Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Claire Robyns - My Path to Publication

I've always read. A lot. Even at school, I'd average about 2 books a week (except at exams time) and these days there's just so much more to read in volume and variety - delicious!!

But, I never considered actually writing a book. This was before the wave of social media and online writing sites, and authors just seemed to glamorous, existing in another dimension. The task of writing a whole book was inconcievable, surely that required a talent that little ol' me could never aspire to.

Nowadays, of course, we get to chat with our favourite authors, we get to *see* them online and we get to realise they're just people like the rest of us, with large imaginations and a dash of talent and neverending perserverance.

But, anyway, I went on to have twins, we moved country and I took 6 months maternity leave. That would have been a good time to start writing. Huh. Then it was time for me to get back to work. And yes, with 6 months old twins and a household to run and a husband to manage and a full-time day job, that's when I decided to start writing my first book. Because, you know, I wasn't busy enough, lol.

I'd always enjoyed reading M&B and so that's what I decided to write. A full manuscript which I sent off to London, without a synopsis or query letter. Mmmm ... it came back in a big brown envelope, slightly worse for wear, with a nicely worded "R". I was devastated. Until I found the eHarlequin loop and started chatting with other aspiring authors and actually started learning a thing or two about this publishing business.

Still, the road wasn't easy. For seven years I wrote and submitted. I got some standard rejections, some lovely rejections with feedback, some requests for fulls and then some requests for revisions on submitted fulls. And I kept on going. The editors always loved my voice and writing, but the main reasons for the rejections always seemed to be : too little emotional depth, too many secondary characters, too much external plot.

After a couple of years, I did try to tailor my writing to increase the emotional complexity, to exterminate those secondary characters and work on plots. Seven years later I took a step back and looked at what I was doing, where I was going... I have so much respect for the M&B authors, it takes more than talent and imagination and focus to write category, it takes a special ability to understand the nuances of your line/s and write toward it without losing your voice and stories and creativity, and so many of them do this so, so well!!

At that point I was wrung out, I had no ideas left and no road to follow. My muse was drowned in self doubt and I gave up on getting published. But not on writing. That's when I wrote Betrayed, the book of my heart. I had no intention of submitting it. I didn't crawl through the websphere searching for what's hot and what's over, I didn't care what publishing houses are looking for, I just wrote and wrote and wrote what I wanted.

This story ended up at 650k words. A tome. But that was okay. It wasn't supposed to sell and I was the only person who had to love it.

About a year after I'd completed it, my wonderful critique group convinced me to send it out. So I thought, why not? I had nothing to lose, I wouldn't be devastated by rejections because this book had already achieved what I'd hoped for - I'd gotten my creativity back, my love for writing, for creating worlds and characters, I'd fallen back in love with my own words. Betrayed drew some interest from a publisher (suddenly I had an editor on the phone, chatting to me about revisions!! La, la, you should have heard the squealing in my house) but was eventually rejected. This story has all the grit and grime of life in medieval Scotland, I didn't blunt any corners even though I was quite aware it was perhaps a little too gritty for the current historical romance out there.

A few months after that, Carina Press was announced. Their slogan "...where no great story goes untold" reeled me in. And I thought I'd send Betrayed out there one last time before shoving it under the bed. Well, Carina Press loved it :)

As lame as it sounds, in the end, it was the story of my heart that became my debut book with Carina Press.

The road doesn't end there, though. There's still self-doubt, the possibilty of rejection by readers and also by my publishing house. The new world of social media and self-promotion that has to be navigated. But I'm loving every second of it. When a reader tweets that they've just read my book and liked it, I wear a smile for that whole day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's Only A Book

I took the photo at a local bookstore. Like so many others, time and change took its toll on the bookstore.  Take a good look at this photograph and think, as I did when I took it, about how much work had been put into the books stacked on these tables and in the floor, offered at 80% off.

Each book represents a block of time taken from a writer's life and, maybe, a little bit of their soul.  That brings me to the motto, “It’s Only A Book”.

 It’s a humble little motto that I ran across a writing article years ago. The article was about putting writing in the proper perspective.  Sorta like Don't Sweat The Small Stuff  for Writers. 

Since writers easily forget to keep things in perspective, I'm sharing some of my thoughts on "it's only a book". 

