Thursday, March 15, 2018

Courtly Scandals Inspirations

Happy Ides of March!

I introduced Mary Montgomery in Courtly Pleasures. She was Frances LeSieur's no-nonsense friend, both practical and nurturing. She was a problem solver and a little bit of a meddler with a suppressed wild streak.

Courtly Scandals (due to release 3/19/18 - 4 days!) is Mary's story. Courtly Pleasures ends with Frances heading back to the country and Mary staying behind with her old friend, Anne Cecil, the Countess of Oxford. Mary stayed because she thought Anne needed her, but isn't there long before she realizes there's a world of resentment and judgement within Anne and the friend she was making sacrifices for is a soul sucking harpy not worth the effort.

As I was writing, I realized I was missing something. Without Frances and Jane, Mary seemed so very alone and her romance was so fresh that she needed someone to turn to, someone who would slap any self-doubt or sense of worthlessness out of her.

And that's when I saw this (some mild language):

This is what I was missing. Mary needed a sassy gay friend to redirect her when she was being stupid (and there was a plot line with Oxford that this balanced out perfectly). So I built up Girard, a minstrel of the Oxford house, devastatingly handsome, a true friend, honest, non-threatening, but vulnerable due to his very nature and the world he lived in. I realize Mary has a very modern approach in that she does not judge him the way the traditional Elizabethan would -- however, she'd been at court and was familiar with the fact that that the rules are different for people with money and power.

Girard is not the flamboyant stereotype featured in the video above. I like to think I gave him depth and, though he has a sense of humor and constant twinkle in his eye, there is a gravitas to him.

Courtly Scandals was also influenced by Virginia Henley's The Hawk and the Dove. I read this many years ago, long before I developed my love affair with Elizabethan England and Queen Elizabeth herself. In this book the main character disguises herself as Queen Elizabeth so disrespectfully as to be almost heretical in the period -- but then her version of Queen Elizabeth is very different from mine. While Ms. Henley's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth was somewhat shrewish (not wrong) and mine is more benevolent, if a little capricious (also not wrong), I nodded to the scene in my own way. Without going into too much detail (no spoilers), the revelry at court over the 12 days of Christmas gives an author carte blanche. Anything can happen.

Courtly Scandals is the story of a damsel in distress who figures out how to rescue herself. Sir Charles is the knight in shining armor that discovers he needs rescuing too. The story unfolds with a series of what-else-could-possibly-go-wrong-? moments that bring them together in a bond that begins with attraction and ends in trust. 

If you enjoy Mary's story, I look forward to reintroducing you to Jane in Courtly Abandon, due to release in July of 2018.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Busiest Time of My Year

Courtly Scandals is due to release on March 19th, 2018. My first book, Courtly Pleasures, was released on my mother's birthday, which made the release date that much more special. March 19th, specifically, is not personally significant to me other than it is the spring equinox. While I find that a little magical, what March 19th is, for practical reasons, one of the busiest times of my year. Why? St. Patrick's month.

My daughters have been active in Irish dance for 7 years. Most of the time that means practices in the evening and competitions here and there on weekends. It means wigs, shoes, dresses, and sometimes a fake tan. This is so normal for me that it's not hectic (although dance moms at their first feis might disagree). St. Patrick's day, however, means multiple performances, sometimes two in a day. THIS is hectic. The driving (So. Much. Driving.), the hair, the costume prep, and trying to get them to eat in between point A and point B - it feels like a race where I won't win anything but I'll be letting everyone down if I fail. At least this year I'm not making dance costumes as well.

That said, it's wonderful for the dancers to perform instead of compete. We go to retirement facilities, medical centers, churches, fundraisers, and wineries. The girls love it, the audience is always left in awe of the dancer's skill, and we moms can sit back and enjoy the show.

It's a busy time of year, but, more so, a joyful one. My second book release adds both to the stress and the joy.

