Friday, January 23, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 10-12

10. Rita book #2 was grammatical. And not offensive in any way. But that's all I can say for it.

11. The Book of Jezebel by Anna Holmes, Kate Harding, and Amanda Hess

If you enjoy visiting the Jezebel website, you will most likely enjoy this encyclopedia of feminism, snark, and pop culture. And since it IS an encyclopedia, you will likely read it in the same way I did, using odd snatches of time here and there--it's your classic bathroom or waiting-in-line book.

12. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

I've always felt that plotting is one of my weak points as a writer. I can create believable and sympathetic characters, write smoothly crafted prose, and build a believable setting, but figuring out what to do with those elements is more of a challenge. I enjoyed this book because it treats plotting as a skill that can be taught, and because it offered practical and flexible guidelines. I expect to refer back to it when I start my next project.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 7-9

7. Family Plot by Sheri Cobb South

Third in a charming series of cozy mysteries set in Regency England (well, this entry is mostly set in Scotland) featuring young Bow Street Runner John Pickett and Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, the woman he clears from a murder charge in the first book. A lovely light, quick read with a strong sense of period, and the slow burn romance between John and Julia remains delightful.

8. Rita book #1

It's that time of year again! I just got my box of books to judge for the Romance Writers of America annual Rita contest to pick the best book of the previous year in an assortment of romance sub-genres. I'm not allowed to give out any identifying information about said books, but I do count them toward my tally of books read for the year, so...

My first entry was quite average. I liked the characters, but the pacing felt a bit off and some plot elements toward the end seemed to come out of left field and get resolved too quickly.

The story of Polish scientists fighting typhus against the backdrop of Nazi occupation and the Holocaust. A fascinating read, if a little scattered at times--I wished the author had kept his focus more narrowly on 2 or 3 people.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What's been making me happy this week, 1-18-15

I had a tough time coming up with anything to say for this post, since it's been, in a quiet way, a very sad week for me. One of the key members of an online community that was my internet home for many a year died suddenly last weekend, and though I hadn't been an active participant on the board in a long time and she and I weren't close, it was still a blow.

But there have been some happy things nonetheless. I'm excited that my Seahawks are going back to the Super Bowl. And that was some game, too! Best ending I've seen since the Kick Six.

I got to go to the farmers market yesterday, which sounds like a summer thing, but Seattle has a couple of year-round markets. If you have access to a year-round farmers market, do make time to go. There isn't the ridiculous abundance you see in July and August, but I was able to get local, organic hazelnuts and carrots, some beautiful fingerling potatoes and apples in unusual, not-found-in-supermarket varieties, and the local bacon I adore.

In book news, my critique partner Rose Lerner has a new release, True Pretenses, which I can highly recommend from having read it as she was getting ready to send it to her publisher.

I'll be back next weekend, hopefully with more happiness.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 4-6

4. The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel

Mischel is a psychology professor well-known for his studies on willpower and self-control--including a famous study where children who as preschoolers were able to wait 15-20 minutes for two marshmallows rather than eat one marshmallow immediately tend to achieve more and get in less trouble as adolescents and young adults. Here he summarizes his lifetime of research and the current state of the science on willpower, self-control, and executive function, with the helpful and encouraging message that it's never too late to change. I'm already applying some of the book's lessons to sticking to my diet in the new year.

5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I became so angry while reading this book. Not over anything Stevenson said or did--he is on the side of the angels and I fully support his work--but over the wrongful conviction that forms the core of the narrative. Walter McMillian's joke of a trial and the first part of his six years on death row before his exoneration happened in my home state, Alabama, when I was in high school and still living there. Which means it was in some degree done in my name. Now, since I'm not stupid and I study history, I know Alabama has a terrible history when it comes to race relations. But I did NOT know that such a ridiculous travesty of justice had happened in my lifetime, well after the days of Selma and fire hoses and church bombings and bus boycotts. I don't have words for how furious it makes me.

It will be a tiny drop in the bucket, but at least for the next year and possibly beyond I will tithe the royalty checks from my writing income to Stevenson's organization, the Equal Justice Initiative. Because I have to do something.

6. Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean

My first historical romance read of the year, and the conclusion to a series about a group of scandalous lords (and one lady) who run a casino in 1830's London. The lady in question is the heroine of this entry--though all London thinks she's the mysterious, never-seen, MALE fourth partner in the business. While this isn't the book for you if you're craving historical realism, it's intense and romantic. And I do love the cover, which is something I almost never say about Avon romances. As I've seen pointed out elsewhere, that's a heroine in a hero pose--which is perfect for the character and the story.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What's been making me happy the past two weeks

We went down to Oklahoma the week of New Year's, and last weekend I was a sleep-deprived mess after our long flight back. So I completely forgot to post. But I've still been happy about things!

1) Football. I was sad that Auburn lost their bowl game, of course, but happy with how the two playoff games New Year's night turned out. All I asked of the universe once the four playoff teams were announced was that Florida State not win it all and Alabama not be the one to dethrone them. quote Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender...thank you, The Universe!

To continue my football happiness, last night Mr. Fraser and I were here:

Compared to Seahawks fans cheering a playoff victory, every other loud sporting event or concert I've ever attended is a sedate tea party or an afternoon in the library. Today I think my hearing is mostly back to normal.

Seriously, if you're a sports fan and you ever have a chance to attend a major event like this, grab it.

2. This Tetris lamp set. I got it for Christmas, and it's brought back some of my Tetris addiction from decades ago.

3. Jeannie Lin's Gunpowder Alchemy is the most fun book I've read so far this year. Steampunk 19th century China!

4. The midseason premiere of Sleepy Hollow pleased me greatly, and I'm holding out cautious hopes that my new favorite show will get its Season 1 mojo back.

