Thursday, August 30, 2007

Enter At Your Own Risk

There are lots of articles regarding how difficult it is to write good sex scenes. Those of us who try to write know how true this is. My youngest daughter, the brat, used to work in a store where the employees would take turns reading "the good parts" aloud to each other when there was a lull. They’d snort and snicker in superiority, too young to appreciate they were still limber enough that any inane position they were mocking was still technically possible for them.

I came across the following. No author or title…I’m trying to protect the not-so-innocent.

“With unerring accuracy, he speared her humid depths in a single powerful thrust.”

This is wrong on so many levels. I’m thinking targets, forks, weather, rockets.

Contest!!! Please feel free to add a howler for our amusement from anything you are currently reading/have read. Or, write something bad yourself. Just one sentence, please. Oh, okay, more if you must. I’ll even add this authentic gem from my own writing:

“He entered her with no further preamble.”

Preamble! I hope his constitution was strong.

One random wit will receive September’s prizes. Winner and a new post on September 7.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The End

…of freedom. The summer season will end officially for me on Monday, August 27 when I sit in the high school auditorium and listen to a bunch of people who probably don’t want to be there either. I got the agenda in the mail the other day, and my school e-mail account is filling up with rules and regs for the new school year. Boo.

I shouldn’t whine. I had a great summer with plenty of days in the sunshine and in the gloom of my writing room. I finished two novellas and worked quite a bit on Paradise. Entered two writing contests. Got a clean bill of health from my doctor. Joined RWA. Bought cute sandals. Got a fabulous rejection letter. My husband and I went on two trips, and we will spend Labor Day weekend at Daughter # 2’s, where we will see Daughter #3, drink, eat lobster and dip in the pool and hot tub. Ah, the good life.

Like most people who work in a school system, I think of the new year starting in September rather than January, so it’s time for some resolutions. #1 on my list is to finish Paradise by December. Totally doable---only 20,000 words to go. Next on the agenda? After the dreaded synopsis and query letter, that is. This is where I need your help. Should I sleep with someone new? Pull the guy out from under the bed and work him over? Pick up the short guy and a couple of others and have a ménage a trois?

Just don’t tell my husband.

What was the highlight of your summer? What's lined up for your school year?

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away~Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pot Calling Kettle Back

We have previously discussed my tea addiction, but I’ve recently discovered I’m also addicted to my homely Revereware tea kettle. Two have served me throughout my marriage, except for my brief fling with a yellow enamel thing that got tossed on the scrap heap long ago. I’m about to indulge myself with my third Revereware kettle, purchased not out of necessity but severe nostalgia and withdrawal.

A few weeks ago my husband noticed that the old kettle had lost its whistling ability. It didn’t matter to me. Usually I’m hanging out by the kitchen window watching the garden grow or the snow swirl while I wait for the water to boil. And I always snatch it off the stove before it goes into the earsplitting shriek mode anyway. Its inefficiency bothered him, however, and before I knew it, he’d thrown away the old one and got me something that was silver and whistled---but it’s just not right. The handle feels hot to me, the spout is tricky to open, and it’s just not right. It is probably more handsome than the Revereware design, which has always reminded me somehow of a ladybug, but I don’t like it. At all. So unbeknownst to my dearest husband, I am expecting a box from Amazon any day now. And then his new kettle will magically disappear.

Life is short. Everybody has something that they just have to have to make time on Earth more comfortable. Some simple thing. A cup of tea. A good book. I’ve recently discovered Carla Kelly's backlist thanks to my MRMR visitors, and once I post this, I’ll be reading Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour and sipping some caffeine-free peach tea, which still tastes okay even if I had to use the nasty new tea kettle to brew it. What little thing do you just have to have to make things “just right?” Goldilocks and the bears below want to know.

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity. ~Gustave Flaubert

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Unhappily Ever After

The New York Times has an article today about the trend of new television shows to portray marriage in a rather dim light. After reading it, I’m almost tempted to turn on the TV. I’m not a TV snob; I just don’t watch it often. I’ve never seen an episode of ER, pre-or-post George. The Tribe has not spoken to me. Ever since Katie Couric left the Today Show I stopped watching, which used to be a tea-and-toast indulgence before I left for work. Sometimes I’ll catch a home improvement thing on BBC America. Last year I was addicted to Bravo’s Project Runway and thought Santino should have won even if he was abrasive…and they made a dress out of plants…how cool was that? But I’m too antsy to sit still. Now, mind you, I can lie down on a bed with a book for days.

