Jazz Buds and Cover Art Questions

Originally, I had two meetings planned with writer friends, but both had to reschedule, due to domestic tornadoes, which means I have the morning, unimpeded, for writing. There is snow outside, and Tudor Rose Hart-Bowling (aka Liar McLyingplant) is showing off his jazz buds, as the first roses of not-quite-spring tease with a flash of red petals, still tightly furled. My nails are in need of a fresh coat of polish, and currently bear a fresh coat of acrylic paint, as I finally took the plunge and spread some paint in one of the art journals I was saving for…I’m not sure exactly what, but the way I learn best is to take a running leap of the metaphorical dock, shout “Ronkonkoma” (yes, I know it’s a real place, no, I have never been there, and it’s a family version of shouting “Geronimo.”) cannonball into the metaphorical water, and then splash about until I end up swimming.

Almost open!

Once I get to that point, I go straight into meticulous planning mode. Took a while to get to this point, but it seems to be working, so I plan on sticking to it for the foreseeable future. That future is taking more of a shape as things writing-related coalesce into shape. Last night, Melva and I worked through the cover art form for Chasing Prince Charming, our upcoming release from The Wild Rose Press.  My first four books, all historical romance, from Awe-Struck E-books, and Uncial Press, had different processes for developing cover art. For my books with Awe-Struck, I was able to work with artists I personally selected, and have strong input on every element of the design. With Uncial, the publisher knew exactly what to do, and even hand-wrote a line from Never Too Late, to shoot a perfect image.

The process for creating Chasing Prince Charming’s cover is yet another new adventure. Melva and I may or may not have had a few deer in the headlights moments when we went over the requested information. Which of The Wild Rose Press cover artists would we like to use? What is the general feel of this cover? Can we find an existing cover that has a similar look to the cover that we envision. Wait a minute. What are we envisioning for this cover? That…there…should…be…one?

Umm, yes, there should be, but there are a few other things involved. One of the best things about being half of a writing partnership is the ability to pass the metaphorical ball back and forth (aka “shove it at your partner, and run away, whimpering.”} In this case, since Melva has been an utter rock star, handling editorial communications, the task of perusing the wide world of cover art fell to me. This is not a wholly unpleasant task, as I have long been enamored of the wide world of romance cover art. Historical romance cover art, to be specific, so peeping around at the contemporary version has been an eye opening experience. There are a lot of tattooed and shirtless contemporary romance heroes out there. Dominic from Chasing Prince Charming does not have any tattoos, and he will be keeping his shirt on for this cover, as Melva and I have requested that he be depicted in a suit. We presume that he and Meg will both have heads, as there were spaces to indicate hair and eye colors, and having at least one particular shoe, somewhere on the cover, would be super great, but, really, we’re going to be excited for whatever the art people come up with for this one. Expect me to flash that puppy around like baby pictures.

Having cover art makes Meg and Dominic’s story feel very much more in Real Book territory, though, of course, it always was that, right from the start. If at least one of us is already saving pictures and keywords for the day we get to this stage with Drama King, well, that’s not entirely unexpected. Her Last First Kiss will be at this stage one day, as well, and that one, I’ve been able to see quite clearly in my head, for a while now. Now all I have to do is get the book to the end of a second draft and start sending it places. Mere trifles, am I right?

What’s your idea of a great romance novel cover? Drop links in the comments, and I’ll weigh in on each.

Pirate Queens and Clan Chiefs

When I think about the power of romance, the first thing that comes to mind is the bathroom at my dad’s house, when I was a teen and young adult. Those were not easy years, but I knew that, no matter what else was going on, I had an ace in the hole, namely the romance novels I hid in the cabinet under the sink. Only one at a time, and, to the best of my recollection, I only read those books in that bathroom. Usually with the seat of the porcelain throne closed, or seated on the edge of the tub. I read The Spanish Rose, by Shirlee Busbee, and The Outlaw Hearts, by Rebecca Brandewyne. I know there were others, but I remember those two in particular, because they were the first books to live under that sink, and, when I needed a good place to go, there they were, ready to take me back in time and into vibrantly told stories.

Obviously, I did not stay in that bathroom, or that house, forever, and, since there is only so much time one can spend in a bathroom without arousing suspicion, I had to read those books in short, fervent bursts, before stashing them back behind cans of scrubbing bubbles and other accoutrements of bathroom sanitation. I didn’t always want to unlock the door and come out, but, when I did, I carried with me the inspiration of the heroines of the books I loved, their determination to never bow to the obstacles life threw their way, but keep pressing on, knowing the reward would be there, on the other side of their troubles.

My favorite heroines, then and now, are the ones who have been through some stuff. You know the kind. Sold to a first husband literally old enough to be their grandfather, because that was a good step into society for the family. The kinds of heroines who find themselves stranded on the road west with a fully stocked wagon, but no horses, and figure they better get on with getting those horses, even if they do have to take the dude who comes with them. Pirate queens and clan chiefs. Countesses in their own rights. Plucky actresses who work what their mamas gave them, now that the new king is letting women on the stage. Bondservants or enslaved women who may be going through hell, but, hang the consequences, they keep on going. Highwaywomen and pickpockets, grande dames and gamines, even a princess or two. Not the Disney kind, who gets dressed with the help of small woodland creatures, but the badass kind, who woman up and do what has to be done, to take care of those who depend on them.

