Shana Abé Interview

Shana Abé is one of those authors who doesn’t publicize herself much, which is a bit of a shame, cuz she is such a lovely, fun person. On the occasion of her new hardcover release,
The Treasure Keeper, I hunted her down and forced her to do an interview with me.

Okay, I didn’t have to tie her down, then shove a mike in her face. (Is it just me or does it sound terribly dirty? *g*) But you get my gist. The Treasure Keeper hits the stores today.

Go get your copy.

You wrote six straight historical romance and one book of mermaid novellas (2 historical, one contemporary) before you burst on to the scene anew in 2005 with your Drákon series, beginning with The Smoke Thief, featuring an ancient race of dragons who have learned to shapeshift and pass as humans. I know, from a podcast you did with Sandy Coleman of All About Romance, that it had been a long-held desire for you to write romances with fantasy/paranormal elements. Did you also always want to do something with dragons? Or was it a case of “Hmm, vampires, no. Hmm, werewolves, no. Hmm, dragons, well, well, well?”

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Uncritical II

In the summer of 2006, I was Terminator Mom. Or at least, I put on my Terminator Mom hat to do battle with Senior Kidlet’s writing composition woes. He was between third and fourth grade, and on his report card his teacher had named him a “reluctant writer.”

When I was a child, my grandmother had the habit of teaching me a lot of things before they were taught at school. Over all, I did not much care for the extra work. Some stuff were okay: The abacus was very cool. But don’t ask me about the joys of getting up at 5:30 am to learn English, about the most painful and futile exercise imaginable. So when I became a parent, I vowed never to impose such trials on my children. These kids would play all they want and have a proper childhood.

Alas, sometimes teachers express concerns and parents have to step up the help at home. So reluctantly I entered the battlefield and had Senior Kidlet do three-paragraph essays a few times a week–the kind he’d have to produce on his assessment tests.

He improved some, but not remarkably. Suddenly in the middle of that summer I got a full request from Kristin Nelson, so had to finish PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, which she read very quickly and came back with revisions. Revisions were finished just before I started grad school and needless to say, with school and a difficult-going second book happening at the same time, I didn’t spend too much time on Senior Kidlet’s homework for the next year and half, and in my mind Senior Kidlet remained a mediocre-at-best writer.

Then, in the spring of 2008, just before the end of 5th grade, Senior Kidlet brought home a book of poems that he’d written at school, to practice the poetry forms they’d learned in language arts and also as a teacher-directed Mother’s Day present.

Now this was a child who used to moan at length “I don’t know what to write about” every time he had to write anything. The refrains of those complaints and my memories of sitting long hours next to him nudging him on were still fresh in my mind. I expected minimum effort and output to get through the project, and lo and behold this was what I came across:


Midnight is like the bottom of an abyss,
And witnessing a dementor’s kiss.
Midnight is a dolphin’s sonar and a whale’s song,
Accompanied with, an evil heart’s throng.
Midnight is as cold as ice,
Along with the rushing flow of stale rice [sic].
Midnight is a rotten berry,
And the moldy flesh of Styx’s ferry.
Midnight is the reek of rancid fungi,
With a slice of old spinach pie.

Now I wasn’t entirely uncritical. I asked him how the heck was stale rice going to flow. He told me it was really hard to find words that rhymed with ice and we had a good laugh about it. But beyond that, oh baby, was I delighted.

Especially with “Midnight is a rotten berry,” something I’d have been proud to have thought up myself.

Parenthood has a way of turning assumptions on their heads. How humbling it was to see that I’d underestimated him and how wonderful it was to be proved wrong. Children grow into their own capabilities, in their own time.

And what a pleasure to put aside my Terminator Mom hat and, for once, just applaud from the rafters.

(Though it is a total indictment of my disorganization that it took this long for the poem to appear here, given that I’d told Senior Kidlet nearly 10 month ago that I’d do it. The poetry booklet just kept disappearing on us every time I got ready to fulfill my promise. When I finally found it again this time I did not let it out of my sight. *g*)

Year-End Evaluation

Let’s take a look at the 2008 resolutions. Black is my comments from April, when I did a quarterly evaluation. Red is my end-of-year comments.

The Negative Goals

1) Have no tight deadlines

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. The recent copyedits saw me rushing to Fedex at 7:45 in the evening to make the 8pm deadline for overnighting. And to ship a measly 5 lb of paper cost me $59.95. Why for a few more dollars I could fly myself, along with the copyedits, from Austin to New York City.

Again, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought I’d do great with NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, since the book has such a strong central conflict whereas with DELICIOUS we were looking for the conflict with a flashlight and a GPS system. But turned out I couldn’t get a good grasp on how my H/H would interact with each other, the research was troublesome, there was an election going on which I followed obsessively, and the book just progressed SLOWLY.

I finally turned it in on Thanksgiving Day. And my editor sent it back. And I more or less rewrote 70% of it over three weeks. Third Christmas in a row my hair was on fire. And this time it was so bad I did not spend the holidays with my family, but stayed home alone to type from morning to night.

His Hawtness totally came through for me. This whole fall semester he’d been getting the kids ready in the morning, taking the junior kidlet to school and picking him up whenever his schedule allowed. And doing the laundry. And lots of the dishes.

I’m beyond grateful and more than a little ashamed. I’ve been awful at time management. So in 2009, only one resolution: Use my time properly.

2) Not write 1,000,000 words to get a 100,000-word novel

Haven’t written any 100,000-word new novel yet. Stay tuned.

With NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I probably wrote 150,000 words to get to an 80,000 word book. With DELICIOUS, it was 300,000 words for a 100,000 word book. So, an improvement. What can I say, my standards are not very high. 🙂

3) Not be constantly behind on laundry, yard, and house cleaning

Gah! At the end of the copyedits, the abode resembled what my suburban, disney-fied imagination thinks of as a crack house. Kidlets were scrunching for socks in the laundry chute. And I just finally mowed the lawn yesterday morning, with some portion of the grass up to my knees.

