Saturday, October 18, 2008

Retreat-ing with Friends

There's nothing quite so special as spending a weekend with friends, especially writer friends. Five weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a writers' retreat. It wasn't my first retreat, but it had been a few years since I had been able to go to one, and I was excited. We left on Friday evening for the Mennonite camp where the retreat was to be held, it had been raining for several days and a flood warning had been issued for most of the state and especially the area. We decided to trudge on, anyway. Reports from the camp indicated things were wet but calm there and not expected to get bad. They didn't.

We spent the weekend talking about writing, eating, discussing the world of publishing, eating, sharing stories about our families and lives, eating, debating how difficult it sometimes is to find the time to write, eating, and planning the future of the group. Oh, yes, and eating. Where there are women, there will always be lots of food!

By Saturday afternoon, the sun had come out, and several of us took walks around the large rural acreage of the camp. We walked down to the river that stayed just below flood level and watched the water rush over the small dam. We saw not only a covey of quail, but several deer grazing on the tall prairie grass. For me, having lived on a farm for twenty-four years and now being away from it for eight, it was a reminder of the quiet simplicity of the country. I miss that, but I don't miss having to drive miles for gorceries, gas, or time with friends. All in all, it was a terrific and memorable weekend, and I'm so glad I was invited to be a part of the group this year.

I had planned to blog about this last month, but sick family and a book deadline wiped my mind of nearly everything else, and I forgot to post. It's been so busy that I haven't had the time to visit here and read all the blog posts from the editors and the wonderful authors who wrote HARs in the early years. Maybe this weekend, I'll get a chance to do that.

Have a Happy Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stay-at-Home Mom and Writer

A neighbor recently discovered I'm an author and she stopped to talk with me over the weekend when I was cleaning up the flowerbeds in front of the house. Instead of the--"Oh, isn't that wonderful" reaction I usually get, the lady couldn't imagine why I'd want to stay home all day and write books.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd be a stay-at-home mom who writes romance novels. Do I have any regrets--heck, no! I'm home to nurture, support, care…or as my teenage son and daughter prefer….nag, monitor and interfere in their daily lives. After those tasks are accomplished and the kids hop on the bus each morning I spend the next several hours creating stories about what I love most: home and hearth.

But writing is a high-stress job--really! I've got only a few hours before the bus returns to make my stubborn hero (I'm married to one, so I have plenty of experience with this kind of man) come to his senses and admit he loves my spirited, independent and determined heroine (that's who I want to be when I grow up).

Okay, so that's the fun part of my job--if my subconscious cooperates… "There's mold growing in the toilets!," it nags. "The dirty clothes in the laundry room won’t jump into the wash machine on their own!"

And the worst offender…the treadmill--"Hey, baby, remember what you looked like at twenty-two? Give me a half-hour a day and I'll turn you into a sex goddess! "

I attempt to convince the nagging voice in my head that I'm saving those activities for when I suffer writer's block--which happens often enough to add a little extra stress to my life. On those days, hubby comes home, takes one look at the clean house and says, "Tough day at the office, honey?" Grrr!

If a nagging subconscious isn't enough to distract a serious writer, then the occasional unexpected phone call…Teen number one: "Mom, I forgot my English paper would you bring it to school so I don't get an F?"

Shoot, now I have to actually wash my face, put on makeup and change out of my tattered sweats because I have to go into the school to drop off the paper at the principal's office. Of course, I get a scathing glare from the secretary that says, "Haven’t you taught your child better?" I schlep back home wondering what good it does to be a stay-at-home mom if I can't even teach my own kids responsibility? Well, you can darn betcha the kid in my next book will tow the line!

Writing and being a stay-at-home mom is challenging, but I can’t imagine my life any other way. I count my blessings that I'm able to work in my home at a career that inspires me and allows a certain amount of freedom. In a few years my teens will leave the nest and then I'll grumble that the house is too quiet, that I miss the chaos and heaven forbid that I'm lonely. And one day if my daughter or daughter-in-law asks me to care for their children so they can pursue a career, well, I'll just say…Have you considered being a stay-at-home mom and writing romances?

