I was completely immersed in bookland today.

First I went to the Thornton Barnes & Noble where author Joanne Kennedy was signing her books. I met Joanne on the first night of the Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando in July. She lives in Cheyenne and writes fun, smart romances about women who have a thing for cowboys. Joanne has had three books published (COWBOY TROUBLE and ONE FINE COWBOY, and COWBOY FEVER will be out this April), and she has a contract for three more. She is my hero!

Plus I got to meet four other romance authors and they might actually get me to read an historical romance! The books I got: NOTHING BUT DECEPTION by Allegra Gray (isn’t that a great name?), ECHO OF LOVE by Mary Hagen, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS by Ashley March and HEALING THE HIGHLANDER by Melissa Mayhue.

Writing is something that, by and large, you must do alone. Yes there are collaborative efforts, but my joy comes from writing in the traditional sense, by myself. I love it when my characters go off on their own and I’m merely taking dictation. However, it’s nice to know there are folks out there who have gotten published, people who live right here in Denver, who I can talk to about the journey to the bookstore shelves and the listing on Amazon. What’s more, in my teeny exposure to the world of romance writers, I’ve found that they are incredibly nurturing, and today at B&N was no exception. Imagine an industry where competitors LIKE to help each other. That’s how it is. The authors I spoke to today were nothing but encouraging.

After the B&N signing, I attended my first-ever Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers meeting. The presentation was by Patricia Ross, Ph.D. of Hugo House, an indie publisher. She told us all about the “wild west” of publishing, covering various aspects of the (many) alternatives to traditional publishing houses.

In a word, it was depressing. I felt like I just watched SCHINDLER’S LIST, only instead of Nazis, it was about books. (That might be an exaggeration.) It seems I have decided to write books just as regular publishers are on the way out, and the only way to publish your book is to pay for it yourself and sell it out of the trunk of your car. Call me old-fashioned and stodgy—or, let’s face it, lazy (and my Bug has a tiny trunk)—but I want someone to pay ME for my stories. If I send my manuscripts out and no publishing house on the planet wants to take me on, I’ll reconsider. (Surely that won’t happen, right?) But for now, I’m staying in the right lane of the old, established publishing highway as opposed to the self-publishing/pay-on-demand/vanity press autobahn.

ON the other hand, I felt good because I already have a blog (and thanks for reading, by the by), a Facebook author page and a Twitter account (@coletteauclair). So at least there’s that. And there’s something to be said for having finished a manuscript and having it sitting on a literary agent’s desk even as I write this.

So. Quite a day. Seeing Joanne Kennedy was the best part, and not just because of the excellent chocolate-chip cookies. With luck, soon I’ll join her ranks as a published author.

  • You know how there are words out there that set your teeth on edge? Because that’s what I’m writing about, so if the title of this post led you to expect some kind of rallying cry, I’m going to bitterly and profoundly disappoint you. This is a rant.

    Here’s word #1 on my hit parade—meaning words I’d like to put a hit out on, not words I think should hit the top of the charts because they’re so fabulous. Ready?


    Hate it. Don’t know why. But mark my words (pun intended), you’ll never see it in my novels unless a character insists on saying it and there’s nothing I can do to stop him/her. I hate when characters munch a sandwich or whatever. It sounds…dumb? Why can’t they just chew? Eat? Masticate? I’m not even sure why I hate it, as there wasn’t a particularly heinous episode in my life involving munch. Not that I recall, anyway. Maybe it was so horrendous, I’ve blocked it out. If you love this word and have a compelling reason why I should rethink my munch prejudice, I’m all ears.

    Next is the phrase “strong woman.” Hate it. This probably makes me sound like some kind of antiquated thinker or disavower of women’s accomplishments, but that’s not at all true. I’m simply sick of this phrase. It’s overused, and to my mind, a qualifier. Why not just describe a woman as a strong person, or as plain old strong? A strong woman immediately makes me think whoever called this woman a strong woman thinks the woman is strong…for a woman.

    Last on my list for this rant is…lover. I put it last because I don’t hate it anymore, but I used to hate it with the white-hot heat of 7,000 suns. Used to. Used to think it sounded affected and bizarre, an unwelcome leftover from the ’70s and its notions of free love. But as I keep reading romance novels to catch up to my (potential/future) readers and learn who’s writing what (must know your genre!), I’ve become used to it. I no longer think it’s weird, but simply means the person one has sex with. And since most of my exposure to “lover” is courtesy of romance novels, whenever the characters have sex, you can be sure they’re either in love, on the way to falling in love, or will be in love shortly. So the sex isn’t cheap or temporary or purely physical—lovers in romance novels always end up with the whole shootin’ match. Which is nice.

    Surely there are more words I hate, and as I remember/come across them (I know ‘em when I see ‘em because I inwardly—and sometimes outwardly—cringe), I’ll let you know.

