Lesson Learned—Names

November 27, 2015

One thing I’m learning in writing sequels and follow-ons to previous works is that I wasn’t careful enough with names. The lesson stings because from the time I started, my method of dealing with names was carefully thought out—and supposed to keep me out of name trouble. As a reader there are three name problems that bother me:

First, I have trouble with character names that are very similar. For instance, when there are secondary characters with names like Benton and Benteen, I end up not even trying to remember which is which and thoroughly annoyed at the author. It helps if the characters are opposite sex, but that doesn’t change my belief John and Joan should never appear in the same story unless one is just a walk on.

Second, if Chauncy Wilson is referred to as Chauncy from the time he’s introduced and then all of a sudden there’s a reference to Wilson, I often have trouble figuring out who the heck Wilson is. In Regencies where a character is referred to by his first name, family name, title, and sometimes even something else it can be even worse.

Third, names I can’t pronounce are a constant little sore spot all through a book. In spite of the fact I settle on my own pronunciation, knowing I’ve made it up and am undoubtedly wrong bothers me. I’m sure I did that to readers myself in Dancing on Coals, but I couldn’t figure a way around it other than giving Apaches Anglicized names they never had.

All in all I felt pretty proud of myself for doing better than many writers with names. I even make one chart with letters of the alphabet for first names and another for last names and do my best to make sure at least my primary characters don’t have names that even start with the same letter.

Then I started doing outlines for some of these follow-up stories and was surprised and not very happy at what I found. The novella I’m working on features Jamie Lenahan and Caroline Tindell from Into the Light. If I ever come up with a story from Without Words, Caroline Sterling will be the heroine. If you asked me if Caroline is one of my favorite female names, I’d say no because it isn’t. So how did that happen? The next novel will be Jaime Rodriguez from Sing My Name—you know, a character with a name that looks a lot like Jamie as in Lenahan, even if the Spanish pronunciation isn’t that similar.

So live and learn. I probably should have some kind of list of all the names I’ve ever used, but going back now to develop one holds no appeal. I no longer feel smug about noticing Louis L’Amour’s tendency to slap some form of Angela (Ange, Angie) on his female characters. After all, I’d never be that careless with names. Ha.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is lucky enough to have Friday off and enjoy a super long weekend.


P.S. No, I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo, but it did inspire me to do some writing, so that’s a personal win.

Confession, Changes, and…a Ghost

November 1, 2015

Confession. Like most people, I really hate admitting I’ve gotten myself into a sorry mess, but it’s high time to confess here that I have. This has been a rough year for me for reasons I’m not going to go into except for one at the end of this post. Suffice it to say that every time I even thought about writing anything, much less anything romantic, my mind veered off in another direction as if greased.

Strangely, that attitude didn’t affect story ideas. All my life I’ve daydreamed stories as a way of self-entertainment, or maybe escapism, which would explain why it didn’t stop this year. Eventually my mind started hopping like a flea from one idea to another and at that point, I outlined some of them.

For me, however, the hard part of writing is the first draft, and I had the very opposite of an urge to actually settle down and write any of those stories I outlined.

So—I’m not going to have a new book this year. I had to admit that to myself some months ago, but a tiny stirring of the urge to write has finally come to life, and in the interest of getting something done this year, I started on one of my follow-on novella ideas. This one is the story of Jamie Lenahan and Caroline Tindell from Into the Light.

This is an embarrassing admission in another way because I once told a reader who emailed me, that, no, I’d never write a story for Jamie. Those of you who have gone back and forth with me since we started on the thread in the Amazon Romance forum back in 2010 probably already know my successful prediction rate is 0.

If I say a book will be done in June, it’s probably not going to be done until at least September. If I say I won’t write that, odds are, yes, sooner or later I will. I remember telling readers I saw no more stories in the Eyes characters. Now, in addition to Rachel’s Eyes and Luke’s Eyes, I have outlines for 3 more. I remember telling someone I considered Robert Wells irredeemable, and I’d never write his story, but his story is now one of those 3.

