Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wishing you a Magical Christmas

Christmas means different things to different people. Traditions abound. Family traditions are as different as the families who have them.

I'd like to share one of ours. We call it The Cookie Tree.

Each Christmas, my mom's dad and brothers would go get a tree. They unfailingly got one too large for the house. Gram, a firm believer that waste was a sin, would roll her eyes, heave a huge sigh, cut off the top (giving the tree a "flat top" long before the hairstyle became popular), and set it in a bucket of sand. When we visited a Christmas, that tree top would be decorated with cookies and candy canes and other edible goodies just for the grandchildren.

One year, Gramps and the uncles got it right. There was no Cookie Tree, just lots of disappointed kids.

It never happened again.

When I married, we lived far from the Grands, so I bought a wee artifical "Cookie Tree" for my children. We'd bake cookies, using a straw to make the holes for ribbons to hang them. Stringing popcorn became a contest to have the fewest holes in their fingers. Finding ways to hang "good for them" things became a game. (Fruit Loops on clear fishing line make a festive garland.)

The children would, of course, be up with the birds, but they weren't allowed to touch anything until we joined them, so, of course, they woke us---but not until after they raided the Cookie Tree.

That tree allowed my sweetheart and me to catch a few extra winks on Christmas morning.

Life took a turn, and that little tree--and most of what we owned--ended up in storage for a while. The children were teens the first Christmas in our new home, yet the very first thing they pulled down was that scraggly tree.

My son married. A must have purchase? A Cookie Tree.

And so a tradition continues.

Traditions should create wonderful memories. I know ours do (and the Cookie Tree is just one of many.)

Please feel free to share your traditions here. Who knows? It may become a tradition elsewhere and you will have given a gift of smiles.

Wishing you and yours a Blessed and Joyful Christmas.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


History will be made this day. Regardless of your political affiliation, the choice made will have far reaching effects.

As an American citizen, it is your RESPONSIBILITY to vote. Don't hide behind the weak excuses that plague every election: It's not chosing the best candidate---it's chosing the lesser of two evils. My vote doesn't count anyway, why bother? It's cold. There are lines. The list goes on and on--and not one of those excuses is worth the breath it takes to utter it.

Our founding father's declared us a nation "by the people, for the people", but the people have become lazy, taking the rights and privileges of our citizenship for granted. Life gets in the way. That's understandable. Our economic climate has our minds reeling with fears and uncertainties, and in our fast food world, we all want a quick fix. Well, I fear this mess, over a decade in the making, will require more than a bit of Neosporin and a Band Aid. It will require staunch and steadfast government, the responsibility for which falls to you and me under the very constitution that granted us the freedoms we hold so dear.

So quit surfing the internet and reading blogs. Go Vote! It's time to stop reading history and make a little.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Looking beyond History

How easy is it to make history? Very.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would post weekly. As you can tell from the posting dates, that didn't happen, so my promise is history.

Anything that is in the past can be qualified as history. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering. It just has to have been.

Historical, on the other hand, requires more impact. Let's face it, no one cares if my wee promise is history UNLESS the impact in some way, shape, or form changes the future, whether that change is global, continental, national, or personal (Think Mary Todd Lincoln's mental instability vs. Abraham Lincoln's assassination.)

Our historical records tend to focus on life or world changing events. Everyone has heard of Waterloo--even if its ABBA's version--and understands the decisiveness of that battle. But how many know of the smaller skirmishes that laid the foundation for Britain's victory? Waterloo didn't stand alone, but iced a cake assembled ingredient by ingredient. It is the quality of the ingredients, or the lack thereof, that determines success or failure.

These small bits, the ingredients, are the recipe for historical writing success. These are the things that can set your book apart. Instead of another rehash of what has been done before, there is freshness, a new flavor.

The major battles, controversies, famines, political upheavals, felons, inventions, philosophies, etc. of any era are well documented. The things building them, swirling within them, and resulting from them are less so, yet they are pivotal because, without them, the greater event would never have happened.

