Sunday, July 18, 2010

Me and My Sari

About a year ago, my husband and I got the chance to travel to India for a wedding. While there, I took the opportunity to do some research for my Drake's Rakes series. So far Grace and Harry Lidge both lived there. So I hunted down the places they would have lived, and I interrogated every person I came across about the unique customs I saw, the exquisite art, the opulent architecture.

I came home with a bonus. My sari. I had planned on getting something made from the delicious fabric that is sold from every fourth storefront, I swear. But I had been strongly warned away from saris. "Western women are forever getting into trouble," I was told. "They don't know how to put on a sari, which means it tends to fall off at the worst moment." I wasn't about to challenge fate.

My hostess refused to listen. She wanted me to wear a sari and have my hands painted with henna for the wedding. When I told her of the cautions I'd heard, she told me she would have a 'western' sari made for me. So, two days before the wedding, she took me to the tiny town of Rourkela where we visited a fabric store(she almost couldn't get me back out. I swear I heard angels sing in there). Once I picked out my material, we walked across the street to the local tailor, and she asked him to make me a 'western' sari.

I know. You've probably never heard of a western sari. Trust me. Neither had the tailor. He, his staff, and my hostess spent half an hour tugging material around me and arguing. But they must have come to some conclusion. He promised the sari for the next day.

Personally I consider him and his staff genius. They constructed a sari that includes an elastic waist and a zipper so the skirt wouldn't fall off. And unless I undress, you can't tell. Even if I say so myself, it looks great. But then, I contend that every woman looks beautiful in a sari. I've made it a point to wear it when I can, simply because I love it so much. And because I'm not the one who has to wash and iron it myself.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Congratulations to both Karen and Linda! You've each won a signed copy of Barely A Lady.

Please email my assistant at kimscastillo (no spaces) with your mailing address. She'll get your prize out to you.

Stay tuned next month for another contest.

Friday, July 09, 2010

You Get a Page

My friend Karyn and I used to play a game. We were mall-walkers in those days. Half-a mile up, half a mile back. We did the first circuit fast, scouting out the stores, and then, if we needed to, we'd stop on the way back and make our purchases. We were deadly Christmas shoppers.

The stores we never missed, though, were the book stores. Barely breaking stride, we'd swing into the store and head over to the new book section, where we'd troll the shelves like vampires running through a blood bank. We scanned the covers of every new book we saw, no matter the genre, to see what struck us. What was current, what colors were hot (hot as in, much in use, not....well, you get it). And the covers that struck us would get picked up.

We didn't choose by authors. This wasn't personal preference. This was a test. If somebody came across a book written by an author he or she didn't know, what would attract them enough to pick the book up. If we were that author, what did we think would work for us?

Yes, I know. Publishers had entire departments who do that for them. Art departments, marketing departments, sales departments. But ya know? The sales force's name is not on that cover. Mine is. So I have always felt the need to at least be educated. And I've found that the only education better than that run down the bookstore shelf is a regular stop at a local used book store. If you want the latest gossip on what's hot, what people are looking for, what they respond to, forget focus groups. Sit thee in a used book store. I knew Christine Feehan was going to be a hit before her own publisher did. I knew that romantic suspense was about to make a big surge when the editors at conferences were still shaking their heads and asking for westerns.

But the next best thing is to test yourself. Pretending you don't recognize any author, what else makes you pick up the book? Cover art? Do you want a man or a woman, or both? Bright colors? Traditional poses? Full moons for paranormals or horses for historicals? Quotes by other authors? New York Times Bestselling author?

Okay, so you've reached for one. Next, read the back. Is the cover copy hopelessly generic or well-enough written that you're intrigued? Does it leave you wanting to know more? Yes, the editorial staff writes cover copy, but more often than not, I've been asked for input. So I have to pay attention.

Intrigued, you open the book. And here is where the rubber meets the road. You get exactly two paragraphs. Not even the whole page. Because nobody has time anymore to wade through pages of text before deciding to buy a book. I'm a huge proponent of the first line. As somebody said, "The first line sells this book, and the last line sells the next." But really, it's the first paragraph.

Does it drop you right into the author's world? Does it answer an unanswerable question? Does it tease or excite or soothe, depending on what has been promised on the cover? I work an inordinate amount of time on my openings. Because after trolling all those bookstores, I know that all I'm going to get is that first page. That first paragraph. Maybe no more than that first line.

I spend an inordinate amount of time on my openings. I never cement them in until the entire book is finished, since by then the opening has changed at least a dozen times. I change where I open the book, I might change whose point of view the book opens in. I might just change the lines. For my new historical romance, BARELY A LADY, I didn't make a final decision on my opening until the manuscript had been through my editor. Not fast enough, she said. Not immediate enough. True, my heroine is in a pickle of a situation, but I had to set up her normal world before showing how it's about to change drastically. All good, but I really needed a more compelling opening.