If you’re thinking you’ll never believe a word I say about writing, that’s probably smart of you. I really do try not to make predictions because I know my own pathetic record. It’s like a sense of direction—I simply don’t have one and can get lost in my own backyard.

My last confession is that I still have a bit of hop-around-itis going on. So here I am working on the romance novella, and I also signed up for NaNoWriMo. That stands for National Novel Writing Month (I think), and you sign up and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month. Hoping to bring out my dormant competitive streak, I signed up and committed to writing 50,000 words in November—of Rottweiler Railroad. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

With that warning, on to Changes. One of my many failed predictions or stances or whatever you want to call it is that I’d never publish anything short again and would save shorter works to put out in a collection. Everyone on my mailing list received a download link for the novella Luke’s Eyes when it was first finished, and I’ve continued sending the link to new subscribers. My intention was that when I had something new I’d switch and send that instead and keep LE for a collection of Eyes follow-ons.

For several reasons I’ve changed my mind. Once this new novella is finished, I’m going to switch the mailing list to it and publish Luke’s Eyes. And from now on I’m not going to ever leave one story going to the mailing list for so long before publishing it. If you are now smiling to yourself and thinking, hmm, that’s a prediction, and I bet she never does it, well, we’ll see. Sooner or later I have to break my losing streak.

Finally, my ghost. She lurks in my heart, in my head, in my house. In eleven and a half years there was never one day I didn’t think, I am so lucky to have this dog.

8-week head

Eight weeks old, the puppy I flew to Michigan for. When I got home, I told a friend, “I am besotted with this puppy.”



Two years old. About this time I started referring to her as The Most Beautiful Rottweiler in the World. I was joking, of course—at least I wanted anyone who heard me to think so.

With cart

Five years old, first High in Test carting performance. I never got over the awe that she would do such things for me.


My ghost.

Wildhaven’s Schara Gambit

August 14, 2003—April 23, 2015


July 11, 2015

First, I know those of you who follow here aren’t interested in how things work from the publishing side—except as it affects you as a reader. Recent changes in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program do affect readers, though, if only in an indirect way.

You see, the original KU program paid an author the same for a 10-page short story as for a 400-page novel. And the payment was high—very high—for the short story and low—very low—for the full length novel. Needless to say the system encouraged authors to put short stories into the program and discouraged them from putting in novels.

Some authors turned to writing shorts specifically to take advantage of the program. Unfortunately some scammed the program, scraping bits of articles here and there on the web and putting them up as shorts, and some broke novels into segments, called them serials, and put them up in parts.

Enter KU2. Amazon is now going to pay on borrows based on pages read. Yes, they have the technology to tell how much of a borrowed KU book is read. No one yet knows how much the per-page-read payment will be, but no matter how much it is, obviously a short story will pay a lot less than a novel. Amid howls of unhappiness and what one KBoards’ member, to my delight, called “speculation outrage,” it’s pretty clear the intention is to encourage novel writers to put their work into the program. A lot of indies pulled their novels out last year when they realized how badly a borrow paid compared to a sale.

With Rachel’s Eyes, of course, I was one of those who made out on a short story. The payment to me on a borrow was close to 4 times what I made on a sale. Now, if the KBoards’ math wizards are close to correct about the per-page-read payment, the story will earn half as much on a borrow as on a sale.

For Without Words, which has been in KU since its inception, I had every intention of leaving it in the program in spite of the low payment for borrows because I had a strong impression that most readers who borrowed it were different from those who usually buy my books. One of the things I like about KU as a subscriber myself is the ability to try new authors without ever getting stung when a book with a good sample turns to something I don’t want to finish about 2 pages after I bought it.

Sing My Name, which I put in KU to see how one of the older books would do, was working out very differently. Sing obviously was losing sales to borrows because the total of sales and borrows for its first month was about what I would have expected from sales alone before.

So before KU2 was announced, my plan was to yank Sing out of KU as soon as the required 90-day commitment ended and not put any of the other older books in the program. If my impression of where Without Words’ borrows were coming from ever changed, I planned to yank it too.