But getting back to the article. The author Alessandra Stanley cites Scott Baio is Single…and 45, Mad Men, Californication and Tell Me You Love Me as being particularly gimlet-eyed when it comes to commitment, marriage and sex. And the latter is the problem---TV shows seem to indicate if you’re married, you’re not getting any. This is an old construct, from the twin beds of Ricky and Lucy to sad-sack Raymond begging Debra. They all must have had sex at some point though; there’s Little Ricky and the three baby Barones running around. But kids are big lust-killers. As a character from one of the above shows says, buying Cheerios isn’t hot.

There’s a reason romance novels end when they do. Real life tends to be less glossy, more messy. Alpha heroes may morph into Betas, or even Psi-chos. It’s hard to be insouciant when you’re scrubbing the toilet and wondering what to defrost. Partnership in real life requires constant compromise and balance, particularly for women. We’re expected to be domestic and dynamic in our jobs. Dirty in bed. Guys feel the pressure too.

Here’s Ms. Stanley’s chipper closing paragraph:

You’re born alone and die alone. Framed by silence, secrets and solitude, these modern relationships suggest you also love alone. It’s depressing to look too closely at the inner workings of any marriage. Viewers are advised to keep in mind that wedlock is a little like Churchill’s definition of democracy: an institution that is the worst, except for all the others.

Who are your favorite TV, book or movie married couples? Please tell me there actually is a Happily Ever After!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If I Could Turn Back Time

I’m having a little fun lately with a novella I’m writing for a contest. Never mind that I submitted an excerpt before I’ve even finished the story and now I have a whole different 750 words I should have sent. Regrets are regular but disregarded here at the Robinson Ranch.

My heroine in Spell Check is the unlucky victim of a magic spell gone awry. Her husband, in a quest for potency and progeny, blows himself up in 1789, leaving his widow to pick up the pieces, ha ha. She begins to get a little worried when she never gets any wrinkles, and spends the ensuing centuries trying to find a way to grow old gracefully. When she meets a hot guy who spends his days writing instruction manuals and his nights writing thrillers when he’s not thrilling her, she hopes to cast a spell on him.

When Juliet confesses all to Cade, he thinks she’s nuts. Slightly edited passage:

As she said one crazy thing after another, Cade had watched Juliet get paler until she was the color of the paper in front of him. He could tell she believed everything she said. If she was acting, she was way better than Meryl Streep and that Queen Elizabeth chick combined.

It was bad enough before when she threw a shoe at him. This timeline she’d just recited had wrapped around his throat and was choking him to death. He’d thought Juliet was a little quirky and original; now he guessed she was just plain insane.

“You don’t believe me,” she said in a flat voice.

He tried to smile. “It’s a little hard for me to understand, Julie. Are you saying you’re a witch or something? You don’t think you’re a vampire, do you?”

She gave a brittle laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous! Have I ever bitten you?”

Cade just looked at her.

“Well, apart from ordinary loveplay. A harmless nip here and there. I am not a vampire! In case you’ve forgotten, it’s daylight outside and I haven’t yet turned to ash. And I’m most certainly not a witch. Oh, no. I have absolutely no power. Do you think I’ve liked living through four centuries? I assure you, it’s very taxing keeping au courant. Just when I think I know the game, the rules change. And you must see how inconvenient it is for me to keep moving.” She framed her face with her hands. “No amount of plastic surgery could produce this result. While my friends become grandparents, I still look like the au pair.”

“So you’re not twenty-eight.” Cade looked at his watch. He needed to go. He was getting a headache and its name was Juliet. “Look, I can tell you’re sincere about this---”

“Read those papers, please. Read them and you’ll understand.”

He’d humor her, and then he’d get the hell out. He’d wasted a year of his life pining for a nutjob, a beautiful girl who thought she was going to live forever. Who said she was like some kind of Black Widow who killed her lovers. Maybe she really had whacked somebody. He probably should call the police. Or Social Services or something. He looked up to see her huge brown eyes, pleading with him to read the bullshit she’d written down on copier paper. She was the one who should be writing a novel. She had ten times the imagination he did.

