Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ending 2012 on a positive note

A lifetime ago, I was a blog junkie.  I was particularly addicted to publishing industry blogs (some of which you can see on my blog lists and some of which have sadly discontinued).  But...I'd broken the habit. I'd gotten the monkey off my back. My Google Reader crept into the 1000+ unread posts, and I laughed and ignored it. 

I blame historical romance novelist Cecilia Grant for sucking me back in with her "Ten Blog Posts I Loved in 2012."

I've added a separate blog list here to share the goodness, and, heaven help me, my Google Reader is alive and kicking again.  Really, though, Grant's top ten list provides much food for thought and a great deal of laughter.  And, as way goes on to way, reading her list led me to two blog posts in particular that are exactly what I needed as I look ahead to 2013. I've ruminated a great deal on what romance means to me, why I write it, why it's valuable as a genre, and why it seems to get such short shrift in the literary world, and these two separate blog posts reach me on different levels:

Intellectual: "Courting Responsibility" at Dear Author
  • This "letter of opinion" touches on many of the frustrations I feel as a romance author. Romance so frequently gets denigrated as inferior formulaic writing..."It's not real writing." Grrrrrr. While the post addresses recent changes in the RWA's contest requirements, the bigger picture deals with issues of literary excellence and romance's marginalization.
Visceral: "And still we will fall in love" by Cecilia Grant in a guest post at Anna Cowan's Diary of a(n Accidental) Housewife blog
  • I declare this post a must-read. It is passionate and direct and touches on exactly why, after resisting for so long, I became a romance novelist myself.  And, after reading it, I immediately purchased Grant's A Gentleman Undone. I look forward to seeing that articulate emotion translated into her fiction.
With my own first novel coming out from eKensington this spring, I am all aflutter about the approach of 2013. And these posts affirm what I value and appreciate; they bolster my commitment to writing what I love, regardless of genre, and to growing as a writer and as a reader. I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, mainly because I've failed disastrously whenever I've articulated them.  But I plan to this year...because 2013 will be grand and wonderful. I can feel it. And I wish you the best year yet.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy holidays!

So...we survived yet another doomsday prediction.  I have yet to see if I'll survive this last round of grading for the semester--piles of portfolios everywhere. At times like this, I'm extremely jealous of my officemates, who are both Math professors.  Their grading stacks are so much smaller and go so much more quickly than mine. (Not to mention, my parents probably would have been happier and more reassured if I'd gone into a STEM career...job security and all.)


When I can scrape together the time, I'm working sort of diligently on Book 2 and noting ideas for a Book 3 and possibly Book 4.  I'm hoping to make some solid progress during my college's winter break.  Onward and upward!

In the interest of family togetherness, this blog will go quiet for a couple of weeks.  I know, I know...who'll notice a difference?  One of my New Year's resolutions will be to blog more regularly.  (Ha! We all know how well New Year's resolutions work...)


Thanks for reading and following.  Happy holidays to you and yours and best wishes for 2013! I think it's going to be a great year!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Come join the BookEnds Babes Holiday Write-In!

Two of my BookEnds agency siblings, Melissa Cutler and Sharla Lovelace, are hosting what promises to be a fabulous Facebook event for readers and writers on December 16:

BookEnds Babes Holiday Write-In!

Yes, I'm participating, and, yes, I think you should too! 

Confession: I'm working on Book 2 but am mired in student papers and portfolios. Add in the chaos of the holidays, and I become a swirling, twirling, unfocused, incoherent...oh, look, a chicken!

So I desperately need this Write-In day to make some significant progress.

If you're a writer, join us as we commit to doing three two-hour writing sprints. Increase your word count with a built-in cheering section (or discipline committee, if that's what you're into)!

If you're a reader, come see what we're up to, ask those burning questions you've always wanted to ask writers, and just plain have fun. 

At the writing breaks, the BookEnds Babes will be giving away stocking stuffers! So, if for no other reason, join us for the chance to win free stuff.

So go to the FB page for the BookEnds Babes Holiday Write-In today and click on the Join button to, you know, join the fun!

And please do spread the word! The more, the merrier!

Friday, November 30, 2012

An update and a reflection on NaNoWriMo

So...I've been kind of quiet this month. Yes. It's been a crazy month.

Publishing Update

Part 1 - So I received my copy edits...and turned them around in a week.  During that week, I did the copy edits four separate times.  Yes, four times.  Actually, I completed the copy edits four times in four days.  *bangs head on desk repeatedly*  I'm really more competent than this.

The first time, I didn't save the file properly and couldn't find it again.  (D'oh! I KNOW better than that! But I'm a starstruck newbie in awe that I'm doing copy edits!) 

The second time, I did the copy edits but screwed up something with Track Changes.  (Oops.)

The third time, I did the copy edits and screwed up a DIFFERENT Track Changes thing (Note: when responding to copy edits using Word, you probably DON'T want to use the Accept Changes or the Reject Changes buttons. Once a change has been accepted or rejected, the suggested change is deleted.  Those notations are needed later in the production process so you don't want them deleted!)

The fourth time, I finally got everything squared away.  All the changes the copyeditor and I both made were saved in the document.  All the copyeditors questions and suggestions--and my responses or adjustments, respectively--were saved in the document.  

And my agent was an absolute angel during this process. When I screwed up with the Accept/Reject Changes stuff, she was very patient AND even reassured me that another client had done something similar.

Part 2 - I got the actual publishing contract!!!!!  Every stage of this process makes it feel "real" in a way that I can't fully articulate.  Getting THE CALL from the publisher, getting THE CALL from the agent, getting the agency contract, getting the author questionnaire to complete...and now, even though we've already been moving forward as if the contract was already signed (as per the industry), getting the publisher's contract...IS...SURREAL.

