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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tips and Tricks

of a moderately prolific writer
By Ann Lethbridge

I hear a lot of authors say they are slow writers. I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. Some of the best writers describe themselves this way. Your process is your process. These tips and tricks are merely ideas I have honed for myself, which I am sharing with you to do with as you will.

First I want you to understand that I am a full-time writer. Last year I completed three full length novels for Harlequin, did revisions for same, and also wrote two short stories and one novella. Because I just landed an eight book contract with Harlequin, four full length and four short stories, I had to sit down and really think about my process and what I wanted to accomplish. I had three questions in mind. Did I want to write fast? And how fast? And when did I want to take vacations? I plan to have this contract completed by June 2011.

My tips and tricks.

1. Know how much you write consistently. I use an excel spreadsheet to track.

2. For a period of two weeks record your daily and weekly word counts. Find out the average per day, then use that as your daily word count.

3. Write to that word count every day, no matter how long it takes. Make writing as much part of your day as cleaning your teeth.

4. Once it feels comfortable, usually after three weeks, increase it by 200 words.

5. Give it another three weeks and increase it another 200 words and so on.

6. Don’t go beyond what is comfortable. If you have a bad day, don’t sweat, add the lost words to the next few days of writing or write on a weekend, or at sometime when you don’t usually write. EG this week my daughter wanted me to meet her for lunch, so Friday was a lost day. I don’t write on weekends but this weekend I wrote my missing words spread over Saturday and Sunday.

7. Once you know how many words you can do a day, calculate your deadline to finish the book and meet it. The calculation is length of finished book in words, divided by number of words per day, divided by number of days in week. I use five, because I usually don’t write on my weekends.

8. If you have a deadline from your publisher, use that to calculate how many words you need to write every day. In my case my publisher asked me to indicate the dates on which I would deliver the books. I work with 2,000 words per day. Don’t leave it and do it in a rush at the end. For me this ends up taking longer.

9. Sneaky trick. Take a notebook with you and write scenes in the doctor’s office or any other time you are waiting. Or find an hour you can carve out of the evening or the early morning. These extra times will up your weekly word count. Make them "extras". If you can beat your deadline, you can increase your output, without feeling the pressure. You can even use these times to write a different book altogether (which is what I did for the short story in the Mammoth book of Regencies pictured to the left)

10. Add editing/polishing time to your schedule. Four weeks for me, because I don’t plot.

11. If you are published, set other milestones in the schedule, date synopsis and three chapters are due. Deadlines you agreed with your editor. The date you should be at the midpoint of the story is another one. You can then see if you are on track before it becomes a problem

12. Add in any time needed for editor’s revisions for a previous book or for copy edits.

13. Add in time needed to promote previous books (this might reduce the daily word count).

14. Establish a send-it-out date and send it out on that date. No quarter given, even if it is only you sending it out as a query. Then start the next book.

Good luck and happy writing.

Ann Lethbridge has two books coming out with Harlequin in 2010, Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress, both covers pictured here. It comes out in February in the UK and in May in North America. The second book, Captured for the Captain's Pleasure, will be in stores in June 2010. No cover as yet. There will be three Harlequin Undone's coming out during the year also.
Writing as Michele Ann Young, she has a short story called Remember in the Mammoth Book of Regencies due out in the summer, and a novella in a Mills and Boon Anthology which will be available in the UK sometime in 2010.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Give or take a year?

Two of the challenges of writing historical romance and fiction are knowing when things were invented and word choice. When words or phrases came into common usage can differ depending on the source.

Obvious anachronisms show not only poor research but a lack of attention to detail and can pull a reader right out of your story. On the other hand, never using contractions and restricting yourself entirely to words from your period can make your writing come across as stilted. Often the author needs to rely on his/her best judgment as to how much leeway he/she can accept.

