Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Name Game

You know that new story I'm working on? Well, I fairly quickly decided on a name for the heroine. It's a fairly normal name - not glamorous or hyper-feminista stereotypically romance heroine-ish. But it's not a dud, flat sounding name. It suits my heroine - she's a bit of a home-body and definitely more of the girl-next-door type than a diva.

I turned to my hero and had a little bit more trouble. My hero is Croatian. Yep. And I'll admit right here and now that my inspiration for this guy is Dr. Luka Kovac from ER - both in looks and general broody temperment (their backgrounds are different and chosen professions not the same). In fact, I have a picture of Goran Visnjic to look at when I need a dose of hero-stimulation. Really. I swear, that's why I look at it. Geez!

So in coming up with a name, I did some Google searches for Croatian names. Weirdly enough, my favorite happened to be...you guessed it, Luka. Honestly, if I'd found another one I like even equally as much, I would have picked it instead. Problem was the only other names I liked were very "foreign" and I worry that they'd be hard to mentally pronounce. I hate that when I encounter it in a book - a hero/heroine whose name I have to sum up to "B-blahblah" because I can't mentally pronounce it.

Except last night it occured to me that I now have a hero/heroine name combination of Luka and Lora.

No good. Just...no good.

So now I have to change one of the characters' names. Except I like them both. Lora *is* a Lora for me. And I think Luka just sums up the sexiness of my hero to a T.

What to do. What to do.

I hate coming up with the names for my characters. Well, I don't hate it, but I find it stressful. I thumb through my most excellent baby names book, but the trouble with that is somehow I always manage to have a cast of characters whose names begin with the letters A, B and C. This is because I start with the A names and work my way back, usually getting sick of the whole ordeal long before I hit Es, Hs, or Ns. Yes, I have tried starting in the back with the Zs. Doesn't help.

What trips me up even more is when I need to come up with names for minor or throw-away characters. I'll find a name I like and plan to use it for a character who is kind of a walk-on or maybe has a very minor but recurring role. Then I'll start to reconsider because if I like the name, maybe it would be a good one to save to use for a hero/heroine in a future book. I hate the idea that there might be a Chloe or a Josh in every single one of my books simply because I couldn't be any more original.

Maybe readers don't notice this use of the same name, but I've caught it in some of my most favorite book. Suzanne Brockmann (all bow down for a moment of reverence) named the unfortunate neighbor-of-the-heroine/rape victim in Get Lucky Gina. Then she also used the name Gina in her book, Over The Edge. And - SPOILER HERE - the Gina in OTE also ended up being a rape victim. I read OTE first, but when I saw the name Gina in Get Lucky, it did give me pause. I wondered if SB had forgotten her use of Gina in GL when she sat down to name the character in OTE or if she just loved the name so much she wanted to re-use it. Have no idea, but I did notice the double use, so I'm just saying it happens. And now OTE Gina is about to star in her own book. I wonder if SB regrets using that name earlier?

Add to all of this the fact that things start to get confusing because I lose track of people and what I've named them. I recently decided to get organized and started a spreadsheet of character names I've used. I've got them listed by role (hero, villain, secondary hero) and relationship to other characters (hero's best friend, heroine's dead mother) as well as which book they appear in. Some of them shift roles - secondary hero in one novel but hero in a second novel - which means that whatever I've named them has to be good since I'll be living with them for a good long while.

Some names come so easily. I'll concept a character and the name is right there from the beginning. What usually happens then, though, is that I'll pick up a book from the TBR pile and start reading only to discover *my* character's name staring out at me. Ugh! I never know if I should change my hero/heroine's name or just chalk it up to a limited number of names in the world and an apparently endless supply of books and characters.

Last names are both easier and harder. Easier because the chances of inadvertently copying are a lot less and harder because there is a finer line between an over-used name (Smith, Brown, Roberts) and a name that is just too "ethnic" for the novel. I poured over Croatian surnames in the search for Luka's, discarding those that I couldn't even pronounce.

I have a feeling Luka will need to be the one to go, name-wise. It's just too close to the ER character's name and I feel too much like a copycat. So does anyone out there have a good idea for the name of a sexy Croatian guy who looks a lot like Goran Visnjic?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Pro for Prologues

Stephanie Tyler's column at RTB brings up a topic I've long been meaning to discuss. And actually, this is one of those Commandments of Romance Novel Writing I mentioned earlier, so it is doubly timely for me.

Romance Novel Writing Commandment II: Thou Shalt Never Include A Prologue.

While it seems like Stephanie has heard that the rule is very flexible, almost everything I've ever seen supports the idea that editors hate hate hate LOATHE manuscripts that include a prologue. From what I can make out, this has to do with the theory that any book should begin when the real story begins, and if the stuff included in the prologue is not directly pertinent to the action at hand, it's backstory and should be handled in some other way than a straight dump via prologue.

I've always had a big problem with that. Mostly this is because sometimes an event might occur in a character's past that is truly defining and worthy of showing and not telling. However, if you cannot use a prologue to show this event, you are stuck with some pretty annoying alternatives if you hope/need/want to get this information across.

You could go with flashback. I myself have yet to attempt flashback. I'm not quite sure what to do with the verb tenses. I mean, I understand how to start off. Suzi couldn't believe it. Once again she was being chased by wolves. It seemed like only yesterday that she'd been sitting on the front porch of her parents' log cabin, coloring a picture of bunny rabbits for her grandma. It had been a sunny day, and she had worn her favorite sundress...But when do you stop using past perfect tense (had been, had worn) and move into simple past tense? And how do you make the jump back to the present time?

All in all, flashbacks require a special touch that I have yet to develop.

Another alternative is the true-confession technique. One character can fill in another character, and thus the readers, on critical information by telling a story.

"Let me tell you, little missy," Old Uncle Joe said, "there's a good reason Jeb is so standoffish. When he weren't nothing more than a young'un, his momma done him real wrong. Seems a traveling salesman passed through town, and Jeb's momma fell hard for the city slicker..."

This works, but as it is with most things in life, a little goes a long way. If the characters constantly have to interrupt their normal realistic sounding dialogue in order to exposit background to us, I think that would clearly fall into the Writing Don'ts catagory.

I know that it is good form to slip a character's backstory into the story in little bits and pieces. Slowly reveal those details that are important to know so that we as readers - and ostensibly other characters - can understand motivation and reaction and the like.

But sometimes a character's backstory - especially if it's a specific incident - cannot be conveyed effectively in little bits and pieces. If our heroine suffered a horrific trauma - perhaps she witnessed her parents being murdered (gak!) - which would pack more drama and therefore help the readers feel what the heroine must have felt? Little dribbles sprinkled throughout the story or an entire section devoted to living the events in "real time" standing next to the heroine? I'd vote for the latter. Problem is, if the real story of the book is about the grown-up heroine meeting a man and learning to put the demons of her past to rest, according to the no-prologue directive, we just have to take it on the writer's word that the horrible trauma the heroine suffered was truly horrible.

I have one story written that has a wonderful prologue (and when I say wonderful, I'm not claiming that the writing is wonderful). In it I show the defining event in the hero's young life, the event that turned him against love and made him distrustful of women as a whole. It's sad and moving and important to known and understand so that when he does some pretty harsh things, he doesn't come across as 100% monster. If I ever try to sell this story, which is my plan, I'm not sure what I'll do if I'm told the prologue has to go.

No, I don't want to read a prologue if it contains nothing more than endless detail and facts that have no pertinence to the upcoming story. But if the prologue tells me something that happened in the past that is very important to understanding the characters, I'm glad to have it.

I figure it this way. If the characters have been written so well that I enjoy spending time with them - an entire book's worth - the prologue is a bonus. And if I don't like the characters that much, a prologue won't change my mind but at least might help me understand them a bit better.

End of day word count: 12,832

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Strapping Myself In

Woohoo! I got a great start on something new this weekend. Of course, now that I've announce it I'll jinx it, right? No. Not going to think that way. This is going to be one of those all positive approaches.

Really, I had this general idea about a story I'd like to write, and Saturday morning I woke up with the most bizarre scenario which turned out to be the perfect way to open the story. Two days later of snagging a half hour here and there to write and I have Chapter 1 - some 7,500 words - finished.

What's really cool about this story is I'm trying the pantser approach. I have a very vague idea of what the story is about, but I don't know anything specific. The details are coming out as I write, and I'm finding that I can do just a tiny bit of research to keep me moving forward (rather than spending hours at the library and lugging home 200 lbs. of books that I feel obligated to read before feeling qualified to write). Even the characters' personalities and motivations are coming to me as I go rather than requiring in-depth analyses.

It's kind of fun, and I'm trying really hard to ignore the thousand-foot high brick wall that I feel is looming over the next hill.

I never cease to be amazed at how sudden flashes of insight about a story or a character will hit me upside the head. I have one character who I've known for quite a while now, although her story isn't all the way told yet. But the other day, in the shower (yes, a shower thought), it came to me exactly why this character is afraid to fall in love. All along I'd cast her as just a party girl, not wanting to settle down. But really her fear of falling in love has more to do with her fear of being trapped in a dead-end life, the way all of her sisters have managed to do. Bizarre that this all came to me in a flash.

We writers really are worthy of some serious study. I think we are only millimeters away from being true sufferers of mental illness because we live so deeply in a reality that only exists in our own minds. How else can I explain understanding so completely a fictional character, and even more so being so thrilled when I learn something knew about her?

Truly bizarre.

Okay, I'm going to commit myself to tracking my progress on this new start. I have the momentum going and I'm scared to death if I pause at all I'll lose it. What I need to do is find out how to put one of those little WIP trackers on my sidebar. That and one of those calendars that show which days I've blogged...

