Friday, November 28, 2008

Emily Bryan's Unlikely Holiday Traditions

After the gastronomic excess, after the football game is over, after thanking God for all the good things that have come our way, my family goes to the movies!

We started doing this when the kids were little and we were living far from our extended family. And somehow, it became a tradition. Often the movies are forgettable, but we saw at least one of the Fellowship of the Ring movies on a Christmas day. So for Thanksgiving, today we're off to see an early matinee of QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

Even though I had my doubts about Daniel Craig as James Bond, I'm looking forward to this movie. When they first announced this blond Bond, I was so disappointed. How could he carry on the legacy of Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan? (the rest of the Bonds were just place fillers IMHO) Bond is supposed to be smooth and cool and devastatingly handsome. Craig didn't fit the profile.

But he is undeniably appealing. Craig has a great voice, which is important to me in a man. (I always tell my husband I fell in love with his rumbling baritone first!) Craig's not classically handsome (unless he's strapped naked to a chair) but he is compulsively watchable. The thing that makes the difference is the way this Bond is written in CASINO ROYALE. No cheesy sex jokes. This Bond has a soul.

Craig's Bond is deeply affected by every life he takes. He's far mor empathetic than a double-0h killer should be. We see him trying to compose himself after the adrenalin rush of a life-and-death fight. He comforts the heroine in one of the most tender, most sensual shower scenes I've ever seen when both characters are fully clothed. Even though he has crazy skills, he seems real.

These are good qualities to remember when I'm crafting my own heroes. So I'll be taking mental notes today. Hmmm. Wonder if a movie ticket is a deductible expense if it's arguably writing research? Probably not.

Oh, and while we're on the holiday theme, I just posted a free story on my website. I'm so thankful for my readers. Please accept this story as my holiday "thank you!" to you. Click here to read A Dragon Caern Christmas.

Ok, it's your turn. What unusual holiday traditions has your family created?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Family History

So with Thanksgiving coming up, my historical thoughts are turning closer to home. Every family has a history, and often it's every bit as interesting as what's in a history book. In fact, I've spoken with more than a few authors whose own family history has inspired aspects of their novels, even if their book is purely fiction.

My husband is really into genealogy. The history of his family in the New World goes back pretty far, as he had ancestors chasing the Mayflower across the Atlantic. They landed at Plymouth Mass about 2 or 3 years after the Pilgrims. Which I suppose showed good judgment on their part - they missed that really bad first winter. And then proceeded to criss-cross the US in the following centuries. There's even one great-great-etc-grandmother who knew Abraham Lincoln when she was a girl, and traveled from Illinois to Oregon in a covered wagon as a teenager. He's got ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, and in the Civil War, on both the North and South sides. His Irish ancestors arrived more recently, in the 19th century.

So how did he find all this out? Some of it came from a scrapbook of obituaries kept by his grandmother and great-grandmother. Which sounds macabre, I know, but in genealogical terms, a scrapbook of obits is pure gold. The rest he searched out online on various genealogical websites.

Lately he's been expanding his family history back to Europe. is a fantastic ancestry website that allows you to search a gazillion documents, and hook up with other people searching out their family histories. Some of these people turned out to be my husband's distant cousins! So when they all hooked up their family trees, my husband was able to trace his ancestors back to 1600s England and--surprise!--Holland. Really cool. Maybe someday when we're retired we'll go to England and dig some more. All the way back to 1066? Who knows :-)

Compared to my dear husband, my own ancestry in America is a babe-in-the-woods. Both my maternal grandparents, and my paternal grandfather and my father, emigrated from Italy in the first quarter of the 20th century. I know my mother's family were farmers from Calabria, and my father's family stone masons from Molise, but don't know any names of any ancestors past the late 1800s.

But it's been fun searching their record on the Ellis Island website ( and on the 1920 and 1930 census records on On, I've found the original ships manifests for my ancestors' voyages to America, and can read where they came from, where they were going, how tall they were and how much money they had in their pockets. The census records show where they lived, who was in the household, and who their neighbors were.

So...Happy Thanksgiving, with a special thanks to all the people who came before us.

Anyone else out there have some family history to share?


Monday, November 24, 2008

Egyptian warriors and turkeys

Sorry everyone. I got slammed with deadlines this week, and don't have time to create anything original. I think my brain is fried worse than the turkey that dude blew up in the deep fryer one year.

Note to self: Do NOT get deep fryer for DH for Christmas

So here's a post about my Khamsin warriors of the wind, and Thanksgiving, that I posted on my own blog years ago. What would happen if Egyptian warriors cooked a turkey dinner?

