What Inspired Me to Write Dark Lady? A Guest Post By Charlene Ball

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a Shakespeare nut. I have a deep love for his comedies and I’m a Marlovian. (Yes, you will be getting a Shakespeare-was-really-Christopher-Marlowe novel from me sometime in the future.) So when I was asked if Charlene could do a guest post on her book about one of the most enduring mysteries surrounding Shakespeare – the identity of the Dark Lady in his sonnets – I jumped at the chance. So without further ado (or should that be “Much Ado?”) please welcome scholar and fellow feminist Charlene Ball!

Author Charlene Ball

I was in the auditorium at the University of Georgia listening to a short, dapper English historian explain his theory that Emilia Bassano Lanyer was the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was around 1975. I was fascinated. Imagine my excitement to learn that someone had discovered a woman who not only might have been close to Shakespeare, but who was a poet in her own right—and, moreover, was an early feminist!

Up until then, my feminism and my love of Renaissance literature were kept in separate areas of my world. Feminism was about marches and demonstrations for the Equal Rights Amendment and Take Back the Night, reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Our Bodies Our Selves, and Sinister Wisdom; listening to talks by popular feminists like Gloria Steinem; reading Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde; and talking with our very own resident radical feminist, Julia Penelope Stanley, who taught linguistics in the UGA English Department and whose mother ran a cool bookstore called The Hairy Hobbit.

Feminism was also about living with my woman lover, identifying as a lesbian, going to softball games to cheer on our lesbian friends who played on a softball team called—what else?—The Hairy Hobbits (the bookstore sponsored the team).

My coursework for my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, on the other hand, involved attending classes and writing papers on Medieval Narrative, Shakespeare, European Romanticism, French Classical Drama, and Renaissance Narrative Poetry.

I loved it all. But there was a disconnect. My coursework did not overlap at all with my life.

So when I heard A.L. Rowse say that not only was Emilia Lanyer the lover of Shakespeare, but also an early feminist who roundly condemned men for slandering women and called for women’s equality, I could not contain my excitement. I was already fascinated by Christopher Marlowe, or the myth of him as an early gay poet, and I wrote a play about him. I also wrote a play about Shakespeare and Emilia Lanyer.

This was about the time that feminist scholars were beginning to write about early women writers. The decades that followed brought my graduation, my search for academic employment, and the changes in the world and in my life. I taught English composition and literature, and, in between part-time teaching gigs, I took temp jobs. I put Emilia on the back burner. My life changed. My relationship ended. I found a position as an office administrator in a Women’s Studies department. I researched and wrote about feminist utopias and Audre Lorde. I began to write fiction.

When I returned to the literature I first loved, no longer called the Renaissance, but the Early Modern Period, I found that feminist scholars had discovered Emilia (or Aemilia) Bassano Lanyer and had written a great deal about her. But from a very different point of view.

What I had found most troubling about Rowse’s description of Emilia in his talk, the introduction to his edition of her poems, and his books about Shakespeare was that he took an unquestioningly misogynistic view of her, calling her “a bad lot” and “no better than she should be.” Other scholars agreed, including the historians who chronicled the Bassano family of musicians, David Lasocki and Roger Pryor. Pryor assumed she was “a well known whore.”

So I was delighted to discover Susanne Woods’s biography and edition of Lanyer’s poems. Woods makes it clear that there is no evidence at all to believe that Emilia was promiscuous, and even if she were, what would it matter anyway?

The feminist Aemilia was not the same as Rowse’s Emilia. There seemed to be no way to see them as the same person.

Yet—why couldn’t they be? There was no reason I could see that a vehement defender of women could not also have been the lover of, not only Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, but of William Shakespeare as well. And those sonnets of Shakespeare’s that are clearly addressed to a woman are far from flattering. Most of them are angry, mocking, and disparaging. Might not a woman who read them and realized they were about her be offended? Might she not want to answer back in her own defense, in the defense of all women?

