Thursday, January 31, 2008

Northern Heat

You know I get my philosophy straight from fortune cookies, even though I actually dated a philosophy major in college and took the required courses. One of my favorites is “Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.” I’m about to prove that right.

I’m hot. Well, maybe luke-warm, but a handsome fireman at hand is never a bad thing to extinguish the self-immolation.

I placed first in the East Texas RWA chapter’s Southern Heat contest in the historical division! The book is Waking Beauty, a tale of a sweet young woman who supports her niece and an impoverished viscount who needs an instant family so he con his old aunt out of some money. This was the second book I completed (more than a year ago), long before I knew about POV and GMC. The editor who judged the contest will now read the full manuscript. This is exciting, but also scary. Much revision looms ahead because of the vast quantities of ignorance flaming throughout. The book is so hot my eyeballs are on fire. Say your prayers for me that I can reacquaint myself with Penelope and Dominic. They both have good bone structure but their clothes are sadly shabby.

And they must remain fully dressed, as the publishing house I’ll submit to states “There is no graphic or premarital sex or sexual tension in any of our novels.” Amazingly enough, Penny insisted on remaining a virgin until the last chapter, even after Dominic had married her! Some of the secondary characters were naughty, but they’ll be going south anyway---I have to cut about 20,000 words.

So you know what I’ll be doing for a while. How about you? Are you entering any contests? Dating any firemen or philosophers?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Who Was That Masked Man?

I recently finished a romance novel with a plot based on a hot anonymous encounter between two old friends. The heroine was masked, and despite the fact that the hero had known her forever, and kept encountering her as her “real” self, he never made the connection. To this, I say, “Faugh!” I’ve been to a few costume parties in my time, and never once was I ever confused as to anyone’s identity. I believe I’d be highly insulted if someone failed to recognize my full, pouty lips and breathy voice just because I wore a feathered mask. But I realize this improbable masquerade scenario can be found in countless romances.

We generally suspend belief when we read fiction, but I fear the masked ball pushes me into severe rationality. As much as I would like to misbehave without getting caught, I’d be the one in the corner saying, “Oh, that’s George---see his weak chin? Look, it’s Lady Glum. She’s still laughing like a hyena.” So this plotline is not one that automatically makes me plunk down my hard-earned cash.

Read or written any good masquerades lately? What plots bore you to bits or strain your credulity?

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. ~Oscar Wilde

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fear Factor

Writers are encouraged to give their characters fears, flaws or foibles for several reasons. I know I hate to read about “perfect” people. They remind me of the annoying kids in the “In Crowd” in high school, the kids with the new cars and the cool clothes who got onto the Honor Roll and into the best schools without breaking a sweat or needing a scholarship. They were already living their happy ending, or at least it looked that way when I was a young jealouspuss.

I’m mature enough now to agree with Roseanne Roseannadanna: “It’s always something.” You never know what hidden misery lurks behind that perfectly brace-less smile and cheerleader uniform. Thus has my well-earned wisdom spared me from watching the new crop of teen reality shows. There's always plenty of angst to go around.

So, I’ve been toying with what makes a good, reasonable quirk for a hero or heroine to have. I’ve read about those afraid of thunderstorms, commitment, going blind/insane, horses, performance failure, dancing, etc.

If I were my own heroine, I’d have major rodent aversion. Lately, we have been overrun with field mice, which’ve abandoned the snowy pastures and are holing up in drawers, basement boxes, and my pantry closet. The other night one ran into the bathroom while I was---uh, using it, and I’m surprised you didn’t hear me scream wherever you live.

We are now hosting a Decon buffet throughout the house, since the little bastards just licked the peanut butter and cheese off the spring-traps. I’m leaving the hall light on so there are no furry surprises as I stumble around in the night. My grandmother was similarly afflicted with mouse mania; I remember her leaping up onto a chair when she was in her seventies, the most exercise she’d gotten in decades.

