Tag Archives: romance

Finding New York in 1745

I thought that I would find tons of readily available material about 18th century Manhattan when researching for my latest book. I was wrong. I did not predict the depth and longevity of scarring left behind by the British occupation of New York during the revolution, nor did I fully grasp the minute repercussions of history being written by the winners.

I found plenty of material about Dutch-era Manhattan, as New Yorkers seem to love their Dutch history. The Dutch, after all, weren’t British. The internet boasts a plethora of maps, anecdotal stories, artwork, family history, architecture, etc. of the original colony. There is a fond collective memory of naive early days. Unless one is researching First Nations history, which is a very different story (note first paragraph, ironically).

The 17th century ends with the secession of Dutch power and most casual histories of New York give a nod in a paragraph or two acknowledging the colony was British before moving on.

The bulk of American history doesn’t start until the revolution does. Everything one might be curious about is well documented from that point on. I should not be surprised that American history starts with its inception—but it’s like there was nothing worth mentioning before 1776.

At first I grew very frustrated by the minimal resource materials available online. Then it occurred to me that if I couldn’t corroborate many of the details of my setting, then neither could many of my readers. Once I embraced this realization, I felt liberated to write whatever I wanted within the loose framework of what I had been able to research.

I was successful in finding a handful of contemporary maps, which I refer to often. I sometimes take walks in my imagination, inspired by annotations on the map of markets, palisades, ports and forts, churches and commons. (Note that the above map is from 1662.)

During the year 1741, just before my characters arrive in New York, a well-documented tragedy occurred which was not dissimilar to the witch trials of Salem. This time the hysteria developed following several arson incidents which were blamed on the swelling population of African slaves, who at that time made up 20% of New York. While this event is not directly referenced in my novel, the documentation around it reveals a fascinating glimpse into the cultural make-up of the city in that era.

My favourite research treasure (and one which I’ve been promising to dedicate a post to) has been a small collection of newspapers from the mid 1750’s that have been made available online. I suspect the interest in publishing these particular issues is the documentation of troop movements during the Seven Years War (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War), but buried in the back pages are local news stories and a slew of advertising, all of which are priceless sources of information.

Apart from Maps and Newspapers, another favourite source of life at the time is a You-Tube channel published by a three-generation family of historical enactment suppliers, who in their own time re-enact recipes from the colonial era. They also publish question and answer videos for people who wish to make their reenactment experiences as true to history as possible, and some of the details have been invaluable.

Everything else in my novel is made up from my imagination. But my story is about two young people who fall in love, and that type of situation hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. So I think a little loose interpretation of history will be ok.

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Writing Fluff in Dark Times

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but I find maintaining an interest in my period romance novel a challenge with all the down-turning of events of late. I confess my pessimism is slightly exaggerated, but the need to fight for compassion, free-speech, and environmental protection is at an all-time high, at least in my lifetime. I find myself challenging a determination to delve into a romance set two hundred and fifty years ago when most of my thoughts are consumed by the present and the immediate future. Should I drop the project I’ve been working on for over a year and crawl into a new genre of politically active contemporary fiction? Maybe I should consider that for the next one, but right now I’m not willing to drop the story I’ve been working on all year just because the world is going to shit.

The question remains: how do I tackle completing a story when I’m thinking about other issues? If I’m not interested in what’s happening in the context of my narrative, neither will the reader be. I have found a few tools and/or helpful thoughts to help me cope.

I am reminding myself to have fun when I write. Guilt is a perfect recipe for sucking the fun out of anything. A writer’s state of mind always seeps across the page to the reader. I started my current novel because I thought it would be a fun story to write. I was excited not only to explore the romance between my two characters, but also by the adventure I could send them on, and the joy of delving into a setting so unlike my own. I find that the more I open myself up to playing with the plot and the supporting characters, the more enjoyment I have. If I have set out to entertain, then I’d better shed some guilt about it, or I only sabotage myself.

