Worderella Joins a Blogfest

Dear Reader,

In case you didn’t know, today is my birthday, and two years ago I put my writing aside to get a masters degree.

Now that I’ve graduated, I feel a bit like Mr. van Winkle after his twenty-year slumber.

Two years ago, Smashwords was a fledgling idea I didn’t trust. ISBNs were only sold in groups of ten. Good luck getting distribution, because no one would distribute a self-published work… oh wait, we have Amazon CreateSpace now?

Two years ago, Twitter was for nerds. Well, it still kind of is for nerds, but now it’s for super cool super social nerds, like me. Blogs were starting to become passé for those who couldn’t maintain steam. But us writers, I’m happy to find, are chugging along with these cool things called blogfests.

What is a blogfest?

I asked this very question not three days ago. I’d never heard of one, and I couldn’t find any examples. Lo and behold, following my usual six-degrees-of-Twitter, I joined a bloghop for romance writers. From there, I learned about a blogfest that I could join.

The idea is to have a bunch of bloggers write toward a particular theme on a particular day. The blogger hosting the blogfest links to the other blogs and vice versa, and everyone hops around reading the submissions.

It’s like an online writer’s group, or something. It sounds awesome.

This blogfest I’ve joined will be on August 25. The theme is “rainy day.”

Since Haunting Miss Trentwood is set in England, I need a rain scene. I’ve already had one, but it’s been a couple days in the time line, so I think we’re due for another. I’m excited.

Are you in the middle of a project? Are you feeling stuck? Maybe you need to throw your characters in the middle of a rainstorm. You should join the blogfest!

All the best,

Belinda

Worderella Hunts for her Readers

Dear Reader,

I’ve gotta say, it’s been pretty tough tracking you down. I’ve done it to myself, I know, writing such a particular genre (paranormal historical romance). But the thing is, this is the genre that is spilling onto the page, so this is the genre it seems I must write.

So first, I’d like to list what I know about you. I know you are probably a young-to-middle-aged-or-older woman. I suspect you are probably interested in historical fiction, romance, and the paranormal. Some combination of all three, if preferable. I know you are interested in relationships, particularly father/adult-daughter relationships and romantic relationships. I know you probably like…

What I don’t know is where you’re hiding yourself. I assume you are busy reading, living life, enjoying food, drink, and the company of excellent companions. I applaud these activities and encourage you to indulge them more often.

Our lives are far too hectic these days; we don’t know when to take a break or how to know when we should take a break. Even when we recognize when to take a break from the everyday doldrums, we don’t know how to.

Those of us who are lucky know to lose ourselves in a good book. The sort of good book I’m in the middle of writing, just for you.

I’m trying everything I can think of to reach you. I want you to know that I care about you, I’m fighting to make a quality, personalized product just for you. And I think I’m making headway, thanks to social media.

You see, I’ve been a part of social media for years. I had a Facebook page under a different name, and learned the ropes of the system. I deleted that page because, well, it was getting spammed by every robot and its mother. But I started a Facebook page under the name Belinda Kroll because I wanted to get to know my potential readers. I want to know what you find interesting, funny, weird, touching, etc.

I want to get to know you. And I’d like you, in the process, to get to know me.

But in the meantime, I seem to be getting a lot of fellow writers friending me on Facebook. Which is totally fine, and I’m loving the idea of garnering a small community of writer friends. But the point of my attempt at social media was to get to know you, and not necessarily my friendly competition.

Today, however, I feel as though I’ve stumbled onto a landmine. You see, I’ve been part of Twitter for over a year, but just recently set up a Twitter account dedicated to my writing. This Twitter account is where I keep up with the big writing and publishing news. I follow my blog friends, I follow agents and publishers, and I follow you, if I’m able to find you.

Which leads me to my landmine: the Twitter Search functionality. It’s taken me a while to discover how to utilize social media successfully. But I realized today that I can search for the terms that pertain to my writing, and therefore pertain to your interests.

I use this cool Firefox browser plug-in called Yoono, which allows me to log into multiple social media accounts. At any given time, I get real-time updates from Twitter and Facebook. This allows me to continue writing and researching, while taking pulse of the writing and publishing community.