While war scenerios are the best documented so are easiest (there are myriad books available dissecting the battles and strategies), they are not all.

A small farming village in a bucolic countryside finds itself host to a nest of radicals. This cannot help but color the lives of the villagers. Some will agree with the politics. Others will not. Some will go blithely through their days ignorant of the political bomb ticking beneath their feet. Others will simply ignore it, hoping it will go away before it explodes. This is true regardless of era, and it is how the people react to the circumstance that makes a good story.

To put it in a nutshell, look past the obvious. As you search, you will have a "Eureka!" moment (sans running down the street naked, one would hope), finding something that, while small within the context of time, meant success or failure in that moment. Things that happen everyday will suddenly become important: a dog bite that sidelined a messenger with vital information. A thrown horseshoe that put someone in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. A flippant comment that fanned the flames of revolution (Let them eat cake, anyone?)

Open your eyes to what lies beyond the big picture. See the vignettes. Remember, people make history. (Yes, it's been said before, and it will be said again.) Their pictures may be small and blurry, lost against a sweeping backdrop of epic proportion, but they are there. And they have stories to tell.

It's up to you to tell them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Editing -- not for dummies

First, I need to warn everyone that I don't edit this blog. Whatever pops into the over-ripe melon perched atop my neck is what you get--seeds and all.

I hate to edit my own work. Sad, but true. With so many stories camped within the limited confines of my skull screaming to get out, once a story is written, I'm ready to get onto the next.

I wrote "THE END", but I guess nobody got the memo.

Or maybe it's just that it took me a long time to realize "THE END" is really "THE BEGINNING" of the work phase of writing.

There are several kinds of editing--something I learned to my abject horror. There is the editing one does for contests: remove bits to fit the page count, make sure hooks are pithy and enticing, get that stellar paragraph from a later chapter and weave it into your entry (because you know that's the deal-maker), sex it up if they want hot, and tone it down if they don't. The final judge is an editor or agent who likes a certain theme or spiciness (you know because you checked the appropriate website or read it in the RWR), so you tweak a bit more, hoping to make the cut, get the request, make the grade.

From my previous blogs, you know I'm no contest diva. Not my style. The very idea of sculpting my manuscript to fit someone else's parameters seemed dishonest, a betrayal of muse, talent, and story, prostituting them for the payoff.

High ideals. The moral high road. Rising above the throng---and the muse, talent, and stories languished having no opportunity to strut their stuff.

Yeah, my reality check got cashed in a big way.

After conceding to the wisdom of a seasoned contest entrant, the changes were made, the contests entered, and people wanted to read more. The stories had an audience, the characters could begin to live for someone other than me.

Ethically, the whole sculpting idea still doesn't sit well, but the results speak for themselves. And the stories that went out were not the bastardized versions--those were keys to closed doors--but the real deal complete with the permanent addition of some of the best contest changes.

Editing for publication requires an entirely different mind and skill set. Yes, the hooks are still integral, the pacing essential, the character arcs--goals, conflicts, motivation, all the way to the happily ever after--indispensible, but there is more. This is not three chapters and a synopsis. This is the whole book, and the quality must stand throughout. No getting by with three chapters polished to high gloss while the rest wears a primer. All or nothing at all.

Abridged editions, specific audience requirements, different media, all require specialized editing--that someone else gets to do if we're lucky.

Editing someone else's work is rarely a problem. There is no personal investment. The characters aren't near and dear. Objectivity comes easily.

Not so with your own work.

I envy those who can stand back and, with a truly objective eye, slice and dice their manuscripts, stripping meat from the bones, rendering the fat, and come away with something wonderful. It is amazing to think that a person who can pour that much passion into a work can be so dispassionate in their evaluations.

I can't--yet. But I'm trying because the rest of the stories are clamoring for their turn, and they must wait until the work in progress is done.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win. Since failure is not an option, quitting is out of the question.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it's true.

So I hate editing, but I'll do it, and then I'll do it again, and again, and again if need be. Those voices banging at my cranium will not be silenced until they live between the pages of a book. They tell me they deserve that.

