Homage to Helen

Helen Hester Ossa, my friend of over thirty years, moved away this week.

Helen and I met through our husbands who worked together, but we didn’t really become friends until I started writing. Our friend Julie and I formed a writers group with a couple of other young women we met in a writing class. Helen heard of it and joined us . The two young writers dropped out, but Helen, Julie and I persisted. Our Writers Group, later including Virginia, another of my husband’s coworkers, continues still.

One of my first memories of Helen was a visit to her house and seeing artificial flowers in her garden, ironic for a member of her community’s garden society. Around the same time she admitted to having a crush on Sting. I loved both of those things about her. I, of course, have had crushes on actors and celebrities (Gerard Butler, anyone?). I loved that Helen admitted to it!

Together Helen, Julie and I learned about Romance Writers of America and Washington Romance Writers, the local RWA chapter that has continued to be very important to all of us. We’ve each been active in WRW. Helen was the treasurer for over two years. Julie is just finishing up being president. I’ve taken on lesser roles.

Not only has Helen helped my writing (especially my placement of commas) she also has taught me to be fearless. In the very first WRW meeting Helen, Julie, and I attended together, Julie and I were ready to scurry to the back of the room, but Helen, said no. She taught us to sit up front. Helen has always had the self-confidence to be noticed.

Maybe that’s why she wears hats. Helen owns lots of hats, including one I found in a vintage shop, made of pheasant feathers. She started a Christmas tradition for us. Every Christmas we have déjeuner avec des chapeaux, lunch with hats. We are always noticed.

Helen is a great seamstress. She made me two Regency dresses over the years, the first from an authentic Regency era pattern.

In the last year or so, I’ve seen even more of Helen. She invited me to have lunch weekly with Anne, another of my husband’s coworker’s wives who I’ve also known for 30 years. We’ve lunched at First Watch and have been regulars there, on a first name basis with the wait staff. They know our drink orders by heart.

Helen also convinced me to attend Wednesday Night Writes, an informal get together of WRW members who meet weekly at a Panera Bread and simply write together. Wednesday Night Writes enabled Helen to finish her manuscript, a goal that alluded her–mostly because of all her other interests.

Like costumes. Every year Helen and her husband have a Halloween party and we must dress in costume. And Helen was behind our costumes worn at the WRW Retreat Romance Jeopardy game. The theme was weddings.
From left to right – Monica is a vampire bride; I am Miss Havisham; Julie is our bridesmaid; and Helen is a Day of the Dead bride.

Between lunch and Wednesday Night Writes I’ve seen Helen at least twice a week and now she’s gone. Oh, I know I’ll talk to her. We can Skype. She’ll be back to visit and we’ll visit them. She moved to be near her daughter, son-in-law, and little granddaughter. A grandmother myself, I totally understand.

But I will miss her terribly!!


I just confirmed it! I’m going on Kristine Hughes Patrone’s Number One London Tours – A Week At The Lake
Here’s Kristine’s blurb:

What is more blissful than a week long stay at an English Lake? This tour will have you journeying through the stunning and varied Cumbrian landscape and staying in a waterside spa hotel famous as a haven for weary travelers for the last 200 years. Along the way, we’ll visit assorted stately homes, glorious gardens and literary landmarks, as well as take two scenic lake cruises and a journey aboard an historic steam train. A bit of relaxation, a leisurely yet interesting itinerary and stunning lake views – bliss.

I can hardly wait!

But you know what I’m really looking forward to? English sheep!

Last year on our walk to Chatsworth, Kristine and I became acquainted with sheep. We could get very close and as long as we didn’t look them in the eye, they were friendly enough.

Here are some of them:

We even woke up to sheep outside our hotel window

Like I said, I can hardly wait!

Wednesday Night Writes

For the last few months every Wednesday night I’ve been meeting with other writing friends at a nearby Panera Bread to…write.

Fellow members of Washington Romance Writers have met at a restaurant on Tuesday nights to write, but the restaurant was a little too far to be practical for me. Then Monica Epstein, one of our members, started a nearby gathering and, because my friend Helen joined her and sung the praises of writing together, I joined them. Soon Denise McInerney also joined us and sometimes there have been six of us sitting at tables at our Panera, typing away on our laptops. We meet from 7pm to 9pm and we really spend the time writing, not talking (although we sometimes help each other out with writing snags)

Before I tried it, I would not have believed that I could be productive in such a public place with people walking by and music playing in the background and people talking at other tables. But I was pleasantly surprised. Wednesday Night Writes has helped me meet my deadlines and plow through revisions. I’m between books now, which is why I’m writing my blog tonight at Wednesday Night Writes, but soon I’ll be starting something new and I’m certain these two hours weekly will help me turn my next book in on time.