Word count today: 7,513

Friday, May 27, 2005

I've Found the Anti-Pantser Nirvana

I owe PBW a hearty smack for this blog entry. In supplying the link to WriteWay software, she pretty much did the equivalent of handing over a bag of heroine to Charlie on Lost. I'm such an obsessive plotter/planner/character analyser that this software is my Utopia.

So it was a given that I would download the 30-day trial version and spend all of yesterday playing with it. Now I'm completely sold, of course. Chaching. I know PBW doesn't get a cent for her recommendation, but she should. This is some good shit, man.

I admit that my excitement over this new toy is a mixture of a) it being a way to procrastinate while still telling myself that I am, indeed, working on the novel and b) hoping that in approaching my work this way I will, indeed, discover the magic bullet that makes my book write itself perfectly, spell-checked and without adverbs. Yeah, I know about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, too.

But really, this software is fabulous for those anal-retentive writers out there like myself who love to plot and plan and create character backgrounds that rival FBI files. I never knew that software existed where you could do all of this in one spot and have it cross referenced and sitting at your fingertips. I'd been doing the alt/tab dance between Excel and Word all this time.

I envy all of those writers out there who are pantsers and don't need any software more than a trusty word processor. Those gals (and guys) who can sit down in front of their blank screen with nothing more than a "What if a guy finds himself trapped in a closet with a 400 lb. sumo wrestler and only one snack-sized bag of potato chips?" or a "What if we have a girl who is trying to decide between marrying the wrong guy or running off to Vegas and telling the whole world she was abducted by aliens?" and whip out a 150,000 word novel. These are those people who say that the characters just kind of took over and led the story along, that from moment to moment they as writers had no idea what was going to happen next.

How do they do that? How can they not know what happens next?

This is so beyond my mental capacity I just can't wrap my brain around it.

I mean, sure, I've come up with incomplete ideas before. What would happen if the heroine killed someone in self-defense but no one believed her so she had to go on the run? But in a million years I could never start writing until I figured out exactly where she ran to and who helped her and what happened along the way and how the whole thing turned out. I need markers to guide my journey.

Seems like writers can be divided into camps and equated with explorers.

The first group of explorers can be handed nothing more than a compass and then let loose in unexplored territory with a directive to find "the end" which lies in the general direction of "northward". From moment to moment these brave souls have no idea where they are or where they are going, only that the compass tells them they are heading north, south, east or west. They travel a bit, take a read, make adjustments, then continue on.

The second group - myself included - needs a map to explore. We need to see the big picture and always have a way to figure out exactly where we are standing in relation to our "the end" goal. We might get lost along the way - think we are in Spot A when really we are standing in Spot B - but we always have at least a fairly good read on where we need to go.

This shouldn't come as any big surprise to me that I fall into this second camp. I've always loved maps. As a kid, when the family would embark on Odyssey-length car journeys, I'd sit in the back seat with a Rand McNally road map unfolded across my lap. I'd following along with my finger tracking the road, marking off exits and towns as they flew past the car window. I loved watching the progress we made, the covering of mile after mile as we drew closer and closer to our destination.

To this day I can get myself out of any predicament as long as I'm armed with a good map. Nothing can entice me to spontaneously fork over some hard earned bucks than a rack of current Rand McNally atlases positioned stragically by the check-out stand. I'm always the navigator when we drive anyplace. I can't tell you how many times my hubby has called me from his car, slightly misplaced (he'd get mad if I said lost) and needing some help, and I'd pull up Mapquest and talk him in.

What baffles me beyond expressing is people who claim they can't read a map. How can you not read a map? It doesn't take much beyond understanding the four directions and figuring out where you are at the moment. Then again, I took two semesters of college calculus and I'm still trying to figure out what the heck the professors were talking about.

Back to writing, I haven't changed much from those days riding in the back of the car with my map. I need to see the big picture that is my story. I need to know where I am and what towns...or, scenes...I need to pass as I travel closer to the destination known as Happily Ever After. When my story wanders off the map or, even worse, when a map doesn't exist for my story, I'm completely lost. I have to come to full stop and ponder the empty void, fill in some landmarks and choose some roads to take.

I guess if I'd lived back in 1492, I'd probably have been one of the folks who stood on the dock watching Christopher Columbus sail off toward the setting sun. Yeah, I might have believed that the world was really round, but without seeing a map that proved it to me, I never would have stepped aboard the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Marie.

Too much of a chance that I'd fall of the edge of the Earth.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stephen King's Real Masterpiece

Last night I finished reading Stephen King's On Writing. Wow. What an amazing writer he is.

I say this having only read a couple of his short stories. I've never been a fan of Stephen King. And it's funny because in saying that, I'm giving him the highest compliment possible. The reason I've never read any of his stuff is because his books scare the living daylights out of me. I hate to be scared. I think the entire horror genre is probably last on my list of things I'd choose to read, and only twice have I ever allowed myself to be dragged kicking and screaming into a slasher/horror movie. So I pretty much shiver when anyone suggests the latest King title as a good read. I have no doubt it would be an excellent read. And no doubt that reading it would give me nightmares for weeks.

So I went into his On Writing kind of reluctantly. I thought it was probably one of those essay type books in which a famous writer waxes philosophical about the art of writing. Since I'm one of those nuts and bolts, tell me how to do it kind of people, I don't enjoy reading essays that discuss. I want the facts, the rules, the guidelines. Or, as Stephen called me on my shit, I'm looking for the magic bullet a famous author can give me. (It doesn't exist, I've been assured.)

The book starts off with an autobiography of sorts. King gives us readers just enough of his own background - told in highly entertaining anecdotal style - to help us understand why and how he came to be a writer, and even more interesting, how and why he writes the types of things he writes. I'd always figured a guy with a macabre imagination like Stephen King's must have some major trauma in his past or at the very least a slight psychotic streak. In actuality, King seems like a normal guy who just grew up loving those old b-horror movies.

After taking us on a short jaunt down memory lane, King devotes the next segment of the book on the craft of writing. He's handled this brilliantly in that he hasn't simply provided a list of dos and don'ts. Mostly he discusses the key ingredients in story telling in a very straight-forward, matter-of-fact way, cutting out a lot of the bulk to get down to the basics. What he says isn't anything I haven't heard a million time before (kill the adverbs, use the speech attributes "he said/she said", remember that the story is what is important). But he says it so plainly that it seems quite simple. There is no magic bullet, but the secret to being a good writer isn't that complicated. It all boils down to this: read a lot and write a lot.

One of the things that King states I found very profound. He says that writers stack up in a pyramid-fashion. The bottom and biggest portion of writers are bad. Sorry, but it's a hard truth of life that applies to all areas of creativity. Next comes a slightly smaller portion of writers who are competent. Above the competent writers comes and even smaller group of writers who are good. And capping off the pyramid, comprising a very small number, are the writers who are excellent (think Steinbeck, Hemingway, Shakespeare). All of this makes sense to me, and I'm throwing myself into that second rung of competent writers hoping to God that I'm not completely deluding myself.

Because, King says, bad writers can never become competent writers. That's because bad writers are lacking something so fundamental - be it a grasp of language and grammar or just an inability to tell good story - that no amount of practice will ever push them into competency.

This is the same situation when it comes to good writers becoming excellent writers. It just can't happen. Only a handful of people have the genius of the truly greats, and such genius is inborn. It can't be copied or recreated or attained by practice. Either you've got it or you don't.

But there is a good chance that if you fall into the competent writers plane that you can move up to become a good writer. This is where the practice practice practice comes in. Where learning the craft and honing it and reading all come to play. This gives me great hope. If I'm competent now, perhaps in time I can become good.

Another thing that King discussed as imperative to becoming a good writer is discipline. Again, I've heard it a million times before. A writer must write every day. Yet King gave it weight for me, giving me permission to call myself a writer and to demand that I be allowed the time to work at it. He advocates a writing space with a closed door, and I'm now in search for such a place in my own home.

Really, if you haven't read this book and are serious about writing, I do suggest you take a look. I enjoyed it immensely. King has such a comfortable writing style, I felt like he was sitting in my living room talking to me. He never panders to beginning writers, and considering his amount of success, he would not be out of line in acting superior. I think that even with all of his success, King still views himself as just a guy who likes to write stories.

But he doesn't hesitate to tell it like it is. He doesn't claim that *everyone* can become a good writer if they want to. Nor does he hold back in siting examples of other "successful" writers that have what he considers bad form or who engage in sloppy writing. He points out his own failings and doesn't pull any punches for others.

I liked this book so much I'm sorely tempted to actually read a King novel. Except I don't want to be scared out of my wits. I'm still haunted by one of his short stories I found in his Night Shift anthology, and I read that back when I was in the eighth grade.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It's Mine, Mine, Mine!

Sarah Wendell's column today over at RTB got me to thinking about something. She talks about giving books away, which had me nodding my head a lot. I keep far too many books. Sure, there are those that deserve it - books that I've loved and do re-read over and over again. But what about all of the ones that I've owned for fifteen years and have never looked at again beyond that first reading? They should be goners.

What this made me wonder is how you all handle the lending out of your books. Do you do it? If someone asks you to borrow a book, do you hand it over with a big grin and a "Sure, enjoy!" Do you offer up a favorite keeper to a non-romance reader, positive that this is the one book that will make a convert out of her (or him)? Or is yours a policy of "Do I look like a lending library?"

