discovery learning, some  call it, and I like that term. Sitting outside of the story and telling the characters what they are going to do doesn’t work all that well for me, although I spent far too many years trying to make it be so. Darned old shoulds. What works better is knowing who my story people are, and then putting them where they need to be and letting them do what they do.

In a way, it’s like playing Sims (which I really really super miss, as my gaming laptop is making ever faster circles around that metaphorical drain, so I don’t play as often as I’d like.) One of my favorite things to do, besides legacy play (following one family through several generations) is to make an asylum. One dwelling, with specified resources, a certain number of Sims, but I can only control one. The others will pick what to do, depending on the traits they were assigned. Sloppy Sims don’t care if they’re giving off green stink fumes and the house is littered with dirty dishes, where neat Sims will become very unhappy in the same circumstance and ignore their own needs to get those dishes done. Shy or antisocial Sims won’t like being in close quarters with that many other Sims, while outgoing Sims will be thrilled by having all the company and want to talk to everybody, even if their energy is in the red (very very very tired.) Get the drift?

Once I’d figured out that Her Last First Kiss had started in the wrong place, and I dumped the major players in one room and let them do what they do, then things got interesting. My heroine like things planned out and in order, and the story now opens in her most sacred and personal space, into which the hero bursts in with all the force of a tropical storm, drenched to the skin and spreading out papers that are vitally important to him on every even remotely flat surface, while all heroine sees is the huge mess he’s making. Pretty indicative of how things are going to go between these two, and it also solves a quandary I’d had about how heroine is going to come into possession of one particular paper hero really would rather not have anybody, especially her, see. I knew the paper had to get from him to her, but smashing my head against a brick wall trying to figure out how that could happen didn’t work, but letting them do their thing did.

That came about, not in precise typing in any program, but messy, free-form scribbling on a legal pad (which still gives me the willies that it doesn’t have margins, so definitely switching) and it didn’t even feel like work. That was pure play, but darned if it didn’t get all those ducks happily in a row and me knowing exactly what has to happen next. Which means a new scene and POV switch, and, y’know what? I’m fine with that. Onward.

Typing With Wet Claws: Historical Versimilitude Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another Feline Friday. Things are taking a definite swing toward fall this week. The sidewalk part of the construction is finished in front of our house, so it is not quite as noisy and the floor does not shake as much. Anty is very happy that there is actual sidewalk now, so she can wear heels when she leaves the house if she wants to, without risking ankle death. Construction is not completely done, as they still have a giant pit in front of the house next door, and we still have new trees to be put in where the old trees used to be. New trees means birdies will come back. I love watching birdies in the morning, so I am excited about that.

Anty does have a funny story about the day they poured the cement, and she said I can tell it, because it is really about me. Uncle was home until dinnertime that day, so Anty went to write at the coffee house. When left the house, she noticed that there were big mesh things laid out in a grid pattern on the gravel in front of our door. That told her they were probably going to pour the cement soon. She did not know how soon, because, when she got home a couple of hours later, there were men in big rubber boots almost to their knees, spreading the cement around. I should mention again that I am an indoor kitty, and Uncle had already left for work.

Anty was very concerned about being able to get in and take care of me. There was cement everywhere, and the workers were not happy about having to find a way for her to get across. One of them asked if she could please use the back door (I do not think he said please.) Anty said that she could, but she would have to go into the back yard (it is really tiny, because we live in a city) to get to the back door and the gate to the back yard is right next to the porch, so she would have to get across the wet cement sea anyway. The workers grumbled about having to put boards across it, but then she said the magic words. She had to get inside and feed the kitty (I am that kitty.)

Well. The workers put two boards up, side by side, and let her hold their hands so she could keep her balance as she walked across them. Anty thanked them and came inside. I got my meal (it was cat food, which is my favorite) and Anty got some more writing done. I love a story with a happy ending.

