Two Weeks To Go Before RWA Nationals

Where did the time go?  Granted, RWA hits a month earlier this year, but still, wow.  Time to start packing.

I’m happy to report that Book 1 & 2 of the new trilogy have both been delivered to my new editor at Berkley.  On time.  The books are not bad, by the standards of my first drafts.  But still, I’m already thinking of improvements, connections, and deeper layerings to add to them, when they come back from my editor.  Now onto the updates.

1) Three-Chapter Critique from Yours Truly

On the 13th of June my Crit for Water critique goes up for auction here.  If you need three chapters looked at, by all means bid.  It’s an excellent cause and I am a terrific critiquer.  (You didn’t expect me to say anything else on the eve of the auction, did you? :-P)

And Mary Baader Kaley at Not an Editor was kind enough to interview me about my approach to critiquing.  But basically, I’m a good fit for you if you really need your work looked at by a pair of fresh eyes and you actually want to know what’s not working.  I will tell you what’s working for me too, but I assume that you, like me, are more interested in what can be improved than what cannot be.

2) Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Face

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How to Make Caramel Popcorn–and General Update

The senior kidlet, who is a gourmet, has written a recipe post for the blog.  And lo and behold, he sounds exactly like the smart-aleck fourteen-year-old he is. 🙂  And he also sounds like he is talking to a bunch of other teenagers, rather than to ladies of his mother’s generation.  But oh well.  I have some general update following the recipe.

And if you need a query consultation, I have one up for bit at the Brenda Novak Diabetes Research Auction.

Caramel Popcorn

Hi I’m John a.k.a the senior kidlet. First off, this blog is pretty cool. Do i sound immature? Never mind.  If you don’t already know I’ve been on a cooking spree for a while now. Most of the time  I make slightly more complicated dishes than caramel popcorn but I just had to share this one because it’s just so delicious, easy to make and not expensive either.  This is great food for any sports event on TV, a movie you rented and brought home, or just a quick snack. Do you really want to know this recipe? I bet you do, you wanna know how I know it’s cause I’m a psychic. Not. All right, on to the recipe.

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It seems rather neglectful–not that we don’t tell you upfront that we are neglectful bloggers here <g>–to comment upon an event elsewhere but not here at my own blog, especially since the event had something to do with me.

So here’s my call story for this year’s RITA nominations.

Usually I am not a nervous person, possibly because usually I have no idea what’s going on. 🙂  Take the RITAs, for example, in 2009 and 2010, the calls came early in the morning, right after I’d come back home from walking the Junior Kidlet to school, before I’d even realized what date it was.  This time, however, I began working before waking the kidlet up, and while using the dictionary widget on my macbook, I happened to glance at the calendar widget, and the 25 was highlighted.  Too bad, a second later, I remembered that RITA calls went out on the 25th.

This set me slight on edge.  I am not a hoper–is that a word?–and usually prefer to first mentally prepare myself for the worst that can happen.  And when 8:30 came and went, I thought, well, that’s probably it.  The calls have gone out and I didn’t get mine.

Then at 8:37 the phone rang.  I scrambled to get it.  Ack.  The number of a known telemarketer.  I pressed the rejection button really hard and muttered something under my breath.  And then, just as I was walking away from the phone, it rang again.  And this time it was Cindy Kirk from RWA.  There is an old Turkish proverb that goes: When Allah wants to make a poor man happy, He takes away the man’s goat and then let him find it again.  And boy, when I got the call after thinking I wouldn’t, did it make me happy!

This was written for The Romance Bandits.  Who corralled a bunch of RITA nominees (and a couple of Golden Heart nominees) who have been guest bloggers at the Bandits’ blog to share their RITA call stories.  Go give it a read.  Most of the stories are better than mine.

But I was most certainly as thrilled as anyone.  This never gets old.  Especially as I’m always a little unsure how to feel about HIS AT NIGHT myself.

