The Traveler Returns: What Happens After the Adventure Ends?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to seeing The Hobbit. I like Martin Freeman as an actor–I think he’ll lend just the right touch to the role. The Hobbit was my favorite of all the Lord of the Rings books, and I loved the movie adaptation of the trilogy.

But I feel a little like Bilbo now, once he finally returned to the Shire and Bag End. Mind you, my own abode is not the tidy, comfy little home depicted in the movie trailers. If I were Bilbo, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave either.  But I did the reverse this past week, I left my not very pleasing home and journeyed to the land of The Hobbit–traversing much of England in gentle meandering way that did my bruised and weary soul much good. I only wish it could have lasted longer.

I didn’t take in the sights, though everywhere I turned there was a breathtaking piece of history or scenery to see. I took in the people. The homes where books were stacked floor to ceiling in haphazard and sometimes dangerously tilting piles, and yet their owners could lay their hands on a favorite title at will. I  discovered tea with milk is a most wondrous thing (and know not how I lived without it so long). I ate vegetables I’d never heard of, such as celeriac, and ones I thought I hated, such as parsnips, brussels sprouts and field greens. I ate myself silly, in fact, as gluten free options are not only plentiful but delicious as well.

And I walked. I walked down muddy lanes and along the South Downs. I walked on fields so green they didn’t seem they could possibly be real, with sunlight that poured in great golden beams from behind scudding clouds overhead. I walked in picturesque old towns that could have been pulled out of a Dickens story, saw uniformed school children that looked like they could have just come from Hogwarts, found a piece of a Roman temple and held it in my hand.  I walked along the streets of Oxford on a drizzling day and saw the actual locations of places mentioned in my favorite book, Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. I drank pots of tea and toasted crumpets on the fire. I walked hand in hand in the rain with someone I love.

I met dear friends and made new ones.

And I learned so much! Not just in terms of fascinating local and cultural history (but I now know why racehorses were sold in guineas–because the commission to the sales agent was factored in–so if a horse sold for 20,000 guineas, then 20,000 pounds went to the owner and 2,000 shillings went to the agent.) but in life lessons too.

I learned that things that make you turn up your nose on hearing about it (say, for example, tea with milk) are often fabulous in the reality. That when you never leave home, everything is an adventure.Just walking down the street of a town you’ve never seen in a country you’ve never been is magical. When you’re happy, you eat what you want and stop when you’re full, and you don’t have to worry about your weight. That much of what I worry about on a regular basis really doesn’t matter in the big picture, nor does worrying about it change the outcome.

I need to play more and work less. I need to write until the story is done and not to arbitrary goals and deadlines set my myself as a means of ‘making it’ as a writer. I need to walk the dog and ride the horse while I can because there will be a time when I can’t do these things–and I will look back on this time with regret for not doing them more often.

I need to breathe moist air, rich with the smell of soil and growing things, on a regular basis. I need to read more books and spend less time online. My stories will be all the better for these things, and to a writer, that’s what really counts in the end.

But I do wonder how Bilbo felt when he returned home at last, never to go adventuring again. Glad to be safe and sound in his snug home once more? Or thinking regretfully of the beautiful vistas and magnificent cities he’s left behind? I know I’ve come back bursting with ideas of how I can incorporate my experience into the latest WIP–how England itself will become a character in the story as the next section unfolds.

I can’t wait to start working on it.

So while I am spending Christmas alone this year, I’m not really alone. I have a stack of presents to open tomorrow, thinking of all my dear friends as I do so. I will head out to the barn to dole out carrots and scrape the mud off my mare so I can ride her. I will watch the Muppet Christmas Carol tonight and work on my stories. And I will love every minute of it.

Wishing the very best for you and yours this holiday season!

 

Going for Gold, the Olympic themed M/M anthology has been nominated for the 2012 Goodreads M/M Romance Readers Choice Awards! Voting is open until 12/31 and you don’t have to be a member of the group to vote–though it’s easy to join as well. Drop by and vote on your favorite books, authors, characters, pairings and more!

Also, Dreamspinner is holding a huge Christmas sale! I just found out about it and it is almost over, but you still have time to do a little last minute Christmas shopping for that lover of M/M romances in your life (even if that is just you!)

 

The Secret Santa Blog Hop!

Welcome to the Secret Santa blog hop! The blog hop features over 40 authors, all giving away an individual prize, but the grand prize is a 7″ Kindle Fire HD! To enter for my giveaway, be sure to leave a comment here, including your email address so you can be contacted if you’re a winner. Comments will also put you in the running for the Grand Prize. To increase the odds of your winning the Grand Prize, you will receive additional entries if you follow this blog, leave a comment here, or answer my simple question at the end of this post.  What fun! The link above will explain all the rules in detail, as well as direct you to others in the hop!

To add to the specialness of the holiday season this year, I’m traveling out of the country with my boyfriend to visit his family abroad. That means I won’t be around to answer emails or even approve some comments until my return, but never fear, your comments will enter you into my contest here, and also put in you the running for the contest for the e-reader as well! It might take a while (like 24 hours) for any moderated comments to show up, but they will be approved as soon as I gain access to the internet again. I was told today they do have internet in the UK, they just spell it with a ‘u’.  🙂

Winners for my individual giveaway will be chosen on my return, so my contest will be open until December 26th.

I have an interview scheduled for Dec 18th with Sharon Buchbinder–so be sure to stop by once the link goes live!

And I just found out that Going for Gold, the M/M Olympic themed anthology (in which I have a novella, Lightning in a Bottle) has been nominated for the 2012 Goodreads M/M Romance Group Members Choice Awards! You don’t have to be a member to vote in the awards: the link is right here!

Just got an extra piece of information to help you on the blog hop to enter for the Grand Prize from Lyndi Lamont: After you are finished hopping, send Tabby an email and tell her which blogs you went to and what you did at each, including the answers to the questions. You are not required to go to every blog to win but the more blogs you go to the better your chance of winning is. Send info to (careydoucet AT yahoo.com). Please send it all in one email. The easy way to do this is to create a word doc and keep track of the questions you answer, as well as the blogs that you start to follow, and email the entire document to Carey when you’re done hopping!

