The Land of Ideas

The first question I usually get when "normal" folks find out I write romance is this: Where do you get your ideas? So, thought I would tell you where the germ of inspiration for "Pride of Honor" started - the first in a series called “Men of the Squadron.”

I met the prototype for Sophie and her notorious poet father in a tiny bookshop tucked along a cobblestone alley in Florence, Italy. Ideas occasionally come to us from odd places. The shop offered hand-painted cards of famous Italians depicted as various animals.

One of the cards featured a tomcat attired as a Regency buck. I immediately thought of my friend and romance author Louisa Cornell. She loves cats and writes a mean Regency. But later, on the plane trip home, I pulled out the card and read the back. The cat represented the famous Italian poet, Ugo Foscolo, who spent time near the end of his life in the environs of London.

Additional research revealed one of his many mistresses was the daughter of an English duke. They had an illegitimate daughter who was raised by her grandmother, the duchess. And if that is not enough to pique any romance reader’s interest, the grandmother was a famous, successful writer of romantic novels in the 1700s, well before Jane Austen. My romance characters, of course, are only based on these real-life characters.

A heroine with a past as romantic as Sophie’s needed a truly strong hero. For Arno (Captain Arnaud Blanchard) I reached back into a French family from Martinique in one of my earlier romances, “Secret Harbor,” and plucked a plausible young man with deep roots from seafaring stock.

However, the time for naval exploits would have been a little off. Some research of what the Royal Navy was up to in 1820, well after the Napoleonic Wars, yielded a fascinating bunch of guys who were charged by Parliament (in 1807) with clearing the high seas of slavery. It took them until nearly the end of the century, but they did it. Their amazing exploits are detailed in the ships’ logs of the Royal Navy’s African Squadron.

Arno and his brothers in arms were kind of like modern day Navy Seals. Before you point out Seals are American, the American Navy of the nineteenth century was also involved in chasing slave ships, liberating and re-settling the captives. Did British and American ships ever cross paths or cooperate? Technically, no, but there were incidents…

Huge kudos to all the Regency readers, Beau Monde members, editors, and agents who spent their precious reading time helping me build a better series through my entry scoring a “final” in the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot competition. Your comments are nuggets of gold money can’t buy. I will be entering another novel from my series next year, and I hope many of you will participate again to help me produce the best possible romance.

If you want to know more, stay tuned here:


Facebook: Author Andrea K. Stein

Twitter: @andreakstein

Regency Buck tomcat based on Italian poet Ugo Foscolo

Regency Buck tomcat based on Italian poet Ugo Foscolo

5 Things About Self-Publishing You Will Hear Only Here

When you are a totally self-published author without the benefit of a "hybrid" career (a traditional and self-pub mix), there are a few realities that sink in over a period of time.

1 - This is a long game, not for the faint of heart or impatient.

2 - This is a labor of love. I could make a best-seller list and still not recoup much more than minimum wage for the hundreds of hours I pour into each of my books. The get-rich-quick circuit has very few seats, and a mob of people are already there who will hip-check you off the platform.

3 - I've had many jobs over the years, some of them in respectable publishing circles. But none of them is as satisfying as self-publishing.

4 - If you believe in "Writer's Block," you will not make it. You have to just sit down and write. You need to produce at least 3-4 titles per year to beat the above-mentioned odds. I do have a small edge there after 30 years as a newspaper writer and editor.

5 - Social media will not get you where you want to go. It can give you followers who will recognize you once you get there, but only great writing will get you there. Write. Read. Repeat.

My Mother's Suitcase

My mother's suitcase

My mother's suitcase

Last summer, we rented a small house across from the shadow of Buffalo Mountain, in Dillon, CO. Back then, the threat was mega renovations on our 70s era condo in Breckenridge. Utilities would periodically be shut off. And then the dust of ripping off old siding to make way for the new. Having asthma is a pain in the patoot. So we moved out for six months.

Then - the threat escalated to the possibility of wildfire during an especially dry Colorado summer. So we prepared for the worst. We stocked large jugs of drinking water, got a bank box for irreplaceable documents, and worried.

About my mother's suitcase.

My mother and me, 1951

My mother and me, 1951

She was a beautiful, charismatic lady who died of cancer when I was 11. Didn't get to know her that well, except through the stuff in the suitcase she carried with her through the many moves of my childhood. I've carried the darned thing with me through all my moves over the last 40-plus years.

Ah, you nod knowingly. That kind of stuff. Nothing worth anything to anyone else. Pictures - some of them over 100 years old. The thought of losing all of them to the flames pressed on my conscience. So I decided to have a photographer scan them onto DVDs. I got as far as my great-grandmother's color portrait, the cost too prohibitive.

Then I took them all out of crumbling scrapbooks and transferred the prints to archival-quality boxes - they're stored on the top shelf of the closet now. The suitcase now is essentially empty, except for blobs of old birthday candles, a feather headdress from the 50s, and other assorted detritus from a childhood spent on the move.

