“R” is for “Romance Writers of America,” or Staying Classy in San Diego

A new month, nearly a new season, and a moment to reflect on the RWA Conference I attended in July. Despite being a Warp 7 introvert, I generally enjoy going to these, and each of the four conferences I’ve attended has yielded a different experience.

rwa20122012: Anaheim–so close it was practically in my back yard, so there was no way I wasn’t going! And that was the start of it all: my first book, Waltz with a Stranger, had been accepted for publication and would be making its debut in December of that year. Going to sessions, getting to meet other writers and the people I would be working with. My sister and occasional collaborator came to the conference as well, so I had someone to talk to and de-stress with–always more fun than being on your own!

tyrgvmly2013: Atlanta–the first time in years I’d flown coast-to-coast on business. This time, I was on my own, so I made a point of talking to other attendees and getting to know them. I also had a chance to meet and talk to several authors whose work I admired, including Mary Jo Putney. (And to experience the phenomenon of sideways rain that had me epically drenched after five minutes, en route to the Literacy Autographing!)

images2014: San Antonio. The one I almost didn’t go to, thanks to a car accident about two weeks before. Though no lasting injuries were sustained, I arrived in a somewhat unfocused mental state, so it may have been just as well that this conference ended up being almost more social than business-oriented. While I attended some great sessions, I also spent more time than usual just hanging out with people and talking about this and that, which can be every bit as worthwhile.

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Historical costumes were on display at Literacy Autographing
Historical costumes were on display at Literacy Autographing

2016: San Diego–By contrast, this summer’s conference was my most business-oriented, as I had two series to promote: the one I was about to wrap up and the one I’d just launched. I went to mostly career-oriented sessions, participated in three signings…and fielded a couple of unexpected curves!

I was never a Girl Scout, but I came to have a deeper appreciation of the motto, “Be Prepared!” during this conference.

As in: Be prepared with extra ibuprofen when your lower back goes into spasms halfway through a two-hour session! That happened on Day One, and I used all the resources I had–including my sister, who attended again this year–to keep the issue from becoming full-blown and turning me into a human pretzel for the rest of the conference. (I was moving fairly normally the next day, though my back would still twinge occasionally to remind me how much trouble it could be, if it chose to be!)preview

As in: Be prepared with promotional postcards, additional swag, and a smile when your books fail to turn up at a signing! I was relieved by how gracious most of the readers were when I explained the situation, and I collected names and emails so they could receive a free download of one of my titles afterwards!

Despite being pre-scheduled for so many events, I managed to make it to some good sessions. The aforementioned two-hour one presented a helpful overview of current trends in the romance genre. Another suggested ways to increase productivity and write faster without completely burning yourself out. And the speakers–including Beverly Jenkins, Sherry Thomas, and Robyn Carr–were memorable. Carr’s story is particularly inspirational, covering her career trajectory from newbie to mid-list author to unwanted commodity to best-seller. It’s encouraging to be reminded that success does not always happen overnight and that it takes time, hard work, patience, and perseverance to get there. But in the end, the only one who can stop you from writing, dreaming, and doing…is you. I think that’s especially true now, when there are so many options available to a writer.

And let’s not forget the Hamilton sing-along held on the very last afternoon! I wasn’t that familiar with the score then, but I found something infinitely cheering about hanging out with a roomful of people enthusiastically chanting, “I am not throwing away my shot!”

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–San Diego Marina

Besides the conference, my sister and I fit in some sight-seeing stuff. Like exploring Seaport Village–right next door to the hotel–and riding their 120-year-old Looff carousel.

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And dining in Gastown at The Old Spaghetti Factory, a restaurant that’s a bit of a sentimental favorite. And then there was breakfast at a local pancake restaurant, famous for a towering baked apple pancake that was both impressive and alarming to behold!0713161014-00

All in all, San Diego is a beautiful city that holds some great memories for me, and I was happy to visit it again. We traveled by train, and the journey went smoothly in both directions. And the sea views out the window were often breathtaking. I’m already contemplating the possibility of another trip in the not too distant future…

 

 

 

“Q” is for “Quiet”

Which, admittedly, is how it’s been here for several months!

