Monday, June 28, 2010

Always a work in progress

No sooner had we signed the papers on our new home than Mr. Fraser said it needed a name. (It couldn't actually be Castle Fraser, as I've referred to it here, because there's not a drop of Highland blood in Mr. Fraser's veins--Fraser comes from my family tree, not his.)

I nodded tolerantly. I've never named a house before or felt the need to. But then again, I've never owned a house before.

We started packing and moving. We scraped wallpaper, painted walls, and bought a fridge, freezer, and dishwasher. Every once in awhile Mr. Fraser would state again that the house needed naming.

Then, last week, he announced that he'd found the perfect name:

Mae Angen Gwaith.

It's Welsh for "It needs work." (Pronounced "My AHN-gin gwyth," more or less.) And IMHO it's a perfect fit, because I have a feeling it'll never not be true. If we ever finish all the projects currently on our list, by then we'll be looking at our living room (currently freshly painted) and saying, "You know, that shade of yellow is SO 2010."

Books, once you sell them, eventually take on a final form. Houses are always a work in progress.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The symbolic weight of a cake dome

I have a cake dome, almost identical to this one:

I registered for it back in 1999 when Mr. Fraser and I were planning our wedding and received it as a gift.

I have used it exactly once in the past 11 years.

So you'd think it'd be a no-brainer to give it away now that we're almost done moving to a new house. In general I've been de-cluttering with wild abandon. I've taken bags of books I don't expect to re-read to my local library. Toys my daughter no longer plays with get donated if they're in near-new condition, thrown away if not. Clothes I wore 15 pounds ago get donated, because if/when I lose enough weight to be that size again, I can reward myself with new clothes instead of pulling out old ones that don't even work right with my current job's unwritten dress code.

But the cake dome still sits in our old house, waiting for me to make a decision. Because, you see, my mother had a cake dome. And she used it a lot. That woman could make a layer cake, and she was always taking them to church potlucks or giving them pride of place on a holiday dinner table.

I've always been more my father's child than my mother's. I'm neither very girly nor very crafty, and Mom was both. But some part of me thought that being married was going to make me more like my mother--at least to the point where I'd bake layer cakes and serve them when company came for dinner.

It hasn't worked out that way. Mr. Fraser and I don't have people over for dinner as often as I thought we might. When we do, I rarely bake a cake. I serve brownies with ice cream, or in-season strawberries over store-bought angel food cake, or make pecan pie. I make delicious pecan pie, if I do say so myself, though my mother would shake her head at me for using store-bought crusts.

So, logic dictates donating the cake dome to the same thrift store that's gotten all our old clothes and toys. But I'm having trouble following the dictates of logic this time (despite having a strong Vulcan aspect to my personality for a romance writer). Because, as you've probably deduced from my verb tenses, my mother is dead. Both my parents are, in fact. Lung cancer took Dad in 2005 and Mom at the beginning of this year. Too soon, in both cases, and cancer is never anything less than an evil beast. Letting go of that cake dome feels like more than just giving away another object I'm not using.

For now, I think I'll hold onto it. Maybe in a year or two, it'll be time to give it away...or I'll have gotten around to learning to make my mom's chocolate layer cake or my mamaw's burnt sugar cake. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two months to release day...and an excerpt!

The Sergeant's Lady hits the virtual bookshelves two months from today...and in honor of that milestone, I'm posting an excerpt!

It's from Chapter 5, in the aftermath of my hero and heroine's first kiss:


The next morning they prepared to march while dawn was but a faint hope of light. As teamsters hitched their oxen and soldiers bustled about, Anna waited by a wagon, conversing politely with one of the wounded, an artillery lieutenant she had met several months ago in winter quarters.

Footsteps approached behind her, a tread already familiar. “Mrs. Arrington, ma’am?”

Never before had she heard Sergeant Atkins sound so tentative. She turned to face him, straightening her bonnet and smoothing her dress. “Yes, Sergeant?”

“May I have a word with you, if you please?”

“Of course.” She swallowed and forced a smile. “Lieutenant Ellis, if you’ll excuse me.”

He smiled back, inoffensively flirtatious. “As long as you promise to visit me again soon.”

