Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back from ECWC...and introducing An Infamous Marriage

I'm now home from the Emerald City Writers Conference. This year's edition was one of the best-run conferences I've ever attended. Even the food wasn't the usual dry conference chicken!

I think my workshop went pretty well, too. The room was close to full, and people laughed at my jokes, which is always something. I was so nervous right before I started. My stomach hurt, and all I could think was what if I went beyond stomachache to actual sickness? And would that ruin my career, if I was always That Lady Who Had to Run Out of Her Own Workshop?

But then once I got the mike in my hand and started talking, I was perfectly calm, and my stomachache disappeared. Strange how that works. The reality is never as scary as the anticipation. OK, there are a few exceptions. Childbirth. Second-degree burns. Getting stung by a bee. But it's a good general rule for most phobias. Now I want to speak again! Maybe send this one in for RWA in Anaheim next summer. And I have this other idea for a talk about how much you can learn about how to behave, and how not to behave, as a writer by watching cooking contest shows.

I'm also dealing with the usual post-conference combination of exhaustion and inspiration. For the next 24 hours, I just want to get through Halloween and get the house half-straightened up for when the maid service comes on Tuesday. I don't usually do the thing where you clean so the maid can clean, but Mr. Fraser and I have had back-to-back conferences since the last cleaning, and the house always goes to seed when there's only one of us home.

But come November 1, I'm digging in. I need to update my website a bit, come up with my writing plan for 2012, and revise my 5-year plan. And then there's the obvious task--finishing An Infamous Marriage. Because my 2012 release finally has a title! I love it. I think it's a great fit for the story, and somehow it's easier to write An Infamous Marriage than to write "My 2012 book," or "The Book to Be Named Later."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

52 Cookbooks - Week 4, Calling All Cooks 3

When I was growing up in rural central Alabama, everyone had the Calling All Cooks cookbook series. They were put out by an organization called the Telephone Pioneers (which Google tells me is a service organization made up of telecommunications workers and retirees), and they're typical fundraiser cookbooks. You know, the ones where all the recipes are contributed by the membership.

I'm not sure why these cookbooks reigned supreme over all the others of their kind. My mom's favorite pound cake recipe is somewhere in the first volume, and one of the pecan* pies has Good written in the margins in her careful, schoolroom-perfect penmanship, even though it's my copy, given to me as a bridal shower present. But for all that, they're just giant collections of the recipes your mother or your mamaw made if you're a Southerner of my generation. Lots of casseroles. Half the pages are devoted to cookies, cakes, and pies. The fruit salads tend to be full of marshmallows, jello, and coconut.

As you might guess, I wouldn't part with my Calling All Cooks set for the world, even though they're not how I usually cook. And when I drew Volume 3 for my Cookbook of the Week, I decided to go full-on Southerner and make me some casseroles, just like I'd do if my church was having a fellowship supper or one of my neighbors had somebody born or die in their family.

First up was tater tot casserole. Simple recipe, just ground beef, an onion, cream of chicken soup, and tater tots. I added salt and pepper even though they weren't listed because that's the minimum you do when you're browning ground beef.

I expected something awesome, total guilty pleasure comfort food. What I got was ultimate blandness. I believe I could get the flavor I was expecting if only I replaced the ground beef with spicy bulk breakfast sausage and sprinkled some cheddar cheese over the top for the last ten minutes of baking, though. Maybe I'll try it that way, because everyone needs guilty pleasure comfort food in their lives.

Though I was afraid my taste buds had lost their affinity for the casserole, I made chicken spaghetti anyway. It was a slightly more complicated recipe, with multiple ingredients in the sauce and actual fresh vegetables mixed in.

Not pretty at all, but so much tastier than the tater tot thing. I've been eating the leftovers for lunch all week.

Last but not least, I stumbled across the recipe for magic cookie bars, one of my mom's favorite quick sweet treats. I had to try it. Just a stick of melted butter poured in a 9x13 pan, topped by layers of graham cracker crumb, sweetened condensed milk, nuts (I used half walnuts and half pecans, since that's what I had in the pantry), chocolate chips, and coconuts. So very rich and sweet. When I was a kid, the chips were my favorite part. Now, I'd happily eat the graham cracker-butter crust all by itself.

