What’s Been Going on and What’s Coming Up

AllWriteeventHi all! Tonight’s post is a bit of a mish-mash of what’s been going on and what’s coming up, so please bear with me.

  1. I had a great time at the Webster Groves High School All-Write event on Thursday. The kids were incredibly engaged. They asked thoughtful questions and I was amazed at the number who asked about historical fiction: how to pick a topic, what kind of research it takes, the writing processes etc. It really gives me hope for the future writers of this wonderfully rich genre.
  2. It doesn’t appear that He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not finaled in the most recent contest to be announced. Finalists were supposed to be notified yesterday and I haven’t heard anything. Oh well, can’t win them all. Congratulations to all who did final! (Many more contest results to come over the next few months.)
  3. I am leaving for vacation on Thursday and already have vacation brain. I’m going to Sedona, Arizona, to see my favorite musician, Wrongchilde (aka, Mat Devine, frontman of Kill Hannah), perform at a winery. But more than that, I’m going because I need time off. I haven’t stopped writing in about two and a half years. I need time to get away and think. Sedona is supposed to be a very spiritual place, so I’m looking forward to seeing what messages the Divine has for me.
  4. Speaking of the Divine, I’m reading this incredible novel called A Map of Heaven by Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson. It’s about a 34-year-old woman who finds out she only has two weeks to live because of an inoperable brain tumor. But it’s not a depressing book; it’s actually very uplifting, and the questions she asks very closely mirror ones I’m asking about my own life (so much so, it’s creepy). I’ll do a full review once I’ve finished it, but it’s made such an impact on me I had to mention it.
  5. I’m halfway through my short story for the RWA anthology. Not sure if I’ll get it done in time to submit by March 12, but I really want to, especially since it’s in honor of my grandfather (even though it’s not his actual story).
  6. Still waiting to get edits back on my current historical fiction book. Once I do, I’ll tell you more about it.
  7. Characters are appearing in my head for my next book all the time. I can tell you this: It’s set during WWII in France. There are two main characters, one who is historical and the other I’m making up but placing in semi-historical circumstances. Of the minor characters, a few are just names, but one is quite clear, thanks to me finding the actress who would play her. It’s going to be interesting doing something totally different for this book.
  8. I am obsessed with Orphan Black. If you haven’t watched it, remedy that immediately! I watched the first season free with Amazon Prime and immediately got the second from the library. The third season starts April 18 on BBC America. I don’t have cable, but if Amazon offers it, I’m willing to pay for each episode. The writing is so intricate – I stand in awe of the writers, really. And the acting! Tatiana Maslany is amazing. She plays several different characters and I keep thinking they are all individual people! And in case you’re wondering, I’m team Cosima. (And Felix!)
  9. March is Women’s History Month. I wish I would have known that ahead of time so I could have arranged a series of posts. Maybe I’ll still come up with something. You never know.
  10. Come back here on Thursday to see the cover reveal for Age of Blood by my friend, Shauna Granger.

Enough about me. How are all of you doing?

Release Day for Rachel Rossano’s Book, Honor

SeriesHonorCoverToday I’m thrilled to be helping my fellow author Rachel Rossano welcome her next book baby into the world. Rachel’s books are sweet medieval romances, or as I like to call them, “Game of Thrones for those who don’t like graphic violence and graphic sex.” They are just as complex and emotionally satisfying, if not more so.

Today is release day for Honor, the second book in the Novels of Rhynan series. I discovered Duty (the first book in the series) through one of the review services that I write for and fell in love immediately. While Rachel was kind enough to send me a review copy, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I have no doubt I will love it just as much as the first. And so will you.

About Honor
The Earl of Dentin excels in his position as Securer of the Realm. But the king’s order to pluck an orphaned child from a loving home unsettles Dentin. When a dark-eyed woman challenges his honor regarding the mission, Dentin finds himself unable to justify his actions or get her out of his mind. Something about her lack of fear intrigues him.

Lady Elsa Reeve attempts to avoid the marriage of convenience her brother and mother demand of her. She understands the need to pay off her brother’s massive debt. She only wants her family to consider her wishes in the process.

