Friday, August 18, 2017

Ireland: Best Alcohol Related Tour

The Jameson chandelier!
In fairness, my cousin Liz and I only went on two alcohol-related tours on this trip to Ireland, so to proclaim one "the best alcohol related tour" isn't quite right. They were both good--if anyone reading this goes to Ireland, Guinness and Jameson are must-gos.

The stereotype is that Irish people like to drink, yeah? And they do, for the most part. But that's not the whole story, which is why it grates on my nerves when St. Patrick's Day is used as an excuse to get sloshed.

But Ireland is known for several brands of alcohol and they're quite proud of them (and being Irish-American, Liz and I encounter Irish alcohol at home and at family gatherings), so on our first day in Ireland, Liz and I were taken on a tour to the Guinness Storehouse in St. James's Gate, Dublin.

Basically, as you walk through the building, you see the ingredients that go into making beer, you learn some of the history of Arthur Guinness and his beer (and his yeast), you see some of what the brewery used to look like. There are advertisements that Guinness has put out over the years--a lot of it in audio-visual form.

The ads are amusing; there's a display of all the animals Guinness has used in its ads over the years, like the toucan, seals, bears, lions, turtles...

Guinness has a bar where you can pull your own pint of stout, but it was super crowded (the entire building was extremely crowded that day), so Liz and I opted to go up to the Gravity Bar, where you can see 360-degree views of Dublin and get a complimentary pint of Guinness poured to perfection.

I finished half the pint, which, considering the size of a pint and the size of, well, me, I think I did pretty well. It's definitely the best Guinness I've had.

Gravity Bar, Guinness Storehouse

(You get the complimentary drink ticket upon the admission into the Guinness Storehouse, I think. Our tour company handled all that.)

But actually, I liked the other alcohol-related tour we went on better. We went to the Jameson Old Distillery in Midleton, County Cork, where we went to learn all about the process of making Jameson triple distilled Irish whiskey--mostly how they did it in the old days.

Jameson's tours are done in smaller groups with a tour guide, so our tour group of twenty was its own group with our own Jameson guide. She took us through the nineteenth century Jameson buildings, where they used to malt the barley and mix it with water and let the malt ferment.
A very large water wheel at Jameson's

She went through the entire process of how the whiskey is made, how the whiskey is barreled (Jameson buys a lot of its barrels from American bourbon makers and lets the whiskey age in them). It was really fascinating and the old equipment, machinery, and the barrels (I swear, I was getting buzzed from smelling them) enhanced the experience.
Whiskey at different stages. The second one from the left is 3 years.

Irish whiskey has to legally age three years to be an Irish whiskey, though Jameson tends to age theirs until six years before bottling them.

At the end, our guide took volunteers to try three different whiskeys as a comparison test. After that, we were let loose in the Jameson bar to drink plain Ginger Ale for the under-agers and non-drinkers, straight Jameson for the brave, and Jameson and Ginger Ale with a wedge of lime cocktail for the rest of us.

The cocktail's quite good, btw.

I think, for me, the difference in crowd size contributed to my overall experience, though I'm more likely to drink Guinness than whiskey. (My father is slightly incredulous at this: "Guinness is like drinking a meal." Guinness, however, does not give me the hangovers that whiskey does.)

Also, because we'd arrived early on the morning of the Guinness visit, Liz and I were both slightly out of it by that time of the afternoon, which may have contributed to overall enjoyment levels. I enjoyed Guinness, but I was way more energetic at Jameson.

That may have been because I ate an entire bar of mint chocolate before Jameson, bought from the Blarney Chocolate Factory.

Both gift stores were cool. There was a lot of Guinness-infused food at Guinness Storehouse. Liz bought some Guinness fudge things, which we snacked on for the next few days. Pretty darn good.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ireland Trip: Best Scenery: The Ring of Kerry

On Wednesday, August 9th, my cousin Liz and I and the rest of the merry band of twenty people who made up our tour group set off from Limerick for County Kerry because we were going to see the Ring of Kerry.

The Ring of Kerry is a circular scenic route on the Iveragh peninsula in southwest Ireland. A lot of the roads are quite narrow, which reminded me of visits to Japan as a kid--tour buses do the route in counter-clockwise fashion and cars in clockwise. It keeps buses from bumping into each other and clogging up roads.

The Ring of Kerry easily wins best scenery of the trip. I think you'll be able to see why.

With Charlie Chaplin in Waterville, Co. Kerry

The Blind Piper pub in Caherdaniel

Village of Sneem, Co. Kerry

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Accurately Titled Novels and a travel notice

First order of business: I came across a really funny writing-related album on the Facebook: Accurately Titled Novels.

While giggling in glee at the titles (Especially the one about winning the Booker Prize, but no one's actually read the ending), I came across this one, which I think is related to my general aesthetic:

From Writers' HQ
So, I actually wouldn't mind finding this particular stock photo for the draft I'm writing now, since it's a historical mainly focused around a woman who happens to have red hair.


