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Friday, July 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: Heather Snow

Lessons Learned From a First Time Submitter

Hello, my name is Heather Snow, I write Regency Historical Romance and I am thrilled to be guest blogging at Lady Scribes today! I was so fortunate to have met Lydia, Samantha and Amy at a conference earlier in the year, and here at RWA National, to meet Jerrica and my fellow Golden Heart ® Nominee, Clarissa. I am honored to be amongst such incredibly diverse and fabulous historical authors.

Today, I’d like to talk about what I’ve learned about submitting. Though I am relatively new to the game, I hope what little I know can help someone else.

1. Enter Contests before you submit

a. Yes, they can be a crap-shoot, and yes, judges are subjective (as are agents and editors, btw), but I have gleaned something from the very best scores I’ve received and the very worst, and they’ve all either made my story better or clarified for me exactly what I wanted to keep the same. My manuscript, “Sweet Enemy” is my first completed novel and I am very grateful for the attention it’s gotten from agents, and that was due primarily to contest finals, big and small.

2. The SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) is one of life’s cruel ironies

a. There’s nothing like carefully printing, proofing, painstakingly filling out that return envelope in your very best handwriting, licking, stamping and running to the post-office with an active two-year-old (who proceeds to run over to the greeting card rack and toss Mother’s Day Cards in the air like a game of 52 card pick up while you’re trying to mail your package and dreading how much you are going to have to pay for those) only to have the big fat REJECTION RETURNED TO YOU IN YOUR OWN HANDWRITING! Fun. That being said…

3. Always OPEN the SASE

a. It has been my experience that when your project is received, if the agent is interested, they respond by e-mail for the full and if they are not, you get the form/nice rejection letter back in your lovely SASE. So, when that little envelope is waiting in your mailbox, coming back from someone you really, really wanted to love your story, it’s like a heartbreak with a stamp. However, I did learn, as I was holding just such one of these little gems, that is not always the case. I almost tossed it into the rejection file unopened, but decided I was a glutton for punishment and when I opened it, it was a handwritten request for a full on my original query letter. Open the envelopes, even if you’re afraid they’re going to hurt.

4. Submit far and wide, but only when the project is complete

a. I have an A list, a B list and a C list of agents, carefully researched and ranked. When “Sweet Enemy” finaled in the GH, I immediately queried A and B. Some agents picked it up immediately (who I thought would take forever!), some took longer, and some I’ve yet to hear from. I did both A list and B list, figuring an offer from a B would do more to spur the A’s than anything else (aside from the writing, of course!).

5. Ask LOTS of questions.

a. When those offers come rolling in, it’s important to choose the right agent for YOU. Ask questions. I have an extensive list that I would be happy to share (and have used to interview agents who made offers). E-mail me at heather@heathersnowbooks.com if you are a submitting writer who would like me to send it to you, then add your own questions.

6. Boil that story down

a. Call it the Elevator Pitch, the Hook, the Log Line, whatever you want. Those agents and editors need to know, quickly, how they are going to sell you. Spend some time. Try it out. Take a class. But get it down. Try hard to get in both personality, plot, conflict and a hook.

Here is the Elevator Pitch for “Sweet Enemy”

Beakers and ball gowns don’t mix, so when a lady chemist goes undercover at an earl’s house party to discover if he murdered her father, romance isn’t part of her formula—but ever good chemist would do well to remember that when you combine two unknown substances, you might just start a reaction you can’t control.

You can also view the book trailer at www.HeatherSnowBooks.com. I can tell you that prospective agents DO go to your websites, so keep them smart and updated.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now, and I hope it’s been a help. Thank you for having me. This post is being run while I am at the RWA National convention, so I will likely not get in much today to respond to comments, but please leave them if you’d like and I promise to respond to each as I have time.

I’d love to hear what tips you have for the submission process and would be glad to answer any questions (not that I’m an expert, but I am glad to share anything I know!)

Monday, July 26, 2010

A temporary breather

Owing to the attendance of half our members at the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida the Ladyscribes blog will be temporarily on hiatus until Friday.

Lydia Dare, Samantha Grace, Jerrica Knight Catania, Amy De Trempe, and Clarissa Southwick can be found between sessions near the bar and would love you to drop by and have a chat with them. They will be easy to find - just look for a group of happy women laughing the loudest out of everyone else there!

Those of us not lucky enough to attend the conference will no doubt be just as busy as our sister bloggers. Melissa Dawn Hart is planning to start a new project and spend some time with her three boys, maybe a little adventure is in order. While Catherine Gayle is plotting to thwart her cats by cleaning out the closets and putting things back in their proper places. Julie Johnstone has plans to try and squeeze in a little writing time while balancing the demands of all the fun and festivities that accompanies a famiy reunion in Lake Conroe, Texas.  And me? I'll probably rearrange my writing desk again, check twitter for news of the conference, and wish I'd been able to go.

I hope if you're lucky enough to be in Orlando that you have a fantastic time.

Until Friday.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Art Imitates Life

Oscar Wilde said, “Life imitates art more than art imitates life.” I adore Oscar Wilde, I really do. He’s one of my absolute favorites ever since I fell in love with The Importance of Being Ernest when I was in high school. However, I disagree with him on this point. Sacrilege, I know; and yet I do still disagree.

As I have just very publicly disagreed with the genius that is Oscar Wilde, I should probably admit to being the Jodie half of Lydia Dare. I’d never want Tammy to get my hate mail.

I don’t think it matters whether you are writing about an era long ago, one from the future, about characters who have fangs or ones who live quiet, desperate lives. As artists, we take from our life experiences when we create our worlds, characters and stories. We imitate life.

The first villain I wrote was a composite of my two lecherous uncles. I know, I know, it’s one thing to have one lecherous uncle, but two? Apparently, we’re special in that way. Aren’t you jealous? Still, every family has their skeletons, I suppose. And those skeletons are what we, as writers, draw upon when writing a dark character or scene. We imitate life.

Conversely, all those wonderful, special moments that make up our lives and the people who have meant so much to us are the inspiration for various characters and plot points along the way. There is more than one adolescent boy on the pages of my books who reflect different aspects of my son, right on down to his affection for scrawny, stray cats. We imitate life.

On a more serious note, an old friend of mine died not long ago. He was my age, my contemporary in every way. He was the first person I’ve lost who was of my generation. That reality has had a profound effect on me. Ever since I received that heartbreaking phone call, I spent a lot of time reflecting on people I once knew, those who have touched my life in one way or another, even if they are unaware of their impact on me. I can see bits and pieces of them in many different characters, which I might not have even been aware of when I created them. It’s comforting to realize that through my written word, part of them will always live on, at least to my way of thinking.