Will an editor reject you because you use words a few decades after your story is set?  Probably not. But lest you think specific words don’t matter... a New York Times bestseller, RITA-winning author kindly read one of my manuscripts set in late medieval England. I thought I had vetted it for “too modern” language, but she circled a few words that sounded inappropriate to her, even though they might have actually been in use at the time.

Stopping writing to look up every contemporary term that goes on the page can be frustrating and slow my progress. I don’t want to interrupt my flow, so usually I catch any word choice/invention issues while revising.

The earlier your story is set, the greater the limitations. Sometimes there’s a perfect word to describe what’s in your head that simply didn’t exist at the time of your story. Once I really wanted to use the word bluestocking, but learned that it didn’t come into use until the mid to late 1700’s. On the other hand, sometimes you can use the fact that something hasn’t yet been invented or a new invention to add detail and realism to your setting, or even to enhance plot or characterization. For example, the way your hero/heroine react the first time they use a fork could be quite amusing.

A Few Favorite Resources:

Brohaugh, William, English Through the Ages , Writer’s Digest Books, 1998.
When I look up a word in the index, I know if it’s listed on a page higher than 99, it came into use after 1500, which is too late for me. Index tells you the page, but finding your specific word on that page can be difficult since the entries aren’t in alphabetical order.

Coredon, Christopher, A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases, D.S. Brewer, 2004, Reprinted 2005.

Cosman, Madeleine Pelner, Medieval Wordbook, Facts on File, Inc., 1996

Both great for things I’d never heard of before but want to use. However, can be difficult to tell when terms came into use. Cosman offers a subject index, Coredon does not.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nez Perce Indians and Pregnancy

I'm working on the second book of a trilogy set among the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho, NE Oregon, and SE Washington. In this book the heroine is pregnant, so I've been spending hours reading books about the Nez Perce customs and social living aspects to learn all I can about pregnancy and child birth.

The Nez Perce women had specific jobs. They gathered roots, berries and herbs as well as the firewood. It was their job to keep the fire going all night during the winter months. They were the cooks, the ones who dried and stored the meat, fish, berries and roots. Tanned the hides, made the clothing, wove baskets and constructed the dwellings. They did everything needed to sustain a family other than hunt, prepare weapons, and fight. If need be, they could hunt for smaller animals, fight, and take care of weapons though it was not one of their jobs.

During battles women provided fresh horses, food, and water for the warriors, tended the wounded, warned others of danger, directed children and the old people where to hide and how to leave when their encampments were attacked. If a husband was shot they could pick up his gun and fight. They also cooked and gathered wood during attacks, keeping the children, old people, and warriors fed during the attacks and battles.

Pregnant women still did most of the chores right up until the moment they started labor. Some would have miscarriages from long periods of riding horses in the last months of pregnancy. Usually during campaigns of fighting.

If a woman was pregnant they believed their man would have bad luck hunting. She was also not allowed to see any part of a kill—blood, skinning. They feared her child would be born deformed. They also didn't touch, view, or ridicule any deformed animals or humans, fearing it would cause their child the same misfortune. They didn't tie knots or do things symbolic of obstructing the birth.

A wide strip of buckskin was tied around their bellies. This was believed to protect the child. After the birth, this strip was burned or buried, giving the child a healthy, strong body. They did everything to keep the baby safe. The Nez Perce wanted to build a large strong tribe.

When a woman started labor she was isolated in a small dwelling with either an older family member or a mid-wife. If there were complications the Ti-wet (medicine man) was called in. The dwelling had a hole dug in the middle of the structure. The blood and after birth were put in this hole and buried. The umbilical cord was kept in a small leather pouch attached to the cradleboard. It is believed to be bad luck to destroy such an intimate part of the baby.

The cradle board is made by a relative. The baby is transported and tended in the board until he is ready to walk. Children were breast fed for several years. This was one of their ways to contribute to birth control. Other ways were with herbs.

This is just a minuscule picture of what I've learned and hope to incorporate into my paranormal historical book.

