Sunday, February 27, 2011


Over the last week, I've been doing first-round judging for a writing contest which shall remain nameless. I'm bound by all sorts of confidentiality rules not to say anything specific about the entries, so I won't.

But from long experience as a judge, I know I'm not giving anything away by saying many entrants struggle with commas. They leave them out where they're absolutely necessary. They stick them where they have no business being.

So, if you know you struggle with commas or you get back a judged contest entry telling you so, check out this website. It covers most of the basics. Note especially Rule #4:

4. Commas set off non-restrictive (non-essential) clauses, phrases, and modifiers from the rest of the sentence.

That one comes up a lot when writers are introducing characters in their synopsis. Both of these are grammatically correct:

British sergeant Will Atkins is a brave soldier in Wellington's army.

Will Atkins, a sergeant in Wellington's army, meets Anna in June 1811.

But the following are WRONG WRONG WRONG:

British sergeant, Will Atkins is a brave soldier...

Will Atkins, a sergeant in Wellington's army meets Anna...

Think of this type of comma as a sort of mini-parenthesis: it MUST come in a set.

There. My inner English teacher feels much better now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest blog, flattery, and a congratulations

I've been a bit quiet on the internets the past few days after pushing my carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis-afflicted hand a bit too hard removing wallpaper over the weekend. My hand IS getting better, and I've learned to rest it right away when these little relapses occur. It's just frustrating that the improvement is so GRADUAL. I'm used to things like the sinus infection I'm also recovering from--I go to the doctor, she says, "Yep, I think that's bacterial instead of viral. No penicillin allergy? Good. Have some amoxycillin," and within two days my symptoms are gone. But the hand doctor says I'm doing well, just use common sense and come in if I have severe pain or diminished sensation or range of motion, so I'll take her word for it.

Anyway, today I'm guest blogging over at fellow Carina author Katie Reus's place. I'm talking about secrets in fiction and giving away copies of both The Sergeant's Lady and A Marriage of Inconvenience (though you won't get the latter until April), so do stop by and comment for a chance to win.

I've been going to writing conferences and hanging around with writers on the internet for so long that I'm mostly blase about interacting with authors. But there are a few out there who can still reduce me to babbling, incoherent fangirl squee. Lois McMaster Bujold, whose books I'm currently wallowing in to the point that if you asked me to promise you something, I might just give my word as Vorfraser. (And if that makes sense to you, please say hello--I need someone to babble fangirlishly with about the dinner party in A Civil Campaign.) Jacqueline Carey. Diana Gabaldon and Bernard Cornwell, both of whom I've actually attempted to converse with at conferences--I think I managed to come across kinda sane. And Julia Spencer-Fleming, whose glorious Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries hooked me completely despite being set in the present (with no fantastical, time traveling, or alternative history alterations thereto) and coming this this close to an adulterous hero and heroine, which is usually Not My Thing. (Except insofar as it's now showing up in my historical fantasy WIP, in yet another instance of my muse taking "I'll NEVER write X" as a dare.)

Anyway...Julia Spencer-Fleming liked my book! And she blogged about it! In public and everything! SQUEEEEE!!!!

OK. In other flattering-to-me news, All About Romance named The Sergeant's Lady as both a 2010 Buried Treasure and a reviewer favorite. In all seriousness, I treasure the time I spent writing that book and those characters, and it's an honor every time readers tell me they connected with them too.

Last but not least, I want to congratulate my critique partner and dear friend Rose Lerner for being voted the best debut author of 2010 in All About Romance's annual reader poll. If you haven't read her In For a Penny yet, you should really go buy it right away. She's a wonderful stylist, her characters come alive, and if you're reading MY blog you probably enjoy off-the-beaten-path Regencies, which hers decidedly are. They take a different route off the beaten path than mine, but still.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading challenges update

I continue to work toward the assorted reading challenges I set myself in 2011, even while it occurs to me I might have slightly overdone the resolution-making this year.

On my buy-and-read challenge, I read Songs of Love and Death, or at least began it. It's an anthology on the theme of star-crossed love, mostly by romance and SFF authors, bought for the sake of the Jacqueline Carey and Diana Gabaldon entries, mostly. I read their stories first, naturally, but I plan to read the others as I'm in the mood for short stories over the course of the year.