I admit to a huge amount of trepidation at the prospect of lending a book. Especially if that book is a favorite out-of-print, hard to find copy. And I suppose I can't be blamed for not wanting to hand those precious babies over. It's not selfish to want to protect something important to you and virtually irreplaceable.

But I also admit to feeling a bit queazy when I lend out books that are readily available. When a good friend asked to borrow my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I handed it over but the smile on my face was forced. I told myself my reluctance was because I'd stood in line at midnight to get my copy so it held some kind of bizarre value that only existed in my own mind. What a lame excuse, especially since I'd had a blast standing in line, and it's not like this book is some kind of limited edition run. I think I got book 4,567,892,164 out of 8,000,000,000 copies. Hardly an item worth putting on a pedastal under bullet-proof glass.

And this friend is a great person. She respects books. She returns them. Except, to my defense, I don't see her very often so I honestly had no idea how long it would be that my precious baby was going to be away from home. It could have been months or even years. Ended up she returned it within a month or two because we happened to see each other. I think she might have even made a special trip to drop it off. Geez. I'm a lousy friend.

But my point is that even though there was no reason not to lend out this book - heck, I could have even afforded to fork over another $17 or so for a new copy if some earth-shattering need to reread it gripped me in a fever of desperation - I still didn't want to do it.

Maybe this selfishness is from having been burned in the past. I know for a fact that there are books that I've loved and lent and lost. I can remember coming across a copy of Chase The Moon in a USB and nearly swooning with relief and glee because my original copy had been long gone from lending it to a friend. And I don't forget the unforgivable sin of borrowing a book and never returning it to me. I'm more likely to forgive someone's forgetting to repay the twenty bucks I lent them than if they borrowed and kept a book.

Weirdly enough, I lent a book to my church's head minister well over a year ago and I still have yet to get it back. I honestly don't think I will. Not because this person is evil or inconsiderate, but because I'm sure this person has just forgotten all about it. I'm sure someday this person will find my book on his/her bookshelf and say "Holy cow! I forgot I had this." Since this book is still in print and I can always get another copy, I'm taking this with surprising grace. I like this person and will just consider this a donation to the church. Now I feel better.

Lord knows I'm far from guilt-free on being a perfect borrower myself. I belonged to a book club once, and one of the women in it had a book she thought I might like. She gave it to me - which technically means I never borrowed it since I never really asked for it but kind of had it forced upon me - and I brought it home. As books in my house often do, it landed in some random bookshelf someplace where I promptly forgot all about it. Fast forward a couple of months and this woman casually asks when I might be finished so she could have her book back.

Blind panic when I searched high and low and could not find this book to save my life. It didn't help that I couldn't even remember the name of the book nor the author. I finally had to confess to her that I'd lost the book. She smiled thinly, offered the title up, and I bought her a new copy. Thank god it was still in print. Wouldn't you know that months later the original showed up on my bookshelf, where it remains, unread, to this very day.

So not only do I not like to lend books, I pretty much don't like to borrow books. Especially not special books. If it's something that the lender doesn't really care about ever getting back, sure, I'm happy to have it. Otherwise, I'd rather not have that heavy responsibility.

Heck, I'm even nervous now about borrowing from our public library. I cannot tell you how much I have paid over the years in over-due library book fines. Suffice it to say that I think I own a full wing on our town's new $24 million structure that went up last year.

Problem is that at my house, keeping library books segregated from all the other books is impossible. I've tried things like a library book shelf but it never seems to work. And if the books aren't out where I see them, I forget about them. And now that the kids have their own cards and are never satisfied with checking out two or three books at a time but rather something closer to eight or ten, we have even more fines. Thank goodness our library has a maximum fine amount or I'd have to get a second mortgage. I've taken to trying to return books as soon as I'm finished reading them even though it means multiple trips through the library's drop-off slot. And I'm never really sure at any given moments how many books I have checked out.

For some of us freaks in the world, books are so much more than just a conglomeration of paper and ink. We put far more value on the words and ideas in between the covers than can ever be expressed by the price tag printed in the corner. That's why we are willing to shell out twice or three times or even ten times the original price for a hard-to-find favorite.

But since other people don't view books as more than, well, just books (these are the same people who cannnot understand why some of us like to watch the same movie over and over again), there exists a chasm that is hard to bridge. Unless you specify otherwise, I'm sure some people feel that when you lend them a book you are actually giving them that book and have no expectation of ever getting that book back. Because, why in the world would you want back a book you've already read? They see no reason to a) take care of your book or b) return it in a timely manner or c) return it at all.

And unless I've established that the person I'm going to lend a book to is the same type of book-freak as I am, I have to assume that they fall into that second category. You just can never be too careful.

So because I'm one of those book freaks and also the fact that I hate the idea of people not liking me, lending out books becomes even more of a mental minefield I don't like to cross. I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to remind people that they owe me money/promised they'd drive the kids next time/borrowed a book and haven't returned it because I don't want to look petty. I want to look giving and generous. So if I lend out my one and only copy of Quinn and then don't get it back in what I think would be a reasonable amount of time, I'd be put in the position of asking for it back (yuck) or losing it forever (gasp!).

My solution - try not to ever lend it out in the first place. How bad am I?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Birds In Hands and Bushes

I will be doing those 10 Commandments of Writing Romance Novels, but this issue came up today and really struck a chord in me. So I'm deviating slightly from my original plan. Oh, the joys of autonomy.

I have a very dear friend who is facing a decision. For the past many years, she has been a stay-at-home mom. During that time, in between diapers and school field trips and grocery shopping, she discovered her passion for writing. Not only does she have a passion, she actually is very good. So good that with the normal amount (if there is such a thing) of suffering, she could most likely become a published writer. Her youngest child is only a year or so away from entering school full-time, so she’s on the cusp of actually having the time and energy to try making a go of a writing career.

Problem is, she just received a job offer for a position that on the surface seems pretty much perfect. It’s in a field she loves. It’s working with people she admires and respects. It allows her to do all the things she’s both qualified to do and enjoys doing. Plus they’d pay her to do it and she’d get to dress in things other than denim capris and tee shirts.

My friend is now faced with a huge dilemma. She has a bird in the hand. Does she let it go to shoot for two in the bush?

Does she take this perfect job, or does she say no so that she can use her free time to try her hand at turning her hobby and passion into a real career, knowing that such a great job opportunity might never come her way again?

I’m not facing this decision. Yet. But I have a feeling it’s coming soon. Perhaps not in the form of having someone offer me a great job but more so in knowing that when I start to find my days more empty than full, it’s going to seem like time to start looking for that job-outside-the-home.

Except, here’s the deal. I don’t want to look for a job outside the home.

I want to try to make a go of having a job that I can do inside the home. I want to write. As a career.

That sounds simple enough. Many people make careers out of writing. But those people aren’t trying to justify going from stay-at-home mom to stay-at-home-not-yet-a-real-writer-who-has-never-earned-a-living-with-writing. And that is where my friend stands right now. She’s trying to justify turning down a great job to do something that not many people understand. Not necessarily to her husband (who is a wonderfully supportive man who encourages my friend in her writing efforts), family, friends or colleagues, but to herself.

The first and by far not the least hurdle to overcome in this justification is a huge amount of guilt. And since I think this issue pertains to a lot of us stay-at-home-moms cum writers, I'm going to speak for our group as a whole. If I overstep in my generalizations, please forgive me.

Ever since the day that the hospital attendant wheeled us out the hospital door and helped us strap our first newborn into the spanking new carseat, us moms have been needed pretty much 24/7. Our time has been owned by someone else. Even at night when everyone is sleeping, you are always listening and knowing that in a nano-second you could be pulled out of bed to deal with some kid-related crisis. When the kids are away at activities - time that "seems" like free time - you are constantly watching the clock because you have to be there to pick them up. This is not really free time in my book but rather killing time. You can't relax into it and let yourself be taken away. You have to remain alert.

Finally the youngest child is ready to start school. Finally, finally finally you are mere months away from having a dedicated amount of time that you can count on for yourself. Five days a week, you have a block of time that you can devote to whatever. Sure, you can spend it making beds and doing laundry and grocery shopping. Plus you can volunteer to do more things like be Brownie troop leader or room mom, and that kind of stuff will mean more errands and phone calls and the like which will gobble up a good bit of those free hours.

Even so, it's time. For you. And with that time, you could actually turn this writing thing into a career. Because instead of trying to snatch an hour here or getting up early or staying up late or trying to write around the kids running underfoot, you could conceivably sit down at a desk and spend a solid three to eight hours lost in whatever world you need to be lost in.

What pure bliss!

And sure, we say that this time is serious stuff. We are going to treat our writing as a real job because now is our chance to turn this hobby into a money-making deal. No more goofing off and wasting time. No more surfing the internet or blog-hopping. (That part might just be me, so if it's not applicable, just ignore.) We can finally make vows like "By Christmas, I will have a manuscript completed and ready to start sending out by January 1st" and really mean it because there is a good chance we can make it happen.

But honestly, all of that is justification because what it's really all about is the pure joy of having three (or more) hours of writing time after all those years of borrowing minutes here and there.

So of course we are the most selfish creatures to even think to ourselves how wonderful it would be to have free time to do something so worthless as write. To indulge in an activity that we truly love, that we consider a passion.

Not only is there guilt that we put on ourselves, but we have to contend with what society expects from us as well.

For whatever reason - I'm thinking it’s the hormones that suddenly become active the second the sperm fertilizes the egg - we moms seem to feel that we have to account for every second of our time. If we aren't taking care of a kid or completing some housewifely-chore, we should be doing something else constructive, like earning money. If we aren't working outside the home, what exactly are we doing while the kids are at school? We feel like we need to account for that missing time, and it had better be filled with something society (and our husbands/breadwinners) deem worthwhile.