As Elsa becomes further entangled in a snare of her brother’s creating, only one man defends her. But can she trust Dentin, her unlikely champion, and his motives? With a murderer on the loose, Elsa’s fate in jeopardy, and a traitor plotting against the king, Dentin finds his priorities shifting in an unexpected direction.

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/0yLAD5dcySg

Buy

Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S7IX63K

Barnes & Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/honor-rachel-rossano/1121133015

Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/513502

Excerpt
The trunk made it onto the wagon, but not until breakfast was half over. I left him strapping it into place at the top of the load and rushed back inside to find something to eat.  When I entered the hall, most of the places at the tables were empty and the servants and pages were clearing away the remnants. I slung my cloak over one arm, and claimed hunks of bread and cheese from one of the trays moments before a servant walked off with it.

“Just ask for them to bring more.”

I turned around abruptly at the sound of Lord Dentin’s voice and lost my balance. He caught my elbow through the layers of my cloak and steadied me.

“Not so fast. Come and sit. You have a long day ahead and that is hardly enough to feed a bird.”

Before I could protest, he was leading me to the head table and my usual place. He signaled one of the servants as we walked.

“My mother is going to be angry if I am not waiting at the wagon when they reach it.”

“Let her be angry.” He pulled out my chair, guided me into it, and claimed my cloak from my arm in a smooth series of motions. “You can blame it on me.”

“That will just make it worse.” Despite my protests, it did feel wonderful to just sit.

He sat down next to me as a servant set a trencher and a platter on the table before me. The steaming stew, a remnant of supper from the night before, wafted a savory essence into my face.

“Now.” Dentin offered me a spoon. “That is much better than cold bread and cheese.”

“You don’t know my mother.”

He grunted, placed the spoon into my limp hand, and closed my fingers over it. Then leaning close enough that I could smell the basil-scented soap he had washed with that morning, he whispered, “Eat.”

My breath caught as our gazes locked. The whisper of his breath on my cheek and the warmth of his large hand enclosing mine made my heart beat unusually fast. Part of me wanted to look away, turn my face, and break the hold he had on me. But, I couldn’t gather the will to do so.

I enjoyed the sense of security he represented. Despite his reputation for coarseness and caustic responses, he treated me with respect and honor. Something many of my other relationships lacked in recent months. After years of being ignored, overlooked, and taken for granted, the sudden sense of being admired and desired was heady. The allure both scared and fascinated me.

Still, I could not linger here for long.

“I need my hand to eat.”

The moment was broken. With a muttered apology, he released my hand and leaned away.

Ignoring the sudden sensation of cold, I filled my spoon. The stew did little to dissipate the sense of loss.

Rachel RosannoAbout the Author
Rachel Rossano balances her time between the chaos of raising and homeschooling her three children and the world of drama and high adventure in her head. With her faithful husband and chief consulting editor by her side, she dreams of many more adventures to come.

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A Primer on Women’s Life in 19th Century America

19th century womanI’m getting closer to being able to tell all of you exactly who my next historical fiction book is about. I sent it off to the freelance editor whom I worked with on the first Guinevere book yesterday, as well as the first reader. I should get edits back in 4-6 weeks, then I’ll put it out for a quick beta read and be able to finally reveal her identity.

Until then, I thought I’d give you a brief taste of what life was like for a woman during the period of my novel (mid-late 1800s in America). As with my previous post about the new book, I’m not listing my sources yet because their titles would give away who my main character is. I’ll come back and add them as soon as I can.

The early 19th century had seen mostly traditional female roles centered around hearth, home and babies. But as war always seems to do, the Civil War gave some women an additional measure of independence, mostly out of necessity while her husband/father/brothers/sons were off fighting. However, after the cannon fire stopped echoing through the valleys and the guns went silent, she was expected to resume her traditional role.

Behavior
Personal ambition in a woman was considered evil. She was expected to obey her father or her husband without complaint. The less she showed intelligence, the better off she was. In fact, the quieter and more sickly looking a woman was – frail, thin, pale, prone to fainting – the more attractive she was. (Ironically, she had little recourse if she actually was sickly. Many male doctors believed all women were inherently diseased and refused to treat them.)

