Pop-Up: Origin Stories

I thought it would be fun to write some pop-culture-related stories for ye olde blogge, so I’m starting a blog column called Pop-Up, in which I wax long on various pop culture topics. This will probably be a sporadic feature, although I’ve already got a second topic idea, so we’ll see! For my first column, I’m going to talk about nostalgia for the teen lit of my youth!

A lot of romance writers will tell you the same story: they discovered romance because their mother/aunt/babysitter/etc. was a big romance reader.

That is not true for me. My mother reads a lot of heavy nonfiction. My female relatives read mostly of sci fi and literary fiction, if they read much at all. I have a degree in English literature, and wrote an interdisciplinary thesis about nonconformist women and intersectional feminism in literature. Where did my great love of romance novels come from?

I think I have the answer now!

When I was 11, back in the distant, pre-Internet time of 1991, I talked my mom, who worked full time, into letting me go to my town’s public library instead of the dread after school program after school. And there, I—and often some of my friends—did homework and also read. A lot. My friend Chris and I went to the children’s section after school every day for a few months, and when we finished our homework, we read through basically every YA novel the library had at the time. This was more or less limited to novels by Judy Blume and Loises Duncan and Lowry, some ancient Nancy Drew Mysteries, a whole lot of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike thrillers, and a rotating rack of Sweet Valley High.

I mention all this to say that I was the prime age to be reading the books described in Gabrielle Moss’s delightful book Paperback Crush, which I finished reading this week. The book is part nostalgia and part criticism—YA from this era had a lot of affluent white girls—but what was interesting to me was that I finally made the connection between the teen romances I was reading in middle school and my love of romance novels. Like, I can draw a straight line from Sweet Valley High to Harlequin Presents.

I don’t remember a lot of the plots anymore, but I remember getting caught up in the antics of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield when I was in sixth grade. (I was a Type A even back then, so I identified with the studious Elizabeth.) (I always identify with the Type As. Rachel on Glee, Amy on Brooklyn Nine Nine, Chidi on The Good Place, and so on. I keep a Leslie Knope Funko Pop on my desk because she is my patron saint.) And I remember the Jungle Prom and the Fiat and the over-the-top drama. It’s like a junior version of a category romance in terms of tropes and soap opera antics. And I think I loved those books at the time because sunny California felt pretty much as far from my home in suburban New Jersey as you could get. (By the way, I recently started listening to the Double Love podcast, in which two Irish ladies discuss each SVH book. It’s really fun. I recommend!)

I started reading romance again in my mid-twenties, and it started with a friend handing me a Nora Roberts novel, which I read in one sitting on a bus trip. It reminded me how reading doesn’t have to be an intellectual exercise every time, it could just be a few hours of fun escapism. Which is not that romances novels can’t be intellectual or challenging or great literature, because they definitely can be, but they can also just be engaging, enjoyable, escapist books, too. I finished that book and thought, “I forgot reading can be this much fun.” And then I went out and found more romance. The rest is history!

I mean, I read a lot of Danielle Steel as a teenager. One of my library friends and I used to take books from the massive Wall of Harlequins my hometown library had (several full bookcases of just category romances) and read the sexy bits aloud to each other. Another friend and I wrote our own SVH-esque teen romance series when we were 12 or 13. (Each book was, like, 10 pages, written long-hand on loose leaf paper. These were not sophisticated stories.) And I’ve always liked stories in which people fall in love. (I’m totally that person who sits on the couch and shouts “Kiss! Kiss!” at my TV when characters have tense romantic moments on TV.)

So then the very first novel I ever write a complete draft of was a teen romance novel based loosely on the character dynamics in a lot of the Christopher Pike books I’d read. I was seventeen when I wrote it. (The plot was basically that eight friends go on vacation together right after they graduate from high school and some of the pair up romantically and there’s a LOT of drama. Nobody was a victim of a grisly murder or anything, although I think I gave one of the characters cancer.)

Anyway, this is all to say that Paperback Crush is a really fun book that made me all kinds of nostalgic, and I heartily recommend it if you are of a certain age (namely pushing 40 and thinking a lot about the books of your formative years).

