Monday, April 28, 2014

End of Part One

I finished what I'm calling "part one" of my fourth draft today. When I wrote the outline, I broke the story up into parts to aid me in seeing how the story's structure worked--since I have issues with constructing plots. The actual book won't be broken up into parts, though.

Still, Part One this time around is largely new stuff. And to make this new stuff good and write it and develop it as deeply as I've developed and written the bits that come later took a while.

Part One stats:

Eleven chapters
73 pages
20,005 words

The first line of Part One (and thus of the entire book) is for now:
Miles Keegan sat upon the dappled grey gelding, watching one of the slaves hold a large, flaming torch high.

The last line of Part One is:
After a moment, Miss Mady's head dropped onto Pearl's shoulder and the girl's warm tears sopped Pearl's coarse dress. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

My First Historical Romance(s)

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite blogs--the first blog I really followed--had a post about the authors' first time reading historical romance. You can read the post on Word Wenches here. I've read several of the authors who blog on Word Wenches, particularly Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, and I've been introduced to other writers and books on the blog that I've subsequently gone on to read and follow.

My first historical romance novel; I was about 12 or 13 and we had my grandmother's books in our house--after she died, the books in her house were transported into a closet we had downstairs in our old house--and out of this magical closet, I found books like Nicholas and AlexandraA Night to Remember and Joy in the Morning.

I also found a book called The Taming by Aleen Malcolm.

I haven't picked up The Taming in years--more than fifteen years now--but I still have it on my shelf in commemoration of its being my first historical romance. If I recall correctly, The Taming took place in Scotland after Culloden, with the Scottish defeated and overrun by the English. There's a guy, who is Scottish but sort of assimilates into English culture and somehow, he runs into this totally wild girl (and she was a girl--about 14 or 15 years old) named Cameron. Anyway, there was a lot that is troublesome about this book--namely the age difference (she's what we would call a minor, while he was an adult); also, I think he had a mistress (which is a big no-no these days in historical romance). Also, I seem to remember there was spanking-as-physical-punishment and the old romance novel bodice-ripper trope of "I rape because I love."

At 13, I wasn't particularly discriminating as a reader.

But the first Regency historical romance I ever read--and anyone who reads this blog knows I have a thing for Regency historical--was The Rake by Mary Jo Putney. I was 15, the book was a birthday gift from a friend, and after I glommed through it, I immediately went to the bookstore near our apartment and bought another Mary Jo Putney book.

Here's the back cover summary:

The Rake

It was predicted that Reginald Davenport, disinherited and disgraced, would come to a violent end. But fate has given him one final chance to redeem himself, by taking his place as the rightful master of Strickland, his lost ancestral estate. Davenport knows his way around women—yet nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with Lady Alys Weston. 
The Reformer
Masquerading as a man, in order to obtain a position as estate manager of Strickland, Alys fled a world filled with mistrust and betrayal. She's finished with men—yet how could she have predicted that Strickland's restored owner would awaken a passion more powerful than anything she had ever known? A passion that will doom or save them both...if only they can overcome their pasts and dare to believe in the wondrous power of love.

Here's what got me hooked on this book and the Regency era in romance novels as a whole, thus leading me in a circuitous way to my current WIP, which was originally supposed to be a Regency historical romance:

-The characters. Alys is a strong, but vulnerable woman, who works for a living and is very capable. Reggie is an alcoholic, but he's also funny and charming.
-Setting. There are background things about industry being brought to the area, shades of the Industrial Revolution.
-The formality of the era. I liked it. There were references to titles, estates and whatnot that I wouldn't quite understand until I'd read several more Regency-era novels, but I liked the characters and their conflicts and feelings--and how the times they lived in colored their personalities and dilemmas.

Later, I learned that The Rake is considered a bit of a classic in Regency historical romance, particularly in that the male lead is an alcoholic and the female lead has a respectable profession. There was a real story and it went pretty deep for the genre psychologically. Also, there was no rapey nonsense going on.