So I wanted to write about Emilia (I kept to the spelling of her name that I had first learned) as a woman of her time, assuming just as a “what if” that she was Shakespeare’s lover AND a talented poet. I wanted to portray her as she might have been, doing all the things we know she probably did based on Rowse’s research, but not accepting his easy misogyny and stereotyped thinking. For no scholars deny the basics of Rowse’s research; they just don’t accept his conclusions that she must have known Shakespeare and must have been the woman in the Sonnets.

My Emilia, then, is the daughter of a Court musician and member of the large extended family of Bassanos who came from Venice to London at the invitation of Henry VIII. She is the one whose father died when she was young, who was fostered by Suzan Bertie, Countess of Kent, who became the mistress of Lord Hunsdon at a young age, who married her cousin Alfonso Lanyer when she became pregnant, and who visited the astrologer Simon Forman and endured and may have encouraged his sexual advances. My Emilia is also the mother of two children, one of whom died in infancy. My Emilia is the friend of literary women and a poet herself. She is the woman who published a book of poetry in 1611 and who dedicated it to nine of these women, thus becoming one of the first women in England to publish her work and the first to seek patronage as male authors did.

So—shameless plug!—my novel, Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer, brings together my feminism and my love of this fascinating time in history called the Early Modern Period, the time of the incredible burgeoning of drama and poetry by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Phillip Sidney, and so many other men. And now we know about some of the women: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke; Lady Arbella Stuart; Isabella Whitney; Mary Wroth; Anne Vaughan Locke Prowse. And Emilia Bassano Lanyer.

Books for Further Reading:

David Lasocki with Roger Prior, The Bassanos: Venetian Musicians and Instrument Makers in England, 1531-1665 (Scolar, 1995).

A.L. Rowse, The Poems of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum by Emilia Lanier (Clarkston N. Potter, 1979).

Susanne Woods, ed., The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Oxford UP, 1993).

____________, Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet (Oxford UP, 1999).

Thank you, Charlene! I, for one, can’t wait to read your book! If you have questions for Charlotte, please put them in the comments. I’ll let her know and she’s be around to respond.

Guest Interview with Tyler R. Tichelaar, author of the Children of Arthur series

Some of you may remember my friend, author and fellow Arthurian nut Tyler Tichelaar, from his 2012 guest post where he talked about a trip he took to Turkey and the Arthurian connections he found there. Well, now he’s back, talking about the fifth and final book in his Children of Arthur series about King Arthur and his descendants.

Tyler is an author of Arthurian nonfiction and historical fantasy and an enthusiast for, if not expert on, modern Arthurian fiction. His nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, which I reviewed here, was published by Modern History Press in 2011. It explores various traditions concerning King Arthur’s children in Welsh and medieval sources, the possible historical descendants of King Arthur, and more recent creations of descendants for King Arthur in modern fiction. (It’s a great book, one that has been a resource for more than one of my novels and non-fiction books.)

Tyler began writing King Arthur’s Children as his master’s thesis in 1994 and as research so he could write his first King Arthur novel, which eventually became the five-book Children of Arthur series, consisting of Arthur’s Legacy (2014), Melusine’s Gift (2015), Ogier’s Prayer (2016), Lilith’s Love (2016), and the newly released Arthur’s Bosom (2017).

I’m thrilled to have him here today to talk about the publication of his fifth novel in the series, Arthur’s Bosom.

Without giving too much away, can you give us an overview of the series for readers not familiar with it?

Tyler: Sure, Nicole, and thank you for having me here. The premise of the series revolves around the idea that King Arthur had descendants. Most people are not aware that he had any children other than Mordred, and depending on which version of the story you read, Mordred is often just Arthur’s nephew. However, there are ancient Welsh traditions that Arthur had several other sons—namely Gwydre, Llacheu, and Amr. There are also traditions that Mordred had children. Furthermore, several families over the centuries have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, including the Scottish Clan Campbell, and the Welsh Tudor family, which, of course, means the current British royal family can claim descent from King Arthur. Whether any of this is true is open to speculation. Many people are very interested in determining the historicity of King Arthur, but to me, the magic has always existed in the legend’s flexibility to recreate itself for each new century and even decade. My premise then is that King Arthur did have descendants, they are living among us today, and considering the fifteen hundred years separating King Arthur’s time period from our own, most of us are King Arthur’s descendants.