With His Hawtness shouldering much of the work, and my mom pitching in all the time too, the house has been in not-too-awful shape. Good Housekeeping it ain’t, but livable.

4) Not exercise only when I have trouble fitting into my clothes

Haven’t had trouble fitting into my clothes. Have been forgetting to eat rather than eating too much. But what awful shape I’m in. Rode bike the other day to kidlet’s school because he forgot something at home. Half a mile, and I was about ready to dial 911. Must exercise more.

Have not exercised more, is all I have to say for myself. 🙁

5) Not neglect this blog for months at a time

Gah again! If not an F at least a D. True there have been various updates in the past two months, but very little proper content. One reason is that all the contents have gone to other people–I guest-blogged at everybody and their great-aunt’s place during March. The experience was excellent, but my sluggish mind can only originate so many blog posts in a given time period. Guess whose blog got the shaft?

Looking a my list of posts, it doesn’t seem that I’ve neglected the blog terribly. But still there hasn’t been any serious content in a while, just miscellaneous updates. Will see if that can be ameliorated in the new year. Posts with themes, what an idea.

The Positive Goals

1) Spend so much time with Hubby that he runs away when he sees me next

He is still walking towards me whenever I see him. So must do better.

Honey if you are reading this, I love you tons! And the sexiest words a man can say to a woman in the English language are “You go write. I’ll take care of it.”

2) Get my bike repaired and serviced so that I never drive my car again for distances less than three miles, which should cover the grocery stores and the library and the most of the rest of my life when I’m not working my accounting job (which is 10 months out of 12).

Was all set to go Monday past, then it rained. And then the senior kidlet was sent home from school with a nasty bug and he’s been recuperating at home ever since. Will do next Monday.

Yep, did get bike fixed and did ride it. And then in the whole of fall I left my house three times. So stopped riding it. But then never drove the car either. 🙂

3) Improve my grasp of the languages I already know.


Read French in Action nearly cover-to-cover when I was at my sister-in-law’s in Bangalore (she used to take French lessons). That counts.

4) Learn Spanish.

Maybe next year.

Maybe in retirement.

5) Make some money from writing. I made a grand total of $1,450 in 2007, from the Russian sale of Private Arrangements.

Well, what do you know? A goal accomplished! The delivery&acceptance check for Delicious came last month and surprised the heck out of me. I had totally forgotten that I was owed any money for it; I was just so happy that the book turned out right.

Nothing to add. 🙂

6) To make 5) happen, I should sell 4 books on contract.

Sold two more historical romances to Bantam. And given the snail’s pace at which I write, I’m going to call this a goal accomplished too. Lots of people would lose sleep–not the least of which me–to know that I have more than that many books under contract. If I ever manage to write a book in under six months again, I’ll revisit this one.

Still writing at the speed of stoned snails. So again, nothing to add.

7) Have five foreign sales. I had three in 2007–Russia, Germany, Spain. Foreign rights sales are the awesome. Every one is like a little Christmas.

Sold French rights to PA in March. Not bad.

Sold both PA and D to Japan, which had me jumping up and down and sideways. And then a week later, sold both to Slovenia. Well, hello, Slovenia. So yes, that’s five foreign sales altogether. Goal accomplished!

8) Become a better person. I’m actually not a bad person at all, but there is always room for improvement. (And I wonder what it says about me that this resolution is way down on the list. Ha!)

Uhhh…no halo around my head yet, so still a work in progress.

Still a work in progress.

Actually, I don’t need to become a better person, I need to become a more attentive person. Because I’m pretty decent when I pay attention to what’s going on around me. 🙂

9) Buy a pair of skinny jeans. By the time this happens no one will be wearing skinny jeans anymore. But I’m patient. I’ll hold on to them until they come back into vogue again.

I actually went out and tried on a pair. I looked stupid in them.


10) Care enough to be upset when my resolutions languish from casual neglect. 🙂

Casual neglect, check. Casual indifference, check. Nope, still same old me. Well, I did hate that the house got so messy while I was on deadline. So perhaps there is hope for me yet. 🙂

In 2009 I will be royally peeved if I don’t follow through on my single resolution to use my time well. Every day during school hours I will write as if my hair is on fire, so that the rest of the time life is less crazy and His Hawtness doesn’t have to do so much.

And there will be a first draft of THE IDEAL GENTLEMAN in to my editor by the time NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is released. You heard it here first.

The September Offensive

The official due date for NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is end of the year. But because DELICIOUS required such enormous and pervasive rewrites, I told my editor that I would have the first draft of NQaH on her desk by the end of September, to give us three months to fix it, should it too be catastrophically off-track the way the first draft for DELICIOUS had been.

I have about 25-26k right now–need to delete most of what I wrote yesterday, therefore the uncertainty. So I’m looking at minimun 2000 words per day to finish the darn thing. Feel free to bet that my editor wouldn’t see anything until the first week of October is over–that’s just how I roll. But I do honor my deadlines in an approximate fashion so I will be going after it.

To make sure I’m honest, I’m going to post daily (probably) updates here.

In the meanwhile, here’s a recipe addendum to DELICIOUS, in case you are hungry. 🙂

September 1: The word count stands at 27k exact at the end of day. I spent most of it writing in the master bathroom (where most of Delicious was written, and you’d have thought it would have been the kitchen, wouldn’t you?), while His Hawtness spent a lot of quality time with the kidlets.

September 2: 27,500 words. Spent most of the time kidlets were in school getting together a mailing list for the published author network of my local RWA chapter. Need to do better tomorrow.