Non-writers (which make up a healthy majority of the population) as a group seem to hold the view that writing isn't worthwhile unless it is going someplace, i.e., bringing in some cash. Until we've sold our first book and proven that writing can be and is a real job, it's just a hobby. And who out there except for the disgustingly rich have time to waste on hobbies? So writing for a hobby is probably right up there with watching soap operas while eating bonbons as far as unworthwhile activities are concerned.

Add to this the fact that of all careers, writing is such a self-monitored thing. Until you have an agent and real deadlines, no one has any clue what you get done. For all everyone knows, you sit in front of the computer for hours playing minesweeper and hanging out in chatrooms. No one checks to see if you've actually made any progress on that so-called book, and since writing is a fairly slow process, it's not like you end up with something at the end of each day that is a finished project to show everyone what you’ve accomplished. This is even more magnified when you hit the editing stages and nothing is new but rather simply rehashed for the eleven millionth time.

So as far as any non-writer can tell, when you pass up a real paying job so that you can use your free time to write, it’s like you’ve decided not to take a job so you could catch up on every episode of Dr. Phil that you've never watched while eating bowls of raw cake batter and flipping through People Magazine.

And what happens in my friend’s case, when the job she’s been offered is just as much fun as writing is and certainly more worthwhile than a maybe/if the stars align properly and she’s incredibly lucky writing career? What happens when it is the *perfect* job, the one she’s been waiting her whole working-life to have a chance to do? So what if she doesn't have any free time to write because the time she’s giving up will be filled doing this fun job. Kind of like saying no to chocolate cake because she gets to have a big hot fudge sundae instead

To which I answer, true. Except that someone else owns her time. She is now committed, and someone else has a right to expect things from her. Even though the job is wonderful - everything she ever thought she would want all served up on a silver platter with someone actually giving her money to do it - poof, her magic time is gone.

But that desire - that passion - to write will not disappear simply because the time to indulge in it has dwindled to next to nothing. Because a writer can't *not* write. It's too much a part of us.

So she'd go right back to trying to sneak in an hour here and getting up early or staying up late or trying to write around the kids underfoot.

When you consider the sacrifice, you start to wonder how perfect that perfect job is.

I think what it is is that when we are young and, especially, child-free, time for ourselves and doing the things *we* love to do is so abundant, it's easy to get excited about the perfect job. Sure, we say, we'll take that promotion or that job offer that requires us to work crazy hours. Because we know that when the job is done and we go home, whatever time is left will be our own. If we are exhausted, we can sleep. If we're married, we can spend time with the hubby. If we have this creative urge, we can sit down and write for a couple of hours.

But once we have kids, that time becomes so precious that we guard it carefully. A job that in the past and on paper sounds and is, in fact, perfect, doesn't hold the same appeal. Because something will have to go. And since it can't be the kids or the hubby, it's that time we used to have to be creative.

Problem comes when that creativity is something like writing. Writing is so all consuming. People who don't write just don't get it. You can't turn it off. It's not like knitting or painting or reading, where you can do the activity for an hour, put it down, and come back later to pick up where you left off. Writing is a whole-mind experience that takes you so far out of this world you need decompression time to get back to reality. And when an idea hits, there's no telling what might happen to those standing in the blast radius.

Plus, writing as a craft takes a lot of practice. And this practice is time-intensive. People who think it's just a matter of sitting down at a computer and putting the story down on paper crack me up. I'm always amazed when I hear about the writer who worked on her novel for 15 minutes each day over three years. And JK Rowlings penning Harry Potter while she sat in a coffee shop? Sounds like urban legend to me. (Yes, I know it’s true, but I’m still blown away by it.)

Not to mention that any true free time you might grab will be filled with this hanging-over-your-head guilt that there is something else you should be working on. All of your writing energy will be sucked up by your *real* work. Will there be anything left for writing? Is it the last thing in the world you will want to do at the end of a long day? And when you finally do sit down to write something for fun, will your brain be filled with work-related things that you'll feel compelled to turn to?

I say all of this knowing full well that there are many many successful writers who are/were moms who held full-time jobs. Heck, some of them didn’t have husbands around to help out or held down more than one job. It is a true luxury to have a choice of trying to make a go of a writing career before earning a living from it. In many ways, my friend is very lucky. And she is fully aware of this. She's by no means complaining, but even so, her choice is a tough one.

Weirdly enough, at one time I did the work/mom/writing thing myself. For two years after I had my second child I held down a full-time job. In fact, I did more writing when I worked than I do now. I think it's because I knew I didn't have much free time so I was very productive with what I did have. I was very determined. Now, I always feel like I have time later so I procrastinate.

Which means I’m pretty stupid not to take advantage of what I have. I shouldn’t be telling myself that it’ll all get done next month or next fall when school starts or next year. I should get busy before I’m faced with the decision my friend has to make. If I’m very, very lucky, maybe that decision will be an easy one.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Big 10 (Maybe)

Think I'm going to spend the next couple of entries discussing the "rules" of writing a romance novel. You know, the taboos that writers are supposed to avoid like the bubonic plague or the strict "musts" that each book has to contain if there is any hope of having a manuscript so much as glared at by a publisher's assistant's copy making doughnut fetching gopher intern who has no power whatsoever to decide anything of more importance than sprinkles or no sprinkles.

The reason for this topic is because last night I watched the season 5 premier episode of Queer As Folk, and the writers of that show broke one of the Big Rules of Romance. It's a rule that I hate (for reasons discussed shortly) but that, disgustingly, annoyed me to no end when it was broken during my show.

This is the rule...

No, wait. I think these are worthy of Commandment status. And maybe I can come up with a full set of ten.

Commandment 1: Thou shalt introduce hero to heroine within the first chapter, and may nothing come to separate them for more than a handful of pages.

My specific beef with Queer As Folk - when season 4 ended, lovers Brian and Justin were about to be separated when Justin decided to take a job in Hollywood while Brian remained in Pittsburgh. Since the primary reason I watch this show is to see Brian and Justin together, I groaned at the idea of a separation. I hoped/figured/prayed that enough time would have passed during the show's hiatus that the writers would let Justin return to Pittsburgh. Kind of a TV show time = real time scenario, so by last night, Justin's job would have been all wrapped up and he'd be jetting back to the Pitts.

Nope, Justin was still in LA. And I was annoyed. I was annoyed when he didn't come home by the end of the first episode, even though the writers had his big project get cancelled, thus giving him reason to go home ASAP. I was even more annoyed when, during the second episode (they ran the first two epis back to back, don't know why) Justin putzed around LA like he wanted to stay longer. I wanted him to hop on the first plane back to the east coast.

I wanted Justin and Brian to be together. Not apart.

And this made me wonder if I'm a major hypocrite because I hate that romance novel rule that insists that the hero and heroine meet and become fused at the hip from page 3 onwards.

Now, I have to say up front that AFTER the hero and heroine meet, I do want to see them together as much as possible (see the above rant about Justin and Brian). I'm not a big fan of "A plots" wherein the hero is off doing his thing and the heroine is off doing her thing. I'm reading for the relationship, for the interaction and the sparks. It's hard to have sparks when the characters are never in the same room/building/city/country.

What I don't understand is why these two must meet in the first chapter. Why can't a chapter or two (or three) be devoted to establishing some character? To setting up a situation so that when the H and h meet, there is a solid base beneath the story?

I'm not talking about pages of backstory. I don't need to read all about Millicent growing up dirt poor on her daddy's pig farm where she and her sister used to lock all the boys out of their tree fort yada yada yada. Nor do I need to read the minute-by-minute account of how Dirk Studmuffin boarded his pirate ship and set sail for America and how many storms were encountered as they crossed the Atlantic, all before arriving in Boston where the lovely Millicent was working at the local fish-and-chips stand...

No, I mean the pertinent stuff. Why is it wrong to show the heroine living her life for a full chapter, then perhaps showing the hero living his life for a chapter - using those chapters to push our characters to the edge where the change is about to occur - and allowing the two to finally come into explosive contact sometime around chapter 3?

Yes, I understand the hook rule. If you don't hook the reader fast - ostensibly by showing them this amazing chemistry between the hero and heroine so that they can't turn pages fast enough in trying to find out how these two amazing people get together - the reader will just put your nice little book back on the shelf and pick up another book.

And yes, I understand that the real story begins with the changing event. Backstory is boring, and readers want to jump in right in the middle of the action. This is the MTV world we live in, home of the 10 second commercial. Who wants to trod through pages of set up and character establishment? It's all about instant gratification, baby.

I agree with these reasons - intellectually. They make sense, of course, and for series books I can fully understand and respect the need to stick with a proven formula. There are a limited number of pages in which to tell the story, readers have very precise expectations, and the publishers can demand that the writer conform to this rule. Sadly, though, what must be the case for this particular niche also adds to the overall perception that romance novels are nothing more than writing-by-the-numbers because to a certain degree it is true. Hero and heroine meet in chapter 1. Sounds like the first step in a recipe because it is.

But when it comes to single titles, I would beg that all bets be called off. If the writer wants to take a chapter or two (or three or four) to ease into the story, then why not? If the story can support this method, meaning, if the delay makes sense and is not done simply because it can be done, what's wrong with delaying that First Meet gratification?

Thinking of the books that I've most loved, romance novel-wise, quite a few of them have not put the hero and heroine together for a healthy number of pages. That is, romantically. Sometimes the hero and heroine do meet, but the heroine is a child or one or the other of the characters is already married. Something that keeps them apart.