Wow. That would be really cool to be a descendant of King Arthur. (I have always thought I was a queen…) So will you tell us a little about what King Arthur’s descendants do in your novels?

Tyler: In the first novel, Arthur’s Legacy, the story starts in 1994. The main character, Adam, has been raised by his grandparents. His mother gave birth to him outside wedlock and then basically abandoned him. He doesn’t know who his father is. I don’t want to give too much away, but eventually at age twenty-two, he starts to get answers, which lead him to finding his father in England and also meeting a strange professor named Merle (you can guess who that is). Eventually, Merle arranges for Adam to fall into a deep sleep and dream the true story of Camelot. In that dream, we learn that Mordred had descendants who survived the fall of Camelot. We also learn that Mordred was one of the good guys, and instead, other villains brought about the fall of Camelot. In the successive volumes, Mordred’s descendants battle the evil ones who destroyed Camelot and who continue to try to destroy them over the centuries, including during the time of Charlemagne, during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and during World War I.

Is it giving too much away to ask who these villains are who were really responsible for the fall of Camelot?

Tyler: No, you learn that right in the opening pages of Arthur’s Legacy. There are two of them, but they are not the usual suspects, although I believe they are the most likely ones when you dig a bit deeper into the legend. First of all, we understand today that history is written from the conqueror’s perspective, so think about who ends up ruling Britain after Arthur—it’s Constantine of Cornwall. It’s never clear why he is chosen as Arthur’s heir; he seems to be some shirttail relative. However, in the sixth century book De Excidio et Conquestu Brittainiae, written by Arthur’s contemporary Gildas, there is reference to a king named Constantine who murdered two royal youths. I believe these youths are Mordred’s sons. In Arthur’s Legacy, one of those sons, Meleon, has a child before he dies, and that child carries on Arthur’s bloodline. The other villain is Gwenhwyvach, whom I imagine most readers have never heard of. However, there is a statement in the Welsh triads that one of the causes of the Battle of Camlann was the blow Guinevere struck to her half-sister Gwenhwyvach. There is a later tradition in the Prose Lancelot that Guinevere’s half-sister, Gwenhwyvach, tried to pass herself off as Guinevere on Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding night. The trick was discovered and Gwenhwyvach, known as the False Guinevere in the Prose Lancelot, was imprisoned in Hengist’s Tower. So it is Gwenhwyvach and Constantine who bring about Camelot’s fall.

I’ve learned a lot about Gwenhwyvach in my non-fiction research. What you say makes perfect sense. I love this theory. But I’m confused; how can they continue to pursue and try to kill Arthur’s descendants in successive centuries? Is it reincarnation?

Tyler: Not exactly. Constantine can’t since he’s just human, but Gwenhwyvach can in my novels because she is a witch, and even more than that, she is an ancient sorceress who is able to reincarnate and has for many centuries since the beginning of time—the title of the fourth book in the series, Lilith’s Love, gives away her real identity. You see, Lilith was Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden. Tradition says she refused to let Adam be on top (a sign of submission) when they had sexual intercourse; consequently, she was derided in Jewish folklore as a monster (a totally sexist attitude), and in my series she acts that way.

Interesting. Tell me about the other women in your novels. You know I’m all about the girl power.

Tyler: One thing I absolutely wanted to avoid was just another story of good vs. evil. Lilith/Gwenhwyvach does many evil things in the novels, but she is a complicated character, and in Lilith’s Love, she gets a chance to explain her own side of things. There are lots of gray areas in my novels—nothing is black and white or exactly as it seems at first. One thing I refused to do was just follow the traditional storylines of various medieval legends that I used. I wanted to turn everything on its head, showing that these stories I use are not necessarily what we have been taught. I did that first by retelling the Camelot story.

