Saturday, June 25, 2011

RWA and a hand update

Just a quick post to announce that I won't be blogging over the next week since I'm flying out bright and early Monday morning to attend RWA in New York. Once I'm back in Seattle at the beginning of July, I'll talk about the conference, what I've been reading lately, random research notes, and my writing life in general again.

An update on my hand issues–I've been seeing a physical therapist regularly to treat the pinched nerve in my neck, and my symptoms have definitely improved. I've gone from having basically 1.25 hands in December to having 1.75 hands now, maybe as many as 1.9 on a good day. In other words, my left hand doesn't feel quite normal–there is still a vague sense of pins-and-needles or tightness even on the best days–but it's a usable hand again. I can carry a medium-weight bag of groceries in it without yelping in pain. I can type. Between my improved hands and getting used to Dragon software, I've been putting out a decent word count on my new historical romance manuscript. Life is much better than it was six months ago.

I hate the timing of this, right after my first two books came out, because the injury slowed me down enough that I wasn't able to produce a quick follow-up to A Marriage of Inconvenience and The Sergeant's Lady. But, if I can use a cliché for a moment, it is what it is. I'm happy with what I'm writing now, I'm writing as quickly as I can, and I haven't given up hope of making a 2011 sale and having a 2012 release after all. And if I can't manage that–well, it will have to be a 2013 release, and I'll just have to survive having a year without a new book out.

As for where I go from here, I'm going to get a second opinion on my hand to try to determine whether the issue is just the pinched nerve or if there is also carpal tunnel involvement, and whether I need surgery to truly fix either problem. If my current condition is the best I'm going to get, and/or if surgery carries a high risk, I can live with that. I still can't do heavy lifting with my left hand, and if one of my hobbies were gardening or carpentry it would be more of an issue, but I can write, I can do my day job, and I can cook. That's a lot more than I could do at the beginning of the year. But, on the whole, I'd rather not go through the rest of my life with a slightly numb hand, so I'm going to continue to follow up and see what can be done about this.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer reading for grown-ups, week two

So, yesterday I turned in my second entry to my public library's Summer Reading for Adults program. (Each 3-book reading log gets me another chance to win a drawing for a Nook at the end of the summer.)

Here's what I read over the last week. I think I did a pretty good job on my goal of picking three dissimilar books this time around...

1. A Feast For Crows, by George R.R. Martin
Genre: fantasy
Format/Source: Kindle book, purchased

This is Book Four of the Song of Ice and Fire series, the source material for HBO's Game of Thrones. The series is one of the most compelling things I've read in ages, but also by far the darkest. Trust me, TV viewers, it's just going to get more harrowing. Though I couldn't put this book down, I do think it's the weakest offering in the series to date, largely because three of my favorite characters were wholly absent, one briefly appeared at the very beginning, and two were there, but their scenes were few and far between. I learned only after finishing that Book Five, A Dance With Dragons, which comes out next month, runs parallel to this book instead of being a true sequel about what happens next. If I understand correctly, we'll get to see what was happening with the three wholly absent characters and the one who was barely there...but it means I'll have to wait till Book Six to find out what happens next for the two who WERE kinda there. Who knows how many years away that will be, and one of them got left in what was literally a dark place on her cliffhanger, so...

Don't get me wrong, I love these books. I'll dive into Dance the morning it hits my Kindle. But I wouldn't want all or even most of what I read to be this dark, nor to have such a large cast of major characters in such a baroque plot.

2. Wellington at Waterloo, by Jac Weller
Genre: nonfiction (military history)
Format/Source: trade paperback, purchased

An analysis of the Battle of Waterloo almost entirely from Wellington's perspective--even the maps face south instead of north, which actually made the battle make a lot more sense to me. Somehow having the maps oriented toward the British side enabled me to fully grok why Wellington chose the Waterloo position to make his stand and why the battle fell out as it did.

That said, this shouldn't be your first book on Waterloo. For that I'd recommend Alessandro Barbero's The Battle, a page-turner of a history that gives more or less equal time to all three armies involved. Also, Weller was an unabashed Wellington apologist. I happen to agree with his bias (though I think Weller's man-crush was even bigger than my woman-crush), but if you're an ardent admirer of Napoleon, you may find Weller's work rather head-explodey.

3. Naked Heat, by "Richard Castle"
Genre: mystery
Format/Source: hardcover, library

This is the second tie-in mystery novel to Castle, the ABC series, ostensibly written by the lead character. It's a fun, twisty, frothy mystery, rather like reading an episode of the show.

