Sunday, April 15, 2018

Trash or Treasure...

I recently came across a tweet that that referred to mainstream romance as 'trashy' and it really rubbed me the wrong way.  I am of the opinion, and I don't think I'm alone in this, that the rest of the literary world views the romance genre as subpar writing and worthy of the monikers often ascribed to romance as ‘smut’ or ‘trash’.  Admittedly, before I grew to appreciate the genre, I too had less than favorable opinion of the modern romance novel, but that all changed once I discovered for myself the depth of feeling these books can and do explore. 

To provide a little background, I first discovered my true love of romantic literature after reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  The story had mystery, a dark brooding hero, and a strong-minded heroine, encapsulated in beautifully written prose. Passages such as this moved me beyond any other book I'd read before:

"Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!"

After devouring Jane Eyre I began a journey through many revered authors of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.  I cared little about anything written by contemporary authors until I befriended a group of women through a fan site devoted to the love of a certain adaptation of one of my favorite 19th century authors.  While these women too loved classic romantic literature, they also enjoyed the modern day authors of both historical and contemporary romances.

Admittedly we did refer to these books as ‘smutty’, but only in the vein of adopting a pejorative term via reappropriation.  After reading several, I discovered that these too had the power to move me in ways other genres never had.  They touched on topics women have struggled with for centuries, many of which we still do today.  Yes, some romance novels are not as well written as others, but the same can be said for all literary genres. 

In short, simply because the subject matter in romance novels deal primarily with issues important to women, such as love, family, education, equality, that does not lessen their importance in the world of literature today.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What's in a name (or book title)?

I've been making excellent progress on my latest work in progress The Good Doctor, but I'm starting to rethink the title of this book along with the next one I have planned.  More often than not, I've noticed book series tend to follow a naming theme and the more I think about it the more I like the idea.  Obviously since I've already published the first book Deep Blue Sea I have pretty much locked myself into a color theme.  So, after a bit of deliberation I've come up with possible titles for books two and three of the Wayward Lords Series.

The Good Doctor will become...imagine a drum roll...

     Blood Red Roses

And book three (which is still bouncing around my head, I've only got a rough synopsis on paper) will become...

     Gilded Amber Cage

I'm still debating, but the more I think about it, the more I prefer the new titles.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Balancing Act…

So yeah, I started working a day job again about two months ago, hence the long hiatus in blog posts.  I’d hope to keep up a post-a-month schedule, we’ll see how that works out.  Now for my balancing act.  

Work, or course, takes up an inordinate amount of time and energy from my personal and writing lives, but I’m determined to try and find a better balance than I did while living in the States.  My ‘before’ life had become a complete drain on my creativity (and my happiness), and I’m determined not to let that vicious cycle grab hold of me ever again.  And even though I’m writing slowly, I feel like I’m writing quality, and still excited about it.  So things I’m hoping to keep doing even though I’m back at a ‘real’ job are writing at least 1000 words a week, reading, and leisure time with my family.

To keep me in the right frame of mind, I’ve rediscovered historical romances.  That’s all I’d read for years, whether they be classics or of the bodice-ripper variety, I rarely read anything set in present day.  Then I was recommended a few contemporary romances by some friends which led me to others and before I knew I had left historicals in the dust – sad but true.  This I am certain didn’t help keep me excited about my own historical romance.  I’d forgotten how fun they can be.  Though, to be fair, some of them can be totally ridiculous by today’s sensibilities.  The funny thing I’ve realized most is that I kind of prefer the unconventional hero and heroines.  So many historicals are focused on the ‘ton’ while the ordinary folks are largely ignored.  However, there were far more commoners during the Regency than peers, and I’m sure they had their share of romance.  All of Jane Austen’s characters were ordinary people, yes many were wealthy, but most would be considered middle to lower class.  These are people we can all identify with, probably why her books are still so well loved today.

As for leisure time, I’m still working on that, but since moving to Ireland the hustle and bustle is gone from our daily lives.  One of my kids even commented on how much happier we all are now that we’ve gotten away from the rat race.  I do think that when we are together as a family we enjoy our time together far more than we used to.

