Blues, Shoes & Barbeque

KansasCity

 

 I’m going to Kansas City/Kansas City here I come…

…along with a slew of other romance writers and thousands of romance readers for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention 2013! Although the workshops on craft and business are a huge draw, as is having a major convention not far from my midwest home, what really makes me happy dance is the chance to get out of the house after the long winter and see hunky cover models meet old friends and make new ones. I used to visit KC often as a young child, when my grandfather lived there, and I recall what a treat it was to visit the Plaza and see some of the city’s fountains. Kansas City is known for it’s signature style of barbeque sauce, but this week, readers and writers are indulging in their favorite flavors of sweet, spicy and tangy romance!

The RT 30th Anniversary Ball should be a wonderful time — I don’t have a tiara to wear, but I do have sp?????????????arkly shoes! Stop by and see me at Club RT on Thursday & Friday morning. And I’m signing at the Giant Book Fair on Saturday, May 4th! (Alas, I probably won’t be wearing my silver slippers at either of those events.)

And although my reaction to large crowds is to hang back and check for escape routes before diving in, I look forward to the chance to connect with people, both industry professionals and readers. Writing is a great occupation for loners, but I can’t wait to get out and meet other writers, agents, editors and most important, romance fans! Nobody’s singing the blues this week!

I might take a train/I might take a plane/but if I have to walk/I’m goin’ just the same/Goin’ to Kansas City/Kansas City here I come

 

Lyrics to ‘Kansas City’ by Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller, 1951er,

 

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Filed under Appearances, Publishing, Writing

Happy New Year

RING!Happy 2013! I hope you are blessed with something wonderful to look forward to this year. My family will have our first wedding, with our oldest getting married to wonderful young man in the fall! Yes, that’s her ring pictured. Clearly he has excellent taste. (Duh, he fell in love with our daughter!)

Our youngest has fled the nest and is happy at Louisiana State University. Granted, I would be happier if LSU wasn’t a two-day drive from home,

LSU Student Union

LSU Student Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but she loves life without snow. She is doing an outstanding job of keeping her grades up, making friends and finding activities, and earning a stipend with work/study. We are extremely proud of her! Except of course for developing a football allegiance to the Tigers.

That, however, is a subject for another post. ;)

The year’s biggest challenge will be time management, but that’s always a challenge for me. :p In the face of a new job and some unexpected, but welcome, freelance work, my main goal for 2013 is: Protect the writing time! On the bright side, I spent November working out the plot of a new book that I can’t wait to get started on, so there’s something to fill up the writing time.

New Year’s resolutions have never worked for me, so I try to focus on goals, personal and professional. Also, I know myself well enough to understand that my brain goes on the fritz as soon it sees a long ‘must do’ list. It’s best to keep the goals few and simple.

In 2013, I want to drink a glass of water for every glass or cup of caffeinated beverage. Believe it or not, this is a challenge. I’ve never been someone who can just down a glass of H2O, but the benefits are more than just staying hydrated. Water will help cut down on caffeine, which keeps me awake at night, plus according to WebMD, it’s good for the skin, helps make a person feel less hungry, and keeps the kidneys and bowels in good working order.

As mentioned above, my most important professional goal is to protect my writing time. This means adjusting my daily schedule so that there is always a block of hours to spend at the computer. I don’t do change well — just ask my family — and I’m going to have to start with something truly drastic: not hitting the snooze button. I make no promises, but I’ll keep you posted on how well I succeed (or sleep in).

So those are my 2013 goals for now. Short and laughably simple, but both chosen because they’re doable, they’ll have benefits on more than one level, and neither is something I do now. (Or rather the snooze button is something I do too often.)

This year, I want more sleep at the start of the night, and enough time to write. What about you? What do you want out of life this year? What steps are you going to take to get it?

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Filed under Celebrations, Holidays, New Years

Building Historical Worlds

World building is a familiar concept to writers and many readers of science fiction and fantasy. Writers from C.J. Cherryh to Marion Zimmer Bradley have written about the importance of pulling your readers into the world of a book, and the works of Tolkien are a primer for building an alternate world.

