Monica McCarty


This week, I had a number of occasions to think about the invaluable role writer friends play in a writer’s life. Tuesday, I had a fabulous writing date with Veronica Wolff. We sipped coffee (and later in the day wine), enjoyed her fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean, caught up on families and writing projects, but still managed to spend most of our time working on our laptops. I wrote 2300 words, the most I’ve written so far on any one day for this book, and a *very* good writing day for me on any day. There’s something about working alongside another writer that helps me focus in and be productive.

Wednesday, I had lunch with Anne Mallory, Monica McCarty, and Penny Williamson at the wonderful Café Rouge in Berkeley, celebrating, among other things, Anne’s book For the Earl’s Pleasure being a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s RITA contest and Monica making the NYT list with her latest book, The Chief. That’s another thing about writer friends. They understand just how important it is to celebrate all the good things, because the writer’s life can be very unpredictable.

Wednesday night I went with Monica when she talked to a romance readers group at a Borders in Los Gatos (with some time spent working in the Borders café between lunch and the talk). It was fascinating hearing readers’ insights on the books they’re reading. Then Monica, Veronica, Bella Andre, Jackie Yau, and I had dinner with more writer talk.

Saturday, Penny and I wore hats and went out for tea at the gorgeous Garden Court in the Palace Hotel. Like stepping back in time to the days of art deco (my dad used to go tea dancing at the Garden Court as a teenager). It was a long-delayed celebration for my new book contract (and no less fun for being delayed).

The whole week was a very rejuvenating combination of fun and work. It made me realize yet again how much support and inspiration I get from my writing friends, whether it’s writing together, celebrating successes, or brainstorming plot ideas. I love writing at home with a cup of tea on a gray, rainy day like this one, but I don’t think I could get through a book without the support of my writer friends.

Do you write or work on other projects with friends? Do you find sometimes friends who share your field (whether it’s writing or something else) are the only ones who understand the particular joys and stresses of that field? Does knowing particular writers are friends influence what you think when you read those writers’ books?

I love the holidays. Parties, surprises, decorations, spending time with people one loves. However, in the flurry of shopping, wrapping, tree-trimming, house cleaning, cards, seeing friends and family, it’s hard to find time do much else. Writers, being self-employed, have the advantage of being able to carve out time for holiday preparations. However, that makes it all the easier for holiday preparations to take over one’s life.

One of the ways I wish I was more like Mélanie is her unflappability as a hostess. I’m sure Mel would sail through even the modern version of the holidays effortlessly. Or at least, it would appear effortless. As often with Mélanie, the emphasis is on appearance. I’m having my family over Christmas night (I love hosting holiday events). Ten of us, and everyone brings something, so it’s relatively easy, but I still need to make lots of lists to make sure I’m organized (come to think of it, I’m sure Mel makes lists too). The tree is trimmed, the house is decorated, the decoration boxes (which had rather taken over the house) put away. But I still need to make one more shopping foray to the mall, wrap packages, grocery shop, and clean the house, in around various holiday get togethers in the next week. And somewhere in the midst of all this, I’d like to get some writing done.

I’m inspired by the tweets and Facebook posts from writer friends who are managing to write during the holiday season. My friend Monica McCarty has a January 1st deadline. I’m so impressed with how she’s managing to juggle everything (my mom and I had a January 1st deadline once; it’s the only time I’ve ever worked on December 25th). I’ve finally decided the way to get writing done in the midst of holiday chaos is simply to make oneself carve out time for it. Friends help. Last week I had another writing date with Veronica Wolff. As we did last time, we met at a Border’s café worked for a couple of hours with laptops and lattes, adjourned to lunch, talked a bit, and wrote some more. I got some timeline issues that I’d been struggling with in my current book ironed out and emerged feeling productive and energized. Later in the week, after I’d spent the evening trimming the tree, I sat down in front of it and dove into a new research book.

If you celebrate midwinter holidays, how are your preparations going? How do you find time for writing or other activities in the midst of holiday chaos? I’m thinking of making next week’s post a list of holiday gifts my characters might give each other today, and I’d love some help, so if you have suggestions of what Mel, Charles, David, Simon, Lady Frances, and the others might give each other let me know!

