Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing Weekend (sorta): This is why I'll never get to choose my own cover models...

My tendinitis is gradually improving, so I'm trying to return to a normal life of work, writing, blog posts, and generally hanging out online.

This post is going to mostly be pictures, though. Eye least for me.

You see, I got an idea for a new novella, which I'm going to work on concurrently with my historical fantasy WIP. It's set in the run-up to the Battle of Waterloo, with a seasoned, weather-beaten officer hero.

I immediately knew my Harry looks exactly like Christopher Eccleston:

Just give him a bit more hair, put him in a red coat with a sword in his hand, and can't you just see him all intense and badass on the battlefield? I sure can.

And a man who looks good in a leather coat would also work an early 19th century greatcoat, dontcha think?

What a profile!

I think he'd look great on cover. Don't you?



Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Find: When the Stars Go Blue

First, in the interest of total disclosure, I should say that the author of the book I'm about to describe is a friend of mine.

When the Stars Go Blue, by Caridad Ferrer, is easily one of the five best books I've read this year. And when you take into account that this is the year I discovered Julia Spencer-Fleming's amazing Millers Kill mysteries, not to mention the awesomeness that is Miles Vorkosigan, that's saying a lot.

Stars is a YA romance set in a competitive drum and bugle corps whose show for the season is based on the opera Carmen. The heroine is Soledad, a serious dancer who's just finished high school and has a professional career awaiting her. She's touring with the corps to spend more time with her new boyfriend and get a new experience while she makes up her mind which professional opportunity to pursue. The plot echoes Carmen, as the boyfriend turns possessive, though since this is YA romance rather than opera, it doesn't go quite as dark. But there's heartbreak enough that I wept, nonetheless.

I'm a musician myself, not on the same level as the characters in this story, but I did competitive marching band in high school, and I sing alto in what, if I do say so myself, is a better-than-average church choir. And one of the things I loved about this book is how Ferrer brings the mentality of a performing musician to life, that transcendent feeling when it's like you're a conduit for something far larger than yourself.

An amazing book on so many levels. Go read it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Favorites Monday: The Talking Stick/Circle series

I'm something of a Trekkie, and when I first heard the premise for Star Trek: Voyager, I was excited. It was about time the franchise put a woman in the captain's chair, and I thought the premise of a Federation and a Maquis crew far from home and forced to cooperate would create wonderful story arcs.

I watched for the first couple seasons, but the show never delivered what I was hoping for, and it remains behind DS9 and Next Gen on my ranking of the franchise. (The original series and Enterprise never quite hooked me.)

However, I did find the Voyager I'd hoped the show would fanfic. This was back in the days of USENET, and I was a regular reader on alt.startrek.creative. One of the regulars, Macedon, wrote a lovely, thoughtful story from Chakotay's point of view, and another, Peg Robinson, responded with one in Janeway's. Macedon responded with more Chakotay, and before long they were collaborating on what became known as the Talking Stick/Circle series.

It's my favorite of all the fanfic I've ever read, and has stayed with me all these years later. It's got friendship and enemies, building community under difficult circumstances, romance, love and death, and toward the end Big Epic Adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic, arc-driven Trek.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welcome, Josie Malone!

Today my guest is western romance author Josie Malone, talking about a topic currently near and dear to my heart: women disguised as men in a historical context. (My current manuscript opens with the heroine disguised as a British redcoat during the Napoleonic Wars, and a damn good soldier she is indeed.)

Now, over to Josie:

Last spring, it delighted me when BookStrand offered for my historical western romance, A Man’s World – the story of a woman who masquerades as a gunfighter in 1887 Washington (state) Territory. It took years to write, rewrite, and rewrite the story again. In comparison, researching for the novel was actually easier than the plotting and writing process.

I grew up in the 1960’s and ‘70’s in what Barbara Streisand called, a “No, You Don’t World – Over-run with rules,” in the movie, A Star is Born. It was the way life was, especially for some young girls. My father ruled with an iron fist – no velvet glove - and questioning authority was not tolerated in “his” house. I thought that was the way it had always been, men dominating and women as second-class citizens.

