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Research and Literary License

  • I started my first novel, To Tame a Rogue Heart, in high school. At the time, it was a slapdash of everything I liked in the romantic fiction I devoured on a regular basis. Written by a teenager with no experience with men or sex, That version lacked cohesion, although my best friend read it as fast as she could. Keep in mind, this took place before the internet. We actually mailed pages back and forth during summer vacations.
    When I picked it up, years later and began to write again, it evolved into an entirely different story. I had grown older, more experienced, in both good and bad ways, and that experience reflects in the story. My friend had moved away and we no longer spoke on a regular basis, but when we did, the book always came up. I texted her to let her know I had begun to work on it again and received an answering text with too many exclamation marks to count.
    I knew what I wanted the story to say, although sometimes my characters deviated from my plans, with mostly good results. I also knew I couldn’t just write what I wanted. History always fascinated me; I’m somewhat of a purist in that respect. I wanted the story to remain as true to history as possible, while telling the story I wanted as well. Something called literary license comes into play at this point.
    The book is a work of fiction, the characters only creations of my imagination, although historical precedents exist for many of these characters. Females sailed as pirates, for example, the most well known Anne Bonny and Mary Read. I use historical figures as fictitious characters, to serve the story. For example, my research provides no evidence King Charles I ever had an illegitimate child. However, my story needed this child, so, ta-da, literary license.
    The places in the story existed, somewhat like I have portrayed them, although I may have played fast and loose with some of the dates. Historians have well-documented the pirate ports of Tortuga and Port Royal. If anything, I played down the violence and debauchery that took place there for the sake of the romance. Also, for the same reason, I made a distinction between ‘pirates’ and ‘buccaneers’, although in reality, no one in the colonial era considered them any different.
    In case any reader would like to pursue further research, I have compiled this list of resources I used. While not an all-inclusive list by any means, I found these books to be some of the most readable.
    On pirates and buccaneers:
    The Buccaneers of America by John Esquemeling
    Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly
    On weapons:
    European and American Arms by Claude Blair
    On the trial and death of King Charles I:
    A Coffin for King Charles by C.V. Wedgwood
    On the plantation of Ireland and subsequent rebellions:
    The Twilight Lords by Richard Berleth
    On superstitions:
    The Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering
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The Reality of Alpha Males

A good book should make the reader think. I’m not saying we should only read highbrow literary fiction, or only write books with deep philosophical arguments on the nature of good and evil, although if you can fit that into your romantic fiction, good on you. I think there should be something more than just mindless entertainment, something that makes the reader remember the book later and think about it.
I want to talk about the takeaway I got from a book I recently read. I won’t mention the title or the author’s name, because I honestly don’t remember either. It was one of the free books on Amazon, an Alpha Male/Billionaire romance. Before I go any farther, just let me say I’m not picking on any sub-genre. If you like to read that genre, enjoy; if you write it, carry on. I have nothing against billionaires, and the alpha male between the sheets is not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re into that!
In the case of this particular book, or rather, books, it was the first two of a trilogy, I didn’t leave a review, because I couldn’t find a single good thing to say about it. In order of least heinous offence to worst, here are my thoughts.
The entire book begged for an editor, or even for spell-check and grammar-check to be turned on. Run on sentences, bad grammar, and non-existent punctuation were everywhere. It was difficult to read, but I persevered, thinking I would find some redeeming quality I could write in a review. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
It had laughable plot holes, some big enough to drive a truck through, and the main characters were forgettable to say the least. The female protagonist may have been great in the sack, but she had the backbone of a jellyfish and the intelligence of an earthworm.
Then there was the sex. Actually, it was nearly all sex. I have no problem with sex, I write detailed sex scenes in my books, but this was above and beyond anything I’d ever seen. Although it started out hot, it quickly became repetitious. I really don’t need a play by play of every lick, touch, bite, thrust, arch and suck every time! By the end, I was thinking, ‘Enough already,” and skipping the sex altogether.
However, none of this was my main problem with this book. It was free, I didn’t have any money invested, and not a lot of time either, so what did I care? I care because of the message the entire book sent.
Nearly every action of the male protagonist is a red flag of an extremely unhealthy relationship, and crosses over into stalking behavior on more than one occasion. He puts a tracking app on her phone when they’ve only known each other a week or so, and she’s okay with this! I know we are talking about fiction, but all I could think was ‘Really?’. He has her followed, dresses her the way he wants her, goes into a jealous rage when she literally speaks to another man. While he exhibits no violence toward her, all the time I’m thinking that, eventually, he will. He grabs certain of her body parts and makes her say that each of them belongs to him. His justification for these actions are lines like (my paraphrasing), ‘I knew we were meant for each other when we met’, ‘I love you do much I want you all to myself’. And, at least according to this author, this is romance!
I consider romantic fiction to be a form of fantasy, not so much a mirror of the real world, but more of what we would like it to be. I can’t imagine that any woman actually wants to be treated like this. Again, I’m not bashing the sub-genre, or people who read or write it. It’s not my thing, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I know these tropes appear in most of the Alpha Male romances I’ve read, but I can’t help but ask myself several questions concerning them. Is this actually what some women want? Is this some weird backlash against feminism? Is this actually a female author, or a seriously disturbed male pretending to be a female? Most important, considering that I started reading romance at around fourteen years old, is this what we want young women to think romance is?

Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady

Here I am, sitting at my computer with a cup of coffee, not bothering a soul, when suddenly there’s a clawing at my chair followed shortly by claws sinking into my shoulder. I look to my left, straight into the inquisitive gold eyes of a black cat. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’re familiar with Fergus’ antics; if not, allow me to introduce you to my precious baby, and the bane of my existence.

Fergus Sith is a seven-month-old black cat that I let my sister talk me into taking. No, he’s not named after the Sith in Star Wars but rather an Irish spirit. It’s also spelled Sidhe, and pronounced shee, but, hey, I am a geek! He is rotten, the most mischievous feline I’ve ever encountered, and there have been several. I actually tallied up all the cats I’ve owned, and, wait for it: Fergus is number thirteen!

If the stories my family tell are to be believed, I have always been a crazy cat lady. I don’t remember it, but my mom used to tell about the cat I had when I was about three. According to her, I had a big ginger tom that I carried around all the time. I would pick it up under my arm, brace my and on my hip, and off I would go with the cat’s front and back legs dragging the ground. Keep in mind that this was no neutered, pampered house pet. He was an outside cat with chewed up ears and battle scars. He must have been the best natured cat on the planet to endure that kind of treatment!

I do remember when she gave my cat to one of her friends. I’m not sure if it was the same cat or another one, but I do recall throwing a screaming, kicking temper tantrum as only a pissed off four-ish year-old can. I learned later that the cat got out of whatever container they had put him in and ran amuck. He scratched Mom’s friend up, nearly caused her to crash her truck, and bailed the instant she opened the door. Ha! Serves her right for taking a little kid’s cat!

But I digress. The point of this post isn’t to crow about Karma, although it’s a nice addition. Soon after I got married and moved out on my own, I got two kittens. One was a ginger, who unfortunately only lived a few days. The other was a grey and white female. I named her Psycho, and she more than lived up to the name! That cat would literally bounce off the walls for no reason. Next came Chinny, with the big green eyes, who I rescued from some friends who loved to drop acid, and share with the cat! True story. Cleo, my first black cat rounded out the trio.20190126_093522_2

After my husband and I divorced, Chinny was the only one left, and she went back to Mom’s with me. She soon decided that the grass was greener at the neighbor’s house and abandoned me. I was catless!

After I moved in with the man who would eventually become my husband, I began to adopt every stray that wandered by. I put out cat food on the back porch, and anything that stayed more than a week was claimed as mine. There were lots of tom’s looking for a free meal. I was banned from putting out cat food after my boyfriend discovered I had been inadvertently feeding a skunk for a month! I swear I didn’t know. After that, I had to actually see the cat before I was allowed to feed it.

I discovered a momma cat and three kittens on the back porch one day. Finally, I had my very own cat again. I found homes for two of the kittens and momma left, but I kept a ginger that I named Dumpling. I still thought cats should be indoor/outdoor, and Dumpling paid the price. He was run over in the road. I was devastated, and vowed to 1-never get another cat, and 2-keep it in the house if I did.

Two months later, I went to my nephew’s birthday party and came home with a barely weaned black kitten. I only had less than a mile to drive between my sister’s house and mine, but he got out of the box. Flashback to Mom’s friend taking my cat. I caught him before he caused a crash, but he bit my finger hard enough to draw blood. That should have been my first clue!