Now my mind turns to the dress.  But alas, I’m on deadline.  And I sit all day and eat crap when I’m on deadline.  And even the prettiest dress might turn into sausage casing when the deadline goes on for another two months.

So I’d better finish those two books fast–two books, ack–if for nothing else than to get out the house and get some exercise.  Book 1 is shaping up well.  Book 2 is going to need an overhaul–nothing new here.  Same old process.  Write ’em first and sort ’em later.

This then, will be the last blog for a while, until I’ve turned those two books in.  So I want to inform everyone that I am contributing critiques to two auctions.  First, to the well-known Brenda Novak Diabetes Auction, a query critique.  Second, a three-chapter critique to the Crits for Water Campaign run by blogger Flighty Temptress.  My critique is scheduled to go up for auction on June 13.  I’m not sure how the bidding works exactly, but if you are interested, I’m sure Flighty Temptress will be happy to walk you through the process.  🙂

I have never offered a chapter-critique before, and the reason is that I can be terrifying.  🙂  Half the time I preface a critique with “I know you won’t like hearing this–”  But if you want someone to have a good hard look at your WIP, especially one that’s close but no cigar (those actually  benefit the most from a stone-cold analysis), and if you’ve a few bucks to contribute to a good cause, then look me up.  Just make sure you really do want to know what’s not working.

And now, last but never least, new foreign covers.

Italian Private Arrangements:

Now if this looks familiar, it is.  

It’s Monica Belucci all over again!  Different photos from the same series.  I really would like to know if my Italian publisher consulted the French cover or if this is just an amazing coincidence.  🙂

And now, Taiwanese NOT QUITE A HUSBAND.

This actually looks a lot like the environs of Chakdarra, where pitches battles of the Swat Valley Uprising of 1897 were fought.  And the fort resembles the real fort at Chakdarra.  Need I tell you that I’m happy?  And lol, not only did they mention the RITA for NQAH, they also mentioned the AAR Best Hundred Romance placement.  All true, let’s sell this baby, I say.  It’s when they call me a New York Times bestselling author that I start to giggle.  How come I’m always an American bestseller overseas?  😛

So long, keep well, and ’til we meet again.

My sister the secret rock star.

Necessary preface: this is a true story…and it just happened to me.

So, about eight weeks ago, my younger sister, Shelley, comes to me and says, “Hey, I wrote a book.”

(You may recognize Shelley’s name if you read The Duke of Shadows.  The book is dedicated to her for good reason.  She found the manuscript under a bed, where I’d abandoned it after numerous literary agents declined to represent it.  Having read and liked the book, Shelley convinced me to try again. She is the reason that I’m now a published author.)

I’d always known Shelley was a talented writer and an avid reader, but I had no idea that she’d been writing fiction, much less novel-length fiction. So here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “You’ve been writing?  Hey, that’s awesome!  I always said you should give it a go.”

My sister: “In fact, I’ve been writing for some time.  This is my…oh, seventh manuscript?”

Me: “What?!?”

My sister: “Yeah, I enjoy it.”

Me: “Um.  Okay, that’s awesome.  A bit…secretive, but purely awesome all the same.  So, what kind of book is it?”

My sister: “YA, set in the near future.”

Me (thinking myself witty): “Hmm, let me guess: it’s about a girl who meets and falls in love with a mysterious and slightly sadistic stranger in her chem/bio/gym class.”

My sister: “Wrong all around.  For one thing, the protagonist is a teenage guy.”

Me: “A guy?  Huh.”  (I think to myself: Bummer.  I prefer female protagonists.)  “Well, can I read it?”

My sister: “Sure!  Emailing it now.”

24 hours later…

Me (purely astonished): “Shel, this book is…amazing.  I mean… I’m kind of speechless.  It’s that good.  Totally intense, but also amazingly funny in parts.  I literally couldn’t put it down until I was finished reading it. It’s just…awesome.”

My sister: “Thanks!  Good to hear!”

Me: “What I’m saying is that this book could be published. You should be querying agents RIGHT NOW.  I could give you some tips—”

My sister:  “Oh, I already have an agent.”