Libraries provided a sanctuary from home, even if I couldn’t take the books back to “his” house, and I began to learn the world was bigger than I was told. No wonder women marching in the streets in support of the Equal Rights Amendment fascinated me.

That fascination guided my choices for the next several years, i.e. joining the Army Reserve, taking classes at Skagit Valley Community College and eventually I was able to attend Washington State University where I majored in English and History. That led to courses in what was called American Studies and Women’s History where I discovered something new and forbidden in my father’s house.

Women did things and they’d been doing them for centuries.

I read about Abigail Adams who wanted the vote for women during the American Revolution and tried to convince her husband to include it in the Constitution. There were so many other women, abolitionists, suffragists, suffragettes, writers, poets, teachers, scientists, soldiers, doctors, nurses who were actively engaged in building America.

And so much of the information was recorded. It could be found in diaries, letters, newspaper articles and books written by the women who lived during those times. If they didn’t write about it, they were written about! And being at Washington State University I had access not only to fabulous libraries, but also amazing professors who taught me how to find information. Research was a new adventure since I was the first woman in my extended family to go to college, but I was also the first to graduate from high school.

In one history text at WSU, I saw a footnote about women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the American Civil War. Just the idea was enough to make me refine my research – at that time, I didn’t have the seed of an idea for what would become A Man’s World. I pursued knowledge for its own sake, hungry, starving to learn everything I could about my gender.

Then, I discovered the story of Charley Parkhurst.

Detailed in The Mayflower Murderer & Other Forgotten Firsts in American History by Peter Stevens, Charley Parkhurst successfully hid her sex for more than 40 years until her death in 1879. Known as the “Boss of the Road,” she drove a stagecoach through the Sierra Nevadas in California. In 1868, Charley registered to vote and cast ballots in elections, something she could do as a “man,” but a right no woman was allowed in 19th century America.

Once I learned about Charley, I continued more research on the topic. From there, it was a short step to the “What-If” game that authors play. What if I wrote a book about a woman who disguised her gender and set it in Washington Territory? Just the idea meant more research and I began to read everything I could find about life in Western Washington, collecting oral histories, textbooks and memoirs. I visited museums and historical societies and listened to the stories that older residents told of their lives.

I have shelves of books in my office and I can pass up anything but a bookstore, or thrift store, or second-hand store. For fun, I check out the materials available in the antique stores in the town of Snohomish – did you know it was the Snohomish county seat for years until the newly established company town of Everett offered train stations for votes?

While writing A Man’s World, the research didn’t stop. I would hit the library when my own books proved insufficient to find details I needed to know. Yes, I do quite a bit of research on my computer now, but I have to admit that I still enjoy hunting down facts the old-fashioned way. I don’t need to hide at the library anymore, but in my mind it’s the gate to Adventure-Land. I never know what I will find, but a treasure trove of trivia awaits and some barely known fact will spark my next novel.

A Man’s World is a mainstream western romance and was an e-book release from Siren/Bookstrand in September.

I write as Josie Malone, but my horse articles have appeared in Equus, Country Extra, Horse & Rider, Western Horseman, and Canadian Horsepower under my “real” name of Shannon Kennedy. Willowisp Press published two of my young adult books 20+ years ago and thrill of thrills, BookStrand just contracted for another of my mainstream western romances, a contemporary this time. The Daddy Spell will be out as an ebook in January 2011 under my pen name of Josie Malone.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Welcome, Elyse Mady!

My tendinitis is starting to improve. (Children! Pay attention to ergonomics, and don't ignore your symptoms hoping they'll go away.) But I'm still not quite ready to blog yet, so I'm delighted to welcome my guest, Elyse Mady, another Carina author trying a new approach to the Regency era. Her novella, The Debutante's Dilemma, is available now

It's all yours, Elyse!

Hi Susanna – thanks so much for inviting me to your blog today to talk about my debut publication, “The Debutante’s Dilemma”. I’m really happy to be here.

1) How long have you been writing, and what made you realize you wanted to become an author?