The princesses I liked, back to when I was but a wee little princess myself, were not the ones who waited in a tower for somebody to get them out (though I did and do like Rapunzel; no matter what else, the gal has a-ma-zing hair.) but take a look at the battle before them and either strap on a sword and ride out with their soldiers, or get themselves up to that high tower and direct the pouring of pitch on the invading forces. I vividly remember reading one Catherine Coulter medieval where the heroine broke a siege on her castle by having her men bring the one sow the castle had left, all the way up to the tower, where the wind could carry her scent to the enemy troops, who had brought a bunch of male boars with them. Said sow was in season, and her scent proved, hmm, shall we say irresistible, to the boy boars. I have never, personally, been in a military encampment suddenly besieged with hormone-crazed creatures with large, curving tusks, but, from that description, I know it’s an experience I don’t want in real life. In romance novels, though? Heck yeah. Bring it on.

Those were the heroines I hung out with in that long-ago bathroom, and, I hope, the ones who hang out with me now in my office, as I write their stories. If they find their way underneath someone else’s bathroom sink one day (apart from propping up a wonky support, but hey, I’ll take that, too. Still counts.) then I will consider the job well done.

I don’t consider reading, especially romance, an escape. I consider it respite. I consider it restoration, renewal, fuel and fortification. I consider it food in my belly and shoes on my feet. In romance novels, things are going to get bad. Of course they are. Fiction eats conflict for breakfast, because that’s the big question; how are the characters going to get out of this predicament? Nevertheless, our heroines persist, and so do the heroes who love them. In romance, the woman always wins, and her beloved wins, too, as does the writer, even if the process of getting the two lovers from once upon a time to happily ever after does sometimes (okay, a lot of times) feel like herding cats. There’s nothing like typing The End, and sitting back in the chair with a satisfied sigh, because it’s HEA for those two now, and, soon, for the reader.

As for the writer, well, it’s different there. The writer may take a break, may devour a whole stack of other writers’ work, but, soon enough, the voices will start again, other invitations to other adventures, other heroines who don’t take no for an answer, and on it goes, once again.

 

 

Why Historical Romance?

Hi. My name is Anna, and I write historical and historical-adjacent romance. We’ll get to the adjacent part in a minute. Right now, I want to focus on the big picture. Why historical romance? My first instinct is that I was hardwired that way. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawn to times before living memory, though I will grant that, when one is five or so, everything falls into that category, by default. As for the romance part of things, I think I was hardwired for that, as well, because my favorite stories were always the fairy tales with a romance plot to them, even long before I had any inkling that the opposite sex could be anything even remotely close to appealing. I also preferred the more arguably obscure fairy tales, like “Donkeyskin” to any of the Disney versions (Sorry, Walt) and checked out an entire spectrum of Andrew Lang’s fairy tale collections (and wee princess me is now all, “hold on, there are more beyond the color-themed books? I must have them!” because, of course, I must.)

Though I didn’t know the concept of shipping back then, (again, five) in retrospect, I shipped Greek, Roman and Norse gods and goddesses, cartoon characters, and couples in fairy tales and folklore. I’ve often wondered if my birth mother liked romance fiction, too, if, maybe, we’ve ever read and loved any of the same books. I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe romance, and storytelling, really is in my blood. I’ve written before about how much fun it is to listen to SF/F fans and writers talk about how they fell in love with their genre of choice, hear their origin stories, as it were, and I would love to shine more light on that same experience with readers and writers of romance, particularly historical. Let’s face it, historical romance rocks.

In the same book, we get a peek into the past, the chance to step into a world that we know existed (because, duh, history; we’ve got proof) and a story literally as old as time, and we know that there’s going to be a happily ever after at the end (or a happy for now, in serialized works) but the big question is…how? We know things weren’t as easy for those in the past as they are now; indoor plumbing is a relatively recent invention, and modern medical advances keep a lot of us on the right side of the dirt. That’s not even taking into account things like the internet, gummi bears, and Sephora. I love all of those things, and I’m glad I have them in my life, but when I’m going to dive into story world, nothing is ever going to do it the way historical romance does.

Whether or not actual historical figures come into play, the historical world is critical to the historical romance. How does the time in which these lovers lived affect their falling in love, and their chances for a future together? For my money, it’s not possible to take a couple from Ancient Rome, for example, plop them down in 1901 Texas, and have their love story play out exactly the same way. It can’t. The pieces of the puzzle are completely different, and yet, the objective is the same; finding that one person with whom they want to spend the rest of their lives and then making that happen, no matter what obstacles stand in their way. I’d be hard pressed to find a type of story I find more empowering than that. I can’t even count all the possible variations of setting, era, character type, plot trope, and a million other variables, all of which can be combined in countless ways. It really never is the same story twice.

Right now, those of us in the US, and elsewhere, but I’m in the US, so that’s where I can speak with most authenticity, live in interesting times. Since current events do affect writing and reading trends, I have asked myself if we’re headed for a surge in historical romance. A break from modern life may be exactly what some of us need to restore our resources, live a few adventures and come back, entertained and empowered, to handle the business of day to day life. Which, I should mention, is exactly what the heroes and heroines of historical romances are doing. They don’t know they’re in a historical; they think they’re in a contemporary, because Restoration England, or the American Civil War, Harlem Renaissance, etc? Those are their nows. They don’t know how their current events are going to turn out, if the war is going to go their way, if life will ever be the same again after disease or disaster upsets the routine they’ve always known up to that point. What they do know, however?