RWA & the RITAs, with Book Recs

Last Friday, Romance Writers of America issued a statement in which they affirm their commitment to inclusion by pointing out a major problem with the RITAs, RWA’s major award:

• The number of finalist books by black authors is less than half of 1% of the total number of finalist books
• No black romance author has ever won a RITA

I’ve been a member of RWA since 2011 and have served on two chapter boards, most recently RWANYC, which is a very diverse chapter. I view that as one of our assets; we have so many different voices contributing to the conversation that it makes us all better writers. It also means we’ve had some difficult conversations over the past few years about what authors of color experience in the publishing industry.

Here’s a fact that breaks my heart: every single author of color hits roadblocks that have nothing to do with their skill or talent.

It’s a major problem that the RITAs have not honored black authors with awards, but it’s also a symptom of a larger systemic problem within the publishing industry.

I have a lot of thoughts on why and how and what we can do about it, but because it’s kind of inside baseball, I don’t think my blog is necessarily the right space for it.

But I will say this. I personally have gotten a lot out of RWA. I think as an organization, it can be a great advocate for romance authors, and it offers great educational opportunities. The annual RWA national conference is one of my favorite events of the year. But I completely understand why authors don’t want to pay dues to an organization in which they don’t feel welcome.

It’s also generally my instinct to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I’ve been volunteering for RWA in various capacities for several years, with the intent to affect change where I can. I don’t want to toot my horn, because this issue is not about me. But what I can do, as a member of RWA and a former chapter leader, is make sure authors of color have a seat at the table. We’ve done that in my local chapter. It makes a huge difference.

I also want to urge my fellow white authors to listen to what authors of color are saying, because I’ve seen quite a lot of posts by white authors that sail right by the major point: racism exists in the publishing industry. And it’s time to stop giving lip service to these issues and instead try to come up with concrete solutions.

Don’t get defensive. Listen, and vow to do better. We all have inherent biases. It’s important to recognize and work to overcome them.

In that spirit, I have some recs. I decided to put the focus primarily on writers of color from my local RWA chapter, but I’d love to hear recs for books you loved in the comments.

Lies You Tell by LaQuette. Mobster thinks his lover died, but surprise! She’s still alive. Also there’s a secret baby.

Complexity by Harper Miller. Closeted guy from the Bronx meets a closeted famous actor, and they’re content to keep everything a secret… until they start having feelings. (This is a novella.)

The Unconventional Brides trilogy by K.M. Jackson. (Book 1 is Insert Groom Here.) In book 1, the heroine and her fiancé have won their dream wedding in a morning show contest… and then the fiancé dumps her. So she gets a new fiancé. The whole series is charming and fun.

My Last Love Story by Falguni Kothari. Keep tissues handy. The heroine’s husband is dying of cancer, and one of his last wishes is that she get back together with an old flame who is also his best friend. It’s complicated.

State of Kate: What I’ve Been Up To

This past May was one of those months that was so insane and busy that people got a glazed, tired look on their face just from me telling them everything I was doing. Here’s what went down:

Such a Dance charms!

Kensington put these little book charms on Mardi Gras beads to give out at their party. This book’ll be out in October!

First, I went to Dallas for RT, which was zany fun as always. I like RT because it’s a flat-out fun time, and it’s big and overwhelming and can be hard work from the author side of things, but I always walk away thinking, “That was amazing.” I met a lot of really cool people and got to hang out with good friends. I talked to readers about books we liked and fangirled authors I like—or tried to keep my cool, like the time I started chatting with Tessa Dare and we talked about feather boas because I didn’t want to get all screechy about how much I love the Spindle Cove series, although I do love it a lot and kept thinking, “I’m just casually talking to one of my favorite authors like it’s no big thing and I can’t believe this is my life”—and it was generally surreal and awesome. I love, too, that the general reaction to me saying, “I write gay romance,” was, “Uh-huh. Tell me more.”

Kate McMurray as Rosie the Riveter

Doing my best Rosie the Riveter at the National WWII Museum in NOLA.