What is your take on the whole art/life imitation topic? Do you agree with Mr. Wilde that life imitates art? Or do you agree with me?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Small Things

Bailey, my first cat, died over a year ago.

He was scared of almost everything, it seemed, and so I often said he was more chicken than cat. Strangers coming over sent him to hide under the bed, as did the vacuum monster (our "special" name for the vacuum cleaner). Thunder meant he would hide under the ugly pink chair. Helium-filled balloons? Well, we don't talk about the floating monsters any more. Let's just say they were not allowed in my house--ever--after the first time he saw them. And then there was the Christmas wreath on the back of the front door. He refused to come into the living room for a month, after that one. I'm not sure what he was hiding from in the picture above (maybe bubbles being blown in the house?), but apparently he thought that the bathroom cabinet was the safest place. Especially since he would blend in with the towels and all. I'm sure you don't see him there, so clearly the monster/invader/bubbles couldn't find him either.

And if any of these things came for him in his chosen hiding spot? He would dash past me to get behind the washer and dryer so fast, I almost didn't see him. The first time he did that one, I couldn't find him for hours. When I finally coaxed him out, he was covered in dust bunnies and sneezing.

But Bailey was not afraid of me. He was my sweetheart. My snuggle buddy. My constant companion.

We'd sit in my favorite chair, him on my lap, and he'd knead his paws (we called it "making biscuits") against me purring so hard I thought my voice would tremble from his constant vibrations. This had to happen several times a day. After all, there were lots of biscuits to be made.

If I tried to read a book in bed, Bailey would have none of that. He would pace back and forth between me and my book, effectively blocking my ability to see the words on the page. I often told him he made a better door than a window. He didn't quite take the hint. The whole time he was pacing, he would purr and shove his head into my hands, begging me for the attention that I was instead trying to give to the book. It worked. Every time. I'd start petting him, and he'd eventually curl up on my pillow, forcing me to use him as a pillow if I wanted something under my head. If I stopped petting him in order to turn the page, we'd be back to the pacing. This could go on for hours.

Why am I talking about all of this?

Because the other night, Kiki did exactly the same thing.

I was lying in bed, reading a book, when she decided she wanted my attention. She got up between me and my book, purring as loud as a motorcycle, and pacing back and forth, shoving her head into my hands. I got a good chuckle out of that one, and shoved her away so I could keep reading.

But she came right back. More insistently, this time. Kiki would not be deterred.

And then, just when I'd finally resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to pet her and forget about my book for a while, she plopped down.

On my pillow. (Stretched out like you see her to the right.)

Just like Bailey would have done.

I started crying almost instantaneously. Blubbering like an idiot, actually.

She looked up at me with the same expression he would have had, absolutely sweet and loving and adorable. She doesn't take up as much space on the pillow as he did--Kiki's only about 1/3 the size of Bailey. But she still stretched out all over it so far that, if I wanted to have a pillow, I would have to lay my head on her.

I did.

And she let me. She purred even louder when I laid my head on her.

We stayed like that for quite a while, until my tears stopped and I could function like a normal human being again. Then I read some more, petting her constantly, and going through the ritual of her pacing and shoving her head into my hands each time I had to reach up to turn the page.

I read longer that night than I intended to--longer than I usually do before bed--because I didn't want it to end.

Because, for that brief moment in time, I had my Bailey Boo back. My snuggle buddy. My cuddler. My first cat.

I don't know if Kiki will ever do that again. If she does, I'll be ready for it. I'll know to enjoy it, to savor it. To be thankful for it.

It really is just the little things, sometimes. A cat stealing a pillow. A phone call at just the right moment. The perfect cup of coffee. A piece of dark chocolate with sea salt. The Nephew Monster turning to me with his best this-is-serious-business face and asking "'Ere's Buzz? 'Ere's Woody?" like I am supposed to be able to magically conjure Buzz Lightyear and Woody out of thin air right at that moment.

I need to find ways of putting more of this into my writing. These are the moments we love. These are the moments we live for.

What are the small moments that you love?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Dark Side of Swimsuit Shopping

ORLANDO, HERE WE COME!!! This Saturday my little family will hop in the car, drive to my home state fourteen hours away, leave the kids to enjoy some quality Mimi and Granddad time, and then hubby and I will catch a flight to Florida for the RWA National Convention.

My favorite part of any trip is planning what I’m going to wear. I joined the Christmas club through my employer’s credit union, and guess what? It’s Christmas in July! (Thank goodness they got rid of that silly rule where I can’t withdraw funds until December.)

I know shopping isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I really, really like new clothes. And jewelry. And new handbags. Oh, and I needed a case for my laptop. Actually, my hubby talked me into that purchase. I said, “I’m not planning to take my laptop.” (I thought I should take a complete break from writing since it is our vacation.) Hubby: Yeah, right. You fib. So I took that to mean he was okay with me bringing it along.

I’m one of those people who make lists of what I’m going to wear each day of a trip along with the accessories. Some days I need more than one outfit. For example, the night of the GH and Rita Awards Ceremony calls for dressier attire. But there’s one day where hubby and I will have down time to spend together. Neither of us is big into tourist attractions, and we don’t want to do anything Disney without the kids, so we’ve talked about hanging out by the pool.

Now, as much as I love shopping for new dresses, skirts and blouses, I hate shopping for a new bathing suit. Have you ever seen those magazine articles that promise there’s a swimsuit to flatter every body type? What a crock! Let me tell you, unless it has the ability to enchant everyone around me so that when they gaze upon me they see Kim Kardashian, it isn’t going to cut it. And I’m not a big woman. I’m average, but I still can’t find a swimsuit I consider flattering.

First of all, swimsuits never have any support in the bust. Those padded tops are a joke. If I cared to flash everyone, I'd be vacationing in New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Key West during spring break. Not a family fun park. And the material is so clingy it shows every bump. Add in bad lighting and 360 degree views and it’s enough to make anyone run for the hills. Do I really need to see my backside in all of its glory? I think not.

My hubby suggested I get a bikini. Bless his heart, he is the sweetest, most misguided man on the planet. I’ve had two gigantic babies. The bikini days have long passed. But, I’m not happy with a one piece either. They all look cute on the hanger. And don’t you love those promises of a stomach-flattening miracle panel sewn right inside? Yeah, I tried one of those. I looked like a python that had swallowed a pigmy.

In the end, I found the perfect place to buy a suit. There was only one mirror, the lighting was dim and with a little squinting, I looked fantastic. So, do me a favor, okay? If you see me at the pool, please keep me in the dark. Ignorance is bliss after all.

What do you most hate shopping for?