Ever have one of those, “AAAKKK” moments? That little fluttery feeling of panic that says, “Hello! Guess what, the HOLIDAYS are almost here.”

Thanksgiving, which means cooking A Big Family Meal. Even though we don’t have a Big Family Gathering. This year, friends invited us over. I’d love to go. Honestly, I can’t cook. I burn water.

But DH loves turkey leftovers. He insists on doing the bird each year, otherwise, our turkey would resemble something tossed into a nuclear reactor. Heck, it would probably even glow green.

I can't cook, but I'm not alone. I envision forcing Egyptian Khamsin warriors to cook Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve invaded my kitchen and in total silent amusement, I sit back to watch.

Jabari: This bird, one calls a turkey, it is taking a long time to roast. I think Ramses should have bought a smaller fowl.

Ramses: You are the real turkey, Jabari. Perhaps we should roast you.

Jabari: Shut up and boil these small round white objects, Ramses. Or do you not know how to boil water?

Kenneth: They’re called potatoes, Jabari. Will someone tell me when the oven is free so I can bake the rolls?

Rashid, reading package back of corn: Microwave ten minutes. This looks simple enough.

Jabari, frowning at jar of gravy: Who is this Mr. Heinz? And why should we put his sauce on our food?

Dinging sound. Rashid opens microwave and eyes soggy, heated box of corn. Mutters: This does not look appetizing at all.

Kenneth, snapping at Rashid: You bloody fool! You’re supposed to take the corn OUT OF THE BOX before you microwave!

Rashid, bristling, removing scimitar: Call me a bloody fool? Prepare to defend yourself!

Kenneth, taking electric carving knife and assuming dueling position: Go ahead if you are man enough!

Jabari, snapping: ENOUGH! Stop this foolishness and help me determine if this bird is done.

Ramses: Check the red button. Has it popped out yet? That is how I know Katherine was done when she was pregnant with the twins. Her belly button popped out.

Jabari takes turkey out of oven. Foul smell hits the air. Men look down silently at burnt bird

Kenneth to Jabari: You were supposed to remove the innards.

Jabari (defensively): I am sheikh of the mighty Khamsin warriors. Not CHEF of the mighty Khamsin warriors!

Kenneth, sighing: Let’s go to Cracker Barrel.

Rashid, nodding: We can take my camel.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Time to give Thanks

A year ago my dad almost died. Several times. He had stage four lymphoma, was taking chemo and suffering horrendous side effects. Now he's in remission and has been so since the first of the year. I am very thankful that he was here for another birthday this summer, another Thanksgiving and another Christmas.

That's what I'm most thankful for this year. I'd like to hear what's number one on your Thanksgiving list this year.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cats Throughout the Ages

I have four cats.

Don’t worry about me. I promise not to become one of "those" old ladies. I just love cats. I always have. But after spending much of last week at the veterinary office with all fours of those cats because one caught a cold and gave it to all the others, I started to wonder about cats throughout history.

Ringo and D'Artagnan (my 1-year-old babies)

I knew cats had been companions to the Pharaohs and revered as demi-gods. I didn't know they were not always beloved pets throughout the ages.

Cats were considered the property of the Pharaoh. Exporting cats to other nations was strictly forbidden. Eventually, however, they did trickle out of Egypt due to ship cats getting lost in transit. By the time of Alexander and Caesar most people had cats.

In the German states up until Medieval times, the cat also had an elevated status. Cats were associated with Freya the goddess of love and fertility. As the Church became a central part of Medieval life, it preached that the old ways of worship were evil. The church took a dislike to the old Freya rites and in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII instructed the Inquisition to burn the Freya heretics as witches - along with their cats.

Medieval man soon began to believe that witches and demons walked the earth in the form of cats, doing evil deeds. Cats were believed to possess supernatural powers and any misfortune was blamed on them, anything from sour milk to an outbreak of disease was blamed them.

When the Bubonic Plague swept across Europe in 1351 the superstitions of the day pointed the fingers of blame at cats. Hundreds of thousands of cats were destroyed. The sad truth was that the plague was carried by ticks that were attached to rodents that the cats would have caught thus helping to control the disease. The superstitions of the day actually helped the spread of disease.

During the 16th and 17th centuries over 175,000 supposed witches were executed in Germany and France. Along with them went thousands of cats.

Dobby (5 years old and named during the kids' "Harry Potter" phase)

Finally, by the 18th century, cats were no longer persecuted, and cats as companions began to make a comeback.

Stripes (He's been with us for 14 years! The kids named him long ago)

Today, of course, cats are widely accepted as the loving companions and, while they don't typically enjoy the status they did in ancient Egypt or in the German states, they are adored and cared for as loving pets. I know mine are.