I was home for four days, during which time I went to a book club meeting and took a history class, because why take time off, really. Then I flew to New Orleans for a family wedding and stayed a few extra days for visiting with family/tourism. Highlights of the trip for me include all of the fantastic food I ate (my favorite meal was probably the catfish at Superior Seafood in the Garden District, so there’s a rec if you want one); going to the World War II museum with my 90-year-old grandpa (who is a WWII vet and was duly honored by the museum staff, which was heartwarming—although Grandpa was like, “I don’t get what all this fuss is about”); the wedding itself, which took place in this gorgeous old house; and finally touring the Cabildo and Presbytere, which were great if you, like me, derive dorky joy from history museums.

Kate McMurray in the Harlequin photo booth.

Harlequin had a photo booth at BookCon, so this happened.

I got home in time for Book Expo America/BookCon, which I attended as a Dreamspinner author, so the majority of my time there was spent working the booth. I did get to meet Gloria Steinem and Michelle Visage on the same afternoon, because that’s how BEA rolls. BookCon felt more organized this year, which was nice. And we got a nice reception at the Dreamspinner booth, especially for the YA imprint, Harmony Ink. We talked to a lot of librarians who told us about how important books are for those kids who feel isolated and misunderstood.

Michelle Visage

That time my friend Alexis and I were total crazy RuPaul’s Drag Race fangirls and Michelle Visage gave me a hug because we’re both Jersey girls.

We did a signing on Saturday as part of BookCon. I just found out there were 18,000 attendees, which is one of those numbers that seems so large it’s incomprehensible. When it ended Sunday, I got caught up in a terrible thunderstorm, but wound up riding the subway next to a girl who had also just come from BookCon and had nothing but excited things to say to her friend. Watching teenage girls with that kind of unbridled enthusiasm for books was pretty exciting for me. Gives me hope, you know?

Anyway, all of this was enough, but during the same period of time, I also had a bunch of things going on behind the scenes, among them: I dealt with second edits of Rainbow League Book 2 and proofs for Such a Dance; I edited 3 novels in my capacity as a freelance editor; and I put in a few hours at the day job. So that was bananas.

Kate McMurray at Lady Jane's Salon.

Here I am reading at Lady Jane’s.

The day after BEA, I read at Lady Jane’s Salon in NYC. Then this past Saturday, I taught my setting workshop at my local RWA chapter meeting. And that, my friends, was basically four weeks of fun insanity. I am TIRED. Sunday, I did nothing (well, I knit and watched TV, but mostly I was taking a break).

I’m currently getting ready for the next things: RWANYC’s Romance Festival on June 20th and then the RWA national conference in July. Then the second half of the year will be a much welcome break from public appearances; I don’t have anything scheduled again until 2016, so I hope to use the time to write, etc. And that’s a wrap!

five things: Friday at Last

Weekly wrap-up:

1. Yup, I read Lover at Last. I liked it on the whole, but had some very mixed feelings. I posted a wordy review on Goodreads if you want my opinion.

I have probably a stand-alone post about the increase in m/m stories infiltrating the mainstream romance market, but not the time to write it right now. Generally, though, I find this really exciting, and you know, if fans of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series are like, “Hey, that was pretty hot!” well, I have some recommendations.

Speaking of series, I now must await the next Cut and Run book, although maybe I’ll take the time to savor that one instead of trying to read it all over two days when I really should have been doing other things.

Hi, yes, I did go to some Harry Potter midnight release parties back before those suckers could be delivered magically to my Kindle.

2. I want to write a series. Maybe I will!

The thing with a series is that I think certain sub-genres tend to work better. Paranormal seems particularly well-suited to series books. So does suspense (especially law enforcement and military stories). I had a crazy idea last fall for a paranormal series about supernatural crime fighters that’s pretty far outside of my wheelhouse but totally the sort of thing I would read. Maybe some day. (I wrote an outline for the series, so this is a thing I may revisit next year.)

Or I could try to write a contemporary series. Do people like contemporary series’ or do you need more bells and whistles to sustain your interest? Anyone have good examples of contemporary series’?

3. Writing updates: Edits are currently going for Save the Date, my romantic comedy novella coming out in June. I finished a second draft of The Stars that Tremble before I took my Lover at Last break. So, Draft #3 ahoy!

4. Baseball season starts next week! My fantasy league did its draft on Wednesday and I have a pretty good lineup, I think, except half of these guys are starting out the season injured. Womp womp. I lucked into my #1 draft pick for hitters (Robinson Cano) and my baseball boyfriend (Joe Mauer… he’s so dreamy) is on the team, too, but didn’t do so well with pitchers, so we’ll see how that shakes out.