After The Rake, I read Mary Jo Putney's Victorian-set Silk trilogy, then her Fallen Angels books, then Jo Beverley's Rogues series...and down the rabbit hole I fell.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Mind Movie & Vivid Characters

I read a Downton fic ages ago--I enjoyed it because it focused on two of my favorite characters from the show--but then the writing style got on my nerves a bit because there would be a great emotional or funny scene and then, the characters would transition to the next scene. And usually, the transition was something mundane like, "She folded his shirts, took two of his ties, and a pair of shoes, and added them to the suitcase..."

Guess what was my problem here.


There were suddenly paragraphs of--flurries of--movement that, while explaining a lot about where the dishes went, didn't do anything story-wise or character-wise.

And then it hit me because this is something my beta reader mentioned a lot of while she suffered through draft three of my book.

"I don't need to see every single movement!"

For me, part of my compulsion in early drafts to describe every little movement and facial expression of my characters boils down to taking "show, don't tell" too far and because of the mind movie. That is, in the early stages of writing, I have these wonderful scenes play out in my mind. They're usually the more important scenes of the story, but they play out as if they were film clips and I used to describe those scenes in my writing.

Always, there was a loss in translation. Because when I'm watching it, I see people moving, fiddling with things, their facial expressions. I hear what they're saying, but not necessarily the meaning behind their words.

None of the movement, what the character is doing with their mouth or nose, or the smalltalk is necessary. The meaning is necessary. The conflict is necessary. Describing the scene like you're an outsider does not, for me, work in actually writing the scene.

So try not to do that, okay?

Instead, I'm finding that being in my characters' mindsets is the better way to filter a scene in. This should be obvious and it is, but old habits are hard to break.

As for vivid characters----some of those mind movie scenes made my characters seriously come alive. Must try to infuse that vivid sense into their mindsets. This means trying to figure how they see the world, right?

So, here following are brief statements from my main characters:

Alexandra: "I like to climb things. Mama says I shouldn't do it because it's not ladylike." *rolls eyes*

Madeline: "Horses are very big and they have big teeth and they're scary...but I like the horses at Astley's! The rider leaned off of the horse to grab a handkerchief from the ground! How amazing!"

Pearl: "England is a strange place---cold, gray, rainy--and the people are certainly different from Barbados. I'm not at all sure I can find Julius here, but I must try. They say slaves can't be kept on English soil. I'm saving the wages Mr. Keegan pays me now. I get wages now!"

Miles: "What do you mean you find me boring sometimes? Didn't you create me?"

Me: "Well, yes, I did. But I find you the hardest in terms of getting into your mind sometimes. You're a bit more closed-off than your daughters."

Miles: *sneers*

Me: "Must be an English thing, huh?"

Miles: "I want to continue this conversation, Dear Writer Girl, but I must be off. I have an estate to see to. Even though I thought I communicated to you that I didn't want an estate at all." *pulls on long riding boots* ""Also, was it necessary to give me such a tangled romantic history in the past? Borders on melodrama!" *looks at me closely* "Are you American?"

Me: "Yes."

Miles: "Hmm. I like Americans. Well, good day."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Real Life Inspirations: Dido Belle

My historical fiction is not about real people; that is, I'm not telling the story of a famous, infamous, or obscure historical figures, much as I love novels like that. Still, as I've gone through this long process of a serious attempt at historical fiction, I've read about some really interesting figures. I thought I'd share a little about them.

This woman is the inspiration behind Madeline Keegan, Miles's half black daughter.

