Monthly Archives: May 2011

“When the Portrait Is Truly Begun to the Painter May Not Be When It Appears to Be Started to the Viewer”

Or, The Tipping Point

My last post, about novellas and novels and finishing stories, got me thinking about what I would call the tipping point in a story.  For me, reading, it is the moment when I know that I will not be able to put the book down until it’s finished.  Sometimes this happens 30 pages in, and sometimes it happens 30 pages from the end. 

I sometimes experience that same sort of tunnel vision obsession with writing—that point when I can see the end in sight and find my thoughts relentlessly coming back to the story at hand, when I simply cannot write on anything else because the only thing I want to say are the next words in that story.  It happens with novellas when I am about 10 pages from the end, which is substantive for them…a third to a quarter of the way from the conclusion. 

I have never experienced that point with a novel.  I am not sure where that point would be, whether it would come at about the same place in the story—so after, say, 60-70,000 words—or if it would still be 10 pages from the end. 

I have what I like to refer to as creative ADD.  Basically, I have issues sticking with just one story at a time, so I tend to write on several sequentially, until I hit that tipping point with one of them, and then I make a mad dash to finish it.  I am currently juggling four novellas, two novels, and two 2-in-1 stories that might ultimately become two novels or four novellas (or, I guess, one novel and two novellas).  In some cases this co-writing is necessary because actions in two of the stories run parallel, and writing them contiguously—developing the details of them contiguously—prevents me from finding myself painted in a corner later. 

Despite the multitudes of words I write, when they are spread out like this amongst so many different projects it is sometimes hard to feel like I’m making much headway even on the novellas.  That’s why that tipping point is so necessary for me.  It is the point where my uncertainty fades, and I can move forward with absolute confidence in my story, my characters, and my words.

One of my favorite non-romance books has a great quote about painting, and how a painting cannot be approached timidly or with hesitation—it must be done boldly if there is hope for it to be finished.  I think that an analogy could be drawn for any sort of creative project.  I know for me, as excited as I am about a story at the beginning, when I am first laying down words and moments, there is always a wide sea of uncertainty in the middle.  It’s when I can see the other side at last that I move with utter confidence.  It’s my favorite part of every story.



Filed under Writing

“You Only Say Never Because No One Ever Has”

Or, The seductive allure of novellas for a young writer.

As I have mentioned before, the first few pieces I am going to be epublishing are novellas rather than novels.  For the curious, a novella is generally considered to be between 17,000 and 40,000 words, with anything longer than 40,000 being a novel.  To give some idea of relative lengths, a typical 300-page paperback is going to be in the 80-90K range; a Harlequin type series novel is going to be in the 50-60K range; a Twilight is going to be in the 130K range; a (modern) Stephen King is going to be in the 200K range. 

I picked up writing novellas after flailing (no, not a typo of “failing,” although the argument could be made…) with several attempted novels.  My problem was twofold; I would start writing as soon as I had an idea and not always with a particularly clear direction in mind, and I could never finish anything. 

The writing before I knew with conviction where I was going led to a lot of re-writing or starting over again from scratch when the story or character substantively changed.  From those re-starts I learned that I am an outliner, and that outlining does not make my story any less “organic” or any more “contrived” than someone who writes off the cuff–I simply have to have done all of the sifting through possible paths and eliminating of all possibilities but the end result in advance.  My incubation period is quite organic in terms of letting my characters play out different scenarios until we find the one most true to their hearts and minds; it is only my writing period that is not.   

The never finishing was just as problematic.  I saw my word counts climbing into the 20,000 and 30,000 ranges only to be brutally redacted to the “false starts” folder on my hardrive and replaced.  In at least one case, I did this three separate times with the same story–enough that, if I had stuck with the direction I started with in the first place, I’d have finished a novel for the same time and work instead of being left with three starts, none of which proved to be salvageable.  It’s discouraging to put that much of one’s limited resources (in this case spare time and mental energy to attempt to create on the side of being a full-time student with two PT jobs, and then a full-time adult with bills to pay and a household to run) into something that is never finished.  I needed a way to be able to get the satisfaction of finishing, while still writing stories in the style I enjoy–the expansive detail of long-form and not the spare suggestion of truly short stories.

Novellas are the happy medium.  They have room for a proper story of courtship and love, and sometimes even sex–there’s just no need to fill up the extra 20,000 words needed to take it from Harlequin Regency series to an Avon Paperback with intrigue or needless drama after the hero and heroine come to the point the first time. 