In the process of peeling the old photos from my mother's little pasted corners and sometimes just chunks of yellowing clear tape, I got to know my parents in a way that somehow had escaped me over the years. There were notations on the backs of some of the photos, asides from an era about which I was ignorant. More about those revelations in a later post.

Now I'm left with a suitcase I can't quite part with. Managed to pry it from the closet before I liberated the fading images. Now the old pasteboard relic sits in the hallway, right beside piles of skis, ski boots, and bike paraphernalia. Detritus of my own from the era I'm living today.

I know there's a better place for the poor old thing - can't think of where, though. My children struggle with their own challenges. The threat of flooding in Boulder hangs over the head of one while the other is carving out a new life at the opposite end of the state.

I'm certain the curse of the traveling suitcase has to end with me.

How I was going to end the curse was beyond me until I realized: Time is the answer. That's what we all need. Time can cure one threat, but presents us with another.

In the end, family and friends are what's important, what endures. The things we carry with us in life are just symbols of those connections, those memories.

People who have just minutes to decide what's important, choose love, of family, of friends, of their neighbors, their pets. It's simple.


fish head.jpg

Not a very savory title for a blog, but that's what's on my mind today.

Went to the Romance Writers of America's national conference in July in Atlanta, and as usual, they loaded us up with the newest wave of romances to hit the officially published hit list. To be honest, most historical romances are set in the Regency (early 1800s, Napoleonic wars, oppressive society, etc.). Romances set in other time periods come in a distant everything

It's hard for me to understand the draw of stories which frequently star a duke as the hero. There weren't that many dukes in England, but just about every second historical romance features one (we're talking hundreds here). Duke dizziness aside, add to that a closed society where everything women said, did, or thought, was subjected to scrutiny.

Lately, there have been a lot of Regency-set novels where women get away with murder, literally, and still snag a duke. Go figure. I'm thinking these chicks would never be allowed to swan through a Jane Austen novel, but that's just me.

Sooo, the one novel I've managed to finish since I came back from the conference (I do have to spend time writing too :-) - is great. It is set in the Regency, but there are spies. I'm always a sucker for spies. The story is is a page-turner - AFTER Page 61.

Before Page 61, I was befuddled. Couldn't figure out where all the house party hemming and hawing, flirting, hateful stares, etc., etc. was going.

This, my friends, is what we in the business call "Fishhead."  I once took a course from a published writer who said to take your finished MS, lay it all out on the floor and then take the first 50 pages and hide them. If the plot still makes sense, then just lose those first 50. Hah!

So, now, I'm wondering. Why would such a fine, published author leave fishhead in her tale of romance? This is not her first rodeo, and she has been one of my top favorites over the years.

Of course, I have no idea how the editing process works with the powers that be in the New York charmed publishing circle. If anyone knows, email me and I'll send you a free romance novel of your choice, and I'll share your insights here.

I admit I don't really know, but I do have some suspicions. The name of the game now seems to be to crank out 3-4 novels a year. Sometimes these poor authors have several series going at once, so that number could even be 6-8. Fishhead is the least of their worries.

My all-time favorite author produces one finely crafted gem every other year. Spies galore, and fishhead is not in her vocabulary.

Everyday Heroes


Heroes are not just on the cover of romance novels where I live. These guys live and work right next to us, and I, for one, appreciate the heck out of them. Mountain men could give those cover models a run for their money any day of the week.

Last night, a big wind on Lake Dillon got the best of me when I had a boatload of tourists. The motor swamped in big waves and a 30-knot wind shoved me steadily toward a rocky point. Dilemma: Should I call for help? Or ... hope for the best and not bother the lake cops? One look at the midwesterners in the cockpit with me and I decided - yep, better safe than sorry.

So I called for help. Felt really stupid and apologized in advance, but the dispatch lady was encouraging. She said at least I knew where I was. Most callers don't. The officers who patrol the lake go home at the end of the day but stay on call later. He called and reassured me it was OK. He was on the way to the patrol boat.

Meanwhile, I fought the gusts and wrestled the sail up a little way. My passengers took turns helping. Later, when we were safely back in the slip, they admitted they'd enjoyed the "adventure."

It took me a half hour to get past the rocks, about 10 feet away from us, limping along with a small handkerchief of the main sail up. When the wind let up for a few minutes, I managed to get more of the sail up, and we shot away from the point. I called the officer back and told him he could stand down. We could make it back with the full sail. He again assured me it was all right to have made the call.

Just knowing he was on his way alleviated the sheer terror of not knowing whether or not we'd run aground and possibly sink against the rocks.

When I worked for Copper Mountain Ski Patrol, embarrassing gaffs like that on the job required reparation with appropriate beverages all around for fellow patrollers, as well as lifties, if one of them witnessed said gaff.

So, have to find out the name of the hero who would have helped me and make sure reparation is made.