I believe them.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I hate to apologize, but this needs be said: I'm sorry.

My historical writing spans several eras. While not a family saga per se, the stories follow two families (One Yorkist, one Lancastrian) that join in the first novel, diverge into the White Rose Trilogy and the Red Rose Trilogy, following different branches of the family, and join again at the end of the two series. As a result, I'm constantly second-guessing and double-checking myself on the details of each era. And therein lies the reason I need to apologize.

I never rely on a single source when doing research. Experience has taught me not all sources are trustworthy despite their credentials. My assertion that chausses are ringed armor is supported by Webster's College Dictionary (with etemolgy for obvious reasons) and Writer's Digest's Everyday Life in the Middle Ages, among others. However, while double checking another fact about masculine attire, I used a book just recently aquired, History of British Costume by James Robinson Planche. Within I read that 'They consist of hose or long stockings (the Norman chausses, in fact) tied by points,' (pg 230).


Okay, so one book could be wrong. I had another recent purchase titled A History of Costume, by Carl Kohler so pulled that one out. Although the passage is contained within descriptions for 14th century attire (my story is late 15th century), it gave me pause. On page 153 it states: This period saw a great improvement in the dress for the lower limbs, called les chausses.


Two sources, both credible, both at odds with previous sources. Now what?

Out comes book #3. (I did warn you I can be anal about facts in an earlier blog.)

On page 174, Medieval Costume in England and France by Mary G. Houston states: The shoes are very long and pointed, and the hose or chausses are jointed together at the top by a gusset back and front to form one complete garment which is attached by small laces tied at intervals to the garment above.

(Oh, and just for the record, all three books disagree on other garments, both on the time of their appearance and their names. Ain't nothin' easy.)

So that's three to two on the chausses. I lose.

So I most humbly apologize, and while within the context of my own work chausses will appear only in relation to armor--hose is more easily recognizable to readers for daily wear--I promise to desist from tossing books that have naked heroes jumping from their beds and pulling on their chausses.

However, I still reserve the right to wince.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thank you.

I posted a picture of me and my girls dressed in Ren costumes, and it got me to thinking (yes, I recognize the hazards, thank you very much) about what tomorrow's writers will say about those of us living today. It's fine to attach cutsey names to particular demographics, i.e., Baby Boomers, Gen X, but what kind of legacy will today's writers leave the historical writers who follow?

When I started reading romance, the choices were few. Mills & Boon dominated the contemporary market, such as it was, and Barbara Cartland reigned as the historical genre's Grand Dame. Readers of romance became familiar with torches and boots and bonnets (Brit speak for flashlights, trunks, and car hoods) because that's what there was--until Silhouette came onto the scene. Regency romance was the province of Georgette Heyer unless one chose, as I did, to read Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters.

The pickings were slim.

Then came Bertrice Small, Rosemary Rogers, Sylvie Sommerfield, Laurie McBain, Shirlee Busbee, and Kathleen Woodiwiss, just to name a few. Historical romance as a distinct genre had no guidelines, no signposts, so these intrepid ladies made their own, defining, refining and redefining them as they went along. They are our history, the pioneers of the historical genre.

(I know, I know. I can hear fans of Johanna Lindsay, Julie Garwood, Phoebe Conn, Cassie Edwards, and a host of others asking why their faves (and a few of mine) aren't listed. The reason is simple; I'm not getting any younger, and I have a book to finish. To list all of the ladies who've influenced historical fiction would be a herculean task. Even were I to try, I'd most likely forget someone I admire, hear about it later, and feel like an idiot, so a sampling seems prudent.)

I happen to have the honor of an acquaintance with Bertrice Small. She's a lovely woman and as strong-willed as Skye O'Malley ever dreamed of being. In 2007, after the finalists for the Golden Heart were announced, Bertrice asked me about my story. As soon as I said "War of the Roses" she began telling me why Richard III couldn't have been the monster history painted him.

