Italian Duke! And French and Japanese Too!

I think the title is Hearts in Shadow, but I’m not too sure.  Anyway, here’s the Italian cover of Meredith’s debut book, Duke of Shadows.

Old-school, ain’t it?  🙂  Love all that pink and lavender.


And then of course, doing a little reading on the backlog of Meredith’s twitter, I discovered some other foreign covers for Duke.

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Mystery Cover

I love covers, and to my surprise, Spanish book club version of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS showed up at my door a few days ago, with a different cover.

The provenance of the image, according to the info at the back of the book, was Shutterstock, a stock image website.  By going to Shutterstock and typing in “proposal”–since that’s what the man looks like he’s doing, though it’s also possible he’s a Regency Jesse James begging forgiveness, judging by the expression on her face–I found the image.  But the only information that came with the image is that it is an illustration circa 1830.  (And it was mislabeled as Victorian.  But to be perfectly fair it’s hard to know what to call those years post-Regency and before Victoria’s ascent to the throne.)

So, art history majors and art lovers, please ride to my rescue once more.  (Last time it was Seton who correctly identified the regular Spanish cover as a Tissot painting.)


And a word on RITA® nominations, which were announced yesterday. While I’m deeply honored that NOT QUITE A HUSBAND received a nod, I am completely bewildered that Meredith has again been overlooked. Of course I’m partial, but I’m hardly alone in my opinion that Meredith is one of the greatest talents the genre has ever known. And her two 2009 books were two of the finest historical romances to be published that year or any year.  So feel free to commiserate with me.

Chemistry 101–Mini Lesson 5

In this concluding installment, I’m going to play the role of the thought police.

It is inevitable that your H/H think about each other.  And they should.  But remember, do not duplicate real life here and write long scenes where nothing goes on except somebody reliving events that had already taken place.  We know what happened already. Move on to the next set of events.

But what about the non-POV character, you ask?  We need to know what the non-POV character’s reaction was to the kiss/screw/crisis.

It’s okay.  Move on with the story, have the hero and the heroine do what they need to do, and then to have them think what happened or think of each other only when triggered.

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A Blast from the Past

I was cleaning out my utility room last night and discovered a shoulder bag that probably hadn’t been opened in seven years, because inside were the things I brought back from the San Antonio Romance Writers’ 2003 Merritt Conference. The Merritt is a great little conference.  We Austinites drive down in the morning, have fun, and drive back in the evening.  The first time I attended, I was eight-month pregnant, and went in author Kathleen O’Reilly’s maternity suit.   The last time I attended Lisa Kleypas was the luncheon speaker–back when she still lived in Central Texas–and she was drop-dead gorgeous.  I told her she looked like Natalie Portman’s slightly older sister.

I digress.

Among those things I brought back were a little Embassy Suites Hotel notepad with a few lines jotted down.  At first I thought it might be something I was writing.  But no, it was a parody.  In 2002 I’d won the All About Romance Purple Prose Parody contest with a spoof on historical romance clichés.  I must have been trying my hand at a new one, this time a spoof of overused contemporary chestnuts.

Here it is, in all its bromidic glory:

“Oh, Rod,” Innocence whispered, “oh Rod, I can’t believe I’m back in your arms again.  Ever since you blasted out of town in your battered Chevy ten years ago after our high school graduation, I’ve been waiting for you to come back.”

“Yeah.  I heard from Mrs. Anderson at the grocery store how you always go from the class you teach at the nursery school straight home every evening–and stay there.”

“I’ve never gone on a date since.”

“Your Aunt Florie told me that.  And your best friend Betsy let me know how you still cry every time you get your period because you wish you were carrying my baby instead.”

Hee.  I guess you can tell I’m in favor of a woman having a life, especially in the absence of some bastard who just chucked her.  🙂

So…About His at Night II

Now that the page proofs are on back in New York–meaning no more tinkering, ever–I’ve finally posted a full excerpt of His at Night.

(Funny how prescient I was.  Everything that came after what I dared to post earlier changed.)

