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Susan here, in the midst of a week that’s turned so busy (moving furniture, painting, family coming soon, and a book in need of writing!) –- and no doubt you all are busier than normal too -- that today I’m trotting out a Goldie Oldie, aka a Wench Classic. And in the current climate of stressful news and some crazy things out there, what better than to take a break and think about fairy tales? Ahh, there, now I feel better …
“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories"
I've been thinking about fairy tales lately. My bookshelves are crammed full, like the bookshelves of every Wench author and our blog readers too. A few of my shelves are devoted to legends, myths--and fairy tales. Old, tattered, beloved childhood copies; antique fairy tale books; anthologies and academic studies of fairy tale themes--these books don't gather much dust at my house. I still read them, ponder over them. I still love them.
“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” --Mae West
I have some familiar favorites, like an old copy of the complete tales of The Brothers Grimm (the real ones -- not fancied or scrubbed up, these!), the tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, and of course Andrew Lang—The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, the Green Fairy Book (and The Yellow, Pink, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Scarlet, Orange, Olive and Lilac Books). One of my favorite Little Golden Books was The Twelve Dancing Princesses, exquisitely illustrated by Sheilah Beckett. When I was very little, I treasured an old copy of The Tall Book of Fairy Tales by Eleanor Graham Vance. Not sure where it came from, but once I got my sticky little hands on it, it was mine, mine. Another favorite is a gift book in my college days, a beautiful reprint of Steel’s English Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. And then there are the Joseph Jacobs Celtic Fairy Tales, and Irish fairy tales collected by W.B. Yeats … and so many others, old and new.
That’s just the stories. I enjoy academic studies of fairy tales, such as my dog-eared, well-read copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and Marina Warner’s fabulous From the Beast to the Blonde. I love fresh spins on fairy tale themes, such as stories by Jack Zipes--and there's a long list of romances and other novels based on fairy tale arcs.
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” --Albert Einstein
It’s always seemed to me that cold needs snow in it. Cold without snow is like ham without eggs, Jekyll without Hyde, clotted cream without scones -- which is to say, sad and pointless.
My favorite winter activity, in fact, is building a snowman. I like this because it’s ephemeral and my art is much improved if it doesn’t last too long. Snow is a medium that does not encourage a quest for perfection. One must accept the limits of the whole snowman realism thing. And it’s childish. I like to be free and deliberately childish once in a while. Making snowmen is, I’m sure, an ancient human activity. I connect to my presocietal ancestors.
Also, you end up with a snowman which is kinda a lucky thing to have about the place.
So I asked the other Wench what was their favorite activity in the winter, assuming I’d get back responses like, “sitting in coffee shops, doing edits” or “drinking hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps.”
Here is what they have to say:
We're coming into spring here, but I live in a city famed -- infamed? ;) -- for its changeable weather, so it's teasing us with glimpses of spring and then reverting back to cold, wet and gloomy, which is our usual winter weather. We almost never get snow and when it does hit (about once in a decade) we all get wildly excited and take photos and make miniature snowmen -- miniature because there's never enough snow for anything more than about a foot high -- and that's pushing it -- and the snow only ever lasts a few hours. So, failing the excitement of snow, winter for me is curling up somewhere warm and cosy with a good book, preferably beside a crackling open fire.
Growing up, I loved skiing. But the icy trails of New England no longer hold quite the same appeal, and as I don’t often get out to the powdery slopes of Colorado or Utah, these days I find oth er means of locomotion when the snow falls. I’ve unbuckled my downhill boots and tend to lace up my hiking boots in winter. I love walking down by the harbor near where I live and enjoying the subtle play of light on the water, both on cold, clear days and in stormy weather. There’s an austere beauty to the limited palette of winter colors and the always changing patterns of shadow and waves. I always go home to my writing desk feeling rechanged by the wonders of Nature.
Pat takes a California view:
My favorite winter activity is to run away from winter. We've spent our lives living in snow country, spent a week without electricity and running water, lived on kerosene heaters, the whole rigamarole. Now we live in Southern California and we go whale sailing, take long scenic walks on the beach, and travel. If it qualifies as an outside activity--I sit on the patio and read and write! It took a long time to shake the snow off our boots, but we're enjoying the sand!
Susan is another old winter veteran:
Spending my childhood in a small town in Upstate New York, I grew up doing plenty of winter activities - skiing at Lake Placid, sledding and ice skating in the local park (and my dad would flood the backyard, which froze into a perfect skating rink for us all winter). We built snow-people and forts and had epic neighborhood snowball fights. Truly a winter wonderland up there. Fast forward to my high school years, when we moved south to Maryland -- where the opportunities for months of snowy winter fun were not so much. Scraping a few inches of dirty snow for a snowball to pelt a sister or a friend - nah. Now and then, though, the Mid-Atlantic does produce some very respectable snow. Years later, I was as eager as my kids to get my coat and boots on to help build snow-people, snow forts and go sledding down our nice steep hill, but good snow just wasn't reliable each year. Nowadays, I still very much love snow and snowstorms. But I'm more likely to be shoveling the driveway (though my husband does get the occasional surprise snowball - I'm cautious about this, as his return volleys are not near as gentle as mine!). I do love to go for a walk in the snow, especially when it's drifting peacefully and beautifully out of the sky.
Then I stomp the snow off my boots, go inside, make some hot tea and curl up with a good book!
Nicola here. My favourite outdoor winter activity is taking the dogs out for a walk in the snow on a cold, crispy day with a blue sky overhead and the wind on my face. I find it refreshing and reinvigorating and the dogs go completely mad with excitement. It’s great fun watching them! I think maybe everything smells sharper to them on a snowy day. They also love the texture of the snow, jumping in it and running through it. Ethel saw snow at the beginning of this year as a tiny puppy but if we get any this winter she will be able to go out and play in it. Angus loves it almost as much as going to the seaside! The picture is of Monty, our old Labrador, helpfully fetching my hat from out of a snowdrift.
Of course being so weather-dependent, this isn’t an outdoor activity you can guarantee and there have been plenty of years when all we have had is grey rain and dull skies. It’s difficult to whip up the same enthusiasm for a dog walk under those circumstances! The forecast this year is for a hard winter so we will wrap up warm and get out there.
Mary Jo here. I can't honestly think of any outdoor winter activity that matches up to curling up inside with a good book and a cat on the lap! But I admit that after a fresh snow, I enjoy a gentle stroll to appreciate the beauty of pristine winter.
But I have much more enthusiasm for that winter activity known as a visit to the Caribbean! Appreciated all the more because of what we've left behind. <G>
What about you?
As November swings past Thanksgiving and into December, what do you look forward to doing outside? What did you used to do that stays with you still in memory.
One lucky commenter will win a copy of my novella, Gideon and the Den of Thieves.
Andrea/Cara here, Ho-Ho-Ho! Now that we spooked you with scary reads on Monday, we’re following up with a sleighful of good cheer. November signals the start (earlier and earlier it seems!) of the end-of-year holiday. And while all the celebrating with family and friends is wonderful, there are times when one simply wants to escape from the hustle and bustle and enjoy a few hours of quiet reading. With that in mind, we decided to showcase the Wenchly Christmas-themed books to spark smiles and good cheer. So get ready to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and plate of cookies . . .
Incomparable Lord Meath (A Novella)
Christmas in Ireland
Penniless spinster Honora Hoyt has carved a safe niche in London society as her noble uncle’s hostess —until an old flame re-enters her life, threatening her hard-earned security. Evan, Lord Meath, abandoned his pampered life—and Honora—after a reckless gamble left him lame and disillusioned. Now he’s hoping to perform a good deed for once—but here’s Honora again, desirable, maddening, and in the way. It looks like he’s about to wreck his good intentions, and Honora’s too. Again. In the season of peace, can they resolve their conflicts and find the joy and love that each secretly craves?
Original Novella Rebellious Sons prequel $2.99
Christmas Enchantment anthology
Three heartwarming Regency holiday romances in one joyful book.
Christmas Angel: Marian had no intention of starting something new. Taking care of family and helping a once prosperous town survive was all she had in mind after the tragic death of her fiancé. Then a stranger with a heavy heart from America unexpectedly arrived. Maybe this will be the Christmas they both need - with a gift that lasts forever.
Christmas Goose : The spoiled child of a rich baron, Rebecca left that world for love. But, her husband died in the war. Now she finds herself taking care of his young sisters, removed from the grace of her prosperous father. Simon feels his life is a failure. The war took his soul and he longs for a new beginning. Even the battles of war haven't prepared him for the battle for the hand of the feisty woman he's come to love.
Tin Angel : Jeffrey fought the good fight in the halls of government but comes home exasperated at life, law, family and love. Much to his dismay, the visit from a guardian angel (in whom he does not believe) leads him to question his sanity. Mary’s bright humor and sarcastic jabs give him something he’s never experienced - a way to look beyond himself and into the world again. Could she be the key that opens that last door at Christmas?
(Anthology of stories originally contained in Signet Regency Christmas collections $4.99)
Hallowe’en is drawing nigh, "whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry" (thanks, Robert Burns!) -- so for our October What-We're-Reading post, we Wenches are sharing some favorite ghostly and paranormal stories.
Classics, cozy mysteries, romance, fantasy, paranormal, scholarly and tales of real ghostly encounters . . . haunted houses, ghosties and beasties – we’ve included some downright spooky fun in the following picks. So if you’re not too busy answering the door and tossing treats to little witches, vampires, superheroes, butterflies and fairy princesses – and if you're in the mood for a Halloween thrill -- check out some of these great reads!
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott
I confess that I don’t read horror, or much paranormal, so am woefully ill-equipped to offer any first-hand recommendations for Halloween reads. What can I say—the genre just doesn’t tickle my fancy. However, I did spot this intriguing-looking book. Haunted—On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds is just the type of take on the subject that I’d find appealing, and so have put it on my TBR pile. Here’s the blurb: “An award-winning scholar and author charts four hundred years of monsters and how they reflect the culture that created them.”