RT TOP PICK The Cowboy and the Angel Nov 08

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Technically Speaking

Did you ever get the feeling that, if you don’t jump right onto the latest technology, you might never be able to grasp it? You must be a non-techie like me.

I was one of the last people in California to acquire a CD player (in the late 1990s, a hand-me-down from my brother, Paul), get e-mail and Internet access (in 2002 out of necessity, because I was writing an on-line serial for and switch to a digital camera (another donation from Paul).

I struggled along each learning curve, reading the instruction manuals diligently. But as the years went by, those manuals began to take more and more for granted. Earlier this year, after I purchased my younger son’s old digital camera – a generation advanced from mine, and a generation behind his new one – I had to ask him what various instructions meant. The technical writers took for granted that I could decipher their shorthand.

Needless to say, I couldn’t.

So you can imagine with what trepidation I set out to learn how to update my own Web site. I’d never have dared consider it, but my longtime, wonderful Webmaster is moving on to other things. Rather than start over with someone new, I decided to take the plunge.

First, I looked for an instruction manual, only to discover that even the For Dummies books aren’t for dummies like me. They assume you want to become an html programmer capable of creating your own Web design. Sure. And maybe after that I’ll design a nuclear fusion rocket capable of carrying me to Alpha Centauri.

What I needed was a little friendly advice, but even many of my programmer friends don’t know much about Web sites. So where did I turn? Well, where else … to my brother.

A semi-retired aerospace engineer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, Paul is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Also one of the most technically savvy. This is amazing, because he and I must share some of the same gene pool.

It turned out he’d learned quite a bit about Web sites while building and maintaining one for his significant other, Myrna, who’s a wedding planner. In case you’re about to get married in that part of the country, you can look up her site at

This dear man, who used to put rubber spiders in our grandmother’s bed (actually, she started it) and twit me about almost everything, spent most of a Saturday uploading a copy of my Web site onto a new hosting service and, by phone, walking me through the steps of learning to update it.

He never lost his temper or skipped a step in his instructions. He even made allowances for the fact that my computer uses an antique operating system.

My original Web site ( remains with the same Webmaster through the end of the year, while I’m practicing on the copy (you can check it out at In case you’re wondering, the software I use is Microsoft Front Page.

I couldn’t have done it without Paul. So be nice to your siblings. Sometimes they grow up to be wonderful human beings.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy 25th--Meet launch author Barbara Bretton (Post #1)

Photos: the original artwork for Love Changes, and the actual launch book.

Bio: Oh, how I hate bios! All of that deadly dull information about name (Barbara Bretton) and date of birth (June 25, 1950) and geographical data (born in New York City; lives near Princeton, NJ), marital status (40 years married), and hobbies (who has time??). How do you gather up all of those dull, dry facts and turn them into something interesting?

No wonder I tell lies for a living.

Twenty-six years ago I sold my first book and my life changed forever. I sent in my manuscript on Thursday February 21, 1982 and four days later the telephone rang and I heard the amazing words, "We want to buy your book." How I wish you could have seen me. I was standing by the kitchen door of our North Babylon house, the picture of cool sophistication, as I listened to Vivian Stephens explain the terms of the deal to me. You would have thought I'd sold a first book every single day of my life. Yes, I said. Sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for calling. I look forward to our association. That cool sophistication hung on until I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, then promptly threw up on my shoes.

I was thirty-one years old, unagented, unschooled, unfamiliar with anything to do with the business of publishing. I was barely two years past a battle with cancer that turned my life upside down. To put it mildly, I was in shock. My husband was working in Manhattan at the time (and finishing up his degree at night) so it would be hours until I could break the news to him. This was too exciting to waste on a phone call. I wanted to see his face when I told him that my dream had finally come true -- and came with a $6,000 advance!

He pulled into the driveway at midnight. I was waiting in the doorway, holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses. I didn't have to say a word. He knew right away and the look of joy and pride in his eyes warms me now, years later, long after the advance faded into memory.
A lot has happened to me in the years since that first sale. I've learned that this is a difficult and demanding business (it takes a tough writer to write a tender book) and that I am happiest when I am most ignorant. I've also learned that a good friend, a writer and pal who truly understands, is worth her weight in good reviews and royalty checks.