And lastly my word count.  I am making steady progress, on average I'm writing a little over 1000 words per week. I’m nearing the 40,000 word mark and just about at the halfway point in the story.  Since picking up the story again six months ago I’d say I’ve written around 28,000 words…not too bad considering it had been nearly four years since I touched the manuscript.

Things are finally looking up for The Good Doctor, and I couldn’t be happier.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Anatomy of a Story...

While researching my latest book, I've come across quite a bit of material on the study of anatomy in the Regency era. One of my protagonists was a surgeon and has taken up the profession of anatomist.  Science and medicine at the time was on the verge of great discoveries, but society's aversion to studying the human body after death made it difficult for the medical community to perform their research.  During this time only the corpses of executed criminals could be dissected for medical research.  In London alone this amounted to about 50 cadavers, but demand far outweighed the supply which led to the rise of resurrection men, or grave robbers.  The fear of grave robbers became so great in fact that families often guarded the corpse until it was sufficiently decomposed and thus useless for dissection.  They also used Mortsafes, an iron cage, around the coffin until decomposition occurred, but only the rich could afford such measures.

In 1828 two infamous resurrection men, Burke and Hare, committed at least 17 murders, selling the unusually fresh corpses to anatomists in Scotland.  Both were arrested and executed, and ironically, Burke's body was publicly dissected in Edinburgh, his skeleton and death mask are still on display at the Royal College of Surgeon's museum.  It wasn't until 1832 that Parliament passed the Anatomy Act, allowing the delivery of unclaimed bodies to anatomy schools.  And while dissection was legitimized, the poor remained fearful of being snatched after death.  The study of anatomy was nothing new during the Regency however.  Leonardo da Vinci dissected and studied around 30 corpses between 1506 and 1511.  Though after his anatomist mentor died of plague in 1511 he abandoned his anatomical project and sadly his notes and intricate drawings remained undiscovered for centuries.  While slightly gruesome in their subject matter, these are some of my favorite works of art.

I've always been fascinated by the study of anatomy.  While in college, among the various art classes required for my degree (Art History), I took a life drawing class.  And while we sketched live models we also examined anatomical drawings to gain a better understanding of muscles and tendons that comprise the contours of the human form.  While these drawings are somewhat macabre, I have always found them quite beautiful in their intricacy.

During my extensive research (I perhaps got a little carried away with this subject as I delved deeper) I came across the Anatomical Venus, an 18th century wax figure that could be peeled away to uncover the musculature and organs within the human body.  The most striking thing about these wax figures is not the anatomical depictions however; it is their almost erotic poses and expressions.  They were adorned with human hair and jewelry, looking as they were in the throes of ecstasy at the moment of dissection.  So yes, they are slightly disturbing, but beautiful none the less.  And while a knee jerk reaction might be to condemn eroticizing these figures, at the time this would have been indicative of religious art which often times had similar expressions depicting a sacred, mystical experience rather than an erotic one.

I had never really thought of anatomy as an art form, but clearly it is when you look at the plethora of works created over the centuries.  It is a true marriage of art and science.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is there such a thing as too much research?

“The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” - Samuel Johnson

One of my friends posted on Facebook recently asking if there was such a thing as too much research.  I believe, as did another friend of hers, that there's no such thing as too much research, but don't let it bog your story down with the minutia when a few words on the subject might do.  There's a line in the movie 'Wonder Boys' that came to mind when I saw her post where a student of the protagonist, who is a struggling writer, comments on the detail he's included in his story.  She goes on to say:

"And even though you're book is really beautiful, I mean, amazingly beautiful, it's... it's at times... it's... very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone's horses, and the dental records, and so on. And... I could be wrong, but it sort of reads in places like you didn't make any choices. At all."

I couldn't agree more, it's all about making choices.  I think every writer likely overindulges in their research, but how much of that research makes it into your work could mean the difference between boring your reader or enhancing your story.