Christmas: the holiday of promise

I love Christmas unabashedly. I know, it may not be the thing to admit that these days, but it’s true, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.

Maybe it’s the annual showing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Or my second favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Maybe it’s because I become obsessed with baking, something I seldom do at any other time of year but now I have to fill the house with snickerdoodles, gingerbread men, and sour cream cookies, and never let us forget, the family favorite: the famous sausage balls, the secret of which only I know.

I watch A Christmas Carol in some form each year, the Muppet version being my favorite. I sympathize with George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. I swoon over Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife. I watch these movies as I wrap presents and keep an ear out for the timer in the kitchen, letting me know when the next batch of cookies is ready.

Christmas for me is all about possibilities and Bing Crosby crooning his melodies in the background while we decorate the tree.

It’s about surprising someone you love with the one thing you knew they really wanted–the one that will bring a smile to their face on Christmas morning. It’s not about the presents, really, it’s about the Dickensian magic of unexpected miracles and angels getting their wings. It’s about snow and sledding and hot chocolate over a fire. It’s about the possibility of all your dreams coming true.

These last few years, I’ve let the Christmas spirit lie dormant. I haven’t decorated. I haven’t baked. I haven’t even watched my movies. Without the funds for gifts, I’ve volunteered to work the holiday so that others could be with their families. I wasn’t intentionally playing Scrooge, but I’d been miserly with my heart and my holiday just the same.

This year, I’m going to be spending the week before Christmas on holiday. I’m taking a real vacation for the first time in a decade, and I’m going to be with friends and family. My heart is swelling with the Christmas spirit in a way that is hasn’t done in years–I can hear carols on the radio without flinching and I am programming Pandora with Bing. There will be no money for gifts because I’m taking the trip. There will be no baking because I’ve developed a silly intolerance for all things wheat. There will be no decoration because I won’t be there to enjoy it.

But Christmas will be in my heart sending beams of light and love in all directions. Like the Grinch, I’ve discovered that it isn’t about the tree, or the tinsel, or the Roast Beast. Christmas is about being with those you love.

In honor of the season, I am giving away the reader’s choice of a signed copy of Going for Gold (the M/M Olympic themed anthology) or Crying for the Moon, my award-winning vampire/werewolf novel. Winners will be chosen randomly from the comments below–please leave your email address in your comment if you’d like to be considered for the contest. Winners of the print books will also be limited to the continental US; if a winner is chosen from outside the US, the winner will receive his or her choice of a digital story from my backlist. All you have to do is leave a comment.

To receive additional entries, follow this blog! You will get an additional entry too, for answering this one question: what is my favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

Do you have questions about how this works? Want a shot at additional entries? Check out the Secret Santa Blog Hop for all the details!

Hope your holiday season is a lovely one–and good luck!

 

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was invited by Angie of Love Romances and More to participate in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop—a sort of pyramidal branching hop where one person sends questions to five people, who post their questions to five people, who select another five people and post the following week, and so on and so on, like that old seventies shampoo commercial. I liked the idea of it—for one thing, I like blog hops. For another, it’s fun to see how different people answer the same questions. The best part I think, though, lies in the fact that your commitment is to only five people a week. I’ve found for me personally, if there are over 200 people participating in a weekend hop, I’m lucky if I get to more than the top 20-30 on the list. So yes, I thought this would be great fun!

The plan was to answer preset questions about your latest release or your WIP. In this case, my answers are for one and the same! If that sounds strange, it’s because I’m currently working on an expanded version of my sport horse story, Lightning in a Bottle, which is part of the Going for Gold Anthology from MLR Press. So, without further ado, the questions!

The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

Hold the Reins, which is an allusion to the fact that not only can there only be one person in charge of where the horse goes, but also to the behind-the-scenes manipulations of Jake’s father. Jake and Rich have found their way back together at the end of Lightning in a Bottle, but being together is never simply a case of Happily Ever After, The End. Relationships are hard work, and relationships that have trust issues are even harder. The two men will have to feel their way into their repaired relationship, all the while dealing with the pressures of Olympic competition and living in the spotlight.

Jake will have to decide if he will pursue his tentative relationship with Rich or hang on to all he knows, particularly when that includes the health and well-being of the man that has always been a father figure to him, Jim Banks. There are no easy answers because of his tumultuous relationship with his father, Patrick Stanford, and the lengths Patrick has gone to in order to keep Jake and Rich apart.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Oh, that’s an easy one! I recently had to retire my own sport horse from eventing, a very bittersweet decision on my part. When I read the submission prompt for a short story involving Olympic athletes for the M/M anthology, I confess, my first thought was that I bet there would be a lot of submissions about diving and swimming (and why not? SPEEDOS!) but that I’d probably be the only one to sub a story about eventing—one of those sports that only gets 3 minutes of airtime on the main broadcasting channel and you have to have cable and a TiVo (or a very patient boyfriend with these things!) to see any of the rest of it.

Well… 10 K became 25 K, and the next thing I know, I’m staring at a story that is too big to tell in the allotted space. I didn’t know what to do! Fortunately the terrific people at MLR Press let me make all kinds of last minute revisions so that an expanded version would make sense, and I’ve been working on it ever since. Slower than I would like, but moving forward just the same. I’ve had both heavy work commitments and some pressing family health issues, so writing has taken a bit of a back seat at the moment. I’m about 2/3 of the way done, though, and I hope to have it completed in short order.

What genre does your book fall under?

Definitely contemporary M/M romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This was an incredibly tough question to answer. I don’t have a lot of time to watch television or go to the movies anymore, so I tend to be behind the times on the latest, hottest actors. Also, my characters are a bit older than your average Olympian, as eventing is a sport where people can compete for decades—one of the reasons I love it is because your partner is a horse, and this makes it one of the few sports where men and women compete directly against each other as well.