My town, Breckenridge

My town, Breckenridge

While we're on the subject of heroes, those of you who come to the mountains to enjoy our trails, beautiful vistas, and cool temps, please be aware of those heroes (both men and women) in the background. They make your visit not only pleasant, but S-A-F-E.

Kudos to our firefighters, ski patrollers, search and rescue volunteers, rescue dog handlers, community police officers, sheriff's deputies, all mountain medics, 911 dispatchers, and those brave souls who fly Flight for Life for St. Anthony's out of Summit County.

We're glad you're here.


Here's a little story about how a writer's mind works.

Yesterday morning, I had to get up super early, and yeah, I know - it was Sunday. Cannot fathom how my KISA (Knight In Shining Armor) manages to sleep while I'm up shuffling through my usual angst. However, in his defense, he has had years of practice sleeping through the noises a scribe makes stumbling awake.

A sailing customer unhappy about weather related delays has to be called about yet another day of storms. This goes way better than I thought. My suggestion that indoor pursuits might benefit her anniversary celebration tickles her funny bone.

Then plans change. Midway through my tourist-clogged hometown, I realize I can't tackle a day at the docks without some caffeine. "She who must be obeyed" (my 25-foot Cape Dory - her name's actually Into Thin Air) is sorely in need of scouring and scrubbing of the scuffs we've suffered throughout a week of hair-raising returns to the slip in 25-knot-plus winds and lightning all around.

Slip into my favorite locals coffee shop only to be greeted by a mob of similarly minded souls. When it rains on your vacation, where do "you" go? Right. Glad Julie's shop (Cuppa Joe's) has been discovered, but a writer in search of caffeine can get testy.

Sooo, struck off on foot. Once you find a parking spot in downtown Breckenridge in July, you do *not* abandon the space. Then have to zip up the foul weather gear when the heavens open. :-) Didn't I warn a customer about rain a few paragraphs ago? Lack of caffeine.

Next coffee shop is a wee bit disappointing, but they've just opened. The sweet lady behind the counter wonders where all the visitors are. I don't have the heart to tell her. However, she does stock gluten-free flour I've been searching for.

So now I'm carrying a bag of flour, my planner, and a cup of coffee. Oh, and did I say it's raining? Then I discover the Breck arts fair is in full swing. Artists, browsers, and asssorted crazed children are milling amongst the little white tents, in the rain. OK. Can't pass this up.

Usually I'm sailing when this great show comes to town, but here it is and here I am, which kind of explains what happens next. I run into Martha and Del Pettigrew, great Western sculptors whose works appear in collections and museums everywhere. We first met when I sold art for the former Paint Horse Gallery in Breck.

We chat a bit and then I meet someone who mesmerizes me. I collect Western art and fortunately, this particular occurrence doesn't happen often. For years, I've admired Martha's amazing small sculptures of native women, but never could afford the plunge (can't afford it now, but did it anyway). This particular strong little woman holds me in her serene gaze.

Have to have her, but sagely decide to think about it for a while. Can't get her out of my head, so I go back later and we work out a payment plan. All of Martha's little women have a name, but so far I don't know hers. The artist gives me her book about her sculptures and dashes off a few lines in the front.

Del helps me carry her to the van. Remember - bag of flour, coffee, and planner? Once she's safely padded into the seat in the back and Martha's hubby and I say our good-byes, I decide to see what Martha wrote.

Simply - "I know you'll enjoy Esperanza's company for many years to come!" Her name is Esperanza - Spanish for "hope" or "expectation."

Just what a tenacious writer needs. Another eerie writerly collision with the Universe sending me what I need.

So now she sits in my prize corner behind the computer in my office. Her gaze changing its meaning from time to time. Right now she's wondering if I've gotten those 1,000 words on paper yet.

Last night I explained Esperanza to my writing buddy here in Breck. We talked about the vagaries of the writing life and weird coincidences and hung up. In a matter of minutes she called back. She'd received a request in her email inbox from an agent for a full ms on one of her mysteries after we talked about Esperanza. I went back to the sculpture. This time the gaze seemed a little smug.

I'm not going to say it, but you know what I'm thinking. Esperanza.


Grumpy Writer

Good morning!

Grumpy writer here. Been working at my day job way too much, filling in for fellow, sidelined employees.

I've been blaming the weather (huge winds making my sailing gig a daily death defying act), my family (you know - those people who need to be fed periodically), the people who keep rejecting my work, and on and on.

Well - just had an epiphany:

"We have met the enemy and they is us." — Pogo

Yep, that's right. I have no one to blame but myself. I'm not writing every day as I should. My little chicks in progress are getting a weekly swipe of work. Not enough.

Back to the coal mines, 1,000 words a day, Baby.


Finished a novel? Do this next.

Nimitz class aircraft carrier

Nimitz class aircraft carrier

Worked for over a year on my second novel, "Secret Harbor," an excerpt from which can be accessed from my home page. There's something magic about typing "The End." But even more important is what you do next — nothing. Let that baby sit, for at least six weeks. Go do something else. Chill.