I love paranormals as long as they’re light and not filled with violence. I cannot begin to name all the series I scarf down, many of which I’ve mentioned before. The ones that leap to mind immediately are Ilona Andrews’ Innkeeper Chronicles where you can have everything from ghosts to aliens, Juliet Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries where the heroine is a witch who keeps bumping into things in the night, and of course Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series which is a tour-de-force of humor and sexiness and a heroine who is the passage between earth and heaven. Then there’s Angie Fox, who can inject humor into anything from biker granny witches to southern spirits, just choose your preferred creature:
Mary Jo Putney
When Susan suggested that we choose ghost stories for the October WWR, I wasn't sure if I could offer much since I'm not into horror or ghosts. And then I thought of Ammie Come Home . . . .
I can’t say that I don’t want to write contemporaries since I have, but historicals are my main love. I researched contemporary subjects for the contemporaries, but researching a town or a career isn’t quite the same as digging into the culture and politics of two hundred years ago. I can put my 1830 people on the cutting edge of industry and inventions and know those industries and inventions won’t be outdated tomorrow, they’ll always be fixed in 1830. But if I write, as I have, about a techie in the 21st century who uses the latest greatest device, a thumb drive—by the next year, that book is completely outdated. And man, cell phones really ruin suspense!
Nicola here. It’s the end of September and as usual we’re doing our round up of Wench reading for the month and asking you to recommend some more books for our towering TBR piles! One of the things I love about the What We’re Reading feature is that the recommendations always inspire and enthuse me. It’s lovely to hear people sharing their suggestions with such pleasure! As the nights grow longer here in the UK and the evenings are cool it’s the most perfect time to curl up in front of the woodburning stove. Maybe that’s why the first book I’m talking about this month is called Into the Fire. It’s a dual time story set in the present and the fifteenth century, involving the story of Joan of Arc. Into the Fire is a thriller and I found I was equally engaged with the modern parts of the story as I was with the engrossing mystery surrounding Joan. This book is really compelling. I could not put it down.
Susan here, researching a new novel, looking through my bookshelves and files for research notes and books on falconry and hawking--I'm returning to those scribbled handwritten notes, books on falconry and now some new books on the subject, putting together a plot spin for my newest novel. I love revisiting old research and adding new to it, wandering a bit to see where it goes--so I've been, uh, peregrinating through the falconry notes. <groan>
And I came across some photos taken several years back when a friend and I flew hawks for a day, and when I visited a local falconer to meet his trained goshawk. The photos brought back the feeling of what it's like, even briefly, to fly hawks and be around birds of prey. The research filled out the story for my Laird of the Wind and other medievals, and later added detail to Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter. Experiential research is a great way to add layers to the writing of a story--I've flown hawks, shot arrows (and caught them!), trained with swords and weapons, taken harp lessons and more. I love the chance to try for myself what I'm researching for characters and story, discovering details I might not learn otherwise.
Falconry, the skill of keeping, training and hunting with falcons, hawks and other birds of prey, has been around a long, long time, developing in the ancient world in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, Rome, where stelai, mural paintings and sculptures show birds of prey in hunting and domestic scenes. In Egypt, thousands of mummified falcons and hawks have been found in tombs, showing the great significance of the birds in culture and religion. The falcon-headed god Horus, with his dominion over the sky, over war and hunting, lent falcons and hawks an aura of magic, mysticism and mythology -- and that layer of meaning has stayed with the birds.
In Europe in the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages, falconry (austringers use hawks, falconers falcons, but the term falconry is used for both) became an essential part of hunting, as birds could be trained to pluck game birds out of the sky and hares in the fields. Among the Saxons and Normans and later British and European cultures, falconry quickly developed into more than sport, requiring high skill and years of training; today, just to be licensed, falconers must fulfill apprenticeship years.
Medieval treatises such as The Boke of St Albans as well as modern techniques of falconry show that the keeping, training and flying a bird of prey requires utter dedication and total focus, particularly in the training phase. They are not pets; they are always a challenge, wild, instinctive, highly intelligent; capable of leaving a trainer in the blink of an eye and never looking back.
Anne here, bringing you Ask-A-Wench for this month, in which we're talking craft-of-writing books. There are probably as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers, and in our discussion of the topic, we found the wenches vary enormously.
Mary Jo: Basically, I hate how-to-write books. In the past, I bought a number of pricey books that other writers raved about. Books that help some develop strong plots, brilliant insights, and probably shiny hair. They did nothing for me. My mind blanks. Eventually, I realized that is not how I learn. (I'm not great with expensive, highly rated lecturers on writing, either. Honestly, I have no idea how I've ever managed to write a book!)
But one book I really like is Stephen King's ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft. Probably because it's more memoir and less craft. I don't read Stephen King novels because I've never been into horror, but in this memoir, he is warm and wise and witty and very easy to relate to. He intertwines his life with his writing, and the result is fascinating and powerful. (Also short. Unlike his novels. *G*)
Our monthly round-up of favorite reads for the summer months, or winter if you're down-under, plus a few movies to help us through the extreme weather.
As an antidote to the high summer heat and humidity that have settled over Maryland, we recently watched Where Eagles Dare, a 1968 action movie set in World War II. I first saw it many years ago, and I've seen it once or twice since, but not recently, and I was curious about how well it's held up. (This because we'd recently watched another WWII movie from the same era and it was pretty bad.)
But Where Eagles Dare still rocks! Based on a novel and screenplay by Alistair MacLean, a favorite author of mine for many years, it's fast paced and full of twists and turns. It features a very handsome and enigmatic Richard Burton, a very young and very deadly Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure, Burton's love interest and fellow agent, a woman who is as skilled with a machine gun as Clint.
The plot has a group of British commandos going to a Nazi mountain fortress to rescue an American general who knows the D-Day plans, and they have to get him out before the information can be tortured out of him. Eastwood is an American Army Ranger who is along for reasons that become clear at the end (when he says something to the effect of 'next time you Brits have a party like this, don't invite me.' <G>)
But what really makes this movie so suitable for summer viewing is the setting. The Schloss Adler is on a mountaintop in Southern Bavaria in deep winter with snow, ice, and biting winds galore. The only access by cable car sailing high above the icy slopes. Delightful! Recommended for all heat waves. <G>
I've been reading a lovely book called The Giants Look Down by Sonja Price. It's a first novel and is one of the most original and interesting books I've picked up in a while. The heroine, Jaya, born in Kashmir, is determined to be a doctor like her father but a devastating natural disaster robs her of her family and her future. The scene then shifts to Scotland as she embarks on a new life. Both the scenes set in Kashmir and Scotland are beautifully and evocatively described, and the Kashmiri background in particular is unusual and fascinating. Jaya is a lovely heroine and I was rooting for her to succeed against all the odds. It's a fabulous debut book.
I was also lucky enough to pick up a pile of books at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference last week and can't wait to dive into them! One of them, The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick, is perfect summer
reading, with a heroine taking on an old cottage and discovering the secrets it has held for generations. I love Cornwall and Liz's books are so evocative that I can imagine I'm sitting in a rocky cove, gazing out over
I’ve been reading The Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, which is absolutely fascinating. It’s just the sort of non-fiction I love, as it weaves together important specific discoveries and personalities with an overview of the world and society at the time. The author, Laura J. Snyder, has also written another book I enjoyed (The Philosophical Breakfast Club, which is about the men who changed science in England) I think she’s both an elegant writer and a lively storyteller—something that doesn’t always go hand in hand in non-fiction.
This book is a wonderfully provocative exploration of art and science—Leewenhoek invented the microscope and Vermeer pioneered the use of optics in art (it’s thought he used a camera obscura in creating his luminous paintings.) The 1600s was the height of the Scientific Revolution, where empirical observation became the rallying cry for all those interested in understanding the world around them. She talks not only about how lenses helped see the world in a way the naked eye can't perceive, but also why Holland became a hotbed for creativity in art and science. It was a truly “eye-opening” book, and I highly recommend it!
I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction and mysteries lately. So I picked up Swimsuit Body, A Cypress Bay Mystery, by Eileen Goudge through Netgalley because I enjoy Goudge’s writing and it seemed to be a lovely combination of both. Although this is labeled a mystery, it’s so much more: a travelogue of the northern California coast, a tongue-in-cheek satire on Hollywood, and a wonderful insight into friends, small towns, and alcoholism. The solution to the mystery is in her well-drawn characters more than forensic evidence, a fact I appreciate. And while the heroine is a little too bold at times, she’s always smart, and she doesn’t pull her punches when it comes time for someone to pay. I loved the fabulously strong writing.
It's turning out to be a busy summer, so the reading hours have been fewer than I like! Currently I'm reading Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett - an English cozy set in a cozy English village, with twists. American Kate Sharp is a film location scout and her company is helping to set up a new production of Pride and Prejudice. Kate--a huge fan of anything Austen--goes over to England not to look for settings this time--but to find her boss, who has inexplicably disappeared. She follows a very interesting trail of clues - why he's vanished, what became of him, who's responsible - that takes her around the English countryside and into nooks and crannies of village life far more mysterious than she anticipated. Well written, with likable characters, a setting that beautifully evokes the heart of England, good pacing and a smart mystery that keeps you guessing, this is a good mystery, the start of a series. I'll definitely return for more.
It’s been hot and it’s been hectic this month. I feel very ambition-less.
I’m reading Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon which is Book Two of the Dresden Files. This is the werewolf book. I may possibly have read this one before, or maybe I saw it on the TV show. In any case, the series is always an exciting read and this is turning out to be one of my favorites.
I also rewatched all the Dresden file TV series because I was reading the book so I am just filled to the gills with Jim Butcher. Nice.
Moving along to a second series book from a favorite author. I seem to be playing it safe this month.
Elizabeth Peters is an old, reliable favorite. I’ve moved right along in her Amelia Peabody books, (reading them very slowly as great treats,) and have now arrived at He Shall Thunder in the Sky.
Ramses is a young man, now. For philosophical reasons he’s not joining the army to fight in the trenches in World War I -- not a popular choice in Cairo. Is he doing his part another way ...?