When you have been stabbed in the heart by a rejection letter or a bad review, remember that is part of being a writer. Every writer has to face the cold reality that their baby will not be loved by everyone. But, maybe, it will be loved by someone.  Either way, it is only a book.  Quit dwelling.  There’s always the next one...You need to get started on it now.

When you don’t make time to write, regardless of your circumstances, and when you sacrifice writing time to do other things, then “It’s only a book” is great mantra.  But, it’s only a book does not apply in this situation because writing is not your priority.  For you, it’s only a dream. One you will never realize.

When you are caught up in the "it has to be perfect" trap, remember it’s only a book. It will never be perfect and it doesn’t have to be. Stephen King said the road to hell was paved with adverbs. JK Rowling has an adverb in every sentence (almost).  Hello!!   Write it your way and it’ll be perfect. 

And for those who are so busy networking they can't get their book written:  Get off the workshop/conference/meeting train if you are spending more time socializing than writing.  A great article along this line can be found here:  It is only a book if you get it finished.

This leads me to when you have revised continuously because you are trying to please your critique partners, or worse, if you have QUIT writing because of a critique group (and I know of writers who fit in these categories). You need to suck it up and submit.  What's the worst thing that can happen?  You might sell and actually have a published book that may someday end up at a yard sale with a bright orange 25 cent sticker on it.  Stop suffering over your words.  See photograph above when your confidence lags or even when your ego is over-inflated.

Getting published comes with a set of different problems but problems nonetheless.  A contract is not a magic wand that wipes away all your writer angst.  After all, it is only a book.  Not CPR.  It’s not gonna save you from yourself.  You are not going to die if your book never sells and you are not going to bask in a continuous glow if it does.  That’s not how a writer’s life works.

That being said, on a bad day, print out the above photo and tape it up near your workspace so you never forget it’s only a book.  I would suggest also drawing a smiley face on it......

Patricia Preston

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Romance Trading Cards

You've all heard about Jeannie Lin's awesome idea of Romance Trading Cards by now, haven't ya?  If not, check out the great Romance Trading Card site produced by Amanda Berry, Jeannie Lin and Shawntelle Madison.
You can read all about 'em here:

Authors offer tantalizing, slick, business-card-sized collectible versions of their books, usually the book cover on one side and some delicious tidbits about the book, maybe a blurb or excerpt, on the back. Many authors have gone the Topps Baseball Card route, providing a character's stats on the back. In short...everything except the bubblegum!
So far, Romance Trading Cards have made an appearance at the recent Romantic Times convention in Los Angeles where, by all accounts, they proved a smashing and brilliant success.  They've been auctioned off for charity; and they will be the Brenda Novak Annual On-Line Auction for Diabetes Research in which many Carina Press authors are taking part.
Anyway...I desperately wanted my own.  'Cause hell knows, I can't get enough of seeing Adam (my delectable swoon-worthy hero) and the cover of HEALING HEARTS plastered all over the place!

But since I am so artistically, graphically, computer techly and geekily challenged, I prevailed upon the fabulous Angela Waters, who designed  the HEALING HEARTS cover for Carina Press, to create some for me. Angela went to work and came up with designs for both HEALING HEARTS and  for  SLEEPY HOLLOW DREAMS, my erotic paranormal for The Wild Rose Press!

And here they are! 


Just when I thought Adam couldn't possibly get any more swoon-worthy...he did! Thank you, Angela. (And cover-model Jimmy Thomas)

And here's Emma:

            (She's most definitely Adam-worthy...don'tcha think?)

And...SLEEPY HOLLOW DREAMS,  based on the cover designed for The Wild Rose Press by Angela Anderson.

So what do you think?  Aren't they gorgeous? 

What do you think of the whole idea?  Personally, I think it's brilliant. For e-book authors, especially, we now have something to actually sign!
A reader who's already started collecting the cards saw me blabbing about mine on Facebook and asked for some!  (The internet is a truly amazing thing, isn't it?)

I've sent my first set off by snail mail to South Africa. (Unsigned, I'm afraid. I was so excited to send them off that I popped them in the mail before finding a snazzy Sharpie in gold-silver-bronze-metallic tones.)
So if you want some, give me a holler.

 I can't wait to hand 'em out at the RWA #11 National Conference in New York City in June.  See y'all there!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Case of the Disappearing Dukes

I love historical romances, especially the sorts of stories in which the high-and-mighty English lord of the manor finally meets his match in the person of a woman he can’t force to behave the way he wants her to. The fabulously wealthy and handsome Duke of So-and-so versus the Regency miss or the Victorian lady. And she always wins. I must say, though, that one thing has always perplexed me - what happened to his father?