What about you? Do you love cats? Why?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Seeds of a Story

Ideas for stories come from lots of different places. Quite often for me (Emily Bryan), it's something visual. This is a picture my husband snapped last week while we were in the Caribbean. (Oh, yes, we had a wonderful time and tried very hard not to think about the stock market.) I haven't figured out what the story is in this picture yet, but that sea cave has tickled my imagination. I can hear the boom and hiss of the rising tide, smell the briny, kelp-laden water.

Of course, I've already used a hidden sea cave in Pleasuring the Pirate as a place to hide a treasure. So this one has to be for something else.

If I were a paranormal author, maybe it would be a doorway to another world. Maybe an as yet undiscovered life form lives in the cave. Maybe a race of hunky mermen or shape-shifting selkies . . .

Maybe the heroine is shipwrecked and drags herself up on this island. Who's the hero? A naval officer who sees her distress fire? A sun-kissed native in a double-hull canoe? Does she hide in the cave to escape the bad guys?

Or is the cave itself a place of evil? What if there is something in the cave that changes a person who enters it? A soul-switch that leaves the person physically the same, but spiritually someone quite different.

Or is the cave a portal of great power? Suppose a wish made at high tide with your nose pressed against the rock for a last gasp of air will change a person's life forever? Is the cave a conduit to an alternate reality?

Who knows? Part of a writer's job is asking the question--the one that starts with "What if . . . " The best answer to the "What if" is usually the 20th idea (or even later) that floats to the surface.

Now it's your turn to play. What story do you see in the sea cave?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watcha Readin'?

I’ve never considered myself an author who is going to change the world with my words. (Ba ha ha ha). I consider myself a genre reader who likes to write.

For my post today, I’ll mention my eclectic reading of the past couple of weeks. Old and new… I was going to saw borrowed and blue, but I bought all these and I don’t think any of the covers are blue.

Enemy Lover by Bonnie Vanak. Finished this one a week or so ago. New Orleans, hot, hunky werewolves, a magic spell threatening the heroine, a to-die-for protective hero—what’s not to love? I was so happy when Bonnie told me Raphael’s book is next (next year). He’s the enforcer of the pack, is immortal, has deep, dark secrets. And he's hot!

The Solar Queen, by Andre Norton (collection of two short novels from ca. 1954; re-released in 2003). Andre Norton is most famous for her Witch World series, but I kinda like the old-fashioned science fiction/action-adventure series featuring Dane Thorson, a newly graduated cadet on his first space mission.

Andre Norton uses a device that’s out of fashion now—the observer character. The story is told through Dane’s eyes (it’s not first person, but you only go into his POV). He’s not the main action hero; his captain and others on the crew are. He hero-worships them a little and tells how they face danger and save the day. With a little of Dane’s help, of course. I've always liked the observer character--kind of like our link into that world. (F. Scott Fiztgerald used it, famously, in The Great Gatsby.)

Shifter, Anthology with Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, and Virginia Kantra. I’m working my way through this antho and really enjoying it. The stories are each quite different (action/adventure sci fi from Angela Knight; a Breed story from Lora Leigh; an Atlantis story by Alyssa Day, and a historical Selkie story by Virginia Kantra). I think each of these ladies are terrific writers and very entertaining. I love anthologies because you can read each novella in one sitting, and for a busy person, that’s nice!

Calista’s Men, by Jory Strong. This is a 2004 e-book by Jory (which is out in print too, but I had bought the e-book long ago, read it, then re-read it this week). It’s a good suspense story told by Calista, who has gotten a job over the summer (she’s a teacher) with the Crime Tells detective agency.

I realize I can’t really go into the romantic plot in detail, :-) but I’ll just say: Twin Italian brothers, one lucky girl. Mmm hmm.

It’s a great story, with terrific chemistry between all involved. Jory peppers it with other characters from the Crime Tells agency, as well as Calista’s cop brother and his wife. A fun, warm story with intrigue and lots of . . . well, you know. I’ve had the pleasure of doing a signing with Jory Strong, and she’s like the nicest person, ever.

I still do read historicals, really. Just not this week!

What's everyone else reading?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dolce the wonder dog says buy a book as a gift this holiday season!

Hi! My name is Dolce. I'm one of Bonnie Vanak's Shih Tzu dogs. Bonnie wanted to blog today, but she hurt her back after riding her bike to see Christmas lights at the local park, so she asked me to post.

Please be patient with me. My paws have a hard time reaching the keyboard.

I'm not sure what to write about, seeing as I'm a dog and my favorite topics are dog biscuits, going for walks, chasing the squirrels outside, playing with my toys, and barking at the doorbell, but I don't think you'll be interested in that.