*Incidentally, that's a "pick-AHN" pie. Not a "peekin" one, and most emphatically not a "pee-can" one. Also, barbecue MUST be pork, and is best served with a thin, vinegary, tangy red sauce. College football is more exciting and dramatic than the NFL game, the SEC is the best conference, and Alabama-Auburn is the best rivalry in all sports. War Eagle! (You can take the girl out of Alabama, but you can't entirely take the Alabama out of the girl.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Books (re-)read, week of 10-25-11

I normally read three books per week, but lately it's been a stretch to reach two. Partly that's because I've been getting halfway through books but not finishing them--I'll decide around p. 200 that I know exactly where this is going, and neither the writing nor the characters engage me sufficiently that I want to follow their all-too-predictable journey. Contrariwise, I've been doing a lot of re-reading old favorites. You know, where I really know exactly where this is going, but I love the characters and/or the writing so much that I'm happy to read it again and again, and since I already know how it turns out, I can just skip around and read my favorite parts.

So, last week I did a skim-for-favorite bits re-read of Judith Merkle Riley's Margaret of Ashbury trilogy (A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, and The Water Devil). They're historical fiction set in 14th century England and France, leavened with a heavy dose of supernatural/fantasy elements, and Margaret's relationship with Gregory/Gilbert is one of my favorite love stories.

I'm also re-reading Persuasion, since there's no such thing as too much Jane Austen.

So what did I finish that was actually new to me? Just A Jane Austen Education, in which William Deresiewicz details how Jane Austen's works changed his life as a graduate student in English literature. It's a well-written and engaging memoir, though my favorite man-discovers-Jane-Austen tale remains Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog posts about Jane Awesome.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My first conference presentation

Around this time next week I'll be making my debut as a conference presenter, speaking on How to Write Like a Full-Time Author When You Can't Quit Your Day Job at the Emerald City Writers Conference. I may not write what I know, but I figured I'd better present what I know. (And due to my pinched nerve saga, I'm adding some tips about overcoming adversity and restarting after your body and/or mind derails you that weren't there when I sent in the proposal.)

My husband happens to be an experienced and popular conference speaker within his field (web development), so I asked him for tips--they boiled down to "make a detailed outline, maybe even write the whole script out, and practice with a timer. Pad or cut as needed." But I'm certainly open to advice from others. Also, for my fellow writers with full-time day jobs: any tips you wouldn't mind my sharing with the group? I'd give you credit, of course. Or any areas you struggle with that you think such a workshop should address?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

52 Cookbooks - Week 3, In Good Time

Over 10 years ago, my alma mater, the Penn Quakers, played the Florida Gators in the 1st round of the NCAA basketball tournament. Although Florida and Pennsylvania are about as easterly as states can be, for some reason they were assigned to the West region. The opening round was played in Seattle, so I got to watch the game.

During the warm-ups, we and the Florida fans taunted each other. We shouted, “Tastes like chicken.” (Gee, I'm sure they never heard that one before.) After a moment, they responded with, “Tastes like oatmeal.” Knowing a good line when we heard one, we laughed and applauded.

What does any of this have to do with cooking? Well, this week I made oatmeal in a crockpot. Which I'd always been told improved it immensely. However, as far as I'm concerned, it still tastes like oatmeal. I'm not even bothering with a picture this week, because it also looks like oatmeal.

Last week's cookbook draw gave me In Good Time, a Weight Watchers cookbook composed entirely of slow cooker recipes. I've never had good luck with my crockpot. I got it as a wedding present, as I suppose many do, and I loved the idea of it. Who wouldn't want to throw a few ingredients into the pot in the morning, set it to low, and come home to dinner ready to eat that night? I certainly would...if I could just get something to come out tasting other than mushy and/or sawdusty. I swear meats cooked in the crockpot manage to be soupy and dry at the same time.

