Sunday, February 28, 2010

Goodbye February. Thanks for pointing out our priorities.

I'm not sad to see this wintry month end. I've heard why they took one day away from February and gave it to the summer. I believe the story is that Julius Caesar didn't want to be outdone by Augustus Caesar, so when he found out his month (July) only had 30 days in it, he borrowed one from February in order to have the same number as August.

I sure don't miss it.

Thursday evening we had a wind storm to rival some hurricane force winds, and it lasted for hours. It was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen here in New England--and we see all kinds of weather. Large trees were ripped from the ground by the roots. We had two approximately eighty footers beside the driveway topple over. Thank goodness they fell away from our house!

And, of course, the power went out. Hundreds of thousands of homes lost power, ours being one of them. People were recalling last year's ice storm with horror. We went without power for 7 days. My husband stood in line for two hours to get one of the precious generators being shipped up from Massachusetts where they weren't as badly affected. Fortunately, we had it for this year's "event."

Last year we saw all kinds of behavior during the ice storm. It brought out the best and worst in people. I had to stay home and guard the generator until we could buy a thick chain and padlock. Yup, you guessed it. There were hundreds of generator thefts. But workers from as far as Tennessee came up to help restore our power.

What really got to me was the fact that I was negotiating my first Sourcebooks contract and hiring an agent during all this! I live in a "dead zone" so my cell phone was essentially useless. Fortunately, the deal didn't go away. And my agent understood when we kept getting cut off that I wasn't hanging up on her! I was really nervous about the horrible "first impression" I must have been making.

So, here it is a year later. My agent has been wonderful. My book is almost a reality, and during this power outage, the Fed Ex man brought me bookmarks and postcards with my cover on them! Yayyyy! I couldn't have asked for a brighter moment in an otherwise bleak day.

My mother-in-law lives a couple of towns away...alone. So we had her come over right away. My daughter and her boyfriend called to say they were at his mother's house, so they were safe! But as soon as they heard that we had entertainment, they came right over. It was fun to have everyone "camping" in our home.

I have a gas stove, so I was able to cook. We have a gas fireplace, so there was ambiance. The generator provided heat and hot water. It's funny what you decide you value when you have to pick and choose what to turn on and what to live without.

We have an electricity cleaner. (The "dirty electricity" coming from the generator can't power electronics which are too apt to be damaged by energy surges.) So, we had to decide on one electronic item to use with the electricity cleaner.

The choice was easy! My husband powered up the movie room and suddenly we had stories. We watched one comedy and one drama. Before we knew it, the day had flown and we were that much closer to having normalcy restored.

What is it about stories we love so much? I remember hearing something Michael Creighton said several years ago. He believed that no matter how bad things got, people would still need entertainment. During WWII, dance halls sprung up all over Europe. Our ancestors from long ago would sit around a campfire and tell stories. The traveling bard in medieval times was valued for the entertainment he brought and was fed for the price of his gift. (That's where 'singing for your supper' came from.)

So, the point of this rambling post (and I did have one) is to highlight just how important we storytellers are. Without us pulling new ideas from our imaginations and experiences, the world would be a boring place. I hope you all realize your value. Sometimes I think we forget how much we're needed. We're more apt to judge brain surgeons or research scientists as important people--but even they need entertainment.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

That Tender-Sweet Sense of Belonging

There’s this elusive thing that’s always made mention of, that “feeling” that comes with being content. Maybe even with being in love. And I’m not referring to infatuation, the first kiss, or even the feelings you might have after a proposal or major event like being married or the birth of a child. I’m talking about “that tender-sweet sense of belonging.”

It’s that feeling that you’re where you need to be, when you need to be there, doing what you should be doing, with the person you should be doing it with.

OK. Those are a lot of variables, and many of us will never meet all the conditions. But just one of them can be the right one. Like being in the right job. Or going to dinner with the right friend. Or being in a partnership with the best possible person for you.

I think that’s why I enjoy romance novels so much. Because you get a brief taste of “that tender-sweet sense of belonging.” The writer takes you on a journey of self-discovery, through the warmth of a passionate affair, and on to the happy-ever-after.

According to Wikipedia, a romance novel “must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

Optimism. Maybe that’s the draw. Helen Keller has been quoted as having said “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Hope and confidence, isn’t that what’s really within the pages of a romance novel?

I happen to be a big fan of the kick-ass heroine. And all of my books feature one. There’s not a woman waiting for a man to save her. She’s fully capable of saving herself, but would love to bring him along on her journey. And let him kick a little tail, along the way, too, of course. She might even take him in hand once or twice as events meander along. Maybe “take him to task” is a better way to say that. Although the first one sounds like more fun.

There goes that “tender-sweet sense of belonging” rearing its beautiful head. For where there is romance, there is an opportunity for optimism and hope.

If I was a good liar, I would wax poetic about everlasting love, how long I’ve been blissfully married, and other romantic notions. But I won’t, because life’s not always blissful. When you can’t close your bedroom door because you have children knocking, or you can’t find a sitter for date night, or you couldn’t find time to take a shower that day, you might not be able to draw up enough energy to nurture a love affair. Or even draw up a good martini so you can pretend there’s a love affair going on. Yet there’s always hope. And an escape into a good book, where the two main characters are always going to be a hero and a heroine, because they’re made in your dreams, in your fantasies, in your idle time, and most importantly, in your image.

When discussing optimism, one would do well to remember what McLandburgh Wilson had to say:

Twixt the optimist and the pessimist,
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut,
But the pessimist sees the hole.

In the grand scheme of things, I’ll take the doughnut. I might even make the doughnut and spread optimism through the pages of a book. Wait. That's not my goal. I write because it’s fun. And hope my readers see that in my pages. Can you see that “tender-sweet sense of belonging” in your life, or something you’ve read?

I can, when my husband brings home Diet Dr. Pepper without me having to ask.

Lydia Dare

Friday, February 26, 2010

February is for lovers???

Ever wonder why February is the month for love? It certainly couldn't be because of the lovely weather. I took this picture in my back yard on Monday, and I don't know about you, but I don't see anything there to inspire romance. It probably isn't just because there was once a fertility festival that took place in in that month, either--although there again, why February???

To be perfectly frank about it, February is the time of year when love is the very last thing on my mind, and as a time for conception, it basically sucks. Think about it. Children conceived in February would be born in chilly November with the rest of the winter to survive as an infant being nursed by a mother who, particularly in olden times, probably isn't getting her full daily allowance of anything nutrition-wise, and sunlight (as you can see from my gloomy photo) is sadly lacking.

That being the case, I think February might have been chosen simply because there's nothing better to do, and nothing in particular going on. You're stuck in your house/cabin/castle for the winter, and if you're ever going to prove you love someone, that's when your love is put to its most severe test. I get really crabby in February, and if my DH was ever going to give up on me, it would probably be on Valentine's Day or shortly thereafter.

He's stuck it out with me for more than thirty Februarys, however, and he proves his love in so many ways. He puts wood on the porch so I can keep the fire going so we won't freeze. He feeds the horses for me when I can barely drag myself out of bed. He is happy with anything I feed him because he knows he's lucky to be getting anything at all. And, last, but certainly not least, he still loves me even though I never lost the weight I gained at Christmas and gives me candy in spite of that fact. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Perhaps February is the month for love because it's the time when we first get an inkling that Spring might, indeed, be on the way. A week or so ago, I left the hospital one morning and got my first whiff of Spring. The snow was melting, and there was that certain something in the air that promised better things to come. Later that week, it actually rained instead of dumping more snow on us, but now we have the mud to contend with.