Packing for Nationals

RWA Nationals is one week away. It’s time to stop focusing on the writing and get ready for the conference. Which brings me to one of my least favorite topics: packing.

When I was a child, both of my parents were military. So, we traveled a lot and my mother packed everything with military precision. She started a month ahead with inventories and color coding. Every space was filled down to the last micron. Even the seating in the car was regimented. All of my childhood travel memories involve riding for thousands of miles, sitting in a small square of the back of the station wagon with a furry dog wagging its tail in my face.

As a child, the rules of packing in my house were simple: You don’t look at the suitcase, you don’t touch the suitcase, and you certainly DO NOT take anything out of the suitcase. Ever.

Flash forward to my first trip as a newlywed. I was so stressed out. I had never packed before. I didn’t know “the system.” How would I remember everything? How would I fit it all in?

My anxiety befuddled my husband. “Just throw some clothes in a bag. All you really need are the tickets and the passports. Everything else we can buy there.”

That bit of advice has carried us through 26 years of marriage and across three continents with four kids in tow. Over the years, tickets have become optional. And I have added contacts/glasses and prescription medications to the essentials list. I do think twice before packing for remote locations such as the Sahara or the Frank Church Wilderness. But my kids pack their own bags, and I rarely take more than a carry-on. We take “traveling light” to the extreme.

Except now. Now I have to pack for my first time at Nationals. There are award ceremonies, receptions, pitch sessions, dinners, and workshops to dress for. And I will need comfortable shoes for all those outfits. Not to mention down time at the pool or hotel gym. It’s Florida, so we have to dress for the heat and also dress for extreme air conditioning. I have a complicated schedule to follow. And some of the special events require that I print out invitations and receipts. And. . . and. . .

For the first time since I was a teenager, I am totally stressed out about packing. What will I take? And how will I fit it all in? So here’s your chance to help me pack. What’s the most important thing to remember to pack for Nationals? Please share your tips in the comment section. Thanks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Almost Conference Time

In exactly one week and one day I will be boarding an airplane to head to Orlando where I will join over 2,ooo other authors for the Romance Writers of America Conference. To say I am excited would be putting it mildly. This will be my third conference and I know what to expect (at least I hope so).

During my first conference, which was in San Francisco, I knew only a few people. Okay, I knew one and had not met her face to face. She was my critique partner, the Jodie of Lydia Dare. In San Francisco she introduced me to Tammy, the other half of Lydia Dare, and Patrina. All three belong to the same RWA Chapter. Let me tell you, the experience would have been much more overwhelming, if not scary, had those three ladies not been present. Had I known no one, I would have survived, but perhaps not have had nearly as much fun. You see, I am a bit of an introvert with strangers. I am not one to walk up and comfortably talk to someone I don't know. If I were in a group, no problem. But on my own. . .

Often I would be in workshops where I knew no one. Though people sat next to me, I have trouble being the first one to strike up a conversation. I don't mean to be rude or standoffish, I am just uncomfortable introducing myself. If someone approaches me, or makes a comment or starts a conversation I am fine. And the thought of an elevator pitch makes me break out in a cold sweat. I don't know why I am this way, I just am, but I am going to seriously work on this issue in Orlando, though it is so much easier for me to communicate through a computer than face to face.

The second conference attended was in Washington, D.C. last year. I did have more fun at this one, not that Jodie, Tammy and Patrina aren't a riot, because they are. What made DC better was because several other members of our crit group were able to attend, including some of the Lady Scribes authors: Jodie, Julie, Jerrica, Samantha and Heather (all the way from Australia). Heather and Julie can't join us this year, but Clarissa will be in Orlando and after being her critique partner for the past two years it will be nice to finally meet her face to face.

So, yes, I am excited. I can't wait to see my critique partners, as well as Tammy and Patrina again, and to meet up with some of the ladies I met at the Spring Fling conference this last April.

In preparation I have reviewed and made a schedule of the workshops and spotlights I want to attend. I do this every year and it always changes at the last moment. But, it is still fun to get an idea of what is offered and form some type of plan in my mind. Now all I have left to do is make a list of things to pack and I am good to go. If only it were that easy. I am still trying to figure out which are my most comfortable shoes.

Are you attending the conference? Have you reviewed the list of workshops, spotlights and booksignings? Do you have an idea of what you will attend? Is there a workshop that you can't wait for and don't dare miss?

Oh, and if you see some lady sitting by herself, not talking to anyone. Don't assume she is not interested in others. She may just be very shy, overwhelmed or uncomfortable seeking out conversation. If you are an extrovert, strike up a conversation. She will probably be grateful for it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Highland Games: A Research Opportunity

Guest Blogger - Nancy Lee Badger

When my first Scottish historical novel was released last month, I knew researching historical facts had been worth the effort. Even though DRAGON’S CURSE is a paranormal romance, I still filled it with fact-based occurrences and real live settings. In choosing a time period, I discovered a band of Macleod’s had massacred an entire village of MacDonalds in 1577 by smoking them to death in a cave on the Scottish island of Eigg. I made my hero, Draco MacDonald, accused of causing their deaths. He has lived alone for fifteen years in a huge cave on the real Scottish island of Staffa when he meets Brianna Macleod.

I wanted to use my love of modern Scottish Highland Games to weave another tale full of witches, time travel, and ancient Highlanders. Since my family volunteers annually at the New Hampshire Highland Games, I filled notebook after notebook with my interpretation of the sights, smells, sounds, and history of the games. Research added to my list of possible story ideas. I have since completed a tale I call SPELLBOUND HIGHLANDER, which I hope will catch the eye of an agent and be published. What do modern games have to do with a story of ancient Highlanders? Well, my heroine volunteers at the games and her witchcraft accidently sends her back in time. When she sees our hero, dressed in an ancient plaid with a long sword across his back and a dirk at his side, she thinks she is still at the games!

Besides the costumes and weaponry people wear to these festivals, there are sports, food, craft displays, music, and venders beneath tents selling everything under the sun. The aroma of meat pies mingles with the tang of fresh-squeezed lemonade. Sheep, herded by a border collie, run near tent-covered platforms where pretty girls dance a Highland fling. Bagpipers march while craftspeople spin wool or tell tales to kids. A recent trip to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, North Carolina gave me dozens of ideas, which I carefully noted. The modern games are so much more than an athletic competition yet watching burly, kilt-wearing men tossing a tree called a ‘caber’ end-over-end is a favorite sight.