Me:  “…What? You already have an agent?”

My sister: “Yep.  I queried a while back and [big fancy NY agent] liked it a lot.  He’s planning on submitting in January.”


My sister (no doubt blinking innocently):  “Well, I didn’t know if anything would come of it.  Still might go nowhere, you know?  Maybe just forget you read it.”


My sister: “Seriously, you never know.  Maybe nobody will want it.”

Six weeks pass

Me (unable to play it cool any longer): “Shel, any news from your agent?”

My sister: “Oh, yeah, nice news!”

Me (dying of excitement): “What kind of news?”

My sister:  “It just sold in a pre-empt for [a sum that my brain translates to a gazillion trillion dollars].”

Me (collecting jaw off floor): “…This means you’re buying me dinner from now on, right?  ’Cause I’m a starving student, you know.  You owe me dinners.  You owe me LOTS of dinners.”

My sister:  “Dude, WTF?  No way.  You’re the big sister!  You buy the dinners!”

Me: “You’re the super-secretive 007 writer whose book just got bought AS A PRE-EMPT about ten seconds after I found out that you’d started writing!”

My sister: “Okay, fine.  I’ll send you a Cliff bar in the mail.”

Here’s the text of the Publisher’s Weekly announcement that just appeared:

S.J. Kincaid’s INSIGNIA, in which a teenage video gamer becomes a government weapon in a futuristic world at war, to Molly O’Neill at Katherine Tegen Books, in a pre-empt, in a significant deal, in a three-book deal, by David Dunton at Harvey Klinger.

If you’re curious to learn more, go check out her blog (!  Me, I’ll be over here on the fainting couch, recovering from the vapors. 🙂

In which I get chatty about nothing in particular

Over the holidays, I (finally!) made it home to my parents’ house for a solid twenty days. It was fantastic to be back in the Bay Area, surrounded by mountains and water every-which-way I looked.  No offense to the Jersey folks – the shore is very beautiful – but I like a little sudden elevation with my ocean.  Not to mention the food!  I’m a glutton when in California.  Sourdough baguette, good wine, Zachary’s deep-dish pizza, fresh artichokes and Brussels sprouts from the Sonoma Coast…


Speaking of Brussels sprouts, I’ve been noticing a disturbing web-wide trend of disparaging these heroic vegetables.  (Carolyn Jewel, I am looking at you!  Yes, I saw that interview!)  While driving along the coast, I obtained two stalks of Brussels sprouts and they changed my world.  I am here to tell you that said stalks are 1) fun to wave like wands; 2) ideal for bopping people atop the head; 3) DELICIOUS.  I now issue a dare to all the haters:

1. You get some Brussels sprouts and slice them into thirds.

2. You put them into a bowl and add a whole lot of olive oil, salt, and chopped raw garlic.

3. You mix it all up.

4. You toss the contents onto a tinfoil-covered pan and cook it for twenty to twenty-five minutes at 400-425 degrees, depending on your oven.

5. When the sprouts look nicely browned on top, you remove the pan and you eat the sprouts with sour cream.

6. Then you come back and talk to me about how you like Brussels sprouts!

* Disclaimer: If you steam the sprouts, all bets are off.  I cannot argue with the awfulness of steamed Brussels sprouts.


I am one of those curious children who truly enjoys being at home with my parents, doing nothing.  Indeed, if left to my own devices, I would have been shamefully content to spend all twenty days of my break sitting on my parents’ couch, egg nog (AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS) to my left, sourdough bread and e-reader to my right, mainlining various World War II-themed miniseries. Winds of War and War and Remembrance?  So fantastic!  (Apart from the whole miscasting thing. Robert Mitchum is a fantastic actor, but he was 65 at the time the first series was shot, playing a character who’s supposed to be 39 or 40.  As a result, a romance that thrilled me in the book began to seem rather…icky…on-screen.)

But the Lad, AKA my partner in crime, was out in California to meet the parents.  And he insisted we Do Stuff.  Which, you know, sounded reasonable.

