Saturday, May 30, 2020

An easier way to proofread

For a writer, proofreading and doing it thoroughly is essential, and the more efficiently, the better. I do not like to see typos in a book I’m reading, and I hate seeing them in my own work.

Proofreading your own work, particularly if it’s long, is a challenge. We know what we mean to say and so that’s what our eyes see.  It helps to let the piece sit for a couple of weeks or a month but most of us are impatient to get it done and submitted. Someone told me that reading it backwards would catch errors. 

Study says that meditation can help you stay stressfree
Truth in advertising: this is not me, although those might be the Sandia Mountains. I can't get my knees to do that, and my hair has lost all its color. Also, that green stuff would be goatheads (a/k/a puncture vine).
Maybe it does for some people. If I wanted to go into a trance, that’s the technique I’d use: after three or four lines, my mind had wondered off into the infinite.

There are dozens of helpful suggestions on Google, not all of which I’ve  read, perhaps because many belong to the “read it backwards” school of thought. Maybe my recent discovery is already a known technique. For what it may be worth, here it is:

Although I am a techno-dinosaur, even I was dimly aware it’s possible to put your documents on your Kindle. Why would you want to? you ask. A couple of days ago, it came to me. If I sent Portia & The Merchant of London (my recently completed, almost ready to send to my editor, sixth novel) to my Kindle, I could proofread it without having to drag a box of 300+ pages around with me.
18th century leather document box stamped with the George Rex "Royal Cipher and Crown"
So I did. 

No doubt those of you who send legal documents or “To Do” lists or whatever to your Kindle do it the high-tech way—which I was unable to figure out—but emailing it to my Kindle was easy and actually worked. Eureka! Who knew Kindles had their own email addresses? Not I.

There it was. Ninety-two thousand words, double-spaced, and not formatted as an e-book would be, but readable. I settled down with my Kindle, a notebook and a pen. When I came to a typo, I jotted a few words near it to search for in my Word document. Then I realized I could do it in my office and eliminate the notebook and pen. See a typo in the Kindle, find it in Word and poof!

I found lots of typos. In addition, reading it as if it were someone else’s novel, I noticed bad word choices, clunky phrases, superfluous sentences, things that should have been corrected the first two or three or four times I proofread it on my desktop screen and then in hard copy.

I am doing my proofreading this way from now on. Then it will only be a question of figuring out how to get the draft out of my Kindle…

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review of Letters and Lies by Colleen L. Donnelly

Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!
Letters and Lies by Colleen L. Donnelly is the third novel of Ms. Donnelly’s that I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. Unforeseeable outcomes spring from minor, apparently harmless decisions. It’s satisfying—and rare—to read an unpredictable story, one that makes the reader think about the consequences of the characters’ actions.    

Genteel, jilted spinster businesswoman Louise Archer marches onto a westbound train to reclaim the man who has jilted her. She uses a different name and poses as a widow for what seems like a good reason but almost immediately leads to complications. Getting off at an earlier stop to extricate herself from those, an impulsive act of kindness leads to more lies and further complications.

The characters are believably developed, the writing is excellent, and I never foresee all the plot twists in Ms. Donnelly’s books or how they will turn out. For me, that makes a five-star novel.

Letters and Lies will be released on May 25, 2020. Reviewed for

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Remembering my mother

My mother died at the age of ninety-two in 2006. I’ve pretty much ignored Mother’s Day since then (my cats don’t celebrate it), but this year I found myself remembering her. She was my best friend and a delightful human being, but I never thought we had much in common:
Helen D. Buckley 1914 - 2006

My mother was athletic and competitive. In high school, another player elbowed her in the nose, breaking it. I have photos of Mum bicycling, playing golf, and at the beach in her youth. While I don’t have a picture of her playing tennis, she admitted she and a friend used to sneak into a country club to play on their court, something I would never have done.