But the mud will eventually dry out and then I can plant those vegetable seeds I bought a few weeks back when I was feeling quite desperate. At least there were green, growing things printed on the packages. March is coming on Monday and Spring will officially arrive in just 23 more days.

I am SO ready. . . .

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Author Branding

posted by Deb Werksman

This month's Romance Writers Report has a fantastic article by Theresa Meyers called "The Basics of Author Branding" and I think it should be required reading for every author. (Theresa's website is .)

Here's how she defines an author brand: "building an image, perception, or identity that is used to create a loyal readership, who will auto buy an author's work."

This is right on, and it's why I keep telling authors they must choose their subgenre and build from there. Once you're established in a subgenre, and are building readership there, you can branch out into other subgenres, or you can build more than one simultaneously but the key word here is "build"--you can't jump around.

Naturally, I want to qualify what I just said. I meet authors all the time at conferences who've written a contemporary, a historical and are now starting on a romantic suspense (for example). That's FINE as you begin your career--it's a great idea to write in different subgenres and see which one really expresses your unique voice, where you have the strongest hooks, where the worlds are that you want to spend time in yourself as an author.

So do that, and THEN pitch, because I am always going to ask for an author to have a career arc--it's getting more and more difficult to publish just one book--there has to be a build, and it can easily take 4 books to build readership.

Casablanca authors are doing a great job with this--so many of them are building readership and are now writing their third, fourth, fifth, sixth books for us. Some of them were established in another subgenre when they joined us (Mary Wine, for example, in erotic romance) or are now beginning to build in a new subgenre (Marie Force writes contemporaries for us and has just sold her first romantic suspense to another house and is going to build both those brands at the same time!).

As an editor, there is nothing better than seeing authors grow with every manuscript, and readership grow with every book. So now, as if you didn't have enough to think about, in addition to the hook for EVERY BOOK, I'm going to be looking at your author brand (I call it author career arc) and we at Casablanca are going to help you build your brand.

So, I challenge all of you brilliant authors out there:

1) get hold of and read Theresa's article--she's offering a class on creating your author brand that you might also want to consider
2) create your brand now, or if you're already publishing and building readership, see how you can sharpen it
3) send me your submissions!

I'm looking for:
  • a heroine the reader can relate to
  • a hero she can fall in love with
  • a world gets created
  • a hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences
  • author career arc (OR, AUTHOR BRAND potential!!!!!!! Thank you Theresa!)
Who are some of your favorite authors? Can you describe their brand?

P.S. Please check out all the GREAT AWARDS our Casa and Landmark authors have received just since January! Click on the word "Awards" at the top of the blog sidebar to view the list.

WTG all you great authors!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Romance and true love is serious business to be sure, especially when one writes a love story. However, authors also have to explore the light side of this crazy little thing called LOVE and few appreciate the silliness of love more than a romance novelist! Today we are going to have fun with our theme with some quotes, cartoons, a video, and a quiz. Enjoy!

"Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more."
—Erica Jong

Grogan: What's it gonna be, Angelina?
Joan Wilder: [voiceover] It was Grogan: the filthiest, dirtiest, dumbest excuse for a man west of the Missouri River.
Grogan: You can die two ways: quick like the tongue of a snake, or slower than the molasses in January.
Joan Wilder: [voiceover] But it was October!
Grogan: I'll kill you, goddammit, if it's the Fourth of July! Where is it? Uhh. Get over there!
Joan Wilder: [voiceover] I told him to get out, now that he had what he came for.
Grogan: Not quite. Take 'em off. Do it! Come on!
[Angelina kills Grogan by throwing a concealed knife]
Joan Wilder: [voiceover] That was the end of Grogan... the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!

A quiz of romantic movie quotes--
1. "I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you"
a. Dirty Dancing
b. Ghost
c. Up Close and Personal
d. Sweet Home Alabama

2. "I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all!"
a. Shakespeare in Love
b. Sense and Sensibility
c. Pride and Prejudice
d. Emma

3. "I hate the way you talk to me, and the way you cut your hair. I hate the way you drive my car. I hate it when you stare. I hate your big dumb combat boots, and the way you read my mind. I hate you so much it makes me sick; it even makes me rhyme."
a. 10 Things I Hate About You
b. About A Boy
c. She's All That
d. Save the Last Dance

4. "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
a. Moulin Rouge
b. The English Patient
c. Atonement
d. Bridges Over Madison County

Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were suppose to be together... and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home... only to no home I'd ever known... I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like... magic.

"Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." —Aristotle

Now for the interactive question of the day (after trying to answer that tough quiz!) - Share a favorite romantic movie quote or scene that either made you laugh hysterically or reach for the hanky.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Crusin' for Love or Love for Crusin'?

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Since our theme is all about love this month, my post is actually about my love for cruising, but I couldn't resist throwing up the title of the Round Robin story we did way back when...

Anybody who has hung around on this blog for more than five minutes knows that yer olde Aunty is a travel nut (and sometimes just plain nuts, but that's a post for another day)! For the past few years, my travel mode of choice has been a cruise ship.

Yes, I've been on fifteen cruises, several to the same destinations. I've been asked on more than one occasion: Why do you love cruises so much? My usual reply is: What's NOT to love?

The ships themselves are beautiful! Most of them have lots of gleaming, polished wood. They are often decorated around a specific theme. For example, on our last cruise a lot of the common areas had a jungle motif. The indoor pool was especially beautiful, with life-sized carvings of twin elephants on one end and life-sized stone carvings of big cats draped around the pool edges as if they were lazing by the watering hole. I've been on ships with entire walls of stained glass, or ceilings painted like an outdoor meadow scene. So even if your destinations do not have enough spectacular sights (and they usually do), the ships themselves are floating scenic wonders.

Even though you get to visit multiple places, you only have to unpack ONCE! Trust me, I don't often have a luxurious cabin, which is okay since I'm seldom in there except to sleep. And of course, the best part of any vacation has got to be maid service! Nothing better than walking out of your messy room to go to breakfast and coming back before dinner to find it spotless. But there is also something comforting as well as convenient about knowing where you will be sleeping and eating no matter what city you are exploring during the day.

And speaking of food... OMGOSH! Cruise ship meals are THE BEST! You can have just about anything you can imagine at any time of the day or night. I thought I was a fairly adventurous epicure, but cruise food has offered me taste treats I never would have tried otherwise. Escargot, oysters Rockefella, creme brule, and frog's legs were all dishes I tried for the first time on a cruise, and I enjoyed them all! And don't even get me started on the 'choco-holics buffet.' Plus, the wait staff overall is outstanding. They literally can not do enough for you, and most of the foreign-born waiters are quite good-looking, which doesn't hurt either!

On a cruise, you can do as much or as little as you like. Even on days at sea (when you don't stop at a port) there are a variety of activities from card play to trivia challenges, karaoke to movies, to just lying around by the pool. Same goes for the days the ship is in a port. (That's a picture of my DH getting off the Norwegian Sun in Topolobampo, Mexico.) You can leave the ship on a guided excursion, go off on your own, or stay on the ship all day. My secret fantasy is to one day see someone lounging by the pool reading one of MY books!

