Thursday, May 26, 2011


I've already written Mady's story in draft form and though I'm not sure how much of that will remain the same, her general arc and the events of her life are basically set.

Madeline is the Miles's second daughter. She's born in late 1794 on a plantation in Barbados. Her mother is Delphine (which is a French name--maybe mama was partially from St. Domingue, which later became Haiti?). She's a free black woman and though I haven't read of any specific laws at the time stating that white British men couldn't marry free black women (there weren't any such laws in England itself, ever), it couldn't have been easy for Delphine, Miles and their little family unit. Mady is very close to her older sister Alex. I'm not sure when they realized that they could not have been born to the same mother or, later, when they realize how different they are in society's eyes, but as they have a strong fabric between them, it's not anything that affects their relationship.

Madeline is shy but sociable. She's very ladylike and enjoys a pretty dress, but she's also quite inherently maternal. As they grow into adulthood, it is Mady who is always reminding the more intense Alex to eat properly, to do her hair up, and to dress for the occasion.

As children, Mady and Alex share a bedroom and they have secret worlds that they have built up between them. Mady is a voracious reader (she particularly enjoys Sense and Sensibility).

Then Miles dies, sending the household into mourning and chaos. When business and money troubles crop up, Mady tries to educate herself on the matter. She inherits some of Miles's self sufficiency in that way, but Mady is more traditional than her father. She has begun to think about marriage at this stage. She's an heiress; does she need to marry? Who will she marry? What kind of man will have her?

That's when she meets Henry, who is a half Indian, half English shipbuilder. And trouble and romance ensue. At the same time, Mady becomes involved in an emancipation society and helps found a ladies' emancipation society. She becomes more of a rebel as she grows older, but even then, she's quite subtle about it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Characters That Won't Go Away

I've mentioned my various characters on this blog in passing, as if they were real and you all knew them. (I mean, they are real. To me anyway. Most of the time.) And I mentioned that the Keegan family won't let me go without writing down their stories. It's ridiculous. I was watching Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time and do you know what? I was sitting there thinking, "Hmm. Alex would totally walk into the village instead of riding, just like Lizzy..."

I've never done a full bio of a character or a psychological analysis of a character in a blog because my characters tend to develop as I write the first draft and most of the stories I've written here have not progressed past the first draft. I guess Keegan Family Version 2.0 is, technically, a revision of some kind and at this point, I think the characters might become more nuanced but they won't really change much. And I want to avoid writing another, ahem, "textbook," so by all means, if you read something that feels cliche or too pat, please point it out!

So let's start with Miles Keegan, father of Alexandra and Madeline, whose story this incarnation seems to be shaping up to be about. Note: this is all backstory.

Miles Edward James Keegan is the fourth son of the Viscount Halbridge, which means that Miles is born into the aristocracy, but has no chance of inheriting the title or the property. Because he's the son of a viscount, he's properly and formally titled as The Honorable Miles Keegan.

His family, by the way, are Irish originally. They got the title about ninety years before Miles's birth because an ancestor gave away some important positions during a battle campaign in Ireland, went to the English king's side, got a title, but the ancestor was deemed a traitor to the Irish and now that ancestor's name lives on in ballads about Irish traitors. Not important at all, but I like the idea of Alex saying to her future husband, who is Irish, "My ancestor is that blackguard Keegan in those ballads."

Miles is born in 1769. He is sent away to boarding school at 12, but is very rebellious, so his father sends him packing to the navy at age 13. This, by the way, was actually quite common at the time. At any rate, Miles gets to travel all over the world, which suits his rebellious nature, but he must take orders, which disciplines him. He loves the ocean and the freedom it brings. He mixes with a varied crowd of men, since the Navy was a social mix and drops him everywhere, and I suspect that this is where Miles begins to lose any social snobbery he may have had as a son of the nobility and becomes quite egalitarian. It certainly gives him self-sufficiency and social ease. He's a charming guy anyway.

At 19, Miles finds himself in Boston with a load of prize money. He decides to leave the Navy, but is unsure of much else. He becomes friends with a local young businessman named Nicholas and the two decide to band together and form a shipping company. It's 1788, the U.S. is brand new and still piecing together The Constitution, and it's not long before Miles and Nicholas are doing well, transporting cotton, rice, tobacco, cloth, and whatever else in their ships up and down the Eastern seaboard. They earn more money, start shipping to England. But they have their eye on the West Indies, because at the time, that was the cash cow.