We went to the health club (her idea) several times a week until she was eighty-eight. She also did water aerobics, and most mornings walked around the lake adjoining Seattle’s Woodland Park, about three miles. I often went with her; at five a.m., we didn’t have to compete with a lot of other walkers, bicyclists, or skateboarders, and I still had time to go home and get ready for work. Without her influence, I am more of a couch potato.

I’ve been working on the yard recently, bringing back memories of her garden in Anchorage, where we lived until I was six. Dad grew the vegetables and she planted flowers: sweet peas, snapdragons, nasturtiums, and bachelor’s buttons between the house and the septic tank. The sweet peas were smaller than those you see today, and had a sweet scent (hence, “sweet peas”). I did not inherit her gardening ability (not that she ever used it again; it must have been a one-time project). Unless a plant is actually “invasive”, I can kill it.

One year, she mentioned she was getting a refund on her income tax. When I asked if she planned to apply it to her next year’s taxes, she said meditatively, “Oh, no. I think I’ll go to Reno.” Those cheap two day excursions to Reno or Las Vegas were a favorite treat. She allotted a certain amount of money she was willing to lose (not very much!), and once it was gone, she stopped gambling, Her game was Twenty-One, a/k/a Blackjack, and she almost always broke even for her trip. I can never remember the rules of card games.

It’s only in the last few years I’ve realized that I inherited more traits from her than I thought.  

Her great gift to me was her love of reading. We went to the library every Saturday, a ritual we continued almost until I was old enough to vote, and she read to me when I was pre-literate. She did not like children’s books; her opinion of one from her youth, Elsie Dinsmore, does not bear repeating. Instead she read me young adult books and sometimes adult books as well. Note: this was in the days when books meant for adults did not contain explicit sex (or even implicit sex). I think one of them was Lorna Doone; another was about whalers, and there was one about a juvenile delinquent.

When we moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, Mum went to work for the state police as a clerk/typist. She loved the job. Something interesting was always happening. Apart from the time she went to get her lunch out of the office refrigerator and found a jar of severed fingers in alcohol, there was always the prospect of bodies turning up at the spring thaw and the break-up of river ice. We lived near the Chena River. At the breakup, we used to walk down to the bank to see if we could spot one. Some people might have been appalled. It’s pretty clear where I got my bloody-minded streak.

She liked nice clothing. I have  receipts for things she bought before she married my father, at prices which seem surprisingly high for the 1940s. I think one of them was a beaver coat, which I recall from my toddler days. So soft! She also liked jewelry. Noticeable jewelry. It was always tasteful, but it was often…big. Come to think of it, I like those things, too. 

She was smart, fun-loving, spontaneous, and kind. This is the best illustration I can give:   

In her eighties, she hired a man who was going around the neighborhood looking for work. I think she had him wash the windows, as they required the use of a ladder. Afterward she asked him in for coffee and a snack. He was married, their house had burned, he was out of work, and he couldn’t afford to buy his wife a Christmas present. My mother had a Mr. Coffee she had bought on sale and put away in case hers died. She would not have cared to face morning without coffee. So she gave it to him.

Someone who heard this story at her memorial service thought she had been a patsy. But she reaped a benefit: the man’s wife wrote her a letter to thank her. It was the beginning of a correspondence that lasted after the couple moved back to the Midwest and until my mother died. There weren’t very many letters per year but each one was long and newsy. “Lola is the only person I know who writes a really good letter,” my mother said, “except me.” 
Her chocolate cookies summed up her attitude to life: when I asked her secret to making such incredibly good ones, she murmured vaguely, “I just put in more of everything.”

Words to live by. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A Chat with Donna Ann Brown, author of Elizabeth Barrett and Cupid’s Brooch

The title of Donna Ann Brown’s novel caught my attention because I’m an old English major. It sounded like a fun read, so I thought I'd interview the author.   