Historical romance is not in the business of building completely new worlds (that would be for the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal members of the Romance Writers of America), but historical romance writers still have to draw our readers in, so that they can feel themselves inside the story, wearing crinolines or a hoop skirt or a toga, traveling the high seas in a pirate ship or taking the air in Hyde Park on horseback.

World building, whether for sci fi, fantasy or historical writing, works best when the writer has done his or her homework. When building a world from scratch, that includes notebooks covering geography, history, languages, customs, religious or spiritual beliefs, the presence or absence of magic, and on and on. Lots of work!

Historical romance writers have it easier in that we can research times past to find out about the world our characters are going to inhabit. We also have giant binders full of information, of course. We just have to research existing knowledge, using the best research material we can find.

Even simple things were harder 150 years ago. Travel was a much bigger deal when Victoria ascended the throne. In an era when it’s possible to cross hundreds of miles in a single day by car, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the speed of carriage travel. Drive your car down your street at 14 miles an hour and try to imagine that as the absolute top speed you can achieve in a vehicle. The sensory description will be entirely different in the 19th century world. Hoofbeats, not the sound of tires, characterized traffic, for example.

To our modern sensibilities, the past is an alien place, not just physically, but in mental attitudes. Victorian England was a place of overt class consciousness, where people who moved from level of society to another (up or down) were viewed with suspicion, if not outright scorn. There was a strong impetus to keep to one’s place, and not only in the upper classes. This attitude loosened up as the 19th century wore on, but even servants preferred to work for a suitably aristocratic family to one with ‘new money’. America also had its unofficial aristocracy, with Ward McAllister’s decree that truly fashionable New York society was made up of only 400 people. (He was trying to keep out those dreadful Westerners, Midwesterners and Vanderbilts at the time.)

If a writer chooses not to have her characters reflect the social mores of an era, her characters need solid motivation to explain why they think differently.

What are your favorite details about historical romance? The clothing? The food? The customs? Let us know!

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Filed under Fiction, History, Research, Romance, Victorian, Victorian era, Writing

Really Useful Super Powers

I haven’t seen ‘The Avengers‘ yet, although I hope to remedy that in the near future. While not at the level of comic book geekdom (her phrase) that my youngest is, I have thoroughly enjoyed the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, I have to ask: why can’t the writers come up with superheroes that have really useful skills?

In ‘The Avengers’ we have a guy who swells up and turns green when he gets mad, a Norse guy with a magic hammer, an American guy with a boomerang shield, a really good archer, an assassin chick ,  and a rich genius who likes to tinker in his upscale garage. They are led by a guy on anti-aging serum who at least has good organizational skills. I say this with love in my heart…but…really? These are supposed to be cool powers?

The best of the lot seem to be leader Nick Fury (never sneer at the ability to prioritize), Black Widow (but then every female should know how to kill people) and Captain America, with his potential Dice-o-Matic shield. Tony Stark could have used his resources to figure out how to make Cap’s shield small enough for kitchen use, or invented a self-vacuuming house or something. But noooo, he puts his mini-reactor into a flying suit armed with lasers that create huge, billowing clouds of dust and messy rubble. Pah.

The villain of ‘The Avengers’ at least has potential. In ‘Thor‘ we see that Loki has the ability to instantly clone himself!! But we know he is a Bad Guy Who Will Lose, because all he uses his power for is to taunt his adoptive brother. Slacker. If I could create instant multiples of myself, my house would be spotless 24/7, my freezer would always be full of home-cooked meals, and with one of myselves at the computer night and day, I’d pump out a new book (or at least a rough draft) every three months.

So (drumroll please) here are some super hero suggestions that Marvel might find useful:

Laundry Man: Never mind creepy stalker X-ray vision. This guy would have the ability to sort, clean and fold a pile of dirty laundry with one look. Toy — Super Stain Remover Ray Gun that works on all stains, on all materials. Seriously, this guy would have more chicks following him around than Tony Stark and the three Hemsworth brothers combined.

