A Writer’s Nightmare

If you think writers don’t suffer from stage fright, guess again. True, we don’t expose ourselves directly to an audience, like an actor does. But good writers write from their heart, and that always involves an element of risk. My next book comes out one week from today, and I’m not jaded enough to be anything but thrilled about that! Getting published is a writer’s dream come true. On the other hand, I’m having a recurring nightmare where I’m in a bookstore, holding a copy of the book.  When I open it, I discover that I sent my editor the wrong file. Instead of the story I wrote, the book is filled with incomplete chapters, notes and even a couple of emails! My story doesn’t exist!

Obviously, no editor would accept anything but the completed, polished story they accepted in the first place. (Besides, I was so unnerved when I woke up that I double checked the copies of Her Scottish Groom currently in my possession. To my immense relief, the story in there is, for better or worse, the final, edited, version.) And my dream could have been worse. For one thing, I wasn’t naked. For another, no green jello monsters or giant bugs chased me through the bookstore aisles.

I think the horror I experienced in my dream came holding a bound, finished book that was clearly anything but completed. It was the public exposure of this error that got to me. I have sure opened up my laptop to find passages in a WIP that certainly did come out the way I intended! (And I bet I’m not the only writer this has happened to.) The purpose of a first draft is to get the story out of your head and into some vaguely structured form recognizable as a plot. Only then can a writer read her work over and say “Wow. This stinks.”  That’s when she takes a closer look and fixes it.

Believe me, it is way, WAY better to find glaring errors in the early stages of a book than in a published volume. Like when you use the word ‘wrist’ five times in two paragraphs. Or you have a dinner scene that devolves into a description of the meal that sounds like something from a food magazine. Delicious, but does it move the plot along, or show something about the characters involved? Or wait, maybe we need the description here to give the readers a chance to catch their breaths. What happened in the previous scene? Whether a writer plots or pantses (sorry, Merriam-Webster) our goal is to write stories that won’t give us (or anyone else) nightmares.

I can’t be the only one who has nightmares about things that are important to them. What are some of your scary dreams?



Indies and Inspiration

The announcement that Borders is going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy saddens me, even though it was not a surprise. The company has had financial problems and a revolving door leadership for years. To the employees of the 200 stores that are closing, I am so sorry. I’ve been in your shoes and it’s awful. To the customers who are losing what may the only bookstore in their area, I am sorry too. I noticed a post about it at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and read it, cause they’re awesome. Then I started reading through the comments, cause those of us who read SBTB are smart too, right? Right!

Despite speculation that the Borders closures will give independent neighborhood booksellers a chance to break into new markets that the Evil Big Box Store choked off, Borders’ 200 store closings and bankruptcy are not good news. I sympathize with indies and want to support them, but the nearest one that sells brand-spanking new books requires a 45-minute round trip.

And forgive my bluntness, but a large number of comments following that article on SBTB mentioned that a lot of indies have lousy romance selections — that is, when they have them at all. Every Borders, Barnes & Noble or Books A Million I’ve visited had romance sections, while some indies consider themselves above selling such an ‘inferior’ genre. I have personally run into this attitude, despite the fact that romance sales have increased every year, remaining unaffected by hard economic times.

Granted, independent booksellers don’t have the buying power of a large chain, and thus cannot get bulk discounts on my mass market paperbacks. And since my books are at the lower end of the print market price scale, an indie store won’t make as much money on my books as they do on hardcover and trade paperbacks that have a longer shelf life. I get that. Paying bills and having something left at the end of the month is important to me too.

This makes me appreciate all the more those indies who do buy a large percentage of romance, who host romance reading clubs, who handsell their favorite romance authors. I know you’re out there and each and every one of you rocks!

Then there’s the bookstore representative who told me on the phone “Oh, our owner doesn’t stock romance”, in a tone that suggested that romance lovers sully the atmosphere of any establishment we enter.

Lighten up, Mr. Owner! Yeah, I write popular fiction that requires a happy ending as part of its definition. Maybe it is a little Disney-esque in some people’s eyes, but on the other hand, I’m not shooting Bambi’s mom.  And nobody dies of cancer. In my books, the mother can BE the heroine. Or if I wrote medical romance, the heroine could be an oncologist. Romance writers these days give heroines guts and a backbone and a brain and a gorgeous man who thinks she’s all that and a bag of chips. Sadly, this is still considered escapism instead of what strong, smart women deserve. Of course, I could give one of my characters cancer, but there are already people fighting that disease in real life. Maybe they’d like to read something where both halves of the couple are still alive at the end.  As a reader, a good romance leaves me with a little glow inside that brightens my day. As a writer, I can only hope to do that for others.

What would you like to see replace those 200 Borders stores that are closing? Other chain bookstores? Independent booksellers? What kind of amenities or services would you like to have in a neighborhood bookstore, whatever the size?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The sexy Scot hero of my next book has an interview at SOS Aloha in honor of Valentine’s Day! Kim is giving away some fun prizes as well, so stop by and read what Kieran has to say!