It's kind of like when you're baking a cake. The urge to open the oven door before it's finished is seductive. You can't help yourself. Don't do it.

There's no better cure for finished manuscript anxiety than strikes of creative lightning. Start the whole mess over, with another crazy idea (or two.)

When I hit that point earlier this spring, I took a double strike of incoming ideas.

The first is a Steampunk fantasy still percolating. You have a reclusive inventor and a wild Celtic woman wtih a sword. A flying machine-submarine that looks like a dragon and Viking berserkers who invade polite Victorian society.

The second is something totally different - the idea literally leaped off the wall from a poster at the Methodist Church in Evergreen where my critique group meets. Every summer when the rodeo hits town, the folks at the church have a day of celebrating the cowboy spirit and hosting rodeo-ers.

"Cowboy Sunday" is a contemporary romance between an NYC attorney fleeing failure and a Navy fighter pilot posing as a slacker musician in his dad's country-western band while his eyes heal from a freak accident.

Cheers! and happy writing. Hope you have as much fun as I do.

Battered, Bruised, but Better (I hope)

View from Margie's neighborhood in Coal Creek Canyon

View from Margie's neighborhood in Coal Creek Canyon

Was so tired after three solid days, an evening and a morning in the steel hands of writing coach Margie Lawson, I am just now returning to the blog.

Learned so much, I'm going to sit down tonight and organize a plan of attack. If you're an unpubbed author, there are no rules, there are no guidelines, there are no easy paths.

I've promised myself this is the year I take care of craft. I'm going to polish all my orphan novels within an inch of their lives. Creativity and editing are the only areas of publishing over which I have any control, and I'm going to take the challenge, I'm going to own the results.

The sheer volume of words is stupefying. How does one get one's arms around so much prose? One word, one work at a time.

And then, oh yeah, don't forget the ongoing creative bingeing on new stuff.

"Cowboy Sunday" - two chapters done - writing's dark side (the synopsis) to go  - contest entry due June 1.

"Creations of Time" Steampunk novel—three chapters done, seventeen to go.

Gotta go—all those hours in the day without anything yet pigeonholed in them—they're calling me.

And, just in case anyone is wondering...yep—it's still snowing in Colorado. Maybe we'll get some sun before the summer solstice.

Close, but No Cigar

Just got the scores back from a VBNC (Very Big National Contest) for romance writers. Won't say which one here to avoid embarassment.

However, all I can say is I did OK for a trucker's daughter from the cornfields of Northern Ohio.

I was in the top quarter of all entries, and two of five judges gave me a perfect score. This means I'm close, which as you all know, counts only in hand grenades and horseshoes. Of course, one judge gave me a score so low, I'd have to limbo to get under it.

Many requests over the years for partial and full manuscripts have ended in "thanks, but no thanks." Face-to-face meetings with editors and agents have ended similarly. Many requests for more, but no contract. One memorable pitch ended in the first five seconds. "Stop," she said, and lifted her hand like a traffic cop. "You will never sell a romance about the Civil War."


After that slap-down, all I could do to fill my remaining four minutes was to inquire as to what books she was reading.

If I were a perpetual bridesmaid, never a bride, after all these years, I might do something scary, like join an online dating service. Being rejected by an endless stream of indifferent members of the opposite sex pales in comparison to what I've suffered as an aspiring (to be published) author.

Which brings me to my next announcement. I'm going to put myself through an intensive Immersion Class for writers under the creative whip of Margie Lawson, the best of the best.

I've been a member of the Romance Writers of America so long, I 've forgotten which year I joined. So, from next Saturday through the following Wednesday, I will submit to whatever it takes to drag my writing to the next level. No excuses. No whining. No closet cowering.

(See, Margie, I used a little anaphora in that last graph and made a shaky run at a power word at the end.)

In order to subject myself to days of analysis of my buckets of writing, I had to complete three of her master classes on my own. I've been at this self-torture for a couple of months, and my eyeballs are bugging. :-)

I can hardly wait. Let the beatings begin.

Writing - the Dark Side


I know you've all heard - not just here, but other places - writing is not for the faint of heart.

A new horror has popped up, one even I hadn't yet encountered. I woke up Sunday morning in a cold sweat from a nightmare:

Someone was hacking into my laptop, into my latest WIP (Work in Progress), and ... killing off my characters. In my dream, this atrocity was going on not only in my word processor, but that of a critique friend.

We stood by in morbid fascination as each night we'd leave the characters happily buzzing through their flawless plots, only to discover each morning - something horribly wrong. Someone had slithered into our carefully created literary universes and rewrote scenes to kill off our characters. The mayhem was endless - runaway buses, crazed serial killers, one even choked on a straw.

We decided we had to act. We'd take turns staying up each night. Two laptops glowed side by side, a tense writer sat nearby, ready to pounce on the intruder. For four nights we did this. No one showed up, nothing changed.

Cool. We showed him (er, her?).

