Monday, March 24, 2008


Once upon a time, there stood an apple orchard on a nearby hilltop in the beautiful country of Romancelandia. It was a perfectly serviceable orchard as orchards went, providing good fruit to those who wanted apples. It was, naturally, plagued by a few of the problems to which all orchards and groves and berry patches fall victim -- infestations and bad weather, including the occasional plagues of locusts and rains of frogs.

And then one day, after a particularly challenging growing season, along came an -- at best -- ill-informed Internet Tabloid Journalist.*

Tabloid Journalist: I'd like to see something in an orange, please.

Orchard: I'm so sorry, but I grow apples. Can I offer you a juicy MacIntosh? My Pink Ladies are lovely this year, as well. Not so much my Granny Smiths, though -- a drought in the early summer made them mealy.

Tabloid Journalist: No, I want oranges. Why don't you grow oranges?

Orchard: Because I'm an apple orchard, not an orange grove.

Tabloid Journalist: But if you grew oranges, you'd help more people. People in Romancelandia need the vitamin C in oranges to keep them from getting sick. You should grow oranges, and you should start immediately. If you don't, it's proof that you're worthless and don't care about the people who eat your fruit.

Orchard: Oranges are a wonderful kind of fruit, and I'm glad there are groves out there to supply them to the people who want and need them. But I'm an apple orchard. I suppose I could attempt to grow oranges, but since that's not what I was created to do, I suspect it would be a failure.

Tabloid Journalist: You SUCK!

Orchard: I suppose we could employ some kind of genetic specialist to try grafting a few orange branches onto some trees. Maybe we could create a hybrid fruit of some kind. But I'd have to take this issue back and discuss it with the entire tree membership. Changes of this kind take time, after all, and since the trees here signed up to grow apples, it might be a challenge.

Tabloid Journalist: You suck so much that I'm going to make a public example of you, you worthless apple orchard, with your nasty apples that are nothing like oranges. And when the people who read my blog make unkind, similarly ill-informed comments of a personal nature, I'll do nothing to stem the tide of poison. With any luck, it will seep into the ground and kill all your worthless, apple-producing trees. Because unless you grow oranges, and do it in just the way I suggest, you are dead to me, you worthless, apple-growing scum who clearly care nothing for the average Romancelandia eater of fruit. Do you hear me? Dead. To. Me.

~flounces off to find an ant hill to kick over, because she can and because it's perfectly legal, don'tcha know~

Have no idea what I'm babbling ab
out? Consider yourself blessed.

Staring down a March 31 deadline. Will not be back to address comments anytime soon, but feel free to have at it.

* aka: Some Chick With A Blog. - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Refugee from Laundryland.

First a note for Miss Kate, who so politely inquired about the state of my plumbing: Got the biopsy results yesterday and the trouble is entirely benign, though still in need of a spot of surgery, thank you kindly for asking. :)

So it's been raining. Maybe you've noticed. And while we certainly aren't floating away like certain areas of the country, poor things, we are decidedly...damp. Moist, even. And not in the good way.

As a result, we're filming our own version of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. It's called FLOODED BASEMENT, BROKEN WASHER.

In other news, All Romance eBooks is offering a new Free Read program, and they've contracted the short novella I wrote for PBW's Ebook Challenge, "Dark of the Day." You can find it here -- a free download in PDF and HTML.

In still other news, the sequel to SEVEN YEAR ACHE (known alternately as "Brokeback on Crack") is proceeding nicely.

Here. Have an unedited excerpt from WILD HORSES, due out from Amber Allure/Amber Quill Press sometime in July:

* * *

“And this is our new hired hand, Kris Killborn.”

Kris stepped up, removing his hat and wiping his brow with the back of one grimy wrist. The blond guy moved first to shake his hand. Kris looked close, waiting to see if the big man would remember their earlier meeting in the diner.

“Hey, I’m Dex Egan.” Nothing. A practiced smile, a strong grip, and no recognition whatsoever.

