Russian Nights

For the writers amongst you, I've put the links to my series on how to write a Harlequin Presents in the sidebar. Scroll down to the “For Writers” category, and all the posts are listed there to make it easier to find in future. Hope you enjoy. ๐Ÿ™‚

I'm still buried in this Russian book, but things are looking better. I was browsing the web for images for my inspiration file, and I came across these that I want to share with you. (Yes, these were taken by talented photographers who are not me.) ๐Ÿ™‚

I believe this is from the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, but I'm not quite sure. (It might also be from the Smolny Convent.) Years ago, and I won't say how many, ahem, I had the privilege of traveling to Russia. We flew to St. Petersburg first (still called Leningrad, if that gives you an idea), and spent 3 days there before boarding an overnight train to Moscow, where we spent another 3 days. It was an amazing trip. The palaces are beautiful, and the landscape was prettier than I expected it to be. Fortunately, we were there in May, and it was quite warm. It also never got fully dark at that time of year.

This next picture is of Peterhof, Peter the Great's palace on the Gulf of Finland. We got to tour it, and I have a photo of me standing on one of the bridges over the canal with this palace in the background. It's an amazingly beautiful place, full of gilt and art and antiques. My hero also has a palace, but it's not this grand. And of course he had to buy it back from the State after the fall of communism. But looking at these photos gives me an idea of what his palace is like, though on a smaller scale.

This is the Winter Palace, also known as The Hermitage Museum. It's a gorgeous palace on the banks of the Neva river. We spent hours wandering through the galleries. I see this photo as representing my hero's home. The Winter Palace is actually quite grand and vast, but this small slice of it makes it look like it could be a grand house on an estate somewhere. I especially love the snow capped trees.

More info on the Winter Palace here.

I love finding photos for inspiration. It's one of the most fun parts of beginning a new book. Thank heavens for Google! You can have photos at your fingertips and start writing about a place you've never been in a matter of hours. Yes, I've been to Russia, but I've never been to Argentina (The Devil's Heart, July 2010 UK) or the Arabian desert (Kept for the Sheikh's Pleasure, Sep 2010 UK). As much as I'd like to go to these places for real, I'm grateful for the tools that bring them to my fingertips. Even with Russia, it's been a long time and I needed a refresher.

Starting a new book

I'm starting a new book this week, and I'm at that stage where I'm trying to figure out what the driving emotional problem is. I wrote a chapter back at the end of August on a new idea, and I think that's what I'm going to go with, but as I reread what I had, there's a big gaping hole: emotional conflict. *sigh*

I always do this. I always see a scene, write it, and wonder what is really going on. I still don't know, but I hope to figure it out quick. This book, if I am able to figure it out, takes place in Russia. ๐Ÿ™‚ That's a new setting for me, but I have in fact been to Russia — though it was many years ago, and things have no doubt changed quite a bit.

But I remember how extraordinary Red Square was. How vibrant the colors on St. Basil's. How brilliant the golden onion domes of the churches inside the Kremlin walls. The Faberge eggs were amazing too. I can hardly remember all the impressions I had of the country, but I love exploring my memories this way. It was a truly extraordinary experience.

What kind of settings would you like to read about? So far, I've written about Spain, the Caribbean, a Mediterranean kingdom of my invention, a desert kingdom, and Argentina. Next, it looks like Russia (assuming I figure out what the emotional conflict is). Have you been anywhere that you would love to read about in a novel?

P.S. Cavelli's Lost Heir has spent four weeks on Bookscan's Top 100 Bestselling Romances List! Thanks so much to all my readers for making this happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Desert winds and caravans

I'm getting immersed in my sheikh novella — or, more appropriately, in the setting for the novella. My mother has a book on Arabia and another on the Bedouins that I've borrowed, and I've been viewing photos of deserts and tents and etc. And I've reviewed my copy of T.E. Lawrence, which is water-logged and has sand in the binding (due to reading on the beach in Hawaii). Things have changed over the years, of course, but it's wonderfully atmospheric.

In case you think the title of this post is poetic, it actually comes from a joke my husband tells. He's been telling it since I met him, in fact, but the only part I remember is ‘desert winds and caravans'. There's also something about Timbuktu, though I'm purposely not remembering it….

Do you like sheikh stories? Which are some of your favorites? Know any good desert jokes? (Or do you know this one?) ๐Ÿ˜‰

Why I love writing Presents

Aside from hot alpha males with attitude and heroines who whip them into shape? Travel. Exotic locations.

Finally, all that time in Europe is paying dividends! (Although it paid plenty of dividends when I lived and traveled there — priceless experience.) But now, I get to revisit those places I loved while I create the world of my Harlequin Presents story.

I didn't stay in the Gritti Palace in Venice, but it's the inspiration for one of my hero's hotels. The Gritti Palace starts around 500 Euros a night. Can you imagine?

There was a time, when I lived there, when that would have cost about $350. Today, it's nearly $800. I don't think I'll be staying there anytime soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

But I can imagine it! I can view the pictures and see my hotel come to life. I can imagine the luxury of that place, the service, the gorgeous views from that terrace. I'm doing armchair traveling to write this story and I LOVE IT! Why didn't I do this sooner?