Second order of business: I'm going away for a few days with my only girl cousin (Girl trip!). I've no need to be cryptic about this trip, but you know, they say not to post stuff about trips on social media, which seems pretty sound advice to me. We're going to Ireland!

We won't be gone very long though, so behave yourselves!

But I shall come back with pictures and I hope, lots of anecdotes and factoids and stories--and I'm taking a notebook with me so I can jot things down (and outline the rest of the current draft, so I can hit the ground running when I'm back). I'm going to persuade my cousin, who dabbles in writing, to help me come up with a fun series of trip-related blog posts. Maybe she'll agree to guest post! 

See ya!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

IWSG: Pet Peeves

It's the first Wednesday in August, which means it's time for IWSG! Do check out the IWSG here.

I can report that the novel is plugging along. I restarted the draft in a way--there's an inciting incident in the other copy of the draft which has now happened further in the past, to make way for more action in this copy of the draft. That sounds confusing. Anyway, on to the monthly question:

What are your pet peeves when writing/reading/editing?

Writing pet peeves: people who quote writing rules constantly. "No prologues! Too much description! (Not enough description!) Where's the action--shouldn't you have action? That dialogue doesn't ring true. That dialogue is too much like how real people speak to each other."

Go. Away. Yes, knowing creative writing rules is very useful and you should totally learn them! And once you learn them, you can pick and choose which ones to ignore based on your particular stories.

Pet peeves when reading...well, it's annoying if the book turns out to be boring or far too detailed or preachy, of course. I don't like contrived plots, characters who are Too Stupid To Live, romance heroes who are just...the worst human beings (fictionally) alive, or events that don't jive with the rest of the story.

On the other hand, I've been sucked in by many a book that contained contrived plots and characters and go completely whack-a-doodle and loved them--and only really recognized the flaws later. Or sometimes I've realized as I'm reading them: "Seriously? There's a shipwreck and they're holding onto wreckage and there might be a shark or something? After everything else in this book? Are you nuts?"

Also, I really don't like being told what to read. Don't even try.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 20 Books Read!

20 down. 15 to go.

I'm still in the middle of two 500 page+ nonfiction history books, but I have finished twenty books total! Also, I think I hit a spate of pretty covers, so there they are below. As always, I'm linking to my reviews.

What are you reading?

11. Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1) by Sharon Kay Penman. Fiction/Historical Fiction/Fictional Biography/Medieval/England/Wales. 4 stars.

12. An Extraordinary Union (Loyal League #1) by Alyssa Cole. Fiction/Romance/Historical Romance/American Civil War. 5 stars.

13. A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas. Fiction/Mystery/Historical/Retellings/England. 2 stars.

20. Act Like It (London Celebrities #1) by Lucy Parker. Fiction/Romance/Contemporary Romance/London.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Opening Lines

Not very long ago, writing buddy Krystal wrote a post with the opening lines of her older writings and they were raw and often hilarious.

Recently, as I've been going on a cleaning binge, I piled a lot of writing-related stuff in one place.

(Note: should I ever warrant it, those things would probably comprise "my papers.")

It's a mix of stuff from elementary school through to post-graduate, most of it fiction, most of it unfinished.

Here are a few opening lines from a few key pieces:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reasons Why I'm Changing Things in My Draft: A List

Reasons why I duplicated my draft document and decided to change a few very essential things when I was already over 24, 000 words:

1. Somewhere around two thousand words ago, I noticed that my characters, Jane Windham and Miles Keegan--who, mind you, are the couple in this quasi-historical romance or historical fiction with romantic elements--were still doing their own thing and not moving towards each other at all. Not even thinking about each other!

2. Because Jane is widowed in the beginning of this story. The very beginning. She's going through grief and legalities and she'd just met her husband's cousin/heir/person I had trouble not naming James and I was pretty damn bored. Jane is artistic and active, but also a definite Mama Bear to her daughter and, like, just no.

3. Miles, of course, lost his wife in Pearl, some five years ago by this point in the chronology. His deal this time around is divesting himself of some business interests, gaining some new ones, and becoming an avid supporter of the Anti-Slavery society in London in 1804--also helping his older brother figure out how to get rid of the family plantation and free all the slaves who work on it.

4. Miles is, in historical romance terms, a bit hard to redeem into romance hero material. Granted, I wasn't writing him last time around with any kind of potential re-shaping into romance material in mind AT ALL. Having the two kids with two different women? Not getting along with his aristocratic family members? These things may as well be par for the course with some historical romance hero types. But Miles ran a fucking plantation for five years and has profited off the backs of people who didn't have a choice in the matter.

Granted, quite a number of the fictional lords in historical Romancelandia aren't much better. Random mention of "Scottish land in the family"--who did they get it from and how many families did they clear off the land? "Irish estates"-- religious and cultural oppression! "Sending a younger brother to Jamaica"--most likely, that younger brother just got put in charge of some land and some slaves. "Egyptian/Roman/Greek artifacts--who did y'all steal those from?

