Friday, January 23, 2009

Like Brigitte Bardot!

It's another hectic week here in Green Acres, with the Tasmanian Devil Boy appearing in not one but two Chekov plays later this week. Yes, you read right. The 12-year-old is already doing Chekov at his very arty private school. Anyway, what with ten million rehearsals between now and opening night, who has time to think about blogs? Actually, lately I'm wondering if I have time to think about blogs even on a slow day, but that's a topic for a whole 'nother post. Meanwhile, here's what Blogthing had to tell me this week. I am glad the Blogthing is so perceptive.

You Are Brigitte Bardot

Naturally sensual and beautiful

You're an exotic beauty who turns heads everywhere

You've got a look that's one of a kind

Friday, January 16, 2009

Author Know Thyself

I had to laugh when I read Lena Coburn's recent blog at my colleague Jenny Gilliam's website. In it, Lena talks about quitting her day job in order to devote herself to writing a novel, only to discover that her novel is taking an unexpectedly dark turn. This is weird, she writes, because she's normally a cheerful, upbeat sort of person. This leads her to conclude that not only do YOU not know Lena, Lena doesn't know Lena. 

To which I say, Welcome to the club, Lena! I've been writing since I was a child, and I'm still surprised and disturbed by the stuff that flows out of my pen. Once, in my angsty teens, I wrote a short story called, "Alice in Berlin," in which Lewis Carroll's Alice magically finds herself in Nazi Germany. It was not a comedy. My friends never looked at me quite the same after they read that one. But more importantly, I never looked at me the same way, either. Obviously, there were some dark and downright twisted corners of my psyche that came as a total surprise, and I tried very hard to get a grip on that pesky subconscious in future writing endeavors. 

In college, I ran with a very artsy intellectual crowd who certainly didn't read, write or even acknowledge the existence of romance novels. Although I'd read some of my mom's romances in my youth, I managed to completely bury that memory until fairly recently. I focused on writing dreary, plot-free literary fiction in college and seldom managed to finish any story I started. I realized I'd need to do something else with my writing skills, so I went into public relations and journalism.

For years, I've worked as a publicist and/or newspaper reporter. These are good jobs if you like to write but don't want to confront your own subconscious or be confused about where your story is going. Great if you have a tendency to write stories that don't fit your image of yourself or have a hard time finishing the stories you start. Usually, the ending for your newspaper story or press release is pretty obvious.

I loved working for newspapers, right up until the last one I worked for went out of business and the one before that declared bankruptcy. These days, writing for newspapers is kind of like being a buggy whip manufacturer in the first days of the automobile. The immediacy of the Internet is rapidly making newspapers obsolete, but I'd been seeing that writing on the wall for years. I knew I'd have to find something else to focus on.

Fiction had been waaaaaay in the background in my life, but I decided I'd try my hand at it again. I'd discovered (or rediscovered) romance novels while dealing with some emotionally draining issues in my life. I discovered I loved these deceptively simple stories with their alpha heroes and plucky heroines and sexual sizzle and guaranteed happy endings. No wonder I could never finish any novel I started in college, I realized! This was what I should have been writing all along! And how hard could it be to sell one? I mean, the stores are full of romance novels and everyone knows who Nora Roberts is, right? Yes, if I wrote a romance novel, I would not only get quickly published - I would be rich, too!

Well, that was about five years ago, and sometime in 2009, my first novel will finally be published by The Wild Rose Press. Thirty-Nine Again is really the third novel I've finished. The first got totally out of control - so take heart, Lena. Like me, you may just have too many ideas itching to get out of your head all at once. That first novel was an English country house mystery/erotic romance/weepy women's fiction/thriller novel. In fact, it was at least three different novels, and some day I intend to go back and write each one of them. Separately. That book confused my friends because it was dark and people died and there was sexual abuse and alcoholism and graphic steamy sex. One friend is still so embarrassed about the graphic sex, she has trouble even looking at me when I talk about writing books.

After my friends read it, they all said: But Lynn, you are an upbeat, funny person. You should write a comedy! And they sounded like they knew me better than I did, so I did just that. Or at least I tried to. But serious issues still hover around the edges of Thirty-Nine Again - which features the Mexican Mafia, a Homeland Security agent with a temper (albeit a really sexy Homeland Security agent), and a heroine who's a breast cancer survivor. 

I like to say my approach is similar to the very talented Lani Diane Rich, who manages to write sometimes uproariously funny scenes in stories that feature sizzling romance and serious underlying themes like domestic abuse or child abandonment. I like to say my approach is similar to Ms. Rich's, but that would imply I actually plan my stories in great detail in advance, something I rarely do. No, I continue to let my unruly subconscious spill out on the page when I write. Sometimes it's funny and sexy and sometimes it's dark and heavy. Whether I've managed to combine the two moods successfully is something my future readers will have to decide. But I have to admit, I've learned to enjoy being surprised by the inexplicable inner workings of my own mind - and I'll bet Lena will too.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Blog About the Best

Like everyone else out there, I love making lists of my favorite stuff this time of year. So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite reads for 2008. Clicking on the links below will take you to the authors website or to my review of their book at RomanceJunkies.

What were some of your favorites? Feel free to post here and tell me about them!