I am embracing the influence of political influence on my writing. There is no question that my political thoughts impose themselves on the story as I write, so I have resolved to let this happen. The accidents that happen as I write are influenced by what I’m thinking about. I understand that there is no use fighting the infusion of progressive ideas into what happens to my characters, or who they meet along the way. I have concluded the only answer is to not only embrace but pursue the influences as they occur.

I am allowing myself to enjoy productive distractions. Research can be a giant procrastination hurdle for me because, speaking of fun, I always find myself in a bottomless pit of fascination. However, research is a necessity, especially in period fiction where research provides a necessary gateway to creating a believable setting. I am inspired by glimpsing another time through experiences contemporary to the period. The insight is also helpful in revealing issues of the time that connect to current issues. History repeats itself. I have been digging into old newspapers and look forward to sharing some of my discoveries in a future post.

Finally, I shouldn’t call my novel “fluff.” It might lack serious discourse up front, nor inspire future generations of radicals, but that’s okay. I am writing it solely for entertainment purposes at a time when people are struggling to remain positive, and a bit of entertainment can be refreshing. Besides, my characters are not without opinion, and are not afraid to speak out.

I do have a completed first draft of a novel begging for attention, that takes place slightly in the future, is rife with political discourse and infused with magic realism. Guess what I might be working on next?

 

 

 

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Readers, Where Art Thou?: Blog Touring Pt. 1

After seeing the catch phrase “blog tour” many times, I figured I should find out what the term meant, since “blog touring” has been a heavily touted avenue for successful independent book promotion. I did some digging and discovered that Blog Touring is not what I thought.

I thought a blog tour meant roaming around the super highway searching out book readers (in my specific case, Romance readers). In effect, a search for blogs is part of a tour, but nailing that list of romance blogs happens long before the “Blog Tour” ever launches.

The aim of an efficient Blog Tour is the same as any mass promotion: hit the target market with as many instances of the new product as possible, making it familiar—and therefore friendly—and ultimately, desirable. If something is everywhere, it must be good.

The key proponent of a Blog Tour is to line up a number of book reviews and author interviews, or any other vehicle for author/book visibility like guest posts, such that all of those posts occur within a limited time frame. Each of those posts are blasting readers with the well-designed book cover you chose, so that when they see the cover for the third or fifth time they will click on the link to your purchase page and buy the book. A blog tour is a virtual book tour.

There are now exclusive blog tour companies who will organize the above, who have done the legwork and made the connections with the reviewers. They also charge plenty for the opportunity. For most start-up indie authors on a limited budget, paying someone else to set up a blog tour is out of the question. This is precisely why there is plenty of sage advice about establishing connections and drumming up interest before publishing occurs.

The shiny new novelty of blog touring has lost its sheen of late, likely due to the above, not to mention the huge number of self-published authors slamming small-time book bloggers with their wares. I don’t blame bloggers for taking a bit of cash in exchange for reviewing and promoting. However, I’m not a publisher and I don’t have the means.

I’ve missed the boat on blog touring for the first book (and for those twelve people out there who have read it… pun intended). However, I have every motivation to seek out readers by requesting reviews wherever I can, even with the publishing date behind me. My tour will be slow and therefore more of a fizzle than a blast.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the process of seeking out Romance readers, something I should be doing regardless.

Here are some of the Romance reviewers I have come across this week on WordPress:

https://romance4thebeach.wordpress.com/

(She only reviews books that one would take to the beach. Perfect. She also has a Twitter feed.)

https://tinyobsessions.wordpress.com/

(She reviews books, movies, TV, and loves travel. Perfect. Also on Twitter, etc.)

http://naughtymomstorytime.com/

(She’s a mom who likes naughty romance. Avid Reader. Big following. Great!)

http://onlyonemorepage.com/

(She reviews Romance, Fantasy, and Thrillers. Good coverage. Yes, pun intended.)

https://bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com/fiction-book-reviewers/romance/

(And finally… a link to a bigger list of Romance-specific review sites.)