Like I said, "What's NOT to love?" I could go on for pages, but I'll leave you with these reasons, and let YOU take a turn.

What kinds of vacations are your favorite? And why?
Ever been on a cruise?
Ever eaten escargot or frog's legs?

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Little Medieval Lovin'

by Amanda Forester

“Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage…”

Ah the truth of that classic song is undeniable. What could be more natural than marrying for love? Well, in medieval times they would find this sentiment quite odd. Marriages, particularly with those of the upper classes, were arranged based on wealth, inheritance, family status, and political ambitions. The feelings of the persons involved were not a consideration. Political alliances were often sealed with an arranged marriage. Can you imagine President Obama offering up one of his daughters to seal a trade agreement? Yet in medieval times, this was a common occurrence.

Marriages typically occurred when the individuals were quite young. Children may even have been wed if it meant sealing an important alliance. For example, in accordance with the Treaty of Northampton in which England recognized the sovereignty of Scotland with Robert the Bruce as their king, Robert’s son David, and the King of England’s daughter Joan were married in 1328. Joan was seven and David was just four years old at the time of their marriage.

So where did this leave love in medieval society? Enter the creation of “courtly love.” In its romanticized ideal, courtly love ennobled a knight to seek his lady’s favor by being honorable, brave, courteous, and charming. He would “court” her, proving the full extent of his love. In this age of chivalry, courtly love was seen as love for its own sake, without regard to family or fortune.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Since love was theoretically pure, untainted by external demands, it could clearly not exist between married partners, since marriage was essentially a business transaction. Thus, true love could only exist between partners who were NOT married to each other. And since essentially all ladies were married, this meant a romance between a knight and a lady married to someone else. In fact, the illicit nature of the relationship was seen as fundamental to the allure.

The evidence of these beliefs is seen in the love poetry of the time. This love poetry was typically written in aristocratic courts, under the patronage of a noble lady. Andreas Capellanus wrote De Amore (Concerning Love) in 1175 for Countess Marie de Champagne, who theoretically held “courts of love” in which she tried cases of amore. In one story, a knight pursues a married lady, requesting that she offer him her charms. She refuses saying:

“I have a husband renowned for his universal nobility, civility, and moral worth, and it would be wicked to pollute his bed or to be joined in any man’s embraces. For I know that he loves me with all heart’s affection and I am bound to him with all my heart’s devotion.”

Clearly a case of true love – right? Not according to Capellanus. The knight in this story refutes her claim that she is in love with her husband, saying:
“It is clearly known that love cannot claim a place between husband and wife. Although they may be united in great and boundless affection, their feelings cannot attain the status of love because they cannot be gathered under the heading of any true definition of love.”

The knight goes on to claim that love must arise from the passionate desire to have what is not allowed, the allure of forbidden fruit. “Love is nothing other than an uncontrolled desire to obtain the sensual gratification of a stealthy and secret embrace.”

In this story, the knight and lady agree to arbitration from the court of the Countess de Champagne. Shockingly, the knight’s case is upheld by this fictional court, declaring that since no love is possible in a marriage, the lady is free to accept the errant knight as her lover.

In contrast to the cultural beliefs about love at the time, my hero and heroine side with the lady in the above story, experiencing a powerful bond of love - even within marriage! Oh, what rebels! If you’d like to learn more about these rule-breaking lovebirds, check out the book trailers for my debut book, THE HIGHLANDER'S SWORD. Cast your vote for which trailer you like best and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a free book!

1. Capellanus, NF. Courtly Love. Found in: Canton. The Medieval Reader. HarperPerennial, New York, 1995.
2. Tuchman, BW. A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century. Ballantine Books, New York, 1978.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

They Call It Puppy Love

The song had it right, but my idea of puppy love has to do with my furry baby and the ones in the past. There’s nothing like snuggling up with our furry friends to make us smile.

There’s days when we can’t help but feel just flat out happy. We’d want to dance in the moonlight – okay, maybe not, but the idea sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Growing up we had a shepherd/collie named Skipper. He was totally my mom’s dog. Any time we were in the car I had to ride in the back seat because he rode shotgun and if I dared sit in the passenger seat I got ‘the look’ and immediately scrambled into the back seat. Skipper was a wonderful dog and even saved my life when I was three and a rattler ended up in my sandbox. He killed the snake and was bitten on the nose as a result. One vet said he couldn’t be saved, but that didn’t stop my dad. Another vet worked hard and Skipper came home to us. What else I remember is his running with the coyotes at night. They’d show up in our back yard and next thing he was off with them, coming home a day or so later. He was hit by a car when I was nine and we all missed him so much.

Then there was Prince, a gorgeous German shepherd who was lame in a back leg but always managed to stand on his hind legs for a lengthy time. No one wanted him because of that leg, but we did and he was a great watchdog and playmate.

Princess was our Malamute/wolf mix. I remember her looking quizzically at my middle school summer science project of 12 mice. She never tried to hurt them, just tried to figure them out. And if you wanted to date me, forget my dad, if Princess did like you, you knew it!

By then I was married and our first dog was Mac, a gorgeous shepherd/mix I adopted when we were based in Boston for a couple years. Mac went everywhere with me and loved riding in the car and visiting the Coast Guard base when my husband came back from ocean station. Everyone else had their kids on the dock when the ship came in. I had Mac.

Can you tell I’m a dog lover? We had cats, I have parrots and a tortoise, but it always seemed the big dogs captured my heart. But then we don’t choose a dog, they choose us.

Until Cocoa, a dark brown terri/poo who said “let’s go home.” He was the most laid back dog I’d ever known and I know if it hadn’t been for his brain tumor we would have had him for more than six years, but we did have him for an extra four years thanks to our fantastic vet.

And Bogie, who said the same thing when I thought of company for Cocoa. My Chi/Yorkie mix was my baby. We bonded that first day and I was so lucky to have him for 18 years. He hid his treats around the house and in the couch cushions, he had the pathetic look down pat if he wanted something and he was my love puppy. I always felt sad to know he’d cry the first two days I was away at a conference and hardly eat. And when I’d return home I’d get a “it’s about time you got back!” I also had to say “bye, Bogie, Mama will be back” because if I didn’t he’d cry and howl while I was gone.

Barney, my white mini-Schnauzer is a totally new experience for me. His behavior isn’t like any other dog and luckily, old friend and author, Elaine Raco Chase, has always had Schnauzers and is leading me through the goofball that’s the little guy that hopped up to me, wrapped his front paws around my leg with “I’m now yours”. He leaves his toys scattered all over the house and what can I say – he humps a mega spider every night after his dinner. Yes, at our house it’s dinner and a show. When I return from overnight trips he’s bouncing toward me with I call Tigger hops with “where ya been, huh? Where ya been?”

And this is why I call it puppy love. I love my furry beasts. They make me laugh, yes, make me cry, and offer up comfort when it’s needed.

What about you? Do you have critters that give you that puppy love?


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Learning to Sing

by Libby Malin

The last time I posted here, I talked about my "first love" -- music. Even though music was the first love I dedicated my energy and passion to, writing has always, always, always called out to me. As soon as I could string words together, I wrote stories, poems and essays. In creative writing class in high school, friends and I would exchange "fan fiction" -- stories involving our favorite television shows.

