Since I write historical romance, and am often seeking potential settings for my stories when I travel, I’ve found that the best way to see these settings from a historical standpoint is to take a cruise. It’s become a bit of a controversial position recently, given all the horror stories about sinking ships and passengers stranded amidst nightmarish conditions, but those instances are relatively few and far between.
- My husband and I weren’t sure, before taking our first cruise, if it was for us. We had the mistaken idea that only seniors took cruises and that we’d be bored and restless. But once we’d tried it, we were hooked. It’s the easiest form of travel. You unpack once, all your food and entertainment is included (except alcoholic beverages), and pesky details such as visas are taken care of by the staff. If you book your air through them, they even pick you up from the airport and transport you back. What could be simpler?
We’ve taken many different types of cruises, from a huge floating hotel through the inland passage to Alaska with (what seemed like) more people on it than in the city of Tacoma, to a small intimate yacht-like cruise to the Seychelle Islands. The first is a bit overwhelming, with long lines and crowds in every corner of the ship. The second can be great, but is usually too expensive and so small you’re forced to see the same people day after day, whether you want to or not.
Having said all this, I’ve found the perfect middle ground in my favorite cruise line, Voyages of Discovery Cruises. We’ve taken four separate cruises with them: to Tahiti, from Barcelona to Dover (with stops along the Spanish Riviera, North Africa, Gibraltar, Portugal, France, and the Channel Islands), a long journey across the South Pacific (that included such remote places as Easter Island and the Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame), and most exotically from South America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay) to Antarctica. We loved every one. And just in case you’re wondering, this is a completely unsolicited endorsement. I’m not paid by or associated with them in any way. So here are my top 10 reasons for loving Discovery Cruises:
1. They’re serious. I travel because I really want to see and experience the location I’m visiting, and Discovery gives me exactly what I want. This isn’t a frivolous cruise where the sites you’ve come to see are incidental. Their focus is on the area in which they’re traveling, and everything is geared toward that end. If you came to explore a part of the world you’ve never seen, this is the cruise line for you.
2. Their shore excursions. In keeping with the above, Discovery focuses their shore excursions on the ports of call you’ve come to see, with emphasis on their historical, cultural, and horticultural significance. You can always shop after the tour is finished, but while on the tour, you’ll actually learn something interesting about your stop for the day. And they go to historically interesting sites other cruise lines often skip.
3. Their lecturers. Discovery makes it a point to have on board lecturers who are renowned experts in their field. Where ever you’re going, you can stop in to the talk the day before and listen to historians, explorers, naturalists or diplomats who share insights into the coming destination you rarely find elsewhere. And the lectures are included in the cost of your cruise.
4. The ship itself. It carries no more than 540 passengers, intimate yet ideal if you crave some measure of anonymity. Because the emphasis is on learning and exploration, it’s not loaded down with too many shows, casinos, rock-climbing walls and the like. Instead, you’ll find a well-stocked library with books pertaining to your destinations, a spa and fitness center, a pool and two hot tubs, three restaurants and several lounges. It’s not really the best cruise to take with kids, as there isn’t a lot for them to do onboard, but it’s a great way to get away from them for a romantic holiday, or perhaps a voyage with like-minded girlfriends.
5. The crew. I’ve always found the crew on board to be professional, friendly, and helpful. Once, I wasn’t feeling well and my cabin attendant asked if there was anything she could do, and brought my food to the cabin. A Filipino waiter, on hearing that I love Filipino food, would let me know when the crew was cooking some for themselves and would bring me some whenever I wanted.
6. Their destinations. Discovery sails around the world in a continuous loop, and goes to some of the most exotic and beautiful places on the planet. Because they don’t just sail back and forth between two ports, you can combine cruises to create a Grand Journey. And, because the ship is smaller than the mega-ships, they can visit more out-of-the-way ports the larger ships are forced to miss. They also stay in port for longer periods, so you have more time to explore. They even offer natural wonder and wildlife cruises.
7. The passengers. Because Discovery goes to some of the less-traveled locations, I’ve found the passengers to be extremely well-traveled and interesting. For instance, by the time people decide to go to Antarctica, they’ve usually traveled extensively. Some of my most fascinating conversations have been with fellow travelers about the places they’ve been.
8. The food. In my experience, the food onboard has always been varied and delicious, often featuring fresh specialties of the region. Once on a shore excursion the crew found some fabulous fresh mussels and harvested them on the spot for dinner that evening. Since they don’t have extra pay-on-your-own restaurants, all food is included. You can choose to dine inside in the restaurants, or al fresco on deck watching the spectacular views. Early and late seatings are available, and with free-style dining, you can sit with whomever you choose.
