Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing is easy... or is it?

"Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Gene Fowler

Anybody besides me take exception to that comment? 

Yes, writing IS sometimes that difficult (though I usually refer to those moments as "pulling out fingernails" rather than sweating drops of blood). There are tough patches in every story, and once a writer goes pro and makes the writing a job, going to work is sometimes not fun  -- just as any job has a downside.

But if writing is consistently that difficult, then something needs to be changed. 

The kind of story? (If the author's trying to write something trendy even though it's not to his/her personal taste, it's going to be a rough road. What do YOU want to write?) 

The working conditions? (Some writers pack up and go to a hotel for a weekend -- or  week -- when they're on deadline, so they can focus. But even moving to another room, or writing with pencil on a legal pad instead of on a keyboard, can help.) 

The pace? (Has the author committed to too many hours, too many words, too much writing to be feasible along with the other demands of life? And I'm not just talking about people with contracted deadlines here. Any of us can set the goals so high we fail and end up hating ourselves and our story. What's realistic for you?)

Yes, writing is work. But unless it's fun, too -- at least a good part of the time -- take a closer look at what you're doing and what you can change in order to get the fun back, so you don't have to sweat those drops of blood day in and day out.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The tour continues...

This is the dining room of my miniature house, Greystone Manor. The chandelier is electric, but the red candles on the side tables are real. The tea cart at the far end of the room is set up and ready to serve, and the art lying on the dining room table -- waiting to be framed -- are actual watercolors painted by favorite artists. The swinging doors to the left lead to the kitchen, and just visible across the hall is the living room.

Now if I can just get the teeny-tiny maid to come in and tidy up -- straighten the chairs, gather up the used mug, and take those watercolors to the frame shop.... :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Taking A Bath

While I was in the shower this morning, I found myself thinking about bathing through the ages.

Across the Roman Empire, public baths were popular not only for personal hygiene but for socializing. Sometimes the location of Roman baths was dictated by hydrothermal springs which preheated the water -- as in Bath, England (which wasn't called that until after the end of the Roman occupation. Go figure.)

With the passing of Roman civilization, bathing fell out of favor. By the time of Queen Elizabeth (the last half of the 16th century) doctors thought that bathing wasn't healthy and advised people to wash only body parts which were visible to others.. Exposing the entire body to water at one time? Horrors!

On the few occasions per year when a bath was unavoidable, a large wooden tub was dragged out, lined with cloths to protect the bather from splinters, and filled  with water heated over an open fire. After the bath, the used water was removed by the bucketful and carried outside to discard.

By the start of the Regency period, people were more enlightened about cleanliness and they had better equipment -- metal tubs, often a "hip bath" which allowed the bather to immerse more of the body. But by the time someone set up the tub, heated and hauled the water in, and emptied the used water by the bucketful -- well, she probably needed another bath.

A few very wealthy people started to install special bathing rooms with permanent tubs. The biggest advantage of the permanent tub was a drain hose leading outside, so the used water no longer needed to be dipped from the tub after the bath. But water still had to be heated and carried by the bucket to fill the tub.

Though the Greeks had communal showers which were something like today's locker rooms, the indoor shower didn't become practical until about 1850 -- when indoor sources of running water made it feasible. The earliest Victorian showers were used mostly by men, because doctors of the time considered women too frail to stand up to the pounding of water.

Monday, May 14, 2012

If Margaret Mitchell submitted GWTW today

From: Today’s romance publishers
To: Margaret Mitchell
Regarding: Your submission, currently titled Gone With the Wind

Dear Ms. Mitchell:

Thank you for the opportunity to review your Civil War novel. We regret that we must take a pass on the book at this time. However, since you are an excellent writer, we are happy to take the time to make suggestions in the hope that a revision would be more likely to meet with a positive response from publishers and readers.

We find that the era for saga novels has passed, because readers today have a much shorter attention span. In its present form the novel is far too large and unwieldy, and we suggest that you think hard about which story you are most interested in telling. Right now there is far too much war and too many potential heroes for the story to be a romance. Honestly, does Scarlett really need to collect every man she meets? 

Perhaps you’ll want to consider dividing the experiences which you have given to Scarlett among the three O’Hara sisters and creating a trilogy. We have found that trilogies about sisters sell well in today’s publishing climate. This would allow you to deal with each story at a more manageable length and create a true romance with each sister having her own hero. (Of course, sell-through figures on the first book would determine whether the second and third were of interest to the publisher.)

We find that our readers do not respond well to Civil War settings, so perhaps you would find it an inviting challenge to re-envision the novel as a Regency, set in England against the background of the Napoleonic Wars. Rhett would be a natural as a rakish earl, and Scarlett might be the spoiled daughter of a duke. We suggest modifying his signature line to "Frankly, Lady Scarlett, I don't give a damn."

You might also consider strengthening the paranormal elements which already exist in the story (you have hinted that Scarlett is something of a witch).