So I'll talk about books instead. This weekend was interesting with Bonnie. For the first time in a long, long time, instead of sitting at the couch in the Florida room with her computer and writing, she decided to read a book. She took to this chair outside, and just stared at this book and after a while, I was feeling neglected, and curious.

I am, after all, a Shih Tzu. Curiosity is my middle name.

So I barked and Bonnie let me outside. I jumped into her lap and she still stared at the book. I stayed there quite a while, sniffing at her hot chocolate, wishing she'd give me some, and then I looked at the book.

And I realized how much Bonnie was enjoying reading.

So I got this simply splendid idea in my mind. Books are fun. Books are great! I know Bonnie has talked with her friends, and Frank, her husband (who likes to spoil me with dog biscuits) about publishing and books, and what great gifts books make.

I thought, why not buy books as gifts for Christmas? Better yet, buy books at bookstores. Bonnie and Frank have discount cards at both Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million. They also shop at Borders, which gives out all kind of nifty coupons.

Bonnie said she is going to do that. Christmas shop at bookstores. She has friends who like to read, and she loves to read herself. She's buying books from her fellow Chatelaines, the new Pamela Clare book, Untamed, the December Nocturnes, Cynthia Thomason's new SuperRomance, a historical paranormal by Allison Chase, and some others.

And if you have any suggestions on new or fairly unknown authors for Bonnie to buy their books, leave a comment. Bonnie likes to support those authors.

I think it's a cool idea and if I weren't hoping for a big box of dog biscuits in my stocking, I'd like a book for the holiday season.

So that's my post. My advice is, buy a book as a gift for the holidays. It doesn't taste as good a dog biscuit, but the gift of reading will make them smile like I saw Bonnie smile this weekend.


Show and Tell

I've decided to share a bit about the writing craft today. The following passages demonstrate the differences between showing and telling. Telling is for the most part boring. You have information you want the reader to know yet you don't want to go off paragraph after paragraph of info dump. So below I've got two examples, the first is telling and the second is showing. Showing is much better. It makes the reader feel as if they are a part of the story instead of just absorbing the facts. The examples are from Fallen, my February 2009 release.

This is my first draft. The time is 1774, Aberdeen Scotland and the hero, Captain John Murray of His Majesty's Army has just gotten a letter informing him of his mother's pending death and the death of her third fiance.

John could not help but shake his head at his sister’s unbelievable run of bad luck where marriage was concerned. Lord Fansler had been her last hope at making a decent marriage as she was now known about London as the Virgin Widow. The gossip would only be worse now and all the eligible men would avoid her like the plague. Beyond her apparent beauty, she had nothing to offer. There was no dowry and Carrie was more likely to knock over a tea service than serve it. Still she was a pleasant companion and had a wonderful sense of humor along with a peaceful mien that made her pleasant company. Any man would be lucky to have her for a wife, lack of dowry notwithstanding. Perhaps he should introduce her to some of his comrades, such as Rory.
Rory’s father would likely not allow it. As would any of his friends parents who were of the peerage. Marriages were made to garner wealth and position which was something Carrie did not have. She was past the age of becoming a governess also.
John sighed as he realized that he would likely have to provide for his sister for the rest of her life. But thinking on that was better than thinking on the real reason for the letter.
Their mother was dying. Their father was in the colonies. If Carrie had sent father a letter at the same time she sent John’s then it was weeks away from delivery, and that was if father was at a post. The last he’d heard his father was on the Western Frontier, in a place called Pennsylvania, along a river called Ohio, fighting the savages. It could be months before Carrie’s letter found him and then more months before he could get home. What were the chances that Mother would still be alive if father got to come home?
John hated to ask for leave now since he had only recently come to Aberdeen. It would have to wait. Wait until mother was sicker and closer to death. There was nothing he could do for her or Carrie. Being there wouldn’t change anything. At least his visit would be something they could look forward too.

Boring right. John is sitting in his room just thinking. A friend and I call it rock sitting. Long story but same principle.

This is my final without edits. In this rewrite I added John's room-mate Rory to the mix.

