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The RITA Speech

The what, you ask?  Oh, that.  But that was ages ago, you say.  Well, last year I wrote a post called “Summer Omnibus Update” in October.  Seasonality is not my best trait.  :-)

You can’t really see me but if you set your audio to maximum, you can hear the speech pretty well.

 

 

See, you don’t need to speak English all that well to write okay in it.  :-)  (A long time ago, Bettie Sharpe confessed that before she first heard me, she’d imagined I spoke with a smoky voice, kind of like an expat in a French cafe. Darn it. I think I should too.)

My gratitude goes to my RWA roommie Kristyne Raley, for taking the video and then transferring it to a USB stick for me.  (Btw, Kristyne, your USB stick is so fancy it took me a minute to realize it has two ends!  Hmm, did I just reveal again how much of a Luddite I am?)

Since we are it, a couple more foreign covers.  Up first, Slovene HIS AT NIGHT.  The cover model is awfully pretty, but I’d always pictured Elissande a bit fuller–both in the face and in the bosom.  :-)

And now, the upcoming German reissue of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS.  From what I understand, Cora Verlag (Harlequin Germany) first distributes their titles to train stations and other such convenience spots.  And then later a book might get repackaged for the bookstores.  So here is the repackaging and I’m very excited to have my first leads-lying-down-together cover.

That’s all, folks.  For now.

New York, New York

Caution: Long blog post coming up. Image-heavy too.  And I apologize in advance for my camera’s totally inaccurate time stamps.

1. Pre-Departure

Everywhere I look, I see authors with other artistic talents.  They can paint, draw, sew, knit, quilt, garden, graphic design, compose, play instruments, and whatnot.  I play casual games and have nothing to show for it.  (Well,  lots of good memories with the kidlets but His Hawtness and I debate on whether that constitute as quality time.   I say yes. *g*)

But ever since the shea butter episode, I’ve developed an obsession with hand-making beauty products.  Not for myself, but as promo items.  For RWA Orlando I did bath bombs.  Facial scrubs for New Jersey RWA’s conference and RT Los Angeles.  In between I also made solid lotion bars as belated Christmas presents.

By the beginning of the year I’d already decided to make lip butters for RWA.  I’d really, really hoped that by June I’d have a cover for the first book in my 2012 trilogy, but since the release is still 11 months out, no.  All the same, my enthusiasm remained undimmed.  I love giving away good swag.  I love doing repetitive chores, especially fresh from deadlines.

Here’s the lip butter chronicle, for Janine especially, starting with empty jars.

And now they are being filled.  more »

Guilt-blogging

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?  :-P

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

HIS AT NIGHT Trailer

I wavered for a while, on whether to do a book trailer or not. Let’s face it: a book trailer is not the most effective means of promoting a book. (Although, what is?) But in the end, I decided to go for it and I’m really glad I did.

Because HIS AT NIGHT went through such repeated and arduous rewrites after it had been copy edited, I decided to hire an outside copy editor myself, just for quality assurance. Tiffany Yates, a professional freelance copy editor who has worked with many of the New York publishing houses who also happens to be a member of my local RWA chapter, proved a totally awesome choice.

Her queries, suggestions, and story advice were spot on. Which meant, by the time final galleys came, and changes had to be handwritten in the margins, I made if not substantial then at least noticeable changes to the manuscript. It killed me. I find final galleys nerve-wracking as such, to make so many changes–every page almost–oh, Lord have mercy.

In the months after that, I wanted nothing to do with the book. Even when I was at the RT Convention admiring the finished copies, I still couldn’t bear to crack the book open. Beth Kery, whom I met through Julie James, suggested that I was having mini-PTSD flashbacks. And she was right.

But since making the book trailer required consulting the manuscript, last Monday I flipped open HIS AT NIGHT at about a few chapters in. I began with a lot of trepidation, but soon I started enjoying myself. With just the usual breaks to pick up Junior Kidlet and hold him captive until homework is done, I read the book all the way through to the end that same day.

Phew. What a relief. End of mini-PTSD.

And here, without further ado, the book trailer:

Shea Butter–Or, the Extent of My Crazy

Last summer, I went to Central Market, a fabulous Austin institution.  When I was there, I saw tiny little round tins of pure shea butter being sold for $4.95.  We are talking 1/4 ounce tins.  Highway robbery, I thought to myself.

Around that time I learned about this website called From Nature with Love, a wholesaler for quality beauty ingredients.  So at some point in the following months, I decided that instead of giving out bookmarks, I would have a promo product that I would be  interested in receiving.  I would offer the public little tins of pure shea butter–which otherwise cost $4.95–with the cover of my new book on it.

Fast forward to March.  Well, if I was going to have little tins of shea butter to give away at RT, I’d best get started.  I ordered a gallon of organic shea butter, five hundred 1/4 oz slide top tins, and a box of high-gloss labels just the right size to go on top of those little tins.

And I got to work.

more »

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.  :-)

So…About HIS AT NIGHT

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 Despair.com–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.

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UPDATED: His At Night–Preliminary Cover

Here it is!

his-at-night-350x575

The art department will be working to make the dress pop more from background.  I asked for my usual corrections (longer fingers and less boob on the hero).  And then, making my agent laugh her head off, I asked for a daintier foot on the heroine.

But other than those minor quibbles, I love this  cover.  Love the color and the flounces on her dress.  Love that there is more ladyback and less mantitty.   Besides, this cover continues the tradition of putting my heroine in a dress she never wears in the book.  :-)

When I get the final cover, we’ll do a side-by-side (or more likely a top-by-bottom) comparison to see if I get my wishes.

And in other news, the release date for HIS AT NIGHT is now May 25, 2010.

Updates below the fold.  more »