I started writing the story and it was fun and all, but I felt like I wasn't getting certain crucial details right. I mean, I hadn't read about any biracial, upper middle class or upper class ladies of the time at all and although this is fiction, I began to wonder if I was being plausible. All the examples I'd read were about ex-slaves--almost always male--who married poor white girls and then had mixed children. Were there any black ladies of reasonable wealth in England at the time? Of a certain social class? How were they treated?
Dido Belle and her cousin, Elizabeth Murray

Dido Belle came into my life at this time.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Chain

Well, it's my turn on the The Writing Process Blog Chain today. Thanks to Ruth Hull Chatlien for tagging me in this. Do pick up her novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. It's an amazing read about a very strong woman in an interesting time period.

1) What am I working on?

In order of priority: my novel, currently titled The Sailor's Daughters (which, you know, is so different from other historical fiction titles with an occupation and "sister" or "daughter" or "wife" added). I'm in the middle of the fourth draft of this story. Hopefully, four will be the charm. It's the first historical fiction novel I've seriously tried to write, so it's been a learning experience, to say the least.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmm. Well. Historical fiction is a pretty wide genre--wide in terms of historical era, level of historical detail, whether or not an author is writing about a historical figure or fictional characters, or particular incident. There's historical romance, historical mystery, historical thrillers, etc.

My characters are fictional. They don't interact with historic figures. The era they exist in is the Georgian Era, basically Jane Austen's time, which has certainly been covered in movies and books for ages. But what makes this different is the subject matter--it deals with race and slavery, being sisters, learning how to be a good father, but it's mostly about being mixed race in a time and in a society where nobody looks like you. One of the daughters of the main character is half black and half white.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Who knows? Usually it's because I'm drawn to a character and I want to write them. Or I get an itchy "what if?" thought and I go write that.

I spent my adolescence reading mostly historical romance, historical fiction, and history--I went through a Romanov phase and a Tudors phase. Social studies was consistently my favorite and my best class in school, even more so than English. My dad, a history buff, and I have spent a lot of time watching history documentaries over the years and I'm a self-confessed costume drama addict.

But it started to bother me that there were no people of color, no people of other socioeconomic classes, or of other religions, depicted in what I was reading. I can't point to most historically-set novels and go, "That would be me in those days."

I wondered about what life would have been like for a biracial person in England in the nineteenth century. I haven't read very many biracial characters in historical fiction at all. But mixed people existed--and have existed--and being biracial myself, it's important to portray them within the context of whatever era I've plopped them down in.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said:

4) How does my writing process work?

The character comes first. I let them percolate for a while, then something--the plot, backstory, their issues--start developing. I used to be a panster and just dive right in to a first draft. These days, I actually outline. I'll let you know if it works for me or not.

My first draft is always, always shitty. Always. Without fail. I'm not a natural plotter. Characters and their backstories come much more easily to me than actual plots.

As for the actual writing, for the early stages, I go by the NaNoWriMo philosophy of just getting it down. I write in sequence. I can't write with people around me, so I type on my laptop in my room, usually at night. I'm a slow writer and a master of distracting myself with the Interwebs, so if I want to get some serious word count down, I turn off the Internet. When I finish a draft, I edit, then either send it to a beta or let it sit for a few weeks before going back to it. I haven't gotten to a point where I felt a piece was finished enough to submit anywhere, except a couple of contests. But hopefully soon!

I was supposed to pass this chain along to three other writers, but things fell through, so I'm passing it on to one. Look for her post next Monday!

Karla Gomez graduated with a B.A. in Literature and Writing. She obtained an internship with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and shortly thereafter started working at law offices and as a freelance developmental editor for a boutique publishing house. She is currently working on her WIP which she hopes to self-pub later this year.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Of Math

The scene I'm writing now, in my new Chapter Seven, has Miles speaking to his brother-in-law Henry. They're in the back office of Miles's shipping company's place, where Henry has been acting manager for several weeks. Miles has an enemy who sleuthed out something about Miles and his wife Adele and then proceeded to tell everyone he saw about what he found out. Henry has told Miles that a few of their clients are pulling their sugar to other merchants. Miles is trying to calculate how much of a loss that means for the company and he's trying to judge whether this is the start of a trend.