“A letter from home?” Rory asked as he came into the room. He quickly removed his coat and hung it next to John’s, loosened his stock and stretched out on his bunk with his hands crossed behind his head. He appeared quite content and John knew, without asking, that his friend had recently been with a woman. “Bad news?” Rory asked.
“Yes,” John replied. “Full of it.”
“Give me the least of it first,” Rory said.
“Carrie’s latest fiancĂ© has passed.”
“How many is that now?” Rory asked. “Three?”
John nodded. “This one expired of old age.”
“Tell me John, how can this be considered bad news. Beyond the obvious lack of income for your sister.”
“She has no dowry and now no prospects. Lord Fansler was a last resort on our mother’s part. He had no heirs and no property, but he did have some money and a nice little house in London. It would have been enough to keep Carrie comfortable.”
“I supposed now it will all go to some distant relative,” Rory concluded.
“Yes,” John sighed. He dropped the letter on the desk the two men shared and stretched out on his own cot. “They call her the Virgin Widow you know.”
“Yes,” Rory said. “I’ve heard.”
“It’s too bad really,” John said. “She would make someone a wonderful wife. She’s pretty and intelligent and a most pleasant companion.”
“Indeed,” Rory agreed.
John looked hopefully at his room-mate. “She has a wonderful sense of humor also.”
“I know what you are thinking John and my father would sooner disown me than allow me to marry a woman with no wealth or title no matter how well he thinks of you. When and if I marry it will be to enhance the family coffers with coin, land and titles.” Rory looked over at John with a wry look on her face. “Although it might be worth the disownment to watch Carrie pour tea in his lap as she did when I visited with your mother when we were last in London.”
John had to grin at the memory. What Carrie possessed in beauty she lost in clumsiness. She had a dreadful penchant for tripping over her dress hem and knocking over tables and such.
“How is your lovely mother by the way,” Rory asked.
John sighed. “Not well. Not well at all.” He pointed at the letter. “Feel free to read it. I’m not sure I can stand to say it aloud at the moment.”
Rory quickly read the letter and sat down on his cot to look at John. “I am so sorry old friend,” he said. “What do you plan to do? Ask for leave?”
“I don’t feel as if I can at the moment,” John said as he too, sat up and faced Rory. “Even though I know the General will allow it because of his friendship with my father. I don’t want anyone thinking I am taking advantage of that friendship and asking for special privileges, especially since we have only recently come to this post.”
“I’m sure no one would think that, given the circumstances.”
“Oh but someone will,” John said. “It would come out, sooner than later. It would be on my permanent record and follow me wherever I go. There is some time. I think it would be better to wait until…later…”
“It would give her something to look forward too,” Rory added.
“What about your father,” Rory asked. “Do you think he knows?”
“It depends. I think now, at the present time, he does not know.” John rubbed
his hands over his face as the seriousness of the situation settled upon him. “If Carrie sent Father a letter at the same time she sent mine then it is weeks away from delivery, and that is only if Father is at his post. The last I heard from him he was on the Western Frontier, in a place called Pennsylvania, along a river called Ohio, fighting the savages.” John continued. “It could be months before Carrie’s letter finds him and then more months before he can get home. What are the chances that Mother will still be alive if and when he gets here?”
Rory reached out and laid a comforting hand on John’s shoulder. “There is only so much you can do from here, and nothing you can do about the things you can not control. Write Carrie and tell her you will ask for leave this fall and that your prayers are with her and your mother. Then write your mother and tell her you look forward to seeing her soon and make no mention of her illness. I have found in my own experience that mother’s like to think they are in charge and can make things fine just by wishing them so.”
“It is the same with mine,” John said.
“Then she will appreciate your subterfuge,” Rory said. “I will leave you in peace for a bit to write your letters.” With that he stood and stretched his arms over his head as if waking from a nap. “I suddenly find that I am starving and will have to go raid the mess lest I expire before meal time is upon us.”

I was able to cover all the information I wanted the reader to see, plus show a bit of Rory's personality. Rory is not a central character to the story, other than the fact that he will be senselessly killed and John's reaction to that death is important in his relationship with Izzy, the heroine. By doing this however, I developed Rory's character a bit more, showed how close their friendship is and hopefully in the long run have the reader be saddened by his death.

So what's your opinion? Which one do you think is more interesting?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Recharging the batteries

I'm posting today but I wrote this a week ago. I'm actually somewhere in the Caribbean. My DH and I have been looking forward to running away together all year. And I refuse to let the threat of a late season hurricane dampen my spirits. I'm sure the ride's a little rougher than I'd like--I'm prone to seasickness--but I never travel without my little scopalomine patch. It makes me a little loopy, but I think my DH likes me that way sometimes!

I don't believe in the muse, but I do think all stories bubble up from a writer's subconscious. So I look for things that stimulate that creative part of my brain. Travel revitalizes me. New places, new experiences feed my imagination and give me new ideas for stories and characters. When I'm in the zone and writing a story I've plotted, I can usually crank out 10 pages a day. But I need "down times" too. Time to fill up, to plan, to play with my characters and plot points, to dream.

And do a little recreational scopalamine.