Think of it. The duke only becomes the duke when the male who previously owned the title, normally the new duke’s father, dies. Our heroes are most often in their thirties and are seldom over forty. In the usual way of things, that would make their fathers not much over sixty. If you’re twenty-one, sixty-two can seem really old. I happen to be that exact age and plan to hang on for several more years, thank you very much. So, what’s killing all these older dukes and earls?

“But, Alice,” you say, “the life expectancy back then wasn’t what it is today. We live much longer now.” Yes and no. The life expectancy, or the average age at which people die, has gotten longer over the years. However, that statistic can be wildly skewed in societies with high infant mortality rates. If half the people born die in early childhood, those numbers will drag the average down. Even if life expectancy is thirty-five, plenty of people will still live to old age. The life span - the longest time people live on Earth- hasn’t changed much over the generations.

Plus, the English nobility had better nutrition, medical care, and overall quality of life than working people or the poor, especially during industrial periods when the London smog could literally kill people. They could escape to their country homes while the urban poor suffered the effects of the industrial revolution. Given all this, isn’t it a bit odd to expect to find dashing, young noblemen everywhere? And yet, that’s the sort of book many of us, like me, enjoy reading and writing.

When I first invented Philip Rosemont, Viscount Wesley, heir to the Earl of Farnham, I decided to make his parents characters in the book (Always a Princess, a Carina August release). In fact, his mother, Lady Farnham is one of my very favorite secondary characters ever. I didn’t see any reason to make them disagreeable, so they all get along pretty well, except for the fact that Philip refuses to settle down and provide an heir. Philip’s a world traveler and only uses his parent’s house on Hyde Park as a pied à terre. All this has made him a mama’s boy to some people. To me, he’s a delightful and sexy scoundrel who steals jewels for fun until he meets the one person he can’t control and can’t live without, my heroine, Eve Stanhope. If you read the book, let me know what you think.

Another oddity of our beloved books is what I think of as nobility inflation. The more we write, the higher in status our heroes become. Viscounts are okay, but earls and dukes are much better. I believe we’d write men from the royal family except for the fact that these characters would be easily identifiable as real people. These days, who would write a book with a lowly mister as hero? Alas, poor Mr. Rochester. Even the elevated Mr. Darcy is only related to Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and does anyone really know where she stands in the social register?

If you read English historical romances, you’d think that you only need to step off the boat to stumble over some nobleman or other. In reality, most people who live in England have very little, if any, contact with the nobility. I have this on authority from an English friend and another friend originally from Germany who’s lived in England for many years. In fact, my English friend served as a consultant on another historical romance I wrote, and she didn’t pick up the fact that I’d called the second son of a duke Lord Claridge, when he should have been Lord Will.

So, we’re not writing realism. Quelle surprise. I don’t really care. Reality often s**ks. I prefer romance. I believe that at some point, you have to go with Mystery Science Theatre:
If you wonder how they eat and breathe
And other science facts,
Just remember it’s a story.
You should really just relax.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Introducing A Marriage of Inconvenience

My new Regency historical romance, A Marriage of Inconvenience, releases this coming Monday, April 11. It's something of a Cinderella story--Lucy Jones, an orphaned poor relation of a baronet's family, meets the wealthy, powerful James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley, and they're drawn together despite their differences in rank and fortune, and despite the fact each one firmly believes they're in love with someone else.

Here's a brief excerpt I hope will whet your appetite. Comment for a chance to win the book--I'll give one copy to a randomly selected commenter. Deadline: midnight, Sunday night, Pacific Time.


She shook her head, then reached up to brush back one of the loose ringlets of hair that had fallen across her face. “My aunt’s abigail wanted to cut my hair before I came here, because short hair is so fashionable.”

“But you refused,” he said, rejoicing that she had.

“Yes. It’s ridiculous, absurd, but I cannot bear the thought of having it cut. It—it makes me think of when it was shaved.”

James knew it was very wrong of him, when Miss Jones had just confided in him, confessing the great secret of her childhood ordeal. But he could not stop his hand from reaching up, stroking lightly over the braided coronet, then twisting one of those loose ringlets around his fingers. “Don’t ever cut it,” he said, startled at how husky his voice sounded, shocked at how much he wanted to see her hair down, how vividly he imagined it spread across a pillow.

