New Year’s Resolutions–Quarterly Evaluation

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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


4) Learn Spanish.

Maybe next year.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 🙂

Private Arrangements Giveaway!

DearAuthor is giving away 20 copies of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. Final copies too, from what I understand. That Jane, she is scary efficient. I don’t even have final copies yet.

But anyway, if you want, go put your name in the hat. Usually these giveaway posts get 70 or so comments. So it’s like almost a 1/3 chance of getting something. Pretty darn good odds, I’d say.

And if you’ve already read PA, and want to say what you think, this is your chance too.

Full disclosure: I am good friends and critique partners with Janine of DearAuthor. But this review is by Jane, who does know me from Adam, but not much more than that. 🙂

ETA: The contest runs through 12 am CST, Friday, which means 11:59 pm CST Thursday, I guess.

Random Facts

I’ve been tagged by Bettie Sharpe to cough up seven random facts about myself. So here goes.

1. I am useless between the hours of 11pm and 7am. You hear a lot about writers who get up at 4am to write before they go to work. When Kidlet #2 stayed at home fulltime with me, I think I tried that a bit. And gave up after 2 days. Nor can I stay up late to write. My brain turns into a pumpkin by midnight. So if you are glad that I’m publishing, you should totally send perfumed love notes to my husband, who never—not once—asked me to get a real job, even though there were times when we really could have used the comfort and security of a second income.

2. I don’t own a belt. I don’t remember if I’ve never owned a belt, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t had one for the past ten or twelve years.

3. I went to see Godzilla—yes, the American-made one—twice in theaters.

4. I don’t watch TV. And it’s not because of any personal disdain for pop entertainment—heck, I work in pop entertainment and have extremely suspect taste in movies (see 3)—but because when Kidlet #1 was small, he was a TV zombie. If the TV was on, he’d be staring at it mesmerized, unable to do anything else. I also hate commercials. But I’ll happily watch TV shows on DVD. I have The Office about to be viewed. Next up, Prison Break.

5. The word “trousers” used to be the bane of my existence. As some of you might know, English is not my first language. When I was in fifth grade, and happily ignorant of alphabet-based languages, my grandmother—who, along with my grandfather, had attended an English-medium college in Shanghai in her youth–decided to teach me English at home. Ah, the torment. The sheer WTF-itude of it all. English wasn’t taught at regular schools until 7th grade, why was I always singled out for extra work that I had no desire for doing? But Grandma was a formidable individual and it never occurred to me to dare to refuse. So I submitted to it. But it was slow-going and reluctant and to be honest I sucked pretty hard at it. And I could not spell “trousers” no matter what. Which is kind of astonishing looking back, because there are a bunch of words that I habitually misspell these days, but none of them “trousers”!

6. I compulsively turn off lights whenever they are not shining on someone. Have been that way since long before I’d even heard of global warming or peak oil.

7. I only wear my wedding ring when I am in an environment teeming with cute guys. 🙂

In other news, the Pay-it-Forward contest is scheduled to open in the first week of February. It will be a post of its own. The prize? A query letter consultation. The contest will remain open until I’m done with my line-edits and can pick a winner–so it’s not for someone in a desperate hurry. 🙂

New Year’s Resolution–What’s That?

This year, I resolve to:

1) Have no tight deadlines
2) Not write 1,000,000 words to get a 100,000-word novel
3) Not be constantly behind on laundry, yard, and house cleaning
4) Not exercise only when I have trouble fitting into my clothes
5) Not neglect this blog for months at a time

I remember reading somewhere that Jenny Cruisie said that characters shouldn’t have only negative goals, i.e. read above. So I have also made a few positive goals.

1) Spend so much time with Hubby that he runs away when he sees me next
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).
3) Improve my grasp of the languages I already know.
4) Learn Spanish.
5) Make some money from writing. I made a grand total of $1,450 in 2007, from the Russian sale of Private Arrangements.
6) To make 5) happen, I should sell 4 books on contract.
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.
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!)
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.
10) Care enough to be upset when my resolutions languish from casual neglect. 🙂

In other news, DELICIOUS is finished. Yet again. But I like it this time and sent it out last night with excitement rather than half-dread. We shall see what my editor says.

