Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Captain in His Majesty's Royal Navy

On April 28, 2010, the 3rd novella in my MEN OF THE SEA series will release, Her Captain Dares All, was preceded by Her Captain Returns and Her Captain Surrenders.

In light of this exciting news, I thought I would revisit an article I wrote for Risky Regencies (and revised for this post), when the first novella released, about Royal Navy Captains in the Regency era…

Let us travel through time to visit my heroes training and life at sea: Captain Ryder Montgomery (Her Captain Returns), Captain Nathaniel Cruise (Her Captain Surrenders) and Captain Jeremy Williams (Her Captain Dares All).

My heroes were all second sons (which means since they wouldn’t hold the title and seat in Parliament, they had to find another way to make a living), and from their earliest days, had penchants for the sea. It was only natural for them to join the navy at the age of thirteen as a mid-shipmen. They certainly did their fair share of scrubbing the deck and tying knots, but when they were a little older they were allowed to take care of the log line, and sometimes delegate sailing duties. By the age of twenty, each of the my heroes was promoted to Lieutenant. Ryder and Nathaniel were promoted as Captain of their own ships, by the age of 23, but for Jeremy, he was a little older.

My heroes were flogged only a handful of times, but several of their shipmates were flogged regularly. What for, you ask? Ryder himself was given ten lashes for neglect of duty. Nathaniel for smart mouthing his superior, and Jeremy for disobeying an order. Ever hear the term poor salt on a wound? Well that’s exactly what the ship’s surgeon did when he took care of the wounds after each boy’s punishment… We must remember, poor Ryder was only fourteen at the time, and he wasn’t exactly neglecting on purpose, he was in fact heaving his guts out from dinner the night before. And Nathaniel? Well, he’d just come from his home where he was often spoiled and not used to taking orders. Sweet, sweet Jeremy… He was only trying to help a fellow shipmate who’d be ordered to undergo three days without food or water.

Food on the ship wasn’t exactly appetizing, although, most sailors were excited to have regular meals, as when they were on land, eating three times a day wasn’t always a guarantee. The main staples of a navy diet, included salted meat, which was sometimes so rancid it was inedible by some, and even when boiled for hours the meat could still be as hard as a rock, unless they hadn’t been at sea very long and “fresh meat” in the form of livestock was onboard. This would be made into a stew with whatever fresh or dried veggies were available and rice or oats. Instead of bread, they had ships biscuits that were either filled with weevils. Sounds tasty! For breakfast it was porridge sweetened with molasses. To drink, if the fresh water had already turned a slimy green, they had watered down ale, watered down wine or watered down rum.

As members of the crew, Ryder, Nathaniel and Jeremy slept in a hammock twenty inches from the next hammock. When they became captains they got their own rooms aboard their prospective ships. Ryder had a hammock placed inside, as he found after ten years at sea, it was much easier to sleep on. Nathaniel was grateful to finally have a bed, as was Jeremy.

The life of a Naval Officer wasn’t all pomp and squalor. While most of them lived privileged lives, they had to earn it. Some were second or third sons of the nobility, and some were sons of well to do merchants. And there were even those who were born at the bottom of the barrel and made their way to the top.

During the Regency era, a ship’s captain could become quite wealthy. How? Was the king paying well? The salary for a seaman was meager, and for a captain also wasn’t opulent—most would try to marry for money. No, most captain’s made their riches from other captains, especially during the Napoleonic campaigns. When a ship’s captain commandeered another ship, the whole crew shared in the spoils.

Officers in the military were well respected by the people, and since most came from well to-do families, they often hob-nobbed with the rich and the aristocrats.

In Her Captain Returns, Ryder ends up going away on a mission for several years, and isn’t allowed contact with anyone outside, including his wife. One of the things I wanted to illustrate in this story, was how hard it was for the wife of a man of the sea. Just as it is today with a military wife, it was much the same back then, except they didn’t have television to see what was happening, and their news stories were a lot more delayed. A wife may have still been receiving correspondence from her husband, only to learn he’d been dead for two months.