KU2 changes everything. A book has to be read 100% to pay maximum borrow, the author only gets paid the first time a page is read, and I’ve seen figures that say most books only average maybe 60% pages read overall. Don’t believe such a low average? Consider what someone like me who will abandon a book anywhere from the first page to the next-to-last page does to the average.

Even so, with the prices on my books, unless those KBoards’ math wizards are very wrong in their estimates of what the per-page-read payment on borrows will be, there will be little reason to distinguish between payment for a borrow or a sale on my novels.

So all this is a long-winded way to say I’ve already put Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold into KU, and as soon as I’m sure they’re down from other vendors’ sites (KU requires exclusivity with Amazon), I’m putting all my other books in the program. If the per-page-read payout rate is lower than speculated and changes the economics, I’ll be backpedaling as fast as I can, but  I don’t think the risk is high. No one will know for sure until August 15th.

To those who avoid Amazon and only read on Nook or Kobo, I’m really sorry, but as I’ve said before, my sales through those venues are very low. Without Words earned more in KU in its first two months than all the other books did through non-Amazon vendors in all of 2014. I hope those who like my stories and don’t have a Kindle like them enough to put a Kindle app on their phone or tablet.

And while I’m discussing changes…. In the past I’ve vowed not to publish anything shorter than a novel again until I had enough of them accumulated for a collection. A lot of that was because of all the “too short” reviews for Rachel’s Eyes. As my cousin Peter pointed out, though, I need to change that attitude. “Too short” is a lot better in a review than “too long.”

Some of the problem, however, is also price. If the novel Eyes is 116,000 words and is $3.99, what kind of price is reasonable for a 6,000-word short story like Rachel’s Eyes? Amazon won’t let me set a price lower than $.99. The way people get those free books up there involves more manipulation than I’m willing to go through, and that’s why RE was free on my website until I put it in KU and couldn’t do that any more because of the exclusivity requirement. What kind of price is reasonable for a novella like Luke’s Eyes at 32,000 words? Amazon wants things priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and provides a considerable financial incentive to do that.

KU solves that dilemma for me. I’m going to go ahead and publish Luke’s Eyes (probably sometime next month) and put it in KU. Those who would rather own it can buy, and those who would rather borrow it through KU as part of their $10 a month subscription can do that. And those of you who received it when you joined my mailing list and found it disappeared when deleted from your Kindle because Amazon doesn’t save to the Cloud anything not purchased from them won’t have to send me sad emails. 🙂


Rats and… not rats

June 21, 2015

I’ll start with the not rats, in fact the good. Regan Walker, who comments here occasionally, has a great romance blog and is today featuring Dancing on Coals. Her review is very complimentary, and she has included Dancing on her list of favorite Western Historicals in the past. As I’ve mentioned here before, Regan also writes romance, although not Westerns. She has written Regencies, a Medieval, and most recently a romance set in the pre-Regency Georgian period. Thanks, Regan.

As for the rats, Without Words missed being a finalist for the RONE award by either one vote (depending on how they handle ties) or 2. It’s no one’s fault but my own for not swinging a wider loop on getting votes, and in the future I need to make up my mind either to dive into the whole process indelicately and whole-heartedly or not bother at all, since missing by that margin made me cranky.

~ Ellen


April 24, 2015

I received an email yesterday from McD. After seeing our discussion about recommendations in the comments to my last post, she is sharing her list of authors currently writing historical westerns. (I happen to know that McD is a thorough reviewer and has in fact reviewed for a couple of popular book blogs.) Four of the authors she mentions are new to me, and I’m going to give them a try. So, here it is:

Jo Goodman
Carla Kelly
Kaki Warner
Holly Bush
Rosanne Bittner
Lori Austin
Linda Broday

All of these authors usually deliver 3.5-4 star reads, some higher, particularly JG.

Rosanne Bittner has a new book coming out – Do Not Forsake Me – in July. It’s book #2 in the Outlaw Hearts series. The first book, written over 20 years ago, is due to be re-issued in June by Sourcebooks. It’s a 500 page sweeping saga, and pretty good – 4 stars.

