Tag Archives: friendship

Things I Learned at the Ind’Scribe Conference 2015

Sep 25, 2015
Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD'Tale crew!

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD’Tale crew!

I had such a good time at the InD’Scribe conference for indie romance writers in Palm Springs, CA, that I almost don’t know how to put it into words. A good time was had by all, a lot of super talented writers came together to share knowledge and laughter, and even though there were only a few workshops and panels, I learned SO MUCH that will be incredibly useful from them. 

I think the first and most important lesson that I learned is that above all else, story is the most important part of any writing process. Sounds obvious, right? Well, this year’s conference and my experience judging the RONE Awards really drove that home. The actual prose itself could have problems (although another lesson I learned is that we must always, ALWAYS work to improve out craft), but at the end of the day, it’s the story you’re telling that will grab the reader.

We’re all storytellers. That’s why we got into this gig in the first place. Or at least it should be the reason why we got into this gig. We can try to chase trends and follow the market and write from a financial-type motivation all we want, but at the end of the day, it’s our deep, deep desire to tell stories that’s going to push our careers along and take us to the next level.

That being said, one of the key elements of storytelling is to have characters that are likeable. They don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be nice, but they do have to make the reader want to know more about them. Again, pretty obvious, right? But one thing that our first keynote speaker, Anne Perry, said that really stuck with me is that to make a character likable, sometimes you have to know a whole lot of backstory about them. Backstory that may never come out in the book. 

I don’t know about you, but when I have written some of my brightest and best characters, I’ve known far more about them than hits the page. In fact, I’d say that the characters of mine that have resonated the most with myself and with readers have rich inner lives that sort of just came to me whole. But after listening to Anne, I think that I might start investigating those backstories more and writing things down. These characters deserve a chronicle of their lives, even if it’s just in my head. And the net result, as Anne said, is that the characters will appear richer on the page with more of a real sense of why they do the things they do. So backstory. Yay! But don’t dump it all on the page. 

My view from the spot where I sat to work!

My view from the spot where I sat to work!

The other things that Anne Perry mentioned that hit home and that I really want to investigate more is the idea of plotting from the middle of the story, as she said she learned from James Scott Bell. Apparently he wrote a book about it. I NEED to go find this and read it. The concept is that in every book, your main character has a moment—a moment that usually comes right in the middle of the plot—where they stop and take stock of themselves, reflect, and then change direction mentally. Everything they do after that point is different. That’s the center of your plot right there. I want to read this book and explore more about it, because, well, heck. It just sounds awesome and right and true! So I’ll report back once I read that book. 

But for me, perhaps the biggest lesson of the conference is the thing I suffer with the most when it comes to writing and navigating my way through a world of author friends who are, in some cases, more successful than me. I was a finalist for the RONE Award in the American Historical category, but I didn’t win. That’s generally when the demons of self-esteem and comparison come after me. I’m terrible at comparing myself to other authors—heck, I am and always have been terrible at comparing myself to other PEOPLE and coming up feeling less than nothing—but that way lies madness. 

We are all on this journey of life and writing for different reasons. The world is a diverse and vast place. There is definitely enough room for all sorts of different talent, and at times, reaching any given audience takes a little more patience than at other times. One thing Catherine Bybee said in her keynote address (and let me tell you, I actually got to hang out with her a lot and go to dinner with her, and she’s FABULOUS!) is that it takes a huge amount of patience, time, and persistence to make it in this business. Actually, Tina Folsom said the same thing in her keynote. Patience is the key, but so is writing the next and the next and the next book. And so is being really energetic and aggressive about going after what you want from your career. 

So I KNOW I need to stop constantly comparing myself and my career trajectory to other authors around me. I also know that I’m utterly incapable of doing that, because that urge to compare is so deeply ingrained in my personality and has been from such a young age that it’s not going to ever fully go away. But the most mature thing I can do is to see it, accept it, let it be, and move on. There is no power in this business greater than writing the next book. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the things I’ve learned here during InD’Scribe 2015. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more excellent ideas for blog posts and whip those off at some point. If you ever get a chance to come to this conference, DO! And it you aren’t already subscribed to InD’Tale Magazine, please zip on over and sign up. It’s free!

