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?

 

 

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Erasing the “Romance Writer” Stigma

When you hear the phrase “romance writer,” what do you think of?

Yeah, I think we need to update that picture. Too many people formed their romance writer consciousness by authors in the ’80s and ’90s. Big hair, floral wallpaper, feather quill pens, and a fainting couch.

Smelling salts, perfumed paper, and titles like Cornered Tigress or The Musk of a Gentleman.

In a boudoir. (Shudder).

The truth is, all the writers I know–romance or no–don’t put on those types of airs. This is my writing space:

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Of course, calling it My Writing Space may be a bit too generous, as its true title is The Homework Table and it shares the spot with a typewriter, a box of clutter, and art projects in various stages of completion.

Nary a fainting couch in sight . . .

I guess my point is this: occasionally we stereotype people. Used car salesmen, kindergarten teachers, romance writers.

One of my favorite lines in a remake of Pride and Prejudice happens when Darcy, a book publisher, is having a business lunch with Elizabeth, an author. He’s basically making an offer for his publishing house to buy her book, but she is so prejudiced against him due to their previous encounters she barely gives him the time of day. He’s saying something about her book and calls it “a romance.”

Elizabeth cuts in. “It’s not a romance.”

Darcy says (in his suave British accent with slightly raised eyebrows), “It’s not a put-down, Miss Bennett; it’s a category.”

So, while I have struggled with the stereotypes in my mind, I have reached the point where I can embrace it. I love the Regency period. I love sweet romances.

And I’ll continue to write them, despite not writing with feather quill pens.

Some stereotypes are just begging to be broken.

Did you hear the great news?

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It’s kind of hard to see in this picture (and, let’s be honest, everyone would rather look at the cake, anyway), but that finger is pointing to “THE END” in my notebook.

That’s right–I finished my book!

Of course, when I say “finished my book,” what I’m really saying is, “I finished my rough draft.” This was near the beginning of this month, and as I’ve begun edits I’m realizing there’s still a L-O-N-G way to go to get this thing to the point that eyes other than mine can look at it.

However, if that’s not a reason for celebrating with chocolate cake, I don’t know what is.

Feel free to make your own chocolate cake and celebrate with me. 🙂

Scenes to Write–

I was able to go to a writers’ retreat a couple of weeks ago. Picture a beautiful (if frigid) setting, with the forest behind and the ocean in front.

Yes, it was just as incredible as you are imagining, but just to add some reality to the experience, here are a couple of pictures:

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I got to see dear friends from my writing group, the American Night Writers Association (ANWA), as well as meet new writers. We caught up, ate, and laughed together.

The best part is that I got a lot of writing done. I’m within spitting distance of “the end.” Like, ten scenes. Of course, that will simply finish my first draft, so there are going to be rewrites and editing after that, but having never finished anything novel-length before, I’m excited about it.

And to all you who are participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)–good for you! (Even if it has taken me three years to get to this point, I don’t resent you pounding it out in a month. Much.)

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!

 

A Chat with Scotland

Once upon a time, starting about a year ago, my best friend was going to move to Utah at the end of August this year.

Through a series of events that began in May and crammed themselves into about six weeks, she and her husband had received a job opportunity for their family in Scotland, decided they were going, sold their house, and left western Washington for a life across the pond.

I miss her like crazy, but am excited for this chance to hear all about her adventures. And what better way to convince myself that a visit to the UK is essential–and soon–than to have my best friend move there? (No offense, Utah, but I don’t think I could have found enough material to fill a blog series about you.)

Without further ado, I happily introduce the beautiful Tami (one of my very favorite people) as the star of “Scotland Chats!”

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(Here she is with her two youngest children, just chilling while exploring castle ruins. Because that’s what they do for fun in Scotland.)

Wendy: Okay. Is Scotland what you expected? What did you expect?

Tami: Yes it’s what I expected so far, except the weather. It’s been the hottest summer in years and that’s been a bonus. Seeing that “hot” here is in the high 70’s. (Make that the mid 20’s). I did expect it to be green and beautiful. The landscape is amazing, the hills that are gently laid out in green with sheep and cattle. (Haven’t been to the highlands yet). The people are friendly and helpful. I do think they are more reserved than Americans, first off, but when I am friendly and relaxed so are they.

