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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Dreaded Synopsis

by Ann Lethbridge

Last time on this blog I talked about what I am hoped to see in a contest first three chapters. This time I promised to talk about the dreaded synopsis.

I am not at all surprised by the terror many people show when the S word is mentioned. I still struggle with them, even though I have five books published and now write my stories only on proposal i.e. all my editor sees before she buys a book, is a synopsis. So I guess they had better be good enough for her to want to buy the book. I think one of the most important bits of help I ever received was from my editor. She asked “What is keeping them apart?”

Most stories have a plot or they wouldn’t be a story. Writers of romance novels have a much harder time than a writer of mystery for example. You have to write two plots. The story plot and the romance plot. And for each of those stories, there has to be tension and conflict and resolution.

What I often see in synopses I judge, is the romance taking second place to the story plot. It is mentioned here and there, they start liking each other, they go to bed, it all ends happily ever after when they realize they should be together.

If you want to catch an editor’s eye, the romance plot has to drive the story. Why they can’t be together needs to drive why they take certain steps and actions as they move through the external plot.

I have a published friend who can make me cry when I read her black moment and her resolution in her proposal synopsis. If you can do that, you are going to hook an editor. This requires focus on the relationship and reason to care about the characters. And why, after all they have gone through, they cannot be together and how that is resolved.

I usually try to wind up my story plot, the solving of the crime, the identification of the bad guy, the achieving of the goal and have it actually be the worst moment in the relationship. They solve the problem and all is lost. Then you have to bring them back together in their romance plot.

One way to see how you are doing with balance between plot and romance plot, is to highlight your synopsis. Blue for everything related to the external plot, pink for everything to do with the romantic plot. Be honest now! In a five page synopsis one would expect to see very little in pink among the blue at the beginning, the initial denied attraction, maybe, then a kiss, and some more denial. Around page 3 pink and blue should be about even, working together, still aware that it can’t be, but being swept up in a relationship that they are fighting, with the reasons they are fighting it and what the dire consequences are if they give in. Meanwhile, they are dealing with their external events. Around the middle/end of page four you might see the end of blue altogether and the rest of the synopsis is all pink, the black moment of why they can never be together and the resolution. Of course the external plot can go right to the end, but the relationship has to be there with it.

If you counted up the lines there might be more pink than blue, or maybe the same amount, but if you have a lot more blue than pink you may not have a romance synopsis. I am not saying you haven’t written a romance. I am saying you haven’t presented it that way in your synopsis, the only thing the editor will read, apart from your first three chapters, - where you are still getting going with your external plot.

Other things you should consider when writing a synopsis.

Start with a hook that ties to your character’s inner conflicts. Here are the first lines from my first two synopses for Harlequin.
  • A play-it-by-the-rules nobleman, Christopher Evernden inherits his uncle’s Courtesan.

  • Down-on-her-luck, Lady Eleanor Hadley takes to the High Toby where the one man who can ruin her steals a kiss.

Try to mention as few characters as possible. The hero, the heroine and the bad guy if there is one (or what ever they are struggling to overcome in the external plot). Too much detail takes away from the romance, which is tea for two, not a garden party.

Hit only the main high points of your external plot. You can leave out huge swaths of detail as long as you can show the points of conflict between your couple. Be specific. Write in the present tense. Make sure you keep it as short as you can.

Good luck. As a special prize, I will throw the names of the commenters’ who express interest into a hat – to win feedback on your synopsis to be sent to me within two weeks of this blog.

Ann Lethbridge’s book Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress is available for preorder at
, Amazon.com and at chapters.indigo.ca and many other places.

It will be in stores on May 1.

Also coming May 1, the related Undone short story available on e-harlequin on May 1 The Laird and the Wanton Widow

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Medical Expenses

My June historical western release is Doctor in Petticoats. The heroine is a doctor in a blind school because she can't persuade the medical community in her town to take her seriously as a doctor. But she is highly qualified and jumps at the chance to be the only physician in a small community.