Like a lot of families, Miles's family has a plantation in the West Indies, which they have never seen. Miles proposes to dear old papa that he ship the plantation's sugar cane on the company ships, thus saving the plantation transportation costs and giving Miles a cut of the profits. I guess it works out, because Miles and Nicholas become bloody rich but they are also faced early on in the West Indies with a moral dilemma. Should they also be involved in the slave trade or not? They don't transport slaves on their ships, but Miles has slaves on the plantation and they ship slave-grown products, so they're complicit in the whole institution anyhow.

On his few visits to the plantation, Miles meets a freed black merchant's daughter, Delphine. In Boston, Miles has a mistress. The West Indies end of their business is too lucrative to be left to managers, so in the 1790s, Miles moves to Barbados. He breaks things off with his Bostonian mistress and lands on Barbados. He's not like the other plantation owners because (a) he works for a living, (b) he's in a way, trying to gain dear papa's approval, (c) he doesn't entirely approve of slavery. Plus, he has a damnable crush on Delphine. They marry at the end of 1793. She gets pregnant quickly. Nicholas writes to tell Miles that his former mistress has given birth and abandoned the baby, a girl, in January 1794.

Miles and Delphine sail up to Boston, where little Alexandra is a few months old. Nicholas has been referring to the baby as Alexandra, after his own mother, so Miles adds Hannah, his mother's name, and gives the baby his last name. He owns up to the responsibility of a daughter, despite the illegitimacy issue, and completely intends to raise her. By September 1794, they're back in Barbados and Delphine has Madeline. Rather suddenly, he's the father of two daughters.

Delphine dies in 1799. By then, Miles is incredibly rich. The world is embroiled in containing Revolutionary France and the West Indies are no longer paradise. There are a few naval battles fought in the area during this time and a couple of slave revolts and I think that Miles finally realizes how much he doesn't fit into this plantation owner's lifestyle. He's too restless and active for that sort of thing, he finds slavery sickening, and he misses England, so he packs up his daughters and off they go.

Back in England, Miles buys a country estate. He is wealthy, but still runs his business and is an attentive father to both daughters. Miles forges his own path, so he gets over that need for papa's approval, or that early greediness of "money, money, money." It's hinted later on that Miles read radical tracts about the American Revolution and even approved of the French Revolution before they started killing everyone, so he's pretty radical politically. He scorns certain customs of the wealthy. For example, his daughters are not formally presented to the Court for their debut. He finds most of the aristos boring.

He's also detail oriented (or is he making up for what must have been a cold and distant childhood?). Before he sails away from England for the last time, Miles updates his will. He reaffirms that Alexandra is his eldest child and the amount of her inheritance. Because, being illegitimate, Alexandra would not have gained anything from Miles's estate unless he specifically willed something to her.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A succinct answer

I've been harping on about this to my non-romance-reading friends, but here's a quick explanation an author gave to a relative who doesn't read romance:

Like I've said, the parameters feel a little tight to me at the moment, with my particular characters. It's because the focus so has to be on one thing and...well, as you may have read, I tend to wander in my focus while writing anything longer than 7 pages. Le sigh.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Interesting Post

I know that I've certainly read a ton of blogs about the divide between romance novels and the fantasy involved in them and the (usually) more nitty-gritty historical fiction.

I don't know. I guess I'm just in a more "realistic yet light" sort of mood, as least in literary terms.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Defining Historical Fiction: Historical Romance

Romance, as a genre, has a wide variety of categories: mystery, paranormal, contemporary, historical, erotic, courtship, blah blah blah. The book's focus is on the hero and heroine. They tend to be very dramatic and melodramatic. Sometimes there's an outer villain preventing the couple from getting together. Sometimes it's just society.

I've read far too many of these books, so I'm just going with a favorite few.

Sherry Thomas' Not Quite a Husband features a lady doctor and her mathematician-wiz husband, who were married, annulled their marriage because of the Deep Dark Secret, and now find themselves in a remote spot in India, struggling with each other and their surroundings. It takes place in 1897, there's a rebellion against the colonially repressive English, and a battle. But because it's romance, the romance, both past and present, is at the forefront. Everything in the plot serves to highlight the characters and how they should be together. I felt that this one was different from others I'd read because the woman was the relationship- and commitment-phobic one and the guy was surprisingly...not a manwhore.