In Her Captain Surrenders, my hero struggles with revealing his mission to Juliette who thinks that he has been allowed a sojourn to design ships. She wants to marry for love, and Nathaniel has caught her fancy, but Nathaniel vows he’s only married to the sea. As a second son, and a Captain in the Navy, he doesn’t have much to offer Juliette. He’s a little intimated by the prospect of marrying a lady. But lucky for him, Juliette has her own money. (Visit this post: Regency Women, Money and Men.)

In my upcoming release, Her Captain Dares All, Jeremy is reluctant to follow his heart. He was right front and center watching Ryder struggle to fix his marriage. His life is at sea, and he’ll only hurt Tessa if he continues down that path… Eventually, he will dare all to be with her, and she’ll be right there to meet his challenge.

My heroines are tough, feisty women who know what they want. They are independent, giving, loving. And my captains, my loves, my heroes, give all for their women and more.

To end this blog, I leave you with a couple of fun naval terms:

Bitter End - Have you heard the phrase “faithful to the bitter end”? Well, it is a naval term! The wooden or iron posts sticking through a ships deck were called a bitt. Turning a line around them was called, the bitter end.

Chewing the Fat – Remember my description of the nasty meat? Well some men would chew on it for hours, and referred to it as, chewing the fat.

He knows the ropes – Nowadays this means someone is pretty skilled at what they’re doing. Back in the day though, it meant literally, novice and that all he knew were the ropes.

Took the wind out of his sails – this originally described a battle move where one ship would get so close to the other it would take the wind away, and slow down the opposing ship.


Eliza Knight is the author of historical romance and time travel erotic romance. Visit her at www.elizaknight.com

Releasing April 28, 2010!!!!

Her Captain Dares All - Book Three in my Men of the Sea series, a Regency romance novella.

Pursued by kidnappers, Lady Tessa Woodward is running for her life. When handsome Captain Jeremy Williams comes to her rescue in the backstreets of Paris, she persuades him to help her escape France and return to her home in England.

Captain Jeremy Williams is captivated by Lady Tessa's fiery nature and agrees to give her passage aboard his ship. Once on board, his desire grows and soon reveals a sensual side to the woman he can’t deny. But when danger threatens his lady, will the captain dare all to save her?

Upcoming Workshop 4/5/10 - 4/30/10

The Power of GMC: Crafting Compelling Characters and Kick-Butt Stories

by Renee Knowles and Eliza Knight

Do you find yourself confused by GMC? Is it a challenge to create gripping goals, motivations and conflicts for your characters? Do you have a hard time determining the difference between internal and external GMC? Do you want to kick up the tension and conflict in your story? Then it’s time to learn the ins and outs of GMC.

Without a solid backbone of internal and external goals, motivations and conflict, your story won’t grab the reader and characters can fall flat. This class will teach you how to dig deep and uncover your hero and heroine’s true GMC, re. You’ll learn how to define their goals succinctly and relate them directly to their conflicts and motivations. You will do exercises designed to help you use GMC to enhance your plot and give your story more direction.

In those lessons we’ll also be discussing POV, passive vs. active, showing vs. telling, and other nitty gritty details that make your manuscripts come alive.

Visit: http://www.celtichearts.org/ to register!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Scoring Well in Contests

by Ann Lethbridge

I love to read new and talented aspiring writers. The only way for me as a writer to do this is to judge contests. When I judge a manuscript or a synopsis, it is always with the hope I can give a perfect score. I want to give every manuscript the chance to go before an agent or editor. I start each new story with a hopeful heart.

For those of you entering contests, here are some of the things that make me give full marks to an entry.

1. The story starts things happening, (call to action) usually right where everything goes wrong for the main character(s). And in a romance, usually very close to where the hero and heroine first meet. The best stories begin with a rush to the bottom of a very steep hill, that keep me wanting to know what happens next.
  • Carriage rides/car rides/plane rides with people thinking or talking about their past, are not action, it is a back-story dump.
  • Explaining a world in a paranormal is not action.
2. From the moment I enter the story, I know exactly which character's point of view I am in, what they are thinking, feeling, seeing and doing. The writer is moving me through the character's world as if I am that character. How can I resist marking ten out of ten.

