Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One reason I write historical romances

As I mentioned fleetingly in my last post, I'm not inclined to self-disclosure.  In fact, I have a strong tendency to compartmentalize.  My teaching career, my writing career, and my family are the three biggest priorities in my life, and yet never the twain shall meet.  So the approaching release of my debut historical romance, Never Too Late, generates some interesting situations for me.

In my offline world, only a limited number of people who know "the real me" know what I'm writing. And the reactions have been vastly amusing to me. While some people have simply congratulated me, others have been, well, incredulous--which likely says as much about how they see me as about how they see the genre.  Upon being told that I have a two-book deal for historical romances to be released this year and next year, some people have said...

{edited to add my usual responses}
  • "You write what?!" {"Historical romances."}
  • "So, um, what are they...I it...are we talking 50 Shades?" {"Well, um, no."}
  • "Wait, you're writing housewife porn?!" {In this particular case, my exact response was "Shuuuut up."}
The faces that go along with these comments are priceless.  I've seen some very red faces.

And the most common question, asked by many--including my beloved hubby, is "Why?" Frequently, this little question is in the tone of "Why would you write that?" Again, it seems unexpected that I, of all people, would write such things. 

So here is a little story for you...

Once upon a time, an ambitious fledgling writer, educated heavily in big, weighty literary classics and equally ponderous literary critical theory, decided to write a novel.  Oh, the little writer was tremendously intimidated. The notion of writing deep, thought-provoking, delicate, moving fiction that explores the human condition and does so in a way that brings new attention to language and literary technique...well, it was quite a daunting task. Still, the little author had a vision of great work. She took some creative writing classes, attended a few writers' conferences, immersed herself in agent and editor blogs to learn about the publishing industry, and she wrote wrote wrote wrote wrote wrote. 

Sometimes what she wrote was even not-so-crappy. 

But when she focused her energy on writing historical fiction, new challenges arose. In addition to the usual challenges of delving into characters, weaving a thoughtful plot, etc., she found herself increasingly depressed and stilted. And it wasn't just the usual challenge of being a writer--having something worth writing, making time to write, everything that facing a blank page entails.  It was the weight of history and "literariness" and this particular story.

That work-in-progress was set in Victorian England, and it was set to end in Victorian India, at the beginning of the "Indian Mutiny of 1857." There were characters, a good deal of plot developed, etc., etc., but as the story unfolded, it was clear that the key elements of the plot were increasingly dark and traumatic. To be clear, such elements included marital rape and an awful, climactic infanticide. It was no wonder the little writer began to dread every writing session. And while a story is, of course, ultimately in the hands of the writer, such darkness felt "true to the story." And so...struggles continued.

And, yes, I'm well aware that there are literary novels, including historical literary novels, that have happy endings.  But I think it's reasonable to say that "literature" is not known for happiness. (Every semester, I teach literature &'s not so easy to find serious literary works that have happy endings, especially unabashedly celebratory happy endings.)

By some strange synchonicity, after wrestling with this dismal tale for some time, the little writer stumbled upon Meredith Duran's debut historical romance, The Duke of Shadows. With a half-Indian hero, the novel touched on several ideological underpinnings of the British-Indian relationship that the little writer had been struggling to express. Yet Duran communicated the complexity and anguish of British-Indian politics deftly, embedding it in what was ultimately a lovely and redemptive love story. While lots of historical romances do a similar thing, incorporating history into deeply personal stories of love and triumph, this one struck home specifically because it dealt with a time period and set of issues that were so much at the heart of what the little writer was trying to write about.

It was a revelation.

And so, while there are many reasons I write historical romance, here is one of the reasons that drives me the most:

I get to write about ideas and times and places and characters that fascinate me in a way that is ultimately joyful. I still strive to write deep, thoughtful, delicate, moving fiction about the human condition...but, in doing so, I also get to play. I get to celebrate love, which is perhaps one of the greatest elements of the human condition. I get to give characters unabashedly happy endings. Yes, life is difficult, full of suffering and pain, and I don't ignore that in my writing. If anything, I can address the darkness, particularly the darkness undeniable in Victorian English history, but I get to do so with optimism. I get to face that blank page knowing that life is full of love too...and that a happy ending is possible.

