Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why I Love Roger MacKenzie

Outlander season three has begun--I'm patiently awaiting the airing of episode 6 in another week. I read all eight Outlander novels in 2014-2015, not long after TV version began.

And yes, Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall Fraser loom large in the Outlander world--the time-crossing lovers who have very odd adventures and associate with an ever-increasing growing cast of characters.

But I realized about halfway into the series that my favorite character in Outlander world is Roger Wakefield MacKenzie, who [spoiler] is Jamie and Claire's daughter Brianna's love interest and eventual husband.

Over the last year, I've been doing a very slow re-read of the Outlander books, but I've only been re-reading the Roger and Brianna parts. It's a very different series when you only read their parts, much less improbable adventure and more two twentieth century people living in the eighteenth century and all the complications that would ensue from that. Jamie--and Claire, in a lot of ways--are both bigger than life and they're great characters, I like reading about them, but my Outlander book boyfriend is totally Roger.

Roger is, in 1968, a young Oxford professor of history. When he re-meets Claire and meets Brianna--who he's immediately interested in--Roger becomes involved in Claire's time-travel-and-Jamie-related dilemma and he helps Claire find records proving that Jamie lived past Culloden--and to trace him as much as they can through history.

Roger and Brianna have a slow-burn romance through at least three of the books before they both go through the stones to the eighteenth century and in the eighteenth century, they have a fairly atypical relationship for that time because they're actually from the twentieth century. There are characters here and there who seem surprised or concerned that Roger doesn't "rein in" Brianna more, but Roger loves Bree, even if he is mystified by her quite a lot.

Because Roger is a historian, he's adaptable to the eighteenth century, but also fascinated by the history happening around him. As he integrates into eighteenth century frontier life, Roger grapples with the fact that he has few transferable skills to eighteenth century farm life. He didn't grow up on a farm, so all the farm chores are new to him. There aren't many positions for a history professor in the backcountry, so Roger needs to find his way to where the farmwork doesn't seem so hard--and he finds his calling as more and more people settle on Jamie Fraser's land grant.

Roger is also a really empathetic person. And he's musical. which is really endearing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pursue the Unknown End by Emily Steers: An Author Interview

Last year, a college classmate released her debut novel Collecting The Constellations, a contemporary  mystery-adventure story. The sequel to that book, PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END, was released on September 1, 2017.

Fresh off their life-altering trip to Kathmandu, Charlotte and Rory left New York City for the relatively quiet confines of Tilly's Texas ranch. On the day of their wedding, a mysterious gift arrives on the doorway, soliciting the pair to uncover the secrets of its confines A.S.A.P.

The contents of the box send the pair to Boston, the former Hub of the Solar System, to dig through America's complex history of business, representation, and human rights. 

But as Charlotte and Rory get closer to uncovering one of Boston's best-held secrets, new revelations about their relationship come to light.

Add Pursue the Unknown End to your Goodreads shelf. You can get both books in Emily's Antiquities series on Amazon for $1.98.

On with the interview!

1. Pursue the Unknown End is the second book in the Antiquities series and the sequel to Collecting the Constellations. How soon after writing the first book did you start writing the second? 

Truthfully, it took months. The actual effort and turmoil of self-publishing COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS really took it out of me! But I always knew that the adventures that Charlotte and Rory went on couldn't stop at one book, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how I could create a new structure around which they could continue. COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS ends, and PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END starts, with them both in such an unmoored, limbo state with their careers and lives. I love books about transitional periods that don't really revolve around the typical moments of change– marriage, birth, death, etc. Life transitions happen so much more frequently than we'd like to admit. 

And transitional times are rife for conflict--and as you say, they happen much more than we'd like to admit. 

Collecting the Constellations took place in Nepal and India--places you haven't been, right? Pursue the Unknown End takes place in and around Boston, which I know you know very well 'cause we went to college there. What made you want to bring the setting closer to home this time around?

As much as I've always wanted to go to Nepal, I haven't been. So it was a really fun project to research everything that happens in Kathmandu– and let me tell you, EVERYTHING is researched, even down to the color of polo shirts they wear at the Indian version of Target that I reference toward the end of COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS. Believe it or not, that's all real, even though a lot of readers thought I was making it up. 

