Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How do you write a novel? Part I

 I see a lot of questions from aspiring writers.  One of them is : "I want to write a novel. How do I do it?" There are many variants of this question, and most writers who have actually produced at least one novel probably sigh or wince and wonder how to answer.

How do you write a novel?

Ideally, you've laid the foundation by reading compulsively since you learned to read, and picked up a wide vocabulary, a good grasp of grammar, punctuation, and a feel for language.

In addition, you have a strong desire to write, not for money or fame, but simply to tell a story.

You should also have already acquired the ability to string words together into coherent English (or whatever your native language is) so you don't write a sentence like this: "In the olden times, the men of Xablonia lay with the Chocolans' long dead grandmothers." What's wrong with that, you ask?

Well, you've just accused the Xablonians of necrophilia, and not even fresh necrophilia. And maybe that's what you meant, because sometimes things get weird in fantasy or paranormal novels. But if you mean that the ancestors of the current Xablonians lay with the ancestresses of the current Chocolans, you need to change that sentence. Many, many years ago, I read a very similar statement in a book blurb and I haven't stopped laughing since.

You could write: "In the olden times, the men of Xablonia lay with the Chocolans' ancestresses." You could write it in a number of other ways to remove the suggestion of necrophilia with the mouldering corpses of grandmothers. The point here is, you have to know how to write a sentence that says what you mean, not something entirely different.

Now that you have the mental tools to write a novel, you have a choice: either start by outlining the plot in some detail, or else (assuming you have even the germ of an idea of what it's going to be about) just sit down and start writing. Some writers are "plotters", some are "seat-of-the-pantsers". I'm the latter. I'd never write a book if I had to outline it first.

You are now beginning to write. Do what you have to do to carve out a block of time to write. Sit down at...well, whatever equipment you write with, be it desktop computer, some newfangled portable thing, or a ream of paper and a pen, and write. Do it regularly. Do not be distracted by social media, phone calls, or emails. Do not worry about who will publish it, how to promote it, how much money it will make (or not!), and who you want for the starring roles in the movie and what you'll wear to the premiere. Personally, I'd like one of my novels turned into a BBC mini-series but that's not going to happen, either.

Write your novel. You'll know fairly quickly if writing long fiction is your cup of tea.

If you finish it, that's still not the end of the project. My next blog entry will address what happens after you type "The End".

My fourth historical romance, A Masked Earl, will be released on October 2, 2019. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Most Secret, my second historical novel (ebook edition), is currently on sale for $0.99

My second novel, Most Secret, is currently on sale for $0.99 at

Jane Stowe frequently finds her irritable father, peevish stepmother, and half-brother Rupert a trial. Her only hope of eventual escape is her maternal uncle, Roger Markham, whose heir she is. When he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane is the obvious suspect.

Sent to unofficially investigate a suspected smuggler, Alex Gordon uncovers a plot to send a cargo of muskets to Bonnie Prince Charlie in Scotland. Now he’s been told to leave the rest to the professionals. But Jane Stowe, who provided the first clue to the plot, is suspected of murder. Her feckless half-brother is involved. It’s all connected, and the professionals have no stake in saving Jane from the gallows or Rupert from a charge of treason.

Alex, with nothing more than a talent for amateur theatricals, lock-picking, and a personal interest in Jane, has a plan. Or most of a plan, at least. It will take him to Scotland and make him a fugitive from both Jacobites and the Crown, and send Jane into hiding.

Most Secret contains no explicit sex, mild bad language, mild violence, and humor. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: Lucinda Brant's Roxton Family Saga

Noble Satyr: A Georgian Historical Romance by Lucinda BrantI think I’ve read all of Lucinda Brant’s novels, re-read most of them, and they’re all on my “to keep” list. The books of the Roxton Family Saga are particular favorites, however, in part because Noble Satyr reminds me of Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. I’m going to skip summarizing their stories as others have done that already, and jump directly to why I enjoyed them so much.

My standards for fiction of any kind are high: I want good writing, accurate detail, good characterization, and a plot that makes some sense. Ms. Brant’s books are well written, steeped in 18th century culture, the characters are well drawn, and the stories are interesting. Even better, they’re compelling. The Roxton novels linger in my memory as many other historical romances do not.

And now that I've finished writing this, I'll go back to re-reading Midnight Marriage.

The Roxton Family Saga:
Noble Satyr
Midnight Marriage
Autumn Duchess
Dair Devil
Proud Mary
Satyr’s Son

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

How I learned to love Google Images

I have a fairly good visual memory and I’m pretty good at describing things, I think, which is handy for a writer. But in order to visualize and describe them, I’ve got to see them first. For someone whose genre is historical fiction, this can be tricky. Thank goodness for the wonders of the Internet and a good search engine.