So does Anty, which is why she writes romance. She started reading romance when she was still a person kitten, only eleven. That first book was The Kadin, by Bertrice Small, and she knew right away that she had found what she wanted to read and write for the rest of her life. She says so far, so good. Anty may give the humans in her books a lot of problems, but, because it is romance, she fixes them by the end. Reading romance novels written by other humans is something that Anty loves  do, but has not had a lot of time for this summer, but now it is almost fall, so she is looking at reading more romances, especially historical ones.

Anty says recommendations are welcome...

Anty says recommendations are welcome…

Some humans like their historical romances to be what they call ‘wallpaper.’ This term confused me at first, because I thought it meant that they took the pages out of their books and covered their walls with them. I guess that is one way to go, but that is not what it means. A ‘wallpaper’ historical romance means that there is very little detail given about the period in which the book is set, only enough to give some flavor. Anty does not do that.

For Anty, the best books to read, and the ones she likes to write, are the ones where the historical world and the romance are intricately intertwined and one could not be the same without the other. This does not mean that she writes about humans who actually lived in those other times, but things those humans do did affect the people around them, including the ones who live in Anty’s head. She wants to know what it is like to slip inside the world in which her story people would have lived, and see the world the way they would have seen it.

Since Anty has not, to my knowledge, mastered time travel (but Uncle says it is okay if she gets in a blue police box if it comes) this means she has to find other ways to know these things. Some humans like reading books (that are not fiction) to learn more, and Anty does that to some extent, but what she likes to do the most is get hands on experience. Living history museums and historical reenactments are her favorites, as she can pick up on details that books may miss. She likes to know for herself what a shipyard smells like, for example, or how heavy a musket is in her hands. She once talked a blacksmith into letting her come right up to the forge, which most guests do not get to do, but Anty has special writer powers. Watching period dramas is also good, because watching people move around in the clothing of a different time tells her more than looking at a still picture, even though portraits from a particular era are the most reliable source of how clothes actually looked. She also is quick to point out that, while things like white wigs and high heels on men look funny to modern people, in the times they were worn, those things were hot stuff, so her book people would probably like them. Then again, it all depends on the characters.

Anty is now making throat clearing noises, which means that has to be about it for this week. Until next time, I remain very truly yours,

Skye O’Malley Hart-Bowling
(the kitty, not the book)

Until next week...

Until next week…

Typing With Wet Claws: Recalibration Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another Feline Friday. We are all catching our breath here, because it was a very big week for the humans. Anty and Mama had to go to where we used to live, to see Mama’s mama, who was at the people vet. The people vet says Grandma is doing well and she does not have to wear the cone of shame. That is a big relief. Also a big relief is that a big challenge that came up this week got resolved. Anty says thank you to those who were concerned and asked how we were doing.

Even when Anty goes on the road to take care of nonwriting things, she still wants to get some writing done. She may need to make a couple more trips before things are settled-settled (or Mama may go on her own if Anty is needed here) so getting a travel version of her home office (which in itself is in flux; that is a fancy human word that means things are changey) is essential. She took both computers with her this time; her regular laptop and her tablet (which is really more kitty sized than human sized, and I could have used it to talk to her while she was gone) as well as some notebooks.

i1035 FW1.1

this one is for freewriting

Note the frames drawn around the unlined pages. Anty found that trick on a notebook website when she was not sure she could use unlined pages. Then she read the tip about drawing a box around them, and now she likes them very much. She sometimes draws boxes around lined pages and then makes a big colored band on the outside of the box. This time, it was only a box and no color, and she wrote down what she was feeling about what was going on in life. That helps keep her brain from getting jumbled, so the stories have a clear path. At least, that is how I think it works.

