Saturday, April 28, 2012

Viscounts and Viscountesses

The rank in the peerage below earls and above barons is that of a viscount -- and though it's tempting to pronouce the S, it's actually silent.

A viscount is often be the oldest son of an earl or a marquess, holding his title as a courtesy based on his father's rank. Or he can be the holder of the title in his own right, if it's the most exalted title in the family. A viscount's wife is a viscountess.

His children don't hold titles, other than being formally addressed as The Honorable Firstname Lastname, and the oldest son of a viscount -- unlike the heir of a higher-ranking peer --is treated no differently from his younger brothers.

Today a viscount's daughters are simply called Miss Lastname, regardless of their order of birth. In the more-formal days of the Regency and Victorian eras, the oldest daughter was given a bit more status by being called Miss Lastname, while her younger sisters were known as Miss Firstname Lastname.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Characters Who Keep Secrets

Can a point of view character keep a big secret, without losing the reader's sympathy? That was the subject of a program I presented last week to the Central Iowa Fiction Writers group in Des Moines, Iowa. And the answer is YES -- if the author is careful.

Here are the rules for playing fair with the reader:

Only keep important secrets.

If it’s important enough, it should be secret.
Give the character a good reason to finally break down and tell the truth.
Don’t tease.
Ask the normal questions.
Have another character ask or answer the obvious question.
Tell the truth wherever possible.
Don’t lie, no matter what.
Divert the reader’s attention to something else.
Foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow.

What do you think? Let's talk!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Simply Good -- Recipes for the Busy Cook

The characters I write about, in both my contemporary and Regency-period romances, eat a lot of fancy food. (They can eat all they like -- fictional food has no calories.) But I'm generally not a fancy-food person. I keep all of my elaborate cookbooks in my office, where I use them for research.

When I'm in my kitchen, I'm generally creating much simpler fare -- and I reach for a much simpler cookbook. To find its way into my personal cookbook, a recipe has to be fast, easy (or better yet, fast AND easy). Or it has to make a big enough quantity to be worth the time it takes to slice, dice, stir, and simmer -- so I can freeze some and have a really easy meal later on.

My newest cookbook venture, Simply Good, Recipes for the Busy Cook, will be released soon in ebook format for e-readers, tablets and mobile devices. I'm finishing up the details to make it as handy as possible for use in the kitchen or on the run -- like being able to look up a recipe and check the ingredients on a Smart Phone while you're still in the grocery store.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chicken Veggie Ranch Cups

This makes an easy and delightful appetizer or canape -- excellent when paired with tea or something stronger!

Chicken Veggie Ranch Cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped carrot
¼ cup chopped olives
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup chopped yellow pepper
1 6- ounce to 8-ounce can white-meat chicken, drained and flaked
Ranch dressing
Shredded Swiss cheese

Sauté veggies till tender. Add chicken and enough dressing to moisten; heat through. Line pastry cups with pie crust or cream cheese pastry. Top each with sprinkle of Swiss cheese. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

This recipe, and others posted on the blog, will be included in a forthcoming ebook called SIMPLY GOOD: Recipes for the Busy Cook.

Friday, April 13, 2012

All About Earls

Next in line of importance in the aristocracy, after dukes and marquesses, are earls. Most of them are the Earl OF something, but a few are like Earl Spencer, Princess Diana's father --who was not the Earl of Spencer. (And that's why a few American reporters have gotten all messed up when interviewing Diana's brother, the current holder of the title, thinking that his first name is Earl.)

In most cases, the earldom is the main and most prominent title that a gentleman holds, and it's inherited from a near male relative (father, brother, uncle). When the previous earl dies, then the new one succeeds to the rights and responsibilities and property of the title. Through most of history, that included a seat in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of Great Britain's Parliament.

Occasionally, a duke or a marquess is also an earl, and in that case his oldest son may use the title of Earl of Whatever as an honorary title.

An earl's wife is the Countess of Whatever. Why isn't she called ...I don't know, maybe an Earl-ess? (And that's probably enough of an answer right there! Who'd want to be known as an ear-less?) Actually it's because an earl and a count -- or in France, a comte -- are roughly equivalent. However, when William the Conqueror arrived from Normandy in 1066 to take over England, bringing a new order of aristocracy with him, the older Saxon title of Earl stuck.