The Navigator: A human GPS, male or female, who can maneuver around any traffic snarl, red light or backup. Toy — the EMS Vehicle, whose horn sends out a small electro-magnetic pulse that stalls all cars in the immediate vicinity and allows the hero to get passengers to their destinations on time. Am undecided whether the EMSV is a green compact car or something more along the lines of a Sherman tank, however.

The Rash: The result of a freak accident with radioactive pollen while an infant suffering from diaper rash, this superhero has the ability to swell up and turn red on command. In this state, his or her touch on bare skin causes an allergic reaction, including uncontrollable itching and sneezing. With this particular skill set, the Rash could be an irritable loner with great potential to go rogue, upping the dramatic stakes in his or her stories. Toy — Super Antihistamine Spray to protect allies.

Bull Detector Woman: This would be quite a useful super power indeed, if more on cerebral side. BDW would appear to use feminine intuition (actually scientifically enhanced powers of observation combined with serum-enhanced neuron transmitters) to detect falsehood. Invaluable in singles bars, all forms of negotiations, watching infomercials and major election years. Toy — with super powers like this, you wouldn’t need toys.

If you could have any super power you wanted, what would it be?

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Filed under Fun Stuff, Hero, Heroine, Movies

To the Bedroom!

I do love a comfy bed. There are so many delightful things to do in between the sheets, some of which are sleeping, reading, writing, thinking, doodling; and some of which are…um, not. Ahem. Beds were not always the comfortable refuges they are today, but for opulence and beauty as well as comfort, the 19th century might have us beat.

While the middle and lower classes, and servants in large houses, had to make do with hardwood floors, unadorned furniture and hand me down rugs, the master or mistress of a great house slept in beds of rare woods furnished with feather mattresses and fine linens.  The newly rich would purchase matching bedroom furniture like this rosewood suite from the 1860s.  The armoire, washstand and commode on the left side were necessities in the days before built in closets, clothes hangers and bathrooms!

In a large house, the latter two items might have been placed in an adjoining dressing room.  Still, a number of grand houses had commodes and washstands in the bedroom itself, due to the age of the house itself or to family custom.  Retrofitting pipes into house built in the 18th century or earlier often resulted in the toilet or bath being tucked into a former linen closet or under a staircase – not something people wanted to wander down the hall to in the middle of the night!

The dressing table had some kind of cloth protecting its surface from dust.  Girls and women often received matching sets of brushes, combs, hand mirror, and bottles or jars, all resting on their own tray.  The materials for these ranged from horn or carved wood to elaborate silver.  Ivory, plain or carved, was also popular in the days when people considered wildlife a commodity.

Victorians out of necessity used their bedrooms for a lot more than we do.  A hundred and fifty years ago, most people were born at home and died at home.  Medicine cabinets could be mounted on the wall for people suffering from chronic diseases.

The custom of separate bedrooms for wealthy couples continued throughout the 19th century in both Britain and America, giving the woman a refuge from household duties.  If she was lucky enough to live in a really large house, she also had a boudoir, or small sitting room, as part of her apartment.  Otherwise, wealthy women and their middle class sisters often had a writing table, chairs, and a chaise longue or sofa in their rooms.

One thing you would not find, even at the highest levels of society, is a bed table.  Instead, a lady set her candle on a chair placed beside the head of the bed.  Reading in bed was frowned upon, for what if one fell asleep before blowing out the candle?  A good draft could send the flame into those lovely curtains, endangering the sleeper’s life.   Gas jets came in before the end of the era, but their light was often dim and unsteady.  It wasn’t possible to curl up in bed and read after sundown until electricity became common in the 20th century.

Just to end up, here is a link to a fascinating article on box beds, which I made use of in Her Scottish Groom.

What kind of bedroom appeals to you?  Small and cozy or large and sumptuous?

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Filed under Historic furnishings, Victorian era

The Practice of Inspiration

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

Professional artists, whatever their medium, say with good reason that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’. Deadlines, word counts, record companies or editors don’t care if you’re having a good week or not. They just need your product delivered when you promised it.