Also, I’m thinking of a Pay-It-Forward kind of contest, even though I didn’t win the one at Bettie’s blog. Alas, I have very few practical skills. But I do write effective query letters. I’m also pretty good at helping people craft a pitch. Would there be any interest on the part of folks in such services? Or other suggestions on how I could pay it forward?

Thanksgiving De-hiatus

The content of the dedication and acknowledgment pages from PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, a good substitution for a thanksgiving post. I’m a lucky gal and I’m infinitely grateful for all the wonderful people in my life and the interesting roads I’ve traveled.


For my mother. There are few joys in life greater than that of having you as my mother

To the memory of my grandfather. I will always miss you. And to the memory of my grandmother, for loving books as much as I did.


Because I’m sure to forget someone, if you are reading this now, let me say thank you. Thank you for everything.

Now onto specifics.

Miss Snark, for her unqualified recommendation of Kristin Nelson via her snarkalicious—and much lamented—blog. Kristin Nelson, for living up to every last one of those recommendations and then some. Sara Megibow, for being the first person besides myself to read this book, and e-mailing Kristin late at night telling her she’d better get reading too.

Caitlin Alexander, my editor and Fairy Godmother—for making me feel like Cinderella. Everyone at Bantam, for treating me so well and publishing me so beautifully.

All my friends, classmates, and professors at the UT MPA program. It was a great year and I think of you with such fondness—in particular, Professor Fabio, who should have graced my cover.

Everyone at the Harrington Fellowship program, for everything. And putting my picture in the New York Times on top of it.

All my friends and sisters from Austin RWA. You guys are the best.

Janine, Jane, and Sybil. Bloggers rock.

Sue Yuen—for her excellent advice on Schemes of Love and for all the good times.

Mary Balogh, Jane Feather, and Eloisa James—for their generous praises. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you and the honor of cleaning your houses.

My husband and sons, three of the cutest and kindest men in the world under one roof. The wonderful family I married into, everyone unfailingly supportive of my dreams, especially my grandfather-in-law, who backed up his prayers for my eventual publication with donations to that effect. You see, Appachen, it has come true.

The Stake is High

I’m going into revisions again, for DELICIOUS. This time it won’t be a complete demolition-and-rebuild, but still enough of a renovation that walls would be knocked down, the kitchen unusable, and plastic tarps stretched everywhere.

The problem. Not enough at stake in the second half or latter 3/5 of the book.

Strangely enough, after I spoke to my editor, during the days when I was waiting for her detailed notes, I thought very little of DELICIOUS, but a lot of HEART OF BLADE, the one manuscript under my bed that I think really has something special. I believed its problem was that it didn’t start in the right place. So I pulled it out, set chapter 7 as the new chapter one, and tried to put together a 50-page proposal for my agent to have a look before I jumped back into DELICIOUS. And guess what, the wrong starting place was only one of the problems with HOB. Yep, not enough at stake in that one either.

It’s me. I tend to be intensely doubtful of HEAs when the situation is too dark or complicated. So in some ways, in my subconscious I tend to try to take out conflicts, because the cynic in my says that nope, once trouble goes beyond a certain personal comfort level, then nobody can overcome it.

That’s obviously not true, as my tolerance for interpersonal conflict in real life is very low, and I always stand amazed at couples who fight a lot and stay together and are pretty generally happy anyway.

So I’ve been reading craft books, and fiction in which the stake is high–hoping to absorb by osmosis. And in the middle of last week, I jumped back into DELICIOUS, ready to play with some stakes.

No doubt I’ll feel differently when I’m on my next book. But part of my frustration with DELICIOUS has always been that it is a tremendously important book to me, from a career standpoint. I don’t want to be a one-book wonder. I want DELICIOUS to blow people away. And yet I keep missing that hurricane factor.

So I’ll be busy hammering and drilling, and doing my best to stay away from the interwebs. I won’t blog here again until revisions are done. But I have written a review for Anne Stuart’s Black Ice–one of the books I recently read in my stakes-hunt. It would appear at Dear Author probably in a couple of weeks as part of a dueling review with Janine. And I will be doing a guest post at the the Romance Roundtable on November 6.

I will post permalinks when they are to be had. In the meanwhile, I’ll write. And here’s looking at you, kids. Write well. Write lots. And if you have any wisdom about upping the stakes without throwing in the kitchen sink, well, don’t be shy. Let me know.