There was one problem, though. When we stayed up all night lying in wait for the intruder (s??), we were so exhausted the next day, we couldn't WRITE. Yipes!

Not sure what my subconscious is trying to tell me with all this angst, but when I find out, you'll be the first to know.

It might have been the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers panel discussion I attended Saturday in Lakewood. A group of writers shared their experiences with Indie Publishing, and, believe it or not, it's getting even scarier out there. Now not only do we have to make this stuff up, we have to edit, design the cover and market. Still trying to digest all the info.

But for now, gotta go check to see if my characters are all still safe and sound

There's Always Enough - Trust Me

In the last few weeks, I've talked to a number of friends having the "If only" blues.

I'd write that novel if ...

I had more time, if I weren't working two jobs, if I weren't over the hill ...

and if ...

I had enough money to stop working and just write.

Everybody out there - if these laments strike a chord with you, do us all a favor and go grab a piece of paper and a pen.

Write this down right now and then once a day until the concept sinks in:

"I have all the time in the world." That's it. Einstein said it - time is a relative concept (my paraphrase). You're probably thinking right now - she doesn't understand *my* life, or she wouldn't be so glib about time.

OK - if you don't beieve me, here's another assignment - put together a spreadsheet of your available hours for the next two weeks. Figure out when you get up, how long it takes to rally with a cup of coffee, and then write that time down. Next, estimate when you're going to hit the sack every night - allow an hour or two before bed to organize yourself, the kids, whatever. Then that hour is your latest opportunity to do all the things you want to do.

Now - plug in all the stuff you *have* to do for the next two weeks - work, family commitments, etc. - don't skimp - even allow yourself some padded time for changes in plans. Then look at what's left. I promise you won't believe how many hours are left. What is taking up all those hours?

I don't know about you, but I'm guilty of too much mindless television, way too much sitting and staring, and, oh yeah, solitaire on my Iphone.

You get the idea. There will be a heck of a lot of hours staring at you after you plug in all your "have-to's."

Next, write down "I have all the money I need." Repeat daily until you believe it.

I'm a little like Frank Sinatra. Over the years, I've been "up and down, over and out," etc., etc. What I've noticed about my financial highs and lows is that when I was making decent money, my needs seemed to expand to suck it all up. When I was living on the edge and barely squeaking by, I managed to accordion in my spendthrift urges.

I guess the essential question we all periodically have ask ourselves is: How much do I really need to be happy? "Jimmy Buffet says it pretty well for me in his lyrics - "I'm just glad I don't live in a trailer."

To be honest, I wish I never had to work again and could spend my days daydreaming and banging out novels. However, I've compromised with part-time work with low-level responsibilities.

I've re-adjusted my previous list of perceived needs downward. I haven't bought a new car since the early '90s, and if I can't find what I need in a thrift shop, I don't buy it.

The bottom line here is how much do you want whatever it is you believe you can't have because of a lack of time and/or money? Do you want it enough to "blow up the TV and eat a lot of peaches"? (Thank you, John Prine) Something to think about.

Clarity, and How to Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Had a hard time today getting back to the blog after a great, high-energy weekend - lots of friends and family, plus danced my butt off Saturday to the sound of the bluegrass geniuses from Denver - Oakhurst. They played their hearts out while their fingers froze on the deck of The Warming Hut in Breckenridge. In town to celebrate the first year anniversary of my friend, Stacey Connolly's, great Colorado comfort food restaurant.

And then we got the tragic news of the explosions at the Boston Marathon today. Nothing I can say, but my heart goes out to the victims and families. I considered bagging the blog this week, but then late tonight I remembered something my father used to say at times like these. He served during WWII in Europe with Patton and would never talk about the war.

However, when America would come under the sad kind of attack we all witnessed via the news networks today, my dad would simply say, "They have no idea who we are."

If you pressed him to explain, he'd say Americans come from a melting pot of people who went through hell before they ever got to these shores. At one point, England sent criminals to the colonies in lieu of imprisonment there. Immigrants fled famine in Europe in the mid-1800s with little more than the clothes on their backs and determination. Intolerance and persecution continued into the 20th century, bringing even more new citizens.

We've been underestimated by bullies more than once over the centuries. No matter who ultimately takes responsibility for the latest tragedy, their intent was to humiliate, subjugate, and keep us from continuing to be who we are.

Runners crowd one of the bridges during the NYC Marathon.Sorry to disappoint, but the runners won't stop striving to train and excel in marathons. And as long as the brave folks of Boston continue to celebrate Patriots Day, I'm betting the runners will still come.

If you're a writer, use today's strong emotions to craft something to make us all think. We're artists, and we're dangerous. The thoughts we churn out challenge the status quo, bullies, injustice ... Say it, own it.

Over and out.

Don't Give up the Ship!

If you've been toiling away at your heart's desire for a long time with nothing to show for all your efforts, and you're thinking of calling it quits, here are a few things to consider.