There is no rational reason to be afraid of tiny, cute creatures, but I hate them with an all-consuming passion. And it’s not because I’m concerned about that virus they can harbor, either. Even if they presented me with a clean bill of health from a vet, I’d want them dead.

Do you have any mouse tales? Any irrational fears? What about characters in books, either your own or someone else’s?

Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself. ~Samuel Butler

I’m talking about imaginary friends (not mice) on Romantic Inks this Sunday. Please join me! And there are still some great items to bid on at the auction, which ends on Saturday, January 26.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cover Up

For every exquisite Candice Hern, Eloisa James or Lauren Willig book cover, there must be at least fifty cheesy clinch ones---a muscle-bound half-dressed guy in the snow with a wild-haired woman climbing him, her bodice falling tantalizingly toward her navel. I wonder where their mothers are to tell them to button up, it’s cold outside. You’ve all read people complain about covers and state their preferences on other boards and blogs, so this post isn’t going to be like that. Nor are we going to whine about the tacky titles, with sin and wicked paired with some peer. Well, maybe we will just a little.

We’re also going to laugh. Click onto this delightful site. Then come back to get serious. When I shop at Wal*Mart, I frequently turn books over in my cart so people can’t see what I’m reading. I am ashamed. In Wal*Mart ! Center of all things cheesy and tacky! I love romance, both reading and writing it. In order to indulge myself, I sometimes feel like I’m walking through fire. Why is my favorite genre marketed the way it is? It must work, because cheese and tack are almost all that’s on offer. So I grit my teeth and spend my $6.99.

Would men buy beer if the cans were covered with little pink elephants? No matter how tasty, I think not. But yet we’re forced the spend money on something we know is good but has “You are an idiot” written all over it. I venture to say there’s not another thing you purchase that assaults your dignity as much as a romance novel. If you can think of something, let me know.

I won’t say one word about e-book covers. At least nobody sees them but you.

Rant over. Here’s the burning cover question---bare chest or neatly tied cravat? Be honest. I’ll tell you I’d rather have the half-naked man if he’s standing alone. That way I know he’s all mine.

The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, hi-ho the derry-o, the cheese stands alone.

No cheese at the Romantic Inks auction, just tasty romantic protein!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Favorite Mistake


I know I do go on about not watching much TV, but a while ago I broke my rule and caught four back-to-back episodes of Samantha Who? This show has been getting tons of buzz and recommendations. I’ve liked Christina Applegate ever since Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead so I gave it a shot. And I enjoyed it. Probably not enough to put down a book or rearrange my life to watch it faithfully, but it has a certain charm. And an interesting premise. Samantha, a b*tch extraordinaire, has had an accident which has wiped out her memory. She finds out a little about her past in each episode and doesn’t much like who she used to be. Her steps to redeem herself are rather endearing. And her parents are a hoot.

In romance novels, the amnesia plot gets a pretty good work-out. There are only so many basic plot devices (marriage of convenience, reforming the rake, woman in danger, etc.). We'll read a familiar plot if the hero and heroine seem fresh. Like unpeeling an onion, as we read their layers are revealed. Characters must grow and change, turn themselves inside out. Some are more appealing than others, depending on the writer’s skill and the reader’s own history. An author gets the chance to play god/dess and the reader can send the hero and heroine to the devil, or up against the wall, or onto the keeper shelf. The reader's perception is reality.

If you, like Samantha, had the opportunity to correct a past mistake, what would it be?

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. ~Arthur Miller

Author Paula Quinn guest blogs on Romantic Inks this Sunday and Monday, so I'm on a break there until next weekend. A huge, huge, gigantic thank-you to all of you who have trundled over there on Sundays to read or leave a comment. You guys are the bestest. The auction is about to start, so get ready!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Headstand

Those of you who frequent the Eloisa James/Julia Quinn Bulletin Board know all about drabbles. They’re mini-stories of not more than 500 words, with a specific quote inserted spoken by a character. Each week there’s a new quote and a new challenge. I got hooked as a regular visitor on the board once I wrote my first drabble, and lots of good things have come from that first attempt: FanLit, online friendship and writing support, reading tips, prizes, this blog (I hope you think the latter is a good thing!).

