Shameless Promotion

What I Am Reading and Eating

FullSizeRenderFriends and Romans, I’m in that state of reading five books at the same time. See picture. 1. The two Classics oriented ones I picked up because I’m doing secret research. It’s like I’m there with Caesar about to get stabbed by my peers. And Seneca, he’s not the frozen apple juice enriched with vitamin C or the small town in Upstate New York. He’s that famous stoic or that famous fake-stoic placating Nero — or Dr. Phil. I’m not sure, but I can’t put these books down! 2. Because I read the gossips, I know that Meryl Streep sent Equal Means Equal to everyone in Congress, so I have to read it, too, because she’s Meryl and it’s about time I became a feminist. 3. As much as I try not to love Elizabeth Gilbert — because I have petty moments of resentment of her hang-out time with Oprah, travels, selfie-skills, and overall enlightenment — I am officially coming out as loving her. Once more, I’ve bought her in hardcover at an actual store. 4. On the romance side, I’m deficient in my Sherry Thomas reading. This writer is gifted–tells a beautiful, layered story–and is a really good speaker.

My books, along with my day job, have kept me out of the blogosphere. I can only deal with so many words a day.

What I’m eating: biscuits from Cafeteria (restaurant featured on Sex and the City). They make good coffee too. I secretly order them when husband is out. I throw away all evidence of gorging — the bags, the takeout Tupperware — so he has no idea. Not to worry. After a year of sloth, I’m running again. The idea of replacing my wardrobe scared me into it.

Hope you are all experiencing page-turning reading and unnecessary-yet-delicious calories. We’re in this together.

Shameless Promotion

Summer Romance Recap

10400005_10153415799199449_3601979989100117259_nWith this week’s heatwave, I’m pretending the summer is over. What did I do? Here is a summary:

June, hmmmm. Okay, let’s skip to July, my birthday month. My hubby and I went to Washington, DC, where I mostly sat around, ate Reuben sandwiches, and/or visited landmarks while he worked. The city was positively steamy, which I tried to forget as we walked around the Capitol–breathtaking even with the construction. We passed buildings, fantasizing about congresspeople toiling late into the night for the good of America. While alone, I went to H&M in Union Station to buy cool new shorts, then showed them off at the Stamp museum. Do I know how to have fun or what?

We came home to celebrate my 47th birthday. Soon after this came RWA, where I got to meet some amazing authors, including a couple I’ve long admired: Deborah Blake and Karen Booth! The romance didn’t end there since NPR published its top 100 romances. Being mildly OCD (self-diagnosed), I decided that I needed to read (and re-read) the entire list. This week, I’m beginning with Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband. I’m intrigued to find out what makes the hero not quite a husband. She doesn’t have to do his laundry? In addition to this one, I’m finally reading To Kill a Mockingbird since I’ve pretended all these years to have read it. So far, so good. Jem and Scout are a hoot!

Perhaps the last hurrah of my summer, aside from two upcoming conferences, is that I attended a reunion (similar to the one in my book) where I got to see the wonderful people in my family. I’m very blessed. Now it’s time for me to edit three books by Monday with no rest to watch Bachelor in Paradise*. Please pray for me.

*Why did I remind myself that this exists?

 

Writing Tips

Pet Peeves…A Few Clichés

editingThis post is coming a little later than I’d planned. I got sidetracked by news of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s impending divorce. And a certain red-haired presidential candidate’s fiery comments about immigration. And how Kourtney and Kids are going to cope sans Scott. Oh, and my latest obsession with Vanilla Kreme donuts. I managed to crawl back into blog mode because a few items jumped out at me while reading romance these past few weeks. Here are some clichés I’ve seen so much, I have to call them pet peeves.

The soon-to-be-reunited exes never had problems in the bedroom. Are you kidding me? In a romance, one sort of has to imply that sex was always hot, but it might be refreshing to try realism — that as the relationship disintegrated, the–ugh–lovemaking* slowed down to ten times a week instead of thirty.

The hero is always raking a hand through his hair when frustrated. Does he ever find leaves? In some ways, it’s cool that guys fuss with their hair too, but the raking of hair in romance is like the jaw clench actors use to denote anger. Can’t he just have steam coming out of his ears? Or, in my family, there’s the exasperated sigh, which conveys severe frustration/disgust. When my husband is angry, he gets this wrinkle between his eyebrows (like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally…). This is a rough one, writers.