Turns out I’ve been writing a long time, I just didn’t know that meant I wanted to be an author. I was down in my parents’ basement not too long ago, hunting for some-such or another, and ended up hauling out some boxes my parents had packed away on the happy, happy day I moved away from home. (My mother will lie, as all mothers ought to, and tell you she cried, but I strongly suspect there was much high-fiving and one-down-two-to-go talk between she and my father that day).

At any rate, in the course of hunting down a long remembered file, I discovered a whole box of my writing. Most of it was old term papers – first year university essay on “The Decameron”, anyone? – but amongst the bits and pieces were several screenplays, a number of short stories and even some longer story fragments and novel outlines, dating back to when I was young.

It’s only as I’ve gotten older and I realized that not everyone has characters who tromp in and out of their heads, blurting out story bits and ideas that I slowly came to the realization that not only do I love to read, I love to write, too. Over the last number of years, I’ve completed a four part screenplay adaptation, three novels and more than 30 magazine articles. It’s all been good practice and helped me hone my skills bit by bit.

2) Tell us about getting The Call.

I’m still waiting for the call, actually. It was all done via email, which totally lacks drama and makes my answer, whenever another author or reader asks that question, very, very short. When Angela and I finally spoke on the phone (I called her after an excellent game of voicemail tag), we spent our time discussing exciting things like Carina’s commitment to long-term author development and sales projections. There were no tears, sobs or hysterical laughter to relate.

It’s kind of sad, really. Heck, I’m a writer! I should just make up a fantastic story, shouldn’t I? Something that involves Daniel Craig, pleading phone calls and the response, “Daniel, I would if I could, but Angela James is counting on me.” If you say anything with enough conviction, people will believe you, right?!

But in truth, I managed to sell “The Debutante’s Dilemma” almost as a fluke. I’d submitted another manuscript entirely to Carina (well, actually, I submitted it twice, when the first version went into the electronic ether following a system malfunction at Carina last December) and was waiting on their reply for about three and a half months. That story was a very sexy contemporary – as far from a Regency as you can get. But in the meantime, while I’d been waiting, I wrote “Dilemma” almost as a lark, because the characters were so compelling and the fun of channelling my inner Regency snark was totally appealing.

When my first manuscript was greeted with a very positive revise and resubmit request, I was able to say to the lovely Gina B., “I’ll definitely work on those changes. In the meantime, any chance you’d like to read this other novella of mine?” It only took a month and smack dab in the middle of Carina’s launch this past June, I heard that not only had they taken me on, but that I would be on e-shelves before the end of the year. How cool is that?

3) What gave you the idea for THE DEBUTANTE'S DILEMMA?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I certainly read a lot of period romances and I love 18th century novels generally (Austen, Edgeworth, Burney, Richardson, Defoe) but as I mentioned above, I hadn’t had any definite intentions of writing a story set in the early 19th century.

Whatever the spark was, the slightly supercilious and snarky voice that opens “The Debutante’s Dilemma” sprang into my mind without any warning. The opening line, “Miss Cecilia Hastings was the luckiest girl who had ever lived to draw breath,” came to me fully formed and I found myself one night, sitting up in bed, scribbling furiously in a notebook, about this young debutante who had strolled so elegantly into my imagination. Her difficulty – that of having two eligible lovers and being unable to choose between them – was also something I knew almost immediately.

I wish all stories wrote themselves like that – usually I find myself in a painstaking process of brainstorming and piecing the elements together bit by bit – but in this case, whatever authorial alchemy was at work, I was glad to embrace it.

4) What's the most surprising thing about being published so far?

Besides the fact that Oprah hasn’t had either of us on her book club yet? I mean, are you as hurt by that oversight as I am, Susanna? :-) We’d make great guests, wouldn’t we?

But seriously, there haven’t been too many surprises in the ‘I totally didn’t expect this to happen’ sense of the word. The surprises have been more in the ‘I knew this was going to happen but it’s a thousand times better than I could have expected’ vein.

