Waiting For You Debuts Today!

Presenting Volume 1 of the Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Waiting For You.

Part of launching a book includes thanking people who helped you write it. As part of that process, I’ve been thinking about the authors I love to learn from and whose teaching help me grow my own writing skills. So this is a book review of this week’s favorite, Stein on Writing by Sol Stein.

I read Stein on Writing, or maybe devoured it would be a more accurate, for the first time three years ago. I picked it off my shelf again recently and found it was exactly as acerbic as I had recalled.

Bracing. Fierce. And important.

Stein’s respect for what hard work can do is reassuring. Because listening to his criticism can be painful. Even though he isn’t looking at your writing, you can’t help thinking, “Ouch. I do that.”

Initially, I had to work at not being overwhelmed at the sheer quantity of things which needed improving in my work. I’ve grown more accustomed to it over time. I cringe less and do more philosophical sighing and make a list of fixes. And I’ve learned to choose one chapter, read it, and then close the book.

It’s dense teaching. I think it’s better to consider Stein on Writing as if it were several seminars and take one at a time.

He argues for and demonstrates how to build characters which breathe, charm and irritate. Characters can’t be stereotypes, archetypes, mannequins with lines to say. No reader will care about what happens to a vague image and if there is one thing we authors want it is for our readers to care deeply about what will happen next.

I think the goal in writing is to create a sense of inevitability. Events in the story shouldn’t all be inevitable obviously – surprises are important. But a character’s reaction to those events must be inevitable given his personal history, personality and character.

As readers we acknowledge life is full of unexpected turns, both good and bad. But we also know we can rely on humans to behave with a kind of internal logic, no matter how weird. And exploring the quirks of any individual’s internal logic is what draws us to stories. Particularly romances.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Waiting For You, Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

 

 

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: My Not So Perfect Life

I think a lot of us struggle with impossible standards we set for ourselves. Well at least I do. Which explains this book review of My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella.

I’m a fan of books which address this issue. Like Katie Brenner, who is trying to make a success of herself in the heart of London, many of us believe the way people accomplish great things is through sheer refusal to acknowledge the possibility of failure. After all, if Columbus had decided the ocean voyage was too formidable to even attempt  – well, you get my drift.

“Failure is not an option” is certainly the message inherent in any motivational book I have ever read. And I have rolled my eyes through quite a few of those.

Because that old Yiddish saying, Mann tracht und Gott lacht, Man plans and God laughs, is so true.

When Katie is fired by her loathsome but brilliant boss, her entire world view is shattered. I loved the way Kinsella treated this period in her protagonist’s life, walking her through a bereavement process as surely as if Katie had lost a loved one.

I’m extra conscious of plot structure these days so I also appreciate how much time and space Kinsella gave Katie to rebuild her life at her parents’ farm in Somerset. As a result, the reader feels more confident in Katie’s ability to cope when her old life comes calling.

Sometimes, in romances, the lovers are too obviously created for each other. Understandable, since the author wants their relationship to be inevitable.

Writing characters this way ties them together at the ankle doomed to an endless three legged race.

Neither lover can successfully stand alone. They have to embrace in order to move forward.

But I didn’t get that feeling here.

Kinsella has managed to create such a strong believable main character, by the end of the book the obligatory happy ending is less significant than the growing Katie has done.

And Katie’s happy ending is all the more pleasing for having been her own choice.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

Book Review: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life

Even a romance without explicit sex scenes, can still be written for a grownup audience. Which explains today’s book review of Sharon Pywell’s fabulous venture into the genre, The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life.

Unlike many romance authors, Pywell read her first romance novel as an adult. Which may be why this novel is written with enough complexity to cross over into literary novel territory. I’m grateful for that, because I’ve read a lot of simplistic romances recently and they were starting to make me nervous.

I don’t want to write like that. I want to write like Sharon Pywell.

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life is multilayered. There’s an entire romance novella embedded in the story. There are fantastical elements to it also.

For instance, there’s the family dog who, in the afterlife, wears dress whites, walks around in the types of shoes he used to chew and serves as a sort of spirit guide.

This sounds truly weird, but it works.

But the distinctive quality to the book is how philosophical it is in its approach to romance and to the beliefs about romance, especially in its exploration of the shifting balances of control between the two parties of a romantic relationship.

It’s not that Pywell turns the traditional romance upside down. Romance heroines nowadays are usually capable, spunky, even gritty. It’s that she is so contemplative about the nature of romance both through her heroine Neave’s  love for the genre and through how that love impacts Neave’s adult life and decisions.