(For those of you who might be looking for a copy editor or line editor, I highly recommend my friend and fellow Wednesday Night Writes writer, Denise McInerney. Her Stonewall Editing Services can be reached by email  at dmcwriter@aol.com)


How I Write A Series

This week the paperback of Bound By Their Secret Passion was released. If you can’t find it in your favorite bookstore, try your favorite online vendor!

Bound By Their Secret Passion is the fourth book in the Scandalous Summerfields series, the stories of three sisters and their half-brother.

Readers first met Lorene, the heroine of Bound By Their Secret Passion in Book 1, Bound By Duty. It was Lorene’s marriage to elderly, wealthy Lord Tinmore that set up that first book and became important in Books 2 and 3: Bound By One Scandalous Night and Bound By A Scandalous Secret.

Readers, you might wonder if I plan out all the stories in a series ahead of time. Do I decide who the heroes and heroines will be and what will happen to them? The truth is, I do not plan all that much.

When I needed to come up with a four book series, what popped into my head was to base my characters on my mother, her sisters and her brother. I never intended to base the books on their lives. Instead I fashioned three sisters who were very close, like my mother and my aunts, and their brother with whom they had a more distant relationship. That was the germ of the idea.

Lorene was the first character I thought up. Like my Aunt Loraine, she was the oldest and in many ways took care of her younger sisters, but there the similarities ended. I thought of Lorene marrying for money as a sacrifice, so her younger siblings would have a chance in life. I always planned for Lorene’s story to be the last in the series, but that was the extent of my plotting.

When I’m writing a series, I don’t really figure out the plots. I start with characters. The characters make themselves known to me. If I start with a heroine, I decide her personality, her situation and then I think up a hero. If I start with a hero, I think up who his heroine might be after I know him.

The first book in the series gives me ideas of who the next book should be about. And lots of times a minor character in one book becomes the hero or heroine in the next book. For example, I didn’t know that Edmund would have his romance with Amelie in Book 2, until I wrote a scene of him meeting her in Book 1. I didn’t know who Lorene would fall in love with until Dell appeared in Book 3. One of the reasons I like to write series is to tell the stories of characters who play a minor role in an earlier book. I get to like them and I want them to have their happily ever after, too.

I know for some authors, this way of crafting a series might seem wrong. I know some authors prefer to plot ahead of time and to know exactly where their stories are going. For me, though, some of the fun of writing is discovering the stories as I’m writing them. If I outlined every scene and knew exactly what would happen in every book, I would lose that sense of discovery. I’m not saying my way is the best way, only that it works for me.

What about you, writers? Do you prefer to plot or fly by the seat of your pants?

If you prefer reading ebooks to paperbacks, the ebook version of Bound By Their Secret Passion will be available April 1 and can be preordered now.


Surprise! A French Edition and a Manga!

Harlequin authors don’t always know in advance when their books are released in foreign markets. For some of us this is frustratingly irritating, but, me? I love the surprise.

The foreign editions mostly just show up in the mail. A package appears and it is like Christmas. Last week I received a double surprise. This foreign edition was called La Rose De L’Opera. French!

I’ve only had one other French edition of my books, although this is no surprise. Because I often have heroes who are soldiers in the Napoleonic War, I’m often casting France as the enemy. Well, not really France, because I love France, but Napoleon is the enemy and, to a Frenchman, that might not be much of a difference.

La Rose De L’Opera is the French translation of Innocence and Impropriety, a book that has been translated into several other languages, sold world-wide, and really doesn’t deal with the Napoleonic War. I would never have guessed this book would have such an appeal, though.

In 2012, it was even translated into a Japanese Manga and I blogged about it at the time. And again when it was released for the UK market.

Another recent surprise was happening upon a second book of mine released as a manga. The fabulous Hiroko Miura illustrated and adapted The Vanishing Viscountess to Japanese manga and Harlequin Comics has released an ebook English version.

The manga versions come in two volumes, so you have to buy both to read the full story.


Volume 1
Volume 2

Copies of the Japanese manga of The Vanishing Viscountess have not yet reached my door, so I still have that surprise coming. Who knows when it will arrive?

What Shall I Do Next?

I finished my last book and am on a little hiatus before starting another. I have a little bit of time to think about this. At this point I am completely open to my next story.

Should it be a series?

I like doing series. In fact, I have already outlined a possible series, a Regency Paranormal featuring what I like to call “real” paranormal–premonitions, ghosts, healing, mind-reading. Things like that.

On the other hand, my editor said readers love books about governesses, so, with the help of my friend, Darlene Gardner, I came up with an idea of a lady who takes the place of a governess in order to escape an unwanted marriage. I could like writing that book.

Then today my friend Julie suggested I adapt my first effort at book writing, a contemporary romantic suspense, into a Regency. That’s an intriguing idea, too.

This week I also received my copies of the French version of Innocence and Impropriety, called La Rose De L’opera, about the romance between a marquess’s secretary and a Vauxhall singer. This book just keeps being re-released, once as a Japanese  manga. Maybe I should try a similar story.

Decisions. Decisions.

Any votes?