My cover is one of those surprises. I love my cover. Love it. Love it. Love it. It exceeded all of my expectations and having seen the other lovely covers Carina’s cover coven have been putting out, that’s saying a lot.

The impact an editor like Gina has had on my work is another great surprise. I have a couple of CPs I work with and they’re great – their brainstorming and problem solving are indispensable as I shape my early drafts - but having a pro’s eyes shaping the material later, asking the difficult questions, has made my work better without question. I like the editing process. Not while I’m in the midst of it, of course – I write romance, not S&M! – but there’s something so satisfying about shaping an idea or a phrase or a plot point until it shines.

5) Tell us a little about your heroine. If she'd been born 200 years later, what would she have done with her life?

What a great question! I think Cecilia would have made a great event planner. She’s someone who excels at making people feel at home. That seems like an odd characteristic for a heroine to have, I know, but Cecilia is naturally out-going and curious about others and that makes her someone that people naturally gravitate to. In 1814 terms, that means she’s the non-pareil of the Season; in 2010 terms, that would make her a leader of people, I think.

It’s certainly her curiosity and honesty that compel her to issue the unorthodox challenge to her two suitors: a kiss before she will entertain their proposals. Because she knows she wants to marry for passion and she knows herself well enough to know that she couldn’t bear to be stymied or constrained by a ‘polite’ agreement. But definitely neither she nor Henley or Wexford expect anything like what comes of their encounter, I can promise you that.

6) What's next for you?

I’m working on a variety of new projects. In addition to my magazine work, I’ve had two contemporaries accepted by Carina and they should be hitting e-bookshelves at some point in 2011. I’ll have all the details on my blog,, as soon as they’re available.

Then I’m also working on a new, full length historical novel which has no title at present because titles are so not my forté. It’s another regency but it’s a significant departure for me – a fusion of sorts between historical fiction and historical romance that I’m really excited about. I’ve left behind the ballrooms and salons that I explored in “The Debutante’s Dilemma” and am moving into less vaunted but still fascinating (to me at least) spheres of everyday Londoners during the period. Like your book, “The Sergeant’s Lady”, many of the characters involved were actual people and bringing them to life, filling in the many unknowns yet keeping true to the historical record and shaping a compelling story is a really interesting challenge for me as a writer. No battles or cannon fire but there are mass arrests and bribes, gaol fever and riots and all sorts of legal skullduggery, leavened with a big heaping dose of romance.

7) Anything you'd like to ask my readers?

I’d love to know if like me, you read more than one genre of romance and if so, why? I write both historical and contemporary and read ‘em, too. What about you? Do you read across multiple styles or do you prefer to stick wholly to one type of romance?

I’ll wrap this up by saying thanks again for having me! I loved having a chance to talk about my writing and my new book., “The Debutante’s Dilemma”.

I’d love to say thanks by offering one lucky poster the chance of winning a digital copy of “The Debutante’s Dilemma” in their choice of ebook format. Comment between now and midnight Wednesday, Pacific Standard Time, for your chance to win!

The Debutante’s Dilemma by Elyse Mady

One woman in search of passion

Miss Cecilia Hastings has achieved what every young lady hopes for during her first London season…in duplicate! She’s caught the eye of not one but two of England’s most eligible bachelors. Both Jeremy Battersley, Earl of Henley, and Richard Huxley, Duke of Wexford are handsome, wealthy and kind, the epitome of proper gentlemen. But Cecelia doesn’t want proper, she wants passion. So she issues a challenge to her suitors: a kiss, so that she may choose between them.

Two men in love with the same woman

Friends since childhood, and compatriots on the battlefields of Spain, falling for the same woman has set Jeremy and Richard at odds, and risks destroying their friendship forever. But a surprising invitation to a late-night garden tryst soon sets them on a course that neither of them could have anticipated. And these gentlemen quickly discover that love can take many forms…

Available now from Carina Press and E-book retailers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brief blogging hiatus

I'm taking a break from blogging as part of a larger break from the keyboard in general to allow my body a chance to heal up from a case of elbow tendinitis.