They do know love. They know, by the end of the book, that, whatever life throws at them from here on out, they won’t be facing it alone. They have someone by their side who is going to take them exactly as they are, for better and for worse, and they’re going to face it together. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me, and that’s why I do what I do.

Typing With Wet Claws: Reading Rambles Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another Feline Friday. It is now almost exactly two weeks until Christmas. Anty has hopes the tree will be up before then (so do I; I do not climb it, like some kitties do, or sit underneath it like my predecessor, Olivia, did, but I like to look at it, because it has sparkly lights and shiny balls and I can imagine what I would do if I could get to it.) but Anty and Mama put the white lights around the doorways to the dining room and Uncle’s office, so it is starting to look festive around here.

It is also starting to sound very clicky around here. By clicky, I mean the sound the computer keys make when Anty pounds on them. With her fingers, that is, not a baseball bat. She only does that in her imagination when she is frustrated. That happens sometimes. The end of the year is coming (one week after Christmas, so that is soon) and that makes Anty want to clear her desk of writing obligations for 2016. She is already working on goals, especially regarding fiction. She would like to be both reading and writing more of it, which means I will have more to report on my days to blog. I like to be useful, so this is a good thing.

Before I go any farther (or is it further? Ha, ha, fur-ther. That is funny, because I have a lot of fur. Maybe that joke is funnier for kitties than for humans. Oh, well. Can’t win them all.) I need to tell you where you can read Anty’s writing this week. Her latest Buried Under Romance post is all about reading rituals. Do you have any reading rituals you observe? I highly recommend having a super fluffy kitty sleeping peacefully nearby, preferably with a full tummy from food and treats. That always makes the reading experience better. Especially for the kitty. If you would like to read Anty’s take on the matter, the post is here: http://www.buriedunderromance.com/2016/12/saturday-discussion-reading-rituals.html#comment-9267  and it looks like this:

 

burritual

What are your reading rituals?

 

 

Anty’s binge on Matthew Quick novels continues, as you can see in her review of The Silver Linings Playbook (only of the book; she has not seen the movie, and now is not sure if she wants to, because she researched the differences and she knows what they changed. Word of warning, do not get her started on the movie version of Paper Towns cutting out her two favorite parts, because she is never going to be over that. Trust me on this one.) here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1832682800?utm_medium=email&utm_source=rating  and it looks like this:

grsilverlinings

Anty is now over halfway done with Love May Fail, which is told in four different parts, in four different viewpoints, all combining to make one story. Anty likes that kind of thing, and she very much likes the author’s voice (that is his writing voice, not his speaking voice, which she has never heard, so she cannot talk about that) and the kinds of stories that he tells. She would like to be reading more historical romance, and that will come, because that is still her favorite, but when she gets one of these urges to gobble everything by a new to her author, then she will follow that. Mr. Quick often has love stories in his novels, but because they are not genre romances, those love stories do not always have to end happily (but they can, and some of them do; the point is that they do not have to) nor are they always the focus.

In a genre romance, the love story does  have to be the main focus, and it does have to have a happy ending. That does not mean that the humans who fall in love never have anything bad happen to them ever again (that is a pretty naïve outlook, if you ask me; I have seen things) or that their story is over-over, and nothing interesting ever happens to them again (Anty and Uncle have been in love a long time, and interesting things happen to them all the time. For instance, they have a cat who can blog. I think that is pretty interesting.) What it does mean is that, no matter what happens in the future, the humans who are in love will have each other. They are together and happy to be that way. Believe it or not, that is the only requirement for a romance novel. The only one, seriously. That is why it puzzles me (and Anty) when people who do not read romance think that all romance novels are the same. That is not even close to being true.

Since Anty has been reading and writing romance for a long time now (three cats’ worth, including me; five, if we count Michelangelo and Francesca, who did not live with Anty, but whom she cat-sat on a regular basis) she is pretty familiar with how a romance novel goes. This year, she has been reading a lot of Young Adult fiction and general fiction by authors who also write Young Adult, because she likes getting some fresh voices in her head, and because she likes the edge many of these stories have. She would like to harness some of that and put it into her historical romances. (Note: I have been right there while she wrote the initial daft of Her Last First Kiss, and I think she is on the right tack for that particular goal.)

Suffice it to say (that is fancy human talk for Anty wants the computer back) that things are going to get very interesting, story-wise, around here, as Anty analyzes the books she is reading and takes from them things she would like to put into her own books. As a dedicated Mews, I will be sure to stay on top of this (figuratively, that is. I am a floor girl.) and let you know what is going on. I think there may be some surprises in store.

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

skyebye

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

Typing With Wet Claws: Adaptability Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another Feline Friday. It is a very nice sunbeam day, but I am a dedicated mews, and so I am blogging for my Anty anyway. Anty tried to take some pictures of me in the process of fur maintenance (I am in shed, because it is spring) but I kept moving, so she could not get a good image. I do not always have good fur days when I am in shed, like  I am right now. Uncle tried to help by getting my attention, but that only made me look at him, not at Anty, who was not interested in photographing the back of my head. Note that I did not say who I was helping. Anty gave me treat anyway, because I am cute, so I do not see a problem here.

