Notes from a Drama Queen

COUNTDOWN #2 – Reviews

Monday, June 28, 2010

So reviews are funny things. On the one hand we’re told to ignore reviews – they’re one person’s opinion, critics have agendas, etc. On the other hand, we write in a vacuum and we’re desperate for pats on the head, validation, and yes, slavish praise, and we’d do just about anything for it.

The problem is, if you believe the good stuff, think it’s gospel, then the bad stuff must be true as well. And trust me, there’s no writer alive who doesn’t remember the nasty reviews and rejections far better than the praise. I can still quote a rejection letter from 1982 (“this is an example of some of the worst writing in the genre”). Of course, I’m healthier than most, so I r
emember a kindly rejection letter from 1979 (“her writing is a huge leap above the average genre writer”). And there was my absolute favorite rejection letter from the early 1990’s, when a current uber-editor, who wanted to publish my romantic suspense, turned down the latest offering (which ended up a RITA finalist) by saying “my respect for Anne Stuart is undimmed.” Meaning “despite this utter pile of crap I still think she might be talented.”

I remember when I got a starred review from PW – I screamed and burst into tears, just like Miss America (it was for BLACK ICE, a book and series I adore). And my second favorite review for the previous book, INTO THE FIRE, another dark book that’s a special favorite of mine, even though it disappeared very quickly. PW said my protagonist’s relationship was twisted and the tale was troubling. Yes!

So I’m sort of in a combination of the two for RUTHLESS, the first of the House of Rohan trilogy. The PW review harked back to INTO THE FIRE. The funny thing is, I thought my hero wasn’t nearly as bad as he liked to think himself, and I was concerned that the sex was too tame.

They call it dark, intense and sometimes unsettling, which is way cool My writing is crisp and quick, and my characters are finely and memorably drawn, but my hero’s often violent and predatory treatment of the heroine goes beyond what most readers will find acceptable. Ha! The reviewer doesn’t think he can be reformed, but it’s otherwise an enjoyable and powerful story.

I kinda think it’s the same reviewer.

But then, God bless RT Book Reviews, with a top pick and the most wonderful review possible. If I could have dreamed of the perfect review, this one is it.

The House of Rohan series begins with a scintillating, titillating, wickedly dark and sensual tale as Stuart brilliantly draws you in like a black widow spider. Intelligent characters swirl around a beautifully rendered, complex plot. The erotic overtones—one masterful scene after another—and dark hero simply add to the delicious story that captures the heart and soul. 4 ½ stars – SCORCHER – TOP PICK!

Now in this case I know the reviewer for PW was simply a fragile flower (almost every reviewer on Amazon says “Anne Stuart isn’t for everybody.”) I don’t write nice books. They’re intense and extreme, and not everyone wants that kind of ride. I wish they did, but I really can’t write any other book but what’s in my heart. When I try I fail, and I’m miserable.

So for now I’ll simply have to go with my own belief in the books. I’m the first to pick apart what works and what doesn’t, but three books work, from the opening of the first to the great last line of the third. And whether I’m … or …, I can be secure in the belief that, for me at least, these books are the perfect fantasy.


The prequel for the House of Rohan series, entitled THE DARK HOUSE OF ROHAN, will be available, absolutely free, on, and I’ll have a direct link next week, but I promise, it’s a treat and you can’t beat the price. Ten thousand words of a decadent hero and a stalwart heroine, sex and forever after commitment. When I’m good I’m good.

So tell me. Do you guys read reviews? Do you care about them? I go online and check Amazon reviews when I’m considering books, and I probably shouldn’t, considering how often they’ve been wrong about me.

Do they make a difference to you?


Monday, June 21, 2010

I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve written all my life, and received my first paycheck for it when I was seven years old (I had connections). I’ve been published as a romance novelist since 1974 (I was very very young) and since then I’ve been writing constantly, books I’ve been fond of, occasionally book I’ve hated, more often books I’ve loved, and on vary rare occasions, books so good they can cure cancer and bring about world peace.