Part 3 - Speaking of surreal, seeing the announcement of my deal on Publisher's Marketplace ranks pretty high on my surreality chart.  I'm fairly sure that, when my agent informed me the announcement was up and I got to see it, my reaction was an oh-so-articulate OMG OMG OMG OMG!

Stay tuned for more surreal and bumbling episodes as they unfold.

November Writing - I've never actually done NaNoWriMo. And I didn't do it this year either.  But, bolstered by other members at the Compuserve Books & Writers Forum, I made a valiant effort to complete a mini-NaNo.  I STILL didn't complete that...but I set a nano-NaNo goal for myself, which was 5,000 words.  And I reached that goal yesterday.  Look, from September to December, I generally have a constant stream of papers and portfolios to grade. And I tend to be rather intensive in my reading/responding.  So I really don't have the mental energy or the time to NaNo.  Honest.  I know other instructors, including English instructors, who can...I just can't.  But I wanted to make at least some progress on Book 2.  And now I have...5k worth.  Yay, me.

Congratulations to anyone and everyone who did some version of NaNoWriMo, big or small, whether you finished or not.  Good for you for trying.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Confession

Okay, so in the grand scheme of things, this hardly counts as confession-worthy.  Yet in the world of the novelist, it can be a bit controversial...

Deep breath.  Amara NEVER TOO LATE, I originally started with...

a prologue!

There.  I said it.  I feel so much better now.

Before I queried, the novel started with what I thought of as a Julia Quinn-esque prologue about the Hero of the story.  Regency romance powerhouse Julia Quinn has used such prologues multiple times to set up a specific element of backstory that shapes the Hero when we meet him in the story proper.  (See, for instance, her Bridgerton series...including THE DUKE AND I  and THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME.)  And there are lots and lots of historical romances, even new releases now, that employ prologues.

But...when I actually began querying agents and receiving partial/full requests, I made a swift and surgical decision not to include the prologue when sending out the requested manuscript. 

Several agents have blogged about why prologues are often not a good idea.
When I took a hard look at my prologue for NEVER TOO LATE, I realized that the story stood just fine without it. The key experience initially conveyed in the prologue was also explained by the Hero sometime in the first half of the book--and perhaps more effectively at that point because it was in his POV rather than in omniscient third POV. So I decided I really didn't need it.  Was it a painful decision?  Well, yes.  I don't think it's a bad prologue.  I'm actually quite fond of it.  Still, objectively, I felt it wasn't absolutely necessary.

Do I think prologues can be legitimately necessary in a novel?  Absolutely.  But that's a judgment each writer has to make for him/herself...with a clear sense of how and why the prologue works as part of the novel.

When the release date for NEVER TOO LATE rolls around in 2013, perhaps I'll consider posting that now-abandoned "Island of Misfit Toys" prologue here as an extra.   Perhaps.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Another quick

Well, we are fortunate here that power has been restored much sooner than previously estimated! I'm not good at "roughing it" so, for me, I'm not sure which was worst: no shower, no Internet, no heat, too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Oh, and one of my family's favorite New Jersey beach towns was devastated.)  These are first-world problems, I know, and I'm quite thankful to have my daily luxuries restored.  I hope the rest of the East Coast is back on its feet soon. 

I got the thumbs up from my editor to write Book 2 so off I go! I'm doing a mini-version of NaNoWriMo over at the Compuserve Books & Writers Forum in an effort to get a solid chunk of the manuscript drafted.

Eventually, I will get to the blog post I'm planning on the love story of the Brownings (Elizabeth and Robert).  I'm reading volume one of their letters now, and it's so very sweet to see their cordial and professional beginning.  More on that eventually...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Just a quick post on musical inspiration

Busy week.  They all seem to be busy weeks.

Listening to NPR's Fresh Air this morning on my commute to the day job, I heard an interview with Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report about some of his favorite music. One of the songs he mentioned triggered my reflection on the songs I attach to some of my characters and story lines.

Colbert talked about a song by Ben Folds Five that I'd never heard of: "Best Imitation of Myself."  When he recited the lyrics, I immediately realized that it's THE song for heroine Miss Sumaki of ALWAYS A STRANGER (Book 2). "Best Imitation of Myself" touches on how we present a version of ourself to others, particularly a version we think they want or expect to see. In Miss Sumaki's situation, this version of herself is a matter of self-preservation and commercialism; the song even talks of needing to entertain others, which is exactly what her public persona requires. Over the course of the novel, the hero glimpses her true identity, her plight, and strives to know her true self.  His interest in who she really is helps her find opportunities to be her authentic self, regardless of the expectations and limitations everyone else places on her.

When I wrote NEVER TOO LATE (Book 1), I decided THE song for heroine Honoria Duchamp was Florence + the Machine's "The Dog Days Are Over." I'll admit the meaning of the lyrics are contested, but I think this song captures the way happiness rushes to Honoria, despite her reluctance to accept it, and the tone of the song captures the exuberance and intensity of joy bowling Honoria over. Perhaps the key internal conflict for Honoria throughout the story is how she avoids or deflects her own happiness by focusing on her business and her social activism. Ultimately, happiness comes at her with overwhelming force, accepting nothing less than everything from her.

