Category Archives: Books

Just let me WIP out my Main Characters

Like many writers, the question “How’s the book going?” from kindly friends and family summons up a number of emotions in me, very few of them positive.

What I want to do in response is curl up in the fetal position and moan. “The book is a nightmare! I can’t write anything but garbage! Thank you for bringing up such a painful subject!”

What I actually do is develop a short-term facial twitch and tell them the book is fine. Then I change the subject to the fantastic meal I had last time I ate out. Even that was at McDonalds.

All of which brings me to the topic of this post. For everyone who wants to ask me about my work-in-progress (and even those who don’t), here’s a little bit about what I’m working on:

1. Name: A MOST IMPROPER CONNECTION

2. Setting: Victorian England, 1840

3. Hero: Morgan Tregarth
Once the disgraced second son of titled father, Morgan has returned to London because his family finally has a use for him. Now the guardian of a four-year-old viscount, Morgan has everything he needs to conquer London society: good looks, charm, and a large fortune. The only thing he lacks is a child — his child. The one he’s tried to find for 10 years, thanks to the cold-hearted nursemaid who tricked him into believing she loved him, even went through a marriage ceremony with him, and then disappeared without a word.

4. Heroine: Alix Ellsworth
Disguised as a widow, Alix has fought to raise her daughter for 10 years. Once the pampered daughter of an army officer, she chose a servant’s life over that of a prostitute. Unfortunately, she fell under the spell of the son of her employers, and ended up pregnant. The cad even convinced her to go through with a ‘marriage’ ceremony before abandoning her. Now he’s back, and Alix, threatened with debtor’s prison, is determined to get some help from the man who helped put her in this position: Morgan Tregarth.

A MOST IMPROPER CONNECTION is a second chance at love story, as two people learn to trust each other — and their own instincts — again. All while trying to cope with an adventurous four-year-old and their own daughter, who on a good day can cause a kitchen fire and a cat fight at the same time. Oh, and let’s not forget about the society miss who wants to marry Morgan, and the blackmailing uncle who threatens Alix.

Want to know more? Leave a comment below!

Till next time,

Ann

 

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Favorite References: A History of the Wife

HistOfWifeBorrowed from my local library.

I almost laughed out loud at the title! Yalom does a solid job giving readers an overview of wifehood. She focuses more heavily on Western marriage traditions, and later in the book on marriage in England and in America. This made sense to me, as American law developed from English common law, but I don’t know if people searching for world-wide views of marriage would find it helpful.

One of the best chapters in the book deals with the history contraception and abortion in America before, during and after Congress passed the Comstock laws (which outlawed any use of contraceptive devices, sales of the same or even mailing information about birth control). If I could rate individual chapters, I’d give that one 5 stars.

I would recommend this book for anyone wanting an overview of marriage in Westen Europe. While she doesn’t get into detailed notes about every religious and civil law that controlled, and controls, life for married women — that would take an entire library — Yalom takes a huge area of study and breaks it down for the reader, showing the development of marriage as women changed from chattels to individuals to heads of households. <br/><br/>The only reason I did not rate the book higher is that the author’s voice tends to a somewhat dry presentation of facts, which makes some sections tough going. The information presented is well worth the effort, and as a writer of historical romance, this would make a welcome addition to my reference library.

A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom, Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 5, 2002)

What’s Your Favorite Fairy Tale?

Actually, I’m talking about what kind of romantic plots people enjoy most. One of my favorite writing books is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Story Structure Architect. In it, she goes over the traditional elements of Western fiction, then looks at the variations within different genres. It’s a helpful resource for novelists, playwrights and screenwriters alike. For romance, she divides stories into three general types of structure, based on fairy tales. (Cause like romance, fairy tales are universal. 🙂 ) She also goes more detailed plot structure under each category — as I said, the book is a valuable resource.

In the Cinderella structure, the heroine falls in love with the hero first. This emotional response makes her vulnerable to him, even if she’s strong and independent in all other areas of her life. Schmidt notes that one of the hallmarks of this particular plot is that much of the focus is on the hero’s emotions. To get an idea of this plot, read Nicole Jordan’s excellent and steamy To Tame a Dangerous Lord.