Juliet has lived too long and seen too much. If you could trade places with her, what historical event in the past 250 years would you like to live through? Maybe I’ll stick it in the scene in Spell Check where Juliet proves to Cade she's every bit as ancient as she claims!

Come out of the circle of time

And into the circle of love. ~Rumi

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Down and Dirty

My oldest, very pregnant daughter recently showed me an ultrasound snapshot of her own daughter’s vagina. The absolute wonders of science. Of course, she said, “Look at her hoo hoo,” my husband’s childhood word for female anatomy. In my family, it was called a “quincy,” which certainly gave me pause when I was forced to learn the presidents in chronological order and I got to John Quincy Adams. My Viennese mother called my backside a “po-po.” I have no idea if that’s traditional in Austria or not, but it’s sweeter than ass or butt or badonkadonk. When I raised my own children, I tried to be clinical and scientific...except, apparently, for hoo hoo, which I believe the Smart Bitches refer to as the Magic Hoo Hoo.

There are lists devoted to euphemisms regarding male and female private parts and the myriad activities associated with them. Check out for some eye-opening research. And there’s continued controversy as to what words offend in literature. Ultimately it’s a matter of your crudity comfort zone. I have no objection to cock, but I’m not sure about the “c” word that’s sometimes applied to females.

What words turn you on and off? Any childhood nicknames you’d care to share? What words make you laugh out loud or throw the book across the room? You can post anonymously and be as sexplicit and silly as you want!

In the words of Trace Atkins: That's it, right there boys, that's why we do what we do---It ain't for the money, it ain't for the glory, it ain't for the free whiskey---It's for the badonkadonk.
Chapter Two of Third-Rate Romance is now posted! Don't forget Romance Novel TV's month of writing tips!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Who's Your Baddy?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about heroes and villains, and the combination thereof. I like darkish heroes, although most of my own guys (in fact and fiction) are a little breezy, more fun than fierce. I wonder about characters’ personal demons…and my own, which I just can’t shake. A little suffering is good for the soul and creativity, I think, but sometimes I feel like I have a gigantic dragon clutching my shoulder with his scaly claws, breathing smoke on my computer screen, obfuscating (I’ve always wanted to use that word) any temporary brilliance with some leavening gray reality. Writing is hard. Writing well is even harder. Publication is problematic.

But back to bad boys and annoying alliteration. I recently read An Unladylike Offer by Christine Merrill---written VERY well--- which features the redemption of a character from an earlier book I hadn’t read (The Inconvenient Duchess, which I immediately ordered from Amazon and finished in one sitting. Ms. Merrill is now on my auto-buy list. She’d better keep cranking out more books, because I’m a fast reader.). Just when I thought I figured out why the hero was so reluctant, Ms. Merrill added another luscious layer to St. John Radwell. Buy this book. It’s wonderful.

I fell hard for Jo Beverley’s decent, determined Dare in To Rescue a Rogue, who fought opium addiction, and Loretta Chase’s lust-inducing, lying Comte d’Esmond in Secrets of the Night, another reclamation project. My new crush is Candice Hern’s devilish yet delicious Rochdale in her latest Merry Widow book, Lady Be Bad (another gorgeous cover!). While in real life my motto is “Everything in moderation,” I am a sucker for imaginary men who at one time were mad, bad and dangerous to know. I’m gleeful as they become Boy Scouts in their buttoned-up breeches by the last chapter, faithful to their wives and families. Improbable, but not impossible.

Who is your favorite reformed rake/rapscallion? Or do you like those breezy boys who think torture is a cool Scrabble seven-letter Bingo word?

Why do you think bad boys look so good…or do they bother you?

What smoke signals is your dragon sending you?

Congratulations go out to PJ!! Please send your snail-mail address to and your August prizes will go out by Dragon Express!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Romance Land Shorthand Contest!

I’ve been making faces at myself in the mirror, trying to replicate “The smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.” I know what that means in Romance Land Shorthand, but what the hell does it look like? Upon careful experimentation, I still can’t tell you, but I made myself laugh out loud. Jack Nicholson and his maniacal grin may have something to worry about.

