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Accidentally Relevant…

…Might just be the name of my new imaginary band. On New Year’s Day this year, sipping a glass of bubbly and chatting with my husband was commemorated with this tweet:

I thought about it a lot, I plotted (in my head-I’m not much of a “real” plotter), I created an academic librarian hero and a fly fishing guide heroine. I settled on the title, Slow Drift. I didn’t start writing it until a few days before my first Romance Writers of America conference in July, and I finished the first draft in late October. Four months of writing, about 80,000 words, and a good ten months from the idea to The End.

All the while, I was aware that despite my friends’ encouragement (there was a lot of, “Oooh! I’d read that!” on Twitter), I am an odd duck with a wide acquaintance of fellow odd ducks. I personally love it when a heroine has a nontraditional job (also heroes, but heroines even more so), and I love getting a slice of life view of a profession I haven’t done and haven’t seen in romance before. I’m aware that not everyone feels this way, which can make marketing hard.

So I was thrilled when Mr. Buck emailed me this article in the New York Times about women getting into angling. It touches on a lot of the themes I covered in Slow Drift, and it makes me cautiously hopeful that the book will find its footing in the publishing world.

Those two little words

So, I wrote those magic two little words enamored of romance writers everywhere on my current work-in-progress today. No, not “Love you,” but:

“THE END”

It was a remarkably productive day, especially considering I have some sort of sinus thing or a cold and I’m hopped up on cold meds. So the 3,500 words I cranked out today might be…utter rubbish. But, as Nora Roberts says, “You can fix a bad page. You can’t fix a blank one.”

For now, I’m going to rest and read and get (hopefully, sinuses willing) a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow I start a fast revision pass (sooner than I’d usually do-I’d usually give it at least a week or so to marinate before I dove back in, but I want to get this off to my agent before I leave for Norway next weekend).

Teeny Tiny Romance contest – congratulations to Suleikha!

The winner of Love Notes from Purgatory’s “Teeny Tiny Romance Contest” was announced today – and it’s my friend Suleikha Snyder! I’m celebrating your win so hard, my dear!

Now that the winner has been announced, I’m free to post the story I entered on my own site, so if you haven’t read it yet, please enjoy My Lady’s Duchess:

Clarissa squeezed Duchess’s reins, the mare coming to an obedient stop at the slight pressure. Stroking the horse’s glossy chestnut neck, Clarissa crooned low into the furry ears that swiveled back to catch her words.

“Precious darling. Clever girl. You’re learning so fast.”

Her boots met the ground with a solid thud as she dismounted. Duchess stood still and quiet as Clarissa ran the stirrups up and loosened the girth. Drawing the reins up over the horse’s head, Clarissa led her into the dim aisle of the barn, empty loose boxes to either side smelling of fresh bedding, ready for the rest of the herd when they came in from the pasture for their evening meal.

Clarissa grabbed Duchess’s halter, slinging it over her shoulder so she could remove the bridle. She scratched the horse’s bristly face where the straps had lain in a vain attempt to keep Duchess from her usual practice of scrubbing her itchy nose against Clarissa’s jacket. Clarissa laughed as the force of Duchess’s rough caress pushed her back a half step.

“She’s ruining your habit, my lady.” A deep voice sounded from the other end of the barn, tugging at something low and primal inside Clarissa.

“Nonsense, Joseph.” She didn’t look for the source of the voice. She didn’t need to. Her pounding heart told her everything she needed to know. To cover her reaction, she brushed at the horse hair sticking to her tweed jacket before threading the halter onto Duchess, easing it over her sensitive ears and fastening it to the cross ties that were anchored to the walls on either side.

When she moved to remove the saddle, she felt Joseph close behind her, strength and heat radiating from his body. She stiffened even as she wanted to melt.

“You should let me get that, my lady.” His breath tickled her ear, warm and intimate. A liberty she shouldn’t permit.

“I prefer to rub Duchess down myself.” Her voice didn’t sound quite her own with her throat thick and tight like this. Swallowing, she tried for a lighter tone. “You know how sensitive she is around men.”