Many Delicious Beginnings

DELICIOUS is the world’s hardest book to write. [And if you don’t think so, you can come write it for me. :-)] Fortunately, many, many months after I first set out to write a book of Victorian food porn, I’ve finally stumbled onto the story at the core of it.

I know perfectly fabulous authors who say that they don’t know how a book begins until after they have written “The End.” I don’t work like that. I can’t work backwards or write chapter 26 when I haven’t written chapters 1-25. So for me, the beginning of the book is always crucial. It tells me how the rest of the book should read.

This is the first beginning for DELICIOUS.

It was a truth almost universally acknowledged that Madame Durant’s cooking killed Bertie Somerset. The proponents of this conjecture intended it to be a moral lesson—Mr. Somerset, having paid for his gluttony with an early demise, would dine for the remainder of eternity where steaks were perpetually charred and soufflés everlastingly flat.

But the fortunate few who had actually been invited to Bertie Somerset’s fabled twenty-course spreads pondered that same theory with awed envy. Lucky chap, to have feasted upon Madame Durant’s delectable food for more than a decade, and then to have departed this earth with his face buried in a bowl of the silkiest, densest mousse au chocolat known to man. Lucky chap indeed.

While England’s dozen or so gastronomes reminisced fondly over tarte au citron and escargot en croute, the rest of Society, master and servant alike, regurgitated old rumors concerning the special relationship between Mr. Somerset and Mme. Durant—namely, whether she slept with him and how often, though more intrepid souls went so far as to speculate on depravities involving pastry cream and rolling pins.

Long time readers might remember that I blogged about the demise of this opening back in November. I really adored it, but I decided to go with a more utilitarian opening, to help me grope my way in the dark. So for a month or so, the novel began thusly:

The kitchen door burst open and slammed into the wall, rattling rows of copper pans, startling one of them off its hook. The pan hit the floor hard, bounced and wobbled, its metallic bangs and scrapes echoing in the steam and smolder of the kitchen. Verity looked up sharply. No one made noises while she worked.

“Madame,” Dickie, the second footman, gasped from the doorway, sweat dampening his hair despite the November chill. “Mr. Somerset—Mr. Somerset, he be not right!”

Something about Dickie’s wild expression suggested that Bertie was far worse than “not right”. Verity motioned Effie Briggs, her lead apprentice, to take over her spot before the stove. She wiped her hands on a clean towel and went to the door.

“What’s the matter?” she said, walking in long strides to keep up with the second footman as he scrambled in the direction of the house.

“He be oot cold.”

“Has someone sent for Dr. Mead?”

“Mick from the stables jus’ rode out.”

She’d forgotten her shawl. The cold in the unheated passage between kitchen and manor made her shiver. They pushed open what seemed an endless series of doors—doors to the mud room, the warming kitchen, another passage, the butler’s pantry.

Her heart thumped as they entered the dining room. But it was empty, save for an ominously overturned chair. On the floor by the chair was a puddle of water and, a little away, a miraculously unbroken crystal goblet. A half-finished bowl of onion soup still sat at the head of the table, waiting for the lunch to resume.

As I said, utilitarian. And I can’t do dialect to save my life.

Somewhere in the first week or two of December, I was doing some work with the A&E Pride & Prejudice DVD playing in the background. As the mini-series ended, and the happy newlywed couples got into their carriages, I suddenly realized that my hero and heroine had met before. (This is the one big trick I have up my sleeve. Whenever I can’t think what to do, I make my h/h old lovers.) The “Aha” moment led to this beginning:

A single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, Stuart Somerset had once read. He’d always supposed it to be a rallying cry for the crush of young ladies swamping London every spring, each seeking to marry and marry up. It wasn’t until he came into some successes of his own that he began to understand that Miss Austen had, in fact, penned an astute observation of the male psyche.

A man blessed by Fortune wanted a wife because he could brandish no greater, more visible symbol of that good fortune. His prowess and competence was measured by the fineness of her eyes, the music of her speech, and the elegance of her figure gliding across a ballroom floor. Her desirability augmented his stature; her virtue, his respectability.

These two elegant paragraphs opened the book in the version that went to my editor. A 16-page, single-spaced revision letter came back, promptly much soul searching. I wrote yet another new beginning.

Verity Durant was famous in Paris and infamous in London.

