The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dagnabbit, but I'm disgusting

Sometimes, readers make my back molars throb. This morning I was snooping around on Amazon and reading a few readers' comments about my books. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a real doozy. Boy howdy, was it mean-spirited. It was for Marriage of Mercy, that Harlequin that no one at Harlequin read because the title and back blurb have zippo, zilch, nada to do with the book. All in all, it's a pretty good read.

Ooh, not to someone named Tyson. She gave it one star, and the title line of her review was "Disgusting." The first sentence was "Carla Kelly is disgusting." Well, that got my attention. Some folks think I'm tolerable. Anyway, she didn't like the book because it was way too sexy for her tastes (umm, it's not that bad). I was supposed to be known as an LDS writer, so how dare I do that?

I don't generally respond to icky stuff like that, but I did this time. I thought I was reasonable. You judge:

"Tyson, I don't usually comment on book reviews, but I take exception to character assassination. I'm not primarily known as an LDS writer; that's your fiction. I wrote some 30+ Signets and Harlequins before I started writer for a more LDS audience [should have added 'on occasion']. I currently write for three publishers. If you want to review a book, fine. I can take that; poor reviews are part of the job. If you felt Grace was pathetic, that's certainly your choice. But to call me disgusting is rude and unmannerly. I would never call you disgusting. I don't know you and it would be the height of rudeness to make such a comment about you. You might be interested to know that when Borrowed Light came out, my first LDS-themed novel, a reader used to my other books wrote a death threat. Amazon kindly removed it. So I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Just watch your language when you attack writers rather than books."

Writing for a variety of publishers is a ticklish situation, granted. That rather odd phrase "clean read" gets bandied about a lot in Mormon fiction. Before my foray into LDS fiction - something I don't read much - I never had heard that term. I currently owe two Regencies to Harlequin over the next 18 months or so. And there's that delightful publishing company in Seattle willing to let me try my hand at historical crime fiction. I probably still have a few more books in me for LDS-themed fiction, too. I'm toying with a sequel to My Loving Vigil Keeping. (I mean, I know what's going to happen to Della and Owen, so maybe I should share it.)

Maybe my books should come with a warning label: Harlequins are PG-13; ditto The Double Cross from Camel Press; early Signets are mostly PG; Cedar Fort's books are PG. That could satisfy readers who get their knickers in a twist when characters do more than hold hands.

So let the reader beware, I suppose. Just don't call me disgusting. Some folks think I'm fun to be around. I'm sure Tyson is a nice person. Even if she/he weren't, I wouldn't be so cruel.

Back to Safe Passage, a book I'm writing about the Mormon Exodus from Mexico in 1912. This could be a bit tough for Tyson, too, because the main character and his wife are estranged and have real issues to work through, as they try to avoid getting killed by guerillas in Mexico. Disgusting ol' Carla Kelly has fun.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

It's Black Friday and I'm going to the store. Don't try to stop me. We're out of milk. Then I'll go home and write.

What happened to Thanksgiving? I was going to just bite my tongue and not write anything about this big fat travesty where people bolt down their turkey or whatever it is people eat now on Thanksgiving, then go stand in line for five hours at Toys 'R Us so they can buy something a few dollars off the usual price.  According to the Deseret News, one woman also rented a moving van to carry away all this swag. Jeez Louise.

Maybe I'm a bit grouchy because our younger son didn't make it here for Thanksgiving. I'd been looking forward to seeing him, but he felt he didn't get enough time off from work for the drive. He asked me if I was mad, and I told him no, but that I was disappointed because I wanted to see him. And that's true. Plans change. We still had a nice Thanksgiving.

I had my own fun by watching that high-larious WKRP in Cincinnati episode about the turkey promotion. No one was better at comic timing than Gordon Jump who gave that immortal line (wait for it, wait for it): "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Ah, yes.

My personal Thanksgiving moment came as it usually does. I thought about the special kind of courage it took to get into a ship - a small one - and sail across an ocean to land on a shore no one of them had ever seen, and at a rough time of year. I'm forever grateful that the Separatists also took the time to draw up a compact that set out some simple rules for survival. It was the first governing document for Plymouth Colony and served notice that social order would be the rule of the day. Thank you, gentlemen.

My real Thanksgiving epiphany came about ten years ago, in December. I had flown to Charleston, South Carolina, to see my son graduate from the U.S. Border Patrol Academy. After the ceremony, he and his classmates (half of the ones they started with) flew out immediately to their posts. I had a few days to kill before my flight home, so I drove to St. Augustine, Florida, for a little research, and then back to St. Simons Island, Georgia, where I had spent some of my happiest childhood time.