  • telling me a character is feisty, isn't nearly as effective as showing her rap an encroaching male over the head with her umbrella.
  • a male pov describing a room in detail isn't nearly as effective as having him note mentally that it is all fussy lace, and feminine, and instantly feel as if any chair he sits on will collapse beneath him.
3. The main characters are likeable, or at least one of them. I need to be rooting for someone at the start of the story. If they do something or say something with which I can empathize right away, it shows their state of mind and that they are worthy of my reading time and a good mark.

4. Surprise me. I love to be surprised. A woman dressing as highwayman and riding out at night isn't new. But what if she dresses as the ghost highwayman? Or hires a highwayman to help her? Or... give it a new twist and keep me hooked to a high score.

5. If things are bad at the beginning, and things just get worse, you will get top marks from me. A couple needs to earn their happy ending.

6. If you've kept your characters on stage at any one time to a minimum, the fewer the better, I will be thrilled. I can see your characters deserve full points in all categories, because I know them better than I know anyone else on stage.

  • A cast of more than five people in the opening pages is going to confuse me. It can be either the hero and heroine, or perhaps one of them with one other person, even the villain, but the more people you introduce at the beginning the less engaged the reader is with your lead characters. Get rid of anyone in a scene who is not going to be important to the story, now or later. Make them do double duty wherever you can.
7. Worthy villains make chills run down my spine. Make them appear normal, give them hopes and dreams which are not necessarily evil, although they can be, but definitely have them on the wrong side of the angels. Let them have a pet they love. Or a woman they help. They will become all the more real. And will frighten a high mark out of me.

8. Making me believe a characters motivations, will get you top marks from me. If a beleaguered wealthy rake of a bachelor agrees to take on a ward, or visit girl on behalf of an aged aunt, make me believe that man has a good reason to agree instead of refusing as he has always refused in the past.

9. If you make me want to know what happens to the characters when my three chapters are done, I will want to give you a perfect score. Keep me guessing. Small hints about their past, little clues when it fits with the action, that there is more, much more, to this person or persons that I must know. Make the story stay with me. This is probably where that intangible voice thing comes in and sweeps me into awarding that perfect score.

10. If your grammar and spelling is nigh on perfect, it is a wonderful relief to me. I will give you full marks every time. Nigh on perfect means you are allowed a couple of typos, the odd slip in grammar--who isn't? I make them all the time. I never ever mark down on mechanics unless you really need help. Make sure you know what the words you use mean. Malapropisms can let you down.

As you can see, I really really want to give you a perfect score. And while there is so much to writing I could go on for hundreds of points and in a lot more detail, I hope thinking about these will help you achieve close to a perfect score on your next manuscript.

Good luck. Next time I will talk about the perfect synopsis, if you would find it helpful. Let me know.

Ann's book
Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress,
Harlequin Historicals, ISBN 978-0373295920
Will be in stores on May 1
Ann has three other stories out with HMB in 2010
and her alter ego Michele Ann Young's story Remember
will appear in the Mammoth Book of Regencies in August.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

History--yours, mine, or someone else's

I like to write historical info on this blog because it is titled Seduced by History, but I have just about exhausted my research info for the books I've written lately and don't have the time to look up something new. I'm in the middle of polishing up three projects and not quite ready to start on something new, so I haven't been researching history lately.

I attended a local writer’s group a few months ago. The title of the talk given by a member was “If not, who will”. It was of course about writing family stories or history. And that had me thinking about all the genres-not just memoir writing.

We writers put a little bit of our history in everything we write. It doesn’t matter what you write–romance, sci-fi, westerns, or YA. In each project somewhere, is a scene, a scenario, a phrase that happened to you, a family member, or a friend. Something that is a part of your history.

