Delicious FTW, I hope

DELICIOUS is up now against the number 1 seed in the bracket, Loretta Chase’s YOUR SCANDALOUS WAYS, in the DABWAHA tournament. I didn’t even notice when PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS went down. PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS can take care of itself, but DELICIOUS, DELICIOUS is my precious, preciousssss…

Okay, enough of my indecent love for that book. If you enjoyed DELICIOUS, please vote for it at Voting closes 8pm EDT today.

And here is DELICIOUS in all its audio glory. Sigh, so pretty.

This & That

Both DELICIOUS and PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS are in the DABWAHA Tournament. It’s set up like March Madness, 64 books, 1 champion. Go have some fun and vote for your faves. First round is on.

I just received the audio CDs for DELICIOUS in the mail yesterday. Now I feel like a rock star, or at least like Diane Settlefield, whose book The Thirteenth Tale, was the last book I listened to on audio. The narrator is Virginia Leishman, who also narrated Possession by A. S. Byatt for Recorded Books. Boy, does she make me sound like Masterpiece Theater. And it’s got a great cover. (My camera is broken. I’ll see if I can’t take a picture of it with someone else’s camera.) I’m wondering if I should do a giveaway. This would be the perfect romance conversion item, cuz your quarry wouldn’t even have any idea s/he was listening to romance, until it’s too late of course. 🙂

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The Smart Bitches happen to link to an article in Publishers Weekly on the clinch cover. And the verdict is, the clinch is here to stay.

One particular quote from Sue Grimshaw, Borders’ romance buyer, struck me. “A tastefully done clinch is a must-have for debut authors,” said Ms. Grimshaw, which is more or less what she said when she had breakfast at RWA SF with a few of us Bantam authors.

So now my wonderful publisher is giving me the must-have clinch covers for debut authors. Bantam will reissue DELICIOUS and PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS with new covers to coincide with the release of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND. And here, without further introduction, are the preliminary versions of the new covers.

I do love the background on this. There is something very fairy tale-ish about it. I am not crazy about the mantitty–I’m never crazy about mantitty to start with, and this one is bigger than mine. So…wish he had some clothes on. But chest is de rigueur so I’ll go with what sells.

Now this is much more my thing. Love the pose. Love the dress. Love the presence of the man without the actual mantitty. I’m, however, slightly torn about the color. On the one hand, I personally love it. On the other hand, there is something slightly poison apple-ish about it and rather startled the spouse when he looked at the high-def image. But there are certain colors that don’t translate as well in jpeg and I trust Bantam to get it just right in print.

Karma Is a Nice Doggie

I’ve been waiting to tell this story.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, wow.

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

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

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

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

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

That story went like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She made everything all right.

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

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

(I owe you, girlfriend.)

Of Embassies and Napoleons

No, not that napoleon. This napoleon:

Otherwise known as a mille-feuille.

And there are no embassies involved in this story either, only a consulate. The Chinese Consulate in Marseille, to be precise.

I was an exchange student at the UniversitĂ© d’Aix-Marseille III in Aix-en-Provence. It was autumn. The consulate was hosting a dinner party on its grounds to celebrate the Chinese national holiday and all the Chinese students in surrounding universities were invited.

I’d never been to a party in a consulate before. It sounded like a posh affair. I put on a prim, neat dress that was various shades of very pastel mauve, and a pair of white stiletto-heeled sandals. (Come to think of it, this was back in 1994, it was somewhat fashion forward to wear strappy sandals with dresses–I was certainly alone in it. And that was probably the last time I was ever fashion forward.)

We drove 30 kilometers to Marseille. But no sooner did we arrive than it started to rain. To pour. The garden was out of the question. The dinner, a buffet-style affair, would now be served inside.

We milled around and chatted and waited. And waited. And waited. After a while my stomach began to cave in on itself. The conversation, too, reduced in scope to the dinner and only the dinner. What was going on in the kitchen? Would we have been fed already had the buffet been laid outside? And when, oh, when was food going to be served?

And then there came urgent news, dinner was in sight! We rushed to the small dining room, which was crammed like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on parade day. There were two doors leading into the dining room, one by which we stood, unable to push our way in further because of the sheer population density inside (3 per every square foot, by my estimate), another one at the opposite end of the room.

The first two platters of food arrived. I don’t remember what they were. All I remember was the astonishing speed with which the platters emptied as soon as they reached the dining table–around which the guests were piled four thick.