I haven’t been drabbling much lately, because I’m trying to write for real, and sometimes the quotes don’t inspire me. But I’ve always tried to use them in a unique way, and I couldn’t resist this one:

Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell. ~Emily Dickinson

What do you think of when you read that? Yeah, me too. The lovers are separating, perhaps never to see each other again. Dickinson is my favorite poet, and in those 13 words she has encapsulated anguish and longing. And knowing Emily, in the context of the poem she's probably talking about death, anyway, but I haven't looked it up.

So, did I write a moving, angst-laced drabble this week? Nope. I took that quote and poor Emily is spinning in her grave. The challenge for me is to see exactly how much fun I can have, turning the expected into the unexpected.

Hair Today, Groom Tomorrow

Sandra slipped the plastic apron around her last customer of the day, Rick Somebody. The salon just used people’s first names when they signed in, and she’d never seen him before. She’d remember. Her hands shook a little as she fastened the Velcro around his nape. Man, he was hot. The temperature in the shop must’ve gone up ten degrees when he walked in, not to mention Sandra’s hormone levels. He was tall, dark and handsome. Chiseled cheekbones. Full lips. A killer smile. And his jeans fit him just right.

So, his hair was receding a little. Well, a lot. She could fix that. Put some layers in. Try out the new product the UPS guy brought in this morning. She was very good with her hands. And other parts of her, too, although she hadn’t been around the block in a long while.

“So, what would you like me to do?” she asked, her voice ridiculously breathy. Her eyes met his in the mirror.

“Take it off.”

“E-excuse me?”

Rick grinned at her. “My hair. It’s time. Bruce Willis and me---parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell. There’s no point trying. Give me a Britney, Sandy.”

So, he’d read the framed certificate at her station and jumped to conclusions. “It’s Sandra.”

“You look like a Sandy. Cute.”

Sandra blushed. “Thanks, I guess. I’ll tell my mom and dad they made a mistake.”

“No they didn’t. Looks like they got it just right to me.” He leaned back, looking relaxed while she plugged in the clippers.

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Look, Sandy, I’m a guy who knows his own mind. When I say something, I mean it.”

“O-okay.” She got to work. This wouldn’t take long at all. Which was a shame, because working on Rick’s head was a heady experience. He smelled so good, clean with a little waft of mint.

“Want some?”

“What?” she asked, startled, almost nicking his ear. She sure did, whatever it was he had.

“A Lifesaver, Sandy.” He was holding a roll out to her.

“Uh, sure.” She put the razor down and took one. What do you think?”

“I think I want to take you out to dinner. If you don’t have plans.”

“I’m free.” She saw his bad-boy grin in the mirror and set him straight. “But not cheap.”

“You look worth every penny, Sandy.” Rick rubbed his bare head. “I can get used to this. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you. Is it kosher to tip the woman you’re going to marry?”

“You’re crazy!”

“Am I? I mean what I say, Sandy. I knew the minute I sat down in the chair this was it.”

“I think we should have dinner first. Then we’ll see.” Sandra picked up the broom, feeling like Cinderella, before and after. Prince Charming looked good bald, too. She wondered what her last name was going to be happily ever after.

Granted, it’s not perfect. I did it in about 20 minutes. And if I were Sandy, I'd be very afraid. Drabbling has reminded me to take nothing at face value. That sometimes when you are writing in the hero’s POV, it really should be in the heroine’s. Flip stuff around. Take a chance.