Personally, I'm a cockeyed optimist/masochist, depending on your point of view. The thought of turning my writing room back into a full-time bedroom never enters my mind. Not. Once a year I look at the piles of notes, books, etc., etc., and consider for about five seconds what a beautiful bonfire they'd make. Then I sit back down at the computer and slash open another vein in an attempt to fill a page with fiction.

FIRST: The only way you'll never succeed - get published - find the love of your life - yada, yada - is if you give up.

Yes, that's right - success may elude us our entire lives, even if we keep putting one foot in front of the other. Our chances of getting what we want may resemble the odds of winning the lottery. But ... even if there is one chance in a million, that's better than none at all - which is what will transpire if we give up.

No one in the publishing industry is going to take a chance on you, unless they are convinced you're a sure thing. If you're not convinced you're a sure thing, and you give up, why should anyone take a flyer on your project(s)?

"Keep going. Writing is finally play, and there's no reason why you should get paid for playing. If you're a real writer, you'll write no matter what." - Irwin Shaw

SECOND: Whether the idea(s) rolling around in your brain like so many pebbles ever see the light of day, is up to you alone. However, the folks who could benefit from those pebbles are legion. How many times have you seen a work of art or read a darned good book that inspired you or gave you a moment of pleasure in the middle of pain or depression?

If you have a book, painting, collage, art jewelry, or even a quilt in you, it's your duty to get it out there. Someone needs that moment of joy that only you can provide.

Author Willa Cather said it best -

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."

Is it Better to Have Published or Not ...?

A good writing friend and former critique group partner, Aaron Michael Ritchey, did a recent blog on the pros and cons of self-publishing vs small house publishing vs big time publishing.

He is a great writer, and I highly recommend his "The Never Prayer," a YA paranormal.

However, Aaron is not the only one in angst over these questions. Frankly, unless you're Stephen King, the marketing is going to kill you no matter how your book is published.

We all ultimately have to get our books out there no matter which publishing venue we are chosen for (or choose). Being chosen by a traditional publisher has a certain cache which self-publishing does not. The rewards, though, if our marketing shines, are much higher in the self-publishing arena.

I had an interesting conversation last summer in Anaheim at the RWA national conference with Cheryl Bolen, author of many Regency romances. She is both tradtitionally, and self-pubbed. She said the trick to be successful is to have a lot of inventory to sell, because once the readers find you and like you, they're insatiable. If you're a one-book pony, they tend to drift away. They don't like to wait.

So - write a darned good book, and then, apparently, you gotta write a whole bunch more, which is where I'm headed now. I've got the 3x5 cards lined up and just finished the collage (above) for my latest, a Steampunk, "Creations of Time."

Later, dear readers.

The Creative Brain

Just spent the entire weekend doing creative visuals. I've been researching how the brain works, since mine is getting older and creakier (or should that be crankier?) by the minute. Turns out the spongy-looking critter is pretty much tuned in and turned on to visualization.

You've heard all the buzz about left vs. right brain. Well, turns out, I'm right in the middle, which explains a lot. I took a shrink's test to see how best to structure my writing and editing. In the last decade, in favor of cranking out all the stories swirling around in my brain, I've kind of let my other creative pursuits fall by the wayside, like sewing, quilting, art collage, etc.

After all the research, I'm beginning to see there may be a correlation. If I let each side have a few hours each week, maybe the opposing sides will fire a little better.

You, see, being an obsessive-compulsive creative type is a mixed blessing. You have to create, but at times the objects of creation fight for equal time. When this happens, we sometimes close the office door and go do something odious, like watch a 20-episode marathon of NCIS re-runs. The re-runs are fine - it's the hours of inane commercials that just kill the brain - sort of like spending the afternoon in a smoke-filled bar, listening to "drunk-speak."

Roger Seip, in "Train Your Brain for Success," has a lot of great tips for maximizing noggin power. My personal favorite is working full-bore for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes (depending on your focus) and then taking a short two-three-minute break - stretch, fix some tea or coffee, walk to the living room, maybe pet the dog and/or cat. He also rates specific goals and a deadline as critical to getting into the zone where you just crank your heart out, and 1,000 words a day are a piece of cake. And then there's the visualization of those goals.

Mike Dooley's ("Leveraging the Universe and Engaging the Magic") recipe for success includes five minutes a day to visualize dreams and goals. And you gotta be specific - don't just conjure a vision of a deserted beach - put yourself there in a chair with an umbrella drink.

And then there's Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art." This is hands down, my favorite book on weathering creative, and self-doubt storms:

"The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut, not the hole. He reminds himself it's better to be in the arena getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot."

And that is it for today - it's up to 5 degrees here in beautiful Breckenridge, CO, and we're still in the "thinking" phase of venturing out for some cross-country skiing - hard-working, heart-pounding, sweat-invoking skiing. Not ride-the-lifts, freeze-your-tuckas-off skiing.

Pantser? Planner? Plantser? Twitter?