Historically, the games were a way to hone skills. Coming together once or twice a year gave a community a sense of camaraderie during a time of upheaval in Scotland. Skill, stamina, and determination easily kept young Highlanders ready for war or any threat to their livestock…and women. Foot races kept messengers ready should they need to spread the word of a battle. Using simple tools such as stones, hammers and the occasional sack of hay kept their back and leg muscles ready for hand-to-hand combat. Same with wrestling and the tug-o-war. All events sharpened a warrior’s body and kept him ready and able to answer the call to war. All these events were the object of periodic royal bans because they might encourage the practice of military skills, which scared whoever sat on the throne. Things changed when both Edward II and, later, Henry VIII considered the events as essential training.

Nowadays, people of Scottish descent gather all across America and in many Canadian provinces for a few days of fun and pride while wearing festive kilts and Highland dresses. Clan tents share a wealth of information, listing the many ‘septs’ included in each clan as well as books on tartans. Each clan may own several patterns. Rumor has it that the Irish gave Scotland the bagpipes…something more to research!

Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games in WA http://www.sshga.org/ July 31-Aug 1

Celtic Roots Festival in Ontario www.celticfestival.ca/ August 6-8

The Main Highland Games http://www.mainehighlandgames.org/ August 21

The Vermont Highland Games http://www.quecheescottishfestival.com/ August 28

The New Hampshire Highland Games in NH http://www.nhscot.org/. Sept. 17-19

Williamsburg Scottish Festival (Virginia) www.wsfonline.org/ Oct. 1-3

Richmond Highland Games & Celtic Festival http://www.meadowceltic.com/ Oct. 23-24

Central Florida Scottish Highland Games http://www.flascot.com/ Jan. 15-16 2011



Sometimes a special gift and an unwanted curse cannot keep destined lovers apart.

Brianna Macleod has accompanied a shipload of her guardian’s friends to a remote island off the coast of Scotland. She eludes these Highland hunters to keep her innocence…and her gift of sight. Her attitude against falling for womanly desires changes when she nearly drowns. Saved by the talons of a terrifying winged beast, she awakens—naked—in a cave, beside an unusual man.

Cursed by a vengeful witch to transform into a dragon at inopportune times, Draco MacDonald hides on this deserted island to live alone: until he plucks a servant girl from certain death. Fueled by jealousy, and tempered by fear for her safety, he succumbs to an unfamiliar desire to mate. Her kisses propel him to dare to make her his own.

Set in 1592 Scotland on the Scottish island of Staffa, the cursed hero battles a ghostly witch, a hunter set on rape, and his own growing desire for a young woman with premonitions of his death. Her kisses propel him to dare to make her his own.


Nancy Lee Badger writes fulltime and lives with her husband in Raleigh, NC. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, Celtic Heart Romance Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She also writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense as Nancy Lennea: http://www.nancylennea.com/.

Nancy’s website: http://www.nancyleebadger.com/

Nancy’s bog http://www.RescuingRomance.nancyleebadger.com/

DRAGON’S CURSE is available from Whispers Publishing at http://www.whispershome.com/ and the buy link is: http://bit.ly/93hRiM

It is also available at http://www.Amazon.com/ for Kindle

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Restoration 101 The Idiots guide to Restoring your Manuscript Part One

With all this talk of restoring old manuscripts, I thought I would take the next couple of weeks to give my own personal guide to my experience with restoring an old Manuscript. Hopefully, this will help someone else and shorten the amount of time it takes on the edits.

My own experience was very long and drawn out due to the fact that I had no clue where to start. I think this is most of the problem for many of us. You see this three hundred to four hundred page manuscript sitting there and it needs so much work you find yourself overwhelmed. After several attempts to begin editing, you end up putting it away for another four or five years. Well, hopefully I can help simplify this process a little easier.

Think in terms of a camera man and a movie. Now zoom way out and look at the entire picture. This is where you want to begin. This is your story structure process and the first thing you need to determine is do you have a beginning, a middle and an end. And do they make sense? Sounds so simple doesn’t it?

This is called your three—act structure. Essentially your basics will be in place, you’ll have characters, a plot, and hopefully GMC (Goal, motivation and conflict.) Before you chip away at the details, you must first determine are these basics cohesive and working.

Does your plot have a beginning, middle and end?

Do your characters have a strong goal, motivation and conflict?

Do you have a strong view or image of your characters? By this I mean your basic eye color, hair color, height. We’ll get to grind the details of their personality a little later.

Once you’ve determined any changes to these basic essentials you’ll want to look at your old outline if you used one and if not perhaps you might want to create one now. The most basic outline is a one sentence summary of each chapter. That’s pretty easy to accomplish. Now post that bad boy somewhere where you see it from your computer.

Now go through these things, write down any changes on a separate piece of paper or a new file under the name of (title of story) manuscript changes. No spaces.

Get your ideas down on paper first before implementing them into the story. Keep your original manuscript draft saved under a different name and then make the changes within the story.

Now if you decided on any changes to the structure and plot, write out a new outline. I know you pantsers are just cringing but the thing is you’ve already written this story once. You’re just tweaking it at this point. So don’t think of it in terms of planning.

Now you should have several files saved. Your original work. A file or list of changes you think you need to make, an old outline or summary of the chapters you start with as well as a new one with the new changes. These should help you to focus on what needs to get done first and in what order. Use the list and plan to make these changes one at a time. Remember these are just changes to your basic plot, character (say you want the character to have green eyes instead of blue) and story structure.

Next post we’ll zoom in the camera slightly and whittle away at our characters and chapters. Until then, as long as you have a good solid foundation (plot) anything can be rebuilt. I would love to hear of anyone’s experiences with restoring an old manuscript and please ask any questions you may have. I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How to use your friends

My father considers himself quite the jokester. This last Christmas he gave me a t-shirt that said: “Beware what you say to me. It just might end up in my next novel.” At the moment he gave it to me, I couldn’t purposely recall using something someone said to me in one of my books, but later that night, lying in bed, I realized I had used things my friends said in passing.

It was not a word-for-word use. Someone may have told me a funny story or said a funny line and it ended up inspiring another story inside my head, or that funny line brought to life a whole character for me. Up until a few days ago, this was the only way I used my friends and acquaintances in my stories.

Then I started reading Donald Maass’ book The Fire In Fiction, and I realized I have really been giving my friends the shaft. He has a chapter about making secondary characters extraordinary. The chapter basically tells the writer how Mr. Maass thinks we writers can go about turning our cardboard secondary character into stand-out unique character that truly enrich your story. Unforgettable sidekicks.

I’m not going to tell you what he says word for word because I think everyone should go buy his book. It’s wonderful and just a few chapters into it I feel I have gained great insight into my own writing. Without giving you all the nitty-gritty details, I’ll paint you an unfinished picture of how to make your secondary characters pop by utilizing your friends.