Yoono is also cool because it saves my searches for me. Each search for Twitter becomes a sort of specialized list which I can access at any time. I’ve used the following terms to get closer to you, to discover if these terms pertain to you and your interests the way I hope they do…

I think I’m on the right track. The tweets I receive when I click on these search topics are from you. The content is that you’re reading these books and you’re suggesting them to friends and fellow readers.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t want to spam you by advertising my work. Instead, I want to hear what you have to say about these amazing writers. After all, I’m a fan of Amanda Quick, Deanna Raybourn, Susan Carroll, et al,  just like you. I hope to learn from their books and from your comments about their books.

But mainly, I just want to get to know you. So if you could, send me a line sometime.

All the best,

Belinda Kroll
(@worderella)

Book: Private Arrangements

Title: Private Arrangements
Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 351 pgs.

Summary: Everyone in London envies Lord Camden and Lady Gigi Tremaine’s marriage. It is the epitome of the proper marriage, as they never make a scene, they respect one another’s freedom, and they aren’t too lovey-dovey. Oh, and they haven’t seen one another for ten years. Now that Gigi wants a divorce, Camden returns to London with an obnoxious request in exchange for her freedom to marry again.

Excerpt:

pg 1 – Only one kind of marriage ever bore Society’s stamp of approval.

Happy marriages were considered vulgar, as matrimonial felicity rarely kept longer than a well-boiled pudding. Unhappy marriages were, of course, even more vulgar, on a par with Mrs Jeffries’s special contraption that spanked forty bottoms at once: unspeakable, for half the upper crust had experienced it firsthand.

Why should you read this book?

This book is a romance, no doubt about it. The intimate scenes are hot, and most importantly, imperative to the relationship between Gigi and Camden. As a married couple that hasn’t seen one another for ten years, there are past disputes that have to be resolved, old wounds re-opened, and ten years of desire to be satiated. Which they do, but always with a purpose.

For those of you writing romance, read Thomas’s book for an example of well-written intimate scenes that not only further the plot, they shove the plot forward with gusto, making you feel everything the characters feel and more. This is the first romance in a long time where I felt like the author really knew what they were doing. I’m definitely adding Thomas’s backlist to my TBR.

Book: The Honorable Marksley

Title: The Honorable Marksley
Author: Sherry Lynn Ferguson
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 230 pgs.

Summary: When the prodigal heir to the family, Reggie, compromises a young woman under his cousin Richard’s name, the family puts pressure on Richard to follow through with what ought to have been Reggie’s responsiblity in marrying the girl. And, being the only responsible one in the family, Richard agrees, not realizing there is more to this girl than meets the eye…

Excerpts:

pg 83 – “I believe the two are inseparable, Mr Cavendish. Certainly I believe that we love, or hate, as much with the mind as with the heart.”

You are in company with the finest intellects in saying so, Miss Ashton!”

Hallie was less aware of Archie’s ardor than or Richard Marksley’s quiet regard. She met his gaze, intending to do so only briefly, but found her attention fixed.

“Presumably,” he said, “you would never believe in love at first sight.”

Hallie’s chin lifted. “I do not.” She was conscious of all eyes upon her, and felt uncomfortably warm. “Though there may be a certain susceptibility–an inclination. One might wish to love for the mind’s reasons, and one’s heart then accproves the first acceptable candidate.”

Why should you read this book?
Remember that post my friend Graham wrote about sometimes reading books that show how have you have improved as a writer? This is one of those books. I have to be fair to Ferguson, though. This is an Avon Historical Romance, meaning the book probably isn’t more than 50-60k words, limiting a well-rounded story with fascinating characters and lush descriptions of setting and society. Backstory is almost always missing, and in this book, the backstory about the heroine’s brother seemed more interesting to me than the heroine, I’m sad to say. After all, when the conflict can be resolved in one honest conversation, you know there are problems. Though I will argue that, with more plot twists, this heroine could have been as great as most romance heroines I’ve read.

That being said, I used to read Avon books because I could tell myself, “I think I can write this.” Now, I read these books to remind me how I have improved. Due to the length requirements placed on Avon authors, almost everything must be scrimped. Setting and location is spare, character descriptions tend to be arechetypal, plots are a collection of historical fiction cliches and misunderstandings. In other words, these books introduce you to the bare bones minimum of historical romance. Always good for a light read, I’m afraid to say Avon romances just have something integral missing for me nowadays.

Book: Silent in the Sanctuary

Title: Silent in the Sanctuary
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Length: 552 pgs

Summary: Lady Julia Grey is back from her Italian getaway, where she recovered from the loss of her husband, the shock of discovering who killed her husband, the confusing emotions toward the detective hunting her husband’s murderer, and the smoke inhalation from the night all these factors came together in a literal blaze of fury. Home for Christmas in Sussex, Lady Julia is shocked to see among the guests Brisbane, the aforementioned detective, who is newly engaged to one of the silliest women she has ever laid eyes on. When murder happens in the abbey, it is up to Lady Julia and Brisbane to solve the crime despite their tumultuous history.