Boston was actually a bit of a mental backlash to the criticism I got about putting Charlotte in such an "exotic" location in the first book. Even though I'd researched every last detail about Nepal and India in CONSTELLATIONS, a bunch of people were like, "That's not real! That can't be real!" So, I thought: what's better known than one of the oldest cities in America? And what's more mundane than the place where you went to college? Of course, the age of Boston lends itself to mystery– I still learn weirdo tidbits about the city that make me realize how old it is. That bit about the grave sites and pathways? Totally true. 

I like cemeteries. I have very clear memories of walking past and into the graveyards in Boston. Oddly enough, they were one of my favorite parts of living in Boston for the three years I was in college. What was your favorite part of writing Boston?

I lived, for a brief time as a child, north of Boston, near Gloucester. Then, obviously, I spent many years in the Back Bay while attending Emerson. I know enough about the southern Cape and the whaling industry due to my parents' current hometown near Mystic, CT, where there's a living museum dedicated to old ships and the fishing and whaling industries of New England in the 1800s. I think when you're a kid and growing up there, you forget how small New England is, and you certainly can't grasp just how much of America is still based on colonial norms and means. 

While at Emerson, I lived in the smallest apartment ever in the Back Bay and worked in a few different parts of Boston– in Faneuil Hall/North End and closer to the Fenway as well. I walked everywhere– past the burial grounds, past the plaques of information, past the statues, past the museums. Walking the same paths every day for three years (I graduated early), you do come to memorize the details that you see. Also, I think it's funny that while most of New England is deeply rooted in "townie" culture, Boston is incredibly diverse (well, compared to non-city New England). I didn't want Charlotte to come in contact with too many Boston natives. "Scholarly Boston" is a fascinating culture. 

As someone who is a bit of a conservationist and certainly an animal rights activist, the history of the whaling industry in America is mind-boggling to me. It was like Silicon Valley is today, but a million times as disgusting and dangerous. But, as it's touched upon in the book, the whaling industry was at its height during a huge upheaval in American cultural norms, too– black freed men were allowed to work, for pay, on ships; and certainly the abolitionist/anti-south sentiment of Northerners was coming to a head, too. I'm not saying the North is a paragon of virtuous racial relations– OH, SO FAR FROM IT– but it was always an interesting time to me. Of course, this was a time of gender relations upheaval, too. Basically, Boston was a freaking cultural mess at that time. Feels familiar. 
Example of scrimshaw
From Wikipedia

The scrimshaw--and whole mystery around it--felt more intricate this time around. Do you remember what inspired that part of the book?

I wanted something that was about the complete, artistic opposite as the archaeological piece of the first book. COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS revolved around a sapphire blade. And to me, a piece of folk art made from a tooth really fit the bill. The mystery of CONSTELLATIONS revolved around gods and wealth and the cosmos while the scrimshaw of PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END exalts the mundane, and very, very ordinary people. Even though most of the sailors at that time were of some sort of Protestant sect, there's not a whole lot of God depicted in scrimshaw. You think to yourself, "What kind of secret could this possibly bear?" and you know it has to do with personal, intimate secrets, and not secrets of the universe.

I was giving Rory a lot of side eye toward the end of the book (as if he didn't know who he was marrying! Honestly!). There's another one coming in this series, right?

Oh, definitely! It's funny– I got a bit of flak after the first book for making Rory a true female stand-in in an adventure series. Without a doubt, he's just kind of there to be hot and make Charlotte be the hero. So I thought to myself, "You want a male character that's more real? You're not going to like what you read!"

What else are you working on?

I just finished the rough draft of the first book in a new book series. VIVIAN VALENTINE GETS HER MAN is about a Girl Friday whose P.I. goes missing, and she has to finish his case– all while trying to figure out what happened to her boss. It's so fun to write, as it takes place in perfect world for a noir-ish mystery– New York City in 1950. I just love writing smart-aleky women. But I'm going to be querying agents on this soon, and hoping I can go a more traditional publishing route with it.

Thank you so much Emily for answering my questions and stopping by!

Emily (Steers) Edwards is one of the few writers based in Los Angeles who doesn’t write screenplays. With an extensive background in corporate copywriting and editorial, she has written for several national publications and keeps her own lifestyle blog. Emily is a graduate of Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program. She resides in Pasadena with her husband and their two dogs. To keep in contact, follow her on Twitter @MsEmilyEdwardsInstagramFacebook, or on her blog, Yankee Smartass.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG October

It is the first Wednesday in October, which means it's time for IWSG DayThe awesome co-hosts for the October 4 posting of the IWSG are Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan!