Look around at your friends. What makes them your friends? What are their habits, their beliefs, their quirks? Name three ways they are like you. Now, consider one way they are very different from you. Next, think back on your friendship. Was there a pivotal moment, perhaps an argument, where something in your friendship changed? How did this moment define your friendship and make it grow, evolve, or simply bring the two of you closer. Look at your friend's outer appearance. Are they overweight? Do they limp or have tons of freckles? Do they where skimpy clothes or clothes that fit like a sack? Do they love to sing and often burst out in song? *I truly have a friend that does this.*

The point is that your friends are a rich resource for creating amazing secondary characters. I know I had not tapped into this potential, and I will now. You don’t have to pattern a secondary character wholly after one friend. You can use several. Just think how interesting this character is going to be.

I recently created a character in my latest novel who is blunt to the point that she is constantly embarrassing everyone around her. She knows she is blunt and makes no apologies about it. The character thinks it’s better to speak your mind than dance around a topic with flowery words. This character, an aunt, came completely from my imagination. After I read the chapter about enriching secondary characters in Mr. Maass book, I pulled back and looked at my new character then thought of my friends. I realized I have a friend who is blunt without apology. She has a huge heart, is one of the smartest people I know, and has some very interesting quirks about her that make her uniquely her. I’m going to draw on some of her characteristics for my aunt in my book, and I have even thought of a pivotal moment in her life that I can use for another character.

Here is my personal warning. I would never paint a character so fully from a friend that everyone could recognize that person unless you ask your friend and he or she is okay with this, or there is nothing that might upset or hurt your friend about your character. I say this because as I was drawing on my friends as a resource I thought: what if someone created a character and used me as the guide. Would I be happy with the result? Are there things that I may not want the whole world to know? Absolutely. And let’s face it, you can change a person’s name, but if you are a good writer, that person will see himself or herself in the character.

Do you use your friends as resources for characters? If so, I’d love to hear how you go about doing it and if you have any caveats of your own.

Happy Writing,

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Renovate or Detonate

I’m always spotting houses in need of TLC. On a recent holiday into the countryside my darling husband and I came across a renovators dream. You know the type of place. A few repairs, maybe some rewiring, a bucket of paint to make it shine. Add a nice picket fence and a few flowerbeds of daisies and I’d be happy as a pig in mud. My husband was only mildly keen on the idea until he saw this place. In the past I’ve always commented on houses set in the middle of sheep paddocks, but we actually came across this gem in the middle of a town.

Ok, maybe gem is too kind a word. Perhaps this house needs a bit more work than usual. It’s not quite a dream. It probably has a good chance to become a real nightmare, but once upon a time it had been lovely and if I squinted really hard I’m sure it could be again.

No doors – front or back

The entry way to a home creates an indelible impression. Some invite you in, encourage you to linger. Others send you screaming in the other direction. This one’s front door was cladded over at some point and hid lovely colored glass. The door is completely missing, but it should have been dimpled colored glass too. What a waste! And the back entrance … better not to speak of where that went.

Sagging floors

Walking though the house was somewhat akin to the sensation of sailing. The floor dipped and swayed. We stumbled in all directions because the stumps it rested on had subsided. You could actually see how bad the floor dropped away at the corners. Even my eight year old noticed his trip through was somewhat of an adventure.

Termites in the Walls

The bugs have really done a number on this old house. Despite the possibilities I had to wonder if the damage was so bad that the house might fall down upon us. I did hope not – especially when my whole family was standing in the middle. The inner walls could be replaced, its true, and an attempt made to keep the features of this 1940’s era style. But to make this house livable we would need to strip it, replace some (ok a LOT) of timbers before attempting to restore its original style. It would be a mammoth job. Neither my husband nor I are experienced renovators. I might be a dab hand with a sander, paint stripper, and beeswax. I can even paint and not be embarrassed by the finish. But with regret we decided that with all the obvious needs and hidden surprises lying in wait for us, it was just too big a project.

So can you see how a renovation of this magnitude might relate to writing?

If you had a story, one you loved but had been battered by the elements (contests & agent rejections) would you be prepared to undertake major repairs to fix the problems? Would you try to renovate pieces or would you simply open a new file and start from scratch?

I would love to hear your opinion on this.

Monday, July 12, 2010

London Part Deux!

I'm back today with more photos from my trip to London. We have about 600, so I'll be posting pics every other Monday for a while! Hope you enjoy today's selection!

Big Ben!

Westminster Cathedral, of course!

I forget what his is called, but it's near Trafalgar Square :)

Inside Harrod's!

Harrod's memorial for Princess Diana and Dodi

The outside of Harrod's

An old pub in Marylebone

These plaques are all over London!

The starting point for our Mayfair tour

A street in Mayfair

See you next time!
-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Friday, July 9, 2010

Guest Blogger: Victoria Gray

Calling the Cavalry!

Call in the cavalry! My new release, Destiny, features a cavalry officer tasked with a most unusual mission. When I plotted the story, I needed a hero capable of undertaking an unorthodox assignment – he had to be able to think on his feet, possess reconnaissance ability, know his way around a variety of weapons, and he had to be a skilled horseman. It seemed only natural to make my hero a cavalry officer.

A common image of nineteenth century warfare is that of soldiers charging into war on horseback, hooves pounding, sabers at the ready. This is the legacy of the cavalry. The U.S. Cavalry was a branch of Army service known for their skill as horsemen and soldiers. Cavalry soldiers played many important roles in warfare throughout this country’s history. During the Civil War, cavalry officers on both sides of the conflict assumed key roles on and off the battlefield.

In earlier conflicts, cavalry soldiers were used for offensive actions. Massive cavalry charges were used to overwhelm infantry formations. As weapons became more accurate at longer ranges, the effectiveness of cavalry charges diminished. A horse and rider were easy targets for rifles accurate to 300 yards or more. The cavalry’s role in offensive actions shifted from cavalry against infantry offenses to the type of cavalry against cavalry action seen during the first Battle of Bull Run.

Cavalry soldiers were often tasked with defensive actions to delay offensive attacks and to carry out long-distance raids. Famed Confederate cavalry officer J. E .B. Stuart’s raids against the Union Army of the Potomac in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign and the Maryland Campaign brought him renown in the South, while Union General Benjamin Grierson’s long-range raid in Mississippi offered strategic support to Grant’s army in Vicksburg.

During the Civil War, cavalry soldiers assumed a key role in reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance. With their mobility and speed, the cavalry served as the eyes and ears of Union and Confederate generals. They were also utilized to raid enemy lines of communication, supply storehouses, railroads, and to conduct guerilla warfare.

