Thursday, April 21, 2011

My First Blog Interview Today at Wendy La Capra's Blog

Up-and-coming historical romance writer and friend Wendy La Capra interviewed me on her blog today--please stop by! Wendy La Capra's Romance Writing Blog

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Life of Painters...and Other Hazards

Don't you love learning things you never intended to find? 

I'm doing some research into medicine as it was practiced in the Regency period, and I had to chuckle when I came across this, which was written way earlier, around 1700:

"We read that Raphael of Urbino, the famous painter, was snatched from life in the very flower of his youth; Baldassarre Castiglione lamented his untimely death in an elegant poem.  Their sedentary life and melancholic temperment may be partly to blame, for they are almost entirely cut off from intercourse wtih other men and constantly absorbed in the creations of their imagination." 

No, he is not talking about writers!

Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian physician (1633-1714) is discussing the diseases of painters in his famous treatise Diseases of Workers, in which he astutely categorized the hazards workers are exposed to in 52 professions. 

"Painters...are attacked by various ailments such as palsy of the limbs, cachexy, blackened teeth, unhealthy complexions, melancholia, and loss of the sense of smell." 

Ramazzini documented the hazards of mercury, lead, copper, and silver in paint pigments, as well as varnish and linseed oil.  "Moreover, painters when at work wear dirty clothes smeared with paint, so that their mouths and noses inevitably breathe tainted air; this penetrates to the seat of the animal spirits, enters by the breathing passages the abode of the blood, disturbs the econnomy of the natural functions, and excites the disorders mentioned above."

In the 1500's, a French physician named Fernel discribed violent stomach pains suffered by a painter that required 3 or 4 men to press their entire body weight on his abdomen to help them abate.  This particular painter unfortunately had the habit of squeezing the color from his brush with his fingers and then sucking it off.

These observations make me realize that people used their intelligence brilliantly during all ages; it is just that technology limits how close we can get to the truth.  The truth is different for different ages.

Okay, back to creating!  (And no sucking on your pens!)

See full size image

Friday, April 15, 2011


I recently learned that my manuscript My Wicked Duke is a finalist in the historical category of the Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest, and a query letter I submitted is a finalist in the New Hampshire RWA Query Quandary Contest.   

Yay for celebrating small successes! 

Elizabeth Inchbald: A Real-Life Regency Heroine

I am reading a book, Passion and Principle:  the Loves and Lives of Regency Women by Jane Aiken Hodge.  

Here is an amazing story I rustled up from this book:

Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821)?  She is a woman with an incredibly independent spirit for her age (well, for any age!) who was a novelist, playwright, and actress.

Elizabeth was a farmer's daughter who was never formally educated but read a lot.  Her passion was the theater, and she ran away at 17 to London to become an actress, leaving a note of apology for her mother.  A few days later, she sought refuge with her married sisters, and her mother forgave her for fleeing.  An actor, Joseph Inchbald, who had two illegitimate daughters, pursued her and offered marriage.  They were in an acting company together, and performed Shakespeare as well as plays by popular playwrights.

Her marriage was not perfect.  In her diaries she recorded that her husband was often jealous and made scenes after his drinking.  In her travels, she met the actor and stage manager John Phillip Kemble, worked in one of his plays, and clearly made her husband jealous by her friendship with him.  He was her lifelong friend and also apparently her unrequited love, but she denied that they were ever lovers.

Here are some images of Elizabeth, before I continue on with her story:                      


Elizabeth Inchbald

Suddenly widowed in 1779, Elizabeth decided to continue to act while she pursued writing.  She used her stage salary as security.  Although she had multiple offers of marriage, she refused them all, preferring her independence.  A novel she wrote was rejected, as were several plays,  but she had great success at last  with the play A Mogul's Tale in 1784.  "There is no woman I more truly admire, nor any man whose abilities I more highly esteem," wrote John Kemble, who did not offer marraige as Elizabeth must have hoped.  The author William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, was, however, one of the men who did propose marriage, but she declined. 

In all, Elizabeth wrote over 20 plays.  The work she is most well known for is a novel called A Simple Life.  Reportedly, she patterned the hero after Kemble.  He is handsome, romantic, but unheroic--it is not a flattering portrait. 

The theme of A Simple Life is that a proper education is essential for women to make the right choices in life.

Elizabeth continued to live independently on her earnings until her death. 

Spunky, intelligent, and that's a real-life Regency heroine for you!


Passion and Principle:  the Loves and Lives of Regency Women by Jane Aiken Hodge.   John Murray Publishers, London, 1996.

Elizabeth Inchbald, article by Elma Scott, Chawton House Library, viewed at:

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Surprise Factor in Fiction

Had a big family event this weekend at my house that required a lot of preparation, so yesterday I gave myself permission to vege out, enjoy the 80+ degee weather (yes, even in Cleveland, it appears spring has arrived (and I say that with a great deal of caution)!), and dig into Brava, Valentine, Adriana Trigiani's continuation of Valentine Roncalli's trials and tribulations.

I mentioned before how much Trigiani's language gets to me--it's sensory and bold.  But even moreso, it surprises.  I really believe that this is one of the marks of experienced authors--they know how to make you sit up and say wow!  how did she ever think of that?  

In these two books, I see the surprise factor on two levels--one is in the descriptions of things--the metaphors are so fresh and startling.  (No cliches here, no siree!)   But also in the plot.  It reminds me of the Donald Maass workbook, when he asks questions like, what could these characters possibly do to create MORE conflict, MORE tension?  And as a reader, I think, OMG, she actually did that?!  I can't believe it!  It makes it impossible to stop reading.