I remember when I wrote Deep Blue Sea I needed to learn everything I could about tall ships during the Napoleonic Wars.  There was a particular passage where Captain Thorne is conducting his pre-sailing inspection and is discussing an issue regarding the bilge pump.  Now, if you read the passage, I may have a single sentence describing the apparatus, but I'll admit I probably spent about four or five hours researching and looking at diagrams just so I understood how they worked and what sorts of repairs they might require.  And I'd bet most of my readers paid little to no attention to that tidbit, but I knew I enhanced my story versus bogging it down by including only a passing remark about it.

With my current book, I'm delving into some fascinating topics.  The story takes place in Regency London and since my stories tend toward the darker, seedy side of history, so does my research.

For instance, opium was commonly used as mild pain relief, which led to many becoming addicted to the euphoric side-effects.  People of the time knew how damaging and addictive qualities of the drug as is described in the autobiographical account 'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater' by Thomas De Quincey published in 1821, though many of his contemporaries criticized his language for not portraying the darker truths of the drug, instead romanticizing its effects.

Grave robbing was yet another dark truth of the time.  Because physicians were only allowed to examine corpses of executed criminals for medical research, they would employ resurrection men to rob the graves of the freshly dead.  Not enough criminals were being executed in London to meet the demands, so doctors would pay these men quite handsomely for a constant supply.  Don’t forget, refrigeration was not what it is today, so the corpses would only last so long before decomposing.  Of course these resurrection men were loathed by the people of the time so families who could afford to went to great lengths to ensure their loved ones were protected in death from desecration. If you ever have a chance to visit Scotland's Greyfriars Cemetery you'll see evidence of their efforts. Over several of the graves there are mortsafes, or iron cages enclosing the casket so robbers can't dig up the corpse.  Honestly, I’ve always been fascinated by cemeteries, I could devote an entire blog post to them.

In my research of prostitution during the Regency Era I've discovered that many of women came from good upbringings but were either outcast by their families or had none to support them.  Few choices were available to women of the time, and for many years before and after, so prostitution was for some the only way they could survive.  For the customers, lists of the ladies were available which described a little about them and sometimes services they were willing to provide.  I managed to get my hands on a reprint of one of these called ‘Harry’s List of Covent Garden Ladies’ which has a wealth of information.

All in all, research can both enlighten and entertain a writer, but it's important to know how much is too much when creating a world for your reader.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Finding Inspiration....again

I wrote a similar post on a now defunct blog and thought I'd revamp the thoughts about finding inspiration to write again. It is no secret to those of you who know me that I have struggled for a few years to write. My lackluster desire to write was disheartening, and in many ways I felt as though a huge part of my creativity had died. I had so much trouble finding inspiration, I feared the longer my writer’s block continued, the harder it would be to put my thoughts on paper again. So here I am, happy to report I’m writing again.

What was the catalyst to get my creative mojo back?  Probably had a lot to do with quitting my soul sucking job and moving to Ireland.  And while the future is a bit uncertain as my family and I settle into our new life, I know we’ve made the right decision, whatever comes our way.

So, now that I’m working on my second book again, I’ve been musing about what inspires an author to write, or for that matter an artist to paint, or a musician to compose.  During my long walks around my new home in Ireland I'm awestruck by the beautiful landscape and heritage surrounding me.  Not only by the breathtaking natural beauty of Ireland’s western shores I now call home, but everywhere you turn there are countless historical sites and old ruins to explore.

When looking at the many castle sites or derelict dwellings that dot the countryside, I cannot help but imagine what life must have been like for the former inhabitants. What were the sounds, sights, and smells - good or bad? What would a day entail for the lady of the house or servant girl, a stableman or farmer? What were their hopes and aspirations? How did the Lord of the castle protect his holdings during a siege? Was he a kind master, or cruel?  Whatever their stories, I’m humbled and grateful to be able to draw inspiration from them.

Perhaps it seems drastic that I had to leave my former life behind and begin a new one far away to rekindle my creativity, but I'm looking forward to the adventure and thrilled to be writing again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


After much editing, and a little procrastinating, my book should be available for download by December 20th on Amazon. Woohoo!! Thanks everyone who helped me finally make this dream a reality!