Photo by Daryl Samuel, Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by Richard Masloski, copyright 2000
Photo by Daryl Samuel, Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by Richard Masloski, copyright 2000

Chalk it up to a prolonged but necessary sojourn in the writing cave so I could complete my new novella–A Scandal in Newport, a companion story to my first book, Waltz with a Stranger!

I started Scandal further back than I care to admit, and during my hiatus from it, I wrote two other novellas and a novel. My plan has always been to finish it, however, but to do so, I needed time to reacquaint myself with the characters and the tone of my earlier series, which is overall lighter and less angsty than my new series, The Lyons Pride. Overall, I’m pleased with the result–and hope readers will be too, when Scandal makes its appearance later this month!

In other news, I attended the RWA conference in San Diego–a subject deserving of its own post–and managed to squeeze in a short vacation in Santa Barbara. Since my return, though, I’ve been feeling like a human boomerang, zipping back and forth between destinations with very short rest periods in between. So I’m grateful for the pause that refreshes–and hope to be firing on all cylinders again sooner rather than later!

“P” is for “Poldark”: The Pleasures of Summer TV

BeachSummerCan you believe we’re more than halfway through June? And the summer solstice is upon us.

I love spring with its soft colors and mild weather, but summer was probably my favorite season when I was a kid–not least because of the 10 or 11 weeks of vacation after a long school year. While spring makes me think of pastels, summer is all about bright and bold colors and experiences. The aquamarine and turquoise of swimming pools, the emerald and sapphire of the ocean, the scarlet of ripe strawberries, the orange-gold of juicy peaches, the deep coral color inside a conch shell…passers-by may even have noticed that Blue Stockings & Crossed Genres has a new look for the season that contains several of the aforementioned colors.

Summer entertainment tends to be of the bright, colorful, noisy variety too. Beach parties, picnics, barbecues, even the average summer blockbuster (usually laden with spandex-clad heroes and things going “BOOM!”) And summer television, which can range from sports spectaculars (especially in Olympics years) to star-studded and/or lushly romantic miniseries.

The new Poldark, which starts airing this weekend in my neck of the woods, may not qualify as star-studded (yet), but, based on the source material alone, I’d say it definitely meets the criteria for “lushly romantic”: a sweeping costume drama about an 18th century Cornish mining family, boasting high adventure, derring-do, class warfare, a simmering romantic triangle, and wildly beautiful scenery–cliffs, coves, and thundering surf.  I am unabashedly excited about this series, not least because I loved the original novels by Winston Graham and the first miniseries based on them, which was made back in the 1970s. I’ve heard the new version may even adhere more closely to the books–the first series took some dramatic liberties that annoyed the author–but as you can see below, it also shares some eerie similarities when it comes to the lead couple…

Ross and Demelza, Original Version
Ross and Demelza, Original Version
NewRoss&Demelza
Ross and Demelza, New Version

Graham’s Poldark Saga was a big influence on me as a historical novelist, which I will be blogging about here and elsewhere in coming weeks. I plan to follow the new series closely and post commentary about the episodes after they air. Other Poldark fans, past and/or present, are welcome to stop by and add their tuppence, anytime!

 

 

 

 

 

“O” is for “Olympics”

342px-Olympic_rings_without_rims.svgAlso “Obsession.”

My name is Pamela, and I’m a figure skating junkie.  Or used to be.

Babilonia And Gardner in 1979, photo by Tony Duffy
Babilonia & Gardner in 1979, photo by Tony Duffy

I first started taking notice of the sport at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, when pairs skaters and reigning world champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were forced to withdraw from competition because of his groin injury. Disappointing as that was to see (and devastating for B&G themselves), I ended up sticking around for the other disciplines. My most vivid memory after their withdrawal was watching lean, elegant Robin Cousins–one of the tallest men in the sport–win the men’s gold for Great Britain, and two young American up-and-comers David Santee and Scott Hamilton place fourth and fifth. And just like that, I was hooked.