I drove to Fort Frederica National Monument, built between 1736 and 1748 by James Oglethorpe. He had been sent to form the buffer colony of Georgia, to protect the more-valuable Carolinas from Spanish Florida. There are remnants of a few buildings - the barrack, the magazine, the fort itself - and foundations. The old moat is now a grassy swale. It's a lovely spot.

Ordinarily, Georgia isn't too cold in early December, but it was chilly that year, and there was a brisk wind making it colder. After a stop in the visitors center, I walked through the village down what I believe was called Orange Street. I walked to the edge of the village, past many foundations, and past the fort, until I was standing on the shore of the Frederica River.

I was the only visitor that early morning. I only had to stand there a little while to "get it."  If there had been trouble from Spanish Florida, and they did have some serious trouble in 1742, there was no help anywhere - no thundering cavalry to ride over the hill and save the day; no way to get a message through quickly to Charleston that gee, we're in a tight bind here. These inhabitants, soldiers and settlers, had to rely entirely on themselves. The only thing between them and disaster was, well, them.

It took real courage to be a Separatist, or a Pilgrim, or a settler on a remote Georgia island. Faith was a real component, too: faith in themselves and each other, and faith in God who wouldn't desert them in times of desperation.

I've not certain I'm that brave, but I like to think about it on and around Thanksgiving. It's more important to know what's inside my mind and heart than how much money I can save on a driveable pink Power Wheels car. I'm getting a little worried about some of my fellow Americans. If we forget our past, we'll be in our own tight bind.

So this is my shout-out to those hardy souls who had that special courage it took to scratch a foothold on the absolute edge of a mighty continent. I remember you, even if fewer and fewer Americans do. Maybe as long as some of us remember, it will be enough. But I'm worried.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One Good Turn

Sometimes readers are hard to please, and never more so than now, when I'm writing for three different publishers. "We need a sequel to My Loving Vigil Keeping," some will insist. Others want more Julia and Mr. Otto. The only sequels I can guarantee right now are the ones to follow The Double Cross, my historical mystery set in colonial New Mexico, which comes out in June. I'm contracted to write at least three more of those. To put a finer point on this, they are more part of a series than sequels.

I'm not one to write many sequels. Enduring Light is only the second, in a writing career that spans a bunch of years since the first novel in 1984. The first sequel was One Good Turn, now available, as of this week, in ebook from Signet's electronic arm (ouch, that sounds strange). The need for "Good Turn" was made amply plain to me by readers disgruntled after they finished Libby's London Merchant, also in ebook now.

"Libby" was a triangle, with two men vying for the attentions of the heroine, Libby Ames, a sweet thing living on her uncle's estate in Kent. A number of readers thought I had her marry the wrong man. I am still convinced that was not the case; besides, who should know better than the author? The Duke was just not good enough at the time: a drunken care-for-nobody, neglectful of the men who served under him at Waterloo, and not willing to make Libby his wife. (He had other ideas.)

But everyone loves a rake, I suppose. Or mostly everyone; I don't, really. There were enough redeeming qualities about Benedict Nesbitt, Duke of Knaresborough, to make him a charming character. I succumbed, but not until ten years after "Libby" was published. The result was One Good Turn.

I'm glad I waited ten years to write that sequel, because I was a better writer in 2001, when I wrote One Good Turn. By then, I  also knew more about the Peninsular Wars in Spain and Portugal, and the Royal Navy fighting on the high seas and in the English Channel. The third siege of strategic Badajoz was a nasty business, even in a nasty war. If Nez is really going to reform, he has to go through his own trial by fire. I knew the heart of this story of redemption had to have its center in that third siege.

I downloaded One Good Turn and glanced at it a few mornings back. I don't think I've read it since I wrote it in 2001, so it was almost a rediscovery. I wouldn't change a word of it. War is as terrible today as it was in 1812. What happened to the women and young girls of Badajoz shouldn't have happened to dogs. It was the same terrible suffering that went on after Russian troops entered Berlin in 1945, or what happened over and over in Kosovo or Rwanda.

I suppose new readers of mine who prefer unicorns and roses will be horrified by One Good Turn. If you're squeamish, don't read it. But if you like realism and understand the psychology of suffering, you'll like the novel. Does everything turn out all right? Of course; it's a Regency romance. I must agree with Thomas Hardy, though: there's nothing wrong with a happy ending, as long as people learn something along the way. You know, kind of like life.

I owe a real debt to Ruth Cohen, my former agent. When I quit writing for Signet and started writing for another publisher, she told me to get my copywrites back for those 16 Signet Regency romances. It took a while - publishing houses are not well-organized - but I did. As it turned out, it was just before the ebook revolution began. What this means is I have control and am able to parcel out those Signet copywrites to other publishers of my choosing. Cedar Fort has five of those copywrites - Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career, Reforming Lord Ragsdale, Marian's Christmas Wish, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and Summer Campaign, plus two short story collections.