Perhaps in the coming weeks I'll talk about the songs for the heroes of these stories...or maybe about the real-life Victorian love relationships I find fascinating.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Note: being perverse is not the same as being a pervert...or at least not inherently.  I'm using the following definition: "willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary" ( Being perverse also isn't the same as being rebellious. I'm fond of following rules, especially if they are reasonable; what I find intriguing is the effort to exceed and expand expectations, not just oppose them.

So, after some revisions based on my agent's feedback, I submitted the synopsis of Book 2 (tentatively entitled ALWAYS A STRANGER) to my editor last week!

Reflecting on the heroines of both NEVER TOO LATE and ALWAYS A STRANGER, I realize that both female characters reveal a lot about my streak of perversity. While the settings for these novels grew out of my interest in Victorian England in general and the Great Exhibition of 1851 in specific, these heroines grew out of thinking about what we don't often see in Regency and Victorian historical romances.

While widows are fairly common in Victorian historical romances, Mrs. Honoria Duchamp's age is what makes her unusual. She's 40, which is almost unheard of, and she's a middle-class businesswoman. Many heroines in this genre are young women in their late teens and early twenties--primarily because they are of marriageable age. In Regencies, they also tend to be young ladies of the ton, either newly introduced to society or "on the shelf," meaning they've gone through a few London seasons and are almost considered unmarriageable. Please keep in mind that there are plenty of exceptions too (Joanna Bourne's Black Hawk, for instance, involves a dual bildungsroman where we get to see the mature hero and heroine after all they've been through...probably in their 30s, maybe 40s). My point is that there are some common, and very enjoyable and entertaining, tropes about Regency and Victorian romance heroines, and Honoria was perversely created to run counter to those tropes. Yes, she's much older than the usual heroine. And, yes, she runs her own business with moderate success.  And, yes, here's another perverse twist--she finds herself in a romantic relationship with a man in his twenties. This might seem unbelievable to some readers, but nothing about Honoria is historically unrealistic. Unusual, perhaps. Potentially scandalous in their time, maybe. But not out of the realm of possibility. And I suppose my point in creating her was to stretch common tropes and to explore other possibilities.

Miss Sumaki, the heroine of ALWAYS A STRANGER, grew out of my observation that Regency and Victorian romances occasionally lack cultural diversity...and, in fact, I can probably count on both hands the non-Caucasian heroes and heroines I've read in these genres.  Two of my favorite historical romances featuring non-Caucasian main characters are Meredith Duran's Duke of Shadows (a half-Indian hero) and Mary Jo Putney's Angel Rogue (a half-Native American heroine) in her Fallen Angels series. They're rare.  (I greatly enjoy the cultural diversity in Zoe Archer's Blades of the Rose series, but that's historical paranormal romance, which I see as a distinct genre.) And so, as I considered the international emphasis of the Great Exhibition, it made sense to highlight a non-Caucausian character--in this case, a linguistically talented half-Asian woman.  Miss Sumaki also suited other elements of the plot that echo our modern society without being historically inaccurate.

At heart, I suppose, like most other writers, I write what I'd like to see more of, and I'm very fond of these two heroines, both strong and intelligent women who are somewhat outside the "norm." I don't know that I'll always feature characters who challenge convention, but I find it enertaining to consider what's not being done and try to do it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A quick update...

I am still alive, even though my blog has been silent for a bit.

In my other life, I'm an assistant professor of English at a community college. On average, I teach five courses per semester. It's both exhilarating and exhausting. I just finished grading paper portfolios for two sections and am in the midst of grading two more sections, and one of my classes is being observed by my dean today for my annual teaching evaluation. And I'm the lead on a major faculty/pedagogy project.

So things are hectic.

Meanwhile, in my author life, I'm finishing up the synopsis for Book 2 (tentatively entitled ALWAYS A STRANGER). It will go first to my agent and then to my editor. After they've given me feedback and the synopsis has been approved, then I get to write the actual book. (I have a little of it already drafted but put it on hold until after the synopsis gets the okay.) I have to admit that it's exceedingly strange for me to write a synopsis before writing the actual book. On one hand, it's wonderful to work through potential plot stumbles before drafting. On the other hand, it felt easier to write a synopsis of NEVER TOO LATE, since I just followed what was already written.  Plus, the NTL synopsis was much shorter, ranging from two double-spaced pages to four, depending on what was requested. The AAS one is at eight pages and counting; the difference makes sense at this can my agent and editor give substantive feedback without getting a comprehensive sense of the plot and major characters?  But it's definitely a new experience for me.

Oh, and I've completed my publisher's author questionnaire, submitted an author bio for the end of NTL, and submitted an author photo.  I know I keep using this word, but surreal is really the best word I can use to describe all of this.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What I mean when I say "Happily Ever After"

While he is not especially a fan of romance novels in general, my hubby is a fan of mine in particular. So, to celebrate the book deal and the agent representation, he has given me a series of gifts that I cannot resist showing off.  I can't help but crow a bit not because of the gifts themselves (although they are spectacular) but because of how wonderful he is.

Here are the "celebration day" gifts with which he surprised me on the day I received my author-agent contract:
  • a glittery and sweet card of Congratulations
  • that shiny golden Congratulations sign
  • a bottle of Veuve Clicquot
  • a decadent chocolate cake
But wait! There's more!

Since then, he has secretly been on a buying spree for items to inspire me, items that are connected to my writing. 

Here are the newest additions to grace the wall above my desk, which is an antique turn-of-the-century desk he gave me a few years ago as an anniversary present:

This framed engraving (left) is from Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, an American 19th-century periodical.  Dated September, 1851, the engraving depicts the entrance to the Great Exhibition.


This framed engraving (right) displays much more of the Crystal Palace. This was printed in the Ohio Cultivator in March 1851, before the Great Exhibition opened.

