Why Regency?

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My husband and I were talking the other day, and he asked me, “But why the Regency era? Out of all the other periods of history out there, what made you choose that one?” I thought about it a lot, actually. It made me remember an experience I had years ago.

My friend Tami and I had gone to a stage production put on by a traveling troupe of–get this–radio actors. The story? Pride and Prejudice. As we sat and waited for the curtain to go up, I overheard a couple of men talking behind us. One of them said, “You know, I’ve seen this movie like six times–both versions–and I still don’t get it.”

It made me laugh.

Their wives joined them at this point, so I didn’t get to hear any more of their discussion. But, having five brothers who groaned and moaned and mercilessly teased me about my taste in movies and books (“Are you watching ‘Anne of Stinky Stables’ again?”) I grew a thick skin. I liked what I liked and that was that.

Still, simply saying that you like something isn’t really a reason. Just ask my ten-year-old son, who has autism, and often uses, “Because I love it!” as an excuse for misbehaving. It doesn’t save him from the consequences.

So, while I do love the Regency era, why do I love it? Why have I dedicated hours upon hours in research and writing time to set a story in England and Scotland in 1813? I’ve come up with a few reasons.

  1. Different, but still the same. The Regency period is long enough ago to have some very distinct differences from the time we live in now–horses, strict social classes, very defined rules for behavior and manners–but short enough ago that the language is similar, and, thanks to Jane Austen, we know the psyche is similar as well. While there were still a lot of arranged marriages going on, the idea that you could wait and marry for love was kind of rebellious and romantic at the same time.
  2. The fashion. I don’t know what it is about cravats and morning dresses and riding habits and gloves, but it intrigues me to think about how much care was put into dressing. Perhaps it just shows that people are vain in any era. [Shrug.]
  3. Transportation. In writing, we talk about “world-building,” where the world of your book or story is a colorful, intricate backdrop for the action playing out center stage. When I read a well-written Regency novel, I can experience the thrill of being transported to a world with manners, social decorum, and balls.

There are other reasons, but I’ll stick with these big three as the main purposes for choosing to write a Regency novel.

What of you, dear readers? Why do you like Regency fiction?

 

 

Life/Writing Balance

The other day, I was looking for some dental floss. I’m not what you’d call an “avid flosser,” but I try to do it two or three times per week. I’d recently finished off a box of floss, but I was sure another one was lurking in that jumbly mess-of-a-top-bathroom-drawer. Instead of floss, I found this:

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That’s right. Toothpaste.

Tube after tube after tube of toothpaste.

It was like a clown car. They just kept coming.

And guess what–no floss was hiding in that drawer.

How is it possible I had fifteen (15!) tubes of toothpaste and not one measly box of dental floss?

It seems as though I write often about trying to fit writing into my life. I know some writers who say they do it because they can’t not write. That’s very fine for them, but I’ve discovered that’s not the way it happens for me. Yes, I can tell when I’ve spent time away from my writing, and yes, I miss it when I do. But I find it all too easy to be swallowed up in everything else in my life, so that my writing slips through the cracks.

I’m a mother and I love it. I’ve got these four incredible and exasperating children I’m in charge of. If I’m not careful, their needs can completely overwhelm me to the point of doing nothing else.

I brush my teeth every day. Without fail. Brushing is my first dental-health priority.

I try to floss two or three times a week. Some weeks I’m better at consistently flossing than others. I feel good about my dental health; it would be worse if I didn’t floss at all, right?

As a mother, I take care of my kids every day. Without fail. Motherhood is my first priority.

I only write two or three times a week, like flossing. It’s recommended daily, but it would be worse if I didn’t do it at all, surely. Yet I still manage to beat myself up over what I’m not doing.

Henceforth, I’m going to look at my life more like my dental health: do what you can, and don’t beat yourself up when you fall short of the ideal.

Now I’ve got to go and buy some floss.

Tips on World Building

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A diorama my son made in sixth grade.

I took a class taught by Aprilynne Pike on world building back in February at the ANWA conference. I was asked to give a lesson on world building for my writing group, and I thought I’d adapt  a few things I’ve come up with into a blog post.

 

First of all: a synonym to “world building” is “setting.” All books have a setting. It is, in fact, one of the most basic elements in a story.