A quick glance at the excerpt is quite enough to illustrate the difference between this new book and my entire backlist.  All three of my already published books immediately set up the relationship: Private Arrangements plunges into a description of the perfect marriage of the Tremaines; Delicious says in the first line that it is a Cinderella story; and Not Quite a Husband opens on the night Bryony decides to seek an annulment.

By the end of the 2,500-word excerpt of His at Night, the H/H haven’t met yet–and wouldn’t for another 4000 words.  Phew, all that to just set up a meeting.  Yep, no reunited lovers in this story, no past to draw on for instant conflict, no shared history to exploit for poignancy and heartache, just two strangers who’d never clad eyes on each other before.

So that’s one huge difference.  Another is that this book was originally intended to be a comedy.  In fact, when my agent read the proposal–nothing of which has translated to the finished product, by the way–she thought it was a farce.  (After months of bawling my eyes out writing Not Quite a Husband, I was totally ready for teh funneh.)

At one point, I even openly declared that I was writing a Loretta Chase book, Mr. Impossible, to be specific, which I’d thoroughly enjoyed.  Mr. Impossible has a hero who is mistakenly thought by the heroine to be a dumb lummox at the beginning of the book.  His at Night has a hero who is mistakenly thought by the heroine to be a dumb lummox at the beginning of the book, ergo I must be writing Mr. Impossible.

As it turns out, I might have written the anti-Mr. Impossible.  Rupert, the titular Mr. Impossible, is about the most irrepressible, sunny, forthright fellow you can hope to meet in Romancedom.  Vere from His at Night is just the opposite, repressed, secretive, and, gulp, damaged.  I’ve never done a damaged hero before–wounded, yes, but not damaged.  Camden from PA and Leo from NQAH wouldn’t have a single problem if it weren’t for their women.  Even Stuart from Delicious, who’s had a rough childhood, is completely normal. But Vere, Vere is effed up.

So a romp this ain’t.  And although I think it is screamingly funny at times–a dangerous statement as nothing is more subjective than humor–it is also possibly the darkest book I’ve written.  A romantic dramedy, I guess, with a side of suspense.

Let me see.  What else is there in His at Night that I don’t normally do?  I know, a virgin.  Oh boy, this book hits all the possible highlights of a historical romance: a lordship who’s a secret agent, a virgin, a forced marriage, and an evil uncle.  We are only missing a duke–Vere is a marquess instead–and a ball.

And this has been a post in reader expectation management.  Thank you.  🙂

Chemistry 101–Mini Lesson 4

In fun news, Not Quite a Husband has been picked by two of All About Romance’s reviewers as their top read of 2009, which quite thrills me. But even more thrilling is the news that the big winner of this year’s AAR reviewers’s choice award (with a grand total of four votes, which, given the diverse tastes at AAR, constitutes quite a landslide) is none other than Bound by Your Touch, by Plotters and Manipulators United’s own Meredith Duran!

And I do apologize.  I completely forgot that I hadn’t quite finished the series yet.  But we are almost there.  🙂

Do your H/H affect each other’s growth?

Character growth can come from many different places.  But since we write romance, presumably our readers are most interested in growth that come from the events, realizations, epiphanies, and choices that originate from the core romantic relationship.

Pride and Prejudice–and I will totally challenge to a duel anyone who says P&P is not a romance—is beloved for precisely this reason.  [Well, and beautiful Pemberley too, but I will try to keep my shallowness in check here. 🙂 ]

Read what Mr. Darcy says to Lizzie at the end of the book:

“Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: ‘had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me.”


“My object then was to show you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to.

In more modern parlance, Mr. Darcy basically said, “Honey, you were so right.  About everything!  And I’ve changed because I recognized just how doggone right you were.”


Long live Mr. Darcy.

Kristan Higgins in Da House

When I’m not reading Kristan’s books, I obsessively pore over her blog. I have New England envy, especially in summer, which lasts from March to November in Austin, Texas and grows hotter every year. So I lose myself in Kristan’s chronicle of her life in Connecticut, in her tales of late snow, cool summers, and fall foliage. Her family makes their own maple syrup. How cool is that?