Both of these pieces are far more impressive in person than in these photos (taken on my Smartphone). They are the original printings from 1851.  The larger print from the Ohio Cultivator certainly shows signs of age and damage.  And, to me, they are breathtaking.  Hubby says there's another on the way.

How can I look up from my writing desk and not be inspired by them? And how could I not be inspired by the thoughtfulness and care and love with which they were selected?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why the Victorian era is significant in paleontology

As I've mentioned previously, I find it tremendously freeing to write historical romances.  While I am slavishly devoted to maintaining historical accuracy, I feel a great deal of flexibility and creativity in the stories I tell. And I find it remarkable not only how inspiring historical details can be but also how directly they relate to our modern world. Yet another reminder for me is the history of paleontology.

Almost since birth, Kid has been obsessed with dinosaurs. So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon information about the 19th-century "fossil wars" in one of his favorite dinosaur books. (By the way, it's this magnificent dinosaur pop-up book, Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs, by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart--a book that completely redefines what "pop up" means. Seriously, it is a work of art.)

And imagine my gleeful astonishment when I learned that the first full-sized dinosaur replicas were installed at the Crystal Palace, when the structure was moved to Sydenham Park in 1854. (These now-restored dinosaur statues are still at Sydenham today!)

In fact, paleontology (like so many other -ologies) was functionally born in the 19th century. Fossil-collecting existed long before the 19th century, but the the 1800s marked the finding and cataloguing of prehistoric fossils in particular. The term "dinosauria," meaning "terrible lizard," was first coined by British scientist Richard Owens in 1841. While misconceptions and misinterpretations of the fossils were plentiful, the study of dinosaurs and other prehistoric fossils blossomed during the Victorian period, forming foundation of our knowledge about dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles today.

So, of course, dinosaurs and paleontology will make their way into one of the upcoming "Great Exhibition" novels, although the Crystal Palace dinosaur statues arrive a bit too late for me to include them specifically. No, I'm certainly not the first historical romance novelist to reference Victorian paleontology, but I look forward to it nonetheless.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why I feel like singing AND dancing today - a book deal!

I am very, very, very pleased to announce that I now have a two-book ebook deal with Kensington Publishing for my historical romance Never Too Late and a second book set in Victorian London during the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Never Too Late is planned for release as an ebook by eKensington in 2013! 

I actually received the offer of publication before I received agent offers so I was able to go back to agents who had requested partials or fulls of the manuscript with the offer in hand--and you can see the results of that in my previous post ("Why I feel like bursting into song--I have an agent!")

It has really been an unbelievable couple of weeks. (Yes, my head is still spinning.)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Why I feel like bursting into song today: I have an agent!

I am tremendously, outrageously, sublimely happy to announce that I am now represented by Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, LLC.

The past ten days have been an unbelievable whirlwind, and I'm still reeling!

As you can probably already tell from my previous posts, I'm not very into self-disclosure (no, really, I'm not) so I won't go into all the details of my query process and such.

But one thing I would like to share is that I ended up with three offers of representation from agents. I got THE CALL from all three of them on the same day, and, yes, that was a surreal day. 

Here's the reason I'm sharing this--It can seem strange and perhaps disheartening when you're sending out queries and partials/fulls and keep hearing that "this is a very subjective industry" (or some permutation of that statement).  Yet when I ultimately decided to go with Jessica, it really was a subjective decision.  All three of the agents were wonderful, reputable agents from highly respected literary agencies!  I would have been lucky to work with any of them.  And so my decision came down to the agent I felt was the best fit for me, the most suited to the way I work, the most in tune with my vision and goals, etc.

So now I can see from a new perspective what that "subjective industry" means.  An agent really has to feel "it" to offer representation. And a writer really has to feel "it" to know that's the right agent for him/her. 

I can also say that, in the short time I've been Jessica's client, I am already amazed by her drive, her enthusiasm, and her supportiveness.  She is everything I would wish for in an agent and more.

Members of the Compuserve Books & Writers forum and the Absolute Write forums, both of which I mentioned in my last post, have already helped me celebrate this writer milestone. And I appreciate each and every one of them for their support.

If you're reading this, I also appreciate your visit here and wish you every success!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why I love the Internet #2 - writing communities

Some writers can and do make a career working in isolation.  They may never share a word of their writing or communicate with others in the writing and/or publishing communities until their work lands on an agent's or publishing editor's desk. 

Yet, with all the resources available on the Internet for writers, I think it's beneficial for most writers who aspire to be published to see what online writing communities can offer. Just like everything else in the publishing industry, the right community for you may be subjective.  But their benefits are many:

  1. Support and insight from other writers, published and unpublished. Whether you have questions about some elements of effective writing or about genre or about specific scenes or about problems you're having with a manuscript, you'll find lots of other people in similar situations and lots of people who can provide answers.  I have to say...I have moments of fangirl giddiness when, such as on the Compuserve Books & Writers forum, I get responses from BIG authors.  Still, I also get lots of valuable responses from unpublished writers and writers all along the publishing continuum.  And it's fascinating to see what other writers do, how they work, what their experiences are.
  2. Lots of information about the process of getting into publishing, including the query process.  For instance, the Absolute Write forums have one devoted to threads about different literary agencies and publishers and another (password-protected) devoted to critiquing query letters.
  3. Potential for feedback on your manuscripts. Keep in mind--it's not very nice to go into any situation with a, well, selfish attitude. So I wouldn't recommend anyone jump into an online writing community and immediately start asking for beta readers or editing help. These are not drop-in freebie services; they are communities where, ideally, members are there to support and assist each other. In fact, both of the communities I recommend below have standard participation/reciprocation requirements for anyone seeking feedback.
  4. A sense of community. You aren't alone. You don't have to flounder through some of the complexities of learning to write, polishing your manuscript until it shines, delving into the publishing industry, or promoting your writing all on your own.  You'll find that there are plenty of writers willing to share their experience and wisdom with you. 
I'm sure there are more, but these benefits are the ones that stand out for me.

