Wednesday, January 25, 2012


What better time to discuss this topic than now, a year before a historic election? Of course, we should not be discussing it so far in advance. In fact, it’s been dominating the news for two years, ever since the last election. And that’s because of the idiotic way we handle the entire process. No other industrialized nation does it as badly as we do. Are you as sick of it already as I am? Seventeen debates and three primaries later, I never want to hear the word “candidate” again.

The worst part this time is Super PACs. That’s Political Action Committees and they are allowed to spend any amount they want--millions of dollars in fact--for any candidate they want. Like it wasn’t bad enough before when the Supreme Court decided--in its infinite stupidity--that corporations are people.

It’s time to reform the entire process, and here are my thoughts on the matter. (Okay, you didn’t ask, but I need to get this off my chest.) First of all, we hold our elections on a Tuesday, when most people must work. Other nations do it on the weekend, Saturday or Sunday, or make election day a holiday.

We put billions of dollars that ought to go to worthwhile causes into the coffers of television stations that have more than enough already and charge outrageously for their air time. And, of course, television coverage is the reason all that money is necessary. Elections--and information about the candidates--should be paid for by the one dollar we already devote to the cause when we pay our income taxes. And those dollars should go to newspapers. Since newspapers could use the monetary help, this would be a good side benefit.

Except for debates, candidates for office (and ballot propositions) should not be advertised in any way except through objective articles in newspapers--or supplements the newspaper could provide. Those articles would merely report on the issues with equal space for both sides.

No other money would be allowed to fund elections. This is not a form of Free Speech, however much the Supreme Court Justices think it is. If a mugger steals my purse, he’s not exercising his free speech: he’s breaking the law. We just need sensible election laws, something other nations manage to do.

While we're  at it, we need to end the two-party system. Sure, once in a while a third party candidate shows up--think Ross Perot and Ralph Nader--but the Republicans and Democrats have taken over political debates and won’t allow anyone else to have a voice. We need to get the League of Women Voters running that again. Like someone once said, “Why do we have 50 candidates for Miss America, and only two for President?”

“Well,” you say, “the Primary process starts with many candidates but then most drop out.” They drop out because it’s so expensive due to TV advertising. If that were eliminated, more qualified candidates would continue in the race and voters would have more choices, not just the person who raises the most money.

For that matter, the Primary process needs reform too. And There’s also the matter of the Electoral College. But I won’t go into that today. (With luck, I’ll go back to writing about writing.)

Do you have any thoughts on how we can improve the process? Shall we start an ”Occupy the Supreme Court” movement?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I couldn’t resist repeating the title of Margie Lawson’s post last week on Laura Drake’s blog, Writers in the Storm. Not just because it’s so clever, which it is, but because I’ve ranted about the “as clause” (my name for it) to my students and critique groups for years. I was thrilled to see another author tackle the subject.

First of all, so there’s no mistake, not every “as” needs to be killed. Only the ones which are used incorrectly or spoil the flow of your story.

The good "as” is one which represents “like.” Margie gives some wonderful examples of when using “as” is not only correct, but improves the prose. Phrases such as this one describing hard-packed snow: “The white stuff was as firm as concrete.” Or this one: “She was just as ignorant now as she had been then.” I used a similar phrase in my historical romance, COLD APRIL: “...almost as large as a railroad passenger car.”

You can also continue to use “as” in phrases like “as if,” “as well,” and “inasmuch as.”

In my opinion--and that of not only writing teacher Margie Lawson, but the best-selling author Dwight Swain--is used: (1). to denote simultaneous actions or (2). to show a reversal of the usual order of events.

This is not to forbid having things happen simultaneously in your book, although they don’t happen as often as some writers--judging by their use of “as”--would have you believe. However, readers think in a linear fashion. First this happens, then that. For instance, a doorbell usually rings before someone answers it. So you shouldn’t write, “She answered the door as the doorbell rang.” How about, “When the doorbell rang, she went to answer it.”?