Sources: Nez Perce Women in Transition, 1877-1990- Caroline James; Nee Me Poo – Allen P. Slickpoo Sr. and Deward E. Walker Jr.
Photos: First Americans

Paty Jager

Friday, January 22, 2010

The First Million Copies

As we move into the age of the e-book, I started to wonder, who started this whole publishing thing, anyway? The logical answer was Guttenberg (not Steve, Johannes). That’s what they always told us in school. In 1450, Johannes Guttenberg made the leap from hand-made copies to mass production. But on further digging, I found an even older publisher. In 764, Koken, the Empress of Japan, ordered the production of one million prayer scrolls to ward off a plague.

As Buddhist nuns, Koken and her mother, Komyo spent nearly twenty years building temples all over Japan (with the help of Dad, the Emperor) and made their capital city of Nara, the center of the Buddhist religion in Japan. When the Emperor retired (everyone says he wanted to become a Buddhist monk), the newly crowned Empress Koken completed the building of a 72-foot tall bronze statue of the Buddha. Legend

has it that her father, Emperor Shomu, painted in the irises of the statue on the day he became a monk.

Empress Koken apparently commanded that the million scrolls be printed because of the prevailing belief that if you put enough prayer charms in the temple, famine and plague could be warded off. Even though the Japanese already had technology capable of block printing, the royal printer was quite surprised by the command. But the command was carried out. It took six years, but in 770, the Empress has her one million

copies. Each was placed in a pagoda charm and finally made it to the royal temple in Nara. Of course since the royal temple had charms, every temple had to have them. A burgeoning industry in temple charms was born.

Unfortunately, the charms didn’t work for the Empress. She died of smallpox within months. But many charms from the period are still in Buddhist temples to this day. I’ll always remember Empress Koken as the first to have a million copy print run. I’m hoping that she’ll look down and bless one of my print runs one of these days.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe - Beta Male?

Three roses and a half-bottle of cognac – a fitting toast to the man who created a literary genre, contributed to the development of short stories as a literary form in American literature, and created macabre images that have spawned countless nightmares, influenced literature and served as the inspiration for books, movies and songs. For sixty years, an unknown visitor (or perhaps, visitors), clothing positioned to obscure his identity, ventured out to Poe’s grave during the wee hours of the night to drink a toast and leave the flowers and liquor at his grave. Visitors from across the country journeyed to Baltimore to witness what had been an annual event since 1949. Unfortunately, this year, that toast did not come.

How fitting that the so-called Poe Toaster (and his conspicuous absence) should be shrouded in mystery. Edgar Allan Poe was known for his literary mysteries; he created the detective fiction genre decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dreamed up Sherlock Holmes. His life clouded by tragedy and cut short at the age of forty under mysterious circumstances from a cause that has never been determined, I imagine the man whose stories of horror and mystery changed American literature would have richly enjoyed the aura of mystery surrounding a simple bottle of cognac and a few cut flowers laid on his grave.

This recent flare of interest in Poe piqued my curiosity. I’d always been fascinated by Poe’s works such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue and intrigued by the concept that a modern day pro-football team is named after a poetic work by a man who died long before football became a national obsession. I was aware his works inspired hundreds of movie and television works (he even has a page on the Internet Movie Database – not bad for a man who died in 1849), and have to admit to watching and enjoying several corny Vincent Price movies loosely based on Poe’s works – in some cases, it seems only the title was used. I knew his death occurred under mysterious circumstances, and I was aware he’d experienced tragedy and heartbreak in his life. But I’d never thought of Poe as anything other than a writer. Honestly, I’d never given a moment's thought to Poe, the man.