Granted my dad wasn’t born in the 1800’s, but as a child he lived in a rural area where some things hadn’t moved ahead into the 20th century. His stories on more than one occasion have given fodder for a story or a scene in one of my books. Same with my in-laws who immigrated to the United States in the 1950’s.

At a family reunion on my mom’s side of the family, there were stories told no one would believe except in fiction! Of course names are changed to protect the instigators!

Even things my children have done end up in a story. Our lives are our history. Incorporating the good times and the bad of our lives into our characters brings them to life for the reader.

Do you use people you know or have known, personal situations, or phrases you’ve heard in your books or stories? If not, why?

Paty Jager

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

I’m a movie buff. I admit it. When I’m not reading, writing, or working, I’m sitting in a darkened theater, soaking up some new release. Not any new release, mind you. Anything with the noun ”Saw” in the title or pictures of bloody surgical weapons or tear jerkers will keep me home with my trusty laptop or a good book faster than you can say “cinema”. But give me a rousing good adventure or a light comedy, and I’m there.

The movie I’ve enjoyed the most so far in 2010 is Sherlock Holmes. True, Robert Downey, Jr.’s chocolate brown eyes and surprisingly buff body may have more than just a little bit to do with that, and the twinkle in Jude Law’s smile might have added a bit more, but the rich period flavor and the character of Sherlock Holmes himself were probably the biggest draws for me. The character of Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring in literature. Undoubtedly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation has inspired many other detectives in literature and the movies over the past one hundred twenty-three years.

Sherlock Holmes was first introduced in a short story that appeared in 1887 in Beaton’s Christmas Annual titled A Study in Scarlet. All told, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned fixty-six short stories and four novels with the lead character of Sherlock Holmes between 1887 and 1927. Throughout the course of these novels and stories, he is aided by Dr. John Watson, who also serves as the narrator of most of his adventures. Like Conan Doyle, Watson has experience as a physician, and saw wartime service as an army surgeon in Afghanistan. Watson is loyal, rugged, and apparently, a good shot. He serves as a practical contrast to the intellectual, moody Sherlock Holmes.

When one mentions Sherlock Holmes, the villain Professor Moriarty springs to mind. The new film makes a point to include Moriarty and obvious sets the stage for a sequel featuring this villain. I was stunned to discover while researching Sherlock Holmes that Professor Moriarty only appeared in one story. In The Final Problem, Professor Moriarty is dubbed a “Napoleon of Crime” by Holmes. Moriarty is a criminal mastermind, a godfather of sorts to the criminal underworld of Holmes’ day.

The character of Sherlock Holmes is multi-faceted and flawed; perhaps that is the reason for his enduring appeal. He’s brilliant, a master of disguise, eccentric, prone to depressions and addiction, and often seems cold and unfeeling in his personal relationships, even with his good friend, Watson. He’s also intensely physical, with an interest in bare-knuckle fighting and the martial arts. The contrast of the cool intellectual with superior deductive reasoning with a man who enjoys bare-knuckle fighting and a variety of weaponry created a fascinated, multi-dimensional character.

Throughout the years, Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of numerous films and has appeared as a character in many literary works. Holmes has been portrayed by dozens of actors in more than two hundred films. The recent Sherlock Holmes film was a great success, virtually ensuring a sequel. Rumors have already started to swirl regarding the casting of Moriarty. I’d vote for Russell Crowe or Johnny Depp…either could play a diabolical villain and hold their own with Downey. Of course, I’d probably hyperventilate during the movie if either of these men were on screen with Downey and Law, but that’s the chance I’d have to take.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Note : this post first appeared on my own blog on May 21, 2009.  But I found it an interesting enough subject to post it here as well.

I have found a great littl book by Mike Flanangan, IT'S ABOUT TIME: How Long History Took. Mike's little book lists dozens of historical events with a short description of it and, most important to the title, he tells us how long it took. The shortest time entry is the photographing of the flag raising on Iwo Jima (1/400th of a second). The longest is The Universe (13.7 to 14.5 billion years).