I also turn everything on its head in the second novel, Melusine’s Gift, where the French fairy Melusine is the strong female protagonist. Traditionally, Melusine was raised in Avalon, so it only made sense to me that Melusine must have grown up knowing King Arthur, who was there recovering from his wound. Melusine marries one of Arthur’s descendants and uses her fairy powers to try to bring about good. However, in tradition, Melusine made her husband promise she could always hide herself away on Saturday and not be seen by him. Eventually, he broke his promise and discovered she took on a mermaid or serpent form (depending on which version of the legend you read) on Saturdays. At first, he kept her secret, but later in a fit of anger, he called her a serpent in front of his court and she flew away. She is treated as an evil character in tradition, but I am much more kind to her. She is the strength of her family and also works to bring about good, though others cannot accept her because she is different.

Another strong female character throughout the series is Morgan le Fay. Since she shows up in the Charlemagne legends, I thought she obviously must be immortal and live beyond Arthur’s time, so throughout the series, she intercedes as needed to help Arthur’s descendants (and her own since she is Mordred’s mother in my novels).

People know know you through King Arthur’s Children (both the blog and the book) may not know that you have another blog where you write about Gothic literature. Can you explain what that influence is on your Arthurian novels?

Tyler: Yes, one of the main influences that carries through all five novels is the Gothic format of using stories within stories to move forward the plot. It was used in such classic Gothic novels as Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). All five novels in the Children of Arthur series use this format. By inserting stories within stories, I am able to peel back the layers of the onion—to reveal the secrets about the characters and secrets lost to time that King Arthur’s modern descendants must learn in order to succeed in their goals.

I also use Gothic elements particularly in Lilith’s Love, which includes in it the story of Quincey Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker, who defeat Dracula in Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Because Mina drank Dracula’s blood, I imagined that Quincey, who is born at the end of Dracula, must have some of Dracula’s blood in him, which gives him some superhuman powers. In his quest to understand his vampiric origins, Quincey has several Gothic experiences that make up bulk of the novel, which you might call a sequel to Dracula really.

And what about your latest novel, Arthur’s Bosom? When does it take place and how does it bring the series to an end?

Tyler: I wrote Arthur’s Bosom for two reasons. The first is because I wanted to bring the series full circle since the first novel largely takes place during Arthur’s time but the three novels after that take place in different centuries, so this novel returns the storyline back to the time of Camelot. In the novel, Arthur’s modern-day descendants, Lance and Tristan Delaney, travel back in time to sixth century Britain.

The second reason I wrote this novel as the series finale is because in the first book of the series, Merlin tells Adam that he and his family (Lance and Tristan are Adam’s grown sons) will be responsible for helping to bring about King Arthur’s return. I’ve been sorely disappointed by the few novels that have tried to depict Arthur’s return, so I set about to write my own version of what Arthur’s return would be like, and hopefully, I pulled it off in a way that will surprise and satisfy readers. So far, the response I’ve received has been positive.

Why did you pick the title Arthur’s Bosom?

Tyler: It’s actually from a line in Shakespeare’s Henry V where Falstaff is said to have gone to Arthur’s Bosom. Shakespeare was playing on the biblical phrase of Abraham’s Bosom. I used the term to refer to a type of Arthurian heaven. I must admit I have no desire to sit around on a cloud and play a harp all day. I think I’d much rather go to a heaven that resembles King Arthur’s Britain as depicted in Malory, so in the novel, Arthur’s Bosom is used to refer to the Arthurian version of heaven where Arthur’s true believers go when they die.

What do you hope readers will come away with after they read the series?

Tyler: The theme of this series is “Imagination is the salvation of mankind.” I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction and that our thoughts create our world. I want people to use their imaginations to think outside the box, to question the past we believe we know to find new truths in it, and also to imagine new and positive possibilities for our future. Through imagination, we have the power to shape our world. We don’t have to believe in a doomed world where global warming and the possibility of nuclear war make us think humanity’s best days are past. The future is still ours to write, and through the power of our thoughts, we can make it into a glorious one. I even think it possible we could change the past if we concentrated hard enough upon it. Why can’t the King Arthur and Camelot we dream of have been real? Why can’t we make it real in the future, even if it is in the past? What would it mean to us if we learned we were descended from King Arthur? Would it make us want to live those ideals of Camelot? So, ultimately, I hope that in the Children of Arthur series, I have used legends—that of King Arthur, but also Charlemagne, Prester John, Ogier the Dane, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, etc.—as inspiration and encouragement for all of us to want to create a better world for our future.