    I’ll also let you know when I hear from Gail-the-Literary-Agent-Extraordinaire. Nothing yet, but as the saying goes, no news is good news. My fingers are becoming more flexible by the hour as I keep them crossed.

    Thanks again for your support!!

  • I was looking in the mirror the other day and a lock—er, make that a strand, as my hair is stick-straight—was hanging down across my cheek. I thought about how if I were a heroine in a romance novel, the hero would likely tuck that strand neatly (and tenderly) behind my ear, causing either a burning sensation on my cheek or ear (or both), or possibly a maelstrom of feelings of longing in the rest of me. I would very probably become light-headed and/or lose track of our conversation

    I realize that romance novels are not real life, but they’re partially based on reality. But for the life of me, I can’t recall a single instance where a man has tenderly tucked a strand of my wayward hair behind my ear. (If you are a man and have done this to me, please remind me. And reveal how many martinis I had consumed at the time. Doesn’t count if you were cutting/coloring/styling my hair.) Since it’s impossible for me to believe that my hair was always exactly where it was supposed to be, I have to wonder about this. Is there something wrong with my hair that my dates shrank from touching it? Were my ears offensive in some way? Did I send out subliminal anti-hair-touching signals? Did I date men with hair phobias? Or is it similar to how my husband views dust—meaning he doesn’t view it, and so doesn’t see any reason to clean. Maybe the men I dated thought I wanted that hank of hair on my face.

    From here I pondered what other romance novel norms I’ve missed out on. There are the mostly perfect heroes. Yes they make mistakes, get jealous, make fools of themselves, misinterpret things, or are clueless about the heroine, but their faults just make them more endearing. So I won’t start on the complete absence of morning breath and other less-than-idyllic features of real life that have no place in an escapist romance novel. Although every now and then one crops up in a book I’m reading and I find it refreshing.

    I won’t even bother getting into the amazing sex that’s never awkward, even the first time (unless it’s key to the plot that the first time be weird, as in BREATHING ROOM or THIS HEART OF MINE by my idol, Susan Elizabeth Phillips). This goes hand-in-hand with another romance novel norm, the simultaneous arrival at delirious happiness in bed, even though studies show that only 35 percent of woman will achieve delirious happiness while their hero is doing what men do to achieve said delirious happiness.

    Oh, and no man has ever carried me up a flight of stairs to take me to bed. Then again, usually these heroes have great bodies, and I’ve dated very few guys with great bodies. And let’s face it, I spent the bulk of my dating years in Manhattan, and few Manhattanites have staircases in their apartments. So maybe this one isn’t a fair comparison.

    Which reminds me of something else I lack that romance heroines have: an appreciation for the male form. I cringe as I tell you this, but I’m a sucker for nice eyes and hands. I don’t even notice biceps or butts. In fact, as I realized I’d have to describe the physiques of the superbly attractive men in my stories, I forced myself to notice men at my gym. I would look at a guy and think, “How would I describe him? What does his butt look like? How to write about that guy’s arms?” I felt like a bit of a freak until I learned that some friends share my condition. As I think back on my dating life, there was one guy I went out with a few times—with the unlikely name of Glade—who had a truly outrageous body, but it was completely wasted on the likes of me. Maybe that’s why we didn’t work out, no pun intended.

    While I’m on this roll-call of absences, I also must confess that before I started writing THROWN, I had read exactly two romance novels in my life. The first was THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER by Kathleen Woodiwiss, which I now know is a groundbreaking classic, and to quote Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the first of the “rape me ‘til I like it” variety. I read it in high school after finding it in one of the lounges in the dorm. And I read Danielle Steele’s PALOMINO in grad school because, guess what, I thought it would be about horses. When I hear about writers who were avid romance readers and then wrote their own romance novel, I feel like I’m sneaking into the genre through a side door. Right now I’m scrambling to read as much as I can so I’ll know what’s out there.

    However, I’ve recently realized that I approach writing as an actor. I act out scenes and speak dialogue aloud, often while walking my dog (small wonder he wanders away from me…). I see my stories in my head as movies, scene-by-scene, possibly because THROWN started life as a screenplay and I wanted to be a screenwriter rather than a novelist. Susan Elizabeth Phillips said at a workshop that she considers herself to be an actress rather than a storyteller. So maybe the fact that I watch romantic comedies kind of excuses me from not having read a million romance novels?

    Still and all, even with all these holes in my past dating and reading life, I feel like I’ve found my niche because I’ve never had such a blast writing anything before. I hope that a publisher out there feels the same way.