Excerpts:
pg 158 – She proceeded to comment on everything we passed–the symmetry of the maze, the magnificence of the bell tower, the cleverness of the carp ponds.

And then she saw the gates. She went into raptures about the iron hares that topped them, the darling little gatehouse, the pretty shrubbery by the road. Another twenty minutes was spent on the straightness of the linden allee, and by the time we reached the village of Blessingstoke, my ears had gone numb with the effort of listening to her.

“So many words,” he murmured. “I did not think one person could know so many words.”

pg 482 – “That’s the trouble with women,” she said wonderingly. “We know what we oughtn’t do, but when a man comes along, we only hear his voice, and not our own.”

pg 497 – I finally ran him to ground in the library, gamely working his way through Pride and Prejudice. He sprang to his feet when I entered, smiling broadly.

I nodded to the book. “How are you enjoying Jane Austen?”

He waggled his hand from side to side. “She is a little silly, I think.”

Now I was more certain than ever in my decision. I could not love a man who did not love Jane Austen.

Why should you read this book?
Contrary to many of the reviews that I read on Amazon.com, I really liked this book precisely because the continued love-hate relationship from the previous book, Silent in the Grave, was in no way resolved, and in a way that was true to the characters. That’s genius, if you ask me, because it keeps the true fans of the series panting for more. This book is funny, charming, and portrays High Victorian Society oh so well. The setting is well-written without overtaking the plot, the characters are snappy, and my favorite device is used: giving tertiary characters their own subplots that affect the whole.

Read this book for a sophomore attempt that was as good (if not better) than the first, for a lesson in creating characters that don’t fit in their own society and yet seem genuine to the reader, a true puzzle of a crime, a charming and funny narrator, a passionate romance with no real sense of a happy ending (must continue to read the series!), and the only series in a long time that has an alpha romance lead that doesn’t make me want to shoot him.

Book: Arranged Marriage

Title: Arranged Marriage
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Genre: Short Stories
Length: 307 pgs

Summary: A powerful, eye-opening, easy to read set of thoughtful short stories set in India and the USA about the lives and loves of Indian women in the world.

Excerpts:
pg 59 – You hate it when he talks like that, biting off the ends of words and spitting them out. You try to tell yourself that he wants to hurt you only because he’s hurting, because he’s jealous of how much [Mother] means to you. You try to remember the special times. […] You try to shut out the whispery voice that lives behind the ache in your eyes, the one that started when you said yes and he kissed you, hard.

Mistake, says the voice, whispering in your mother’s tones.

Sometimes the voice sounds different, not hers. It is a rushed intake of air, as just before someone asks a question that might change your life. You don’t want to hear the question, which might be how did you get yourself into this mess, or perhaps why, so you leap in with that magic word. Love, you tell yourself, lovelovelvoe. But you know, deep down, that word solves nothing.

Why should you read this book?
This is a powerful testament to Divakaruni’s talent as a poet and prose writer. The excerpt above shows how powerful her writing is; my theory is because she was a poet first and then turned to prose. You can tell how carefully she picks each word, how she puts them together to get just the effect she’s looking for.

Read this book for an example of how to organize your short stories/chapters in a way that is thoughtful and provocative and for heartbreakingly human characters. For those of you writing about Eastern culture, read this book for one author’s take on how to introduce Eastern culture to a Western reader in a subtle, sophisticated manner.

Book: The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Title: The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Length: 387 pgs

Summary: Modern day – Eloise Kelly, like any good graduate student, is neck-deep in research for her dissertation about the Pink Carnation, attempting to prove the English spy existed. 1803 England – Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, an English operative in league with the Pink Carnation, is ordered to Ireland to prevent an Irish rebellion and catch the Black Tulip the same night he means to elope with the beautiful Mary Alsworthy. When the carriage door opens, however, it’s not Mary that steps out but her sensible sister Letty determined to stop the happy couple. The ensuing scandal forces Letty to marry Geoffrey, and when he leaves her on their wedding night for Ireland, she’s decided enough is enough and follows him, unaware she is about to stumble into the world of espionage, and even romance.