But I didn't start dedicating energy and passion to getting my writing published until later in life. For that I have my dear sister to thank. She's the one who encouraged me to try getting a romance novel published when I was between freelance writing projects and looking for something to do to make money. Once I knew that this very practical person in my family wouldn't think I was crazy for spending so much time at the computer writing fiction, I was on my way.

For most published authors, it's a tough slog from that first moment you decide to really try to get a book into print. First, there's the actual writing journey. Then, there's the publishing business journey.

I had a chance to revisit my own writing and publishing journey recently when I picked up one of the first manuscripts I'd written. I wanted to review it for possible revision. A couple things struck me as I reread it. One was the memory of how many doubts and questions I had when I wrote it. How long should a chapter be -- is there a standard page count? How many points of view can I include? Do I have to account for every minute of each characters' time? How much "telling" versus "showing" of the action should I do? If I use "are" too much, is my writing weak? What's the most riveting way to begin a story?

The answers to those questions came in the fullness of time as I gained confidence as a writer (there's nothing like confidence to help you develop your own voice), and as I became a more observant reader, analyzing what other published authors did that succeeded in moving me as a reader.

Not surprisingly, the answers to my questions can be summed up in this statement: in writing, pretty much anything goes as long as it works. Sure, there are guidelines for certain genre lines. But there are no rules that can't be broken, even in genre fiction, if you tell the story well.

Nora Roberts gave an excellent talk about this years ago at the New Jersey Romance Writers conference. I remember her saying that she didn't know about all the rules when she started writing, so she was able to blow past any fears and doubts associated with them. She counseled the writers in the room to break rules when necessary to tell a good story, not just for the sake of daring.

Another worry memory popped into my head as I reviewed my old manuscript. I remembered how I used to sweat the small stuff when preparing to send my writing to the publishing world. Now the questions became: should it be set in Times New Roman or Courier? Must it have exactly 25 lines per page? Should I send only the first 50 pages when asked for a partial or can I send 60 since a terrific scene starts on page 51? Can I query more than one agent at the same agency? How long should I wait before following up? Will an editor think I'm rude if I remind her she's had my manuscript for six months?

Here, I discovered the rules of good etiquette applied. The goal of manuscript preparation is to make your manuscript easily readable and your interactions with editors and agents professional and pleasant. A readable serif face with standard margins will do the trick. And reasonable follow-up is certainly allowed as long as you're not whiny or petulant.

In fact, just as in writing, I discovered that there weren't many specific rules about manuscript submission -- just the general etiquette principles -- and that you could approach many editors on your own as long as you treated them the way you'd like to be treated yourself.

Selling your manuscripts is hard. This business is filled with rejection. As time went by, I learned that I needed to stop rejecting myself -- that is, stop rejecting my own ideas -- based on what I perceived to be the "rules." Only then would my writing voice learn to sing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Love, Regency Style

by Sharon Lathan
“Elizabeth, ….. forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change,…. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”

The above quote is from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and is one of my favorites. I really wish we could pick Jane’s brain and discover just what she imagined as how Mr. Darcy expressed being “violently in love.” Most likely, considering the Era, he waxed eloquently and poetically, and at most grasped her hand. In fact, given the following sentences in the novel I suppose we can be fairly certain he did not bodily embrace Lizzy and plant a long wet kiss! Still, it is fun to dream and clever Jane did leave it open for entertaining interpretation.

What I do appreciate about that quote and all the careful phrases Jane uses in her novels is the idea that despite the strictures of the period, and her own limited romantic experience, she did comprehend and promote the concept of love. Each of her couples found their “soulmate” and did so within the societal mores and demands of the Regency.

Frankly, as much as I adore reading Austen and writing in that time, the strict codes of conduct drive me insane! I am quite happy to spin away a bit and take a slightly more modern view of how my characters interact. I do my best to be historically accurate in general, but it is fun to give them a tiny bit of latitude! Luckily for me, the Regency was a highly romantic period in history and standards of love and romance were altering to a degree, even if it did not last.
“By the mid-1820s young couples would be arrested by zealous officers for the heinous crime of kissing in public.” This is according to Ben Wilson’s The Making of Victorian Values, Decency & Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837.
Can you imagine? Courtship – that interlude of finding one’s mate – was a serious undertaking with rules rigidly enforced by all parties. During the search for a potential marriage partner, single persons were severely limited in when they could touch or conduct an intimate tête-à-tête. They were never alone or allowed to sit too close together, could not address each other by their Christian names, and were unable to correspond privately or exchange gifts. Numerous booklets on the “rules of conduct” were written and memorized to ensure everyone did the right thing and properly interpreted the vague glances and innuendoes.
The relaxed atmosphere of balls, group events, and spectator sports allowed for improved socialization. In such milieus they could release their guard, loosening up so as to express one’s true personality. Dancing, especially, was one of the few times an unbetrothed couple could touch, come into very close proximity, and perhaps exchange a whispered sentence or two, thus it was the prime choice of entertainment. Flirting was an art form extremely important to perfect with witty repartee essential as a way to convey emotion and sentiments in a guarded, acceptable fashion. No wonder Ms. Austen was so clever in writing her characters!

Men had to be very cautious in how they acted or they might find themselves engaged without asking first. Well, not technically, but behaving in an untoward manner could seriously damage his reputation, as well as the lady involved. If interested the man was expected to be forward, making his intentions clear to all involved, and honorably follow through. Once properly introduced to a lady it was acceptable for him to lend his arm while they strolled, assist in and out of a carriage, place a shawl on her shoulders, gift a freshly picked Posey, and other such discreet gestures that not only conveyed his positive feelings but also gave him a chance to sneak in a glancing touch! He was in control and made all the moves while the woman, conversely, was to be demure and modest. She was never to be forward or overtly encouraging in a courtship. Neither party could misstep or the consequences would be dreadful.
“Any kind of impropriety, in the form of overfamiliarity, overt flirting or other behavior may arouse comment, should be scrupulously avoided. A woman's reputation for virtue is one of her most precious possessions. Should matters proceed to an unwanted proposal, this must be refused with the greatest delicacy and attention to the gentleman's feelings.” Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross
Fortunately for the Regency couple the early 1800s saw a change toward marriages being based on love or at least some sort of affection between the two. Arranged marriages were frowned upon and pressure from parents was judged contemptible. It was still deemed wise to consider equality in social standing, wealth, and security, but emotion played a much larger part in the pairing. Young men and women were expected to choose based on their heart, but also utilize reason and responsibility to family as main factors. A marriage proposal was directly asked of the lady in question with parental consent obtained after she agreed, rather than the old-fashioned method of asking the father first. This was a radical change!
“Most marriages contained elements of both the traditional alliance, based on the maintenance of a family's social position, and the romantic alliance, based on private considerations. Parents were rarely immune to the emotional needs of their children, and children were just as unlikely to ignore their own material welfare.” In the Family Way, Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860 by Judith Schneid Lewis

I love the above etching! It is an ad from the Victorian Era and the woman is saying, “Yes, on condition that you buy me a ‘domestic’ with new wood work and attachments.” Ha! There is a smart girl! Make sure you have proper furniture before agreeing to anything!