Her Gallic celebrity was the result of her culinary prowess, reputed to rivaled that of the great Auguste Escoffier. French gastronomes who had feasted upon her twenty-course spreads carried home with them reverent tales of her remarkable discipline, her impeccable technique, and most of all, her divine food–so potent that old men dined with the gusto and hunger of adolescent boys, and so alluring that even new lovers forsook each other, at least for the duration of the meal, for the pleasures she proffered.

The English public, largely uninterested in food but extraordinarily titillated by sexual improprieties, knew her mainly for her torrid affair with Bertie Somerset, her patron and employer. After all, it was repeatedly whispered that she ruled her kitchen with an iron fist, that she received an exorbitant salary per annum, that she threw pies in old Bertie’s face without fear of dismissal, and that in person—not that many had seen her in person—she was the most underrated beauty since Cinderella.

Now here, for pedagogical purposes, allow me to present the first three paragraphs of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS.

Only one kind of marriage ever bore Society’s stamp of approval.

Happy marriages were considered vulgar, as matrimonial felicity rarely kept longer than a well-boiled pudding. Unhappy marriages were, of course, even more vulgar, on a par with Frau Von Teese’s special contraption that spanked forty bottoms at once: unspeakable, for half of the upper crust had experienced it firsthand.

No, the only kind of marriage that held up to life’s vicissitudes was the courteous marriage. And it was widely recognized that Lord and Lady Tremaine had the most courteous marriage of them all.

Yep. With DELICIOUS, I was very much trying to recapture the mood that I had set in those three paragraphs for PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. And in doing so, I forgot two very important things. One, DELICIOUS is a very different story, not same but different, but different different. Two, in PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, a few paragraphs down, I had this:

Therefore, when Lady Tremaine filed for divorce on grounds of Lord Tremaine’s adultery and desertion, chins collided with dinner plates throughout London’s most pedigreed dining rooms. Ten days later, as news circulated of Lord Tremaine’s arrival on English soil for the first time in a decade, the same falling jaws dented many an expensive carpet from the heart of Persia.

And that, was no empty atmospheric mumble-jumble. It set up the conflict and immediately pushes the story close to the brink–passion, Anger, SEX! Thud. None of my DELICIOUS openings had this crucial storytelling component, despite all the wordsmithing that went into them.

Finally, after much more soul searching–okay, I can’t lie any more, I never soul search. I was just sitting on the bus to school, thinking about the test I had to take, and suddenly I knew how I should begin DELICIOUS. It goes a little something like this.

In retrospect people say that it was a Cinderella story.

Notably missing was the personage of the Fairy Godmother. But other than that, the story seemed to contain all the elements of the fairy tale.

There was something of a modern prince. He had no royal blood, but he was a powerful man—London’s foremost barrister, Mr. Gladstone’s right hand—a man who would very likely one day, fifteen years hence, occupy 10 Downing Street and pass such radical reforms as to provide pensions for the elderly and health insurance to the working class.

There was a woman who spent much of her life in the kitchen. In the eyes of many, she was a nobody. For others, she was one of the greatest cooks of her generation, her food said to be so divine that old men dined with the gusto of adolescent boys, and so seductive that new lovers forsook each other, as long as a crumb remained on the table.

There was a ball, not the usual sort of ball that made it into fairy tales or even ordinary tales, but a ball nevertheless. There was the requisite Evil Female Relative. And mostly importantly for connoisseurs of fairy tales, there was footgear left behind in a hurry—nothing so frivolous or fancy as glass slippers, yet carefully kept and cherished, with a flickering flame of hope, for years upon years.

A Cinderella story, indeed.

Or was it?

It all began—or resumed, depending on how one looked at it—the day Bertie Somerset died.

Is this opening truly superior to all the others? I haven’t the slightest idea. But it drives me. It tells me exactly what my characters would do, exactly how each scene should read, and exactly how much flab I should cut out from what I’ve written so as to achieve the desired emotional intensity.

And so I think I’ll stick with it.

P.S. PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS is now available for pre-order at Amazon.

The Times, They Have Changed, I Think–I Hope

Recently, the Smart Bitches had a posting on the rules and boundaries of the romance hero’s conduct—namely, is he allowed to sleep with other women in the course of his love story, once he has met the heroine, or even once the reader has cracked open the book?