Given all that, I would highly recommend two online writing communities--each for different reasons.  Both are listed on my Resources for Writers tab:

Compuserve Books and Writers forum (B&W)- I first learned of this forum when I started reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  When I started fiction writing, I was very impressed by the warmth, supportiveness, and collective wisdom of the Forum.  I also love their Writer's Exercises section, which offers a different exercise or set of exercises each month, usually led by an expert member of the Forum.  For instance, one month, there was a set of character development exercises--a new exercise each day designed to help you get a deeper, stronger sense of one of your characters.  I found it tremendously valuable.  In my view, this is a very intimate, professional, informative, and supportive environment. 

Absolute Write Water Cooler forums (AW)- I first encountered Absolute Write sometime after the B&W forum.  It's very different but equally beneficial.  Absolute Write has a completely different structure than B&W; it's broken down into sections like Genres (in terms of what genre you're writing), Publishing, Freelance, etc., etc.  It also draws what seems like a wider, more diverse audience.  B&W has members worldwide, but AW seems to draw a wider array of personalities, sometimes snarky or sardonic ones that I don't find on B&W.  I find some of AW's forums, like the "Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check" are to be a gold mine! But then, when I want responses to my actual writing, I rely on B&W forumites.

(NOTE: I'm having unusual difficulties embedding links to these two communities.  You can easily find them using an online search engine, though.)

There are plenty of other fine online writing communities as well.  These happened to be two I gravitated toward.  And an entirely different community might be a better fit for you. 

Feel free to mention others in the comments section!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why 1851 is a pivotal year for photography's been a little while since my last post.  I haven't quite gotten myself settled into a posting schedule yet, but I'd intended to post once a week.  We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, thanks for visiting! Your interest and your patience are greatly appreciated.

So anyway...

As I've mentioned before, one of the many things I love about the 19th century is how much of our modern culture really originated in 19th century discoveries and practices, whether social, economic, personal, scientific or technical. Photography is one of the many technological advances that seems so commonplace today yet was born in the 19th century.

Imagine realizing, for the first time, the ability to capture an exact image on a static medium! For some people, it must have seemed like magic. Sure, realist painters could render near perfect replicas of an image, but such images were still approximations--and still, I'm sure, subject to at least some subjective artistic interpretation. And it just plain takes a long time to paint. Camera obscura dates back to well before the 19th century and was used as an aid to rendering images, but it's generally accepted that photography as we know it began in 1839.
  • In case you would like to know more about the advancements that led to the birth of commercial photography during the 19th century, the always wonderful Victorian Web provides a timeline of the history of photography I write, I tend to encounter great moments of synchronicity (or maybe serendipity...I haven't found *the* word to capture what I mean).  Let me take you down a side road to give you an example:  Years ago, I had a *great* (insert sarcasm here) idea for a story of women's fiction with a supernatural element--something about four damaged women who found themselves brought together by an ancient pagan force to heal not only themselves but the fabric of the universe (or something like that).  Well, I remember looking into numerology sometime after I'd set up the bones of the story and finding out that the locations I had selected (each character lived in a different town between Philadelphia and a New Jersey shore town) were distanced from each other precisely according to some of the sacred numbers. At the time, I felt as though the cosmos must be validating my story and practically commanding me to write it.  (Never did get very far with it.  Made lots of rookie mistakes.  Tucked it away unfinished. Sigh.)

The point is that I'm frequently amazed to find tidbits of reality that fit perfectly into the story I'm writing.  It's probably like that phenomenon when you buy a car and suddenly see those cars everywhere.  There probably hasn't been a sharp rise in those car sales--they've probably just been around but haven't entered your consciousness because there was no reason for them to.  Still, I relish finding historical facts/developments that coincide perfectly with my story.  Don't you?

In this particular case (or current manuscript), I selected 1851 as the year of this story (and a few loosely related ones on my To Do list) long before photography became pivotal to the plot.  So it was a delightful synchronicity that 1851 turned out to be the year that the wet collodion process was introduced in the photographic process.  Prior to 1851, developing photographs took a long time, and an image captured could only be made once.  For instance, a daguerrotype photograph could not be reproduced. This new process enabled photographers to produce images more quickly AND, perhaps more importantly, to make multiple copies of the same image.
  • Here is a detailed and informative video from The J. Paul Getty Museum about the wet collodion process.
One of the key plot points I built into my early drafts assumed that multiple copies of a photograph were possible. Really, it was an essential element in the story. So I did some internal pirouettes when I eventually read that this revolutionary process was introduced in...1851.  Again, it seemed like the cosmos must be validating my work. (Well, that has yet to be determined. And I'm sure the cosmos must have more important things to do.)

So I have become increasingly fascinated with the evolution of photography and photographic products throughout the 19th century!  Such technological leaps in such a relatively short time.  Here's one last link from the Concord Library that traces that evolution of 19th century photography. (I find the carte de visite very cool as well.  Must remember to use that in an upcoming story.) 

Ooh, speaking of evolution...another development born in the 19th century...but, wait.  I'll leave that discussion for another day...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"When I'm awfully low..."