Once they were properly and legally betrothed – and it was a binding agreement that could only be broken by the woman – their relationship could gradually become more intimate. They would still be diligently chaperoned, but could speak freely, talk about intimate subjects, touch and even kiss (privately and very cautiously, mind you!), and spend brief periods of time alone together. I suppose it goes without saying that pre-marital sex was a huge taboo, but people have always been human! There are plenty of references out there that prove the reality of desire between the sexes not being a 20th century development. LOL!

I suppose, depending on how one looks at it, courtship in the Regency might be easier than today. Forthright dialogue may have been difficult, but at least a girl knew when a man was interested! If he gave her flowers, asked her to dance, or even extended an arm as support during a walk, she could feel secure in his attention. He was left to guess and sweat from the fear of a refused proposal. If all else failed, they could open a guidebook for direction. It has been a long while since I partook of the dating game, but I sure can recall a few embarrassing moments when that would have been handy! How about you?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love is...

I write about love nearly every day. That sweeping, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping love that happens when you’ve first met your soul mate. I write about heroes and heroines who are larger than life. Who even lay down their lives for love of each other. But in real life, it isn’t very often that we’re required to make such a sacrifice. But sometimes I think what love requires of us in everyday life can be even harder and just as beautiful. It’s all those little things that truly define what love is, and so I’ve compiled my own list of examples of love, and because it’s a broad scope, I included more than romantic love.

Love is…

An eighty-year-old man who looks at his eighty-two-year old wife and says “You’re even more beautiful now than the day I met you.”

When your son gives you a hug because you’ve had a horrible day.

When you call your sister at work and tell her that your father had a stroke while on vacation and her first response is “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. You pack, I’ll call the plane for reservations…for both of us.”

A man who follows a five-pound dog around the yard at midnight, waiting for the dog to go potty, because the little dog just had surgery and anesthesia, and might fall over and pull the stitches. (The same man who swore he’d never own a dog small enough to be carried off by a hawk.)

When your son tells you that he’s moving out, and you tell him that you’re so proud of him for being independent, and excited for the start of his new life--when all you really want to do is hold onto him, cry, and beg him not to leave.

When you ask your mother, “Isn’t he the most beautiful, smartest baby you’ve ever seen?” And your mother answers, “Yes.” And means it.

When your friend cries harder than you at your father’s funeral. For your loss.

When you stay up all night with your child because they have a fever.

When the touch of your hand makes a child feel better…no prescription required.

When you would make a deal with the devil himself to take away the pain and suffering of someone you cherish.

When you’d rather suffer the pain instead of someone you love.

That huge boulder sitting on your chest, robbing you of the ability to think or breathe, when you lose someone you love.

That contented, joyous feeling after making love to the same person for the thousandth time.

When your child says, “You look tired, Mom. Let me take care of that for you.”

A man who buys you chocolates…just to see the look of bliss on your face when you open them.

Someone you can call at any time to ask for help or advice. And always gives it.

A friend who listens to you…and never judges.

A man who says, “I don’t care what anybody else thinks. Your opinion is what matters to me.”

I’m going to stop now, only because I would like to hear what “Love is…” to you.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


And the sad thing is, I don't care.

Yes, it's true. I'm hooked on LOST.

But the question is, why?

I keep asking myself that. Why do I keep coming back? It's annoyed me no end that they cut off the season in half the time as other series. It's annoyed me that every time I think there's an answer, there are two more questions. And it's annoying that they seem to have thrown everything but the kitchen sink in there (that would be because the black cloud monster probably bashed the kitchen sink to smithereens).

They've annoyed me with this whole time travel thing and jumping into the "what if" situation of the castaways being back in the real world without giving me answers.

Yet I still keep coming back.

How do they do that?

Why is this working? Why has this show become the phenomenon it has? They're giving us crumbs and yet we still come back for one more tiny little miniscule morsel. And we enjoy the ride.

Since I've been writing for publication, I've analyzed movies and books and shows with an eye to both craft and entertainment. Sometimes the craft issues ruin a movie for me (Avatar - oh, the technology was wonderful but that story!!!). Other times, I could care less because it's kept me so entertained that I don't even notice. (And I can't even come up with one because the enjoyment factor outweighs whatever other issues it has).

I'm still not sure about LOST. The entertainment factor is there (and, hello? Just give me Sawyer in an open shirt and you've hooked me). The hooks are all over the place, so that's grabbed my attention. I'm wondering about the storyline though. The writers have so many plot threads and twists and loose ends and themes that I'm really hoping they can tie everything up satisfactorily - and without a Dallas/JR-like twist.

The thing is, I'm willing to go with it since the ride is so much fun, even if it is frustrating.

But they better not let me down. I've invested how many hours/nights/years in this series; if the ending is awful you can bet I'll be very leery of spending time on something else created by Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Adams and Damon Lindelof.

If it's good, I plan to buy the entire series on DVD and have a LOST extended weekend, complete with pizza delivery and maybe some Asti.

Which makes me think, of course, about my own stories. Do I create a story compelling enough to keep readers coming back? (Thankfully, my reviews for the series say that I do.) Each time I write another one, the same thoughts go through my head: are the hooks there? Are the characters people readers will care about? Am I telling the story in the best possible way? And, does the ending deliver everything the reader wants when he/she picks up the story in the first place?

So, are you LOST? Is there another show/movie/series you're willing to follow along? Have any lost you and, if so, why?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Post Valentine's Comment About the Pagan Ritual!

Here's a little wolf loving, puppy and parent style!

Robin posted about Lupercalia, the early pagan ritual that had to do with Valentine's, but she didn't mention that it had to do with wolves. So being the wolfish person I am, I just had to add a post concerning this festival!!! You know, to add the wolf's point of view.

As she mentioned, it was a pagan ritual of feasting to do with fertility during the time of the Romans, 3rd or 4th BC.

Now, according to some scholars, what you might not know was that the god that watched over the proceedings was Lupercus, which was derived from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf. It was believed that the god watched over shepherds and their flocks, and in honor of this, they celebrated a feast called Lupercalia.

On the first day, the fertility festival was in progress. The second day was dedicated to Juno-lupa, the She Wolf. Remember the she-wolf that had nursed Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome?

So there you have it. Valentine's Day, some scholars' views of the Roman's wolf version of the celebration of Valentines! :)

It's interesting to note that though the idea was to sacrifice goats during the festivities to the god so he would watch over their flocks and the shepherds, they also honored the she-wolf who nursed the founders of Rome.

I loved all your research too, Robin. I had planned to post this earlier, but forgot until I saw your post. *sigh*

But there you have it! The Roman's wolf version of Valentine's!

And here's a little loving, adult style. :)

Hope everyone had a great Valentine's! I wrote about love, Taming the Highland Wolf style! :)

You know, all great legends were made up by storytellers, so if you had to come up with a myth or legend to explain something that existed in the world--like why foxes have bushy tails and bobcats have none, what would it be?

I'm here today where Sourcebooks is giving away 2 free books.

And here:

And all week I'll be at other locations, links posted the day of the event at my regular blog:

Enjoy your Tuesday!

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male, even on Valentine's Day!"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Welcome Lydia Dare to Casablanca!

I’m sure many of us heard or will hear the same stories from our girlfriends about Valentine’s Day. You either heard the “He asked me to marry him!” shriek or the “He didn’t do a darn thing,” grumble. Whether you’re shrieking over the most thoughtful gift or gesture in the world or grumbling because you were overlooked completely, someone else is doing the same. You’re definitely not alone.