Much of the time, I’m researching some specific thing, like what a Charleville 1717 musket looked like. Sometimes, an article online will include an illustration which intrigues me and leads me to other resources. Paintings from the period I’m writing about (the early to mid-1700s) are rich sources of inspiration. When I was writing my first novel, An Unsuitable Duchess, I looked for portraits from that era to see what people were wearing. By the second, Most Secret, I had discovered the DVD version of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London, which led to searching for images of Somerset House, the various squares, schooners, and a suitable place for Jane Stowe’s uncle to live.  
Wych Street, London, about 1880. Demolished soon after, one of these houses dating from about 1600 was the perfect residence for Jane's rakish, intelligence-gathering uncle.

Above, Canaletto's drawing of Old Somerset House, used at the time for a variety of small government offices, storage, and even some lodgings for government employees, provided a place for the anonymous intelligence service in Most Secret

With my third, Captain Easterday’s Bargain, I went looking for images of the Pool of London and the Thames generally in the early 18th century and found a treasure trove.

Pictures which inspired scenes in Captain Easterday’s Bargain:

Samuel Scott, A Thames Wharf, from the Victoria & Albert Museum collection.
This is sometimes identified as depicting Custom House Quay, but is more likely the East India Company wharf.

Samuel Scott, The Thames and the Tower of London, Supposedly on the King's Birthday

A General Prospect of Vauxhall Gardens from the west, with the proprietor's house and the Prince's Pavilion (with three shuttered windows) in the foreground.
And I needed a place for Olivia, the embattled shipping company owner, to live. I settled on Well Close Square as being slightly down-at-heels, in the right part of London, and having a magistrate's court that would be useful. The photograph below was taken in the 1960s, before the square's demolition. 

In my fourth, A Masked Earl, which I hope will be out by  early autumn of 2019, I found floor plans for both city and country houses,  as well as furniture and tea sets.

Taking tea. Note that these are tea bowls rather than tea cups.

And finally, a painting of tric-trac players which oozes romance…or possibly lust. I consider this virtually emblematic of the romance genre. You know they aren't talking about a dumb board game. 

Trictrac Players, attributed to Léonard DeFrance

Monday, June 24, 2019

Check out Addison Carmichael's Site

Addison Carmichael, who writes romance "with a paranormal twist" has a lovely and informative site, and I'm her featured author today.  I talk about the writer's journey: Parisian cafés, the Lost Generation, writing something—anything!—just to be writing, and why many of us continue to write, in spite of the lack of fame, fortune, and martini lunches in Manhattan. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Time Travel, Thanks to the Internet

Because I write historical romances, I do a lot of time traveling, specifically to the 1740s. As I usually do it via Google, I’m spared the experience of necessary houses (what we would call outhouses), terrifying medical care, and the soot-laden and reeking air of London.

 If you write fiction set in the U.S. in modern times, you don’t need to describe a McDonald’s in detail: every sighted person in America has seen one. But when you write historical fiction, you can’t rely on your reader knowing what a coaching inn or a London wharf or a coffee house looked like. It’s my responsibility to describe it so the reader can see it.

In order to do so, I have to have a clear mental image of what I’m describing. I can’t be content with an offhand “It was a typical brick and half-timbered house of the Tudor period.” So Google is my friend. Searches will turn up pictures of the 18th century French Charleville musket (several different models), jewelry, clothing, furniture and floor plans of the period, the rules of card games no one has played in the last two hundred years, and virtually anything else I need to research. And it’s fun.
Trictrac by L. deFrance

Let’s set the mood. Above is the image that symbolizes romance to me. You know this couple is not thinking about their stupid board game.

And this man, though a little late for my period, is the quintessential romantic hero: handsome and brooding.
Sir Thomas Beauchamp-Proctor by Benjamin West, 1777

Wych Street, London. 
On to specifics. In my second novel, Most Secret, Wych Street, near Drury Lane, inspired Markham’s house. In the photograph at the left, the spire of St. Clement Danes Church is visible in the background. The Oxford Arms coaching inn, below center, was the one at which Jane Stowe arrived after her stay in the country.  

Both landmarks were urban-renewed out of existence in the late 19th century. Fortunately, someone photographed them before they vanished, and now they have been immortalized on the Internet.  

The Oxford Arms, with the dome of St. Paul's in the background, left.
Old Somerset House served as the site for the anonymous intelligence agency in Most Secret: by 1745 it was used for a variety of purposes, including grace and favor apartments, housing for minor government offices, and storage, making it the perfect headquarters for a small, secretive government department. 