I had Naked Heat with me on Thursday when I saw my physical therapist for my weekly session to treat my pinched nerve. The techs in the gym turned out to be Castle fans who were surprised and impressed that I'd gotten a book like that from the library. Yep, kids, the library is not just for literature and term paper sources!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

196 years ago today

The Battle of Waterloo was 196 years ago today. As a Regency romance author who prefers to write about soldiers and also something of a military history geek, I think I'm contractually obligated to post something about the battle.

Four years from now, I plan to actually be there on the field for the 200th anniversary. I've got a decent-sized chunk of money set aside in a CD where I won't be tempted to touch it before it's time to book plane tickets, and I'm hoping to take 3-4 weeks off work and make a leisurely trip of it.

My new WIP is partially set at Waterloo, so I've been re-reading some of my sources. Today I was reminded by John Keegan in The Mask of Command that from the time Wellington woke up on June 15 (the day the French army crossed into Belgium) and when he fell asleep on the floor in his headquarters after Waterloo (having given his bed up to a dying officer), he got about 9 hours of sleep. Total. In three nights. Knowing that, I'm even more amazed and impressed with how well he and his army performed. On that little sleep, I'd have trouble framing a coherent sentence, and I'd probably botch the whole battle doing whatever is the military equivalent of getting a bowl of cereal, but putting the cereal box away in the fridge and the milk carton on the pantry shelf.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Infidelity in romance

Last week there was a post on Dear Author about infidelity in romance novels. I read the comments with great interest because my new historical romance WIP is about how a couple recovers from the husband's adultery and builds a relationship of love and trust.

My hero and heroine enter a marriage of convenience on short acquaintance and are then separated for years by the demands of his military career. Neither is at their best at the time of the wedding, and they go into their separation regretting that they're saddled with each other for life, but there's not a heck of a lot they can do about it given the divorce laws of early 19th century England.

So the hero does what's realistic for a man of his place and time estranged from and at a distance from his wife: he has mistresses. As for the heroine, she lives a celibate life, but is sufficiently a creature of her place and time that she wouldn't expect a man to do likewise for years on end. What gets under her skin isn't that her husband HAS affairs, but that he isn't remotely discreet about them, to the point she believes, not without justification, that everywhere she goes people are pitying her and/or laughing at her. So when he comes home expecting her to give him an heir and a spare or two like the meek, colorless, obedient wife he thought he'd married, she informs him he's got some serious apologizing to do if he wants her willing.

It's a story of its time, because neither the marriage of convenience nor the fact they can't readily divorce their way out of it would make any sense in 2011. Yet it's also about forgiveness, and trust, and putting aside mistaken assumptions--and, oh, of course, love and passion--all of which I think are timeless.

I know there are some readers who'll find my hero's behavior unforgivable and irredeemable, period. But I'm curious what you who are reading this blog now think: would the historical context and/or this couple's specific circumstances make the infidelity plot more palatable for you?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer reading for grown-ups!

My mother never let me sign up for my hometown library's summer reading program when I was a kid. Her reasoning was that I was a fast and precocious reader, so it'd be too easy for me to win the prize for the kid who read the most books. Also, I had my nose in a book all the time anyway, so she didn't see why I needed to sign up for a program to encourage me to read more.

She had a point. Nonetheless, I'm happy to be able to finally compete/participate in the Seattle Public Library's Adult Summer Reading Program. For every three books read between June 1 and August 28 (regardless of whether or not I borrow them from the library), I get to turn in a form that will be entered in a drawing for a Nook. I already have a Kindle, so I'm not going to go out and BUY a Nook, but I'll happily compete for a chance to win one.

To make things more interesting, I've arbitrarily decided that any three books on the same form have to be in totally different genres. Here are the books from my first entry form:

1. The Girls Who Went Away, by Ann Fessler.
Genre: Nonfiction (social history)

I already blogged about this book here. It's based on personal accounts of women who surrendered babies for adoption in the 50's and 60's.

2. Gentleman Captain, by JD Davies
Genre: Historical fiction (Age of Sail/nautical)

I sought this book out after seeing it reviewed on Dear Author. Given my love for Aubrey-Maturin and Sharpe, I'll at least try just about any novel with a naval or military focus, especially if it's set in the Age of Sail/black powder era. This book is set in the 17th century, well before Jack Aubrey & Co., but I'm all for variety. While it got off to a slow start, and I felt a bit distanced from the story action whenever the narrator stepped back to reminisce on how things had changed in the 60 years since he lived through its events, it still qualified as a cracking good read.

3. Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc, by Sarah Morgan
Genre: Contemporary romance

I have to confess I never would've gotten past the title to read this one had it not garnered rave reviews on Dear Author and Smart Bitches and been named a Rita finalist. Not that I judge books by their covers and titles, exactly, but I do often look at them as signals of whether the publisher (in this case, Harlequin, of which Carina is an imprint, so it's my publisher too) considers me part of the target market or not.

Anyway, this book fully deserves the good reviews. It's a quick read--I polished it off in a single evening--but Morgan delivers fully realized characters, a strong sense of place, and a believable romance in her short page count.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A little eye candy for your Saturday...

I've decided the hero of my new WIP looks a bit like Richard Madden, the actor playing Robb Stark in Game of Thrones.

He'd Regency up pretty, don't you think? He's an officer and it's a war story, so he can still be all scruffy and stubbly, just in a red coat with a greatcoat or cloak instead of leather and fur.

Friday, June 10, 2011

That actually makes a lot of sense...

I just finished reading a book called The Girls Who Went Away, about teens and young women who gave up their babies for adoption, often under parental and social coercion, in the 50's and 60's--i.e. when the culture was starting to become more permissive WRT premarital sex, but before legalized abortion or readily available birth control. No personal connection for me and nothing I'm researching for a future manuscript; it just looked interesting.

One issue the author mentioned in passing was that in the 50's and 60's part of the tremendous pressure to conform came about because so many of those stereotypical 50's middle class families were newly raised in status. According to the statistics she cites, maybe 30% of Americans were middle class in the 20's and 30's, but the postwar economic boom and the GI Bill increased that percentage to 60 or 70%. (I'm pulling the numbers from memory.) So the parents of those girls who were getting pregnant were often the first generation of their families to have a college or even a high school education, to own a home and a measure of financial security, and so on. Therefore they were very anxious about losing their status or about not acting like a proper moral, middle-class family ought to act. Hence what by current standards was a conformist, repressive culture. Which, come to think of it, would be equally true of the Victorian era in America and Britain. New prosperity is a good thing, but it carries a certain amount of baggage with it.

Interesting, huh?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's in a necronym?

I’ve read several biographies of the Duke of Wellington that begin by listing certain superficial commonalities he shared with his great adversary, Napoleon. Both were born in 1769. Both were the product of island dependencies of the nations they’re most associated with--Napoleon of course was Corsican, while Wellington was Anglo-Irish. I’ve never seen a biography that mentioned the fact both men were christened with sibling necronyms, however.

In other words, both were given the same name as a dead brother.

As a woman of the 21st century, I can’t imagine doing such a thing. If, God forbid, anything happened to Miss Fraser, it would feel like the height of cruelty to both daughters to give another baby the same name--as if my second daughter wasn’t her own unique person but a replacement for her lost sister, and as if my first child could ever be replaced.

Obviously the Earl and Countess of Mornington and Carlo and Letizia Buonaparte didn’t feel the same way when they were naming their new sons back in the summer of 1769. I don’t think that’s because the higher infant mortality of the 18th century had inured them to grief at the loss of the first Arthur and Napoleone. Parents of the era before vaccinations and antibiotics were undoubtedly less shocked to lose a child than we would be today, but letters and journals of the era show the deep sorrow of fathers and mothers at the loss of babies and young children. Instead I think 18th century parents thought of names differently than we do today.

When Mr. Fraser and I named our daughter, we thought primarily of her future and our aspirations for her to be a happy, successful individual. We picked a name we believed sounded both beautiful and dignified. We tested its dignity by plugging it into the presidential oath of office and imagining how it would sound in the sentence, “And the Nobel Prize for medicine goes to...” (Or to put it another way, to me a good girl’s name is one that would sound better on a POTUS than on the pole.) We kept the nod to tradition and family heritage in her middle name, which is a feminine form of her paternal grandfather’s name.

But in the past, names were more about family connections than expressing your dreams for your unique Special Snowflake of a baby. Wellington was named for his maternal grandfather. Knowing that, it makes much more sense that his parents reused the name. If you name your second son Arthur to show him, his grandfather, and all the world that the connection matters to you and you want the name to live on in the family, of course if that boy dies, you’ll give the name to the next son born, hoping he’ll be more fortunate and live to pass the name on to sons and grandsons of his own, keeping the great chain of connections and heritage alive.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Announcing the Emerald City Writers Conference!