Excerpt…Thursday? The Brynthwaite Boys – First Look

Jul 09, 2015

Well, I’ve been incredibly remiss in posting Excerpt Wednesday bits, and now it’s Thursday and I haven’t posted anything. But never fear! I’ve been hard at work. Starting at the end of this month, I’ll be publishing something new and exciting. The Brynthwaite Boys is a serial. Yep, a good, old fashioned serial. It has 12 episodes that are about 18,000 words a piece (longer than a short story, but not quite a novella), and I’ll be publishing the first four upfront, then one a week until it’s done. The whole point of this story is to be like one of those awesome BBC historical drama series that I love so much (like Downton Abbey, Lark Rise to Candleford, Outlander, Call the Midwife…you know). Here’s a peek at how it starts, complete with most of the characters being introduced….

Landscape_STL

Episode One – A Promising Start

Brynthwaite, Cumbria – 1895

Flossie

The afternoon train from the city of Manchester to the scenic town of Brynthwaite was forty-five minutes late. Other passengers may have enjoyed the leisurely journey through the Lake District’s pastoral hills, misty forests, and fertile valleys. They may have gasped at the beauty of each new vista as the train meandered its way through green fields, fresh with May blooms. They skies were a crisp blue with only a few white clouds on the horizon, but Flossie Stowe could only think of one thing. If the train didn’t hurry, she would be late for the appointment that could change her life.

“Brynthwaite,” a porter called, poking his head into the third-class car. “Brynthwaite, next stop.”

Flossie let out a breath of relief as she felt the train slow. Just as quickly, she took in a new one. It was a small miracle that fortune had dropped this opportunity in her lap, just when it was most needed. Her wages at Crestmont Grange had been adequate. She’d certainly been able to send the much-needed funds home to her sister, Betsy, and then some. But Betsy always needed more, and the unpleasantness from Crestmont was still there. The people of Brynthwaite surely had their opinions on the building of a modest hotel in their town, but they could never know what a godsend it was for those who truly needed it.

The train’s whistle sounded, and outside the window the countryside gave way to clusters of cottages and outbuildings, then larger yards and warehouses, and finally the imposing stone edifice of the train station itself. Already a decent crowd had gathered on the platform—workmen in overalls ready to unload cargo, porters in their crisp uniforms, eyes already trained on first-class, where they might hope to get the best tips, and townspeople of all description, waiting for visitors.

“Polly,” Flossie gasped in relief at the sight of her friend waiting with the others. Polly was hard to miss, with her copper-gold hair and cheery face. Growing up together in Lincolnshire they had been nicknamed “the two Irish lasses,” Polly for her copper hair and green eyes and Flossie for her black hair and blue eyes, though neither one of them had a drop of Irish blood, that they knew of. They’d been as inseparable as sisters until age and the need to work had pulled them apart. But not anymore.

Flossie poked her head out the train’s open window and waved to her friend. Polly’s face lit up when she saw her.

“Flossie,” she cried with all the youthful exuberance the two of them had had as girls.

It was torture to wait for the train to stop fully and for Flossie to shuffle into line with the rest of the departing passengers. She let an older couple go before her and took a moment to help a frazzled mother with her young children on her way out, but at long last, she stepped down from the train and onto the platform.

“You’re here,” Polly called to her, rushing to meet Flossie in a warm embrace that had both of them giggling. “You’re actually here. I can hug you and see you and everything.”

“I am here,” Flossie laughed aloud. “But I’m late. Oh, Polly, I’m so late. My appointment with Mr. Throckmorton is at two-thirty, and it’s already quarter-past now.”

“I know,” Polly exclaimed. She grabbed Flossie’s hand and tugged her to the end of the platform, closer to the station. “I’ve been waiting here for an hour, growing more anxious by the minute. Lady Elizabeth gave me leave to come meet you, but I don’t think she expected it to take this long.”

