Sunday, March 29, 2015

An Unconventional Woman

Almost a year ago, Crimson Romance added novellas to their mix, opening up an entire new arena for me. I'd been wanting to write about the first Fitzpatrick couple–George and Charlotte–for some time, but didn't want to devote a full-length book to their story. A novella was the perfect solution. As my editor said, "I know readers are going to love this."

It's been apparent in my other books in this series that Charlotte is a free-thinker and a bit of a handful. And George is her perfect foil, since he keeps her on a steady keel. Or, as Charlotte says in the story, she'd show him how to have fun, and he could keep her from getting into too much trouble.

The timeline and place for the book are fairly set in stone, given the start of the series. In order for Charlotte and George to meet, court and marry before their twins, Halwyn and Pepper, were born, this book had to open in  New York City in 1829. And once again, history sided with me by having Frances Wright, famous speaker for equal rights,  give a scandalous speech about equal rights for all in Manhattan during this time. It was fortunate for me that she appeared in New York exactly when I needed her. But who was she? The cartoon at left gives us a good idea of who she was and what she stood for. It's a hostile cartoon lampooning her for daring to give lectures at a time when many thought public speaking was not a suitable activity for women.

Since I completed the story, I've had some time to get to know this fascinating woman a bit better. She was born in Scotland and became a U.S. citizen in 1825. She was a free-thinker, feminist, abolitionist, and a social reformer. Her book Views Of Society And Manners In America was published in 1821, and she became a lecturer of some renown. She hoped to educate former slaves to prepare them for freedom, and set up a utopian society in Tennessee with that goal in mind, but the commune only lasted for three years.

In 1838, Frances Wright married at the ripe old age of 43, and had one daughter before obtaining a divorce. She suffered from a variety of health problems, and spent her last years living with her daughter in Cincinnati. She died in 1852 from complications caused by a fall on an icy staircase. It seems winters in Ohio have not changed very much in the past 150 years.

Oh, and the novella? It's called An Unconventional Courtship, and will be available in June, 2015.

Photos from Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Last Chance

When I was doing the research on the Pony Express for my latest novel, Expressly Yours, Samantha, I was appalled at how little value the horses had who were a part of this page in American history. They were literally ridden into the ground, as the riders attempted to meet the ten-day cross-country deadlines. Those horses who did survive were barely able to walk again, let alone be useful. I referred to the harsh treatment in the book in order to be historically accurate, not because I wanted to dwell on the practice. In fact, my dedication of the book is to those brave horses who were part of the Pony Express.

While writing the story, I thought I'd like to find a horse rescue operation to which I could donate a portion of my earnings from this book. It seemed the right thing to do. I investigated several operations in the west, but none of them felt right. Then, Grace Burrowes, a fellow historical romance author, posted on her Facebook page about a non-profit called the Last Chance Corral.


The Last Chance Corral opened my eyes to the present-day abuse of horses. Mares who are not thoroughbred material are impregnated in order to bring them into milk. The thoroughbred mares drop their foals, who are then carted off to these wet-nurses while the thoroughbred mare is once again immediately impregnated. The foals of the wet nurses are cast aside, of no further use to the breeder. Fortunately, some of them make it to the Last Chance Corral in Athens, OH, where they are adopted out. You can find out more about the operation here:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Last-Chance-Corral/45502380989?ref=br_tf

This is a perfect charity for my donations, and the fact it's in Ohio is icing on the cake. I plan to give a portion of each royalty statement from the sales of Expressly Yours, Samantha, to this noble cause. If it saves only one foal, my money will have been well spent.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Here It Comes!

Expressly Yours, Samantha will be released tomorrow, March 16. It's been a long time in the making and I'm so excited to have it out there, finally. What do I mean? Don't I write two historicals a year in the Cotillion series? Why was this one so long in the making?

Because of my contract with Crimson, I had to write the synopsis for the last five books in the series long before I wrote them. That was a first for me, the proverbial pantser. But it worked, since it made me look further down the road than I had for the first few books. I was able to insert little nuggets into my stories which may have seemed like an aside at the time, but which were helping to set the stage for a later book. For instance, if you go back and look for it, you'll see Valerian had a love affair with horses for years before he got his own story. Dropping those little clues into a story makes the idea that all the youngest Fitzpatrick boy wanted to do was ride horses more believable. It is fortunate that his story unfolds when the Pony Express is starting up. Coincidence? That's for you, the reader, to decide.