This, of course, is but a corollary to the much older, much more pervasive, blood pressure-raising, and probably never-going-away debate on whether the romance heroine is allowed to have—and enjoy—sex with other men once we are past the dedication page.

I frankly don’t care about the hero’s chastity. If he’s pure as the driven snow, great. If not, I’ll judge his action—and any action he might enjoy with someone other than the heroine—in the context of the story. The rules—or stricture, I should say—about the heroine’s conduct, however, have chafed me more than a little over the years, precisely because such rules existed, unspoken perhaps, but very much adhered to and demanded from authors.

Schemes of Love, the first novel I sold, is, in a way, the first novel that I ever wrote. It got me the attention of my first agent. She saw some potential to the story. But she did not hesitate to tell me that the manuscript, in the shape and form as was presented to her, was unsaleable.

The basic premise of the story has always been girl meets boy, girl loses boy through her own misdeed, and many years later, girl meets boy again. My first agent gave me three pieces of advice on the book. One, she said, you can’t write the story in a linear fashion. Start the story when they meet again and not a minute before. Two, you can’t have the heroine do something morally wrong and then somehow vindicate her. Wrong is wrong. Three, you can’t have the heroine take lovers, even if she did it off stage, during a very long separation, with the hero having made it abundantly clear that he would never come back to her.

The majority of romance readers live below the Mason-Dixon line, said my very liberal New Yorker then-agent (those were her exact words). They would not tolerate the heroine’s unfaithfulness, she added, particularly not from a debut author.

That was in the earliest months of 2001.

When I returned to the story some four-and-half years later to rewrite every last word from scratch, I took her first two pieces of advice to heart—and rejected the third one outright. It would have been out of character for my heroine to mope for ten years and save herself for a man who has rejected her unequivocally. It would have been out of character for me to submit to the whim of some mythical, disapproving reader when I’m not even writing for her, but for me.

For good measure I emphasized in the first chapter that neither of my protagonists has been sleeping with only his or her feather pillows.

And then, of course, came the hand-wringing, as I waited for reactions to this heroine who is utterly unapologetic about her lovers—and to this couple for whom the lovers, his and hers, aren’t even an issue compared to what really divides them.

The contest judges were unfazed that neither the hero nor the heroine remained celibate during their long separation and I know for sure that some of them live below the Mason Dixie line (hasta la vista, stereotype). My agent has never said a thing. My editor at Bantam is resolutely unbothered.

Maybe the times have changed, thanks to the authors of erotic romances who have managed to smash a lot of rules while making money hand over fist for their publishers. Maybe the readers have become more accepting of heroines who differ rather dramatically from the old, agreed-upon feminine ideal. Maybe I’ve improved enough as a writer that people get absorbed in the story and don’t care about such peripheral distractions.

We’ll see by next year this time what reader reactions would be. In the meanwhile, I have a story to pitch to my editor in which, gasp, there is sleeping with other people again–and this time not quite so peripheral to the story.

A little side note. A reader inquired some time ago in the comments about the use of profanities in romances. It seems that in historical romances the f-bomb is still largely unwelcome (both my former and current agents have asked me to avoid them if I can, though I am trying again in DELICIOUS to sneak a few in by having the hero drunkenly comments on the fate of a particular piece of legislation—he’s a politician). But in single-title contemporary romances I don’t think those are frowned upon at all, especially when used by men. So go ahead, f-bomb away as you write. Take half of them out before submitting and leave the rest to the gods of obscenity.

The Theory of Accelerated Karma, it seems, needs to marinate some more before it will be ready for the grill.

Space Opera!

I don’t think I’ve told a whole lot of people about this, but I got into writing to write what was then called “futuristic romances.” I was going to redefine the subgenre the way Professor Tolkien redefined fantasy.

[Crickets chirping]

Okay, so I haven’t done it. Here’s why.

Back in the middle of the second Clinton Administration, during a period of ardent personal ignorance in the ways of the (publishing) world, I had the whole thing planned. I’d write one—count that—one historical romance. Then, once I had my foot in the door, I’d switch to futuristics. Woo hoo, the first step in Sherry’s Grand Strategy for World Domination.

Remember the Improbability Drive from THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY? If I could build a star drive that runs on naiveté and wishful thinking, I’d be halfway to Alpha Centauri already.