I think the problem is most crockpot recipes call for 6-8 hours of cooking time, while I'm usually out of the house for around 11 hours on a weekday. In my current job, I leave the house at 7:10 to catch the 7:21 bus to work. I work 8-5 (the job has beautifully regular hours), catch the 5:12 bus back to the park-and-ride, and from there pick up my daughter from afterschool care. We walk in the door around 6:15, and Mr. Fraser gets home about 7:00. So if dinner has been in the crockpot since I left in the morning, it's overcooked.

So I groaned when that cookbook came up, and I made the maple-apple-hazelnut oatmeal recipe over Saturday night to get around the overcooking problem. It tasted all right, but not that much better than instant oatmeal. And as it happens, we noticed the next day that the underside of the crockpot is starting to sort of buckle. I don't trust the insulation to hold, so no more slow cooker for me, and I won't miss it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekly book post, 10/18/11

I'm writing this blog using dear old Dragon Dictate because I'm having the worst pinched nerve/carpal tunnel flareup I've had in months. Something about the ergonomic arrangements at the new job. I wish I could figure out what. We've swapped my chair, so now I think it's either the keyboard tray, the keyboard itself, or the fact that I'm at a fairly small L-shaped desk that I think may be kind of jamming my left elbow. Here's hoping I figure it out before they either get tired of me as an employee or I end up in full-on, pain-all-the-time, can't-write-or-cook-at-all misery.

(The writing is the highest priority, by the way. With a novel under contract, I'm going to finish the thing if I have to do every word in Dragon Dictate or write longhand and hire someone to type it in for me. But I like my new job, except for the hand pain thing, and it pays very well, so something's gotta give.)

In any case, I finished two books in the last week.

Faerie Blood, by Angela Korra'ti, is an urban fantasy set in my home city of Seattle. I enjoyed seeing familiar places magically transformed. The heroine is appealing, the magical peril alternately hilarious and terrifying, and I cared about what happened to the characters even though the writing is a little more lush than I'm used to in a contemporary setting. As best as I can tell, the book isn't available for purchase now because the author asked for her rights back due to some problems at her publisher, and I wish her all the best in finding a new home for her work, because I want to find out what happens to Kendis and Christopher next.

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, by Kate Braestrup, is the second memoir/book of spiritual wisdom by this Unitarian minister who serves as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. (In other words, she provides spiritual support when the wardens are involved in search-and-rescue missions, much like a hospital chaplain but with more varied scenery.) Here she talks about love and marriage, and the risk of love in a world where all marriages end–it's just that the successful ones end with one of the parties dead. Which sounds morbid, but it isn't really–at least not much.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Her Grace, the Duchess of Pedantry

One summer evening at a Mariners game, I pointed out an error on the scoreboard display. I think it was a misplaced apostrophe or something. Mr. Fraser said something like, "Well spotted, Lady Pedantic." I replied, "That's Her Grace, the Duchess of Pedantry to you."

I know I can be a bit over-pedantic as a reader. I have no patience whatsoever for major historical errors--e.g. Europeans eating New World food in stories set well before they stumbled across the Americas. And don't get me started on the time I tried to read a baseball-themed book where the author evidently didn't understand how a starting rotation works.

I can be picky about much smaller things, too. I never name names, because I figure it's bad karma. Nobody is a perfect researcher. I'm sure I make my share of inadvertent mistakes, so I'm not going to sit around smugly pointing out those of others all over Twitter or Amazon reviews. But I've set aside many a book after 2 or 3 subtle errors in the first few pages because I've lost trust in the author and her story's world.

I'm not consistent, however. Recently I read two books that made horse errors. The first one was fairly subtle, but the equestrian world was a major part of the setting. The other was HUGE, but the horses' presence was incidental.

With the first book, I paused for a few seconds and thought, "Aw, man, she should've caught that." But the writing was strong overall, I liked the heroine, and I was so caught up in the plot there was no way I was going to stop reading just because she'd missed a small, breed-specific detail.

With the second, I was already annoyed with the hero for being melodramatic and self-absorbed and wondering how the author was going to stretch what to my eyes was a simplistic conflict out for another 40,000 words or so. So the horse error was the last straw, and I was glad to have a good excuse to stop reading.