Next week I have two guest bloggers, Elyse Mady on Tuesday and Josie Malone on Thursday, and hopefully by the week after that I'll be back to my normal, and admittedly frenetic, typing schedule again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Research Wednesday: Where Cork Comes From

My new manuscript is historical fantasy with romantic elements set, like The Sergeant's Lady, in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

As is usually the case when I'm in first draft mode, the manuscript is filled with bolded, caps-locked notes to myself to look up some detail before I show it to anyone beyond my circle of critique partners. I'll have my heroine's mouth water over a dinner of roast beef and [SEASONAL VEGETABLE], or an officer arrive with a message from [APPROPRIATE REGIMENT].

One of my recent notes to myself asked me to find a [TREE NATIVE TO PORTUGAL]. I decided that should be a simple enough fact to fill in, so I googled "trees native to Portugal," and started going through the options on the Wikipedia page I discovered. I settled on the cork oak, which I'm pretty sure I mentioned in The Sergeant's Lady, having seen it named in the soldier memoirs that are such a wonderful primary source for the Peninsular War geek. But back then I didn't look up the details. So I did not know that corks come from the bark of the tree, nor that it can be harvested once a decade or so at no harm to the tree, which can live up to 250 years.

Now that I know all that, I'll be thinking of Portugal and my books every time I uncork a bottle of wine.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Welcome, Celia Jerome!

This week's guest is Celia Jerome, author of a newly released fantasy novel, Trolls in the Hamptons. Isn't that a wonderful cover? I'd definitely walk across a bookstore to pick it up and find out more.

Take it away, Celia!


Hi. My name is Celia Jerome and I live in Paumanok Harbor, Long Island, New York. I’m mid-thirties and my very first book, TROLLS IN THE HAMPTONS, came out last week.

I lie.

Well, TROLLS IN THE HAMPTONS just came out from DAW Books, but that’s the only real fact in my introduction. The rest is as fictional and fantastical as TROLLS. There is no such place as Paumanok Harbor, no such person as Celia Jerome, my age is no one’s business, and this is not my first book, by a lot. There may or may not be trolls in the Hamptons.

Here’s why I’m using a pen name and new persona:

First, I’ve published a bunch of Regency romances and Regency-set historicals and Regency novellas. I have a room full of reference books for them and a shelf full of awards for them. What I didn’t have was a bunch of fresh new ideas for them. The market was tending toward longer, deeper, sexier, darker Regencies, places I wasn’t comfortable going. I found myself adding paranormal elements, just to keep my imagination happy. Some readers liked them, some didn’t. I loved writing them. So why not go for it?

Because I really couldn’t afford to write on spec, without a contract. Because I had no creds in any other genre, so I’d have to finish the whole book before showing it. Because I was so well established in the Regency era. Because my agent didn’t think it was a good idea. Because most fantasy and paranormal romances were long, dark, deep and sexy. Vampires and werewolves and steam punk, oh my.

I wrote TROLLS IN THE HAMPTONS anyway, and had a blast. It’s contemporary fantasy, with small-town magic. No one could say I got my facts wrong, because I made them up as I went along. Everyone in Paumanok Harbor is either a pre-cog, a weather maven, a locator, or a truth-knower— or whatever I want them to be. The plumber is a scryer, the librarian always knows what book you want, the post master has a seeing-eye dog. My heroine, Willow Tate, is a graphic novelist, and the Visualizer for a hidden universe. The hero is a British agent from the Department of Unexplained Events, or DUE. (I couldn’t resist making him an English lord.) And the troll? He’s a trespasser creating chaos while searching for his kidnapped halfling brother.

I sent it out myself, and sold it to the first publisher who saw it. They also bought the second in the series, NIGHT MARES IN THE HAMPTONS (May, 2011) from an outline. Then I got a wonderful new agent and sold three more: FIRE WORKS IN THE HAMPTONS, LIFE GUARDS IN THE HAMPTONS, and SAND WITCHES IN THE HAMPTONS. For those of you who mightn’t know, the Hamptons are a group of summer resort communities a couple of hours from Manhattan along the Atlantic coast at the eastern end of Long Island. Think tourists, fishermen, surfers, wealthy second-home owners, gorgeous scenery, celebrities, the Montauk Lighthouse, traffic jams, retirees and hard-working locals. Winters are quiet and gray. A writer can get a lot of work done without distractions. I wrote a lot of Regencies snug inside with my dog and my laptop, and read many more.