September 3: 28,800 words. Did do better, but not by that much. My favorite way to write is to have a 14 hour day and spend the first five or six hours doing nothing, and then get alarmed as the end of the day approaches and start typing. Alas, can only do that when the kids are away at Grandma’s. 2nd graders have to be picked up five minutes after they’ve walked to school, it seems.

September 4: 1,200 words progress; total, 30,000. Not impressive, but okay considering that most of my day was spent following politics, which I haven’t looked at since 2006, and most of my evening spent having fun at The PHADE.

September 5: 2000 words progress; 32,000 total. His Hawtness came home early in the pm and picked up junior kidlet from school. Then Mom had the kids for the evening. So I got my 14 hour day.

September 6: Eked out 1000 words; 33,000 total. Usually after a good writing day I’d be totally chillin’. But I guess this public reporting is making me stick to my goal better than I otherwise would. Not sure how much of everything I’d be keeping in the end. But this story in the middle sections has an actual external plot–H/H have to get from place A to place B in time for big trouble at place B–so it is the external plot that is moving.

Interestingly enough, I had several days of awful time moving the story forward–see the bit at the top of the post about having to delete most of what I wrote on 8/31. And that was because I was stuck trying to sketch something of a big picture of the political situation of the Northwest Frontier of India (today North West Frontier Province in Pakistan) in the summer of 1897, right before the lid blew off. You’d think that with all the information already at my fingertips, I’d have no trouble doing a bit of a summary. But no matter how I summarized it, it was boring, boring, boring.

Long time ago, when I listened to the commentary on Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the editor talked the big battle at Helm’s Deep, a few hundred men and Elves against ten thousand Urukhai. Their first cut of the battle was 28 minutes. And they thought it was awesome. So they expanded it a few minutes and expanded it a few more minutes. But with each expansion the fight became flabbier and less interesting. Their revelation? Just a battle, no matter how well shot, does not interest people. They had to keep the focus tightly on the protagonists and never leave them for more than a few seconds.

That’s a similar lesson I’m learning here. By itself, the danger that my H/H face isn’t interesting, even as we move toward the big fecal-matter-hitting-oscillating-mechanical-device moment in terms of the external plot, it still must be the conflict in their relationship that dominate the narrative.

September 7: 700 words today; 33,700 total. Writing barebones scenes can only take me so far. At some point, I lose my grip on my characters. I miss the little details that actually make a scene, and I cannot dig as deep into their hearts when I have not been dealing with their emotions, only their actions. So I took off much of the day to potter around the house, cleaning up stuff and cooking. Tomorrow I will be revisiting the half-scene I wrote today to put in paint on the wall and a rug on the floor, so to speak, cuz right now it’s just all bare plaster and concrete.

September 9: Aha, I took Sep 8 off totally. Read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed instead. It’s my favorite kind of nonfiction, informative AND entertaining, with a strong narrative. (And besides, disaster stories have a certain fascination of their own.) Will have to read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies next.

Yesterday sort of got back into the groove. Progress: 700. Total: 34,400. I can truly say even when I’m working, I’m not blowing anyone away. 🙂

September 10: Progress, 1,200; total, 35,600. It is the kind of day where I actually ran out of hours in the day, what with running errands and kids homework and what not. I stopped at a very easy point. So should resume tomorrow without much problem.

September 11: Very decent day of writing. Progress, 1,600; total, 37,200. And I got to chat with Janine. And I surf around a bit. And I did homework with the junior kidlet. And I went to sleep at 10:30. Tomorrow might be less productive with Ike breathing down our Texas. Would be cooking most of the perishables we have in the freezer in case electricity went out. Was in Baton Rouge when Andrew landed in Louisiana and we were without electricity for three days.

September 12: 600 words; 37,800 total. Spent a lot of time looking at Ike stuff–like I need to feed my already chronic case of blog-titis. Then cooked a few things to last us the weekend should power go out. Chances are nothing much would come to Austin, Hurricanes tend to turn east when they hit land, and Austin is way west of the Galveston-Houston area.

Had a thought today. The kind of historical romance I like to read and write is sort of analogous to old-fashioned painting, sometimes even like miniature portraits that require a lot of precision and very fine brush strokes. But when I try to go really fast, as I do right now, it feels like I’m pouring buckets of paint on canvas. Or rather, to borrow another analogy, the story as it currently stands is like an impressionist painting: okay when you look at it from a distance, a mess up close!

September 13-14: Progress, 2,200; total, 40,000. Yay, finally moved into a new 10k band. And I did something I rarely do. I jumped forward a couple of scenes to write a crucial turning point scene–again, thanks to that scaffolding of external plot.

As for Ike, it didn’t even touch Austin. A bit of breeze and no rain at all–we put out our wash in the backyard as we usually do. But it looks like the situation on some part of the TX gulf coast might be dire. Best hopes to minimal damages and the swift return to normalcy.

September 15: Progress, 900; total, 40,900. Good review day. Bad review day. The Chicago Tribune liked DELICIOUS. Mrs. Giggles did not like PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. I am relieved she didn’t review PA when it first came out. I used to get much more affected by a negative review than I do now–if I came across a bad review then I’d spend the rest of the day googling anxiously. Yesterday I said “Oh well, maybe next time,”–cuz you gotta give Mrs. Giggles credit, she does give authors second and third chances, unlike moi–cooked dinner, and then went back to writing.

September 24: I had a blast on tour. Account coming soon. Now must stop most other kinds of voluntary online activities. Not Quite a Husband has just been given a June 2009 pub date. And it’s only half-done. So I’m freaking out and will be going underground any minute now. (Don’t worry, freaking out does good things for me.) 🙂

Karma Is a Nice Doggie

I’ve been waiting to tell this story.

This is not a complete story, because I’m sure the heroine will go on kicking ass chapter after chapter, but the end of Chapter 1 reads something like this:

Golden Heart Nominee Courtney Milan’s PROOF BY SEDUCTION, about a rigidly logical marquis who uses the scientific method to save his heir from the clutches of a fraudulent fortune teller, only to fall for her and discover that the one hypothesis not susceptible to proof is love, to Ann Leslie Tuttle at HQN, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (World).