When I learned that once you publish in a subgenre, people kind of want you to keep writing it, I clutched my heart. I had a special hatred for research that people usually reserved for colonoscopies. And I never had any ideas for historicals beyond the current work-in-progress. But somehow, I managed to churn out historicals year in, year out, without my head visibly exploding. So I said, alright, I’ll write both historicals and science fiction romances. And wrote only historicals.

But now, times, they be a-changin’.

Last weekend, I sent off a three-chapter proposal to my agent. Science fiction romances suck in that they require a plot, and I’m weak on plots. But oh, baby, what freedom after a steady diet of nothing but the Queen’s English all these years. Here’s my personal favorite snippet from the prologue, where the hero and the heroine were about to engage in, ahem, unmentionable activities:

“Say ‘fuck me,’” he ordered.
“Fuck you,” she replied with equal courtesy.

Halleluiah! All praise to vulgar vernaculars. There are no two other words in the English language—with the possible exception of “I’m pregnant”—that pack quite such a wallop.

And this bit, from the first chapter, when our not-quite-amorous lovers reunite after many years. Watch out for another potent two-word combination.

“You look like shit,” she said.
He rubbed a knuckle along his jaw. “And feel even worse. You, on the other hand…”
He looked her over, once, twice. “Bitch goddess.”

Oh, yes, baby. Something else you can’t say in a historical.

I already write dark, powerful heroines in my historical romances. I hope science fiction romances would allow me the freedom to make them even darker and more powerful. The above proposal has just regular human beings. But I am intrigued by the concept of, say, a genetically modified woman who is physically much stronger than any normal man and made to kill. What can she do with that strength? What has she done with it? And what kind of man would have the big, brass balls required to go up against her?


Update in the Mighty Struggle for a Good Shag: I have found The Way. But alas, The Way will require even more rewrites than originally scheduled. In fact, The Way changes the whole dynamic of the story. Forget short hiatuses. I am taking a medium hiatus from the blog to devote the rest of December to DELICIOUS. So have a great, memorable holiday, everyone. See you in 2007.

Give Me Sex or Give me Death

Apologies to Patrick Henry.

Way back—gosh, was it only six months ago?—when I sent off the partial for SCHEMES OF LOVE to Kristin Nelson, I wrote an accompanying cover letter that contained a “one paragraph blurb that summarizes your work and highlights your pitch” that she specified in her request.

Not being shy, I informed Kristin in the cover letter that my romance novel contained the best hook of all: mandatory sex. Yep, in those exact words. The heroine wants a divorce, the hero insists on an heir before he’d allow the divorce to go through. And we’ve got one very hot book.

There is a reason that romances with setups that stipulate mandatory sex—marriages of convenience, girl selling herself to the highest bidder, etc. etc.—remain perennially popular. We are, or at least I am, hardwired to enjoy the frisson we get when we know something steamy is afoot.

And for that very reason, I am usually drawn to write historical romances that take place in what I call a hermetically sealed bedroom. Hero, meet Heroine, meet Four-poster-bed. What do you mean you don’t know what to do? You are married, aren’t you? And even if you aren’t, you’ve signed a deal in blood to boink for three months straight. I have it right here in chapter three, so get on with it. And neither of you are allowed out until your cynical black hearts break a little bit.

I’m sure you see now why I was pulling my hair out over DELICIOUS. No mandatory sex. This couple, for perverse reasons that drive my muse to the opium den, do not need to sleep together. They want to, but they don’t need to, and the reasons against it are legion, and all I’ve got, in my puny armory of writerly devices, is whatever overriding passion I can foment in them.

And then, because I am a charter member of Romance Writers against Deliberate Character Manipulation, I can’t make the heroine run outside during a freezing downpour just so the hero can find her and strip her of her sodden night rail. Or put the hero in a hallucinating high fever, because damn it, she is his cook, not his maid or housekeeper, and she won’t be the one standing by his bedside should he yank someone down on top of himself. And even when I abandon my principles and have her get tipsy, he wouldn’t take advantage of her inebriation. What has the world come to, I ask you?

So what is a writer of reputedly hot romances to do? Write, I guess, and pray, and stake out all the opium dens nearby in case her muse wobbles out, ready to be taken home for some tender loving care.

Stay tuned for irregular future updates in The Mighty Struggle for a Good Shag.