As you can surely tell from this web site, I am a yet unpublished novelist. No surprise there, but it feels freeing to declare it. 

When I created this blog-turned-web site a few months ago, I was thinking of The Future, of establishing my authorial web presence prior to acquiring an agent and a publishing deal.  Ha, ha, ha.  Authorial presence.  There's that catch-22...I'm not a published author yet so I don't really have authorial "street cred," and I can post (hopefully) thoughtful tidbits about the Victorian period and such, but there are so many varying directions I could go AND, frankly, sometimes it seems like all of those directions are already well covered. 

History? I'll pass along some wonderful links that cover Victorian history and occasionally post new things I uncover myself.

Victorian minutea? Yup, there are some great web sites devoted to that too, and I'll gladly pass them along....and, again, maybe post things I stumble upon myself. 

The craft of writing? Again, there seems little point to me giving fledgling writers advice when I'm not published yet either (well, there was that one flash fiction piece in an online publication)...and, again, there are lots of other web sites that already talk craft quite effectively.

So what do I, neophyte and fellow wanderer in the darkness, have to offer blog readers?

Me, I suppose...which raises its own conundrum. 

I'm not prone to self-disclosure, even in "real life." You don't need--or want--to know what pedestrian ups and downs are going on in my offline existence.  And I'm reluctant to chronicle my querying experience in detail (not because it's bad--it isn't--but it's personal...and, if it doesn't result in a happy ending, I won't want to relive the experience in detail).

But what I can give you at the moment is this: 

Some days, I have doubts. Some days, my writerly insecurity looms large and paralyzes me. Some days, I think I should quit. "You're a hack." "Why bother?" "Everything you wrote today sucked." "Everything you've ever written sucks."

Then I go back and read some success stories that remind me of how long and arduous the process of publishing can be.  As I tell students (and new-er writers), good writing is a multi-stage process, two keys to which are the desire to keep learning and growing AND the work of revising.  Few people are naturally good writers. The rest of us need time and practice to learn how to write well...we need to ferret out our personal weak spots (whether that's sentence structure, plotting, pacing, etc.) and learn how to improve upon them.  This isn't a sprint; it's a cross-country run, and every moment holds an opportunity for growth and insight.

As a strong example, here is Sherry Thomas's story about her path to the debut of Private Arrangements so many moons ago.  Starting with that fabulous debut, her rise as a historical romance novelist has been astronomical, including TWO back-to-back wins of the RWA's prestigious RITA Award.  I've followed her career since she first became represented by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency (because I was, and still am, an avid follower of Kristin's Pub Rants blog). But her story shows that her path to initial publication wasn't smooth and easy. And it gives me hope. 

I hope it does the same for you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eureka! Or why mis-quoting irks me...

Years ago, a dear friend sent me a writer care package composed of Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet & the Possibility of Being and a lovely keepsake bookmark, velvet and metal, engraved with the quotation "It is never too late to be what you might have been," attributed to Victorian novelist George Eliot. I'm sad to say that I've spent the past 30 min scouring my books for the bookmark because I wanted to post a picture of it, but I can't find it.  (I'm just crossing my fingers that maybe it's tucked into one of the books I keep on my favorites shelf at work.) 

Now I've seen this quotation countless times and seen it attributed to George Eliot regularly.  Do an online search for it, and you'll see it's EVERYWHERE.  It's not only used in publishing but also in the self-help industry, as you might expect. of the chapters in my doctoral dissertation (eons ago) focused on George Eliot's Middlemarch so I've felt a nagging disquiet about this quotation.  While I could easily imagine it said by one of her characters, I hadn't actually run across it in my research.

It's such a hopeful, inspiring statement.  Some might say that the spirit of the statement is what matters, not who actually said it or whether the wording is exact.

But I'm a pedant at heart.  And, fundamentally, I believe not only that words matter (I'm using the term as both significance AND concreteness) but that, when we use the words of others, it's even more important to use them responsibly.  If one quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln or someone you admire, the understanding is that they're doing so to convey a common truth.  To mis-quote destabilizes that truth...and can call into question the expertise and authority of the person doing the mis-quoting.  Worse yet, when a quote such as the one above spreads like wildfire (see just about every online quote or writer quote web site), the truth becomes more and more difficult to establish.  Ultimately, attribution can get completely twisted.  Then we end up with statements like this that are completely inaccurate (NO, it was not in Middlemarch.  Really. You can go to Project Gutenberg yourself and search the full text.)--and yet that article goes on to use that quotation as one of its foundational ideas.  And we end up with actual concrete materials (like my pretty, and completely well-intended, bookmark) that perpetuate the lie (and perhaps make money from it).

So I've done a little digging...and I'm not done yet...but I think I may have found the origin of this mis-quote in Eliot's  Silas Marner.  If this is the source, its context matters to me.  In fact, it turns out that Eliot used the phrase "too late" in almost all of her novels.  (Note: I haven't yet gone through available letters, nor have I gone though her publications in periodicals.)  But usually, she used it in situations that really were "too late"--too late to go back and make wiser choices, too late to change one's ways. 

