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.  🙂

What Happens in the Las Vegas Suite

Stays in the Las Vegas Suite, of course.

But below, in no particular order, are the highlights of my trip.

1) The Woodley Park Zoo metro stop.  The escalator coming out of the metro stop is the longest and steepest escalator I’ve ever seen.  Going up for the first time, I had the distinct sensation that the man some ten, twelve steps higher up was hanging on for dear life directly above me.  It was dizzying, but in the best way.

2) The digital publishing experts.  I think I’d met both Angela James of Samhain Publishing and Kassia Krozser of Book Square and Quartet Press before–Kassia owns a very cool Barbara Cartland romance board game, if I remember correctly from RWA 2008 in San Francisco–but I didn’t really have a chance to speak with either.  This time I did.  And it was informative and eye-opening and most reassuring, to know that the wild, wild frontier of digital publishing is manned by cool, calm, in-charge women who know exactly what they are doing.

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In which Meredith interrogates Sherry on craft

Meredith: Look at any forum devoted to writing and you’ll find a few topics dedicated to the “standard questions” that writers get asked: Where do you get your ideas? How do you find the time?  How do you figure out what happens next?  How do you manage to actually finish a story?

These questions may be standard, but the answers are anything but.  Every writer seems to have a slightly (or drastically) different way of working.

Some of the methods I’ve come across make me white with terror.  For example, covering my entire living room wall with color-coded 8×6 Post It notes. Or outlining.  Others turn me green with jealousy (ahem: the Shitty First Draft).  All of them fascinate me. There may, in fact, be something a bit neurotic about the avidity with which I read explanations of methods that I know won’t work for me.  It reminds me of that phase in eighth grade when my friends and I used to get together to bake brownies, drink milkshakes, and watch exercise videos.

Anyway, there’s a specific reason that craft — and in particular, craftly excellence — is on my mind.  I’ve just reread Sherry’s new release, Not Quite a HusbandNQAH effortlessly blends superb prose, incredibly nuanced characterization,  sizzling chemistry, very hot sex, and other manner of high drama (rebellions! potentially fatal illnesses! death-defying treks! many whizzing bullets!) into a moving, dare I say epic romance that traverses a not-so-familiar but altogether fascinating part of the world.  It’s a tour de force, and since I share a blog with her, I get to ask how she does it.  Sherry, brace yourself for interrogation!

(Sherry: When I first joined RWA–after finishing the first draft of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS–and heard people mention the RWA craft-loop, I used to think it was women more dexterous than me talking about their macramé.  That should tell you how much I know about craft.  So read at your own peril!)

Sherry, I understand that the idea for NQAH was sparked by a viewing of The Painted Veil.  How do you proceed once you’ve got the seedling of an idea?  Do you outline, do you daydream, or do you simply begin to write?

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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. 🙂

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. 🙂