5. Because I didn't outline the thing and as usual, in the saggy middle, I've come to regret it.


1. I've kept the story in 1804 and moved Jane's husband's death back to 1803. Her one year of mourning is almost up.

2. There's actually a lot of good and not boring things in the rest of the 24,000 words that will be put back into the new document when I get to those parts, with only minor editing required. Thank goodness.

3. Ideally, I'd like this draft to be around 70ish thousand words.

4. I found a super awesome source that'll help immensely with some of Miles's storyline, so yay!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


It's the first Wednesday of July and that means IWSG time! Woot-Woot! I hope the Americans in the crowd had a good Independence Day. You can check out the IWSG here!

Let me see--insecurities. 1) Why am I such a slow writer? I'm at 23K on my draft, I've realized it's not  a historical romance but a historical with romantic elements (the romance people who read this will understand), and yeah.
2) I'm not sure how I feel about giving away my work for free, but Smashwords has a month-long sale for July. Both Pearl and "When Mary Left" are free with use of a coupon code for the entire month. Only available at Smashwords.

Frankly, I like being paid for my work but indie authors can't always be choosers. So far, the sale seems to be moving product.

On to this month's question:

What is one valuable lesson you've learned since writing?

So. Many. But I'll focus on how valuable research is because it's on my mind right now. If you want to be an author, researching writing, books, story structure, and publishing is imperative, but sometimes--most times--you need to research for the story itself. Because you don't know everything.

I love historical fiction, didn't want to write it for a long time because all that research seemed so daunting. And then I just started doing it.

My draft takes place in 1804 London. I didn't look much up starting this story, because 1804 is close enough to the Regency era that I can write Fictional Regency-Adjacent London and be fine. I looked up three things: what Napoleon was doing in 1804, what William Wilberforce was doing in 1804, and what date the Epsom Derby was that year. All of these things coincided nicely as a historical cushion for my story and off I marched into the writing mist.

I was writing a scene recently. Here's a bit of it:

             Crestwell turned to him. "Miles, how many slaves does Halbridge Hall own?"
            "Ninety-four when I left. And it was fifty pounds paid to the parish to manumit one slave at the time."
            Cresty winced. "Fifty pounds! Multiplied by ninety-four."
            "It would be a steep payment, my lord," Sebold said.
             "Five thousand pounds, about," Miles calculated. It was a substantial amount of money, more than Miles's annual income.

This little snippet of a longer scene involves two pieces of research. Can you guess what they are?

In the 19th century, in order to free a slave, you had to pay a manumission fee. In this case, they're in England talking about a family property in Barbados, which raised its fee in the 1790s to fifty pounds per slave. In Pearl, fifty pounds is accurate.

But wait a sec, was that still the case in 1804? I wasn't sure. I mean, it wasn't a lot of time in between. I could probably fudge it. I could not mention the exact amount, right? I went through my notes for Pearl, went back to the sources, then ended up on Google Books. I found my answer.

In 1801, Barbados raised the fee: two hundred pounds to free a man, three hundred to free a woman. So now, the conversation was altered a bit and it continues into this:

"How much of the viscountcy's annual income is that?" Crestwell asked.
            "About a third," Sebold said. Silence reigned. A third of the yearly income. Crestwell's face was still, but his eyes blazed. Selling Halbridge Hall was one thing; freeing the slaves would be something else completely.
            "But they've since raised it," Miles said. "Two hundred pounds for a man, three hundred pounds for women." A muscle under Crestwell's eye twitched. 

Now, I'm not mentioning the value of research to pat my own back. Historicals are more research-heavy than most other genres. I've been told "it's not that important to get the facts so correct. You're not writing a textbook." But in this case, that manumission fee affects a vague plotting thing I had in mind. It makes it harder. It makes it more interesting. It actually affects the story, which is what you want your researched facts to do!

So take a second and Google stuff for your story. Take satisfaction in knowing the facts even if you twist them or fictionalize them or they're mentioned in passing or nobody else cares. Know that readers like me Google things about books they've just finished reading.

And yes, I do grumble briefly if something is off. Seriously. Why are authors still messing up British title usage? Google. It.

If only I'd been this research-happy in Research Writing class in college.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


I'm not a big podcast person; this is my preface. I don't even like being read aloud to, so I'm not going to listen to a podcast just to have droning noise on in the background or something. I certainly can't listen to podcasts while writing and listening to them on the subway can be hit or miss, depending on how noisy the subway feels like being that commute.

But I've found two that I really like, so figured I'd share!

The first is a podcast from the women behind the website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books called Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast. It's about romance novels and the romance genre and occasionally, episodes of squeeing all about Outlander. I've listened to the episodes featuring author interviews, because on a podcast, an interview can go as long as two hours and it's totally awesome to hear authors like Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, Beverley Jenkins and others talk about their work, what they're reading, their latest release, what odd bits of research they've picked up along the way (since all of the authors I just named write historical romance).