Wow, that’s a lofty but worthwhile goal. Before we go, where can readers purchase your books?

Tyler: The books are for sale at my website www.ChildrenofArthur.com. They are also at the major online booksellers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, etc. They are available in paperback and ebook formats. At my website there is also more information about the Arthurian legend and I have a blog where I regularly write about Arthurian modern fiction and other related topics.

Your blog really is a great resource. I’ve been reading some of your old posts lately. So everyone, go check it out. Thanks again, Tyler for being here today. It’s been a pleasure having you. I wish you all the best with your series.

Tyler: Thanks, Nicole. I’ll be looking forward to reading your own last Guinevere novel when it comes out.

Do you have questions for Tyler? If so, please leave them in the comments. He’ll be stopping by to answer them.

A Podcast and an Interview

Just a quick note to let you know that the Unscrambled Authors podcast episode I was interviewed for a few weeks ago is up: Listen here. I haven’t listened to it yet, but the interview went really well.

Also, I’m up on Mary Tod’s blog today talking about what makes successful historical fiction. Check it out.

Quick Book Updates

In the summer, this is what editing looks like. This is me trying to figure out what needs to change in Mistress of Legend.

I’m thankful to finally be back to writing on a regular basis. I seem to have fits and starts this year, which I guess is normal, given that I write in between conferences and day job.

Speaking of conferences, don’t forget that I’ll be at Gateway Con June 16-17 in St. Louis and the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland, Oregon, June 23-24. I’m speaking and signing/selling books at both, so please come and say hello! I’ve just been added to a third panel at the HNS conference, “Putting the Her in History,” with two of my favorites, Patricia Bracewell and Mary Sharratt! Here’s the full information: https://nicoleevelina.com/events/. (Make sure you look at both the reader and writer sections of the page.)

I’ve had some new projects pop up, so I wanted to give you a rundown of where everything stands:

The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend (non-fiction)
I spent the early part of this year researching for my first non-fiction book, which traces the evolution of the character of Guinevere from her Celtic roots to today. I started writing on it in April, but then other things came up. But I’m back at it at a steady clip now. I was hoping for a summer release, but now it’s looking more like end of the year.

Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3) (historical fantasy)
I know all of you are eagerly awaiting this book, and frankly, so am I. Guinevere and Morgan have been talking to me a bit, but not as much as I want them to, so things are going slower than I would like. I have re-read my first draft and while it’s not as bad as I thought it was, it still needs work. I have a revision outline and am doing some additional research, which should be finished in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to start writing in earnest on it over the long Fourth of July weekend. I was hoping to have this out by the end of the year, but now I think it will likely be early 2018.

But the book does have a cover! Members of the Guardians of Endangered Stories (my street team) have seen it, so if you can’t wait, please join! Everyone else will get to see it when we get closer to the book’s release.

Untitled Non-Fiction 
Ever since I started researching Victoria Woodhull, I have come to realize how much feminism means to me. There are so many great stories of women who have gone against the grain of their society and fought for our rights. I am considering writing a biographical historical fiction of another of them, but I also want to examine what feminism has meant in the United States since the birth of our nation and where the movement might be going, especially in our current political climate.

We know for sure there have been three waves in the movement, each with their own inciting event, primary cause, public figures and cultural shifts. The first was in the 19th and early 20th centuries when women fought for the right to vote. The second was from the 1960s – 1980s, when women fought for equal rights, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment and other causes. The third began in the 1990s and encompasses a variety of topics from slut shaming to contraception and more. Just in a little bit of reading, I’ve learned that the waves are more similar than one might think at first glance. I would also argue that we are currently in the beginning of a fourth wave, spurred on by the 2016 presidential election and its fallout.

This is a passion project that I am just beginning to outline and research. I know it is going to take several years and it won’t take the place of my fiction writing. I need something to work on when the characters aren’t talking, so this is my ongoing project.

Portraying Strong Women in Historical Fiction

She may not be a superhero, but there is more than one way for a woman to be strong. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

I was interviewed last week for a podcast and one of the points that came up was the importance of historical accuracy when portraying women in history. Then a few days ago, I came across this interview with historical fiction author Hilary Mantel where she urges novelists to stop re-writing history to falsely empower women.