They are also eminently finishable for a writer who has trouble staying focused long enough to complete a novel.  I can write a novella in a (good) month’s worth of evenings and weekends–a good month being one where I spend at least a couple hours a couple nights a week, and all of one weekend day every weekend writing, and writing well.  Six weeks to two months of poor writing. 

For me writing well is numbers; I am not a big rewriter when it comes to line-by-line editing, because I tend to self-correct as I work and because I have a fairly smooth narrative line in my basic verbiage.  So a “good” weekend day would be 4,000 words, a “good” evening 1200-2000.  Bad would be, say, 800-1000 words for a four-hour stint, 300 for an hour or two.  When you’re talking stories on a scale of 30,000 words, it’s not that hard to achive in a month–theoretically, at least.  Finishing things breeds enthusiasm for writing more things.  And for me, changing stories every month or six weeks helps keep my interest in each story up; they don’t have time to become too familiar to me and therefore boring to work on, which also helps me keep working until I finish them.

All of this is not to say that I am not still working on novels; I am.  The goal is to build up to writing novels, and by then have a large enough audience that I can produce fewer items but larger, and hopefully even more satisfying, ones.  I can feel my novellas getting longer every time.  My ideas grow just a bit bigger, and my capacity to keep working just a little bit longer on the same story does each time, as well.  But the difference between 23,000 words and 33,000 is still vastly smaller than the difference between 40,000 and 50,000, for all that it appears to be the same number of units.  At least from where I’m standing now.  Perhaps later I will see the extra words as a chance to be verbose, to be less careful in making the most of each sentence and each paragraph, each soulful stare and heated caress. 

But for now, novellas are my saving grace as a writer.  They enable me to call myself a writer instead of just a wannabe.  They let me feel like I’m accomplishing something.  And all because with novellas, I can actually get to those magical words:  The End.

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“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?”

Or, I found my first cover girl, and she is striking.

I spent a good 11 hours over the course of the weekend researching potential art to use with my first story.  Actually it ended up being my first 50 or so stories, since I think I downloaded about that many images which I felt made strong cases for becoming cover art for one of my ebooks.

The first two stories that will be released are a brace of parallel novellas about twin sisters, which take place over the same night, at a masquerade ball.  The fact that there are two stories which call back to one another was definitely on my mind as I searched for potential images.  I needed pictures that would in some way reference one another and yet be powerful in their own rights, and relevant to the story at hand in their own rights.  I found a lot of beautiful paintings of beautiful girls that would not work, not because they did not suit the mood of the story but because they did not suit the mood of any other painting that also suited the mood of the story.

I realized how very useful my various niche obsessions can be.  I have sewn historical costumes for a very specific time period–one for which there are not readily available commercial patterns, so I had to make my own.  I put a great deal of research into learning which types of silhouettes and sleeves and waistlines go with each period in fashion history, and so it was highly useful for me to be able to recognize at a glance whether an alluring picture was too modern (er, relatively speaking…read:  too Victorian) for my purposes, or if it might “pass” as Regency era. 

I also learned a lot about what I don’t know about art in a very short period of time.  I found a new favorite impressionist painter.  I got a joke about one of the artists whose work will be on a cover, which I had read months ago searching for “masquerade painting” and understood only in abstract.  After seeing the master to which that post compared him, I comprehended the criticism in a much more direct way.

I had a long conversation with one of my first readers about the potential pairings of images, and I have thought about this for the past three days, and in the end I am following my own preferences and instincts (or maybe it’s just preferences) in what I am using for my first two covers. 

Allow me to introduce to you Miss Viola Alexis Gardener, heroine of the novella What You Will which will be released as an ebook on June 1, 2011–exactly one week from today!

The painting is titled, directly, “Lady at a Masked Ball.”  It is by Pierra Ribera, a French painter, and held in a private collection.

I love this picture.  It is simple, but it’s bold, and she is lovely.  She is ready to mask, and she looks both innocent and mischievous at once–exactly the state Viola is in as she prepares for her masquerade. 

I also learned a bit about necessary compromises.  If I am not commissioning original artwork which I can make the artist re-do until it suits my specifications, then I will at points have to bow to the inevitable and give up finding a painting that fits every detail of my story.  For instance:  Viola and her sister are dark blonde/mousy brown with gold highlights, not red-heads.  Viola is wearing an 18th-century dress, and it is green, not the yellow swathed about her here.  But since I did not happen to find a picture of a beautiful blonde in a green sack robe, I decided evoking the spirit of the story would have to be good enough–and it is.