I remember reading a piece by someone in my writing group, long ago, soon after I joined. It was just a short chapter, but it was brilliant. The only thing I recall at this point is a quirky little town parade and something about a stuffed goat on wheels. (That’s right. On wheels.) As we discussed her piece in the chapter meeting, the writer said something that has stuck with me, lo, these many years. She said, in effect, “What I am trying to do in this story is make the setting another character.”

I was fairly new to writing at this point, and that statement struck me as genius. I hadn’t ever heard that before—I hadn’t even considered it before. The setting as a character?! A whole galaxy of possibilities opened up.

So I feel like setting is the first level, but when you take it to the next level,  it puts you into world-building territory. (Although I did have a friend point out—you can change setting and still be in the same world. True.) And when you’ve built an amazing world to go along with your amazing story, that’s when your book will truly resonate and be memorable.

In Aprilynne Pike’s class, she talked about her Wings series and how she has pages and pages of information just about the land of faerie—most of it not in the book. She had a whole history of the land, along with a monetary/bartering system, maps, and rules that govern the way the magic works. Even though all that information wasn’t part of the story, she attested it gave her work a depth, a realness, that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

She gave a couple of examples of other works during her class, where she read only small excerpts. Even though they were short, they still showed the type of world and set up how the setting became a character. Her first example was from Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Within the first few pages the world she has built is definitely a character in the story—a main character, from the looks of it.

Another example she used was from The Giver by Lois Lowry. When I think of dystopian lit, it seems there are two types of worlds: ones where everything is in the hands of a controlling government and things are very, very bad (like The Hunger Games or 1984) and ones where everything is in the hands of a controlling government and things seem all right at first (Matched or The Alliance). I think The Giver falls into the latter category.

Compared to a lot of other dystopian lit out there, The Giver starts out tamely. The world is a happy place and people are privileged to live there. And yet, there’s still this underlying wrongness about it. I started reading The Giver to my girls at the beginning of the summer, and when we got to the part where people were only allowed to raise two children (not their own), and the birth mothers were on the very bottom rung of society (after their “birthing years” were through, they were put in menial, hard labor jobs for the rest of their lives), my 9-year-old was completely horrified. So even though the language was “happy” and the people were “content” and the mother explains this to her daughter in a very matter-of-fact “this is the way it’s always been” way, Lois Lowry was able to strike these chords without really saying anything at all. There’s nothing overt in the book that says, “This is a crazy way to live.” She’s made the setting—the world—say that by simply being.

World-building does not come naturally to me. For this reason, I know I’m going to have to save an entire edit when my book is finished to simply go through and add in those details that add authenticity, the ring of truth, and that extra dimension of entering a whole new world. (Don’t you dare close your eyes!)

Key Points:

  • Make your setting another character in your story.
  • Use surprising details to pull the reader in—sight, smell, taste, touch, sound—and ensure the setting has a history as well as a future.
  • Let it affect the mood and tone of the story you’re telling.
  • Most of all: don’t forget to use it. Building a fascinating world where people want to go and see what goes on there is worth the extra time it will take you, as the writer, to weave into your book. Liz Adair has said, “I write cheap vacations.” So take your readers somewhere!

 

Making it Stick

My writing is going through a rough patch lately. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, I only know that I’m having a hard time getting anything to stick. The words, they slip through my brain and out of my mind without stopping to greet the paper.

When I was a kid, we would go up to the mountains to a place called West Piney for family reunions. You’re probably thinking, “Piney? That sounds like a made-up word.” Well, it just might be. Still, that’s what we called it. But when we thought about it, we didn’t think of it as “West Piney.” We thought of if as “that place with the gigantic slide.”

Now, there’s gigantic and there’s gigantic. I don’t know if you can fully appreciate this slide without seeing it in person, and seeing it in person when you are under four feet tall is even better. The lodge was built on the side of a mountain, overlooking a small valley and creek below, and then the mountain grew back up out of the opposite creek bed. To get down the mountain you could take the 40-some-odd steps . . . or you could take the slide.

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Thanks to the magic of the Internet, here’s a picture.