I named him Evel, because of his propensity for leaping, as a tiny kitten, long distances. He came into my house, decided he owned the place, and proceeded to take over. A ten-pound cat (when grown) he had the personality of an angry pit bull. If you wanted to pet him, you had to let him smell your hand like you would a dog. His favorite toy was a milk ring, and he would play fetch with it for hours. He bit, and was generally hateful. He became the love of my life. Nearly everyone else hated him.20190126_093500_2

Ally came to live with us after the death of her owner, a dear friend of ours. She was the exact opposite of Evel. Solid white with the sweetest personality, they were my yin and yang cats. She and Evel were like an old married couple. He would pester her unmercifully, and she would take it. Up to a point. When she got tired of his shenanigans, she would just smack him good and walk away. He would then proceed to terrorize the dog and leave her alone. Unfortunately, Ally was an old cat when she came to us, and was with us three years before she passed in her sleep. I buried her in the flowerbed and planted a pink peony on her grave.

A couple of years passed before Tizmerelda came to us. She was my mom’s cat, a fat, black and white tuxedo cat with a calm demeanor. Tiz was happy just lying in a sunny spot, and hiding under the bed when anyone came to visit. She mostly ignored Evel, although she did manage to take his spot next to me in the bed.

When, at the age of seventeen, Evel had to be put down, I was devastated. I cried for twenty-four hours solid. My sister took us to the vet’s office, and I even made her cry, and she hated that cat. My house felt empty. I still had Spot, the dog, and Tiz, but she kept to herself and didn’t fill the hole left by my little monster.

That was four years ago. Last summer, my sister started sending me pictures of a little black kitten her cat had given birth to. Yes, same sister that gave me Evel; no, I don’t learn. Maybe it was time; Tiz was going downhill, and I couldn’t imagine being catless.20180909_144954_2

Enter Fergus. It’ll be fine, I thought. I’ve had kittens before, I thought. No big deal. HA! I have never met a cat quite like Fergus! He is into everything. His favorite things are biting, toy mice, biting the dog, water bottle lids, biting me, and admiring himself in the bathroom mirror. Did I mention biting? His one goal in life, besides biting, is to clear off every flat surface in my house. The result of this is having half my furniture edged in double-sided tape. I hope he will outgrow some of his less desirable traits, like wrestling with the dog at 3 a.m., he is only seven months old, but I’m not holding my breath on that.

Two weeks ago, Tiz crossed the rainbow bridge to be with Mom. She was around eighteen years old, and had a good life. I miss her calmness, since Fergus has none. Even as I write this, he’s attacking something in the bathroom. I’m afraid to even look!

So there you have it, confessions of a crazy cat lady. In my personal opinion, one has to have more than three cats to actually qualify, but I know a lot of people who will disagree. Now, if you read my books, you will understand why there are cats in nearly all of them. Because doesn’t everyone need cats? I think so!

Winter Dreams

I had another post to go here, but it’s so bloody cold, I decided to post some pictures of warmer days and call it good! I’m not a winter person! I want to play in the dirt, plant things in it, and watch them grow. While I understand that the tulips need cold to bloom, I long for the taste of a sun-warmed tomato!

Or cucumber. Or green beans!

I want to walk in the woods and take pictures of trees and rocks, of forgotten cemeteries, and falling-down houses.

I know I can do this in the winter, but the thought of bundling up against the cold makes me tired!

And flowers! I can’t wait for the peonies to bloom! I watch anxiously every spring for the show they put on. Since I have nearly thirty of them in my yard, it’s pretty spectacular!

The iris, the globethistle, the foxglove, shoot up and unfurl their petals in a stunning show of color, and the bees come out to feast!

And my friends, the praying mantis, make their appearance.

Sigh! But this is still months away, so I’ll just wait for the seed catalogs to arrive, and dream my winter dreams. I do this, knowing that in the height of summer, when there isn’t enough time to do all the canning and freezing of produce from my garden, I’ll long for frost!

I’m Back!

First of all, I want to apologize for not doing a blog for so long. At this point, I’m a little rusty, so this won’t be a very wordy post. We all have to start (again) somewhere.

It’s been a rough year. In May, I found out I was losing my job. It wasn’t a great job, or one that I particularly liked, but it was something I knew. It’s kind of scary to suddenly have your life turned upside down like that.