We all need something that refills our cup. What do you do to recharge? What inspires your best ideas?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Thursday and . . .

. . . it is my day to post. However, I've come down with some awful disease that I can't identify (could be flu; could be I accidentally ate tomatoes; it's hard to tell). I can't possibly write anything pithy and coherent, so I will entertain you with pictures of two cuties.

Guess which one lives at my house?

Romance novels: Better than history books?

My first Chatelaine post!! :-)

Ok, so my biggest challenge with this blog so far has been to figure out how to spell it. Chatalanes? Chatelines? Oh, yeah – Chatelaines!!!!!

Thank God and Microsoft for spell check.

So this is about history. The title "Chatelanei" – (oops! sorry!) – Chatelaines, and the cute banner a the top of the blog, sort of implies medieval history, but we're not limiting ourselves to any one time period. As far as I’m concerned, history can be anything up to…three seconds ago. Prehistoric history, ancient history, medieval, renaissance, American history, family history, the story of my life, what I had for dinner last night—it’s all relevant.

Confession time: History was NOT my favorite subject in school.

In fact, I hated history class. I mean hated, hated, HATED it. To me, history class was one long litany of dates to be memorized, with an emphasis on boring dead presidents and mind-numbing war tactics. Not one teacher I had ever talked about what the regular people were doing.

And then I discovered romance novels.

And I can tell you that I’ve learned WAY more history reading romance novels than I ever learned in school. And some of it was about wars, by the way. Culloden? British Civil War? Peninsular Wars? The Siege of Fort Pitt? Never heard of any of them until I read about them in romance novels. So guess what?

Romance novels are WAY more educational than history books!!!!

Because what’s most interesting about history is not what’s happening on the big world stage, but what’s on the small, intimate stages of people’s lives. And that’s exactly where a romance takes you.

As a historical writer, I research the big stuff—so I can imagine what the little people were dealing with. And then I’m confronted with what the regular history books leave out--the everyday details of people's lives. So I have to dig deeper into the historical record that the school history textbooks often ignore.

What did people wear, eat, brush their teeth with? How did they light their candles before matches were invented? What did their houses look like? How did they cook, mend, make a living? What everyday tools did they use? Weapons? What about entertainment? And let's not forget birth control! And then there's the emotional aspect. How did women and men think and feel at certain times in history? Same as now, or different? What did they believe that we don't? And how does it all affect my particular characters and story?

The questions go on and on and on…and I love them!

When people find out I write historical novels, they often ask - "But...doesn't that mean you have to do a lot of research first?" They often utter this in the same tone as they'd say "But...doesn't that mean you have to get a lot of root canals first?"

But other historical authors and readers understand:

Once you get hooked, history is a *very* interesting place to live.

All the best!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Nooooo, not THAT song again!!!

Imagine this scene from a steamy romance novel:

Sounds of the shower running. The hero, a tall, strapping young man, leans his head back as the spray hits his muscular chest.

Our heroine creeps into the bathroom, having finally emboldened herself to approach him and finally lose her virginity. She is nervous about her lack of experience, but determined to follow through with what she’s told him she wants.

Confidence fills her as she slides back the shower curtain, and sees our hero in his blazing, naked glory. Startled, he turns, and sees her. His frown of dismay turns to a smile of dark sensuality. Her admiring gaze roves over his chiseled body, down to the droplets glistening in the dark hairs below his belly button…And the obvious, raging evidence of his desire for her that suddenly asserts itself.

As his purple-headed warrior of love boldly points upward, she begins to undress, ready to join him. Standing there naked, she gazes at him invitingly.

He looks at her, looks down at the raging warrior of love, ready for action, and suddenly begins to warble…"Skyrockets in flight! Afternoon delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.

Or worse, "My Ding-a-Ling" by Chuck Berry. Not exactly a prelude to a romantic moment, is it?

Songs can evoke emotion, make us laugh, cry, or scrunch our brows and go, “wahhh???”
Music hath the power. As writers, we can use music to our advantage, if we find the right song to accommodate what we’re writing.I know how powerful music can move me. Literally.
When my husband and I eat out at our favorite bar, and we know it’s karaoke night, we bolt down our meal as if the hounds of hell were snarling at our heels. Karaoke night means enduring song after song sung by elderly people who are tone deaf and think Elvis is still alive.
Note to them: He’s not. He’s dead.

I also use music in a beneficial way – when I write. It helps make a difficult transition easier.