The Brians on the Olympic podium, photo by Calgary Sun
The Brians on the Olympic podium, photo by Calgary Sun

I followed the sport faithfully after that, watching Hamilton fulfill his early promise with four world championships and a gold medal in Sarajevo, 1984. After that, I watched two amazingly talented, closely matched male skaters–one American, one Canadian, both named Brian–vie for dominance in the sport over the next four years, a competition finally resolved by a narrow victory for the American Brian [Boitano] over the Canadian Brian [Orser] at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. (By the way, “Battle of the Brians” = “Best Skating Rivalry Ever”). And I was thrilled when perennial long shot Paul Wylie won a silver medal at the Albertville Games in 1992, skating beautifully to a program set to Patrick Doyle’s “Henry V,” one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.

The women’s competition provided its share of memorable moments and unforgettable skaters over several Olympiads too. Elaine Zayak finished off the podium but not before upping the technical level for the sport by performing multiple triple jumps. Katarina Witt became the first woman since Sonja Henie to win back-to-back gold medals in 1984 and 1988. Debi Thomas became the first black woman to win a world championship and earned an Olympic bronze in 1988. And Canadian Liz Manley stole both Witt and Thomas’s thunder by winning the long program (and a silver medal) at the Calgary Games–skating to music that was not from “Carmen.”

Michelle Kwan, in Lyrica Angelica
Michelle Kwan, in Lyrica Angelica

The 1992 Games swept Kristi Yamaguchi (gold) and Nancy Kerrigan (bronze) to fame, then two years later, all hell broke loose with an attack on Kerrigan (front-runner for the gold at Lillehammer) orchestrated by the ex-husband of her U.S. rival Tonya Harding. The fallout from that ugly incident lasted for years, but fortunately, a fresh crop of skaters, led by the phenomenal Michelle Kwan, took away some of the lingering bad taste. Ultimately, Olympic gold was not in the stars for Kwan, and I winced every time it slipped away from her. But nine national titles, five world titles, and Olympic silver and bronze medals still represent one hell of a legacy, and she’s rightly considered one of the all-time greats.

Pairs and ice-dancing weren’t on my radar to the same degree as the singles events. But I watched slack-jawed with the rest of the world when Torvill and Dean essentially revolutionized ice-dancing with “Bolero” in 1984. And scratched my head over some of the routines that emerged in the post-T&D era. More than the other disciplines, ice dancing seems prone to frequent reinvention–the pendulum is constantly swinging, though you can’t always predict in which direction!

Torvill and Dean in Bolero, 1984
Torvill & Dean in Bolero, 1984, photo by Getty Images

Over the last decade or so, my interest in figure skating has waned, mostly due to decreased coverage of the sport, an increasingly incomprehensible scoring/judging system, and the relative lack of strong skaters to emerge from the ranks, once the “veterans” retire or turn pro. But in spite of all that, once that Olympic torch is lit and the ice rink properly Zambonied, I’m there again–ready to marvel at the skaters’ ability and tenacity, laugh at the sillier costumes and programs, question the judges’ sanity, and applaud or criticize the results.

And the Sochi Games of 2014 provided plenty of the above. From the introduction of the new team competition, to the resurgence of the Russian  pairs skaters, to the cringe-inducing splat-fest that was the men’s free skate, to the well-deserved Olympic coronation of ice dancing favorites Davis and White, to the highly controversial outcome of the women’s competition, figure skating once again provided two weeks of fascinating, on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama.

Davis & White in free dance, photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Davis & White in free dance, photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Tonight, after “16 Days of Glory,” the Olympic torch goes out.  See you in four years!

“N” is for “Names”: Deciding What to Call Your Characters

According to T. S. Eliot, “the naming of cats is a difficult matter.” The naming of fictional characters can be every bit as challenging, especially when you’re restricted to a certain time, place, and culture.