Today I'm going to discuss The Black Death (1347-51), just because it caught me eye. Reasearch shows that the plague most likely originated in China, where incidents of it are recorded as early as 500 A.D. According IT'S ABOUT TIME, the plague arrived in Spain from Crimea in October 1347 on rat infested merchant ships. From there, it continued to spread across Europe along the trade routes, both over land and by sea. It reached Marseilles, France in January 1348 and Great Britain the following September. By the winter of 1349 it was in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Mike tells us, “This first encounter of the plague ended in Scandinavia in 1351. It returned again in 1365, and many times thereafter,” (109)

Exact numbers on deaths vary from one-tenth to one-third to half the population. And perhaps all three figures are true. Melissa Snell, on About.com medieval's site tells us that while some heavily populated areas were hit hard, “At the same time, a few areas in Europe managed to escape the worst. Milan, as was previously mentioned, saw little infection, possibly due to the drastic measures taken to prevent the spread of the illness. The lightly-populated and little-traveled region of southern France near the Pyrenees, between English-controlled Gascony and French-controlled Toulouse, saw very little plague mortality. And strangely enough the port city of Bruges was spared the extremes that other cities on the trade routes suffered, possibly due to a recent drop-off in trade activity resulting from the early stage of the Hundred Years War.” So, it's quite possible that some areas of Europe saw half their population die of the dreaded disease, while others were barely touched.

HISTORY OF ENGLAND, a College Outline Series book by Barnes and Noble, gives a pretty good description of The Black Death, aka bubonic plague: Black spots appeared on the bodies of the victims: they vomited blood, broke out with boils, developed a high fever, and soon died.” It goes on to say that unsanitary conditions and lack of medical knowledge most certainly contributed to the spread of the disease and the high number of deaths. (53)

The effects of the plague, at least in England were momentous. Wages increased because there were fewer workers to hire and those still around could demand higher wages. For this same reason, serfs were given more freedom, which resulted in lower land values. Industry and trade were disrupted as well. The economy was going to hell in a hand basket. Parliament tried to prevent wages from rising astronomically with the passage of the Statute of Laborers (1351), but it did little good. In order to save themselves, some lords broke up their lands and others “commuted services of their laborers to money payments instead of following the earlier practice of paying in work or produce.” (53) (mmmm, how do you pay a laborer for work by paying in work? Perhaps you have another laborer do something for the first, like replace a roof?)

According to Mike, the Middle Ages ended in 1453. Even if one takes only the low estimate of 10% of the population of Europe dying in four years, it's not hard to imagine that major economical, political and social changes would have taken place, even without the other events happening in Europe at the time.

Leave a comment for a chance to win Texas Chuckwagon Cuisine: Real Cowboy Cooking cookbook and an electronic copy of my story Salavation Bride, the 2009 Preditors and Editors Reader's poll winner for Best Romance Short Story.  I'll draw a winner on Monday March 29th.

Works Cited:

IT'S ABOUT TIME: How Long History Took, Mike Flanagan
HISTORY OF ENGLAND: Survey of Events from 55 BC to Resent Times, J. A. Rickard

Anna Kathryn Lanier

Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are?

Advertisement for this new TV show caught my eye. The show helps the celebrity guest trace their ancestry. I found it interesting for two reasons. One is that I grew up knowing who I was, and two that there are so many people who really weren’t as lucky as I was to know not only all the extended family but to hear the stories of who we were and where we came from.

This is why my bio says “Bio: Terry Irene Blain was lucky enough to grow in a large Midwestern family with a rich oral tradition. As a child she heard stories of ancestor’s adventures with Indians, wild life and weather so naturally she gravitated to the study of history. She holds a BA and MA in History as well as a BA in European Studies and taught Western Civilization and US History at the college level.”

I caught the first episode where the helped Sarah Jessica Parker, who found out that one of her ancestors left Ohio for the gold rush, perhaps not knowing his wife was pregnant, and then died of disease in California. Another of her ancestors was accused as a witch in the Salem witch trial, but this ancestor was lucky she was acquitted and lived on.