I ended up having to ask friends who’d read the story for help, and this is what we came up with:

For Rich Evans, I would cast Joshua Jackson (Fringe). It isn’t just about the blue eyes and the boyish good looks—there’s something about his presence and the kinetic energy in his hands that makes him a good fit for Rich.

Jake was much harder. I had a strong mental image of what Jake looked like (being kind of partial to that ‘type’) but I was looking for something a little less scruffy than my usual go-to look. I needed someone who had the smoothness of being raised in wealth and the benefit and polish of a prep-school education, while still retaining that bad-boy toughness about him.

One of my friends suggested Sebastian Stan (Bucky from Captain America) and though I couldn’t see it at first, the more I looked at images of this actor online, the more I did. He has that ageless quality about him that only gets better with time, and that is definitely Jake!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Horse-crazy boys fall in love, are separated by circumstances, and learn to overcome obstacles to find love and trust again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping MLR Press will pick up the option, but a lot of that will depend on my ability to meet their deadline. If I can’t, then the book will just have to sit on the shelf for a while until the rights for the novella return to me. That’s okay if that happens–I’ve got plenty of other projects to work on! I hope that I can get this finished on time however, and that the end product is something that pleases everyone.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Um, still working…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s the fun part, I can’t think of any off the top of my head—most of the horse-related stories in the M/M genre that I’ve read have been about cowboys, not event riders! From the standpoint of a contemporary m/m romance set in a realistic sports background, maybe Alan Chin’s Matchmaker? I know that’s presumptuous of me to place my name in the same sentence with Chin, but I’m thinking in terms of the storyline here. 🙂

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Well, I was galloping along madly with the novella for submission to the anthology, when one of my beta readers said, “You realize you have the makings of a really good novel here, right?”

I realized she was right, only I was already committed to the anthology. Fortunately the people at MLR Press have been *very* accommodating!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Let’s see… have you ever seen eventing? It’s the triathlon of horse sports, with a dressage phase (Tall boots! Breeches! Gloves! Riding crops!) that combines elegance, precision, and strength to move your horse through a series of elements. From there, you go on to the cross-country phase where you gallop across miles of challenging terrain, leaping unusual and tricky combinations of fences at speed. A lot of horse and rider teams get eliminated there. The final element is show jumping, where the fences are bigger, the turns are tighter, and the stakes are higher as the remaining competitors go for the gold. What is there not to love about that?

Going for Gold is available now from MLR Press: 8 novellas by your favorite M/M authors featuring Olympians vying for that greatest award of all–love.

My other blog hop contributors will be posting their answers to these same questions next week:

Xanthe Walter

Clare London

Cooper West

Sue Holston

Whitley Gray

Aundrea Singer

You can also follow the rest of The Next Big Thing bloggers on Twitter with the hashtag #NextBigThing

 

 

So, the silence means I’m busy, right?

I know, despite good intentions to the otherwise, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’m not going to linger here tonight, either.

The short version: we weathered hurricane Sandy just fine here, being on the outskirts of the storm and missing any major damage. My heart goes out to the people who weren’t so lucky. I can’t imagine the devastation and destruction this hurricane wreaked on people’s lives–I can only hope that those affected can find the means and the will to stand up from the ruins and rebuild their lives.

I can’t begin to convey the relief I felt when President Obama not only won his re-election bid, but did so handily. I can only think that the people who blamed hurricane Sandy on Romney ‘losing his momentum’ and called the hurricane a judgment on the area of the country hit for supporting marriage equality could not possibly have known anyone personally affected by such a terrible storm, nor fully engaged their brains before running their mouths. Regardless, I am relieved to be able to lay my outrage (over some of the policies the GOP seemed to be promoting) down for a while, and move on to other topics of importance to me.

In the upcoming weeks, I’m going to be hosting various authors as they discuss their upcoming releases and allow me to interrogate them! We’ll be hearing from Claire Russett, Nessa L. Warrin, and Lex Valentine, among others. I’m also going to be doing some guest spots myself, as well as participating in some blog hops. More on all of these events as they approach!

I’m still working feverishly on expanding my Sport Horse story, Lightning in a Bottle (part of the Olympic themed M/M anthology Going for Gold, now out with MLR Press) into a full length novel. Hold the Reins takes the story beyond Jake’s qualification for the Olympics all the way to Greenwich Park, where he must overcome personal challenges to both his renewed relationship with Rich, as well as a threat to his ability to compete at all. I’m excited about this story, and frustrated that my day job is keeping me from wallowing in hours of Olympic footage while I clicketedy-clack to my heart’s content on my laptop. The story is starting to move along now, however, and I hope to have it finished before the end of the year. I’m glad that work is rolling in, don’t get me wrong! But I miss the days when I had hours at a stretch to indulge in my passion for writing.

For an excerpt of Lightning in a Bottle, check out this link to QMO Magazine!

Speaking of which, I should get back to it. I’ve got a scene that’s begging to be written and a chunk of time to do it in! Stay tuned, though, for more posts and giveaways to come!

The Evolution of Halloween

Welcome to my Howloween Blog Hop post! Anyone leaving a comment here will be in the running to win a signed, print copy of Going For Gold, the M/M Olympic themed anthology from MLR Press, including my sport horse novella, Lightning in a Bottle (if you live in the continental US) or the reader’s choice from my backlist in e-book form (if you live outside the US). Comments for the contest will be considered up until Nov 1, then a winner will be selected randomly from among the commenters.

The contest is now closed and the winner is vitajex! I’ll be contacting you via email–thanks for playing along, guys!

When I was a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I didn’t care for the Fourth of July with the fireworks and the cookouts. It took far too long to get to the park where we could see the fireworks display, and even longer getting out at the end of the evening. Ditto with New Year’s. A lot of noise and the making of resolutions no one ever keeps. Valentine’s Day was usually a bust for me too; with me complaining loudly to all who would listen that V-day was a commercial holiday orchestrated by society to force us into buying flowers and dinner out at a fancy restaurant. Thanksgiving seemed like a lot of work for an hour’s worth of good dining (though the days of leftovers helped make up for it!). Christmas Eve, in which everything was still a potential, (and nothing yet had disappointed) was always my favorite over Christmas Day.