I could not agree more. It DRIVES ME CRAZY when I see so-called “costume drama” where women are in period dress but everything they do or say is modern feminist. It happens in all sub-genres of historical fiction, but I’ve seen it most often in historical romance (I’m not picking on that sub-genre; just expressing my experience). So many of those women would at the very least have had the snot beat out of them if they really acted that way in their time, if not be jailed or killed for it. It’s only been in the last 40-50 years or that a woman dared speak against her husband in public in the US; in some parts of the world, a woman still doesn’t dare contradict her father, husband, brother, etc. You have to think about the norms of the day when planning action and reaction in historical fiction.

Yes, it bothers me when I read a historical fiction novel where the men are being all “God created man first and he was perfect. You were just pulled from his side, and therefore are inferior” but that was one of the real justifications for men to behave how they wanted for a long stretch of history (at least in the Judaeo-Christian world). I’ve been known to mutter, “you bastard,” when I read such attitudes, but I also appreciate the writer’s faithfulness to the views of the time. The same goes for books that show women being physically, emotionally and sexually abused and then turning around and defending the perpetrator, but I understand why they would and did. For so long women were totally dependent on the men in their lives that even if society wouldn’t have shunned them for fighting back or speaking out (and that’s a BIG “if”), they had no jobs, no shelter, no money without their father/husband/king, so they were stuck. It is at times like this when seeing the mental and emotional fortitude of a woman is more powerful than all the swords or sharp words about independence she could wield.

One of the main responsibilities of a historical fiction writer (I would argue third only to 1. telling a good story and 2. doing their research) is to accurately portray the worldview of the time. If women were expected to cover their heads and be subservient, that is the way you must portray them. You might show the subtle ways in which women were known to fight back, but make sure they are documented. For example, in some time periods and societies, learning to read or write was an act of rebellion that would have been done in utmost secrecy and at great risk to both teacher and student. That woman would not get up the following Sunday and lector in a church, nor was she likely to read her child a bedtime story. She would have to be hyper-vigilant that she never even hinted at having the ability to read, lest she accidentally betray herself. This is when the quiet courage comes in, when we might see people doing extraordinary things in spite of the restrictions of society, but not necessarily in an overt manner.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and telling those stories is great fun. In every time and place there are queens, noblewomen, leaders of religious orders, even everyday women who bucked the trend and spoke up for the myriad women in their societies who could not and their stories should be told. But it is important that the reader understand them for the anomalies that they were; I would argue that their uniqueness is part of the appeal of their stories. When you can find a historically strong woman, go for it – show her in all her outrageous glory! This is what I’ve been doing so far. Victoria Woodhull really was an outspoken, ankle-bearing, sometimes cross-dressing suffragist. There is another woman who was Victoria’s contemporary who demanded equality within her marriage and received it, even publicly (I may write about her in the future). Celtic women had the most rights of any culture in the ancient world, and so my Guinevere is very strong. However, if I was writing about a Roman or Greek woman, I would not have portrayed her in the same way, as those women were considered property of their nearest male relatives and had very little outward power.

Reaction to these outstanding women must be accurate. Just because it is en vogue now to be open about your views, that doesn’t mean it holds true in history. For example, not everyone liked it when Victoria gave her speeches. There was a fair amount of threat, protest and danger. She was lambasted in the papers and lost her reputation quickly, being called “Mrs. Satan,” among other colorful things. She certainly was not widely embraced, not by men or even other women in the suffrage movement. Think about the first women in medicine or science. Do you think men welcomed them into schools, hospitals and laboratories? Not so much. They were routinely harassed, abused, discredited and had their accomplishments usurped by men. It may be hard to read about but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.

As historical fiction writers we owe to everyone – the subjects of the past we’re writing about, our present readers, and future generations who may read us to learn – to portray history as it happened. As Mantel said, we shouldn’t rewrite history to make the victims the victors just because we want to write about strong women. But we can and should dig deep and find those untold stories where women dared to be different. For women constrained by their time/culture, we can peel back the layers and find the less obvious sources of mental, emotional and spiritual strength. I don’t know about you, but my grandmother had steel in her bones and ice in her veins when she needed to. That is the kind of strong woman who lived in every time period, no mater what her society dictated, and that is the woman whose story needs to be more often told.