Neave and Lilly’s relationship with each other as sisters who build a Mary Kay-like cosmetic business together is central to the storyline. It was fun reading tidbits about the history of the industry, especially how it was influenced by the movie industry. But really this is a story about growing up. About owning one’s adult self.

It has something to do also with the struggle to match belief to reality. Not just the quandary of whether or not one is seeing ghosts, although that can be mighty awkward, but the question of whether one should let go of dreams in the interest of being “sensible”.

I’d say no.

But then, I’m a romantic. It appears Pywell is one too.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

Book Review: The Bookseller’s Tale

Personally, I would never consider moving to Oxford, England. Like Gotham City, it is home to way too many fictional murders. But I love reading about them. Which is why today I have a book review of The Bookseller’s Tale by Ann Swinfen.

The Bookseller’s tale is (spoiler alert) a tale of a Bookseller in medieval Oxford who finds himself sucked into a murder mystery. But the mystery itself is not the most interesting part of this book.

Many historical novels I read use the history as a colorful background, sometimes even as a way to move the plot along. One might, for instance, set a story in revolutionary France and move the plot along by having one’s heroine bear a remarkable and unfortunate resemblance to Marie Antoinette.

Sometimes the setting proscribes the plot so strictly, it can only move in certain directions if it is to maintain structural integrity. Regencies, for instance, focus heavily on the social protocols of a specific subset of British nobility. The rules and whether a hero obeys or flauts them are almost as significant as the actual physical setting.

So I do respect the significance of setting and time in a novel. It’s just that many historical novels can be a bit wearisome in their determination. It’s almost as though the author is trying to demonstrate the depths of her research by using absolutely every jot and tittle of it in the book, whether the information applies or not.

This is not the case with The Bookseller’s Tale which is why it won this week’s book review contest.

Ann Swinfen winds up her characters, places them in a medieval college town just after the plague has backed off, and lets them go the way they must. As a result, the historicity is organic.

Swinfen doesn’t lecture. She just lets the story unfold.

And in the process, the reader develops a fascinating picture of the challenges and also the good things about life during that period.

There are some things I wished for when I was reading. I’m not usually a fan of maps in books, but I would have liked one in this case.

I would also have loved a glossary of some of the terms. Swinfen is good at slipping unfamiliar words in contextually so you can guess what they mean. But that’s not the same as knowing.

I understood cotte was a garment but I had no clue what type. Similarly I was sure pease pudding was food. But I had to look it up to figure out how it might be a sliceable food.

Still, these are minor complaints. Because now I’ve read one, I want to read more. If I’m lucky the next in the series will be illuminated and I can settle down to read it while sipping a stoup of ale.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

book review

Book Review: Mistress of Mellyn

Sometimes when you pick a random book off a library shelf, you get lucky. Last week, I wandered toward the H’s. Which is why I’m writing a book review of Mistress of Mellyn.

Victoria Holt was Eleanor Hibbert’s pen name when she was writing gothic novels. But she was also Jean Plaidy (fictionalized historicals) and Phillipa Carr (family sagas). So lots of the romance books I read and loved as a teen and young adult were actually written by the same person.

Mistress of Mellyn was published in 1960 and I was curious to see if time and social changes had impacted on it. Well, yes. And no.

The main character Martha Leigh is an impoverished but intrepid gentlewoman who takes a position at an estate in Cornwall as governess for a troubled child. There is a very nice progression of growth as Martha transitions from embarrassment at and resentment of her low status to fascination with the challenges of working as a governess.

Necessarily (spoiler alert) she falls in love with her boss, the mysterious and crabby Connan TreMellyn, and they live happily ever after.

I know exactly how romantic I would have found Mistress of Mellyn as a teen. Very.

But.

As an adult reader in 2017, I have trouble figuring out just exactly what Martha sees in Connan. I know, I know – tall, dark, handsome, brooding, wealthy Alpha male.

Still, they spend very little time together. Their conversation is limited to arguments about the welfare of the child. He travels for business at the most inconvenient moments. Since they are in different social strata, Holt has to work hard to come up with reasons for them to interact at all.

Their relationship is so distant their first kiss is almost as surprising to the reader as it is to Martha.

Most important, Connan has a significant emotional issue he has to surmount in order to love again and because the story is from Martha’s viewpoint only, we don’t get to see much of his character development.

He’s probably a nice guy underneath it all – hey, Martha likes him. But he’s kind of a standee hero. Which is distressing, because I liked Connan too, in the abstract. I just wish I could have seen more of him.