I returned some to Signet, and I've been impressed with the way they are reproducing those electronically. Signet has done Libby's London Merchant and One Good Turn. Next will be The Wedding Journey, and The Lady's Companion. Camel Press in Seattle has Miss Whittier Makes a List, and two others. The rest I'm hanging onto, for the time being. I'm not sure how lucrative all this will be, but the books have earned out their advances, so it should be satisfactory for all of us.

That suits me. I'm happy for new readers to discover the gallant Liria Valencia and her small son Juan, and what the war did - and didn't do - to them. I just wish war didn't keep hurting the innocent. One Good Turn is a story that makes me thankful - and this is the season - for the comfortable life I live, and grateful that people are brave and resourceful still.

One Good Turn has done something else for me. I owe Harlequin two more novels. When I finish the book I am currently writing for Cedar Fort, I've pretty well decided to return to the Napoleonic Wars, thanks to One Good Turn. It's an era I'm comfortable with. I'm trying to decide between bomb kedge duty with the Royal Navy (really, really dangerous) or a return to Spain, or maybe even - if I'm brave enough - Waterloo. Now there was a battle.

These are nice problems for this writer to have. I get to pick and choose my way through history, meet new folks/characters along the way, and learn more, because I learn something from every novel I write. I hope readers do, too.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ideas Make My World Go 'Round

I think the question I get asked the most often is where do my ideas come from? I was asked that most recently by Catherine Treadgold, the lady who runs Camel Press in Seattle, Washington. Camel Press reprinted my first novel, Daughter of Fortune, and made it available as an ebook, too. On January 1, Camel Press will reprint Miss Whittier Makes a List as a paperback and an ebook. Gradually, all my moldy oldies from Signet are coming out again, plus a new series.

Catherine recently needed to write a press release for "Miss Whittier," and asked me to provide some info about where the idea came from to write about a Quaker lass from Nantucket who ends up rescued by a Royal Navy frigate and forced to sail to Europe (she'd been on her way to South Carolina).

Here's how a writer thinks, or at least, this one: I'd been going through a stack of my children's old picture books and came across Brinton Turkle's engaging book, Thy Friend, Obadiah, about a little Quaker boy on Nantucket who is forever getting in trouble. It was a favorite of my son, Sam, and I loved it, too. The stories are set in the early days of the new American republic, that early 19th century era I like so well. I owed a Regency to Signet, and that was the era. Why not write about an American, for a change? I know the breed pretty well.

I looked through the book, ragged now, and asked myself: What would be the complete, absolute polar opposite of a proper young Quaker lass from Nantucket? It would be the salty commander of a Royal Navy frigate, on the prowl for French, and trying to keep the neutral Americans from doing anything that might aid said French. Looking at that children's book led directly to Miss Whittier Makes a List.

I never know where the next Big Idea will come from, so I take all my casual reading, or any activities quite seriously (or try to). Years ago, I came across a juez de campo (brand inspector) as a footnote in an obscure text of borderlands history in the 18th century. Just a footnote. Last fall at this time we were visiting the aforementioned Sam in northern New Mexico. I'd been there before to visit, but this time I seemed to be thinking about that brand inspector. Bingo. That was the beginning of The Spanish Brand Series for Camel Press. The first book will be out June 1, and it's called The Double Cross. Gee, a whole series from a footnote and a visit to my younger son (which makes any and all future trips to New Mexico tax deductible, because I'm doing research as I visit).

Right now, I'm writing Safe Passage, a novel about the Mormon exodus from Mexico in 1912, when the 1910-20 ejido revolution made living in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico too dangerous. The story of that exodus is in its centennial year now. I decided that my hero is going to be going back to Mexico, and not out. He has to find his estranged wife, and try to figure out how to get his cattle out, so they can start over somewhere else, if she's willing. Or so he thinks. It's not going to be easy, and thereby hangs the tale, of course. Novels, as life, are often a study in how much can go wrong.

It might be easier for me to think up ideas because historical fiction is my game. I depend on history to give me my framework, and Cleo the History Muse is a friend o' mine. This brand inspector happens to be living in 1780 on the border of Comancheria, a hyper-dangerous part of New Mexico/Texas, with the ferocious Comanches eager to relieve Spaniards of both hair and cattle. And Spain's power in the region is diminishing. All this is true, so I can waltz in and add some characters.

It's the same with Miss Whittier on the ocean, and Ammon Hancock trying to salvage something - anything - from revolutionary Mexico. The ideas are there because history is there. I respect it, I don't play fast and loose with it, and I enjoy the intricacy of fitting my fictional folks into realistic settings.

Nuff said for now. I'll check in again soon.