Furthermore, we don’t understand your title, and since there doesn’t seem to be a single wind metaphor in the entire novel we suggest renaming the book The Southern Rebel Blockade-Running Rake’s Gold-digging Bride.

We hope that you find our comments useful and that you are eager to tackle this revision with an eye to strengthening your story and possibly making it saleable. These suggestions, of course, should not be interpreted as an indication that we would actually buy the book if you revise it along the lines we have suggested. 

Yours sincerely,
The Editors

(My thanks to the students in my Gotham Writers Workshop Master Class, who contributed ideas and enthusiasm to this project.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Baronets and their ladies

Bridging the gap between the peerage (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons, along with their families) and commoners (pretty much everybody else) are the baronets.

Like a knight, a baronet is addressed as Sir Firstname Lastname, or more familiarly, Sir Firstname. (He is not called Sir Lastname, and never Lord Lastname). His wife is referred to as Lady Lastname.

Unlike a knighthood, a baronetcy is hereditary, with the eldest son succeeding to the title upon the death of his father. At that time, if the new baronet is married, his wife becomes Lady Lastname, while his mother's form of address changes to Firstname, Lady Lastname.

A very few modern day baronetcies have been created for women, and a small handful of baronetcies can be inherited by women or through the female line. These women are referred to as Dame Firstname Lastname or Dame Firstname (but never Dame Lastname).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spotlighting the Speaker

The rule of thumb you usually hear on paragraphing dialogue is to start a new paragraph for each new speaker. But there are actually so many exceptions that I think a better way is to think of dialogue as if you’re watching two actors on stage.

As we watch the play, we look at Actor A and listen to what he says, then we turn to look at Actor B and see what the reaction is and listen to what Actor B says. But even if Actor B doesn't say anything, we still turn our heads to look at the reaction (the expression, the glare, the physical motion, the deer-in-headlights stare). In other words, we've changed our focus from one actor to the other one.

When you're writing dialogue, picture the two people as if they’re on stage. Where you turn your head to look at the other person, start a new paragraph – even if that person doesn't say anything.

Whenever you want the reader to change focus – to “look at” the other person – start a new paragraph.

Then put everything about that person’s reaction into one paragraph. What he says, what he does, the attribution, all goes together. (If it’s a long paragraph, consider breaking it up by returning to the other person for a moment mid-stream.)

Keep going back and forth – helping the reader to turn her head and look at the other person – and you’ll have a more lively dialogue.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Welcome to Greystone Manor!


Above is the view which greets the visitor just inside the front door of Greystone Manor. That's the back door you can see; the front door would be behind you. Off to the right through the french doors is the living room. Yes, those are two tiny sets of armor perched along the stair railing -- and if you look closely, you'll see that the center of each wooden tread is worn from the traffic of the family running up and down. The intricate molding on the stairs was created with one tiny toothpick-sized piece of wood at a time, by my husband the master builder. (That's his thumb below, showing the scale of the wood, before the walnut stain and finish were applied.)  The rug is counted cross stitch on aida cloth. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Barons & Baronesses

Barons are the fifth and lowest level of the British peerage, coming right below viscounts. Barons may well be the oldest of the ranks, with the titles of earls and marquesses and viscounts originating after barons were already well established. Frequently an earl or marquess or viscount is also a baron, and the lesser title is often the one used by a titled gentleman's eldest son as a courtesy. Often -- but not always -- the baron's title is directly derived from the family name, so that if Henry Smith were to be named a baron, he might be Baron Smith.

He would be addressed as Lord Smith or my lord, and his wife would be Lady Smith (but -- oddly -- not my lady.) The baron's children are known as The Honorable Firstname Lastname.

In modern times, there are a few women who have been named baronesses in their own right, for service to the crown. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for instance, is Baroness Thatcher -- most often referred to as Margaret, Lady Thatcher.

(Lady Margaret Thatcher would be a different individual entirely -- the daughter of a high-ranking nobleman, rather than a peeress in her own right.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Surprise, or Suspense?

Today I'm turning over the blog to an expert -- Alfred Hitchcock. Here's what he had to say about creating suspense:

There is a distinct difference between 'suspense' and 'surprise', and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, 'Boom!' There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.

Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the d├ęcor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.

The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There's a bomb underneath you and it's about to explode!'

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second case we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist -- that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

Though Hitchcock was talking about films, what he says about surprise and suspense is equally true in books. And nobody could have said it better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Little Things Mean a Lot

Last night I had the joy of sharing my love of miniatures with a friend. As I watched her tour through my miniature house (the equivalent of a 3,500 square foot Georgian), I remembered the fun of building and furnishing it, and going from this:

to this:

As a child, I had dolls but no dollhouse. This house -- it's called Greystone Manor -- is anything but a toy, but I can relive a bit of childhood as I play with it.

In future weeks, I'll share more views of rooms and furnishings. Or you can get a sneak peek on my website:'s%20house.htm