So off we went to the aquarium in Monterey, where I ogled a great many jellyfish, cuttle-fish, octopuses (nope, it doesn’t pluralize to octopi, apparently.  This bums me out for obscure reasons.  I guess I like the idea of a Latinate sea creature), sharks, and otters.  I return to you with a discovery: the underwater world is twice as weird as anything ever shown to me in Star Trek: The Next Generation (a formative influence).

The aquarium experience also got me thinking about how wonder is such a devalued feeling in adult life.  As a child, so many things are new and strange, but once we grow up and settle into jobs and learn the art of juggling bills and various other responsibilities, we tend to forget to take time to search for the strange and unexpected.  I certainly forget how rejuvenating it can be to encounter something you knew absolutely nothing about.  Sea horses, for instance—did you know they could look like this?

Not a great photo, but trust me, the sea horse is technicolor.

At the aquarium, I felt like a wide-eyed kid as I walked through those rooms, and I left feeling younger and lighter, somehow.

The other wondrous highlight of my holiday was The Secret River, by Kate Grenville.  This is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction that conjures 18th century London and Australia with vivid, gripping immediacy.  I highly recommend it to the historical fiction fans out there!

All right, I feel a wee bit bad having posted and said not a word about writing.  Suffice it to say that A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal is off my desk, into production, and features a heroine who’s my favorite yet.  (How amusing: I feel slightly bad admitting that…as though Lydia and Emma and Gwen et al might take offense.  Ha!)  I’ll be sure to speak more of ALLiS in my next post. In the meantime, please attend to your Brussels sprouts!

New Covers

First up, the cover for Meredith’s July 2011 release, A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, which I think is just soooo gorgeous.

Next up, German Delicious.

And now, Thai His at Night.

Near the end of HIS AT NIGHT is the following paragraph:

The top of the Hangman Cliffs gave onto a stunning vista: miles of verdant headlands towering hundreds of feet high, a twilight-blue sea upon which the sun glimmered like silver netting, and in the distance a pleasure boat, all its sails unfurled, gliding across the water with the leisurely grace of a swan.

I love this cover!

Chinese Mothers, My @ss–Updated

Update: Thanks to reader Victoria and Leda, I did some digging around and realized that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, far from a how-to manual featuring the sort of methods so prominently depicted in the WSJ article, is actually a memoir.

This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.

This was *supposed* to be a story about how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.

But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.

My apologies to Ms. Chua.  I feel relieved, actually, to know that I was wrong.  I was getting rather worried for those two daughters.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, here is the link to the WSJ article on why Chinese mothers are superior.

I grew up in China, in a densely populated apartment complex that housed many families associated with the medical school where my grandfather served as a professor of parasitology.  Dozens and dozens of Chinese mothers lived in that complex, the strictest of them all was none other than my own grandmother.

I went to regular schools.  But at the same time, she educated me at home.  When I was five, she had me copy lessons from first grade Chinese textbooks.  I did not enjoy that particular activity and once spent a futile half hour trying get her to let me write the easier version of the word “zero”–when I had to write three of them in a row–instead of the regular, complicated one.  I came home on the last day of my first semester of elementary school, and there awaited me a set of traditional brush and ink, for me to practice brush calligraphy over the winter break.  In third grade, months before our first abacus lesson at school, one appeared at home, and I was working the apparatus like a little accountant by the time we finally got around to it at school.

I had strict bedtimes: For as long as Grandma lived, I had to be in bed at 8:30 pm on school nights.  I was the kid in the entire apartment complex who got to play the least.  Even in the midst of summer holidays, when the sun was still high up in the sky, by 5:45pm she’d be on our balcony, shouting for me to come home.  In fifth grade, she decided she would teach me English–she’d been an English major in college.  That same year, my elementary school decided it could use me as a track-and-field athlete, which entailed an hour of practice before school and an hour after school.  Guess who had to get up at five something in the morning for a half hour of English lessons before heading out to run and jump?