This weekend, I was doing edits for the next Egyptian historical, The Lady and the Libertine. After I finished, I had to get right back to writing a proposal.The hero is a Cajun werewolf, so I whipped out the Cajun music, leaving Egypt far behind.
The same is true for writing the Egyptian historicals. While writing The Lady and the Libertine, I realized the hero should have a noble occupation for his hands. He’s a thief, and an earl, and used to philandering treasure from Egypt’s sands. (Side note: it plays nicely in the cover, where you see his hand on the heroine’s shoulder, attempting to steal her ruby necklace).

Yet he changes during the course of the book. To give him another occupation other than stealing treasure, I decided to make him musically inclined. He plays the piano, something dear to his heart, but a hobby he disregarded when his strict father termed it “womanly.”

I came up with the idea after touring Henry Flagler’s Palm Beach residence and visiting the gift shop. I became enchanted with a small music box that played “The Blue Danube.” The tune brought me back to a more classical time and it was easy to envision Nigel sitting at the piano, his long, elegant fingers on the keys.

When it comes to modern music, I’m very eclectic. I like a lot of songs, but I swear, there are songs that make me run away in abject horror.

Michael Bolton comes to mind. Hey, I realize some love, love, love him, but wow, when I hear him screeching, it makes all the hairs on the back of my neck salute the air. I think of old air raid sirens from the 50’s. My dogs run under the bed, whimpering.

Or Muskrat Love by the Captain and Tennille. "Muskrat Susie, Muskrat Sam. Do the jitterbug out in muskrat land." Gahhhhhhhhh.
My husband, on the other hand, cannot stand the very first song I ever bought. The Lion Sleeps Tonight. When it comes on the radio as he’s driving, he switches the station. I swear the man actually growls when he hears that song.

And song titles? Whoa boy. Here’s an actual list of bad song titles. Seriously. These are REAL titles.

1. Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through The Goalposts Of Life

2. Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed

3. Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth 'Cause I'm Kissing You Goodbye

4. Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure

5. How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

6. How Can You Believe Me When I Say I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?

7. I Been Roped And Thrown By Jesus In The Holy Ghost Corral

8. I Changed Her Oil, She Changed My Life

9. I Don't Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling

10. I Fell In A Pile Of You And Got Love All Over Me

11. I Flushed You From The Toilets Of My Heart.

12. I Keep Forgettin' I Forgot About You

13. I Wanna Whip Your Cow

14. I Would Have Wrote You A Letter, But I Couldn't Spell Yuck!

15. I Wouldn't Take Her To A Dawg Fight, Cause I'm Afraid She'd Win

So, what are the songs you can’t stand? What are your favorite songs? Are there any songs you like to listen to while you write?

Well I'm totally stumped

I was real excited about being a part of the Chatelaines. Thrilled to be in such great company. Certain that Monday's would be MY day to blog. And now that its finally here I'm stumped. I don't know what to blog about.

I just spent the past ten minutes surfing my lonely blog. The one that no one ever reads. Maybe I could just repost something from there. (and I reserve the right to do so in the future) But nothing inspired me. Nothing was topical.

I thought about posting my childhood experience with the Mothman but it just didn't seem like the timing was right. I should save the Mothman for a week when we're discussing woowoo stuff, or halloween which is an entire year away.

They hey, inspiration! I realized I had writers block. Or maybe its just blog block. And then I realized that I'd just gone through it with the wip, Breath Of Heaven and I'm only on chapter two.

The problem was when I introduced my hero, Rhys, as an adult. In chapter one he shows up as a ten year old boy who almost died and is saved by a kindly Knight who then asks him to write him a letter every year on the anniversary of the day. (yes the knight will ask for a favor in return some day and it involves his daughter) We find out in chapter one that Rhys has no parents and an loveless childhood.

When Rhys shows up as an adult I want him to be skeptical of love. Its just something people talk about. Its something people use. It doesn't really exist. Rhys doesn't believe in love. The problem was Rhys sounded like a "player" He really was a bit of a jerk. Couldn't have that. The readers are supposed to love the hero not want to smack him, even if he deserves it at times.

I messed around with this chapter all week since I was in a biaw challenge and also doing nanowrimo just for fun. It just wasn't working. It took until Friday for me to figure out what was wrong. And it was an easy fix. I won't tell you the specifics of what I did, but basically it just took a bit of rearranging of who did what and adding some more layers to Rhys' character as to why he was acting that way.

So what do you think? Is it okay for the hero to be a bit of a jerk as he begins his journey? Or do you want to love him from the start?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Obsession with Castles

Jennifer's post the other day got me thinking about my own obsessions. One of my biggest obsessions has always been castles. I can't seem to get enough castles. I have castle pictures in my house. Castle calendars in many of the rooms. Castle wallpaper on my computer. Half of my personal book library is castle books. I dream about castles. I write about castles. And this summer I got to go visit all the castles in Scotland (well maybe not all of them, but it sure felt like it!)