(no SPOILERS here ...)
I've also been reading cosy mysteries -- the Toni Diamond series are by Nancy Warren. Set in the South, the protagonist is Toni Diamond, an ambitious make-up "home saleswoman" for the "Lady Bianca" cosmetic company. As the blurb for the first book says "Imagine Columbo in a lavender suit, with fake diamonds and big hair. The first story—and the first murder—takes place at a Lady Bianca convention, where consultants from all over the US gather.
I loved these books -- there are four so far and I'm waiting for more. They're clever, warm-hearted, funny (I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments), sharply observed and very entertaining. The murders are ingenious, the characterization is delightful, and there's even a sexy detective and a blossoming romance. Highly recommended. And the first book, Frosted Shadow, is free.
I've also been reading more in the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (science fiction) and am continuing Jennifer Ashley's Shifter series.
And now we open the floor to our readers. Tell us what you've been enjoying this summer! We're always eager...hungry...for new books to devour!
Hi. Joanna here. It's a great line-up this month.
I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, especially ones that ihave arcane books involved in the plot. So when I happened to read a blurb on this, I couldn’t resist. But before I go on, I have a confession to make: I’ve been madly scrambling to finish a project, so haven’t had quite as much time for reading as usual. So I’m not all that far along in this book, but am liking it enough to recommend it.
The Burnable Book. Here’s the lead blurb on the cover flap: In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings.
Maybe you can see right away why I was hooked. The author, Bruce Holsinger, is a professor of Medieval History, and already the ambiance of London—from the court intrigues to the stews—is really well-done. The style is a little edgy, but I’m liking the main protagonist a lot. A friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, and fellow poet, John Gower has been asked to find a stolen book that may bring down the monarchy. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in London of Richard II, come join me in turning the pages!
When I'm deep into writing a new book, I often reread comfort books because I know I'll enjoy them and there isn't the stress of hunting down new books and maybe not finding something I like. So--currently rereading Jayne Ann Krentz romantic suspense novels. I love her Arcane series, where characters have paranormal, psychic type abilities that are both blessing and curse. WHITE LIES is a particular favorite, where the heroine can always tell if someone is lying. This is a decidedly mixed blessing. <G>
But my current reread is the Dark Legacy duo, COPPER BEACH and DREAM EYES. JAK seldom does families, but the heroes of these two books are brothers, which is fun. Sam Coppersmith, hero of Copper Beach, is the lab guy who is a genius at manipulating crystal energy. When paranormal book finder Abby Radwell needs help, she is sent to him and sparks fly. Quite literally. <G>
Just a month ago Jo was still with us, and she’ll always be in our hearts — and “we will always have a part of Jo with us in her wonderful books,” as Wench Andrea/Cara recently said.
Jo wrote well over forty books and novellas, and we’ve each chosen our “favorites”—a word that loosely applies here. Choosing one or two over others wasn’t easy, but in the end the titles we picked all hold special meaning and resonance for each one of us. Some of us chose the same book. “Great minds and all that,” says Wench Joanna, “but see how differently we talk about it. A book is a collaboration between author and reader,” and the way we may respond to story and characters, and how we absorb and interpret a book, can be unique.
Recently, Jo's son Jonathan took this wonderful photo of his mother's many books--and her glittering collection of RITA awards.
Read our favorite picks -- and then tell us your favorite Jo Beverley books too!
Mary Jo Putney
So what is my favorite Jo Beverley book? This could be a difficult question. How about the stunning My Lady Notorious, first in the Malloren Series? Or how about Lady Beware, because of my unnatural fondness for Darien? Or her most recent, The Viscount Needs a Wife, which is subtle, original, and an overall delight?
And yet the choice turned out to be easy: Emily and the Dark Angel. It's one of her early traditional Regencies. It might have been the first book of hers that I read. It might have won the first (of five!) of her RITAs. Those details I don't remember.
What I do remember is that it is everything a Regency should be: beautifully written, rich with carefully woven historical detail, and superbly characterized, it is one of the best handsome rake/plain heroine books ever. Set in Melton Mowbray, the fashionable fox hunting capital of Regency society, the book features Emily Grantwich, a sensible twenty-six year old who is firmly on the shelf. She competently runs the family estate owned by her invalid father, and enjoys the challenges.
Verderan, the Dark Angel, is a notorious rake who inherits the adjoining estate--and proves that a man must be very charming to make a good rake! The growing relationship between them is both convincing and romantic--and just reading about the book made me pull one of my two copies off the keeper shelf because it's time for a re-read!
I went along my keeper shelf, looking at the old friends. It was pick one up and say, "Oh, yes. That's my favorite." Then I'd see the next one and open it and think, "No. This one is the best."
I sat dithering between Secrets of the Night, (so sensual), and An Arranged Marriage. (Oh, Nicholas. How could I NOT choose you?) And finally settled on An Unwilling Bride. The privileged heir of an aristocratic house and a prickly, radical schoolmistress are forced into marriage. There's resentment and distrust from the start and a chasm of social inequality that causes misunderstanding after misunderstanding.
Not the ingredients of a happy life together.
Many of Jo's books are about the needs and desires of strong men and women confronting the rigid, hierarchical society in which they live. This is the boundary she continually explores. An Unwilling Bride is this conflict in almost pure form. It's the meticulous picking apart of the assumptions and attitudes of Beth and Lucien, two complex people who are so Georgian we believe in them utterly and so universally human that our hearts ache for them.
I love the gradual coming together of Beth and Lucien. I see them working at the relationship, deliberately uncovering their vulnerabilities, being honest. Kindliness and goodwill are as important as desire. I like that. I like to see friendship growing up beside love.
What's special about Jo's work is not that she gets the historical clothing and countryside and forms of address correct. Though she does. Nobody does it better.
It's the strong, honorable people. She gets the people right.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott
What can I say? Trying to pick a favorite Jo Beverley book is like trying to pick a favorite vintage champagne—each has its own uniquely nuanced taste, hue and effervescence but they all possess a brilliant sparkle and leave you feeling blissfully intoxicated! Jo was a master at creating compelling characters whose conflict created stories of depth and complexity. I think readers love her books because they are so real. Flaws, fears, difficult decisions, past mistakes—we all can relate to the struggle to define happiness and the struggle to find love. Her writing resonates with intelligence, a masterful command of language and history, and a true gift for storytelling.
Okay, do I REALLY have to pick a favorite? (She says with a heavy sigh.) If pressed, I guess I have to say An Unwilling Bride. For me it showcases all of Jo’s magnificent talents. She took what to most authors would have been a very difficult storyline and created unforgettable characters and crackling tension, all in such a thoughtful exploration of human nature—and then of course ended with the celebration of love as the ultimate redeeming power.
Love—it’s at the heart of romance books. And Jo, we love you.
Nicola here. Today, as part of our Word Wench Blog 10th anniversary celebrations, we’re talking about what makes the Word Wenches such a special group to be a part of. Some of us are founder members of the blog and talk about the reasons it was set up in the first place and the ways in which it has grown and changed. Others, myself included, became Wenches along the way and joined a blog that continues to be dynamic, diverse, and fascinating, and a group of writers who are wonderfully insightful and supportive. Then there are our readers and regular blog commenters. Again, some have been with the blog since the beginning and others have joined in along the way, and together we have created what feels to me to be a special community. That’s my view of the Word Wenches, anyway – here is what my fellow Wenches have to say, plus some photos of Wenches having fun - at conferences, at weddings, with hats and even by the sea!
Ten years ago, the Word Wenches came together because our NYC traditional publishers requested that we begin interacting with our readers through social media. For introverted writers accustomed to spending all our days in our writing caves, only coming out to meet readers on special occasions, this was a huge technological and social leap into the unknown. So we banded together and held each other’s hands and took the leap. At that time, in 2006, I was finishing up the Magical Malcolm series, starting on the Rebellious Sons, writing an urban fantasy, and wishing I could publish my satirical mystery. My how time flies!
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Tuesday, June 07, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, anniversary, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Edith Layton, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (30)
by Mary Jo
Today, we're resuming our sadly interrupted anniversary celebration, and I have the pleasure of welcoming Eloisa James and Lauren Willig, both of whom have wonderful insights to share with us.
First up is Eloisa James, who has been a visitor to Word Wenches for both her romance and for her delicious memoir, Paris in Love. Today she ponders romance and what might lie ahead in our genre:
I read widely in romance sub-genres, with the exception of scary Romantic Suspenses. I’m just going to make a more-or-less haphazard list of the trends I’m seeing, skipping Historical because the Word Wenches have that covered. Please tell me in the comments what I’m missing or where I went wrong!!
by Mary Jo
Today is Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in military service. As a child, my sibs and I would accompany my father to the city cemetery to place flags on the graves of military veterans. Today, all honor to those who have served.
It’s rather fitting to use this day to wind up our week of mourning for Jo Beverley. It's time for the Word Wenches to return to regular programming, including a more somber continuation of the tenth anniversary of this blog. (I can imagine Jo saying crisply that it's time to pull up our socks and get back to work. <G>)
But today, as a last memorial, we wanted to post a few pictures of Jo, including several given by her family. Here's a nice one taken the day her older son married our Melissa, and she's holding an armful of Cabbage Patch Kids. The Kids are a Beverley family tradition and go to many family events. Jo sometimes made costumes for them. Above on the right is a picture of three Cabbage Patch Kids, and they're ready to party!
Jo loved to travel, and here's a great picture of her and author Barbara Samuel sharing a camel at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the middle of Australia, and perhaps the center of the world. Both had been speakers at a Romance Writers of Australia conference. (That's a very regal camel. <G> Picture courtesy of Barbara Samuel.)
After returning to the UK, Jo and her husband Ken would often spend some weeks in the winter visiting Spain, which makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever experienced a winter in England! Ken took this lovely picture.
And here's my favorite picture of all, contributed by Ken Beverley, showing the two of them in Malaga, Spain. Because what romance writer doesn't want to spend her life with her very own knight in shining armor?