So I thought I’d tell you about some of my ancestors. As I said, I’m lucky as my family history was always in front of me when I was a child. Not only did I know all my grandparents, but lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. One of my dad’s cousin’s wife did genealogy and she gathered up all the birth/marriage/death certificates, and I’ve built on that.

I think our family is fairly typical, my dad was in the Navy in WWII, and helped build the airstrip on Guam, his father was a farmer, and reserve occupation during the war (just as my husband’s father was a farmer during the war). I have pictures of the star in the window of their house that indicates they had a son in the service.

When the movie League of Their Own came out, my mom and I went to see it together as she taught me to play ball -- because she had played semi-pro ball. She still has her old uniform in her cedar chest.

Most of my immediate ancestors grew up in the Illinois, but when you trace back I can see my great grandmother came from Kentucky with her husband – the family stories tell of her carrying her new born son in her arms on the journey. If I go back far enough, I can find a great-great-great-great (one more great I think) ancestor who used to go hunting with Daniel Boone in Kentucky. And his ancestor had to leave Virginia after the Revolution, as his land grant had been a crown grant and he lost the title to his land.

My nephew just got a copy of the civil war records for a school project, confirming the stories. All my ancestors fought for the Union, one at Shiloh and Vicksburg and another at Chancellorsville.

When our son was applying for college, he asked if any of his ancestor fought in the Civil War. The answer was yes, on both sides. My husband’s family is from Oklahoma, and I did some tracing on his family. Unfortunately since the South lost the war a lot of the records are no longer available. My father-in-law told me an great uncle who fought in the Civil War and when he came home to Oklahoma, the homestead was deserted and the great uncle spent the rest of his life trying to find the remains of his family and eventually tracked a sister to Florida. My mother-in-law hear her grandmother tell how when she (grandmother) was a little girl she remembers her mother hitting a carpet bagger on the head with a ladle when he tried to steal a bag of corn meal.

My best story is when I was teaching and had to go down to the administration office and the secretary there had her name tag on the desk and the following conversation took place:
Me: Wow, that’s my maiden name. We must be related.
She: (with an unbelieving look) Why?
Me: Does your husband’s family come from Illinois?
She: Yes (hesitantly).
Me: Tell me your husband’s name.
She: David.
Me: I don’t know him, what’s your father-in-law’s name
She: Franklin.
Me: Ah, you father-in-law Franklin’s father was Austin, and Austin was a preacher and the older brother of my grandfather Harold. Austin actually preformed the marriage of my grandfather and grandmother.
She: Wow.

And then to top it off, the family had always said that Franklin had been in intelligence in WWII and it caused him to have a nervous breakdowns later in life. However, last year I got more information from cousins, and it turned out that Franklin had, indeed, had to ‘go away’ for several months at time in the 1950s. It turns out he was one of the guys working on the U2 spy plane project, and the nervous breakdowns were a cover.

My degrees in history and my teaching experience make me a natural to write historical romance. It gives me the opportunity to pass on stories of who we are and where we come from while exploring the relationship between men and women. I like to think I’m writing about a hero and heroine who lived just down the road from my ancestors. What could be more fun than that?

Do you have any favorite ancestor stories? Related to anyone famous?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Writer's Block

"A psychological condition in which a writer, esp. a professional writer, is unable to produce material, usually of a literary or creative kind."

A quick search the internet will find many reasons and opinions for writer’s block and ten times as many suggestions on how to overcome it. I'm not going to go into all of them--but simply pass on what works for me.

I think the main reason I have bouts of writer’s block, is because what I imagine in my head is so much grander then how it comes out on paper. My internal editor is working over time, constantly telling me that a phrase or scene is “not good enough” until my creative juices slow down and become mired in thick sludge.

"If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." (Margaret Atwood)

Some cures that work for me:

* Establish a routine.

I write best in the morning, before the world has a chance to pull me away from my desk with appointments and family commitments.

* Allow yourself to write badly.

My internal editor is always working overtime, but I’ve tried free writing, poetry, taking my characters out to lunch—all as ways to circumvent the blank page.