But when I was growing up, Halloween had a special kind of magic all its own. For starters, there was the dressing up and going Trick or Treating. I don’t know about you guys, but Trick or Treating was a Big Deal when I was a kid. My grandmother had made me a tiger suit when I was very small–and being a sickly child who didn’t grow much, I was able to wear this outfit year after year. I loved my tiger suit. It fit over my entire body, compete with tail and a hoodie with ears.  My mom would draw whiskers on my face with her eyebrow pencil, and I would drape my tail over my arm as I headed out the door with my pumpkin basket to collect my candy.

Back then, Halloween was the culmination of my favorite time of the year.  I loved going back to school when I was a child. I loved that first day in September when the temperature dropped by 20 degrees and you had to take a sweater with you, ‘just in case’. I loved the crackle of dry leaves underfoot–the scratchy sound they made on the pavement as you walked through them. Even the air was different–smelling of wood smoke and damp earth, cool and crisp as a Red Delicious apple. October was all red and yellow leaves, gorgeous afternoons with bars of light that lay in heavy bands of gold across the path in the woods. November is different. By the time November arrives, the trees are bare, the afternoons are cold and rainy. Halloween is the last, best week of the most glorious time of year.

But on Halloween, everyone would pull out the stops.  People carved pumpkins and placed lighted candles within to indicate they were receptive to Trick or Treaters. We would wait, dressed in our costumes, until dusk, after which we would hit the streets. Back then, people knew their neighbors. My favorite house to visit belonged to Mrs. Hutchins–she made the most incredible gingerbread men–each individually decorated.  Not to be outdone, my mother made popcorn balls and created little airplanes out of Popsicle sticks and Lifesavers–the tube of Lifesavers making the body of the plane, and two Lifesavers were used as wheels.

Somewhere along the way, Halloween changed. Pixie stix were found to be laced with cyanide, and candy was showing up with razor blades inside. My father insisted that our candy be radiographed at the hospital where he worked before we ate it, and my parents refused to to let us eat anything that was homemade anymore. I outgrew my tiger suit, and trick or treating in the neighborhood was replaced by Halloween parties. My parents were not big party throwers, so Halloween became something to set aside, as another part of my childhood that I shelved on growing up.

I noticed the other night that in the upscale neighborhoods near my house, homes are decorated for Halloween now as seriously as some people take Christmas, with colored lights and inflatable displays that go up at the first of October and stay up until Thanksgiving (when the Christmas decorations come out). Some are gorgeously and tastefully decorated with little orange lights and garlands of brightly colored leaves winding around the railings. Some are a little more out there…

Great. One more thing that I can’t keep up with due to lack of time. As it is, I no longer decorate for Christmas. I just can’t do all that work when half the time, I’m not even there. Decorating your house for the holidays is so that you can pull up at night and see the lights glowing in the impending dusk. It sort of dampens the effect if you have to go inside and turn the lights on first, you know?

I never lost my love of dressing up in costume, however. My mother, freed from the pressure of keeping up with the likes of Mrs. Hutchins, refused to acknowledge the day. One year, I’d come home from college for the weekend, only to find my mother heading out to a movie, house darkened, no candy available.

Well, screw that, I thought. After she left, I went to the store and bought some candy. When I got back to the house, I scrounged around until I put together an outfit that could have passed for a woman in Colonial Williamsburg–a floor length skirt, a long sleeved, high-necked blouse.  I piled my hair on top of my head and picked up a camping lantern. I left the lights off in the house, and wandered through the rooms with the lantern, pausing in windows so I could be seen from the street.  I have to admit, more than one car screeched to a stop when passing the house!

I decided that if anyone rang the doorbell, I would liberally hand out candy without speaking.  I did get a few callers, though I suspect the lights being out discouraged most of them. I do remember one small child, leaning in with her basket to receive her candy, saying in a voice filled with awe, “You’re beautiful!”

I didn’t hear that a lot when I was young. It made an impression. 🙂

Somehow, I never let go of Halloween. Even with nowhere to go, I still wanted to dress for the day. There’s something about putting on a costume that is so liberating. I tend to dress as favorite characters from movies or stories, as opposed to the Sexy Witch, or the Sexy Vampire. Dressing as a favorite character imbues you with their strengths, and for a brief period of time, you are your hero.  I’ve written about Walking like Beckett and what I’ve learned from that, but over the years, I’ve been Athena from the original Battlestar Galactica series, and I’ve worn my Star Trek Next Gen (science blue) outfit for years. I’ve purchased the short dress uniform from the Star Trek Reboot, and Starbuck’s uniform from the new Battlestar Galactica, too.

But making my own costume makes me happier than any pre-made one. There’s something about the hunt for all the right components that’s akin to searching the used bookstores for an elusive out-of-print book. Sure, you could probably find it online–but the treasure hunt is part of the fun. This year, I’ve decided to go as Peggy Carter from Captain America. My word, I love the feisty heroine! Take a strong female character (strong, not bitchy!), dress her in a WW II uniform and put lipstick on her, and I am your devoted slave. Peggy Carter is everything I would like to be–tough but feminine, purpose-driven but believing in heroes, and one helluva shot!  I loved how–period not withstanding–Peggy was not simply the love interest in the movie, but out there in the thick of things fighting with everyone else.

So for months now, I’ve been putting together a costume. An authentic uniform (or as close as I can get). Olive military jacket and skirt (wool). A white shirt. An olive tie. Silver wings. Kick-ass shoes.

I mentioned to a friend that I needed to find just the right ‘wartime red’ lipstick to finish the outfit, and she surprised me with a package the other day. She discovered that the favorite lipstick of the day was Victory Red by Elizabeth Arden, and that they still make it! She sent me a tube, along with an era authentic compact (Stratton–what ALL the English women used), and the piece de la resistance, a pendant with the likeness of Captain Steve Rogers embedded in it!