We've spent the last week sharing our thoughts and memories of Jo so thoroughly that it doesn't feel if she's really gone. She's just in the next room, drinking wine with Edith Layton and Georgette Heyer.
I'll finish with this lovely piece posted on the original memorial blog by Jeannette:
Written by Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I and you are you.Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we always enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow in it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you for an interval somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
by Mary Jo
It is with the deepest of sadness that we announce that our beloved Wench sister, Jo Beverley, died this afternoon. It was not a surprise, but the end came more suddenly than any of us expected.
Jo had quietly been through a very dangerous bout with cancer about five years ago, and had come through with flying colors. The cancer was discovered to have returned some weeks ago, and it moved very quickly. We all hoped for another miracle, but it was not to be. Jo died very peacefully in a lovely care home in Yorkshire that used to be a convent, with her husband and her pal Charlie, the Cabbage Patch Kid, by her side.
A Lancashire lass of Irish descent, she grew up by the sea, and always liked to live near it. She never lost her lovely English accent, but she and her husband Ken moved to Canada not long after university and she became a proud Canadian with dual citizenship. They raised their sons in Ottawa, then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, one of the loveliest small cities in the world.
More recently, she said that "her heart yearned for England," and she and Ken moved back, though they were considering returning to Victoria for good.
There was no one quite like Jo, with her calm English good sense and quiet warmth and dry wit, not to mention her taste for port wine and very dark chocolate. She and I were friends for almost 30 years, and our careers have always tracked very closely. In fact, my first book was published the month before Jo's first book, which pleased Melinda Helfer, the Regency reviewer for Romantic Times Magazine, because that way she could give each of us her Best New Regency Author award for two different years.
Her full name was actually Mary Josephine (mine is Mary Jo), and I'm grateful that she went by Jo, because we were confused often enough as it was! I would graciously accept compliments on my Rogue books, pointing out that they were actually Jo's Rogues. It was an honor to be confused with her. (Add Mary Balogh to the mix, and the confusion grew exponentially!)
I first met Jo at an RWA conference when she was surrounded by enthusiastic Regency readers. (You know how we become fan girls when we meet favorite authors!) We were introduced, chatted, and she mentioned that she wanted to go to the RT conference in San Antonio and needed a roommate. So did I, and that became the first of many conferences where we roomed together, most recently last summer at RWA in New York City.
In San Antonio, Jo's white nighty got rolled up with the sheets and carried off and disappeared into the hotel laundry system. The hotel looked for it and sent her occasional apologetic emails saying there had been a sighting, and surely they'd secure it some day. And they did, mailing the nighty to me because that was cheaper than sending it to Canada, so I presented it to Jo when I saw her next. We had some good chuckles over that.
We all have many memories of Jo, her wonderful smile, her humor and intelligence, and we were lucky enough to secure her daughter-in-law, Melissa Beverley, as our site manager here at Word Wenches. (I see resemblances between Jo and Melissa, too. Including the smiles.)
We invite you to share your memories here, whether you knew Jo in person or only through her books. She won five RITAs--a full basketball team--and many other awards, including the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books deserved all of that and more, and I'm happy to report that she had finished her book for next year, so we have that to look forward to.
But Jo herself has moved on to the next great adventure, and oh! How we will miss her.
(Picture of Anne Gracie, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney)
From Anne Gracie:
Like Andrea, I first met Jo at my very first RWA conference in 2001. I was, of course, a huge fan of her work, and so when I saw she was giving a talk I went. Standing room only, so I sat cross-legged in the aisle and listened. The talk was on "Flying Into the Mist" and it felt as though she was speaking directly to me. So inspiring.
I met her briefly afterward and told her how much I'd loved her most recent book, DEVILISH. The following evening she won the RITA with it . (Picture below of Jo with Julia Quinn, also a RITA winner that night.)
She won five RITAs altogether, and has left us all a legacy of most excellent books. A few years later I met her in a more casual and relaxed situation at NINC conferences, where she shared her experience and much wisdom and good common sense.
Some years after that I joined the WordWenches, where we talk almost every day on email, and so our friendship developed. My last memory of seeing Jo in person was when she, Nicola, Mary Jo and I sat around drinking wine in my hotel room at the San Antonio conference, feet up, totally relaxed, just chatting and laughing and telling stories.
Vale, Jo. You will be greatly missed.
(Picture of Anne, Jo, and Cara/Andrea)
At my very first RWA Conference—I was a total newbie who had just sold my first book to Signet, I crept into a seminar Jo was giving. I had read her books, to me she was everything I aspired to be as an author—she understood Life in all its complexities, and crafted beautifully nuanced characters with a poetic command of language that made every word magical.
But in real life she was even more inspiring. She had a regal elegance and grace, and while her voice—with that wonderful English accent—was soft-spoken, there was no mistaking the quiet confidence she had in her craft and her professionalism. She helped pioneer respect for our genre, and that took the same strength, courage and daring to defy convention that she gave to her heroines.
As fellow Word Wench, I was lucky enough to come to know Jo not just as a legendary icon and inspiration but also as a dear friend. In our daily Wench loop conversations she made us laugh with her pithy sense of humor and sharp wit, and when any of us were going through a tough time, she was always there to send a hug, along with support and encouragement.
I have no words to express how much I am going to miss her.
From Pat Rice:
My memory doesn't hold moments, it holds impressions. Like Andrea, I saw Jo as a person of elegance and grace, with a complete command of herself, her audience, and her writing. Her confidence was unshakeable, her knowledge and fascination with history, immense. She adapted quickly to changing tides in the industry, but her voice, her books, her characters, were unchanging in originality and historical accuracy. I will miss her so much, that I cannot imagine how her family must be feeling in this moment. I know she's in a good place, but we who stay behind are bereft.
When Jo Beverley agreed to join a few of us as we began our blog, I remember how thrilled I was that she wanted to be part of the group. Jo was such a legend in historical romance, and deservedly so. In a sense, she was the quintessential romance writer: stories flowed freely through her, heroes and heroines were strong and unforgettable, themes had substance, her language had clarity and richness, her books were masterful, one after another. The connections among her stories were intricately mapped out in brilliant ways, and her sense of history was impeccable--and on top of that powerful combination of elements, she was elegantly English and very, very smart and far-seeing.
As a sister Wench and a friend to all of us behind the scenes of the blog -- where as others have mentioned, we email every day -- Jo was consistently wise and supportive, always a voice of reason, especially when our opinions piled on and we needed to make a decision. Jo was straightforward and had an ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. She often made the most sense, could be gently funny, and we always listened and learned.
Like some of the other Wenches, I first met Jo at a conference when I was very green and timid, and she was--well, she was Jo Beverley, historical romance royalty itself, and I felt so awed by this tall, elegant British woman that I practically curtsied. Jo had an air of confidence and certainty, and never sought to be the center of attention--but she was nonetheless.
Though she was low-key and gracious, she had presence and a wonderful charisma. Her perspective on writing, creativity and publishing was balanced, and she was very open minded and curious about life beyond the world of writing. We had many fascinating discussions and I admired her openness, and over the years my initial respect for her grew to friendship.
The Wenches all deeply care about one another, and this loss shakes our family of Wenches. Jo was a quiet goddess in our midst, and we loved her and we are proud of her.
My heart goes out to her family--her love for her husband, two sons, her daughter-in-law, her granddaughter and her sisters was always evident. Jo will always be a Word Wench, and she will always be missed until we see her again.
From Joanna Bourne:
(Picture of Jo, Cara/Andrea, and Joanna)
It was my first National Conference and long, long ago. I’d smuggled three or four of Jo’s books into the signing hall, which you aren’t supposed to do.
It was one of those lulls in the signing and there was nobody in line in front of her. I sidled over, books in hand, and stood about five feet away, and didn't have the guts to actually, y’know, talk to her.
She looks up. So I laid the books down and said I-really-enjoy-your-writing-An-Unwilling-Bride-is-my-favorite-book-in-the-world-you-just-nail-the-aristocratic-Georgian-world-view-and . . .
I may have repeated myself a bit.
She signed the books and said, “Thank you. It’s one of my favorites, too.” After a while I backed slowly away.
I never told her about that meeting. I wish I had. She would probably have laughed.
From Nicola Cornick:
Like a number of other Wenches, I first met Jo at my very first RWA Conference in Dallas in 2003. Totally overawed, I approached her to sign a book for me and she was so gracious and charming it only served to awe me more. Since then I have got to know Jo though the Wenches and at the RWA and RNA conferences. What always struck me about her, along with her beautifully distinctive writing voice, was her wisdom and the generosity with which she shared it. I remember one very stimulating discussion at RNA Penrith about the differences between the US and the UK romance markets and I treasure those rare occasions when the Wenches met up for wine and laughter. Reading people’s memories and tributes to Jo has brought home to me how very much she is missed by all who knew her.
Please tell what you remember about Jo--
Picture at left of Jo at an NAL booksigning with Cara/Andrea behind her. Reader and writer Louisa Cornell is in pink.
Special thanks to Anne Gracie for producing all these wonderful pictures at a moment's notice.
PS: So many marvelous comments and memories and poems have been posted here. I have smiles and tears as I read them. It's impossible to respond to all of the comments directly, but all of us Wenches deeply appreciate this shared celebration of Jo's life and work. We'll see that her family receives a copy of all the tributes later.--MJP
by Mary Jo
Can you believe it? Today is the 10th anniversary of this blog--that's 597 years in internet time, you know. <G> The world has changed, publishing has changed, we've all changed--yet here we are, still musing about romance and history, interviewing interesting guests, and inviting you all to join in the conversation!
The idea for a historical romance writers' blog was sparked when Susan King and I were having lunch with Eileen Buckholtz, our friend and web wizard, and she suggested that since we were interested in blogging, a group blog was the way to go: more content, less work. <G> This sounded like a fine idea to us, so Susan and I listed people we'd love to have join us. To my surprise, everyone we asked agreed, and a blog was born. Sherrie Holmes, our first site manager and cat herder, came up with the name Word Wenches, which we all loved, and here we are, ten years later.