5. As a parting gift, relive my trauma with me: I was innocently reading on my sofa last night when my cat trotted in with something in her mouth. At first I thought it was one of her little toy mice, but then I realized that it was a for-real, actual mouse. My cat then proudly hopped up on the sofa and dropped the mouse in my lap, at which time I promptly got up, screamed a whole lot, and hopped up and down. No idea where the mouse went. I hope it crawled back into the wall and will tell all its mousey friends what happens to mice that wander into my apartment.

In the seven years I’ve been in this apartment, I’ve never seen any pests before. Good to know the cat will catch mice. I don’t think she understands they aren’t toys, though.

So that was my week. How was yours?

five things: people singing plus favorite books of 2012

Weekly wrap-up!

1. Show and Tell will be available for your reading pleasure on Tuesday!

2. I went to see the Les Miserables movie last weekend. I had FEELINGS. Here’s the thing: I love Les Mis. I saw it on Broadway twice. I have an ex who also loved it, and the original cast recording got a lot of play on long car trips, during which time we would both sing along loudly and badly. I own two different cast recordings. I watch the anniversary concert whenever it’s on PBS. I LOVE IT, okay?

Although I generally enjoyed the movie, I wanted to like it more than I did. On the plus side, Hugh Jackman is fantastic and has an even better voice than I expected. (I was a little worried. He totally pulls it off.) Eddie Redmayne totally won me over. I loved Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks. (Someone please put Aaron Tveit in all of the movies, thank you.) It was fun to see something I’d only seen on stage brought to life with real sets and things. On the other hand, I thought Russell Crowe was horribly miscast. The problem with singing live instead of lip-synching is that there were a lot of scenes that were just close-ups of one character singing a solo, and that made the movie drag. (Also, I wanted there to be more singing and less emoting, especially on Anne Hathaway’s part.) Somehow I had also forgotten how unrelentingly unhappy the story is, and I walked away from the theater thinking, “Why was this made into a musical again?” (I watched Chicago again recently and had a similar reaction. Like, “Wow, every one of these characters is a terrible person. Why am I watching this again? Oh, right, I love the music.”)

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to sing all the parts from “One Day More” using different voices while I take a shower, but the movie fell just short of being awesome for me.

3. On New Years, I participated in a New Year’s Kisses Party. You can go on over here to read Matt & Iggy’s first kiss (from Out in the Field) and enter to win prizes. The contest was extended through January 7, so there are still a few more days to enter.

4. Just for funsies, I thought I’d pick 10 books I read in 2012 that I enjoyed. This is going to be a genre smorgasbord, so bear with me. I hesitate to even call these the best books of the year, because my reading habits were really odd, so these are basically A Bunch of Books that Kate Really Liked. (And somehow, I read 102 books in 2013, so it took some time to winnow down this list.) In the order I read them:

Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan. I had put off reading this one because I’d heard there was a big scene featuring a sex act that makes me kind of squeamish (I’m a wuss, okay?) but it wound up being maybe my favorite of Heidi’s books, and The Scene? It totally, totally works within the context of the book.

Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier. Maybe the best m/m historical I read this year, a pleasant surprise given that I bought the book almost entirely because of the evocative cover.

What Binds Us by Larry Benjamin. This probably falls more on the gay lit end of the spectrum. There’s a love story, but it’s not the central arc of the book. Beautiful writing, emotional intensity, well-drawn setting. Highly recommended to everyone.

Armed and Dangerous by Abigail Roux. 2012 was the year I gave the Cut & Run series a second chance. (I’ll admit, I didn’t love the first book in the series. But I was looking for something to read in March and thought, “Everyone loves these. Maybe I missed something.” I did miss something, because this series is great, with a really wonderful emotional arc that spans the books.) This was my favorite entry in the series thus far. Can we have the next book now please?

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I’mma finish this damn series if it kills me. I’m not a big epic fantasy reader, but I loved this book. Read in conjunction with Alison Weir’s book on the Wars of the Roses got me all excited for medieval history, too. [/nerd] (My youngest brother, actually, recently became a total GRRM fanboy, so I’ve been enjoying discussing the books with him. He and I don’t have a ton in common, so it’s nice to have something to bond over.)