My friend’s husband spent the love fest day at his mother’s, fixing something that broke at her house. But my friend was elated since she got to put her hot little hands on the remote control. Would a newlywed have felt the same way? People who are dating? Doubt it. But those of us that have been married for a lot of years can see the sheer joy the gift of solitude for a few hours might bring.

If you’re Lydia Dare, there’s a good chance you’re seeing two sides of that same coin. In fact, it’s guaranteed. It’s what’s so great about writing as a team. There’s always a fresh or opposing viewpoint and having that thrust upon you can make you enter areas you might not have ventured into without prompting. When you write as a team, you have to take those two, often very different, viewpoints and use them to create something that will entertain and captivate a reader.

Take a look here at a fill-in-the-blank scenario, the outcome of which could be drastically different, depending on one’s point of view.

Fill in the Blanks
(Male Name) spun quickly to face her, (something) flashing in his (description) eyes. A lesser woman could be (emotion or action) by a look like that. But not (Female Name). Instead, she was completely and totally (emotional reaction) by the look in his eye, not to mention the (item) he held in his hand. Tentatively, he held it out to her. Dare she take it? Dare she not?

Version #1
Andrew spun quickly to face her, wariness flashing in his narrowed eyes. A lesser woman could be felled by a look like that. But not Margaret. Instead, she was completely and totally captivated by the look in his eye, not to mention the wild flower he held in his hand. Tentatively, he held it out to her. Dare she take it? Dare she not?

Version #2
Antonio spun quickly to face her, ire flashing in his obsidian eyes. A lesser woman could be intimidated by a look like that. But not Isobel. Instead, she was completely and totally giddy by the look in his eye, not to mention the dagger he held in his hand. Tentatively, he held it out to her. Dare she take it? Dare she not?

That’s what it’s like being Lydia Dare. Like mad libs every single day.

How would you fill in the blanks?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's Valentine's Day... Now what do we do?

What can I say about it that hasn't already been said? That it's a day I look forward to every year? Not really. That it's a day for lovers to express their love for one another? Actually, we should do that every day. Do I like it because I might get candy? Nope. I'm what they call a pre-diabetic and probably shouldn't be eating candy at all--and in case you haven't checked the labels lately, even the sugar-free variety isn't exactly low in carbohydrates.

There have been a whole slew of Valentine's Day posts here in the past week or so, and having read Robin's blog from a few days back, I'm intrigued as to why whipping the girls would increase their fertility. It might increase a few other things, such as ire, coupled with a determination never to hook up with a man wielding a whip, but I suppose if nudity--particularly male--was involved, it might make me more inclined to overlook the whipping part.

That being said, I think all we really need this Valentine's Day is a good, hot hunk to get us in the mood. And--would you look at that!--I just so happen to have one.

While I was on vacation in Tennessee with the girls earlier this month, we watched a lot of movies, and My Life in Ruins was one of them. The hunk to the left there is Alexis Georgoulis, who was the romantic lead in the film, and in one scene in particular, I could have sworn he was the cover model for Slave. I couldn't find many shirtless photos of him, at least, not from that movie, but he did have the desired effect: he got me thinking about romance again.

What's that you say? A romance writer whose mind isn't firmly fixed on romance??? How awful! What a tragedy! But it's true. What with one deadline and another, I haven't had it on my mind very much lately, and going away for a week with my friends normally doesn't help a whole helluva lot. You see, the truth is, I need testosterone, and when I hang around exclusively with women, there's not a lot of it to be had. And just being in the same room with men doesn't help particularly--unless, perhaps, they're as hot as Alexis.

I learned why that is from reading one of Mary Margret's books. Testosterone is transmitted via touch, rather than being airborne like female hormones/pheromones, which makes me understand why men tend to touch women to arouse their inner passions. You may dismiss it as bunk, but I'm pretty sure it works because when there isn't any of it around, those passions tend to lie dormant--at least, they do in my case. Visual stimulation is great, but there's nothing quite like the tactile version, is there? Just imagine Alexis running a fingertip from your cheekbone to your collarbone. Have your own bones turned to jelly yet?

Which brings me to. . . dancing. We've been discussing movies a lot lately, and there are a ton of them that involve dancing--even in the title. Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, Dances With Wolves (well, it DID involve Kevin Costner, didn't it?) And then there are the great dancing scenes. Who could forget Rhett Butler and that scandalous waltz with the recently widowed Scarlett O'Hara? Or Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in The King and I? Or my personal favorite, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone? That dance was HOT, but to be honest, I've never done much dancing, which brings me to another subject entirely.

While at the lake with the girls, we each made our Bucket List. If you haven't seen that movie (which is terrific, by the way), it's the list of things you want to do before you die. And on each of our lists was learning how to dance. Surprised? You shouldn't be. What better way is there to get close enough to a man--even a stranger--to get your daily dose of testosterone? On my list, dancing was listed no less than five times. Don't believe me? Here's an excerpt:

7. Take Dance Lessons

8. Go to Greece/Mexico/Argentina/Italy and dance with a hot, long-haired Greek/Mexican/Argentinian/Italian man.

Based on this assessment, I recommend dancing as an excellent Valentine's Day activity. Just as long as it's with a guy you really want to get close to, as opposed to the kind you wish were light years away.

As for the rest of my Bucket List, I can't tell you everything, but having sex with a Zetithian was #3.

I think I'll start with Manx.

Shall we dance?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

True "Luv" and Romance

Our theme for the month is love -- but what I'd like to talk about is luv. You know, those secret passions we nursed in middle school. All those hours we spent daydreaming of fantasy boyfriends back in seventh grade were the perfect preparation for the rigors of romance writing.

Of course, our dream dates weren't entirely fictional; they were generally based on real people. For instance, when I was twelve, all my friends were in love with Donny Osmond and David Cassidy.

I wasn't. I was a geeky little kid who listened to a lot of classical music, and I was smart enough to know that Down By the Lazy River and I Think I Love You were not going to stand the test of time. I also thought shiny hair and perfect teeth were way overrated. I wanted a man with brains.

That's why I fell in love with Jacques Cousteau.

My friends laughed at my secret crush. They saw Jacques as a wizend little French guy in Speedos and a beanie who was baked to a crisp by a lifetime in the sun and probably smelled faintly of fish.

But to me, he was the perfect man. He was smart, he had an accent, he owned a really cool boat, and his life was one long, fascinating cruise vacation. What did Donny Osmond have to offer compared to that?

And my grand passion for Jacques was great practice for writing romance novels -- because if I can turn an elderly French oceanographer into an object of lust, imagine what I can do with a cowboy!

After March 2nd, you won't have to. That's when Cowboy Trouble hits the shelves, and you get to meet Luke Rawlins. Luke is a genuine Wyoming cowboy who looks like Elvis, talks like John Wayne, cooks like Martha Stewart, and is almost impossible to resist. He was cooked up using my fail-proof recipe for romantic heroes, using three all-important ingredients:

1. A story. Heroes are all about action, so you've got to give your guy a story. In Cowboy Trouble, it's "city girl meets cowboy." In my second book, One Fine Cowboy, it's "PETA activist meets cowboy." Sensing a theme here? Yeah, I like cowboys. As far as I'm concerned, if you start with a cowboy, you pretty much can't lose.