I believe we're the only romance blog to have published two Christmas anthologies, Mischief and Mistletoe and The Last Chance Christmas Ball, both with Kensington. Both were great fun to write.
To celebrate this anniversary, we decided to invite back a few former guests to muse or reminisce with us. Because we received such thoughtful responses, we'll be posting every day this week, with Friday being wrap up comments from all of us Wenches.
And because we love giving books away, we'll be doing eight giveaways to eight lucky commenters from our Anniversary Week celebration. (Winners to be chosen by the end of May.) Let the celebration begin!
Our first guest: Candice Hern, one of the old gang of Signet Regency writers where so many Regency writers started our writing careers. Candice is not only a fine writer who has one of the best Regency websites anywhere, but because she was already an experienced blogger, she was extremely helpful when we started our own blog. Thank you, Candice!
Congratulations, Word Wenches, on your first TEN YEARS!
Quite a milestone on the internet. Not many group blogs survive that long. I have been reading your blog since Day 1 and continue to do so. I always learn something new, especially when one of you dives into an historical research topic. I love the diversity of the group, both in your books and your blog posts. (And I still miss Edith.) Here's wishing you all another ten years of entertaining and educating those of us who love historical romance. Way to go, ladies!
Next up: Mary Balogh. A romance star ever since her first Signet Regency was published a lot of years ago, Mary offers these insights:
Where Romance is going:
Romance is going in whatever direction the imaginations of romance writers take it—or should I say directions? In the past several years we have seen it explode into innumerable sub-genres and trends, some of them enduring, some not.
I decided almost as soon as I started writing more than thirty years ago (ouch!) that I would no longer read romance or take any notice of trends or jump on any bandwagons. I cheat (a lot) on that first decision, but even so I would say that 90% of my reading is non-romance. So who am I to talk about where romance is going? I will continue to follow my own imagination for as long as I am willing and able and as long as I still have readers.
One thing that has pleased me greatly this month of May is the almost overwhelmingly positive response I have had to my new book, Only Beloved, the final book of the Survivors’ Club series. The hero is 48, the heroine 39. I held my breath as the publication day dawned. But readers had no objection to the older characters.
The same thing happened with the novella that came out with one of Grace Burrowes’s in Once Upon a Dream in April. The hero and heroine are both 40 or close to it. With so many aging authors still writing (ahem) and so many aging readers still reading, maybe this is one direction I will take more often in the future. Love, even romantic love, is not an exclusive preserve of the young, after all, is it?
And on the subject of the passing of time…congratulations Word Wenches for keeping your really excellent and intelligent blog site going for ten years. That is a remarkable achievement. May you continue for at least ten more.
To wrap up today's posting, Carola Dunn joins us. She started out writing Walker Regencies, which were the first such romances I discovered in the library when I began to look beyond my well worn Georgette Heyers. She moved from Regency romance into historical mysteries--I've been obsessively following her 1920's set Daisy Dalrymple series for years--and like Mary Balogh, she has some thoughts about older characters.
Pass Time with Good Company
I wrote my first Regency 37 years ago (Toblethorpe Manor, published 1981) and followed it with 31 more, as well as a bunch of novellas. As in most romances, the heroines were almost all youthful—even the oldest, at 42, seems youthful from my present age! When I started writing mysteries, I made my amateur sleuth, Daisy Dalrymple, 25. For reasons I won’t go into, over the course of 23 books she’s aged by only 5 years.
A decade ago, after turning 60, I decided I wanted a protagonist nearer my own
age. That was the genesis of Eleanor Trewynn, the main character of my Cornish mysteries. For many years, she and Daisy have been living in my head. Luckily, I find them excellent company. It’s gratifying to hear from so many readers that they too think of Daisy and Eleanor as good friends they want to spend more time with.
Thank you, Candice, Mary, and Carola! You've all created wonderful characters we want to spend more time with. (And you're all on my personal keeper shelves.)
Visit Word Wenches again tomorrow, when the inimitable Eloisa James and Lauren Willig will share their thoughts on romance! And remember, commenters might win books, and what reader doesn't love winning books?
Posted by MaryJoPutney on Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 08:40 PM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, anniversary, Books, Cara Elliott, Edith Layton, Guests, History, HWW, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Research, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (58)
Susan here on a blustery first day of April in the D.C. area where the air is thick with cherry blossoms—and today, pranks. The origins of the April Fools Day customs of jokes, pranks and hoaxes date far back and are fairly obscure. This informal holiday has been around since the Middle Ages if not longer and was often called All Fools Day. Way back, the Romans celebrated “Hilaria,” a festival of merriment on March 25, the feast day of Cybele, considered the mother of the gods, around the time of the vernal equinox.
Later, Catholicism soberly marked March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation, and since religious feast days were often celebrated in octaves, or over eight days, that stretched out to the Kalends of April, or April 1, which was also, like Hilaria, celebrated with happy festivals. A mix of metaphors—springtime and religious and pagan holidays—and the calendar change in the 16th century put the focus of April 1st squarely on jokes and pranks. Today it’s often the more the merrier where pranks are concerned with the added tradition of calling out “April Fool’s!” when the ruse is revealed.
The first of April, some do say,
Is set apart for All Fools Day;
But why the people call it so,
Nor I nor they themselves do know
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.
-- Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1760
In earlier cultures and with the earlier Julian calendar, the new year was most often celebrated around the arrival of spring and the vernal equinox—anywhere from February to late March, depending on the culture (and the climate!). This placed the first of April very near the turn of the year. When the Gregorian calendar was devised in the late 16th century, the date shift placed New Year’s Day on January 1st. One feast day celebrated generally in January, the Feast of Fools, included merriment, pranks, mocking and burlesquing bishops and popes may have morphed into April Fool’s Day with the change of the new year. Another theory championed by early historians claims that when the calendar months shifted, those who still celebrated the new year between March 25 and April 1st (remember that octave of observance days) were called fools for being late for the NEW new year. That strains belief a little, but it’s a good thought.
Some 18th and 19th century scholars gave April Fool’s Day a grim origin in the Passion of Christ, who was mocked and tormented and sent back and forth between judging authorities—Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, Pilate again and so on. By the 17th century there are references to an already established tradition of sending unsuspecting prank victims on seemingly important but actually pointless errands—“sleeveless errands” they were called, with as much point to them as a shirt without sleeves in those days. The “Passion” theory, claimed some scholars in the rather blithe and convoluted style of Georgian and later historians, was related to “poisson,” or “fish” in French, fish being a Christ symbol. Indeed in France, April Fool’s is known as “Poisson d’Avril” or April Fish. If you happen to be in France on April 1st -– or if you are around French people or in a French class! – you could end up with a paper fish stuck to your back as someone’s chosen “poisson d’avril,” lucky you! It’s a silly little game that may in turn refer to the relative ease of catching mackerel in April—another springtime reference. Or it could go back, as those vintage historians suggested, to the Passion of Christ and even to the celebration around March 25 and the Feast of the Annunciation.
However it began, April Fool’s Day has been around a very long time and has become a fun casual holiday. I’ve been on both sides of some funny pranks and I’m sure you all have as well! When our three boys were little, we would do things like switch the contents of cereal boxes—Cheerios poured out bran flakes, Rice Krispies poured out dry oatmeal. A tame little start for the wee guys--who grew up to pull off some great stunts of their own. Other classic April Fools pranks among family and friends include wrapping someone’s office in aluminum foil from desk, chair and computer down to each pen and pencil (this takes a team and some time!) or, as happened to one of my kids in medical school, covering the floor of an office with hundreds of paper cups filled with yellow water. Another friend opened a door to find his office completely filled with balloons.
Some of the best April Fools jokes of all time are listed here, including such great pranks as the Swiss spaghetti farm—when the BBC on April 1, 1957 reported on the harvesting of spaghetti from trees in Switzerland. People called the station to find out how to get spaghetti plants for their own gardens. They clearly forgot what day it was!
In 2014 a great prank was arranged by King’s College Choir when they announced a change—the use of helium to prolong the beauty of boys’ voices. Watch the YouTube video here.
What are some of the best April Fools pranks you’ve experienced—or that you’ve oh so cleverly set up for others? We’d love to know! Have a great April Fools Day!
P.S. No April Fool's joke -- my Lady Macbeth is available right now for $1.99 in ebook! This is for a short time only, so grab it soon! The book has hit #1 on a lot of lists lately, which is no prank either. :)
P.S.S. Thanks to graphicsfairy.com,wikipedia and youtube for images!
From Mary Jo:
For a change of pace this month, we're going to talk about good books that we've loved, but which might have fallen from view for one reason or another. This is not exactly the same as comfort reads, though there is some overlap. So here are some overlooked books that we enjoy, and maybe you will, too!
I was inspired to suggest this topic to the other Wenches when I saw that Again by Kathleen Gilles Seidel is now available as an e-book. A two time RITA winner, Kathy writes books that are subtle, intelligent, deeply observed, and dryly funny. Again is probably my favorite. The heroine, Jenny Cotton, is head writer for a historical soap opera set in the Regency, and the show's Brooklyn studio and earnest young actors are home and family to her. The Canadian hero, Alec Cameron, is a star of daytime television who was the lead in a soap series that bombed big time, so he's happy when Jenny casts him as a cranky duke.
Pretty soon Alec is falling for Jenny, who is way too loyal to her long time boyfriend, who is also in the cast. And she has a bad habit of working out her emotional issues through the characters on her show. Unfortunately, Alec's character is given all the traits she doesn't like in her boyfriend, while the boyfriend's part is sounding more and more like Alec--and Jenny won't admit it. <G> In some ways, the book is dated--no cell phones and daytime television has changed enormously, among other things--but the book is still marvelous--smart and funny and wise, and very satisfying. I enjoyed the story this time as much as when I first read it in the early '90s. You might want to take a look--Again didn't win a RITA for best single title contemporary romance by accident. <G>
Our question for today: If you won the lottery (mega-millions) would you keep on writing? Would it change what you write?