While I didn't need this information for my story, it is one of those things I researched and now have archived for the day I may want to know.

Here are a few prices for medical procedures and assistance in the 1800’s:
A visit within one mile — $1.00
Each succeeding mile — .50
Simple case of midwifery — $5.00
For bleeding — .50
Bullet Wounds — Between $1.00 to 10.00
For setting fracture — $5.00 to 10.00
Amputating Arm — $10.00
Amputating Leg — $20.00
For advice and prescription in office — $1.00
For difficult cases, fee based in proportion to difficulty.

But as was often the case, the doctor accepted goods in lieu of money. And doctors didn't refuse to treat someone because they couldn’t pay.

I'm assuming the $10.00 bullet required more digging and stitching. Wouldn't it be nice to pay only $5 for a birthing? I know my dad says in 1957 he paid $50 for my brother's birth.

Just thought I'd throw this little bit of trivia out there for those of you who have inquiring minds like myself. Maybe one of you can use it in a book.
Do you also gather more information than you'll use in a book? If you're a reader can you tell when a person has over researched?

Paty Jager

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Clothes Make the Man - Or Woman!

Motivations for dressing as a man varied. In some cases, women in love desperately wished to join husbands or sweethearts on the battlefield. One can only wonder how many of these couples succumbed to desire and rose eyebrows in the process. In others, becoming a man offered a woman the chance to fight for a cause, either on the battlefield or as a spy.

One of the most notorious cross-dressing spies was Sarah Emma Edmonds, known as Private Franklin Thompson, Union Army nurse turned spy. As a girl, the Canadian-born tomboy craved adventure and could outshoot boys her age. When her father’s attempt to force her into marriage with a local farmer drove her to run away, Sarah worked as a milliner before assuming the identity, Franklin Thompson, traveling Bible salesman.

When war broke out, Sarah/Franklin rushed to enlist. Serving as a male nurse, Private Thompson served in the First Battle of Bull Run and distinguished herself with dedication and competence. Recruited for the newly created Secret Service, she maintained her male persona and crossed Confederate lines to gather information. Taking her deception further, she disguised herself as an African American man to glean intelligence. She used silver nitrate to dye her skin, shaved her head, donned old, worn clothing like that of a plantation slave, and called herself “Cuff”. Working alongside African American men working to build Confederate fortifications, she employed her keen memory and some well-implemented bribery to glean information for the Union. In another instance, Sarah/Franklin donned the clothes of a captured Confederate soldier to move through enemy lines.

In a strange twist, Sarah’s Franklin alter-ego disguised himself as a woman on at least two occasions. Pretending to be an Irish peddler named Bridget O’Shea, she planned to infiltrate the army by becoming a camp follower selling pies and cakes. In another instance of “Franklin” donning a disguise as a woman, he dressed as an African-American laundress working for Confederate officers.

Sarah Edmonds’ story has been recorded in far more detail than many other women who fought in the Civil War in the guise of a man. Women such as Mary Livermore, Mary Owens, and Albert D.J. Cashier (born Jennie Hodgers) joined the war effort in the guise of a man and served their cause. In some cases, female soldiers died from wounds or disease. In others, they lived to old age, raised families, and wrote memoirs. Sadly, the United States Army did not recognize female soldiers and tried to ignore their contributions for decades after the Civil War ended. Fortunately for all of us, accounts of their daring masquerades survived despite the Army’s attempt to pretend they didn’t exist.

Regardless of their motivations and which side of the conflict they were on, the women who disguised themselves as men to become a part of Civil War battles and espionage risked their lives and became a part of history. What fascinating stories they must have had to tell.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Frontier Medicine

In my novella SALVATION BRIDE, the heroine Laura Slade, is a trained doctor. Set in the 1870’s, this was not common, but possible. By this time, several medical schools admitted women. Laura, however, didn’t. Instead, she apprenticed under her Uncle John, who had been to medical school and served as a doctor in the Civil War.