Do you know how much fun it is when your friends get involved in your fandom loves?  It’s magical.  It’s what Halloween is all about.

Be sure to leave your email in your comments so that I can contact you if you are the winner!

Going for Gold is the M/M Olympic themed anthology from MLR Press! Ice skating, diving, equestrian eventing, competitive shooting and more! There’s something for everyone (especially if you like hot athletes in Speedos, or tight breeches and tall boots!)

Deal Breakers in Romance Stories: What are yours?

A few weeks ago, I started a conversation on my live journal account regarding pet peeves in your reading, and what constitutes a deal breaking for you as a reader when it comes to romance stories?

The conversation proved so interesting, that I decided to hold an informal poll. At the time, I had no idea how to post a poll on my website so I wrote up about 25 questions and inviting people to answer them.

It’s taken me longer than I like to write up the answers and post them here, but life has been a bit hectic lately. The individual emails with the responses have been mocking me from my inbox, however, and I wanted to get this posted this weekend so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty anymore! The big delay is me trying to figure out how to embed a poll in this post. Fortunately, my most awesome BF came to the rescue and showed me how to get the polls in the post–yay! So I’m including a few polls for you, the reader, to weigh in as well!

Have you ever continued reading a book even though you hated it? If so, why?

View Results

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I started out by asking what would make someone continuing reading a book that they actively disliked. The most common reason people gave for continuing to read a story that annoyed them was basic curiosity and wanting to know how the story ended. That’s also the reason one friend gave me for finishing 50 Shades of Grey, despite the fact that she disliked the main characters. In fact, my conversation with her, especially when I found out she bought the other books in the series for the same reason, made me ask around among my friends and colleagues as to what made them stay with a story they hated–and what was an absolute deal-breaker for them.

I found it interesting that people polled who identified themselves as primarily readers seemed slightly more likely to continue reading a book out of curiosity as to how it ended, whereas those polled who identified as writers were much more likely to quit if they had major problems with the story. In general, most felt it was both easier to read these days due to the portability of stories in e-readers, but also easier to not finish a story as well, when something else distracted them from the story at hand. Many people cited subpar writing as their main reason for not finishing a book.

That goes along with what I’ve noticed in myself: since becoming a published writer, I am a much more critical reader now. Lately I’ve been on a kick of re-reading old favorites from my past. I usually do this when I’m a bit stressed out–there is something infinitely soothing in reading a book that you know how it will turn out and that you liked very much. So I’ve gone back to my old stand-by comfort books: the crime stories of the Golden Age of Mystery, the early Dick Francis books, E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia stories, the Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters.

Only this time around, I find that some of my beloved favorites grate just a little.  I catch myself editing as I read and thinking, “Wait, you can’t do that!”

Nuances that escaped me as a teenager are glaringly obvious now–sometimes enriching the story, sometimes tainting it. I am more conscious of causal misogyny and racism, and am less forgiving of the time period in which the story was written if I see another novel in the same time period that got it ‘right’.  It’s a little disheartening to realize that now my Inner Critic is going to make it tough for me to really immerse myself in a story the way I used to do when I was younger.  I miss that innocence, in a way.

Reader/writer Anne Ruane, however, made the distinction that she was less tolerant of a romance novel that disappointed. The romance genre brought with it certain expectations for her, the main one being that she was reading for entertainment. I found this an interesting take on things. Given that I am reading more romances these days than I used to, I’m going to have to pay attention and see if that is a factor in my dissatisfaction or not.

What is an absolute deal breaker for you in a romance story? Multiple answers okay

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Of the people who answered the questionnaire, the mostly writers were more likely to DNF (did not finish) a book  for editing and structural problems than strictly readers.  Paula and Chris P both cited boredom as a possible factor for continuing a less than enthralling read, with Chris mentioning that she will read anything while traveling, in the hopes that it might improve as the story unfolds.

Fen, however, is quick to ditch a story if it is badly edited or if the story and characters are poorly written. He cites not having time to waste as his main reason for the ‘cut-to-the-chase’ approach to sticking with a book or not, and I can sympathize.  As a writer myself, is it hard enough to find the time to read someone else’s work, and if I don’t like it–like bad television–I simply don’t have the time to waste.

Sometimes I’ll stick with a story to find out what all the hype is about, however. If something is hugely popular, there has to be a reason, right?  So curiosity can sometimes keep me with a book even if it is horribly written.  I’m currently reading a very popular story that is making me grind my teeth with every paragraph–but so many of my friends have told me that they loved the relationship between the two main characters so much that I am toughing it out in order to figure out why they love it despite what I see as unworkable flaws.

If you chose infidelity as a deal breaker, is there ever a situation in which is it acceptable to you as part of the story?

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Interestingly enough, infidelity did not turn out to be THE major deal-breaker for most of the questionnaire takers. By far and large, plot problems and disliking the main characters were the main reasons people gave for DNFing a book. Layla pointed out that there were a whole host of reasons that could tip her over into DNF territory if she was already sitting on the fence–and yet some of these same problems (such as mild to moderate misogyny) could be overlooked if she otherwise liked the story.

That makes sense to me.  I find if I am enjoying the story, I tend not to notice its flaws until the second or third viewing.  If I’m already annoyed with the story, I begin to nitpick right away. Errors of writing and editing were a big problem for many people in the questionnaire. I find it interesting that I am now finding editing errors (admittedly few and far between) in my old favorites that I never noticed the first gazillion times around.  Becoming a writer has definitely given me a more discerning eye when it comes to that sort of thing–and proves that editors are only human, after all.

Anne Ruane, however, stated that infidelity was a deal breaker for her, especially if the infidelity was forgiven and the couple went on to live happily ever after.  Honestly, this sets up a whole other realm of questions, such as how much realism do you want in your romance stories and what kinds of things jolt you straight out of the story.  *rubs hands together evilly and makes plans for future blog posts*  I touched on that subject briefly in the questionnaire, asking people what threw them out of a story. Chris P gave the best answer: dropping it in the bath. 🙂

How do you feel about sex scenes in a romance?