What insecurities do I have this month? Well, I have one project I'm losing interest in, but trying to persevere and finish. I have another project idea bearing ideas for a series and characters and plot.

Which brings me around to this month's IWSG question:

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I remember my theater major friends in college talking about how they had to "find their way in" to a character. The longer I write, the more characters I come up with, the more I realize that I, too, need to find my way in to a character, even if our circumstances are utterly different. 

For my historical characters, the personal information we share isn't very personal at all, if we indeed share anything in common. 

For the few contemporary characters I've written to completion, the problem is usually that we have too much in common. I'm generally more comfortable in historicals because the time period and such dictates that my characters and I are very different people. In contemporaries, I've had a harder time not making the characters into fictionalized versions of myself or friends, which is really annoying. I don't even do it on purpose. It's just mostly turned out that way. 

But I guess there's always a little something in my characters of myself: a particular point of view, a dry sense of humor, an emotional reaction, cultural similarities. They're more intangible and only people who know me really well would be able to read one of those and realize that that's from me and not the character; or they may not know that that little bit of information is from me at all.

So, of course, the new project series idea is a contemporary and I am determined to make sure that a) these stories are outlined because I'm tired of this mid-manuscript confusion and b) I want to develop my characters as people on their own.

The upside of contemporary? Not having to dive into tons of research. I can watch YouTube videos as research. Oh, my God, I'm so excited!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Collection of Research Books

I was looking around the blogosphere this morning and saw a blog post by one of my favorite historical fiction authors Elizabeth Chadwick, with a huge list of her mountain of research books.

Go check it out here.

So I decided to take a few pictures of my molehill of research books, which I've acquired for a variety of past projects and/or just out of curiosity and exploration of an era.

(Which is to say, I'll get back to the Victorian era when I damn well feel like it).

I used to have Tudors boooks (I'm down to two, which are biographies of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I), but when I finally acknowledged that a) Tudor-land is oversaturated and b) I wasn't actually going to write that story of the monastery being tore apart during the English Reformation, not knowing anything about Catholicism, Anglicanism, or monasteries beyond what Ken Follet's books taught me, those books were sold on Amazon. 

I expect some of these will get rotated out as well, at some point. 

If you haven't read Bury the Chains, by the way, it's wonderfully written and not at all dry. It's about the British abolition movement.

And Asians in Britain was fascinating, super detailed, and I can't wait to weave in what I learned in it into a few of my nineteenth-century set stories at some point. 

The blue book is called Jane Austen: The World of Her Stories. Really great things in there about Jane Austen's era, from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, and it covers the Regency period and what was going on in the world and how they reflect and come up in Jane Austen's novels. 

Staying Power is about the history of black people in Britain. 

The top two here are when I realized I knew nothing about sailors and specfically, the shipping trade in Bristol in the eighteenth century. Turns out I didn't need to know all that much to write Pearl, but they came in relatively useful. 

Bluestockings is about the first British women to get a university education in the late nineteenth into the twentieth century. I got a few funny anecdotes from it, but it was very focused on Cambridge and Oxford, even though other universities were admitting women as full students much earlier.

The little books are Daily Life in a Victorian House and Colonial Wiliamsburg, which I bought at age eleven in Williamsburg, and tried to use to write an American Girl-style Revolution story. It didn't work out.

And yes, the bottom three are American Girl Collection books. Children's books are awesome for research because they often have maps and pictures. 

These are the print books I have; there were others I read on Kindle for research, but print books are the best for research books, guys. It's harder to highlight, underline, flag, or flip back and forth in an electronic book.

One of my plot bunny ideas is a contemporary idea, where the research will be more like "research." I'm so looking forward to that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

So long, Bandstand!

In January, when my friends Nali, Jess, and I went to BroadwayCon, there was a new Broadway preview thing, which was dangerous because you sing me a showtune and I get hooked and then there's money pouring out of my wallet because I want to see the shows. 

Hearing Laura Osnes and Corey Cott sing "This is Life" was my "ooh, ooh, ooh" moment. Then I watched their performance on the Tonys.