I’m not being facetious about that — if you read a book that’s absolutely perfect for you at the time, just as if you heard a piece of music or saw a painting that transported you — then it fills your body with endorphins, it removes you from illness and pain and starts the healing process. It’s been documented that watching comedies can cure illness. I believe the same is true for books.

But that’s not what I’m writing about. I’m on the countdown for three books (well, three and a little treat) that I’m in love with, and I’m facing the usual mix of hope, fear, a burgeoning sense of triumph and a deeply hidden fear of total disaster.

In a way I’ve triumphed already, because the three books are just so damned good. I got it right this time, at least as far as I’m concerned, and what more can you ask for in this life? It’s a gift to have written three really wonderful books slam bam thank you ma’am, and I should celebrate that.

And I do. But that toxic cocktail of emotions still roils inside me. What more can you ask for in this life? Everything.

I’ll need handholding. I’ll need people to celebrate the triumphs. I’ll need shoulders to cry on if disaster strikes. I’ll need strength to bind my wounds and head into the fray again.

Sometimes I wonder how many more times I can do it. I’ll never stop writing, of course. It’s what I am, who I am. A storyteller. But maybe there comes a time when you can’t bounce back from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Who knows.

I’m a survivor. No, I’m more than that. I triumph. Over and over again circumstances can flatten me, and I always bounced back up, like Wile E. Coyote after he’s been run over by a steam roller. I get so tired of the battle, though. Sometimes I’d just like to say “fuck you” to all those things that are out of my control and yet I care about so deeply.

Not this time, however. This time I’ll gird my loins, straighten my shoulders and march into battle with a steely glint in my eye and a smile on my face. No one’s going to see the doubt and panic bubbling beneath the surface.

But maybe the one thing I can do is focus on the books. Books that I love, characters that I adore. So I’ll tell you a little bit about them, week by week, starting with the prequel, THE WICKED HOUSE OF ROHAN. The three books are the stories of three generations of the Rohans, a very wicked family of English aristocrats. I got the name from an old James Mason movie, The Man in Grey, forgetting entirely about Lisa Kleypas’s delicious gypsy, Cam Rohan, but in a way that’s ok. It’s an unconscious homage to Cam, who’s one of my favorite heroes.

It’s also the story of the fictional Heavenly Host, based loosely on the Hellfire Club, a much-maligned club of jaded aristocrats who had too much time and money. And the prequel, written over a few crazy days in South Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, is the story of the origins of that group, as well as the story of Alistair Rohan and Miss Kathleen Strong. Somehow I managed to a whole love story packed into ten thousand words, and it’s all for free, at Amazon, on eHarlequin, at my website. I’ll have a link available starting July 1st, but trust me, it’s wicked and funny and sexy and hey, it’s free.

So that comes first. A month later the first of the trilogy, but more about that later.

In the meantime, be prepared to hold my hand.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

I love music. Live for it. Music has directed so many choices in my life. It was music that made me live in NYC in the early '70s, going to the Fillmore East every weekend and lusting after rock stars while I played the guitar and wrote songs and was a corporate drone. I saw Creedence, the Band, Eric Clapton with Derek and the Dominoes, Cat Stevens in a tiny club, the Who endless times, Iggy and the Stooges in a nightclub, Elton John on his first tour. Rod Stewart with Jeff Beck countless times. The Kinks, Fairport Convention, Sam and Dave ... god, just everyone.

Music made me move to Vermont to start writing. I remember the moment -- I was sitting in Central Park, listening to the Band play "Rocking Chair" and it was so exquisitely beautiful that I understood that none of the music I'd been hearing at the Fillmore could ever equal it, and it was time to leave.

Gradually writing books took the place of writing songs, and god knows my Martin D-35 kills my fingertips when I try to play. And for the longest time I had no access to new music. Instead I immersed myself in my favorites -- Richard Thompson, who's pretty much the musical equivalent of a lot of my books, without the sex. J-rock added the sex in abundance, as well as its own inimitable style (check out Gackt, Hyde, Yoshiki).