In order to write this story, I had to do a great deal of research, including a cross-country trip. All I knew about the Pony Express was that it was a romantic page in American history, it got the mail from the east coast to the west coast, and it involved horses. I had no clue how it was put together, or why. On my trip, I stopped at every place where there was something to do with the Pony Express and picked up on some of the local flavor. I ended up with three great research books on the subject, rode through the countryside in the middle of winter, and took pictures. This is the first book in the series that can be classified as a western, and a horse on the cover makes sense. I couldn't be happier. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

 I am pleased to host one of my favorite historical authors today. Caroline Warfield's newest book, Dangerous Secrets will be available March 18, 2015. She's taken some time out from her busy schedule to discuss what happens after you write "The End" on your manuscript. 

After The End

One of the most satisfying moments known to man or woman is to honestly type The End at the bottom of a manuscript. The story has been told. The hero’s journey is complete. In a romance, happily has ensued forever after. The writer can sit back and bask in a job well done. Right? Wrong!

Ok, I can’t speak for all writers. Some may give birth to perfect works, each word a pearl, each semicolon correctly used.  Here’s what happens in my world.

1.     I put it aside. The first thing I need is distance so the glow of self-satisfaction has time to fade and I can face the thing with a clear head.
2.     I ask reliable, knowledgeable friends or followers to be “beta readers.” A beta reader is not a reviewer.  I don’t need love at this point. I want them to read for plot holes, plausibility, and inconsistencies. I’m hoping they find timeline issues and naming problems. If he is George on page eleven and Ernie on page seventy-three I need to know early.
3.     I internalize beta reader feedback and read it myself for plot. I am at precisely this stage for Dangerous Weakness, the third book in my Dangerous series. The timeline proved tricky since I was balancing story, 18th century travel, and a pregnancy.  Not only did I have to tweak time references in several scenes, I found that I needed three new scenes to bridge gaps. 

As an aside, I have a friend who never does steps two or three.  She plans her plot in such meticulous detail that it isn’t necessary. That isn’t my world. My characters frequently shanghai the plot early on. The “plan” needs to be flexible.

4.     Once the plot gels, I begin a scene-by-scene review. Does each scene move the story forward? Is there enough detail? Action? Conflict? Does it begin with interest and end with a hook? I heard one author call this the stage where you dress up the naked people in empty rooms. The purpose is to add richness and readability to the story. The writer has to give readers a reason to turn the page.
5.     Finally I review the work line by line, looking for typos, spelling errors, and punctuation. This is generally called a copy edit and, frankly, I’m not good at it. That leads to step six.
6.     I send it to an editor.  Luckily, Soul Mate Publishing has edited the books in the Dangerous series.  In spite of the effort I put in the editor still finds errors, corrects inconsistencies, and asks excellent questions. We finished Dangerous Secrets (out March 18) a short time ago. She pushed me to keep my narrator voice out of the book and to be certain about my historical research.  I love working with her.  A good editor is golden! If I were to publish a book independently I would have to pay a professional to edit it. I believe no writer can edit his or her own copy objectively.
7.     Now I’m done—except for the things I find or my readers find that I have to tweak before the digital version goes to print, or another edition comes out. One advantage of an independent publication is the writer can fix it on the fly.

I’m really done. Right? Wrong! What is the point of writing a book if no one know it exists.  The publisher will promote it on their Web site, and get it to reviewers, but the burden is on my to trumpet the books' existence on social media, in ads, to my hair cutter—you get it. I do that while working on the next book and planning the one after. A writer’s work is never done.

 But for the characters, The End is really the end. Right? Wrong.  My FB friend Jude Knight once wrote about why “the end” is really the beginning, but that’s a topic for another day.

Now I ask you, when you read a book can you tell any of this? Have you ever read a book you thought needed the kindness of an editor?