Anty had an interesting morning today, because she went to two different Laundromats. Normally, she goes to the one that is kitty corner to our house (I cannot see too much out of the window, because it is high and I am a floor girl, but if Anty is going to a corner where there are other kitties, when there is a perfectly good me here at home, I am not sure I am okay with that.) and she did, at first, but she did not stay there. Some almost-grownup humans came in, and not to do laundry. Anty was there to do laundry, and to get some writing and/or reading done, neither of which were going to work out well with the almost-grownups not-doing laundry. They way they don’t do laundry is distracting, so she took her load out of the dryer (it was still wet, and there was still time left on the dryer) and walked to the other Laundromat, a few blocks away.

That other Laundromat is very different. It is farther away, for one thing, and bigger, and there is an attendant in the dry cleaner next door, so almost-grownup humans do not feel as free to not-do laundry there. Anty stuck her load in one of those dryers, then sat down nearby the dryer to get back to her writing. Nobody interrupted her, so it was a good session. Anty may consider using this Laundromat more often, because it is a nice walk, and easy to get both laundry and reading/writing done there without any bother. The regular place is closer, though, so she may have to see.

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gratuitous duck picture; ducks make everything better.

 

Anyway, this is the first Friday since Sleepy Hollow made a lot of humans angry with their maybe-season, maybe-series finale. Anty is glad she did not have to recap that episode, because it brought back memories of when she did have to recap the How I Met Your Mother series finale. I will give you one hint as to what both finales had in common: she hated them both. Like really, really, really, saying bad words at the TV hated. Mama thinks Anty should write a blog entry about how angry it makes Anty when (mostly) boy writers think a good romantic ending means one half of the couple dies, or they break up for no reason.

One thing Anty likes about writing  and reading romance novels is that, because we know what the end point is going to be -that the two humans want and get to be together- that means the writer can throw absolutely anything at them on the way there. That is a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me, although I do not know if anyone should ask me about writing romance novels, because, after all, I am a kitty. Maybe ask Anty instead. Anty loves to talk about writing and about romance novels. She especially loves to talk about writing romance novels, so if you ask her about that, I hope you have brought some tea, and probably some gummi bears. Anty can talk a really long time when she gets going, and it does not take much to get her started.

Although it is never fun to see a TV show, movie, or even book that Anty likes take a sudden turn in the wrong direction – especially cutting off a romantic arc with a tragic ending, when the story was not billed as a tragedy in the first place (Anty will admit to being interested in seeing 500 Days of Summer, in which it is allegedly said at the outset that the humans do not end up together; it is okay in cases like that.) or strongly indicating two humans will be happy together, but whoops, no, one is dead now- there is still a good thing that can come out of it.

 

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Updates? Notebook, you’re on!

 

 

Bad and/or disappointing endings in other works can still be good for a writer because they are a natural call to playing the what-if game. What if things had gone differently? What if the human who left did not leave? What if the human who died had not died? What would have happened next, in the natural (or supernatural, if it is that kind of story) course of events? What unexpected thing could happen so that the humans still have (or still can have) each other, but the story would not yet be over? One of the superpowers writers have is that they can make up different endings for stories where they do not like the ending that was given, and, more than that, they can make that be the beginning of a whole new story of their own.

A little bit of a favorite TV show, a little bit of a disappointing movie, snatches of songs and whiffs of scents, a few interesting images from media and real life, an assortment of other things, let them sit for a while until they are ready to filter through keyboard or pen, and a whole new story can be born. Sometimes, this happens right away, and sometimes, it will marinate for a really long time, but, with dedication and discipline, wonderful things can come from all of that. Like I said, pretty sweet deal.

In case you did not see Anty’s post last week at Buried Under Romance (there is a new topic every Saturday,) on the effect character names can have on the reading experience, you can still read -and comment on it- here, and it looks like this:

01BURIED

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

i1035 FW1.1

Until next week…

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

I Saw Three Ships

 

This has nothing to do with the Christmas carol. What it does pertain to is the fine art of shipping, something common to romance fans, of the reading and/or writing persuasion, and I happen to be both. I write romance, I write about romance, and I have been reading romance since the age of eleven, when I stole a then-brand-new copy of The Kadin from my mother’s nightstand and inhaled it under the big brass bed in the guest bedroom. I’ve been a first round judge in several romance writing contests, write posts on romance novels and recap shippy TV moments for Heroes and Heartbreakers, so I think I know a little something about the smoochy stuff in stories.

For those who may still consider “shipping” to refer to the transportation of goods by water, I’ll clarify. I don’t mean that. I mean “shipping” as in “relationshipping” (yes, yes, not techinically a verb, I know, but still valid in the vernacular, so we roll with it) or following a work of media, in this case, a television program, primarily for the sake of a romantic relationship. That, I do mean, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Even before I filched The Kadin, I was very strongly drawn to the happily ever part of fairy tales, and devoured them in endless variations. I preferred the darker, pre-Brothers Grimm versions, the ones where Cinderella’s stepsisters actually lopped off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper, Rapunzel gave birth to twins in the wilderness, Sleeping Beauty gave birth to –I am seeing a theme here– you get the drift. In short, I don’t want la-la-la perfect; I want my lovers to earn that HEA.

I can’t plan when I connect with a ship, but I know when it happens. I’m watching, I’m interested, and BAM, the chemistry hits me, and I’m a goner. Some ships are casual, and others, well, they get me thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

Fans (and former fans) of How I Met Your Mother know exactly what two-year anniversary recently passed, and may of may not have been part of the mini-kerfluffle that stemmed from Neil Patrick Harris’s tweet on the occasion of Cobie Smulders’ birthday. No, actors are not their characters, but there was a reference to their HIMYM characters’ relationship. There was the word “marry!” There was the word “divorce!” There was the word “love,” which came after, and therefore is the defining statement! Past references to NPH introducing CS as his HIMYM co-star and wife (present tense, no “ex”) though their characters did divorce in the finale…but the alternate finale suggested that may not be the end of the story.