So Miles sits in a chair and he is calculating.

I got a few measurements out of a research book. Basically, sugar was usually packed and measured by hogshead. A hogshead was equal to 4 barrels or six hundred pounds. A short hundredweight was a hundred pounds (incidentally, a long hundredweight was a 112 pounds. Huh? Gotta love non-standard measurements...)

I'm digging, trying to figure out how much this sugar may have sold for. Prices seem to vary based on the year, the season, and the port.

In the meantime, somewhere in the text of the third draft, I said that Miles has an income of 7,000 pounds a year.

Anyone who has read Jane Austen knows that Mr. Darcy's income is 10,000 a year. According to this essay, 10,000 a year is something like 300 times the per capita income of his day. In 1800, a farmer or laborer earned about 15 to 20 pounds a year. 

10,000 pounds was about average for a member of the Greater Landed Gentry, whose incomes range from 5,000 to 50,000 a year. I might lower Miles down to about 5,000 a year. He could still afford a modest estate and horses and carriage on that income. Plus, he isn't being supported by his father's estate, so to say that he's earned enough in just six or seven years to have 5,000 a year...

Of course the question is, why bother with all this math stuff? It's true, I don't like math. I've never been good at it. I don't understand it. I could gloss over it. In draft 3, I only mention Miles's income once.

I kind of like it when historical novels mention money though, as archaic as the form may be. In Elizabeth Chadwick's medieval books, gold and silver coins and florins are mentioned. I don't necessarily know what that means or how much it would be today, but it gives a historical novel reality and grounds it.

And because of Austen, anyone reading a halfway decent Regency historical romance knows that *wink, wink* her twenty thousand a year is very, very good to the fortune hunter who is after her, for example.

Edited to add: a table in that same research book showed me sugar sales in Bristol, England, differentiated by colony, by shillings per hundredweight. Yay! :-)

Now I need to figure out how many pounds 83 shillings equaled because this is way before decimalization.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Favorite Characters that I Wrote

Last year, my blogging friend Krystal wrote a post about 16 Favorite Characters that she'd written. I remember thinking at the time that I wasn't sure I could name even 5 of my past and present imaginary friends because the contemporary crowd of characters sort of blends together and I didn't even finish several of my stories.

But, actually, thinking about it carefully---ranging from stuff I wrote in my teens until now--I totally have my favorite characters. So here they are, with my current favorite character at #1.

10. Lady Rossmore
Lady Rossmore was a very minor character in a past draft or two of the WIP. She appeared for like three scenes, but boy, did she leave an impression. Lady Rossmore has a very snobbish, aristocratic exterior, which hides her financial desperation--Lady Rossmore is an impoverished aristocratic widow with five children, not enough cash for a countess, and very aware of her rank. Lady R had no purpose in the novel, so I cut her after draft two, but I've saved her passages because she has potential.

9. Hikari McKinney
Hikari is the little sister of Lennon McKinney of Book the First. Hikari is about twelve, much younger than Len, and while Len goes off on her journey of discovery, Hikari pops in and out of the story through her sister's anecdotes and her phone calls as a typical preteen--wondering about boys, hanging out with her friends, complaining about being bored, and watching way too much TV. Len is pretty angsty; Hikari is totally chill. 

8. Colin Shelton
Colin is the male protagonist of the NaNo 2013 project. He's serious about his work (he's a theater actor), but light-hearted; he's lonely, but personable; he sees Emma frowning in the audience of one of his shows and can't stop thinking about her. Colin is a sweetheart and is completely bowled over when he finds out that Emma wrote and had a novel published when she was 16. "You would've never even given me the time of day if we went to high school together," he tells her.