Schmidt lists the Beauty and the Beast structure next. It mirrors the previous type plot in that the hero falls in love first, which makes him the more vulnerable of the couple. The focus here is on the heroine’s growing emotional bond to him. There is a bit less rescuing by the hero in these stories and a bit more self-awareness (eventually, anyway) on the part of the heroine. Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas is a classic example.

The final structure is based on Sleeping Beauty. The hero and heroine fall in love at the same time, which gives them equal footing emotionally, although their feelings may see-saw a bit as they deal with the conflicts standing in the way of their Happy Ever After. The couple in these books recognize their feelings all right, but their mutual love faces a series struggles, internal and/or external, before they can get together. Many ‘second chance’ love stories are found in this category, or stories of already-married couples, as in Victoria Alexander’s My Wicked Little Lies.

So what kind of romances do you like best? She falls first, he falls first, or they both fall and have to work it out together? Which fairy tail describes your favorite romance ?

I’ve attempted a first with this post and added a poll! And now you can rate all my posts, too.

Yeah, I Own This

Image courtesty of http://www.utmem.com

I have a terrible confession to make: I write books for money. Filthy lucre, the root of all evil, dead presidents, moolah, dough, the ultimate capitalist tool — whatever you call it, that’s a big part of why I seek publication. I care about my craft and submit to critique groups and tear up lousy pages not just because I love good writing, but because I also want to create a quality product. People who plunk down their hard-earned cash for one of my books should feel like they got their money’s worth.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person who bought one of my books last year. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for giving me a chance to entertain you through either a mass market paperback or a digital copy. If you liked the books so much you loaned them to a friend, or friends, thank you for the recommendation! I’m thrilled that you would do that. I would also like to thank those libraries that purchase my books for their patrons. I am grateful to you.

Those of you who uploaded digital copies of my product to sites that engage in mass distribution of copyrighted material without regard to the creators’ rights…nope. No gratitude. While the Stop Digital Piracy Act includes sections considered too controversial to pass, many opponents of the bill agree that pirate sites should be shut down. I only wish more people, *coughSwedencough* agreed with them.

My books, like every other copyright-protected electronic file, are not free information.  They are unique creations. Producing them takes weeks or months. I write the best story I can. I developed the characters and plotlines and arranged the words into those particular stories, and as their creator, I have certain rights regarding their use and distribution. Copyright law gives me the right to profit from my own work. It gives me, according to www.merriam-webster.com, “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work)”.

I granted Kensington the rights to publish my work because they are in the business of turning manuscripts into books. The publisher decides how and where to distribute my books. Not someone who uploads a copy to a pirate site, not the pirate site itself, not even me. I can use excerpts for marketing purposes and quotes, but if I want copies of my book for giveaways, gifts for promos, I buy them. This is the contract I read and agreed to. I benefit from the agreement because I reach a wide market through legitimate distributors, and that means more royalty money for me.

And it means copies of my books are available for you to read in print and electronic formats, provided you cross my palm with silver, figuratively speaking. Cause yes, I write books for money.

Pirate sites are despised by writers, musicians and film makers with good reason. They violate our rights to our own work while making outrageous claims: Like the exposure benefits us. Or we shouldn’t have electronic copies of our work available online if we didn’t want them stolen. Or those sites only exist to let people swap property with their ‘friends’. Or that all electronic information belongs to everyone.

Rot.

As far as I’m concerned, royalties instead of unpaid-for downloads will benefit us. We put our creations online for profit. Sharing electronic files between ‘friends’? In the tens of thousands, most of whom have never met? Does anyone actually believe that??? And to those who insist that all electronic information belongs to the world — upload your online banking passwords & maybe we’ll talk.

Will Volunteer for Food

Sunday, I had the pleasure of working the Nebraska Writers Guild booth at the state fair in Grand Island. I freely admit that my volunteerism was influenced by a desire to eat corn dogs as well as ice cream from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Dairy Store in the FFA/4H building. The prospect of air conditioning, a roof and walls encouraged me as well.