“Oh no.” Flossie pressed a hand to her racing heart. “Will she be very upset?”

Polly laughed. “I doubt it. She doesn’t have immediate need for her lady’s maid in the middle of the afternoon, especially not when she’s at home with no one but her aunt and her cousin and anyone who decides to pay a call. Which could mean half the gentlemen in the county, come to think of it.”

“That much is a relief, at least.” Flossie knew how much fine ladies relied on their maids from the way that Lady Morley at Crestmont had driven poor Miss Lambert half mad with her constant requests, but from the regular correspondence Polly had sent to Flossie, it was apparent that “Lady E.” was quite different than Lady Morley.

“Do you have a ticket for your luggage?” Polly asked, tugging Flossie further on.

“I do somewhere,” Flossie replied, handling the small, cast-off reticule that her former employer had thrown in the rag-bag years ago.

“Good.” Polly pushed her along. “We’ll come back for your things later. Right now, it’s important to get you to The Dragon’s Head as soon as possible.”

“The Dragon’s Head,” Flossie laughed as they climbed down the stairs at the back of the station and into a busy street. “The name sounds more like a pub than a hotel.”

“Lady E. says that Mr. Throckmorton chose the name for its novelty,” Polly said, steering them to the left and up a slight hill. “She says that Mr. Throckmorton’s other hotels are all named something quite banal, like The King’s Arms Hotel in Birmingham or The Lion’s Mark in London, but that he wanted something that would truly stand out for Brynthwaite.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Flossie said, puffing to keep up with Polly’s fast pace. “Brynthwaite isn’t half so fine or large as any of those towns.”

“Which is precisely why he needed a name to inspire a sense of grandeur,” Polly laughed. “Although the other bit of speculation I heard is that Mr. Throckmorton was in one of his tempers when he was pressed for a name and he overheard his solicitor call him a fire-breathing dragon. Can you imagine?” She burst into a peel of laughter.

All Flossie could do was imagine. She’d been imagining little else but the comings and goings of the lives of people in Brynthwaite since Polly began writing to her. It seemed that Polly knew something about everyone in town—possibly more than they suspected—on account of her position as lady’s maid to the grand dame of the area. Lady Elizabeth’s father, Lord Gerald Dyson, Earl of Thornwell, may have been the reigning lord of the land, but he was old and infirm, and his only child, Lady Elizabeth, was the squire in every way but name and gender. As her letters attested, Polly considered it her duty to keep Lady E. informed of everything in the lives of all of Brynthwaite’s citizens, a duty for which she had been rewarded with the position of lady’s maid at the tender age of twenty-six.

And Polly was devoted to her duties.

“Of course, guests will come to the hotel to enjoy the scenery,” she prattled on. “There isn’t much else this far from civilization but scenery. Lucky for Mr. Throckmorton, holidays in the country are all the rage. He told Lady E. that his hotel will cater to only the finest custom, and—oh!”

“What?” Flossie stumbled at her friend’s sudden exclamation.

“Look over there.” Polly lowered her voice to a whisper, slowing her steps and glancing to the other side of the street.

Flossie looked. A gentleman who appeared to be in his late-thirties with dark hair and a moustache, wearing a bowler hat rushed up the street, dodging a fellow pedestrian. A woman with three girls in tow chased him.

“Marshall Pycroft, where do you think you’re going?” the woman shouted. A few people on the street glanced her way and frowned. The man slowed his steps and winced. Flossie blinked in surprise as the woman went on. “Yesterday it was the baking, and today you tell me I need to do my own washing as well? Like we were common farm laborers?”

The man in the bowler turned back to her, jaw clenched. “Could we not discuss this later this evening, when I am home, Clara?”

“And why should I hold my peace?” The woman, Clara, raised her voice. “Are you ashamed to have our neighbors know how low we have sunk? I left London for this, Marshall, London,” she all but wept. “I left my home and my family. I thought I would be a doctor’s wife, respected and admired, but I’m nothing but a drudge now.”

“Please, Clara, keep your voice down.”

