Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dear Santa...

Thirteen Gifts for Editors

'Tis the season for giving and receiving. If we're going to make a list for Santa, we might as well go all-out and ask for what we really want.

1. Helen in Australia would like water, please. Preferably a great big raincloud with a drenching downpour right over her house, but over the water catchment areas will do. Australia is in year 7 of drought. There are kids in outback Australia who have never seen rain. If rain is too difficult to arrange, how about a big iceberg towed from Antarctica and moored off the Australian coastline?

2. Raelene is a goddess who accepts offerings of colored gemstones, show-quality Corgi puppies, and snazzy red sportscars. However, she'll settle for advance copies of new releases by her favorite authors, fancy bookmarks, and Tarot decks.

3. Mary A. would love nothing more than an exotic around-the-world vacation including bonding with the alpacas in Peru, glacier-dodging in Antarctica, souk shopping in Morocco and monastary-hopping in southern Spain. Should that prove too troublesome, she also likes things that smell nice.

4. Mackenzie just wants books off her Amazon wish list. One can never have enough books. Also, those diamonds she mentioned once before would be a pretty neat surprise.

5. Martha says, "I’d take salmon, fresh from Seattle. Emeralds, my birthstone, or if someone is REALLY generous, a laptop, top of the line naturally, as ALL the authors love me."

6. Briana would love gifts of male helpers, buff, sweet, preferably with sexy accents, the less clothes the better! Failing that, books make Briana a very happy editor, not only fabulous submissions, but books of any shape or sort!

7. All Jennifer wants is one beautiful red rose--in a vase that's being held by Paul Stanley [lead singer of Kiss, for you young 'uns].

8. Because KelliK has all the material goods she could ever need or want, she wants only peace on Earth...and goodwill toward bloggers.

9. Nick would be very happy with a four-hour massage. Or an Eames Lounge Chair.

10. Meghan would like books. Also possibly some bookshelves, as she has none and is currently using piles of books as most of her living room furniture.

11. Pamela really need a teleportation device--world travel size. Maybe with future upgrade capabilities to intergalactic. And chocolate, for her travels.

12. Shannon would like a new pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choo boots (perfect for walking all over men), Prada for carrying her whips & chains, and to satisfy her sweet tooth--a chocolate-covered Brad Pitt from his Troy days.

13. Donna would wish for World Peace, but bets everyone else asked for that. How about nonfat, no-calorie chocolate that tastes as good as the real thing?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And the Winner is...

Okay, here's a winner, a reminder, and a new contest.

Word Libs Winner

The winner of our Word Libs game is Red Garnier! Red wins an ebook download of her choice (EC, Cerridwen, or TLC). Red, please email and let her know what title and the format you need. Here is the "story" Red created in the game:

She wants to be free...

Titty has been a chairy in her father's Hornyville since she was eight-thousand-to-the-decimal years old. He wants to twister her off to the highest broomie, but she wants to find crookedy love. Could the wormy bookmark who has been a-la-pirouetting around her father's grounds at night be her key to freedom?

He wants to be tamed...

Dick is a fantasizing gypsy, free from the dirty-trunks of USA society. But his crotch longs for love. When he spots the cheesily-gallivanting woman in the lord's Hornyville, he knows she is the one for him. But can he swing-ala-ding her from her catatonical father before it's too late?

Cover Letter Critique

See the blog post . Send in your cover letter to be critiqued (to If your letter is selected, you'll win a free ebook download. We'll be posting the first critiques in early January!

Comments Contest

When we return from the holidays, the editors will laugh over--err, uhh, seriously review--all the comments posted on the December blog articles, and will select what we consider the three best comments. Each of those people will win a free ebook download. So go give us feedback on some of the articles!

Holiday Hiatus

Hey, we're taking a break for the holidays! We will have a Thursday 13 tomorrow, and then will resume posting blog articles after the new year. So come back and see us on January 3rd.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Seasonally Adjusted Story

by Helen Woodall

Dearest Editor,

I know you will be wanting to buy some Christmas stories with Christmas just around the corner so I am sending you my latest masterpiece. I just know you will love it as much as I do.

Originally it was going to be about Halloween but life intervened – you know how it does – and I didn't get it finished. But I just changed the pumpkin pie into mince pie so I am sure everything will be fine.

Love from
Your Favorite Author
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hello Author,

I am sorry to inform you your book is not acceptable as it is. You need to do some more revising.
I can quite understand that it may snow at Halloween and Christmas where you live, but you sent your hero and heroine off on vacation to Uncle Charlie’s in Australia – and December is summer there. They need sunscreen and flip flops, not coats and snow boots.

