Book News, Writer's Life

What’s Happening?

I’m a bit snowed under at the moment, but here’s a progress report.

First, let me share this handy How Publishing Works infographic designed by Floris Books:

The Ruin of Evangeline Jones is at the QA and copy-editing stage. Meanwhile, book 3, tentatively entitled The Talented Mr. Ellis, is waaay back at the very beginning of the process. I’ve submitted a book proposal–first few chapters, blurb, and synopsis–so fingers crossed my editor likes it. While I wait to hear, I’m busily writing the rest of the book.

As for The Madness of Miss Grey, marketing is hard! And time-consuming! But that’s okay because I have a secret weapon: Mr. Bennet has become a marketing genius. So much so, that he’s starting to look like this:

Barney Stinson “I’m Watching You” Gif, via Tenor.

Anyway, I’m frazzled, but I hope to resume normal blogging next week.

writing

My Process: How I write fiction

Full disclosure: This isn’t my typewriter. I don’t know whose typewriter this is. I bet it’d be a pain in the arse to write a whole book on it.. Nonetheless, it’s pretty. I use a Desktop, which is nowhere near as photogenic.

Let’s be honest, there’s no one right way of doing this. We find what works for us and whatever it is becomes our process. We’re always refining it. But if you’re just starting out and/or struggling, it can be useful to hear what other writers do. Like finding a map when you’re hopelessly lost.

Step one: Have an idea

Honestly, this is easier said than done. No one knows where ideas come from because they come from everywhere. Books we read, films we see, song lyrics, dreams, a random comment someone makes. I have lots of ideas, but I can’t always see how to develop them into a full-length novel. What works for me is to pick whichever idea has the most details sticking to it. For me, that means I see an image on Pinterest (or somewhere else) and it makes me think about my story. Maybe it’s the face of a character in an old painting. Maybe it’s an antique chair I can imagine them sitting on. If details start to stick to your idea, it’s a sign it might be the one to focus on.

Step two: Start writing

Full disclosure: These are not my writing implements. Mine are like this but imagine more mess and dirt.

I write two drafts at once. Sort of. For example, I write the first draft of scene one in longhand. When it’s finished, I type it into Word, developing, expanding, and fixing as I go. The end result is the second draft of scene one. I repeat this process for every scene.

What happens if you get blocked?

If I’m stuck and the words won’t flow, I make myself write 100 words every day. 100 is hardly any but, by the time I get that far, I often find I can keep going. If I can’t, I let myself stop for the day, patting myself on the back for hitting the minimum amount. I keep doing this until the block goes. I use the free time to work on marketing, research or just reading.

But what if you’re still stuck with no idea how to progress the plot?

I print off the entire manuscript so far and go through it with a red pen. Usually by the time I’ve typed up the changes and rewritten sections, I’ve figured out how to go on. If not, I go through the entire document again. And again. And,if necessary, again.

Step three: Revising

Once I have a complete second draft, I reread the entire thing. Sometimes I print it out and use red pen. When I have a complete draft I can read out loud to myself without wanting to change anything, it’s ready to show my agent and my editor.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

About Books

Books I’m Excited About

I’ve been writing so much lately that I haven’t had nearly enough time to read, which is terrible because there are so many books I’m desperate to get my hands on. I thought I’d share some of them with you, so that you can get excited about them too. Some are new releases but some aren’t. The book covers are also links, so just click if you want to know more about any of them. The list includes romance (contemporary and historical) and non-fiction because that’s what I happen to be in the mood for at the moment.

Contemporary Romance

There’s a couple of reasons I’m looking forward to this one. First, I loved (I mean LOVED) the previous book in the series Untouchable. Second, the heroine of That Kind of Guy is forty. Forty! Anyone who reads romance will know how unusual that is. Slowly, “seasoned” romance is becoming more of a thing, but it’s still rare enough that I’d read this even if the reviews weren’t great (which they are!)

Helen Hoang is a fellow Bookends author and last year’s The Kiss Quotient was one of the biggest romance debuts of last year. The Bride Test is about an autistic man and his arranged bride.

I loved the first book in this series A Princess in Theory Alyssa Cole is fast becoming one of my favorite authors and fake engagement is one of my favorite tropes.

Historical Romance

This is a good one for those of you who prefer romance novels without sex scenes. Mimi Matthews has her own publishing imprint Perfectly Proper Press and “the love stories are sweet, the settings are authentic, and the history is scrupulously accurate.” I’ve read all of her previous novels, which should tell you how much I enjoy her writing and characters! This is the second book of her Parish Orphans of Devon series. The first book The Matrimonial Advertisement is wonderful and, since A Modest Independence follows secondary characters from that book, I’d recommend starting with Book One.

Non-Fiction

I know, I know. Not another book about Jack the Ripper. But it’s actually not. Hallie Rubenhold has chosen to focus instead on the five victims, dispelling many Ripper myths, including the notion that all of the women he murdered were sex workers. It’s a relief to find a book about the case that isn’t focused on fruitless attempts to identify Jack.

Let me confess, I have never read any of Ursula Le Guin’s novels, though some are on my tbr list. But I have come across tidbits from this craft manual in various books and places around the web, which were enough to convince me I wanted to read this.