And then I bought Thelma, my electric blue PT Cruiser, and it came with a satellite radio and a one year subscription. Oh, joy, oh rapture. I never thought I'd want one, because I loved the music I knew so well, but there's wonderful stuff out there. I drive around listening to my favorite Sirius stations (even though they dumped my favorite, Disorder). But the Loft and the Spectrum will do (needless to say I like a really wide variety of music) and I drive along in my car, scribbling new songs with my left hand, all without looking, then come home and hop on iTunes and buy a whole bunch. It's quite wonderful, listening to old-style DJs like Vin Scelsa and Meg Griffin (both of whom are a little bit younger than I am) and the music, old and new, they come up with.

I thought I'd share some of the stuff I particularly like. Some of this is brand new, some is very old, but it's my playlist for the new book. I let the music dance in my head while my fingers fly and life is good, and if it weren't for satellite radio I wouldn't know know half of these songs.

So I'm recommending music for what ails you, creatively or emotionally. And treat yourself to a satellite radio in your next car if you can afford it. You won't regret it.

Am I the only one still so passionately connected to music? I don't mind thinking I'm simply cooler than the majority of people my age, but I can't believe that the rest of the world doesn't love this stuff as much as I do. How do you get your music? Do you stick with the old stuff? Listen to your kids' music? Pick stuff up from tv soundtracks (another good source).

Vampire 6:00 Michael Smith Michael Smith Love Stories Folk
Building A Mystery 4:07 Sarah McLachlan Surfacing Rock
Angel 4:30 Sarah McLachlan Surfacing Rock
Do What You Have To Do 3:47 Sarah McLachlan Surfacing Rock
Hold On (Solo Piano) [Unplugged] 5:09 Sarah Mclachlan Unplugged And More Rock
Fallen 3:41 Sarah McLachlan
Truly Madly Deeply 4:38 Savage Garden Savage Garden Rock
Chasing Cars 4:28 Snow Patrol Eyes Open Alternative
Here's Where the Story Ends 3:55 The Sundays Reading, Writing & Arithmetic Alternative
If God Will Send His Angels 4:33 U2 City Of Angels Soundtrack
Wall Of Death 3:44 Richard Thompson & Linda Thompson Watching The Dark [Disc 1] Rock
An Angel Falls 4:57 Gabriel Yared City Of Angels Soundtrack
Spreading Wings 4:28 Gabriel Yared City Of Angels Soundtrack
Trial Of The Archangel 3:55 Immediate Music Trailerhead Instrumental
Angel Eyes 5:00 John Hiatt The Best Of John Hiatt Rock
Don't Feel Your Touch 4:50 Bruce Cockburn Big Circumstances Folk
Who Wants To Live Forever 3:56 Dune The Celtic Circle [Disc 2] World
Cut 4:02 Plumb Chaotic Resolve Christian & Gospel
Closer 6:27 Nine Inch Nails Closer To God Industrial
I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You 3:55 Tom Waits Closing Time Rock
Bleed to Love Her 3:27 Fleetwood Mac The Dance Rock
Desire 3:41 Ryan Adams Demolition Rock
Hard To Be 6:24 David Bazan Curse Your Branches Indie
Rain Come Down 4:05 Eastmountainsouth Eastmountainsouth Rock
Glitter In the Air 3:48 P!nk Funhouse (Deluxe Version) Pop
Morning Glory 2:49 Tim Buckley Goodbye And Hello Rock
Hat Full Of Stars 4:28 Cyndi Lauper A Hat Full Of Stars New Wave
How To Save A Life 4:24 The Fray How To Save A Life Rock
Down 4:05 Jason Walker Jason Walker Pop
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For 4:38 U2 The Joshua Tree Rock
With Or Without you 4:56 U2 The Joshua Tree Rock
Learning to Fall 4:08 Lowen & Navarro Learning to Fall (With Phil Parlapiano) Rock
Whole Wide World 3:55 The Proclaimers Life With You Rock
Vampire 3:58 Claudia Schmidt Midwestern Heart Singer/Songwriter
The Ground Beneath Her Feet 3:45 U2 The Million Dollar Hotel Film Soundtrack
The Ghost In You 4:18 The Psychedelic Furs Mirror Moves Alternative
Hold On 5:32 Tom Waits Mule Variations Jazz
Scare Easy 4:35 Mudcrutch Mudcrutch (Bonus Track Version) Rock
Sober 3:48 Kelly Clarkson My December Pop
Need You Now 3:57 Lady Antebellum Need You Now Country
The Loner 3:54 Neil Young Neil Young
If I Could Have Her Tonight 2:22 Neil Young Neil Young
I've Been Waiting For You 2:35 Neil Young Neil Young
Here We Are In The Years 3:20 Neil Young Neil Young
I've Loved Her So Long 2:41 Neil Young Neil Young
Here's Where The Story Ends 3:53 The Sundays Now, Vol. 51 Rock/Pop
Silent wings 3:42 Secret Garden Once In a Red Moon New Age
Falling Slowly 4:50 Glen Hansard Once Soundtrack Alternative
Angel 6:37 George Winston Plains New Age
Fall at Your Feet 3:18 Crowded House Recurring Dream - The Very Best of Crowded House Rock
Hidden Track 3:32 The Wallflowers Red Letter Days Rock
Hey, Soul Sister 3:37 Train Save Me, San Francisco Alternative
Red Rain 5:35 Peter Gabriel Shaking The Tree: 16 Golden Greats Rock
Shoot Out The Lights 5:24 Richard & Linda Thompson Shoot Out The Lights Rock
Wall Of Death 3:42 Richard & Linda Thompson Shoot Out The Lights Rock
Bleeding Love 4:23 Leona Lewis Spirit Pop
Songbird 3:44 Eva Cassidy Songbird Pop
Full Of Grace 3:41 Sarah McLachlan Surfacing Rock
She Sang Angels to Rest 3:26 Richard Thompson Sweet Warrior Rock
I Don't Want To Wait 5:19 Paula Cole This Fire Pop
Sway 4:21 Various Artists Veronica Mars Soundtrack General Soundtrack
When You're Falling (feat. Peter Gabriel) 5:14 Afro Celt Sound System Volume 3: Further In Time World