9. The relaxed atmosphere. Again, because the emphasis is on the places you’ve come to see without a lot of distracting on-board festivities, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. You can choose to participate in the formal evenings if you enjoy dressing up, or skip them and eat out on deck instead. The mood is calmer than the larger ships, without the frenetic rushing around. An elegant and comfortable environment. But for those who enjoy onboard activities, they often offer art classes, craft workshops, and Zumba sessions. On some cruises, they even have a choir that you can join.
10. Book ahead. All shore excursions can be booked before you travel, so by the time you step on board, all your decisions have been taken care of.
My four cruises with them have all been on the now retired MV Discovery ship, a tastefully refurbished version of the Princess Cruises vessel that was used in the TV series “The Love Boat.” They’ve since replaced her with MV Voyager. Granted, things may have changed since my days with the Discovery. But I’ll be sailing on the Voyager in September for the first time and will let you know. I plan to blog about the cruise along the way. So stay tuned for updates and pictures, and maybe even videos!
If you’d like more information about their multiple award-winning cruises, you can visit voyagesofdiscovery.com. Sign up for emails from them and look out for saver fares. It’s a great way to save 50% or more!
This past week, I was notified that my book, THE ART OF SEDUCTION, had been sold to the Czech Republic, and also received my copies of the Japanese edition of JUST FOR HER. So I started thinking about what an odd, surprising thing it is to sell foreign rights.
One of the best things about being a romance writer is that there’s a huge audience for the genre in nearly every country around the globe. When you’re first published, your agent tells you what percentage of foreign rights you’ll receive, but to be honest, it never really occurs to you that your books will sell to other countries. So it comes as a complete and delightful surprise. You can be going about your day and out of the blue you’ll get an email congratulating you on the sale of Such-and-Such book to Norway, or Japan, or Russia.
It’s a happy experience, but also surreal because you have absolutely no contact with the publisher in that country, and therefore no say about covers, graphics, or the translation itself. Since most of us can’t read any of these languages, you have to take it on faith that what is produced will be some semblance of your original story.
The designs of these books have varied. Most have the usual romance-type cover, but the characters depicted bear little, if any, resemblance to those you’ve created, even down to the color of their hair. Some are quite imaginatively designed. In fact, I’ve liked some better than the original U.S. covers. For instance, the Czech Republic cover for WRITTEN IN THE STARS, a novel that takes place in Egypt, carries a simple but stately likeness of the Nefertiti bust currently in the Neues Museum in Berlin. It’s my favorite of them all.
The Russian cover for MY ONE AND ONLY, which is partially set in India, has a picture of the Taj Mahal. I love the idea, but it’s also surrounded by a LOT of pink!
The Chinese cover for MASTER OF PARADISE makes it look like a gothic novel, where the heroine is running for her life from a haunted house.
I don’t really understand what attracts some countries to some books and not others. You’d think if they wanted one of your books they’d want them all, but that’s not the case. Since most of my characters are British, I would have thought the books would have sold to English publishers, but so far, none have. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it. It’s just the luck of the draw.
Once you’ve signed the contract for a foreign edition, it can take up to a year to be paid, and even another year or two before you see the books. Definitely not a speedy process. But since it was never expected, I look upon it as icing on the cake.
The Japanese and Chinese books read backwards to us, from the back cover to the front. As I’ve lived in Asia, this wasn’t a surprise, but it’s fun to see your own book in that format.
The Japanese cover for JUST FOR HER is kind of amusing. Since my character is blond, they pictured a Japanese woman with dyed blond hair.
But the one I’m most eagerly awaiting is their manga comic version of JUST FOR HER, which is supposed to come out next year. You have to wonder how they’re going to make a Japanese comic out of a story about a Habsburg princess living in the South of France. I can’t wait to see it!
Having launched the new me—the self-publishing blog-writing new me—I have to take a moment to acknowledge those who have helped me along the way. Most good things are a result of a creative collaboration between compatible, supportive people, and publishing, even self-publishing, is no exception.
I’ve had experience now with both types of publishing. In 1992, after 18 years of frustratingly writing 8 hours a day with nothing to show for it, I decided to go back to a book I’d written poorly, but still loved. So I rewrote THE LAST HIGHWAYMAN, utilizing the things I’d learned about writing during my long struggle. Once it was finished, I asked my husband Bill’s agent (Russ Galen) for advice and he told me, “For romance, you don’t really need an agent initially. Send it to Barbara Alpert, a terrific editor at Bantam. If she likes it, then use the strength of that deal to get an agent.”
I followed his advice, sent it cold to Barbara, and waited for four months. As I hadn’t heard from her, I called her office and her assistant told me it was on her list of manuscripts to read and she’d try to get to it soon. Four more months passed. Then one day, when I’d all but given up on it, I came home and checked my answering machine. And there, to my astonishment, was a message from Barbara saying she loved the book and wanted to buy it. I just sat there, stunned. After all those years of plugging away, I was finally going to be a published author!