Excerpts:
pg 2 – One day. It had only been one day by the calendar, two years in terms of agonized phone staring, and about half an hour in boy time. It is a truth universally acknowledged that time moves differently for men. There was, I reminded myself, no reason why Englishmen should differ from their American counterparts in this regard.

pg 100 – There’s nothing so attractive as a blank slate. Take one attractive man, slap on a thick coat of daydream, and, voila, the perfect man. With absolutely no resemblance to reality.

pg 310 – He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses. …One might admire a well-carved statue, but it would be deuced uncomfortable to cuddle up with at night.

Why should you read this book?
This is my favorite book out of the Pink Carnation series, perhaps because the historical heroine, Letty, isn’t a madcap adventurer like Amy, or a self-indulgent younger sister of a great English operative… she’s a nobody, a younger sister that no one thinks of despite the fact that she makes sure everything is good for everyone else. Finally, we get to see a little about what other people think of this Pink Carnation character, who have no connection with the operative. This romance, despite its hasty beginning, is more organic to me, much more believable, because it seems the characters are actually meant for one another. There are obvious clues that let you think this, whereas the other books…well, the first one was “lust first, love after,” and the second was “childhood friends turned lovers.”

As always, an entertaining series, well-written, a good amount of history and other allusions thrown in, something great if you want a bit of fluff in-between your heavier reading. I look forward to reading the next book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Writers should read this book for a believable burgeoning romance between previously unknown persons.

Book: North and South

Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre: Classic Fiction
Length: 452 pgs

Summary: Margaret Hale, a English southerner who migrates to Milton, a northern industrial town, is shocked by the working and living conditions of the cotton mill workers who provide the wealth of the young man her father tutors, Mr Thornton. Her determination to help the mill workers puts her at odds with the charismatic Mr Thornton, who dismisses her concerns as the ignorance of highly-bred woman who cannot understand the political and economic reasons why things are the way they are.

Excerpts:
pg 17 – If the look on [Margaret’s] face was, in general, too dignified and reserved for one so young, now, talking to her father, it was bright as the morning,–full of dimples, and glances that spoke of childish gladness, and boundless hope in the future.

pg 62 – Mr Thornton was in the habits of authority himself, but [Margaret] seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting impatient at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment before she appeared, yet now he calmly took a set at her bidding.

pg 322 – Oh, how unhappy this last year has been! I have passed out of childhood into old age. I have no youth–no womanhood; the hopes of womanhood have closed for me–for I shall never marry; and I anticipate cares and sorrows just as if I were an old woman, and with the same fearful spirit. I am weary of this continual call upon me for strength.

pg 336 – [Margaret] sat quite still, after the first momentary glance of grieved surprise, that made her eyes look like some child’s who has met with an unexpected rebuff; they slowly dilated into mournful, reproachful sadness; and then they fell, and she bent over her work, and did not speak again. But [Mr Thornton] could not help looking at her, and he saw a sigh tremble over her body, as if she quivered in some unwonted chill. …He gave sharp answers; he was uneasy and cross, unable to discern between jest and earnest; anxious only for a look, a word of hers, before which to prostrate himself in penitent humility. …She could not care for him, he thought, or else the passionate fervor of his wish would have forced her to raise those eyes, but if for an instant, to read the late repentance in his.

Why should you read this book?
I never thought it possible, but this book supplanted Pride and Prejudice as my favorite romance, reasons being that it brings outside philosophical, political, and economic pressures into the romance. The romance is not just that there are misunderstandings and ruined reputations, but that there are actual lives at stake; entire towns that could fall if the mill workers refuse to work; people could be killed in riots; there is communal strife and an inability to communicate between the social classes.

This is an ambitious work that I am head over heels in love with because the prose is poetic, the themes are strong, and the characters sympathetic. Gaskell gives the secondary and tertiary characters all the love, compassion, and motive that is usually reserved for main characters alone. I could go into a detailed analysis of the writing tricks Gaskell uses to appeal to her audience (the sympathetic Victorian woman), such as describing the illnesses of those around Margaret, the way Margaret’s eyes sometimes exhibit a childlike wonder or surprised pain (see pg 336 excerpt above), and the way Margaret shoulders the problems of those around her for that is her role as the daughter in the family (really, this is a brilliant piece of Victorian literature), but I won’t.