As an historical romance author, I’m very interested in the sexual mores of different eras. The eight authors explore romantic and sexual customs from British history through the centuries. From the book description: “The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots, the Regency, and down to the prudish Victorian Era.”

Every now and again, I go through a true crime phase (I nearly said spree, which sounded scary), and I think I feel one coming on. I don’t know much about Lizzie Borden (beyond the forty whacks rhyme) and, given the glowing reviews , this book seems like a great place to find out more.

history

History as a Moving Target: Did Victorian doctors really use clitoral stimulation to treat hysteria?

As a history geek who also writes historical romance, I do a lot of research. One of the things that strikes me is how our image of the past is less fixed than we think. The 19th century as written by Jane Austen differs drastically from the version we find in a primary document like The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. And, contrary to what I’ve read in romance novel reviews over the years, members of the ton occasionally married sex workers (e.g. Elizabeth Armistead, Lady Meux etc.), trans people existed, and same sex couples occasionally lived together happily and even occasionally *gasp!* openly.

I’ve always been fascinated by Victorian sexuality, probably because it diverges so widely from the stereotype promulgated by nineteenth century novels. The idea that Victorian doctors used clitoral stimulation to treat female hysterics has long been accepted as fact. There’s even a book about it written by an actual scholar and published by John Hopkins University Press. So it must be true, right?

EPSON scanner Image

There’s even a (very fun) film about the invention of the vibrator. Here’s the trailer in case you’re interested. Which you should be because Rupert Everett is in it.

When I started writing The Madness of Miss Grey, I certainly believed Maines’s research to be solid. There was never a draft of my story where this particular treatment was practiced; I was writing historical romance, not historical fiction, and I decided including scenes (in which inmates of a lunatic asylum are masturbated to orgasm to relieve hysteria) presented too much of an ethical minefield.

How could such a thing have been true given what we know (or think we know) about Victorian society? According to Maines, the medical profession didn’t view clitoral stimulation as sexual because they had a woefully penis-centric attitude to intercourse. This didn’t jibe well with what some primary sources had to say regarding the Victorian belief that female orgasm was necessary for procreation, but I reasoned that, then as now, different doctors held differing opinions. I wonder if, on some level, I wanted to believe it because it’s so titillating (see the trailer above) and because the artwork is seductive:

CURE (2)
Cure

I came across opposing opinions, particularly Dr. Fern Riddell and Oneill Therese, but it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized I was going to have to reassess my beliefs. Maines responds to criticism of her book by declaring her ideas only an “hypothesis,” adding :

“I never claimed to have evidence that this was really the case.”

As the article states, “she was a little surprised it took so long for other scholars to question her argument, given how admittedly “slender” the evidence she gave in The Technology of Orgasm was. “I thought people were going to attack it right away. But it’s taken 20 years for people to even—people didn’t want to question it. They liked it so much they didn’t want to attack it.””

As someone who has read The Technology of Orgasm, this may be true, but her tone was certainly authoritative.

So, can we definitively say that Victorian doctors didn’t use clitoral stimulation to treat hysterics? Well… not really. As with so much of history, we can’t be absolutely sure. Maines includes a lot of very suggestive stuff. But if we can’t be 100% certain, it’s still fair to say there’s little to no evidence.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to remove and adapt the few references in The Madness of Miss Grey. It just goes to show that, even when you’ve done the research, even when you think you know what the past was like, you really don’t. Whether its historical fiction, historical romance, or even non-fiction we’re writing or reading, we’re all imagining our own versions of the past.

history

Eminent Victorians: Valerie, Lady Meux.

Harmony in Pink and Grey or Portrait of Lady Meux, 1881, by Whistler. Source: Wikipedia

I first came across Lady Meux when writing my first manuscript (now languishing on my hard drive). I think I was trying to gain a more accurate idea of what ladies wore in the 1880s when Harmony in Pink and Grey popped up in my Pinterest search results. I’d never seen it before and I fell in love once I learned a bit more about the subject. Valerie, Lady Meux, despite her aristocratic demeanor, was a woman with a past. She didn’t begin life as a lady and was never accepted in the highest social circles.

When she married Sir Henry Bruce Meux, 3rd Baronet, it was said she’d once been an actress, but, while she does seem to have spent a single season on the stage, it’s thought she was actually a barmaid, banjo-player, and prostitute when she met her future husband. For some reason, it’s the banjo playing that sticks with me:

Sir Henry Meux, Lady Valerie and banjo.

Like I said, she was never fully accepted by society (or her husband’s family) but instead of sitting at home and sinking into a decline as sinful women mostly did in Victorian novels (see Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, and about a bajillion others,) she threw lavish parties attended by the future Edward VII among others, drove around London in a high phaeton (the old timey equivalent of a sports car) drawn by zebras, and was painted by Whistler three times.

Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux by Whistler.

Sadly Whistler burnt the third painting (Lady Meux in Furs) after Lady Meux said something that pissed him off during a sitting.

So there you go: Lady Meux, Victorian sex-worker made good, artist’s muse, socialite, and banjo-player.