Old Somerset House by Canaletto

Paintings by Canaletto and Samuel Scott set the scene for Captain Easterday’s Bargain, with its story centered on the Pool of London’s shipping industry.

Custom House Quay
(or East India Quay)
I particularly like this Samuel Scott painting, traditionally said to be of Custom House Quay. More recent thought is that it's actually the East India quay. However, the scene and activity must have been similar, judging by other pictures of the Custom House. 

Canaletto did a number of paintings of the Thames and riverside buildings while he was in England. "Canaletto" seems an unusually suitable name.  His painting of the Lord Mayor's Procession, 1748, while interesting for the Lord Mayor's Barge, was more useful to me for the view of the shoreline with its ramshackle warehouses and sheds. 

Canaletto's 'London: the Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day, looking towards the City and St Paul's Cathedral' ( LOBKOWICZ COLLECTIONS, CZECH REPUBLIC/PETR WEIGL )

I used mid-18th century illustrations of Vauxhall Gardens for Olivia’s visit to that 18th century equivalent of Disneyland. For the ridotto at the Haymarket theater Haymarket, I found Giuseppe Grissoni's painting of a masquerade at the Haymarket. From a floor plan of the theater and contemporary descriptions, the scene appears to be the Long Room.

Masquerade at the Haymarket theater by G. Grissoni, 1724,
in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

Architectural plans were  a rich source. The plan of Argyll House (built in 1723) inspired Captain Easterday’s Queen Square residence.  Photographs taken (probably about 1913) were also helpful.

Argyll House, 211 King's Road, Chelsea
Contemporary illustrations and descriptions of coffee houses yielded details for Job’s, John Barlicorn’s unofficial office, from my upcoming novel, A Masked Earl (no release date yet but I’m hoping for late summer or early autumn).   

Coffee house circa 1705

And that’s just the paintings,  drawings, and plans. Project Gutenberg and Google Play contributed hard-to-find books, including cookbooks and works on 18th century commerce and agriculture, and a collection of early 18th century graffiti from bog houses (yet another term for the “necessary”). And on YouTube, after hours of research, I found an excellent video of a reproduction flintlock pistol being fired. It enabled me to time the interval between ignition of the priming charge and the main charge, a detail I used in Most Secret.   

Time travel, anyone?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Happy birthday, Captain Easterday

Today my third historical romance novel is out. You might think that by now, this would be a “ho-hum” event for me. It isn’t. The publication of every book, for me, at least, is like the birth of a child. Unfortunately, I’m better at researching and writing than I am at promotion. In an attempt to improve, I’ve been thinking about key words. You probably know what those are, if you’ve ever done a search on the Web: type in “night soil”, for which your results would include the definition, articles like  “Before There Was Plumbing, These Men Discreetly Got Rid of Human Waste” and “The Stink About Human Poop As Fertilizer - Modern Farmer”.

If you write historical romances like mine, you might assign the following key words: historical romanceGeorgian romance (because my books are set in the Georgian period—the 18th century—rather than the Regency, from 1810 to 1820), clean romance (i.e., no explicit sex), like Georgette Heyer, and like Jane Aiken Hodge (because the stories I write are more like Georgette Heyer’s and Jane Aiken Hodge’s than (for example) Jo Beverley’s or Mary Balogh’s—both of whose books I enjoy very much, though unlike mine, they’re definitely steamy.  
I should define what I mean by “clean romance”, because you hear that term, and “clean and wholesome”, and “sweet”, and it isn’t easy to determine exactly what’s meant by each. I specifically mean there are no explicit sex scenes. Male characters may admire a lady’s ankles or cleavage, female characters may feel yearnings, and there is the occasional embrace and kiss. There is occasional language, like “Rot my guts”, “Damme”, or “Damn my eyes”. There’s mention of night soil, harlots, and murder, among other things.

And because I began by talking about Captain Easterday’s Bargain, here’s a sample from Captain Easterday's Bargain:

Two days before they were to start for London, Mariah did not come down to breakfast.

“Such a slugabed!” her aunt Henrietta remarked. “That maid of hers is not in the habit of waking her because of the late nights in Town, but after almost two weeks, she should know one rises earlier in the country. Even if the chit doesn’t ring for her.” When she sent Mariah’s hatchet-faced maid to wake her, the woman returned precipitately to report that her bed was empty.

Mistress Easterday was a sensible lady and had four boys, ranging from newly come of age down to fifteen years, but she had only one daughter, a placid child of twelve. While the others were wondering where Mariah could be and Marcus Easterday frowned with a presentiment of trouble, his sister-in-law quietly instructed the maid to return to the bedchamber to see if she could find any clue to her whereabouts. Might she have dressed and gone out for an early walk? If her dressing gown and slippers were gone, mayhap she had wandered into some part of the rambling house which the maids had not yet visited.