In modern/contemporary romance, you have pretty much a free hand to name your characters whatever you want. After all, this is a world in which Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa are actual people. And I’ve read romances featuring heroines with names like Rainbow or Moonflower, completely without irony on the author’s part. (And usually, it is the heroine, rather than the hero, who ends up saddled with the outlandish moniker.)

1309021Historical writers have somewhat fewer options–especially if they want to sound reasonably authentic. An anachronistic name–like Heather, Brittany, Amber, or Skye–can pull a reader right out of your Regency- or Victorian-set romance. Personally, I did a double take when Georgette Heyer inflicted bratty ingenue Tiffany Wield on us in The Nonesuch, even though she explained that Tiffany was actually a diminutive for the more historically accurate Theophania. And the further back in time that you set your novel, the more careful you have to be about names.

So, what are some resources to ensure a period-appropriate name? Well, Biblical and saints’ names are fairly safe unless you’re setting your story in the pre-Christian age. You can find John, Mary, and all their variants throughout history. Names from Classical history and myth were also popular, especially from the Neo-Classical period onward. The Georgian and Regency periods boasted plenty of Julias, Dianas, and Sophias, along with their Janes, Marys, and Elizas. And if you’re a stickler for historical authenticity, you can check population censuses for your chosen time period and setting and see for yourself which names recur most frequently. This is also a good way to generate a list of surnames, which I find particularly useful!

Statue of Llewelyn the Great
Statue of Llewelyn the Great

For a more fanciful touch, you can turn to popular literature. Rosalind, Viola, and Miranda from Shakespeare. Lancelot, Tristan, Guinevere, and Isolde from Arthurian legend.  Deanna Raybourn’s eccentric March family in her Lady Julia mysteries all have Shakespearean first names. And several members of Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn clan have names derived from the old romances their mother apparently loved.

I myself often turn to poetry, music, and history itself for inspiration.  The heroine of my first book, Waltz with a Stranger, is named Aurelia–a popular 19th century name with classical connotations. But it was the Civil War era love song “Aura Lea” that first recalled that name to me. And one of my WsIP features a Welsh hero named Llewelyn, after Llewelyn the Great, Prince of North Wales. (By the way, Llewelyn was a highly popular Welsh boys’ name during the Victorian era, along with Arthur, Evan, Huw, and Rhys.)

Angharad Rees as Demelza in the Poldark miniseries
Angharad Rees as Demelza in the Poldark miniseries

Sometimes the most mundane objects can provide unexpected inspiration when it comes to names. Winston Graham, author of the Poldark Saga, once wrote about finding the perfect name for his heroine on a country signpost, deep in the heart of Cornwall: Demelza. And from that moment, Graham asserts, the image of his heroine became crystal-clear in his mind, and remained so throughout his many years of writing her. Following Graham’s example, I scrutinized several local street signs and found a handful that served quite well as historical surnames–Barrington, Tiverton, and Ashby–even if none has yielded as indelible a character as Graham’s Demelza Carne Poldark.

What are some of the unusual names you’ve encountered as a reader or dreamed up as a writer?

“M” is for “Music”: The Soundtrack for A Song at Twilight (+ Giveaway)

Well, that was an easy choice! ::grins::

511ZHL8b2rL._SY300_Not too surprisingly, the subject of music arose frequently during my October blog tour. On at least two stops, commenters were asked to share their favorite kinds of music or, alternatively, their favorite soundtrack. Stopping by to chat and give my own answers (traditional Celtic, classic rock, Patrick Doyle’s Henry V), I theorized that many books had their own “soundtrack,” whether that means music the author played to get her in the mood to write or music that the author associates with the characters and situations in her book.

As music figures heavily in A Song at Twilight, I thought I’d share the “soundtrack” for the book, along with a little background information about each song. These are probably the most important musical numbers in the book, and they’re quite an eclectic bunch, ranging from traditional carols/folk songs to classical opera to Victorian parlor ballads.

1. Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day: Traditional English carol, sometimes ascribed to the Cornish. The central theme is Christ narrating his own life cycle as movements in a dance. The carol goes on at length from Birth to Crucifixion to Resurrection, but usually only the first verses are sung.

170px-Purcell_portrait2. Music for a While: Written in 1692 by Henry Purcell, a gifted English Baroque composer who’s not as well-known as he could be, owing to his untimely death at 35 or 36. This song–about the soothing power of music–was composed as incidental music to a play, Oedipus, and sung by the character of Tiresias, the blind Greek soothsayer.

3. Voi che sapete: One of Cherubino’s arias from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In the opera, the lovelorn page performs this song for his patroness, Countess Rosina, and entreats plaintively of the ladies he serves, “Tell me what love is.” Cherubino, a trousers role, has been famously portrayed by  Frederica von Stade and Cecilia Bartolli. I enjoyed adding my heroine, Sophie, to their number!

A playful moment between Susanna (Hagley) and Figaro (Gerald Finley)
A playful moment between Susanna (Hagley) and Figaro (Gerald Finley)

4. Deh vieni, non tardar (Oh, come, do not delay): Also from The Marriage of Figaro, but sung by Susanna, Figaro’s bride. It’s often staged as a love song sincerely meant for one man (Figaro) but also intended to entrap/deceive another (the lecherous Count Almaviva). Sophie’s interpretation of the song was influenced by Alison Hagley’s performance in the 1994 Glyndebourne production of The Marriage of Figaro.

5. The Mermaid’s Song: A lyric poem by Anne Hunter (1742-1821) was set to music by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) to make this very lovely canzonetta. Hunter and Haydn became good friends and enjoyed a fruitful musical collaboration.

608a1363ada06f3fe243d010.L6. I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls: An aria from The Bohemian Girl (1843), an opera composed by Michael William Balfe, in which the heroine, kidnapped and given to the gypsies as an infant, confides to her lover the dreams she has had of her noble upbringing. The song on its own enjoyed great popularity during the 19th century, but I first heard it as an airy, ethereal track on Enya’s Shepherd Moons.

LostChord_sm7. The Lost Chord: Composed in 1877 by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), who had tried for several years to set Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem “A Lost Chord” to music. He found tragic inspiration in the last illness of his brother Fred, who died five days after the song was completed. Although not written for sale, The Lost Chord became an huge commercial success in Britain and America during the 1870s and 1880s. In Topsy-Turvy, the 1999 film about Gilbert and Sullivan’s stormy partnership, Sullivan’s longtime mistress Fanny Ronalds (Eleanor David) performs “The Lost Chord” at a society function.

8. Love’s Old Sweet Song: An Irish folk song, written in 1884, with music by James Lynam Molloy and lyrics by G. Clifton Bingham. Very popular with Victorian audiences, the song has been recorded by many artists. The title of my book is actually taken from a line of the chorus: “Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low.”

As I observed, the selection is nothing if not eclectic! But I enjoyed picking out each song, and hope that its inclusion enhanced the mood and the readers’ experience!

So, dear reader, do you have a favorite opera/composer or a soundtrack that you associate with a favorite book? And writers, do you find yourself imagining or even arranging a soundtrack for your works in progress?

I will be giving away a signed copy of A Song at Twilight to one commenter on this week’s post, until midnight, PST, 11/10.

“L” is for “Location”: The Pleasures of On-site Research

The Alphabet Posts are back!  (And believe me, it took a few minutes to remember which letter I’m on. Ahem …)

For me, research is one of the most fascinating parts of writing a book. And for a (predominantly) historical romance writer, that generally means submerging myself as much as possible in the past, absorbing the details and attitudes of a bygone age, while trying to keep my connection to the story emotional, visceral, and real. So I read letters, memoirs, and journals, and familiarize myself with the lives and careers of historical figures who might have influenced the creation of my characters.