Shorter Duchess of Pedantry: If you want me to finish your book, don't make errors of fact in the first few pages, before I'm properly hooked. Once you make me care what happens to your characters, I'll forgive you anything short of potatoes in ancient Rome or machine guns at Waterloo.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

52 Cookbooks - Week 2, The Bread Bible

I admit I gulped when I saw what the random draw had selected for this week's cookbook: The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Mr. Fraser selected it, not I, and I had too much going on this week to want to make a first attempt at yeast breads. And frankly, learning to bake my own bread is nowhere on my bucket list. (What is? Well, among other things, I want to see Paris and Rome, read War and Peace, ride well enough to at least go on a trail ride or two, and fence well enough to enter whatever low-level competitions there are for people my age. All I need is world enough and time.)

Anyway, fortunately for me the book had a whole chapter on quick breads, and I tried two recipes. The first, corn muffins, was an obvious choice, since I had stone-ground cornmeal on hand from the attempt at fritters last week. They're made with a little sugar and a lot of sour cream, and they turned out pretty tasty.

However, I don't think they'll supplant good ol' Jiffy corn muffins among my go-to side dishes. They're better, but not quite enough so to justify the extra effort to make them. Plus, Miss Fraser will eat the Jiffy muffins, but she turned up her nose at the gritty texture these got from the stone-ground cornmeal.

For dessert we had chocolate bread, which was a huge success. The recipe suggested including chocolate chips, but I left them out. As much as I like chocolate, I tend to find double- and triple-chocolate desserts kinda overkill. When I make this again--as I surely will, probably for holiday care packages--I think I'll try white chocolate or butterscotch chips. Or, even better, PECANS. Nom nom nom...

Not a photogenic dessert, at least not in my amateur-with-an-iPhone hands, but rich and buttery and altogether delicious.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Weekly book post, 10-11-11

This week I've been plugging away at a biography of Tecumseh as part of my research, but I also found time to finish two Regency romances. I'd describe both as traditional, but with big twists.

Pembroke Park, by Michelle Martin, is a lesbian Regency. One of the heroines, Diana, is fully aware of her orientation and as out as one could safely be in Regency England (i.e. not very, but she's cheerfully unconventional, and has enough money and rank that she can get by with it), while the other, Joanna, whose life is more hemmed in by traditional social restrictions, only knows she's never felt passion for any of her male suitors, including her deceased husband, whom she was fond of. It's a sweet and often poignant story, and I was willing to cut Martin a certain amount of slack on errors WRT forms of address and points of law, because she wrote it back in 1986, before such details were just a Google search away.

Mr. Bishop and the Actress, by Janet Mullany, is a romance between an estate steward (i.e. an upper servant) and an actress/courtesan who, at thirty, is trying to go respectable. Told in alternating first person POV, it's a fun romp.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Snoopy and my writing dreams

Lately Miss Fraser and I have been reading Peanuts together as her bedtime story, thereby revisiting one of my own childhood favorites, and I realized this was my first glimpse of the writer's life.

In a weird way, a cartoon beagle with a typewriter made me understand as a very little kid that somewhere there was a person behind every single book I read, and that someday I might be an author myself--if I was willing to tough it out and deal with rejection along the way.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

52 Cookbooks - Week One, Inn at the Crossroads

Last week I was staring at our cookbook shelf, wishing I had more time to cook. Our combined cookbook collection takes up almost as much shelf space as the Napoleonic Wars section of my research library (which I wish I had more time to read. Idly I wondered just how many there were, and counted 51. "That's one cookbook shy of being a blog series," thought I. When I remembered that the bloggers behind Inn at the Crossroads had just gotten a book deal, for a cookbook I'll inevitably buy once it's out, I realized I had one per week after all.