While I am not able to post video images of our dancers, I will include here a video of a St. Patrick's day flash mob in Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Courtly Scandals, Book Two of Courtly Love

Courtly Scandals, book two of Courtly Love, is due to release on March 19th, 2018. It's an Elizabethan historical romance set in the same world I built in Courtly Pleasures. Though it's in the same series, it is a stand-alone story. In Courtly Pleasures we met Mary and she decided to stay behind with court for Christmas. On the first night of Christmas Mary meets Charles, a Yeoman of the Queen's Guard and a true gentleman in character if not in title. Courtly Scandals is their story.

Circumstances surrounding them throw up ridiculous obstacles, one right after the other, but their biggest internal conflict is that both Charles and Mary are givers. They think about other's needs first. They're just too nice. Neither of them are alpha personalities and both would be really annoying to go out to dinner with. It might go something like this:

Charles: Where do you want to eat?
Mary: Oh, I'm happy with anything. Where do you want to eat?
Charles: I want you to be happy. I'm happy if you're happy. What are you in the mood for?
Mary: I'm happy just being with you. What would you like?
Charles: I really have no preference. I know you like that Italian place. Do you want to go there? Or you were talking about cheesecake yesterday, so if you would prefer we could go to Cheesecake Factory. Or Red Lobster has those rolls you like. It's up to you.
Mary: We can go there if you want to. I do like cheesecake. I love that you remembered that. Do you want cheesecake?
Me: For the love of God, choose already!
Them: *look at me, conciliatory*
Mary: I hope you aren't upset, Erin. What do you want for dinner?

Thankfully, through both Mary and Charles's growth (as individuals and as a couple) they get to a point where they can acknowledge what they want. It's not easy for either of them, but if they want happiness, they have to acknowledge their needs and that they deserve it.

Courtly Scandals has a damsel in distress trope, but the truth is they are both broken and rescue each other.

Do you have a favorite romance trope? If so, how do you feel when a writer takes a beloved trope and turns it inside out?

Friday, February 9, 2018

New Release: The Wind Reapers, Book Two of the Blackburn Chronicles

I'm excited to announce that book two of the Blackburn Chronicles, The Wind Reapers, has been released today.

The Tremblers, book one of this steampunk/science fiction/post-apocalyptic/alternative history, action packed saga, came out last month. Reviews have been great. It became one of my new favorite books because it's different. It doesn't follow the steampunk cliches (which I also enjoy) of tea, parasols, witty repartee, and pointless goggles. She incorporates goggles, but they have a purpose, and that could be used as an example of the technology throughout the book. It meets the definition of steampunk in that it takes technology in the time of steam powered industrialism and turns it upside down, inside out, and imagines what could have been possible. Given that necessity is the mother of invention, how far would Victorians have progressed their technological prowess if their existence was on the line?

And author Raquel Byrnes made certain to threaten their existence: cataclysmic earth quakes, poisonous gasses, devastating storms, and a inexplicable sickness necessitated technological advancement. 

In The Tremblers, we meet debutante Charlotte Blackburn, living under the protection of a domed city state in the devastated post-Great Calamity (a series of earth shattering quakes brought on by on by irresponsible mining) remains of what used to be the United States. Through no fault of her own, she is soon a wanted criminal by the despotic leaders of the Peaceful Union. She escapes to Outer City, a community floating high above the wastelands of North America. This debutante learns how to rely on both her intellect and her heart in the face of extreme opposition. From ball gowns to leathers, opera glasses to guns, she goes from helpless girl to a force to be reckoned with, doing what needs to be done, no matter the cost.

The Wind Reapers is book two of the Blackburn Chronicles and brings us to the treacherous badlands outside the domed city states. Hosted and protected (sort of) by a nomadic community in a HUGE spider-like, constantly roaming land vessel, Charlotte learns of a conspiracy that will doom thousands of innocents.