Q.: Donna, how did you come up with the you studied in school, something you read, or something you experienced?
Elizabeth Barrett
by Henry William Pickersgill
idea for your novel? Was it influenced by something

A.: Sitting with a group of women you haven’t met before is always interesting. At one particular women’s group, a lady told us she wished time travel existed. She wanted to go back in time and change a few aspects of her business. 

Another person talked about celebrities nonstop. The oddness of their conversations stuck with me. What would happen if an actress went back in time before they were vetted and petted? I thought the idea sounded fun and started playing with a story in my mind. Suddenly Liz Barrett came alive. About halfway through her story I wondered what would happen if her doppelganger changed places with her? There have been so many changes in the last 100 years. What would one experience seeing automobiles, airplanes, cell phones, and scantily clad woman? Elizabeth showed up. She decided the only explanation for where she had landed was Purgatory.

Q.: Was there a particular influence in your life that led you to write? A teacher? A book you read that made you want to write? Did you tell your cat—or teddy bear—stories after bedtime?

A.: A new girl entered our classroom in sixth grade. I became a social outcast for a while because she loved to bully people. My teacher noticed her behavior and gave me a book that changed my life. Harriet The Spy had friends who stopped talking to her.

The story resonated with me and I started scribbling daily in a notebook. My mother noticed and, instead of asking why I suddenly wanted to become a writer, she told me “You can’t make any money doing that for a living. You’ll go broke and starve so stop wasting your time.”

I took typing in high school instead of creative writing because I didn’t want to disappoint her. Wrote for company newsletters while working in Corporate America and even published a few articles in magazines. Did a hypnosis session when I realized I couldn’t finish any book I ever started.  Now I write a blog for a client who pays me and have a critic partner who I meet with consistently. My journey into writing has only just begun.

Q.: Are you a plot-in-detail or a seat-of-the-pants writer? How long did it take you to write?

What books am I reading in 2019? - Martijn ScheijbelerI read four books at a time and I write the same way. Unfortunately, I can read faster than I write. My critique partner reminded me I had a few finished projects and challenged me to submit at least one.  This book has been sitting in a folder on my desktop since 2012. I polished it last year, sent the story to The Wild Rose Press, and I’m thrilled they accepted Elizabeth Barrett & Cupid’s Brooch.

Q.: Is Elizabeth Barrett & Cupid’s Brooch a stand-alone or the beginning of a series?

A.: This book is a stand-alone book, however, I am getting whispers for another Trade in Time story.

Q.: Anything you want to add?

A.: Last year I went to Costa Rica to become an Access Consciousness Facilitator. Fun for me is learning a skill while visiting a new city or country.  I attend classes and conventions all over the world.  My adult son thinks I’m crazy but here I sit, eagerly anticipating my next certification. Which reminds me, I’ve only been to one Writer’s Conference in my life. Maybe that will be a destination vacation once the Coronavirus allows us to travel again.

Q.: Tell us something about yourself.

A.: I am full time Hypnotist, helping everyday people with everyday problems. Hypnosis has helped me uncover so many blocks in my life that I am honored to have the skills to help others. Working for myself allows me to create time for writing. How could life get any better than this?

Q.:  What’s the blurb for your book?

 Legend has it Cupid's Brooch sends you to your one true love...

Actress Liz Barrett, adored by millions, wields Cupid's Brooch and trades places with Miss Elizabeth Barrett of 1812, a young lady without connections who fears having no choice in whom she must marry.

Either Liz's rabid fans have made up this crazy story, while Elizabeth suffers what is surely purgatory, or they've traded places in time and perhaps even fallen into the arms of their one true love.

But what will Lord Whittington and Dr. Demfry do if fate is determined to switch them back?

I suspect many of Donna's experiences will resonate with other authors, perhaps particularly the character coming to life in one's imagination. Elizabeth Barrett & Cupid’s Brooch is being released May 6, 2020 and I’ve ordered a copy because how could I resist?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Romancing the Bad Boy (or Not)

The Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, Plate III, 1735 

 Quite often, romance novels feature “bad boys” as male protagonists. While I read these novels and often enjoy them, I have reservations. Of course, romance novels are almost always essentially fairy tails (Freudian slip) tales. Viewed as such, they’re analogous to stories in which the heroine kisses the frog and it turns into a prince. Ummm...ugh.