 Mariah’s maid returned, white-faced. “Two of her gowns and shifts are gone, ma’am. And her cloak, and some other things.” At this point she was overcome and had to be revived with sal volatile. Mistress Easterday then sent her to lie down. “Wherever can she have gone?”

Little Sophie observed, “I expect she took them because she would need a change of clothing, wouldn’t she?”

After a pregnant pause, Mistress Easterday asked, “Dear, are you suggesting that Mistress Mariah has run away? Why would you think such a thing?”

“Mariah likes Mr. Beresford.”

Ellis Beresford was staying with the family of Sir Manfred Knott, a baronet with several daughters and a pimply son who had completed his first year at Oxford. The Easterdays had traded several visits with the Knotts and dined at each other’s homes twice, with the second turning into an impromptu dance. New faces, rare in the neighborhood, always led to a spate of entertainments. Marcus Easterday had not paid much attention to Beresford, beyond noticing the blond youth possessed pleasing manners, if a little too lively. Still, a lad of one-and-twenty cannot be expected to be as serious as a man of six-and-thirty.

“What is that to the point, child?” her papa asked. He knew even less about young ladies than his wife.

Sophia wriggled. “He likes her, too. You can tell by how they look at each other.” She cast an apologetic glance toward Marcus. “I know it sounds silly, Mama…but Mariah is rather like Alice, isn’t she?”

“Oh, Alice.” Mistress Easterday sniffed. “Sir Manfred’s youngest daughter. I’m afraid she reads novels of the most foolish sort.” The men at the table gazed at her, Geoffrey Easterday and his sons blankly, Marcus with growing disquiet.

“Sophia,” he said quietly, “do you think Mariah may have gone away with Mr. Beresford?”

Nigel, seventeen, snorted. “She doesn’t know anything. She’s still in the schoolroom.”

“I know Alice is always talking about how romantic it would be to go to Gretna Green with a gentleman who was handsome and titled. Mariah and Mr. Beresford talked together when Sir Manfred and his family came and we ate our supper down by the river. They stood looking at the river, and she sighed several times, and he patted her hand. I suppose it was very affecting, if one likes that kind of thing. It was like something out of one of Alice’s books.”

“Sickly stuff,” the youngest boy said.

“But Beresford has no title.” Mariah settle for a mere gentleman, when she had been determined to marry a duke?

At the same moment, his sister-in-law demanded, “Sophia Easterday, do you mean to tell me that you read Alice Knott’s foolish novels?”

“Only when she will lend them to me, Mama,” Sophie admitted in a small voice, “which is not very often.”

Mistress Easterday frowned at her daughter, and returned to the main issue. 
“Marcus, the boy became Viscount Franley’s heir a year or two since, when his brother died. We think of him as the boy who introduced frogs into the children’s beds and who once tied walnut shells onto the cat’s paws and released her into the uncarpeted hall in the middle of the night.”

“I think I had best ride over to see Beresford.” Marcus stood up and inclined his head to his sister-in-law, and added, “Thank you, Sophie. What an observant girl you are.”

“I wish it weren’t so, Uncle Marcus. It’s exciting to read of such things, but one wouldn’t wish to actually do them.”

He managed a wry smile at her, as his brother said, “I’ll go with you.”

The baronet’s home, too, was in turmoil. Beresford had left a note on his unused bed. “Gone to visit a friend. Back in a week or so.” He had taken a portmanteau but left most of his clothing. Ralph, the baronet’s heir, could tell them little more than that Ellis liked to ride out by himself most days. The previous day he had taken his sketch pad and gone to draw some scenic vista or other and had not returned for hours. After finding his note, inquiry of the head groom revealed that Beresford’s groom was gone, as well as their horses. “Seemin’ly they left in t’neet, wi’out mekkin’ a sound.”

Geoffrey Easterday drew Sir Manfred aside to apprise him of Mariah Saltstall’s absence.

“Stap me!” Sir Manfred rapped out. “They’ll not have gone far with Mistress Mariah riding pillion. They would hire a coach in Preston or take the stage. The border—and Gretna Green—is not much more than a hundred miles. Two days’ coach travel, mayhap, unless there’s rain. I’ve a speedy horse, Captain, which you are welcome to borrow. I will follow by coach, for I ride too heavy for such a race.”

“Thank you, Sir Manfred. I accept your offer.”

The baronet shouted to one of his grooms to saddle Lightning and be d—d quick about it. The groom ran to obey. Word would be through the stable and the house, too, without doubt. Next it would be the neighborhood.

Captain Marcus Easterday could not recall when he had last been so furious.

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