I recently got this feedback from a contest I finaled in: The first page presents a well-worn plot device. To hook me into the story, I need to read something different, unexpected. I’m wondering how I finaled now, but no matter. *g* What do you do to set yourself apart from the pack, either in your writing or real life? What's the hook to your book?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday School


If you’re randomly passing by, say a quick hi to this handsome guy and pass on over to my Sunday post on Romantic Inks! I’m all high-brow and literary, with information on PBS’ new Jane Austen adaptations and biopic. You might even wind up right back here. *g*

And don’t forget to scope out the fabulous auction items.

Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless. ~Bill Watterson

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mixed Messages

I’ve read tons of talk about “branding.” How it’s important to present a unified face to the publishing world. From the tone of your query letter to the contents of your blog, you’ve got to sell yourself. Have a platform. Find your niche. Make it work.

That’s a problem for one of my heroines, Kelly King (for those of you not familiar with the premise of Third-Rate Romance---although I’ve been hitting you on the head with it, blog after blog--- click on the link. Read the first two chapters, maybe laugh, then come back.). Kelly is a writer dabbling with Regency, inspirational western, chick-lit and vampire romances. Schizo, anyone? And probably doomed. Unless you’re Kasey Michaels or writing under a couple of pseudonyms, it’s hard to switch genres with impunity. You’re supposed to stick with one and get it done.

Kelly and I have quite a bit in common. Here’s a quiz for you all. There will be no prize for the correct answer. See if you can determine which of the following novels and novellas are secreted away in my files. Notice they’re all one-sentence distillations of the plot, but absolutely none of them are pitch-worthy.

1. Aspiring author writes trash, hits it big (c’mon, that’s a gimme).

2. T-shirt shop owner finds dead body, love.

3. Baronet must marry before midnight; gets drunk and lucky.

4. Viscount hires disgraced beauty and her niece for instant family to con his old aunt into making him her heir.

5. An uptight baron must heal the effects of BDSM, quasi-incest, and prostitution on the heroine.

6. Undercover spy with peculiar tattoo on his privates woos doctor’s daughter.

7. Scottish museum directress finds hidden treasure on impoverished laird’s property.

8. Tortured artist finds love with chubby teenager.

9. Teacher teaches her pupil’s father how to love.

10. Girl throws over fiancé for his wounded, drug-addicted uncle.

11. Snotty deb gets de-snotted by childhood friend.

12. Amnesiac Scottish bluestocking winds up in brothel and sold to soldier.

13. Shape-shifting hotel owner falls for shape-shifting guest.

14. Eternally young woman seeks love, eventual death.

15. Librarian loosens up with psychic time-traveler.

Laughing now? Yes, I have written them all. And there are even more, God help me. It’s no surprise that my companion blog, Begin As You Mean To Go On, is subtitled “Prologues and First Chapters from a Genre-Confused Writer.” What’s your favorite plot above? I’m thinking #6 is going to be the fave.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Venetian Class


I’ve always been a sucker for reading life lists and resolutions. I’ve learned not to make resolutions since I never keep them, but I do like lists. There’s such satisfaction as you cross items off, not to mention that things need to be in writing so I can remember what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. So how could I resist Geoff Norman’s article on MSN entitled Things to Do Before You Die?

Mr. Norman had a near-death experience. Going in for routine surgery, he had a cardiac arrest, which naturally made him contemplative about how much time he had left on Earth. His example of an original Things to Do Before You Die list looks a little like something you want someone to find it in your pocket in the morgue and be very impressed. All very manly things, too.


1. Climb the Matterhorn
2. Read Proust
3. Have a suit made on Savile Row
4. Drink a Bellini at Harry's Bar
5. Shoot grouse in Scotland on the Glorious Twelfth
6. See a living great white shark

Mr. Norman then states, with considerable humor: Some items on the list are there just to make you feel good about yourself. After a certain age, the arithmetical truth is that you've had more than enough time to read Proust. You could have easily knocked off Remembrance of Things Past in the time you've spent watching football on television. Could have learned French and read it in its original language. So it isn't about time. That item is on the list so you can think of yourself as sensitive and literary. You have, in short, been bullshitting yourself.