The fat little fuck who called himself Troy Abrams shook Kris’s hand, too, without appearing to know him. But the tall, skinny one in the shirt with the letters embroidered over the left tit looked Kris square in the face. “Gaelen Ramsey, at your service.”

Yeah, this one remembered. His sneer said it all.

Kris let it slide. He couldn’t afford to make trouble no matter how bad his fingers itched to curl up into a fist.

Then the fourth member of the group stepped forward — the only one who hadn’t made an impression back at the diner — and all the prideful irritation simmering under Kris’s skin seeped away.

“Blake Talbot.” His voice was deep but smooth at the same time, with the edges worn down to nothing by a heavy drawl. The sun glinted off the silver ring on the third finger of the hand he offered Kris. “Good to meet you.”

He smiled, and it caught Kris by surprise. Like when he did the hung-over walk of shame out of some dude’s apartment on a Sunday morning and got smacked in the face by a sunrise right out of one of those paintings that sold for half a grand in a Missoula gallery. Not as pretty a Rafe — nah, nobody’s as pretty as Rafe — but there was something in how this Blake Talbot’s light brown hair fell in a wave over his forehead, and in the flicker of his lashes over his dark blue eyes. In the way his nose was a little too long and his mouth a touch too wide for his face. Something in the shape of his jaw and the curve of his smile that made Kris want to know how he’d look backed up against a wall and begging for it.

JT cleared his throat, and Kris jerked his hand away. While the others discussed plans for an afternoon trail ride, he stared out at the mountains and tried to pull his shit together. No matter what kind of signals he was picking up from this Talbot guy, the guests were off-limits — hadn’t Rafe said as much? And Kris needed this job. More than he needed to get laid, even.

Plus he was probably reading it wrong. What did some college boy from back east want with him?

But when he glanced back again, Talbot caught his eye and held it for a long count of five. Kris offered up a wink and a grin, and Talbot ducked his head and showed his dimples in a way that made something in Kris’s chest twist around and whine for mercy.

“Sandwiches in the kitchen, Killborn,” Rafe said, looking at him funny. “Go wash up. We’ve got another half-mile of fence to check before I need to start supper for the guests.”

Kris nodded, his eyes on the way Talbot’s ass filled out the dark denim of his too-new jeans as he walked away.

“Don’t even think about it,” Rafe whispered as he passed him.

Kris smirked and spit in the dust. No doubt Rafe’s advice was well meant, but it had come a wink and one slow, shy smile too late.

* * * - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Friday, March 14, 2008

Move along, little doggies.

Nothing to see here. Today is a writing day, and that's stupendously boring for everybody except my two angsty cowboys who may or may not be getting busy down by the pond behind the bunkhouse.

But over HERE, you can read how my brilliant and ever-fashionable crit partner, Barb Caridad Ferrer, did a lovely thing for my upcoming b-day (which I was trying to ignore, but whatev).

And over HERE, you can read her Romancing the Blog column, which is a little sad, but not so depressing that you'll want to crawl back into bed or add a shot of Jack to your morning decaf.

Other than that, it's all angsty cowboys, all the time 'round these here parts, I reckon. You have yourself a nice day. *tips imaginary Stetson, looks longingly at bottle of Jack* - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Thursday, March 13, 2008


A word to the wise:

When your ObGyn tells you that you need an endometrial biopsy, you need it immediately, and yes, as a matter of fact, it's going to hurt like hell?

BELIEVE HER. Take the nifty little pills she offers. Do NOT, under any circumstances, try to tough it out.

In other news, I didn't burst into flames, but I did burn a batch of cupcakes meant for the fifth grade bake sale. I'm trying to convince myself this is not an omen of things to come.

I'm mostly failing. - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Been nice knowin' ya," said the little pile of ashes.

Our priest is coming this afternoon to bless the house. This yearly ritual is prefaced by a thorough cleaning (because he really shouldn't be blessing the dust or the dog hair, although I doubt he'd mind it) and includes the kissing of crosses, the splashing of holy water into various nooks and crannies, and the chanting of prayers in first century Greek. House blessings take place before the start of the Orthodox Great Lent, which in this case is tomorrow, so we're sort of getting it in just under the wire.