“Only strangers. She knows me. She trusts me.” Was he really talking about the horse? He reached past her, one hand flipping up the saddle’s skirt and releasing the girth’s buckle in a practiced, fluid movement. Perversely, Clarissa felt the air leave her body as if the girth was being tightened around her own rib cage, corseting her, robbing her of breath.

He moved again, this time to lift the saddle off the horse. Duchess stamped as the girth trailed across her back and Clarissa grabbed it, finally looking up at his sharp jaw, high cheekbones, mocking mouth. “You know she doesn’t like that.”

Blue eyes bright in a tanned face gazed at her innocently, at odds with those smirking lips. Then he winked. If she had any ability to breathe normally, she would have gasped at the effrontery of the gesture.

“She’ll forgive anything of me, my lady.”

“Will she?” Clarissa had intended the words to be arch. Instead, they were a squeak. He was the cat today and she, in very truth, the mouse.

“She will indeed. I have her favorite treat.” He gave her a significant smile and grabbed the bridle on his way to the tack room.

Air. Clarissa desperately needed air.

She took a shuddering breath, focusing on the smells of horse, hay, and wood shavings as she reached for a soft brush to remove the dust that had settled on Duchess’s otherwise glossy coat during their ride. Joseph returned and ran his hand down the horse’s legs, lifting and inspecting her hooves. Clarissa felt the touch on her own skin, as if his rough palm was skimming down her thigh, her calf, as if he was examining her body.

She was running the brush over Duchess’s flank when he caught up with her, crouching next to her to check the last hoof for chips or stones. Clarissa’s pulse drummed in her ears. When he rose, he was close to her again, crowding her back against the horse’s bulk. She had to tilt her head to see his face, the knowing expression.

“That hat.” His voice was a rumble, his eyes the barest circle of blue around velvety black pupils.

“What about it?”

“It’s in my way.”

“Is it?” She removed it, dropping it to the floor.

“That’s better.” He stepped forward, his body touching hers, rough-calloused fingers skimming her jaw. Clarissa’s tongue traced her lower lip, heartbeat accelerating.

Duchess shifted, knocking into them, making them stumble apart.

“Damn horse.” Turning, Joseph unclipped her from the cross ties and led her to the other end of the barn, opening the back door to the paddock and letting her loose with an affectionate slap to her flank as she passed. Clarissa didn’t move, couldn’t move. She was pinned in place, every nerve on fire as she watched man and horse, blinking at the strong autumn sunlight streaming through the open door.

He stood for a few moments, giving her the opportunity to ogle his silhouette, his broad shoulders tapering to lean hips, the long, strong legs. The physique that daily hard, physical labor produced. When he pulled the door closed, the light dimmed again. Clarissa stood rooted to the spot as he sauntered back to her, his cap sitting back on his head at an arrogant angle. Resuming his place in front of her, he cupped her face in his hands, making her gasp.

“Too forward, my lady?”

Not trusting her voice, she shook her head, her gaze locked with his.

“Just forward enough?” Before she could respond, he bent forward, capturing her mouth in a light, sweet kiss, only sipping at her lips, yet somehow unleashing something dark and primal inside her. Her eyes fluttered closed, her hands lifting to his chest inside his open jacket, clutching at his shirt, trying to draw him closer, her mouth seeking more, her body pressing against his.

His rough cheek slid along her softer one, his lips moving against her ear. “You can’t kiss me like that and not have consequences for it.” A dangerous purr this tomcat had.

“What will you do?” She remembered the slap on Duchess’s flank, imagining his hand landing on her, reddening her bottom. Her thighs clenched together, liquid heat pooling there.

“Nothing in a spot this public.” He looked over her head to the yard in front of the stable where a pair of chickens scratched and pecked. It was empty of people, but that could change in an instant. “Come with me.” Pulling her hands away from his shirt, he backed into the tack room, drawing her after him and closing the door behind them.

“Someone could still come any time,” she said.

“Are you afraid?”

Her cheeks burned. “No.” What she felt was something beyond fear. Beyond shame. Beyond thought, even.