An American Queen of Hearts

As readers of historical romance can tell you, beneath the buttoned-up corsets and coats of the Victorian era beat some very passionate hearts. Valentine’s Day as we know it originated in 19th century England. Before then, it was a date to commemorate feelings for loved ones, but it was not widespread or particularly elaborate. Printers in England developed cards varying from sentimental to bawdy in honor of Valentine’s Day, which quickly caught on with the public.  The idea of sending cards to loved ones spread to America mid-century, thanks to a teenage girl with a shrewd head for business.

Esther Howland was born in Wooster, Massachusetts in 1828.  The daughter of a prosperous bookseller, little is known of her life until 1847, when an associate of her father’s sent her a Valentine’s card from England.  The folded bit of paper intrigued her, less for its sentimental value than as a source of income for the family business.

I must digress here. Southward A. Howland, her father,  must have been a remarkable man for his era. Not only had he sent his daughter to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now known as Mount Holyoke College), but when Esther suggested that she design a line of new merchandise for his store, he supported the idea. At a time when most men insisted their wives and daughters stay within the domestic sphere, he encouraged Esther to live up to her potential.

However, back to Esther herself.  After convincing her father to import paper lace and other materials to make the cards, her brother took up the task of selling them, armed with a few samples she had created.

She hoped for $200 in sales. He came back with $5,000 worth. This was more than she had bargained for, and she recruited friends to help her. Although Henry Ford would not conceive of the assembly line for decades, Esther divided up the process of making each card and assigned one person to each task: Cutting out and sorting pictures, cutting out backgrounds of different colored paper from a template, embellishing the backgrounds with paper lace, adding floral decorations and verses. The process eventually took over an entire floor of the family house, but a tradition was born.

Eventually, Esther’s sideline outgrew the house. Her New England Valentine Company would gross over $100,000 a year — in Victorian dollars. In modern dollars this is the equivalent of between 1.5 and 2 million dollars.  She took advantage of her income to indulge in facials and fashionable clothes, but she also paid her predominantly female workforce a decent wage. Ironically, the Queen of Valentines never married. The reasons are unclear. She was considered a handsome woman, but she may have been reluctant to give up a business she loved, as would have been expected of her at the time. She may have simply never fallen in love.

In 1881, she did sell the company to a competitor and devote herself to her father, whose health had deteriorated. She died in 1904, having brought pleasure to thousands through her cards.

Pleasure Me!

I am appearing as part of Monica Burns’ Pleasure Me Blog Event today, and hope some of you might want to stop by! Come by and read about why It’s the Little Things that Count! Leave a comment and you might get a free signed copy of HER SCOTTISH GROOM.

Hearts & Hunks

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and we all know what that means! Time to curl up with chocolate, champagne and a good romance.  Here is my completely subjective and unscientific list of new books for my TBR pile.

After dark with a Scoundrel, Alexandra Hawkins: The third book in the Lords of Vice series, this one centers around the Earl of Chillingsworth’s sister, who has spent several years in a respectable school for young ladies after she got caught snogging Lord Hugh Mondare. Lady Regan’s interest in her brother’s friend is unquenched after five years, and she returns to London determined to follow up on it.  I look forward to Frost as a protective older brother as well. This has been a wonderful series so far, and I am looking forward to Regan and Dare’s story. February 1, 2011

Invitation to Sin, Jo Beverly et al: This romance anthology includes stories by Beverly, Vanessa Kelly, Sally McKenzie and Kaithlin O’Riley.  Four stories abounding with disreputable neighbors, secret affairs, scandalous behavior, unconventional women and bold, sexy men. I enjoy comparing the voices of different writers in anthologies, and given the authors assembled for this one, it should be quite the Valentine’s Day treat. February 1, 2011

One Night is Never Enough, Anne Mallory: Charlotte Chatsworth is understandably horrified to find that her father has gambled her away to Roman Merrick, head of a criminal empire in 19th century London.  Papa didn’t even gamble away her hand in marriage, just her virtue. Roman expects to have his night with the exquisite lady and then leave her. Neither of them expect their one night to turn into love, but when that happens, they each face ruin. I’m especially intrigued by the hero here: Roman’s manipulations could cross the line into being a bit creepy, but I’m willing to see how he turns out. February 22, 2011

To Desire a Wicked Duke, Nicole Jordan: The last in the Courtship Wars series gives Tess Blanchard her own story. And it should be a good one, since she and ‘her’ Duke are caught in an extremely compromising (and hot) embrace within the first pages of the book. Ian Sutherland is interfering, possibly manipulative, undoubtedly handsome, and has loved Tess for years.  In other words, the perfect romantic hero. I really, really, really can’t wait for this one, but I have to until February 22, 2011.

Pleasure Me, Monica Burns: A courtesan who thinks she’s past her prime meets a younger man in need of deflowering. This premise could be a disaster in the wrong hands, but Burns’ erotic romances raise the bar for her genre, so this one is totally going into my TBR pile. Both Lady Ruth Attwood and Garrick Stratfield sound like well rounded, sympathetic characters. Who are going to engage in some very hot love scenes. March 1, 2011

What upcoming releases are you going to add to your TBR pile?