Barbara turned out to be the editor of every writer’s dreams. While she insisted that I change the unhappy ending in which my hero had died, that was really the only change she made. She supported me wholeheartedly, promoted the book tirelessly, and became a friend in the process. I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d found my Maxwell Perkins. Barbara alone made my years of struggle worth it. I’ll always be grateful to her for making my dream come true.
Then a funny thing happened. Months later, when my husband was going through some old papers, he found a rejection letter from Avon for my first awful attempt at THE LAST HIGHWAYMAN. It was signed by Barbara Alpert! I thought it was hilarious, a great Cosmic joke. Barbara was less amused. But it proved to me that rejection is only feedback telling you that you have to work harder, and make it better. Rejection is never the final word.
Having sold two books to Bantam through Barbara, I decided to ask her about agents. She told me if she were going to write anything, she would want Meg Ruley of the Jane Rotrosen Agency to represent her. So I wrote to Meg telling her I’d sold two books to Barbara and asking if she was interested. She was. She loved THE LAST HIGHWAYMAN, and just like that I had a wonderful New York agent whom Russ Galen respected tremendously.
Meg turned out to be my second gift, a friendly, funny, dedicated agent who also became a friend and champion. She fought my battles for me and negotiated a new 3-book contract for me that was beyond my wildest dreams. And when Barbara left publishing after my second book, breaking my heart and leaving me devastated, it was Meg who helped me pick up the pieces and go on. No one could have asked for a kinder or more helpful agent. Russ had told me, “Editors come and go, but your agent is the one you can always count on,” and Meg proved that to be true. Although I was never her highest grossing author, she has always been there for me, a dear friend and advocate in times of need.
After Barbara left, things were more difficult. I had a succession of editors, and learned from them, but no one was the friend Barbara had been. Until Kate Duffy of Kensington Publishing came into my life. I’ve written a bit about how it happened on the TAKEN BY SURPRISE page. Kate was a delightful woman who loved everything I did and only changed two things in the five books I wrote for her. She was a joy to work with, had a great passion for romance, and knew more about the business than anyone. Like Barbara, she never tried to change an author, but strove to bring out the best in each. She was so generous and amusing, and had such a joie de vivre about her. It was such fun talking with her.
But, when I turned in my last book for her, JUST FOR HER, things seemed to change. I didn’t hear from her for months. I was tearing my hair out, certain she’d hated the book. Finally she called. To my surprise, she told me how much she loved the book. I couldn’t figure out why it had taken her so long to get back to me, when she’d always called me within days of reading a manuscript before. When I asked her about it, she was vague.
I didn’t hear from her as much during the publication process. I assumed she was busy. Then one day Meg called and told me the sad news. Kate had died of cancer. Once again, I was devastated. And I realized why I hadn’t heard from Kate for so long. She’d been undergoing treatment, and hadn’t said a word. I felt awful. I wished I’d known so I could have offered comfort and support.
It was only after her death that I found out what an influential editor Kate had been. The New York Times ran a half-page obituary for her, something unheard of for romance editors. She was a legend in the publishing business. But to me, she was just the lively, kind woman who had sought me out and shown me such support when I’d really needed it.
So I was blessed to be book-ended by two great editors and buoyed by a fabulous agent.
Fast-forward to the day when my husband told me, “Ebooks are the wave of the future and we have to ride this wave.” To be honest, I felt completely overwhelmed. The more research we did, the more impossible the process seemed. I didn’t know how to do any of it.
I contacted Meg to talk about getting back the rights to my first seven Bantam books. To my relief, she had already put in the request. But it still took nine months. Bantam wanted to put them out as ebooks themselves, so Meg had to fight to get the rights back.
Then there was the daunting task of turning them into ebooks. They had to be scanned and re-read and corrected because the scans were atrocious. I researched people who could turn the scans into ebooks, but no one was really exciting me. It was all so impersonal, and the finished products seemed so ordinary. I felt more alone than I ever had.
Until one fateful day when I was looking on Amazon to see how other writers’ ebooks were formatted, and I ran across Julia Barrett’s books. They had stunning graphics as chapter headings. And suddenly I saw that ebooks don’t have to be plain, uncreative things. They can be as beautiful as print books. When I saw that Julia had linked to the woman who had formatted her books, I was bubbling with excitement. I contacted JW Manus, who agreed to do my books as well.
Little did I know that day that I’d found my guardian angel. Jaye, who is an accomplished author herself, knows everything there is to know about ebooks. She patiently and articulately walked me through all the steps I needed to take, explaining everything so I actually understood it. We had a blast finding graphics for my books. We started out simply with the first three books, but as we began to realize how well we work together, we grew bolder, adding color graphics and more complex designs. Jaye almost made me weep with relief when she offered to upload the books for me. Then, when it was time to create this website, she did it for me!
