Friday, September 26, 2014

Preparing for my Writing Retreat

I've got the opportunity to have a personal writing retreat.  For nearly two weeks, I'm not going to have to think about anybody else's schedule but mine -- well, and the cats, such as it is.

It won't be like a NaNoWriMo experience, because I've already started the book.  In fact, I've written eight chapters.  Then I went on holiday.  When I returned, I started revising the first chapter.  Then came a flurry of social activities, including a few at my house.  There was cooking, cleaning and baking to do, which meant another long break.  So I'm not "starting from scratch."  I'm getting back to a book already in progress.

Today and Saturday, I'm getting ready - going over my synopsis and notes, reminding myself about the characters and their story.  I'm also getting a few chores done, so I don't have much on my plate besides writing, feeding myself and the cats, and going for walks, because this retreat isn't just about writing.  It's also about getting back to regular exercise. 

Here's the schedule I hope to maintain during my retreat:

1.  Start the day with a hearty breakfast (hot cereal and fruit), feed the cats, and watch Canada AM until after Things I learned on the Internet Today (that's about 8 am).

2.   Begin working on the book.  Note I am NOT going to check my email or Twitter first.

3.  Work until I feel it's time for a break.  That could mean I work for an hour, or I could work for more.  When I take a break, I'll check email and Twitter,  have a tea, maybe do a bit of housework. 

4.  Back to work until I'm ready for another break and lunch.  I'm not setting a time limit or a page count, in part because at least in the beginning, I'll be revising.  It would be nice if I could get to the end of Chapter 8 by the end of the first week, but I'm not even setting that as a goal.  It's more important to feel I have a solid base before continuing.

5.  Lunch and a long break.  Since I've only myself and the cats to feed,  I can set my own times for meals.

I'm also having a Call the Midwife binge, so I'm going to watch an episode while I have lunch, then go for a walk and check email, etc.   This break will be at least two hours, and possibly three.
6.  Work a bit more, prepare for the next day.  At each break, I'll likely make notes, but I definitely will before I stop for dinner, so I can review the next morning before I start working again.

7.  Make dinner.  I'm going to make things that will also give me left-overs for the next day's dinner.  I also plan to do a bit of baking -- cornbread and pumpkin bread, not cookies. 

8.  After dinner, I may work if I feel like it, or take the evening off for more Call the Midwife and whatever shows on TV that appeal, like Gotham.  Then it's early to bed, and early to rise.

By the end of my retreat, I hope to have revised what I've already written and gotten a good start on the rest of the book.  Again, no specific page or word count -- I just want to get back into the book after a long break, build a really good foundation and (hopefully) move beyond. 

Here are my two "writing buddies." This is how they'll be spending their days while I'm working.   

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I've sold two more books!

Whoo hoo!  I've sold two more books to Harlequin Historical!  One is a sequel to BRIDE FOR A KNIGHT, coming this December.  That means I've got a medieval trilogy, starting with CASTLE OF THE WOLF, then BRIDE FOR A KNIGHT, and now a third story, about the twin brother of the hero of BRIDE FOR A KNIGHT.  I don't have a title or a release date yet, in no small part because I'm still in the process of writing the book. 

The second book is a Regency romance.  I've had the idea for that one kicking around for awhile, and it's always exciting to get to work on a book that's been brewing. No title or release date for that one yet, either.

Why change time periods?  I think it helps my creativity to have to switch it up every now and again.

I'll announce the title and release dates as they become available here, on my website and by Twitter, too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Researching the Medieval Time Period

I've been asked more than once about how much research I do for my books.   It's hard to quantify something like that, especially after you've been writing about a time period for over 20 years.  

Generally, though, I do as much as I feel necessary to "put the reader there," without letting the research overwhelm the characters and the action. 

In the name of "putting the reader there,"  I've amassed several books about medieval times.  Here are ones I that I've found particularly useful.  (I've also written books set in other time periods.  Here's a link to lists of books for those time periods.)

LOST COUNTRY LIFE by Dorothy Hartley (absolutely one of the best for me -- it's about how folks actually did things, organized by months of the year) 

LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CASTLE by Joseph and Frances Gies 

LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CITY by Joseph and Frances Gies 

LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE by Joseph and Frances Gies 

MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY IN THE MIDDLE AGES by Frances and Joseph Gies (yes, changed the order of the names on this one -- wonder why? And yes, apparently I buy any book they write -- because they're good!) 