So, when we’d be there for our family reunions, my brothers and cousins and I would do the regular camping-type activities like hiking, wading in the creek, and performing corny skits around the fireplace, but we’d also raid the kitchen for wax paper or used chip bags. The slide is made out of metal. In the July sun, that baby would heat up enough to blister. We’d take the wax paper or chip bag (opened up with the greasy side down, of course) and sit on them at the top of the slide. The slide has high sides, so it was almost like going down a chute. There we’d perch, the drop off looking impossibly steep, with the end yawning into a pile of cedar shavings.

Once we shoved off, the only way to slow down was by pushing our feet into the sides. But, heck–who wanted to slow down?

We’d zip down the mountainside, the wind whipping our hair behind us, feeling as though we were flying. And then we were flying–right off the end, for only a fraction of a second, but it was you, in the air, free as a bird with a chip bag stuck to its bum.

Then we landed, of course, which wasn’t always the best part of the ride. Just ask my Aunt Barbara, who happened to sort of break her ankle at the bottom.

Sometimes when I’m writing I have these thoughts, these bursts of brilliance. It’s more than my normal writing self: it’s adding a greasy chip bag under my tush at the top and flying, flying, flying, sometimes with the slide underneath and supporting me and sometimes completely on my own.

And then I land.

I lose the flight.

I haven’t caught it. It’s over. It’s done.

It didn’t stick.

Apparently more people than Aunt Barbara were injured on the slide, because they extended the bottom in later years. Instead of flying off the end, we rode flat for longer periods to ease some of that momentum. The only problem was when you didn’t even make it to the end in your initial ride. Then you had to scoot along on your bottom to be able to jump off the end.

Awkward.

In my writing I’m working on finding that perfect balance where I can go fast and fun and free but slow down enough to not injure myself. Not too slow, because no one wants to have to push themselves to the edge. The perfect end is where you come to a stop just before stepping off all together. Although it could be argued an even more perfect end is where you don’t stop at all and the momentum carries you through to the last sentence, where you hop off lightly, turn to look back at what you just conquered, and sigh in satisfaction.

The funny thing about this post is that I wrote it a couple of years ago–and it’s still true. Apparently, I am wont to struggle with getting into a routine of writing. Some weeks it’s great, and others it’s more non-existent. But I continue to try, continue to reach for that perfect end.

Also, check back in a few days for my first (of what I hope will be a great many) Scotland Chat.

The Itchy-Ache

Writing-wise, the past few months haven’t been as consistent as I’d like.

I can blame it on a lot of things–kid issues, my friend learning she’s moving to Scotland and helping her get her house on the market and sold, personal drama–but even though all those things are real and relevant, I still miss it.

I can tell I haven’t been writing. I can almost feel it, the words bubbling around in my fingertips, jostling for elbow room in my brain. I need to let them out, let them spill on the page.

But I can’t.

My insides are all confused.

There’s too much I’m trying to keep track of and I get distracted too easily. I feel like there’s no time.

That’s both true and false.

There’s no large block of time, true. But there are little splices of time. I need to be taking advantage of them.

Jotting down some words and some thoughts–even when they aren’t polished or deep into the character–is better than having a simmering brain.

 

And no words on the page.

Stage Fright

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I am kind of a chicken.

Not totally, but, you know, kind of.

I had thought I had reached a fairly safe spot in my maturity where I was content and confident in my abilities.

Well . . .

Apparently not so much.

I had been talking to someone I knew from Narnia. No, wait–high school. We were catching up on our lives and I mentioned I’d been to a writing conference.

“What do you write?”

I told him I was writing a book.

“What’s it about?”

I explained I was writing a Regency.

After a few sentences, which included “Jane Austen” and “some of those historical chick flicks,” he said, “That’s great! I think it’s nice when older people go after their dreams.”

Wait. Did he just call me old?

Before I could remind him we were practically the same age, he said, “Can I hear some of it? Read me an excerpt.”

Gulp. An excerpt.

Remembering my own assertion–I am a writer–my brain scrambled to figure out what part I should read. I made small talk while my mind raced. Also, I was having a difficult time locating my manuscript, or even my notebook.

I was flustered.

And completely caught off guard.

While many people had read my writing, no one had asked me to read my writing, other than at a specific critique group with other writers. And over the phone–!

(Now is probably a good time to mention that I only talk on the phone when I have to. Otherwise, I dislike it with a potent and bitter loathing. I’m awkward enough in person; over the phone the awkwardness reaches new heights.)