Winning mega-millions is a lovely daydream we can all enjoy, even if we don’t buy tickets, which I don’t. A million dollars these days, even after taxes, isn’t enough to buy a decent house where we live. But mega-millions: the mind goes wild. I could start entire industries in poverty-stricken areas. But I’m a writer and a first-class introvert and realistically, I know I wouldn’t be that brave, smart, or knowledgeable. So I’d probably divide up the money among family, give a huge chunk to charities that might build those industries, save a bit for emergencies and travel… and then finish writing those books I’ve started about four lucky people who share a mega-million lottery.
But as a writer of historical romance, the only lucky characters I've written are the ones in my Rebellious Sons series, with their mysterious two-thousand pound inheritances. In the Regency, that was a nice sum for a young couple to start a life on!
Susan here, presenting our February choices for WWR—What We’re Reading—and more. Over these last wintry weeks all around the globe (in cold, balmy, rainy or hot weather!), some of us have been watching more than reading lately, from movies to TV detectives to puppies. Scroll down for our favorite picks, and let us know what you’ve been reading and/or watching lately too. And happy Leap Year today, February 29 -- especially to any Leap Year birthdays out there!
Anne here, doing a bit of a catch-up of my reading. We ended up talking about "comfort reads" for our WWR in November, and so I never mentioned my new read of Carla Kelly's Doing No Harm, which I really enjoyed. As well this month, I've continued my glom of Robin Hobb books and have now read my way through most of her backlist. Can't wait for Assassin's Fate, which will be out in 2017.
I've also finished the five Sharon Shinn "angel" series book that started with Archangel — well worth reading.
I've also been catching up on Louise Penny and have read How The Light Gets In and The Long Way Home, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It might look as though I've read no romance this month, but actually I've been reading books for the Romance Writers of America RITA competition. But I can't talk about them, so that's all folks from me for now.
I’ve recently enjoyed a warm-hearted cozy mystery, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues by Blaize Clement. On Siesta Key everybody’s favorite pet sitter, (and former sheriff’s deputy,) Dixie Hemingway, gets involved in a bizarre murder.
I’ll admit I was less interested in who killed whom than in the beleaguered iguana who witnessed it all. Dixie’s passionate defense of all that yowls and scratches and sheds feathers warmed my heart. Way to go, Dixie.
My other book this month is Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning. In Victorian England, Veronica Speedwell, an intrepid and liberated lepidopterist, meets Stoker, enigmatic, bad-tempered naturalist. Murder, attempted kidnapping, taxidermy, and life in a travelling circus enliven the pair’s flight through the English countryside.
Who is the criminal mastermind chasing them and what does he want? When do Veronica and Stoker make love?
Is elephant taxidermy even possible under these circumstances?
This is Book One in the series. We’ll find out ...
This month I seem to have spent a disproportionate time watching Ethel, the new Guide Dog puppy. Ethel is 12 weeks old now and very quick to learn. She has already started her guide dog training. At home, though, she is just like any other puppy and loves play and cuddles. It’s extraordinary how much time I can spend simply watching her enjoying discovering things like her reflection, or wrestling with her toys.
In between Ethel, writing and other stuff I have also managed to watch The Night Manager, the new adaptation of the book by John Le Carré that is on the BBC at the moment. It’s superb, but then I could watch Tom Hiddleston in almost anything. I have to confess that I have never read Le Carré but I have enjoyed the TV and film adaptations I’ve seen. Although I enjoy thrillers I don't tend to read spy stories yet I always enjoy watching them. In The Night Manager the plotting is tight and suspenseful, the characterisation is clear and compelling and I have fun trying to stay ahead of the twists!
I’m in another reading slump, with nothing but Jo’s fabulous The Viscount Takes A Wife to keep me going. But I have actually been watching some television. We don’t get any of the fancy channels—we have to hunt HBO shows on Netflix—so most of my TV watching is on the main networks. I’ve loved Elementary since its inception but there are two new shows that we’re following—Lucifer, and You, Me, and the Apocalypse.
Lucifer, on Fox, is based on a line from Neil Gaiman about the devil taking a vacation—a fascinating concept in itself. The show opens with Lucifer Morningstar running an exclusive bar and dance club. He has his hellish protector tending bar and an angel trying to persuade him back where he belongs because all hell is well…going to hell. Then someone gets murdered, and he wants justice—or to throw the guy in hell, that’s not real clear. And that’s the main problem with the show—the storyline doesn’t seem to be absolutely certain if the devil is evil or not. He flashes evil when he catches his victims but most of the time, he smirks and is charming enough to want to slap him. Watch a few episodes and let me know what you think.
The other show, NBC's You, Me, and the Apocalypse, is just simply brilliant—the writing, the acting, the concept… I’m totally loving it. The concept is that a meteor is about to strike the earth in 30 days and everyone is going to die. But our main hero has just discovered he has a twin brother who has made off with his wife five years ago, and he’s more interested in finding her than any comet. Then we have the innocent nun and the sardonic priest (Rob Lowe) who are searching for the savior, hoping for the second coming. If that’s not enough, we have the loving mother who has gone to jail for her hacker son, and broken out along with a crazed killer during a riot. She’s trying to reach her son, who might have the key to the whole crisis—while his uncle is busy stockpiling a bunker for the chosen few. Aw c’mon, you want to see it, don’t you? It’s high class lunacy!
I’ll endorse You, Me, and the Apocalypse. Zany, and mostly very British. I can add that I'm enjoying a new series of Vera, a police show set in Northumberland, with a frumpy, middle-aged woman as the police chief, and she's a great, strong character. It's always nice to see something set in the far North.
A while back I mostly enjoyed The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell's books about the early years of King Alfred's reign. It's quite violent, and Uhtred, the protagonist, is often very macho-man stupid, which I think is the point. Cornwell does no-nonsense warrior heroes very well. They don't angst over war; they get on with it and mostly enjoy it.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott:
I’m not much of a television watcher, but recently a friend was needling me about missing great dialogue and plotting by not being a couch potato—and then went on to recommend a show that’s in its eighth season as something I might like, as it involves a handsome and charming bestselling crime author shadowing a very attractive female police homicide detective for “research.” I promptly went to the library to check out the first season, and now have been binge watching ABC's Castle, which I find quite fun. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the cast of characters quite interesting. The initial banter has slowly deepened to more nuanced relationship, and the way the backstories unfold is very well done. I’m hooked.
And then there is The West Wing. Yup, never watched that either, though I had always heard good things about it (she says, ducking rotten tomatoes being lobbed at her head). So have been dabbling in that too, and greatly enjoying the ensemble acting, and the weaving of relationships. It’s fascinating to watch how screenwriters develop ideas—and I really have learned a lot about craft, as well as simply an entertaining story!
Mary Jo Putney:
Hey, no fair that Cara/Andrea got to Castle first! I don't watch actual television, but if there's a series I like, I buy the DVDs and we watch them in blessed commercial-free comfort on the weekends. We tend to watch science fiction series and mysteries with humor, but we've been on a real Castle kick lately--not the most recent episodes, but starting over from the beginning of the series just because we were running out of current episodes.
I love the fact that the eponymous Richard Castle is a bestselling mystery writer, with all the mixed arrogance and insecurity of his breed. His outside of the box thinking and ability to assemble clues into a narrative help him solve murders. I love his very smart teenage daughter and his flamboyant actress mother, who humanize him.
And I love Detective Kate Beckett, who is as intelligent as she is gorgeous and who is a perfect contrast to Castle, and an eventual love interest. There is sometimes darkness, but also a lot of wit and warmth, and very twisty plotting with masses of red herrings. Plus, there are often elements of a happy ending, which isn't true of all mystery series. There's a lovely cast of secondary characters, including Kate's team members, detectives Esposito and Ryan. All are well developed and they grow over time. Fun, even the second time around!
With not much reading time lately, I’ve had lots of busy family time and also some copyediting to do—which I sometimes do in front of the TV if it’s small stuff so I can hang out with The Guys in the house—so I’ve done more watching than reading in February. Like Pat, I’ve enjoyed Lucifer for its charm and wry humor, sometimes with an intriguing dark twist. Another we discovered on Hulu was Daredevil—about the comic book hero who is a blind and dedicated lawyer for the underdog by day and a tough, clever vigilante by night. I loved it, loved the character development and story twists and especially love the fascinating hero of this series. We’ll tune in for the next season!
We also watched the first season of The Expanse on Syfy—an intelligent, complex, gritty and fascinating series set in the far future when Earth, Mars and all in between has been settled as active and competitive territories. Based on the book series by James S.A. Corey, an author duo, the smart writing, layered characters and high production values make this a worthy new sci fi series with real staying power, and it’s just been greenlighted for another ten episodes. The TV fans in my house are very pleased.
What have you been reading and/or watching lately? We're always happy to add more titles to our to-be-read stacks and to-be-watched lists, too!
Nicola here, introducing this month's "What We're Reading" feature. We've had a bumper reading month on Word Wenches as a result of the holiday season and we hope you have lots of recommendations for us too, if you've had chance to read in between all the demands of the New Year! So without further ado let's turn to our reading choices.
I have a fondness for Christmas stories and over Christmas I read and reread a number of Christmas novellas, including some
collections by Mary Balogh and Mary Jo Putney that contained stories I'd never read. Then I embarked on a fantasy glom, Robin Hobb -- starting with ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE and reading them in order up to FOOL'S QUEST. And now I have to wait for the next book to come out. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed them and have no hesitation in recommending them.
Then for a change of pace I read Kristan Higgins's ANYTHING FOR YOU, followed by a reread of some Loretta Chase reissues and a couple of Lisa Kleypas historicals, which I always enjoy.
Lastly I've just finished Louise Penny's THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. I've enjoyed all of Louise Penny's crime novels, and realized when I read this, that I've fallen behind and there are three more new ones I haven't read. A treat in store.