Nevertheless, even the most organized, disciplined artist (which excludes me!) needs and looks for inspiration to stimulate their process or refresh their brains. If a long-term goal is equivalent to reaching a mountain-top, and motivation is what keeps us on the trail, inspiration is the impulse that started us on the hike to begin with. It could have been something as simple wondering what the view from that particular peak looks like. It’s also the moment when an unexpected vista opens in front of us as we make our way upward. It’s something to savor and take a picture of. You catch your breath and rest, and then get back on your way. Inspiration makes you eager to see what you’ll discover next.

What refreshes you and gives that little zap of energy may not do a thing for your neighbor. Just check out all the different boards on Pinterest if you don’t believe me. What we love is as individual as we are. It could be visiting a botanical garden or window shopping at the local mall. The main thing is to find out what you love and take the time to indulge it. As long as you don’t wait for your Muse to drift down on a golden cloud and sprinkle fairy dust on your head before getting back to work, you should be fine. Maybe something wonderful that you can use right now will come to you. Maybe you’ll get a cool idea that you can’t use at the moment — make a note of it somehow so you don’t lose it. Or you might not see anything that really inspires you. That’s okay, you’ve still got your long-term goal to keep you on track.

One nice thing about looking for inspiration on a scheduled basis is that it opens your heart and mind. It can come from anywhere: spiritual readings, the rock you kept since you found it on the beach at age seven, a science journal. Like anything else, finding inspiration becomes easier with practice. And you find out what things inspire you for different tasks.

Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of Georgian houses and listening to movie soundtracks. What gets your brain cells off and running? If you don’t know, take a few minutes and see what strikes your fancy!

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Filed under Creativity, Writing, Writing Aids

Cross-Training for Writers

I was asked in an interview once what I’d write if I couldn’t write romance. I didn’t have to think twice; the answer is fantasy. As in Old Skool, Middle Earth, build-up-your-alternate-universe-from-the-Void fantasy. I devoured the works of Tolkien, C. J. Cherryh, Orson Scott Card, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Isaac Asimov, among many others, years before I attempted writing a word of my own books. I loved the chance to escape into another world while I read those books. The best of the romances I gobbled up by the pageful provided the same effect. My entirely unscientific theory is that good writers care passionately about their own creations, whether it’s a planet or a pair of feuding lovers.

I write romance because I enjoy offering hope in the form of happy-ever-afters. I love writing smart heroines and the hunks they deserve. (And okay, this is the only genre that allows me to look at man candy and say with a straight face, “It’s research.”) But I do engage in a form of world-building. Mine is different from speculative fiction writing because I am constrained by the laws, customs, technologies and events of actual past eras. I can tweak the rules and bend them, but if I break them, the reader will be jerked right out of the story and might not be able get back into it.

Fantasy readers are familiar with maps, spaceship diagrams and/or genealogical charts in the front or back of books. I use those tools too, as do most other writers serious about their craft. Maps are a sticky issue for me. The posh area of London isn’t large now, and it was smaller in the 19th century. If we had to squeeze in every London mansion, gaming hell, bordello and alley devised by historical romance writers, the metropolis might have taken up as much space as it does in 2012. On the other hand, I do write fiction. It’s kind of my job to make stuff up. While scholars may howl if I place someone’s home where a tobacconist’s shop existed according to the census of EighteenWhatever, if I make the rest of the street historically accurate, and the furnishings and design of the house, most readers will be okay with that.

Along with hunting for man candy, I do research actual maps, and furnishings, and when people stopped using quills and started using pens, and the beginnings of railway travel in England. Most of the time, I enjoy research, but when I can’t find a crucial piece of information, I wish I could make up my own rules!

I do get to make up my own genealogy charts at least, and that’ s another part of writing prep I enjoy. Speculative writers have to come up with naming systems, and I don’t envy them the task. It’s hard enough to find the exact match of first, middle and last names that scans well and conveys the character’s status as hero or supporting character. Throwing in issues like spaceship allegiance or Elvish naming customs would make my brain explode. Genealogy tells us a lot about family culture and values, personal traits that may be encouraged or not and even diseases that can affect a character. Take a page from fantasy writers and make a family tree or two for your manuscript.