They are definitely more reserved in public and when our family goes somewhere and is loud, we get noticed. That is partially the accent though, our accent. I notice myself talking more quietly to see if that decreases the attention. That said, downtown Aberdeen is full of sassy drunk people late in the evening on a weekend.

Wendy: So you fit right in . . . 😉 Is the conversion confusing? Or did you live with that in Canada? How about from miles to kilometers?

Tami: Haha! As to conversions, I don’t get Celsius, I never have. Even the 4 years in Canada I still had to convert it to F for myself to feel satisfied. It is in miles here so no conversion there.

Wendy: Oh, nice! Are the speed limits posted in mph, then?

Tami: Yes, the speed limits are MPH. Except, the gas in is litres, which I am quick to convert. To figure gas mileage uses a calculator because you fill it in litres, convert it to gallons and then get the MPG.

Wendy: Phew. That’s a lot of work. How much does gas cost per litre?

Tami: About 138.9 pence per litre. Which you multiply by 3.86 to get the price per gallon. About $5.36 per gallon. Of course that is without the pound to dollar factor. Which I don’t think about as much since we are paid in pounds.

Wendy: So, basically, I should stop complaining? I think I paid $3.89 a gallon today.

Tami: Haha! It is much more expensive in Europe in general.

Wendy: Where does the factor “3.86” come from? Is it 3.86 litres in a gallon or something?

Tami: Yes, it is. That I memorized from my Canadian days.

Wendy: You were specially equipped for the transition to UK life.

Tami: A bit yes! I think a big change will be schools, and helping my boys adjust. They are going to have more of a culture shock than the rest of us.

Wendy: True. It’s going to be a whole different ball game. We’ll have to chat again once they’ve been in school a bit and see the differences.

Tami: What does surprise me is how hard it is to understand people. They speak quickly and since I don’t look so touristy they think I understand them. There are those with really thick accents and I just smile and stare with a blank expression. They usually laugh and try to talk slower.

Wendy: Awesome! Hahaha! That was actually my next question: are the accents SO incredible? There is such a musical quality to a Scottish accent, but I can see where not understanding could be a bit of a drag.

Tami: YES!! It’s like living in a dreamland! We all love that, and talk with each other about what things they say differently and who we can understand and who we can’t.

[Editor’s note: check out the sidebar on Tami’s blog to find which American phrases are passé and the way a person should say them in Scotland–although I see “Munch and Mingle” is missing, which has been my favorite Scottish phrase so far. Maybe it’s not on the list because there’s no American equivalent?]

Wendy: I think I would walk around with a sappy smile while listening to everyone’s conversations.

Tami: Hahaha!!! It’s hard not to. 🙂

Wendy: 🙂 Do people want to hear you talk? Is an American accent something they like to hear, or do they get it enough from Hollywood that it doesn’t matter?

Tami: I haven’t had anyone say, Oh! I love your accent. Don’t know if they just hear it enough or if they think that’s forward, or they don’t even care.

Oh, and men dress nicely here. Women are about the same or better. But men dress in slacks and button ups and have nicely cut hair, on average. Now, the younger crowd are still teens and somewhat sloppy, but not YA age and up.

Wendy: Hmm. Intriguing. That visit to Scotland is looking better and better. 😉

Tami: I know!!!

Wendy: Have you asked anyone to speak in an American accent for you?

Tami: No! I haven’t thought of that. I will need to try. There is a “Scottish” language that locals speak (I remember my dad telling me about it). I’ll have to look up the name. I have asked people I’ve met to say something in that.

Wendy: Cool! Is it like Celtic or Welsh or something? (Hm. I probably just offended the entire citizenships of Wales and Scotland by saying that . . . sorry, friends! I know you’re different countries!)

Tami: I’ll find out the name and redeem you!
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Now that, folks, is a real friend. I’m hoping to have chats with Tami regarding the mysteries of living in Scotland on a regular basis. Any questions you want to ask a real-live American living in Scotland can go in the comments, and I’ll do my best to fit it in.
Check out Tami’s blog for more Scotland adventures and gorgeous photos. (Not many UK citizens think to post pictures of the everyday stuff, so it’s like an Anglophile’s dream come true!)