Of course, this is women's fiction.  In a romance novel, the female would share her lead role with a man, and there would be much less introspection and description.  But the external (plot-driven) journey and emotional jouney of the woman and her subsequent empowerment as a result of that journey are front and center in both genres.

And I really believe that the surprises are key in any good book. 

At this point in my career, I judge a book by how much it can pull me out of "analysis" mode and into the story where I forget that I am a writer--I forget who I am and where I am--I dissolve into the story. 

That is why I love to read.  And write.

Okay, back to work.  I hope my house can stay clean for just one more day--it's already starting to go around the edges...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Lush Language of Adriana Trigiani

I have been discovering new authors (well, actually, famous authors who are new to me)--ones who are going to be a part of the Jane Austen anthology coming out this fall by Ballantine books. 

I had the great pleasure of reading Very Valentine, Adriana Trigiani's 2009 book about a woman's quest for self discovery in her big Italian family as she joins her grandmother in carrying on the family's wedding shoe business.

What a beautiful book!  Full of famiglia, its ups and downs, and figuring out what it is you really want out of life.  I loved it!

Today I'd like to show you some passages from this book that show the sensory aspects of Trigiani's language.  Man alive, her prose purrs!

To be able to write like this--using all of the senses and using contrasts that continually surprise and jarr in the most delightful ways...

 Well, don't believe me.  Take a look for yourselves:

Roman takes my face in his hands.  As our lips meet for the first time, his kiss is gentle and sensual, and very direct, like the man himself.  I might as well be on the Piazza Medici on the isle of Venice, as his touch takes me far from where I stand and off to someplace wonderful, a place I haven't been in a very long time.  As Roman slides his arms around me, the silk of my dress makes a rustling sound, like the dip of an oar into the canal in the mural behind him.  (Page 85)

As Gianluca slows down, I see a lake throught he trees.  It shimmers like pale blue silk taffeta.  The edges of the water are blurred by wild fronds of deep green stalks that bend and twist over the shoreline.  I commit the color scheme to memory.  How lucious it would be to create an icy blue shoe with a deep green feather trim.  I roll down the windows to get a closer look.  The sun hits the water like a slew of silver arrows.  (Page 216)

As we say goodnight, I lean back on the pillows and dream of Roman Falconi.  I imagine him, the blue sea, the pink clouds, and the hot sun over Capri.  As I sink into a deep and satisfying sleep, I imagine my lovers's arms around me in warm sand.  ((Page 228)

I survey the long line of passengers.  Not one look of understanding or sympathy comes my way.  I cry some more.  My face begins to itch with the tears.  I wipe my face with my sleeve.  I remember my father's words to me.  Nothing ever seems to go right for you.  You have to work for everything.  Well, now I have a new revelation--not only do I have to work for everything, but the work may go totally unrewarded.  What is the point?  (Page 232)

Fuchsia flowers cascade over the rocks, bursts of purple bougainvillea spill off the cliffs, while the emerald waves along the water's edge reveal glossy red coral, like the chips of red candle wax on a wine bottle.  (Page 233)

I just haven't had enough of Valentine Roncalli and her world.  Already bought the sequel, Brava. Valentine. 

Heard her YA books are fab too--the first was Viola in the Reel Life (about a young teen videographer) and the second, Viola in the Spotlight, just came out this week. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Help for Writing in the First Person...from Wendy LaCapra

I've recently been called upon to read a friend's partial manuscript--all written in the first person.

I recently wrote a short story in the first person, which I had never seriously done before.

And I realized there are pitfalls.

The hardest one for me was the "telling" pitfall.  How on earth do you avoid telling if you are writing "I"?  I mean, isn't using "I," by its very nature, telling?

Well, there are ways, and aspiring author Wendy LaCapra taught them to me.  Following are a few examples from my story and how Wendy helped me make them a LOT bolder, better, and more-showy-and-less-tell-y:


Telling:  "It was no wonder I acted as if I had received Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket."

Wendy's Way:  "I clutched it (the ticket) to my chest like it was Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket."

Do you see what she's done here?  She's made it visual.  Using the strong verb "clutched" makes you visualize clutching a precious object to your chest.  You can see it.  And therefore you can feel it.


Telling:  I had grown up, and left my hurtful penchant for bad boys in the past.

Wendy's Way:  The day he slipped an engagemnet ring on my finger, I knew I had grown up and left my hurtful penchant for bad boys in the past.

Why it works:  A vivid, concrete image your brain can sink its teeth into.


More (yawn) telling:  She had stopped by my tiny shoebox of an office to make dinner plans.

Wendy's Way:  She tried to lean across my cluttered desk without causing the stacks of books and papers to fall.

Same thing, the telling is changed to SENSORY images.  You can do this using any sense.  Use all five!


Telling:  Well, my thesis had been Jane Austen:  The Woman's Woman.  But had anyone outside of my small liberal arts English department even read it?

Wendy's Way:   "You do recall my thesis was Jane Austen:  The Woman's Woman."  But had anyone outside of my small liberal arts English department even read it?

See the conversion of telling to dialogue?

BOTTOM LINE:  Enhance your first-person writing by changing dull telling by injecting emotional and sensory images.  And use dialogue instead of telling, too.

Thank you, Wendy!  I think you're brilliant!  :)