More common in the 19th Century women were home-trained healers and midwives, who learned the art of healing from their mothers and grandmothers. My current work in progress takes place in the 1860’s shortly after the Civil War. The hero, Garrison and the heroine, Sammie, are on a wagon train heading West. Sammie has been trained as a healer by her mother. She takes with her on the trip her medicine chest.

The chest would contain such items as those listed in BLEED, BLISTER, AND PURGE by Volney Steele, M.D. Common household remedies would be “feverfew, fleabane, boneset, rhubarb, oak of Jerusalem, thyme [and] marjoram,” (page 138). A few store-bought items would also be included: Opium tincture or laudanum and whiskey for pain and surgeon’s plaster to bind broken limbs (the latter comes in handy when Garrison breaks a bone during the trip).

Sammie would know how to make poultices to relieve pain, help heal burns and possibly, even, to prevent pregnancy. She’d make plaster of mustard to “ease the ache of bruises, arthritis, and pleurisy.” She might even apply sugar to wounds, once commonly known to dry out a fresh wound and inhibit the growth of bacteria. (page 143).

Cholera was the most common and the deadliest disease to sweep through a wagon train or settlement. It wasn’t understood at the time that cholera was caused by contaminated drinking water. The best way to fight the disease was to replace fluids ‘volume to volume” as the patient suffered from severe diarrhea. However, this treatment was not well known. Opium, if available, was also given to “relieve the pain and slow down the increased bowel action and cramps,” (page 80).

Diphtheria, measles, small pox and scarlet fever were all deadly diseases, especially among children, with no cures but to wait it out. Diphtheria, in particular, was the most dreaded. Highly contagious, a single case could start an epidemic, resulting in a high number of children dying when a “pseudo-membrane in the throat and pharynx…obstructed the windpipe and shut off air to the lungs.” If the child survived this, she might still die from heart failure, caused when a potent toxin was secreted that effected the heart, (page 264).

One often overlooked disease on the frontier was scurvy, which was almost as deadly to the immigrants as cholera. With a common diet of corn meal, flour, beans and boiled or salted beef and few fresh vegetables and fruit, scurvy ran rampant in the West. Scurvy affects the overall health of the patient, causing extreme fatigue, nausea, pain in the muscles and joints of the body, bleeding of the gums (oftentimes resulting in the loss of teeth) and hair and skin become dry. The simple cure for scurvy is the intake of Vitamin C, but the correlation between diet and scurvy was not discovered until the late 1800’s. Ironically, a common native plant along the trail, watercress, was full of Vitamin C and would have been a simple cure to this disease, if the immigrants had only known.

Many an immigrant’s diary is filled with entries of sickness and death on the journey. In COVERED WAGON WOMEN by Kenneth Holmes, two journalists note such occurrences. Anna King, on page 42, relates, “I wrote to you at Fort Larim that the whooping cough and measles went through our camp, and after we took the new route a slow, lingering fever prevailed….Eight of our two families have gone to their long home. Upwards to fifty died on the new route.”

Sallie Hester reports “We had two deaths in our train within the past week of cholera – young men going West to seek their fortune. We buried them on the banks of the Blue River, far from home and friends,” (page 237).

By today’s standards, medicine in the 19th Century was crude in the best of hospitals. On the frontier, it was downright rudimentary. As much as I’d love to give my heroines insight to the knowledge we have now, I shall have to resist and let them heal their patience with the remedies tired and true at the times.


I’ll give away a copy of SALVATION BRIDE, an best-seller from The Wild Rose Press to one lucky commenter. Also, anyone leaving a comment on my blog today will be eligible for the Seduced by History monthly prize, a book bag full of romance novels (see left for the details).

Anna Kathryn Lanier

Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Getting to know me

Several months ago author Ingela Hyatt had ten authors answer a set of questions. So I thought I'd go ahead and share my anwers here.

Questions:Q:If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have three books with which to read for five years, which three books would you take and why?