OK - it's been a rough weekend and it's only Sunday morning, but it *is* St. Patrick's Day and there's a green beer in my future. Am I Irish? Not especially, but I can drink green beer.

Of my two favorite great grandmothers, one was Irish and the other full-blooded Cherokee. That one, I'm told, used to get pissed off and periodically throw the dog over the back fence. This could possibly be a variation of the "Cherokee Dance" my husband talks about. I wouldn't know, because when it happens, I'm so out of control, I can't see straight and someone has to pull me off the person who caused it (usually one of my offspring).

The Irish one came to America as an indentured servant and stirred up so much trouble in one wealthy household in Southern Ohio, that she ended up married off to the gardener and shuffled off to coal-mining country. My red-neck family's version of Downton Abbey.

A beautiful, huge watercolor of her that's over a hundred years old hangs behind my desk. I can imagine her making snarky Irish remarks over my shoulder while I write. On one memorable morning, I could swear she said, "If you don't write that novel now, just when in the hell do you think you will?"

Back in those days, a painting like that was not cheap. Wonder who had it made? Probably not the gardener. And, oh yeah - she's a red head.

Oops - almost forgot - the pantser-planner-plantser thing. I made a New Year's resolution (never a good idea) to plan my writing projects more before I just dive in and bang stuff out. This has led to all sorts of backed up behavior - piles of overflowing paper in my office - lots of diagrams and 3x5 cards littering the walls.

And then yesterday (it is the end of March after all), just like when you have too many jalapenos the night before, everything that 's backed up since January in my pea brain overflowed. Right onto my brave old Mac laptop. Couldn't stop. Sooooo. What am I saying here? Jes sayin' maybe the pantser thing is what I'm supposed to be doing.

Then - did something I've been putting off for a long time - I signed on to Twitter - as @andreasailsaway. And, believe it or not, had the same out-of-body experience as the first time I smoked something I shouldn't. I didn't get it. What is the point? Maybe as I ease into this whole social media thing, it'll make more sense? All I know for sure is I gotta log back in and get all the Huffington Post crap outta there. Joe Hill, however, is great. For all we know, tho, maybe his 13-year-old is posting for him. Ha!



Steal a Little Inspiration

OK - here's a tip you shouldn't pass on to any of my friends. I sneak ideas from conversations, sometimes when they're not even meant for me.

My favorite question I love to hit people with is this one:

How did you first meet your significant other?

The answers are amazing. And even more surprising is how willing everyone is to talk about attraction (OK, so most of those who are eager to spill their guts are of the female persuasion). However, I have managed to get some of my guy buddies to spill the beans too.

My personal favorite is the couple who were our neighbors for many years. He was a ski patroller, she, a property manager. The winters are long up here, sometimes beginning in September and not letting up until well into April, or even May. When a few sunny, spring days hit, we all get a little crazy - Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops even though the streets may be snow covered.

Some folks keep convertibles hidden in ramshackle garages over the winter and cruise around with the top down when the temps are still in the 40s and 50s (oh, yeah).

Soooo, his thing was a beautiful motorcycle. Getting it out of storage and readying the beast for cruising around town was his personal rite of spring.

It was one of those spring nights when she first saw him - at a mountain town bar - over a cold longneck.

She was intrigued and came back the next night only to engage in great banter and then see him roar off on his trusty steed at the end of the evening.

Pressing her luck, she came back the third night. When he stood and zipped his leather coat to leave, she followed him out and asked, "Aren't you going to give me your number?"

He said, "If you come with me now, you won't need my number." And the rest, as they say, is history. She admitted (out of his hearing, of course) that she was so stunned, she climbed aboard behind him and forgot both her jacket and purse in the bar.

They don't know this, but I'm stealing their story for my latest work in progress. If I ever manage to sell it, I'll ship them an anonymous 12-pack of PBR.

And, BTW, over at Harlequin, there's a contest in progress for their Blaze (high level of steam) line. Check it out, that is if you want to be a hopeful romantic and fling yourself against the palace gates of publishing. Learn more here.

Inspiration - Part II

Last week I mentioned the many published romance authors who provide inspiration for my own creations.

This week, I have to share the incredible film I used to understand the characters in my last novel, "Secret Harbor." Sometimes a film inspires a long spin-off of character interactions. The plot is secondary. I could blather on, but here is the trailer from "Le Hussard sur le Toit." ("The Horseman on the Roof") Rent it on a cold Friday night and bring on the hot buttered popcorn. Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez.

"The Horseman on the Roof" 

Here's some more I watch again and again:

"Romancing the Stone" - Michael Douglas & Kathleen Turner - a romance writer uses all the crackpot ideas she's written over the years to help find a fabulous jewel, and save her sister, all the while being exasperated with an adventurer with commitment phobia

"American Dreamer" - JoBeth Williams & Tom Conti - a repressed American romance writer gets klonked on the head while in Paris to accept a writing award and turns into her favorite character

"Proof of Life" - Russell Crowe & Meg Ryan - unrequited love in the context of a soldier of fortune trying to rescue a woman's kidnapped hubby in South America

"Charade" - Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn - say no more - international thievery, and the best night scene on a Paris floating restaurant

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" - George Peppard & Audrey Hepburn - love conquers all - with 60s era NYC irresistible

"To Catch a Thief" - Cary Grant & Grace Kelly - French Rivieria, crackerjack Alfred Hitchcock mystery - need I say more?