I guess, from a reader, that’s the ultimate compliment.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

book review

Book Review: Heroes Are My Weakness

When I was thirteen, a friend gave me my very first gift certificate – a $10 ticket to happiness at a local bookstore. I bought Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. So last week, when I happened on Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ tribute to gothic romance, Heroes Are My Weakness, I was thrilled to write a book review of it.

Gothic romances are, by their nature, prone to clichés. It’s one of their charms. Also one of their dangers. It’s a short step from a broody, alpha male hero, to an insensitive jerk.

So I couldn’t wait to see what Phillips would do with her story. It was like anticipating a high wire act starring an elephant wearing high heels.

But Phillips takes what could have been a catastrophe and turns it into a triumph. She incorporates all the beloved motifs of gothic romances, the castle on the hill, the slightly off townsfolk, the mysterious man with dark and painful secrets, and gives them the respect they deserve. But she also tweaks them to work for contemporary sensibilities.

As a result, the reader doesn’t have to struggle through page after page of tortured Yorkshire dialect.

Yes, Wuthering Heights, I’m talking about you.

Nor does the obligatory child character make precious remarks in French a la Jane Eyre. Oui. I still remember penciling in the translations in that paperback. It was the first time I ever wrote in a book, a practice so unacceptable in my family as to be almost illegal.

The most fun character in Heroes Are My Weakness is the heroine. Annie is wounded, sure. She wouldn’t be a proper Gothic heroine if she wasn’t. But like Catherine in Wuthering Heights and the eponymous Jane Eyre, she has a sharp wit and a strong sense of self.

Romance plots require a certain enforced proximity. It’s the only way to ensure the two main characters are forced to deal with each other. But in old Gothic romances the heroine is more trapped, more beleaguered than we expect a contemporary heroine to be.

Authors of contemporary Gothics have to work around things like cell phones, fair labor laws and the lack of societal censure for an unmarried woman who hangs around with an unmarried man unchaperoned.

Phillips managed to pull off the best contemporary Gothic I have read. Her elephant not only stays on the tightrope, it never fumbles the chainsaws it is juggling.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

block

Writer’s Block and How Not to Conquer It

Writer’s block is a problem for almost everyone at one point or another. I, for instance, am suffering from it right now. At this very moment, I have no idea what I will write this blog entry about.

I considered current events and lost a half an hour combing through intriguing stories looking for a clue to solve my writer’s block. But the article comparing a newly found dinosaur carcass to the Mona Lisa didn’t do it for me. It would have if the dinosaur had resembled Lisa in any way, but aside from having two eyes and a nose, no.

Then there was an article announcing a new position at NASA for a Planetary Protection Officer. But that article proved less exciting than I had hoped.

Turns out the officer will be in charge of making sure no space microbes make their way to earth and no earth germs make their way to planets we visit.

I had been hoping for laser guns and fancy fighting moves. But it turns out some cleanser and a scrubby pad will do the job.

This has taught me that news articles these days tend to promise more than they deliver.

But I digress. From my writer’s block. No, I don’t have a writer who has a block. Although now I think about it, playing with blocks might not be a bad idea. Or sharpening my pencils. Even the automatic ones.

Because one of the features of writer’s block is a sort of lassitude when it comes to conquering it. I would think that out of sheer stubbornness I would force myself to write a blog entry even if I didn’t have anything of significance to say. But writer’s block is kissing cousins with procrastination.

Brainstorming ideas and writing prompts are tried and true ways to conquer “The Block”. So I sat in front of my keyboard eyeing the blinking curser sullenly. Nothing came.

No problem. There are lots of writing prompts online. I’ll check as soon as I upload this article and let you know if I find anything good.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

mermaids

Mermaids and Their Public Persona

Book Review Wednesday is back and better than ever. Except it happened on Monday which leaves me with nothing to write about today but mermaids.

I live in Rhode Island which seems to be the mermaid capital of the world. Not counting Copenhagen. So maybe it’s the mermaid capital of the United States. I say this because mermaid décor is a thing here.

Mail boxes and fences all over town are decorated with them.

A gas station not too far away has a Rube Goldberg type invention which features, among other moving metal parts a mermaid on a swing flicking her tail saucily in the wind.

Local shops lure tourists with mermaid figurines, mermaid ashtrays, mermaid statuettes in much the same way mermaids are fabled to lure sailors to a salty demise.

Actually, according to legend, the sailors are lured to their demises by mermaids’ singing.

Right.

A whaling ship has been becalmed for days. The sailors are losing their grip. The captain is at his wit’s end. The crew is muttering about a mutiny, until a pair of mermaids swim into view.