Warmest Midwinter wishes. Tonight I’m going to mark the winter solstice by sitting down at the piano and playing Rodgers & Hart’s “The Shortest Day of the Year.”

And speaking of Midwinter, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Raoul writes to Mélanie on December 20, 1812.

Driving to meet friends for dinner tonight, I heard an interesting discussion on NPR’s Weekend Edition about writers and websites. It confirmed what I’ve observed among my own writing friends. That websites are becoming seen as more and more essential for writers. And that writers are using websites not just as static promotional pieces but as a dynamic way to engage in a dialogue with readers and to expand the world of their story beyond the pages of the book itself.

One of the things I love about my website is the way it allows me to play in Charles & Mélanie’s world every week. With the Fraser Correspondence I can explore events that happened in the past or “off camera” or get the POV of a minor character or even an historical figure on the action of one of the books (this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is another letter from Emily Cowper to Harriet Granville about the events of the Glenister House ball which opens Beneath a Silent Moon). I love talking to readers through this blog about my books and other books and book-related topics. Choosing pictures for the Gallery lets me showcase settings from the books and Charles & Mélanie’s world in general. I’m excited to have the Works in Progress section to talk about my books and share bits of them as I write.

I know so many writers who use their websites in creative ways to explore the world of their novels. Candice Hern has a Regency World section filled with fascinating Regency historical information, Collections that showcase Regency clothing and accessories from her own collection, a Regency Glossary, and Discussion Boards. Veronica Wolff also has Forums and a Gallery, with photos of the settings of her books and her own writing life. Monica McCarty has a Special Features section that she describes as “like extras on a DVD.” It includes Cut Scenes from her books, a Picture Book, a Timeline, a Glossary, and other great fiction that bring to life the sixteenth-century Scotland of her books. Lauren Willig has a Behind the Scenes section, Outtakes, and Historical Links.

All of these features allow the authors to enrich the world of the books and sometimes embellish or continue the story beyond the novel (as the NPR story pointed out, a novel has a beginning, middle, and end, but websites allow the author to play with the story and character in myriad directions). What features on authors’ website do you particularly enjoy? What are the implications of websites for the ways authors tell stories and readers respond to them? What would you like to see added to my site? What would help you go through the internet looking glass into Charles & Mélanie’s world?

img_46782.jpgIn my almost twenty years as a published author (just for the record, I was still in college when I was first published :-)), I’ve managed to learn a few things. One is the importance of celebrating all one’s successes in the ups and downs of this crazy, uncertain business. It’s so easy to be always stressing about the next thing and not savor the good moments. I now make a conscious effort to celebrate all my successes of whatever size–an encouraging conversation with my editor or agent, a good review, a positive email or web posting from a reader (you may not realize it, but that can totally make an author’s week or even month). Another thing I’ve learned is the importance of fellow writers to brainstorm, celebrate, commisterate, and strategize with. I’m very fortunate to have a fabulous group of fellow wrtiers and good friends who brainstorm plots over lunch and lattes a couple of times a month and often email each other several times a day.

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My good friend Monica McCarty had a fascinating post on the Fog City Divas blog this week about “The Not So Romantic Side of History.” Monica, who writes wonderful historical romances set in early seventeenth century Scotland (and with whom I sometimes take research trips to the Stanford Library), wrote “As an author I’m constantly faced with how much reality to infuse in my stories and still make them appealing to the average historical romance reader….When I sit down to write or read a historical novel I really want to get a sense of the age, not only to enhance my understanding, but also to put the conflict in context. For example, without understanding the social barriers in “Pride and Prejudice” a reader wouldn’t understand why it was such a big deal that Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet. Actually one of the things I really liked about the Keira Knightley movie was the grittiness and dirt—we really saw the “country” girl in Lizzie and I really got a sense of her social distance from Darcy. Another de-sanitized costume drama is “Queen Margot” which is a VERY gritty look at 16th Century France.”

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