I can truthfully say, if it hadn’t been for the unwavering determination of my husband, who never lost sight of this new vision, and the skill, helpfulness, and creative genius of Jaye Manus, I probably would have given up on this process long ago. Jaye has, in a sense, performed the functions of a publisher, and has become a friend as well. For which I’m eternally grateful.
So I’ve found that, even in self-publishing, it really does take a village. It’s so important to have good advice, to have someone with whom to soundboard ideas, and someone who knows more than you do about the process. I’m only beginning this new adventure. But as with all the other steps of my career, the first lesson I’ve learned is that you get by with a little help from your friends.
The year 2013 marks my 20th anniversary as a published writer. There were many years in the beginning when I despaired of ever being able to say that. So to celebrate this milestone anniversary, I decided to get the rights back to my first seven books (originally published by Bantam) and turn them into ebooks. It’s been a grueling year-and-a-half process, but they’re finally available. And because of the help of JW Manus, they’re gorgeous, with dazzling graphics as chapter headings. I was lucky to find Jaye, who is without a doubt a leader in the field of ebook creation. She believes ebooks should be as beautiful and respected as print books, and has proven that with her designs for mine. I can’t wait for you to see them!
I also, in this anniversary year, decided to–finally!—create a website. I resisted doing so for a long time, as I was too busy writing, but with Jaye’s help, I think we’ve come up with something stunning and a little different.
The main difference is that I’d like to share with you some of the stories behind the writing of my books, and some of the many places I’ve gone to research them. I grew up with an international background in a family of travelers, and this is reflected in my work. In the past 20 years, I’ve been to every place I’ve written about, and then some. I’ve journeyed to all seven continents, including Antarctica.
Writers are as different as any other group of people. I have great respect for an author who can sit in a room and imagine a world he/she has never seen. After all, Stephen Crane never experienced a Civil War battlefield, but he managed to write THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE.
But setting is so essential to my work that I need to go there myself, to absorb the spirit of the place, to meld with it and channel that energy. I know, for instance, that I can never describe Paris as brilliantly as the great authors have. What I can do for my readers, though, is depict the city through the unique eyes of my characters, to see everything from their points of view, to notice things only they would notice. An artist would see that world through color, light and shadow, while an actress might imagine the epic stage scenes that had transpired there. Therefore, no two descriptions of the same city in different books would be the same.
My mode of travel through the years has been different, but I found early on that, since I write historical novels, taking cruises is an ideal way to see places as my characters would. A cruise ship usually docks in the older part of town and, as my characters often arrive by ship, I can put myself in their shoes from the first sighting of land.
I’m not a backpacker. My characters are glamorous so my travels are glamorous and romantic. I stay in some of the best hotels because they do. When I write, I create a fantasy that could only happen in that particular place. But I’ve learned tricks along the way of how to travel like a jetsetter on a budget. I’ll include some of those tips in later blogs. I’ll share with you cruises I’ve loved, hotels to die for, and some practical information along the way.
So please join me on an adventure of travel and amour around the world. Whether you’re a reader of romance, an inveterate traveler, or just want to experience these wonderful places from the safety of your armchair, I hope you’ll find these blogs to be interesting, informative, and most of all entertaining.
“The Queen of Romantic Adventure…” –Affaire de Coeur
Travel through time and around the world with passionate highwaymen, sexy pirates, roguish con artists and other dashing heroes and the exciting, daring heroines who love them.
Exotic locales, lush nights, high adventure, sensual romance–Katherine O’Neal will sweep you away.
Classic Romances now available in ebooks.
A seductive cat burglar . . . the world’s largest ruby . . . the siren song of an exotic land . . . What better ingredients for another of USA Today bestseller Katherine O’Neal’s magic-carpet rides of heart-pounding adventure and envelope-pushing steamy romance?
“Katherine O’Neal continues her reign as the queen of romantic adventure.” – Affaire de Coeur
“A gripping journey . . . plenty of intrigue, romance, and daring.” – Rendezvous
Katherine O’Neal takes her readers on a rapturous odyssey of seduction, betrayal and erotic obsession as two star-crossed lovers search for Cleopatra’s lost treasure in the sands of Colonial Egypt.
“O’Neal provides vibrant characters and settings, along with plenty of intrigue, daring escapes, 11th-hour twists and steamy romance.” – Publisher’s Weekly
A bewitching romance classic, in ebook for the first time.
For the first time in ebook, the legendary debut novel of bestselling author Katherine O’Neal—winner of Romantic Times’ award for Best Sensual Historical Romance.
In this “aphrodisiac of an adventure,” a rebellious Victorian-era duchess falls in love with the roguish Irish rebel who kidnapped her.
“A sophisticated, sensual read . . . sure to appeal to a host of readers.” – Amanda Quick