She agreed and followed Sergeant Atkins to the edge of the rough road. They were in plain sight of the hurrying soldiers, teamsters and orderlies, but in the dim light and bustle of preparation, they were inconspicuous.

For a moment they surveyed each other in strained silence. There was something different about him. It puzzled her briefly, but then she realized it was his uniform. She’d never seen him look so correct before. His green jacket was buttoned all the way up to his throat where his black stock was neatly fastened. That distracting saber scar of his, which last night she had imagined tracing with her tongue, was hidden. No bare head or jaunty foraging cap today; instead he wore his tall shako. Even his shoes looked as though he’d given them a polish, and his red-and-black sash—like his stripes, a mark of his rank—was carefully knotted and settled just above his lean hips with geometric precision. A lump formed in her throat. He looked like a model for a toy soldier.

He stared past her. “Mrs. Arrington, ma’am,” he said with the air of a rehearsed speech, “I owe you an apology for my behavior last night. I took advantage of you. I’m ashamed of it, and it won’t happen again.”

“Don’t apologize,” she blurted. How could he be the one apologizing when it was her fault? Their eyes met, and she swallowed hard. She’d never seen more beautiful eyes on a man, so golden and intent.

He narrowed them. “But I kissed you. I had no right—”

Her gaze dropped to his lips. “I kissed you back,” she murmured, then wished the words unsaid. He must realize she had hardly been a passive recipient of his attentions, but she cursed her wayward tongue for acknowledging it so openly.

His parade-ground posture relaxed a trifle, and he was recognizably her Sergeant Atkins again. She released the breath she hadn’t meant to hold. But he shook his head. “We can’t let it happen again.”

She closed her eyes. “I know.” She looked at him again and forced herself to speak in a level voice. “But do not insult me by apologizing for something that was as much my doing as yours. I wish it hadn’t happened, because I wanted you for my friend on this journey, and now—” she spread her hands, “—it’s impossible. I’m sorry.”

He smiled, achingly wistful. “If I’m not allowed to apologize, neither are you.”

“That wasn’t an apology. That was regret.”

“Oh.” Abruptly his eyes widened, his nostrils flared slightly, and he turned stiff and correct again. “Lieutenant Montmorency.”

Anna whirled around to discover the young officer watching them from no more than four feet away, his expression hovering between accusation and bewilderment.

“Has Sergeant Atkins been disturbing you, ma’am?” he asked.

Anna thought quickly. What explanation could she give for the inappropriate familiarity that had doubtless been obvious to this interloper? “Not at all, Lieutenant,” she said. “He only asked me if I could think of anything to make the journey easier for Juana, since it is so soon after her confinement.” She turned back to Sergeant Atkins and tried to infuse her voice with both the warmth of friendship and the coolness of superior rank. “And I shall be glad to do anything I can.”

Something flickered in his eyes—amusement? Admiration? “Thank you, ma’am. You’re very kind.”

“Very well, then. Sergeant, Lieutenant, I bid you good morning.” She walked slowly toward her donkey, her head held high, her mind in a whirl.

Copyright 2010 by Susanna Fraser
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It all depends upon your point of view

So, I'm looking at an old manuscript that I might edit and submit. It's historical romance, Regency, a bit more traditional in style and setting than Sergeant's Lady or my work-in-progress.

I've entered it in two writing contests--the Golden Heart (which provides only numerical scores, no feedback), where it got mediocre scores, and an RWA chapter's contest where one judge thought it was perfect as-is, another thought it was flawed but had potential, and a third found it boring. Judges #2 and #3 agreed on one thing, that I'd made a mistake by opening the novel in my villain's point of view.

The villain of the piece, you see, is a sort of false hero. The heroine begins the novel thinking that she's in love with him, and that a more ideal man could not exist. Over the course of the book she has to learn that she's wrong and come to appreciate the hero instead. So I deliberately made the villain a sort of parody of a certain type of romance hero, the coldly misogynistic type that I never actually write because I can't suspend my own disbelief that the love of a good woman is enough to fix that.

Anyway, apparently my villain is just enough like a hero that opening in his POV leads the reader to think that he is, but is also sufficiently easy to hate that no one WANTS him to be. So at least for those two contest judges, I'd be better off opening in the heroine's POV, both for clarity and to draw readers in by introducing them to a character whose mind isn't such an offputting place to visit.