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One of the questions I asked was whether or not the quality of writing has diminished in recent years. The answers were varied, with most people saying that they felt writing quality had diminished, in part due to lower educational standards across the board, but also with the ease of digital publishing and the flooding of the market. Some people felt it was genre related, with certain subgenres suffering more than others. Both Layla and Chris P cited the fact that over time, the romantic hero has evolved for the better, and that in the heterosexual genre, such wildly inappropriate tropes, such as rape leading to love, and the heavy-handed misogynistic relationships as being the gold standard of romance, have gradually given way to more acceptable role models–even if it is still fantasy.  Interestingly, K. Lynn stated that it wasn’t so much a case of the overall level of writing going down, but that the availability of bad fiction had gone up significantly, thus obscuring the obvious standouts.

Both Chris P and K. Lynn mentioned sticking with a story out of fandom related reasons, (another blog topic!!), giving the story greater benefit of the doubt because they went into it wanting to like it, having already invested themselves in the characters. In general, both of them mentioned cutting fanfic a greater degree of slack. Mostly because fanfic is supposed to be about fun, but also, I suspect, because when you are in the throes of a fandom obsession, you will read anything about your favorite characters. This explains to me a bit of why a story that had its origins in fanfic (such as 50 Shades) can have a large built-in following before it even hits the stands–and also why some people view anything with origins in fanfic with derision and revulsion. I myself come from a background in fanfic. I have to say that for the last four or five years, I’ve read more fanfic than anything else, and let me tell you, there are a lot of fabulous writers out there who have never sold a story. I’m all on board with anything that gets us as individuals out of mere consumerism and back into creative production. Just sayin’.

Most of the people questioned stated that they very much wanted to see a character grow and mature during the course of a story. Theo, however, neatly pointed out that sometimes that’s not why we read. Sometimes we read for the formula.  He referred to Kinsey Milhone, (of the novels by Sue Grafton) who never aged, let alone grew. I’m reminded of the original Dick Francis novels, in which the protagonist was essentially the same in every story, regardless of the life and background he’d been given. We read these books because we like this protagonist’s voice very much; they suck us into the story and we want to know that the next story we read by the same author is going to have the same feel.

Perhaps that’s why we read romances in the first place: certain expectations and the comfort of knowing we’re not likely to be shocked or enraged by anything in the story. I know many people disparage romances (and mystery or sci-fi novels too, for that matter) as not being ‘real literature’. They are simply bubble gum for the brain, another means of killing a few hours with mindless entertainment, not unlike a Survivor marathon on CBS.

I say differently, however.

For the vast majority of us, life is hard.  Work is stressful, and maybe our home life is not meeting our expectations as well.  At the end of the day, we’re emotionally and physically fried. A good ‘trashy’ book is my way of taking 20 minutes during lunch and de-stressing (without having to contort myself into a yoga pose). Picking up a new book by my favorite author makes me happy. There was a time in my life in which I did nothing but work all day and take care of my dad all night. Many of us live such lives, waiting for the weekend, living for that two week vacation break. Such people often turn to romance stories to brighten their day, to take them out of their lives for a while, to a beach in sunny Greece, or a small cottage in Cornwall, or bumping along a dirt road in the Outback.  Stories where two people meet, fall in love, undergo terrible trials, and survive to live happily ever after in the end.  We need this formula to make it through each day. And hopefully, the formula won’t contain a deal breaker for us!

If anything I write makes someone feel a bit better about their day, then that’s all I really need to accomplish as a writer.  I’ll see you next off the coast of Maine, or in the South of France, or maybe just in my own backyard, with my characters striking sparks off each other until they start a fire to keep us all warm.

Meanwhile, it’s back to the stables for me, where Rich and Jake are working out their differences in the run up to the Olympics. *winks*

Going for Gold features eight Olympic themed novellas written by your favorite M/M authors, including the sport horse story Lightning in a Bottle by Sarah Madison. Check it out today!

 

Coming Soon from Sarah Madison…

Today is rainy and cold, as much of the US is experiencing a cold snap for the first time this fall. My thoughts turn to autumn and how this is my favorite time of the year. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I’ve been much busier than usual, which has really cut into my writing time. I have a little unexpected time off these next few days and I plan to spend it working on Hold the Reins, the expanded version of my novella Lightning in a Bottle, which is part of the Going for Gold Anthology from MLR Press.

I love these characters and the sport horse world, so writing this story should be a snap. right? Not really. I have to make sure I don’t duplicate or reveal too much of what happens in the already printed novella section, as well as try and fix some things that weren’t completely developed there (I re-wrote a huge bit of LIAB on the fly, with the blessing of MLR Press, so that writing this expanded version would even make sense). I am finding this much harder to do than I’d expected, and the demands of work tough as well. Since I’m an inveterate tinkerer when it comes to my WIPs, I simply don’t understand how anyone can post segments of an unfinished work online anywhere! I’m constantly revising. If I see a glimmer of gold on the stream bed, I’m going to sift through that scene until I can determine if it is a vein worth pursuing or not.

I’m over-extended in a serious way and looking gratefully toward the holiday season, when things normally slow down a bit for me. But autumn, that’s my Holy Season. The sunlight slants through the trees in the afternoon, the spectrum of color a rich yellow that lights up the falling leaves from within and highlights their shades of red and gold. In a few short weeks, the trees will be bare, and the now-crisp leaves underfoot will turn to wet mulch. The light will slide from yellow toward the clear, cold white of winter. Autumn is such a brief time of magic and wonder, when the heat and humidity have finally broken and you can see the mountains clearly for the first time since the spring. I have a few days planned off here and there, but nothing like the actual vacation I need to recharge my batteries and get my mind wrapped around writing again. So for now, it’s write when I can, and hope it doesn’t completely tank.