I won’t bombard you with details on Poe’s life. Suffice it to say his life might have provided ample fodder for a melodrama. Orphaned as a young boy when his actress mother died and his actor father abandoned his family, he was taken in by a family that raised him but never adopted him. Eventually disowned by his foster family, Poe foundered at college and in the Army, lost a brother to alcoholism, and buried his young wife after two years when she succumbed to tuberculosis. By the time of his death, he was believed to be drinking heavily and reported exhibited erratic behavior. Despite these woes, Poe harnessed his literary genius to create an enduring legacy.

He wasn’t a conventionally handsome man, but there was definitely a dark, penetrating quality to his eyes. Poe wasn’t tall (Army records list his height as 5’8” ), and he was definitely not the man to bet on in a bar fight. His nearly black hair could have been cut in a more flattering style. And in his few portraits, he is unsmiling and his face shows the effects of a hard life as he entered middle age. But still, there's an intensity there, especially in those brooding eyes. My author's active imagination supposes his moody genius would have made him quite intriguing. And possibly quite passionate.

A recent article at Romance University by author Tracey Devlyn highlighted the appeal of the beta male. While the vast majority of romance heroes could be considered alpha males, the beta male offers an undeniably unique, intellectual appeal. Edgar Allan Poe could be considered a beta male. Intelligent, prone to star-crossed romance, the type of man to use a pen rather than a sword – just the kind of man a strong woman could engage in a battle of wits and claim lasting love as her victory…intriguing possibilities abound. Of course, we can’t travel back in time (and honestly, if I could, it would be to Liverpool around 1961 in search of another beta male, a young Englishman known for his biting wit, touching lyrics, and beautiful melodies – John Lennon), but it’s fascinating to imagine what might have happened if Edgar Allan Poe had met a woman who was his intellectual equal. And equally fascinating to consider the plot possibilities of a hero with Poe’s moody romanticism. Hmmmm…do I feel a story forming???

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Time and Another Place

One of the workshops I teach is called Another Time, Another Place, Writing the historical romance that transports the reader.

This is my idea of what a historical novel should be – to take the reader to another time and another place – to so create the feeling of the historical era that for the reader it’s like time travel. I’m one of those writers who came late to reading romance (I admit, it was those over the top covers of the early days of romance).

However, I’ve always read historical novels and one of the hand outs from my Another Time, Another Place workshop I give a list of some of my favorite historical novels that as reader took me on that time travel journey. These are some of my old favorites, in no particular order.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield – as Classical Greece was one of my favorites eras to teach in my Western Civ classes, I really enjoyed this book. It recounts the battle of Thermopylae with a much more authentic feel than the movie The 300 (which was based on a graphic novel, and not history).

Another of my classical favorites is The Last of the Wine by Mary Renualt which is a coming of age in classical Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars. I actually did a paper on this novel for my graduate class comparing the novel with the primary and secondary sources for the time. The fact that Ms. Renault was a classical scholar came through loud and clear. And she wrote a compelling story.

For another classical story, again, nothing like the movie, try The Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault about the childhood of Alexander the Great..

I also recommend two novels written in the forties by Samuel Shellenbarger. Unfortunately, they read a little ‘old fashioned’ from today’s novels, but are still worthwhile. Prince of Foxes gives a glimpse of life in Renaissance Italy. I haven’t seen the 1949 movie with Tyrone Powers. The second is The Captain From Castile, the story of a young Spanish nobleman’s adventures in the New World

Several historical writers create a character or cast of characters and then take them through a series. Two of my favorite series are Bernard Cornwall Sharpe series and Dudley Pope’s Ramage series. Both are set in the same time frame. Try Sharpe’s Eagle (the first written) and march with the British army against Napoleon. Or go to sea and sail with the British navy with Dudley Pope’s Ramage and follow the adventures of Lieutenant the Lord Ramage.

And I hope if you like history, you’ve read Gone With The Wind and not just watched the movie. Of course when you have to condense a lengthy novel in to a movie that people can actually sit through, you have to lose a lot. Like one of Scarlett’s marriages.