Out of the two options, I’m an alternate girl, myself.There are enough holes in the out-of-the blue divorce plot to qualify it as a spaghetti strainer, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Well, not entirely. Stick with me. I’m going somewhere.

Sleepy Hollow’s maybe-season/maybe-series finale similarly hit fans between the eyes with a two-by-four, killing off the Abbie half of the popular Ichabbie ship, and leaving the other half, Ichabod, vowing to find Abbie’s eternal soul in another body. Ummm…yeah, about that. The tweets, during the original airing, that had started as #RenewSleepyHollow turned to #CancelSleepyHollow, and the fandom (or former fandom) is split between defending the original Ichabbie bond and being done with the whole deal. Others are happy to see the show continue, if it does, but we’re dealing with shipping here, so that’s for someone else to discuss.

For me, the appeal of the show was the relationship between Abbie, a thoroughly modern law enforcement officer with a storied past, and Ichabod Crane (yes, that one, albeit a much more fanservicey version,) man out of time, fish out of water, devoted husband….wait, did she say “husband?” Oh, yes, she did. At the series start, Ichabod was married to and determined to return to his wife, Katrina, whom one might say was not worthy of him. Didn’t tell him she was a witch, didn’t tell him they had a child, buried him alive (but she had good intentions,) that kind of thing. The connection was palpable from the start, but he was married, there was the whole staving off the apocallypse thing, we never saw a single lip lock (closest we got was an impassioned hand kiss in their last moment together) and yet…the chemistry crackled. In the season two finale, Ichabod had to make an impossible choice, and kill Katrina to save Abbie. That should have gone somewhere. It didn’t. Even if there is a fourth season, even if Ichabod does find Abbie’s soul in another body, will fans be there to watch it? I’m not sure.

This comes straight on the heels of the sinking of another favorite ship, Derek Morgan and Penelope Garcia of Criminal Minds. Buff, alpha male FBI agent meets quirky, colorful, optimistic computer nerd, and it’s magic. He’s her Chocolate Thunder, she’s his Baby Girl, their in-office flirtation is the stuff of legend so much so that a seminar on proper conduct in the workplace quotes their specific exchanges. They’ve been there for each other in the other’s darkest moments, she’s been on the line with him when they both thought he wasn’t going to make it, and his most distraught moment during a near-death experience was not related to then-girlfiend, Savannah’s reaction to his death, but of Garcia letting go and walking away from his memorial photograph on a wall of agents killed in the line of duty.

I recapped Morgan’s farewell episode at Heroes and Heartbreakers, and while, on the surface, it was a good exit, Morgan choosing his now-wife and newborn son over the BAU, for Morcia fans, it didn’t sit right, because, dangit, what could have been. I’m not going to address the brother/sister argument here, except to say that I’ll skip those family barbecues, thanks, I know, I know, the actor wanted to move on to other projects, and Criminal Minds is a police procdural, not a romantic drama, but my shipper heart still aches over the loss. Maybe if we’d seen more of Derek and Savannah’s relationshp grow, come to know her, it would have been easier to accept, but it’s Morgan and Garcia that we saw, so that’s what’s going to stick.

So, where am I going with all this? Straight to my initial reaction after turning off the Sleepy Hollow finale: “I need to read a romance novel.” Granted, commercial fiction and TV writing are two different things, and I’m not about to tell a different kind of writer how to do their job, but when I’m there for the romance, I want…the romance. I want the two lovers who went through hell and back to be rewarded for all they’ve been through. I want to see that the charater arcs have taken the characters to a better place (and not in the “they’ve gone to a…” variety.) I want to see the couple become more than the sum of their parts. I want these characters, whom I’ve fallen in love with, individually and together, to have each other’s back, from this day forward. I want the you-and-no-other. I want them to know they’ve found the place where they won’t be judged, won’t be rejected, will be accepted and valued and cherished. I want to know these characters have found, in each other, the one who will walk through the darkness with them, as well as dance in the light. That, even though it may not be strictly puppies and lollipops and rainbows ever after, it’s going to be good enough, still, because they have each other, no matter what life throws at them.

That’s what I want from romance fiction, and that’s what I strive to put into mine. While a TV show may be about wacky hijinx, a supernatural take on history, or the dark corners of the human mind, and incorporate love stories that may end happily or otherwise, in romance fiction, both protagonists win. Always. That’s a promise, and one I am proud and happy to keep.

 

Midweek Rambles

Rainy Wednesday here, and the fact that I’m only now getting to the first blog entry of the week should be an indicator of how things have been going. The new addition to my workspace is Hedwig, (thanks, Kara!) who has shot up to mascot status in short order. Lift his head off, and he’s a flash drive. He will soon be filled with novel stuffs.

No idea what I want to write about here, so I’m going to wing it. One of the most vivid rainy day memories I have carried for a long time reaches all the way back to fifth grade. We’d recently moved from Bedford Village to Pound Ridge, and I had a playdate with Elizabeth A, to keep us both occupied and our mothers sane for the rain-soaked afternoon. I remember I had a corduroy pantsuit (it was the seventies; don’t judge me, and yes, my mom picked out my outfit) that day, red with a flower print all over it. The legs were too long, so the hems of the trousers (I preferred skirts even back then, but mom said, sooo…)were damp the rest of the day.