I decided to make a numbered list of cookbooks. Every week as I work on the grocery list, I choose a random cookbook and make at least one recipe from it. I have to cook from whatever book spits out, with two exceptions: I won't grill when it's cold or rainy, and I won't bake in my no-AC kitchen when it's hot. It should be fun just because it's such a crazy mix--I've got aspirational ones like the Les Halles and French Laundry cookbooks, local collections from various places my family and I have lived, older books I inherited from my mother, including a 1951 Joy of Cooking, and everything in between.

The first cookbook randomly chosen happened to be the one that's still a blog--Inn at the Crossroads, where Sariann and Chelsea strive to bring to life the food of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire with a mix of medieval and modern recipes.

I was insufficiently ambitious to attempt Honey Spiced Locusts or Wintercake (though the latter looks yummy), but in a burst of energy I decided to make a whole meal from the blog, not one but three recipes.

For my main course I chose White Beans and Bacon, the medieval version, because Amazon Fresh wasn't carrying the curly endive for the modern recipe last week. It was ridiculously simple and wholly rich and delicious. IMHO it only works if you use a good, thick-cut bacon. I used the Organic Prairie brand, which I like even though I roll my eyes forever at the name, and it would've been even more awesome if I'd had any Skagit River Ranch bacon from my local farmers market.

On the side I served Corn Fritters. Not sure what went wrong, but these were as much a failure as the beans and bacon were a success. All doughy and gritty. Maybe I made them too thick and large? At least the bean recipe is a keeper, and simple enough for a weeknight meal (though I probably shouldn't let myself have that much bacon VERY often).

For dessert, and to represent the fruit and vegetable group in the night's meal, I made the medieval version of Poached Pears from Highgarden. Also a failure, but one I'm much more likely to attempt again, because I know exactly what I did wrong. In my zeal not to overcook the pears, I undercooked them by a MILE, so the result was not so much poached pears as hard, warmed pears in a tasty wine sauce. So I'd like to try again, maybe around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Because did I mention the tasty wine sauce?

Here's what it looked like. You'll note mine is nowhere near as pretty as Sariann and Chelsea's:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Weekly book post

Now that I'm settling in to my new day job, I've decided to shoot for three blog posts per week, on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The Sunday post will be whatever is on my mind, usually writing or research-related, or a guest post. Thursdays will be food and cooking, as I try to work my way through at least one new recipe from every cookbook I own. And Tuesdays will be my reading updates.

So, here's what I've read since the last time I blogged my reading. It's a bit heavy on the nonfiction and research books, partly because I'm working out my hero's backstory of service in and around Upper Canada during the War of 1812 and partly because my library holds list suddenly spat out a pile of nonfiction all at once.

1) The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, by Donald Hickey

A fairly in-depth history. It focuses on the American point-of-view but was still useful for giving me an overview of how the war played out. At the risk of letting my contemporary political views show a bit, the War of 1812 comes across as depressingly reminiscent of the Iraq War in some ways--the party in power pulled the country into it for rather dubious reasons and damned anyone who disagreed as traitors, for example.

2) Crown and Calumet: British-Indian Relations, 1783-1815, by Colin Calloway

As the title says, a book all about relations between the British and Native Americans from the end of the American Revolution through the War of 1812. Fascinating, at least for me, because it's an aspect of Native American history I'd never run across before.

3) Love Story, by Jennifer Echols

A YA romance where the hero and heroine work out their feelings for each other and complex history together over the course of a writing seminar as college freshmen. I enjoyed it, as I always do Echols' books, though I have to admit I would've liked to see a longer last chapter or an epilogue or something just to sort of enjoy the couple together after all they went through to get there.

4) This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust

I was lucky enough to take Drew Faust's class on the American South 1607-1861 lo these many years ago as a Penn undergrad, so when I saw this book mentioned on a blog (more than likely Ta-Nehisi Coates' place), I sought it out. It's a depressing read--naturally, since it's a book about death--but I couldn't put it down all the same. It's about how the massive carnage of the Civil War changed how Americans related to war deaths in particular and mortality in general. One of the many things that struck me was that in the 19th century, a dead soldier's family wouldn't have found any consolation in hearing that their son/husband/brother died so suddenly that he didn't have time to suffer. Instead, they valued the "Good Death," wherein the dying person knows what's happening, accepts it with a show of faith and resignation (so consoling to the family as reassurance they'll see him again in heaven), and passes on loving messages and words of wisdom for those left behind. So when soldiers did die instantly, their friends would write their families these reassuring messages about how Joe saw this coming, he had a premonition and was perfectly resigned to the possibility and had been living a good and prayerful life, and so on.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome, Rose Lerner!