"Bull Durham" - Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon - steamy, hot love (literally) and baseball. What more could you ask? Also the beginning of one of the most famous younger man (Tim Robbins), older woman (Sarandon) duos in Hollywood.

"Dirty Dancing" - Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze - YA (Young Adult) at its best, before we knew it was YA (or "New Adult" as it's called now) Girl takes on the world, and her daddy, all in defense of one of the hottest dance partners on the planet. 

Fascinating portrait of devotion and commitment between two men - "Master & Commander" - Russell Crowe & Paul Bettany - darned good swashing and buckling detail on the high seas as well. Based on Patrick O'Brian's all-time bestsellers about Napoleonic Wars adventure in the British Navy. Over the course of many boat deliveries in the Caribbean, I read the entire series, finding all of them on trade shelves at island bars.

If your characters have a hard time committing, and you're a sucker for happy endings - anything with Tom Hanks and/or Meg Ryan

If you're writing a romance dominated by cowboys and the strong women who eventually hog-tie them, spend an afternoon with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.

Again - don't focus on the storyline - it's really secondary - trust me. How does the hero get the heroine to trust him? How the heroine get him to go along with her harebrained schemes? And here is one of my all-time favorite trade secrets - when is the moment the heroine falls in love with the hero (clue: it's the same moment we fall in love with him)?

I just finished a great Victorian Steampunk romance ("A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis") by Jillian Stone where the heroine overhears the hero explaining to his small son just how they will conquer the monster the boy is convinced has invaded his room. She's only recently learned he has a son, the reason he broke off their engagement years earlier. She's really honked off at him, but she can't resist him after this scene, and neither can we.

How do you write love scenes? A lot of fellow writers ask this question, followed, or sometimes, preceded, by "Ickk." For the romance reader, clinical detail may not be necessary to draw her in. But the simple scene above did it for me, and, I suspect, did it as well for many other readers.



Inspiration - it hits us at the oddest times and in even odder places, but an early mentor of mine said it best: "Read a couple hundred romances, and then a couple hundred more."

She was right, and along the way I've enjoyed many a pleasurable hour in the company of works by the likes of the late Kathleen Woodiwiss, Stephanie Laurens, and my personal favorites, Jo Beverly and Joanna Bourne - historical romance at its finest with the RITAS to prove it. Jo Beverly covers both the Regency and Georgian eras. Joanna Bourne does Regency with a twist. Her award winning works focus on English spies during the Napoleonic Wars.

All of these fine authors offer advice for aspiring romance writers on their websites, which I frequently check out:

This was a hard one to pick, since I've read most of everything she's ever written, but had to go with "A Lady's Secret," one of her Georgian titles. When Robin Fitzvitry, the fun-loving Earl of Huntersdown, encounters a cursing nun in a French inn, he can't resist the mystery. Petra d'Averio is not exactly a nun, though she has spent years in an Italian convent with her widowed mother. Her mother's death has left her in danger, and she must find the only person who might protect her: her true father, an English lord who doesn't even know she exists. She will enlist the Earl's help, use him, and eventually escape him with her virtue and secrets intact ... she hopes.

Don't miss her RITA award-winner - "The Black Hawk" - the spy story opens in 1818 London - "The past caught up to her in the rain, in Braddy Square, six hundred yards from Meeks Street." This is Justine and Adrian's love story. Two star-crossed spies struggle to re-ignite their passion in spite of the hidden menace trying to kill them.

Hands down - "The Edge of Desire" - Lady Letitia Randall is a woman like no other, and the day Christian Allardyce, 6th Marquess of Dearne, left her behind to fight for king and country was the most difficult of his life. She believes he abandoned her when she needed him most, but now she needs him to clear her brother's name. Christian decides to wage a war of his own - a campaign of pure pleasure and sweet revenge.

Her best by far - "Beguiling the Beauty" - set in 1886, a love affair on a transatlantic liner - "She was quiet. The ship rose and fell gently, as if it lay upon the breast of a sleeping giant. The beads on her skirt slid and clicked against one another, like a distant rain of pearls."

All of these authors offer romance on the edge - never a cliche, with many an unexpected plot twist. Sparkling prose and enough historical details to satisfy your curiosity, yet not put you to sleep. And all within the parameters of traditional romance. You have to provide the holy grail of HEA before your story spins out its 300-400 pages. (Happy Ever After). They manage to create small twinges of doubt even though you know how the story has to end.

If you don't yearn to hole up and write a romance of your own after reading some of these great stories - well, you're just not living right.