There were social taboos against women speaking in public. To call attention to oneself in public was unladylike and considered a form of treachery to one’s husband because when she strayed from her proper place in the home, a woman caused him shame. An interesting exception to this rule was made for mediums, who were exempt because they were instruments of God’s will. (More on the Spiritualism craze of the day in a future post.)

Laws
Unsurprisingly, the law was not on a woman’s side, especially if she was unmarried, divorced, or widowed. Women couldn’t vote, serve on juries or testify in court.

Beating a woman was not illegal, but some laws stipulated how large of an object could be used. (Thanks for that, lawmakers.)  A married woman had no recourse if she was beaten and she couldn’t deny sex to her husband. As a result, families were large. Unwanted infants were wrapped in rags and abandoned on doorsteps or tossed in the river.

Women were considered property of their husbands. Divorce was legal, but the laws by which it was enforced or allowed varied by state. In many, adultery was the only reason a woman could ask for a divorce. And if she did, she faced steep consequences: she could lose her property, children and reputation.

Work
Some women did work, usually out of necessity, and many made barely enough to keep themselves alive. Acceptable occupations included teaching (there were even some schools for girls by the second half of the century), factory work and domestic service. Wages paid to married women went straight to their husbands.

Prostitution was very common and in many ways, much accepted, at least for men. It was expected that young, unmarried men would frequent brothels. It was also acceptable for married men to go there. After all, sex within marriage wasn’t about pleasure; it was about procreation. In many areas of the country, guidebooks to the local brothels were created and disseminated among the male population, rating the establishments, profiling certain women and giving a summary of ambiance and services offered.

Sex
In polite society, parts of the body normally covered by clothing were referred to only in whispers. Words related to sex – even pregnancy, rape and abortion – weren’t used in among anyone with class.

While a man could do as he pleased within or outside of marriage, a woman adultery was highly shamed, as was a woman who wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night.

Despite the acceptance of prostitution, the prostitutes themselves were considered the lowest class of woman. They were forbidden a Christian burial and could not get proper medical care. (Another ironic medical assumption of the day: women could carry sexually transmitted diseases, but could not become infected with them. Some doctors believed that all sexually transmitted diseases originated with women. The condom was originally developed to shield a man from diseases a woman might be carrying, not as contraception.)

Suffrage Movement
I’ll do a detailed post on the early years of the suffrage movement soon, but for now, let’s just say it was a haven for women who didn’t believe in the status quo. Most the exceptions to societies norms were involved in the suffrage movement. Women who were the first to receive degrees of higher education (especially in the areas of law and medicine) were involved. These women were not only campaigning for the right to vote; they were voices for change for women on all fronts.

Spiritualism
If a woman was clairvoyant, she could find a degree of power because she was allowed to speak and people listened. Spiritualists also sought temperance laws to protect women from abuse by drunken husbands and favored vegetarianism because they saw the killing of animals as a form of male violence. Many were involved in creating Utopian communities were women and men were considered equal and Free Love was the norm. (More on that to come as well.)

What questions do you have about women in the 19th century? What did you already know? What surprises you?

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is a Great Expectations Finalist!

Finalist_Medallion_GreatExpectations_v1_2015I am so excited to announce that my romantic comedy, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, is a finalist in the Great Expectations writing contest, sponsored by the North Texas chapter of the Romance Writer’s Association (RWA).

This means my book is one of four books in the Single Title Romance category that will be judged by an editor at a major publishing house. Results are due the third week of March, so I will be sure to keep you updated.

Just like the Academy Awards, even though everyone wants to be that one winner, it is such an honor just to have gotten this far, especially since I didn’t set out to write a romance. I just set out to tell the story that was in my mind, so it doesn’t necessarily follow all the traditional conventions. But it means so much to know that readers believe I have talent and want to see this story on the shelves!

Confessions of a “Contest Junkie”

Contest-JunkieI first heard the term “contest slut” at a local chapter Romance Writer’s Association (RWA) meeting. (I’m using “contest junkie” so as not to offend anyone.) Not only did it make me laugh, I realized it fit me perfectly. I’ve always had a thing for awards – I blame it on both all the dance trophies they gave out when I was taking lessons at a very young age, coupled with my natural tendency toward competitiveness and perfectionism. Not matter what the cause, if I find a contest I qualify for, you bet I’m going to enter it. (I do this in my work life as well. I’m an internationally award-winning marketing writer as well.)