Suddenly, though, I was set in an exciting new genre with the security of signed contracts. Instead of my beloved Regencies, I took to reading chick lit and mysteries, for the contemporary feel. I took my mother’s and father’s first names and started planning a website at

Unfortunately, my usual Regency readers would be dismayed. Trollops maybe, not trolls. Readers of fantasy might recognize my name and think, oh, she only writes historicals. So for now I am reinvented and reinspired as Celia Jerome, but people can always check the name on the copyright page, if they buy the books!


Thanks for stopping by, Celia! Readers, please feel free to chime in with any questions you may have for her.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Favorites Monday: In This House of Brede

This weekend I re-read In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.

I've read it more times than I can count, even though I'm not in the book's core demographic, to put it mildly. The book is a character study of a group of British Benedictine nuns in the 1950's and 60's. I'm not a Catholic, I've never even for a nanosecond considered becoming a nun, and I write romance novels with explicit sex scenes.

So why do I read about these nuns again and again? Because Godden did such a masterful job bringing her community of characters to life. The plot is very subtle--mostly as readers we simply live with these characters through several years as a new abbess copes with the problems left behind by her predecessor and several women go through the process that takes them from postulant to fully professed nun. But the writing is lovely and measured. The world of Brede Abbey feels three-dimensional, every bit as different and fascinating to me as Regency England or Narnia or Terre d'Ange or Prince Edward Island at the turn of the 20th century, just to name a few other places I like to visit through the medium of a book. But above all I come back to In This House of Brede for the characters. That's one thing my favorite stories have in common, characters who feel almost as real to me as my closest friends, so I can't help revisiting them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writing Weekend: Steering the Craft

Someone on one of the forums I frequent mentioned doing an exercise from Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft, and I was sufficiently curious to put the book on hold at my local library. I'm glad I did, and I'll be purchasing my own copy in the near future.

It's emphatically a craft book, focusing more on the trees than the forest. Topics include sentence length and syntax, managing varying points of view, punctuation, verb tense, when to go into detail and when to skip ahead through summary, etc. But it's not a basic book by any means, more a master class on the finer points of the writing craft. I want to get my own copy and take time to work through the exercises because it's easy for me to think I know all that stuff already simply because grammar comes naturally to me and I've never had a problem with head-hopping. But there's always more to learn, and I don't want to stagnate as a writer, but to improve.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Belated Friday Find: Sitka and Spruce

So I've fallen off my blogging schedule a little this week. Work has been unexpectedly busy, and I'm doing NaNoWriMo, which means trying to write at about twice my normal pace. Hence, a Friday Find post on Saturday.

This week's Find is a restaurant. Mr. Fraser and I went to the Sufjan Stevens concert last Saturday. Our babysitting plans for Miss Fraser turned into a sleepover at a school friend's house, which gave us the luxury of an entire night to ourselves. Which meant, among other things, getting to have dinner at a restaurant with no kids' menu.

I'd describe Mr. Fraser and myself as aspirational foodies. We enjoy eating at restaurants whose chefs get national buzz, and our cookbook collection includes such works as Ad Hoc At Home and the Les Halles Cookbook. We just rarely have the babysitting and money for the former or the time and energy to cook from the latter.

Anyway, last Saturday we went to Sitka and Spruce The food wasn't quite like anything I'd had before, in that the chef uses mostly local Northwestern ingredients but is inspired by the cuisines of the Moorish-influenced parts of the Mediterranean. The service is a bit different too, in that all the plates are designed for sharing and served family-style.

