The Unusual Suspects


My name is Maggie and I’m an addict.

Reading is my drug of choice. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t a reader. My dad used to go to the Salvation Army and come home loaded down with ancient musty cast-offs: adventures illustrated by N.C. Wyeth and Arthur Rackham, the Bobbsey Twins out of order, and Judy Bolton books (Judy was a lesser Nancy Drew but I liked her so much better). I was the geeky little girl who always finished first in the library’s summer reading program. And there was a “candy store” around the corner from my house, with an old-fashioned soda fountain, greeting cards, comic books (before they were called graphic novels) and hardcover books for 59 cents. I bought Black Beauty and Little Women there and cried. I discovered Mad Magazine there and laughed, once I got over the shock.

Okay, enough of the Wonder Years.

I read a lot, mostly historical romances, but I’m pretty open. For a while I was an awful snot and wouldn’t read bestsellers. I’m over that. I want to see what captures the cash and interest of the reading public. I am often disappointed.

I’m also a blogaholic. Besides reading the delightful and diverting women to the left, I visit several other sites almost daily. There’s always a new twist on an old truth under discussion that makes me think.

One constant theme: favorite “usual suspects” in a romance novel. You know, the rake and the bluestocking, the billionaire boss and Betty Sue. Every hero is supposed to be rich and handsome, every heroine a virgin. If she’s been married before, she’s a psychological virgin if not a physical one. We all assume there are unwritten rules that must be obeyed. “They” want a certain type of book, be they editors or readers. But I’ve read some compelling fiction that bends these rules, with unconventional heroes and heroines.

It takes all kinds.

There’s a lid for every pot.

Whatever floats your boat.

Whatever gets you through the night, ’salright.

I watched the movie Casanova recently. How delightful it was when Francesca’s mother stopped in her tracks when she saw the porcine pork king of Genoa. Played with fearless insouciance and a disregard for his dignity by Oliver Platt, he made a most unlikely hero, but it was liberating love at first sight for both of them. And Heath Ledger as Casanova was pretty cute, too.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, when everyone deserves their happy ending, what distinctive characters would you like to see/write/recommend? Are you looking for a heavy heroine whose honey happily hugs every inch? A vixen who is not vilified for her lack of virtue? An author who avoids alliteration at all costs?

I’m thinking experienced woman, younger man, like the characters in Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You. They don’t call me Mrs. Robinson for nothing.

A Rose By Any Other Name


Naming characters causes considerable consternation (not to mention alliteration). For Regency-era writers, if we are to be absolutely true to the first part of the 19th century, every heroine born around 1800 would be Mary and her hero would be John. Boring.

I am reminded of a trip to Scotland my husband John (who’s not boring) and I took with a friend, also named John. We met up with several Scottish couples in an Edinburgh pub. We began as strangers, but after a few pints we were all fast friends. Every man was named John, every woman named Margaret. Scary.

So, it’s been fun to name my characters something a bit less plebeian than Mary (or Margaret) and John, still keeping true to the times (no Heathers or Ambers or Tiffanies allowed).

In By Midnight: Cynthia and Harry
In Waking Beauty: Penelope and Dominick
In Third-Rate Romance: Eleanor and Lionel (Regency)
Eliza and Link (Western)
Ella and Liam (Chick Lit)
Evangeline and Lucien (Vampire)…anybody see a pattern here?…
and Kelly and Paul (the hapless author and her real-life honey)

That’s right. I’m juggling five romances in one book. I’m crazier than Kelly.

How about you? What have you named your fictional babies?

And now, for pure fun, and because it’s not romantic at all…

Your Ten Names

1. YOUR REAL NAME:
Margaret (Maggie) Robinson.

2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (first three letters of your name, plus izzle)
Magizzle..or Marizzle if we’re being formal.

3. YOUR “FLY GUY/GIRL” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three of your last)
M-Rob

4. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color and favorite animal)
Pink Seal (I’m not dead from a kiss from a rose)

5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, street you live on):
Maniero Vineyard (yum, buy your cheap red wine right here)

6. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first name, first 3 letters of mother’s maiden name)
Robmaman (looks kind of French to me)

7. SUPERHERO NAME: (favorite color, favorite drink)
Pink Champagne (Hah! My super power: I still act like a lady no matter how much I’ve had to drink)

8. YOUR IRAQI NAME: (2nd letter of your first name, 3rd letter of your last name, any letter of your middle name, 2nd letter of your mother’s maiden name, 3rd letter of your father’s middle name, 1st letter of a sibling’s first name, last letter of your mother’s middle name…have you given up yet?)
Abnauna (but I refuse to wear the burqa)

9. YOUR STRIPPER NAME: (the name of your favorite perfume)
Chanel (and I’m #1)

10. YOUR WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother and father’s middle name)
Franziska Trumbull (that just seems cranky)

Have a great week, whatever you call yourself. And Chapter One of Third-Rate Romance continues under Maggie’s Manuscripts for your reading pleasure.