I used to see that unpublished authors had won awards but I couldn’t figure out what contests they were entering. Then I joined RWA. Boy, does the romance genre like its contests. From there I found myself more aware of opportunities in other genres. As of the end of March I will have three books entered in at least a dozen contests:

  • Guinevere of Northgallis: 2 (there aren’t many contests for historical fiction that’s not romance)
  • The book I can’t tell you about yet: 2 (same ones as Guinevere, as it is historical fiction as well)
  • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: 11 (most are romance but it’s competing against the other two in a few)

Things I Have Learned from Contest Entries:

  1. Your first five pages and first 5,000 words are crucial. Those are all you get for most contests – and also from most agents/editors. This has made me even more picky about what I include in those oh-so-important opening pages.
  2. Writing a one-page synopsis is really hard (mine are usually 2-4 pages), but it is possible if you take out all the sub-plots and strip your story down to the bare bones.
  3. You meet other writers (especially if you also volunteer to judge categories other than your own) and learn how much talent is really out there, plus form a support network.
  4. Having your work entered into contests helps give you something positive to think about while you’re waiting on queries, submission or just trying to get that next book done.
  5. If you final/win, it can help all aspects of your career, even if your entry isn’t in your main genre. Contests give you exposure to agents and editors, plus you have something of value to include in your query/submission letter if you final or win.
  6. Every contest has different submission requirements so (like with querying) read the directions and follow them to the letter.
  7. I haven’t received feedback yet, but most contests require judges to give it, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they liked and didn’t and editing from there.

My first contest will be announcing finalists this week, so please cross your fingers, toes and eyes that it gets selected. And I’m sure I will be entering more, even once I’m published, because I am an admitted contest junkie! I will let you know good news as I get it.

Have you ever entered writing contests? Judged them? What are your thoughts on what you can get out of them?

Learning to Love History Through Historical Fiction

HistficI think Rudyard Kipling had it right: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” When I came across this pin on Pinterest I realized it was something I wanted to explore more in-depth, because I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve learned more from the historical fiction I’ve read than I did in all my years of studying history in school.

For those prone to argue, yes, I know historical fiction is part fiction. I’m not saying we should base all of our knowledge on it, but that it can spark interest in a certain time period or person much easier than a dry history book can. For example, I just finished Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Its backdrop of the Cathar Inquisition in thirteenth century France made me want to learn more about this little-known sect of medieval Christianity. I can promise you that if we covered that in school, I don’t remember a word of it.

Why does historical fiction stay with us? Well, for one, stories are the way the human brain processes information. We tell each other stories every day in the form of conversation without even noticing we’re doing it. Chances are good that when you’re telling your friend about that awesome party you went to, you’re going to tell her stories about the evening, not a chronological recounting of events (unless you are Sheldon Cooper, in which case you wouldn’t have gone to a party anyway). I think this is the fundamental flaw in many history textbooks; they focus on cramming as many dates and facts in as possible, and thus, lose the true story.

As author Heather Web recently said in a recent Huffington Post article, “What’s not to love about history? I think it gets a bad rap from our grade school and high school days where many teachers force-fed us timelines and names to memorize, as opposed to teaching us to explore movements and larger concepts–never mind all of those juicy stories. This is what history, and historical fiction, really is: juicy stories.”

That brings me to my second point about historical fiction. It breathes life into history in a way traditional textbooks don’t. This happens through the story and the characters, no matter if they are fictional paupers begging at the cathedral gates or real-life kings and queens. They represent the plight (or fortune) of people in a given time period, they show us history in action through a personal lens with all of its love, triumph, grief and pain. Whether we leave a historical fiction work thinking, “Oh my God am I glad I didn’t live in that time period,” or “Dude, where’s the time machine? It would have been so cool to live in that time,” we’ve personalized the story. History now matters to us.

And matter it should. Beyond the oft-repeated proverb “if we don’t remember history, we’re bound to repeat it,” history shows us what is right and wrong with humanity, emphasizes the good that we should seek to amplify and horrors that should never be permitted again. By living these things through the fictionalized lives of real or made up people, we become more compassionate and empathetic. I just finished a book called The Hammer of Witches by Begoña Echeverria, whose graphic portrayal of the Basque witch hunts made me realize what danger we place our entire community in when we fail to see the humanity of those around us and instead choose the bandwagon of bigoted hatred and fear.