And when I can treat myself to a new Kristan Higgins book, what strikes me the most is always the community that she builds: family, neighbors, friends, townspeople, a cohesive and caring whole. Her stories are affirming, without being treacly; funny, but still full of substance; and they always put a big smile on my face.

Not Quite Enough about Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins Photo

Kristan Higgins lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband, two lovely children, their devoted dog, and a regal and somewhat elderly cat named Cinnamon. They spend as much time as possible at their family home on Cape Cod, swimming in the Atlantic, shivering on the beach, swatting horseflies and watching fish evade Kristan’s lure at Higgins Pond. It’s as close to heaven as it gets.

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I have a major drawback as a professional writer: I can’t think and write at the same time.  Or rather, I can’t think and write and judge my own work at the same time.

I have a non-drawback as a professional writer: I don’t get blocked.  I can get words on paper, lots of words, if they are what’s required.

Combine the first two, you have a delivered first draft of somewhat questionable quality

I have a possibly unusual aversion: I ban anything that is remotely true–or even reminiscent–of my personal life from the pages of my books.

I also have rather definite tastes in what I like as a romance reader: characters who have lots of legitimate beef with each other; characters who won’t make anyone else happy but each other.  I.e., somewhat strange, off-kilter relationships.

Which means that a lot of time when I’m just writing–and not thinking–I have no idea where this high-stake, grievance-laden, completely-unfamiliar-to-me relationship is going.  Who the heck are these people?  And why are their lives so eff-ed up?

Which means a first draft that goes entirely off the rail at some point: halfway, two-thirds, last quarter–maybe all of them.

Now let’s add one more somewhat strange aversion: I don’t like plot.  I don’t have anything against plots per se; I enjoy a good mystery, thriller, and SF as much as anyone else.  And one of the reasons I adore the first Harry Potter is precisely for the beauty of its impeccably woven plot.  I just don’t like a lot of external plot in a historical romance.  What I prefer is to place my characters in a situation, hopefully of their own making, and then just sit back and watch them dig their way out.  (Which in a first draft they typically end up tunneling directly into a sewer main, but hey, that just means they have to start over again.)

But HIS AT NIGHT had to have a plot, what with the hero being a secret agent and all.  But I resisted–oh, how I resisted.  In the first version I did away with the villain by chapter two–not the falling off a cliff only to come back at the end kind of doing away.  Dude was really, really dead and gone.  Buried.  Feeding maggots.  In the second version I offed him midway through the book.  Just have no interest in stand-alone villains.  Much more fun letting hero and heroine be their own worst villains.  And the hero is a secret agent?  Well, who gives a crap about the rest of his case once he has met the heroine.  Time for moody angst!

Have I mentioned that the first complete draft of HIS AT NIGHT was an EPIC FAIL?

Yes, it was.  *nods head sagely*  And this was  WITH my editor reading along the way, so as to avoid another first-draft fail.  Somehow her repeated advice that I give the story a backbone of a strong plot fell on deaf ears–or blind eyes, I guess, since we communicate almost exclusively by email.  I should have known, as in the final weeks before I handed in the first draft my head shattered in excruciating pain every time I worked on the damn thing–and my head never hurts while working on a book unless things are going horribly wrong.

At–thanks Jessica RRR–there is a de-motivation poster that says, “PERSEVERANCE: The courage to ignore the obvious wisdom of turning back.”  That would be me.

So…the overhauls.

No need to talk about the versions that had been discarded along the way.  Following the first complete draft, the overhaul centered on that backbone of plot–for the events of the book to cohere.  It was a 60-70% rewrite.  Which did improve the plot very much but when the line edits came back, it became obvious–after my editor pointed it out left and right–that the book had lost a lot of its urgency and sharpness.  So at the line edit stage, which should be the writing equivalent of sprinkling the chopped parsley and maybe a bit more of freshly ground pepper on the finished dish, I cooked the darn dish from the beginning again–another 40-50% overhaul.