Best Historical/Best New Writers
The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne - Where has this woman been hiding??? This was fabulous. Bourne mingles real historic figures such as French spymaster Fouche with a cast of fictional characters so vivid and complex, I was convinced they must be real people as well. She does a masterful job of developing the romantic tension between British spy Robert Grey and his fiesty quarry Annique. But I think even more than the romance, I loved her accurate depiction of France and Britain in the early days of the Napoleonic Wars. Slap a different cover and different title on this and guys like my husband would lap this up for its wonderfully complicated espionage plot and its thorough attention to history. A well-written story and a wonderful romance! 

Dark Temptation by Allison Chase - Chase released two books this year: this one and its companion, Dark Obsession. Both offer wonderful gothic romance in the manner of Victoria Holt or Daphne Du Maurier, but with a good bit more sex. All the classic elements of the genre are here - the sexy, tortured hero with the slightly scary temper; the plucky heroine determined to uncover his dark secret; the lonely manor house on the rocky coast of Cornwall; and yes, even a ghost or two. Daphne would be proud!

Best Contemporary
Letters to a Secret Lover by Toni Blake - This was a tough call for me, because I read so many contemporaries. And my idol Lani Diane Rich also had a great book out this year. But Toni wins for the fantastic new concept (at least new to me) of farewell sex. Toni really steams up the pages with this one. Alternately funny and moving, it's the story of two people who are both running from their pasts. Advice columnist Lindsey flees to a quirky rural town after her high-profile engagement end in an awkward public incident involving a window washed, a nude photo and a strawberry cake. Once ensconced in Moose Falls, she meets Rob Coulter, a man running from a much darker, much uglier past.  The two find themselves falling in love and seem destined for an easy, comfortable life together until Rob's past threatens their future. I was moved by Lindsey's struggle to forgive herself for neglecting a now-deceased elderly relative, but Toni Blake's story also made me laugh out loud at Lindsey's messy breakup and her plans to bring a hip big-city sensibility to the sleepy town of Moose Falls. The chemistry between Lindsey and Rob leaps off the page and the love scenes were so hot they fogged up my glasses!

Best Science Fiction
Moonstruck by Susan Grant - I loved this book. Moonstruck reminded me of all those classic space epics I adored in my youth - things like Asimov's Foundation series. Two galactic empires have fought a long and bitter war. When one empire collapses and sues for peace, an uneasy truce results.

Admiral Brit Bandar has made vengeance against the Drakken her life's work, so she's pretty ticked off when she's given command of a diplomatic vessel that will boast a combined crew of Coalition and Drakken forces. The name of the ship is Unity and the very idea is so repugnant to Brit, she can't even say the ship's name out loud. Imagine how annoyed she is when she learns that her first officer is Drakken. And not just any Drakken, either. It's Finn Rorkken, a Drakken Warleader and pirate she chased all over the galaxy and never managed to capture. Brit can't stand the idea of the guy being anywhere near her ship. Until she finally lays eyes on him and discovers he resembles her long-dead husband. Grant does a beautiful job of gradually unfolding Brit's complicated feelings as she tries to relearn what it means to be a woman and not just a soldier. Moonstruck offers a vivid, believable science fiction universe combined with a sensitive, sexy love story. A great discovery!

Best Fantasy
Ack, I couldn't decide, so here's two!
Soul of Fire by Sarah Hoyt - Set in an alternate Victorian age, this is a marvelous tale of a magical British Empire, full of strange and original images, including kingdoms of were-monkeys and were-tigers. Everyone in this alternate world possesses at least a little magic; the issue is merely how fairly the magic will be distributed. Peter Farewell is a shapeshifter, and he serves an ancient goddess who seeks to keep any one kingdom from trying to hoard all the magic to itself, as the British are doing. I highly recommend SOUL OF FIRE, as well as the first book in this series, HEART OF LIGHT, which introduces Peter but focuses on the adventures of his friends Nigel and Emily Oldhall. Both books create a vividly realized world of magic and feature wonderful, well-rounded characters. Peter is a fantastic creation. He's a charming yet fierce dragon – but also a man, and one who's willing to make any sacrifice for the woman he loves.
Sea Witch by Virginia Kantra - Caleb Hunter is the lonely police chief on a small island community in Maine. He's a solemn, reserved guy who's gotten used to being alone. Then he meets the perfect woman, Margred. Unfortunately, Margred's not a woman - she's a selkie, a legendary sea creature who's able to shift from human form to seal form. Virginia's depictions of Margred's underwater homeland are beautifully described, and Margred is an intriguing creation. She's likable, yet she truly comes across as an entirely alien creature who has real trouble grasping the petty concerns of the short-lived humans and trying to experience the emotions they feel.

Two great ones here:
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming - When I grow up, I want to be Julia Spencer-Fleming. Best writer in the world for combining a truly complex, intelligent mystery with a deeply moving, hugely complicated love story. The lovers are Clare Fergusson, a highly unconventional Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the guilt-ridden, recently widowed Chief of Police in the upstate New York town of Miller's Kill. Watching these two find their way to one another over the course of the six books in this series has been alternately heartbreaking and delicious.

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson - Jeri Westerson's first "Medieval noir" novel is a triumph. Her vivid depiction of life in fourteenth-century London made me feel like I was right there with Crispin, her down-on-his-luck hero. This was a real page-turner, with a lively pace and a cleverly constructed crime. A wide and colorful cast of suspects kept me guessing about the murderer's identity right up to the end. Beyond the well-developed mystery, though, VEIL OF LIES is also a moving character portrait of Crispin, a disgraced hero striving to create a place for himself in a society that now considers him a nonentity. This is an exciting story and Jeri Westerson is definitely an author to watch.