Sunday, September 25, 2011

Real Dukes

This week the Rockville 8 is thrilled to host historical romance author Lavinia Kent! She’s here to share her thoughts on Dukes.

Which may have led her to wonder, “What woman would refuse a Duke’s kiss?”

(Or maybe that’s just what we were wondering, after we saw the cover of her new book, What a Duke Wants . . .)

One lucky commenter will win a “Go to Bed with a Duke Tonight!” t-shirt.


I originally planned to write about muses versus hard work and how great it is to have both, but if you only have one, choose hard work. I’ve written ten blogs in the past two weeks, and I can promise you that my muse would have been out shopping for fall boots after the first two. She is not the most patient of beings.

But she did pull through on this one.

I was sitting here, thinking of her, and whether I really needed to add green to my wardrobe (clearly I should have put down the Vogue magazine a little earlier), when my mind started wandering to dukes. I always have my current cover up as a screen saver on my computer, and if you had my duke staring at you, you’d spend some time staring back.

What a Duke Wants is my first published “duke book,” and I’ve been amazed at just how enthusiastic readers have been. I’d always heard that readers liked dukes, but I still wasn’t prepared for the response.

First, I should confess that I love a good duke book – they are probably my favorites. I know that when I advise friends on what romances to read, I’m always a little embarrassed by how many of the have “Duke” in the title. (Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, Galen Foley’s The Duke, and of course Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous – which may not have a duke in the title, but is certainly a perfect duke book.)

I’d always been a little bit hesitant to write one myself, because once you’ve written a duke book, where do you go? And then there’s this picture, “Ten Dukes-A-Dining.”

A friend sent it to me a while ago and I was forced to confront the reality of dukes as they are (completely not thinking about the new Duke of Cambridge, or I’ll start thinking about his wife and my new obsession with nude pumps). Now, there are several men pictured here who are quite distinguished and may once have been dashing and handsome. Number Seven, the Duke of Argyll, actually plays elephant polo and I can almost imagine him wading through the pages of one of my books. But I must face the fact that this picture does not have one thinking of the seven or so six-foot-two, dark-haired, flashing-eyed dukes who wander through What a Duke Wants and The Real Duchesses of London – and I am sure that I have another couple just waiting to find their way onto my pages. And I am not even going to consider how many dashing dukes we’d have if we were to put all the romance dukes together in a room, a building, a park, a town . . .

And does it matter? That is my ultimate question.

I love my duke, Mark Smythe, Duke of Strattington. He is tall and handsome and, although he has a learning curve, in the end he knows just how to win Isabella, his heroine – and hopefully the reader, too. I am more than willing to follow him through cases of mistaken identity, a little blackmail and scandal, an accusation of murder – and more than a few steamy encounters. I don’t care that he might not have a counterpart in the real world.

All historical writers have their story of being called out on some fact they got wrong, but I’ve never heard anyone complain because there are just too many dukes in that book.

What do you think? Where do you want fact and reality in your romances, and where do you want delicious fantasy?

Let me know, and I’ll send one lucky commenter a signed copy of What a Duke Wants and a “Go to bed with a Duke tonight!” t-shirt. (And – with due respect to his Grace - I promise it won’t feature number nine, the Duke of St Albans.)

Thank you so much for having me at the Rockville Eight. I’ve always wanted to come and visit.

Please visit me at my website for an excerpt from What a Duke Wants:

For more information on Ten Dukes A’Dining:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reclaiming Your Mojo

mojo, a slang word for self-confidence, self-esteem, or sex appeal

The last two months, I’ve felt like something’s missing and I couldn’t figure out what I’d misplaced. Life is good. Nothing had really changed all that much. My family is happy and healthy. We’re on track. I’m working hard and pursuing my writing goals while I provide for my family. Everything important is still firmly in place. Purpose, check. Goals, a little dinged, but check. Dreams, check. All still right where I’d left them. So what’s making me crazy? Has me walking in circles questioning myself and wondering what’s the point of it all?

Then it hit me. I’d lost my mojo. No, not my sex appeal. My self-confidence. How? I’ve finished four manuscripts. Won writing awards. I earned an MFA in writing. Editors and agents have requested each of my finished manuscripts. For an unpubbed writer, I’ve found my share of successes along the way. Not the pen ultimate success--publication--but getting closer. So what’s suddenly robbed me of my mojo?