Anty had a new post at Heroes and Heartbreakers this week, recapping the newest episode of Outlander, “Wentworth Prison.” It is here and it looks like this:

not for young viewers

not for young viewers

Some people do not like things like the scenes Anty had to recap in this episode, but Anty says they do not make her scared. She finds them interesting, and likes to see what it is that makes humans get through tough times like the humans in Outlander do. My Anty Mary (Mama and Anty got to visit Anty Mary while they were on their trip) reminded Anty that Anty needs to get the first season of Game of Thrones, because Anty will find that very interesting. Anty would like to, and she would also like more hours in the day, but they would probably get filled with laundry and things like that.

Anty also likes when books have people go through interesting things, so she is always glad to find (and write) books where that happens. She was very happy to find some books like that in the storage unit when she went to look for something else. She has read the books on the left and right before, but wanted to have them on the shelf in her office, and she had been looking for the book in the middle for a long time. Finding it in the middle of a tough day made her day a lot better.

I was named for one of these books...

I was named for one of these books…

Now that Anty is back home, she is making lists and seeing what needs to be done to get back on track. There is some talk of a new desktop computer arriving in the not too distant future. We will have to see how that affects me. I suspect that it will be scary at first, but then I will get used to it, and Anty will do more of her writing at home. This will probably require me to make some sort of peace with the office carpet. I suppose we all have our challenges.

Until next week...

Until next week…

That is about it for this week, so, until then, I remain very truly yours,

Skye O’Malley Hart-Bowling,
(the kitty, not the book)

Remembering Bertrice Small, Part Three: Beyond The Pages

The most vivid memories I have of Bertrice Small aren’t between the pages of her books. While there are others who knew her far longer and far more intimately than I did, these are the memories that come most to mind.

Bertrice Small was my very first phone call. I was three days old, newly brought back to my parents’ New York apartment from Viriginia, where I was born. Their way of letting close friends know they had adopted me was to put me on the phone, and, as Aunt Sunny herself told me, she was the first. Her exact words to my mother, were, according to her, “Oh my God, you stole a baby,” then delighted laughter when my mom assured her it was a legal adoption.

Okay, not technically my memory, but that was so completely Bertrice that  I had to share it. Her voice is the most calming voice I have ever heard in person, and she was the first person I called when my father was taken off life support. I didn’t have to say anything; she said “it happened, didn’t it?” and we shared the moment, together. Those two phone calls alone could serve as memory enough. Bertrice Small was, beyond a pioneer in her genre, a true matriarch who could give any of her heroines a lesson or two (and she did) but the more time I spend on the matter, the more examples spring to mind. Photographs, alas, are currently in storage, but the memories can come at any time, and my copy of Lost Love Found will always have an extra special meaning, on more than one level, so I’ll let that suffice.

To me, this book will always symbolize friendship, not because of Valentina and Padraic’s story (which I love) but because of the friendship attached. Bertrice had originally wanted her dear friend, Elaine Duillo, to illustrate that cover. Unfortunately, contractual obligations made that impossible, and another illustrator friend, Robert McGinnis, stepped in to provide the cover art. I wish I could remember the entire story, because it was a good one, but I remember the animation in her voice and the spark in her eye when she told it. I do know that her covers sparked my ongoing interest of the works of both illustrators, different styles but equally talented.

My copy came to be courtesy of Nancy,  a family friend, with whom I was spending the day. I insisted we stop in a bookstore because Lost Love Found would be out and I had to touch a copy, though I didn’t have the cash on me to buy it yet. It was there, and I plucked it from the shelf and read the first few pages. Put it back with a sigh of regret. Picked it up again and stroked the cover. Nancy, kind soul, bought it for me because it was clear the book and I had bonded, even though she didn’t read romance herself. A very Bertrice-like thing to do, and all the more special because Nancy passed away shortly after that. Now, when I reread or even pet the cover, it feels like they’re both there with me still.

It’s difficult to pick out the personal memories to share.  As any two people do, we had our differences over the years, and navigating a child/adult relationship as it turns to teen/adult and then adult/adult is going to have some bumps in the road, but if I had to say only one thing about Bertrice Small, the person, it would be this: her heroines would be proud. I remember that calm, yet lively voice, telling family stories with as much imagination and care as any of her novels, doling out much needed advice and opinions, making command decisions when they were needed most and showing me that it was, indeed, womanly to be smart and strong.