Another example: “‘Stop the presses,’ he yelled as he entered the press room.” A better wording would be: “He yanked open the door to the press room. ‘Stop the presses!’“

When teaching or critiquing, I always advise writers to change a bad “as clause” in one of three possible, easy ways:

1. Put the “as clause” first. Instead of, “Lady Wheatly required the presence of their governess on the return crossing, as she explained to Beth only the week before they boarded the ship to come home.” I wrote, “As she explained to Beth only the week before, Lady Wheatly required the presence of their governess on the return crossing.”

2. Substitute the word “and” for “as.” Example: Instead of “The dog barked as the visitor crossed the veranda,” write, “The visitor crossed the veranda, and the dog barked.”

3. Separate the sentence into two. Instead of “She slapped her hand on top of the book, as the lawyer entered the room.” write, “The lawyer entered the room. She slapped her hand on top of the book.” Isn’t that more interesting, too?

Another problem with “as clauses” is that the comma separating them from the rest of the sentence causes the reader (mentally or actually) to hold her breath. When the “as” clause runs on too long, the reader runs out of air waiting for the end. Believe it or not, I’ve seen even longer “as" clauses than the following:

“She stared at him, as the door swung open and an even younger man entered the room with an armload of copies of The Daily News and proceeded to spread the newspapers all over the floor.”  I’d prefer: “The door swung open and... all over the floor. She stared at him.”

Finally, look for the word “as” with your Search feature (space bar - as - space bar) and decide if it’s a good “as” or a bad one. If it stops or annoys the reader, change it to something smoother. You’ll be glad you did.

Next, would someone please write about the incorrect phrase “she could care less.” That one also drives me crazy and has just appeared in a writers’ magazine! I mean, if writers won’t defend our language, who will? I hope you agree.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I met Nora Roberts, the unquestionable queen of romance novels, thirty years ago next summer. The year was 1982, the place was the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, and the occasion was the second Conference of the Romance Writers of America. I had entered the Golden Heart contest and won second prize (they called it that, instead of “finalist,” in those days). Nora, on the other hand, who went everywhere on board the ship with a clipboard so she could write whenever she had five open minutes, had just sold her first novel and signed a four-book contract with Silhouette.

Nora continued to be prolific, and the next time I saw her in person was in 2001, twenty years later, and she had sold 240 books, an average of eight a year. I don’t know for sure but she’s probably sold 500 by now. As for Moi, I’ve written twenty-five (plus the eight unfinished ones on my computer) and my fifteenth published novel comes out next July, almost exactly thirty years from the day I had that first success as a romance novelist and received a golden heart necklace.

“So, you sloth,” you ask, “what were you doing all those years while Nora wrote rings around you?” (Besides not making one-hundredth of the money she did.)

I was still raising children (well, so was Nora, I’m told, although I raised four to her two) plus I ran my husband’s sideline business and then (via long distance from California) managed two condos on Maui for twenty of those years.

Those excuses aside, I did a certain amount of writing too, namely my non-fiction book, WALL STREET ON $20 A MONTH, “How to Profit From an Investment Club,” and many magazine articles on that and other topics as a result of the book. I also ghost-wrote three books: one for a woman friend about the life and death of her two daughters (sold to a religious publisher), and two for a businessman client who wanted a book to sell after his speeches and workshops. And, oh yes, many one-act plays, a full-length play and two thirty-minute radio scripts produced by American Radio Theatre.

My first romance sale came in 1984, and therefore twenty-one sold books (counting the three ghost books which I was paid for, plus three self-published books) gives me an average of eight-tenths of a book per year instead of Nora’s eight whole ones. But, not too shabby for someone who writes slowly, rewrites a lot and even writes longer books than category romance. Like several at 75,000, 90,000 and even 110,000 words.

So what did I learn that I can pass on to you? First, that Nora and I used the same title, ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, for one of our romance novels, and you have to want to do this really bad. But if you like sitting at the typewriter (first an IBM Selectric) and computer and inventing stuff, that’s good news, not bad. The hours may be long, but no longer than you choose, you can work in your jammies and fuzzy slippers, chocolate is always close at hand, and the children are (supposedly) being supervised. Unless, like mine, they’re grown up now.

And I intend to go right on doing it. How long have you been writing, my friend? Do you have any Nora Roberts stories to share?