A:The Bible (for the stories and the spiritual inspiration), SAS Survival Handbook (to help me remember all I learned when my sons were in Boy Scouts) and something long and that I’ve never read. Can I have a pencil and paper? Then I could also write.

Q:If you could travel back in time for a month long vacation, which Era would you visit and why?
A: Oh, for only a month? My first thought on reading this question was the old Chinese proverb/curse ‘may you live in interesting times’. But if it’s only for a month, then I’d chose the American Revolutionary period. This is the beginning of the United State and the first definition of ‘American’. Perhaps the siege of Boston early in the conflict, or maybe be in Virginia at the time of Yorktown. I might get to meet/see one of the founding fathers.

Or perhaps the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but then I’d probably be in the kitchen scrubbing the pots and pans, so think I’ll go with the American Revolution

Q; If you could meet anyone of your characters in person, who would it be and why?

A: The heroine of my WIP, to find out why she’d turn down/resist the wonderful hero I’ve made for her. I need some reason to keep them apart so that I actually have a story. I really have to work to have conflict in my stories. Like I say, I met this guy, we went out a few times, he said ‘let’s get married’ and I said ‘OK’ , which is nice, but an awful short story.

Q; If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

A: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively though out the US, so I’d love to go back to the UK – to re-visit all the places we went the first time and to see all the places we didn’t see the first time. To see more of Scotland, and to visit Wales.

Q: What is your favorite Season to write in and why?

A: Well, I’ve written stories in summer, spring and fall. Because there is an actual historical event in my stories, that sorta dictates which season it will be. Since a lot of the action in my stories occurs outside (cowboys, you know), guess why I’ve avoided winter time. Maybe I can come up with a Christmas story some time.

Q; What genre (if any) have you always dreamed of writing but haven't found the time and/or desire to write?

A: Want to write a Scottish historical, and if there was a market, one set in Ancient Greece. And the American Revolution.

Q: If you could meet any author in the world (dead or alive) who would it be and why?

A:Janice Holt Giles or Ellsworth Thane. Both wrote wonderful historical series that entranced me as a young reader. And yes, they are historical novels, but each had strong romantic thread.

Q: If you could meet any mythological or legendary creature/person, who would they be and why?

A: Legendary person – I’d go for George Washington. A really fascinating character who’s become more a caricature in modern times. But if you read any biographies, he was a very complex and fascinating man. And after visiting Mt. Vernon, and sitting on the back porch looking down over the lawn that falls away to the Potomac river, I know why he always spoke about wanting to go home.

Q: What is your favorite "guilty" pleasure and why?

A: US Soccer – I love international soccer, follow the World Cup qualifications and the cup itself. Why else would I be willing to get up in the middle of the night to watch the games that were played at 2am my time (2004 Cup)? Luckily this year the difference in time is better. US v. England on June 12 – check your local listing.

Q: What is the "coolest" or most interesting thing that has happened to you since becoming a published author?

A: I get to teach workshops and on-line classes. I’ve taught History, and now I’m teaching writing. And you get to meet so many other authors. My next on-line class is through the Orange County Chapter of RWA http://occrwa.org/ Another Time, Another Place - Tools to Transport the Reader starting May 10th.

Where would you go if you could travel back in time for a month?

Kentucky Green. Journeying to her childhood home of Kentucky, April Williamson allows nothing to deter her. Certainly not Dan McKenzie who’s duty bound to escort her. Dan believes the frontier of 1794 is no place for women. But in spite of their mutual attractions, a dark secret in his past means April cannot be his.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Miniatures are not just for playing! They can provide inspiration too!

Recently I had the good fortune to help with a miniature show in my hometown and came away just wishing I had the time to craft a miniature version of each of the three books I’ve had published. I could just envision the lighthouse and cliffs of The Angel and the Outlaw and the windswept plains of Texas with The Rebel and the Lady. But then—I’d be busy playing with miniatures instead of writing!

