Friday, May 29, 2015

Speed Dating for Authors


Author Tierney James has this cool feature on her blog called "Speed Dating for Authors" where she shares intriguing bits and pieces about books and authors -- including trivia or personal details or stuff you wouldn't otherwise know.  It's a good place to find new authors or find out more about your favorites.

This week I'm featured -- along with some photos of my dollhouse. 

Come on over to Journeys, Treks and Daylilies and join us! Here's a sneak peek: 



Yep, that's really a dollhouse!


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Top Five Ways Historical Authors Go Wrong

A couple of weeks ago I met fellow author and blogger Kelly Abell when we were both guests on Marsha Casper Cook's radio show. We talked there about the errors that historical authors most commonly make, and that led to Kelly inviting me to guest blog for her. You can read my post on the Top Five Ways Historical Authors Go Wrong here. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Splitting Heirs

Under the aristocratic system of primogeniture, followed almost religiously during the Regency period, the eldest son is the heir. He gets the title, the fortune, and the land. 

But what if there isn’t an eldest son?

If a title-holder has no legitimate children, or has only daughters, then the lot goes to the nearest male relative of the title-holder. The next in line would be the title-holder’s next-younger brother, and then his sons (if he has any). If the younger brother has no children or only daughters, the title descends to the next brother in the original family, and then to his sons.

An eldest son is known as the heir apparent, because no matter what happens, if he outlives his father he will inherit. Because no one can come between him and the title, he is the apparent – obvious – heir.

If there is no oldest son, then whoever stands next in line is known as the heir presumptive. Since the title-holder could still sire a son (no matter how unlikely that might be), the heir presumptive could still be pushed out of the line of succession. So he’s presumed – but not guaranteed – to be the heir.

If the title-holder dies without a surviving son, but his widow is pregnant, then everything comes to a halt until the baby is born. If it’s a boy, he will hold the title from the moment of his birth. But if it’s a girl, then the next heir in the male line wins the jackpot.

I used this scenario in my Regency novel, Gentleman in Waiting – where the entire family is gathered, waiting to see whether Lady Abingdon’s child will be a boy or a girl...


* * * * *



Everything depends on the baby…

Lady Mariah Gerrard anxiously awaits the birth of her stepmother’s child, desperately hoping for a boy who will inherit their father’s title so Mariah can gain access to her dowry and her freedom. Her father’s cousin John, the next heir in line, has other plans – so if the baby is a girl, disaster looms for Mariah.

When Myles Moreton comes to Edgeworth to manage the family estate, Mariah’s no longer certain that even the birth of a boy will solve her problems. Why is money missing? Why is Mariah’s dowry in doubt?  Despite his genial fa├žade, is Cousin John planning mischief – or worse? Why is Myles Moreton, rather than the late earl’s trustees, suddenly in control? And how can Myles -- a man who’s entirely ineligible -- be not only completely maddening but utterly charming and very, very tempting?

As the family gathers to await the birth, Mariah and Myles search for answers – and they find that playing the waiting game can have its own rewards.



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Authors Chat About Writing Historical Fiction

Recently, I was a guest on Marsha Casper Cook's blogtalk radio show to chat about the challenges of writing historical fiction. Another of the guests, Kelly Abell, has posted her comments and a link to the show here. I hope you'll enjoy listening! 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Axminstering and Other Temptations

Whenever I finish writing a book, there are a couple of items which automatically go on my to-do list. 

The first is to clean up my office, because by the time the project is done, my desk looks like a tornado hit it. (And no, I’m not posting a photo of the mess. Things last forever on the Internet.)

The other is to look back at the job and assess what went well and what could have been improved. In this case, a novella which should have taken maybe three weeks to finish – especially because I’d written a good chunk of it months ago – took twice as long. One of those weeks was lost to a nasty case of flu, but another week or so disappeared because I was Axminstering instead of writing.

What’s “Axminstering”? I’m glad you asked.

In my novella, which is set in an English manor house in 1816, I wrote that my hero felt like the Axminster carpet in the drawing room had turned into quicksand and was pulling him down. Then I paused to wonder – were there Axminster carpets in 1816, or were they more of a Victorian than a Regency phenomenon? 

It’s a question historical authors have to ask themselves with practically every sentence. (Did French doors exist in the Regency – and were they called that, or something else? Did people say “bamboozle” or was that later? What really is the difference between a morning dress and a walking dress? Would the hero be wearing top boots or Hessians?)

But though we really do have to ask the questions and look up the answers, it’s not often that we need that bit of information right at that very moment. My hero could still have been thinking about quicksand if he was standing on a Persian carpet or a marble floor or just a plain old rug – and I could have looked up Axminster carpets at another time.

Instead, I went zooming over to Google where I discovered that the first Axminster carpet was made in 1755, in plenty of time for my drawing room to be decorated with one.

That much research wasn’t a problem. But then I followed the trail. What exactly would that carpet have looked like? What was the most likely combination of colors? What would it have been made of? How big might it have been? And since Wikipedia kindly offered a list of heritage properties where Axminster carpets can be seen, I wandered through those pages searching for pictures. And when I didn't see carpets there, I kept looking till I found images. (Here’s a new carpet, to give you the idea: AXMINSTER)

How much of that knowledge made it into the story? Zero. Zip. Nada. The line’s exactly as I first wrote it.

When I shared this story with my students at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, one of them said in glee, “From now on, I’m not going to call it procrastinating – I’m Axminstering!” (Thanks, Michelle!)

Do you Axminster? What are the temptations you face as you write?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

And That's My Point of View...

Are you confused about the difference between first person and third person point of view? Between omniscient and selective? Here are some examples to help you distinguish between the many varieties of POV.