He fell for her like a moth to a flame. I’d like to be the flame in this metaphor because being the moth would suck. This phrase, I’m sure, just flows naturally from the fingers. For years, I let  it go, but I’ve been striking it out of manuscripts. What about: He fell for her like Marc Antony fell on his sword after hearing the Cleopatra was dead (I don’t think this is true, but you get the idea). Or He fell for her as one does during a case of vertigo when the barometric pressure changes. (This is why I don’t write romance)

One thing I’ll say–as much as I make fun of clichés, I do sometimes find them comforting. The familiar can be very soothing. At the end of the day*, it’s always good to be aware of clichés and investigate alternatives.

*This word is another pet peeve. Who says this unless perhaps in an editorial meeting, instead of rougher language.

**Another pet peeve. Cannot believe I’m using this so-ten-years-ago phrase!

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Five Tips for Fine-Tuning Your Romantic Voice

17SCANDAL-superJumboAdmit it, you were expecting my Barry White impersonation. No such luck! Instead, after reading a whole pile of submissions, I’ve put together pointers for you as you write that proposal/manuscript/and even that Powerpoint presentation. I swear, I follow these tips when I have to talk to a group. Be thankful that I’m not singing. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Here we go:

1. Create intimacy with your reader. I love it when a writer’s voice invites me into the story, like I’m about to get some juicy insight into a character’s plight. This is the reason why I watch reality TV, as if I’m learning about a secret world–though I don’t always like what I see! Scandal is very good at showing us the scandalous behind-the-scene world of politicians. The more a writer does this–creates a connection, reveals–the more I want to read her book. I want that intimacy with your story. Show me what the characters are hiding.

2. Start in the right place. This is a tip I repeat over and over. Part of what stops me from reading is that the set-up can seem so ordinary. Boy meets girl. They hate each other on sight. Or, girl is intrigued by boy as they are assigned together. Boy goes to destination, meets girl, conflict ensues. Some of these set-ups are necessary, but to lessen the editor yawns, there must be excitement and tension. Take a chance and start your romance in a riskier place. Those too-easy set-ups are sometimes not the most effective.

3. Take time to flesh out a moment. I may be contradicting myself here. As you create the above mentioned excitement, be sure to expand upon those mundane moments. They can please an editor’s senses. I am a big fan of routine, descriptions of a person’s process (code for: food preparation; colorful portraits of nature, which are lacking in NYC; interesting wardrobe choices), and how one lives in everyday life. Show us how the heroine decorates her cupcakes (mmmm, cake!), how a cowboy/girl takes care of a horse, how a spy may agonize over what to pack. These tiny details reveal character. If you loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you must have enjoyed passages about their daily chores. They are the reason I cleaned my room, joyfully did laundry, and enhanced my work ethic. I could have read those chapters on baking, sweeping, and walking to school forever. Don’t deprive the editor of those details! Also, don’t go overboard.

4. End chapters with a bang. One of the reasons why everyone read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code–aside from scintillating content–was because every chapter ended with a bang. You don’t need to give your reader whiplash, but the opening three chapters–and many chapters afterwards–should end with a crucial moment/question that leads the reader to the next page. I like the whole “this is the last thing I wanted” or “do you dare to take on this horrendous yet provocative assignment” type of situation. Also ask, what does your character want to avoid–then, make it unavoidable.

5. Stay focused on the purpose of your story (romance). As I read submissions, I can usually tell when even the writer gets tired of her story and just wants to get it done. It’s important to  find ways to revive your story, invest in it, keep those central themes in mind, believe in your characters. When I devour thrillers, which is often (hello, Harlan Coben), I love how the writers have at least four subplots going to augment the “Oh no” factor. Always remember the reason why you have to write this story.

There, I’ve solved everyone’s problems. Now it’s time to get back to it. I realize many of you are sad that I didn’t sing. I’ll make up for this here.

Romantic Life Lessons

My After Happily Ever After: Vol. I

1504209_1388883841371074_78845019_oA friend told me that I haven’t been married long enough to write about being married. He’s probably right. But a few lessons have been valuable for me on this bridal path. I blame serial dating for twenty-five years, my “little sister” complex, and an inner princess for needing my own way at all times. What a novelty that in a relationship, you have to cooperate with another person. Here are some of my marital takeaways:

  • Being kind and respectful always wins–even when he’s irritating.
  • I’m generally nice to others but very self oriented. Now, I think about little things Sam might like. On my excursions, I’ll pick him up a snack or his favorite newspaper. It goes a long way.
  • I hold grudges, but Sam caves within minutes. He never gives up on people unless they’re truly reprehensible. This shows me how silly it is to stew in self-righteous indignation. We bicker now and then, sometimes really fight, but I’m better at saying I’m sorry.
  • Five years later, everything he does still charms me–how he walks, how his hair sticks up, his obsession with his expensive toothbrush, how fussy he is in the kitchen, even the cadence of his snoring (it changes depending on what he eats and drinks). Someday, I may take this for granted. For now, I stare as much as I can.
  • You have to do things you don’t want to do. I try to gauge what’s important to him. This can be difficult because, like a guy, he shrugs his shoulders and says he doesn’t mind one way or the other. I don’t like eating in restaurants, but he does. Sometimes I suggest we dine out and his eyes light up. His joy is well worth the inconvenience of sitting in a noisy, cramped space and waiting on potentially greasy food (I can be nuts in a restaurant).
  • Men seem to have their monthly cycles, which I find fascinating. I know to stay away certain days of the month.
  • He can’t stand to be within fifty yards of the bickering Housewives. I can still watch my precious Housewives, but I wait until he’s out of the room.
  • I just assume people are there and I don’t reach out to them as much as I should. When you live with someone you love, you can’t assume. I try to check in with him a few times a day. He’s the type who loves hearing from people so I know it’s a big deal. Being with him has made me better about calling my mother, too.

I’m sure I’ll learn more over the years and some days will be more difficult than others. Most of the time, I think how lucky I am.

Uncategorized

Happy Paperback Birthday to Romance Is My Day Job!

IMG_2513So that storm. Yeah. No way could I traverse ankle-high snowbanks on my block, not even in my fiercest worm-stompers. That’s my lame attempt at sarcasm. Can I confess that I was kind of excited for a big, massive pile of snow and totally inconvenient delays and shut-downs? I’m from Upstate New York. It’s in my DNA to crave snow as high as a house. I shouldn’t be disappointed. All I have to do is think of what a nightmare Tropical Storm Sandy was–and how poorly I dealt with losing my first world comforts* for five days.

I digress!

Speaking of first world comforts, on my book birthday, I’m afraid I didn’t go to B&N because in dutiful editor fashion, I was glued to an overdue manuscript (and it was cold out). Friday is the day I will stalk myself on bookshelves** and celebrate this achievement once again. To tide me over until Friday, my Q&A with Biographile is live!

By the end of the day, I started watching Friday Night Lights, which has rendered me worthless for the rest of the night. Coach Taylor is a role model. His pep talks inspire me to begin anew, every 43 minutes. I will kick some butt. I won’t ever quit. Not on this field. And I can kick a field goal 46 yards (totally can).

*Easy Internets, ice cream, trustworthy sandwiches, light in bathroom, candy as evil sin and not only food that is fresh.

**Narcissism is okay if you can back it up!

Writing Tips

Monday’s Pet Peeves (Which Never Include Julia)

article-1095106-007B725B00000258-365_468x287With the horrific events of the last week (my heart is with you, France), I had a difficult time coming up with a blog post. How can I think of romance when atrocities keep happening? Finally, I shut off the television and refocused my synapses. I have some new pet peeves that have irked me in recent months.

The heroine can’t stop crying: I used to believe that if I wept, I’d be even more of a romantic heroine, especially if in front of a boy! Sadly, the weepies creeped out my swains. As a reader, I enjoy a well-placed cry-fest, but those stories where the heroine keeps gushing and gushing over past travails, well, I wanna tell her to get some Kleenex and good meds. Is that heartless? Maybe, but I like it when a heroine can keep her marbles together. That said, it takes very little for me to ugly cry (I’m looking at you, end of Notting Hill).

Writing too young: I’m guilty of this in real life–trying to be 20 instead of 46 (thank you for pointing this out, nieces). In romance, sometimes you can tell when the twenty-five-year-old heroine is actually fifty. Slang from the 80s might slip out along with well-placed millennial idioms. Or her joints bother her when it rains. Or the sexy scenes seem inauthentic and derivative of recent blockbuster books. Just an issue to watch as you’re writing.

Ignoring editorial suggestions: I’m not fond of times when after I spend days of reading and marking down revision notes, a writer will just refute every one of my points. The pregnant heroine doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until two minutes before she gives birth and never sees a doctor before or after, just because. Or the heroine faints a lot and that’s just what happens. Or the hero has no reason to be mean and never changes–but that’s just how he is and the reader will understand. Yish. I vacillate between letting the writer shoot herself in the foot and remembering my integrity. I try to land somewhere in the middle leaning toward the latter.

And now with these peeves in mind, let’s get back to writing strong stories! Happy Monday to you.