“Then…” He tugged her hands and she stepped into his arms, the strength of them winding around her waist making her knees wobbly. “Kiss me again.”

She did, her hands tunneling into his thick, dark hair, knocking his cap to the floor, opening her lips to admit his tongue seeking hers. A thrill of power went through her as she felt him hardening against her belly, knowing she was affecting him as strongly as he affected her. He smelled of warm skin and fresh air and his hair was silky as it slid through her fingers. She gave a little tug, his responsive moan vibrating on her tongue.

“Clarissa.” Her name on his lips against hers was an illicit thrill of its own.

“Yes,” she said, encouraging him as his hands went to the neck of her blouse, unbuttoning until he could brush the tops of her breasts with those clever lips.

A door slammed and Clarissa stiffened. “Joe.”

“Mmm.” He straightened and kissed her again as she struggled to re-button her blouse.

“Joe, stop. Someone’s here.” She fought the absurd urge to giggle as he squeezed her bottom.

“Fine.” Bending to retrieve his cap from the floor, he slapped it against one thigh to dust it off.

Clarissa opened the door to the tack room, knowing she was disheveled and probably blushing to boot. A strange woman stood just inside the barn doorway, a pleasant, expectant expression on her face. Clarissa took in her appearance in one quick, assessing sweep. A quietly expensive flower-print dress and modest jewelry murmured wealth instead of shouting it, but there was money here.

“Can I help you?”

“Is this Morgenstern Farm?” the stranger asked.

Joe emerged from the tack room, a shameless grin on his face, as if they hadn’t almost been caught playing their game in broad daylight. He pointed at the embroidery on his baseball cap that showed a horse with the words “Morgenstern Farm” stitched underneath. “That’s right. Joe Morgenstern.” He shook hands with the stranger. “My wife, Clarissa. What can we do for you?”

The woman’s face relaxed in a slight smile. “I’m Felicia Jones. My family’s moving here in a few months and we’re going to need to board our two horses. I don’t suppose you have the room?” Her gaze swept over the loose boxes, probably having counted the horses she could see in the pasture and hoping the tally of stalls was at least two shy of the number of animals outside.

“As a matter of fact, we do.” Clarissa led the woman down the row of stalls to the two at the end which were bare of bedding, having no occupants to warrant it and began her sales pitch.

#

Joe chuckled to himself as Clarissa showed the other woman around the stable, explaining the pasture rotation, the personalities of the other horses, the availability of local trails, and their own small practice paddock. Clarissa had been worried about that extra space in the stable, the lack of income it represented.

Walking out into the cool afternoon, he saw what must be the woman’s car. An expensive Volvo station wagon with New York plates. He idly wondered if the Joneses were from one of those tony suburbs north of Manhattan, if New Hampshire was going to seem like a tedious bore in comparison.

Whatever. They could always sample the delights of Boston. It was no business of his. Keeping the farm running and Clarissa happy, those were his only two goals in the world.

Clarissa emerged from the barn, absently deadheading a petunia spilling out of one of the window boxes at the front of the barn as she and Mrs. Jones concluded their discussion with a handshake.

“I’ll e-mail you our contract,” Clarissa said, smoothing the strawberry blond hair that was coming loose from the low knot she wore when exercising the horses. Her tweed riding jacket was buttoned again, but it only half-hid the glorious curve of her ass in tight jodhpurs tucked into glossy hunt boots.

Mrs. Jones waved as she got into her car and Joe returned to his wife to watch their visitor leave. Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he drew her tight to his side.

“Our game was rather rudely interrupted,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the long driveway out to the town road.

Clarissa sighed. “I know. But we need the money.”

“We could always resume it.” His pulse sped at the thought and he wanted to laugh. Six years married and she could still do this to him with a look or with nothing at all.

Her teeth worried her lower lip. “And have six horses and a donkey breathing down our necks? It’s too close to feeding time.”

“You’re probably right.” He threaded his fingers in hers, leading her back to the barn to call the horses in for their evening meal. “Tonight?”

“You’re incorrigible.” But her smile told another story.

“Whatever my lady wishes,” he said, touching the brim of his cap.