Though it was deep twilight, there was enough light that James could see her eyes widen, and he heard her sharp intake of breath. What was he doing? She was so innocent, barely out in society, and he had only met her that morning. He dropped his hand as though the lock of hair burned him.

“I must get back before anyone misses me,” she said, sounding confused.

Indeed she must. If anyone found them here alone in near darkness…

He stood and extended a hand to help her rise. “Come, I’ll show you a door into a different part of the castle,” he said. “If anyone notices how long you were gone, you can simply say you became lost trying to find your way back from the ladies’ retiring room.”

She laughed softly. “I almost couldn’t find my room after visiting the library earlier today. This castle is a perfect maze.”

“It’s often so in houses that have been added on to and improved upon over the centuries,” he said as he led her toward the door. “Orchard Park is very nearly as large, but since my father had it built all at once, it’s much more difficult to lose one’s way. Here.” He tested the door to make sure it was unlocked. “I believe this leads into the library. Can you find your way from here?”

“I can. Thank you, Lord Selsley. You’re—you are very kind.”

He shook his head. “If I may offer you a final piece of advice, Miss Jones?”

“Of course.”

He squeezed her hand lightly, then released it. “The next time a man you’ve known for less than a day touches your hair, you really ought to slap him for his troubles.”

She gave him a startled stare. “Oh! Well, I hardly expect it to be a common occurrence.”

“One never knows. You have lovely hair.”

Again she reached up and twisted a ringlet around her fingers. Without speaking again, she released it and fled into the library.


For more information, including a longer excerpt and buy links, please visit my website.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Gay Historical HEA

Whatever the era with historical heterosexual fiction, once the hero and heroine have been through the required conflict, warred with their parents, or their countries, found each other, lost each other, found each other again, blah blah blah, they can finally fall into each other's arms, get married, shack up and it is assumed that never a cross word will pass their lips and the happiness will begin.

But--what about two men in love? Writers of gay historicals have to somehow convince their readers that--despite most eras pre Stonewall/pre-Wolfenden being downright dangerous times to be gay--the characters in our books have chosen to take the risk, and wish to stay together come what may. Or that they've managed some way to be together which flies a little under the radar

But how best to do it?

Obviously, we know that there have been homosexual men since men were invented. I'm sure that Ug looked out of his cave one day and saw Ig waving quietly at him and he either lost all interest in dragging any females back to his cave, or realised why he didn't want to. It might not have been too worrisome for Ug and Ig to set up cave together, far away from everyone else, but when you move forwards in history a bit and the Church gets all "burn the unnaturals" it becomes a little harder for a writer of the genre to finish off a story in a neat and believable manner.

Despite the very real dangers for gay men (particularly from the Renaissance to the early 1970s, and depending on where you live, even up to today) there have always been men who have risked all, and there are a few well documented cases of men who have "got away with it."

Two couples who spring to mind are George Merrill and poet Edward Carpenter - and Ralph Hall & Montague Glover who were together for close to thirty years and fifty years respectively. If these four men managed the "Yours until death" endings, then we know that there must have been many others.

But it's still a knotty problem for a writer who wants to base his or her story in the past. Up until the beginning of the 19th century one could still be hanged for homosexual activity, and in fact in the first quarter of the 19th century, more men were hanged for homosexuality than for murder.

How have I dealt with it in my books? (look away if you don't want to be spoiled, but Happy Ever after/Happy for Now endings aren't really secret, are they?)

1. Standish. I dealt with it by simply not dealing with it. I got some criticism for this, as I used a Gone with the Wind kind of ending - and I left it squarely for the reader to decide whether or not the couple would have got back together. As to the practicalities of this, it wouldn't have been too difficult. Rafe was super rich, and it was this that had prevented him from being prosecuted in the first place--so he had that protection, and this, hopefully would have prevented any further problems for Ambrose. They intended to live in Rafe's estate in Wiltshire, far away from prying eyes and the madding crowd. And if things did get hot - they could have retreated back to the continent.

2. Transgressions. The couple are together at the end of the book. Again, I leave it to the reader to decide how they would progress in the five minutes after the book ended. David is a deserter from the King's Army--and Jonathan is a trusted interrogator in Cromwell's army. Not an easy future for them, to be sure.