I’ve heard it countless times. Creative types are often harangued by self-doubt. For some, this self-doubt can be debilitating. True. I’ve always struggled with self-doubt, but until recently, I’ve been able to push through it to achieve my goals because I’m not just a right-brained thinker, I’m a left-brained one, too. Creative and analytical. Many writers are both.

So as any good scholar and writer would do, I went searching for answers at the book store. I came across a new book by Russ Harris called The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt. The book has helped me identify that I’ve allowed my feelings to circumnavigate my actions. I’d begun to believe the fears and self-recriminations I throw at myself every day. Harris’s book has done a lot to help me reclaim my mojo and put me back on the path to achieving my goals.

With Harris’s help, I’ve come to realize fear is normal. Confidence is all about trusting yourself to take action. Practice makes perfect. Authentic confidence comes from mastery of a skill. If you commit to action, you won’t languish in fear. You can’t wait for the feeling of confidence to come before you act. By facing your fears and taking action, you can transform your relationship with fear and use it as a performance tool. If you identify negative thoughts as unhelpful, you can begin the process of neutralizing them. Acceptance of yourself is paramount. Knowing what matters most to you and what you value gives you powerful choices. Fully engage in life; live in the moment and enjoy the journey.

The book is definitely worth the price of admission.

DIRECT QUOTES, For Your Illumination

Here are a few nuggets from The Confidence Gap that have helped me regain my focus:

“We may be weeks, months, or years from completing our goals, but we can live by our values every step of the way, and find ongoing fulfillment in doing so” (pp 17).

Fear is normal. “[T]he more there is at stake, the more we tend to have feelings of fear and anxiety, and thoughts about what might possibly go wrong” (p. 21).

Confidence is trusting yourself to take action, no matter how afraid you are (p. 23).

“If we want to do anything with confidence--speak, paint, make love, play tennis, or socialize--then we have to do the work. We have to practice the necessary skills over and over, until they come naturally. If we don’t have adequate skills to do the things we want to do, we can’t expect to feel confident. And if we don’t continually practice these skills, they either get rusty or unreliable or they never reach a state where we can fluidly and naturally rely on them. Each time you practice these skills, it is an action of confidence: an act of relying on yourself” (p 25).

Five reasons people lack self-confidence: excessive expectations, harsh self-judgment, preoccupation with fear, lack of experience, lack of skill (p 26).

The confidence cycle: practice the skills, apply them effectively, assess the results, modify as needed (p. 29).

“Only through committed action--stepping out of our comfort zones and doing what truly matters deep in our hearts--will we experience authentic confidence” (p 32).

If you hold onto the mantra that you must feel confident before you do what matters most to you, then “you’ll spend a lot of time, effort, and energy trying to control your feelings” (p 34).

Fear results from the primitive “fight or flight” instinct. “[F]ear is a powerful fuel. Once we know how to handle it, we can use it to our advantage; we can harness its energy to help us get where we want to go. But while we’re looking at fear as something bad, we’ll waste a lot of precious energy trying to avoid or get rid of it” (p 38).

Hugh Jackman says: “I’ve always felt if you back down from fear, the ghost of that fear never goes away. It diminishes people. So I’ve always said yes to the thing I’m most scared about” (p 42).

“[T]here’s no way to expand your comfort zone without stepping out of it--and the moment you take that step, fear is going to show up” (p 44).

“It’s not fear that holds people back--it is their attitude toward it that keeps them stuck” (p 45).

“Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear” (p 46).

“[Y]our mind has a tendency to be negative. . . . The human mind is quick to judge, criticize, compare, point out what’s not good enough, and tell us what needs to be improved” (p 51). This comes from a primitive survival instinct.

“[W]hen we fuse with our thoughts, they have a huge impact on and influence over us. But when we defuse . . . our thoughts--when we separate from them and realize that they are nothing more nor less than words and pictures--then they have little or no effect on us (even if they happen to be true)” (p 60).

“Recognizing a thought or belief as unhelpful often helps to reduce its influence over us; it makes us less likely to act on it. . . . [T]he question we’re interested in is simply this: ‘If I let this thought dictate my actions, will it help me to lead the life I want?’” (p 70).

“[I]n a state of defusion, our thoughts are nothing more nor less than words. . . . Once we can defuse from our thoughts--that is separate from them and see them for what they are--we have many more options in life. No longer are we at the mercy of our minds, pushed around by ingrained patterns of unhelpful automatic thinking. Instead we can choose to pursue what truly matters to us, even when our minds make it hard with all that reason-giving” ( p 74).