The women and men that work with miniatures go to great lengths to create scenes that are historically accurate--with the furniture, rugs, and pictures of the era, unless of course, they are creating a fanciful scene such as mermaids in Atlantis. Here is the house of the Seven Dwarves from the opened back

And Merlins' Lair...complete with a suit of armour and a crystal ball.

How does this relate to writing? Well, by seeing a visual of the world I am writing about, I start thinking up more scenes and ideas. So I guess you could say it stimulates me creatively.

The majority of miniaturists work with 1-inch scale which means 1 inch equals one foot in real life. A very few work with 1/2 inch scale. The two houses to the left are Debbie Young's collection. She works with 1/4 inch scale where 1/4 inch equals a foot in real life.

Herta Forster grew up in Darmstadt
Germany to a family of artists. In 1944
her parent's house was bombed by the
Allies. After moving to the United States,
she lovelingly built a miniature replica of
the home she left behind, complete with the furniture as she remembered it.

Since I write westerns, the last two pictures are of a western dance hall. This was complete with a large bar and a dance hall girl. Oh-la-la!

What types of things do you do in your "free time" that help stimulate your creativity? Do your hobbies ~ cooking, knitting, etc have a place in your writing?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Little Musical Inspiration

How many times have we listened to a certain piece of music and had it transport us back in time? Maybe to the summer of our first kiss, the first song we danced to at our wedding, or a song that reminds us of our children.
Sometimes music can be the most inspirational thing in the world. It can lift us up when we’re feeling blue, encourage us to achieve our dreams, or just make us realize that no matter how tough things are, they always get better.

For a writer, particularly a writer who hasn’t visited the time or place in which we’ve chosen to set our novel, music can be a life saver. After all, it is possible to visit a place, less easy to visit a different time. For my novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, I could visit Ireland – and I finally did last summer. But it’s a bit harder to visit Ireland in 1850!

Enter my rather extensive collection of Irish music, mostly traditional airs. There’s nothing I like better than listening to a fiddle and a tin whistle playing the plaintive air of Danny Boy, or the merry strains of the Galway Reel. I find this music is very evocative not only of the place, but of the people, too. There’s none like the Irish for wonderful music. After all, isn’t the harp one of her national symbols?

Recently, while writing my current WIP, I’ve relied on different types of music. Since my Irish hero came to America on a coffin ship in 1847, songs like Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears were very valuable as a soundtrack to the story. And while I’m writing the “Black Moment,” I’ve been listening to sad love songs. In particular, Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face has been very helpful to get me into the mood.
How about you? Is there a certain song that brings back memories, good or bad? If you’re a writer, is there a certain “soundtrack” to your stories?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why Highlanders? By Terry Spear

My friend Terry Spear has a new historical romance which just released, so I asked her to guest blog. Welcome Terry!

Thanks so much for having me!

I'd love to give an autographed free copy of Winning the Highlander's Heart to a lucky winner who comments on today's blog. The cover will not be the same featured. The Accidental Highland Hero is the second in the Medieval Highland romance.

Why Highlanders? My great grandmother was in love with all things Scots, which I inherited from her! She was the descendant of a proud Highlander, Malcolm MacNeill, who worked for the Duke of Argyll. His daughter, who might have been born on the other side of the sheets, Elizabeth Campbell, was still considered a lady, and ran off with her love, the commoner MacNeill. It's a true life love story in Scotland where a woman would give up her wealth and rank to be with the Highlander she loved. The Duke was said to have offered the proud MacNeill as much land as he could walk in a day, but MacNeill wouldn't have it. Instead, he bought passage to the Americas, to North Carolina, only the ship was sailed by Cpt MacDonald, whose father was the minister in the Campbeltown kirk, and one of the captain's brothers owned land in Prince Edward Island, where he was having a difficult time getting settlers to settle the wilderness.