2. Innate physical hotness! It's usually easy for me to picture my hero. In most cases, he springs fully formed into my head, like Athena from the mind of Zeus, only way more masculine and not nearly as wise or all-knowing (because that would be annoying). He's usually based on someone I know, or someone who caught my eye in a coffee shop. I clean him up, dress him in cowboy duds, and turn all his flaws into unique and appealing quirks. Too bad we can't do that in real life!

3. Love. We're talking romance here, so how the hero interacts with the heroine is the heart of the book. No matter how tall, dark and handsome a man might be, it's his capacity for commitment that makes him the perfect fantasy boyfriend. And Luke not only conquers every obstacle fate throws in his way to win my heroine's heart; he does it wearing chaps -- which, as you know, were created by the early cowboys to showcase a man's best assets.

I suspect Jacques might not have been the romantic ideal I conjured up in my addled adolescent mind. I think he was one of those guys who was in love with his work, and he really did bear a striking resembance to a rawhide dog chew, so I'm not sure any amount of skill would turn my favorite Frenchman into a hero for the masses.

But a cowboy? That was easy.

So who was your fantasy boyfriend when you were a tween -- and why?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love Thy Siblings

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Like it or not, our brothers and sisters are genetically the closest relatives we have. If we share the same mother and father, then we all took that same dip in the old gene pool. (SPLAT!) And in most cases, siblings share the same early environment that shaped us into adults, too.

No wonder relationships between and among siblings are so intense and complex. What great fodder for fiction!

Brothers and sisters pop up in my own stories a lot. I am the eldest of four siblings, so I know all about those bossy older sister characters from personal experience. Having two younger brothers whom I alternately abhorred and adored (as they did me), it is no surprise at all that the heroes in all three of my books have older and er, um, somewhat domineering older sisters.

In The Wild Sight and The Treasures of Venice, both heroes were raised by their older sisters when their mothers died. Luckily, I was never forced into that role, but I can easily imagine what it might have been like.

Though the older sister is never "on stage" in The Wild Irish Sea, we learn that she made her husband give her younger brother (the hero) a job and is obviously prodding him to get on with his life, so she's an important force within the story. Again, I've never been in a position to give one of my siblings a job, but advice I've given in plentiful quantities (take my advice, I'm not using it). Plus I've always been supportive of them, as they have of me.

In fact, the motivating force in The Wild Irish Sea is the relationship between the heroine and her twin brother. No, I never had a twin (though I sometimes wished for one), but would I drop everything to run to the aid of one of my siblings?

In a heartbeat!

True, they often drove me crazy when we were growing up, and I know they got tired of me bossing and (literally) shoving them around. But nobody else truly understands me like they do, and I love 'em all for it! We may not be geographically close any more, but blood really is thicker than water, and we will never lose our heart connections.

What about you? Are you close to your siblings? Do you like to read about brothers and sisters in books? Please share some of your favorite fictional siblings with us.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life..."

One thing I LOVE about romance novels is how every story has a happy ending—no matter what, you know that your hero and heroine will get it together someway in the end. Some people say “then what’s the point if there’s no conflict and already know what’s going to happen?” And I always remind them it’s the journey to the happily ever after that matters, too!

However, every now and then, there are stories where you don’t get a happy couple, but you want everything to work out (well, most of the time)! Here are some famous star-crossed lovers:

1. Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the most famous (from which the term star-crossed really took hold in Shakespeare’s play)—young and innocent, these two can’t be together because of their feuding families and end up paying the ultimate price: their lives! However, those deep monologues (But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East and Juliet is the sun! SWOON.)

2. Tristan and Iseult (sometimes Isolde). A medieval tale that takes a wrong turn when Tristan and Isolde drink a love potion that make them fall desperately in love with one another… Too bad Tristian was sent to bring Isolde to King Marc to marry, and the love potion was meant for Marc and Isolde to drink to ensure a happy union! Various medieval versions of this tale exist, but in the end Tristan usually dies of grief because Iseult doesn’t come to him in the end, and when she learns of his death, Iseult also dies…

3. King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Here’s a medieval tragic love triangle. Again, legends vary, as do the views of how manipulative Guinevere is, but in the end of many tales, none of these three end up happy or in love, and Guinevere and Lancelot’s attraction is often blamed for the beginning of the downfall of Arthur.

4. Antony and Cleopatra. So, Cleopatra decided she would seduce—and ultimately love—TWO rulers of the Romance Empire. And while Caesar’s untimely and treacherous death is tragic, I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Antony and Cleopatra more. They seemed more suited for one another and their passion much more palpable. And who can forget Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton playing these two?

5. Heathcliff and Catherine. I’ll admit right now that I’ve never finished Wuthering Heights (I’ve started it too many times to count), but the story of Heathcliff and Catherine has always intrigued me—they grow up together, but because Heathcliff is of a lower class than Catherine, they can’t marry when they realize they’ve been in love all along… Catherine ends up marrying someone more suitable (and rich), which makes Heathcliff INSANELY jealous. So he goes away and then comes back very rich and marries Catherine’s sister-in-law to make HER jealous. AND then (after some other stuff), Catherine dies and her ghost haunts everyone. Nonetheless, these two are very, very sad.

6. Samson and Delilah. Aside from my favorite phrase in the song “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters (or Bruce Springsteen), this Biblical love story is one where two people find love, but it is thwarted by ruling powers. Delilah is bribed to find out what makes Samson so strong because he’d single-handedly slain thousands of Philistines, and she discovers that it’s his hair—which, of course, he only admits to once he thinks he knows that she loves him… And when she reveals the source of his power, his hair is cut off, and he’s captured. Interestingly enough, the fate of Delilah is never mentioned.

7. Paris and Helen of Troy. Helen of Troy is regarded as the “face that launched a thousand ships” (which Christopher Marlow said so nicely), and it’s true—the Trojan War began after Helen ran away with Paris! Aphrodite, goddess of love, granted Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the word, and Helen really doesn’t have a choice in the matter… but considering she’s married to Menelaus, their disappearance proves difficult. And then there’s a very bloody war for a very long time, and Paris dies in Battle. Some myths say she returns to Sparta to her husband Menlaus, and others say she goes to Mt. Olympus, to live with her father (who just so happens to be Zeus).

Are there any tragic couples I’ve missed? Any modern couples you can think of?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's the Deal with Valentine's Day?

I’m sitting at my desk writing my blog while watching the snow fall. Last weekend, we received between 36 and 40 inches, but with snowdrifts topping 6 feet, it’s hard to tell if we got that added 4 inches or not. Today and tomorrow, we’re expected to receive another 20 inches of the white stuff. Lucky us.

So here I am, hunkered down in the house, writing my blog and wondering why they chose a bleak month like February to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I concluded that in the days of old, there was little to do during the short winter days, so why not celebrate love, cuddle up with your Valentine, and enjoy. Imagine my surprise when, after a few minutes of research, I discovered I was wrong. Here’s what I found out about Valentine’s Day…

Valentines Day began as a Pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia (February 15th), which involved nudity and whipping (and no, I’m not talking about whipped cream). During the festival, the boys whipped the girls’ bottoms to stimulate fertility— though I’m not sure whether it was the boy’s fertility or the girl’s they were aiming to stimulate.