* Change your routine.

Okay, I know this is opposite of the first suggestion but it really works for me. If I do something physical instead of sitting at my desk and worrying about that blank page, my thoughts tend to “unblock.” Also, I am a “plotter” who uses a storyboard and an outline for each book. If I’m stuck, often diving in and writing anything by the “seat of my pants” gets me started again.

"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence." (Octavia Butler)

What tricks of the trade do you use to overcome writer’s block? Or are you one of the few that isn't challenged by its existence?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Manuscript Under the Bed

When I talked to people about my first published novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, one of the first questions I’m asked is, “Is this the first book you’ve written?”

The answer is an emphatic “No!”

I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember. In fact, I started out writing sequels or alternate endings to my favorite Nancy Drew stories. I was either going to be a “girl detective” or a writer. Needless to say, I chose the latter.

Later, in high school, I tried my hand at what is now known as “young adult” romances. You know the kind, the boy-meets-girl stuff, with a few kisses thrown into the mix. But I never found them to be completely satisfying.

After a short break from writing fiction, while I concentrated on a career in journalism, I returned to it, realizing it was always my first love. This time, however, I decided to try my hand at historical romantic fiction. It was what I loved to read, and it had all those juicy historical details found in the novels of the ‘80’s.

Thus was born Emerald Fortunes, later re-titled Emerald Fire, Tender Flame. A 600-page tome, it followed the lives of Rory O’Brien and Siobhán Kilpatrick practically from birth to death (or at least, to the happily-ever-after). Set against the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, it followed the characters around the country over a more than 20-year span.

Of course, that book never sold. As a historical, the time period was all wrong then. Anything after 1900 wasn’t considered “historical,” yet it wasn’t considered “contemporary” either.

So I went on to write several other manuscripts. The second, a story set in Victorian-era Montreal featuring a French-Scottish heiress to a shipping line, and the Irishman set on revenge, was shorter and better written, but several editors rejected it on the grounds that the setting was too “foreign.”

On to a third manuscript, still unfinished, and a fourth.

In my case, the fourth one was the charm. In Sunshine or in Shadow features the aforementioned Rory O’Brien and Siobhán Kilpatrick in a different time and place. It’s now available from Highland Press, and the sequel, Coming Home, will be released in 2010.

But I don’t consider those "other" manuscripts a waste of time. They may never see the light of day, but they were a valuable learning tool. They taught me how to write, what to write, and the experience has brought me to what I am today.

At last, a published author.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

12 Ways to Do Research at Highland Games

By Nicole North

If you write stories set in Scotland but can’t travel there yet, you have another option, aside from books or the internet, for learning a bit more about Scotland and Scottish clothing, traditions, foods, etc.

Highland or Scottish Games figure prominently in two of my novellas (Devil in a Kilt and Kilted Lover) and I love attending them. Hundreds of Highland Games are held each year across the country, and chances are one or more are near you. Do a search online if you've never heard of any. Aside from kilt-watching, which definitely qualifies as research, in what other ways can you do research at Games?

1. If you’re researching a particular clan and they’re in attendance, you can go to their tent and talk to members of the clan who are usually knowledgeable about that clan and their history. That’s part of the reason they’re there. They usually have books to help you as well. They might know about castles or parts of the country the clan historically inhabited. They’ll know about famous people or events of the clan.

2. If you don’t know what a sporran is, what it looks like inside, how it fastens, how it’s worn, what it feels like, etc. you can browse the ones for sale at vendors tents. The same is true for a sgian dubh, a kilt, kilt shirts, Prince Charlie jackets, etc.

3. If you’ve never eaten haggis, neeps and tatties, Forfar meat bridies, Highland pie, scones, shortbread cookies, clootie dumplin, or any other Scottish food, here is where you can sample it from those making lunch or from bake shops. Most of this food is homemade right before your eyes, and some of it isn't. So use your best judgement. (I don't recommend the haggis. But I always get Forfar meat bridies.)