The other podcast I've really enjoyed is History Extra, which is a podcast from BBC History Extra magazine. They tend to interview historians and authors about their latest book or TV broadcast. The last one I listened to was historian Lucy Worsley talking about her new biography of Jane Austen. The other day, I listened to an older episode where Phillipa Gregory talked about writing historical fiction (I was listening to it on my walk to the bus stop and nodding along with a lot of what she had to say). The other half of that episode was an interview with a writer who researched, wrote, and released a book called Killing the Flower Moon, which is about these 1920s murders in Oklahoma of Osage tribal members, who were murdered for their inheritance of headrights--that is, mineral rights to oil-rich lands which made the Osage hella rich, but they had court-appointed white guardians to manage the money.

Also, honorable mention goes to Living the Dream with Rory O'Malley. Rory is a Broadway actor and he interviews theater people on his podcast. I've only listened to one episode so far, but it was a good one, touched on a lot of issues and topics and was as open and gushy as you expect theater people to be.

So, yeah. Clearly, this is my brand: romance and women's fiction and history, with some theater thrown in.

I think I'd like to be on a podcast someday.

Do you listen to podcasts?

Also, Happy Pride weekend, NYC!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Author Tag

Last week, my writing friend Krystal Jane Ruin posted an Author Tag video on her YouTube channel.  The questions were fun, so I've decided to answer the author tag here on ze blog because I ain't about to film myself. Because clearly, as the pretty quote below says:

Here is Krystal's cute video:

Friday, June 9, 2017

Passing Books On

As a budding history nerd and confirmed bookworm, little Sunflower Michelle read (in this relative order):

--a series of paperback (I remember the covers were blue) biographies of historical figures. There was JFK, from boy to man. Abraham Lincoln. Washington. Martin Luther King, Jr. Benjamin Franklin. What the hell was the name of that series anyway? And where did these books go in my life?

--The Baby-Sitters' Club. Oh, my, but I was really into the Baby-Sitters' Club. (These either went to my younger cousin or to someone in Japan)

-The American Girls books. They were the first ones I read with historical notes in the back matter and it made my little nerdy heart sing. (These definitely went to someone in Japan)

And then, The Joy Luck Club. And then something from Harlequin. And then something from Readers' Digest that I think was true crime and was probably not meant for me to read at age eleven...

-And the Dear America series, which I think I started reading around 11 or 12 years old. They were hardcover books and the idea was that they were the diaries of (usually) young girls who were supposed to be around that preteen to adolescent age.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

IWSG: June

It's time for June's IWSG post! The IWSG posts every first Wednesday of the month. June's co-hosts are: JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner!

Did you ever say "I quit"? If so, what made you come back to writing?

When I graduated college, although I was exhilarated to be a college graduate, I was also feeling pretty burnt out. I was a writing major. My school believed in that academic writing program thing of workshops and literary fiction, trying to channel their writing majors into Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees and MFA programs.

That was not me. I didn't think I was a particularly good fiction writer, to be honest. It was the only kind of writing I'd ever wanted to do but I came out of college thinking I didn't have the chops. I didn't have a particular genre I was drawn to write (I had a few I was very drawn to, reading-wise). I was hardly the most talented, most praised, most encouraged, or most anything of my fellow writing majors.

But I didn't actually say, "I'm never creatively writing ever again. I quit."

I think I decided that trying to finish up a story I'd been writing and rewriting since college was the way to go, for some reason. I'd been wanting to write a real book since I was 12. I had time, after graduating grad school. I might as well write that book now.

Thus, Book the First. It's terrible, by the way, but it represents that last gasp of the stuff I was writing as a relaxer in college. It was never meant to be submitted in writing workshops.

I eventually came around to realizing that my entire personality is just..."writer." Storytelling is compulsive. The incremental improvements, the nuggets of info and technicalities, the satisfying (or not satisfying) shape of a story coming together and doing what it's supposed to...

There's no coming back from that sort of thing.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Snippet Time!

This is a scene from my current mess-in-progess, The New Bride of Banner's Edge.

            The Serpentine was a river in Hyde Park. Well, that is, it was called a river, when in reality it was simply an odd-shaped lake. But on a clear, blue-skied afternoon where the May weather was fully a warm enough spring and not the drizzly, smoggy remnants of winter, Hyde Park looked like the ultimate English garden: leafy trees, thick green grass, flowers in bloom, and ducks gliding around the lake.
            Alex and Mady walked a few steps ahead of him. It was crowded today in the park. Carriages drove by on the wide carriage roads, flutters of parasols and skirts within them. Riders on their horses clip-clopped by. People strolled. Nursemaids ushered their charges along.
            In such a crowd, they were one family among many, practically anonymous. Except, of course, whenever a pair of eyes would flick towards Mady for just a second too long. Or when that flick of the eyes took in Alex, striding with purpose beside her sister, and then sometimes, the look would come to him as well.
            Miles was used to it, but that didn't mean he liked the judgment or the speculation behind the darting looks.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Market Research: Romance

I've been a reader of romance--specifically, historical romance--since I was a teenager. And though I know that romance is a big category and it sells really well, I hadn't really ever looked into the numbers.

