August is the annual Read-A-Romance Month and all through next month, Celebrate Romance will have essays by some of the greats of romance talking about how they got started and why they love the genre.

How did I get started? It took a village.  As part of this celebration, I wanted to honor those who helped me on my journey to becoming a writer.

I’ve met all but one of these woman  and all of them before I read any of their books. All were inspirations and all of them offered help and advice. I’m forever grateful.

And then I picked up their stories, terrified that I wouldn’t enjoy them. No worries. I’ve become a lifelong fan of these writers not only as people but as storytellers.

1. Dallas Schulze.

Dallas was the first romance novelist I interacted with online. We ‘met’ on the old Laurel K. Hamilton yahoo loop, an active and lively place in the early 2000s that also included a brand new novelist influenced by LKH: one Jim Butcher of Harry Dresden fame. (Yes, it was an awesome loop.)

Jim and Dallas often had good-natured debates about writing and about the merits of the various characters in LKH’s Anita Blake series. Those discussions were so much fun to read that, for the first time since reading Victoria Holt as a teenager, I was inspired to read a romance.

Dallas’ books hooked me. Her characters were so real, the stories so believable, and the emotions….Tumblr would now call them “the feels.” My favorite was Donovan’s Promise, the story of a married couple who had separated and were seemingly headed for divorce. It was told with a mix of flashbacks from the past and their interactions in the presence, and it stuck in my memory so much that when it came to write my own reunion romance, (the upcoming Phoenix Inheritance), I stole, er, borrowed her story structure.

2. Maureen O. Betita

One word: Pirates!

I call Maureen the pirate lady. Her stories have hunky pirates, heroines who are allowed to be over 30 and high seas adventures. All things fun. I met Maureen at a Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention one year and loved talking with her so much, and her take on romance so much, that I read her stories.  You should too. She’s recently hit the bestseller list with her self-published books and her audience is growing.

3. Karen Harbaugh

Karen is known as Yoda among my internet circle of friends. I had a long talk with her at the Romance Writers of America convention in 2004, where she was up for a Rita and I was up for a Golden Heart. She wanted to know why there weren’t more Asian-Americans in romance novels, a subject near and dear to her heart as she’s Japanese-American. I didn’t have a good answer, so when I wrote my first superhero romance, Phoenix Rising, I remembered the conversation, and that’s how my heroine became Japanese-American.

Why should you read Karen’s books? Because they’re richly layered, descriptive, full of intrigue and mystery, and set in one of my favorite periods, the Regency era. Dark Enchantment, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, was my first Harbaugh, full of swordfights and court politics and it remains my favorite.

4. Jayne Ann Krentz.

I think they sprinkle JAK’s books with crack because I cannot put them down, whether she writes as Krentz, Amanda Quick or Jayne Castle. If pressed, I will admit to preferring her historicals, as I love the dark and dangerous streets of London and her independent heroines.

Ms. Krentz is the one writer I haven’t spoken to via the ‘net or in-person. I have, however, attended her Q&A sessions with Susan Elizabeth Phillips at ever RWA National conference I’ve attended. Not only because they were an entertaining act but because Ms. Krentz answered one of the questions with one of the best pieces of advice about writing I’d ever heard:

Know your core story.

She said if you know the core story you’re trying to tell, then you know what’s flexible and subject to change and what’s not. She started writing futuristics and couldn’t sell them but realized that they could be modified to historicals and still maintain their core story. As a writer who loves to jump genres, this was an invaluable way to look at my work.

5. Jennifer Crusie

When I think of smart, funny romance, I think of Jennifer Crusie. Tell Me Lies and Bet Me are my favorites but I recommend all her books because they’re always so sharply written and yet always have such a sentimental heart.

I know Jenny and I owe her a great deal for her mentorship and support . She was the first professional writer who ever critiqued a scene for me. It went as well as can be expected when your scene has characters but no plot and no conflict. Jenny was afraid I’d be horrified. Instead, I thought “whoa, wait, this is what’s wrong! But, wait, I can learn to fix it. There is someone who can teach me that stuff.”

And she did.

I can only hope to pay it forward and help someone in the same way she’s helped me.

And my recommendation has nothing to do with that Krispy Kreme donut sex scene in Bet Me. No, nothing at all. 🙂

As for those cherries on the cover? They’re partially in honor of the most wonderful group of women, the Cherries, who formed on Jenny’s yahoo loop all those years ago. Many of us have gone onto be published writers, and I’m proud to call some of them my close friends, like Christine Merrill, Katy Cooper, and Robin LaFevers.