Quite often what happens is that we do meet the hero and the heroine in Chapter 1, but they don't meet each other until later. I like this. I like that we get a chance to see the characters as individuals and to get a peak at their normal lives before their worlds gets all shook up.

And knowing that these two characters will meet is kind of a little reader-foreplay. In those first couple of chapters, I start to like the heroine and I start to like the hero (well, hopefully) and I start to look forward to what's going to happen soon. I anticipate the moment they first see each other, I sit on the edge of my seat excited to know if it will be love or hate at first sight.

So when at last it does happen, I'm ready.

Kind of like Justin and Brian last night. I suffered through that first episode and a good portion of the second episode. My breath was caught in my throat when finally Justin realized that it was time to go home and Brian had started to believe that his one-true-love just might never come back. And when Justin walked into Brian's loft...yep, the wait was well worth it.

Guess it's that fine line of make me wait but not too long. And I can appreciate publishers wanting writers to lean towards the side of sooner rather than later.

I just believe that the story itself could dictate what happens rather than some Commandment stated in a vacuum.

BTW - I may have trouble coming up with 10 Commandments, so if you have any ideas, please share.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I'm It?

Ack, I've been tagged by Meljean.

Actually, this is good since I didn't have anything particularly brilliant to say today. And I'm always game to talk about myself. *g*

Okay, here we go.

Total number of books I own:

Well, I'd say it's over 1,000. I can't tell for sure without counting. Put it this way, every book shelf I have is full to overflowing, and I have eleven bookshelves. I'd say I have about 300 romance novels. The rest range from research materials (The Handy Geography Answer Book) to classics I read in college and figure I should reread when I'm not cramming for an exam.

Last book I bought:

Went to Barnes and Noble last night, as a matter of fact. Fiction: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie by Marianne Stillings. This is a combination of enjoying Marianne's first book and wanting to support a fledgling writer. Nonfiction: Twenty Master Plots and How To Build Them by Ronald Tobias. Hey, anything that helps.

Last book(s) I read:

Just finished Emma Thompson's The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen's Novel to Film.

Fiction-wise, the last book I read was Suzanne Brockmann's Hawkin's Heart. Spoke at length in a blog entry about the good and the bad - generally enjoyed this book until I realized how mean Brockmann was to the hero. Poor guy.

Before that was Black Ice by Anne Stuart. She's put me in the mood to go on a dark-heroes glom, so I may be pulling some heavy titles off the TBR shelf.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

This is a tough question because of how to define "mean a lot to me". I'm going to go with books that really made an impression or have stayed in my memory so distinctly that obviously, for me, the book was special.

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

This book blew me away. I read it when I was twelve, and the realism in it was like nothing I'd ever read before. I fell in love with Ponyboy, felt the fear and pain of the horrors he experienced, and generally wanted to be the girl who made things better for him. Amazing book.

2. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Man, what a powerful book. A classic biblical tale told from the female perspective. I know it is fiction, but it opened my eyes to how skewed toward the male viewpoint the stories of history have been. Not to mention how the story told pretty much rocked me to the core with the love story and subsequent tragedies that follow. This book reminded me of how truly good literary fiction can be.

3. Quinn by Sally Mandel

This isn't a romance in the true definition of the word, but the relationship between Quinn (the heroine) and Will is heartbreaking and incredibly moving. The quintessential opposites-attract story, this book makes me laugh out loud and bawl my eyes out every time I reread it, which is so often that my copy is very well-worn.

4. Chase the Moon by Catherine Nicolson

Oh, how romantic this book is! Now that I look back with my fully adult eyes, I know that the plot is fairly unlikely and based on a lot of happy coincidences. But Corrie was the first truly fiesty heroine that I'd ever read, the hero Guy de Chardonnet perfectly molded in the best of the tortured hero traditions. Set in Paris, this book had me sighing repeatedly.

5. Little Town on the Prairie/These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I'm cheating with a tie on these last two because I couldn't pick between them. These two books were my first real love-story books. I thrilled as the romance between Laura and Almanzo deepened. Best of all, this book is based on a real-life love story. *sigh*

Tag 5 people to do this:

This is the toughest part. Let's see, who hasn't been tagged with this one (or at least who didn't have an entry like this in their May archives)...

1. Wendy Duren
2. Stephanie Tyler
3. Alyssa
4. Smart Bitch Candy
5. Smart Bitch Sarah

This was fun. Except it made me think far too hard for a Friday.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


This is a little bit 'o this and a little bit 'o that. But during my walk around the blog today, it seems like a lot of us are kind of in a distracted mood.

He's back and funnier than ever. Thanks to Larissa for pointing me back to Longmire, who has done some new Romance Novel Cover Parodies. I laughed out loud. A lot.

Last night's episode of Lost totally rocked. Man, I love this show. Really. I have never watched a program that has so totally captured all of my emotions. I felt pure terror when the column of black smoke appeared on the horizon. And tears streamed down my cheeks during the scene between estranged husband and wife, Jin and Sun. I can barely stand the seven-day wait until next week's finale. And if they send us off for the summer with a huge cliffhanger, I think I'll explode.

If you aren't a fan of Lost, please, this summer I highly recommend trying to catch up with the reruns they will hopefully air. Or you could just watch the special episode The Journey (if you can find it), which offers a wonderful hour-long summary of the various characters and the goings on that have happened all season. The only problem with watching The Journey is that it doesn't supply the backstories that have been so slowly revealed. It's my understanding that Season 1 will be available on DVD in September, so run - don't walk - to your nearest Blockbuster to check that sucker out. Storytelling at its very best.

I've just acquired and read Emma Thompson's book The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen's Novel to Film. What a blast it is for me to get a peak behind the scenes. I'm a total sucker for that kind of stuff. I watch every single second of the "Making of" featurettes that come on DVDs, and Emma Thompson's diary is wonderful.

Especially cool are her views on her costars ("Kissing Hugh (Grant) was very lovely." and "Not Alan's (Rickman) happiest moment but he was splendid, charming and virile.") and her own not-infrequent disappointment with herself ("Frumpy, sad, old and weepy today.") You really get the idea that Emma is a normal person with her days when she feels like she looks awful, a complete reversal of the idea that movie stars always look and feel as glamorous as they appear to us mere mortals.

And as much as I think I'd love to star in films, it seems like a rather tedious business. I would guess that they spend about 75% of the time waiting around and only 25% actually acting. Not to mention the stuff actors have to go through, like staying in wet clothes for 15 straight hours while trying to film a scene that takes place in the rain. I suppose it's all worth it in the end when the movie turns out so well.

Okay, I'm admitting to a touch of laziness today. And since I don't seem to have much of any value to say, I'll just call it a day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hey. Wait A Minute.

You know, I just devoted a whole blog entry to worshipping Suzanne Brockmann, and last night I finished the first of her books that I would actually rate a C. What's bizarre is that up until I woke up this morning, I would have rated it a solid B. But something about the plot occurred to me, and I realized that the situation Brockmann set up in this book kind of really sucked.

Okay, SPOILER WARNING here. I'm going to talk about the details in Hawkin's Heart (previously released under the title It Came Upon A Midnight Clear), so don't read further if you don't want to.

Summary in a nutshell: William "Crash" Hawkins is a Navy SEAL/black ops specialist who has the only-in-romance-novels ability to completely shut down his emotions when necessary. And this gift comes in very handy when Crash comes home to spend time with his dying cousin, Daisy, and her long-time lover and Crash's commander, Admiral Jake Robinson. During Daisy's last weeks, Crash becomes close to Daisy's personal assistant, Nell. After Daisy dies (hey, I warned you), Nell and Crash share their sorrows in that never-fails-to-make-you-feel-alive physical way before Crash dumps Nell's ass, offering the my-job-is-just-too-dangerous-and-secretive-for-me-to-love-anyone excuse the Navy SEALs invented.

Fast forward a year and Crash finds himself accused of possibly the worst crime he could ever imagine. Admiral Jake has been assassinated, and the ballistics reports indicate that Crash is the killer. Of course Crash didn't do it. Nell shows up to help him, and the two of them go on the lamb to prove Crash's innocence and so that Crash can extract vengeance for the murder of a man who'd been like a father to him.

Okay, so far so good, right? A great road-story set up. And honestly, I can't say that I had any problems with the book. I liked Nell (except her name - I never warmed up to this name because it reminds me of Jodi Foster in that movie Nell, plus I picture a woman named Nell to be an old widow with a long gray braid who likes to tend the wildflowers in her crazy overgrown garden and always has a jar of suntea sitting on her back porch). I liked Crash. The setting and action was wonderfully depicted. The romance scenes were fresh, the sex scenes sexy, the dialogue natural. All of the hallmarks I've come to expect from a Brockmann title were there, and I stayed up until 1 last night to finish it.

Except for one minor thing. Admiral Jake never died.

For some reason - a reason that completely escapes me - the big-wig military dudes decided to make it look as if Admiral Jake died. They let Crash be arrested for the crime. They let him spend time in jail, let him lose the respect of his fellow Navy SEALs, and let his reputation be destroyed past redeemability. They destroyed his career because in being involved in such a high-profile crime, Crash's identity became so well known he could never consider working on covert ops in the future.

Mostly, though, these military dudes let Crash believe a beloved friend had died. They let him believe that he could face the death penalty for a crime he not only didn't commit but was never even a real crime in the first place. How does one go on trial for murder when the murder victim is still alive?

This morning when I woke up, I realized the utter ridiculousness of this entire premise. Not just that something like this would never happen, but also the fact that what these people engaged in was nothing short of the psychological torture of an innocent man.