The other yearly ritual that accompanies the house blessing is the part where somebody - usually my husband, but this year my eldest son beat him to it - makes the joke about how I'm likely to burst into flames when my lips touch the big, golden cross. Or maybe the holy water will turn into steam as it lands on my skin. Because of my unrepentant smut-writing, you see.

"Yeah, yeah. Ha ha ha. You guys should take that routine on the road and make us all millionaires," she says, looking surreptitiously to the left and right and sending up the same little prayer she says every year at about this time. "Lord, please forgive me for not being even a little bit sorry that I write dirty stories. Amen."

I figure between that and the thirty-dollar chocolate torte I'm serving post-blessing, I've got my sinning ass covered. But if, on the off chance, this is the year I go up in flames? I offer a little snippet of one of my several works-in-progress as a final farewell.

* * *

From Chapter 5 of NIGHTSHADE:

Nikolai turned away and faced the gathering storm. When he spoke again, his voice held a note of regret Daniel hadn’t heard before. “I did not know of this shameful trickery.”

“And if you did know? What would you do? Doom me to a lifetime of obedience, poverty, and the Brotherhood’s special version of chastity?” Daniel shrugged. “It’s done now. I know my duty.”

Nikolai didn't answer.

Daniel waited. The moon went into hiding behind the storm clouds, leaving only the tiny bulbs strung in the maze hedge to light the space around them. The wind picked up, blowing the scent of Masticha in his face, and he breathed it in as if it were pure oxygen.

Finally, Nikolai turned. “You say you know your duty. How much do you know, Daniel? What do you understand of a Champion’s needs?”

“I’m willing to learn, my lord.”

Nikolai stepped nearer and closed his fingers on the collar at Daniel’s throat. “Then learn this, my Squire. You will come to me of your own free will or not at all.”

Daniel heard the fabric tear as if made of paper. “My lord, Holy Protocol says—”

“There is nothing holy in the Brotherhood’s protocol. Do not speak of it again in my hearing.” He ripped at Daniel’s uniform once more, rending it to the waist. “You try my patience.”

“I’m sorry, my—”

“Call. Me. Nikolai.”

“Nikolai. I’m sorry. What do you want me to—”

“You must choose.” He fisted his hands in the torn garment. “Now, in this moment, before my appetites get the better of me and your chance is gone.”

“Choose? I don’t—”

“Hush.” He shook Daniel, pulling him off his feet. “I offer these options — live as my Squire in the chastity our friend Bastiaan considers such a burden, or live as my true companion. Mine in body and soul. Do you comprehend what that means? Do you?”

“I think so.”

Nikolai lifted him till the only toes of his boots touched the gravel. “Your choice, Daniel Nightshade. Tell me now.”

His choice? As if he could fathom life with Nikolai wrapped up in the blanket of his power, enduring the fever his touch and scent aroused, but never knowing any resolution to the tension between them?

Daniel grabbed at the sleeves of Nikolai’s coat and strained upward in his grip till his lips were just a hairsbreadth from the Champion’s. He held there a second, sharing breath with Nikolai as the wind blew around them and the thunder’s complaint grew from a grumble to a shout. Then, ignoring training and Protocol and following only base instinct, he nipped at Nikolai’s bottom lip hard enough to draw blood.

Nikolai gasped and shoved him away. He ran his thumb over his lip and stared at the red smear. “This is your answer?”

Daniel stopped just short of rolling his eyes. “You need me to say the words?”

Nikolai’s face darkened. “Before this night is through, you will say those words and more. I promise you that.” He lifted his head and sniffed the air. Then he smiled, slow and wicked. “Choose a number. Choose wisely, my Squire.”


Nikolai nodded. “There is a fountain at the center of the maze. Listen — you will hear it above the wind.”

Daniel strained his ears. There... Yes, he could hear the muffled burble and splash.

“I will count to fifty. Then I will give chase.”

“Is this what you call foreplay?”

Nikolai shrugged. “Call it an ancient rite — the hunter and his virgin prey.”

Daniel felt heat rise in his face. “Sorry I asked.”