I will tell you that if you like reading classics (my childhood was defined by classics, and I desperately miss the feeling of losing myself in that world), you must read this book. If your writing tends toward the classical style, this is a great example to take note of. There are moments when Margaret almost reminds me of Jane Eyre in her contemplations of her role as a female in the world, which makes sense because Mrs Gaskell was actually a sort of social friend of Charlotte Bronte’s. In fact, Mrs Gaskell wrote the first biography of Charlotte, and helped create the rather mythological story behind the woman who wrote such great works as Jane Eyre and Villette.

P.S. The BBC made a two-part miniseries of this book in 2007, and it is excellent. Things have been changed, obviously, to fit the book into a four-hour showing, but it is a great adaptation and the reason why I read the book in the first place.

Book: The Masque of the Black Tulip

Title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 406 pgs

Summary: Eloise Kelly, our favorite history graduate student, continues in her determined quest to unmask the Pink Carnation, an English operative during the Napoleonic Wars that some don’t think existed. This time, she’s accompanying Colin Selwick to his ancestral home to read the archives in his family library for more information on the Pink Carnation, and in her research reads about Henrietta Selwick’s romance, which unmasks the infamous Black Tulip, a French assassin!

Excerpts:
pg 121 – We nodded at each other in complete historical complicity. His hazel eyes caught mine. That look was an entire conversation in itself, one of those odd moments of unspoken communication when you know beyond a doubt that you’re on the exact same page.

pg 214 – A human! Addressing me! I could have hugged her. There’s nothing more demoralizing than standing alone at a party–unless it’s tagging along after someone who palpably doesn’t want you there. I’d be damned if I was going to trail after Joan and Colin to the drinks table. If he wanted to extricate himself, he could bloody well do it himself.
He didn’t seem to be trying all that hard.

pg 257 – It wasn’t that the silence was uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. It was the peaceful sort of silence that attends long acquaintance, the comfort that comes of knowing you don’t need to say anything at all. And that very lack of discomfort made me profoundly uncomfortable.

I pinned down that thought, and followed it, writhing and slippery, to its source. It was the sham of instant coupledom. That was the problem. … It’s something that anyone who’s been single for a time will recognize, the pretense of intimacy that comes of being the only two singles at a couple-y dinner party, or, in this case, sharing a house for a weekend. It’s an intensely seductive illusion–but only an illusion.

Why should you read this book?
So this is the sequel to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and as I found that book a fun, easy, amusing read, I thought I’d give this a chance. At times insightful, and at times a cringe to read (adverbs are a pet-peeve of mine, as are onomatopoeias), I liked the romance of this book better than its prequel, and liked the actual writing of it less. Something about how the modern characters kept quoting things to one another… I know I do that, and a history graduate student would probably do that, but it got a little heavy-handed. Same with the allusions to mythology in order to explain how the characters felt around one another. There were times where I felt we got a little too much of the history student (Willig is currently working on a PhD in history), and not enough of the novelist. The fight around the climax had me rolling my eyes, but the chase scene had me smiling in approval. Still a good read for an afternoon, despite my little complaints. It’s always hard to make the second as good as the first, so writers, read this series to look out for sophomore pitfalls.

Book: The Rules of Gentility

Title: The Rules of Gentility
Author: Janet Mullany
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 268 pgs

Summary: Miss Philomena Wellesly-Clegg is a young woman who knows her mind and operates by lists: she has a list of bonnet supplies and a list of eligible bachelors to start her day, and neither list includes Inigo Linsley, the younger brother of her best-friend’s husband. But Inigo is handsome, scandalous, and for some reason, very willing to help her out of a sudden and unwanted proposal, so perhaps she ought to give him a chance?

Excerpts:
Couldn’t find any that I really liked/that stood out for me.

Why should you read this book?
This book is, as it says on the back cover, a funny combination of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary… which is weird since the latter is merely a modern retelling/spin of the former. Told in first person from Philomena and Inigo’s perspectives, it is amusing and frothy; a great book to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It does not take itself seriously in the least. After all, the heroine is proposed to in the water closet. Twice. I’m not sure if writers would want to emulate this book, however, because it is so very frothy with almost nothing to make you want to read it again. From what I understand, however, this is a departure from Mullany’s typical writing style so perhaps I shouldn’t judge too fast. I do know that based on this sample, I’m not terribly inclined to read anything else by her, despite my enjoying it.

So, read this book to know what not to do: don’t make disposable characters, or an entirely goofy cast of characters, or a plot built on the assumption your audience read Pride and Prejudice. Do read this book for an example of comedic writing. For those of you thinking to self-publish your work, this is an excellent example of a well-thought cover, as it is the original reason why I picked up the book in the first place. Always remember, marketing is so important!