(As it turned out, I am a much better learner in a competitive environment than at home, where I was dying of boredom and couldn’t wait to get the day’s lesson over with.)

That said, I have no arguments with how my grandmother raised me.  But the thing is, she was a famously strict parental figure.  Most of my classmates were not subjected to extra learning at home, neither were most of the kids in my apartment complex.  They got to watch the TV programs which I only got to listen to, as I lay awake in my bed–I was widely pitied for my baby-ish bedtime.  And when school was out, they played outside till the cows came home.

And you know what?  My famously strict grandmother would have considered the lady who wrote the WSJ article nuts.  Yes, children can and should be pushed.  But the entire time I was growing up, I knew not a single Chinese mother who was anywhere near so fanatical.

When I quit playing the piano after two years, Grandma did not throw a fit–and when I did play, I was required to practice 40 minutes a day, not three hours.  As it became clear I had no particular talent for calligraphy, I was not pressed to continue.  And when I came home with a second place finish after a bunch of school exams had been tallied–and I came home with a bunch of second-place finishes in 7th grade–she didn’t herniate herself asking me why I wasn’t in first place.

And most importantly, even though I played less than my friends, I still got to play–many, many play dates at both my friends’ homes and my own, the best parts of a childhood that was both secure and happy.

My beloved and much lamented grandmother, were she still with us today, would have been insulted to be thrust into the same category as the writer of the WSJ article.  Grandma’s methods had been sane and reasonable.  She was strong-willed, but she did not ride roughshod over me.  And her main goal had never been to create some super achiever, but to keep a smart and slightly–okay, more than slightly–troublesome girl profitably occupied.

And she, not the writer of the WSJ article, is the Chinese mother whose example I will always strive for and emulate.

(Two blog posts in one day.  As the Chinese would say, the sun has risen from the west.)

Happy New Year!

2011, phew.  Where did 2010 go?  I need to better chronicle my life.  I can never remember anything.

Anyway, here’s a lovely foreign cover of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND  to start the year.

I think the French like their romances set in exotic locales.  Bryony is never in native attire, if memory serves, but the Indian aspect, instead of being downplayed on the U.S. cover, is unambiguously emphasized here.

My favorite part of the cover, no doubt, is the band on the bottom that declares this book to have won the “Prize of the best historical romance of 2010.”  Hee.   The book came out in the beginning of November 2010, so I won the RITA just in time for it to be emblazoned across the cover.

In other exciting news, NQAH came in #18 in the All About Romance Top 100 Romances poll.  I am completely thrilled.  NQAH is my favorite, my own, my precioussss.  Debut books usually get all the attention so I’m really happy that NQAH, not a debut book, went so high.

As for the new books–the Fitzmaurice Trilogy–I am chugging along on pace for them.  Did a big push for book 1 in December.  So at beginning of 2011 the book is at the halfway point.  And now the story for book 2 has finally fallen into place in my head, i.e., I’ve got a grip on the hero now–no puns intended at all.  🙂

This morning, as I was reflecting on at last getting inside the hero’s head, I realized that with the exception of DELICIOUS, which was about the hero’s honor, the epiphanies PA, NQAH, and HAN have all revolve around how much the hero loves the heroine.  Also book 1 of the Fitzmaurice Trilogy, which is tentatively called An Affair with the Duke (formerly known as Fornicating with the Duke).

The crux of Book 2, however, is going to be quite a different kettle of fish.  It will be an interesting book.  Or at least it won’t be like any of my other books.  Might be dicey for readers, but it is very exciting for me as a writer so I will quit blogging and work on it some more.  🙂

A belated Happy New Year to all, and may your 2011 be a year filled with good books, good friends, comfort, love, and security.

New Jersey, New Jersey

So I went to New Jersey for the Put Your Heart in a Book conference.