I have begun the long process of review requests, and should I be lucky enough to have my novel reviewed I will either link or re-post the review here. If anyone reading this has a decent following and wants to review, let me know.

Next week I won’t be posting as I am going away for the Easter weekend.

Save the Date: Tempt the Ocean will be free for Kindle readers to download on March 31st . Read and Review the book!

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Official Author Page!

I have struggled a little (mostly with schedule) to publish an official author page for Agnès de Savigny. The work has interfered with blogging, editing, writing, active promoting, and the occasional book read.

But I’m happy to say that I’ve finished the work, and Agnès not only has her own menu tab (above), but I can now link back to a proper dedicated page from anywhere on the web.

This is so much better than making the blog feed her author page which, while it did bring readers back to the blog, did not demonstrate any sense of professionalism. Promoting the book (and therefore the author of said book) with absolute professionalism is a must for independent authors.

The resulting page is simple, incorporated into the blog, and carries all the key links for publicizing both the book and the author—everything I wanted from it.

Have a look.

If anyone would like to share their own author page in the comments, please do.

This week I hope to embark of some romance blog tourism, and plan to share my experiences when I get back.

 

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Excerpt from Servitude (Work-in-Progress)

“Evaline, it is unfathomable that you should find every pattern in this shop objectionable,” said Eva’s mother.

Eva understood her mother’s point. The shop had no shortage of the latest silk patterns and new colours for the season. More birds and flowers and sea shells and butterflies than she could dream of festooned each set of new selections. Most of the fabrics met well with her approval, and stood above the items she already owned. But the beauty of the silks was not the problem.

“Maman, it is not the fabric which is objectionable,” replied Eva.

“I don’t want to hear it,” snapped Elizabeth, lowering her voice.

“Why don’t you pick something suitable,” Eva flung back at her. “This entire arrangement is for you and Papa’s interest. I have no say in it at all.”

Eva ducked out of the reach of her mother’s arm and ran out the door of the shop into the street. She shivered in the cold spring morning air, having left her overcoat inside the shop. She looked back at it through the glass, deciding whether the risk of its retrieval was worth more than her discomfort. She caught her mother’s glare fixed on her, and turned her back to the store. Why could her parents not have found a husband less horrific? Why in all of London was there not a handsome well-to-do gentleman willing to liberate her from this predicament and insist on making her his?

Eva could see her own breath as she exhaled. She rubbed the cold from her arms. In her distraction she missed an approaching couple who jostled her aside. Their rudeness interrupted her daydreams of marital rescue. Eva noted that back inside the shop her mother had decided to indeed take matters into her own hands and was poring over several new imports and a variety of laces.

Across the street, a crowd had gathered around a new print shop. Cartoon prints filled each window pane from the inside. Eva could hear gasps of surprise and loud chuckles from where she stood. She looked back at her warm cloak but decided that its retrieval would be an invitation to entrapment once again. She shivered and set out in the cold to have a look at what was so funny in the window across the street.

Eva was much smaller than most of the crowd—and not only because she was not yet a full adult. With two slight parents she had not much hope of ever being of average size. She attempted to squeeze through a break in the crowd, but a heavy, roughly dressed man beat her to it, shutting her out. Determined, she moved around the crowd to the other side of the print shop. The crowd swelled as greatly on this side, pushing her into an adjacent alley. This was too much for Eva, who despite a sheltered upbringing had spent enough time around her family’s various shops to know that alleys were the cesspools of dangerous vagrants.

Eva looked down the short stretch of covered cobblestone to see a hang-dog group of men strutting towards her. In the dim light of the alley, which opened up to another bright road at the far end, Eva could not make out more that their silhouettes. Still, she could see that most of the men appeared worn and broken, except for one of them who walked upright and strong with the pride of youth. Perhaps he was a son of a member of the gang, or perhaps he led them. Either way he would be the last one she’d want to face. As the group bore down on her, Eva didn’t know which way to turn. She froze in the mouth of the alley.