3. Frost Fair. This was managed by having (similar to Standish) the two men enter into an employer/employee relationship--whereby Gideon becomes the valet to Joshua. This is a device used by many gay regencies and Victorians as the "gentleman's gentleman" had almost unrestricted access to his employer and it would have been easier to be alone together, particularly for men of different classes. Lee Rowan does this admirably in the book which is coincidentally called "Gentleman's Gentleman."

Other methods used: Many of Alex Beecroft's men are officers and gentlemen in the English Navy and thereby are even more under threat, for it is a hanging offence on ship as well as on land. Her (and Lee Rowan's sailors too) snatch what time they can when it's safe to do so, and are pretty much resigned to doing their duty and hoping that they stay on the same ship as each other. Joanne Soper-Cook's homosexual detective Raft "shares rooms" with Freddie, his paramour, and this--in more innocent times--was something that could be disguised as "two friends sharing the bills." No one remarks (and why should they?) when Mr Pip and Mr Pocket share rooms in Great Expectations, or Holmes and Watson do the same in the Holmes series. (although it gives the slash writers a field day!)

Charlie Cochrane uses this device in her Cambridge Fellows series. To all intents and purposes they (at the beginning of the series) share adjoining rooms, and later they move into a house together. Quite normal in those days. No one batted an eyelid!

The important thing can use any method at all, but I feel it has to be believable. Sadly, I’ve read more than one story where the author just threw all realism to the winds and had their homosexual regency couple marry in church. It is true that in around 1810 -1813 there was a vicar --the Reverend John Church—who famously performed homosexual weddings, but of course they were anything but legitimate!

I have to say that I’m often envious of writers of heterosexual historical romance, because they can simply end a book by having the couple throw themselves at each other and promise to marry the other – and it is a challenge to find realistic solutions to the love that dared not stick its head above the parapet, but it can be done, with care!


Erastes writes gay historicals, and her first book for Carina is "The Muffled Drum" (set during the Austro Prussian War) and will be out in July 2011. It's full of soldiers, horses, angsty love, drawers and many many buttons.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Grand Passion or Happy Ever After

Nowadays we kind of expect romantic novels to have happy ever after endings. After lots of disagreements and misunderstandings our hero and heroine disappear into the sunset to live a life of harmonic bliss. Jane Austen's novels certainly did. Think Darcy and Elizabeth, Emma and Mr Knightly, the Dashwood girlls and...well, I'm sure you get the picture.

But one of my favourite authors of historical fiction, Daphne duMaurier, had other ideas. I suppose we can't consider Mary Anne, the biography of her relation who was mistress to the Duke of York, in that category because she was telling a true story. Even so, it was never going to end well. Mary Anne Clark was a bit of a gal. Always short of cash, she made ends meet by selling promotions in the army. Quite easy for her to do since her lover was commander in chief. She didn't do anything as crass as discussing these matter with him but simply pinned a list of names and promotions required above their bed. In the morning it was gone. It couldn't last, of course, and eventually the duke was tried in the House of Lords by a jury of his peers. Mary Anne gave evidence and, by all accounts, made quite a stir. The affair couldn't survive the scandal but the duke was supposed to have said on his death bed that he'd never found another as good as Mary Anne. His grand passion?

I know what you're thinking. Daphne duMaurier. She's going to bang on about Rebecca. You wound me! I'd never do that to you. Personally I have no time for the second Mrs deWinter, creeping about Mandalay like a mouse, hiding behind doors and being afraid of the admittedly formidable housekeeper. Her predecessor, Rebecca, sounds like she was much more fun. There, that's all I have to say about Rebecca.

But Frenchman's Creek...well, how long have you got? A bored socialite escapes London with her children and runs off to her husband's estate in Cornwall. A French pirate  is terrorizing the area, sailing into a hidden creek in a stonking great big boat with billowed sails but none of the local worthies are smart enough to catch him. Glossing over that disparaging fact, our pirate naturally meets the lady of the manor and there's an immediate connection between them.

It can't last, of course, and when her pirate is captured Donna must decide between effecting a daring rescue, knowing she'll never see him again if she does, or leaving him to hang. Obviously she doesn't hesitate, content to return to her routine life with her family afterwards. She's had her grand passion, it will have to last her the rest of her life. But at least she'll be able to tell her grandchildren in years to come that she kept a dozen or more gentleman at dinner for hours in order to save the man she loved.

So what does it for you? Happy ever after or a short, blissful grand passions?