I did my packing over several days and remembered a lot of things that I might otherwise have forgotten, had I packed in a hurry.  As usual, however, I forgot my hairbrush.  But not to worry, you can’t tell the difference–which was why I demoted hairbrushes from friends to nodding acquaintances in the first place.  🙂

Another thing I forgot was a pretty basket to display all the promo goodies I’d taken to NJ.  I took a look around the hotel room and pressed into service the lovely black box used to hold paper coffee cups, coffee pouches, teabags, sugar packets and such.  It was perfect.  I might never bother taking a basket with me again.  🙂

But you are here to read about Meredith.  So allow me to report that yes, she is alive and well–and looking awfully cute in a cowhide-print dress and red boots.  Chic with a touch of bohemian quirk.  (My conference attire, on the other hand, swing from twee to tarty and back, with very little in between.)

She is very close to finishing her next book–due out in July 2011.  The book is going to have a marriage of convenience theme and a heroine who knows her way around salty language, both of which I love.  Alas, I did not get a chance to read the manuscript, but I did get to fondle  the lucky Alpha Smart that will birth the next Meredith Duran masterpiece.

Meredith gave her very first romance writing workshop at the conference, on using backstory to shape what a character fears, and then having those deep-seated fears drive the story forward.  It was brilliant and profoundly insightful.

I give an occasional workshop on evoking emotions which advises entering a character via their deepest, darkest pain.

Fear and pain, two sides of the same coin, wouldn’t you say?  Little wonder Meredith and I see eye-to-eye on so many things.

(But as exceptional as Meredith’s workshop was, I’m afraid I am going to have to hand the best-in-show award to the one given by the one and only Anne Stuart.  I am never going to write a hero dark enough to rival Anne’s renowned antiheroes, but I went to her How to Write the Dark Romance workshop just to be nearer her barbed halo.

Anne Stuart

Okay, I went because I was curious as to just how fun and fearless she could be.  I left a squealing fangirl of her sheer awesomeness.  On my gravestone I want the epitaph: “There is only ever one Anne Stuart, but Sherry Thomas made herself into a pretty good fascimile.”

I only regret I didn’t invite myself up to her room to see the pig.)

And wouldn’t you know, Meredith promised that after she’s done with the current manuscript, she’s going to blog on a regular basis.  I can’t wait.  Meredith has one of the most immense and satisfying minds around.

Which was why I was saddened that she left the conference right after the book signing on Saturday.  But if her going home sooner is going to produce the next Meredith Duran oeuvre sooner, then I must do my part for romance and let her go.  🙂

Let’s see, what else?  If you have the chance, definitely attend the NJRWA conference.  It is run with wonderful vigor and efficiency.  Robyn Carr gave a great speech on her 30-years-in-the-making overnight success.  (We got to sit at conference chair Miriam Allenson’s table; she was on the opposite end of the table from us, but it was a thrill getting a special seating asignment!)  Virginia Kantra showed me the Roman woman strut–definitely ask her to tell you the story should you be lucky enough to run into her.  And the one and only Anne Stuart sat down next to me toward the end of the book signing and said, “I hear you write pretty racy books.”

Folks, at that  moment I’d have admitted to writing anything, least of all racy books!

And at the booksellers’ luncheon I met Stacey Agdern, who works at the bookstore at Grand Central Station.  I really can’t think of a cooler place on earth!  Here’s me, Stacey (r), and Kate Garrabrant (l), who is more familiarly known as Katiebabs around the romance blogosphere.

And this, just because it’s the next picture in my camera, the tableau Senior Kidlet arranged before the house.  The Great Pumpkin Pickaxe Massacre.  Pretty good way to salvage a destroyed jack-o-lantern, I say.  🙂

Summer Omnibus Update

What?  Summer was over a while ago?  Well, then you know how long I’ve been meaning to write this post–as in seriously, I must write it today, come hell or high water.   Guess I can now compliment myself on being immune to both hell and high water.  🙂

So let’s see, what all happened since I last posted.

RWA Orlando

It’s always fun to attend a RWA conference. But the highlight of my conference, without a doubt, was this:

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