Now I have a small role in this story. Back when PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS came out, I held a pay-it-forward contest on this blog. The prize was a query consultation and Courtney was the winner as chosen by

I find query letters relatively easy to write. For PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, I knocked it out in one morning. I’ve done a number of pitch critique sessions where I helped people retool their pitch/query, usually in 30 minutes or less. So when I took a look at Courtney’s query, I figured, a few questions, a couple of hours, and I’m done.

It took a whole months and twenty-some e-mails back and forth, before we finally hashed out an acceptable query. I think I probably drove poor Courtney nuts with my endless questions. The upside was, the book was so hard to summarize, all my questions weren’t enough. In the end I had to ask to read some scenes and chapters.

Oh, wow.

This was what I wrote to Courtney after I read her stuff: I truly believe you’ve the potential to be the next Loretta Chase. And so I did–and so I do. Courtney’s story reminded me firmly of my favorite Chase book (Mr. Impossible), in the wit and the energy of her prose and the emotional depth of her characters.

I’ve one of the best agents in the business. And so naturally, after Courtney and I were done drafting the query, I asked if she planned to query Kristin Nelson. It turned out that Courtney had a pitch appointment with Kristin at a Chicago conference that very weekend. So I fired off an e-mail to Kristin that basically said Major talent coming along–hurry up if you know what’s good for you.

Kristin requested the full at their meeting, read it in a week or so, loved it, and offered representation. Courtney, being the smart woman that she is, accepted. And some weeks and furious bidding later came the Deal Lunch announcement as seen at the top of this post.

Now so far, this story as I’ve told it is basically a mirror image of Courtney’s own account, except she accorded me a far greater role than I really played: Kristin would have requested a partial in Chicago anyway, and in time Courtney would have had her Call with or without my participation.

But what Courtney didn’t tell is the story of how she came to save my precious behind–and truly, I can’t think of another person who could have done what she did for me.

That story went like this:

After we agreed that the query that I concocted was usable, Courtney told me that if I ever found myself in need of post-1700 historical legal expertise, she would either already know it or have fun finding out.

To which incredible offer I said–and looking at our old e-mails confirms this–absolutely nothing. Not that I wasn’t grateful she offered, but I saw no need of it. I was perfectly happy to stay far away from legal things as much as I can.

And then, that very weekend, as Courtney was in Chicago getting acquainted with Kristin, I discovered a possibly fatal research oversight in DELICIOUS as I was on the very last round of proofing.

The hero in DELICIOUS was born a bastard. In the book he was later legitimized by the marriage of his parents and consequently inherited the family estate from his elder brother when the latter passed away without heirs–the estate where the heroine worked. So the entire story hinges on his inheriting the estate.

And then, what should I find out when I consulted a late-19th century edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the subject of bastardy? A bastard was legitimized when his parents married–under Canon Law and Scottish law and Continental law, but not @#$%ing English Common Law! The E.B. kindly listed case after case of bastards whose parents later married who weren’t allowed to inherit various pieces of real estate in England.

I was distraught, practically in tears. Granted, probably not too many readers would know this piece of historical trivia. But now I did. I couldn’t in good conscience let the book be published when the entire premise was impossible. And could I really move the estate to Scotland when 1) I didn’t know enough about Scotland to fill a teaspoon and 2) the book had been typeset once already for the ARC, and I was supposed to make only minor changes?

Consulting another late-19th century encyclopedia informed me that there was an out: the bastard can be legitimized under English Common Law by an act of parliament. But now my confidence was well and truly shaken. I didn’t know anything about anything. If only I had an expert on historical law who could help me out…

So I e-mailed Courtney and laid out my problem before her. And let me just say, I think I understand the lure of the Rescue Fantasy now. Because it was sooooooooooo wonderful to be pulled to safety by someone stronger and greater, and all I had to do was say, “Really? You mean I need to insert only a few sentences and change a couple of paragraphs and Stuart and Verity will be ALL RIGHT?” (Strangely enough, I wasn’t so much afraid of consequences for myself when and if I had to tell my editor that the story couldn’t be publish as-is, but I was heartbroken for my H/H, who’d had such tough lives and who needed each other so–I felt I was destroying their happiness.)

Courtney was my knight in shining armor. She explained concepts; she dug up cases; she gave concise interpretations on passages of law that otherwise made about as much sense to me as Linear A.

She made everything all right.

I’ve always considered myself pretty fortunate. But in this instance my luck has been truly spectacular. That would select for me the one person whose help I would desperately need in exactly one month’s time–it gives me the chills.

So here’s to Karma, which says that the person you help most when you help others is yourself–couldn’t be more true here. And to Courtney, may this be the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

(I owe you, girlfriend.)

Would You Buy a Book from This Woman?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting Bettie Sharpe when she and her husband drove through Austin on their way to Dallas for a family reunion.

It is always an interesting experience meeting an author in person. I’m a huge fan of Bettie’s, who writes spectacularly badass heroines before whom the likes of us lesser mortals could only cower in fearful admiration–and sometimes just plain fear. If I’d only ever read Bettie’s fiction, my impression of her would be “awesome and badass.” But I’d also been reading her blog, so while the awesome part remained, the badass part has been, bit by bit, revised.

Well, she arrived in a cute little minivan–which held, among other things, a darling floral parasol and a large-brimmed straw hat pretty enough for the Ascot–and brought with her a polka-dot valise. And badass-ery is deader than Caesar, after Brutus was through with him.

(His Hawtness, looking over what I was writing, said, “Bettie? Badass? But she’s such a lady!”) 🙂

So that made me think. I’ll be meeting people at RWA. RT is going to do a video interview with me in SF. And I’ll be meeting even more people when I go on the Levy/Meijer authors tour. What impressions will I shatter will I show up in person?