And since what I'm writing might be a historical romance (or is it a historical with romantic elements?), I thought I'd noodle around on Google and see what I could find.

Romance as a genre is worth $1.08 billion, which is something like one-fifth of all adult book sales. It's the size of the mystery genre and sci-fi/fantasy combined. According to the Romance Writers of America, in 2014, women made up 82% of romance readers. Most romance readers are in the 30-44 age range.

64 percent of romance readers read romance more than once a month. 35% buy romance more than once a month.

Romance readers adapated pretty early to ebooks and e-readers, but there is a fairly substantial print mass market format business still going strong.

Top Romance subgenres read by format:

Print: romantic suspense, contemporary romance, historical romance, erotic romance, New Adult, paranormal romance; Young Adult romance, Christian romance.

Ebook: romantic suspense, contemporary, erotic, historical romance, paranormal romance, New Adult, YA, and Christian romance.

Graph from The Business of Romance Novels Presentation

Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Interview with Author Krystal Jane Ruin!

Today, I have a guest--brand spankin' new author Krystal Jane Ruin, whose debut novel No Rest For the Wicked was released on May 10th! Krystal and I have been blogging and writing friends for a few years now, so naturally, I wanted to interview Krystal a little bit about her book!

No Rest For The Wicked is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and tons of other places, too! 

So Krystal, your debut novel No Rest For the Wicked has been out for eleven days now! I finished reading it a few days ago! (Click here to see my Goodreads review) How does it feel to finally have your work out there?

It’s really kind of weird! I’m excited, but I haven’t gotten used to seeing the book out in the world like that yet.

I'm not going to ask you where you got your ideas from, because we writers all know that that's an impossible question. So: where did Tatum come from? Did she come to you fully-formed or did she develop along the way? I really enjoyed her voice. 

Haha. Ideas are a can of worms. Tatum came out of an idea I had for a group of traveling fortune tellers. There was a palm reader who couldn’t actually read palms, so she would just root around in people’s heads and mess with them. I thought she was really fun. So, Tatum showed up pretty well-formed. There were definitely things I didn’t know, but my characters drive the plot, so I have to know them pretty well.

I loved how the characters are one thing at the beginning of the book and they twist and turn and grow as the story goes on. Just what you want characters to do! But those twists feel really natural to both the story and the characters. Was there one twisty aspect that was harder to write, create, or refine for you than the others? 

You know, some of the backstory actually gave me a bit of a hard time. Getting all the little details right took the most amount of work. And so much was riding on it! There’s a part where a door is kicked in, and I had no idea who was on the other side until it happened! That was really exciting.

The book is set in Asheville, North Carolina. Why Asheville?

I love Asheville! It has such a cool, laid-back vibe to it. I’ve been on a using real places kick, and Asheville had everything I needed: namely an awesome cemetery and the perfect atmosphere for the characters to live in.

To go back to having your work out self-published it! I felt like you made that decision fairly quickly once you decided to do it. What made you decide to self-pub it and how did you find the process? (You can check out Krystal's Self-Publishing Diaries at her blog) 

I can be pretty decisive. I think I thought it would be fun. The whole concept of getting to control the cover and content and who I worked with was really exciting for me. It’s such a steep learning curve. A lot of times I wondered if I’d lost my mind, but now that I’m on the other side, it was totally worth it. :) 

What about this story made you go, "All right. That's it. This is getting published."?

This was really interesting to think about. I think it was more what it did for my writing, than the story itself. I was in a writing funk for a couple of years before I wrote this. Writing it made me really excited about crafting stories again, and it's paved the way for all the other crazy ideas that I've been wanting to write but wouldn't because I was too scared. Once I knew I wanted to publish something, I knew this would be perfect with launch with. It's very me, and the thought of people reading it didn't freak me out. That's never happened before. :)

I know you researched a hell of a lot more on indie publishing than I did, so tell me: favorite thing you learned about indie publishing? Or the best source for info on indie publishing? (Strangely, formatting the short story felt really soothing) 

Favorite thing! I actually found formatting to be kind of meditative, too. Haha. Two places where I got more info than I can handle are the Publishing Profits Podcast and The Creative Penn Podcast. They’re both available online, and feature a lot of interviews and indie world news.

What's coming up next? Any more stories from this cast of characters or this story world or is it something else?