In 197 AD a Christian known as Valentine of Terni was martyred and beheaded on February 14th by a Roman Prefect with the oxymoronic name of Placid Furius. This was the first Valentine reference I came across in my research that corresponded to the date of February 14th, but he was not the last. It happened again in 289 AD. This Valentine of Rome was jailed for aiding prisoners. While in jail, he converted his jailer and healed the jailer’s blind daughter’s sight. He supposedly fell in love with the girl and sent her notes signed “From your Valentine” which was, I suppose, the first Valentine’s Day card. Ironically, he is said to have died on February 14th. I believe it was under Pope Claudius that he became a Saint. However, it wasn’t until.496 AD, that Pope Gelasius made a bid for peace with the still popular pagans and their festival of Lupercalia, by declaring February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day—a Christian feast day.

The first reference of Valentine’s Day that was linked to romantic love wasn’t until 1382 in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls. It was written to celebrate the engagement of England’s Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. Chaucer wrote “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day/When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate” but then since he was talking about mating birds, which doesn’t happen in February, this probably took place on May 2nd, the Saint’s Day in the Liturgical calendar. Still, the link between Valentine’s Day and romantic love was formed. Further cementing the correlation, in 1601, St. Valentines Day was mentioned by none other than Shakespeare in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet “Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”

So, you might ask where and when the tradition of Valentine’s Cards came into play. That one, as well as the whole romantic love connection can be blamed or attributed (depending on your point of view) to the English. In the mid 18th century, passing love-notes became popular in England. They were made of lace and paper and The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published. By the early 19th century, love-notes became so popular, factories began to mass produce them.

In 1913, Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine in the US. Since then, commercialization of the holiday continued and grew to include chocolate, flowers, cards, and diamonds. A few of my favorite things. Obviously, most men don’t take my husband’s view on the holiday. Last year, it’s estimated that Valentine’s Day sales generated $14.7 billion dollars in retail sales in the US alone—none of which was from my Domestic God. I never said the man was perfect, just close. Although he’s not one for cards or gifts, he’s the most giving man I know every other day of the year. Still, a little chocolate and a diamond or two would be appreciated. {grin}

May your Valentine’s Day be a memorable one. I’m looking forward to cuddling up with my husband and kids and enjoying some quality time together. I’ve decided that I’m glad Valentine’s Day is in February. Can you think of a better way to brighten up an otherwise bleak and depressing month?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentine's Day At The Movies

Yes, we’re all romantics at heart. After all, we write romance! There’s nothing about sitting down with a wonderful book that either makes you laugh or cry.

And there are movies that do the same. The following are only a few and hopefully I’ve suggested some you haven’t seen before. Even better if you can talk your honey into curling up on the couch with you to watch these.

Emma – Jane Austen knew just how to write a romance that leads the heroine on a merry quest to match up her friends and discover love at the same time. This is one of my favorite films.

While You Were Sleeping – Yes, this movie is set during Christmas, but who cares? This is such a great film about a lonely woman looking for love and finding it in the oddest way. Plus, you have to love the family members.

The Matchmaker – This is another favorite when a politician’s assistant travels to Ireland to find his distant relatives and discovers love during a matchmaking festival in a small town. The matchmakers in the town are hysterical and I adore the hero and his dog!

The Truth About Cats and Dogs – A version of Cyrano De Bergarac that has a shy veterinarian who has a radio show, a totally cute photographer, a dog on roller skates and an actress.

When Harry Met Sally –Just the orgasm scene alone in the diner is worth watching this movie!

Sleepless in Seattle – You have to tear up when two strangers on different sides of the country can find love.

Dirty Dancing – Yes, bad boy and good girl, but man! The dancing and the absolute best line "Nobody puts Baby in the corner."

Somewhere in Time – I have to admit I cried buckets when I saw this at the theater. Star-crossed lovers coming from two different worlds and you want them to buck the odds. Just have plenty of tissues on hand.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

First Loves

by Libby Malin

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away--specifically, right after I graduated from college--I worked as a Spanish gypsy, a Russian courtier, a Japanese Geisha, a Parisian bohemian, a Middle Eastern slave, a French courtesan, and a Chinese peasant.

Those were the roles played by chorus members of Baltimore and Washington Operas as they put on productions of Carmen, Eugene Onegin, Madama Butterfly, La Boheme, Salome, La Traviata, and Turandot. I was one of those chorus members, happily arriving about an hour before each performance, traipsing through the stage door with makeup bag in hand, ready to be wigged and dressed.

To get ready for this backstage preparation, the women were all required to flatten their hair into pincurls and place a stocking cap over all. Then we'd head to the wig room where the loveliest hairpieces would be placed on our heads, glued to our foreheads with fine netting. Back to the dressing rooms where hired "dressers" would help us into our costumes--some of them very heavy and historically accurate with laces rather than buttons up the back. For most performances, these costumes were rented from a shop or another company's production of the same opera.

Once during my "illustrious" career, I sang in a La Traviata where the costumes were designed specifically for that production. A confection of pale pink lace and chiffon thus had a tag sewn into it with my name on it--original costumes were tagged with the names of the first persons to wear those garments. Somewhere in an opera house today, a chorus member might be wearing a gorgeous gown with the label "Elizabeth Malin" sewn in a seam.

In between all the dressing and the wigging, we'd be gluing on our false eyelashes and smearing on whatever pancake makeup was best (for some productions, like Salome, directors would specify the shade), lining and filling in our lips, placing small cutouts over our lids if we were to play Asians, and generally warming up, maybe even reviewing passages of the score that were hard to remember (chorus cues in the last act of Carmen are a bear to recall). This last task we were not required to do. As members of the American Guild of Musical Artists union, we were not expected to learn the music on our own. That's what the hours of rehearsal with the chorus master were for. Union reps were quick to pop up and remind us we had no obligation to do any work outside the paid rehearsals should a conductor tell us to "go over that on your own."

We were expected to be on time (or have our pay docked), get into our costumes, be ready to sing and act, and wait as the stage manager calmly called cues over the speaker system piped into our downstairs dressing rooms, excitement building as the moments before the first notes sounded ticked by.

"Fifteen minutes to places," "ten minutes. . ." "five. . ." "chorus to the stage, please."

The Kennedy Center stage was a world unto itself. It was large enough that the stage manager could stand in the wings calling lighting cues on his headset in a normal tone of voice, not worrying if the sound would carry into the "house."

During one production of Boheme (directed by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti), the president attended (I won't say which one or it would date me!). Secret Service staff roamed backstage and artificial snow was left out of one scene so that these dedicated personnel could more clearly see into the hall and up to the presidential seats.

Those were magical times for me. Music was my first love--I actually have two degrees from a conservatory.

But I discovered pretty quickly that I wasn't cut out for the performer's life. I didn't enjoy the traveling it would require, and I always struggled with stage fright. Writing continually called out to me.

While I didn't stay in the music field, my life has been enriched immeasurably by that "first love." My writing, too, has benefited because studying music teaches you a lot about rhythm and pacing, about audiences and characterization, about how to express passion, longing, acceptance, and even humor. I don't regret my early days in the music world at all and have recently begun singing in my church choir again.

So. . . what "first loves" inform your life and writing now? Do you ever wish you could return to them?