Model of H. G. Wells' Time Sled
Model of H. G. Wells’ Time Sled

Virtual time travel is wonderful, of course, and with the wealth of print and online resources now available, you can get closer to the past than you ever imagined. But even the best secondary sources can’t always recapture the experience you want to have as a writer and to convey to the reader. And that’s when on-site research becomes highly desirable, even essential.

The late Margaret Frazer attended a reenactment of medieval mystery plays, performed in the open air by a traveling troupe, as part of her research for A Play of Heresy, her last Joliffe the Player mystery. Deanna Raybourn, author of the Lady Julia mysteries, traveled to England because she needed to smell a moor for her third book in the series. And I’ve heard some Regency authors discuss the upcoming bicentennial of Waterloo and debate going to visit the battlefield to get a genuine “feel” for the last battle of the long-running Napoleonic wars.

Battlefield of Culloden, photo by Auz
Battlefield of Culloden, photo by Auz

Having once visited Culloden Moor, though not for research purposes at the time, I can attest that the old battle sites do carry a certain “vibe.” In Culloden’s case, it was a mournful, desolate one, enhanced by the overcast grey sky and the scrubby reddish-brown brush–the color of old blood–that covered the terrain. I was depressed even before I saw the stones marking the mass graves where Highland clans had fought and died for the Jacobite cause.

Magdalen College, Oxford University, photo by Romanempire
Magdalen College, Oxford University, photo by Romanempire

On a happier note, I’ve also visited Oxford University, though sadly my memories of it aren’t as vivid as they could be. I’ve seen Blenheim Palace and Stonehenge.  I’ve walked on the medieval walls surrounding York, which could come in very handy in one of my WIPs, set in Yorkshire. I’ve seen the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and a fascinating collection of cameos and intaglios at the British Museum. I’ve walked my feet off visiting the Tower of London, and seen–though not heard–the Tower ravens hopping about the yard. And I’ve been to Cornwall, though not, alas, as close to the north coast as my characters are.

Unfortunately, on-site research of this nature is a luxury. My first-hand memories of the UK were all acquired on one trip, years ago. Few of us have the means or opportunity to jet off to see every detail of our books’ setting for ourselves. So it’s pure serendipity when you find what you need much closer to home.

MemorabiliaWallIn my case, that turned out to be the Hard Rock Cafe. Because, as it happens, one of my WIPs is actually a contemporary–or maybe it’s more accurate to call it a “modern” historical–romance starring a British rock band, set in the 1990s. Up until now, my research process for this story has consisted of mining my own memories as a child/teen of the ’80s, reading interviews with actual British bands of the time, watching concert footage and old music videos. Not until last month did I realize that some of what I might be looking for–the ambiance and overall set-up of a theme restaurant/live-music venue–could be found at the HRC.

In retrospect, it seems strange not to have thought of it before–there have been several HRCs in California, though several have closed over the years. But there was still one within driving distance in Hollywood and that was where my companion and I headed one Sunday morning.

StefaniGownWhat we found exceeded our expectations. A collection of rock-n-roll memorabilia that included such items as Jim Morrison’s leather pants, one of Gwen Stefani’s evening gowns, guitars played by groups like Guns ‘N’ Roses and Steely Dan, and manuscripts on which original lyrics were scribbled; multiple TV screens broadcasting vintage music videos, including Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock-n-Roll” and the campy Jagger-Bowie ’80s cover of “Dancing in the Streets,” which I find impossible to watch with a straight face; a tiered seating arrangement that explained how HRC could conceivably fit several hundred people in their space even with live entertainment; and, of course, the stage itself, complete with speakers and standing mics. Best of all, we met some friendly, chatty servers who were more than happy to dish about the place and what it was like when a band was booked to play there.

GnRGuitarSo we stayed for a couple of hours, soaking up atmosphere, asking questions, and having a very good lunch on top of all that. We left well-satisfied on all levels, and are even contemplating a return trip in the not-too-distant future. When the answers to our research questions are just a short drive rather than a transatlantic flight away, it seems a shame to waste the opportunity.

After all, don’t we owe it to the Muse?