Here is what I've found thus far (emphasis mine) and it's from Silas Marner:
"Well, Master Marner, it's niver too late to turn over a new leaf, and if you've niver had no church, there's no telling the good it'll do you. For I feel so set up and comfortable as niver was, when I've been and heard the prayers, and the singing to the praise and glory o' God, as Mr. Macey gives out—and Mr. Crackenthorp saying good words, and more partic'lar on Sacramen' Day; and if a bit o' trouble comes, I feel as I can put up wi' it, for I've looked for help i' the right quarter, and gev myself up to Them as we must all give ourselves up to at the last; and if we'n done our part, it isn't to be believed as Them as are above us 'ull be worse nor we are, and come short o' Their'n." (I'm quoting from an ebook without page numbers so the best I can tell you is that this excerpt is from Chapter 10.)
As you can see, this occurrence is pretty close. It's one of the few instances in which Eliot uses the phrase "too late" in a positive sense--and, at least from what I've found so far, those positive influences are all tied to spirituality, which is rather in keeping with Eliot's work. Earthly rescue from our mistakes may not be possible, but spiritual reformation always is, she seems to suggest.
Full disclosure:  I so want the quotation to be real...It's possible that it's from her letters or some other writings.  But this seems like a reasonable origin.  But I've loved this questionable George Eliot quotation (which is not from Middlemarch) for so long that it inspired the title of one of my (as yet unpublished) novels, Never Too Late.  More on the inspirations behind NTL in the near future.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I am obsessed with the Great Exhibition of 1851

Confession: I am obsessed with The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in 1851 in Hyde Park. .  It's on my short list of "back in time" sites. 

Put simply, it was the first World's Fair.  There had been national exhibitions by other countries, such as France, but this was the first international exhibition.  A project spearheaded by Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was ambitious and wide-reaching. Granted, the purpose of including other countries was to convey the tacit message of Britain's technological superiority, but the conglomeration of so many countries, showcasing their valuables and talents, was unprecedented. Materially and ideologically, the Great Exhibition represents the best and brightest of Victorian Britain.

Now, not all of the countries were well represented.  For instance, China refused to participate so the artifacts displayed were from British private collections.  Since Japan was still closed to foreigners in 1851, it didn't have its own display; some "japanned" pieces were included in the China section.

To me, the building alone sounds breathtaking.  Designed by Joseph Paxton and dubbed "The Crystal Palace," the glass and metal structure resembles, well, a Brobdingnagian birdcage.  Lots of greenhouses since then have replicated its delicate brilliance.  And the Crystal Palace restaurant at Disney World is a "mere mortal" version of the magnificent structure. 
The Crystal Palace was moved in 1854 to Syndenham Hall (and dinosaur statues were added!); sadly, the edifice was destroyed by a fire in 1936.
In addition to some wonderful books about the Great Exhibition (including a detailed illustrated catalog of the items displayed), here are some great online resources. 

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 was convened in 1850 to design and execute Prince Albert's plan for a grand international extravaganza that celebrated industry and technology. The Royal Commission still exists today:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Plagiarism, Copyright, and the Shifting Ethics of the Internet

Like many other bloggers this week, I have taken down all photos from my blog(s) that weren't photos I took or had express permission to use.  And here is why:

I knew before reading about this author's experience that the Internet is making copyright and plagiarism much more of a gray area than it used to be...not that the rules have changed but that it's sometimes harder for people to tell when they aren't following the rules.  Roni Loren's experience and post remind us what the rules are and, unfortunately, how we can be punished if we don't adhere to them.  Far too many people get away without punishment (just take a random look at Pinterest and Tumblr, where so many people post--or manipulate and then post--images and videos they don't own) on a daily basis.  It's fun and whimsical and even inspirational...but it's easy to forget that it's material that doesn't belong to us.  Even if we make note of where it came from, that's not the same thing as explicit permission.

Some might argue that the Internet is creating a post-ownership world...but that's usually coming from people who aren't the owners.  If an owner/creator CHOOSES to make his/her work freely available (and that's not the same as posting it on the web---they have to explicitly state that other people are free to use it for a, b, and c purposes)---if an owner/creator makes that choice, then by all means, that's a wonderfully generous act that will perhaps inspire others.  But that's still the owner's prerogative.  That doesn't negate the idea of ownership.

Some might argue that the photographer in Roni Loren's case was too harsh.  I get that.  The photographer could have been mollified by the removal of the material. my other life, I deal with plagiarism pretty regularly.  And I get that argument from students a lot.  "Does this have to be reported to the Dean? Can't I just fix it?" While the pushover in me wants to say yes, I cannot forget that, as often as not, people don't truly learn or change unless the stakes are high enough.  And, in my situation, such reports stay in-house--they don't get added to the student's transcript or follow the student to an employer.  The consequences are large enough to convey to the student that plagiarism is wrong not just because I personally say it's wrong but rather because there are public (potentially legal, financial, and social) ramifications. But they're mild enough that I hope it truly is a learning experience for the student without jeopardizing their entire academic career.

Ultimately, I applaud Roni Loren for speaking out about her costly experience and allowing other bloggers and writers to learn from it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why the 1850s was an interesting sartorial time

In the future, I'll spend some time discussing how the development of Victorian fashion was aligned with the spread of class-conscious consumerism (think Rosamund Lydgate in Eliot's Middlemarch), but for now let's just enjoy some of the lovely particularities of 1850s Victorian fashion.

Women's skirts were very close to being the widest they would become in this period...except that the cage crinoline wasn't popularized until 1856. After the 1860s, the bustle developed, and skirts gradually became more form-fitting, at least in the front.  So at the middle of the 19th century, women's necklines were getting higher (at least during the day), their waistlines smaller with the use of longer and tighter stays, and their skirts wider (and heavier with the addition of more petticoats). Okay, so I can't say I would enjoy being dressed so, but there is something fascinating about this use of fashion as control, both for gender and for social class. (I know, I know, I promise I'll save that analytical discussion for another day--including the Victorian "thrift shop" and the practice of re-styling/re-making dresses with existing fabric.)