Destiny’s hero, Major Jack Travis, is a cavalry officer tasked with an extremely unusual mission: protect the runaway daughter of a Northern senator by beating her would-be abductors to the punch. Jack Travis is an expert horseman, a crack shot, and an experienced raider who’s none too happy about his new roles: captor and bodyguard. He should be in the field, not stealing a runaway bride from a train to keep her out of the hands of her father’s enemies. The by-the-book officer finds his captive is anything but the plain, mousy woman he’d been told to expect. Emma Davenport is beautiful, intelligent, feisty – and forbidden. He’ll risk his neck to protect her, but how can he protect her from himself?

The real-life soldiers of the United States Cavalry were my inspiration for Destinys hero and his partner, Steve Dunham – who finds his own heart on the line in the sequel to Destiny, Angel in My Arms, due to be released in November by The Wild Rose Press. Cavalry officers fought valiantly, provided crucial intelligence, and were often viewed as a first line of defense against opposing forces…all of this, while exposed to enemy fire on horseback. These brave men were real American heroes, regardless of whether they wore blue or gray.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tackling Titles

Coming up with titles for my works-in-progress can drive me insane.

I try not to obsess over it. After all, if I someday manage to find a publisher for a particular manuscript, I'm sure that they will have a role to play in deciding what the finished product will actually be called. What I called it likely won't matter in the grand scheme of things.

But I have to call it something. For me, it goes beyond that even. I need to have a working title in order to really get a sense of what my story is going to be about, to settle on the tone and how it will eventually play out. Just slapping any old name on it won't do. It has to have some meaning, even if the meaning only comes across to me.

Like many others out there, I have my own ideas of what makes a good title, too. It should be catchy, memorable. It should relate in a meaningful way to the plot or the characters, or preferably, to both the plot and the characters. It should be fairly short and sweet. Rhyming is good, but difficult to attain without making it sound hokey. Alliteration is good, but not always possible.

One thing that sticks with me from the titles I tend to remember? Short and sweet. Usually, the fewer words, the better, particularly if those words are highly evocative. Think about your favorite movie, television, and book titles, the ones that have never left you. How many of them are longer than four or five words? Probably not many.

Titles that stand out to me?

The Green Mile
To Kill a Mockingbird
Pride and Prejudice (note the alliteration)
The Silence of the Lambs
A Time to Kill
Sense and Sensibility (again, alliteration--gotta love Jane Austen for that)

If you'll note, not one of those titles is longer than five words. And the only one that is as long as five words has three throwaway words: the, of, and the. So really, there are only two words with any meaning in that title.

Sometimes, a longer title can be memorable, though it is much rarer. The Harry Potter series all have long titles, but they all stay with you. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But then again, they are all easy to shorten to simply the second half of the title, and someone will still know what you're talking about. Another longer title I've recently run across and can't seem to get out of my head is Sarah MacLean's Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. Why does it work? For me, it is the rhyming that makes it memorable. Without the rhyme, it would be gone from my memory in no time.

What titles stand out to you? And do you know what it is about them that makes them memorable? Do you have a trick for coming up with titles?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Caution: Baker at Work

All things baking seem to be the rage among my small group of confidants these days. One of my critique partners is taking a brave step into one of my favorite genres, chick-lit. And may I go on record as saying I love chick-lit. To me, it’s not a four-letter word. Bring it on.

My friend’s foray into the contemporary is about a baker with a special gift, that of matchmaking. I can’t wait to read the whole story. So far, it is delicious. Another of my critique partners is writing a story about a baker in regency England, and it is so funny and delightful.

As it happens, the author, Erin Kelly, is an excellent baker in real life. I met her in Chicago this April at the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling. She won me over with a margarita cupcake, packaged so perfectly, and a dance move that had me rolling. No, she didn’t dance when she handed me the little piece of melt-in-my-mouth sunshine. That came later. Maybe after a real margarita. The details are hazy.

Erin Kelly has one of the best blogs called “Have Your Cake and Read it Too”. If you haven’t read it, you must to check out her blog.
She is hilarious and as a bonus, she shares her fantastic recipes each week. Well, I’m assuming they are fantastic, as long as I’m not the baker.

I think I am possibly one of the worst bakers on earth. I’m at least the most inattentive. On a regular basis, I ruin a pan of crescent rolls, the kind that comes in a tube. My kids wouldn’t recognize the things without a black bottom and a hard outer shell that could crack a tooth. (I’m not joking. My daughter lost her front tooth this week while biting into a crescent roll!)

So, I knew it was risky for me to bake a cake for the Fourth of July. But I ignored my past failings and set out to make a cake for an Independence Day celebration with friends later that afternoon. I placed all the ingredients on the counter and asked my daughter if she’d like to help, figuring it would be a great bonding opportunity. I also thought I’d make it low fat by substituting applesauce for the oil, two egg whites per egg and a tablespoon of flour for good measure.

I have to say those pictures on the back of the box are misleading, especially when you aren’t wearing your glasses. I swear it looked like the mix called for a cup of oil. Of course, I realize now how ridiculous it would be to make a cake with a cup of oil, but I was a little distracted at the time by the batter-shower my daughter and I managed to create with the electric mixer. So, I put in 2/3rds too much liquid. Oops. Okay. That’s fine. I added another tablespoon of flour to offset the runniness, I hoped.

I popped the concoction in the oven, set the timer then settled in to write for a bit. After a time, I began to smell the cake, like maybe it was borderline burning, but that couldn’t be given the timer hadn’t gone off yet. Still, I went to check. Holy cow! The timer had gone off and I hadn’t heard it. The good news is the cake didn’t burn, and miracle of miracles, it firmed up well. After it cooled, I happily iced it with Cool-Whip, recalling I had blueberries and strawberries in the refrigerator. I could make an American flag! Brilliant. How hard could it be? I see them all the time in magazines.

Well… I put the blueberries on then started adding sliced strawberries. I paused. I squinted to see if perhaps it might look more like a flag if I served it after dark. Um, afraid not. I thought, “My cake looks like something a 4-H kid would make to earn a badge,” or whatever it is that they earn. But then I realized that was probably very unfair to pin on a 4-H kid because they are amazing. They can raise a farm animal from infancy, like a pig, name it Bacon and sell it without blinking an eye. These kids would not be in a tizzy over a cake.

So I decided I’d blame my 7 year old. Just as I make up my mind to point the finger her direction, my daughter walks into the kitchen, curls her lip and says, “Ew! You put all the fruits on it that I hate.” Drat. She wasn’t going to take credit for the monstrosity. In the end, I scraped off all the fruit, frosted it again and then smashed the icing with aluminum foil in transit. Egads. I think if I ever wrote a book about a baker, it would be a post-apocalyptic tale.