I fumbled over my words, apologizing, still not finding my MS anywhere.

Awkwardness galore.

Luckily, my friend is a good-phone talker and he basically said, “That’s cool,” without drawing attention to my ineptitude on the telephone.

In an attempt to be bold and make up for my earlier chicken-heartedness, I am now going to post an excerpt here. “He [or she] who hesitates is lost!” (Props to Mr. Snicket.)

This is the second scene, where we are introduced to the hero of the tale.

Sidney Thomas Francis Carmichael, Duke of Ottley, Marquess of Shelbourne, Earl of Loxley, stared across his desk at his solicitor Frederick Feld of Banks and Feld, Esq. “There’s an estate in Scotland? Why is this only coming up now?”

Feld cleared his throat delicately. “Some papers appear to have been misplaced, Your Grace.”

“Misplaced?” The young duke’s brow furrowed as he thought of the ramifications of that piece of information. He let out a frustrated sigh and raked his fingers through his hair. “Blast.” He thumbed through the pages of the appointment book sitting atop his desk’s blotter. Most, if not all, of the pages had things written on them. “That means I have to make a trip to Scotland.”

Feld considered a moment, then ventured, “You could send someone else to check out the property, Your Grace.”

Sidney shut the appointment book with a click. “For whatever reason, Sir Howard appointed me as trustee.” His voice was quiet, clipped. “Although it isn’t particularly convenient for me to take a trip to Scotland just now,” he cast a baleful glare at his appointment book, “I will fulfill my duty.” Sidney let out a pent up breath. “It will just have to wait a couple of months.”

“Your Grace, someone with your responsibilities cannot expect to do everything personally.”

“Thank you, Feld,” the duke said with a smirk. “I’ve found that lots fewer papers get ‘misplaced’ when I attend to things myself.”

Feld turned an unbecoming shade of red, but before he could stammer an apology Sidney held up a hand to stop him. “You’ll have to forgive me, Feld. It had already been a long day before you decided to lay a mysterious estate in Scotland in my lap.”

Sidney stood and Feld followed his lead. “Come talk with me tomorrow,” Sidney said, his words a dismissal.

After Feld left, Sidney walked over to the window and looked down at the street below, leaning against the sill. The manicured shrubs and the fine carriages passing didn’t register in his mind. If he was honest with himself, the Scotland estate didn’t weigh so heavily, either.

The weight he felt was the weight of the dukedom, the weight his mother had piled on him earlier during tea, the weight of duty.

“You are now a score and ten,” she had pointed out unnecessarily. “You must find a wife.”

I Am a Writer

I got back late last night from Arizona and a writing conference I attended there.

I met some lovely people, ate some delicious food, and attended classes about the craft of writing. Much of it I already knew, but some of it I didn’t. I enjoy learning, and loved this opportunity to delve deeper into certain aspects of writing.

My biggest take away (I think I’m going to do a post on annoying buzz words soon) was this:

I am a writer.

I know this. I have known it for a long time. But one thing that the experts stress about writing (and maybe this is an annoying writing buzz word) is having a platform. I, myself, have written a post on having a platform before. The problem was, I could never figure out my platform. I knew someone whose platform was cancer, another person whose platform was PTSD, and another whose platform was helping people with disabilities. Those are all wonderful platforms–but I couldn’t figure out what my platform was.

Does a platform have to be about a disease, or a mental condition? I considered making autism my platform, or maybe osteogenesis imperfecta. I have experience with both of those. Music programs in the public school system? How floral design can have a positive impact on the world around you? Star Wars as a metaphor for life? The importance of motherhood? Laughter as a healing agent? There are infinite platforms out there, but none of them fit what I wanted my platform to be.

I could easily discard things I didn’t want my platform to be, but had a harder time deciding what I did want it to be. Because of that, I wondered if I could really do this writing thing. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it.

Except that didn’t make sense, because I felt like it was something I could do for a reason. A gift.

That made me doubly grateful for the snippet I heard in one of my classes at the conference. Or maybe I didn’t hear it. Maybe I thought it, and it was just what I needed to know.

The thought was this: You have to have a platform (this is where my insides began to despair), even if your platform is only “I’m a writer.” (Angels singing.)

And my heart lifted and I thought, “I can do that. I am a writer, so I can make that my platform.”

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I write.

I am a writer.