We come across inevitable, intriguing, and inexorable phrases/concepts often used in romance novels. What’s your favorite cliché---plot, word, sentence or scene? You can cite one of the ones below if you wish (I’m crazy about the hero always being scared of his valet). Here’s the opening of Third-Rate Romance, my recently completed and languishing romance novel spoof. I haven’t counted, but there are a clutch of clichés for your reading pleasure. One lucky commenter will win August’s prizes—a brand-new copy of Stephanie Laurens’ first-rate, non-clichéd All About Passion, some fabulous Maine bookmarks and other surprises. Look for the winner and new post on August 8.

“I don’t know why my father has to be an impoverished earl who lost the family fortune at one turn of the cards,” complained Lady Eleanor Buxton, her auburn eyebrows knotted in adorable frustration. “It’s such a cliché. Why didn’t she make him a ship’s captain so I could have sailed around the world and had an adventure or two? I might be wearing skintight breeches fighting Barbary pirates this very minute instead of lounging about Lady Caterham’s dull old drawing room.” She gave a fringed ottoman a vicious kick.

“Do think for a moment, Ellie. You know you’d only have to be captured quite early on and sold into slavery,” replied Lionel Hamilton, fourth Duke of Cleves, sixth Earl of Wynton, ninth Viscount Stacy and thirteenth Baron Gussington. “But that,” he added, pausing, “might be rather amusing.”

A long tapered finger tapped his chin and his dark eyes took on a faraway look. “Hmm. Imagine Ali Bey or some such villain looming above you, your helpless ivory limbs tied with silken ropes as he has his wicked way with you.” The duke brushed an imaginary tuft of lint off his well-toned thigh. “I confess that image quite piques my interest.” The bulge in his perfectly form-fitting inexpressibles confirmed his opinion.

“Rape is never amusing! It goes against every tenet of the romance genre since the 1970s,” Eleanor informed him, her green eyes flashing the obligatory daggers. “You know you’d have to save me before it ever came to that, and very likely you’d be imprisoned and tortured. And then she’d make me save you by some clever trick or other! Not that you’d deserve it!”

“Now, now,” Lionel said mildly, “you know we are meant for each other. You hated me on sight and have misconstrued my every action since the beginning.” He took a discreet pinch of snuff and leaned idly against a marble Corinthian column stolen from an ancient grave site.

“Disgusting habit! And lower that damned eyebrow. I cannot endure it!”

Lionel smiled his crooked smile instead and picked at an invisible thread on the sleeve of his immaculate Weston coat. How he lived to torment the little baggage. It was simply too simple. “I can see you in the harem now, my love. Your riot of copper curls might sway the sultan initially, but I doubt he’d be fond of you long once you turned your fiery temper upon him. And you know,” he drawled, “you’d inevitably get fat. All the sugared dates, goat cheese and whatnot. I believe more pulchritude is the standard of beauty in the East.”

He cast an assessing black glance at her piquant little face. “Plus, you’d be veiled. It seems a damn shame to cover up that pert little nose, faintly freckled and twitching in anger.”

Eleanor threw herself down on the striped Sheraton sofa. “This book is insupportable! I’ll probably be doomed to act like a widgeon almost up until the end! Then you’ll settle my father’s debts anonymously and pave your way. You think you’re so darned noble.”

“Is it really such an arduous task to love me, Ellie? I’m considered quite a catch, you know. The matchmaking mamas have set their sights on me for an age,” Lionel said, somewhat hurt.

Eleanor snorted in a most unladylike fashion. “Oh, I know your artfully disarranged black hair is all the rage. Your eyes are as black as spades and twice as sharp. How you are so tan in the middle of a rainy English spring after an endless English winter is a mystery, but I’ll go along with it.” She smoothed the folds of her bottle-green riding habit. “Why am I wearing this? It’s all wrong for an afternoon visit to Lady Caterham’s drawing room,” she mumbled to herself. “She doesn’t know the difference between sarcenet and dampened muslin, I wager. Lionel,” Eleanor implored, “please hold me!”

Lionel swiftly ensconced himself on the sofa, doing his grim duty. He was unusually tall for a nineteenth century Englishman and did not find himself at all comfortable; nevertheless, he enveloped the petite trembling form of Lady Eleanor as she ruined his lapels with salty tears. His valet would no doubt give him hell.

I’m going to go practice my smirk now, right after I quirk an eyebrow or two. For more of TRR, all of Chapter 1 is posted to the left. Don’t forget Romance Novel TV’s writers’ workshop this month, so you can avoid cliché-city!