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins. Nonfiction book on a crime in New York in the 1890s that reads like a novel and is tremendously compelling.

Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward. 2012 was also The Year Kate Finally Got Around to Reading Those J.R. Ward Books. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Zsadist and Bella’s book is the best one, right? (I am so dying for Lover at Last, I can’t even tell you.)

The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley. I think this one made everyone’s favorite romance novel list a couple of years ago, but I only got around to reading it this fall. No lie, it’s really good. If you’re a fan of m/f Regencies, this is required reading.

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Speaking of things I finally got around to reading! It’s brilliant and unusual and though it takes a while to get off the ground, once the plot gets going, it makes a lot of interesting twists.

Ethan, Who Loved Carter by Ryan Loveless. If you want a sweet, feel-good romance, this is your book. A character with Tourette’s meets a character with a traumatic brain injury, and though there’s not a lot of conflict between them, I really liked it.

Bonus #1: A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean. I did a reading with Sarah in March and got to talk to her some, and she’s super fun. So, I read her backlist. She becomes a better writer with every book, and this was my favorite of her books so far. (I know my audience here, though. This is another m/f Regency. Put down the pitchforks.)

Bonus #2: Pressure Head by JL Merrow. I’m a sucker for a story about a psychic. It’s not flawless, but Merrow has such a wonderful writing voice that I just want her to keep writing books forever. I want for there to be a sequel to this one.

Bonus #3: Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson. I read this whole book on New Year’s Day when I was recovering from my hangover and I loved it to pieces. It’s sweet and cute and laugh-out-loud funny.

There’s a lot of m/m on this list, which is funny considering I read many fewer m/m books in 2012 than in recent years past. I did read A LOT of just-okay m/f Regencies. I love them, but they become sort of same-y and interchangeable, particularly if you, like me, tend to read, like, six of them in one go before wandering off to read something else. I found most of the ones I read this year fun and entertaining but forgettable.

5. Now that it’s 2013, my official tenure as Vice President of the Rainbow Romance Writers has begun! Honestly, I am feeling equal parts “Let’s do this!” and “What the hell did Heidi and Damon talk me into doing?”

I was jotting down resolutions and yearly goals in my offline journal yesterday, and one of them was simply, “Be awesome.” I think that is my general command of 2013. Be awesome, 2013!

five things: vampires, doormats, unfinished projects, etc.

It’s time for my weekly wrap-up post! Here’s what’s going on with me this week:

1. Reading I just finished the second book in JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and then immediately started book 3. I may have a problem. I forgot how much I liked series’ like this, where there are series arcs and the characters have to work together and side plots and all that. (If you’ve been hanging around here at all, you know I am an unabashed fan of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. I feel like Troubleshooters and BDB are similar and yet totally different. On the one hand, a team of alpha males have to work together to keep the world safe from terrorists/soulless vampire slayers, and the strong women who love them. On the other hand… vampires.)

So needless to say, a lot about these books is working for me. My one quibble so far is that I’m not really a fan of the mates trope in paranormal romance. It feels like a short cut. I like to see relationships develop and people fall in love when I read a romance novel, but in all of the relationships I’ve read so far in this series, it’s all, “OMG, you make me so hot, I’ve never felt this way before, I love you!” insta-love craziness. (I’ve also been skimming the chapters from the lesser POV; I’m less interested in that part of the plot.) So the series is not perfect, but I’m enjoying it.

Aside: I’m so in awe/jealous of those readers who can plow through many books in a week. It took me four days to read Lover Eternal, and I spent almost all my downtime reading. My life is too busy and/or I read too slowly.

2. Also reading! Given the enduring popularity of the alpha-hole hero and the doormat heroine (see 50 Shades, et al) there’s been a lot of talk this week about doormat heroines specifically and everyone’s wondering why they continue to be A Thing. (Here’s a great essay by May at Smexybooks and the question was asked over at Heroes and Heartbreakers.)