CASTLE by David Macaulay 

LIFE IN THE CASTLE IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND by John Burke (this one is past my usual setting, but interesting nonetheless) 


A MEDIEVAL BOOK OF SEASONS by Marie Collins and Virginia Davis 

THE ENGLISH: A SOCIAL HISTORY, 1066-1945 by Christopher Hibbert 

MISTRESS, MAIDS AND MEN: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century by Margaret Wade Labarge 

A SMALL SOUND OF THE TRUMPET: Women in Medieval Life by Margaret Wade Labarget 

FOOD & COOKING IN MEDIEVAL BRITAIN: History and Recipes by Maggie Black 

A MEDIEVAL HOME COMPANION: Housekeeping in the Fourteenth Century, translated and edited by Tania Bayard 

THE OXFORD HISTORY OF BRITAIN: THE MIDDLE AGES by John Gillingham and Ralph A. Griffiths 

MEDIEVAL WOMEN: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500 by Henrietta Leyser 

ENGLISH WEAPONS AND WARFARE 449 - 1660 by A.V.B. Norman and Don Pottinger 

THE COUNTRYSIDE OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND, edited by Grenville Astill and Annie Grant 

WOMEN IN ENGLAND 1500 - 1760: A Social History by Anne Laurence 

MEDIEVAL PANORAMA: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation by G.G. Coulton (this was published in 1938 and was, I believe, a school textbook. It's interesting to see how the perceptions on some aspects of English history have changed over time.) 

THE MEDIEVAL VILLAGE by G.G. Coulton (Like the previous, somewhat outdated, but still useful) 



THE KNIGHT IN HISTORY by Frances Gies (hey, what happened? Has Joseph died? I'm going to have to look this up now!) 

THE FOURTH ESTATE: A History of Women in the Middle Ages by Shulamith Shahar 

GROWING UP IN MEDIEVAL LONDON: The Experience of Childhood in History by Barbara A. Hanawalt (I haven't actually used this one much, but if I ever decide to write another medieval YA....) 


A HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE: Revelations on the Medieval World, edited by Georges Duby, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (this one has a lot about the society of countries other than England, and also tends to be too late for my time period, but fascinating nonetheless) 

CASTLES AND CASTLE TOWNS OF GREAT BRITAIN by David Mountfield (one of those books I got from the sale table and never regretted -- it has blueprints, for one thing!) 


CHRONICLES OF THE AGE OF CHIVALRY -- The Plantagenet dynasty from 1216-1377: Henry III and the three Edwards, the era of the Black Print and the Black Death ("eye witness" testimony), Elizabeth Hallam, General Editor 

ENGLISH CASTLES by Richard Humble 

THE HOUND AND THE HAWK: The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins (I got this at The Cloisters in NY -- everything you ever wanted to know about hunting in medieval times.) 

PEOPLE OF THE PAST: THE NORMANS by Patrick Rooke (a kid's book - you never know where you might find some interesting tidbit left out of more "serious" histories) 

SAXON AND NORMAN LONDON by John Clark from the Museum of London 




THE HOUSEHOLD KNIGHTS OF KING JOHN by S.D. Church (This one was really fascinating -- knights were also what we'd call civil servants.) 


A MEDIEVAL FLOWER GARDEN by Anonymous, Pavilion Books 


Monday, September 15, 2014

Bride for a Knight Cover and Excerpt!

I've just received the cover for my next book, BRIDE FOR A KNIGHT.  Here it is, with back cover copy.  Isn't it lovely?
 The Promise of the Bedchamber...

After glimpsing a softer side to the stern Sir Roland of Dunborough, Mavis of DeLac is filled with hope for their arranged marriage.  So when the wedding night explodes with an exquisite passion, she dares to dream that their newfound bliss will last forever.

But the following morning, convinced he could never make this beautiful woman truly happy, Roland comes cold and aloof once again.  And as the newlyweds journey across England to protect Roland's birthright, it's up to Mavis to prove him wrong -- and unlock the compassion this noble has buried deep inside.

BRIDE FOR A KNIGHT will be out in print December 16, 2014 and available on Kindle on January 1, 2015.  It will also be available in other digital editions. You can pre-order now from Amazon.

It's a sequel to CASTLE OF THE WOLF,  but I always write each book to "stand alone."