5. While I was in Oklahoma, I got to eat good barbecue and chicken-fried steak with gravy. Thank you, in-laws!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Freedom to Love, and a few thoughts on writing interracial historical romance

Today is release day for my latest historical romance, Freedom to Love. It's my first full-length book since 2012, and I'm especially excited that it's out this week, since it's set in the aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans and this Thursday is the bicentennial of the battle.

So here is everything you need to know if you'd like to buy the book...and below are some of my thoughts on writing interracial historical romance.

Louisiana, 1815

Thérèse Bondurant trusted her parents to provide for her and her young half-sister, though they never wed due to laws against mixed-race marriage. But when both die of a fever, Thérèse learns her only inheritance is debt—and her father’s promise that somewhere on his plantation lies a buried treasure. To save her own life—as well as that of her sister—she’ll need to find it before her white cousins take possession of the land.

British officer Henry Farlow, dazed from a wound received in battle outside New Orleans, stumbles onto Thérèse’s property out of necessity. But he stays because he’s become captivated by her intelligence and beauty. It’s thanks to Thérèse’s tender care that he regains his strength just in time to fend off her cousin, inadvertently killing the would-be rapist in the process.

Though he risks being labeled a deserter, it’s much more than a sense of duty that compels Henry to see the sisters to safety—far away from the scene of the crime. And Thérèse realizes she has come to rely on Henry for so much more than protection. On their journey to freedom in England, they must navigate a territory that’s just as foreign to them both—love.

Freedom to Love is available wherever ebooks are sold, including directly from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and All Romance eBooks.

This is my second interracial historical romance (my 2013 novella A Dream Defiant precedes it). Why did I decide to write these two books? I’m white--and, moreover, by birth I’m a white Southerner and the great-great-granddaughter of a Confederate soldier. What made me want to tell these stories, and what made me think it was any of my business to do so?

Over the past few years I’ve learned much more about the diversity and complexity of history. There has never been a time in the history of humanity--nor even in our prehistory, as archeology and DNA studies increasingly reveal--that we haven’t been wandering or migrating, all along meeting and interacting with other tribes, other nations, other cultures. Some of those interactions were love stories.

When I first had the idea for A Dream Defiant--a Regency with a black hero, the son of Virginia slaves who gained their freedom by escaping to the British army during the American Revolution--I thought I had no business writing it because of my family tree. My Confederate ancestor, a poor farmer from Alabama, didn’t own slaves, but he fought to preserve the institution. And from what information I have about my 18th century Virginia antecedents, I’m almost certain they were slaveowners. So I was afraid it would be presumptuous of me to write a black hero or heroine.

But then I thought about how much overt racism still exists in this country today, and even about how many whites still hold an idealized, romanticized view of the antebellum South--all Tara, moonlight and magnolias, etc. While I try not to write “message” fiction, these two books do have one simple message: I stand against that present-day racism and any romanticizing of the ugliest chapter in our nation’s history.

I will never know what it's like to be a racial minority in America or Europe. But I ended up deciding that's not a good enough reason to never write a minority protagonist. To not write characters of color at all whitewashes history--and to relegate them to supporting roles ultimately felt like denying them the agency, the heroism, that belonged to them as surely as to any other character I might dream up. No minority characters wouldn't reflect the reality of history. And if they’re never the hero or heroine--never given the mic, as it were, to tell their own story--that makes it all too easy to perpetuate such stereotypes as the Magical Negro or the Sassy Black Friend.

I'm sure I made mistakes and tumble into stereotypes and cliches no matter how much I tried to avoid them, and I'm sure I'll write more books where all the POV characters are white. But I'm not going to be afraid to let inspiration take me where it will. After all, mistakes aren't a reason to stop trying--they're there to be learned from so we can fail better next time.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Closing the book on 2014 reading and starting my 2015 reading

I spent last week visiting Mr. Fraser's family in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Between travel time and the odd quiet moment, I was able to finish 6 books--3 in 2014 and 3 in the new year:

The last of the 2014 reading:

140) Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell

A Hanukkah romance set at a Jewish summer camp trying to make a go of a winter break camp to build enthusiasm between terms. The hero and heroine have known each other since childhood, but almost exclusively as campers and then counselors. They're now in their twenties, just stepping into their careers and feeling out a newfound attraction and what it means in their outside-of-camp worlds. Definitely the first book I've read where the hero is a mortician, and by the end of the book I found his career awesome rather than off-putting.

141) Yours Forever by Farrah Rochon

A fun, quick romance about an aspiring politician who wants to keep family scandals going back generations buried and a history professor who needs his family records to keep her faculty position.

142) Ancestral Journeys by Jean Manco

The simple summary: People have constantly been migrating, as DNA increasingly reveals. A little on the dry side, but worth a read if the topic is of interest to you.

And the first of 2015:

1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

A generally entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny memoir (though it gets a bit rambly at times). The chapters on focusing on creativity above career had a lot of resonance for me.

2. The Resistance Man by Martin Walker

The latest in Walker's endearing, food-porny mystery series. I pretty much guessed the murderer--at least, I suspected him before the sleuth did, which left me feeling clever.

3. Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

A really excellent steampunk alternative history set in 1840's China. Plenty of adventure and a nice thread of romance.

It's already feeling a bit late to do a "best reads of 2014" list, but I might do one anyway sometime in the next week for the sake of reviewing the year and in case anyone is looking for some recommendations and, like me, doesn't have any particular compulsion to read new books the instant they appear. (Unless they're sequels to books that ended on cliffhangers, in which case GIVE GIVE GIVE NOW NOW NOW.)

For 2015, my reading goals are the same as always--read a lot, and read a good variety of genres and topics.