Personally, I like to write stories that are somewhat related to real life. As a friend of mine pointed out, in real life, getting involved with a “bad boy” can lead to living in a bad trailer park and explaining to a cop why your man should or should not be arrested.

Stede Bonnet, pirate
Because I write stories set in the 1740s, I think of this species of male protagonist’s flaws as follows: criminality (card sharper, highwayman, pirate), promiscuity (seduces every female in sight; worse if he seduces innocent young ladies), anger management problems (excessive dueling), socially irresponsible behavior (excessive risk-taking or gambling, ignoring the responsibilities of his title and estates).

When I began to be bothered by the “bad boy” thing, I realized that what bothered me most was the assumption that love would cure the rapscallion. Romance novelists tend to believe in the healing power of love, and that’s a good thing. I’m happy to endorse the sentiment…within reason. Love will not negate gravity, however. You need duct tape for that. Love may or may not fix character flaws. If the problem is minor, I’m willing to suspend disbelief, because no one’s perfect, including characters.

18th century highwayman

Major faults, the ones that go deep, need more than the love of a good woman. That’s why, in my novel, Captain Easterday’s Bargain, the “bad boy” does not get the lady. On the other hand, I liked Ambrose Hawkins, former pirate, art connoisseur, and sneaky son-of-a-gun. So eventually, I wrote a follow-up in which he is the male protagonist. A Duke’s Daughter comes out on April 29, 2020.

 A Duke's Daughter cover art

Rejected by the woman he loves, Ambrose Hawkins, shipper, importer, and former pirate, settles for a female who can further his social ambitions. His marriage to Emily is prospering until a man who blames Hawkins for the failure of his own courtship is murdered. Hawkins is the obvious suspect...

...and the obvious suspect usually hangs.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Masks and Manners: Carnivale in Venice

Ridotto by Pietro Longhi

I meant to write about the Venetian carnival and in particular, Venetian carnival masks, months ago, as they played a part in my fourth novel, A Masked Earl. But along the way, things happened (edits on my fifth novel and beginning my sixth,  baking for a Toys for Tots bake sale, the holiday season). Now that we're in pandemic lock-down mode, I'm catching up. 

While the masks are worn during the Carnival, in earlier periods they were also employed for other functions: at official ceremonies, at the theater, for anonymity, and to allow women to go unescorted. Many of the masks were adapted from the Commedia dell’ Arte. The ones I've listed are only the best known characters. Some Italian cities have their own local characters as well.

Moretta: The black oval female mask, held in place by gripping an interior button or protrusion with one’s teeth fell out of use (understandably, I think) in the second half of the 18th century.   

Arlecchino (Harlequin) is distinguished by his multi-colored, diamond-patterned costume. He is a high-spirited, clever servant.
Arlecchino and Columbina


Columbina uses a half-mask. She is the heroine's chatty servant, Arlecchino's mistress, and the sensible character in the performance. You would hardly guess it by the way she is leaning on Arlecchino here.


Pantalone: Depicted as a Venetian, self-absorbed, greedy, and petty, his role is often to separate the two lovers in any Commedia dell’ Arte piece. 

Pulcinella: Dressed in a baggy costume of long pants and a sort of shirt or smock, and distinguished by his hunchback and crooked nose, Pulcinella is the origin of Punch in English Punch and Judy puppet shows.  In the Commedia dell’ Arte tradition, he is either a cunning schemer or a bumpkin.


Larva or Volto
Larva or volto mask: A white, full-face mask worn by commoners, apparently so boring I could find almost nothing about it on the Internet except one site which alleged that it metamorphosed into the Bautta mask.