In June, I slipped a disc in my back that was pressing on the sciatic nerve. I’ve never had pain like that! I couldn’t sit or bend, so I walked continuously. Mostly, I walked laps around my yard and watched the weeds I couldn’t pull grow bigger than my flowers and vegetables. It was misery.

Two weeks after the slipped disc, I was unemployed. I’m sure the stress didn’t help. Since I couldn’t sit, I tried putting my laptop on a box. I quickly found out that I couldn’t stand in one place for very long, so the writing ground to a halt. Every part of my life suffered. No writing, no gardening, no housework (sigh). I did have two wonderful friends who drove for an hour to help me pick beans and can them. That was an adventure in and of itself, but I think they enjoyed it.20180817_111621.jpg

By the end of July, I had a new job, one that involved lifting. I took so much OTC pain medicine that I rattled when I walked, but I managed. The job isn’t easy, but it pays good, has good benefits, and I walk all the time. I made new friends, and got reacquainted with some old ones there.

It wasn’t all bad. Labor Day weekend was the annual trip to Atlanta for Dragoncon. The ride down was rough, but we included a stop in Helen, Georgia that was interesting. Con was great! I cosplayed Wonder Woman in a long blue dress with a sword down my back. Not the most comfortable thing to walk around in, but compared to the pain in my leg, it was nothing.FB_IMG_1535778048991~2.jpg

I acquired a new kitten named Fergus, who is a minion of Satan and terrorizes everything in his path — the dog, the husband, lots of toy mice and myself included. I had an injection in my back and physical therapy, and am back to, say, 85 percent. It’s a vast improvement! I got a new grandson in December, a beautiful boy named Samuel, who is the greatest thing on the planet, of course.20180909_133045~2.jpg

Christmas was good, except for the part where my husband bought me the air fryer he wanted! He redeemed himself with the new wedding set to wear to work. Of course, the only reason I was looking at wedding rings in the first place was because he lost his, but it worked out for both of us. I got to spend time with the kids, grandkids, and friends. Besides the aforementioned gifts from the husband, I got lots of flamingo stuff, a delightful book about historic poisonings, and some really cool earrings.

Looking back as I write this, it wasn’t a bad year, just painful and unproductive. Hopefully, that is about to change. I will give a word of warning about future blog posts. Since I have what my youngest niece calls ADOLS (Attention Deficit Oh Look Squirrel!) my interests vary from week to week. I have several projects in the works, including but not limited to a romantic suspense novel (or three) and a photograph book about old barns and houses in my home county. Blog posts will contain things about these and anything else that pops into my head.

It should be an interesting year. Enjoy the ride!

Enduring Love

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! As a romance novelist, the joys of new love are my bread and butter. That first moment when their eyes meet, the first breathless, heart-pounding kiss, the first amazing sexual encounter. And let’s not forget the happily ever after ending.
If only! I hate to have to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as happily ever after. The chemicals in your brain go back to normal, and you lose that feeling of being a giddy teenager with a sugar rush. The new love feeling wears off, and you’re left with this person that you’re still getting to know, who is not the perfect mate you may have thought they were. They may still have all the endearing traits that you fell in love with, but they also have habits that get on your nerves, and vice versa. Sometime around this stage, you either walk away or buckle down for the long haul.
A new relationship is a new pair of red shoes with four-inch stiletto heels. They feel good walking around in the store, they make your legs look sexy as hell, but only time will tell if they’re going to hurt you.
An old relationship love is the pair of boots you’ve had for years. Low-heeled and slightly scuffed, they’re molded to your feet. You can wear them all day in comfort, and they are still a pair of hot boots.
This is enduring love. It is not worse than new love, nor is it better. It is just different. As a veteran of a twenty-five-year relationship, I feel I can make this comparison. After living together for twenty-two years, my (now) husband and I decided we would be better off financially if we were married. Not very romantic, I know. Sorry. We had a small wedding on the courthouse lawn, and at the end, the magistrate said “You can kiss your bride.” My new husband looked at me with slightly misty eyes, whispered, “I love you”, and kissed me. Boom! Red high heels again!
That’s the beauty of enduring love. The day to day grind may wear on the relationship, numbing you to the fact that you have this wonderful person in your life. It’s comfortable and sometimes taken for granted, fading into the back ground like the furniture. But in the midst of this, your eyes meet across the room, and suddenly the chemicals go into overdrive. The sparks fly between you, and its new love all over again. These moments are what make it all worthwhile.
It’s not perfect, and it’s not easy, but, to me, at least, it’s worth it. Enduring love requires commitment and stubbornness. There have been arguments, or down right fights, but afterward, there’s the joy of making up. There have been good times, and horrible times, but through it all, we both know that the other has our backs. We also know that with a look, a touch, the flames will spring back to life, and make it feel like new.
I know it’s not always this way. Some people are just not meant to be together. If you’re lucky, these relationships will die a quick, natural death. If you’re not lucky, well, that’s a whole different story, and not one for Valentine’s Day.
This is what happens after “The End” of the romance novel. I’m convinced that my characters will fight and love and ignore each other at some point in their lives. Daily life will wear on them, but the fire will still be there, banked but still alive, waiting to burst into flames. They will endure.
With luck, so will all of us.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