When a little brown wren of an Englishwoman bursts into Jamie Heyworth’s private Hell and asks for help he mistakes her for the black crow of death.  Why not? He fled to Rome and sits in despair with nothing left to sell and no reason to get up in the morning. Behind him lie disgrace, shame, and secrets he is desperate to keep.

Nora Haley comes to Rome at the bidding of her dying brother who has an unexpected legacy. Never in her sunniest dreams did Nora expect Robert to leave her a treasure, a tiny black-eyed niece with curly hair and warm hugs. Nora will do anything to keep her, even hire a shabby, drunken major as an interpreter.
Jamie Heyworth harbors secrets to protect his heart. Nora Haley fears deception will destroy everything she desires. Will love—and the truth—bind them both together?

Excerpt
Jamie translates for Nora during painful interview following the death of her brother:

 “What is it? I’ll do anything,” she said.
“Foolish woman. You would, too,” he growled. “She says you need a husband.”
“Husband?” The word hit Nora like a brick, driving the breath from her lungs.
The major continued speaking, “A husband would not only add countenance to your claim of making a home for Isabella, but a husband could also forbid travel to Turin. It’s unfair, but she is right.”
Nora snorted and sat down abruptly. “Nonsense. Who does she think I can find to marry me?” She looked up into his face, and what she saw there brought a lump to her throat.
“Me,” he said sadly. “She thinks you need to marry me."

                                                                          **


Caroline Warfield sits at a desk surrounded by windows and dreams of stories to entertain her readers.  She has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, a network services manager, a conference speaker, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She is a traveler, a grandmother, and a writer of historical romance, enamored of owls, books, history, and beautiful gardens (but not the act of gardening). For more information, contact her here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/?page_id=471

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Historical? Contemporary?

There's more difference between historical and contemporary books than the type of clothes the characters wear. My agent just sent back the edited copy of the contemporary I recently finished. With seven historicals to my credit and only three contemporaries, it's obvious I'm quite comfortable writing historicals. But even though there are no corsets or cage crinolines, there are thongs, demi-bras, sports bras and other garments worn by the contemporary heroine. And all kinds of oils and lotions to use when making love that weren't around two hundred years ago.

But the difference between the two genres goes deeper than clothing. Speech, for example.
There are contractions in a person's speech. In my historic world, American Indians don't use contractions, but they are used sparingly by others. My contemporary didn't use enough contractions. It does now. And I used several phrases in my contemporary which I thought were in common use, but my agent didn't know what I was talking about. Maybe I'm showing my age.

But, through my agent's diligence, every place a contraction was needed, it's there now. And every sports bra is ripped off the correct way. One final read-through is all that's needed before I send it back to her, and it gets sent out again. I hope it sells and that I can finish the trilogy. I like the family I'm writing about. And I had an idea yesterday for another contemporary story. About bourbon. Don't ask for details. It's still at the simmer stage.

How about you? Is it thongs or cage crinolines for you? I'm taking a poll.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bleddyn Hall–Amanda Shalaby's New Gothic Romance

Gothic romance. Just those two words send a chill down my spine. Spooky, breathtakingly scary stories with a splash of romance are among my favorite genres, but they aren't as prevalent today as they were in the past. Susan Elizabeth Phillips tried her hand at it with Heroes Are My Weakness, an homage to the greats of the genre: Mary Stewart, Anya Seton, Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. With Amanda Shalaby's latest novel, Bleddyn Hall, we have another gothic romance author to consider. Today, she shares with us how she came up with the idea. 

An hour and a half.  That’s all it took.  I remember sitting at my writing desk that night.  The vision was sudden, it was out of nowhere and all I could do was sit there – a captive audience to the story unfolding before my mind’s eye.  My husband appeared in the doorway at one point – probably wondering about dinner.  Not now,” I managed, shooing him away with a dismissive gesture, my attention fixed on a visualization playing out before me which he could not see.  Fortunately, he understood.  An hour and a half.  And Bleddyn Hall was born.