Filed under Artwork, Publishing, Research

“As the Golden Orb Rose in the Sky…”

Or, Finding the Picture Worth 1,000 Words

I am, by nature, a procrastinator. It is not that I put things off until the last minute so much as that I put things off until they must be done.  There is, if I may be so bold, a fine but marked distinction between the two. 

Thus, with my first e-book due to be released on June 1, I have reached what I would term the point of necessity for dealing with certain practicalities, such as deciding what to do for the cover art.  One of the review sites I read had a column dedicated to ebooks sometime in the past few months, and what I took away from it for purposes of my own marketing was that a plain cover is better than a bad cover, but a good cover is best of all. 

My first thought was to discover whether public domain images can be used for ebooks.  They can, and with no questions of legality if it is either a digital image of a 2-dimensional piece of art that you created (such as scanning an image from a book) or a digital image from a database specifically dedicated to putting works in the public domain into digital format for free use. 

Public domain in paintings = painted before 1923. 

The alternative to public domain would be some of the free use databases, some of which specifiy that their images can be used commercially at no cost to the user, or to subscribe to a site such as Shutterstock. 

If I were writing contemporary stories, I would probably do the latter.  Since I am writing historical romance, I think old paintings would suit it better.

The only problem is finding an image that evokes this story more than any other–and then finding a digital image I can use for ebook publishing, or finding it in a textbook to create my own digital copy.  There is also the question of how much it needs to appear to be a romance genre piece versus historical fiction with a love plot or subplot.  And then the Marketing 101 issue ofWill this catch someone’s eye enough to make them stop and look at my ebook?

It is enough to make a gal’s head spin.  The good news is, I love art.  The bad news is, I have the feeling I’m about to be getting a master’s level crash course in Western art from 1773-1923. 

Luckily, my first two stories are parellel pieces so I will not be seeking markedly different images for the two of them.  That means one search will suffice for both.  And since I have rough drafts and/or outlines of my following six stories, I can keep my eyes peeled for appropriate images for them.  Ah, multi-tasking, the only way I can accomplish anything these days….

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Official News: D-Day Set

Perhaps I should call it “R-Day” for Release Day. It’s not exactly a complicated maneuver to format a document per the Amazon Kindle spec’s and hit the magical words “publish now.”  But it feels like a big deal to me. 

It shouldn’t.  I expect it will be the most anti-climactic day of my life.  I will publish my first e-book, and in a giddy flurry of excitement post about it here and on my official website.  Then I will get a text from one or two of my best friends informing me they just downloaded it.  Then…

Then there will be no then.  Nothing else will happen.  Not that day, and maybe not even that week.

I do have a plan of attack for raising awareness–shameless soliciting at all the romance blogs and review sites I can find.  Some of them might even agree to review my novella, or let me put up a guest post. But that would not have an immediate impact.

No, the only immediate impact will be that I can look up my name on Amazon and have it come back with a product, or sign in to my account and see the sad little marker of 2 copies sold. 

Hell, I won’t even be able to Google myself and expect different results to pop up for at least a day or two–not till their search data refreshes.

So that will be my release day.  I am not trying to sound negative here, simply realistic.  It will be exciting for me, but solely for the fact that I just did something instead of merely talking about it.  It will not be exciting in terms of sales or new readers at first. After a few days or weeks, hopefully.  But for me, after 8:30 or so a.m., June 1, 2011, will be just like any other day.

Or, My first e-book is coming out on June 1, 2011!


Filed under Official Announcement, Publishing

I’m Only Mad North-Northwest

Or, Research matrices of the romance writer; Or, Why I play with generalities of research and not particulars.

I am not what you might term a stickler for research.  I don’t need every detail of life in 19th-century London to be precise either in what I read or what I write, in the sense of extant shops and clubs, and theatrical productions actually performed at the time I need them to have been performed.  As a writer, I am not going to restrict myself to complete accuracy, as long as what I am describing fits the spirit of the age and could have happened. 

Thus I will reference a performance of an opera in the spring of 1822 that may or may not actually have been played that season, but could have been based on its London premiere having been in 1820 and wildly popular.  I have spent the past 30 minutes trying to track down an appropriate aria for a young woman to sing at a musicale to indicate both her prowess as an amateur and the range and timbre of her voice without tedious descriptions of it which may or may not help the reader “hear” her, anyway. 