Desiree Banks
The Gallows’ Bounty
The Sheriff’s Widow

J.R. Biery
The Milch Bride
From Darkness to Glory
(there’s a third book in this series I’ve not yet read)

An older series that’s been re-issued – 4 stars overall – which I recently re-read and enjoyed:

Maureen McKade
A Reason to Live (the best of the series imo)
A Reason to Believe
A Reason to Sin

I hope those of you looking for recommendations find some new-to-you books and authors to try in that list.


RONE again

April 15, 2015

InD’tale just sent an email today telling me Without Words is eligible for their RONE award, and the voting for finalists in the American Historical category is from April 13-19th. Why I only got the email today I can’t say as I see on the Amazon MOA Western Romance thread others did get the notice on the 13th or earlier, but here I am asking for your help and feeling a little behind the curve.

I’d appreciate any votes any of you can give for Without Words in its category. Yes, you have to register at the InD’tale site, but I registered back when Beautiful Bad Man was in this position, and they only send me one email a month when their magazine comes out and really don’t bug you at all.

Here’s the link they gave me (you have to be logged in to see the nominees).

For those of you who are new to the site, this isn’t an award given based only on reader votes. Books that received a 4-star or better review on the InD’tale site are initially eligible. That list is narrowed down by reader votes, and then the finalists are actually read and scored by judges selected by InD’tale.

This year Words has a much tougher row to hoe to get to the finalist stage than Bad Man did in 2012 because there are many more candidates at this stage. I forgot to count, but there must be at least 15 that will be narrowed down to 5.

Thanks for your help.


A Rant

March 13, 2015

After all the hullabaloo my opinion of rape romances caused on the Amazon Romance forum years ago, I swore I’d never let loose with a particularly contrary and passionate opinion in public again, but here I am tonight. Maybe because it’s late and I’m tired, more probably because four years of that much self-control is all I’m good for, but I just slammed my Kindle shut on another romance at the 60% mark and will be deleting it shortly, and I need to rant somewhere, so cyberspace is it.

Years ago I read a poem that really struck me (and if any of you recognize it and can give me the title or author, I’d love to read it again and see how much my memory has distorted it). What I recall is that star-crossed lovers make a suicide pact. She carries through, and he doesn’t. Since suicide is such a great sin, she ends up in hell, and her reaction as I remember it is to tell the Devil, “I’ve been tricked. I’ve been lied to. I will not stay.” And she doesn’t.

That’s my kind of heroine. I hope once she returned from hell, she beat the bejesus out of her former lover, but I don’t think the poem covered that part.

So this romance I was reading tonight is the third one I’ve started where the heroine is tricked into marriage by the “hero.” Not oops we’ve been caught in a compromising position and have to marry and have to make the best of it, but a deliberate set-her-up so she has to marry him because what he wants is so damn important that lying, cheating, and leaving someone no options is perfectly acceptable. After all he’s handsome and good in bed. Heck, that makes it romantic, right?

So they get married. She has a temper tantrum about being lied to and cheated out of the future she wanted. And after a few hours or few days of that she realizes she can’t resist how gorgeous he is (wasn’t Ted Bundy pretty good looking?), and after all he meant well (one of my mother’s favorite sayings was that one about the road to hell being paved with good intentions), and she forgives him. (Admittedly I quit the last 2 of these stories before we got to forgiving the creep part, but I know that’s what happened as well as if I’d read every word twice.)

None of the kernels for future stories that I have worked out deals with this kind of story, but if I ever get the time I’m going to write one. In mine, the heroine is going to have her pitiful little temper tantrum and only pretend to get over it. If he’s already tricked her into marriage, she’ll find a way to make herself a widow without consequences, and if she’s only compromised so that she supposedly has to marry him, she’ll act docile until they get to the church and then make a scene to end all scenes. After that she’ll take off on her own in spite of it being “impossible” for a female, make her own way, and find a decent guy. There may be an epilog where she encounters the s.o.b. again long enough for him to realize she’s the one who bankrupted him, caused him to be jailed and convicted of something that will have him in prison until he’s old and gray, or maybe just spit in his eye.

End of rant.

~ Ellen