From the back of the book:
Charlotte Blackburn—Hero, hunted, the unwitting symbol of a dark rebellion—she thwarted the deadly intent of the treacherous Order of the Sword and Scroll, but at a shattering cost. Now, she fights to survive among a tribe of fierce Wind Reapers who troll the wasteland aboard massive metal walkers. But a new storm is brewing and Charlotte is once again the linchpin in a deadly plan.

Sebastian Riley has one goal: Help the citizens of his floating Outer City to survive the Ashen Croup, a terrible affliction that drowns victims in their own lungs. But help comes in the form of the infamous Lady Blackburn, a woman wanted for treason who is determined to run headlong into destruction to prevent a coming war—even if it means reaching out to those who want her dead.

Pursued by the shadowy Order and hunted by the furious Reaper clan, Riley and Charlotte brave the monstrous hordes of decaying Tremblers and the terrors of the Wasteland to stop the bloodshed and secure a mysterious calculating engine—a device that can bring about the destruction of an entire nation.

With brutal forces gathering against the unsuspecting citizens inside the Tesla domes, a vicious scientist intent on capturing Charlotte for his experiments, and the whole of the country in deadly peril, one of them must make a sacrifice too terrible to comprehend.

My review of The Wind Reapers: 
This book is a non-stop adventure led by Charlotte, Tesla, and Riley. Technology can only do so much in the face of "blood storms" and a desert veined with fissures releasing searing gas and lava. Outside the dome there are a new set of obstacles and Charlotte doesn't know who she can trust. Having followed Charlotte's journey from naive girl to the point she is at at the start of this book, a competent and somewhat Machiavellian champion for what she perceives as right, this story follows her continued evolution. What struck me the most about this was that the author made the bad guys very real, not archetypal villains. I understood and sympathized with their motivation as well as I understood Charlotte's. This made the right and wrong of the matter very much a gray area. It was thoughtful and threatening, ruthless and emotional. I cried (when a book makes me cry, it has won me over) and cheered and gasped... I couldn't put it down. Wind Reapers is a heartrending adventure that full of hope and fear, a story that challenged me and made me question my own values. 

This is categorized as a young adult title, but the scale of this adventure and the questions it inspires will appeal to all ages.

Book three is (based on Amazon) due to be released next month. I can't wait.
In the meantime I just discovered there are a few freebies available now that go into the backstory of some of the main characters.

Of Books and Blades is the story of young Aston Wells and the events that brought him to the order of the Sword and Scroll.

This Perilous Path is the story of Lizzie and her life before and during The Great Calamity. These are the events that led her to be part of the rebels, fighting for social justice against the Peaceful Union. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My Writing Journey

This blog started out about my journey to becoming published. With some slight deviations, my posts have been about my writing, the process, and the industry as I came to know it. During the years my writing has changed (I like to think I've grown) but my goal remained the same. I knew that I would eventually publish a book; all I had to do was remain diligent and work smart.

Now I have published a book. My second book is due to be released in March. This blog, however, will continue to be about my journey because it's certainly not over.

When I first signed that contract I expected to be elated. FINALLY! I thought I'd be proud and confident, that I'd want to celebrate. Instead it was overwhelming. Yes, I got the contract... but what would come next? It was uncharted territory for me. I'd become comfortable with the pattern of rejection and revision, getting back on the horse, and trying again.

I realized that becoming published wasn't the end, it's just a step on the ladder. One race finished and the next started.

So, what's next for me?

1. Continued growth as a writer. I became a better writer with each book. Now I'm writing AND addressing edits. It's a learning process and my editor has been very patient with me as we work out the kinks. I've had trouble with little things like when the form of address is a proper noun and when it's possessive. I'm figuring it out. Eventually it is my goal that I'll get a manuscript back without any basic mistakes and only comments about content. Content adjustments aren't embarrassing. Basic English errors are. As far as my journey goes, this part is very organic and doesn't scare me. As long as I'm open to learning, I will grow.