I’ve finished some other writing commitments while others still languish. When I have very little time to work on too many projects, too often I spin in circles when I do get some time, dashing from project to project, envisioning scenes for something I can’t work on right now, frittering away the morning in chats or on Twitter because I can’t seem to settle down to work. Well, I’m going to be a good girl after this post and shut the browser. I’m NOT joining in on a chat, I’m not heading over to Facebook. I’m going to pull out the WIP and see if I can figure out what the problem is with it and whether it is salvageable as written or if I need to scrap the 7 K written and start over.

In other news, I’ve got a blog post up at KMN Books, which is a short scene between Tate and Alex from Crying for the Moon, in which they discuss Halloween and why Alex doesn’t celebrate it. Crying for the Moon was recently awarded 1st runner up in the category of Best Paranormal of 2011 in the Golden Rose Awards. One of the judges stated, “Crying for the Moon is a wonderful paranormal story. Author Sarah
Madison has managed to refresh the vampire/werewolves stories that are
the current fad! Well done! I look forward to more from this author.”

I’m delighted and honored to be among such distinguished authors and their stories! Of course, now I feel guilty that I haven’t been working on those promised sequels…

Anyone who leaves a comment on the KMN post before Oct 10th is eligible to win a signed, print copy of Going for Gold (if you live in the continental US) or reader’s choice from my backlist as an e-book. Hurry before the contest ends!

Speaking of the need to hurry, you should also run over to Dreamspinner Press and check out all their specials this month of October. New discounts are available every few days in honor of specific events this month–so many DSP authors are traveling to conventions and almost every paranormal story will have a discount this month as well. But the days vary and the specials don’t last for long, so check them out before it’s too late!

Also coming up soon, guest blog posts from Cooper West, Nessa L. Warrin, and my dear writing pal, Claire Russett. I’m also doing a blog hop at the end of the month: The Howloween Blog Hop! (I don’t think that link is live yet, though)

Lest you think I’m not planning any fun at all for myself, I’ve almost put together the finishing touches on my Peggy Carter costume for Halloween (yes, I spent FAR too much money on this, but come on, Peggy Carter!! It had to be as close to perfect as possible!) and I’m going to a get-together of fandom friends too.

Or maybe I just like shoes… 🙂

So don’t be surprised if you don’t see much of me around–this means I’m working my tail off writing!

Crying for the Moon 1st Runner Up in the 2011 Golden Rose Awards for Best Paranormal Story!

I just found out that Crying for the Moon was selected as 1st runner up in the 2011 Golden Rose Awards (held by Love Romances and More) in the category of best Paranormal story! I can’t tell you how delighted I am–unlike some of the awards contests out there, this one is determined by a panel of judges, as opposed to popular vote. To come in as 1st runner up is a great honor!

 


Glitterfy.com – Rose Glitter Graphics

I’m also pleased to share with you a short scene with the two characters from that novel, Alex and Tate, as they discuss why Alex doesn’t ‘do’ Halloween. It’s part of KMN Books month long celebration of Haunt-o-Ween, so please, drop by and leave a comment with your email address–someone will be chosen randomly to receive a signed, print copy of Going for Gold, the M/M Olympic themed anthology, in which I have a novella about the sport of equine eventing.

I have some guest authors planned as well in the upcoming months, as well as plans to participate in a few blog hops, so stay tuned: more information will follow!

 

Writing Real Men by Whitley Gray

I’ve invited Whitley Gray, one of my fellow authors in the Going for Gold Anthology, to join us here today. She’s sharing her thoughts on women authors of M/M romance, one of the fastest growing genres in the romance industry.  She’s also my very first guest blogger, so please give a warm welcome to Whitley today!

Whitley has asked me to mention that she is offering a copy of Going For Gold to a random commenter on the blog, so be sure to leave your email contact if you can!

The contest will be open until midnight Sunday 9-23-12.

Writing Real Men:

I’ve heard of editors betting whether an M/M story was written by a man or a woman.

Now, depending on the degree of honesty in the proceedings, some editors reportedly have a knack for knowing, others not so much. I’ve heard arguments on both sides. Witness the debate…

“If M/M is written primarily by straight women for straight women, that means a straight woman knows best what another straight woman wants in an M/M story.”

Mmm…no. What readers want is a good story with well-drawn characters they can invest in. The author’s ability in this department is what readers want. The book can be written by an asexual purple polka-dotted Martian with numerous organs and orifices—as long as the characters are well executed.

“A straight woman can’t possibly have a clue what it’s like to be a gay man, let alone conjure one for fiction.”

Geez. For decades, M/F interactions typified romance. Women wrote the vast majority of this, including the male character. This “have a clue” business about male characters didn’t get the press then that it does now (if it ever did get press then). The gay character is still a character. Maybe he’s an accountant, likes golf, favors pepperoni on his pizza, is gay, likes T-shirts versus button-downs, worries about the mortgage, and loves red. See? He’s not defined by his preference. He’s a guy, first and foremost.

“Straight women can’t write believable intimate gay encounters (read: they have no reference for man-on-man sex).”

Well, folks, have to disagree. Sure, there’s the mechanics, but that’s pretty standard, isn’t it? Ninety percent of a good sex scene is in the mind of the character(s). The emotional investment, the chance to reveal the naked core of the character(s). The human sexual experience is emotional, regardless of the gender of the participants. Men who write M/M romance are not uniformly sputtering ‘that would never happen!’ with any more frequency than their female counterparts when they read these scenes.

“Gay men favor the work of gay writers, while straight women favor books written by straight females.”

My thought—no. My favorite M/M writers are split evenly between men and women. Mostly gay men and straight women. There are a couple of ringers in there, though—transgendered writers. Notice they haven’t been accorded a spot in the above debate, which likely makes them giddy with happiness.

Sooo…coming back to the initial dilemma of our blindfolded editors, betting over the slush pile whether the author is male or female, my money’s on the horse called “You Can’t Tell.”