So I fretted. I fought. I paced my house like an expectant husband. And finally, it came to me. The book doesn't open with my heroine. It opens with my hero. And he's standing at the edge of the battlefield at Quatre-Bras, the day before Waterloo. The opening goes like this. "It would take a miracle to get him out of this alive. And he had the feeling he'd used up his share of miracles."

Because I'm a new name in historical romance, I have to rely on my cover, on the cover copy and on those two opening lines to lure in new readers. Grand Central gave me a luscious cover. We got a great quote from Eloisa James, and the ever-important New York Times bestselling author on the front. I even love the back cover copy. I can only hope the opening lives up to them all. I guess we'll find out.

I have many favorite openings, from "I dreamed I was at Manderly again" to "I found myself in a empty house with a dead body, a bare-breasted woman and a lawyer. The rattlesnake in the paperbag only complicated matters." (Earl Emerson, Fat Tuesday). How bout you? Are there any openings that made you buy a book? Any you remember fondly or not so fondly?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

In Praise of Big Bus Tours

Now, as anybody knows who either knows me or has been reading my travel blogs, I am not the kind of person who usually joins tours. I'm too impatient, and too impulsive. If I want to stop to take a picture(and I do. Often), I want to stop. Then and there. Not so possible on a bus tour. I also want the pictures that nobody else gets. Also tough to do when you only stop where all the other buses stop, for as long as they stop, and wander about with the thirty other people on your bus. And I want to go the places other people just don't go so much. You see my theme here.

As I have also said, bus tours are wonderful for the people who enjoy the safety and comfort of having somebody in charge who knows the country, who like making friends with the other people on the tour and sharing the discoveries with their new friends. Or, for people who simply want to get a good overview of a place so they know what it is they want to visit when they return. Which is where we come to the one bus tour I take every time I travel to a new city.

I take the city tour bus. In London it's called the Big Bus Tour. I've been to London four times, now, and I've hopped on Big Bus every time. First of all, because it does give you a great overview of the city. Second, because it's the easiest way to get around to where you're going to go anyway. Easier than reading the local bus schedule anyway(although I'm pretty darned good on the Metro/Underground/Subway, whatever you want to call it---a brilliant way to get around any city).

Anyway. If it's a doubledecker bus, I'm the first one on the top, where I can see the architecture unimpeded, and get the overall feeling of the area we're driving through(is it bustling? Quieter? Noisy? Full of historic buildings or 20th century behemoths? Narrow streets or boulevards? Dripping green or burdened with concrete?). Atop a bus is the best place to find out, especially when you have a friendly driver and guide to correct mistakes or offer extra tidbits.

Even better, you can get on and off at will. Oh, they have set stops, but in most cities they're very well placed so you can walk all you want and catch a later bus back where you're going. On this trip to London, I picked the bus up at Victoria Station, hopped off at Green Park so I could walk the streets of Mayfair and St. James, got back on the bus at Green Park, road around to Buckingham Palace and walked through the special art exhibit on Victoria and Albert(btw, he was gorgeous. He had eyes that pierced right through you. Her? I just wish somebody had told her the empire wouldn't fall if she'd smiled). Anyway, back on the bus, then over to Lambeth Palace where the Bishop of Canterbury lives and has the offices that dispense the famed special licenses for marriage.

On the bus, off the bus, as much as I wanted, with a final complete circuit so I could set the placement of each site firmly in my head. Oh, I love to walk the streets of London and Dublin, and fell madly in love with Prague. But I like knowing that if my knees give out, I have a way home.

Oh, and my secret delight about the buses? There is just something voyeuristic about sitting above all the rest of the city, where you can look down on people. Because people tend to protect themselves from being watched from the ground level. But they never think that somebody's looking down on them, and you get to see them at their truest. Sneaking kisses and straightening clothes, cursing a cab that came too close to a puddle or swinging a child in the arms. Laughter and tears and furtive glances, and I get to see them all.

So next time you're in a new city, if they have one of those 'hop-on-hop-off' tours, give it a try. At the worst, it's a $20 ride around the city. Sure cheaper than cab fare.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Let's Cut to the Chase

I was going to write something esoteric about the fact that my book, BARELY A LADY, came out this week. I thought to wax rhapsodic about the joys of publishing.

Maybe next week. For now, I'm going to give you a break and skip straight to the good stuff. The contest. BARELY A LADY is out now on bookstore shelves everywhere. I want to celebrate. So I decided to give a prize to someone on the blog. All you have to do is leave a comment on my post and then hit the FOLLOW button on the right side. And because I'm in a particularly good mood, I'll give away an autographed copy of BARELY A LADY to two people. I imagine I'd be even more delighted if the comment you left was about BARELY A LADY(a good opinion is not mandatory)(it would certainly make me feel better, though). I'll announce the winners on next Friday's blog.

Good luck! Now, I'm going back to the work I'm doing on the third book in the Drake's Rakes series, EVER THE TEMPTRESS. I hope that by the time you finish LADY, you won't be able to wait to see what happens next.