If you liked Old Yeller about a boy and his dog, try another of Fred Gipson novels, Recollection Creek and see life through the eyes of a young boy in 1990s Texas.

One of my favorite series are the Williamsburg novels by Elsworth Thane, starting with Dawn’s Early Light. Again, the writing style can strike you as old fashioned, but it really is a romance. And then you can follow the family though the American Revolution and beyond.

My other favorite series are the Americana novels of Janice Holt Giles. Her first book is The Kentuckians, which so enchanted me as a teen, that when in my thirties I started to write, my first story took place in the Kentucky that Giles made real for me.

I wrote Kentucky Green in which my heroine was a young girl on the frontier during the time of The Kentuckians.

I later found out that Ms. Giles used a Master’s Thesis, The Life and Times of Benjamin Logan to give authentic background to her story. The main character in The Kentuckians is David Cooper and Ben Logan one of the minor characters. And of course, this story was also a romance, as David and Bethia have to find a way to be together against the background of the American Revolution in Kentucky frontier.

As a history teacher, I really enjoy and delight in novels that make the past come alive for the reader. After all, how can we know where we want to go if we don’t know where we’ve been? Have I mentioned any of your favorite historical novels? Do you have one to recommend?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Grabbing the Brass Ring

No, this post isn't about getting published or corraling an agent, despite the title. It literally is about the brass ring on a carousel ride. (Come on - this is a "historical" blog, right?)
My favorite carousel is the one in San Diego's Balboa Park.

This particular carousel was built by the Herschell-Spillman company in 1910 during the hey-days of carousels in the United States. It is wood (rather than its fiberglass counterpart today), with handcarved animals. Along with horses, there are also ostriches, lions, tigers, bears, and a dragon. Amazingly, it has all but two of its original carvings.
Carousels go by several different names: round abouts, flying horses, and merry-g0-rounds. Many of the first carousels built here in America were built by furniture craftsman--immigrants from Italy, Germany and France. The history of carousels, however, dates as far back as 500AD and possibly farther. In the 1100s, Arabian and Turkish soldiers used a similar device for combat practice and strengthening exercises.

The Balboa Park Carousel has something else that is hard to find on the west coast--the brass ring game. Although the eastern United States carousels more commonly have this game, only two carousels in the west have it. I'll admit I'm spoiled. I can't imagine a carousel ride without this game. It adds to the fun immeasurably--especially if you are competing against your brothers and sister. The object of the game is to grab the ring that extends from a holder. (Thus you must chose an animal on the outer ring of the carousel and one that doesn't go up and down.) Among the numerous iron rings there will be one or possibly two brass rings. The iron rings can be discarded by tossing them at a target --a clown or a bucket. But if you are lucky and grab the brass ring, a prize will be awarded at the end of the ride. Most often it is a ticket for a free ride.

Carousels have been used in many books and movies. Here is a small sampling, compliments of Wikipedia ~


The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funk. The carousel in the story is magical.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. The carousel has the ability
to make its rider grow older or younger depending on the direction it travels.
The Lost Boys. Two young men go to California and find themselves fighting a gang
of teenage vampires.
Carousel. A musical (also on Broadway) where the main character is a carousel barker.
The Sting. The carousel is the front for a prositution business.
For many, the carousel is a romantic, nostalgic link to our rich history. I'm glad to see that many are being restored to their original splendor.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Photography in the Victorian Era

There's a scene in Coming Home, my upcoming historical romance release from Highland Press, in which my hero is staring at a photograph of his former girlfriend. It's something that seems so simple today, but this story takes place in 1867. What kind of photograph would he have had?

So I took a deep breath, and dove into my research.

One of the most important inventions of the nineteenth century was the development of photography. At the same time that men began to march off to war and wanted to leave their wives, mothers and sweethearts a memento, one photographic process replaced another and became cheaper, easier to produce, safer, and more durable.

Three photographic processes were especially popular at the same time: Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. These were one of a kind images which were almost always reversed left to right.