The mermaid on the starboard side is wearing an oversized bright yellow rain slicker and is singing with the sweet finesse of Kathleen Battle.

The one on the port side rides the waves silently combing her hair and beckoning coyly. She is dressed, well, like a mermaid.

Which side do you think the sailors will jump off? Me too.

Which raises a basic problem.

If the singing part of the story is an exaggeration, you have to wonder what else mermaid explicators have been lying to us about.

For instance, salt water makes long hair dull, sticky and painful to comb. Which means mermaids have to carry conditioner with them at all times to maintain that silky shine. That never seems to be in the pictures I’ve seen of mermaids.

Or how about what a mermaid eats. She lives in the ocean. At least one of her ancestors is a fish. I’m assuming mermaids aren’t cannibals since none of the pictures show razor sharp teeth, so that leaves seaweed and plankton. Nothing wrong with a sea vegan diet per se, except she wouldn’t have time or energy for lolling about singing and combing. She would be too busy eating.

The biggest issue is the question of what mermaids sing. It has to be mostly a capella although she could tap sea shells for rhythm and blow on a conch shell for emphasis. So that leaves out rock and roll and probably jazz. Brazilian music might work. What do you think?

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

words

Eat Your Words. But Spice Them Up First.

I don’t read cookbooks for pleasure. They are more like lawn mower repair manuals from my perspective – the words are necessary, but rarely inspiring. The exceptions to my disinterest in cookbooks are the ones about bread baking. I can imagine the texture and pull of the loaf when I read bread recipes.

Today, I was dipping into my latest library catch, The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and found myself fascinated. She lists a dozen unfamiliar words all of which refer to different types of pre-ferments, mixtures of flour, water and yeast which precede the actual dough in some kinds of breads.

She says, “At first these terms put me off, and I was resolved to avoid them in this book, thinking that the all- encompassing term starter was all I really needed, but gradually these special words became familiar friends. This common language serves not only to distinguish the type of starter but also to connect us to a history and family of bread bakers around the world.”

I agree. Some words are exceptionally cool. Sort of like kids you knew in high school who were not only good at everything they applied themselves to but were also friendly, kind and likeable.

Your average hardworking words like Go, or Thing, or About are like this.  Useful, no doubt. In some cases, irreplaceable in their simplicity. They are the basic iceberg lettuce of our conversational salad — not particularly nutritious, infinitely forgettable.

But words like venary, or concentric, or antithesis are the kind of words which you can chew. Mustard green, sun-dried tomato, sourdough sort of words. They fill your mouth with exact flavors. They pull at your teeth, pepper your tongue and compel you to pay attention to their tang and texture.

We need both, of course. There is a place for vague in our speech. The world would be a poorer place without mashed potatoes. Or macaroni and cheese. Or the boring kind of grilled cheese.

But comfort food loses its charm if that’s all we ever eat.

So bring on the levain, the madre blanca, the sponge, the poolish, the altus brat. Because they give our bread and our writing a depth of flavor and make our words ring in the memory like the taste of sourdough on our tongue.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

time

Time and Money: What are They Worth to You?

Going to a restaurant can be fun and delicious but for the most part, unless the restaurant is right next to your home and the service is exceptionally fast and inexpensive, dining out does not save time or money.

I will make an exception for foods which normally require hours of preparation. Croissants from a restaurant, for instance are a definite time saver over making your own.

And sourdough bread? Don’t even get me started.

But my point, and what I have been circling around for the past few blog entries, is that time and money and their relative values in the context of indie and traditional publishing are a tricky thing to measure. In the final analysis, the decision about which way to spend minutes and coins belongs to the individual writer.  The important thing for us as writers to understand is we are making that decision every day.

Finding an agent costs time and/or money. So does hiring editors, formatters and cover designers. Whether that time and money comes out of an author’s pocket directly or whether it has a long term impact on how much a traditional publisher can afford to pay that author is almost immaterial.

Publicity isn’t free, even though sometimes it feels like it is. Social media participation eats time.

Website design does too, unless the writer pays for it, in which case it can eat money too.

There is nothing wrong and everything right with spending time and money on the things that matter to us. For those of us who find their delight in writing romance and getting those stories into the hands of happy readers, the cost is absolutely worth it.

But I think it’s important to stay alert to what that cost actually is. Looking at our expenses in life is a great way to assess what we truly feel is important. Plus, it helps us decide to order Savory Souffles followed by Baked Alaska at a restaurant instead of trying to make those items at home.

Of course, if you do want to make them at home, call me. I’ll free up my calendar for the eating part.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.