And even more bizarre was Crash's reaction once he learned that Admiral Jake was still alive. He was overjoyed. Glad to see his friend breathing and to know he would recovery fully. Not once are we given any indication that Crash might just be a bit...oh, I don't know...pissed off royally at being used the way he was.

Because as far as I can figure, that was what the military big-wigs were doing. Letting Crash take the fall, "allowing" him to escape so that he would track down the real killer. Kind of a risky maneuver if you ask me.

Thing is, I knew all along that Admiral Jake was still alive. And I knew this not because Brockmann gave us readers information that she did not give Crash or Nell. As far as we readers knew, Admiral Jake had died from the gunshot wounds he received.

Except, I'd already read The Admiral's Bride, which happens later in time. So I knew that Jake would go on to find love again even after losing his beloved Daisy. BTW - TAB is very good. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it and like Brockmann.

How's come it took a good twelve hours for the wrongness of this book to gel with me? Why wasn't I throwing this book against the wall from the second poor Crash started to take the fall? Part of the answer to this is because it wasn't until the end that I realized it wasn't Admiral Jake's idea for him to fake his own death. I guess I'd been giving this whole idea a pass because I figured Crash would eventually understand when Jake proved to be alive, knowing his friend had set up the only situation he could think of to reveal the assassination conspirators.

I do grade this book down because of this situation. I think what they put Crash through was cruel beyond comprehension, and Crash's lack of resentment over that pushes him into the realm of characters who don't feel real emotions.

Even so, I enjoyed reading this book because it was well written. Which I guess goes to prove that craft can make up for a less-than-stellar plot. I personally find it easier to accept a weak plot if the writing is good than I do a great plot rife with poor writing. I can never manage to get past the problems to even see the story.

In this case, I got so caught up with the characters and the action that I never stopped to realize how bogus the story itself was.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Don't Haul Me Off to the Guillotine

Yesterday, writer Karin Gillespie pretty much placed her head on the chopping block by speaking her mind in regards to vanity press published books in her column on RTB. I didn't realize what kind of explosive device Karin was setting off until I read the comments in response to her column. Man, there are some people out there who really don't like someone else insinuating that things printed by a vanity press are inferior or less worthy.

At the risk of calling the mob's attention to myself, I'd say that a good bit of what Karin said in her column resonated with me even though I've never been published, traditionally or in a new-fangled way. Basically, she expressed her frustration that a fellow local writer received the exact same attention and level of....let's see, I guess respect is the best word...as she has, but this other author's book was published via a vanity press. Not only did this Other Writer (OW) short-cut his way around all of the hoops those published by NYC houses go through, but the end product he is offering is rife with errors and just generally a poor quality ordeal.

I think Karin's complaint isn't that those who don't take the hard and torturous road don't deserve their kudos. I think what she feels frustrated about is the fact that without doing the leg work, without really offering something worthy of praise, this OW is being automatically lumped together with her, when clearly IN THIS INSTANCE there is a difference in the end product. He's receiving the respect without offering the raw talent needed at the very least to earn it.

Because, after all, there are those out there who just have it. They don't need to practice or learn or suffer failure before finding success. They are the miracle people, the one-hit wonders who come out of nowhere and dazzle us all with this amazing talent, all while claiming "I don't know. I just picked up the microphone and started singing..." or "I just sat down at my computer and started writing. It was all there, inside me!"

And these people, as much as I hate them, they can take all of the glory heaped on them without guilt. They have a gift, they are lucky, and good stuff comes to those who are gifted and lucky even if it pretty much sucks in the fairness department. Besides, for all their claims of it coming naturally, really those who achieve success without any past failure are so rare as to be almost nonexistant. Otherwise there wouldn't be so many country songs out there.

But when those who don't have the raw talent and who haven't taken the necessary steps to make up for what God and nature failed to provide them jump to the head of the line, it is more than a little bit annoying.

I don't blame Karin for her frustration, yet many many people really got on her case, calling her a snob and saying that there is just as much crap coming out of NYC publishing houses as there is coming off vanity presses.

Is Karin a snob? Well, yeah, sort of. But here's the thing. She has earned that right. She has paid her dues. She's spent years and years honing her craft, suffering through rejection letters, learning from her experiences. And through this she perservered until finally she got the break she wanted. She chose to take the hard road and succeeded.

She earned a spot on a team that is very selective, through her own efforts, not because she paid for it out of her own pocket.

I think of it this way. Say there is a student who studies all year for a big exam. She forgoes social activities, spends hours and hours researching and studying at the library. She really wants to do well on this test, so when she goes to sit for it, she knows the subject inside and out. She does all this because she wants to go to Big Time University, a very selective school with a prestigious reputation.

Student #2 doesn't do well on tests, therefore she can't manage to pass the big exam. But she has rich relatives who are willing to contribute large sums of money to BTU, thus securing her a place in the incoming freshman class.

Both students gain entry into BTU. Both students are called up on stage at a special school assembly to acknowledge this great achievement. But no one ever sees that Student #1 knows her stuff and earned her way in while Student #2 bought her way in.

Can you blame Student #1 for feeling a bit annoyed?

As for the issue of whether or not there is just as much garbage coming from NYC publishing houses as vanity presses, IMO that's kind of a no-brainer. Yes, I will admit without a single argument that a lot of stuff that publishers choose to publish is pure crap. Nothing annoys me more when I pay money for a book, take it home and get no more through Chapter 1 before I know that I've just flushed $7 down the drain. I count on these NYC publishers to weed through the junk, and sometimes they fail miserably.

But knowing how much stuff they turn down versus the fact that vanity presses turn nothing away, the imperical mathematics of the situation mean that vanity press offerings are bound to on the whole contain more problems. There are no gates, no filters, no editors or copy-editors. Heck, there's no guarantee that the story printed via vanity press didn't go straight from the writer's hard-drive to the printed page, sight unseen by any eyes other than those of the writer.

And I'm sorry, even if that writer is Earnest Hemingway, he or she is only human. There will be mistakes. And it's my understanding that a vanity press will not worry too much about correcting even the simple things, so in they would go.

I'm not saying that all vanity press printed books are bad. I'm sure there are a lot of very good ones out there. I'm sure of this because there are a lot of very good writers out there who cannot seem to make it out of the slush pile, a huge shame for readers everywhere. And in such a case, it is a boon to everyone if the writer decides to go another route.

Thing is, readers who don't follow the industry - and believe me, that's a majority of readers out there - do not know the difference between a vanity press and a regular publishing house. To them, a book is a book, and if they sit side by side on the shelf or table at their local bookstore, they are equal to a certain degree in the potential they offer.

Yes, readers are smart. It doesn't take them long to figure out which writers are good and which are bad. And they certainly are smart enough to figure out that if OW's first book was horrible, they needn't buy OW's second or third book. Eventually OW will fade away into the cosmos of failed writers of history past while the Karins of the writing world will continue to succeed.

I suppose that has to be enough.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sam. Sawyer. Both Start With Sexy...

This is a little fangirly-entry about one of my favorite writers. Since Wendy Duren is openly in love with Emma Holly, I figure I can wax a bit mushy about Suzanne Brockmann.

Actually, before I dive into the gushing, I have to admit up front that in my very humble opinion, SB really does have one of the worst writer's websites around. I'm baffled every time I go there why such a successful writer (who I would imagine by now has a bit of cash-flow from her hobby-turned-profession) won't spring for a professional webdesigner who can create a sight equal to what I view is her brilliant writing. Maybe she really loves her current design. I don't know. Who am I to talk, I guess? I only have this little pre-made template thingy from blogger.com, so how original am I?

Anyway, I think I've mentioned before that I hold Suzanne Brockmann personally accountable for introducing me to the contemporary romance genre. Before I picked up Out of Control, I'd chalked myself up to a historical only kind of gal. Just never got into the modern day stories. Until I discovered a world full of Navy SEALs and modern-day knights in shining armor. I've never looked back, and in fact have discovered a whole world of romantic suspense.

Brockmann's heroes are all larger-than-life, but they aren't unrealistic. They have faults. The use real bad language. They do stupid things (not too stupid to live things, just normal stupid things that man do because they have no clue how to understand women!). Heck, they even cry.

While I tend to agree that I like Brockmann's heroes better than her heroines, I can at least say that they are usually not helpless. The woman who land these big strong SEALs have great jobs and can for the most part take care of themselves. But they don't refuse to accept help from the heroes when it is clear that the hero is better qualified to fend off a terrorist attack or to get them out of a tight scrape. Well, except for Meg in The Defiant Hero, and honestly, she's my least favorite Brockmann heroine. In fact, I often wanted to smack Meg...

I find the dialogue in Brockmann's books very well done. But mostly, I appreciate her ability to distill down the action inherent in her plots into something that is both readable by a non-military-expert like me but still manages to convey the urgency and excitement of the situation. Usually her hero and heroine are on the run from something or a bomb is about to explode somewhere, and I always get the tenseness of the situation. But never do I feel the book has become bogged down by endless descriptions of scenes that make no sense to anyone short of a three star general.

Mostly, though, what I love about SB's books are her secondary characters. In nearly every single ST I've read, I've fallen in as much love with the secondary hero and heroine as I have with the first. David and Mallory from The Unsung Hero, Molly and Jones from Out of Control. Max and Gina from Over The Edge. And always Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke. Not to mention Jules Cassidy...

Many have accused Brockmann's secondary characters as existing as nothing more than sequel bait. My answer to that? So what? If the secondary characters are interesting (and they are) and their story is intriguing (which it is), it seems like a bonus to me that I get to read about them as well as the primary hero and heroine. And I'm a reader who loves to see the same characters I've grown to love come and go in other books.

