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“Bookshops are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books that were written because authors couldn’t find anyone to talk to.”

–Alain de Botton


The Firebrand

is a valentine to booksellers and a testament to the power of love and the mysteries of fate and happenstance. It has a lot of ground to cover.

In the midst of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, unconventional debutante Lucy Hathaway risks her life to save a baby girl, raising the orphan as her own while running The Firebrand, a bookstore that caters to suffragettes and free thinkers. Five years later, fate throws her into the path of Randolph Higgins when she discovers the scarred, bitter, divorced man believes his baby died in the fire. She realizes Maggie, the child she saved that terrible night, is his lost daughter.

Now the conservative banker and the fiercely independent Lucy must deal with each other for Maggie’s sake. Despite the resulting clash of wills and differing political views, the powerful attraction that drew them together five years earlier still exists. Can these two stubborn, opinionated people find a way to create a family for the sake of Maggie, risking their own battered hearts?

I would love to meet you! Please mark your calendar for these upcoming events:

1 October 2010 – Poulsbo WA

  • 6:30pm
  • Chocolate and Wine with Romance Authors: Susan Wiggs, Sheila Roberts, Kimberly Fisk, and Julia Templeton
  • Kiana Lodge, Poulsbo, WA
  • Ticket Price: $25.00
  • Join Susan Wiggs, Sheila Roberts, Kimberly Fisk and Julia Templeton at Kiana Lodge to support your library! An evening of chocolate, wine and words in a romantic setting. Discuss their writing styles, careers, and stories for an unforgettable evening of fun.
  • Click here for tickets and more information.

11-16 October 2010 – Seattle WA

  • “The Novel: LIVE!” event to benefit literacy. 36 authors. 6 days. 1 blockbuster novel. For more info please see Words4Women-subscribe.

    Firehouse Veggie Chili (adapted from


    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 1 bell pepper, chopped
    • 1 carrot, chopped
    • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 pound dried lentils, rinsed
    • 1/3 cup tomato paste
    • 1 (15-ounce) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 (15-ounce) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 stewed (28-ounce) tomatoes
    • 1/3 cup chili powder
    • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
    • salt & pepper to taste
    • toppings of your choice–sour cream, chopped green onions, cheddar cheese, etc.

    In a large pot, warm the oil. Saute onion, green and red peppers, carrot, jalapeno pepper, and garlic. Stir in 7 cups water, lentils, tomato paste, kidney beans and pinto beans. Add stewed tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about an hour. If the chili starts to dry out, add hot water as needed. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately with toppings and corn bread.

    Stay cool!

So over on Red Room, they’re discussing mistakes writers made early in their careers. Here’s a copy of my post (below). Lots of others make for interesting reading. There are so many ways to go wrong in publishing. The  only remedy is to keep showing up at the page.

“What was a misstep that you (or your publisher) made with publishing your first book–and how would you do things differently if you could?”

I sold my first book in 1986 while still in my 20s. Texas Wildflower was a genre historical romance sold to a publisher that was expert at publishing them so in general, it went well. My misstep was in contract negotiation. As in, I didn’t. I lacked an agent and was too intimidated and frankly, grateful, to tinker with the boilerplate.

The advance was low, but that’s to be expected. The two issues I should have worked on were the royalty percentage rate and the terms of reversion. These hardly seem to matter when you’re in the first flush of your first book deal. But a book can have a long life if you manage to make something of yourself. It’s to your advantage for the rights to revert to you so you can reclaim control of the work.

Years from now, you might want to renegotiate with the publisher or sell to another. Back in 1986, this was all new to me and now, 20+ years later, I’m still bound by that initial contract.

To the publisher’s credit, they did raise the royalty rate, but they didn’t have to. I’m just grateful they did.

My advice–get an agent. If you negotiate without one, at least join the Authors Guild. Key issues to look at–royalty rate, the meaning of “in print” and the terms of reversion. Also, the option clause. Good luck!

Just a bit of trivia today, inspired by an letter from a reader. She wanted to know what the heck “branch water” is. She came across the term in The Horsemaster’s Daughter:

According to Wikipedia: Horsemaster 2008

Branch water may refer to:

Water from a stream (a term primarily used in the southern United States)

Addition of plain water rather than soda water to a mixed drink (for example, “Bourbon and branch” refers to Bourbon whiskey with plain water)

When a whisky is ‘cut’ (i.e. watered down) prior to bottling, the water that is used is very important to the final product. The preferred source of water is called ’branch water’. Branch water comes directly from the stream that the distillery is built on, some companies even bottle this water, so that bar customers can further dilute their bourbon with the original bourbon water. This branch water starts its life in the underground limestone shelf that exists under most of Kentucky, and part of Tennessee. The limestone shelf acts as a natural filter for water that passes over it. Branch water is particular for its lack of character, with no traces of iron, or other minerals that would be harmful to the whisky making process.