And for my research reading challenge, I took up Passion and Principle: the Loves and Lives of Regency Women, by Jane Aiken Hodge. It's a series of mini-biographies of assorted famous and notorious women of the extended Regency era. It covers too many women in too few pages to go into any great depth on any of them, but it's a readable overview of the opportunities, limitations, and challenges for women 200 years ago and what they might face if they tested their limits.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Welcome, Elaine Golden!

Today we welcome Elaine Golden, whose debut romance, AN IMPRUDENT LADY, is out this month from Harlequin Historical Undone.

Thank you, Susanna, for the opportunity to share my first call story.

I've been writing on-and-off for years, but in 2006 I decided to get serious about it. I began to write in earnest, my sights set on historical romance because that's what I love to read. Writing takes time and practice, and by 2008, I was finally hitting my stride. When I heard about the launch of the new Harlequin Historical line of shorts called Undone, I decided to try my hand at one.

In 2009 I sent off my manuscript to the dreaded slush pile, and I kept writing. It wasn’t until last March that I received a response --a nice email from one of the editors who detailed what worked and what didn't about the story. It took me a moment to realize the editor was inviting me to revise and resubmit.

So, I worked and worked and refined the manuscript and off it went, back to the editor. And then two months later I received another email. I didn't want to open it. It wasn't a phone call, so it wasn't likely to be very good news, and I was convinced I'd blown it.

When I finally worked up the nerve, I was surprised to find another request to resubmit –one of the new scenes I’d added wasn’t quite right. I had another chance!

Fearful I’d mess it up, I took extra time and care to rewrite that one scene, and finally I sent it in again, expecting not to hear anything again for a while.

Until my phone rang. That very Friday. And a very nice British voice greeted me --an editor from the London office. THE call. The one with good news.

I don't remember much of the call other than getting up and carefully closing my office door, for fear that I'd start squealing. I think mostly I chattered jibberish, and she was gracious as she led me through all of the inevitable business questions.

When the call ended, I texted my hubby, then had to act normal, like my life hadn't irrevocably changed that morning by a simple phone call. It wasn't easy!

Since that day, it's been a whirlwind of activity. I've sold two more Undones and turned the three into a series called Fortney Follies. I certainly didn’t imagine that 2 years ago when I sent that submission off!

My debut romance, AN IMPRUDENT LADY, was released February 1st from Harlequin Historical Undone. The sequel, A DISGRACEFUL MISS, will be released on March 1st. Please visit my website at for more information about me and my books including downloadable excerpts.

Here's a glimpse about my story:

AN IMPRUDENT LADY by Elaine Golden

Release Date: February 2011

ISBN #978-1-426-88544-0

Regency London

As a young woman, Lady Charlotte Fortney learned what passion truly was from her handsome neighbor, Daniel Walsh. When they were discovered, her father sent the lowly doctor’s son far away from his precious daughter.

Years later, spinster Charlotte is content to watch others play the courtship game—until Daniel returns from India, rekindling a desire that time could never erase. But Daniel seems to have set his sights on another woman, the one match Charlotte would do anything to prevent. He may be willing to give her up—if Charlotte gives herself in exchange….

Book one of the Fortney Follies series.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

At Romancing the Past...

Today I'm over on the Carina historical blog, talking about historical TMI, in the form of what I know about Wellington and Napoleon's sex lives that they probably wouldn't have particularly wanted to share with some random American woman born 200 years after them. Price of fame! Please stop by and comment.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Silver Linings

Upon reflection, I'm actually glad this carpal tunnel flare-up forced me to step back from my writing for a bit.

Before it happened I was barreling ahead, feeling like the single most important thing in the world was to write FAST. You see, I've already sold two of the three polished manuscripts I've written to Carina in The Sergeant's Lady and A Marriage of Inconvenience. The third went out on an extensive round of submission to agents last year before I accepted that it needed more reworking, reworking I'm just not ready to do right now, having already written and rewritten that story so often that I've gone from thinking of it as the Best Idea I'll Ever Have to That Thing I Never Want to Look At Again. Maybe in a year or two I'll be ready to revisit it, but not yet.