I didn't love every single bite. The pickles weren't on the same level as the ones Boat Street makes (which reminds me I've got some Boat Street raisin pickle in the fridge that I should really use for the filling in a pork wellington next time I'm in cook-like-a-foodie mode). And my olive oil ice cream dessert was more fascinating than delicious. I think it would've worked better as a one-scoop accent to dessert than as the main event. But I snuck several bites of Mr. Fraser's gateau Basque with pear and caramel, which was divine, the lamb was among the best I've ever eaten, and the leeks vinaigrette with apple and giblet confit was wonderful.

I definitely recommend Sitka and Spruce for Seattle people wanting a tasty, different dining experience. Prices are about what you'd expect for this level of food (and are listed on the website). It's not quite an all-time favorite, and probably not the first place I'd send an out-of-town visitor. If said visitor had just one night in Seattle, I'd send her to Tilth, which features the best food I've ever eaten in my life, anywhere. Second night would go to a Seattle classic salmon place, either Ivar's, Ray's, or Salty's, and a third night would be Boat Street, with strict instructions to save room for the bread pudding.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning about critique from Tim Gunn

Mr. Fraser, who is a web designer, sent me this link from a user interface designer on what he learned about giving good design critique from Tim Gunn. Every word of it is valid for writing critique, in my opinion. I especially liked this point:

Offer direction, not prescription. Tim doesn’t often tell the designer how to fix the design (although he will say what specifically isn’t working for him.) But it is up to the designer to come up with a solution (“Make it work!”).

And also this one:

Accept multiple styles. Tim’s style is, in all likelihood, very far away from the aesthetic of most of the designers. But he doesn’t try to impose his style on them, just sharpen their own while still applying some universal principles of good taste and design.

But it's all worth reading. If you're a writer with critique partners or if you ever judge writing contests, check it out.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Research Wednesday: Past Calendars

My current manuscript is set during the Peninsular War, October 1810-May 1811, from the aftermath of the Battle of Busaco to Fuentes de Onoro, and includes the actions and in some cases the point of view of actual historical figures like Wellington and the French marshals Ney and Massena. (Incidentally, the "n" in "Onoro" should have a tilde, and the "e" in "Massena" an accent mark--anyone know how to add those in Blogger?)

It occurred to me as I researched that I needed to keep careful track of who was where and when. Though the short version of what happened between the two battles looks like a stalemate followed by a retreat, the reality of course was a bit more complicated, and I want to get as close to reality as possible, because that's how I roll.

However, there are also vampires and werewolves in this story, so "close to reality" is a relative term. But having werewolves means you need to know when the moon was full.

What I really needed is one of those big desk blotter calendars, the kind that comes with moon phases and everything, but for 1810-11. Obviously no such product is listed in the Office Depot catalog, so the question I then asked myself was how to go about replicating one, or at least creating an Excel file facsimile thereof.

As always when faced with a new research challenge, I turned first to The Google. I searched on "calendar any year" and started with this, the first link offered. Pay dirt! It even gives the phases of the moon. I punched in 1810, then 1811, and spent half an hour putting the results into an Excel file and formatting it. (I found a site that would generate an Excel calendar for a specified date range, but it was a paid download, and I wasn't going to pay for something I could quickly manage on my own and customize at will should I choose to do so.)

So now I have a lovely calendar for the 8 months of my story. Over the weekend I'm going to sit down and start filling in all the tiny historical incidents that might impact my story, and as I write I'll add what my fictional (and fictionalized historical) characters do in the midst of the real events.

I wonder how long it would've taken me to track down 1810-1811 calendars plus moon phases if I'd been writing this book 30 years ago, as an unusually precocious 9-year-old. :-) I'm not even sure how to go about such a search pre-internet. Get a research librarian to help me track down old farmers' almanacs, maybe? It certainly wouldn't have been the work of half an hour. On the whole, I think I love the internet.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Welcome, Wendy Soliman!

Today my guest is my fellow Carina Regency author, Wendy Soliman. Wendy is English, so I asked her to talk about her experiences writing about her own country and history for a largely American readership.

Someday I want to write a few posts myself about why I'm comfortable writing British protagonists, what other settings I might attempt with more research, and which ones I just don't feel are stories I have any right to tell...but today is not that day, so here's Wendy!