My guess, sophistication.

I like the idea of sophistication, of being devastatingly witty, and able to charm men and women alike with my worldly charisma. You know, kinda like this woman,

She looks very, very sophisticated. She looks like she’d know what to do with a pound of Beluga caviar when she flies on a Gulfstream G550 to Davos. Not sure that she necessarily looks like an author, but if someone tells me that she is one, I’d believe it.

But I don’t know that I’d buy a book from this woman.

In fact, you’d have a hard time convincing me I haven’t seen that girl waiting for the school bus. She looks like she still needs to finish her trig homework before she can sneak out to meet her boyfriend.

On top of not looking very sophisticated, I’m afraid I don’t sound very sophisticated either. Bettie Sharpe had this idea that I had an “expat-in-a-smoky-Parisian-cafe” voice, until she heard my voice on the phone for the first time. Then she turned to her husband and said that she’d bet I probably got whatever I wanted from people.

That was such an intriguing opinion that after she left I taped myself saying “Hi, my name is Sherry Thomas. I write historical romance.” Perfectly serious, harmless words, right? When I played back the tape, I sounded like an adolescent Minnie Mouse propositioning her sugar daddy.

So…you have been warned. Partially, that is. You must still throw in some general silliness and empty-headedness and a bit of occasional lewdness. And that would finally begin to approximate what I’m like in person.

And it’s like people say, don’t judge a book by its author. 🙂

Lisa Kleypas, Richard Burton, Nora Roberts, Sherry Thomas, and Julia Quinn in Bangalore

I realize that, with the exceptionally generous quote Lisa Kleypas gave me, every word I say about her could be construed as deliberate bum-kissing. And I’m perfectly at peace with that. I’ve met Lisa Kleypas, bum-kissing her is no task at all, figuratively or literally.

But it was also a fact that when I picked up my ARC of Blue-Eyed Devil to take with me on my trip of India, I didn’t remember that she’d given me a quote. Not out of ingratitude, that’s just how my brain functions/malfunctions from time to time–I can be relied upon to forget just about anything for some period of time.

No, the reason I picked up BED was because I’d been reading books with various supernatural/paranormal aspects, and I wanted a straight comtemporary. I packed it in my backpack and took it with me on the plane journey. But oh boy, Emirates Airline has the most awesome in-seat consoles and entertainment system. I did not stop watching movies and TV shows long enough to read anything other than the menus.

So it was in my first few jetlagged days in Bangalore that I read BED. I’d started reading it at the end of 2007, right after I finished reading Sugar Daddy. But then, because BED featured a battered woman as the heroine, and I have this huge problem reading about injustice, I stopped after a while when the heroine, after escaping her evil husband, finds herself with a cruel female boss.

But in Bangalore the second half of the book went zooming by. It was hot. It was intense. It was satisfying. And it was such a treat. Every time I read a contemporary of Lisa’s, I feel I get this privileged glimpse into her beautiful soul–she writes with such compassion and wisdom and understanding of human nature.

Bangalore has a reputation as a good place to be for readers. We came across three very good used book stores. At the first one, which was sort of a hole in the wall that was packed floor to ceiling, we bought comics (Tintin, Asterix, Tinkle Digest) for Senior Kidlet. We also bought a copy of Arabian Nights that was still in its plastic wrap. Senior Kidlet enjoys folklores and such, so we thought Arabian Nights would be perfect.

Soon, however, he complained that he couldn’t read the thing. So I opened it to take a look at what was the problem. And this was what I came across:

…when the woman said to the Barber’s second brother, “Doff thy clothes,” he rose, well-nigh lost in ecstasy; and, stripping off his raiment, showed himself mother-naked. Whereupon the lady stripped also and said to my brother, “If thou want anything, run after me till thou catch me.” Then she set out at a run and he ran after her while she rushed into room after room and rushed out of room after room, my brother scampering after her in a rage of desire like a veritable madman, with yard standing terribly tall.

It seemed we’d inadvertently bought some old, High-Victorian translation, possibly Richard Burton’s. I read certain pages aloud to my husband, “yard standing terribly tall” and all, and laughed my head off.

While we were still at the bookshop, I took a picture of the romance section.

I thought it was not bad at all. But then a few days later, my sister-in-law, my husband, and I took our four collective children to bowling. Once they were settled in a lane, I left to check out a used-magazine shop we’d seen on the way. But right outside the bowling place was another used book store, this one much bigger and with several walls of romances (alas, I wasn’t carrying my camera). I bought Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, which I’d heard good things about—they had a good few stacks of Georgette Heyer books.

I did remember the used magazine shop. I was hoping to come across some old copies of Lucky—an interesting guilty pleasure, as far as guilty pleasures went, since I hardly ever shop–but what I did come across was more fun. A rack of Mills and Boon for 99 rupees (approx $2.50) each! I happily picked up a new one by Lucy Gordon, The Italian’s Cinderella Bride.

During the time we were in Bangalore, my sister-in-law took us and the kids to various places where the kids could have fun. But one day we decided to take a break from the fun. The kids stayed home to play with each other and my wonderful sis-in-law made a beauty appointment for me with a lady who worked out of her own home in the same apartment complex.