Although NWG authors are allowed to bring their books and sell them, mostly I just wanted to meet people. And I did! I worked with fellow writers Charlene Neely (poetry), Jerri Hauser (inspirational), Dr. Jean Lukesh (Nebraska history) and Mary Maas (Nebraska and local history). I had a blast talking up the guild with these women. The Guild is a statewide organization that includes journalists, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, poets, and family historians. In the next 12 months, the guild plans to hold a Young Writers Conference in Lincoln, NE.

Charlene Neely, Jean Lukesh and Jerri Hauser

A lot of people stopped because  they love to write and didn’t know the NWG existed. A lot of others stopped because they love to read and are excited at the idea of finding Nebraska writers, particularly on subjects of state or local interest, kids’ books and fiction set in the state. I even met a young woman who specialized in historical textiles and design in college. Hello, resource!

The location provided a great view of the 4-H pet presentation, and we chatted to passers-by to the background of kids describing the history, care and quirks of various gerbils, guinea pigs, cats and one ferret. We joined the applause as the judge awarded ribbons and grand prizes. I am pleased to say that all participants earned either blue or purple ribbons for their animals’ health and well-being.

My personal favorite was Princess the Cat, whose owner has a great narrative style and should look into creative writing.

Although I did sell copies of Her Scottish Groom and To be Seduced, I spent most of my time handing out bookmarks and booklets, aka ‘free samples’. My romances were upstaged by a 4th grade history book! Jean Lukesh, a former teacher, wrote what may be the most popular textbook in the state. Used by 85% of our school districts, it drew kids like a magnet. The ‘double-take, ‘hey-I-used-that-book’ ‘ response happened over and over. A lot of the kids asked for her autograph, and at least one wanted a picture with her.

Jean and Fans

To say that Jean is a talented local historian is like saying Einstein was kind of a smart guy. Her current project is a series for kids on Noteworthy Americans. The first in the series, Lucky Ears: The True Story of Ben Kuroki, World War II Hero recently won a Bronze Medal for Multicultural Nonfiction for Children/Teens/Young Adults in the Independent Publishers’ 2011 Book Awards. And she is hilarious and outgoing in person.

Before I forget: the UNL Dairy Store ice cream is so OMG FABULOUS that I passed on the corn dog in favor of their chicken bacon ranch wrap in a tomato basil tortilla. Yum. Next year, I may have to come back an extra day to get that corn dog in.

Writing…and Reading

Some writers have had the urge to string words into stories from their earliest memories, while some of us don’t discover this passion until middle age or later.  Whether they first scribbled a story on the back of grade school homework or had to gather courage and read their first attempt to a room of people more experienced than they were, all the good writers I’ve ever met or heard of reads, and has read, enthusiastically from childhood on.

Well before I started writing seriously, I gave thanks that I was born into a family of book lovers. My parents possessed wildly different tastes in reading material, and both of them affected me. I got my love of historical romance from my mother. Her paperback books contrasted with my father’s volumes on geology, dog training, history and anthropology. Mom introduced me to Georgette Heyer, and the late historian Barbara Tuchman. Dad’s books were drier, but watching him devour volumes on a wide range of subjects encouraged me to explore the non-fiction shelves of the library.

They read to me and my sisters, everything from poems to comic books. I don’t really remember anything but pretty pictures, but the sense of security and comfort of being tucked beside them carried over into the act of reading itself. Once we could read for ourselves, we got books on most major occasions and often on smaller ones. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott were found in my bookshelves, along with Swiss Family Robinson, fairy tales and myths. I saved my allowance to buy Nancy Drew books.  My dad attempted to get me interested in ‘Treasure Island‘, his favorite book as a boy, in vain. Ditto for Charles Dickens. (Sorry, Dad. I tried.) He succeeded wildly with ‘Lord of the Rings’, though.

High school lit classes introduced me to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and The Moon is Down, as well as the sly, wry humor of Mark Twain. I found Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein around then as well, thanks to my best friend who shared out her brother’s science fiction books.