Given all the reader gripes online, it’s a little mystifying to me not only that the trope still exists but also that books that employ it are tremendously popular, particularly in the case of the heroine who is only functional with help from her man (see also Swan, Isabella). It’s one of the things that actually put me off m/f contemporaries for a while; I read one book too many with a klutzy, incompetent heroine who could only take care of herself and/or enjoy sex when this one man came along.

I get why this trope exists—it has a lot to do with restrictions on women and the ways they can express themselves, if you don’t mind me putting on my feminist pants here for a sec—but I don’t like it, and I don’t feel like there’s much justification for it in 2012. I suppose there is also something to be said for letting someone else handle things for a while, letting your partner take over if you’re the type who piles too much responsibility on herself, but I don’t particularly find this dynamic appealing.

One of the interesting things about the BDB series is that these are, like, Alpha Alpha Males. They’re all huge, muscular guys who are aggressive and fight a lot. I like an alpha hero, I do. But you know what I really love? A strong heroine who stands up to him and calls him on his shit, who is his equal and not his dependent. And Ward has put those women in her world.)

3. Writing! I’m about 25K into the novel I started last week, a Gilded Age mystery. I’ve gone off-outline a little, but it’s going well. Hooray!

4. Not Writing 🙁 Heidi Cullinan put up a post this week that I identified with pretty strongly. I keep trying to write and then re-shelving the sequel to The Boy Next Door. It’s just… not coming to me. It’s not sustaining my interest. Which sucks, because it’s a story I want to tell, but every time I try to work on it, it’s just forced and awful. I hope that changes. Neal is a fun character to write, and the whole book is outlined. I’ve put it aside for now, though.

5. Pimping: I guested at Coffee and Porn in the Morning this week, talking about booze and bars. There will be an excerpt and giveaway of Four Corners today (as of when I’m writing this, it’s not up yet—I write my blog posts in advance—but go to the site and it should be there; the giveaway is open until Sunday I think). (Uh, site is NSFW, if that wasn’t obvious.)

Five Things on Fr—Saturday

I had this idea for a weekly wrap up post yesterday. “I could make a list!” I thought. “And post it on Friday! It could have five things! It could be called ‘Five Things on Friday!’ Maybe it’ll even catch on and become A Thing!” Alas, I also worked a thirteen-hour day at the day job yesterday, so when I got home from the office, pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was stare at a computer screen and try to form words. But I still like this weekly wrap-up idea, so here are five things I’m reading and doing, in no particular order. Hopefully this will become a regular thing.

So many books!1. Reading! This is part of the pile of books next to my bed. I’m taking a break from reading romance to delve into some nonfiction, and also Game of Thrones. I may finish the whole series someday! I think I mentioned that my summer project is to learn a lot about British history, not for any real purpose beyond just to do it. But the funny thing about dipping your toe into the water is that soon you realize how vast the ocean is. I started reading this book on the Wars of the Roses (Alison Weir’s, which is really well-written and engaging) which soon made me realize how little I know about European history on the whole. I picked up John Davies’s book on Wales because I myself have a whole lot of Welsh ancestors (and some cousins who are still in Wales), and yet I know almost nothing about the country. (I do know that my Welsh family’s tartan is red and green and looks like Christmas, though, so there’s some trivia for you.) I’m also reading Sherry Jones’s Four Sisters, All Queens, which I got at a reading I went to a couple of months ago. It’s a nice supplement to my new case of Anglophilia. My only issue with the book is that it requires me to believe that these very young queens have a lot of political savvy, that teenaged girls are capable of playing politics with the big boys—no, wait, that makes perfect sense, never mind. 🙂

2. Doing! I saw the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar last week. It’s one of my favorite musicals ever. It was enjoyable, but not very innovative, which is maybe why the show isn’t doing that well. (I saw the touring production a few years ago, the one with old Ted Neely as Jesus—he also played Jesus in the 70s movie; Google tells me he is 68 years old—and Corey Glover as Judas, and that was a fun show.) Still, it’s hard to go wrong with that music, and the actor playing Judas is outstanding, so if you’re in New York and can get cheap tickets, it’s worth seeing. I’ve had “Heaven on Their Minds” stuck in my head ever since.

And I plan to see Magic Mike later today. Other than that, I’ve been working a lot. Boo.

3. This is a great roundup of links to discussions of race and romance. (I have a lot of complicated feelings on the matter.)