So...why do you write what you write? Why do you read what you read?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Liebster, Mein Liebster Award!

To my surprise and delight, I have been nominated for a Liebster Blog Award by Lara Lacombe!  (I don't speak German and had to look up what "liebster" means...for anyone else who doesn't know, it translates as "darling."  I don't know if that actually has anything to do with the origin or purpose of the award...but there it is.)
There are a few rules for this award:

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you.

2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself ,and create 11 questions for your own nominees/awardees to answer.
3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs (with 200 followers or less) whom you feel deserve to be noticed—and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen. (No tag backs)

4. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.

Thank You

So, first things first...THANK YOU to Lara Lacombe, fellow Forumite and now BookEnds agency sister, also represented by awesome agent Jessica Alvarez!  And she has a book deal with Harlequin Romantic Suspense!  She rocks.

11 Questions from My Nominator

1. What's your favorite writing/reading snack?

Chocolate-covered raisins…or Chex mix.  Depends on whether I need sweet or salty.  Sometimes chocolate-covered pretzels when I need both simultaneously.

2. Where have you always wanted to visit?

Great Britain in general but especially London.  Given my academic background and my writing, it's hard for me to believe I haven't been there yet.  But someday...

3. What's your favorite accent?

Considering #2 above, it’s probably not a surprise when I say British…like “Emma Thompson in a Merchant/Ivory film” British.

4. What movie do you always watch when you find it on TV?

Oh, there are so many.  I’m a sucker for Meg Ryan romantic comedies (standards like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail…but also Joe vs. the Volcano).  And, while completing these questions, I got sucked into The English Patient for the zillionth time.

5. What's your favorite hobby?

Hmm…in recent years, knitting.  And yoga.  Not that I have much free time to do either during the academic year.

6. Say you can quit your day job and do whatever you want. What would you do?

Ooh, what wouldn’t I do? I LOVE my day job, but if I could do whatever I want?

If money weren’t a factor, I’d travel extensively (starting with Great Britain and several European countries), write full-time, probably get another graduate degree or two, homeschool the Kid…so many possibilities.

7. What made you want to start writing?

Such as difficult question! I suppose it was reading unconventional writers who made me see that I could try writing without fear of judgment or failure.  Frankly, if I sucked at it, no one else would ever have to know. That was a big mental block for me...having the confidence to try.  And I'm still learning to be a better writer. I'm always learning.

8. What is your favorite genre?

Historical fiction

9. Where is your writing/reading nook?

My writing nook is in our living room, which we almost never use as a living room.  That's the home of the antique writing desk my husband gave me. It's an inspiration in itself. Above my desk are framed 19th-century news articles about the Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations in 1851, featuring illustrations of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London.

10. What book do you wish you had written?

Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. It's not historical fiction, but, for heaven's sake, the heroine's senior thesis interrogates the marriage plot that is at the core of classic 19th-century novels by Jane Austen, the Brontes, and George Eliot! And Derrida and deconstruction? Hello!  It's not just a book I wish I'd written...It's a book I kind of, sort of feel like I *should have* written. 

11. Early bird, night owl, or something in between?

Usually a night owl.  But it’s a vicious cycle.  The later I stay up, the more impossible it is for me to be an early bird. 

11 Random Facts about Me

1. I’m rather pedantic so I’m almost incapable of giving simple yes/no answers without some kind of explanation or preamble or disclaimer.  It’s always “Yes, but…” or “No, and…” or “It’s more complicated than that…”

2. I hate coconut.

3. My favorite restaurant is the California Grill, atop the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World.  The cuisine is magnificient, and so is the view of the Seven Seas Lagoon.  It's also a great location for watching the Magic Kingdom's nightly Wishes fireworks show.

4. Whenever I travel, I buy at least one magnet as a memento.  I used to buy a t-shirt at every stop, but I don’t wear t-shirts often enough!                                                                    

5. Two kittens joined our family last year, and they make an appearance in my book Never Too Late.

6. I’m an INFJ.

7. I wear shawls/pashminas almost all the time. They're just so versatile and convenient, and I find them comforting in ways I can't fully explain. I've seen some antique Victorian paisley ones that I adore too.