I kinda suspect they're right...but I love that opening scene! There's a certain clarity in writing a character so straightforward in his selfishness and contempt for all those he deems to be lesser beings, and I get to foreshadow all kinds of important plot points that neither the heroine nor the hero have any inkling of until well past the halfway point of the manuscript. Also, unlike in a contest, if the book sells most readers will know he isn't the hero, because they'll have read the back cover copy.

So. What do you think of opening a romance with a villain POV? No go, or could it work?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Life isn't quite back to normal yet

I'm now Five Days A.M. (After Move), but life is still far from settling into a normal pattern. The lease on our old place doesn't end till 6/30, and there's still clutter and cleaning to do over there. It takes much, much longer than a few days to unpack a family of three's boxed-up lives, especially when you're working full time. And to top it off, Mr. Fraser's 20-year high school reunion is this weekend, more than halfway across the country. Miss Fraser's school year doesn't end till next week, so he went alone, leaving me to play single parent since Thursday.

So that's why this blog is so quiet. I didn't even blog yesterday, on the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. I hope no one comes to take away my Duke of Wellington fangirl card for that.

Eventually, life will settle down, and I'll go back to a routine of blogging 3-4 times a week, mostly on writerly topics. For now, well, today I shuttled Miss Fraser to soccer practice--outdoors, in the chilly rain--then dragged her around as I dropped off donations at a local thrift store and spent several hours cleaning the old house. We're both signed up for our local library's summer reading program. And I'm tired and wondering how two introverts managed to produce such an extroverted, talkative child.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My world is all boxes

The House of Fraser has a new house! A new-to-us house, in any case, originally built in 1963. Calling us "moved in" would be premature. I'm trying to unpack five boxes a night, and I plan to spend several hours this weekend over at our old townhouse. Our lease there doesn't run out till 6/30, and we still need to get rid of assorted clutter, vacuum, mop, and so on.

Mr. Fraser is going to his 20-year high school reunion this weekend, so I'm not going to get back to writing until next week. But I started reading again Monday evening after the movers left, and I finished Naamah's Curse this morning. Castle Fraser is a cosmetic fixer, so we're going to be stripping wallpaper, painting, and so on for the foreseeable future, but I'm beginning to get my life back.

Incidentally, when I first walked into this house about three months ago, I knew. Garish, outdated paint and wallpaper choices notwithstanding, I walked through it thinking, "This is it. We can live here." I'd gone to the open house by myself, since Mr. Fraser needed to work and the novelty of touring houses had long since worn off for Miss Fraser, but I called them and told them they HAD to come right away, because I'd found it.

I claim not to believe in love at first sight. But I knew this was our house the first time I walked through it, and I had a strong feeling within 24 hours of meeting Mr. Fraser that I was going to marry him. So I'm inconsistent sometimes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Next week I get to read again!

The Fraser family is moving to our new house on Monday, so my life has become all about packing and cleaning the old place while painting and shopping for the new one. I'm as busy as I've ever been in my life, and as frazzled and unfocused.

Why am I blogging, then, you may ask? Because I operate on a schedule of 20 minutes work, ten minutes break. Lather, rinse, repeat four times, then take a half-hour break. I split my breaks between actual relaxation and catching up on email and blogging.

When I'm this busy I can't read new-to-me fiction. If the book is so wonderful I can't put it down, then I don't put it down. I can't run the risk of falling into a book just now. I've got far too much to do between now and Monday to lose even a single evening.

And if the book is pretty good, the kind of book I'd enjoy but not consider an all-time favorite, I can't focus on it or appreciate its strengths. I don't like it as much as I normally would, it goes unfinished, and maybe I never try that author again--and s/he and I both lose.

It's not that I'm not reading at all this week. I have a complete Jane Austen on my bedside table (though I'm planning to pack that part of the house tonight) and most of LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott's works on my Kindle. Nonfiction is much easier for me to stop and start, so I'm absorbed in a book on household organization that I expect to find helpful as we set up our new place.