I finally saw it on September 7th, with my usual Broadway partners in crime and it was everything I expected. Amazing dancing. Like, seriously. Great acting. Fantastic singing (See, Corey Cott's singing at the top of his range. He's doing the male equivalent of belting, said my brain as I leaned forward in my seat. Oh, wait, he just went up a notch on that belt...wtf? How did that happen?)

Bandstand was also an original musical, not based on a book or a movie, with new songs. That's rare these days on Broadway.

Sadly, Bandstand, too, closes today, which is why there are two blog posts today.

It starred Corey Cott and Laura Osnes (here's a link to her Broadway.com Bandstand vlog). Corey plays Donny Novitski, a recently-returned WWII army vet and musical prodigy, who is having trouble adjusting back to life in Cleveland. He hears about a MGM music contest and decides to form a band of fellow vets so they can enter the competition--the Donny Nova Band.

The cool thing was all of the band members played their own instruments. Here's a video from a pop-up performance the Donny Nova Band did of "Ain't We Proud."

Laura Osnes played Julia Trojan, a war widow, who happens to sing and write some poetry. She's the widow of a war buddy of Donny's and he checks in on her and learns that she can sing really well. She joins the band as their singer.

I cried at this show--that's never happened to me during a musical. It's not a sad show, but it deals with some heavy subject matter--post-war traumatic stress, namely. Bandstand was so heartfelt; I felt like I'd been emotionally devastated but I was happy that I'd been emotionally devastated, you know?

God, us creatives are such sick puppies.

In essence, I cried a little. I laughed. I had chills. I was cheering. But most of all, I was totally sucked into the show and felt really present.

The music is very 1940s swing and big band, which was a kick to hear. Makes you want to move around. The director is also a choreographer, so the dancing was so amazing to watch--it was super athletic and sinuous and era-appropriate.

My friend Jess is a dancer; she'd seen Bandstand a few months ago and loved all the swing dance, so she took a couple of classes and through Audience Rewards (@audiencerewards #GetRewarded), got to take a dance class with the dance captain of Bandstand doing the show choreography, which is sooo cool.

Jess is the one in the front in the white tanktop. There's video as well, but I couldn't get it to upload.

Goodbye to Groundhog Day

This year, I've seen four new musicals, which is quite a lot to see within a year for me. Alas, of those four, one closed right after my friends and I went to see it and today, two more are closing.

Groundhog Day and Bandstand are playing their final performances today, which is a real shame. They were my favorites this year and they really deserved to go on longer runs. So I'm writing goodbye posts for them, but they're separate because I have a lot of feels, mmkay?

Groundhog Day is based on the Bill Murray dramedy about a cynical weatherman who gets stuck covering Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA and living the same day over and over again.

The main reason I was really excited to see this was the composer, Tim Minchin. He composed Matilda the Musical, which I loved, as well as a bunch of rude and comic songs, which I also love.

Andy Karl--who tore his ACL onstage just before the musical officially opened--played Phil Connors, the cynical weatherman, and Barrett Doss played Rita Hanson, Phil's associate producer and romantic interest. I've seen the show once; on the night I was there, not only was Andy Karl still wearing a knee brace for his injury, but they had to stop the show for a few minutes when a set piece on one of the stage's revolvers didn't move on cue.

What I loved and connected to the most in this show is the message of hope, that we should strive to be our best selves, that we should try not to waste our time on earth with petty shit--but it isn't sappy or like a typical musical, I guess. All of that wrapped in a musical with great melodies, fantastic staging, and lots of movement and really clever lyrics.

My friend Jess, who has seen the show several times, when asked what resonated with her the most from Groundhog Day, said, "I think superficially I love the humor and cleverness of it from the lyrics to the staging. But then the message I got from it was a reminder to not be self-absorbed but show kindness to others. And redemption is possible, just have to work at it."

My friend Nali has seen Groundhog Day four times. At the August 31st performance, Tim Minchin came out for the curtain call. She said the audience was really into the show that night as well, which is so great to hear. Because the show was fresh for her, she had a lot to say about what resonated to her: "For me it was definitely the snark and wit in the lyrics -- a seemingly inspirational song (Hope) about not giving up hope which is actually about him giving up hope that he can kill himself. Overall the message does move the audience to be less self involved but it's not preachy -- it's the theater version of "showy not Telly.'"