Typing With Wet Claws: The Book, Not the Kitty Edition.

Hello, all. Skye here for another Feline Friday. I know my picture this week is fuzzy, but so am I. This has been a sad week, because Anty had somebody she loved go to Rainbow Bridge. That would be a human, not a kitty, the human who wrote the book for which I am named. My Anty first read that book a long, long time before I was born, but she and my Mama, who also likes that book very much, both agreed that its title fit as a name for the new family addition. The Skye O’Malley in the book was a brave, smart, beautiful female who had many adventures and triumphed over much adversity, to find true love at last. I like to think that fits, but there are some differences, too.

the book, not the kitty

the book, not the kitty

HumanSkye -I will call her that to avoid confusion, and I will still be me- lived a long, long time ago, in a place called Ireland and a lot of other places, like England and Algiers. I do not know where any of those places are. I am seven and was born in Massachusetts. I live in New York now. HumanSkye was both friends and not friends with a very powerful human named Elizabeth Tudor, who Anty tells me actually lived in the really real world. I know there is a difference between really real world people and those who live in writers’ heads like Anty’s characters do. HumanSkye was born in Bertrice Human’s head, but she was inspired by a really real world person named Grace O’Malley.

Writers, I have found, do that quite a lot. They will take something from the really real world and then make it into something else. Sometimes this is a person, like with HumanSkye, and sometimes, it is a place or part of a song or a picture. The writer takes many different things and mixes them together until they become one new thing. This is how books get made. My Anty is working on a book right now, and that  means that she is gathering lots of inspiration.

One thing she likes to do is make soundtracks for her stories. That means that she finds a lot of songs she likes, that sound like her characters or what happens to them, and she puts them in order and listens while she writes. Some writers do not like to listen to any music, or any music that has words, but Anty says the words do not bother her, and the lyrics mean something, so they are fine. I like when she plays very soft music. That makes me want to curl into a ball at her feet and take a nap. it is very relaxing when she does that.

Another thing she does is to make Pinterest boards with pictures of people and things that look like her story. I would share those with you, but she says that if she makes the board public, then she does not want to work on the story anymore, so they must stay private until the stories are done. She can put music with pictures on those boards, too, although I do not know how that works. Sometimes, she will stare at pictures and listen to the same song over and over and then she will write a lot. That is part of the writing process, too.

So is watching TV shows that she really, really likes. One of those is Sleepy Hollow. She says she now has an idea for a new colonial book, but it must wait until her current book is finished. She wrote about the season finale, which may or may not also be the series finale, here. It looks like this:

season finale or series finale, what do you think?

season finale or series finale, what do you think?

Anty had two other bits on Heroes and Heartbreakers this week. First, she shared her favorite read of February along with other H&H bloggers here. There are a lot of books in that post. I do not know how many of them contain any cats, though. They should put things like that on the website. More cats would read them then, I think, but nobody asked me.  There are also links to posts Anty wrote before about BertriceHuman’s books in the news roundup here. She will put links up later in another post with all posts where she mentions BertriceHuman, so they are easy to find. Maybe her best read for March will be one of BertriceHuman’s books. Or maybe the new Nick Hornby. She likes his books very much, too. She likes a lot  of books, which is probably a good thing for a writer.

One more thing before I sign off. Any has talked to SueAnn Porter and said that Bailey may be coming here for a posting playdate soon. I think that is very exciting, and also a little bit scary. If you know of any questions you would like to ask a writer’s pet, please let me or Anty know, and maybe we will use it.

Okay one more one more thing. Anty was quoted -twice-  on Peter Andrews’s blog, How to Write Fast, here. Anty first met Mr. Andrews a couple of years ago at the NECRWA conference, and they had a very interesting conversation about writing and reading. She took his workshop on how to write fast and still uses some of what she learned there in her writing now.