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Thursday, January 28, 2016 at 02:05 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, What we're Reading | Permalink | Comments (38)
by Mary Jo
Titles are an important part of how books are perceived, so this month's Ask a Wench Question was:
How do you come up with titles? How hard is it? Do titles matter? Have you had your publisher give your books a title you didn't like? And if that's happened, did it sell well? <G>
I’ve written over sixty books and a dozen novellas and coming up with a title only gets more difficult, because by now, I’ve used up every romantic word that can be put on a front cover. And over the last three decades, every possible title has surely been used at least three times, so finding a unique one... requires help, lots of help. (Fresh Christmas title, anyone?)
Before self-publishing, my editor and I used to create long lists of romantic nouns and adjectives and try to piece them together when we couldn’t agree on a title. We’ve come up with the perfect title and been shot down because another author came up with that same title sooner. Now that I’m out here on my own, I call on friends and fellow authors, and when times get desperate, I have social media to fall back on. My new Unexpected Magic series and the first three books were titled entirely by readers, because my friends and I had simply run out of Magic ideas.
If you think that making up titles sounds like fun, sign up for my newsletter http://patriciarice.com/ and see what you’re in for!
Susan here, and today the Wenches answer a question we asked ourselves. We're all historical fiction writers, with plenty of variation -- Regency, Georgian, Victorian, Tudor, medieval, romance, mainstream, fantasy, paranormal, mystery -- more than one of us has dabbled in writing contemporary settings too.
So we got to talking, as we do, and the question came up --
Why do we write historicals? Some of us write contemporary too. Why or why not, and what's the difference?
I write anything that strikes my interest. I started in historical romance because those were the books I knew and loved, and because history fascinates me. I’d spent years researching English history simply to better understand the English literature I was reading. And since I lived in an area with a wealth of history, writing about that area gave me permission to waste more time digging through old books and visiting historical sites. I adored—and still adore—being able to combine work and play.
But there are some stories that simply don’t fit easily into a historical perspective. I wanted to address current issues, current situations, and to do that, I started scribbling on my contemporary romantic mysteries. Again, I got to explore Santa Lucia and California and other wonderful areas to research my stories. Writing about mental health or the environment or computer hacking just doesn’t fit into historicals!
And then, of course, there are the paranormals… but I digress. It happens—a lot.
Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:
The great children’s author/illustrator Maurice Sendak was once asked why he wrote what he did. His answer (I am taking artistic license and paraphrasing) was, “I would love to write the Great American Novel, but when I sit down to tell the story in my head, it comes out as a pig talking to a dog who has just swallowed a mop.” I feel a little like Sendak—my stories just seem to take shape as historicals. I’ve always loved the history, and find it fascinating to explore a time period in the past and learn about all its nuances. I think one of the things I find appealing about historicals is that even when you have collected a lot of research facts, you have to use your imagination to piece them all together. (I tend to have a very vivid imagination.)
I haven’t yet written a contemporary. (Well, actually I have, a long time ago, but it’s one of those “Back-Of-The-Desk-Drawer” manuscripts that will remain buried under stray chewing gum warppers and paper clips.) Which doesn’t mean I won’t. In fact, I’m currently noodling on an idea that involves a contemporary setting. It’s early yet, and I’m still not sure whether the Muse and I are on the same page. But it’s fun to try something new, even if it ends up in the desk
Why do I write historicals? Because I read them, of course! I read a lot of other things as well, including non-fiction history, but I was addicted to Georgette Heyer and chomped through all the modern Regencies at the library when I discovered them. So when I bought my first computer and decided to see if I could write a book, what came out was a Regency.
The Muse has wandered into contemporary and fantasy over the years, but I always come back to historicals. I love the way stories can be over the top and characters larger than life, and history provides such nice conflicts. In other words, historicals are fun!
Posted by Susan on Friday, October 16, 2015 at 01:44 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Ask-a-Wench, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Writing Topics | Permalink | Comments (24)
Nicola here. For the last two weeks I’ve been on a trip to the North East of England, taking in plenty of castles and historic houses along the way. I visited Cragside, the home of pioneering Victorian engineer William Armstrong, and the first house in England to be lit by hydro-electric power. The most special visit I made though, was to Belsay Hall, which we Word Wenches chose as the inspiration for Holbourne Abbey, the house that is the setting for our new anthology, The Last Chance Christmas Ball. It was very exciting to visit Belsay on behalf of all the Wenches, to wander through its rooms and imagine our characters celebrating the Christmas season in the ballroom and watching the snow falling beyond the drawing room windows. I could almost hear their voices and the faint drift of music!
Christmas is a significant date in the history of Belsay Hall for on Christmas Day 1817 Sir Charles Monck,
the owner, moved with his family the short distance from his “old” castle to the newly-completed mansion house. The timing of the move symbolised a new beginning for the family; the transfer of the seat of the Belsay estate from the ancient residence to a modern one built in classical style, a gem of regency architecture.
One visitor to Belsay at the end of the 19th century recalled her impressions of the Christmas season at the house:
“There was snow everywhere… Belsay came as an incredible surprise – the snowy, cold landscape without, and the generous warmth within; arrival at that magnificently unique four-square house with its leaping fires, standing so boldly forth in its surround of sparkling snow. To feel the warm welcome, to mount the stairs, candlestick in hand, and see the flickering shadows of the light on all the pillars… the blazing fire in one’s bedroom, was glory.”
It almost makes me wish we had been able to see the house in winter rather than on a glorious sunny autumn day!
September is a grand month for reading. We've come up with some great suggestions.
We had fun creating The Last Chance Christmas Ball. At times it was the sort of fun you get from a camping holiday with unpredictable weather and odd creatures invading the tent.*G*
After all, the Wenches are eight strong minded women living around the world. Even within the US we have east coast and west coast, but add in England, which is five hours ahead of the east coast and eight hours ahead of California. Pat was getting up when Nicola and I were thinking about dinner, and Anne, down in Australia goes to bed round about the times America wakes up! Even in this modern age we often had to wait many hours for the answer to a continuity query.
But we did have fun, and as you'll see, we all love Christmas stories.
I posted about the prologue on Sunday, but if you missed that, you can read it here.
Joanna: My True Love Hath My Heart.
I wanted to write Christmas Eve turning into Christmas Day. I wanted that moment of change. I wanted lights. I know it's not the solstice, but for me midnight on Christmas Eve feels like the old is going out and the new is coming in. That was very much the 'feeling' I wanted for my story. It's a 'Second Chance at Love' tale and my hero and heroine have to change. So this felt like the right time and place
Also, decorations. And plum pudding. And holly. All the Right Stuff. I ended up a little surprised I didn't overlap with anybody else. I feel like I grabbed the best date and ran off with it.
(Jo.Susan shares a picture which is not of the Scottish borders in the snow, but has the right feel.)
Read an excerpt here.
Oh I just adore Christmas, Christmas love stories, winter and snow, Scotland, Scottish Regency settings -- so it was a no-brainer for me to wrap those elements into a story when we Wenches began talking about writing another holiday anthology. When Alicia Condon suggested that we interweave our novellas and focus on the same Christmas ball, suddenly we had a lot of details to work out - the central location, the occasion, the hostess and her ties to each of our characters and their past and present circumstances. Jo Beverley created a Wiki page where we shared our details, and as we asked questions and figured out solutions, helping each other, the stories began to work together. The extra effort by all the Wenches as well as our editor and copy editor in making sure all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly was worth it - I think this is a very special Christmas collection!
(Jo. We set the story in Northumberland to make it close enough to the Scottish border for Susan's characters to plan to attend.)
With my story set in Scotland in the midst of a snowstorm that affected more than one of the guests attending Lady Holly's Last Chance Christmas Ball, it didn't seem likely that my characters - Dr. Henry Seton, Laird of Cranshaw, and Clarinda Douglas, Lady Hay, the widowed daughter of Henry's old mentor - could safely arrive at the ball in northern England. So they became stranded in a blizzard, alone and cozy inside Cranshaw Castle -- where Clary yearned to go to the grand ball, Henry was secretly relieved to miss it, and both had to face their shared past of first love, heartbreak, and the fear of starting over. With a little help from Dickens and a nod to Scrooge, Tiny Tim and a some other Christmas characters, I loved writing this story - and I hope you all will love reading our latest Wench venture, The Last Chance Christmas Ball!
Anne here. Over the past week or so, on our private loop, we wenches have been discussing various aspects of our writing processes. Writing goes through dips and troughs, periods of intense creativity and periods of fallowness, where we have to force ourselves to get words on the page, and I thought the collective wenchly wisdom of our discussion was worth sharing.
The discussion started when I related an anecdote about a friend of mine who writes--and writes well--on trains (and I'm not talking about grafitti.) In a 90 minute return trip on the train, she regularly writes around 3000 words.
One of the wenches replied: I can do 3,000 in three hours when I'm on a roll. It's clay. Sometimes good clay. Sometimes junk. It's the way I write, and clearly I can't do 3,000 publish ready words in 3 hours, or doing that daily would result in a 90K book a month. Mine take most of a year. We all have our different processes.
(Anne again: I'm not going to label who said what, just change color each time it's a different person. And though there are eight people in this discussion, using eight different colors would look silly, so there are just two. So forget about trying to work out who is saying what — on with the discussion:—
True about processes. But I seem to labor so hard to get words on paper. The only good news, is the words tend to be fairly well formed. But I’ve been thinking that getting the clay out faster, then shaping, sculpting, would be a better process. Not sure I can change, but I’d like to.
Several of us are under the deadline gun at the moment, so I thought it would be interesting to do an Ask A Wench about how we each deal with deadlines. Or in the term Pat Rice coined, Dreadlines! As usual, we differ greatly. <G>
The Question: Deadlines — do you love them? Hate them? Would you be unable to function without them? Do you always finish early enough that the point is moot? Or do you flounder desperately as the sword of Damocles drops faster and faster?
Anne Gracie here.
I've always had a tendency to start slow and finish in a screaming rush, whether it was school essays or novels. When I was first published, I made all my deadlines on time, but with recent books I've been later and later. Now I'm working to get back on track because I really hate being late. Last minute, fine, late, no.