We soon perceived our severe error in not coming sooner to the dining room to lie in wait. Because the other door was the one by which food was being introduced from the kitchen. The people squashed in that corner were as far from dining table as we were, but food must pass through them in order to arrive at the table.

And so they turned to plunder.

I watched, agape, as hands descended upon a steaming platter of dumplings. By the time the food-bearer arrived at the table, the dumplings were all gone. On the plundering went, with me drooling and desperate, and dinner might as well be on the other side of the Channel.

Now I wonder, had the party actually taken place on the other side of the Channel, whether the British stiff upper lip would have prevailed and some sort of more equitable pecking order imposed. But we were a gathering half French, half Chinese, both known for their fanatic devotion to dining. If any civil society was three meals away from unraveling, the undoing of ours required probably only one and a half.

I don’t remember much of what happened immediately next, not when I finally got my shaking paws on some edibles, and no idea at all what they were either. What I do remember was a little something from later that evening when I was in a different part of the consulate. I was no longer starving, but I was still hungry and my mind still in piranha mode, when a plate of mini desserts strayed close to me.

I fell upon it, and the first thing I picked up, I swallowed whole, not caring what it was or how it tasted, intent only on getting more stuff down my gullet. As I swallowed, however, I suddenly realized that whatever it was, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever eaten. But by then I’d already swallowed it.

When I recovered somewhat from my stupefaction, I went after the dessert tray again. But since I was I was hardly alone in my abdomenal unfulfillment, the contents of the tray was long gone.

I’m not sure whether I’ve ever fallen for any man so hard and fast, but oh that little mille-feuille, that marvelously little mille-feuille. That was the beginning of my love affair with French pastry, or rather, my love affair with pastry cream in any incarnation. And I can’t think of a better memory with which to launch a book called Delicious. 🙂

And now I’ll have to go eat something.

P.S. The Romance Reader has awarded Delicious a five-heart review. According to them, “Readers who are worried that Sherry Thomas is a one-book wonder should be assured. If anything, her second novel tops her outstanding debut.” Hehe.

Look What the Husband Brought Home

After hosting the inimitable Bettie Sharpe Friday night, I was still in bed Saturday morning when His Hawtness, the spouse, came back home with an impromptu present for me. He’d been jogging in the neighborhood and came across a garage sale. And for $2, he bought me this:

Which opened up into this little marvel:

I oohed and aahed. It was the cutest thing. And then I said to His Hawtness, “Hey, you know what I could use this for? As background to make a book trailer for DELICIOUS!”

“Why do you think I got it for you?” replied His Hawtness.

I’d been half-heartedly thinking of a DELICIOUS trailer for a while, just so that darling book wouldn’t feel less loved than PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. (And it’s not, if anything I love it more.) But I was all publicity’ed out, there’s no evidence that book trailers sell books, and I couldn’t think of a scene in DELICIOUS that would easily turned into a script.

But the dollhouse got me started.

In the end, I didn’t photograph the dollhouse. The little paper dolls that came with the dollhouse were either unsuitable or damaged. My own paperdolls were too big in proportion. Bettie Sharpe and her husband gave many helpful suggestions on how I could accomplish it as a simple bit of computer-generated graphics by merging a shrunk-down paperdoll into a digital background in Photoshop. But I was not quite in the mood for doing battle with Photoshop–and it would have been a battle, given my general ineptitude around both graphics and sophisticated software.

But I did make a trailer, a simple, barebones teaser.

And His Hawtness still gets credit for inspiring me, because without his lovely present, it would never have happened. Thank you, sweetie.

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.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled hiatus to bring you…A Delicious Ending

Remember our Delicious beginning?

In retrospect people say it was a Cinderella story.

Notably missing was the personage of the Fairy Godmother. But other than that, the narrative 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 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-ish 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.




The end–for now.

She laid herself across the bed and drew a finger down his sternum. “People are saying it’s a fairy tale. They say I’m a modern-day Cinderella.”

“I’m inclined to agree with them,” he said.

She kissed him on the lips. “Do you believe in happily-ever-afters?”

“You are asking a politician to tell the truth again?”

She reached over him and turned off the lamp. “Yes, for mine is an honest darkness.”

“Alright then, I do. I’ve always believed it–I only had to find you.” His kissed her in the sweet darkness. “And now I’ve found you.”

There, now you know the story. And you can save yourself $6.99. 🙂

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.

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.