Armdale Castle

Visiting as many castles as I could was one of the goals during my three weeks there. My journey started in Glasgow before heading straight into the Highlands. I decided to follow the outer perimeter of the mainland, and to hit the major isles.

Eileen Donan Castle

I felt like a kid in a candy store! Driving up to my first Scottish castle was an experience I will never forget. As my feet hit the gravel of the parking area, I walked as fast as I could up to the castle, camera in hand, and my heart pounding. Looking back now, I smile at my haste. What was I expecting, that the castle would disappear after having been rooted to that location for the past 700 years?

Holyroodhouse Castle

My whole experience in Scotland was like that: anxious for each new experience, savoring each event as it happened, relishing every nuance of the culture and the scenery, soaking up everything I could. I didn’t sleep much as I kept up my relentless pace of exploration.

Someone asked me when I returned home what my favorite memory was. There were so many inspirational moments that it was hard to narrow it down to only one, but this memory stands out among all the others: when I stood in the center of the craggy peaks of Glencoe, surrounded by the scent of heather, listening to the wind as it brushed past my cheeks and teased my hair into wild disarray. It was then that I thought of all the people who had walked in that same spot where I stood over the centuries—early man, the Celts, the Vikings, English invaders, Highlanders throughout the ages--and I felt a part of something bigger than myself. And much to my surprise, there wasn't a castle in sight!

Have you ever taken a journey that touched you in ways you didn’t expect?

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Rhys Rumble

Gore Vidal said, “Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. As you get older, you get more skillful at casting them.”

For me, the first step in peopling my story with interesting characters is deciding on their names. The right name tells you volumes about a character. What if Elizabeth Swan had been named Letitia Throckmorten? Changes the whole story, doesn't it?

Before THE CHATELAINES got up and running, the whole gang had some group email discussions about the relative hotness of certain male names. Face it, it’s hard to get excited about a hero named Murgatroyd or Icabod. One name we all agreed had a high hotness quotient was Rhys (pronounced Reece).

I was surprised to learn that several of us had already used, or intended to use, the name. Rhys Drake is the name of my hero’s father in PLEASURING THE PIRATE. Of course, my Rhys is already dead when the story starts, but that doesn’t diminish his influence over Gabriel. Rhys Drake was a hard man, a driven man, one who demanded much from himself and those around him. His indomitable spirit motivates his son Gabriel to leave a life of piracy and try to reclaim his place as a gentleman. My prodigal pirate fails to court a woman of quality, falling instead for the chatelaine who’d held Dragon Caern Castle together in his absence.

Would Rhys Drake have approved? Gabriel will never know. And it wouldn’t matter anyway. Pirates have a tendency to take what they want, devil take the hindermost, and Gabriel might not have a swaying deck beneath his feet, but he’s still a pirate at heart.

So that’s the story of my Rhys. Maybe the other CHATELAINES will tell about theirs.

What guy names rate high on your hot-o-meter?

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Ok, this isn't necessarily about historical romance--but I want to talk a little about obsession.

Right now I'm obsessed with True Blood, the new HBO series based on Charlaine Harris's "urban" fantasy/mystery/romances. Sunday night, time must be set aside to watch this show, no matter what. Fire, flood, deadlines, rushing to the ER, doesn't matter. I. . . must . . . watch.

I've been reading the books since they first came out. I already know what happens and who does what to whom. I quibble about some of the things I didn't think they translated well from the books, I even complain. So why am I so adamant about snapping on the TV every Sunday at 6 (my time)? I even added HBO to my cable so I could see this show.

It's not like I don't have a life or anything else to do. I have plenty to keep me busy, books to write, a husband with a fractured wrist, demanding cats, parents who need me. (I don't include cleaning the house . . . )

I guess I'm just giving in once in a while to pure enjoyment.

So . . . what's your obsession? What will you do week in week out without fail? When you know deep down inside you don't really need to do it? But you just . . . can't . . . stop . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chat with the Chatelaines

The dictionary defines Chatelaine as the mistress of a chateau or castle.
That is one way to define us. Another way is that we are a group of historical writers who love what we do and love talking about what we do.

We write all types of stories that range from rich historical detail to a fantasy world with a history of its own. We write about Pirates, Shieks, Warriors, Cowboys, Soldiers, Lords and the Ladies who love them. In the days to come we'll talk about our books, books we love to read, the writing process and a little bit about our lives. We might even show you a hunk or too. We'll also invite other writers of historical and fantasy to drop by occasionally and share their process too.

So give us a bookmark and make sure you come and see us.

Come Chat with the Chatelaines.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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