Rose Lerner and I met in 2004, long before either of us were published, at the Emerald City Writers Conference. Over the years we've become critique partners and good friends, and I'm delighted to welcome her here today to talk about her new release, A Lily Among Thorns. I first read this book years ago for critique, and it's one of my favorite historical romances EVER. Solomon and Serena are such wonderful, well-developed characters, and I love how they play against the usual romance stereotypes. Today Rose is answering my questions about her books, not to mention Avatar: the Last Airbender (one of our current favorite shows), and giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one reader who comments by midnight on Monday.

I know you do extensive research for each of your books. What was your favorite part of your research for A Lily Among Thorns?

Probably the research on London. During the Regency, the divide between London and the rest of England was really marked, kind of like the way we conceptualize New York City versus small-town America. It's not just based on the reality of those places, it's symbolic. (Anyone else tune in for the first episode of Hart of Dixie?)

Most aristocrats of the time had a foot in both places, because they spent the Season in London and the rest of the year at their country estates. But Solomon and Serena, my hero and heroine, both work for businesses that are based in London. They're Londoners year-round. That means something important about their self-images and about how others see them. Plus, Serena has strong ties to the seedier side of London life. So I wanted the feel to be right.

The Regency Underworld by Donald A. Low, Black London by Gretchen Gerzina, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb, and Immigration, ethnicity, and racism in Britain 1815-1945 were all great resources for me.

What was the hardest part?

A forged marriage certificate is an important plot point in the book. My protagonists can't find a reliable way to prove it's forged, so they decide an annulment is the simplest way to go. But annulments were hard to get! Society valued the security of marriage very, very highly and made it very difficult to invalidate.

I've read over and over that you could get an annulment if a marriage wasn't consummated, but it's just not true. The truth is that you could get an annulment if the husband was permanently impotent--and there was a hard-to-fake test to prove it. Using a false name was not, in and of itself, grounds for annulment, and neither was being underage. Mistaken identity (twinswap, anyone?) was a pretty safe bet but irrelevant to my book. Coercion and fraud were grounds for annulment but what exactly constituted coercion and fraud were interpreted differently by different judges, and in all cases interpreted fairly narrowly. I tore my hair out over this stuff!

I love that LAT has such a unique title. Why did you choose it?

I like using quotes for my titles. They carry a lot of associations and meanings with them, and that really appeals to me. My first book was called In for a Penny from the saying, "In for a penny, in for a pound," which worked a few different ways with the story, and my WIP is tentatively titled Sweet Disorder, from a poem by Herrick.

"As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters" is a quote from the Song of Solomon. (And I'd like to thank Alyssa Everett for convincing me to keep the title in that form. I was originally planning a play on words that would have been a big mistake.)

What I like about the title is that it speaks to how Serena misreads situations because of her own fears. She sees Solomon's faith as a threat to their relationship, because a respectable Christian could never accept someone with her past and reputation. But to him, his religion also means the love expressed by the Song of Songs. It's about doing the right thing, but it's also about reconciliation and forgiveness.

She also sees herself as a cold, prickly person who can't help hurting the people around her--a thorn among lilies. But Solomon helps her see the truth: she's a lily among thorns, a vulnerable young woman who's managed to survive and even do well, despite danger and challenges on all sides.

Your heroes tend to be "betas." Did you set out to write betas on purpose, since they're so rare in the genre, or is that just the kind of hero your muse delivers to you? Can you see yourself writing an alpha hero someday? (Not an alpHOLE, of course ;-)  )

Hmm, it's tricky. In the case of Solomon, I definitely did it on purpose. There was a very particular type of alpha hero that was popular in Regencies when I started writing Lily. He was beautiful and fashionable and snarky and he showed absolutely no emotion. He had two tells: going a shade whiter under his tan, and a muscle working in his jaw. That was it. His mother could die in front of him and maybe he'd go all out and do both.