Such is the power of history. Five hundred plus years after the fact, people still debate the veracity of the "accepted" version. There are Richard III societies that will denounce ad nauseum Henry VII's claim to the throne.

History is, in fact, the province of the winner, so there is always another side of ANY story, but there I stood, confronted by a woman I have long admired, unwilling to debate the issue. I explained that, for the purpose of my story, the heroine took the Yorkist view, the hero took the Lancastrian, and I tried to present both sides. I'm happy to say, being the gracious lady she is, Bertrice smiled and spoke of other things (whew!)

The ladies who are our past--some of whom are still going strong--deserve our thanks. They "suffered the slings and arrows" so we might write the types of books we do. They opened the doors (windows, dog flaps, whatever it took) so we could--if not walk through--stick our toes in and make someone listen to us. Yes, many of their books earned the appellation "Bodice Ripper" which continues to haunt the genre to this day, but they were feeling their way through the dark, lighting torches so we could follow.

Thank you, ladies. Thank you for braving the wildnerness, fighting the dragons, raising the standard, and for the hours of enjoyment found in the stories you created and the characters you gave breath. You have set a sterling example of intelligence, creativity, and tenacity.

Let us hope, someday, the same can be said for those of us that follow you.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bear with me


Glad you stumbled in. I know you didn't intend to come here because this is a very new blog and a very new experience for me.

New experiences have been rife since my 2007 Golden Heart final, but the other finalists are such lovely ladies, they just keep herding me along into places I never thought I'd dare tread. Thus, the title for this first entry. I promise to get better once the scope of this new territory doesn't tie my belly into little tiny Gordian knots. Of course, after this comes the dreaded "web page," but not today. As Neil Armstrong said (with a bit of a paraphrase from me), "One small step for chicken kitty, one giant leap for scaredy-cats everywhere."

I called this blog Romancing History because, truth be told, history isn't, in and of itself, romantic. It's dirty, unsanitary, bloody, and a host of other unpalatable adjectives. Learning history in school required memorization of mind-numbing facts, dates, and names.

The names caught my attention.

People make history. Not dates, not battles, not rivers of slops flowing unfettered down horse manure festooned cobbled streets. People who laughed, cried, danced, bled, changed their babies, yelled at the dog. Biographies became my preferred reading.

I wrote my first romance--and I use the term loosely--sitting at a cafeteria table in junior high with a group of friends. I still remember the high-perch phaeton the hero swooped to a halt before my startled, and inappropriately named, heroine. We'd discovered Barbara Cartland, you see. It was all downhill from there---at least for me.

Writing historical romance requires research, and since learning about people still intrigues me, that's no hardship. I am, however, anal about facts. So many books have inaccuracies within that are, despite being SO wrong, accepted. Since when does accepted equate to correct?

I once entered my manuscript in a contest where the judge marked me down because I didn't call the heroine's home a "keep." Duh! Keep, as in fortified holding, donjon, castle, etc., is a Renaissance term and the Renaissance didn't come to England until the 1500s--more than a decade after my story takes place.

Chausses. Ah, yes. Several times now I've read about naked heroes bounding from their beds to don their chausses. Must have hurt. And the succession? Forgeddaboudit. Chausses are made of small metal rings. Webster's defines them as medieval armor of mail for the legs and feet. Chausses were worn atop thick, quilted hose for obvious reasons.

Why am I telling you this? Because there is no way to ascertain exactly--especially in the areas of clothing, armor, and personal items--what things populate a specific segment of time within an era. Folks I know were sporting elephant bells and tie-dyed shirts from the seventies before current fashion went retro. By their very nature, some things overlap. However, if I were to make a glaring mistake, I'd want someone to tell me, or at least caution me to check it out. Thinking of my stories thrown against a wall or into the dust bin---which is where inaccuracies end up in my world---doesn't sit well.

So this is an invitation to gently (I hate qualifiers too, but you know how it goes) correct me if you find an inaccuracy in my work. I will, sometime in the future, post some bits from my current WIP and will welcome your feedback.