After reading Out of Control, I quickly gobbled up every single one of SB's backlist that I could get my hands on. Wait, that's not true. I actually had no desire to read her non-SEALs books, although I did end up reading Bodyguard and really liking it.

I made my way through all of the single-title release books in the Troubleshooters series before starting on the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series titles. I held my breath when I picked up the TD&D titles since they were Silhouette Intimate Moments series books, not sure if the magic would transfer to the shorter, more rigid format. With the exception of the less realistic language used by Navy SEALs and the lack of secondary characters, the magic was still there.

And discovering this was so eye-opening.

I have to tell you, until I read Brockmann's TD&D stuff, I was a big fat series snob. Before reading the TD&D, every series title I'd chanced to read - didn't matter from which line - left me thinking that these type of romance novels were cliched, formulaic, and badly written. I think I just picked up a handful of especially bad ones, but they were enough to cause me to form a general bad impression.

But the books in the TD&D line blew me away. In fact, Get Lucky might just be my favorite all time romance novel ever, both ST and series. I loved knowing that a good writer is a good writer, regardless of which format she writes in and for.

Not to say there are SBs that I've thought were only okay. I started Identity: Unknown and still have yet to finish it. Same thing with Everyday, Average Jones. Both are good, just not mind-grabbingly good. Not like Harvard's Education, Prince Joe, and another of my favorites, The Admiral's Bride.

Problem is, most of these titles are long out of print and nearly impossible to find in the UBS. Thankfully they are slowly being re-released under the MIRA label, so I've been snatching them up as they come out. I did buy Get Lucky via e-bay just so I could own a copy of what has to be one of the ugliest romance novel covers of all time. I do plan to pick this book up new when it is re-released.

Nicest thing about Brockmann books, IMO, is that I'm always happy to reread them. They take up an entire shelf of my keeper bookshelf, and at any given moment I can pull one out and be lost for the rest of the day and night.

What inspired this little bit of gushing is that finally I found the perfect actor to play Sam Starrett in the movie adaptation of, well, all of Brockmann's Troubleshooters books. I love the character of Sam, and ever since first meeting him in Out of Control (he first appeared in The Unsung Hero, but I met him in OOC), I've been racking my brain as to which actor I think best personifies the image I have of Sam.

And there he was, right under my nose all this time. None other than Sawyer himself:


Now, I openly confess that I have no idea at all if Sawyer looks anything like Sam Starrett. I can't even remember what color hair Sam is supposed to have. (And I don't feel like going through all of my SB titles to find out. Yes, I'm lazy, much.) For all I can remember, he has black hair. But in my mind, Sam Starrett looks exactly like actor Josh Holloway as he plays the character Sawyer on the television show, Lost. The southern accent (which I know is different than a Texas drawl, but still...), the stubble, the general tough-guy with a heart of gold attitude. Not to mention that he's sexy as all hell, which I imagine Sam Starrett to be.

I haven't decided who should play Alyssa Locke. I'd volunteer for the job, except that I'm 100% caucasian whereas Alyssa has African American and Latino heritage, I believe. Again, don't quote me on that. I'm too lazy to go look it up for sure.

Friday, May 13, 2005

When Did His Soul Get Full of Passion?

Looking over my entries of the past few days, I'm thinking this looks more like a reader's blog than a writer's blog. I've been reviewing and commenting on books I'm reading with my reader's hat sitting high atop my head.

Except, I honestly believe that a person cannot be a good writer without first having a passionate love for reading. In reading, my writer's brain sees things I like and notices things I don't like. As I've learned more and more about the craft of writing, I've become more capable of identifying both the good and the bad, rather than just having that vague "I liked this book" or "This book didn't work for me" response.

For example, last night I started something new. I'm not going to say the title or the writer because I'm not sure that this one is going to work for me and I don't like to hurt feelings if I can help it. But within the five chapters I've read so far, I can already identify the humongous problem I have with it, and seeing this problem in this particular book is a big flag for me to remember when I write my own stuff.

Particularly, I'm talking about that "Hello, my name is Bob and I love you" syndrome some heroes seem to have. They meet a heroine and within five minutes have developed a deep affection for her, before she's ever had a chance to do anything at all that is love-worthy.

I'm not talking about attraction. I'm all for the their-eyes-met-across-the-crowded-room-and-sparks-flew animal chemistry that first draws heroes and heroines together. Nothing at all wrong with or unusual about admiring a well-formed man or woman. In fact, if the hero and heroine aren't feeling some stirrings fairly soon in the story, I start to wonder what it's going to take. Unless, of course, the story starts when the girl is very young or if the book is an ugly duckling tale. Then I don't mind waiting for the mental lusting to begin.

Either way, I just want the characters to recognize what they are feeling those first few minutes/hours/days after they've met for what it really is. Initial lust.

For example, in this book I'm reading, the hero first sees the heroine on page 15. They have their first conversation on page 17. By page 24, when the hero says something that upsets the heroine, his reaction is this:

"What had he said? His chest ached with the vulnerability, the grief in her eyes. What has caused her such misery? And what made him want to take her into his arms and comfort her?"

To further add fuel to my "WTF? Is this guy a complete wuss?" reaction, by page 61 the hero is really feeling it:

"He tightened his embrace as an overwhelming need to protect her, to care for her, surged through him. He fought the urge to cover her mouth with his and kiss her with as much passion as he had in his soul."

When did that happen? When did he get passion in his soul? And what pages did I skip where the heroine did something or said something that inspired him to have overwhelming needs to protect and care for her? Did I get a defective copy of the book? Is a chapter or twenty missing?

Before you think I'm just an old curmudgeon who doesn't recognize love at first sight when I see it or that I'm just failing to see that this hero has a deep, sensitive beta soul, I should point out the couple engaged in all of one conversation before he started feeling all smooshy inside. And it wasn't a great get-to-know-you/soul-baring conversation but more of an argument about why he was wrongly holding her captive.

Plus, this is a 315-page book, so it's not like we need to get things moving quickly so we can reach our HEA by page 100.

The other thing - this guy is supposed to be a hardened pirate, willing to hold a woman hostage in order to extricate ransom from his most hated enemy. Not exactly the kind of guy you'd find shopping in the Hallmark Special Moments section of the greeting cards aisle.

His internal dialogue is contradicting what the writer is trying to sell me as to what this character is. I would imagine it would take at least two conversations before a pirate would start feeling guilty about hurting the heroine's feelings, especially a heroine who he has never met and who is supposed to be the betrothed of his enemy.

Again, I find myself back to prefering a hero who takes some time to woo. A guy with a hard shell that requires more than a wink to crack. I want to see a couple who has to work for their passion, a heroine who has to earn her man's love (and vice versa!). If this guy is already feeling a need to protect and is overwhelmed by passion filling his soul, what's going to happen by Chapter 10? Should I be expecting explosions?

So, how do I apply this to my own writing. I suppose it's a matter of pacing. Sure, you want to demonstrate some sort of connection between the hero and heroine pretty much from the get go. Call me a traditionalist, but I think I'd tend to go with something physical. Unless the hero and heroine had known each other well before the start of the story, I can't imagine how a single conversation or mere glimpse would fill either characters' heart with love and singing birdies and protective instincts for his or her life-mate.

And I agree that things need to progress steadily. If the characters are not taking steps forward toward that HEA - with the normal amount of half-a-step-back due to whatever form of conflict they encounter - the story stagnates. But there have to be ways to propel this forward momentum that make sense given the types of people the story is presenting.

I imagine a pirate might take a little longer to warm up to the heroine in a real-feelings way than say, maybe, a mild-mannered grocery store clerk who has been searching for someone to love him his whole life and wants nothing more than to settle down and start a family.

Since I like the general premise of this book I'm reading, I'll keep going despite my need for an ice-pack to ease the muscle pain I've gotten from eye-rolling. Perhaps there is something I don't know about this pirate fellow that will explain things. Maybe he really is a soft-hearted guy who just got roped into being a pirate when really, he'd rather be a gardner. And maybe his claims of having a painful past that had hardened his heart means that his parents wouldn't buy him a pony and he's still bitter about it.

Hey, I've got an open mind.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

My Mouth Says "No!" But My Actions Say "Yes!"

Last night I finished Black Ice by Anne Stuart. Took me two days. Not a record, by any means, but it's the first time in a long while that I've been inspired to push aside pretty much everything to read.

Oddly enough, this book answered Larissa Ione's call yesterday in her RTB column for books to contain more of what she coins the Grit Factor. Specifically, Larissa is looking for stories where the people don't abstain from violence or other un-PC acts when the time period or the nature of their jobs would realistically require it. Gunslingers in the old west who hang or shoot the bad guys rather than just tying them up and sending them off to some off-scene jail. Operatives who kill with ease when their lives are in danger and heroines who understand such a need even if they abhor all violence. In general, characters who do stuff that in the real world would send us all crying in outrage but really is justifiable given their circumstances.

In Black Ice, the hero, Bastien, is some undefined special operative. Basically, he's a Jason Bourne-ish spy-like dude who has been trained to do the unspeakable and whose heart has been sufficiently hardened that he is not stopped by the idea that killing is always a bad thing. And within the scope of the story, we do see Bastien kill people.

Oh, I should warn you - SPOILERS.

He kills both bad guys and people who are supposed to be good guys. He threatens the heroine, Chloe, on more than one occasion, telling her repeatedly that if she proves to be too much trouble, he'll kill her without a second thought. The guy is a first class assassin, and he acts like one.