Now you know!

She had to ask! From Deborah Bouziden: In one of your books, you killed a dog. You’ve said you would never do it again. Why not?

SW: Yeah, I still feel bad about poor old Gladstone. The reason I wouldn’t do it again is that it’s manipulative. A cheap shot. It’s an amateurish way to wring emotion from the reader and I did it because, well, I was an amateur, a self-taught writer in my twenties. The heroine’s world was being destroyed all around her, and the dog was the metaphor for that, and I wanted the reader to feel sad for her, so I showed the dog being killed. By one of the bad guys, as it happens.

I’m not an amateur anymore. I know better. If I were to do that now, I’d be cheating; it would be lazy writing. A mature writer knows how to plumb the character for genuine emotion.

You never forget your first time...

You never forget your first time...

…further chitchat with Deborah Bouziden

DB: Who introduced you to Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books or did you stumble across them in the library? What drew you to them and would you recommend them to beginning romance writers today? Why?

SW: When I was in college, I had a summer job at a department store fine jewelry counter. It was horrendously boring, so a coworker lent me Shanna and I was a goner. I devoured the thing. I also felt that inner tuning fork effect–the story resonated with me on a deep level. That was how I found my genre. I recommend that writers practice “conscious reading.” Pay attention to your visceral response to a story and figure out the elements that resonate with you. Then find the techniques that work for your own writing.

How about you? What got you hooked on reading and writing?

“…with a hump like a snowhill! ‘Tis Moby Dick! No wait, ’tis…could it be? Isadora!”

Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’m as excited as Captain Ahab to report that The Charm School, written ten years ago with the humblest of expectations of success, is now on the New York Times Bestseller list.

I take no credit for this. The book has been written and out in the world for a decade. This prize belongs to readers, for giving the book a shot. Thanks for reading it.

Photo courtesy of Royalty free stock photography for websites, PowerPoint, newletters, forums, blogs, schools and homework –

So much of writing feels like play, or maybe like doing a craft–knitting, perhaps, or quilting. Something with color and pattern. My favorite stage of writing a book happens before I’ve ever written a word. Mulling ideas over in my head, sketching out characters, endlessly what-iffing to myself and to anyone who will listen.

Charm School stepbackCurrently, I’m pulled in four different directions. I need to work on Bo’s story for the Lakeshore Chronicles, because he is so damaged and sexy and compelling. I still love the mother/daughter novel I’ve had in progress for a long time, but I never get a chance to work on due to other obligations. I’m noodling around with the next hardcover (after Just Breathe), and I’m especially excited after an impromptu brainstorming session with Isabel Swift. And finally…drumroll…I want to write another historical romance.

There. I’ve said it. I want to do another historical romance.

I’ve had the idea for years, but it’s been on the back burner while I explore the endlessly fertile ground of contemporary fiction. But it won’t go away. And recently, when I was hanging out with my publisher’s director of sales, he happened to mention The Charm School and how it’s been such a reader favorite through the years. It made me remember the fun of the genre.

[Speaking of historicals, what do you think of this new cover art for The Charm School? (click the link and you’ll see it)]

This new idea–working title, American Princess–started nudging at me again. It’s like nothing I’ve done before or seen anyone do, but it has all the fairytale hallmarks of historical romance at its most fun.

Not that I have time to write it, not now. This would be a good “play” project–a book written purely for the fun of it. I might give myself a writing vacation of a week, and see what develops.

For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

–Ernest Hemingway


I nearly forgot a career milestone this month. It’s the tenth anniversary of my first book with Mira Books, my current publisher. The Lightkeeper original editionThe Lightkeeper was a seaswept, Beauty-and-the-Beast-style romantic epic that takes place on the Washington coast in the 1870s. The setting is literally the ends of the earth, on the Long Beach peninsula at the mouth of the Columbia River, an area notorious for raging seas and terrible shipwrecks. The original title of this book was The Edge of Forever, a title I still love (and a tribute to the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”), but The Lightkeeper is probably stronger and definitely more straightforward.

The Cape Disappointment lighthouse still stands. Lightkeeper cover - reissueWhen we visit this area, we love to stay at the dog-friendly Lighthouse (where else?) or the Klipsan Beach Cottages. A walk through Oysterville is a trip back through time. Every time I go there, I feel like writing stories misted in spindrift. It’s a place where I find myself writing better than I can.

This book has one blooper that I know of–there’s no way the characters can be drinking marionberry cordial, since marionberries weren’t introduced until the 1950s. Thanks to alert readers, that will be corrected in future reprints. Cape Disappointment

Happy 10-year anniversary to me and Mira Books!

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April 2020