2. Finding balance as a professional writer. With my book(s) out there, I have a new job: marketing. I need to be writing new material, editing the old, and figuring out how to make connections with  my readers. Being me, I tend to obsess over little things and I need to step back and see the big picture, and organize my efforts in a healthy way. I'm working on it. This part is not easy for me.

3. Finding balance as a human. I'm a mom, a wife, a teacher, an Irish dance mom, a reader, an artist, a puppy-mommy, a dress designer/seamstress, a daughter... I'm a lot of things besides being a writer. I thank God for my husband. He's shouldering some of the weight of marketing/social media. The other day I forwarded him an email and told him my brain was full and I couldn't think about. He took it over with no questions. This is a process I have to figure out.

So the journey is far from over and this blog will continue to follow that journey. Thanks for letting me share it with you.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sneak Peak at a Deleted Scene

Many things about Courtly Pleasures changed throughout the writing process. The first version started out with a heavy focus on Frances's battle with depression and was written with all dialogue in Elizabethan (BBC style) dialect. I probably cut twenty or so pages of dress description. There was a maidservant named Bessie who's speech was so indecipherable that Frances, Mary, and Jane would just nod and pretend they knew what was being said. There have been a lot of changes, all for the better.

One such change was the removal of Blanche Parry's point of view. I consider her the fairy godmother of Frances's story. Blanche was a real historical character and I did my best to portray her with respect to the accounts of the type of woman she was. Her effigy at Westminster is featured to the left.

I cut this scene from the start of chapter fifteen, the morning after the masque on the river. If you haven't read Courtly Pleasures yet, do not read any more here unless you don't hate spoilers with the fury of a thousand suns like I do.

If you are interested in reading Courtly Pleasures, there is an Amazon link in the right side bar.


Click the "Read more" link below to read the deleted scene from Courtly Pleasures.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

No Means No

 Click the image for a fun sidetrack.Bodice Rippers.

It's a term I've used in the past to mock the romance genre. It comes from an era of romance where the young virtuous ingenue is seduced by the experienced rake. She fights her own desire and, when she gives in, it is often under duress. It's the scenario where she said no but her body said yes. Now I consider that disgusting, it's rape made titillating. It also summarizes the value system of an era where good girls couldn't say yes... and it taught men that no didn't always mean no.

But romance novels did not create this norm, they were a symptom of it. The female readers during this time responded to these books because it was a representation of the social values they were living. Sexual fantasy was just that, fantasy. But the limits on a woman's right to claim her own sexuality was not a fantasy.

These were the romances I started with. In fact, these stories impacted my view about love and sex. I'm still trying to get over that.

Today's romance novels still frequently have an alpha man. The difference between the old school tropes and today's characters is that he's butting heads with an alpha woman. It's a meeting of equals. Unless you are reading a niche book about BDSM or rape fantasy or straight-up porn, mainstream romance is about a woman who is competent and powerful in her own right. She may or may not be virginal. She may or may not be young. Or thin. Or white. Or heterosexual. And there is no concern about whether or not a woman can acknowledge her own desires. If she says no, it's because she means no. And, an equally important shift, she has the right to say yes.

Romance has changed as the writers have changed. While it is still a market with, predominantly, women writing for women, that is not exclusive. A good story is still a good story, and (imo) the only thing keeping the romance genre limited to a specific section of the bookstore and a specific demographic is the prejudice in place against the genre.

(While I could talk at length about the ingrained prejudice against romance based on sexism and the patriarchal norms still lingering that want to limit women's sexual agency, this is a post specifically about the changing face of romance.)

So bodice rippers have had their time and the romance industry has evolved. It's to a point where the term has been reclaimed by the industry in much the same way as racial or homophobic slurs are used by people within the culture to take away the power of the word. We have taken ownership of the insult and know that, as a genre, we are above it.

*Click the image above to go to the BuzzFeed link, "19 Things Fabio Is Actually Thinking On Romance Novel Covers."
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