In Australia chrysanthemums flower in May, not December. And birds do not fly south to escape the winter. South is the Antarctic. It is very cold there.

Your Editor
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dearest Editor,

Since it took you a whole month to read my book I am not going to be able to get it ready in time for Christmas now, so I have made it into a Valentine’s Day story. The pumpkin pie/mince pies are now jelly cakes in the shape of a heart – so very romantic.

I have changed the flowers and the birds. Did you know Begonias flower all year round? I can use them in every book I write and never have to worry again!!!

Love from
Your Favorite Author
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hello Author,

Maybe because you have changed the dates of your story so much, there is now nothing at all to make it a real Valentine’s Day story. Jelly cakes in the shape of a heart are indeed a lovely romantic gesture but they do not specifically say “Valentine’s Day”. Nor do Begonias.

Perhaps you should decide on a holiday and stick to it. Do some research specifically about that holiday and then weave those items into your story – spooky details for Halloween, maybe some carols for Christmas, or something unusually romantic for Valentine’s Day. Really the whole point about writing a holiday story is that the season is an integral focus of the plot – it brings the characters together for a reason or to a specific place or to do something different from normal.

If you send your characters to some special location you should use that location in the story. Uncle Charlie lives in Queensland – there is a very famous coral reef there that I am sure would make a wonderful background for a romantic scene.

I am sorry to inform you that your book is still not acceptable in its current form.

Your Editor

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Research Books

by Mary Altman

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross is an entertaining and witty yet only vaguely informative look into the Regency era. This compact hardcover was written less as a research manual and more as a collection of rules regarding etiquette, covering general manners, forms of introduction, formal calls, dancing and dining, dress, matrimony, family and servants. The author uses source quotes from Jane Austen’s collection of books and letters to lay out her rules, most of which will already be familiar to the Regency reader.

What this book lacks in information it makes up in charm. Henrietta Webb’s illustrations appear liberally throughout the book, making it a pleasure to read. In all honesty, I would not recommend this book as a source material; however, I would strongly recommend it as a gift for lovers of Jane Austen and the Regency period. It’s a quick, fun read and quite beautiful to look at.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—the Fact of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool is far more informative. It covers everything from currency and measurements to the rules of whist, presentation at court and life in the workhouses. I found this to be a useful book filled with interesting facts. It’s accessible and easy to read and extremely entertaining. It isn’t without faults, however.

Pool’s book suffers from a lack of organization. He lumps everything together by subject and occasionally fails to clarify when the events he’s describing take place. Because he covers information from the Regency through the Victorian period, this grew confusing at times. Additionally, several of his claims have been contested, so if you’re using this book as your source material, be sure to double-check your facts. Even with those problems, the wealth of information outweighs any difficulty sifting through it. The glossary alone is worth it.

Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O’Brian by Brian Lavery is a beautiful, detailed coffee table book that delves into the lives of His Majesty’s Navy. It has less to do with O’Brian’s books than you’d imagine from the title, but the information provided is detailed and the illustrations and diagrams are completely accurate. This book covers everything from tacking and wearing to life at sea, with historical quotes, model ships and colorful maps working to bring the world of the seaman to life. I highly recommend this book.

Historical Clichés

They're tried, they're true, they're trite. They've made their way into infamy among readers, who decry them as much as they love them (in the way you love your husband who always leaves the seat up, or your sweet aunt who sends you the same ugly sweater every year). What's that, you say? You've never read about virgin widows or brooding heroes? Gentle reader, there is no way you've read more than one historical romance if you've never encountered a single genre cliché. Actually, chances are you haven't read any at all.

So after looking at the clichés, what are some examples of atypical historical elements you've encountered? Characters, settings, plot lines? Tell us your favorite unusual historicals.
Common clichés found in historicals

1. The heroine is a blushing virgin who is so unaware of her genitals and what they do that she is shocked and perplexed when the hero gives her pleasure. Double points if she's at a loss for words to describe what's happening.

2. The Virgin Widow: The heroine's cruel/inattentive/impotent husband either never consummated the marriage or never gave her an orgasm.

3. The heroine is the innocent, inexperienced ward; her unwilling guardian is older, wealthy and socially prominent, has had a string of beautiful and enticing mistresses. Let us guess whom he falls in love with...

4. He's got the bluest blood of the realm! If you believed Romancelandia, every other peer in England is a duke--and a handsome, unmarried one at that!