To Rescue a Rogue by Jo Beverley was the last book in a very long series. So, there were past couples from the other books showing up, there was an established and specific time setting and the plot was carried over from the what male lead had experienced in past books in the series. Now he was getting his own story. This one was pretty dark for a romance novel, only because the hero was dealing some serious issues. But I found the end and the love story satisfying.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase has been rated at the top of many a "Best Romance" list. It takes place in the 1820s. The hero is a half-Italian, half-English marquess with a dramatic personality and quite the reputation. The heroine is a no-nonsense young woman, almost "on the shelf." She doesn't try to change him, only to understand him, and the situations they end up in are more the realistic end of the spectrum.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Voices in my migraine-prone head

So in between dizziness and migraine problems (which, thankfully, are resolved as just migraines and not anything scary--I even have my MRI on a CD, should I wish to stare at my brain), I couldn't stare at a computer for an extended period of time.

So while there was reading of books going down, not so on the writing end. I felt sort of confused, writing Iggy, not being sure where it was going, if I was doing the time period and the setting and the importance of what I saw as the theme justice. Then I decided to try my hand at finally writing a complete story for the pesky Keegan family. They've never quite left the back of my mind and I wanted to reframe their story into something historically-frothy-light-adventure-romance...ish. It would let me tell their story from a few different perspectives, get more in there besides a romance in fancy clothes.

I wanted to start with Mady, since I've already written her story. Then I couldn't look at the dang computer for more than an hour or two at a time for a few weeks and somehow, I wondered about actually writing the backstory as a book on its own. Miles, the father, when he was younger, experiencing his growing business, his moral dilemma with slavery, his wife, his two daughters.

I started it. Then the migraines came back. Then thinking about the research I needed to make Boston in the 1790s and Barbados in the 1790s plausible made me nervous.

I got a book called Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Literally, everything from the locations she was writing about, to the social customs of the time, the social hierarchy, clothes, marriage, religion. I knew a fair bit of this stuff, from reading Regency-set romance novels, but it's great to have a source with all of it. Plus, it has maps and pictures! Yay!

So I'm back to writing about Mady, but from her childhood when the family moves to England at first. Let's see how this goes.

My head does not work properly if I'm not writing something at all times, apparently. When the dizziness disappeared, I was feeling confused, trying to decide which idea to go with and not knowing which one. Felt like white noise in my brain with all these dang characters talking to me at the same time.

Defining Historical Fiction: Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is the ultimate "what if?" question, taken to extremes. It feels like fanfiction, in spirit, because the author takes an event or a place or a historical figure (usually) and then twists their story around a bit.

For example: Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper is a book that hinges on a tiny signature in an old marriage register in Warwickshire, England. William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. Their marriage is recorded in a church. But strangely, in another church in a nearby town, the day before Shakespeare married Anne, there's a record of a marriage license or a wedding intended to take place between William Shakespeare and Anne Whateley. We know that he married Anne Hathaway, but who the hell was Anne Whateley? That's the question that Karen Harper attempts to answer. Nobody knows who Anne Whateley was, so her character and storyline are basically all fictional, but it's fitted in between the knowledge we have about what William Shakespeare was doing.

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory is another of what I would call speculative. It's about Katherine of Aragon when she was married to Henry VIII's brother Arthur. We know that much later on, when Henry was trying to annul their marriage, that he questioned whether Katherine and Arthur had consummated their marriage. Katherine swore that she was a virgin. In this book, though, Katherine and Arthur get busy before he dies and when she marries Henry years later, Katherine decides to keep quiet about it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Defining Historical Fiction: Fictional Biographies

Fictional biographies can also be epic in scope, of course, but they're notable for their accuracy in depicting historical figures. Sometimes, of course, they can be twisted in time period or in sequence of events, for a better literary effect. Some can tell the entire story of a person's life, while some focus on a segment of it. Events may sometimes be made up, if there is nothing there in the historical record. Motivations must be decided on by the author, if there are no surviving letters, for example. Sometimes they can cross into speculative fiction--I'll cover that on the next post.

I have a trove of fictional biographies. They combine action, romance, drama and the supernatural, but with the advantage that the bulk of the plot actually happened to someone. So you're guaranteed a degree of psychological closeness to the main subject and authenticity.

Lady Macbeth, for instance, is a fictional biography of Macbeth's queen. Instead of writing about the Lady Macbeth that Shakespeare created, the author wrote about the real Lady Macbeth--Gruoch ingean Bodhe mac Cinneadh, who lived and died in the eleventh century in Scotland, when it was still ruled under the Celtic system. She was the daughter of a minor prince, married the King of Moray, and became pregnant. Her husband was killed and she was forced to marry Macbeth, who claimed the kingship of Moray. Together, of course, they became the King and Queen of Scots.