“You must reach the fountain before I lay my hands on you.”

“And if I don’t?”

Nikolai’s grin deepened. “Run. Now.”

* * * - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Friday, March 07, 2008

Give Me Liberty (and a really nice Camembert) or Give Me Death.

Thanks again to Kerry Allen for pointing me to this recent post on Romancing the Blog.

While I appreciate where the "quality over quantity" folks are coming from, I have to say that their approach - cutting the number of books published in order to somehow cull what they consider "unworthy" entries into the marketplace - makes the kind of sense to me that pretty much doesn't.

First, of course, comes the logical query regarding the subjectivity of the entire endeavor: Who decides what constitutes "quality" romance fiction? I wouldn't want that responsibility. Nor am I comfortable giving it to any one individual or group of individuals. Free enterprise dictates that the marketplace decides what gets published, and while the marketplace does tend to lag behind public taste at times, I'm pretty comfortable with that model. It's slow and unwieldy - and yes, sometimes excellent work is overlooked - but it's got to be better than the alternative.

In our little village (population: 1593...saaaaLUTE!) we have one grocery store. It's not very big in terms of square feet and shelf-space. And guess what? The selection sucks. Not a huge variety of goods, and not much depth within each category.

I shop there because it's less than a mile from my house, and I'm a lazy beeyotch who can't be bothered to drive ten miles into what passes for the nearest "city" and hit the mega-market. But when I do happen to meander out of the village and choose to do my shopping in a store five times the size as my local market, what do I find? People driving from all over the county - and in many cases, from outside the county - to buy their foodstuffs there.

Why? Not because they enjoy fighting downtown traffic or the amazing (and often confounding) crowds that block the aisles of this grocery store, but because of the SELECTION.

Not just Philly cream cheese and Kraft American and Helluva Good cheddar in every imaginable degree of sharpness...but hunks of Stilton studded with cranberries or apricots or sometimes - but not always - dates and walnuts. Not just chicken and beef and pork, but lamb and duck and fish that doesn't come breaded and frozen. Not just strawberries in season, but papayas out of season.

You get the idea.

If this mega-market ever opens a satellite location in our tiny village - which is unlikely to the point of impossibility, but a lazy beeyotch can dream - I don't imagine I'll hear too many folks complaining that they can't find what they like because the selection is too damned overwhelming.

I'm sure the counter-argument for this would be that groceries are one thing, and art is another. Granted. But art is only experienced as "art" in its creation and its consumption. The middle part of the process is marketing and sales. Fiction - even romance fiction - is a product, and as Kerry says, if the publishers are going to start limiting selection, they're not going to cut the Philly cream cheese and the Kraft...their biggest sellers. It's the dates-and-walnuts-studded Stilton that's going to go first.

And as a lazy beeyotch with an abiding love for well-made cheese, I think that would be a damned shame. - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Scenes from Casa de Crazypants

Me: Sit down. Seriously, take a load off. You're making me dizzy with the pacing.

Him: You know what Tolkien said? In that poem? Remember?

Me: Yeah, I know. "Not all those who wander are lost." But you? Are not wandering so much as walking back and forth over a ten-foot stretch of Linoleum. Now sit your ass down and eat a goddamn cookie.

Him: Are these raisins or chocolate chips?

Me: Where are your glasses?

Him: *looks at me blankly*

Me: Take a leap of faith and eat the cookie.

Him: I don't know. Maybe you're trying to poison me.

Me: Dude. Seriously. *brief pause* What would Gandalf do? - Romance of Dubious Virtue

Monday, March 03, 2008

Deepish sorts of thinky-ness re: ATONEMENT.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the film version of Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT.

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet read McEwan’s ATONEMENT, though it’s been on my TBR pile for some time. The following comments are applicable to the film version only.

I understand from conversations with others that the plot of the book and the movie are essentially the same: Brit Boy and Girl fall in love circa late 1930s, as the world slides into war; Girl’s Younger Sister, in a fit of jealousy and adolescent self-righteousness, tells a fairly horrible lie about Boy, sending him to prison and later to war; Girl and Boy suffer beautifully for one another as Younger Sister grows up and realizes the error of her ways; Girl and Boy die, separately, of the horrors of war; Younger Sister spends the rest of her days attempting to atone for her misdeed.