  • I will not be writing my novel after 4:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time today. I will not be worrying about the shifting point of view in my novel. I will not be concerned about tweaking the tone in the first scenes to be more lighthearted and—dare I say—funny. I will not be thinking about the most graceful and inconspicuous way to weave in the characters’ backstory so as to make it interesting and not dull dull dull. I will not be contemplating how to add thematic elements to add depth and power to my fluffy little romance. I will not be fretting over whether this scene or that scene is working hard enough to merit staying in the story—does it enhance characterization or move the plot along?—those are the key questions.

    I will not be concerned with any of this.

    Because the Steelers are in the Super Bowl.

    My worries will shift to whether Big Ben can scramble and elude the blitz. Will Ben throw into double coverage and be intercepted? Can the offense outwit, outcatch and outrun the formidable Packer defense? Can the defense stymie the Green Bay offense? Will Polamalu’s ankle hold up as he makes his trademark electrifying plays?

    So many questions. So many concerns. And almost as many volatile emotions as my characters feel! Maybe that’s why I have cozied up so completely to writing romance novels—they’re packed with emotion, much as I am when watching any of my teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates and Northwestern Wildcats) play in a big game. Sports and romance. Who woulda thunk?

  • I have been waiting to do something worthy of your attention, or for something to happen to me that would merit a blog. But, I realize, I have to find something to tell you about. I once went to a reading by Pam Houston, an author I have admired since my Worst Boyfriend Ever introduced me to her in the mid-90s when I still lived in Manhattan. She wrote SIGHT HOUND, a wonderful and devastating work that will stay with me for the rest of my days. Anyway, during the reading she spoke of “glimmers,” or moments a writer observes that can lead to a story. A spark. A burst of something that intrigues or conjures a question or suggests a further event. Pam talked about them in terms of fiction, but I have to also think of them in terms of blogging.

    Here we go. This past Thursday and Saturday, my horse Brooke colicked. If you know about horses, you know how scary this can be. Most colics are not serious, but they can go bad quickly and your horse can die. Brooke had to have life-saving surgery last December for a bad colic. For those of you who have the good sense to keep a horse out of your life and your bank account, let me explain. Colic, technically, is any sort of pain or discomfort a horse feels in any part of its digestive tract. Horses are horribly designed, with scads of intestine that just kind of hangs out in a vast cavern of equine torso. A lot can happen in there, and none of it good. When your horse colics and you keep it at a boarding facility, it’s like having a baby who can never tell you where it hurts, and the baby lives somewhere else (in my case, 25 minutes from home and more than an hour from work at rush hour). When they call you from the barn to tell you your 1,300-pound baby is ill, it’s a terrible feeling.

    I called the vet for the Thursday colic, and, happily, all Brooke needed was a pain killer and she was right as rain. Usually she’ll colic and be done with it, I’m off the hook for at least a month. But no. She has apparently joined a Colic of the Month Club, as she has colicked in November, December and now January. This is a new and delightful aspect of my horse ownership. In this most recent instance, she colicked 48 hours later, on Saturday afternoon.

    What the hell? Again, happily, it wasn’t serious, and I didn’t even  call the vet. Still. I was a wreck on Saturday night, keeping my phone attached to me as if it were a new appendage, waiting for it to ring with another colic alert. I had left the barn at 8:00 that night, but still. I thought I would have a relaxing evening after a harrowing day. HA! I couldn’t concentrate. I had to watch something mindless on TV. I had hoped I’d be able to write, since I had spent the entire day at the barn and lost all that precious writing time, but no.

    I couldn’t even THINK of writing. As you might deduce, one of the topics of my second novel, facetiously called LOVE IN THE TIME OF COLIC, is colic. I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write about some poor fictional horse dying of colic and his owner’s subsequent distress when my own horse had been flirting with succumbing herself. It was too close for comfort.

    In the days since Saturday I haven’t had much time to write, even though it has been freakishly cold here in Denver, well below zero Monday and yesterday. I still had to go to work, and although I didn’t go to the barn on Monday or Tuesday, I didn’t write. LOVE IN THE TIME OF COLIC poses new challenges. It starts out with the colic surgery, and that’s how our hero and heroine meet. However, I had intended the book to be a romantic comedy, but it starts out about as light-hearted as a lynching. I either have to change the whole tone of the novel or fix the beginning. I think I have to fix the beginning. I ventured out into the Arctic Circle tonight (it was -2 at the barn) and as I walked Brooke for 30 minutes in the indoor arena (she wore her blanket, don’t go reporting me to PETA), I thought about how to make the beginning, um, happier.

    How to make a beloved horse’s death happy?

    Okay, so it’s not going to make you skip down the lane, swinging a basket of flowers and whistling. But I think I can make the heroine a little more composed and have her use humor to cope with her grief, as many of us do.

    This is making me grow as a writer, right? To change the scene I’ve seen in my head a certain way for a little more than a year? I sure hope so, because I think it has to be.

    And Brooke, if you’re reading this, please drink a lot of water and DON’T COLIC.