My beautician, Poonam, turned out to be a huge fan of Nora Roberts’ straight contemporary romances. She showed me her stash of NR romances and lamented that she had more NR books than did her lending library. So I was able to boast to her of having stood next to Nora Roberts in an elevator in Dallas, and not just any elevator, it was a darn long ride to come down from the top of the Reunion Tower. I remembered Nora started to say “Hail Mary, Mother of God.” J

Since I told her that I wrote too, Poonam very naturally asked me if she could find my books in Bangalore. And I wasn’t too sure. A fan in India had written me and she’d purchased her copy from Walden Books in Hyderabad. There were no Walden Books in Bangalore, so the good husband took it upon himself to call Landmark Bookstore, a big chain, and reported that while Private Arrangements was not physically available in the Bangalore location yet, copies of it had been received at their central warehouse in Gurgaon, outside Delhi. So…woot! I’m in available in Bangalore

And why Julia Quinn? Well, she was in Bangalore too, as evidenced by this mysterious comment. Now I’ll have to track her down at Nationals so that I’ll know exactly what she was doing there. 🙂

And of course this is way too late (because Bettie Sharpe kept me up all night and then busy all day–hehe) but the Smart Bitches are doing a giveaway of 5 Delicious ARCs. It ends early morning on July 15th. But even if you can’t make it by the deadline, you should still go over to check out the comments of what special delicacy would make people become very, very, very friendly with whomever brings that particular dish. I plan to. 🙂

A Super Interview

I’m off on vacation to visit the family. But before I go, I thought I’d give you guys a good, substantial post. Earlier this year, for my article for the RWR, I interviewed Wendy Crutcher, fiction buyer for Orange County Public Library, otherwise known as Super Librarian around bloglandia.

If you ever wanted to know what a fiction buyer does and/or how books get into libraries, well, here’s everything you ever wanted to know. 🙂 So herewith, Super Librarian!

(Round of applause)

I think being the fiction buyer/selector for a library system sounds like an awesome job. Can you tell me how you got promoted/transferred/recruited to this position?

It’s not as hard as you’d think. All it took for me was having my Master’s degree in Library Science, some past job experience and a passion for adult fiction. One of the benefits of working for a system as large as Orange County Public is that there is a lot of opportunity to transfer. I started out in the organization as a branch manager for one of our libraries in Garden Grove. When a position opened up in the collection development department, thanks to a series of retirements, I got an interview and eventually got the job.

The trick is pouncing on the opportunity. As many librarians will tell you, awesome jobs such as this one do not come along every day. You usually have to wait for someone to retire or die. I can attest to that, as I’ve pretty much decided the only way I’m leaving is on a stretcher.

How many titles do you typically recommend/purchase in a given year?

On average I purchase anywhere from 40-60 titles per week. Obviously, with a system as large as ours, I’m purchasing multiple copies of those 40-60 titles.

What is a fiction buyer’s typical day like?

It varies depending on the day of the week, with Monday usually being the busiest. Every day starts out with e-mail. A lot of e-mail. Then I’ll look at my budget, and figure out how much money I can spend that week. I field questions from our branches on a regular basis regarding weeding, upcoming titles, titles their library patrons are asking for etc. I read journals, select titles to purchase, and follow up with our support staff regarding data entry on the order. I also field patron requests, am on several committees, and handle special projects.

Do you deal with library reps from big publishers? Do you read Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and other trade publications? What about book review sections of major newspapers? What about genre review publications such as Locus or Romantic Times? Do you give any weight to online reviews at reputable and highly trafficked sites?

I have some contact with big publishers, but not as much as I’d like. Publishers are much more focused on the retail market, and in some cases, I think libraries tend to fall through the cracks. That said, the library reps I have dealt with have always been extremely helpful, and attending conferences like RWA means my business card gets into the hands of editors who have been fantastic about passing my information along to their employers.

I read a lot of trade publications, the big four being Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus and Booklist. Since I also order some non-fiction, there are a handful of subject specialty journals I look at. Other sources include The New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and popular magazines that feature book reviews like Entertainment Weekly, People and Oprah magazine.

I don’t use the genre review publications all that much, but have found things like Romantic Times extremely helpful when it comes to finding information on reprints.

As far as online sources, I’ll admit I don’t look at their reviews all that often, but I do monitor “buzz.” If a book or author is generating a lot of discussion, I take notice and often times add them to our collection. Some examples from recent memory are J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and Anna Campbell’s debut novel, Claiming The Courtesan.

Do you get sent advanced reading copies? Do you actually have time to read any at work, or is that time entirely taken up with dealing with stuff?

Being such a large library system, we do receive advanced copies either from Baker & Taylor or direct from the publisher. The only ones I read are the ones that actively interest me, but I always peruse the pile to see what jumps out. That said, the only reading I really do at work in on my lunch break! I also take special note if a publisher includes any kind of special packaging or add-ons with the ARC because that tells me there are some PR dollars behind the book/author.

Please tell me a little more about your decision making process. How do you arrive at a list of books for the library? Is it done on a continual basis or do you come up with a major list per a set length of time? Do you try to order books as they come out or will you sometimes go, hey, I totally overlooked that one when it was released but boy it’s so good I’m gonna get it for the library now?

Since I order every week, I’m gathering titles on a continual basis. In a perfect world I like to order titles about 1-2 months in advance, because, as we all know, publication dates aren’t always firm. That said, I’m not perfect, and have been known to overlook a title. Since I don’t have a crystal ball in my office, this is where patron requests come in extremely handy. Also, I monitor books/authors that are making the media rounds. A book might get dreadful reviews, but if the author was on the Today Show that has a tendency to trump what Publisher’s Weekly said about it!

Do you have a staff under you or do you work alone? Does your boss give additional input into your list? Is your recommendation final or is there a review/approval process? Do you ever have to fight to acquire a title?

I mostly work alone, but my department does have a support staff that takes care of data entry, searching journals (to weed out titles we’ve already ordered), and scaring up information on titles that our patrons’ requested. My boss occasionally gives me input, but generally speaking she lets me do my thing and doesn’t look over my shoulder too much. My recommendation is essentially final, but problems can arise after the fact. Maybe the book has pull-outs or pop-ups that the reviews didn’t mention. In which case, nice for personal use but really impractical for library lending! Also, while I’ve never had to fight to acquire a title, we have been known to field some complaints about titles we house in our libraries. There is a review process for this, and management takes the lead. Given our service population size, and number of libraries, we actually field very few complaints, and most of them tend to be about children’s or young adult material more so than adult.