A sad story, though beautifully acted and filmed. I saw it as a Brit/WWII version of COLD MOUNTAIN (a book and movie roundly despised by contemporary lovers of romance) in some ways, as many of the same struggles were showcased: love, hope and faith in the face of the misery of war. Even the refrain of “come back to me” resonated in a very Nicole Kidman-struggling-with-a-Southern-accent kind of way. And, of course, the ending...painful, yet hopeful.

But I came away feeling slightly dissatisfied with ATONEMENT because the two lovers, Robbie and Cecelia, had so little screen time together – much like the old-fashioned historicals that often left the hero and heroine separated for huge chunks of the book – that I found it difficult to care very much about their doomed love.

What did leave a sharp impression on me was the last scene – Vanessa Redgrave, playing Younger Sister in her golden years, being interviewed regarding the release of her final novel. She had this to say:

“So, my sister and Robbie were never able to have the time together they both so longed for... and deserved. Which ever since I've... ever since I've always felt I prevented. But what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from an ending like that? So in the book, I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I'd like to think this isn't weakness or... evasion... but a final act of kindness. I gave them their happiness.”

I’ve been reading online message boards at various review sites, and posters appear to be of two moods regarding Briony’s atonement for the ruining of Cecelia and Robbie’s lives. Most folks seem convinced that Briony did nothing to make up for the suffering she caused as a jealous thirteen-year-old. The fictional happily-ever-after she gave Robbie and Cee could never be enough to atone for the truth of their last, miserable years apart. The film failed for a good number of people who viewed it this way.

While I understand that point of view, I’m more interested in looked at ATONEMENT as a work of metafiction (a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually, irony and self-reflection. In a sense, it can be compared to presentational theatre, that does not let the audience forget they are viewing a play; metafiction does not let the reader forget he or she is reading a fictional work. ~ Wikipedia) that addresses the writer’s responsibility to her audience in terms of shedding light on “universal truths.”

In 1950, during the height of the Cold War, the author William Faulkner won a Nobel Prize for literature. In his acceptance speech, he had this to say:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. [emphasis mine] Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” ~W. Faulkner, December 10, 1950, Stockholm.

For me, this is what Briony is talking about when she says “...what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from an ending like that?” She’s attempting to give some meaning – find some “universal truth” – the suffering of her sister and her lover. Her version of that truth would likely be “loyalty, faith and true love are rewarded by ultimate happiness.”

But are they? They certainly should be, but we know real life often doesn’t work that way. Which is maybe why we, as romance writers, create the stories we do, in which true love has its chance to overcome the odds.

Perhaps Briony’s atonement – which consisted of personal sacrifice in the form of nursing broken, dying men as well as her final “gift” to Cee and Robbie – can be seen as inadequate from a personal standpoint. Certainly, in the movie we’re given no indication of the state of Briony’s personal life. Did she meet her own true love? Did she find perfect fulfillment elsewhere, in her work perhaps? The film gives no clue, other than to picture her very much alone in the moment she gives her final interview.

But even this would not be enough to make up for the pain she caused, would it? Even if she spent her entire life in enforced solitude, would it be enough?

I think maybe that’s not the point. I think maybe only the effort to atone is the point. It’s in the effort we make to be worthy human beings that the beauty lies, just as the journey of life is the point of living, and not the destination at the end. And while “happily-ever-after” may give us that “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world” sense of satisfaction, is not the very struggle to find and preserve true love, however it ends up, a lovely reminder that we AREN’T just a collection of glands, after all?

So while ATONEMENT can’t possibly be called a “romance” in the sense of the current romance fiction tropes – girl meets boy, girl loves boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy, HEA – the fact that it celebrates what Faulkner calls “universal truths” – means it succeeds. At least for me.

But then, I loved COLD MOUNTAIN, so maybe I’m just bent. – Romance of Dubious Virtue