8. I like wearing glasses. I tried contacts and never got used to them.

9. I’m a community college English professor.

10.  I had so much trouble thinking of questions to ask my nominees that I looked up common job interview questions. Yes, really. 

11. Professionally and academically, I tend to seem outgoing, but I’m really very shy. 
Seriously, I’m generally very shy and uncomfortable with self-disclosure so even these responses have been a big step for me. 

11 Questions for My Nominees:
1)     Are you a dog person or a cat person?
2)     Name one thing that inspires you.
3)     When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
4)     What’s your favorite place on earth?
5)     What’s one of your “desert island” books?
6)     What achievement are you most proud of?
7)     What is the last book you read?
8)     If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
9)     What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
10) What are three words do you think a friend (or family member or coworker) would use to describe you?
11) If time, money, and education weren’t factors, what would be your dream job?

My 11 Nominees

Note: The rules say they should be bloggers with fewer than 200 followers.  I couldn't tell how many followers some of my nominees had (and I'm almost certain a few of them must have over 200 followers, even if I can't see them).  I nominated them anyway, just because I wanted to.  So there!  They're all lovely bloggers and writers of various genres--contemporary romance, historical romance, historical fiction, mainstream, inspirational, sci-fi/fantasy--all worth visiting!
If you made it this far, thanks very much for reading! And, even if I didn't tag you, please feel free to play along! If you do, comment to let me know where to find you!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Casting" for NEVER TOO LATE

Lots of authors use stock images of actors and models to help them picture their characters. While I didn't do that when writing Never Too Late, I can certainly see the appeal. It makes the characters more concrete, and it can even make visualizing their actions and mannerisms and physical spaces more powerful.

So, belatedly, I've been thinking about who my main characters look like.  And it's damn hard to decide.  Part of me thinks...well, they are who they are.  I'm having a hard time finding someone who looks like them because they're distinct people in my head. 

Still, I can see actors who evoke a sense of my characters. 

NOTE: Okay, so as an English professor, I'm very sensitive about copyright, plagiarism, and intellectual property.  I'm not posting actual photos but rather links to photos. 

Given the age difference between my heroine and hero in NTL, you might automatically think of Demi Moore and Ashton Kusher. It would be a fair comparison since the age difference between my main characters is 14 years, compared with their 15.5 years. Alas, the fairly recent end of Moore's and Kusher's marriage wouldn't bode well for my characters. And I don't really see Honoria and Alex in them.
So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to some of the major figures of Never Too Late.

Mrs. Honoria Duchamp - The heroine of NTL is a 40-year-old widow and sole proprietress of Evans Books. She also has a tendency to poke her nose into situations that raise alarms in her head. Here's the closest I can get to Honoria:
  • Jennifer Aniston:  Not because she's been named "the sexiest woman over 40"--but she is in her 40s, she's beautiful, and she has played characters with depth and complexity. I could see her as the business-like, emotionally distant crusder.
Lord Alexander Devin: The hero of NTL is in his 20s and has always been the responsible one. His family has never known him to be truly young.  He ahs dedicated himself to his family's success and well-being, which makes them his weakness as well.
  • Chris Evans: I had a much harder time pinning down Alex. In my head, he's perhaps most like Joseph Gordon-Levitt from The Dark Knight Rises. Earnest, strong, filled with potential.  Then again, I could also conceivably see Zac Efron, who is around the right age, but that feels like the "easy" choice. He seems to be "the" romantic lead these days.  Heaven knows I'm not good at "easy." (I've been known to "overcomplicate" things. Shrug.)  Plus, I don't see him as having the imperious nature Alex has. So, speaking of imperious, I settled on Chris Evans, with dark hair. He can do haughty and overbearing, and he'd' probably be a great foil for a woman like Honoria.
There are a few other characters I can picture now.  Lord Devin's mother, for instance, plays a pivotal role.  I can see her kind ebullience in someone like Gwenyth Paltrow.  Lord Devin's mother, however, was based on a friend of mine so that's really who she'll always be in my head. 
  • NOTE: Strangely, going through this exercise, it was VERY EASY for me to identify the hero and heroine of ALWAYS A STRANGER (Book 2): Rosa Kato (an Italian-Japanese actress) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor).  Yup, that's them.
So...where do you get your inspirations? Who do you "see" as your characters? I'd love to know!

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...