4. You can listen to bagpipe music, talk to pipers, learn about bagpipes and how to play, etc. You can also listen to other types of live music from traditional to Celtic rock and then buy CDs.

5. At one Games, I saw a sword maker actually making swords. Very neat! I really wanted to ask him questions but didn’t get an opportunity. Even if swords are not being made at that moment, chances are many will be on display, either at vendors, who are selling them, or at clan tents. At one clan tent I visited, they had a replica of a sword which was important in their clan history. The original was from the 1600s. The woman gave us a lesson about how the sword was used and the different features of it.

6. At some Highland Games, vendors sell research books about Scotland--a great way to get something unique.

7. At a recent Highland Games I learned how an ancient type of kilt brooch or pin worked—the kind that holds together the top portion of the great kilt into a sash over the shoulder. I had seen pictures of them but never held one in my hand. And the man demonstrated how it worked.

8. If you’re writing about any of the traditional heavy athletics, like caber tossing, my favorite event which I included in my novella, Kilted Lover, then you can watch from the sidelines perhaps using your binoculars. And even to talk to one of the guys if you need to ask questions. They might even have a few “dummy” events so spectators can join in the fun and learn a few things.

9. You can research farm animals traditional Scottish people had, such as the hairy Highland cattle, sheep or goats. They usually have some on display and you can talk to the owners and perhaps even pet them.

10. You can browse traditional costumes, including women’s clothing, in some vendors tents. These are usually handmade by the person selling them. Ask them questions. They may know a lot about traditional clothing.

11. If you see someone selling photographs of Scotland, chances are they’ve been there and taken them. You can ask about the area of the country where a certain photo was taken and what it’s really like there. I recently did this and talked with two women, one who had just returned from Scotland and another one, with a lovely accent, who was from Scotland but now lives here in the US. They both provided interesting insights.

12. Even outside the tents and vendors, you may run into people from Scotland. Strike up a friendly conversation. Ask them where they’re from, where they grew up and what it was like. People usually enjoy talking about themselves and what they’ve experienced. That information is great research, plus it’s fascinating because it’s so different from what we experience in the US!
What about you? If you've been to Highland Games, what interesting things have you learned?
Recently I received five hearts from The Romance Studio for Kilted Lover and inspired the reviewer to want to attend Highland Games!
"I loved this story! I can't say how much I enjoyed everything about this fantastic novella. In fact I've decided to do a little research and head out to some Highland Games this summer to find my own kilted hottie. Swift action made time fly by as I read -- suddenly I was sad to say good-bye to one of the sexiest heroes I've ever met. Scott is the perfect man, he rescues a damsel in distress from two armed bad-guys after effortlessly completing the cabertoss, all while wearing a kilt! Leslie is a refreshing mixture of goddess and good girl. This author is at the top of my must-read list, I hope she provides me with an endless supply of sexy Scottish studs." ~Theresa Joseph
I also received an excellent review from Joyfully Reviewed.
"Spending time at the Scottish Games in Charleston, Leslie Livingston doesn't expect to be harassed over a necklace her grandmother had given her. But that's exactly what happens, until a tall, sexy kilt wearing Scot intercedes. While Leslie's boyfriend is off playing golf, Leslie is embarking on an adventure with Scott, the handsome Scot who ends up saving her life. Neither one wants to be attracted to the other. Leslie because she has a boyfriend and Scott because he knows she has a boyfriend and doesn't want to be the cause of a breakup. The situation brings back memories of his own horrible breakup with his fiancé. Yet fate has other plans for these two and Scott must keep Leslie alive and the necklace out of the hands of the thieves. Their one night of passion opens up new doors for Scott and Leslie, but are they willing to walk through and accept what is waiting for them?

Kilted Lover has so many wonderful elements - the sexy man in a kilt, a car chase, and hot sex. Nicole North's use of descriptive writing allowed me to easily picture in my mind what was happening and I truly wanted to be there. She did a great job putting this story on paper. I'll keep this story close at hand and look for more from Ms. North." ~Klarissa