The heroine in these books was usually very innocent and very emotionally open. She won the hero over by giving him the unconditional, almost unshockable acceptance he'd never gotten from anyone else in his life. And I wanted to see what that dynamic, specifically, would look like if you switched the genders.

In general, it's a little more complicated. I think in romance, sometimes "alpha" is equated with "strong." But when you get right down to it, it's just a personality type. To me, alpha means natural leader, someone who in any given situation will be calling the shots. Beta means someone who can stand back and give someone else their full support. Both of those are great things! They take different kinds of strength, that's all, and are conducive to different kinds of weakness. And I wish there was more of both available. I have a lot of love to give!

My very favorite type of hero is a combination, really. To me, Nev (the hero of In for a Penny) is a...well, I guess the kinky term would be "switch." I don't know if there's a romance term. He's the leader of his group of friends. People on his estate naturally like him and look up to him. When he needs to take control of a room, he can. But he's willing to step back and let Penelope be in charge when he thinks it makes sense.

My favorite flavor of alpha is so alpha he hasn't got anything to prove. Half the time he doesn't have to make you do what he says, because he can make you want to do what he says. He can even let you run things for a while and still know he's in charge, really. SEE: Captain Kirk. He can turn command over to Spock without thinking much of it--but that's his ship, Mister, and it always will be.

And my favorite flavor of beta will shut you down in a heartbeat if he doesn't trust you or like how you're doing things. I think what people miss, with the idea of betas, is that a beta chooses who to give his loyalty to. He doesn't just roll over for anyone that walks in off the street! And he can take all that energy that he would have put into maintaining his personal control over situations, and put it somewhere else.

SEE: Mr. Spock. He's got no interest in running the Enterprise. He loves being a Science Officer, and he's perfectly content to let Kirk have the responsibility, the credit, and the glory. That doesn't mean he can't 1) beat Kirk in a fight or 2) beat Kirk in an argument, if he thinks it's necessary. But most of the time, he doesn't.

Two different personality types in a mutually beneficial and emotionally satisfying relationship based on affection and trust. Beautiful!

Again, this doesn't mean I don't love lots of types of heroes, including the stiff-upper-lip alpha with a jaw square enough to draw a blueprint off of. Can I see myself writing an alpha? Definitely. In fact, I've got a plot bunny for a high-performing, alpha revenue officer right now! I don't know when I'll get around to his story, but hopefully soon.

What are you working on now?

I'm almost done with a draft of a book about the 1812 Parliamentary general election. By the local rules of her town, the middle-class heroine's husband would be eligible for a vote...if she were married. (Yes, this is historically plausible!) The younger-son-of-an-earl hero is sent to the town to find the heroine a husband, but as we all can see coming a mile off, he falls in love with her himself!

It's not sold yet so I don't actually know yet if it will be my next book out, but believe me, when I know, I'll tell everyone who will listen!

(Had to throw in an Avatar question!) I know Azula is your favorite, but what about the Gaang? Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, or Zuko?

Speaking of things we could all see coming a mile off, definitely Zuko. I love how cranky and angry he is. I love how he's staked his identity on living up to his father's standards even though those standards have never done anything but humiliate him and devalue who he really is. I love how he's not very good at things and compensates by trying way too hard and taking everything way too seriously. I love how dramatic he is about everything. I love that it seems perfectly reasonable to him that after his uncle refuses to blast him with lightning, he should go stand on a mountaintop in a storm screaming at Nature to do it instead. I just want to give him a hug and a towel and say, "You're getting all wet, sweetie, maybe you should take a nap instead."

But really, I could go on for that long about every single person in the Gaang. Avatar is one of the very best shows I've seen for just really consistent, sharply drawn, endearing characterization.

Thanks for stopping by, Rose! By the way, the Kindle edition of her 2010 release, In For a Penny, is on sale for $3.79 through 10/3.