The Story of a Tree

IMGP9532 (3)One of my hikes around the county with my camera inspired this story. I took a photo of a tree for my friend, Merianne, who likes “interesting trees with a story behind them”. Although not a particularly good picture, she liked it, and it spoke to something inside of me. Connie, the friend who showed me the house, mentioned in passing that the former residents held ice cream socials there. The rest grew from my imagination, and a desire to give the tree, and my friends, a story.

A little tree was planted in the yard of a big house, a long time ago. It was coddled and petted at first, because it was traumatized by having been dug up from where it had sprouted from a seed and moved here. It was carefully watered and staked against the winds that would blow it over. Time passed, and autumn came. The little tree’s leaves turned brown and fell off, and were blown away by the wind. Winter arrived, with the snow and cold, and the little tree slept, but its roots were growing, stronger and deeper, taking water and food from the ground around it.
In the spring, the world, and the little tree woke up, and everything turned green. The new grass grew, and the flowers bloomed, and the little tree put out new leaves, more than it had last year. At the big house, a new bride was carried, smiling, over the threshold. Soon, at least by the way trees reckon time, a new baby was born. This baby was followed by others, and before many years had passed, the big house rang with the laughter of children.
All the time, the little tree grew bigger. Its branches grew longer, and thickened, and spread shade over its part of the yard. The children played under it — little boys with toy soldiers, and little girls with their dolls. A swing was hung on one of the tree’s branches, and the children played there for hours on end. Men came with saws and trimmed the trees branches, but it was winter and the tree slept, and by the time it woke in the spring, its wounds were healed and it put out new growth and cast shade again.
There were parties held beneath the tree’s canopy — ice cream socials and Sunday dinners. The children grew up, and courted under its branches. A wedding was held there, and another, and the children were gone. No one played under the tree, and the swing hung empty. But before too long, there were other children, babies on blankets one summer, and toddlers on the grass the next. Soon the swing was in use again and the children were big enough to climb into the trees branches.
Then, one crisp autumn morning as the tree was preparing for its winter sleep, wails of grief split the air. The man who had once carried his bride into the house was carried out, feet first. He was followed by his bride, now bent with age and sorrow, supported by her adult children. As was customary in times of mourning, the neighbors brought food to the family. The picnic set under the tree was subdued, the children shushed when they became loud.
Soon after, one of the younger families moved into the house with the old woman. The tree slept as the children played in the snow around it. Even nature seemed to be mourning the man who had died. The snow turned to ice and the family’s vehicles couldn’t make it to the house. This arrangement of families only lasted until summer. The house was old, outdated, and hard to heat; the family wanted something newer. Men came with trucks and moved the family’s possessions out, and the tree passed the summer in the silence of the empty yard.
For a few years, someone came to cut the grass, but eventually that stopped. No one trimmed the trees’ branches and, one by one, they sickened and died, falling unheeded to the ground. The branch that held the swing fell and ropes, swing and branch lay rotting in the high grass. The wind tore off part of the roof, and the elements had their way with the house. One day, a great splintering sound was heard, and the back of the house caved in, leaving a gaping hole where there had once been a bustling kitchen.
So it stands today, the front a testimony to the grandeur it once possessed, the back a ruin, open to the elements. The tree stands in a weed-choked yard, fallen branches littering the ground beneath it, but still reaching for the sky.

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