4. Like me! Really like me! I never solicit things like Facebook likes, but it came out earlier this week that a great number of likes on your Amazon author page somehow boosts your visibility on the site, whatever that means. (I assumed book sales tied into this more, though. Amazon keeps recommending I read this book called Out in the Field, for example. LOL.) And I thought, hey, I never do this. I don’t care if you click the button, but if your clicker finger is feeling especially itchy, you could:

Like my Amazon author page
Like my Facebook page
Be my friend on Goodreads.

But only if you want to.

5. Links! Places I have been this week:

I was interviewed by Wave!
Out in the Field got a lovely review from the Novel Approach.
I wrote about flawed heroes for the RWA-NYC blog.

Phew! Busy week! Hopefully I’ll see you back here next week and we can do it again!

when I’m not working, this is what I’m doing right now…

I don’t mean to be one of those writers who is all, “Gah, I’m too busy to blog, I’ll be with you in a moment!” but that is sort of the purpose of this post. I try to update the blog once a week or so, but, man, I have been so swamped lately. So in an attempt to not make things boring, a few bullet points:

• I wrote a short story for the Goodreads m/m romance group’s Love Is Always Write event, and that will go live… sometime in June. (I know the date, but it’s a surprise! Shh.) A fabulous artist friend of mine is designing a cover. More on that soon!

• I hit some kind of weird saturation point last week wherein, after reading a number of really excellent romance novels in a row, I just… didn’t want to read about romance anymore. Weird! That doesn’t often happen! I’m not sure why that happened. So for something completely different, I’m reading A Game of Thrones. I’m not a big fantasy reader, but I’ve read and enjoyed some genre classics, so I figured I’d give it a go. Love it so far. Which is good, because I bought the first four books in the series in one go. These are not small books.

• I read an article a couple of weeks ago that said that George R. R. Martin based A Song of Ice and Fire partly on the Wars of the Roses, so I bought a book on same, which I’m really enjoying.

• This coincides with my deciding a week ago to sit down and start writing a Victorian historical, although the one issue there is that most of what I know about nineteenth century British history was gleaned from romance novels. So I started researching, and came to realize that British history? Really fascinating. Lots of drama and conflict. No wonder so many have written novels about it.

• But I started wondering if there was some definitive text all the historical romance writers rely on. (If you know what it is, please tell me!) I got frustrated with Amazon because browsing through thousands of books on British history wasn’t getting me anywhere.

• So today, I went to get hair forcibly removed from my face with hot wax (that is, I got my eyebrows done—this is the one excessive grooming thing I do, because I unfortunately inherited my father’s bushy eyebrows, so I end up looking like Frida Kahlo if I leave them untamed) and then remembered that there’s a used bookstore across the street from my local salon. How convenient! I went in and was happy to find a dauntingly large illustrated history of Britain for only $6. Used bookstores are the best!

• I saw Sherry Jones read last month and bought Four Sisters, All Queens—also about European royalty, a couple of centuries prior to the Wars of the Roses—so that moved up a few spots in the TBR pile.

• So, summer projects: read the first four Song of Ice and Fire books; DIY crash course on British history.

• This’ll be like the 3-month unemployment period I had a number of years ago, during which I decided I wanted to learn all about Caesar’s Rome. I read two books just about Caesar crossing the Rubicon, no lie, and then I got an old coworker to send me a book my former employer had published about early civilizations, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

• I like learning!

• Maybe I should write a novel about sexy times in Ancient Rome. Or sexy times during the Wars of the Roses. Or both!

Miss Mary Sunshine

I’m generally an upbeat, positive person. Glass half-full and all that. I get angry and upset and have strong opinions about things, but at the end of the day, I try to see the bright side, the silver lining, try to end the day with a smile. So sometimes I think about commenting on whatever controversies are wending their ways through the Internet, but usually opt not to, both because I’d rather not wade into it and because I’d rather see the happier side of things.

I had the flu last week. I think I got hit with “con crud” from a weekend spent in close quarters with a lot of people plus my body sort of just shut down after a long period of stress and not enough sleep. I didn’t get out of bed for two days, for some taste of the severity of it. I consequently literally slept through all of last week’s Internet kerfuffles, and I think I’m probably better for it. Whenever some fight breaks out in the m/m community, I always feel disheartened and upset, mostly because the Mary Sunshine part of my personality asserts itself and says, “Stop fighting! We’re much better together!”