Spots at Greater Seattle RWA's annual conference are already filling up fast. Sign up now for great speakers, educational workshops, a chance to pitch to a great slate of editors and agents, and even yours truly giving her first ever conference workshop on how to write like a full-time author when you can't quit your day job:

Emerald City Writers’ Conference

Sponsored by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America

Through the many different opportunities the Emerald City Writers’ Conference provides, writers of romance and other fiction genres can improve their tool kit of knowledge, get re-energized and affirmed in their writing, and meet with industry professionals directly involved in acquisition and publishing. If you're serious about moving your writing ahead, this weekend is for you.

October 28-30, 2011 at the Westin Hotel, Bellevue, Washington

Keynote Speakers:

Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love and Sarah Wendell

Conference includes:

• Agent and Editor Appointments

• Workshops with noted educators and authors in, Writing life, Career Development, Industry, Submissions, Marketing, Genre specific technical studies, Strategies, Plotting, Dialog,

• Career Planning, and more

• Friday Master Class with Bob Mayer (Add-on)

• “Pitch Fest” Pitch Coaching

• Networking Opportunities

• ECWC Bookfair

• Goody Bags, Raffle Baskets, Door Prizes!

• Saturday Night Masquerade-Themed Costume Party, guests welcome


• Leah Hultenschmidt, Sourcebooks

• Angela James, Carina Press

• Tera Kleinfelter, Samhain Publishing

• Esi Sogah, Avon/Harper Collins

• Junessa Viloria, Ballantine Books/Random House


• Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

• Suzie Townsend, FinePrint Literary Management

• Melissa Jeglinski, The Knight Agency

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Welcome, Mallory Braus, Freelance Carina editor!

In celebration of our one year anniversary, I asked as many of our Harlequin team members and Carina Press freelance editors as possible to write a short blog post, talking about what the past year or so has been like for them, working on Carina Press. I deliberately didn't provide any direction other than that, because I wanted to see what people came up with, in the spirit of Carina's 1st anniversary. I was so pleased when I saw what they'd all come up with, and had to say (and some of these posts made me just a little teary)! I hope you enjoy the post, and look for your opportunity to win a Carina Press book at the bottom of this post. ~Angela James

Mallory Braus is a freelance editor for Carina Press. You can follow her on Twitter.

When I was younger, I became obsessed with Indiana Jones. I wanted to be a treasure hunter—traveling the world, discovering what no one else had, falling passionately in love with each new adventure.

Then I realized I’d have to deal with bugs. Airplanes. Rickety boats. Permits. Extreme heat (or cold). Sand. Have I mentioned airplanes? Thus, the life of Indiana Jones was not for me.

Or so I thought.

Working with Carina changed all that. I am a treasure hunter. Every day, I wake up and begin an adventure. I’ve traveled in space on a mercenary ship. Overcome grief to find redemption in the glorious Montana sunset. Faced down a killer in the days of Prohibition. Flown through the skies by way of dragon. Gone undercover to determine the innocence of a family of spies. I’ve fallen deeply, passionately in love. And that just skims the surface.

What first drew me to Carina was the company’s motto—Where no great story goes untold. And the more I followed Carina’s growth, the more Carina books I read, the more I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I love hearing the funny stories my authors share about receiving “the call”. Now I’ll share mine. I read a tweet by Angela saying she’d be contacting the editors she’d like to bring on the next day. I spent the night tossing and turning, having multiple nightmares which involved creative and mortifying ways I might find out I’d not been chosen, and then finally gave up the fight at 7am. It was 10am on the East Coast, after all.

I opened my inbox to find the email waiting. I only made it through the first paragraph before I leapt from my bed. My dream job had become a reality. I ran down the hall, calling out “I got it! I got it!” and caught sight of my sister (and roommate) heading into the bathroom. Undeterred, I continue after her…

I would find out later that she was on a work call and at my first screech had decided to hide. And lock the door.

Yep. I ran straight into that sucker. Staggered back. Shook my head to clear the stars away. I gave a good measured knock on the door. Shouted, “I got it!” one more time and continued on my path of sharing the good news. Finally, after grabbing an ice pack, I finished reading the email, called my parents, and texted my friends.