But I miss getting lost in a good NEW book, and I've already planned what I'll be reading Monday evening when the moving van rolls away:

Song of Seduction, by Carrie Lofty, is one of the debut books from my publisher, Carina Press. It's set in 1804, so my favorite era, but in Austria instead of England, also a plus since I like unusual settings. It's getting some great reviews so far, so I'm looking forward to diving in.

Naamah's Curse, by Jacqueline Carey, releases on June 14, and I've already pre-ordered it for my Kindle. It's the second book of the third fantasy trilogy set in an alternate version of our own world where, among other things, the French are part angel (and the France-shaped place on the map is called Terre d'Ange) and Britain (which goes by Alba) was never invaded by the Romans or anyone else and is therefore still a Celtic kingdom in the late medieval and early modern eras. These are big, lush epic fantasies, unusual for the genre in having first person narrators and lots of sex. They're 700 pages or so apiece, and I devour them in a day or two. If you've never read them, start at the beginning with Kushiel's Dart and prepare to be engrossed.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Carina Press launches today!

My publisher, Carina Press, is open for readers' business as of today, and they're having a launch sale this month. Stop by and and shop for summer reading. Or, if you prefer, Carina titles are also available in the Kindle Store at Amazon or at

As for my book, The Sergeant's Lady, it debuts 11 weeks from today and should be available for preorder a few weeks before that. Funny how if I say my book comes out in 2 1/2 months, it feels like such a long time from now. But when I say "11 weeks," it's no time at all, and how am I possibly going to finish setting up my blog tour and getting postcards and business cards ready to hand out and getting reviewers lined up and so on?

Seems counter-intuitive, since 11 is a much bigger number than 2 1/2. But I noticed the same thing when editing one of my manuscripts (not The Sergeant's Lady, but an as-yet unsold alternative history). My protagonist, Arthur, is facing down a young man named Jack who will ultimately become his best friend, even his Heterosexual Life Partner. But when they first meet Jack very much wants Arthur to go away and tries to enforce his will at sword's point, even though he barely knows how to use the sword in question. Arthur spots his lack of expertise and talks him down, leading Jack to reflect that this man has clearly seen more frightening things than a sword half a foot from his neck. At least, that's what he reflected in the first draft. Upon editing, I changed it to six inches.

So, based upon two examples, I'm prepared to say that a larger quantity of a small measurement (weeks, inches) sounds closer and therefore more menacing than a tiny quantity of a big thing (months, feet). At least for me. And that's my editing tip of the day.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What Not Wear to RWA: Brand New vs. Kinda New

Today I wore one of my favorite shirts to work. It's comfortable, the color is good for my skin tone, and the cut flatters my figure. But I won't be packing it for RWA.

Why not? Two reasons: 1) The back wrinkles like an accordion from the simple act of sitting in a chair all day, and 2) if I sweat the tiniest bit, it shows.

Which brings me to an important conference-dressing point. If at all possible, buy any new clothes you need well before the conference and wear them a time or two. Barring unfortunate tomato sauce accidents, they'll still look new, but you'll know if they tend to wrinkle or show sweat or the middle button pops loose every time your purse strap so much as brushes it.

I plan to follow my advice for everything but my awards banquet and publisher party dresses. I have so few dressy occasions in my everyday life that I neither own appropriate dresses already nor have any reason to dress up between now and then. But everything else gets test-driven.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Age is relative

I'm a huge baseball fan, so the big news events in my world today were Armando Galarraga's missing a perfect game on an ump's botched call and Ken Griffey Jr's retirement.

Griffey is 13 months older than me. He's retiring from baseball at 40, having become a shell of his former self. I, at 39, am about to see my first book published. Barring tragic injury or illness, I can do this for up to 40 more years. Or, heck, even longer, though family history argues against my making it much past 80.

I'm glad I'm an author and not a baseball player. Now, Griffey in all probability has far more money than I'll ever see, and I'm sure he'll do just fine. He's got a great family, he's involved in several worthy causes, and I bet we'll see him managing in a few years. Nonetheless, I'm happy to think of my glory days as being in front of me rather than behind me.

As for the Galarraga incident, to paraphrase Bull Durham (one of my all-time favorite movies), sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains, and sometimes you get royally screwed over by forces beyond your control. Purists would disagree, but I think the game needs instant replay to prevent mistakes like that.