There's a heapin' helpin' of true grit in this story. Lots of blood. Lots of slashed throats and gunfire. Some torture and a forced seduction. No pc backpedaling or peace-loving-war-hating anti-violence themes in this one.

But this level of violence is what the story calls for. The story is about a woman who finds herself in a horrible situation, caught in the crossfire between illegal arms smugglers and the undercover agents who are working to destroy the cartel. If there wasn't any violence, the book would have been plain stupid. Kind of like watching Gladiator with the swords replaced with foam boppers. Just not the same level of realism, there.

I know many are turned off by dark heroes - or heroines, for that matter - that kill or otherwise do things the rest of us wouldn't dream of in our wildest imaginations. That's cool. The romance novel world is ripe with offerings that are very tame in the violence/darkness catagory.

I myself do enjoy the books that lean toward the darker side. I like a tortured hero, one who walks a thin line between hero and villain. You've all read my raves about anti-heroes, and in certain ways, Bastien fit the role perfectly. To know the man - to hear his thoughts and know his past - one wouldn't think of him as a hero. But in the way that he treats the heroine despite everything that he has been trained to believe and despite his very nature shows him to be a hero.

This is the kind of man who intrigues me most. Perhaps it's because when he finally demonstrates these hero qualities, I've come to see that only a very special woman could bring them out in him. I can believe that his feelings for her must run deep and true because they are strong enough to change him.

I think maybe this is why Mr. Impossible's Rupert Carsington left me kind of cold as a hero. As I said before, he was a great guy. Really, nothing at all wrong with him. He exhibited all the things I normally love in a hero. But the passion between Rupert and heroine Daphne didn't stir me the way the tension between Bastien and Chloe did.

Every word out of Bastien's mouth said that he had no feelings for Chloe. Even his thoughts repeatedly reminded him and the readers that he viewed Chloe as disposable, a nuisance, and not his responsibility. But every action Bastien took screamed otherwise. Time and again he ignored his spy-sense that told him to leave her to the fates and returned to pull her out of the jaws of death. Seems to me like maybe he doth protest too much.

Whereas with Rupert, he never denied his feelings for Daphne. Rather, he was confused by them, and when finally he figured out that what he felt was love, he was very accepting of the idea. All along he'd known that he liked her. His actions and his feelings were in complete harmony. Very nice, but not as exciting, IMO.

Just in time, my first shipment from Amazon arrived this morning. I could kick myself (once again) because I realized when I opened the box (way too late) that I ordered Sandra Brown's Slow Heat In Heaven, a book I had picked up at a USB two months ago when I was visiting my mother. I now have a battered copy and a pristine copy. I guess this is good in that Sandra Brown will get her full payment due, and I'm never wanting to deny a writer some hard earned cash.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tiny Rant

Okay, I'm a bit peeved. And I have no one to blame but my own hedonism, but still, since this is my blog, I'm going to rant a bit.

Remember how in my post below I explained how I ordered Anne Stuart's Black Ice on Amazon and then cancelled it off the order because I could get it quicker (and for $1.54 cheaper) at K-Mart?

Well, in trying to maintain my $25 threshold so I could get their free shipping, I somehow ended up with two orders. There is a way to combine orders, which was what I wanted to do, thus well exceeding the $25 mark. I created a new shopping cart, threw in two books from my Wish List, and proceeded to check-out.

For some reason, though, I couldn't combine the orders. I ended up with one order that came in at $22.27 and a second order that came in at $19.97. The first order cost me $4.98 in shipping charges and the second $5.97!! So by spending just a dollar more on each order, I would have gotten another book out of each deal. And I don't think it takes a Rhodes scholar to see that two books is better than shipping charges paid.


That'll teach me to be impatient.

TBR Anonymous

Hello, my name is Lynn, and I'm a TBR-aholic.

I have 82 books on my to-be-read bookshelf, plus another five books on their way from Amazon. (And if my DH is reading this - I swear, at least half of these...no, more than half!...are from the used book store! Where I paid half the cover price and used up my credits. Honest!!)

Among this collection are books that are deemed classics in the romance world or at the very least, DIKers at AAR (Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, Too Deep for Tears by Kathryn Lynn Davis (plus the two sequels, of course), A Well Pleasured Lady by Christina Dodd, The Blood of Roses by Marsha Canham, The Rake by Mary Jo Putney) that I snatched up because I feel I need to read them to see what all the fuss is about (and I do want to read them...).

There are books I've glommed by a writer I read and decided I liked - I have no less than nine Crusie books obtained after I'd read Bet Me and six Linda Howards that came after reading Mr. Perfect. The Crusies I bought when my neighborhood K-Mart had a display featuring a bunch of her re-released titles that I figured would be hard to find if I didn't grab 'em when I could.

I also have books that piqued my interest because I'd read a review or a discussion about it and the premise sounded interesting. Lisa Cache's Come To Me and Sherrilyn Kenyon's Fantasy Lover fit in this catagory.

Some books claim to feature a hero or heroine that strikes a chord. Sandra Brown's Slow Heat in Heaven for a hero so dark he's only borderline hero and Maggie Osborne's Foxfire Bride, which promises a heroine who is as tough as any man.

A few of the books are current-day hot copies - Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson fits this description.

And some books are by writers I've encountered personally - The Night We Kissed by Laurie Brown, who taught a writing course I took - or via their blogs and on-line.

I have YA books I consider research and I have books that I've actually already read but want to read again for various reasons so now consider TBRs. I have books I've started and intend to finish when I get back to it.

In short, I have a wide range of pickings to choose from. No hardship for me.

What inspires me to buy a book even though I have enough reading material that if it took me a full week to read one book, I'd be set for nearly two years, changes all the time. I go in spurts, buying a handful of books on a trip to the USB or via Amazon (where I employ the excuse of needing to spend at least $25 so I can get the free shipping), none of these purchases justifiable since I need more books like I need another ten pounds on my butt.

Part of my rational is that I'm afraid that when I want to read a certain book, I won't be able to find it. It'll be out of print and the copies in all of the libraries of metro Chicago and its suburbs will have mysteriously gone up in flames and I'd have to pay $350 plus shipping to get a copy on e-bay. Better to buy now, read later.

Plus there is a certain thrill - an anticipation - in pressing that "check out" button on Amazon and knowing that a story that looks so full of promise is heading my way. I'm sure this is the same rush gambling-aholics get when they slip the quarter in the slot machine and pull the handle or extreme sports athletes feel when they stand in the open doorway of the plane they are about to jump out of onto a hillside covered with virgin snow. It's an addiction of sorts, plain and simple.

The thing is, once I acquire a new book, it doesn't necessarily go to the bottom of the TBR pile. I don't subscribe to the FIFO system, which for those of you who did not take Accounting 101 in college is the fundamental first-come, first-served philosophy that works so well for the DMV and Disney World. No, the way I decide what to read next makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Some books I buy and plan to read. Someday. In the indefinable future. When I have more free time, which should happen around the year 2020.

Other books I might not have ever heard about before, but some discussion or other brings it to light. I then decide I must have this book and subsequently begin as soon as I get my hot little hands on a copy. Straight to the top of the pile it goes.

That's the case with Anne Stuart's Black Ice. I read the recent At the Back Fence on AAR this Saturday in which BI was discussed at length because the hero, Bastien, is one of the darkest sorts of heroes. The entire premise sounded intriguing, so that afternoon I ordered the book on Amazon.

When I saw - a mere hour after placing my Amazon order - that K-Mart had it on the shelf, I went home and cancelled it from Amazon (and screwed up my free shipping despite my efforts to fake out the system) because waiting seven-to-ten business days was unacceptable, even though I was already 2/3 of the way into Mr. Impossible and determined to finish it, not to mention those 82 other books on hand in case I got bored. I went back to K-Mart Sunday morning, meaning that less than 24 hours after first learning that this book even existed, I had a copy of it. I did wait to finish Mr. Impossible but then started reading BI yesterday and am now about half-way through.

A book discovered, obtained and read in less than a full week.

What is that?

Especially when so many other books have been waiting so patiently for their turn. And I'm talking good books. I've had Putney's The Rake for well over a year now, and everyone raves about it so I'm sure it's a good read.

Sometimes a book gets bumped to the top because of what I call research. If I'm writing a dark hero or a klutzy heroine, or my premise is time travel or military men in action, I'll read a book that has those elements to see how the writer handled certain things. Often this backfires on me because I see how well the writer handled certain things and get discouraged thinking I'll never be able to do it that good. Or I'll read something that I'd planned to do and discover that I'm not the Original Creator of This Idea and then don't want to look like a copycat.

In the end, maybe it's all about moods. I was in a Crusie mood a couple months ago, hurried through Bet Me, ambled through Crazy For You, and then kind of hit a wall half way through Welcome To Temptation. Don't know if I'd just over-Crusied, but WTT wasn't living up to all the wonderfulness I'd expected based on the raves and reviews and on the other two Crusies I'd just finished. It doesn't seem very fair to a writer to OD on her work, so I'm giving Crusie a rest for a while because I want to enjoy her stuff.

So, what about the rest of you? How and why do you establish a TBR stash? Do you read on a first in, first out basis? Are there books in your TBR that you suspect will never get read, in which case a good housecleaning is in order to make some more room (and ratchet up those credits at the USB)?

Whenever I thing about my TBR bookshelf, which is every time I walk past it on the way to my bedroom, so at least twice a day, I'm reminded of that old Twilight Zone episode called Time Enough At Last, about the man who loves to read but never has enough time. I won't spoil the story, but those who have a towering pile of TBRs like I do will be careful as to what you wish for. I know I am.