Mind you, writing fast really is important, and it's still a goal of mine to improve my pace. But I was going about it the wrong way. Mr. Fraser, who recognizes my fondness for military analogies, asked me if any of my favorite Napoleonic-era generals would just go charging into battle without surveying the ground or reconnoitering the enemy's deployments. I said of course not, to which he replied that was how I was writing. And he was right. I wasn't thinking through my stories long enough beforehand before starting to write, and it showed. I call myself a pantser rather than a plotter because I don't outline or write character bios or any of that stuff. But I do daydream about my stories for months before starting to write--long enough that I could tell you all about my protagonists' childhoods and have multiple key scenes planned out. When I don't do that my writing comes out slapdash, and I'm too quick to go to cliches. All my villains come out of the same kit. All my secondary characters are straight from Central Casting.

With almost two months off, I got to think about my stories without the pressure to churn out 5000 words/week minimum. I made a playlist for the historical fantasy and took my protagonists horse shopping online--which made me realize my heroine loves to dance and really wants a gorgeous Andalusian or Lusitano with the most luxuriant mane and tail possible, which I thought added some nice dimension to what had been a purely tomboyish fighting machine in my first attempt at a draft. I asked myself why my general's emigre French chef was little and fussy when I could just as well write him big and badass, a sort of 1810 edition Anthony Bourdain. I asked myself why a certain character was being the Gay Best Friend, complete with an interest in the finer details of tailoring and dressmaking, when I hate that cliche to begin with and when it's so clear he'd be far better as a Frenemy with a well-rounded and individual personality. I rethought my heroine's background a bit and walked away from some personal cliches that were starting to show up way too often in my stories.

Basically, I made it better. And the same thing happened with my novellas, when I realized I was approaching the whole concept of a novella all wrong.

Who knows how long it would've taken me to figure all this out had my hands not forced me onto the DL? And you know what REALLY slows your writing down? Having to go back to square one when you realize you've completed a bad manuscript. At least I spared myself that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


My hands are healed enough that I'm starting to do serious work on my manuscripts again. I realized the novella I'd been working on was actually a full-length novel, and I wasn't sufficiently into it to take at least 80,000 words of time away from my historical fantasy WIP. My problem is that I start novellas thinking, "What's the most story I can pack into a word count under 50,000?" That naturally leads to stories that really should be novel length.

So I thought, "What if I take a short story idea, and if it really is a short story, I market it accordingly? But if, as so often happens to me, I end up with more story than I expect at the beginning, I actually will have a nice, reasonable novella." I brainstormed a bit and came up with a story with a straightforward conflict, no subplots, and a timeframe of a week or two to a month at most.

I wanted to go back to my Sergeant's Lady roots a bit, so I'm returning to a Peninsular War setting, this time with the hero and heroine both ordinary, non-aristocratic people. And since I've been watching Downton Abbey, I quickly pictured Jane Nolan, my new heroine, as looking like Joanne Froggatt, the actress who plays the housemaid Anna.

Jane is going to be a bit of a worrywart and serious to a fault, so those dark, solemn eyes seemed just right for her.

I had more of a challenge coming up with a visual for Cassandra Macdonald, the heroine of my historical fantasy. She had an unconventional upbringing, to put it mildly, and she's tall and athletic, too much so for the standards of beauty in 1810 as I understand them. When my Starbucks critique partners asked me for an actress who looked like her--they're fond of the casting game, for some reason--I drew a blank.

But today I thought, "Duh, she doesn't look like an actress. She looks like an athlete." So I poked around online a bit and decided she's built like Sue Bird:

Who has a gorgeous body, but I'm not sure how those broad muscular shoulders would look in the dresses of 200 years ago.

And in the face, she's more like Mia Hamm:

So I'm kinda doing that thing where a historical character feels plain when clearly she'd be a beauty by contemporary standards. On the other hand, it's not like her major conflict is going to be learning to accept her appearance and feel beautiful in the eyes of her Twu Wuv or maybe I can get by with it.