Teeny Tiny Romance Contest

Back in June, I entered Cara McKenna’s Love Notes from Purgatory contest. The challenge was to write a convincing love story in less than 2,000 words.

Yup. Two thousand.

That’s not a lot of words.

My first reaction was, “Eeep. Good luck, people who enter. That sounds IMPOSSIBLE.”

Then I had an idea.

I wrote the idea up, hounded some of my critique partners for feedback and entered the contest. All the entries are now posted and mine is here.

I didn’t final, but a couple of my friends did – congratulations to Suleikha Snyder and Mica Kennedy for their entries and to everyone else who entered!

Follow the bouncing ball

“Are you published yet?”

This may be the writer’s least-favorite question from non-writing friends. Or perhaps it comes in second to, “How long does it take you to write a book?” Wow, does that depend on so many factors.

The question writers are more likely to ask each other is, “How do you cope with the waiting?” Because so much in publishing is about waiting. Waiting on feedback from beta readers and critique partners. Waiting on responses to agent queries. Then waiting on editorial feedback from your agent. Then waiting on editor’s responses to submissions. Then…

You get the idea. Writers wait a lot. So you need a coping strategy, especially if you’re as impatient and twitchy a person as I am.

My coping strategy is to write more. Production of what is (hopefully) my debut novel, ACTING UP, was followed by writing METHOD ACTING. I recently finished initial revisions on the third book, ACTING LESSONS and sent it off to my beta readers. LESSONS was, for a lot of reasons, a difficult book to write (which isn’t to say it’s not fun to read–hopefully. It just came out much more slowly than any other manuscript I’ve ever written before. I cut my usual 1,000 word/day goal in half and still struggled some days).

So having that book in my rear-view (for now, until beta reads and critique partner feedback starts coming back and I begin to re-revise), I embarked on a new project, FAST ACTING. This is a novella that foregrounds the good friends of the protagonists in METHOD.

It’s a project that’s living up to its name. Folks, this one has been super fun to write so far. A fun, flirty story between two wedding guests at an intimate destination wedding? A perfect follow-up to a more difficult project.

And as much as I hate the “How long does it take?” question, I do keep track of word counts and timing. I see this as practice for when (hopefully) I have externally imposed deadlines. I want to know what I’m capable of, what is realistic, and (very importantly) what isn’t. What I can promise and what I can’t. Also, setting my own deadlines is an exercise in professionalism.

As much as I love Scrivener’s word count tool for daily and overall goals, I’ve found Pacemaker’s more flexible and visual tools to be a valuable tool for charting historical output and tracking your progress. It has a nifty share-able widget. So if you’re interested in following the progress of a novella, by all means, follow the bouncing ball…

#Scrivathon16 – The Home Stretch (Raffles!)

Hello lovely visitor – we’re in the home stretch leading up to Scrivathon 2016. Scrivathon is basically a fun-run for fingers. A group of us are pledging to have butt-in-chair, fingers-on-keyboard the day of November 12.

You can support us by pledging money (all funds go to Syria Relief), and if you’re a writer-person and would like to enter raffles for nifty things like page critiques or edits, Scrivener software, and other fantastic items and services.

More information on the raffles and how to enter are on our lovely hostess’ blog. And if you want to donate to my campaign (I have $0 raised so far and it is making me saaaaad edit: I got my first donation, YAYYY! Thank you Jenn!!), my Justgiving page is here.

bloghost

Check out these other participants in the Scrivathon:

A.Y. Chao || Gurpreet Sihat || Hoda Agharazi || Deborah Crossland Maroulis || Morgan Hazelwood || Dante Medema || Miranda Burski || Maria Guglielmo || K.J. Harrowick || Rochelle Karina

NaNoWriMo

Well, November is here and I’m NaNo-ing. Getting things off to a bang, because my in-laws will be arriving this evening for three days. That’s sure to be fantastic for productivity.

At any rate, I’m being a NaNo “rebel” this year. Instead of embarking on a fresh, new idea, I’m doing that top-to-bottom rewrite of Persuading Anna that I talked about here. Is two months enough time to have mulled it over? I don’t know–we shall see! I gave it a new title and even created a cover for NaNo:

Let’s do this.