(I was hoping this would be NQAH amount of work, but it turned out to be DELICIOUS redux–ack!–and in half the time, no less.)

As I progressed through this final rewrite, whenever I refinished a portion of the book, I would send it to my beloved Janine, who was reading it for the first time, for copyediting–the amount of changes I’d made meant that the official copyedits, which was made on the same line-edited manuscript, weren’t as useful–and critiquing.

It soon became clear from Janine’s copious and meticulous comments that in all that wrestling with plot and coherence, I’d 1)forgotten how to properly structure a sentence and 2)far worse, largely neglected the emotions in certain key scenes.  The two stem from the same source, i.e., trying not to sink too much time on prose when the larger structure of the book remained unresolved.  But at some point, especially in a book about the matters of the heart, one has to sink into character and feel, and that is impossible with pages upon pages of just dialogue and action.

It was like learning to write all over again: delving into character emotions, developing insights, ratcheting up the tension, making scenes matter.

Everything was working beautifully up until the beginning of chapter 20.  As my deadline neared again, it dawn on me that I still hadn’t properly resolved one of the major issues near the end of the book, when secrets and lies burst open, past and present collide, and LOTS OF STUFF hang in balance, because my God, who the hell are these people and why are their lives so fucked and how am I supposed to know how anyone would do in such a FUBAR situation?  The last time I led a double-life and my lies exploded in my face was when I was in fifth grade, when it was finally discovered that I, the model student*, had stopped doing my homework weeks ago.

I stopped sleeping.  At one point, so sleep-deprived, I started writing a farce of an ending, giggling all the while.  My critique partner, Janine, who stayed up one whole night and half the next day with me–I can never be grateful enough–sagely put down her foot and told me to stop and take a nap.

I did managed to get down a non-farcical version and turn it in to the typesetter.  But less than 24 hours later, I realized how I really should have written it.  So, over the holidays, I went over most of the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, and then took a ball-wrecker to the last 2.5 chapters.

Now I’m finally happy–ecstatic, actually–with the book.

I have been extraordinarily fortunate in this regard.  I have hated all my books during the writing.  All of them, passionately.  But somehow, by the magic of creative alchemy, by the time I get to the end, I am just in love: This book and I, we have come through so much, we have quarreled, fought, and battled through innumerable problems and now we have finally reached OUR happily ever after.

I often hesitate to recommend my books to people, because I never know how any given story of mine will interact with any given reader.  But this I can say: Whenever I look at one of my books on the shelf, I sigh and go, you are so perfect–for me.

And now HIS AT NIGHT has joined the ranks of those books that are perfect for me.

*Actually, by Chinese standards, I was a somewhat problematic student, but my grades kept my teachers from targeting me too hard.

A Sinkful of Blood

Years ago, I read–listened to, rather–It’s Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong’s memoir.  The book chronicled his struggle with cancer, his subsequent recovery, and the winning of his first Tour de France victory.  I have by now forgotten most details from the book, except for one particularly gory and memorable scene.

Armstrong had been hurting for a while, his body issuing miscellaneous warning signs.  But like most young men, and I would imagine, especially like most young athletes in superb conditioning trained to withstand tremendous amount of pain and discomfort in the pursuit of glory, he ignored his symptoms.  And ignored them.  And ignored them.

Until one day he threw up a sinkful of blood.

If you are sufficiently plugged into the romance world, you already know that it’s been an eye-popping, jaw-dropping couple of days.  Harlequin’s announcement of the self-publishing (or is it vanity publishing) venture it has branded, the riveting threads at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, and RWA’s swift and dramatic rescission of Harlequin’s status as a RWA-recognized publisher this evening.

In a way, you can say that I have no dog in this fight.  Harlequin is not my publisher.  My personal eligibility status at RWA will not change.  And as I am so freaking slow writing for even one publisher, I really have not been eyeing anyone else in the business for potential contracts.

