Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!

I spent the closing days of 2008 and the first week of 2009 frantically revising Not Quite a Husband. History has repeated itself. This past December was again a brutal struggle to revise His at Night, my June 2010 release--not only to meet my editor's expectations, but also my own. I'm relieved to report that I'm almost there; one final campaign in the closing chapters and I will be able to let go.

Delicious cover But as a reminder that the hard work is totally worth it, Not Quite a Husband was recently named to the Top 100 Romances List at Dear Author. Not just the Top 100 Romances of the year, or of the decade, but since 1970, when the modern romance era began!

To make it even more thrilling, both Private Arrangements and Delicious--all the books I've ever published!--also made the list, with Delicious coming in at 10th place, surrounded by true classics of the genre that I adore and revere. I was floored. And absolutely humbled. And more determined than ever that His at Night should be nothing less than my very best work.

Lists, however, always have a cutoff date. The reviewers at Dear Author set their cutoff date at the end of the just-concluded decade. Which meant that one of the best romances in recent memory, which Publishers' Weekly called a “powerhouse debut,” with “a full complement of humor, characterization, plot and sheer gutsiness,” missed making it onto the list by being released on the first day of 2010, rather than the last day of 2009.

Proof by Seduction Cover That book is Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan. And Publishers' Weekly is not the only one raving about it. Julia Quinn calls it "one of the finest historical romances" she'd read in years. Eloisa James praises it as "a brilliant debut...deeply romantic, sexy and smart." What do I think of the book? Here's my quote: "Sexy, hilarious, and deeply, deeply touching. Courtney Milan writes with the keenest understanding of the heart. It is a cliche to say so, but I laughed and I cried. And I cannot wait to read her next book."

But Proof by Seduction is special to me not only because it is a tremendous book, but also because I had a small part to play in its path to publication. So of course I must celebrate its release today with a giveaway. But first, allow me to tell you my story with Courtney Milan and Proof by Seduction--an excellent story, full of good karma all around.

The Story

helping hand image To mark the release of my debut novel in March 2008, I held a pay-it-forward contest on my blog. Because I felt myself truly blessed, I offered to help the winner of the contest write his or her query letter--the first step to pitching a project to an agent.

The winner of my little contest, as selected by the random number generator, was none other than Courtney Milan.

I had originally intended to work only from Courtney's own query letter. But weeks and lots of emails later, I was still not satisfied with what we had. At last I gave up and asked to read the beginning of the book.

Oh, wow! I immediately emailed my agent, Kristin Nelson, and told her she should request the full manuscript from Courtney. Kristin and Courtney happened to have a pitch appointment that weekend at a writers' conference in Chicago, so Kristin did just that. She read Courtney's manuscript in a week, offered representation, and sold Proof by Seduction at auction a short while later.

So yay!

But the story didn't end there. After we finally hashed out a good query letter, Courtney told me that if there was ever any question on historical law I needed answered, she was my encyclopedia. And wouldn't you know it, barely days later, that was exactly what I needed--or the whole plot of Delicious was shot.

happy image Courtney totally came through for me and, with her expertise, saved my behind. Didn't I say this was a story with tons of good karma all around? :-) I wrote about it more in-depth here. Courtney recounted her journey here.

And now, without further ado, Courtney answers a few of my burning questions.

Not Quite Enough about Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan Photo

I'm guessing we are about the same age. Yet whereas I've been a kept woman since my 21st birthday, you've practiced an astonishing number of professions. Your website lists "computer programming, dog-training, scientificating," among other things. When I first got to know you, you were a lawyer--and have since bailed me out more than once on historical legal research. Not to mention you are a fantastic graphic designer. And now you have made it to the ranks of professional authors with a huge debut historical romance releasing on January 1, 2010. I'm completely in awe and fascinated. Please tell me more.

Ha. You make it sound so interesting. The truth is that I get bored doing the same thing and I wander off in search of something else fun to do. I think that I like learning to do things more than I like actually doing them. This isn't precisely a virtue on my part; it's usually a failing, and it causes my mother to gnash her teeth and tear her hair out and say that she wishes I would just settle down and pick one thing so that I could eventually achieve enough success to make me boast-worthy to her friends.

Proof by Seduction Cover

Proof by Seduction, your debut book, revolves around a scientifically trained lord who does not believe in anything except rigid logic and a fortune teller who makes her living largely by intuition. Tell us more about it. And do you think the book is a representation of the conflict/symbiosis of the analytical and creative sides of you?

I actually don't see much conflict between my analytical and creative sides. I realize this is heresy, but analysis is creative. And vice versa. They use the same parts of my brain.