First person: (includes the thoughts, feelings and perspective of one main character, who's telling his/her own story)
             As I walked up the hill, I realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who was nearly always singing from the top of the maple tree. I thought I saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when I looked again it was gone. Still, I shuddered as I felt a silent threat pass over me like a cloud over the sun.

Second person: (turns the reader into the character)
             As you walk up the hill, you realize that the atmosphere's just too quiet. There's no sound from the cardinal you know is almost always singing from the top of the maple tree. You think you see a shadow move high up on the slope, but when you look again it's gone. You shudder as you feel a silent threat pass over you. You feel cold, like a cloud just passed over the sun.

Third person selective singular: (includes the thoughts and perspective of one main character)
             As she walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who she so often heard singing from the top of the maple tree. She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone. Nevertheless, she shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

Third person selective multiple: (includes the thoughts of more than one main character but only one at a time. The scene break--*****--indicates a change from one POV to the other)
             As she walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who she so often heard singing from the top of the maple tree. She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone. Nevertheless, she shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.
*****
            He saw her start up the hill, and he moved quickly behind the shelter of the huge old maple tree. If she saw him now, everything would be ruined, but if he could stay hidden until she came within range--well, then she'd have to talk to him. Wouldn't she?

Third person dual: (includes the thoughts of two main characters)
             As she walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet. There was no sound from the cardinal who she so often heard singing from the top of the maple tree.
            He saw her start up the hill, and he moved quickly behind the shelter of the huge old maple tree. If she saw him now, everything would be ruined.
            She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone.
            If he could just stay hidden until she came within range, he thought, then she'd have to talk to him. Wouldn't she?
            She shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

Third person omniscient: (all-knowing; can include thoughts and perspective of all characters)
             As the girl walked up the hill, she realized that the atmosphere was just too quiet.
            The cardinal tipped his head back and drew breath to sing, but just as the first note passed his beak he heard the crack of a dead branch far below his perch high in the maple tree. Startled, he looked down, cocking his head to one side and watching with great interest while the man rattled the blades of grass as he tried to hide himself behind the tree.
            As the man saw her start up the hill, he moved quickly into the shelter of the huge old maple tree. If she saw him now, everything would be ruined.
            She thought she saw a shadow move high up on the slope, but when she looked again it was gone.
            The man thought if he could stay hidden until she came within range, she'd have to talk to him. Wouldn't she?
            The girl shuddered as she felt a silent threat pass over her. It felt like a cloud creeping over the sun.

Third person detached: (no thoughts; the POV of screenplays)
            The girl walked up the quiet hillside.
            In the top of the maple tree, the cardinal tipped his head back and drew breath to sing. A dead branch cracked on the ground below the bird's perch.
            The man stepped on the branch and rattled the blades of grass as he moved behind the tree. He watched the girl come up the hillside toward him.
            Her gaze shifted quickly and warily from one shadowy area high on the slope to another, and she shuddered.

Factors which affect POV choices:
    What kind of story is it?--external (action) or internal (psychological)? A story loaded with events is more likely to use third person selective multiple or third person dual, while a story filled with the psychological workings of a character's mind is more likely to be first person or third person selective singular. 
    How long is the story? Will there be time to develop the reader's identification with and sympathy for more than one viewpoint character?
    Who is the main character? Whose story is this? 
    Is any one character is in a position to observe all the major events of the story? 
    Is the main character sympathetic in nature, one the reader is likely to identify with? Is the character able to express himself well and clearly?
    Who is the audience? What is the intended market, and what viewpoint style does the targeted publisher prefer?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Those blasted apostrophes...

I’m not sure why apostrophes give us so much trouble, but they do. Perhaps it’s because there are two different reasons to use apostrophes, so we get them mixed up.

The first use of apostrophes is to form possessives. When we say that something belongs to someone, then we need an apostrophe to show who owns what. 

If a word is just a plural, with nothing owned, then there’s no need for an apostrophe. So it would be: Several doctors studied his case. 

If you’re writing about a busy doctor, you’d say: The doctor’s office was filled with people.
The doctor “owns” the office, so we need the possessive form.

If it’s a practice with more than one doctor, it would be The doctors’ office was filled with people.  The doctors all “own” the office together, so again we need the possessive – in this case, on top of the plural doctors.

But if you say, The doctors were very busy, there’s nothing owned here, so there’s no need for an apostrophe. 

The second use of apostrophes is to form contractions. We tend to do all right with they’re (aside from mixing it up with there and their), and I’m and isn't and such; where we get into big trouble is with it’s and its. And that’s probably because we try to apply rule #1 to its, and add an apostrophe when we use it to indicate possession.

But its (along with oursyours, his, and hers) are exceptions to the possessive rule; these pronouns are possessive already so they don’t need apostrophes. We only use an apostrophe when it’s is used as a contraction of it is.

So if you say, The dog chased its tail, we don’t need an apostrophe.

But if we say, It’s a lovely day, then we’re really saying It is a lovely day, and we do use the apostrophe.

Clear as mud, right?

Here are the rules of thumb to help you determine whether you need to add an apostrophe.

Is it a possessive?
If you’re wondering whether to use an apostrophe, ask yourself what the word in question owns. If there’s an answer, then you need the apostrophe.

The clown’s grin was huge. (The clown’s what? The clown’s grin. Apostrophe needed.)
The clowns piled out of the little car. (The clown’s what? – nothing. No apostrophe needed.)

Is it a contraction?
If you’re wondering whether to use an apostrophe, ask yourself what the word in question stands for. If it’s really two words, then you need the apostrophe.

It’s a far, far better thing I do... (It is a far, far better thing... Apostrophe needed.)
It’s time to go to work. (It is time... Apostrophe needed.)
The power surge made the hard drive blow its brains out. (Blow it is brains? Nope – no apostrophe needed.)

Anything I didn't cover? Let's talk about it!