Naturally, though, there are few records from that time. It's not like Lady Macbeth kept a diary. The author had to piece together the major events in Scottish history, research from Macbeth's reign, and the events of Lady Macbeth's life itself, along with research into Celtic culture and then piece them together.

A prime example of fictional biography is The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick. I only learned about this book because Chadwick was interviewed on a blog that I follow. It's about William Marshal, covering his life from his teens to his forties, roughly, and his incredible journey from minor house knight of a French lord to being the Earl of Pembroke and marrying the richest heiress in the kingdom of England at the time. Chadwick followed this book with a sequel, which covers the second half of William Marshal's life. I felt that I got to know William, his struggles, his faith, and the medieval times he lived in, though it's not really a time period I know a heck of a lot about. What I loved in particular was that the characters felt so real and that they were truly people of their times.

In this case, after William's death in 1219, his sons commissioned a poem of his life, which runs from his birth, being a hostage during the Anarchy, his years as a knight, his marriage, earldom, and eventually, the Regency of England after King John's death.

Grania by Morgan Llewellyn is about the Irish pirate queen, Grace O'Malley, who famously ruled a fleet of ships from her island home on the west coast of Ireland, pissing off the Tudor English lords who were trying to bring Ireland further under Elizabeth I's control. There aren't that many written records of Grania, beyond the basics, but when she was older, she traveled to London to meet with Elizabeth I, to request that Richard Bingham be removed from Ireland and that her sons were released from captivity. I love this book, but there are invented characters and motivations and certain scenes are certainly made up. But still, all of it adds some spice. After all, it's fiction, not non-fiction.

I suppose I'd put Philippa Gregory's books in this category as well, at least The Other Boleyn Girl. Her Tudor books are about the women in the Tudor court and this and Boleyn Inheritance, at least, both tell us the stories of several women whose stories had never really been written down before. In the first, it's Mary Boleyn. In the latter, it's Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Parker Boleyn. Of course, there's a heavy dose of speculation in these books and while I think the smooth path toward the characters' inevitable fates were well-done, the last time I re-read these, the dialogue irritated the crap out of me. And I'm not sure that I felt all that well-connected to the subjects and what they were going through.

Next up, speculative historical fiction.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Defining Historical Fiction: The Epics

One, there's a new layout on the blog--I was getting bored with the old one. So, tags first, then everything else as you scroll downwards. I think the page looks cleaner and I love the background image.

Now, a couple of posts ago, I mentioned that the project previously known as the romance novel was taking more of a historical fiction lite sort of direction. I'm trying to identify the differences between the different degrees of historical fiction for myself. Of course, all of them have to take place in the past, usually incorporating some sort of major historical event or perhaps even historical people as characters. Sometimes the characters take part in the historical events (wars, usually), sometimes the particular parameters of that time (religion, socioeconomic factors, culture) are integral to the storyline or the characters and sometimes the "real stuff" is merely background to a clever story.

The Epics
I think that "epic" can be highly subjective. But I suppose I really mean gigantic books like Gone With The Wind or The Pillars of the Earth or World Without End or An Infamous Army. All of these cover many decades. They all chronicle a time of war; in the case of World Without End, it also chronicles the Black Death. They have huge casts of characters, some real (King Stephen, Maude, Thomas Becket, Wellington). They all at least mention real people (Edward III, Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, Stonewall Jackson, Colonel DeLancey, Napoleon).

The scopes of these books are huge. All of them endeavor to show us the broad-range effects of a major historical period: The Anarchy, the Black Death, the American Civil War, the days leading up to Waterloo. They show us the effects of the time on every strata of society and through the broad sweep of the story, we can see how a war, for instance, or a pandemic springs us onto the next thing, the societal reaction. Yet, despite that, they manage to feel intimate with the characters' particular experiences.

Most epics, I find, are meticulously researched. They feel authentic when read. There's a gravitas to them because they often deal with weighty events and the tone is usually serious.

For me, An Infamous Army is a little lighter in tone than the other three I mentioned. There's a romance that's the focus of the book, but the battle of Waterloo is given a huge amount of space and there are characters that die during the battle sequences. Despite the lightness, it's still meticulously researched and long and the scope and detail is huge.