And yet I found myself on the phone this evening–a rare thing as I’m almost never on the phone–groaning together with my friend, who does write for Harlequin, among other publishers.  Her inbox has been inundated with hundreds of emails from the Harlequin author loops to which she belongs–and she gets her mail in digest form.

Afterwards I tried to explain the whole thing to His Hawtness, not just the facts of it, but why I was on the phone groaning.  And it was difficult.  The spouse is a very logical man.  He asked a series of very reasonable questions.  If there are already other vanity publishers, how does it make any difference that now there is another one?  If Harlequin Horizons tells people that they are paying for only possibilities, not concrete promised results, how does that hurt its current authors?  And how does anyone even know whether the venture would be a success, since the rates listed on the Harlequin Horizons website are, if not exorbitant, at least quite outside industry norms?

HIs Hawtness is not the only one asking such questions.  Jane of Dear Author, I believe, is also trying to nail down the exact source of the outpouring of discontent.  These two people have never clapped eyes on each other, but they have something in common: They have both long been aware of the decline and oncoming death of publishing as we currently know it.

We do too, we authors.  We see the unsustainable business model, the erosion of profits, and the stagnation of reading as a form of entertainment.  We prepare ourselves mentally for what news might come.  But we, in a sense, are Lance Armstrong: We are still ignoring the symptoms as much as we can.

Harlequin Horizon is that sinkful of blood that can no longer be ignored.  For me, it’s unease turning into anxiety.  For many other authors, I imagine it’s anxiety turning into near-panic.  How bad are things if Harlequin Enterprises, much envied and admired for its nimbleness, market penetration, and profitablity, not only turns to vanity publishing, but puts its vaunted brand name on the venture?

I understand business cycles.  I understand the changes often happen in bursts.  I even understand that Harlequin might NOT be pressured by its struggling parent company to produce maximum cash to help the entire conglomerate’s bottom line, but simply decided on its own to respond to a changing environment by trying something unprecedented.  But that does not alter the fact that the formation of Harlequin Horizons and the subsequent reactions to it together comprise the most visceral signal I have encountered thus far on just what kind of convulsive, likely cataclysmic changes there will be.

Let me make myself clear.  I am not saying that Harlequin Horizons will bring down publishing–far from it.  Publishing is already going down.  If publishing is the Titanic, then the current brouhaha surrounding HH is not the iceberg–not at all–but the scraping sound and the jolt that alert the passengers after the fact that something has gone awry.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happened.  Pandemonium.  First-class passengers got on the lifeboats while steerage passengers drowned.  And a lot of us authors, not to put too fine a point on it, are steerage passengers on the good ship Titanic.  What is going to happen to us now?

To me, that, more than anything else specifically about Harlequin Horizons as a venture, is the reason for the hundreds of email digests my friend is receiving from her fellow Harlequin authors.  It is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  It capstones all the worries and jitters that those of us who still have contracts have been experiencing–and fighting.

Of course, there is still hope.  To go back to the example at the beginning of this post, Lance Armstrong not only survived cancer, he went on to an astonishing athletic career, achieving more than he ever did before.  Who knows, maybe there will be a renaissance of reading.  Maybe the business will finally arrive at a sustainable, responsible, and profitable model.  Maybe we will in the end have less number of books published overall, but a far greater number of outstanding books.

But in the meanwhile, between that sinkful of blood and eventual glory, there were some awfully rough times for Armstrong.  And there will be in this industry for us.  No doubt about it now.

ETA: This post is very much influenced by Lynne Connolly’s post at The Good, The Bad, and The Unread, which I read last week.

German PA & Thai NQAH

And a brief coming-up-for-air update.

It was an overhaul again–HIS AT NIGHT, that is. One of those days I’d love to have only revisions but so far it’s been overhaul after overhaul. It’s still not finished yet, but it’s getting there and of course it was worth it.

Heard briefly from my fellow blogger Meredith at the end of October. She is superbusy in India but will hopefully be able to breathe easier soon. We miss you, Meredith.

And now onto the covers. 🙂

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