“That’s Dr. Pycroft,” Polly whispered, tugging Flossie on. “He grew up here, at the very hospital he runs now. It used to be an orphanage then.”

“And it’s a hospital now,” Flossie said, remembering aloud the details Polly had written to her. Brynthwaite Municipal Orphanage had been the home to many children, ostensibly in the attempt to keep them out of the workhouse. It had been so badly run, though, that the crown had shut it down ten years ago and converted it into Brynthwaite Hospital. Dr. Marshall Pycroft had been hired to run the place a few years ago, though what that entailed, Flossie could only manage.

“I can do the washing, Mama,” the oldest of the girls tagging behind Mrs. Pycroft spoke up. “I’m old enough.”

“Quiet, Mary,” Mrs. Pycroft snapped. “I won’t have a daughter of mine stooping as low as a washerwoman.”

“Mrs. Pycroft thinks awfully well of herself,” Polly went on, sending a sly look across the street to the bickering couple before picking up speed again. “She thinks that because her father was a solicitor in a London firm, her feet smell better than half the folks in Brynthwaite. They don’t have any money, though. The hospital survives on a tiny stipend from the crown, and the rest is up to Dr. Pycroft himself to raise. Lady E. helps out as much as she can, but one can only do so much.”

“Oh, I see.” Flossie sent one last look over her shoulder to Dr. Pycroft and his wife. They were clearly still bickering, but they’d lowered their voices. Flossie’s heart went out to the Pycroft girls, Mary and her sisters, who stood there looking dejected.

She wasn’t the only one who noticed the argument. A few yards up, a man was watching the Pycroft’s with a pained look on his face. He was a strange man too, to Flossie’s reckoning. He was handsome, probably the same age as Dr. Pycroft, and wore simple, workman’s clothes. His sleeves were rolled up to show strong forearms, but he held himself with the grace of a noble. And he carried the strangest lattice of iron over one shoulder.

“Who is that?” Flossie asked.

Polly paused and turned to look. The man across the street turned in time to see the two of them staring. He smiled and nodded. Flossie smiled and dipped her head in return. Polly gasped.

“Don’t look at him, don’t look at him!” she said, grabbing Flossie’s hand and rushing on.

“What? Why?” Flossie missed a step in her haste to catch up.

“That’s Lawrence Smith.”

Flossie shook her head. “Who is he?”

“He’s the blacksmith,” Polly hissed, careful not to face him, although her eyes darted to the side.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a blacksmith,” Flossie said.

“It’s not that,” Polly went on. “He’s…he’s mysterious.”

“Mysterious?” Flossie laughed. “He just looks like a kind and comely man to me. You’ve never mentioned him in your letters.”

“There are some things a lady can’t write about. He’s a gypsy,” Polly said. “Or at least he would be if it weren’t for the fact that he was born and raised in Brynthwaite.”

“Then he’s not a gypsy,” Flossie reasoned, although from his dark coloring, he easily could have been.

“Folks still swear that he is,” Polly explained. “Mr. Smith was raised at the orphanage too. There’s plenty who think that his folks were gypsies, and that for some reason they dropped him off here and left him. What kind of man is he if even the gypsies didn’t want him?”

“He wasn’t a man when he was left at the orphanage, he was a baby,” Flossie reasoned. “You can’t tell what kind of man a baby is going to grow up to be.”

“Oh, but he did grow up to be that man,” Polly insisted, her green eyes round. “He’s not a Christian,” she whispered as though it were the gravest of sins. “He practices the old ways. There’s folk who say they’ve caught him saying chants at the full moon and putting curses on people.”

Flossie laughed. “I don’t believe in curses.”

“You might if you—oh!” Polly peeked over her shoulder, then snapped straight and picked up her pace. “Don’t look now, but he’s following us.”

Flossie did look. All she saw was a man carrying an iron contraption over his shoulder, smiling as though he enjoyed the fine summer day as much as the larks and the bees. He didn’t seem like the kind who would curse anyone.

“Are you sure he’s that sinister?” she asked Polly.