My interest in Tolkien led me to explore other fantasy writers. The voice of Ursula LeGuin is more ambiguous and darker, but her haunting stories stay with you long after you finish them.

As an adult, I discovered Jane Austen (finally!) and Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, the histories and biographies written by Lady Antonia Fraser, and Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries, among many, many others.

These days, I read Tolkien for comfort and inspiration, Heyer when I want to be charmed and amused, Fraser and Tuchman when I need more solid fare, C. J. Cherryh when I want to read science fiction, and Shakespeare and Homer when I’m in the mood for something classic. And I’ve read historical romance in one form or another for decades. There are so many wonderful authors out there to choose from.

Who are your go-to writers for comfort or inspiration?

Notes

Having had my week thrown off by Memorial Day on Monday, this post is shaping up as more of a ‘bits and bobs’ notice. I’ve started a temp job for the summer that’s taking up more time than I expected, and I have the pleasure of my youngest daughter’s company more hours of the day now that she’s out of school. So my apologies for a more disjointed post than usual.

My big news is all about the cover above! Shortly after TO BE SEDUCED was released in North America, it was purchased for publication in Brazil. My understanding is that the Portuguese version went on sale earlier this year. I guess this means I can now call myself ‘internationally published’. Although the book’s hero, Richard, has undergone a somewhat alarming transformation from blond to brunette, I quite like the translation of the title. According to Google, the meaning of ‘A Noiva Seduzida’ is ‘A Bride Seduced’.

I’d love to have my stepsister’s half-Brazilian husband compare the Portuguese version with the original English, but I suspect I’d have to duct tape him to a chair and pour a lot of alcohol down his throat before he’d agree to read a romance through even once.

Meanwhile, HER SCOTTISH GROOM moved into the top 100 Historical Romances purchased on Kindle in mid-April. After fluctuating around #30 most of the time, it’s still hanging in there around #50! I totally did not expect this — after all, there are a lot of other good books out there. Readers still leave mostly positive reviews & ratings at Amazon and Barnes & Noble both (where the Nook version continues to climb, hurrah). HUGE hugs and thank-yous to everyone who took the time to give it a rating or tell how much they enjoyed it!

I gave my first-ever workshop in April, at the Nebraska Writers Guild. ‘Dishing it out and Taking It’ deals both with how to approach the works of other writers for critique, and how to handle the critiques of one’s peers. Participants in April gave it high rating and good comments, so I’m glad to have been able to help others out.

Now that summer is upon us, I anticipate a new season of good books, time in the sun, and especially, new chapters to write! What are you looking forward to?

Madness and Mash ups

Cover of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies...
Cover via Amazon

In the world of romance writing, a mash up is the juxtaposition of two or more (preferably quite different) genres.  Probably the best known example is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. While both zombies and vampires are popular ingredients in mash ups, I discovered that with a little imagination, there are a lot of possible tropes and genre combinations out there. I’ve thought of a few myself. (This is what happens when I get distracted.)

Having the Shapeshifter’s Baby: A graduate student handles her unexpected pregnancy calmly until she gives birth to a bundle of joy with fur and retractable claws.

SEALs and Sensibility: The proper Miss Elizabth FitzDashland and her sisters experience a severe shock when a commando unit parachutes into their garden party.

Courting the Alien Debutante: The Duke of Broodley, known rake and secret agent, has a new assignment: get to know the  green-skinned beauty from Orion-5 who has taken Victorian London by storm, and discover the secret of her mysterious weapon, the ‘phaser’.

The Preacher and the Airship Pilot: A missionary faces danger while flying to a new post on another continent. Not only has an assassain’s guild targeted him, he is far too tempted by Victoria Smith-Smythe-Smith, his transport’s unconventional captain.

Knitting for Three: A yarn shop owner is attracted to both her handyman landlord and his free-wheeling best friend…until they tell her she doesn’t have to choose between them.

Are there any romance combinations you’ve enjoyed or would like to see?

Cover Me! at My Book Addiction

Today I’m guest blogging at My Book Addiction and More! The subject is book covers and what makes them work — or an Epic Fail. I’m also giving away a signed copy of Her Scottish Groom, so come on by.

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?