What are your thoughts on how women are portrayed in historical fiction? What have you read that you’ve liked or disagreed with?

My Top 5 Biggest Pet Peeves in Books

*Rubs hands together in a maniacal manner* This week’s blog challenge is going to be fun. Anyone who knows me knows I have pet peeves about a lot of things, and given that I read 70-100 books a year, I have several that relate to books. Here are my top 5:

  1. “If I only knew…” – I don’t see this one as much as I used to, but it’s when the writer takes the easy lazy way out instead of actually working to put foreshadowing into their story. “If I’d only known then how wrong I was.” Really? Why don’t you try showing us both scenes and letting us, as readers who have brains, draw that conclusion? It’s just a sign that the writer either doesn’t know any other way to build suspense/a sense of dread or that he/she is too lazy to bother to put in the work. It immediately knocks at least one star off the final rating for me and raises my blood pressure. If it happens multiple times in a book, I’ll stop reading.
  2. Characters that are too stupid to live (TSTL) – Most common in romance and YA books, this is a thing that really should be allowed to die out. Please, please, please give your characters common sense. Even if they are vapid – some people just are – give them a sense of self-preservation. I mean, hasn’t everyone seen enough movies/TV by now to know not to reveal to the killer that you’re going to go to the police, especially before you do it? Sadly, the majority of TSTL characters I’ve encountered have been women. Really, we face enough discrimination without the help of this type of character. Usually the TSTL reveal happens because the author needs the character to do something, rather than it being something they would naturally do, so it hits a false note with readers. I think this is lazy character development. It’s fine in a first draft, but before the book is published, the author should take the time to go in and make the action make sense in the context of the world he/she has built.
  3. Second book syndrome – You know this one. It’s when a series, usually a trilogy, has a pretty much pointless second book that serves only as a bridge to the third book. I read one recently that could have been summed up in at most a chapter or two at the beginning of the next book. I won’t name it because I love the author and was shocked to see she’d produced such a waste of time book. “Lady of Avalon” is the classic example for me, which I will cite only because they author is dead. Both “The Forrest House” and “The Mists of Avalon” were fantastic. “Lady of Avalon” felt like an excuse to get the Forest House characters (or their descendants) to where she wanted them to be in Mists.
  4. Weak third books in trilogies – I say this as I’m working on the third book of my Guinevere trilogy, praying I don’t fall victim to this myself. It’s when the first two books in a trilogy are great and you can’t wait to read the last one, only to find yourself thinking “WTF? Did you just not know what to do with the book?” I think some of it can be blamed on the deadline pressures traditionally published authors are under, but some of it likely comes from a lack of clear vision/planning for the whole series. There are some cases in which traditionally published authors have contracts extended and are surprised by having to come up with material for another book, but that doesn’t explain most instances. Either way, there’s no call for a weak final book.
  5. Books that don’t seem to have a point –  There are whole books that I’ve read where I’ve finished it said, “And the point of this was…?” I feel like every story should at least impart to you an idea, an inkling of why the story was told or at least what story was being told. I have read several (sadly, most are literary fiction – it and I do not get along) where I couldn’t tell you what the story was about. It was just a bunch of talking. Or a series of visits between two people. What were they talking about? I have no idea. Nothing of consequence. Think of Waiting for Godot. I’d love someone to tell me what that play was about. Same idea.

*Steps down off of soapbox with a muttered prayer she is never guilty of any of these offenses*

What are your biggest pet peeves in books?

Camelot’s Queen Named Fiction Book of the Year!

Holy Hera! I woke up this morning to the news that Camelot’s Queen was named Fiction Book of the Year by Author’s Circle!

Plus, Been Searching for You was named a Novel of Excellence in the romance category. Whoa. (Imagine that in my best Joey Lawrence voice.)