Nali also noted, "The set design was crazy amazing! They weren't elaborate set pieces but even when they moved it was like a dance and fluid. They managed to create a sense of perspective. Looking into the room from outside, then you're inside. But then it's sparse -- there are moments when he wakes up and it's just his bed. You don't need the rest of it anymore because his room is already well defined. And the room's size changes with his mental state. When he's dismissive or frustrated, the three pieces are locked in. When he realized he can do whatever he wants - the set piece was just his bed. The town only had a few characters and I felt like I really got to know all of them. It wasn't just a Phil story."

Jess is seeing the show again tonight, so I'm sure it'll be an emotional last show. Groundhog Day is going on a national tour, though, so keep your eyes peeled!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Random snippet time!

Guys, I have nascent plot bunnies whispering in my ear...

I really only have two, though, at the moment.

But the current WIP is chugging along. There's a plot now and progress on said plot, so yay!

Here's a snippet!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

IWSG: September

It is IWSG time again. On to this month's question:

Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?

I'm half convinced that writing is meant to be surprising. For example, when a character reveals something to you in a scene that you didn't expect. Or when a new character walks on and takes over the whole show.

So yeah, I've been surprised by my writing. Writing historical was not that surprising; I love reading it, it's what I gravitate towards, so it seemed a natural evolution to get stuck in writing it. Even now as I'm writing a historical romance or historical fiction with romantic elements (Which way will it swing? It's a subtle difference, but that'll be a surprise!), it feels like a huge leap to write something romancey for me, but it probably isn't, since I read quite a bit of historical romance.

But ghost stories? So not me. I'm a scaredy cat. Horror is not even remotely my genre. And yet, somehow, "Haunted Lake" came pouring out of me because there's something intriguing about a real lake called Haunted Lake that begs to be written.

And now I want to write more horror or supernatural-like short stories, so we'll see what happens.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ireland: A Contrast in Museums

Liz and I visited two museums in Ireland; there are so many more that I'd love to go back and explore and learn from in the future. But I've been thinking about the two we went to and how they represent two sides of Irish history.

Dublin Castle courtyard

 Dublin Castle

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ireland: Most Peaceful Ruins

The tower was ahead of a me--a medieval round tower, the sign next to it said, built of gray stone. Coming up the rather rocky path and the higgledy-piggledy headstones ahead of us, the tower was the tallest structure around, the first of these medieval ruins my cousin Liz and I could see.

The round tower was built between 900 and 1100, the sign said. 900 to 1100. My country was founded in 1776. We don't have manmade structures from the years 900 to 1100. This tower was older than my country.

I reached out a hand to touch the tower's rough stone, placed my palm flat on it. I'm a history nerd and though I didn't know the history of this site we were visiting or of the tower, I knew it was likely to be the oldest thing I'd ever get to touch.

"Watch," Liz said. "You touched it. Now it's going to fall down."

I side-eyed her. The snark is strong with this cousin.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Art in Georgian/Regency England

The Exhibition room, Royal Academy of Arts

My heroine, Jane, is in London in 1804. She likes to paint and draw, but hasn't done either in the year since her husband died. Also, I need her to re-meet and fall in love with Miles Keegan, in order for this story to have the necessary genre romantic elements.

While I was in Ireland, away from my laptop, I brought a notebook with all of my notes for anything related to my fictional Georgian/Regency Keegan universe in it and told myself that I was going to figure out how Jane and Miles run into each other in London and what, exactly, Jane is doing while she's in London besides "figuring out what she wants to do with her life after her year of mourning is up."

Because that's vague.

I had an idea that maybe Jane, unable to resist art, goes to see the latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The summer exhibition at the gallery was a staple of the London Season; it was even featured, briefly, in Downton Abbey.

Or as I told my cousin Liz one night in Limerick, "I need them to get together and I had this idea that either she runs into him after buying a lot of art supplies--I wonder if they had art supply stores back then?"

"Nah, I don't think so. Can't they run into each other somewhere else? It's London, right? What is he doing in London? How long is he there for? What's she doing in London? What do they like to do?"

"Maybe something like the portrait gallery? She likes art, he's sort of attending those kinds of snooty events."

And Liz nodded. This is why brainstorming things with other writers (Liz writes Castle fanfiction) is supremely helpful.

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.