We spent the afternoon in Elizabeth’s room. I remember Barbies and some imaginative play, some discussion of the new TV show we both liked, Wonder Woman, probably my first fandom, though I didn’t know what fandom was at the time. Elizabeth had a Chow dog, who had particular tastes in what interactions he would allow with what humans, but he always liked me. I don’t remember his name, or the name of Elizabeth’s older brother. I don’t remember many particulars of that day, but I remember the day itself, and the memory is a good one. Elizabeth A, wherever you are, I hope you do, too.

On this rainy day, years later, there’s imaginative play still. Now, I call it writing, and it’s work as much as it is play, which suits me fine. No red corduroy pantsuit, thankfully, and I’m writing this from my favorite coffee house instead of a friend’s bedroom, but the day has some of the same feel to it. Not that I know exactly what the connection is, but some things become a part of us, and come to the fore when they will.

Today is also the first anniversary of the passing of Bertrice Small, still a favorite author and my entrée into the world of historical romance. I’d wanted, as many Small fans, to dive into some rereading when we got the sad news, and, at the moment, I’d tried, but I couldn’t make the connection. Not a good feeling, but, at times, the best thing we can do is let the feelings do their jobs. I don’t know when I got it in my head that I would intentionally step back from reading an author whose work had been that important to me, or when the idea arose that I would resume on the first anniversary of her passing. Maybe it’s a form of literary mourning? I’m not going to question that one.

Once I knew I wanted to resume on a certain date, everything fit. I would pick up one of her books on that date, and I would read it, but which one? With forty-nine titles from which to choose (well, less than that, as the Lara books are in storage, and I don’t own the Channel titles) the options were too many. N’s advice, “make a decision,” came to me then, and I did. I decided I wouldn’t decide. I turned to my Lionesses at my Facebook group, The Lion and Thistle, and placed my choice in their capable hands.

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this is the one

Some of the suggestions, I’d expected. Skye O’Malley (the book, not the kitty) is my favorite, and The Kadin was the first historical romance I ever read.  I know those books, can quote them in places, so re-reading them would be as much remembering as experiencing the story. The other choices offered, Deceived, and The Border Lord’s Bride, I haven’t read as much. Since my copy of Deceived seems to have gone walkabout (will be reaching out to the library system and/or used bookstores soon) my choice became clear. I hadn’t remembered, until I plucked my copy from my special Small bookcase, that this was the second story in the Border Chronicles, not the first, but since it’s an extremely loose connection, I’m letting that go. I can read the prior title, A Dangerous Love, later, if I want. I did put my choice in others’ hands, after all.

 

As with that long-ago rainy afternoon, I remember the book more in general than in specific, and it’s a different experience. The last time I read this book, it was 2007.  A few things have happened since then. My critical mind is along for the ride, and has some issues with tell-y passages and instances of passive voice, but the voice itself, that’s as familiar as I remember, a welcome back to the things that drew me to historical romance in the first place. It’s also made me schedule reading time in my day, something I’d wanted to do, but put off actually doing, but if I want to make time to read all that I want and need to read, there has to be time where that’s all that I’m doing. This is different from pleasure-only reading; it’s also research.

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library haul; must organize

 

 

In a way, that’s my equivalent of the art student camped out in front of the master’s painting, sketchbook in hand or canvas on easel. What did the master do? How did they do it? That thing that was never recorded, what was it? Can I do it, too? What does it look like when I do their thing, my way? Reading time, writing time, headphones in, laptop on, paper and pen at the ready. Let’s do this.

In Here, I Rule The World

Right now, I am in a rotten mood. I mean really rotten. Things started early. I woke, exhausted, thinking it was about 2AM, so glass of water, trip to the water closet, and I’m good for four more hours. No such luck. 6:45. Well, crud. Tend cat, dispense Real Life Romance Hero’s morning pharmeceuticals, perform ritual albutions. Agree to disagree with hair about its direction for the day. Breakfast…okay, breakfast was uneventful, except for Skye leaving a deposit in Real Life Romance Hero’s office, but Housemate took care of that, so the two things even out.

Morning was meant to be for taking care of some routine errands. Obtain clothing from a favorite, reliable retailer. Obtain pen refills from office supply store. Possibly other errands if the first two went quickly. The first two did not go quickly. Both were abject failures, and most women understand the barren wasteland that is a sale at one’s favorite retailer, when there is not one single thing that will fit one’s body and/or color palette. One of those. Housemate fared better, but I left with a case of the grumps. Repeat fruitless mission at office supply store.

Housemate and I did not know Lunch Option A was not going to work out until we were actually there, so went for Lunch Option B instead. Rest of errands had to be put off for unspecified time in the vague future, because I had to get home in time for A) me to make a chat with a critique partner, and B) Housemate to get RLRH to work. No shot at getting in a certain part of the house where I could perform supplementary albutions and renegotiate with hair, and still make it to chat on time, so did the best I could and raced off. Made it with minutes to spare and…open email from critique partner, who could not make chat.

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accurate depiction of my mood

 

This is, of course, the exact second I have my tea ready, notebook and sticky notes arrayed, so I’m committed now, even though I am technically free. We will now cue an instrumental version of “Song of the Lonely Extrovert” to play softly in the background. There are other people in the coffee house, but nobody I can talk to while working, and that makes a difference. Unless the college student scowling at his own laptop is interested in my Scrivener corkboard. I am going to guess that he is not.