I do have an idea for a companion sequel, but it’s still in “wait and see if it finds its way out of concept only” mode. I’ve never written a sequel before, so there are some walls to climb over. LOL! But next up I have a Swan Lake reimagining that I’m in love with! I’ve been wanting to do a retelling for years, so I’m way too excited to have one finally pan out. It’ll be out in November! 

Krystal Jane Ruin is the author of supernatural and paranormal fiction, living in the Tennessee Valley with a collection of swords and daggers. When she's not hoarding stuffed pandas, hourglasses, and Hello Kitty replicas, she can be found drinking chai tea, knee deep in Sudoku, in a YouTube hole, or blogging about books, writing, and random things at

Friday, May 12, 2017

Naming Your Historical Characters

During NaNoWriMo 2010, I attempted to write a serious work of historical adventure set in Tudor England, just as the Dissolution of the Monasteries was taking place. I gave my lead character a pretty outlandish first name--but it was a very Catholic first name, so I figured I could get away with it, since the character was born in a convent.

But as I was scrabbling around for a name that wasn't Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, or Catherine for a female character, I decided to ask a friend to help me brainstorm first names. Her suggestions weren't usuable for the time and place and that's when I realized that figuring out historically appropriate names for your characters is probably one of those odd historical fiction writer quirks. (For the record, among her suggestions at the time were Avery and Shirley, both of which were last names, then became first names given to boys in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, then more recently, given to girls as first names).

More recently, as I was tapping away at the draft I'm currently almost 12K words into, I realized that I had major characters named Jane, John, and James and a minor character named Jones. So that's a problem. And then I went back and looked up the types of names that would've been given to people born in the Georgian era, who would've been adults in the early 1800s, in England.

Unsurprisingly, many of the names are what we would consider traditional English names: William, John, Elizabeth, Jane, Anne, Catherine, Henry, Charles, Mary, George, James, Robert, Edward. Men sometimes had surnames as first names (think of Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose first name is his mother's maiden name because his mother's family had more money and prestige). There were many feminizations of male names: Georgette, Georgiana, Georgina, Edwina; feminization got even more intense as the 19th century wore on, resulting in names like Thomasina, Wilhelmina, Frederica, and Benjamina (!).

Of course, in this time period, naming also went by class, so lower or working class were more likely to have Biblical (Old Testament Biblical) names than the upper classes, while the upper and middle classes may have also had more Classical names because Greek and Roman culture was in vogue in the Georgian and Regency periods--think of Cassandra Austen, for instance, who was named after her mother, or babies named Julius, Augustus, or Octavius.

As the Napoleonic Wars heated up, babies were also named for battles and famous people, like Horatio Nelson, Lord Byron, and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. Names of the kings (who were named George for over a hundred years until George IV died) and the royal family were used, too: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, Sophia, and later on, of course, Victoria, who was born in 1819.

Many names we think of as girls' names were boys' names in the olden days: Evelyn, Ashley, Whitney, Aubrey, Beverly, Hilary, Meredith, Shannon, etc.

Granted, historical names are one thing and historical romance names are another. As long as the name you choose for your born-in-the-late-eighteenth-century character isn't utterly implausible, too modern, actually an animal name, or you can explain it some way--and it was in use at the time--then it seems like it can fly in historical romance.

For the record, while I had to keep Jane and John (they've been called those names for years, though John's often referred to by his last name), the other names in my new story changed. James (my default name for an English heir to anything) has become Richard and Jones, Jane's maid, was re-surnamed Griffith, because I finished reading a Welsh-set book not long ago and decided I could do a shout-out by using a Welsh last name for a maid.

What's in a Name?
 Regency Names
Top Female First Names in 1800
Georgian Girls Names

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Japan Trip: Food Part 2

We had Chinese food--well, the Japanese version of it--twice: once in Hakone and once in Tokyo. Both times, we ate family style and both times, it was flavorful but not the greasy and overly sauced foods that we in New York get from our Chinese take-out restaurants, which usually find some way to upset my stomach.

The second time we had Chinese, the food was placed on a lazy Susan and we took what we wanted of the dumplings and fried rice and beef.

I had a light lunch with my aunt and her friends one afternoon in Ginza, in a French-inspired tea shop called Le Mariage, where we each had an individual pot of tea and super pretty plates. I had crab and carrots wrapped in a spring-roll like thing with a sweet orange dressing (or so I was able to glean from the menu, which was written in French and Japanese. Sometimes, the four years of French I took in high school come in somewhat handy).

I had Thai food in Shibuya with some friends the night before it was time to come home. I enjoy Thai food, but I cannot do spicy, so I always get it mild at home. But there was no "can you make it milder for me, please," option so we did our best to choose a variety of foods that weren't overtly spicy--but it was still pretty spicy, at least to us. There are a fair number of Thai immigrants in Tokyo, so the workers in the restaurant were definitely, genuinely Thai and we shared dishes that I hadn't had in my forays into Thai food at home.