7. Jade Preston
Jade Preston is the on-again, off-again girlfriend of Brixton Davis in Last Request. One night, she's in a car which hits and sends Eva Fontaine into a coma--unbeknownst to Jade. Eva is Brix's best friend and the mother of his child. Jade wakes up in Eva'a comatose body while Eva wakes up in Jade's body. Unlike Eva, who is a pretty damaged character, Jade is snarky, angry, hates Eva, and heartbroken, knowing that Brix loves Eva. I didn't like Jade much at the time I was writing her and even thought of her as the antagonist. The last time I read Last Request, I found myself liking her because she's trapped in a body, unable to move, but changes by the end nonetheless.

6. Ignatius "Iggy" FitzClement
Iggy is the protagonist of the 2010 NaNo project. He's the son of a monk and a nun, raised as an orphan in an English monastery before the Reformation. I never finished his story, but I found him to be an adventurous, cheerful, if psychologically messed-up, young man who isn't sure where his religious beliefs lie as Henry VIII dismantles the Catholic Church and takes away its land.

5. Orlando Bloom
Yes, I know, he exists in real life and therefore, I cannot claim that I created him. However, I wrote so much fanfiction where he was a character in my teens that I claim my fictional "Orlando Bloom" as a character, okay? He probably didn't have much of a personality or anything beyond being the flavor of the month, but he was fun to write. So much fun that I wrote, like, 87 epilogues.

4. Emma "Em" Foster
Emma is the heroine of the 2013 NaNo project. Anxiety-ridden, writer's blocked, and exasperated by her political family and by people who can't turn off their damn cell phones in a Broadway theater, Emma fights her panic attacks and neuroticism at her job as a waitress at a diner and surprises herself by interacting with a minimum of social awkwardness with Colin Shelton. Emma is an autobiographical character in many ways, but we're different enough that I can say I gave birth to her. 

3. Alexandra "Alex" Keegan
From the minute I started writing her, Alex Keegan has shown her energetic, active hoyden personality. The oldest daughter of Miles Keegan, Alex is his child by a former mistress. She likes to climb things, ride ponies, wants to be a sailor, and doesn't understand why she has to be "ladylike." She's very close to her slightly younger sister Mady and does most of the speaking for the pair.

2. Ailey Espinosa
Ailey is Emma's best friend and roommate in the 2013 NaNo project. Ailey doesn't have a storyline of her own, but I know that she's a makeup artist, who also works a part time job at Sephora to pay the bills. She's intelligent, perceptive, funny, and she's a happy person who is a great listener and support to Emma. Basically the bestest friend you could ever want.

1. Pearl
Pearl appeared in draft three of The Sailor's Daughters because I decided to show the late Mrs. Keegan living before her untimely death and Mrs. Keegan needed a maid. But instead of having Pearl as a one-off character, she told me that she wanted to be the daughters' nanny. She wanted to go to England with the Keegans. Her brother was sold to a British naval officer years ago and is most likely in England--or at the very least, the best place to find his whereabouts would be in England. Pearl thinks of herself as a quiet, unassuming, timid person, but actually, her great motivation isn't freedom for herself (she's freed before asking to go to England with the family), but finding her brother. And that makes her brave--going to England, making new acquaintances, quietly breaking down barriers, and learning how to read and write along the way.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday

In shuffling around the email that connects to this blog, I went through the blog tab I have in one of my emails to send to the new email address.

When I started this blog I didn't open it to the public until about two years in and for whatever reason, my friends, who were my first readers in terms of stories and the blog, didn't quite seem to understand the comments feature. ;-)

They would hit reply on my posts and send me comments that way, something that I didn't appreciate at the time. Anyway, in looking through them and forwarding them to myself (that feels so weird to say), I kept the ones that touched me or made me laugh.

Here are a few of them, with the corresponding post it relates to. Names are not mentioned to protect my shadowy friends. I officially--and publicly--want to thank them all for their ideas and encouragement over the years. Remember, this was before I joined AW and started making online writing buddies.

I wonder how many of them recognize their own words. Enjoy!