It took a village to get me started and it still takes a village to keep me going.

Thank you, ladies.

What Can Internet Communities Do For You?

An internet community begins quietly, in a group hosted by Yahoo or Google, in the comments of a blog, or in a single thread of a multi-thread board. Such simple beginnings can blossom into lifelong bonds between posters.

“It’s a pretty heady feeling to know that what one started as a newsletter to give a little bit back to Nora has evolved into a community of readers who have become great friends,” says  Sue Noyes, the webmaster for Nora Roberts’ ADWOFF website, which began in 1997 as a print newsletter and is going strong today.

Internet communities, however, have serious drawbacks. They are time sinks. There can be emotional drama that saps mental energy. And, a more insidious problem, a community can become so comfortable that active members forget about the silent lurkers and say something that wildly inappropriate in front of an audience of hundreds or even thousands of people.

Making a community work for you is well worth the effort, it can provide much needed human interaction for the often solitary life of a writer.

But finding the right community is key, whether you join one or create one yourself.

(more…)

Last week, I was asked a question about the one book that influenced my life. I had trouble narrowing it to just one.

So I started thinking about all the books I’ll  hold close to my heart and will have in my collection until I die.

And I made a list.  🙂

1. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley.

This is the first book I remember carrying around with me constantly.

My favorites passages are Alec’s first ride aboard the Black on the deserted island, Alec’s midnight ride on a real racetrack that becomes almost surreal, and, most especially, the climatic match race between The Black, Cyclone and Sun Raider.

When I needed a name for my superhero, I called him Alec. His last name isn’t a coincidence either. 🙂

2. Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

When I was twelve, I got a subscription to the SF Book Club and got to choose five free books. This was included, along with a couple of Edgar Rice Burroughs books and Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. I like Zelazny’s work a lot but it was this collection I read until the pages fell out. It still has orange stains from the Cheetos I ate while reading.

The book is likely a little dated now but the dragons in this series are still the best.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

I know some people think the narrative moves slow at the beginning but I was hooked right away with the descriptions of Bilbo’s birthday party. I just adore Tolkien’s narrative voice, rambling and all.

By the time Strider showed up in Bree, I was hopelessly in love with the story. Eowyn’s battle against the King of the Nazghul remains my favorite scene though Gandalf’s confrontation on the bridge in Moria is a close second.

4. DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

I love any number of superhero stories but if I had to pick one story that distilled everything I love about superheroes, this would be it.

5. The Sherlock Homes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

I’m the proud owner not only of the classic William S. Baring-Gould Annotated Sherlock Holmes but also of a new annotated edition published a couple of years ago. These stories are everything I love about mysteries and I’ve yet to find a detective I like more than Holmes.

But it’s Watson who really makes the stories to me. He’s flawed but intelligent and kind and adds the human touch that the stories need. The new movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law didn’t impress me much but it got Watson right, a big point in their favor.

6. Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie

I normally steer away from contemporary stories–they’re too close to reality for me. But this is the book that really turned me on to romance stories. It’s sad, it’s funny, and everyone in it is so real. It’s a beautiful book.

7. The Plantagenet Chronicles by Thomas Costain

I think this four-volume set came through a mail-order book club too. It starts with Henry II and ends with the death of Richard III, the last of the English Plantagenet kings. It’s more of a collection of anecdotes spliced together than it is a linear history. Costain is a great storyteller.

And I’m still with him that Richard III may have been innocent of his nephews’ murder and that Richard II was a really lousy king. One of these days, I’m going to write the William Marshall story inspired by Costain.

8. Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the book that brought me back to SF after years of avoiding it because of cardboard characters. I’d been mostly reading fantasy until a friend insisted on read this. It’s now one of the most dog-eared books in my collection.

Aral. :sigh:

It’s…well, ostensibly it’s about a woman from a very liberal culture who falls in love with a man from a planet and a culture isolated for thousands of years from the rest of galactic civilization.

But that’s like saying the Sopranos is about mobsters. It’s true but there’s so much MORE.

9. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

The first novel in a series so good that other Arthurian fiction writers use it as a basis for their stories. Young Merlin is a bastard child in a court that would rather see him dead but his Gift of Sight ultimately protects him long enough to find his father, the Roman heir of Britain.

There is magic in these pages.

10. Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair

My latest obsession. Adrenaline-fueled romantic SF with a pace that would please Robert Heinlein. It’s just sheer fun to read.

So what are your favorites?