Doing NaNo and want to be buddies? I’m here.

Shelving Anna

Persuading Anna was my first completed fiction manuscript. It started life as an attempt at “Literary Women’s Fiction.”

“Wait – doesn’t your bio say you write comic romance?”

Yes, reader, it does. Thank you for allowing me to put words in your mouth just this once. I promise I won’t do it again.

I had a lot of ideas about what I might want to be if I became a writer. I went to a prep school that cranks out amazing writers like Susan Minot, Sebastian Junger, and Matt Taibbi. As such, I was terrified of doing anything that wasn’t “serious.”

I picked at this manuscript for years. I thought long and hard about why I couldn’t get more than a chapter or two of it out. After all, it was a contemporary spin on my all-time favorite novel, Austen’s Persuasion. (In fact, its first title was The Energy and Devotion of Our Youth which is from a Benjamin Disraeli quote that ends with “…was all my persuasion.”)

Finally, I realized why I wasn’t writing the damn thing. It wasn’t fun. Frankly, it wasn’t what I wanted to read, let alone write.

So I started again. Some of the original stayed, and the book grew over weeks and months. It became fun. The characters surprised me. A friend of mine who is a literary agent agreed to read it. She told me it had promise, but I should find a critique group to help me with some issues, pacing (especially at the beginning) being at the top of the list.

I joined RWA, found a critique group, and over the next few months did a fairly serious revision while I wrote my second manuscript, Software and Sensibility (yes, I have a pattern). I started querying and got a few requests for the manuscript and a whole lot of rejections. I began to learn the real definition of “waiting.” I finished Sense and moved on to Acting Up, which is still Austen-related (a very loose spin on Lady Susan) but getting into more original territory. Taking the training wheels off, as it were. It is also set in my first workplace, the theater, which is fertile ground for both bad behavior and humor.

My beta readers told me that while they had enjoyed my first two books, Acting Up represented a marked improvement. They got really excited about this book. I finished that and started to write the next one in a proposed series of three, Acting Out.

Around this point, I entered Anna in Pitch Wars. I was excited about the possibilities of redrafting it, as I knew it still had problems despite the feedback and the rewrites. I knew my odds weren’t great, so I kept my expectations in check. I didn’t get a mentor, but I got another couple of critique partners out of the experience, as well as a whole new community. Though lots of people seemed to like the premise a lot, additional feedback from a couple of the mentors told me what I already knew: the pacing issues that plagued the all-important beginning of the book were still there. That and the fact that it’s written from her point of view only made it a funny muddle between “women’s fiction” and romance.

I reread the whole thing. I commenced another round of revisions on it. And a few days after Pitch Wars’ picks were announced, I found myself in a miserable funk. Impostor syndrome, tears, the works.

A few days after that, after a lot of thought, I decided to shelve Anna for the foreseeable future.

My reasons for doing so involved both my head and my heart. Head-wise, I know that statistically the first book that usually clicks for an author is their third. This makes sense. You learn by writing. I know I’ve learned a lot. Up is intentionally a “category” romance – short (50,000 words), punchy, and fun. Anna and Sense are longer, 70 and 75,000 words, respectively. The shorter format of the Acting books made me structure them differently, and they move along a lot more readily.

On the heart side, I realized I had become invested in the trilogy and, while I didn’t quite resent the idea of spending time on Anna when I could be working on my newer stuff, I wasn’t as excited about it as I might be. As my friend Anne said on Twitter, you have to work with what engages you (at least now, while I have no deadlines and the space to be indulgent about such things).

Will I go back to Anna one day? At this point, I’d say, “Probably, yes.” I agree with everything everyone said about it: the premise has potential, but I failed the premise.* That’s okay. With four completed manuscripts and another started (Acting Lessons), I’m still a baby at this game. If I approach Anna again, it will probably be with opening an entirely new Scrivener project and starting (sort of) from scratch. I don’t want to do that just now, but it sounds like it could be fun.

Someday.

*Nobody but me used the verb “fail,” to be very clear.