~*~

BIO:
Once upon a misspent youth, Whitley read and wrote stories under the covers at night. At some point, real life intervened, bringing with it responsibilities and a career in the medical field. After years of technical writing, Whitley became enamored of romance and took on the challenge of giving it a try. Inventing characters and putting them through paces in interesting ways turned out to be addictive, and along the way, Whitley discovered that two heroes is twice as nice. A pot of coffee, quiet, and a storyline featuring a couple of guys makes for a perfect day. Stop by www.whitleygray.com and feed your fix for heat between the sheets with erotica and M/M romance.

BLURB:

Matt Justice has worked for years toward his goal of winning Olympic gold. Three decades ago, his father won an Olympic shooting competition; he was Matt’s biggest supporter until he said two little words: “I’m gay.” If he can emulate the feat his father accomplished in the past, maybe Matt can mend their fractured relationship.

Physician Levi Wolf and his partner Brett had looked forward to attending the London Olympic Games, until the car accident that left Levi unscathed but killed the love of his life. It’s been three years, and Levi has kept his heart under wraps. He’s attending the Olympics alone—as a physician instead of as a tourist. The last thing he wants to consider is letting go of Brett’s memory.

When Matt has an accident that threatens his ability to compete, Levi uses his skill at acupuncture to treat the blinding headaches. As the competition comes down to the wire, Levi discovers that sometimes the prize is right in front of you.

 

EXCERPT:

Matt squinted at the map. God, he hoped he’d taken the right direction to find the shuttle to the shooting venue at the Royal Artillery Barracks. For the last month, he’d anticipated seeing the unique decorations for the Olympic use of the buildings. The equipment should’ve arrived, and until he saw with his own eyes that the firearms had made it, he wouldn’t be able to rest. The campus made no sense. Where the devil was the exit to this place? The Olympic Village might as well be a labyrinth. Matt turned the chart to the side. North? Which way was —

Clang.

Pain exploded in his forehead and nose. Matt staggered sideways onto the grass, lost his fight with gravity, and fell. The vision in his right eye blurred, and the inside of his head reverberated with pain. “Fuck.”

“Okay, mate?” The voice came from above, concern wrapped in a Cockney accent.

Matt clapped a hand over his eye, which made the pain worse, and pulled his fingers away smeared with red. Blood? No fucking way. What’d he hit? He turned his head, and hissed as pain thumped his skull. Bad idea. “What hit me?”

“Ye ’it the scaffold.” Feet clanged on metal, clopped on concrete, and muted on the grass. “Yer bleedin’. Shite.”

Through bleary eyes, Matt squinted at the workman who squatted next to him. The man’s wooly eyebrows knit in concern. He fumbled in his pocket and held out a handkerchief. Matt watched himself take the cloth. A wave of nausea twisted his gut, and he flipped on his side and retched, head pounding. Jesus Christ.

“Ye okay?”

Kidding, right? Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, Matt rolled to his back and opened his eyes. Overcast sky, smell of grass, and ringing in the ears. Just dandy.

More footsteps rustled across the grass, and a blond man came into view. Lips tight, he frowned and knelt beside Matt. “Hey there. Looks like a nasty cut. Can you open your right eye?” Midwestern American accent. A fellow athlete?

“It is open. Isn’t it?”

“No.” The hanky was pulled out of Matt’s hand, and Blond Guy dabbed at the cut. “Better get you to the clinic.”

Aw, shit on a biscuit. Clinic? Doctors and X-rays and needles? He’d never live it down. Matt groaned. “It’s not that bad. A little clean up and an ice pack and I’ll be fine.”

Blond Guy’s frown deepened, twin creases forming between his eyebrows. He leaned in. Nice eyes, blue like the steel of a shotgun. “That’s not going to do it. Too deep. Looks like you rang your bell when you connected with the post. You might have a concussion.”

Matt struggled to sit up, and the scenery took a drunken swirl. Nausea burbled in his throat. “I don’t have a concussion.” He clamped his teeth together and took a couple of deep breaths through his nose. Don’t vomit. Sit for a minute, reassure the Good Samaritan, and go check on the guns. “I need to go.”

A warm hand landed on his shoulder. “A quick look. I promise I’ll make it brief —”

“Wait a minute. You’ll take a look?” Probably some former military medic, like Norm.

A brilliant smile broke across Blond Guy’s face and he extended a hand. “Levi Wolf, M.D., at your service. Call me Levi.”

A doctor? Here in the Village? On autopilot, he shook. “Matt Justice.”

“Staff or competitor?” asked Levi.

“Competitor. Shooting.”

“Clinic’s right over there.” Levi nodded toward glass double doors on the opposite side of the courtyard. “Can you walk?”

Target estimated at twenty meters. That he could do. Matt grunted an assent.

“I kin help,” the workman volunteered, glancing from Levi to Matt.

Well, it couldn’t get much more humiliating. Might as well go to the clinic. “Let’s go.”

It did get more humiliating. Levi and the workman — who introduced himself as Gideon — each took one of Matt’s arms and wrapped an arm around his waist. The two carried more than walked him across the grass, through the doors, and into a cubicle.

While he waited for Levi to return, Matt contemplated the gray and white stripes of the curtain, one eye at a time. Left eye clear, right eye blurry. Must not have gotten the blood cleaned up well enough. That had to be it. Perfect vision in his right eye was crucial for shooting. What if he couldn’t compete?

 

If you’re a member of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group, Going for Gold is up for the Book of the Month for October. Voting ends September 23rd. We would very much appreciate your vote.

 

Buy link:

MLR Press

Amazon

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Going for Gold Top Selling Anthology at ARe!

I had this long thinky thoughts post planned–and I will probably get to it later–but we interrupt this regular programming with a special bulletin: Going for Gold just got listed at ARe and it is already the best selling anthology! Not to mention, we’ve received a 5 star review on Amazon–from someone that’s not related to me or owes me money. 🙂

Seriously, this is happy making because I really want to write an expanded version of Jake and Rich’s story–and tell the rest of it as well. Just last night I was looking at all my commitments for the next 3-4 months and wondering what I would have to give up–there’s no way I can do them all.

Seeing this news has given me the boost I needed to keep on plugging away! Thanks, guys!