Given that it is impossible for anyone to read all the new books that are published every year, how do you decide which books that you don’t read personally to purchase for your libraries? Is it based on popularity, reviews, patron requests, publisher push, interesting subject/summary, or criteria that I haven’t thought of yet?

The vast majority of what I buy is decided on the basis of reviews, but the other factors you mention also come into play.

Do you have a list of authors whose works you purchase automatically? Is it because they are popular or you love them or both?

Pretty much all the big name, best selling authors get purchased automatically regardless of reviews. Putnam could decide to publish Nora Roberts’ grocery list, it could get horrible reviews across the board, but I’m still going to buy it for our libraries. When it’s a big name, people still want to read it regardless of bad word of mouth.

Do you have a different standard/process for acquiring debut authors?
Do you have a different standard/process for local authors?
Do you have a different standard/process for small presses?

No, but I would like to offer some tips for small press folks. Libraries do buy small press titles, but it’s extremely helpful to us, and will help you in the long run, if you provide as much information as possible. Author, title, ISBN, price, and publication date. Has the title been reviewed anywhere? Not just the big trade journals, but maybe ForeWord magazine (which specializes in reviewing small press titles) or a local newspaper? If so, it’s nice to have copies of these, or at the very least a blurb. Also, how can I purchase the title? Is it available through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Brodart, Amazon etc.? The more you tell me, the more likely I am to buy the book.

Do you pay attention to such advertising publications as Romance Writers of America’s Romance$ells? How much attention do you give them—i.e., read with interest or riffle through them once when they come in and recycle them? If you set them aside without reading them, what is your reason?

When I do receive material like this, I always look through it. A huge chunk of my job is staying on top of what’s in the works, and this type of material is helpful on that front. I can’t guarantee that I’ll buy your book just because you put it in something like Romance$ells, but it does succeed in putting your name in front of my face.

Do you receive author-generated publicity items? Do you pay attention to them?

Some, but not a lot. I give them moderate attention, but like advertising publications, just receiving one won’t guarantee that I’ll buy your book. My suggestion to authors is to highlight the fact that you’re a “local” author when sending this material to libraries in your immediate vicinity. Library patrons love to read local authors, and if you highlight that fact to a library in a nearby city, you’ll get some extra mileage.

Once you do decide to acquire a title, how do you decide how many copies to purchase for your system? If you have 10 branches and only 5 copies of a title, how do you decide which branches will house the copies—or is this a decision for other librarians?

Let me preface my comments by saying that there is never enough money. If I had my way, I’d purchase every romance published every month and there would be copies galore! Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility, so sometimes I have to settle for purchasing fewer copies than I would like. Since we are a county-wide system, I try to spread these out. I don’t want all of our copies to only be in one small portion of the county.

As for how I decide how many copies to buy? It’s not an exact science. Sometimes it is plain guess work, and I guess wrong. I do constantly monitor our holds lists though, and regularly purchase additional copies for titles that are proving to be popular among our patrons.

Do you have fiction authors that you love that you do not acquire in your official capacity for some reason? How much of this job is personal taste and how much is taking the general tastes of the public into consideration, i.e., is it a regular part of your job to acquire books that you’d rather eat worms than read?

The minute my job becomes about personal taste is the day I hope I get fired. It’s not about what I think people should read. It’s about providing people with what they would like to read. There’s a bestselling author that I purchase numerous copies of every time she has a new book out, and I swear a little piece of me dies inside every time I have to. But you know what? It’s not about me. I may think she’s a horrible writer, but a lot of people love her books, and who am I to argue? Likewise, there are authors I enjoy that other people just don’t get. You learn to take it all with a pretty heavy grain of salt after a while.

Does your budget contain a pre-determined breakdown by genre, as in this much percentage for romance, this much for literary fiction, this much for mystery, etc.? If it does, how was it determined? Does it change from year to year? Is it a reflection of what gets the greatest circulation?

If the budget does not contain a pre-determined breakdown, is it entirely at your discretion?

Our budget does not contain a pre-determined breakdown by genre. We do break down the budget by “type” (fiction, non-fiction, children’s etc.) and then we break it down according to library size and circulation. For example, I have a bigger budget for our large libraries that are open seven days a week than I do for the small libraries that might only be a couple thousand square feet and open five days a week.

It’s all up to my discretion. A big factor is circulation numbers. I have one branch where I can buy any mystery, regardless of sub genre, and I know it will circulate like gang busters. Likewise, I have libraries where science fiction is hugely popular and others where it collects dust. This is where I rely heavily on feedback from our branch staff. My focus is the system-wide collection, and theirs is the collection at their individual branch.

The trick is to make sure everybody has a little bit of everything. You strive for a well-rounded collection. That’s harder than it sounds when you are overseeing the adult fiction needs for 33 libraries. That said, one of the benefits to being a patron of a system this large is that just because the local library you use regularly might not have it, doesn’t mean we don’t have it somewhere else. We have a team of delivery drivers that go out five days a week, delivering requested materials all over the county.

I imagine a buyer at a bookstore would closely watch the sales number to see how her picks are performing? What is the feedback process for a library book buyer/selector? How do you know that your choices are being embraced/deserted by your patrons? Do you look at the circulation history for a title to see how well it did? Is such aggregated data even available?

Computers have made this aspect of my job a lot easier! I regularly look at circulation numbers to monitor how titles/authors are doing. One of the great things about a library system this size is usually the audience is out there somewhere, you just have to find it! Maybe vampire romance is dead weight at one location, but people are begging for it at another. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason. Again, I rely heavily on the staff we have on the “front lines” to provide feedback on what people are asking for, what they’re checking out, holes in their collection etc.