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

My 7 Top Tips for Writing a Synopsis

1.   Relax.  A synopsis alone will not make or break the sale of your book.  Far more important is your author’s voice.

2.  So don’t edit out your voice trying to keep a synopsis short.  If the book is a romp, the synopsis should sound like a romp. If it's a gritty, dramatic tale, that should come across in the synopsis.  

3.  How do you get your voice in there?  I write the first draft as if I’m sitting in a coffee shop telling the story to a friend.  Although I write historicals, I’ll use modern slang or idioms or sentence construction.  I can change all that later.  But first, I’m just me, telling a story.  When I’m editing, I’ll keep one or two sentences that sound most “like me.”

4.  Concentrate on the moments when your main characters have to make key decisions.  You might not be able to get every twist and turn of the plot in a short synopsis, so keep the focus on the major “make or break” moments.

5.  Give one or two reasons from your character’s past to explain why they think and act as they do at those key moments.  There’s no room for their life history, but we do need to know something of where they’re coming from to explain those major decisions.

6.  Practice, practice, practice (or, if you’re Canadian or British – practise, practise, practise).  Try writing synopses for your favorite books or movies.  This can also help you understand why that particular story stood out for you.

7.  Learn from the experts.  Read reviews.  Reviewers have a different agenda than an editor, but a good reviewer can certainly teach you how to describe a story in a short space.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

What Makes a Writer Successful?

How does a writer spell “success”?

Over the years I’ve learned that there’s always somebody ready, willing and able to define “success” for a writer.  

For some, success means making bestseller lists and/or having several books or novellas out at a time or signing a big deal with one of the Major Publishers. Writers with this sort of success as their primary goal pay attention to what's selling and what's not, and then write books designed to have the broadest popular appeal. They’re proud of the obvious rewards earned by their hard work and focus.

On the other end of the scale are what I'd call the "artistic purists." They would never, ever consider writing anything other than "a work of the heart." If it sells only 200 copies, that's okay, because those are very discerning, intelligent readers. Such writers absolutely resist any commercial consideration when it comes to their work. They are artists, and proud of it.

The "artistic purists" condemn commercial writers as money-grubbing hacks; to the purists, they are failures. The commercial writers believe the artists are simply excusing their failure to make it big. 

However, shouldn’t we, as writers who aim to create individual, unique characters, be among the first to realize that there is not, nor should there be, only one yardstick to measure success?  

All authors are unique, with their own goals and motivations, bred in the bone and the product of years.  Maybe the writer who craves making bestseller lists was belittled and teased during her school days. Maybe she never felt quite good enough. Making that list will be one sure-fire way to prove that she is, to everybody. Or maybe another author grew up poor and won't feel secure without a large bank account. Maybe the artistic writer saw a friend or relative stuck in a dead-end job where there was monetary success, but the person was creatively stifled and bitter. Or did somebody impress upon him that what is popular cannot also be well written, good or valid? 

We simply don’t know another author's backstory, so who are we to define “success” for them?

Each author, and each author alone, should decide what his or her definition of success as a writer is -- whether it's making a list, making lots of money, writing only "books of the heart" or something in between.  To do otherwise can be stressful and ultimately, self-defeating. Haven't we got enough to contend with in this business without that?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Back to Business

I've been out to the Pacific Northwest, visiting family in Seattle and taking a side trip to Victoria, British Columbia.  We were really lucky with the weather -- sunny and HOT. 

Among the many things we saw and did on our visit was Butchart Gardens.  So beautiful, and to think it was once a quarry.

We also toured the Museum of Flight - all day and still didn't see everything!-- the Seattle Aquarium, the Woodland Park Zoo, Discovery Park (after which I made a mad dash for the bus and shocked myself -- I didn't know I could run that fast, especially after hiking all through the park), took a harbor cruise, played mini-golf  and walked for over 8 miles on Vashon Island.  If only I also hadn't eaten so many fantastic meals, I would have lost a few pounds.  But oh, the food in Seattle, the food!  And I'm not even into sea food.

However, the holiday is over and now it's time to get back to writing.  I did write on my holiday, but stopped once I had introduced all the major players in the new story.  I realized I wasn't really "into" the book at that time, so it was time to break.

I've set myself some goals for the new few months, including doing more blogging about the writing process.  I've been writing professionally for nearly 25 years (!!) and I think I've learned a few things worth sharing along the way.  I may also finally join Facebook.  If I do, I'll blog about it.