Anty needs the computer back, so that is all for this week. Until next time, I remain very truly yours,

Skye O’Malley Hart-Bowling,
(the kitty, not the book)

Until next week...

Until next week…

Remembering Bertrice Small, Part Two: As a Writer

Bertrice Small was the first professional writer I met in person, and long before I knew that writing stories of loves long ago even could be a job, but as soon as I figured it out, I knew that was what I wanted. I never had anything but support from this lovely lady, even when that support took the form of tough love.

The summer I was sixteen, I had the great good fortune to assist Bertrice Small’s assistant, which mostly consisted of answering fan mail, an experience I still cherish to this day.  This up close and personal view of what a working author actually does, besides the making up stories part only cemented my desire to pursue writing. I spent part of every weekday at the desk in the basement, so much that Bertrice joked that I was going to turn into a mushroom, spending all my time in the dark, underground. As I’m sun-sensitive, that was not a hardship, and I found the whole process fascinating. My “job” consisted of typing out responses to every piece of fan mail, already pre-sorted into one of three prepared responses. No email in those days, and so I had to physically type each reply from a template.  There were three of those: one for readers who read the latest book and liked it; one for readers who had read the book and did not like it (very few of those) ; and those who had read their first Bertrice book. There were special flags for letters that required a personal response beyond that, and those had to go back upstairs before I could stuff the envelopes and send them on their way.

I became a fan of her fan mail that summer. The stories in those letters proved beyond the shadow of a doubt the profound connection romance authors and their readers share. I still remember the letter from one reader who wanted to name her daughter Skye, but her husband vetoed the choice and they settled for another heroine-worthy name. Years later, I worked at a nursery school at college where two of the preschool students, sisters, were named Silver and Skye. Skye would have been old enough to have been born after that letter, so I always wondered if perhaps their mom was that reader. I never found out, but it’s possible.

That summer, I also had free run of Bertrice’s research library after hours (apart from the shelf that held what she needed for her current book) and it was kid in a candy store time. I had no idea what I was doing, so pulled books down at random and paged through them, hoping I’d catch the magic.  Knowing that these books I held in my hands had played a part in creating my favorite novels was a thrill and a half. The best part, though, was yet to come.

I had to write. That was a rule. At the end of the summer, Bertrice would read what I had written and give a fair and honest critique. I. Was. Terrified. I wrote what would be termed YA today, even though that wasn’t what I loved to read (big lesson there – “write what you love” is as important as “write what you know”) and there is no agent or editor pitch that will ever be as nerve-wracking or mean as much to me a sitting on that couch in her office. She pulled no punches, and I am glad she did not. She pointed out every plot hole. Every character blunder. Questioned my adjective choices. She told me to get a dictionary and learn how to spell. She told me to say “fuck” or don’t say “fuck” and not to be coy with allusions. She told me I needed to live if I was going to write (that one, I can safely say I have done) and told me I was going to be terrific one day. I left that meeting emotionally bruised and encouraged all at once. I wanted to write after that, even more, and I did.

I chucked the YA and started a historical romance. Heavily patterned after her own books, I will admit, to the point of pastiche, but here’s the thing. I was hungry to write that book. Starving for it. I raced home from first high school and then college classes to pound out new pages every single day. I lived and breathed that hero and heroine. Bertrice said I could call her anytime with writing questions, and I did. No, I could not give my Tudor era English hero a French first  name.  Yes, politics of the time were interesting. She answered a lot of questions about the industry and gave me a lot of homework. She never saw that manuscript, which now lives in a storage unit where it can’t hurt anybody, but being treated, not as a kid on a whim, but as a serious novelist myself, did more to sustain me than anything else during that writing.