After I recovered from my vivid hallucination, I was elated.  In the enthusiasm that came with my hour and a half epiphany, I wrote a few thousand words of dialogue between characters I was just getting to know.  I continued in this manner for several weeks as small snippets of scenes and snappy comments emerged, but there was one, small hiccup.  The story had a very clear English Victorian era setting.  My English historical education both began and ended with Regency and post-Regency.  Research was necessary.

Soon, my enthusiasm to write the story dwindled and then faded to match the backgrounds and clothing that I could not fully envision, much less write about.  The nagging voices of my characters were a constant, but not enough to force me to bring them fully to life.  I was overwhelmed, disheartened, and left to wonder: What could be done to reignite that initial zeal I felt in that hour and half of my story’s birth? 

There were occasions, naturally, where I would click around on the internet for information on Victorian life.  I would feel a spark, write a few more thousand words – only to have said spark fizzle out once again.  What I realized was I needed to fully immerse myself in the era – as much as a 21st Century American girl can do. 

Suddenly, the speakers in my car played an endless playlist of classical music, my Kindle was stocked with the popular novels of the times, (as well as a number of gothic classics my heroine would have enjoyed), and non-fiction books arrived on my doorstep, one after another.  Actual paper, ink and glue books that I could strew across my couches and pile high on my tables – a constant, visual reminder of my goal.  Was there any one thing that did the trick, above all others?  I couldn’t tell you.  But the ballpoint pen was figuratively rolling, and Bleddyn Hall came together just a few months later.

Really, what it all came down to was making it happen.  What worked for me may not work for you.  What mattered was doing whatever it took to push aside life’s time-suckers and anxieties, and forcing myself to remember what was important.  And what I found in the end – and what I’m sure you will also find – is when you set your mind to make the effort, your initial enthusiasm is never really that far off. 

Amanda L. V. Shalaby's passion for all things Jane Austen was inspired by her mother and grandmother. She now writes her own English historical romances, and is the author of RhiannaAudra and Bleddyn Hall. When Amanda is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Matthew, her Shih Tzu dogs, Bella and Huntley, and her Persian cat, Sebastian.




You can find Amanda in a variety of places, www.facebook.com/amandalvshalabywww.twitter.com/amandashalaby and www.pinterest.com/amandalvshalaby among them.  But the best place to find her is at her WordPress site, www.amandalvshalaby.wordpress.com.  From there, you can learn more about her, view all of her books, catch up on upcoming events and news, and links to buy her books at the major ebook retailers.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day, One Day Late

Whoever decided to make February 14 Valentine's Day did not have Ohio in mind when they thought it up. I wanted all the traditional candies–the big Necco hearts with the sayings on them, the red-hot cinnamon little hearts, the chocolates. Oh, yes, the chocolates. But Friday, when I finally made my way through the mountain of snow to the grocery store, the shelves were bare. What's a Valentine's Day without red-hots?

Which got me to thinking about Valentines past. And the Hallmark channel's lineup of Valentine movie offerings. I hauled out the kleenex for Betty White's performance about a World War II soldier who never came home. He was officially listed MIA all the years, until an intrepid reporter tracked down his remains. When Betty was handed his personal effects, there was a weathered, hand-made Valentine she had given him as he was pulling out of the station. He'd kept it close to his heart all those years.

Which made me think about two hand-made Valentines I'd received over the years. One was given to me by another fifth-grader. His hand-made Valentine was different from all the store-bought ones that were also in my bag, and I cherished it as only a fifth-grader can. I recently checked on the man's whereabouts, and discovered he'd just retired from a long career as an art teacher in a high school. I'm sad to say his Valentine to me long ago disappeared. The other one was a Valentine I made for my sweetheart. I used the Necco hearts as my gag line, as it were. I wrote a poem, but instead of writing the words, I put a heart shape everywhere the words were to be. Then, I sent the hearts in the envelope along with the poem, and he had to figure out which heart went where, in order to make sense of my rhyme. That Valentine is certainly not being kept close to his heart, I can guarantee it.

So, as I sit here in my candy-less home, surrounded by snowdrifts on every side, I think about those Valentine's Days I have yet to come. I'm a firm believer in second-chance romance, and I've got a high school reunion coming up. Who knows? Maybe my artist from the fifth grade will be there.