In 1838, the field that we think of today as "biology" was in the midst of a fierce, pitched battle for the hearts and souls of scientists. Sir Isaac Newton, among other things, dabbled in alchemy. The early astronomers looked to the stars to try to figure out divine intent, not to satisfy scientific urges. In early Victorian times, physicians believed that people were able to have only one wound at a time, and so they burned their patients with hot pokers so that their patients would stop having fevers. Alongside these unscientific, irrational beliefs, however, marched forward progress: the laws of physics were discovered; statistical analysis was invented. 1838 is the cusp of that transition from irrational to rational: it's the time just before Darwin and Mendel brought the first semblance of rational ordering to biology.

But it didn't take long for that "rational ordering" to go haywire. Since 1838, we've discovered quantum physics (things can be both particles and waves? cats are dead and alive at the same time?), uncovered Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, and parsed out some pretty cool fuzzy logical thinking. And if none of that means anything to you, just take my word for it: Analysis these days is pretty darned creative. We're not sure where we are, or maybe we don't know where we're going. Confusion is the order of the universe, and that's okay.

I like to think that Jenny and Gareth stand for the two most prominent schools of thought of the early 19th century: rationality and intuition inherently at odds with one another, and yet about to be rammed together and forced into coherence.

We both like our heroes to have professions/callings. The working title for Proof by Seduction was Ornithology, referring to the hero's field of scientific endeavor. And I know you have another work-in-progress called, cheek-in-tongue, Legalese. Why do you have your heroes do what they do? Is it just because you think a man ought to be busy--that's often my reason--or do you structure their professional/calling to reflect an integral part of their character?

Nothing so formal! I just have a hard time imagining someone--anyone--not wanting to do something. I'm always itching to try new things, and I'm constantly setting myself impossible tasks. I just don't know if I could empathize with any person--male or female--who had nothing to do. I have to admit, usually the calling comes first when I'm envisioning a book--"scientist meets fortune teller," for instance. Ideas I have percolating in the back of my head are "street performer defies magistrate" and "theologian meets courtesan."

What's coming up next for you?

Trial by Desire Cover Next is a book, entitled Trial by Desire, and it's the story of Ned Carhart, who discovers that his convenient marriage is a front for his wife's illegal--but highly moral--charity. Ned is a secondary character who shows up in Proof by Seduction, and after what I put him through in Proof, he definitely deserves his own happily ever after.

And for something totally different, when I was promoting Delicious, I did a giveaway at Smart Bitches whereby I asked readers to tell me the most sensuous food they'd ever encountered. You were one of the winners because I absolutely loved your description of Mr. Milan's tomato water. Care to give that here?

tomato image Tomato water, if you have never had it, is the liquid of the gods. One obtains it thusly:

1. Several perfectly ripe tomatoes. Vine-ripened, no less, and not the shabby pretense of tomato you buy in the grocery store with the stubby green bits attached—real, glorious, heirloom tomatoes, the kinds that you can never sell in a grocery store because they are so exquisitely sun-ripened that you cannot stack them into a produce box, or they will squish. These, you purloin from a farmer’s market on an early Saturday morning.

2. Chop them into tiny bits. Show no mercy. Put the chopped up bits into a mess of cheese cloth. Do not, for the love of God, do anything so gauche as to squeeze the cheese cloth. Instead, suspend the cheese cloth over a bowl in your refrigerator and let it sit, dripping out the juices, for two days.

3. What you will get out is a mostly clear fluid. Oh, it might look a little pink if you use red tomatoes—but if you use yellow or green ones (green zebras make awesome tomato water) it will be perfectly clear. This clear fluid is the nectar of the gods. It is liquid tomato—and not just any tomato, but it is the flavor of a tomato pulled off the vine and popped into your mouth.

4. If you must adulterate the tomato water, slice the following paper-thin and add in sufficient quantity to just let the pieces bask in the tomato water: plum, apple, jalapeno, sweet pepper, shallot, basil, mint

Allow the mixture to macerate for several hours, and then get some cherry tomatoes (the little black ones, again from the farmer’s market) and slice them in half and let them bob on top.

For some strange reason I am suddenly very, very hungry. And thirsty too. Thank you, Courtney, for stopping by to visit!

Courtney Milan Giveaway

Proof by Seduction Cover

This is a contest exclusive to subscribers of An Infrequent Offer. To subscribe, click here.

In the meanwhile, why not read some excerpts of Courtney's works?

This Wicked Gift
(Have I mentioned that This Wicked Gift is totally awesome? Heartbreaking, sweet, and oh so satisfying.)

Solitaire's the Only Game in Town

Heartwild Solitaire Classic Screen Shots In 2009 I had the pleasure of working with Orchid Games, a maker of romance-themed casual games. Seven romance authors--of which I was one--each contributed a romance short story toward a free solitaire game. That game, Heartwild Solitaire Classic, was released mid-December as a Christmas gift to romance lovers.

But January, with the rush and chaos of the holiday season behind us, is an even better time to have a few minutes to yourself and relish a game of solitaire. Go here to download the game. Have fun. I hope you will enjoy the game, my short story, and all the other stories too.

May 2010 be your best year ever, filled with health, wealth, wisdom, and happiness.


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