Have you ever made a purchase that later had your boss/patrons come to you and inquire what the heck you were thinking? Were any of those romances?

I have a fantastic boss who has yet to second guess me. Sometimes there is no telling what title will spark a complaint, and you can’t really do this job if you’re second guessing yourself all the time. That goes for branch staff as well. I’ve had numerous librarians tell me “such and such” doesn’t circulate at their location, and when I check the numbers down the road I discover it did very, very well for them. Again, there’s no crystal ball and it’s hard to predict. However, if something like this does comes up, my boss always asks me what my criteria was for selecting the “offending” title, and management handles the rest. Thankfully, there have been no major scuffles regarding romance titles on my watch so far.

And a pair of follow-up questions

1)At Austin Public Library, mysteries are the most popular books–as a group–with the patrons, followed by romances. How about your your system?

This is a hard question for me to answer, because with 33 libraries what’s “popular” can vary from branch to branch. That being said, what you think would be popular is. Anything Oprah is reading. Anything on the bestseller lists. If we’re talking raw circulation numbers, mysteries would probably win out. Romance is starting to pick up some steam, thanks to the better budgets we’ve had the last couple of years. Money was very tight for several years, and our romance collection really suffered. I’m still trying to fill out the collection with what I consider core authors and titles. As this has happened, I have notice that circulation is picking up. Also, our romance reading patrons aren’t shy about requesting titles and this has certainly benefited our collection immensely.

I will also add that while I keep hearing and reading that paranormal romance has hit it’s “peak” it is still insanely popular at several of our locations, with readers being very loyal to series.

2)Can you tell me when did the Orange County system begin to catalogue its romances?

We started cataloging them in early 2003, roughly a year before I hired on. Thank goodness, or else I would have made myself a total pest about getting it done! Not cataloging paperbacks is easily one of my biggest pet peeves. How do we expect library patrons to find anything if we don’t catalog it?

(Round of thundering applause)

Thank you so much, Super Librarian!

My First Book Signing–a Survivor’s Tale

When I was a teenager living in Baton Rouge, I sometimes went to a Books-a-Million–my mom would drop me off there and go to the K-Mart down the road. One fine, hot Saturday afternoon, I was there in the Books-a-Million, walking around, browsing.

Whenever I passed through the center aisle of the store, I’d see this man sitting there by himself behind a desk. I passed him probably five or six times before I looked at the little plaque in front of him: he was an author, there to sign his books. Once I realized that, I kept far away from him, because I didn’t have any money to buy his book and could not stand to see his wistful face one more time.

That non-encounter left a powerful impression on me: Most authors are not celebrities, and do not have fans clamoring for their autographs. And as a member of Most Authors, I would suffer the same fate were I so foolish as to have a book signing where people have to pay to buy my books, as opposed to the fabulous publisher-hosted signings at RWA which draw crowds because the books are free.

Well, somehow I got talked into having a book signing, at a romance-friendly local B. Dalton’s. I did not dread it in a sick-to-the-stomach way, but I did not relish the thought of it either. The bookstore is located in a mall, and I would be put on a table right at the front of the store, naked to the passing traffic.

Well, I needn’t have feared. My friends from the local chapter of the RWA were there from the very beginning. They chatted with me, so I wouldn’t be all by myself. They bought multiple copies for moms and moms-in-law. They brought kids and husbands and sisters. Some drove in from Bastrop and Fort Hood.

By the time my beloved sis-in-law showed up to my squeeing surprise and delight–she drove in from Dallas–I knew it was going to be a great time. Hubby arrived–looking very cute–with the senior kidlet and the camera that I always, always, without exception, forget.

It turned into a party. So much so that I was completely bowled over when strangers bought my books to be signed. One very lovely reader, who has 800 books at home and loves historical fiction, took the book on faith. A trio of gorgeous college students came to get a copy of PA signed for their roommate, who wanted to come but had to be in Dallas that weekend.

When Sybil and Lawson from The Good, the Bad, the Unread strode onto the scene, they triple-frosted my cake. Part of me still can’t believe that they took the trouble, driving in from San Antonio. Really, I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve a whole lot of this support and warmth and just wonderful consideration from everyone who came. It was the loveliest feeling to be so grateful to all the good people in my life and to the world for just spinning.

After the book signing, I took Sybil, Lawson, and my friend Catherine to Viva Chocolato, a rather scrumptious little local establishment. Lawson and Catherine were carded when they ordered wine, and Sybil and I demanded to be carded too, even though we were only having gelato shake and Italian soda, respectively. We also demolished a little chocolate fondue.

(And Sybil told me on our way out that she’d harassed the bookseller at a nearby Borders to re-order my book–I need to be more like that woman.)

I went back home and started to clean house–and it was great to do so, to be once again just another anonymous suburbanite. But my signing for the day wasn’t over yet. My mom–who’d looked after junior kidlet when everyone else was at the signing–had bought a few of my books, and she wanted me to sign them for her so she could give them to her colleagues.

I show up at her house and almost fell backward. There was a very tall stack of my books on her kitchen table and she’d drawn up a long list of not only her colleagues, but her friends and neighbors to whom she wanted to give my book. This was the best moment in an already incredible day.

We are close, Mom and I. But Mom, for the longest time, didn’t understand why I was wasting my time on a seemingly hopeless endeavor–we came from a family of scientists and engineers, solid professionals who did not sit home and doodle. So it meant a lot that she was out there buying all the copies of PA from two different Wal-Marts and a Target.

I love you too, Mom.

So has my opinion of book signings changed? Well, no. I just lucked out. And I already wonder why I agreed to hold a book signing for Delicious–it’s only 4 months away, too soon to trouble everyone to come out again. But for now, I bask in the afterglow of it all.

Some people will always have Paris. Me, I’ll always have that Saturday afternoon.