Fast forward double digit years, and we were both at the Long Island Romance Writer’s Luncheon. Mentor and aunt at once, Madam Bertrice asked me which editors or agents I had wanted to meet at the event, and charged me to stay put. “I’ll go get them,” she said, and she did. “This is my niece,”
she said. “She’s going to pitch her book.” She told them she always thought my wanting to be a romance writer was a phase, but it obviously wasn’t, so she’d do what she could. The rest was up to me. She did it again at another luncheon, a year or so later. Both times, I got requests for full manuscripts. No sales from those encounters, but valuable input and experience.

I’m sad today that I won’t ever be able to hand her a paper copy of one of my books, but the fact is, my books, both past and future, exist in part because Bertrice Small was a wonderful writer, an encourager, a tough teacher and a lover of the great genre she helped to build.

Remembering Bertrice Small, pt 1: As a Reader

I’ve spent some time thinking about how I could encapsulate the influence Bertrice Small has had on me as a reader, writer and human being in general, into one post, and what I came up with was that I couldn’t, so I’m not going to try.  One post is going to be three.

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I read my first Bertrice Small novel, which was also the first Bertrice Small novel, The Kadin, at the tender age of eleven, but I’d known about it long before. Bertrice’s husband, George, and my dad, had been in the army together, one of those friendships that was so close, it was a shock when I figured out they weren’t biologically related. So, it was normal to have grown up with mentions of “Aunt Sunny’s book.” A story fiend from day one, I remember asking a lot of questions about it, most of which were creatively evaded, and I remember being in the local Caldor with my mother, combing the paperback racks on one fateful day when The Kadin was a brand new release from a new author. Could I read it? No, my mom said, I was too young, but I wouldn’t be put off. Something about the cover called to me. I pestered and pestered and pestered her for at least a rough outline of the plot.

At last, my mom bowed to the inevitable and gave in. A sixteenth century Scottish girl got sold into slavery and spent forty years in a harem and then came home because her daughter in law didn’t like her. I remember the words rushing out of my mother’s mouth all in one go, and the way her eyes darted as if looking for a better answer. I also remember the insistent voice in the back of my head that whispered an insistent, “sold!” I stole the book from her nightstand shortly after that, knew, within the very first few pages, that I had found what I wanted to read and write for the rest of my life. Mom caught me reading The Kadin under the bed in the guest bedroom, by flashlight, during a thunderstorm that knocked out the power. She confiscated the book. I stole it back. I also wrote a book report on it. To her credit, my teacher, Mrs. Potter, did not contact my parents and gave me an A. She also took me aside and talked to me about becoming a writer myself someday. Good spotting, Mrs. P.

By the time the second book, Love Wild and Fair, a title which I was and am rapturously in love with, came out, I was still too young, but I did it again. Stole that book, saw exactly why Aunt Sunny was as in love with Bothwell as Catriona was, and I fell as hard for Scotland as I had for Ottoman Turkey in the previous book. It all filled my mind to overflowing. Not the sex scenes at that point, but the history, the drama, the descriptions and relationships, all lush and full and vivid as life. I got caught again, got a lecture from my mother again, got steered again toward more appropriate reading, which fell flat for the reasons above. I also got a stern talking to from Aunt Sunny herself.

By the time her third book, Adora, came out, I received my own autographed copy as a gift, along with a promotional poster. I have no idea where that poster is now (hopefully in storage, where it can be retrieved and displayed) but I still have my much-loved copy of the book, signed, this time, to me. I’ve acquired a few more signed copies since then, by the same and other authors, but none will ever match that thrill of seeing the very first book a favorite author signed with their very own hand.

I remember exactly where I was when I first read the opening pages of Skye O’Malley (the book, not the kitty) and not wanting to get out of the car to follow my father to the yard sale that was apparently more important than me diving into this book. My mother had passed away by that point, and she and Aunt Sunny had agreed, when Adora came out, that I was going to steal the book anyway, so I may as well have my own copies in the future, no matter my age. When I first met Skye, the fictional character, my life changed. Strong, smart, headstrong heroines, who could be adventurous, leaders, survivors, history-makers, beautiful inside and out, make mistakes -even huge ones- and still come out on top? Oh yes, please. Give me that. Teach me how to make that.

