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?”

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Taking Tea in the Long 18th Century (and how not to do it)

Francis Hayman, Portrait of Jonathan Tyers and Family, 1740 (Tyers owned Vauxhall Gardens)
Tea was one of the most popular beverages in the 18th century, if not the most popular, in spite of its cost. Originally imported from China, the British began to grow it in India early in the 19th century. Because it was expensive, it was kept in locked canisters, with the key kept by the lady of the house. Servants sometimes dried and sold the used tea leaves to those who could not afford even the cheapest grade of tea.

How much did tea cost in the mid-18th century?

One pound of tea: from 7 shillings, 6 pence to 16 shillings.

By contrast, a pound of Fry's drinking chocolate was 5 shillings.

A pound of coffee cost from 4 shillings, 9 pence to 6 shillings.

A quart of beer was 4 pence.

Tuppence would get you dead drunk on gin.

Prices from The First Footguards website at, based on Dr. Johnson's London (published 2000) by Liza Picard.

In historical romance novels set in the Georgian and Regency periods, tea parties  tend to figure largely. We've read the descriptions: the petits-fours, the little cakes filled with whipped cream, the jam tarts, perhaps little watercress or cucumber sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, and maybe shortbread.

Most of those treats did not grace the Georgian tea table. Many of them hadn't been invented yet. Jam tarts seem to appear for the first time in The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined by John Mollard (1802). The sandwich dates to 1762, courtesy of the Earl of Sandwich's reluctance to leave the gaming table, but I suspect it did not make its appearance in polite society until much later. In fact, cookbooks of the period contain relatively few recipes for, or references to, the things we would expect to see on a tea table.

This is why:  Frosting was  non-existent. A fruitcake-style cake might get a little icing; so did some biscuits. By our standards, they were all pretty plain. There were only two ways to make a cake rise: by using yeast or by beaten eggs (like pound cake, which most of the cakes resembled).

There are lots of recipes for (caraway) seed cake, some for small cakes like ratafia puffs or Portugal cakes and some for biscuits, or what we Americans  call cookies. None of them are as sweet as modern American baked goods. The things most commonly added are spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, and currants or raisins. None of them contain chocolate (though I have seen a recipe for what looks like mousse apparently made with drinking chocolate (sold in tablets similar to cakes of Mexican  drinking chocolate), and a candy called "chocolate almonds" which was evidently a hard candy molded in the shape of almonds). No actual almonds were harmed in the process. Vanilla was used as a flavoring in drinking chocolate. I have not seen it in any of the cake or biscuit recipes.

Scones frequently appear at tea in 18th or early 19th century novels. Ummm. No.  They are not mentioned in Susanna McIver's Cookery and Pastry (Edinburgh, 1783). As F. Marian McNeill points out in The Scottish Kitchen (1929), the scone is not mentioned even in Mrs. Beeton's earlier works (1860). It's not really surprising. Baking soda and baking powder were not in use before the middle of the 19th century. Earlier scones must have been unleavened, like the old oatcakes or bannocks, and cooked on a griddle (or girdle, if we're going to be English). The new leavening agents made the modern scone popular.

This is what an 18th century tea table looked like:

Joseph Van Aken, 1719-20.

Richard Collins, 1727

The tea tables are small. There's hardly enough room for the tea pot, sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and cups. The small child in the Richard Collins painting to the left appears to be eating something cracker-like.

Approximately 1773.

The small ginger jar in the background of Liotard's Still Life (below) may hold candied ginger. The plate in the middle appears to contain buttered bread.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Still Life with Tea Set, 1781-83

In fact, eating what we would think of as tea table fare began with Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, some time in the 1840s, when she began to have sandwiches or cakes with tea in the afternoon. Being a friend of Queen Victoria probably helped popularize the practice.

The only laden tea table I have found depicted in the early 19th century (Adrien Godefroy, 1801) is French rather than English, and is satirical:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Love a Book and Tell It So

Recently I’ve been trying to catch up on reviewing books I’ve loved. In some cases, I’ve read the author’s entire series to date without getting around to posting a review (Charles Todd, C.S. Harris, Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear, I apologize; if I haven’t written it yet, I’m getting to it soon—I’ve found an easy way to catch up). It’s not that I’m too busy to write the review. Like going to the dentist, even for a checkup, I tend to put it off. Reviewing a book is work, no matter how much you enjoyed it.

Why review a book? Telling a friend you loved it is good but limited. Reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or another review site can reach thousands of readers, but what do you say beyond clicking the little stars or writing “I liked it a lot.” Well…other readers may want to know that Fifty Shades of Grey does not resemble Pride and Prejudice. Or that The Secret of the Dragon’s Gall Bladder reminds you of The Lord of the Rings and the dragon has a smart mouth, or Jenny’s Pirate Duke is an amusing, clean read like Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I hope no one’s actually written The Secret of the Dragon’s Gall Bladder or Jenny’s Pirate Duke, because I just made them up.

Reviewing a book is like paying a compliment (assuming you liked it, and why would you take the time to review it if you didn't?). It's encouragement for that author to keep writing more books you'll love.