A modern Bautta mask
Bautta: By the 18th century, the bautta mask was required for political events in which citizens had to be anonymous. It was restricted to nobles and the upper middle class (which suggests that anyone of lower status was not considered a citizen). The effect of the bautta mask with black tricorne and black or red cape is sinister in the extreme: think Darth Vader in the 18th century. 

Venetian Carnival masquerade

Friday, October 25, 2019

Point of View, or, What Got Cut

My fourth novel, A Masked Earl, took longer in the editing stages than I had expected, as my editor insisted on limiting viewpoint characters to two. Apparently it’s a rule with my publisher. It never occurred to me it would be a problem. 
 Many long novels have more than two main characters (George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, for example). Some shorter novels bring in a minor character’s point of view for a specific purpose. Mainstream fiction and mystery/suspense novels sometimes use multiple viewpoints to good effect, as Louise Penny (the Inspector Gamache series) and C.S. Harris (the Sebastian St. Cyr series) have done. Even a brief "extra" point of view can introduce information unavailable to the main characters. 
Photo by _M_V_ on Unsplash
After searching on the Internet, I found that the advice was to use only one or two points of view when writing a romance novel: either the female protagonist only or preferably both the female and male protagonist.  This recommendation has occasionally been breached, and rightly so, in my opinion.  
Jo Beverley did it on occasion. So does Lucinda Brant. While I haven't gone through the equivalent of several legal document boxes of books by my favorite romance writers, I'm pretty sure a number of them have used more than two viewpoints, including Mary Balogh and Georgette Heyer. Usually the additional viewpoints are brought in for the same reason they are employed in mysteries.
  However, in my opinion, the best example of a third POV in a romance novel occurs in Heyer's novel, The Black Moth, the first of the modern Regency or Georgian romance genre. There are several viewpoint characters, two of them quite minor although they provide needed background. The main POV characters are the hero, heroine, and the villain, Tracy Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, without whose viewpoint the book would be disappointing. I can recall his name easily. I can't remember the full names of the others without thinking about it.   
Anyway, I had to chop several scenes from A Masked Earl. When I thought about it, I realized that the action could be shown from the viewpoint of one of the main characters. I was able to use the last part of the following section in the final version (from the male protagonist’s POV).  