What is your worst kitchen disaster? And please don't tell me you've never had one or I can't show my face in Orlando.

Erin Kelly's blog http://www.haveyourcakeandreadittoo.blogspot.com/.
As promised in the comments... The USS Yule Log

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Focus, Focus, Focus

That is what I keep telling myself. I think I have AADD (Author Attention Deficit Disorder) and not sure what to do about it. I know writers who can focus on one WIP from beginning to end. Even when they have another story brewing in their mind, they are able to keep it at bay until the first one is complete.

Not me. I am working on a sequel to one story requiring additional research (which I love to do). I need to do a final edit on another book. I also have a trilogy that has been written but needs a lot of work. In truth, it wouldn’t take all that long to make the revisions, send it through my critique group and then I will have something else to submit. And, that is not all. Ever since I began participating in the Paris in July on my own blog, I want to go back to working on my French Revolution Series. Then, this weekend I was distracted from that focus when I put together the blog for the 4th of July. Now I want to go back to my very first story.

Uuugggghhhh (yes, I am pulling my hair out).

On top of it all, there are books stacking up begging to be read. I have gone so far as to begin listening to books on CD while in the car. It helps save time, but I have found myself sitting, with the car running, until I get to a good stopping point in the story. As for the print versions, I would like to put a huge dent in these before the end of July because no doubt I will be bringing back several more from the RWA National Conference in Orlando.

Oh, and speaking of further focus issues. If you are attending the RWA Conference, have you read through all of the workshop opportunities? Oh my goodness, there are some slots where there are sometimes three workshops I can’t decide between. I will change my mind several times before I get to Orlando and if it is anything like past years, my decision will be made right before the session starts.

Whether it be your work desk, home chores, vacation planning, deciding on what WIP to work on, deciding which workshops to go to, which book to read next, do you suffer from ____ (fill in the blank) ADD? If so, what do you do? Do you go without sleep to accomplish everything you want to be doing? Do you have a sure fire way of prioritizing or do you just give up and sit and read blogs all day? Or, do you hop between projects, never quite getting any of them completed.

Also, will you be attending the Romance Writers of America Conference in Orlando? If so, let us know so we can watch of your name. If we don’t see you, but you see one of us, let us know. I would love to put some faces to the names of those who have commented on LadyScribes, and I am sure Lydia, Clarissa, Samantha, and Jerrica feel the same. Have you gone through the workshop offerings and made your decisions. Is there one or two being offered that you don’t want to miss no matter what?

I would love some assistance, thoughts or suggestions on how to control my AADD. If you haven’t noticed, not even this blog stayed focused on one topic.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

No, I don’t have my calendar mixed up. July 5th is Independence Day in at least three countries: Algeria, Cape Verde, and Venezuela. Since I just returned from Algeria, I thought this would be a good time to blog on the Algerian War for Independence.

Many Americans know about this war from Gillo Pontecorvo's film, The Battle of Algiers. But if you really want to understand it, the best place to visit is Maqam El-Chahid, or the Monument to the Martyrs in Algiers. The museum underneath the monument is filled with artifacts from the occupation and the war.

Unfortunately, cameras aren’t allowed in the museum. I will try to offer a brief description of what is found inside.

The first section of the museum covers Franco-Algerian relations before the French invasion. This is where you find information on pashas and pirates. But the most interesting piece in this section is a seemingly harmless feather fan. In 1830, the Dey of Algiers slapped the French ambassador with it for not paying a debt. That was all the justification the French needed. On July 5, 1830, they invaded the country.

Over one-third of the Algerian population was killed during the French conquest, which took forty years. (1830-1870). The museum has a room devoted to popular Algerian heroes who resisted the invasion, like the Emir Abdelkader, for example. And there are several exhibits concerning the mistreatment of Algerians during colonial period.

The rest of the displays are what you would expect to find in a museum of this sort. There is the November 1st Proclamation, similar to our Declaration of Independence. There are examples of every tool of torture and terror employed during the period, including a bright, shiny guillotine.

But foremost in my memory is a darkened room with a life-size replica of the barriers at the Algerian-Tunisian border during the war. A scene from the classic Algerian film, Patrouille a l'Est, plays, and you watch in horror as the protagonists are electrocuted, caught in barbed wired, and blown to bits by hidden land mines. Some of those mines are still in place, killing and maiming people even fifty years later.

In the heart of the monument, there is a sanctuary, where perpetual prayers are offered for those who died in the war. An eternal flame burns in their memory.

Although there are no documented numbers, historians estimate that approximately a million people died in the eight year War for Independence (1954-1962.)

Finally, under the direction of President Charles de Gaulle, referendums were held in both France and Algeria to approve the Evian Accords, which would make Algeria an independent state. Both electorates overwhelmingly approved the treaty. Algeria became independent on July 5th, 1962, ending exactly 132 years of French occupation.

Many Americans have told me that they never heard of Algeria until the United States played against them in the World Cup in June. But in France, the Algerian War is still as sensitive a topic as the Vietnam War is in the United States.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Were you aware of this war before reading this blog, and if so, what were your impressions?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

St. Eustatius and the Revolution

I know, it is the 4th of July, an American holiday, yet I have decided to post about this small, Caribbean island. There will be several blog articles posted throughout the internet today regarding our American holiday and may reference Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hancock, Franklin, Valley Forge, Betsy Ross, The Declaration of Independence, all the freedoms we have, . . . I could go on and on. And, it is important to remember those who fought to make our country free. Yet, this could not have been accomplished without assistance of a few foreign governments, which brings me to St. Eustatius, affectionately known as Statia.

I knew nothing about this island until I began research for my very first novel. It was an historical romance which took place during the American Revolution. It is also collecting dust at the back of my hard drive and in storage. Did I mention this was my first novel, 200,000 words long and it would be easier to rewrite it than fix all the numerous newbie errors? But, I digress. When I first came across the island of St. Eustatius I had to stop and pause. I don’t remember this being referenced in any of my history lessons. Of course, I could have been sick that day, but I am pretty sure it never made it into lesson plans. Thus, the digging began, and became the home of my heroine, and the hero, a privateer, but that is another story entirely. This blog isn’t about the molding manuscript but about what I learned through research.