And now for the statistics:
Barbara Bretton is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of more than 40 books. She currently has over ten million copies in print around the world. Her works have been translated into twelve languages in over twenty countries.
Barbara has been featured in articles in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Romantic Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Herald News, Home News, Somerset Gazette,among others, and has been interviewed by Independent Network News Television, appeared on the Susan Stamberg Show on NPR, and been featured in an interview with Charles Osgood of WCBS, among others.

She is a Rita finalist whose awards include both Reviewer's Choice and Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times; Gold and Silver certificates from Affaire de Coeur; the RWA Region 1 Golden Leaf; and several sales awards from Bookrak. Ms. Bretton was included in a recent edition of Contemporary Authors.

Barbara loves to spend as much time as possible in Maine with her husband, walking the rocky beaches and dreaming up plots for upcoming books.

Memories of American Romance:
I was one of the launch authors back in 1983 and have a treasure trove of memories/memorabilia about that incredible time and place. Some of it is bittersweet: nothing ever is exactly as you thought it would be and publishing is no exception. We didn't all become superstars. We didn't all manage to sell a second novel. But we did experience something unique.

If you didn't live through what I think of as the Great Romance Wars, you probably won't believe me when I say that there was a time (long ago and far away) when category romance was big news. How big? Wall Street Journal big. New York Times big. Photos in Life (or was it Look?) big. I have this vague memory of Vivian gathering up the American Romance authors at the RT conference where we launched and sending us off to be photographed en masse for Look (or was it Life?) Magazine. (Anyone else remember that?) I don't recall ever seeing the end result but as a committed photo-phobe I remember quaking in my please-retouch-me boots.

There were weekly newsletters devoted to category romance – Vivian L. Jennings's painfully honest, always fascinating BOY MEETS GIRL. Dozens of independent newsletters that featured interviews and reviews. There was the sense that we were onto something, that the old notion of romance novels (which at the time was pretty much limited to "bodice rippers" and Harlequin's European-based lines) was about to be replaced by something current, something real, something—dare I say it?—respectable.

Yes, we thought we were about to gain respect. I believed it. I thought what we were doing, the books we were writing, would change the prevailing wisdom for good. No more snide comments like, "So when are you going to write a real book?" No more eye rolls at the sight of a romance cover. We were about to become relevant.

Unfortunately it never happened. In retrospect I think much of the early 80s buzz was generated by the big money we were bringing in. When sales began to flatten, when lines folded, when Harlequin devoured Silhouette, we reverted to being "those little books" in the eyes of the non-romance-reading public.

Was I bitter about that? Sure, for awhile. But I got over it. The readers who love what we do don't give a damn if the Wall Street Journal approves but for a little while there it looked like we were going to cross over into public acceptance and with that acceptance, a newfound respect.

The business was smaller back then. Everyone knew everyone else. A deal could happen at the speed of light.

To give you an idea, I sent in my manuscript on February 22, 1982 to Vivian Stephens and she phoned to make an offer on February 25th! Everyone began with a $6K advance which increased by $500 with each subsequent sale. You had to write the full ms in those days, no purchases on spec. That quick, that simple.

During my years with American, I was allowed as close to complete creative freedom as any author could wish. Feel like writing gritty realism? Go for it. Want to write about an invisible man? That’s fine too. It was exhilarating, creatively exciting, all good things.

I worked with Vivian Stephens, Kay Meierbachtol (who went on to helm Temptation – known as Secret Project 299 for awhile there), Hilari Cohen, and then the wonderful Deby Matteucci who edited me for thirteen years.

I mentioned the phrase "little book" a few paragraphs ago. That seems to be one of the favorite slams against category romance. "Oh, you write those little books?" I heard it twenty-five years ago and I hear it today.

They're not little books. They're short books that require focus, discipline, and talent to write so reading them will be effortlessly enjoyable for the millions of readers who take them into their hearts every year.

Little?! I don't think so . . .
Watch for the Q & A on October 19 this month!