Polly bit her lip, slow to answer. “Well, he is friendly with Dr. Pycroft. Because they were raised together at the orphanage, you see. And Mr. Throckmorton was too.”

“What, Mr. Throckmorton who owns hotels in London and Manchester, and The Dragon’s Head too?”

“And a hotel in Liverpool.” Polly nodded. “He’s a Brynthwaite boy. Raised at the orphanage and sent out to seek his fortune, same as Dr. Pycroft. Only, where Dr. Pycroft went in for schooling and doctoring, Mr. Throckmorton was more interested in getting rich and building things.”

“So he’s friends with Mr. Smith?”

“Yes,” Polly said. She frowned. “I think. He must be. But it’s hard to tell, since Mr. Throckmorton has only been in town for a fortnight now. But I see him and Dr. Pycroft entering The Fox and Lion Pub together all the time, and Mr. Smith with them sometimes.” She paused to consider. “Yes, I’m certain they’re friends. I wonder if Lady E. knows about this?” She considered it, then shook her head. “A man as rich and powerful as Mr. Throckmorton being friends with a gypsy like Mr. Smith is not something you see every day.”

“No,” Flossie agreed.

 

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In Defense of Bromance

Feb 21, 2014

_BFF_SherlockAnyone who has been following me on Facebook recently has probably noticed that I’ve gotten a little obsessed with the BBC version of Sherlock. That all started when a good friend of mine insisted that I MUST watch the show. Well, she was right. It’s fantastic. It’s brilliantly written, superbly acted, and expertly filmed. But the best thing about the show is the complex and touching relationship between Holmes and Watson as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

So of course I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I stumbled across a whole load of Holmes/Watson anime-style porn and a world of Holmes/Watson ‘shippers.

*sigh*

I don’t get it. I’ve seen ‘ships like this pop up over other odd combinations of characters in the past (Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy come to mind), and usually I can just shrug it off as not to my taste. But to those people who are all-fired determined to ‘ship Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Holmes and Watson (or even Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law’s Holmes and Watson), I say wtf? Yes, they have an amazing relationship, yes, they depend on each other for emotional support beyond the usual, but can’t they just be friends?

This relentless push towards creating a sexual relationship out of friendship instead of just letting people be friends is, in my humble opinion, tasteless at best and damaging at worst. And I say this as someone who is considerably liberal on gender issues and marriage equality. If two guys (or two girls) are going to be in love, that’s fantastic. But sometimes friendship is more important than knocking boots. Much more important.

I wonder if the sexual revolution is devaluing friendship. Especially for men. It’s a lot easier for girls to be BFFs and always has been. Men, on the other hand, have far more treacherous waters to swim when it comes to the varying degrees of their relationships with others. My personal feeling is that it’s so much harder for society to accept two men as deeply-committed friends without any sort of sexual connotation put on them. It’s almost as hard for two guys to be friends these days as it is for a guy and a girl to be friends without any further implications. It’s like the curtain of BRO is an iron one. That’s just sad.

Francesco Hayez - Self-Portrait With A Group Of Friends

Francesco Hayez – Self-Portrait With A Group Of Friends

It wasn’t always like this. In fact, for a huge part of history it wasn’t. Deep male friendship was taken for granted as normal, healthy, and pivotal to emotional wellbeing in the Victorian age, for example—the era in which the original Sherlock Holmes stories were written. Back then, there was nothing remotely odd about two men renting rooms together to share expenses, or just for companionship (and crime-solving). I plan to write more about this for my Monday History post, but actually, in the Victorian era, male friendships were an integral part of society and celebrated as the glue that kept civilization together.

With no sexual implications at all.

I feel like that has changed in our 21st century world. In fact, I feel like the more we consider ourselves sexually liberated and the more permissive we get about relationships, the more we put pressure on people to take relationships to extremes that they were never meant to be taken to. Can’t we just be friends? Can’t closeness exist on a level that does not end up in bed?