5. Old Boney won't get the best of him! The hero is a peer but is also secretly a spy for England! Bonus points if he works with a secret cabal of other spies, all of them dashing and brooding and rich...and future heroes in an on-going series, of course.

6. The innocent governess and her dark, vaguely threatening master of the house is a gothic classic. Bonus points if he has a relative locked somewhere on his estate.

7. You can't have a governess without a child, and one of Romancelandia's favorite clichés is the dissolute rake forced to raise a child (usually a daughter who is unnaturally bright and/or saucy), only to be transformed by her innocence and the love of her female caregiver.

8. The Devil of Fill-in-the-Blank always wears black, always rides in a black coach with matching black horses and always tosses about dark stares and sardonic glances as he storms around Regency London.

9. You can't have Beauty and the Beast without the Beast! Thankfully, minor burns and scars are enough to make many Romancelandia heroes brood excessively about their hideous features. Hey, sometimes even a limp will do!

10. Heroines should have flaws. Unfortunately, many of them seem to share the exact same flaws--either fiery tempers and brash manners or bookish ways and a need for spectacles, without which they cannot be trusted not to trip, fall and tumble onto any available lap in a moment's notice.

11. Apparently young girls in all historical periods knew the best way to meet the man of your dreams was to masquerade as a boy. Be a squire to his knight, stable lad on his estate, new footman in his townhome, or cabin boy on the ship he captains.

12. Get thee to a nunnery! If a medieval heroine's not already in a convent (where she probably nurses the hero back to health), she's on her way to one.

13. The hero or heroine must marry as soon as possible or they'll lose their fortune/disgrace the family's good name. Bonus points if the reluctant marriage is mandated in the will of a recently deceased parent or guardian.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wallpaper Needs Walls

By Raelene Gorlinsky

Okay, you’ve researched the period in which you are setting your historical story. You are sure that your characters are wearing appropriate clothing, traveling in the right kind of carriage, even speaking appropriate slang. They don’t flick a lighter for their cigarette, use non-stick cookware in the kitchen, or have polyester clothing with zippers. So you’ve got it right? Wrong. What you may be producing is a “wallpaper historical”. The term refers to stories where the correct “things” and look are there, but the characters and possibly the plot action are not an accurate reflection of the times.

True historical accuracy includes reflecting the social mores, behavior, attitudes and dialogue of the people in the specific time period and geographical location. To be believable, your characters must think and feel and react the way people did back then – not like a modern person just dropped into that time.

We are all the result of the society in which we are raised. A medieval man was biologically identical to a 21st century one, but his mind was filled with completely different knowledge, what was important to him was not the same, the options that would even occur to him in any given situation would be different, as would the choices he made. And I’m sure teenagers have been burdened with excess hormones and overblown emotions since we became homo sapiens, but the way they reacted to that would not have been the same then as it is now.

Some eras, most notoriously Georgian/Regency/Victorian, had very structured and rigid rules that were part of the culture and governed society. The rules were based on a person’s social class, gender, age, and marital status. Acceptable behavior for an unmarried young woman versus married lady versus widow were different, for example. Any breaking of society’s rules would lead to social disgrace and other consequences. This was especially true for the upper classes.

It was the appearance, the public conformance to the rules, that was critical—what went on in private could be very different. Yes, characters in historicals can indeed do things that were "wrong" by society's rules. That's a standard feature in such stories. But two things must be present to keep the historical accuracy:
~ the character has to know that what s/he is doing is improper and could get them in trouble.
~ if "caught", the appropriate consequences must occur. Social disgrace or ostracism, loss of position or money, forced engagement, whatever.

Here’s a scene: Your 18-year-old heroine is out shopping, and sees a majorly luscious guy walking in her direction. She realizes he’s one of her older brother’s friends, and she’s dying to meet him. As he passes her, she says in a friendly but not pushy way, “Oh, hello. Aren’t you Devlin Devereux? I’m Thomas Tremaine’s sister; I’ve seen you with Tom.” Seems okay? It is if your character is shopping on Main Street USA today. But if she is on Bond Street, London, in 1820, she is asking to be given the cut direct, to become a laughingstock and be snubbed by the ton, possibly be banished to the country by her embarrassed family until society forgets about her improper behavior. Not only shouldn’t your young lady have been so forward as to approach a man to whom she has not been formally introduced by a family member or other proper person, she likely wouldn’t have even thought of doing such a thing – she was raised with the social rules and restrictions of her world, and her mind functions within that. What would have sprung to her mind on seeing this desirable guy would have been something like hinting to her mother that brother Thomas might introduce a few of his moneyed and marriagable friends at the next ball they attend.