So the story goes, Cpt MacDonald took the Highlanders to PEI instead of North Carolina, wrecked the ship, and though the settlers refused for sometime to go ashore, they finally had to find food and water. Indians on the land showed the settlers how to hunt for seal or they would have died during the harsh winter without homes to shelter them. Elizabeth Campbell died, leaving behind three small children. One was my direct ancestor, a 6 or 7 year old boy, another older boy by about 9, and a very young girl. The girl and my direct ancestor were raised by different families and then married into those families. All were have said to have come from Scotland on the same ship that mine had traveled on. It was said that Elizabeth had taken furs and jewels with her and used these to barter with the Indians.

My grandmother and others in the family felt Elizabeth had let the family down by leaving her home in Scotland for a life and hardship in PEI, in which she didn't survive for long. When the Duke's family eventually had no issue to carry on the title, my grandmother and great grandmother were visited by Scotland Yard as they were searching for the family Bibles that would prove their claim that they were descendants of the earlier Duke. A family who was more distantly related was able to prove their tie and claimed the title and estates. :)

And so that's why I love the Highland Scots. Because sometime in the distant past, my mother's family were from Scotland, both tied to the commoners and royalty too. Love bloomed between them and though it didn't have an entirely happy ending, for a while, Elizabeth and Malcolm were lovers united.

My Playfairs are of Scotland also, and the eldest son was a brilliant scientist, another a famous architect, and another, the one I'm directly descended from also brilliant (inventing the bar and circle graphs we studied in school) and a scoundrel too (blackmailing a duke over the legitimacy of a couple of children the duke claimed were his own, and Playfair claimed were not).

I salute our rich history, no matter where we're from and continue to write about Scottish scoundrels in fictional books of romance, passion, adventure and mystery.

If you'd been the Duke's daughter, would you have run off with a man you loved, or waited for someone who had money and title? When I've asked this before, some have said they want both, but that's too easy, and ye must choose one or the other. :)

Thanks again for having me here! May all your historical readings give you pleasure, take you into worlds you can only dream about, and satisfy your quest for love and truth.

Terry Spear

Award-winning author of urban fantasy and medieval historical romantic suspense, Terry Spear also writes true stories for adult and young adult audiences and loves all things Celtic because of her Scottish and Irish ancestry where true love flowered in the Scottish Highlands and in Ireland . She’s a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and has an MBA from Monmouth University. She also creates award-winning teddy bears, Wilde & Woolly Bears, to include personalized bears designed to commemorate authors’ books. When she’s not writing or making bears, she’s teaching online writing courses. Originally from California, she’s lived in eight states and now resides in the heart of Texas. She is the author of Heart of the Wolf (Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year), Destiny of the Wolf, To Tempt the Wolf, Legend of the White Wolf, Seduced by the Wolf, Winning the Highlander’s Heart, The Accidental Highland Hero, Deadly Liaisons, The Vampire… In My Dreams (young adult) and numerous articles and short stories for magazines.

The Accidental Highland Hero
ISBN: 978-0-9819896-6-2

Lady Ellis Dunbarton didn't think life could get any worse, until her loving cousin dies and Ellis learns she is to wed the man her cousin was to marry. Not by a change of contract, though. Instead, by deceit. If he learns she is not her cousin, Agnes, her life is forfeit. Crossing the Irish Sea, her ship sinks, she survives, but temporarily loses her memories. When a Highland Clan takes her in, she remembers one thing. She must flee at all costs and disappear. She knows if her family learns of her whereabouts, her life is over.

James MacNeill must take a bride or give up his holdings to one of
his younger brothers. Malcolm has already taken to wife, the fair Lady Anice of Brecken. Dougald is the next one in line to govern the MacNeill Clan if James does not wed and provide an heir. But when James discovers his cousin and advisor have rescued a half-drowned lass from the sea, there's speculation she is of the enemy clan. Returning her to them is his plan, since he has no intention of using one of their lasses as a bargaining tool. But his mother has another notion--use the lass as a means to entice one of the ladies he is interested in marrying, to visit him and commit to marriage. And then return her to her clan, if she is agreeable.

Only nothing works out as anyone plans.

Terry Spear's Blog