I learned about the importance of creating a historical background for one’s books from the Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings. They fascinated me; I would go back and forth from them to favorite passages. I realized that such a deep background gave Middle Earth its breath-taking vision. My history is based in fact, not speculation, but it’s crucial for writers to understand the places and times in which they place their stories. Timelines and calendars are an essential tool of all writers, either to track fictional events or intertwine fictional with real events.

So, writers and readers out there…what do you enjoy about your second favorite genres?

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Filed under Character development, Great Britain, History, Research, Romance, Writing, Writing Aids

Memo to Justice Kennedy et al

U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.
First, apologies to my readers for reversing my previously stated intention not to share political opinions. I have a hard enough time writing conflict for my characters, and opening myself to the possibility of attack by those who will not agree with me is the stuff of my personal nightmares. I don’t plan to indulge in other political rants, but the Supreme Court’s decision to allow strip searches for people arrested even for minor crimes really, really, really hit a nerve.

The issue was whether a jail’s blanket policy of strip searches for all suspects arrested is constitutional. Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Thomas must believe that public safety always trumps personal privacy. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, that strip searches improperly “subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy.”

Okay, boys (the five Justices who voted in the majority were male) here are a few thoughts from a citizen. You know, one of the people you just said it’s okay to strip search without reasonable cause even if I’m arrested for a minor offense and am not under observation for criminal activity.

First, I am not anti-cop. Most law enforcement personnel are decent men and women whose goal is to make it to end of their shift alive. Too many of them don’t. In arrests involving drugs, weapons, or someone who is suspected of major crimes, strip searches on incarceration make sense. My problem is that the majority opinion in this case removes an important protection against unreasonable searches from those of us who habitually uphold the law.

Nor am I anti-nudity. I write highly sensual romances. My characters get naked. The point is, they get naked when they want to, unless they are being threatened by the bad guy. Rape in main-stream romance went out years ago, because like in real life, a good romance heroine knows when she’s being abused.

The choice to remove clothes is highly personal. When that choice is taken away and one is forced to strip, it is humiliating and degrading. In fact, before your collective brain fart on Monday, forcing someone to take their clothes off was considered a form of sexual harassment. Now, it it’s what? Our tax dollars at work?

I am decidedly anti-people-touching-or-looking-at-me-without-my-permission. I’ve been this way ever since my 8th grade science teacher pinched my ass in front of the entire class. Everyone else thought this was hysterically funny, but my first impulse (regrettably, one I didn’t give in to) was to break the jerk’s pointer across his face. Let’s just say I’m still mad.

The TSA’s policy of public gropage in the name of security is bad enough. It seriously squicks me out six ways from Sunday. I am going to have to fly somewhere eventually, but I dread strangers touching zones that should be reserved for my husband in the privacy of our home. I’d rather go through the pornoscanner. Or even strip down to my skivvies in line if it will keep people I don’t know from handling body  parts about which I am highly territorial.

It’s not that I’d feel any less humiliated, it’s simply a matter of which revolting experience gave me more control in the long run. Being forced to strip by someone carrying a weapon, even another female, makes my blood run cold. In the ‘someone is going to pay for this’ way. And that would be unfair to both parties in this scenario. I shouldn’t be forced to remove my clothes for something as trivial as a bench warrant or unpaid fine, and she shouldn’t have to force me to do so.

What’s next? Are we going to change the national anthem from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ to ‘Bow chika bow bow’? Come on, Kennedy & Co. You are all judicial scholars and you can do better. The decision you handed down Monday is wrong, just as Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson were wrong.  Man up and fix it.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin

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Filed under Citizenship

It’s All About the Hall…

Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire

…or the manor, castle or house. I live in suburbia, but I learned my love of old houses early thanks to aunts who lived in homes built in the early part of the 20th century. My aunts’ houses had features like huge screened in porches, high ceilings, socket doors and sleeping porches, all terribly exotic to my youthful mind. The kleenex-box sized bathroom on Aunt Bert’s first floor that had no insulation and was always freezing cold in winter and the old fittings in Aunt Helen’s kitchen struck me as insignificant. Mind you, Aunt Bert and Aunt Helen, and their families, probably felt differently since they actually had to live with these inconveniences. But I loved those houses. I can still recall the layout of each of them.