It seems to me that the men I observe in my everyday world have a great deal of respect and care for each other, but they’re forced to put on a macho façade to keep others from getting the proverbial wrong idea. The parlance that I hear the guys in my office use with each other borders on absurd, as far as I’m concerned. They all call each other “buddy” and “champ” and “sport”. Um, these are things that you call a child or a dog, not a full-grown man? But that’s the point. Is the only way guys can keep anyone from getting the wrong idea to resort to prepubescent verbiage?

Wouldn’t it be nice if guys could interact with each other on a closer level—like they did in the 19th century—without fear of anyone drawing anime porn starring them? That’s why I think both the Sherlock tv show and movies are fantastic examples of male bonding. Star Trek too. (Let’s not forget my other longtime/renewed obsession) Kirk and Spock had a fantastic, mature working relationship, but they also depended on each other for emotional support. Were people drawing Kirk/Spock porn or writing erotic fanfic about them in the 60s? Not that I know of. They were just friends.

I hope that the current spate of ‘shipping doesn’t end up doing more harm than good to the concept of male friendship in the 21st century. I have to admit that in an interview I recently watched with Martin Freeman, when the chat show host showed him Sherlock/Watson porn with a smirk, even though he was a good sport about it, Mr. Freeman did not look amused. Why should he be? How is he going to explain those images to his young children when (and we all know it won’t be if) they come across them? How will he then go on to explain that it’s okay to just be friends?

I’m all for a loosening of the draconian morals that have kept people in an unhealthy psychological servitude for decades, but I think we’ve gone too far. I worry that we’re making every relationship a potentially sexual one. I mean, even the harmless term “bromance” has romantic implications. Friendships are perhaps the most important relationships we have. Let’s keep them platonic and encourage friendship for friendship’s sake to grow.

Is He Earnest? Homosexuality in the 19th Century

Oct 14, 2013
Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas

Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas

Even though I have two novellas to write before I get there, I’m already deep into the research phase of the last book in my Montana Romance series, Somebody To Love. Why all the research? Because Somebody To Love is Phin’s love story, and as anyone who has read the other books in the series knows, Phineas Bell is gay. He’s also wonderful, as far as I’m concerned, and deserves to be in love. But love for a gay man at the close of the 19th century was a complex and dangerous business.

And so … research.

It’s interesting to look back on the history of homosexuality as a woman of liberal leanings in the early 21st century. Homosexuality is such a hot-button issue, both politically and socially. We’ve come a long way. At least that’s what we tell ourselves these days. But have we come a long way? And if so, since when?

The answer is as complex as the issue itself. Yes, we have come a long way in the western world from the views that were held in the 19th century and the centuries right before. Homosexuality was a crime punishable by death in a lot of places in the western world as late as the 19th century. In fact, the last men to be put to death for homosexuality in England were John Smith and James Pratt in 1836. The most tragic part of Smith and Pratt’s case is that the magistrate, Hesney Wedgewood, argued for clemency for the two, saying that the only reason the two were condemned for practicing what so many others engaged in was because they were poor and couldn’t afford privacy for their act or defense of it. It was widely known that much was going on behind closed doors elsewhere. Continue reading

Battling Author Envy

Oct 02, 2013
Comparisons!  Don't do it! © Eastwest Imaging | Dreamstime.com

Comparisons! Don’t do it!
© Eastwest Imaging | Dreamstime.com

(today’s post is cross-posted from the Seduced by History blog)

Friends, today I’d like to talk to you about something not related to history, but rather related to the experience we all have of writing romantic stories about history. It’s not about research or about debates of historical accuracy or how much we should strive for it. It’s not about marketing or strategies for getting our books out there. It’s not about working through revisions or about dealing with critiques or reviews. Yet at the same time, it’s about all of those things.

I’m talking about Author Envy.

Yep. Author Envy is that state we all go through repeatedly as part of this crazy writing thing we do where we look around at our fellow writers, our chapter-mates, and our critique partners and feel like we’re a complete and utter waste of time when compared to them. Someone always seems to be winning a competition, being signed to a contract, finishing a book, publishing the next book, getting rave reviews and landing at the top of the bestseller list, and where are we? Stuck in Nowheresville feeling like a schmuck. Continue reading