Say it over and over: historical characters should not act like modern people.

Something to watch out for is individual or group behavior that is a reflection of modern custom. For example, after dinner, the members of a household in past did not all go off and do their own thing. Fires to heat a room and lamps to light it were expensive. Either the whole family gathered in one room, or the gentlemen in one room and the ladies in another. Young children were not usually present; they’d been sent upstairs to bed.

Also take into consideration what legal options the characters, especially women and minors, had available to them. Many an historical story has been ruined by women doing things that they just would not have been able to during that time period. Could your character really have gone to a bank and withdrawn money? Hired and fired household staff? Made decisions about managing her property? Remember that for most of history and in most parts of the world, women were nothing but property themselves. They were “owned” by their father or husband. They had no control over their money or property, they had few legal rights. The extent to which they could make decisions or run things was limited to what their “owner” allowed them.

Dialogue: Just because you’ve put some period terms in your characters’ mouths does not necessarily make them sound right. Now, don’t get carried away – a whole book filled with dialect drives a reader crazy. Do not write a dinnacanna-type story, for example. A little bit of slang or dialect to set the tone is fine, then cut back on it. But make the speech patterns and common language historically accurate. How do you do this? Read lots of text that is original to that period. Especially letters written then. They reflect the “voice” of the people of that time.

Oh, and by the way, while you were doing all that research you DID go to primary sources, right? Wikipedia does not count, nor does reading something in another novel. You have to find the original source of the information in order to be sure it is correct.

So, share your stories of books you've read where unfortunately the wallpaper had no walls to stick to. Or most especially the books you recommend because the author did get it right.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

By Helen Woodall

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester
[November 2005; ISBN 9780434013296; currently out of print, available used]

This 382-page hardcover is subtitled “The Definitive Guide to the People, Places and Society in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Novels”. And while it is very much focussed on Heyer’s books, it is also very useful for general information about the Regency period. Just how many people danced a set simultaneously in the quadrille? Where did the man of the haut ton buy his snuff? What on earth is an Aigrette? And how many of those royal characters were real people anyway? The research is very thorough.

I fell in love with Georgette Heyer when someone’s mother loaned me a copy of The Masqueraders. I was maybe 12 or 13 years old at the time and still love that book – and just about all her other historicals as well. So I love this compendium for all the extra details about her Regencies and the world it opens up. But more than that, it is truly useful for general information of the period, details of famous persons, the slang of the times, the historical timeline and a detailed index which speeds access to the data. But it is focussed on Heyer’s view of the period. If Heyer didn't write about it then it won’t be in this book. I must have spent four hours trying to find out a servant’s annual wages in those days – I felt sure I read it in one of her books – but it is not in this volume, so Heyer probably didn't write it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Historical Hysteria

If you are billing yourself as a writer of historical fiction, you should have at least a basic grasp of history. And then you need to do lots and lots of research on all the details of the time period you are setting your story in.

Some interesting historical "facts" we have seen in both submissions and, alas, published books.

1. Ah, those medieval feasts, with lords and ladies being served a turkey. Wonder how they got these North American fowl in fourteenth century England?

2. You did know that the zipper was common in ancient Egypt, right? Made it much easier to get into and out of those nifty robes.

3. The lord and lady of the medieval manor invited the countryside to their wedding - where they merrily danced the waltz. (The waltz originated in the late 18th century.)

4. The old Earl and his Countess hated their oldest son's bride, so when the Earl died, his wife declared that the title and entailed lands would go to their younger son! Perhaps the author should have done a bit more research on English inheritance laws. I threw the book against the wall.

5. Heroine accidentally breaks a precious vase. So she immediately goes on eBay and buys a replacement. This seems perfectly reasonable - except that this was a time travel, the heroine was now in the early 19th century. Electricity ? Computer ? Internet ? eBay?

6. Historical American Western - the heroine riding in a stagecoach rolls down the glass windows.

7. Setting is colonial New England, early 18th century; hero is an Indian, heroine an English lass. The heroine is injured, and the hero fixes her with a BandAid® !

8. In a Regency-set historical, the heroine describes her heart racing like an engine revving.

9. The mid-18th-century character was caught stealing food and transported to Australia. Um, no on both counts. It was to the Colony of New South Wales with them (starting in 1770), or Van Dieman's Land (actually Tasmania). The name Australia came into use around 1800. And transportation of convicts started in 1788 and went on for about 80 years.