My friends also took me to a wafu restaurant--I think it was in Omotesando or Harajuku--where the menu consisted of the Japanese version of spaghetti--all kinds of spaghetti. Spaghetti with salmon roe. Spaghetti carbonara. Spaghetti with little sardines.

I went with the spaghetti with avocadoes and shrimp.  It came with a daikon salad and a cup of soup. I now have this urge to try to recreate this dish.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


It's IWSG time! The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a large network of writers and we vent our frustrations and questions to the world every first Wednesday of the month. Check out IWSG here.

I'm writing again, what I think will be a full-length novel, a historical romance. I've read countlesss historical romances. I've even read a few where the heroine starts out a widow or married to someone else, but then falls in love with the hero and gets her HEA.

So, I'm not too worried that my heroine's just become a widow in Chapter One. Besides, it's a draft and I may very well trim the beginning next draft. Sigh. Oh well. I'm having fun while writing this, actually since it's kind of like visiting old friends; these are characters I've had in my head for quite a while.

This month's IWSG question: What is the coolest/weirdest thing you've ever had to research for your story?

Oh boy. Let's see: *scrolls down to research tag*

I'll venture to say that British noble titles, mourning customs, vague and archaic inheritance laws...are relatively normal to Google, at least if you write historical anything in Britain. Clothes? Also fairly normal.

Maybe it was when I had to research slavery, the West Indies, and plantations? Then again, when you're writing a story that involves those elements, I don't think the research itself is too weird. Disturbing, in many instances. But not weird in itself.

Or strange 18th century British taxes?

No, wait, definitely the historical epidemics.

Or maybe various New Hampshire ghost and other myths for a short story, "Haunted Lake"?

I think one of the coolest things I've researched, though, was the London theater scene of the 1890s.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Japan Trip: Food Part 1

Now let's get to the stuff that I know my best friend Nali is the most interested in: what I ate while in Japan.

What is it about vacation that has you eating your body weight in yummy (but very healthy!) food?

I eat Japanese food nearly every day in one way or another, so it wasn't that Japanese food was oh-so-exotic to me, but we really ate the spectrum on this trip.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Writing the Same Characters, Years Later

I'm somewhere in Chapter Three of a draft of The New Bride of Banner's Edge, which takes place in the Keegan family/Pearl Georgian England world, but focuses on a character who did not make the cut in Pearl, a lady who becomes Miles Keegan's second wife.

This particular story starts in 1804, when Jane Windham's husband dies by being thrown from his horse. Jane's brother lives near Miles and his family, so she's in the acquaintance circle, but because she didn't make an appearance in Pearl, I feel like I get to create her anew and give her more dimension than the much more amateurish attempt of the Keegans that I wrote back in 2012-2013.

But it brings up a funny thing: because Pearl ended around 1801, 1802, I find myself picking up these characters in May 1804 and trying to get reacquainted with their world and their lives.

So, for example, in macro terms, in 1804, William Pitt The Younger became Prime Minister of the UK again, Napoleon is proclaimed Emperor of the French--convieniently, these two things happened in May, when the Epsom Derby occurred and Jane's husband bumps his head and dies.

Britain is at war with France (as ever in this period) and the coastal towns are prepared for a possible French invasion.

William Wilberforce is still introducing bills in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament to ban the slave trade, as he did all through the 1790s. But there was a gap in action for abolition societies in the 1790s because of the start of the war with France, which is why in Pearl, there isn't any action with any official Abolition or Anti-Slavery societies.

But things were changing in 1804: the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade began its work again and in June 1804, Wilberforce's annual bill on abolishing slavery passed the Commons but was too late in the session to pass the Lords. Still, it was progress and to my not-total surprise, Miles Keegan is shedding some past business ties and associating with abolitionists in London.

His daughters are ten years old now. How have they grown since we last saw them in Pearl?

For that matter, what's Pearl been doing since she found her brother Julius?

Monday, April 17, 2017

2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge: 10 Books Read!

Hey! I finished reading my tenth book of the year last night!

I'm so glad I decided on a 35-book challenge this year; it makes for a gentler reading pace, especially since I'm writing at the moment as well.

Here is my list. Click on the title links if you're curious about my reviews (the one for Silence, I warn you, is basically an essay) What are you guys reading or what have you read?

1. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones.
Nonfiction/history/British. 4 stars.

2. The Viscount Needs a Wife by Jo Beverley. Fiction/Romance/Historical Romance/Regency England. 4 stars.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue. Fiction/Adult/Contemporary/Thriller. 4 stars.

4. Lonely Planet Tokyo by Lonely Planet, Rebecca Milner, Simon Richmond. Nonfiction/Reference/Travel/Japan/Tokyo. 3 stars.

5. Black London: Life Before Emancipation by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. Nonfiction/History/British/Black British. 3 stars.

6. Mercer Girls by Libbie Hawker. 3 stars. Fiction/Historical Fiction/American/19th century/Women

7. The Autumn Throne: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eleanor of Aquitaine #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick. Fiction/Historical Fiction/European/British/French/Fictional Biography. 3 stars.

8. Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight For an Education by Jane Robinson. Nonfiction/History/Women/Feminism. 2 stars.

9. Prudence (Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger. Fiction/Historical/Victorian/Steampunk/Fantasy/Supernatural/India. 2 stars.

10. Silence by Shusaku Endo, translated by William Johnston. Fiction/Historical Fiction/Classics/Japanese Fiction/Translations. 4 stars.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Japan Trip: Hakone

We got on a train headed for the hinterlands.

And by the hinterlands, I mean western Kanagawa Prefecture. We got on a train with wide windows in Tokyo and rode it for about three hours.

Hakone--which I didn't know a thing about before this trip--is a town in the mountains, mostly within the bounds of the Fuji-Izu-Hakone National Park and is famous for its abundant hot springs, its mountains and Lake Ashi (Ashinoko)--plus, there's some historic significance, because in the old days of shogun and samurai, Hakone was a major checkpoint on the road to Edo (present-day Tokyo).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Tokyo Bus Tour: Stops 3 through 6

Senso-ji temple

All right--more Tokyo, guys!

After the Imperial East Garden, we got back on the bus and headed to Asakusa, which--I have since learned--is a district in Taito, Tokyo, and used to be an entertainment district from the Edo period on to about--you guessed it--World War Two.

(Are we sensing a theme here with Japanese history?)

We went to Asakusa to visit Senso-ji, a temple dedicated to the Buddhist boddhivista Kannon (from whom the founder of Canon took inspiration for the name of his company, btw). Senso-ji is also neighbors with a long, narrow road with tiny stalls on either side--souvenir stores, food stores, etc, on a road called Nakamise-dori (Inside Store Road, roughly translated).

Bad picture of one of the gates from inside the bus

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

IWSG April

It's April! It should be more spring-like around here, but it's been rainy and kind of cold instead. It's time to get back to whatever it was I was writing before I went to Japan for ten days, which means back to that Regency romance thing I was writing.

That is, I'll get back on that once I'm more fully back on Eastern Standard time. I'm almost there, but a two-day migraine didn't help things, and I'm getting up at weird times because I'm hungry at odd times of the day.

This month's IWSG question is:

Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

In short, no. I've never done the A to Z Challenge and I don't see myself doing it--I've thought of possible themes and I could probably do it if I applied myself to the idea of the A to Z, but after so many days straight of blogging, I would actually get tired of my own blogging voice.

Plus, since I barely have time to visit the many blogs I follow now, I don't think I could read and visit all the blogs during the challenge. After all, I'm not blogging as a business venture and I don't only blog about topics related to whatever I'm writing.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Tokyo Bus Tour: Stops 1 and 2

My favorite day of the Japan trip was the day we took a tour bus through Tokyo.

We were on a bus called a Hato Bus, stopping and looking at various places throughout central Tokyo, and I was practically jumping out of my seat with excitement because when in Tokyo, you want to see the sights of Tokyo, yeah?

First stop: Meiji jingu or the Meiji Shrine is a Shinto temple dedicated to the spirits of the Emperor Meiji (he of the Meiji Restoration and a big figure in Japanese history) and his empress Shoken. The shrine was built after Meiji's death in 1912, destroyed by bombing during WWII, and subsequently rebuilt.

The Meiji shrine is in the middle of 170 acres of parkland in one of the busiest parts of Tokyo.

On the path to the shrine: sake drums!
Also, French wine barrels.

Haiku written by the Emperor Meiji

Torii gate leading to the shrine

Our second stop: the East Gardens (Higashi Gyoen) of the Imperial grounds (the kyuden), the east gardens being the only part of the imperial grounds open to the public. The Emperor and Empress of Japan live in the midst of Tokyo, in a huge compound surrounded by a moat. 

The grounds include the Imperial Household Agency, archives, a museum, and other buildings. 

The site of the Imperial palace grounds was, in the Edo period, the site of Edo Castle, home of the shogun (the samurai warlord leader of Japan for centuries). When the Emperor Meiji took on power from the last shogun, he moved the imperial capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and ordered the shogun out of Edo Castle, building a new palace on the site.

 Edo Castle and many of its structures burned in a fire in 1873 and the original imperial palace was built in a different part of the grounds. But then it was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1945, so the current imperial palace was built in the 1960s. 

The East Garden, however, contains a huge rock wall around the site that dates from the 1600s! It was there during the shogunate and was part of the Edo Castle structure. 

The moat
The current Emperor of Japan is Akihito. Since at least the Meiji Era, each emperor's reign corresponds to an "era" in Japanese culture. Akihito's father Hirohito's reign is called the Showa period, which was long enough to mean that me, my mother, and my grandmother were all Showa babies. 

A reconstruction of an Edo era gate, where the shogun's men would've met you before you entered Edo Castle.
Part of the East garden.