Of course, when you aren't doing it to yourself, there is always someone around to do it for you. I have actually gone to Harry's Bar in Venice and ordered a Bellini. This is one of those rituals like running with the bulls that has been sanctioned by Hemingway. There are sublime drinking moments in life, and Hemingway rendered them better than anyone. But maybe he ruined this one for the rest of us. When I was there, Harry's Bar was full of loud, international expense-account warriors, and the drink was revolting. Sweet and tasting of, for God's sake, peaches.I have fonder memories of a single can of cold beer after working all day with a shovel or a chain saw.

I like the taste of peaches, but maybe Harry’s is out. I’d still like to see Venice someday. And my husband always talks about running with the bulls in Pamploma, although I think he’d be much safer on a balcony with a glass of red wine, watching.

As he was recovering, Mr. Norman was still thinking about lists, and called his brother about something he remembered Satchel Paige saying. Paige was a great pitcher who never got the chance to show the wider world his arm until he was 42. As an African American, he was unwelcome in major league baseball until Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier.

Mr Norman writes: Paige, however, was not bitter. Life, he evidently believed, was for living and too short for that other stuff. And when he was striking out major-league ballplayers half his age, a reporter asked him how he stayed so young. Paige replied with the following six rules:

1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. And don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Now there’s a list both Mr. Norman and I can get behind.

What’s one thing you’d put on your TTDBYD list ? I’m keeping visiting Venice, but if I never get there in the present century, I can always time-travel and watch the divine movie Dangerous Beauty. Rufus Sewall may have a wretched name, but the rest of him will do quite nicely. Reading Amanda McCabe’s lush, plush A Notorious Woman is not a bad way to spend a few hours, either. Loretta Chase is working on a Venice-set historical too, Your Scandalous Ways---can’t wait!

Here’s to a great 2008. May the things you’ve dreamed of get crossed off your list.

Attenzione! I’ll still be posting here at least once a week, but I make my debut as a Romantic Inks blogger on Sunday, January 6. Come visit every Sunday! It will be almost as good as going to church. ;)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Paradise Found


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. ~T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

I had another post planned altogether ---a kind of pro-list, anti-resolution thing, which will go up a bit later in the week. But I want to share my elation with you that I finished the first draft of my Regency Noir manuscript, Paradise (Thanks Anna Campbell and Stephanie Laurens for the new genre name).

Elation is probably too strong a word. I used to feel it and think I was actually finished when I wrote The End. I completed two books that way, both of which were written before I knew a thing about GMC ( I’m not talking trucks), backstory or POV. It’s only been this past year where craft has come to my attention. Something must have sunk in, because it wasn’t too painful to revise Third-Rate Romance. I knew when I finished it in the spring that I would be revising in the summer. Okay, early fall, just in time for the full manuscript request. I am cautiously optimistic that those books- under- the- bed can also be fixed with a little torture and time. One of them just finaled in a contest (the first 10 pages are great, LOL!). I specialize in “starting and stopping” (for proof, just see the blog Begin As You Mean To Go On to the right). The books-under-the-bed may be flawed but at least they’re finished.

I’ll tell you what I really hate, though: query letters and synopses. No matter how many helpful articles I read, I just want to poke my eye out with a quill pen. Paradise (the book) will be hard to describe. If I ever get to Paradise (the Milton kind), I’ll try to send a message back to you.

So, I’m going to let Paradise percolate a while before I slice it and dice it. Maybe work on the several things that have been put on the back burner. Why I have these kitchen references, I don’t know, since I’m pretty much sick of cooking. But I’m not sick of writing.

Thanks to all of you who joined in the crazy fun celebrating the first anniversary of MRMR. You may alarm, but you never disappoint. Where else can I find people to talk to about angels’ nipples, lizard kisses and cheesy motels? Congratulations, Santa ! You are the hopefully hangover-free winner! E-mail maggierobinson8@yahoo.com with your address.

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. ~Oprah Winfrey