The Daguerreotype:

Period of Use: 1839 - ca. 1860

The earliest practical photographic process was the daguerreotype. Particularly suited for portraiture, the images created were so lifelike that some referred to the process as a "mirror with a memory."

A daguerreotype was made by exposing an image on a sensitized silver-plated sheet of copper. As a result, the surface of a daguerreotype was extremely reflective. No negative was used in the daguerreotype process. The image is almost always reversed left to right. A photographer might have used a mirror inside the camera to correct this.

The Ambrotype:

Period of Use: 1851 - 1880s

The ambrotype was also known as the “glass Daguerrotype.” It was a variation of the wet plate process, and was less costly than the daguerreotype. An ambrotype was made by slightly underexposing a glass wet plate in the camera. The finished plate produced a negative image that appeared positive when backed with velvet, paper, metal or varnish, making it the 19th century equivalent of the "instant photograph.”

Because of the fragility of the material, both the ambrotype and daguerreotype were usually enclosed in a glass case.

The Tintype:

Period of use: 1858 - 1910s.

Also called Ferrotype or Malainotype, tintypes were another variation of the wet plate process. Photographers painted an emulsion onto a varnished iron plate, which was then exposed in the camera. The low cost and durability of tintypes, coupled with the growing number of traveling photographers, enhanced the tintype’s popularity

Tintypes came in a variety of sizes, were cheaper and sturdier than earlier processes, and could be mailed. Because of this, the tintype was extremely popular during the Civil War.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How to Write Setting Description

By Nicole North

All writers of fiction must create descriptions of their story’s settings, obviously, or the characters will seem to float in a void. But there are good ways and bad ways to bring setting description into your story.

Remember to write description using active verbs and vivid imagery. Choose the details which are important at that moment in your story. How do you choose which details are important? Use the ones that move your story forward, the ones that give the most accurate picture in the briefest way. Don’t try too hard or go over-the-top. Sometimes subtle is powerful. Less is more. A few really strong details are far better than several weak details.

You want your writing to be rich enough in specific detail for the reader to experience it as if they were there. But not so overburdened with detail that it’s weighted down and slow-paced. Choose your details very carefully. And keep your pacing going along at a nice clip.

Have you heard the saying “God is in the details?” Or the alternate “the devil is in the details.” And still another one, “the truth, if it exists, is in the details.” This could mean a couple of different things when it comes to writing. Details give life to a story and make it real. Detail can be the spirit and life-force. Detail can be difficult because it requires more research, especially when it comes to historical settings. Specific detail makes a story richer and more believable. This is why if you (or one of your characters) are trying to tell a convincing lie, you give specifics.

This is an excerpt from one of my lessons in my upcoming workshop, Take Your Writing to the Next Level, starting Monday. Please visit my website and click on workshops to learn more.
Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy Hogmanay!

You read it right...Happy Hogmanay!
Only one nation in the world celebrates the New Year or Hogmanay with such revelry and passion – the Scots!

It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. These Norsemen, or men from an even more northerly latitude than Scotland, paid particular attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice or the shortest day, and fully intended to celebrate its passing with some serious partying.

When the clock strike midnight on 31st December, fireworks explode in Scotland. Crowds gather and the party begins to the tune of Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne.

Traditions and superstitions related to Hogmanay:

One should clean the house on December 31st (this includes taking out the ashes from the fire).

One should clear all your debts before "the bells" ring at midnight.

One should welcome friends and strangers with warm hospitality and a kiss and to wish everyone a Guid New Year. It is verra important to clear out the vestiges of the old year before you welcome in a young, New Year.

"First footing" is still common in Scotland. To ensure good luck, the first person to enter your home should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) This male should bring coal, shortbread, salt, black buns and whisky.

"Handselling" is the custom of gift giving on the first Monday of the New Year. So be sure to present your loved ones with a Hogmanay gift this year.