So to catch up, I’m going to be using a book review form I found recently. It’s a pdf  you fill in, with a series of questions about the book—“Would readers of a certain book, author or type of book like this? Which one?” “How did you feel about the characters—were they believable? Likable? Relatable?” It also provides helpful examples of reviews and titles for reviews. I’ve tried it, and once you have answered some or all of the questions, it makes review writing a breeze. Then you can copy your four to ten sentence review and paste it to Goodreads or Amazon, or both or anywhere else you might want to post a review. Or you can print the form out, fill it in by hand and then re-type it into wherever you’re posting the review. I've been told that if you want to post a review online from a smartphone, you can speak your review into the appropriate Amazon or Goodreads, review boxes, and I guess (because I'm not smartphone-savvy; more of a rotary phone gal) anywhere else online.

If you want the form, email me at and I'll email it to you.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

$0.99 sale on Captain Easterday's Bargain, and whatever happened to Ambrose Hawkins?

Captain Easterday’s Bargain ebook version goes on sale for $0.99 on Friday, 9/27/2019, for two weeks, to celebrate the release of A Masked Earl on 10/2/2019.
My next project is to do some final tinkering with POV issues in my next book, tentatively titled, A Duke's Daughter. It deals with what happened to Ambrose Hawkins, alleged former pirate, after the events in Captain Easterday’s Bargain. I'm guessing it will be released nine or ten months from now.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I love it when a reader understands what I'm trying to do


Reviewed by Heather Stockard for Readers' Favorite
Olivia Cantarell is a woman with a dilemma. Her father is dead, and she is left in possession of his shipping company. She was raised in the business and could take over. But in eighteenth-century London women cannot involve themselves in such trades. Her options are few. Her genteel aunt urges her to sell the company or marry but Olivia enjoys her work and is loath to give up her freedom for housekeeping, as marriage would necessitate. She is also thirty years old, past marriageable age and not a beauty.

She is surprised then when she receives attention from two eligible men. Captain Marcus Easterday has only business in mind initially. He helps Olivia as she navigates the male-dominated shipping industry. But her strength of character and intelligence captivate him. Unfortunately, the roguish but charming Ambrose Hawkins has his sights set on Olivia and her property. Sabotage, kidnapping and a compromising situation lead Olivia to consider an offer from Captain Easterday. Torn between her business and safety, between the exciting Hawkins and the trustworthy Easterday, Olivia must decide her future. 

Captain Easterday’s Bargain is an interesting, well-written historical romance. Kathleen Buckley captures the atmosphere of eighteenth-century England perfectly. All the characters are believable and most of them feel realistic, like historical people. Olivia is strong and independent and Captain Easterday is very likable. Even Hawkins was rather sympathetic at times. The descriptions are captivating and evocative, bringing the settings to life. This book is a fun and exciting read for anyone looking to pass a lazy afternoon.

Monday, September 2, 2019

How do you write a novel? Part II After you type "The End"

Leonid Pasternak's painting, The Throes of Creation (wikimedia commons)

You've congratulated yourself. Your friends (the ones who know about your secret addiction to writing) have congratulated you. You're imagining the New York Times bestseller list with your book and your name featured prominently. The offer from the film company. Strolling up the red carpet at the premiere, with flashbulbs and requests for comments from the media.

Scroll back a few pages. The work on your first novel is not done when you type "The End". Here's what remains:

Take a breather. Sit on the porch sipping iced tea, or clean house (if it's like mine, it needs it because I'd rather write than clean), or catch up on the leisure activities you've skipped while writing The Secret of the Dragon's Gall Bladder or Jenny's Pirate Duke or whatever. Give it a week or two, or maybe a month.

Then re-read it, colored pen in hand, looking for typos and infelicitous phrases (a/k/a clunky writing). Some writers read their work aloud. I have no patience for this, and find it unnecessary in the case of simple sentences, like " 'I think the dragon's gall bladder is on the left side,' Mordred said." When there are more complicated paragraphs and longer sentences, I read each word aloud in my mind rather than simply skimming. Doing so usually helps me find the bits that readers will stumble over. Fix the problems you find.

If you don't already know someone who writes, or at least has excellent taste in the genre you're writing, you'll need to find someone who fits that profile and is willing to read your literary offspring. It's no use asking your best friend or a close relative to do it (unless your friend/relative happens to be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or Anne Rice). A critique group is also a possibility.

After you've evaluated your reader's comments and decided whether they're valid, fix the problems. Sample comments: "Dude, it's physically impossible to fire 150 rounds from a Glock 17 in 75 seconds, even if you've got 10 spare, loaded magazines with you." "If you write entirely in the old Lowland Scots dialect, you need to provide a glossary."

Make sure your formatting is readable and generally acceptable. Times New Roman font is easy to read and pretty standard. Avoid weird fonts except for short, special effects—for a ransom note, perhaps, or when you show a character typing the end of her article/story/novel on her old non-electric Remington as The End.

Make sure your formatting meets the guidelines of the publisher to whom you intend to submit your book. Self-publishing sites will have their own rules. My publisher has an extensive guide to their requirements. Read the rules, understand them, and follow them.

If you're self-publishing, you may be ready to publish.

If you hope to submit to a big, mainstream publisher, you'll almost certainly need an agent, which means researching to find an agent who represents books like yours. Once you've identified a possible agent, read his/her instructions for submitting a query letter. Read the rules, understand them, and follow them. Don't expect the first agent to accept you.

If you're submitting to a small, independent publisher, their website will tell you if you can submit directly, without an agent. If that's the case, read their instructions. They will almost certainly want a query letter from you with a synopsis of your book. Make sure this letter and the synopsis are free of typos and grammatical errors.

NEXT: How do you write a novel? Part III: The Query Letter, and What Comes After 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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.