Personally, I would love if history classes in high school (or at least college) incorporated historical fiction into their curriculum, especially as way of whetting the appetite for certain time periods or topics. (Come to think of it, that’s kind of what my high school Western Civ teacher did when she had us read 1984 before studying totalitarian societies. I’ve been hooked on dystopia ever since.) For example, I personally think Susanna Kearsely’s forthcoming A Desperate Fortune has the clearest explanation of the reason for the Jacobite rebellion/exile I’ve ever read. Historical fiction can even take you places the history books rarely do. Jo Baker’s Longbourn gives a glimpse into the lives of servants and soldiers in Regency England, while most history books stick to the sterile facts of monarchy and war.

And you wouldn’t even have to use books, or at least not books alone. There are so many period films and TV shows that they could be incorporated as well. Even if they are of questionable historical accuracy (*cough* Tudors *cough*) that can be used to spark discussion. “Spot the inaccuracy” could be part of a test. It could be employed interdepartmentally as well. The Paris Wife could be an intro to Hemingway or The Secret of All Things a prelude to biology. The possibilities are endless. (Man, now I wish I had my PhD. or even a master’s in history so I could create this class.)

I just hate the idea of history meaning less and less to future generations. But if mine is any starting place (I’m at the tail end of Gen X), things aren’t looking good. A recent report by the American Historical Association (I’m a member), showed that schools issuing history degrees are showing a downward trend, which isn’t too surprising given the recent economy. The more we can use historical fiction to spark interest, the better off we will all be. The day history becomes only dead guys and boring facts is the day we lose a valuable record of our humanity.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? What historical fiction has made you care about history? What do you wish young people had to read in school? Do you think there is danger in mixing fiction in with our history?

On a Mission from…the Muse

Source: Wikimedia Commons: "Uffizi Gallery - Daughter of Niobe bent by terror" by Petar Milošević - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uffizi_Gallery_-_Daughter_of_Niobe_bent_by_terror.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Uffizi_Gallery_-_Daughter_of_Niobe_bent_by_terror.jpg

Source: Wikimedia Commons: “Uffizi Gallery – Daughter of Niobe bent by terror” by Petar Milošević – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

While that headline doesn’t have the same ring as a certain Blues Brothers quote, it does get the idea across that I feel like my writing comes from a higher source – and for a purpose.

Lately, I’ve realized that while I started writing books just to tell the stories that were in my head, it’s come to mean more than that. While I don’t intend to start a Hemingway- or Pound-esque writing revolution, there is a deeper reason behind my writing, one I want to make sure everyone knows.

I’ve distilled this into two mission statements, one for each genre I currently write:

Historical fiction: To rescue little-known women from being lost in the pages of history. While other writers may choose to write about the famous, I tell the stories of those who are in danger of being forgotten so that their memories may live on for at least another generation. I also tell the female point of view when it is the male who has gotten more attention in history (i.e. Guinevere to King Arthur).

Women’s fiction: To create strong female characters who are role models for women of all ages in stories that are fun and romantic. These women represent the modern independent female spirit and are meant to appeal to women who feel they are outside of the norm of society whether by age (my heroines are almost always over 30), race, sexuality, or natural inclinations (we all have things that make us feel like freaks, right?). I hope my readers can find something in my books that makes them think, “Oh, thank goodness, I’m not alone.”

If nothing else, I figure this gives people (readers, potential publishers, etc.) an idea of what to expect from my writing. It also helps keep me focused and reminds me on the bad days exactly why I thought it was a good idea to become a writer in the first place. And yes, it doesn’t hurt as part of my “brand” to know what sets me apart from other writers. (If you want a good resource on author branding, I recommend this post by author Jami Gold.) But did you notice that I listed that last? It’s because it’s not nearly as important to me as making things clear for myself and my readers.

I all of you feel like you know me just a bit better now.

What’s your personal mission statement? No matter what you do for a living, it doesn’t hurt to know why you feel like you’re here, on this planet, in this life. Give it some thought and share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.