Statia was a rich island with storehouses upon storehouses of goods being shipped in and out on a daily bases, from all parts of the globe. The First Salute by Barbara W. Tuchman states that “Geography favored Statia with a splendid roadstead that could shelter 200 ships at a time and an invaluable position at the center of a multinational cluster of territories—English (Jamaica, St. Kitts, Antigua and Barbados), French (Ste. Lucie, Martinique and Guadeloupe), Spanish (Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the divided between Haiti and Santo Domingo), and Danish (Virgin Islands). . . these nations, as well as British merchants of the area who were actually sharing in the trade with the enemy, made Statia’s shores the principal depot for transshipment of goods to and from America. . . The American Colonies sent rich cargoes of their products – tobacco, indigo, timber, horses—to exchange for naval and military supplies and for molasses, sugar, . . . Vessels loaded with 1,000 to 4,000 pounds of gunpowder per ship, and in one case a total of 49,000 pounds, made their way to Philadelphia and Charleston. . . . To the rebels with empty muskets, St. Eustatius made the difference.”

Statia could have remained overlooked by England had it not been for the Navigation Acts which required that all American imports/exports either be sold in England or bought from England. If you know anything about history, this did not set well with the Colonies. And, St. Eustatius became a thorn in the side of England because they refused to enforce the British navigation laws. The Golden Rock by Ronald Hurst describes it as "At the height of its fame in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century. . . was the richest trading centre of the Caribbean: hence it became know too as ‘The Golden Rock’”. Owned by the Dutch and a prosperous free port.

Britain was unhappy as was Holland. Though they did not want to be caught up in the middle of the war, Statia was also aware of how susceptible they were. It is a very small island, with only a fort to defend them and they knew if the British decided to invade, they would not stand a chance.

It was bad enough they shipped cargo to America but Statia added further insult on November 16, 1776. As the American brig-of-war. Andrew Doria, came around the island it dipped its colours to the fort, the commander, who did not recognize the flag, returned the customary 9 gun salute. Thus, the American flag was recognized for the very first time by a foreign country

Less than a week following the salute, on November 21,1776, the Baltimore Hero, a privateer not yet part of the Continental Navy, captured the British-owned cargo ship, the May, three miles off the coast of St. Eustatius after it sailed out of St. Kitts. The capture took place within site of both islands and, some insist, within range of St. Eustatius guns with no action taken. It further outraged Britain when Statia allowed the ship to return to the island afterwards.

Following these events, Statia did initiate a decree prohibiting the exportation of war material in an effort to placate the British government. However, it did not stop merchant ships and it was through Statia that guns, munitions and other necessary goods were smuggled to America. I have also read that Benjamin Franklin sent his letters to France through the ports of Statia because he knew they would not fall into the hands of the British.

There was much complaining by the British to the Netherlands, yet very little changed. Tuchman states in The First Salute: “In the thirteen months of 1778-79, according to the careful records of the Dutch admiral in command of convoys for merchant vessels, 3,182 vessels sailed from the island, amounting to the astonishing figure of seven or eight a day. One vessel, stopped and searched by the British, was found to be carrying 1,750 barrels of gunpowder and 750 stands of arms, complete with bayonets and cartridge cases in egregious violation of contraband. Supplies like these sustained the almost empty American war cupboards. In the same year, the Americans shipped to St. Eustatius 12,000 hogshead of tobacco and 1.5 million ounces of indigo in exchange for naval supplies.”

I am not saying Statia took these actions because of their strong desire to help America. However, I have read they were sympathetic to the colonies. But, they were also an island that became very rich off of the merchants and profited from the war. On the other hand, they also took a great risk in angering Britain with their action. In a letter Sir Joseph Yorke wrote to a colleague he stated, “. . . the Americans would have had to abandon their revolution if they had not been aided by Dutch greed.”

Unfortunately, it all came to a head. On December 20, 1780, Britain declared war on the Netherlands and on February 3, 1781, the British surrounded the island and the governor surrendered.

More rich history about St. Eustatius and how they assisted America during the revolution can be found in the three books shown in this blog.

I am curious. Am I the only one who missed the history lesson about St. Eustatius or was this news to you as well?

Have a safe and happy 4th of July.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cool and Easy Summer Sandwiches

I first tried these delicious Tunisian sandwiches nearly thirty years ago when I was an impoverished student in Paris. We often ate near the Gare de Montparnasse, in a modest immigrant neighborhood filled with cheap hotels, sandwich shops, and bakeries. These sandwiches have remained a staple in our home, an essential part of every picnic and a favorite on days when it's too hot to cook.

Tunisian Tuna Sandwiches


2 cans tuna, drained
1 green pepper sliced into strips
1 onion, sliced into strips
1 tomato, sliced into strips
1 can pitted black olives
1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Crusty bread like a French baguette or Ciabatta loaf
harissa (a kind of hot sauce)--optional

Mix all of the vegetables together with the tuna in a large bowl. In a small glass, mix the olive oil and lemon juice with the salt and pepper. Stir well and then pour over the vegetables. This will make a tuna salad which can stand on its own or be used to fill the sandwiches.

To make the sandwiches: Slice the crusty bread in half. (Don't use typical American square bread. This is a very juicy filling and your sandwich will become mush if you do.) If you like, spread harissa one side of the loaf. Fill the middle of the loaf with the tuna and vegetable mixture. Slice the stuffed loaf into individual portions. Enjoy!

I would love to hear your thoughts on these sandwiches. Have you ever had them before and do you like them? Please let me know if you want me to post the recipes for any other North African specialties here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guest Blogger: Mary Lawrence

Our guest today is Golden Heart finalist Mary Lawrence. Mary's manuscript, In Longfellow's Keep, finaled in the Historical Category.

A Wise Man’s Words…

Every writer has a favorite quote or two posted by their desk or committed to memory. These aphorisms may speak to specific shortcomings we, as writers, hope to overcome, or maybe they spur us on when all we really want to do is take a nap.

I have two specifically thumb-tacked to a corkboard next to an image of Henry Longfellow and a postcard of a painting by John Alexander. I feel a little ‘ju ju’ having Henry looking over my shoulder as I work. But the postcard painting is of a woman stretched across a Victorian couch, her silk gown draped luxuriously and spilling onto the floor. She is oblivious to the world and certainly to the artist painting her. What holds her rapt interest is a book.

“What I want to feel,” said Somerset Maugham, “is that it’s not a story that I am reading, but a life I am living.”

Not only does this describe my own response to ‘a good read’, but it inspires me to write so that my reader is transported to a magical world of total immersion in a book. To me, it is a gift when I experience that from a writer. Stories influence my mood, my attitudes, my happiness. If I read an author, then he or she had better leave me feeling satisfied. Otherwise, I feel cheated, even cuckolded having wasted the time and effort.

So it is with great sincerity that I try to give that experience to my reader.

Of course, there is no accounting for taste, and even when I believe I have achieved the sublime, there is always an editor to tell me otherwise. So my second quote spurs me on in the battle to find audience, ( i.e. getting published). “If you are going through hell,” said Winston Churchill. “Keep going.”

‘nuff said.

-Mary Lawrence