Instead, below are a few links to help characterize and identify 1850s.
Note:  One feature I love that easily dates a dress from the early 1850s is the pagoda sleeve. The fanning sleeve, frequently with puffy white undersleeves added, strikes me as an interestingly subtle incorporation of the exotic Far East. The dress pictured above is dated as 1860, and the pagoda sleeve is detachable!


How to dress Victorian (I feel claustrophobic just reading it):

Men's fashions, while generally stable, went through some not-so-subtle developments of their own, as depicted here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why I love the Internet

As much as my academic history has been steeped in research, I still cannot imagine how challenging it was to write historical fiction before the Internet.  Here are just a few of the online resources I love, even if they don't directly apply to my current writing:

A Celebration of Women Writers (University of Pennsylvania)

Godey's Lady Book (University of Vermont)

Literary Resources - Victorian British (Rutgers University)

The Dictionary of Victorian London (Lee Jackson)

Internet Library of Early Journals (Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, and Oxford) - I'm especially pleased they include Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and Notes and Queries

The Victorian Web (George Landow)

Next week...Victorian fashions and related resources

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why I write historical romances

My path to writing historical romances held a few detours.  When I first started writing in earnest, approximately six years ago, I focused on writing literary fiction and was all over the place--among my novel attempts were (1) contemporary women's fiction with a supernatural twist, (2) historical fiction, (3) a YA modernization of a literary classic. I still think each of those Works In Progress had potential, but they all remained unfinished and all had fundamental (sometimes major) flaws.  I was learning.  I'm still learning. 

When I ended up focusing on my historical fiction WIP, I knew rather quickly that the plot would end in tragedy. Writing as a panster (by the seat of my pants, jumping from scene to scene to piece them together later), I even wrote the painful ending early on.  And then I found after a year or so of writing that WIP sporadically that I had no idea what should go in the saggy, unformed middle--I knew the beginning and the end but was at a loss as to how to get from A to Z.  I wanted the writing to be organic, wanted to be "faithful" to the story as it grew, wanted to celebrate the complexity of the time period I was writing about.  Unfortunately, I felt increasingly reluctant to wend my my way to the inevitable conclusion, making my protagonist go through more and more conflict and adversity until she lost everything.  Eventually, every writing session because laborious and disheartening. 

After taking a little break from that WIP and from novel writing, I went back to playing, to writing for the fun of it.  And I found myself gravitating toward historical romance, which combined what I loved most about writing historical fiction with a happy ending.  The more I read, the more I saw the fun, the joie de vivre, in writing romance. The more I played with the writing, the more I mixed in outlining with my panster style--I set waypoints, significant moments from A to Z, but still jumped to whatever waypoint was foremost in my mind.  Ultimately, I found writing roance to be fundamentally entertaining and invigorating and challenging.  I find writing romance fundamentally entertaining and invigorating and challenging.  In a genre filled with so many wonderful writers, what can I write that's new? In a genre that tends to have consistent elements, how can I use them in innovative ways?  In fact, a few elements of my current historical romance manuscripts came directly from my historical fiction WIP.  And, really, what's better than a Happy Ever After (or even a Happy For Now)?  So...why do I write historical romances? Because they make me a happy writer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why I set novels in the Victorian era

Short answer: I'm pretty sure I am a Victorian lady reincarnated.  That would explain my affinity for long skirts and paisley shawls.

Real answer: I see the Victorian period (traditionally defined as the period of Queen Victoria's reign--1837 to 1901) as one of the most magnificent, vibrant, and dynamic times since the Renaissance. So much about the world changed fundamentally during this time due to political, social, scientific, and literary developments, and so much of what we perceive as proper or even natural was really a product of that time. 

Celebrating a commercialized Christmas with a decorated floor-to-ceiling tree, lavish gifts, and a reading of Dickens's A Christmas CarolAll were initiated in the Victorian period (although the Christmas tree in general was already a German tradition).  

A bride wearing white? This practice was initiated by Queen Victoria. Family in mourning wearing black for a year or more? Exemplified by Queen Victoria upon the death of her beloved Prince Albert. 

Photography (and pornography). Psychology (and phrenology). Evolution. Dinosaurs. Trains. Marxism. Modern surveillance. Cheaply available mass media. All results of the Victorian era. 

The Industrial Revolution initiated in the 18th century and the 18th century revolutions in America and France set the stage for a Victorian world that tipped nobility on end.  No longer was class status just a matter of birth; one could work himself (yes, usually him...but more on that later) up to a nouveau riche position of power and respect. Class boundaries blurred.

The definition of women's roles was particularly fraught with difficulty.  The dualistic Victorian ideal of "separate spheres," wherein men belonged in the public sphere taking care of politics, industry, finance, etc., and women belonged in the domestic sphere taking care of home and family was strongly emphasized in many social mediums.  Plenty of etiquette guides came into existence to guide women in their "proper" roles as wife and mother.  But these guides as a whole suggest an underlying anxiety about how women's roles were being challenged.  Just as common men could make themselves a financial and social success, so women could (with difficulty) support themselves independently.  Some Victorian women writers used male pseudonyms to break into publishing, but an increasing number of women writers (novelists, poets, journalists, memoirists, etc.) began successful careers in the public eye.

And I haven't even gotten to the complex issue of British imperialism.  Or the corset, crinoline, and bustle. Or gaslights. Or the Poor Laws. Or voting reform. Or myriad inventions and contraptions.

What's not to love about that time?

NECRWA 2017 Follow-up!

*ahem* *looks around* *sweeps away the dust bunnies and cobwebs* So...hi! It's apparently been quite a while since I last sa...