The requirements were:

  • documented to have been performed in London at least as early as 1821
  • contains a contralto/lower mezzo-soprano part with at least one notable aria
  • contains a contralto/lower mezzo-soprano aria that would appeal to a younger woman to perform

The actual historical performance off such a part would have been an wonderful bonus, but to the best of my knowledge there is not a way to merge the two data matrices of [operas performed in London during 1822] X [operas written before 1822 containing significant contralto/lower mezzo-soprano part].  If there were an easier way than cross-comparing a list of one against a list of the other by hand–be it my own eyes scanning one against a mental list of the other, or creating a unique spreadsheet to let my computer compare the lists side by side–I would have put more care into whether the opera I selected had actually been performed that year.

But this is the kind of detail that it is not worth spending five hours to discover.  All that I need for the spirit of historical accuracy is whether the opera could have been performed again that season on the basis of it already having been peformed.  For that, Wikipedia was good enough.  Contralto entry, notable contralto roles section; specific listings selected for exploration based on my (limited) knowledge of composers.  It took half an hour to find the part I needed, and that included reading the voice descriptions for all female parts to be certain I was classifying my heroine’s voice correctly.

Thus I have her singing a piece from Angelina (Cinderella) in La Cenerentola by Rossini, after having seen it performed professionally the year before.  That opera probably wasn’t actually peformed in London in 1822…but it could have been.  And that is good enough for me.

This is how authors roll, my friends.


Filed under Reflections on Romance, Research, Writing

“She Owes Money All Over Town…

…Including to Known Pornographers–and That’s Cool….”

Or, The debt I owe to other writers; Or, What I write and why.

I use that quote from The Big Lebowski quite frequently to describe my view of romance novels.  It is only somewhat tongue in cheek, and if you are offended by the fact that I view erotica as a type of porn, well, it is your prerogative to live behind comfortable illusions.  I prefer not to.  Jane Austen proved that you can have entirely satisfying love stories without a hint of sex, so for romance to so ubiquitously contain the unfettered erotic means that it is there for another purpose–namely, stimulation, fantasy, vicarious satisfaction.  That sure seems to suit my definition of porn.  And as an even deeper point, I have no problem with pornography itself.  It’s been part of human culture for thousands of years.  Who are we to try and stop it now?  I say embrace it, find your niche, and enjoy.

That is what romance novels are for me.  The best ones have both an erotic charge and a true sense of romance, of love–the stories, for me, are ones where I can believe in the emotional journey of the characters but also enjoy the thrills right along with them.  Because, while I like the thrills, if I can’t also believe in the love, it’s less enjoyable.  I have to be able to trust the relationship between the characters, same as in real life you have to be able to trust your partner.

I have a particular reading preference, and it is, of course, what I intend to write, and that is the British Regency period–basically the Napoleonic years and about 10 years after.  I might swing into very early Victorian era, maybe.  I might drift back into very late Georgian period, possibly. 

I might at some point try an American setting–it might be colonial, or any point up to the aftermath of the Civil War.  No later, though.  I can’t do Victorian morality in the Eastern US same as I can’t in England, and I can’t do Westerns.  Partly because I love the male-oriented Westerns, where there is not really a place for romance, and partly because the Western romances I have read seemed…hm…how to say it nicely…well, they seemed much more about making a sexual connection and then pretending it is love, than vice versa.

I don’t like medievals because I can’t get past the fleas thing.

I don’t like contemporaries because, duh, BORING.

I secretly enjoy reading some of the paranormals but can’t bring myself to write them because, SERIOUSLY, WHY NOW?  OH MY GOD WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT MODERN WOMEN, SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS?

I don’t like either bad action or bad dialogue (my favorite line ever?  “Oh, Logan.  You’re completely inside me at last.  How wonderful.”  And I am so not joking when I type that).  With Regency that is a moot issue, on both points.  Other than needing to do flashbacks to battles against Napoleon (or the Americans–War of 1812, baby), actiony action will never come up.  And if you weren’t witty, you weren’t anything in Society, so I will (good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise) never write a single line of speech that patently terrible.  Or even close to it, for that matter.

So that, in brief, is what I like to read and therefore what I like to write.  And, ultimately, the point of writing is to write the kind of stories you want to read.  Otherwise, how are you going to write with passion or enthusiasm or even sustain your own interest in the piece long enough to get it fully written in the first place? 

I like to read my own stories.  It’s what made me decide to share them with you.  🙂


Filed under Publishing, Reflections on Romance, Writing