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I need them — I am never satisfied with what I write so if left to myself, I'd fiddle and tweak endlessly and overthink everything, and hardly ever get a book finished. Deadlines give me motivation to move on and a sense of urgency that gradually increases. A bit like the Chinese water torture. . .
On the other hand I hate them — they loom endlessly, sniggering as I flounder and fumble toward them.
You think a deadline can't snigger? Believe me, mine can!
Jo Beverley weighs in:
There was a time when I was always ahead of my deadlines. No longer. Perhaps it's an age thing. I set my own deadlines for my publisher, so I can't complain if I'm in a last minute rush, and I give myself plenty of time, but I always end up at the limit. A book takes me about a year, though I can do other writing alongside it, and for most of that year there seems so much time stretching ahead of me. Yet in the end, as now, I'm chasing down to the line on the editing and polishing. But I get there in the end. Like so much about the creative process, it's a mystery!
The deadline book now is The Viscount Needs a Wife, and you can pre-order your copy now. I will be out on time!
Patricia Rice, the contrarian:
I am a wimp. I cannot handle dreadlines—and that is not a typo. I stress out, panic, and dive for cover—which sort of means no writing happens. People may hate me for this—but I’ve learned to combat terror by finishing my drafts early. Then when I stress out, I at least have a bunch of words strung together. That first draft stinks. It’s pure unconscious drek that spills out without rhyme, reason, or plot. But I edit as the story and characters form in my head as I write. It’s painful. It requires much re-reading. And even when a deadline loometh, I know it’s not ready. But once my editor has gone through it—which can take months—I’m ready to look at it fresh. And by that time, all the elements are in place. I just have to dig them out.
So maybe I’m not so different from my deadline avoider friends—I’m just sneakier.
My first experience in working without a deadline started well over ten years ago, when I doodled around with an insane story that had no genre. It took me years to even realize I was working on a mystery. Once I figured that out... Evil Genius happened. I could never have written it under contract!
I don’t know what it is about deadlines that set off a warning bell in my head. It probably has to do with my Swiss mother, whose sense of timing ran with the precision of that country’s legendary watches. From an early age it was drilled into me that One Must NOT Be Late. (My friends tease me that they can set their clocks by my arrivals at meeting places.)
And for better or for worse, that carries over to being on time in turning in my books. I know, I know, most people can treat deadlines with the insouciance of Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean ("it’s not really a rule, it’s more of a guideline.") But the heebie-jeebies I’d suffer aren't worth the extra dawdling. So as the date looms, the scribbling gets faster, and somehow I manage to make it, though it’s sometimes not easy.
Even my Mother would have given me a gold star for finishing Scandalously Yours on time. Hurricane Sandy hit a week before its deadline. The power was out in my house all that week, I was having to get up round the clock to run the sump pump by a generator to keep the basement from flooding . . . . and I actually finished the ms. on time by the light of kerosene lamps and my laptop charged by a power cord hanging out the window down to the generator. My editor was pleased. (She thought I was crazy, but appreciated my bizarre habit!)
So I’m not a Flounderer . . . though not sure what fish I represent—maybe the darter fish???
Nicola Cornick contributes:
I worked in various administrative roles in universities before I became a writer full time and my working life was ruled by deadlines. Minutes to be circulated, exam timetables to be drawn up, award ceremonies and open days to run like clockwork to the minute… These days I still feel residual stress in June, the exam season.
When I started to write full time I thought that I would kick back a bit and devise my own schedule. Two things stopped me. The first was that I was generally on a contract to write two books a year so I had a very clear deadline. The second was that I was trained over many years to work from 8.30am to 5pm (4.30pm on Fridays!) and if I tried to be more flexible with my time I felt guilty when I wasn’t writing.
Actually I think it’s even more complicated than that. My mother’s family were sticklers for good timekeeping, seeing it as next to godliness, and embraced the Protestant work ethic with fervour (hence the guilt if I wasn’t constantly “busy”). I can remember arguments from my childhood because my stepfather was the exact opposite, always late, and always in a minority.
The outcome of this was that for 15 years of my writing career I stuck faithfully to a schedule and never once missed a deadline even though sometimes the stress of doing so was pretty extreme and the closer I got to the deadline the more my brain would freeze. Being late just didn’t seem an option.
Then, this year, I changed genre from Regency historical to time slip and my muse simply would not deliver the ideas within the required time span. I struggled. I froze completely. The words wouldn’t come. The structure of the book was wrong. Everything made me panic. I wrote a pitifully small number of words. Finally I had to ring my editor up and ask for more time and once I had done that I felt hugely relieved and the words started to flow again.
At last I have learned that being late on deadline isn’t the worst sin. I still make sure I’m never late meeting my mother’s family, though!
Susan King's turn:
For my first few books, I was diligently on time or even weeks early, but since then I've certainly encountered my share of deadline woes and extenuating pressures. So I've turned books in late (to be fair, not horribly late, just late-ish, which suited my editors, who were late-ish types too, so we would adjust the deadline a little to please everyone). Looking back, I can pretty much attribute the beginning of those softening deadlines to the year my kids started staying up past 8:30 p.m., and there went those quiet evenings to write. Once the house was gradually overrun with my boys and everyone else's boys, from little to teenagers and beyond as the years went by, I was happy to hit within a couple of weeks of a deadline.
Mix in the complications of aging relatives -- and add my natural tendency to be a seat-of-the-pants writer rather than a disciplined planner (the right brain's in charge, the left brain only wakes up for research and early draft, and then later as the deadline looms) -- and deadlines are approximate, but if my editors are fine with that, it works. I'm the kind of writer who has huge cumulative creative bursts in the later stages of writing. I can produce in a few weeks what eluded me for months, so I've learned patience with my own process: I'm simply wired as an impulsive right-brain creative, and I've learned to finally accept it and stop wishing I was a more organized soul.
I've also learned to accept that writing books surrounded by a very busy household means that my deadlines always need to be flexible. Some of my notable deadline adventures included finishing the last chapters and final polishing of a rather intense novel while all three kids had strep throat at the same time and then gave it to me .... And there was the time that I was writing the last chapters of a book when one son, home from college, came in with his friends to make their first batch of beer. It was winter and freezing, and we had to open the windows to clear the noxious hops odor -- but the brewery in my kitchen did lend an air of historical authenticity to The Highland Groom -- a tale of whiskey smuggling!
Mary Jo here, sadly reporting that like Anne, I am one with the flounders! Coming from a graphic design background I was certainly familiar with deadlines, but a lot of design is left-brained, while writing turned out to be a slippery slope of increasing right-brainedness. My first book was sold on a partial manuscript, so even then, I needed a deadline to get it done.
The slide began on an early book when I asked my editor if I could have a week or so more and she said, "Sure." Then she explained that she'd learned that if she insisted on hitting the exact deadline, she'd get a book, but it wouldn't be as good as if she gave her author the extra time needed. The slide began…
That same editor once said that I always delivered in a timely manner, in a late-ish sort of way. I'm not so sure about "timely," these days, though! The Muse is a lazy Wench, and I've found that she is increasingly less inclined to show up a nano-second before she has to. My current editor has started making sotto voce comments about thumb screws. I've found that scheduling a holiday for autumn, when the book MUST be done, increases my motivation, but really, who wants to punch the "Send" button two hours before flying to Prague??? Which I did a couple of years ago, no honor to me!
Must catch that Muse and settle her down for a serious talk…
Jo Beverley suggested that it would be fun to rerun Christian Borle's rendition of "It's Hard to be the Bard," that I put into my last blog on RWA and seeing the Broadway show SOMETHING ROTTEN. This is a different clip, though. He's singing alone at a Barnes & Noble CD signing so you can really hear the words, and all the very familiar writer lamentations!
How are you with deadlines? An early finisher, or do you go screaming to the finish line as some of the Wenches do???
Mary Jo, screaming to the finish line of Once a Soldier
Nicola here, introducing the July What We're Reading. We all love this feature as we get so many wonderful book recommendations as a result. We hope you enjoy it too. If, like me, you're going away in a few weeks time and are looking for the next read to take with you, or if you have already been indulging in some holiday reading, this is the place to share!
Only one book to recommend this month. It's been a busy time altogether. The RWA National Conference was a mad, lovely, exciting week. The rest of July was spent madly writing.
Still, I did get to read Robin McKinley's, The Hero
and the Crown. It's a YA that won the Newberry Medal a few years back. A princess despised and distrusted by her people steps outside their expectations and becomes a strong and magical warrior who saves the kingdom. The book is about choices and strength and what these cost.
McKinley has been a favorite of mine since I read Sunshine, her YA-vampire-not-quite-a-romance. A lovely book.
I’ve been cruising the high seas and spending more time in the moment than reading, apparently. And I watched movies on the plane! But here’s a couple of books I can recall.
Axeman’s Jazz, Julie Smith—a mystery rich with gritty New Orleans atmosphere. The heroine is a very good, very determined cop which gives a nice spin on the usual types of humor found in hapless female detective stories. The story includes lovely layers of satire on New Orleans society— the killer is picking off attendants of 12-step programs, which to the detective’s dismay means that half the city is a potential victim.
Meredith Duran, Fool Me Twice—I went into this thinking “yawn, another book about a tortured, privileged duke.” I have a real hard time being sympathetic to dukes who have everything and still manage to whine. But Duran pulls out ALL the stops. She beats this once-decent guy into a puling lump, then torments her innocent heroine beyond reason. Even though I was fully prepared to laugh at the preposterous setup, Duran made me root for both of them. Her emotional and descriptive writing twists the heart and keeps the pages turning.
Off the Reservation, Glen Merzer—if you want a novel that literally goes off the deep end on satirizing politics, try this one. The protag is a Congressman who grabs attention by saying just what he pleases and turns his lunacy into a campaign platform, while claiming over-population is the root of all problems and that there are no solutions. The way to bring honesty back to politics!
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Friday, July 31, 2015 at 01:09 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, History, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Research, Science, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, What we're Reading | Permalink | Comments (31)