I soaked it up like a sponge, and was unspeakably thankful to have someone as knowledegable as the author herself to help me counter my father’s argument that romance was “all soft porn” with facts and definitions. Her recommendations of other amazing books in the genre – The Outlaw Hearts by Rebecca Brandewyne and The Spanish Rose by Shirlee Busbee stand out, and, boy, was she right. She recommended other authors I might like if I liked her: Cynthia Wright, Virginia Henley, Morgan Llewellyn, and a man named Jennifer (Wilde, aka Tom E. Huff.)

Bertrice Small opened a whole new world for me, one where love stories were worthy of history, and in some cases, sprang directly from it. For a kid who had honestly thought that the only options for me were hard science fiction and mystery, neither of which caught spark with me, no matter how hard I tried, it was a revelation. In historical romance, I found my reader heart set free, and I knew, deep down in the marrow of my bones, that this was what I was meant to write, as well. I will always, always be thankful to Bertrice Small for that.

Almost Like Being There

Time for me to add the “Not at RT” tag to my entries, because it’s that time of year again, Romantic Times Book Reviews’ annual conference.  When I first started this post, I began to blog about not being at RWA Nationals, but then remembered that’s in July, so I was missing out on something else entirely.  I am going to take this as a sign that my head is in the books, and thus other things are going to slip out through the cracks.

The conference hangover is still strong from NECRWA, and my tea is from my lovely gift basket, its gorgeous peacock themed box now in its place of honor in my office. I’m working on two historicals at the moment, and some only-for-fun writing that serves no purpose but to make me happy on the side. Today, I have the apartment to myself, and am taking advantage of some excellent advice from the very talented K.A. Mitchell. In her presentation to CRRWA a few months back, she gave two gems: open the file, and change your seat. Maybe not in that particular order, but they work. I’m not stuck today, but got the urge to change my seat anyway, so am now seated at the kitchen counter. I don’t write at the counter much, but it’s a beautifully overcast day, the window that gives me a view of our neighbor’s window is open enough to catch a breeze and I’ll have a front row seat to the rain if we get any. There’s a thirty percent chance.

I’d love to be at RT, but this wasn’t my year. Some other year will be, and it will be the right one. I’m not feeling deprived this year, or that I’m missing out, which is new, but again, still have conference hangover, drinking conference tea, talking to conference friends, and my real life hero and I spent the weekend at the local Tulip Festival, so my people-meter is pleasantly full. Being around big groups of people, especially those who love what I love, energizes me and gives me a boost. That’s two boosts in two weekends, so time to spend some of that energy by writing.

I won’t be at RWA’s national conference, either. This year, Bertrice Small is getting a lifetime achievement award there, and, since she’s the reason I became a romance writer in the first place, if i could only attend one National conference in my life, that would be the one I’d pick. I knew, under my parents’ guest room brass bed, with my flashlight and my stolen-from-Mom’s-nightstand copy of The Kadin, that I’d found what I wanted to read and write for the rest of my life, so of course I’d love to be there to cheer with all the other fans, and witness a retrospective of a stellar career. I would love to see her son, Tom, accept the award on her behalf, charming, articulate and full of pride and love for his mother. I’d love to hang out with other Small fans and jabber about their favorite books of hers, un-favorite books of hers, and her influence on individual careers and the industry as a whole.

Thanks to the internet, I can peep along and read others’ experiences, see what they see, and if I want to talk favorite books or authors, there’s no end to the opportunities for that, either singly or in groups. For lovers of all forms of historical romance, I’ll slip in a plug for my own Facebook group, The Lion and Thistle. Thanks to all the people who live in my head, there are stories yet to write, to keep me plenty busy while the conference and the rest of life are going on, so that, no, I do not feel deprived at all this year. That’s new, and I think I like it.