The oldest son of an earl carries one of his father's lesser titles as an honorary title; he's generally a viscount or a baron. The younger sons are not titled and are formally referred to as The Honorable Firstname Lastname -- in person, they're called Mr. Lastname. This is one of the few times that being female carries an advantage, because all the daughters of an earl are referred to as Lady Firstname Lastname. And like the daughter of a duke, an earl's daughter maintains her rank as a lady even if she marries a commoner. If she marries someone with a title, then she generally uses the rank she acquires through marriage, rather than the one she has from birth.

(Which reminds me -- someday we really must take up the discussion of whether "Princess Diana" was ever her real title -- even before her divorce!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Asparagus Tartlets

1 8-ounce can green or white asparagus
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 pound carrots, shredded

Combine all ingredients. With a scalloped cookie cutter, cut unbaked pie crust or turnover pastry into rounds; fit into mini-tartlet pans. Fill with asparagus mixture. Bake 18-20 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 24 to 30 tartlets.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Talking about Writing

In just six weeks this spring, I'm giving seminars for three different writers' groups, on three different topics. I'm always intrigued to see the many differences between groups -- the dynamics of how they work together, the topics they want to hear about, the questions they ask.

In mid-March, I was in Lexington, Kentucky, to speak to Kentucky Romance Authors. The topic was Writing Between The Sexes -- the differences in how men and women think, act, and talk, and how to use those differences to create believable (but not stereotypical) characters. We spent all day -- from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- discussing, studying examples, and doing exercises.

These ladies are intense. About half of them brought their laptops in order to take better notes. The writing which was done in the afternoon exercises was superb -- some of it is now appearing on the authors' websites and being crafted into works in progress. (Robyn, I'm still waiting to read your take on the Bigfoot story!)

This week, I'll be speaking to a neighborhood group of writers. Mostly poets and columnists and memoir writers, these writers are interested in hearing about publishing in general and the many changes which have come about in the last couple of years -- with many of them considering self-publishing sooner or later.

Next week, I'll speak to the Iowa Romance Novelists, about Characters Who Keep Secrets. I look forward to meeting up again with some writers I've known for years -- and celebrating many new successes!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Marquess Madness

Second in aristocratic rank to a duke is a marquess (occasionally marquis), and often the oldest son of a duke is known as the Marquess of Something because that's one of his father's lesser titles. But a marquess can also hold the title in his own right; in history when earls have provided great service to the sovereign they're often rewarded with a higher title -- sometimes they're made a marquess, and sometimes they're jumped all the way up to being a duke.

The wife of a Marquess is a Marchioness. Their eldest son uses one of his father's lesser titles as a courtesy, so the son of a marquess is sometimes an earl -- but one without personal power.

A Marquess is addressed as My Lord, or Your Lordship, and if he's the Marquess of Sheridan he's referred to as Lord Sheridan.

The younger sons of a marquess are -- like the sons of dukes -- known as Lord Firstname Lastname, and all the daughters of a marquess are Lady Firstname Lastname. They can be referred to in person as Lord Firstname or Lady Firstname.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Great first lines

First lines are tough. When I first starting writing, authors could take a leisurely approach -- setting the stage, creating an ambiance, describing a scene -- before getting into the action. But today, in a world where attention spans seem to be getting shorter by the moment, we no longer have the luxury of a few thousand words to draw the reader into the story. A few pages?-- maybe. But the opening lines have become ever more crucial.

Here's one of my favorite opening lines. I like it because I'm pretty sure -- in just two sentences -- that the heroine has a sense of humor, that she's snarky and not full of herself, and that I'm going to like her.

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

– Deanna Rayburn, Silent in the Grave

What's your favorite first line, from a book you've read or one you've written?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Decadant Truffles

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or use ½ tablespoon vanilla and ½ tablespoon almond extract)
Coatings (optional)
finely chopped nuts
flaked coconut
unsweetened cocoa powder
confectioners sugar
colored sugars
finely crushed peppermint candies

In large saucepan over low heat, gently melt chips along with sweetened condensed milk. When smooth, remove from heat and stir in flavorings. Cover and chill 2 to 3 hours or until firm. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball in one of the listed coatings. Chill finished candies till firm. Refrigerate, stored in an airtight container.