At the sound of [the] thunderous demand, Phoebe Stanwood shied and drew in a sharp breath. Before Solomon could speak a word to calm her, she pulled away and ran into the trees. After a stunned moment, he followed. Her fright at hearing a loud, angry voice did not surprise him.
She was a timid girl, not in the least like the bold ladies of fashion to whom he occasionally lent sums to cover losses at cards or the admirable Mistress Easterday, met once shortly after her marriage, when he encountered the Easterdays coming out of a bank as he entered. To his surprise, Easterday had not hesitated to introduce him.
Did she simply panic, or did she seize the opportunity to decoy him into the wood in order to compromise him? The question was moot, as the end result would be the same. He must follow her, as for all the management’s attempts to make the Gardens suitable for family outings, an unprotected woman was not safe. He moved as quickly as he could, arms up to fend off unseen branches. Dark as bedamned under the trees, with no lamps and moonlight only where the branches thinned. Like a game of blindman’s buff. She could not move faster, especially given her wide skirts and shorter stride, and he could hear her ahead. Once or twice he caught a flash of something lighter than the shadows. Fortunate she had worn a white domino. No, forethought, not luck. She must have done so to make it easier to find her.
When he located her, he would appear to have compromised her—silk ripped as a branch caught at his domino—as there would be no way to explain their dishevelment, however innocent. It placed him in the situation Axton had intended, though not with Barlyon. Too bad Hawkins had not felt inclined to court her, though it was understandable. He would have little patience with artless chatter.
The sounds slowed and he heard a mew of distress. “Oh, I am lost!”
Silly chit. They had not penetrated far into the wood, and any direction they went would eventually bring them out on a walk. Ah! A break in the trees with something that reflected the moon in a thousand little facets. He stumbled into the ring of light where a motionless pale figure stood, whimpering.
“Mistress Phoebe?”
“Oh, please take me out of this dreadful place! I am lost, and I’ve hurt my ankle, and I fear my gown is torn, and what shall I do? Oh, oh, oh!”
She had seen too many plays. There was no help for it but to approach her.
“I’m here. We are not far from the walk. I hope your ankle is not sprained, for it would be very difficult to carry you, as thickly as the trees grow.”
The pillar of gleaming white took two or three hesitant steps toward him, then threw herself into his arms. “Thank goodness you found me,” she breathed, her face buried against his chest. “I think it is only turned and will be better if I can rest it for a few minutes.”
Was it worse to hurry her back to the Dark Walk? Or to stay and await a witness to find him with Phoebe clinging to him? The latter, almost certainly. On the Dark Walk, even looking as they did, they would be back in the presence of their party with too little time elapsed to matter. Probably. Yet if they did, Phoebe would be free to continue her attempts to force Barlyon into marriage, though tonight’s visit to Vauxhall would certainly be over, and he’d had good success avoiding her at home.
“We should try to get back to the others. They will be worrying.” He tried to disentangle her.
“No, please!” she cried. “Not yet!”
“Please hold me. I fear I may faint at any moment.” She flung her arms around his neck and clung. She might have hoped he would put his arms around her, which would have been a natural reaction. If so, she was disappointed. He kept them to his sides.
In some circumstances, a lady collapsing against one would be a pleasure. This was not one of them. Worse, he heard someone crashing through the shrubbery.
A figure burst into the glade. “Feeb! Who’s this villain who has led you astray?”
She dropped her arms and turned with a soft cry. “Bart?”
“Stand away from my sister, you swine.” The young man stalked forward, the drama somewhat lessened by the fact that he was several inches shorter than Sol, slender, and probably not old enough to have left university.
Sol obliged.
“Bart, you should not use such language to the Earl of Barlyon.”
“By God, I’d say the same to the king himself if I found him trying to seduce you!”
Bart was also a devotee of thrilling drama.
“I beg your pardon—”
“I knew it was wrong to go apart with the earl, but he has such charming ways, I could not resist.”
“In fact, Mr. Stanwood, for I suppose you are Mistress Phoebe’s brother, your sister ran into the covert when she was startled by some ill-bred fellow’s loud challenge to another. I followed her to protect her from any danger lurking here. And in any case—”
“So you say! You have compromised my sister, and you’ll marry her or meet me. Or my older brother,” he added after a heartbeat.
Pure farce. He wouldn’t have missed this for all the treasures of Cathay. “I fear you are suffering from a misapprehension. I am not the Earl of Barlyon.”
The boy laughed derisively. “Prove it.”
“Do you know Barlyon by sight?” he inquired, tugging the ends of the ribbons securing the mask.
“Everyone in society does! You are the latest marvel.”
The ties having come free, Sol dangled the mask from one hand. The moon was well over the tree tops, permitting young Stanwood a view of his face. “Permit me to introduce myself. I am Solomon de Toledo, at your service.”
Phoebe and her brother gasped, almost in unison.
She recovered first. “You’re not Barlyon!”
“No, I’m not.”
Bart said slowly, “De Toledo? I don’t recall the name, but if you’re a friend of Barlyon’s, you must be an eligible match for Feeb, titled or not.”
“Alas, I have neither title nor riches.” He heard energetic rustling and a muffled curse among the trees. Barlyon or Hawkins to the rescue, he trusted. Though it sounded like a great deal of noise for only one man. Still, they would not have left the ladies alone.
“What?” the puppy yelped. “Compromise my little sister without being able to make amends for it?”
“I can support a wife decently though not in great state. She would have to convert, of course. My family would insist upon it.” Another good reason he would be an impossible match.
“Good God, you’re a Papist?”