“The purpose of defusion is to be present and take effective action” (76).

Defusion calls for you to: “notice it, name it, neutralize it” (p 82).

“Self-acceptance, self-awareness, and self-motivation are all far more important than self-esteem” (p 92).

“[J]udging ourselves does not help us in any way; it does not work to make our life richer and fuller” ( p 84).

“What matters most in life is what you do, what you stand for, the way you behave. This is far more important than the stories you believe about yourself” (p 95).

“If we want to get the most out of life, we need to be fully present: aware, attentive, and engaged in what is happening. This involves a mindfulness skill ‘engagement’: connecting with the world through noticing what we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell” (p 100).

“If you’re caught up in your thoughts, you won’t find it a satisfying experience--especially if your mind is giving a running commentary on how you’re performing. If you want to enjoy the experience, you need to be engaged in what you’re doing” (p 101).

“When we say that someone looks confident, we have no idea what they are thinking or feeling. But we can observe what they are doing, how they are behaving. And one thing you’ll always notice about confident people: they are very engaged in whatever they are doing” (p 102).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thank you, Flight 93

Somehow writing about writing on September 11 seems inappropriate. Today, I'm just going to write.

I almost didn't go to work that day. My husband was home with our infant and I wanted to stay with them. But I ignored that feeling and went to work anyway. Trying to cheer me up, he promised to bring the baby and meet me for lunch near my job in Washington, D.C.

As soon as I arrived at work, smoke started to billow up from the street to my second story window, obscuring the view to the Capitol Building. A car was on fire below my window. I told a coworker I had a creepy feeling something awful was going to happen.

When we found out that there had been an accident at one of the Twin Towers, we huddled around a black and white TV. I glanced out the window and saw a nearby federal building that had a daycare on the first floor. Suddenly, all of the workers were running out with the children. Those too small to walk were being wheeled out, crib and all. That's when I started to get scared.

"What do they know that I don't?" I thought.

While watching the North Tower burn, a second plane hit the South Tower. We realized it was no accident. Soon afterward, we felt our building shake. Across the river, a third plane had struck the Pentagon.

I tried to call my husband at least 50 times, to tell him to stay home--from my cell and desk phone. I was dialing one while listening to the other. I couldn't do or think about another thing until I reached him. All of the lines were jammed with everyone trying to call their loved ones.

After speaking to my husband, I withdrew $100 from the ATM, thinking I would catch a cab to take me as far away as it could. I fled out of the building with thousands of others. My building is situated between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. I could see them both from where I stood. The White House is nearby. A deaf coworker, who lived close my home, was with me.

No cab would pick us up. Cabbies circled but refused to take any passengers. One even sped away when I put my hand on the door handle and I was forced to jump back or be dragged under it.

We were standing in front of the gates to the Smithsonian Castle. They slammed and locked the gate on us. The guards actually hit us with the gate when they locked it into place. The roads were jammed with cars. The subway workers told people to get off the trains and out of the stations. They closed and locked the station gates to the subway as well.

The police were speeding up and down the road, back and forth, with no seeming destination. The smell of rubber burning hung in the air and burned the back of my throat. I heard an engine rev and looked up to see a police car on the sidewalk barreling toward us. I grabbed my coworker, who couldn't hear it, and yanked her back. The car brushed our bodies as it drove by on the sidewalk. People were screaming and jumping out of the way to avoid him.

It looked like the set of a disaster movie. Everyone was running in different directions. People were yelling and screaming, crying and panicking. A woman, on a business trip from Boston, who'd been dumped out of the subway asked me how to get to Crystal City, Virginia. I told her she'd have to go over the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge. Later, I found out armed military were standing on each of the bridges in the area, not letting anyone cross.

The worst moment occurred when a woman ran up and screamed, to no one in particular, that another plane was headed toward Washington--to where we were standing. I grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face me.

"What did you say?" I asked.

She repeated the CNN story, saying that the plane was headed our way. My friend grabbed my other arm and started pulling at it, wanting me to translate what was being said.

I couldn't think in English, let alone American Sign Language.

My heart did one tha-thrum in my ears before the the world ground to a halt, like a giant cog slowing down degree by agonizing degree. I was simultaneously icy and calm. Everything fell away, even my friend who was still tugging at my arm. I thought of my new baby, of how I would become a memory Daddy tried to keep alive. I was glad for the fact that I had just upped my life insurance. I thought about my loved ones. I forgot about all the stupid, petty problems that I was fretting about. I thought about seeing my beloved grandmother who had died ten years earlier.