So, positive things! I got to meet Suzanne Brockmann this past weekend. I’ll just say it: she’s one of my idols. I love the Troubleshooters series; so much of it just works for me: her voice, the tightly-wove suspense, the complex plots, the interesting cast, the willingness to wade into political issues. (Also, my friends can tell you all about my fascination with sailors. Fleet Week is like Christmas for me. You put a hot guy in a crisp white uniform and… hello.) I think Brockmann is actually sort of inadvertently responsible for my getting into this biz at all; I read Hot Target shortly before I discovered m/m proper and was so excited to read about gay characters that I wanted more books with them and started writing my own.

At the time, I don’t think I really appreciated how revolutionary putting a gay pairing in a mainstream romance series was as an act. I was too busy enjoying the books on their own merits—the way that Jules and Robin’s arc is drawn out over several books is delicious, and when they finally get their HEA, you want to scream in triumph, it’s so good. (Not to gush, but…)

Anyway! Brockmann (or “Suz,” she told me I could call her Suz) was at a bookstore on Saturday, so I shored myself up with cold meds and went to see her. I was, needless to say, very excited. Happily, Suz is fun and friendly and enthusiastic in person. And we got to chat some about the Rainbow Romance Writers (of which we are both members) and gay romance and gay rights and so on.

We talked some about gay romance going mainstream. Suz is the author of a couple of m/m shorts that take place in the Troubleshooters universe, plus there’s the whole Robin/Jules arc in the books, and her new series, while primarily a het series, has a gay subplot. (I may have more to say to that later; I’m about 100 pages into Born to Darkness.) But that’s one of the things that Rainbow Romance Writers is doing—we want to take gay romance mainstream. We want it to be commercially available to everyone, we want to reach readers who don’t know m/m romance is a thing, we want to see our books in bookstores alongside all of the other romance on the shelves.

I think it’s an exciting time to be a writer in that way, because I feel like we’re really on the verge of something, of breaking through in a bigger way.

So it’s exciting to me that Suzanne Brockmann has a m/m ebook short coming out this summer. (I just read the story last night, actually, because I got a print copy on Saturday. It’s a Jules/Robin story that may or may not make sense without the context of the series, but it’s a really sweet addition to their story. And When Tony Met Adam came out a year ago, of course. That’s more of a standalone because Tony and Adam are relatively minor characters in the larger Troubleshooters universe.) She pointed out that the book will be published by Random House, which is kind of a Big Deal.

I believe this is important, not just from a sales POV, but because I’ve heard from readers who are excited to see gay lives portrayed positively and with happy endings in fiction, and, you know, love is love. It deserves a place in bookstores just as surely as het romances do.

I saw Suz again on Monday at Lady Jane’s Salon (that NYC’s romance reading series). There was a huge crowd, and, I would say, some enthusiasm for the m/m pairings in Suz’s books. So that’s a great thing to see. (The other readers on Monday were also so much fun that I bought their books as well. Everybody wins!)

So there’s your look-to-the-future, happy optimistic moment for the day!

Also! Be sure to check out this week’s Beat Your Winter Blues, in which I and some other authors talk about our favorite winter movies.

Beat Your Winter Blues this week!

The Beat Your Winter Blues blog tour soldiers on! I’m one of the February authors, celebrating the paperback release of The Boy Next Door so I and several other awesome authors are featured in today’s post over at Lou Harper’s blog. This week, we’re talking about winter in our backyards. It’s been above 60°F in New York City for the last two days, so winter in my backyard is warm? Freakishly so? (But if you want to see more photos of Brooklyn in the snow, check out the Kindling Fire with Snow bonus features.

Things are still crazy around here, although tonight I took time out from work to go see Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books at the Jefferson Market Library, which is a really lovely building in Greenwich Village. The talk was great; once the crowd warmed up, there were lots of book recommendations thrown around, and I do enjoy talking about romance novels. (I gotta say, romance readings/talks have been some of the most fun book/library events I’ve been to, and I go to a fair number of readings.) (If anyone got here because I gave them a bookmark, hello!)