With five Regencies out there in the UK, making the transition across the pond ought to be a doddle, right?

Well, er…no, actually.

The publisher I wrote for in the UK required the bedroom door to be firmly closed behind the hero and heroine. No sex please, we're British!

Fortunately I don't find myself similarly restricted by publishers' guidelines in America. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I'm still treading a fine line between the need to stay true to the period I'm writing about and fictional licence. Contraception was basic and unreliable in the 1800's and unmarried girls really didn't hop in and out of bed with charming rakes – dare I say it, willy-nilly. They couldn't afford to lose their virginity before finding a husband, nor could they risk the possibility of pregnancy.

Once they were married, it was an entirely different story. Hence the number of widows or dissatisfied wives who appear in books, ready to indulge in extra-marital activities. Since so many marriages were arranged and husband and wife often didn't even like each other very much, adultery on both sides was fairly common.

But lots of writers target widows and wives and I like to be different.

In my next e-book, Of Dukes and Deceptions, due to be released by Carina Press next March, my hero strikes a wager with his henchman, vowing to bed the heroine, a supposed poor relation, before his visit to Ravenswing Manor comes to an end. But the girl's a virgin. What's he thinking of? Doesn't the man have any conscience? He's a duke, for goodness sake! He ought to know better. Or is he too arrogant to care?

I'm afraid you'll have to wait until March to see how he gets round that one!

Another problem is our common language. Fortunately I don't write modern stuff. Otherwise I might well have to wrestle with the problem of someone wishing to erase something they'd written in pencil. No one in England would turn a hair if that person asked for a rubber. See what I mean! Equally, an American hero might pull on his pants. To us, that means his underwear. Why is he going out in the street wearing his shorts? He'll catch cold. And a vest is something he'd wear beneath his shirt in winter to keep warm. Oh, and just so we're clear, roads have bends, okay? Not curves. Women have those! And, as for Sarah Palin's poor daughter, being lumbered with the name 'Bristol'…well, if you don't know what connotations that has in Cockney rhyming slang, then go find someone English and ask them!

In Of Dukes and Deceptions my editor suggested that I cut the following phrase, 'Her eyes rested on the beaver on his head', leaving off the words, 'on his head' because its self-evident. That made me realise that some readers might wonder what my hero's doing with a beaver on his head.

Okay, it's a type of hat, not a furry animal. Stop it, I know what you're thinking, but no one in England would!

Wendy Soliman

Of Dukes and Deceptions – Carina Press March 2011

Monday, November 1, 2010

Favorites Monday: Dave

Back in July, I posted my Desert Isle Movies List and promised to eventually post about why each one is a favorite.

This week I'm going to tackle Dave (1993, Kevin Kline/Sigourney Weaver), since it's a frothy political romantic comedy and therefore a fun distraction from midterm elections, which are NOT frothy and fun.

If you haven't seen the movie, here's a brief synopsis: Dave, an affable, good-hearted DC temp agency owner, happens to bear a startling resemblance to a sleazy, philandering president. When the POTUS suffers a stroke, Dave is persuaded to stand in for him by the powers behind the throne...but when he sees how corrupt those powers are, he starts to seize the reins of power himself. Oh, and fall in love with the First Lady.

It's goofy and unbelievable. And I don't really buy into the idea that any average nice American would make a good president--it's an almost impossibly difficult job, and when I'm filling out my ballot or arguing for my choice at my party's caucus, I'm not thinking about which candidate I'd like to have a beer with or which one I'd rather have babysit my kid. I want, in no particular order, brains, toughness, pragmatism, and someone who broadly speaking shares my view of the world. But Dave isn't about all that, it's just one of the most charming romantic comedies I've ever seen.

So, if you're American, vote tomorrow. Or mail in your ballot, as the case may be. Washington is a vote-by-mail state, so I voted two weeks ago and am heartily sick of having to endure all the campaign ads anyway. And if you want a break from the depressing, cynicism-inducing side of the political process, rent Dave.