It was the best day of my life.

Carina Press encourages us to be trend starters, rather than trend followers. We look for great stories and find them in droves. With every acquisition, I’ve been gifted with a gem—sparkles galore. With every author interaction I’ve learn something new, whether it be about the editing process or myself. Working with the other editors has been a gift. What an amazing group of women! I’ve found such support and generosity and comradery. I’ve also learned to drink my morning tea before reading through editor emails—for fear of choking from laughter mid-sip.

Every day I wake up with a smile—excited to begin the adventures of the day. Every night, I fall asleep in anticipation for what tomorrow will bring. I have to say it, working for Carina rocks and I’m so excited to be here celebrating the 1 year anniversary with all of you!

To celebrate Carina's one year anniversary of publishing books, we're giving away some prizes. Today, on each of the nineteen blogs our team members are featured on, we're giving away a download of a Carina Press book to one random winner (that's nineteen total winners!) All you need to do to be entered to win is comment on this post. You can enter to win on all nineteen posts. In addition, on the Carina Press blog, we're giving away a grand prize of a Kobo ereader and 12 Carina Press books of the winner's choice. Visit the Carina Press blog to enter to win, and to see links to all 19 of today's blog posts.

And a sincere thank you from all of us, to our readers and authors, for making Carina Press's first year a success!

Monday, June 6, 2011

On the blog this week

Today I'm blogging at Romancing the Past about when I care about accuracy (historical fiction of any genre, including romance) and when I don't (my current second-favorite TV show, Castle, for one).

Tomorrow is Carina Press's first anniversary, and I'm helping host a one-day blog tour to celebrate. Stop by and comment for a chance to win a free download of a Carina Press book.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

No Six Sentence Sunday today

The Six Sentence Sunday blog is on hiatus this week as the site migrates to a new platform, so I took a break from posting excerpts.

And I think I'm going to take a longer break from Six Sentence Sunday, just because it was so relaxing today to not compulsively check my blog every time I had a spare moment to see how my comment count was going. Also, while I enjoy reading others' excerpts and there are several stories I plan to continue to follow, I found it was taking me hours just to go through each week's author list.

Don't get me wrong, I think SSS is a great idea. But between writing, my day job, and family, I don't have a lot of spare time, and I need to reclaim those Sunday hours for writing, researching, hanging out with my husband and daughter...or even today's activity, which was taking my Brand! New! Car! (yes, I say it like that--I only got it yesterday) out to try its paces on the open road while listening to my Mariners pull off a come-from-behind victory.

I still plan to talk about my writing and post the occasional excerpt from a work-in-progress. And maybe I'll drop in on SSS on occasion.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: Entailed Property

I've reached the end of my original Of Wimseys and Wellesleys series on titles and forms of address in the British aristocracy, but thought I'd continue to blog about related topics as they occur to me and I have time.

Today I'm going to talk about entailed property, which almost any lord or duke will have as part of his inheritance. Though it's not limited to men with titles, as fans of Pride & Prejudice well know. I haven't made a careful study of how entails work, so I'm open to correction, but here's my understanding:

Entails were designed as a way to keep a family's real property in one piece down through the generations by tying it to each generation's senior legitimate male representative. In a sense, a lord or duke doesn't own his entailed lands so much as hold them in trust for his son, grandson, and so on after him. He can't sell entailed land, and he can't bequeath it outside the line of succession.

If entailed land brings in a profit, through rents, farming, mining, or whatever, that money does belong to the current possessor (we'll call him Lord Stark, because I've got Game of Thrones on my brain). He can spend it or save it as he chooses. If he has a large family, he'd be prudent to set some of his income aside to help provide for his daughters and younger sons.

It's only entailed property that has to go to the firstborn legitimate son. Lord Stark, assuming he's of sufficient importance, probably owns a lot more than just his entailed estate with the family castle on it. He has money that he's inherited or earned from his land and investments, and he has non-entailed real estate he's inherited or bought down through the years. He can leave that property to anybody, pretty much, related or not, just as you or I can will our estates as we wish.

The system worked well enough when there was a straight line of succession and the family maintained enough wealth to provide for daughters and younger children. But, as Pride and Prejudice teaches us, that was by no means always the case. Entails could impoverish daughters and enrich distant cousins. They could make families land rich and cash poor, up to their ears in debt but unable to clear the slate by selling their land. All of which was terrible for the families...but a boon for writers in search of conflict.