The men burst into the sunlight, their faces as frightening in daylight as her imagination had made them in the dark. They moved around her as if she were nothing more than an inconvenient post. The smell of sweat and coffee lingered in the air as they passed. Unlike the others, the young one stopped directly in front of her, only inches away and standing a full head above. Her heart fluttered against her closed throat. She forced her gaze up to meet his, across his half-open linen shirt, his bare chest which glistened with sweat, under his chin with its faintest fuzziest shadow of a future beard, finally reaching the barely familiar face of her long-lost Sam. Relief burst from her with such force that she threw herself into his arms.

“Sam!” she cried.

“Please don’t,” said Sam, peeling her arms off from around his waist. His voice was colder than the air.

Eva swallowed her flush and began to straighten out her skirts as a distraction. She shivered with the removal of his body warmth.

“Why don’t you have a cloak?” asked Sam. He sounded annoyed, as if her lack of warmth obligated him to take care of her, and this were the worst of outcomes.

“I do,” she defended. “But I left it in the shop with my mother. She’s purchasing a new outfit for me.”

Eva’s gaze stretched back down the other side of the street to the silk shop. She saw no sign of her mother, but knew there was not much time before Elizabeth expected her to return to have her measurements taken—she had changed so much lately. If her mother came out looking for her and found her talking to Sam…

“How nice for you,” groaned Sam, moving out into the sun to get passed her. “I guess you’re showing your appreciation by removing yourself from the process?”

“It’s not nice for me,” declared Eva. “She’s buying an outfit to flaunt me, like a fancy horse. They are marrying me to an old man!”

Eva’s voice cracked in its crescendo. She felt her eyes fill but choked back her tears. For whatever reason she suddenly needed Sam to understand what she was going through, and how desperate her situation really was.

“Help me, Sam,” she cried, grabbing his hand and holding it up against her face. His skin felt rough but warm against her cold cheek. A drop spilled over from the pool in her eyes and rolled down across the back of his hand. She kissed the tear away.

“What can I do?” asked Sam, snatching his hand away and rubbing it against his breaches. “What am I to you?”

“You’re my only true friend,” explained Eva.

“If that’s the truth, it is a sad one,” said Sam. He turned his back and started off in the direction his crew had gone. One of the men stood waiting for him, long down the street at the far corner.

“Wait!” called Eva. “Where can I find you?”

Sam’s back stiffened. When he turned back to her the anger in his eyes scared her.

“At the Parish where my mother and I receive our poor rations,” said Sam, before turning again and heading down the road. Sam’s tone hung heavy with finality. That he didn’t mention which Parish told her he had meant his statement as a warning to leave him alone, to let her know that he was destitute and out of her reach. His information was not an invitation to future acquaintance, but Eva stored the kernel of it away for future use. She had a vague idea where Sam and his mother might be living, or guessed at least that they would not be far from where her father had cut Sam’s widowed mother off from her livelihood and thrown her and Sam into the street.

Eva watched Sam walk away until he reached the far corner of the road. Once there the elder man waiting from his crew boxed Sam’s ear before the two of them carried on out of sight.

At the throes of another shiver, Eva shook off the incident and turned back to the silk shop. This time her mother was standing outside, a cold hard stare fixed on her daughter. Eva’s warm cloak hung over one arm, while in the other she carried a wrapped package of niceties from the shop. When Eva reached her mother’s spot across the street, her mother slapped her wrist.

“Did you get your fill of smut?” hissed her mother. At first Eva thought her mother had seen the entire exchange with Sam, but when her mother then wrapped Eva’s cloak around her cold shoulders, Eva realized her mother referred to the cartoons in the print shop windows. Had her mother seen Sam, she would have demonstrated no evidence of kindness.

My favourite was the caricature of the parents selling their daughter on an auction block, Eva wanted to say. But instead she chimed, “No, Maman, I couldn’t get close enough to the windows to see any.”

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