The Author’s Circle awards are a division of Acorn Publishing. I found out about this contest when I saw a book advertised in the New York Times that had a finalist seal on it. I’m always interested in contests, so I looked it up. And the rest is history.

Holy hell! I am sooooo happy!

Been Searching for You is a Stiletto Finalist!

Yes, this is the official symbol of the Stiletto contest.

Been Searching for You is a finalist in the Stiletto contest, sponsored by the Contemporary Romance Writers chapter of RWA! Here’s the full finalist list. We’ll find out who the winners are at the RWA national conference in Orlando in July. So happy I will be there to attend the party and receive my award!

5 Favorite Movies Inspired by Books

So I’m a few days late with the weekly blog challenge post. Whoops.

Last week’s topic was Favorite Movies Inspired by Books. I had to think about this one for a while because the book really is usually better than the movie. But there are the rare occasions where the movie is better, or is at least good. These are five I like:

  1. The Adjustment Bureau – This is hands down one of my favorite movies of all time! I liked it so much, I wanted more, which is how I found it is loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick story called “The Adjustment Team.” If I ever did the Kindle Worlds thing were I wrote in someone else’s copyrighted world, this would be on the top of my list (the movie world, not the short story)! I loved the intersection of reality and spirituality in this movie, the tug between free will and fate/God’s plan. I’ve had plenty of experiences in life that feel like “someone” has intervened, so I can totally relate to this storyline. Plus, Emily Blunt. She’s one of my favorite actresses.
  2. Queen of the Damned – Maybe it’s because Lestat is my ideal fantasy man in this movie – a rockstar vampire – or maybe it’s because he ends up with a pretty redhead, but damn do I like the movie better than the book! The two are really so different that they may as well be unrelated stories. The heroine of the movie, Jessie, is actually only in the book for like two seconds and then she dies. So that makes the movie seem like fan fiction if you compare the storylines. But I can never see that movie enough.
  3. The Haunting (1999) – I feel like such a bad fangirl admitting I’ve never read the source material by Shirley Jackson (whose writing I love) for this movie. But I have seen the original movie, which is actually much, much better. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the overly CGI’ed 1999 version because I stayed in the castle it was filmed in (Harlaxton Manor, in Grantham, England – which is also where Alex in Been Searching for You gets his last name) about a month after they filmed. They still had set pieces and the security guard told us all about the filming. I was obsessed with Catherine Zeta Jones at the time, so I was in heaven. We even got to take home a set souvenir. I have a wardrobe tag that says “photo double – Nell” with the woman’s name (I’ve checked the credits; it’s legit) and my friend got the padlock they used to chain the gates shut, which features very prominently in a few shots of the film. I really think the movie could have been great had they not felt the need to show you the ghost at the end. Up until then, the movie scared the crap out of me. Oh – and Harlaxton really IS haunted. We didn’t know it until after we were there, but several of us had experiences. BTW – if you like The Haunting, be sure to check out Scary Movie 2, which is a spoof of it (and oddly enough, Kathleen Robertson, my ideal Mia from Been Searching for You, plays the Catherine Zeta Jones role in this movie – this is where I got the inspiration for how Mia physically looks). Another one of my favorite movies!
  4. PS I Love You – I admit, I’ve never read the book, and I’ve been told not to, since I am in love with the movie. It’s got all the essential elements of an amazing love story to me. I mean, how can you not love a guy who cared enough to help his widow grieve his own death and eventually move on with her life? Subconsciously, I think this was a bit of inspiration for Annabeth’s letters in Been Searching for You. And he’s played by Gerard Butler. Yummy!
  5. The Princess Bride – I HATED the book, but the movie is one of my favorites. I can pretty much recite it from beginning to end. What did I not like about the book? Well, without giving anything away, it’s much more gritty and realistic than the fairy tale nature of the movie. It also has a “Lady or the Tiger” type ending which leaves the Happily Ever After (HEA) open to interpretation. No, no, no, and no! Wesley and Buttercup live HEA and that is all there is to it! No ruining my childhood romantic fantasies with your intellectualism, William Goldman!

What are some of your favorite movies that are based on books? Have you seen any of the ones I listed? What do you think of them?


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