10. A Regency miss was going to elope with her unsuitable suitor - and assured him she'd be awake at midnight to sneak out to meet him, because she would set her alarm clock!

11. Those American Revolutionary War soldiers only thought they were dying of cholera. Actually, cholera did not spread much beyond India before 1829.

12. So nice that the 1920s-era flapper drank Tang instead of something harder. Too bad Tang wasn't around until 1959.

13. Please, please don't have your pre-20th-century character using "cool" as a slang term to mean something fashionable or popular or desirable. A Regency miss wears a shawl when going out for a walk on a cool day and is cool to the undesirable suitor she meets on the way, but she does not describe her new bonnet as "cool".

Monday, December 3, 2007

Historical Research

by Mary Altman

Lady Jane McDonald flushed and pressed her hand to her anxiously twisting stomach as the forbidding rake hovered inches away from her. He was the bane of every Mama’s existence, the devil with the silver tongue and amber eyes.

He was also the one man she could ever love. And she was going to give herself to him tonight.

“Perhaps my lord would care for a walk?” Jane asked quietly, brows arched in question. “I could use your assistance with a delicate matter.”

“Another puzzle plaguing you?” His voice was like rare velvet, smooth and rich. Jane had to clear her throat and look away before she could gather the courage she needed to continue.

“No, my lord,” she said, looking up from beneath a fan of dark lashes. “I need your help with my zipper.”

And just like that, the story’s ruined.

Historical romance is one of my favorite genres to read, but it is one of the most difficult to edit. Where contemporary fiction often relies on an author’s ability to respond to what’s around her (you can always catch a flight to Chicago to get the feel right, after all) historical fiction relies on an author’s ability to invoke what she cannot possibly experience. What was the London Haymarket like? How did people talk during medieval times? How did the air smell during the Jubilee? An author typically relies on her senses to observe and reimagine settings for her books—historical authors must rely on research instead.

But how can you accomplish the left-brained task of research while remaining true to the right-brained action of storytelling? I have a few tips that may help you out.

1) Do the hard stuff first. A few authors I’ve spoken to claim they write the story and then apply the historical facts. While each author’s method is her own, I can’t help but feel these authors are missing something by writing this way. Historical details shouldn’t be the window-dressing on a book—they should be the foundation. The depth of accuracy and feeling is what divides a historical romance from a wallpaper historical, and it’s difficult to lend a story any depth if you’re tacking on details at the end. Schedule in time to get the research done before you start in on Chapter One.

2) Have a bible close at hand. No, not the Christian bible—a writing bible. Once you’ve finished researching, gather your notes and organize them into categories. Some authors prefer a 3-ring binder while others use spiral notebooks and still others rely on Word files. It doesn’t matter how you organize your bible so long as it is organized and in a readily accessible place. You’ll want it someplace where you can access it in a moment’s notice when you’re deep in a scene and need to know what sort of undergarments the heroine should be wearing.

3) Visual aids can keep you in check. If you’re writing about Regency London, why not have an old map of the city taped above your computer? If you’re describing a Victorian woman’s dress, why not have a few fashion plates in a nearby pile? Having a few maps or sketches nearby can go a long way toward keeping your details accurate.

4) Double-check everything. There are scores of research books out there to help authors catch a glimpse into past eras. The problem is, they don’t always agree on what those past eras were like. Don’t take one book’s word as gospel—check around to make sure you’ve got everything correct. Falling in with a crowd of fellow historical authors is especially useful here. They often know what the best research books are and can point you in the right direction. (And no, Wikipedia doesn’t count.)

5) Be ready to defend yourself. It’s your editor’s job (my job) to question everything in a manuscript. Always be ready with your research in hand in case your editor asks you to explain a point. Saying “According to the following sources, puce was the new pink in 1812!” is much more convincing than saying “Well, I read it somewhere.” Your editor is not being mean or calling you to task for anything if he/she questions a historical detail—we simply want everything to be perfect. And trust me, you’d rather have your editor pointing out possible errors than your readers!

The most important thing to remember in writing historical fiction is that readers are savvy. Historical readers tend to read very widely and have a very broad base of knowledge. They know when you’ve got your facts straight and when you’re just glossing over details and flying by the seat of your pants. Scheduling time to do the research may be hard for some, but it pays off in the long run.

So what do you do to maintain accuracy? Tips, tricks, rituals by candlelight--lay them on me.