Had we but world enough, and time


For you careful MRMR blog readers out there, you know a few weeks ago we went to visit our youngest daughter in Boston. Forgive me for a minute for bragging about her (and eventually you’ll probably read a bit about her siblings, too, but I won’t overwhelm you today with the depth and breadth of my maternal pride. And yeah, this is going to sound like one of those insufferable Christmas newsletters. Feel free to give me a virtual smack.).

She was valedictorian of her high school class, captained the basketball and tennis teams, went to college tuition-free and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in anthropology and museum education. She’s tall, beautiful, artistic, has long, naturally curly hair, a stud in her nose and an Egyptian eye tattooed on the inside of her ankle (Nobody’s perfect.). She has the cutest studio apartment on earth for which she is paying more for rent than we do for our house. She’s juggling several interesting jobs and has her whole life ahead of her.

The visit got me thinking. What would I do if I could have a do-over on MY life? I have no complaints, mind you, and have had several interesting jobs myself since I got out of college. I believe most of you reading this would say you have ambition to be a published romance author. I know that’s what I’d like to add to my resume too, so let’s factor that out. I’m waving my magic wand. I’m the owner of a quirky antique/junk shop on a well-traveled street, with windows filled with sly, amusing and glittering treasures that stop people in their tracks. The store is called Magpie, of course. You can be anything. What would it be?

And…do we create our heroines to be who we aren’t? Will I one day be writing about my shop owner so I can live vicariously?

You will note an addition to the sidebar. I’ve added Maggie’s Manuscripts, where excerpts of my WIPs will be posted every now and then. Feel free to check them out and leave a comment. Or not.

Dissection


What makes a great romance novel? No matter how carefully we examine, analyze and deconstruct it, it’s always ultimately a matter of opinion. I know it when I smile as I read, and the passage isn’t remotely funny…it’s just well-written and I am firmly in the author’s world. I’m reluctant to finish the book and leave that world. But what works for me might not work for you. And here is where I need your help.

I have two completed manuscripts, both sort of fairy-tale based. Currently they’re operating under the titles By Midnight and Waking Beauty (They used to be Bride by Midnight and Bride by Chance, but I kept thinking Bride of Chucky.). I’ve sent out half-a-dozen queries and was not surprised to see the self-addressed, stamped envelopes come back to my mailbox. One rejection letter had a nice hand-written note—I had been in the “maybe” pile for several months, but ultimately wasn’t loved enough.

I believe I may have done the unforgivable in BOTH books—my heroes are unfaithful to my heroines. For good reasons, so the devilish, dark-haired dummies think. Talk about a Big Misunderstanding and possibly a Big Mistake for the Author. I don’t know why my characters stumbled into the beds of women from their past—it just seemed right at the time to make them so wrong. I do so love a good grovel scene. And I wanted to give my characters something important to overcome, although I would personally eviscerate my own husband should he stray. I know he’s going to read this. Hi, honey.

So, what do you think? Have I broken the ultimate romance taboo? If (When. WHEN!) I finish Third-Rate Romance (in this corner, weighing in as of this morning at 70,230 words), should I go back and smarten up those bad boys and give them something else altogether to bring them to their knees? I’m willing to slice and dice!

Have you ever had to chuck a huge chunk of your book? Say something encouraging to me.

The Discard Dilemma

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing something shocking, some might even say evil.

No, I’m not talking about writing this blog.

I’ve been throwing away BOOKS.

I work in a high school library. I’m not a librarian, but I run the circulation desk, do all the displays, new book prep, and supervise the after school library program. My official title is Library Educational Technician III. It may sound fancy, but it absolves me of all the tough stuff: the purchase orders, painstaking cataloging and making the crucial decision each year as to which books get tossed. The teachers and library staff are offered the discards, but most of the books are outdated and/or in poor condition, fit only for the school dumpster.

This year we’re weeding the 900s. For those of you who don’t know the Dewey Decimal system, that’s geography and history. Out goes Life in the Soviet Union, a biography of the five Eisenhower brothers, Singapore 1983 and Hallam’s three volume Middle Ages history set….printed in 1864. No way could I throw the latter away. I’m not writing medievals, but you never know. They’re going on my bookshelf, joining Lucille from last year’s purge, written by Owen Meredith c.1880 (real name Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton and son of that dark-and-stormy-night guy).

Another great find: a month-by-month accounting in 1815, “the most dramatic, exciting and pivotal year in history,” according to its author John Fisher. From Wellington to Waterloo to Byron to Barbary pirates, I just might learn something about the era I write about. And it’s illustrated!

I weed my own collection, too, usually giving books to friends or donating them to the public library. Who’s on your permanent reserve (keeper) shelf? Do you discard? Don’t send any volumes my way; the dumpster’s pretty full.

And for future reference (another library allusion), I’m starting each week with a new post, so Mondays mean Maggie Robinson Means Romance!