Even If It Breaks Your Heart 3:42 Will Hoge The Wreckage Rock

21 Guns (feat. Green Day & the Cast of American Idiot) [Live at the Grammy's] 4:37 Green Day

21 Guns (feat. Green Day & the Cast of American Idiot) [Live at the Grammy's] - Single Alternative
40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet) 4:13 Bob Schneider 40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet) - Single Pop/Rock
U2 - All I Want Is You 6:30 U2
sayonara 5:43 Klaha

Social Time

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Most of my life is pretty isolated. I live in a tiny town of five hundred people,and all our friends have either moved away or gone in a new direction, basically shutting us out. I used to be very social, inviting people over for dinner, enjoying company, but as my house started resembling something on reality tv (Clean House, anyone?)I started to find entertaining to be more trouble than it was worth. And my darling Richie is shy, so he's only comfortable going out to the houses of people he knows well, and the people he knows well are gone. So we have each other for company most of the time until extended family arrives in the summer. Fortunately we still adore each other, but it can get a little isolated.
But I drove down to Princeton, the town where I grew up, with my niece. We're staying at my former BIL's wonderful old house (we have very convivial divorces in my family) and they're social. When we arrived a federal judge and his wife were going to be staying here, and I had a knee jerk reaction, thinking I just want to go to my room and write.
But they were darling! He was an absolute charmer, despite the fact that he testified in favor of Clarence Thomas when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, and she was lovely, giving me a hug when they retired for the night. They held hands when we sat at the table and talked, and I adored them.
The second night friends of my BIL and his wife were having a Vietnamese barbecue for Memorial Day (the friends host graduate students at Princeton). And I hemmed and hawed and said I should stay and write, and they said "Oh please" and I said "Okay" because I'm easy and it was wonderful. Sheila and Jerry were easygoing, fabulous hosts, and the students were great. I learned the Vietnamese concept of "rubber time," meaning that timing is elastic. If dinner is supposed to be at seven it could be anywhere from five to nine and more (dinner ended up at about half past nine). Rubber time sounds like my deadlines.
So I was reminded that going out and meeting strangers is really a lovely thing to do. Despite the insularity of my tiny town in Vermont, the world is full of fascinating people. I need to learn to enjoy it more.