I’ve had worse days. Nobody is bleeding or on fire, we have not needed any first responders, and are fed, housed and employed. Even so, the other irritations build. Gaming is a stress reliever for me, and, since my old laptop is currently refusing to play Sims 3, new laptop cannot support it, and we are still looking into other options, I’m going to have to accept the fact that gaming, right now, is not going to happen. Sure, I have Sims Free Play on my phone, but that’s not the same. Not even close. Bleh.

As I told Housemate, what I would like to do is huddle in a corner (under the covers in bed is also acceptable) and mainline ice cream. What I am going to do is crack open that notebook and Scrivener and transcribe some scenes. That, I can do, and it doesn’t require a lot of my brain. Transfer what’s on the page to what’s on the screen. Spend some time in my story world, and deal with Hero and Heroine’s problems instead of my own. I know what has to happen in the tailor scene, but where does the tailor scene actually go? Do I need to plant that plot point seed earlier in the story than where it actually sprouts? How is the balance between Hero scenes and Heroine scenes? Plus the joy of getting immersed in the story.

The rest of the daily inconveniences will still be there when I’m done. It’s not a permanent break from the practical world -one of the reasons I don’t use the word “escape” when I talk about reading or writing fiction; we do still have to deal with those things when we close the book, notebook or file- but it’s a respite, a place where I can order things the way I want, no matter how much time that might take; here, I control time. Heady stuff, when one stops to think about it. Uncap my new fountain pen, open my notebook, and I step back in time, where Hero and Heroine want to know what on earth I am doing to their lives, because it all looks like one giant catastrophe from where they’re standing.

In the end, it will all be worth the trouble. I’ve assured them this book has a happy ending, because that’s what romance novels do. No matter what I throw at them during the story, they will be safe, happy, and together by the end. At the moment, things look pretty sticky for them both, individually and together (not that they’re even thinking much about “together” at this phase of the game, because it’s early days, still) but they’ll thank me for it later. Right now, I’m thankful to them for giving my day some peace. We’ll have to see how the rest of it goes, but, for right now, I rule the (okay, their) world.

Backing Up and Moving Ahead

“You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can’t, you do the next best thing. You back up but you don’t give up.”
–Chuck Yeager

 

Another Monday, another blog entry. Not feeling it today, but discipline and practice are both important, and I find that putting order to chaos satisfies me, so here I am. Morning spent doing housework with help of Housemate. This often consists of her sitting there and letting me chatter at her, as it was today, with me sitting cross-legged on the floor, the box fan in front of me, as I took apart the covers both front and back and cleaned that sucker with grapefruit-scented all purpose cleaner and paper towels. Odds are we aren’t going to be needing that fan for a while, as furnace keeps us toasty warm, and it is January, after all. So, into the newly reorganized closet for our biggest fan. I promise I only do this to mechanical fans, not readers. No reverse Misery-ing here, and, besides, readers are good to have around during all seasons.

The great Christmas ornament harvest of 2016 went well this morning. Good crop, and we hope for an even better return next year. As much as I love the whole process of decorating for Christmas, and will inspect the placement of garland and ornaments (the fact that we use a pre-lit tree is probably best for all involved, lest I get nitpicky about light placement as well; I have in the past.) taking things down is a much quicker and more ruthless process. Down come the lights, coiled, tied, boxed. I pluck ornaments from the tree like ripened fruit, in a matter of seconds. It’s all over in a handful of minutes. This year’s crop is planted in the storage boxes, labeled, and can now germinate for next year. Maybe next year will be the year I finally go for a second tree, which would have black and white ornaments only. Supplemental tree, not replacing the traditional one; I have to have my tradition.

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When I’m at a loss for what to blog about, my guiding phrases of “clean sweep” and “more layers” push me in the right direction. Taking down the Christmas décor and making better use of the closet space fits both of those criteria, as does yesterday’s library trip. Yesterday was a tough day, tired, emotionally drained and frazzled at the same time, and I strode through the library doors with one specific purpose in mind. I was going to grab an armful of romance novels.

I’ve written, recently, about how it’s been difficult for me to read a lot of more newly produced work (part of this, I am certain, is due to my reluctance to jump into the middle of a series of linked books; have to start at the beginning, for me, and there are a lot of series.) This time, I knew what I needed; romance. Historical romance. That’s my reading and my writing home. No matter what happens between Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After, I know I am going to get that Happily Ever After, so pretty much anything is fair game in between those points. I did end up plucking a current release from the shelves, Cold-Hearted Rake, by Lisa Kleypas, which I started reading as soon as I got home.

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That’s the whole haul, for those who were curious. I’d gone with a vague hope I might find one of the Russian-related historicals on my list (and did, with Forever in Your Embrace) and fingers crossed for a Georgian (but not Regency) setting (When You Wish Upon a Duke delivers on that front) but, apart from that, nothing more specific than wanting a good grounding in my favorite genre. Carla Kelly always delivers on the emotional impact, so that was enough to put the book in my hand, and it had been a while since I’d read a good time travel, so The Last Cavalier fit that bill. If I could hit the snooze button on the calendar so I could snuggle beneath my fuzzy duck blankey and read them all, with endless cups of tea at hand, I think, at this point, I would.