Apethorpe Hall interior

One of the most important parts of my process is figuring out where my characters live. I could never be an architect, as my math skills stop at basic geometry; nor do I have a great eye for interior decoration, but I study floor plans and hunt down drawings and descriptions of historic houses, furniture and textiles. Here is a Jacobean interior, similar to some you’ll find in To be Seduced.

When a house was built influences its exterior, but how it’s furnished and decorated inside is a matter of the owner’s taste. I had great fun in Her Scottish Groom comparing the tastes of Diantha’s family with their new money and Kieran’s much older house. I used photos from visits to England, Scotland, and France to get ideas for details of the Rossburn seat. To emphasize the ‘old money vs. new’, I also looked for ways to make the Scottish house sound older than the book’s 1875 setting. Their antiques, for example, would date from 1775 to 1825. And they did not, to the heroine’s dismay, have indoor plumbing. (I don’t have plans for a sequel to HSG, but if I ever do, I will find a way to mention that one of the first improvements made with Quinn money was the addition of bathrooms. Lack of modern bathrooms would be a huge drawback to time travel.)

Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island

For the Quinns, I studied mansions in Newport to see how ultra-rich Americans of an earlier era spent their money. Opulent, dripping with gold leaf or frivolous fake oriental details, they provided an idea of the mind-set of people who could buy whatever they wanted, including an aristocratic bloodline for their descendants.

For my current WIP, I’ve gone online to explore English Heritage houses, London townhouses and the homes of the working poor. As always, I am fascinated by the different designs and styles, each lovely in its own way. I am quite happy in my suburban house, since it contains my family, but the pleasure of creating dream houses for my characters never fades.

What about your dream home? Is it a modern loft or an 1800s Queen Anne mansion or a 16th century farmhouse? If you need inspiration, visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk to find more house like Apethorpe Hall, pictured at the top of this post.

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Filed under Great Britain, History, Research, Romance, Writing, Writing Aids

To Keep or not to Keep?

I am a pack rat by nature, and have to force myself to go through closets and drawers and throw out the old, the worn, the unused. I’m honestly not sure why I cling to things. My mom went through her closets and mine regularly as a child, so it sure isn’t her fault.

Part of my problem is that I am strongly visual. The downside to that is literally ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I keep things out if I need to do something with them, because if they are put away, I will forget to do whatever it is I am supposed to. Yes, there are always lists, but if I don’t see something to put it on a list in the first place, it won’t get done. One of the greatest things about my Nook is that I can borrow books from my library without having to leave them in piles by the front door so I’ll remember to return them.

The thing is, some old stuff is meaningful. I won’t throw out books about biographies, cities, or history. All of them are potential references. So is the occasional article I come across online about antique kitchenware or baby farming or some other all-but-forgotten aspect of life in times past. I will print and file them because I can retrieve them faster than by running a search or going through my large list of bookmarked sites. One of the best gifts I ever got was an album from my mother filled with old photos of her family. (A sneaky way of trying to pass her old stuff on to me? LOL!)

On the other hand, with the advent of online radio and digital music storage, I am okay with tossing out older CDs, while my normally ‘toss ‘er out’ husband still has his beloved REO Speedwagon records. My youngest daughter kept one of her old Barbies as a memento of her childhood.

It is said that when you get rid of old things or attitudes, you make room in your life for new ones that suit your life now. What kind of things do you hang onto, and what can you let go of easily?

P.S.: I’m double-blogging today! At www.authorsbymoolight.comI take a quick look at the history of birth control in America. And ABM is giving away a gift certificate to one lucky commenter in March!

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Filed under Family