Facing a possible death, I felt more alive than I ever had. Life boiled down to a few, select things. The good ones.

Last night, I was telling my child I had taken on another volunteer position, one that would be challenging.

"You always step in there," she said. "You've been on the school board. You've been the room mother. You've written the newsletter. You've done other stuff, too. You're not afraid. You just do it. You're my hero."

The kind of moment every parent cherishes. The kind of moment those who lost their lives on September 11 aren't here for. The kind of moment the ones they left behind can't have with them.

If not for the people on United Flight 93, I might not have been here for that moment.

I thank every single person on that flight. Because of their bravery and selflessness, countless lives were saved. They are the true heroes. I'm just fumbling along, doing the best I can with the life I've been given.

If you would like to share your thoughts and recollections with us, I would love to hear them. Thank you for listening to mine.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pioneer, Go Home!

I grew up in a very rural area. Not the ruralest of ruralest. But pretty fricking rural. Rural enough that we had an outreach library service. There was a different term for it, I think, but that escapes me now. What it meant, though, was that we were able to check out books through the mail. Return them by mail, and check out more. It was free and wonderful (Books! And mail!) but also s-l-o-w.

In addition to using the outreach library, my parents subscribed to Reader's Digest Condensed books. Which meant that, several times a year, we got a book in the mail. And that book was pot luck. You never knew what you were going to get, and I loved it! As soon as I could get my hands on the new volume (my parents were both avid readers), I would pick and choose, reading the stories I thought most likely to please. Going either by title or description or first few lines. In the end, I read all of them of course, but never in order.

Pioneer, Go Home! by Richard Powell, though, was in the winter volume of 1960, so I hadn't even been born when it came to the house. I must have come across it when I was combing the shelves, looking for that reading fix. I can't remember how old I was when I read it. I just remember laughing and laughing and loving it. But I didn't hold on to it. My parents moved several times after I graduated and over the years, the Reader's Digest books disappeared. Later, when my own kids were old enough that I thought they might have appreciated that book, I couldn't remember what it was called or who wrote it and without that information, I couldn't figure out how to find it.

Until recently.

I've been in a slump, as a writer and as a reader. I won't bore you with the details, I'll just say that I was trying to find the magic again. I NEEDED to find the magic again. And that got me thinking about the books that turned me into a writer. You know, like you do. And that got me thinking about that one book, that one I read when I was a kid, about the crazy family who built a home on a highway median in a swamp, and the social worker who went in to save them. It was romantic and funny and it was in Reader's Digest and I couldn't remember that darn title, but I was desperate and now we have the internets! Hurray! Of course, even with the magic of the internets, it took some digging, but in the end, I figured out that the book I was looking for was "Pioneer, Go Home!" by Richard Powell and I ordered a copy of it.

AKA, The Magic
I wanted to read the real book this time, not just the condensed version, so I ordered the paperback. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and it is a thing of beauty! It arrived during a family visit, though, so I set it aside and didn't pick it up until this afternoon. (It's so old, it doesn't even have a barcode on the back. Can you imagine?)

This afternoon I sat down and opened it up to the first page and read this:

None of this would have happened if Pop had minded what the sign told him. The sign was on a barrier across a new road that angled off the one we was driving on, and it said, "Positively Closed to The Public." But after all his years of being on relief, or getting Unemployment Compensation and Aid to Dependent Children and things like that, Pop didn't think of himself as The Public. He figured he was just about part of the government on account of he worked with it so close. The government helped Pop, and Pop done his best to keep the government busy and happy . . .

And there it was. The Magic.

I haven't read very much of it. There were other things to do. My spouse-like-boyfriend and I ordered sushi for dinner, and then we had to watch True Blood. And then my iPhone popped up with a reminder that it was my turn to blog for the Rockville8.

Never in my wildest dreams could that child I was--that child checking the mailbox every day on Rt 41 in Upper Michigan--have imagined something like an iPhone. Let alone imagine being nagged by one . . .

Anyway. I'll be savoring my little trip down memory lane when I finally crawl into bed tonight, and then some more tomorrow afternoon, after my writing date with an R8 pal. And slowly, but surely, I'm getting back into the writing.

Or more accurately, the writing is getting back into me.

Photo: a personal photo, taken by the blogger