Life, unfortunately, doesn’t work that way, but I can make sure I get some pages read every day, the same way I make time for my morning pages and have to at least touch one of the current fiction projects every day. As K.A. Mitchell, whose wonderful workshop on character relations this past Saturday gave me even more layers to slather on Her Last First Kiss, has said, open the file and change your seat. I have to open the file, or open the notebook. When I do, well, it’s right there. I have a pen in my hand, or the keyboard is right there, too (usually both, in most cases; that’s how my brain works best) and who would it hurt if I took a poke or two at things, hm?

Thanks to a talk with a new writing friend, who listened to me whinge about how hard it’s been to find where I should (note that should, there) including roundabout analogies and a diagram drawn on a napkin with rollerball ink, I am getting the chance to do both the clean sweep and more layers things at one with Her Last First Kiss. What, she asked, was the moment that changed my heroine’s life forever? What permanently took her off the path she always thought she was going to walk in life? Huh. Well. Had to think about that one, and then the answer came out all on its own. When her father left.

Sure, she was seven then, and I didn’t want to start that far back, but darned if the whole scene didn’t play itself out on my walk back home from that meeting. I sat down at my secretary desk, with notebook and fountain pen, and out flowed the whole thing. I didn’t have to yank any teeth. Didn’t have to force anything. Huh. I…remember how to do that. Don’t write a book. Tell the story. Remember back when I didn’t know all the rules, but blithely wrote down the movie in my head? Yeah, that.

Clean sweep. More layers. Easy enough when I don’t think about it.

 

A Handful of Dreams and a Blogful of Opinions

I’ve been reading a lot of older historical romances lately, mainly those first published in the 1990s. Many of these are standalone stories, in the truest sense of the word, not parts of any series, so anything can happen, to anybody, apart from the HEA we are guaranteed by the end of the book. The  hero’s charismatic best friend isn’t exempt from villain status, because no, we aren’t going to need him to be the hero of book two or there, because there is none. One hero, one heroine, one HEA, off into the sunset, done and done. That’s how my story brain naturally works, anyway, and I’d been craving the big, thick doorstoppers I used to devour (and still can, because keeper shelves and UBSs and e-books, yay publishing revolution) so I dove into this subgenre once more, with overwhelmingly positive results.

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One of my best (but not surprising) re-finds was Barbara Hazard. I’d re-devoured her Georgian historical, Call Back the Dream, and wanted to dive into the sequel (I know, I know, I was talking about standalones only a minute ago, but bear with me; this is going somewhere) immediately afterward. I thought I’d packed that in the same box with the original, but then it would have been in the same bookcase. It wasn’t. Instead, there was A Handful of Dreams, also excellent, and completely unrelated.

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I didn’t remember too much about A Handful of Dreams, though I’d first read it when it was fairly new. I remembered the scene where child Sally catches a coin tossed to her by a British soldier on horseback, but didn’t remember if that soldier would turn out to be the hero or not. As I read on, I still wasn’t sure. I did remember, very clearly, the fictional Sally’s abusive first marriage, her return to her family of origin, and her placement as the companion of the daughter of a different soldier.

Let’s say that Sally and her employer’s daughter had different expectations of the relationship and leave it at that. I’m not sure if that might have been explored differently,  had the book been written today, and that’s something I will likely think about for some time. Sally’s employer decides it’s time for Sally to move on, and her situation, as it were, becomes a commodity.

A friend of the family, Harry, Lord Darlington, purchases the care of Sally, and his treatment of her didn’t -on either read- strike me as particularly heroic. He’s a cold father to his children from other relationships, including two marriages, even when Sally expresses her desire for the children to be part of the family. As a work of historical fiction, this works fine, and that’s how I read it this time around. There’s a friend of Harry’s, who also takes a liking to Sally, and there was a good portion of the book where I was thinking maybe I’d misremembered and he was the true hero.

Not going to give away spoilers, because there are two sorts of readers involved here; the ones that are going to track this book down o they can read it themselves, and those who will not, because old book, who cares, or they don’t read romance anyway. Either way, I finished this reread a couple of days ago, and, as much as I’d like to read another romance, my brain is stuck here. Lots of thinking.

Were I to publish this book today, I would class it as historical fiction rather than romance. Sally does find love, and that love is reciprocated. There’s even an acceptable heroic grovel on the part of the gentleman who fills that role, but, in the end, this is really her story and not theirs. I am okay with that. Romantic elements, yes, but this book is about Sally’s life, her struggle to find her place in the world, and the effect the cards she was dealt do have on what she can do.

Sally starts out Irish and poor, in the early nineteenth century. She’s also beautiful, exceptionally so, and that gets her noticed, not always for the right reasons. This is one of my favorite types of characters, where that beauty has its perils as well as its perks. There are those who don’t look below the surface, those who assume a certain set of facial features means a certain personality or mindset, when that couldn’t be farther from the case. Sally’s options are limited. She’s not educated, she doesn’t have a lot of power, but she is smart and she is strong, and she is a woman of her time. That’s important.

Some aspects felt  a little too neat to me, others a bit rushed, and. for a historical romance, there isn’t a lot of emphasis on the relationship that should be the center of the story. I’m not sure I would have chosen the same hero, were this my story to write, but it wasn’t. I’d love to talk to the author, but without contact information, that’s not likely, so some of these things are going to muddle around in my own mind for a while. Maybe some elements will transfer and transform in my own work, but for now, I’m still thinking