I always wanted to write for Presents. But I stubbornly kept putting it off. Until the Instant Seduction contest. I can't thank HM&B enough for having the contest. I'd still be saying someday, and I wouldn't be armchair traveling through my old guidebooks and getting inspired by pictures of sumptuous rooms and table settings.

What do you write and why do you love it? Do you love to armchair travel? What's the best vacation you ever had? The coolest place you ever lived?

**Best Vacation: Venice
**Coolest Place I lived: Toss up between Europe and Hawaii

Inspiration and research

One of the fun things about being a writer is that you never know where you'll find inspiration. Saturday, I was so looking forward to my historic homes tour because, though I love old houses, I also needed to have a complete picture in my head of an antebellum mansion for one of my books. And going on this tour delivered in spades!

From the gardens to the infinity edge pool, the 200 yr-old oak trees, the plaster friezes and medallions, the leaded glass, the art gallery (!), and the indoor racketball court, this house had it all. It had the new and the old all meshed together in a home built in 1858. And, this person had more art on the walls of this home (not to mention in the art gallery he'd built) than the official art museum downtown has. In fact, as I was walking through, I saw the original painting of a print I have. Talk about stunned. Who knew?

Though I'd gone to see the house, it was actually the gardens that inspired me. I'd envisioned my antebellum mansion having gardens, but I hadn't envisioned the gardens to this extent. Now, I know what the sweeping lines look like — the ornamental grasses, the statuary, the fountains, the trees, the benches — and I can remember them while I write.

Of course it's possible to get your inspiration from a research book, too. I've certainly done that when I needed something. For one of my books, I need a jungle. I've lived in Hawaii, so I've seen jungles of a sort, but I can't go to a South American jungle for research. Hence the book I bought that details living and traveling through jungles. Cool.

For my Harlequin Presents, THE SPANISH MAGNATE'S REVENGE, I have a bag full of things I got in Madrid — maps, brochures, postcards — and the photos I took. I loved Madrid. What a fabulous, lively place! I'd go back in a heart beat. Maybe my Spanish magnate has a brother who needs a book. Even a friend would do. I'd have an excuse to go explore those art galleries again, to sit in the Plaza Mayor and sip a Tio Pepe.

This July, I'm going to New Orleans for a family trip. I'm looking forward to that because I plan to, you guessed it, use the trip for research. It's been many years since I've been there, and I want to explore the French Quarter, take the River Road trip to see the plantations, and enjoy the local food. I never know what will strike me as something I need for a story, you know?

Do you have any favorite research methods? Do you travel for inspiration? Have you ever used a place you've been as a setting, or used an element from it, in your stories? If you could go anywhere to research a setting, where would you go?

Plagiarism Redux

I said I was done with the Cassie Edwards portion of this issue, and I am. But over at Dear Author, Janet raises the question about what is and is not plagiarism. It's an interesting question, and one I don't mind thinking about (the comment thread is also good because the hairy specter of fan fiction gets raised, though it doesn't derail the essential issue). Because just yesterday, as I'm working on revisions, I wrote this line: If only there were world enough and time.

And then, because I'm hyper-sensitive to the issue now, I added this: as the poem said. Which seems clunky, but dammit, world enough and time is a phrase from someone else's work. Simply a phrase, but a pretty famous one (not so famous as to be immediately recognizable to all, however, which is where my dilemma stems). From the 17th century, no less, so definitely out of copyright. Some folks have intimated that using sources out of copyright isn't plagiarism, but I think all the English majors (at the very least) who read my line will instantly know where it came from. Maybe they'd get that I know it's a reference. Maybe they'd think I was cribbing.

Truthfully, the line probably won't stay, because the qualifier is going to bug me to no end and I'll decide it isn't worth it in the end. Here are the first few lines from the original, btw:

HAD we but world enough, and time / This coyness, Lady, were no crime / We would sit down and think which way / To walk and pass our long love's day. (Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.)

I Googled “world enough and time” and Marvell came up instantly. It's four little words, but put together in such a way as to be recognizable. OTOH, in the comment thread to the post up above, people discuss pop culture phrases such as “Here's Johnny!” and “the usual suspects.” What is fair use and what constitutes plagiarism?

Probably, my use of the phrase isn't plagiarism and I can leave off the qualifier. It's a phrase that's moved into the lexicon, just like “we're not in Kansas anymore” and “something's rotten in Denmark” (that last being paraphrased, but recognizable nonetheless) and “sea change.” Probably, because those phrases are so recognizable, everyone knows you aren't plagiarizing but are instead either paying homage or simply using words and phrases that people use in real life because they ARE so recognizable.

But still I second guess my choices. *sigh*

Have you had any second thoughts when you write something lately? If you write historicals, have you gone running to your research books to make sure you haven't inadvertently lifted whole phrases? Have you deleted, reworded, or added qualifiers to protect yourself?