Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Law Is a Ass: Women's History and the Law @LyndiLamont

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”

The quote above is generally attributed to Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, published serially 1837-39, per Bartleby though Dickens may have copied it from a 17th century play, Revenge for Honour by George Chapman. (See http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-law-is-an-ass.html) Whatever the origin of the phrase, it makes a fair point. (The word ass, of course, refers to a donkey.)

Nineteenth-century women were likely to agree with Mr. Bumble, when one considers the treatment of women under the laws of the period. I covered a bit of this during my recent talk on Herstory at Orange County RWA in August, though women weren't the only people treated badly by the law. The nineteenth century saw a number of reform movements, from abolitionism to the fight for women's suffrage. The latter was kicked off in July 19–20, 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The first two resolutions passed at the convention concern legal matters:

Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and of no validity; for this is "superior in obligation to any other.

Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.

It wasn't just that women weren't allowed to vote, though that was a primary focus for reform. For several centuries, a legal practice called coverture was in place in England and the U.S. whereby a woman gave up all rights when she married. Her husband controlled any money or property she brought to the union. Single women, including widows, could own property and enter into contracts without male approval. Thanks to suffragist activism, laws were passed abolishing this practice in the late 19th century.

Current law is confusing enough, but when you're writing historical romance, the law can be a veritable minefield of potential blunders. Research your time period and location if legal matters play a part in your plot. What kind of legal system was in place at the time? English common law, the Napoleonic Code, church canonical law? In the U.S., laws vary from state to state, but that isn't always the case in other countries.

British laws were enforced throughout England and Wales, but didn't necessarily apply to Scotland. For instance, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the age of consent for marriage was substantially lower in Scotland than the one-and-twenty years required in England, encouraging couples without parental approval to elope across the border. The Gretna Green marriage is common plot device in Regency romances. The 1753 Marriage Act was also the first law to require a formal ceremony. It also required weddings to take place in the morning, hence the wedding breakfast to follow.

Getting out of a marriage was even more difficult. Prior to the mid-19th century when judicial divorce was authorized, it was extremely difficult if not impossible to get a divorce in Britain. In Regency times, one had to petition Parliament for a divorce. Can you imagine having to ask Congress to agree to let someone divorce? Yikes! Even then it was more like a legal separation than a true divorce. Annulments weren’t necessarily easy to obtain either. A law permitting judicial divorce, the Matrimonial Causes Act, finally passed in 1857.

More information on marriage and divorce laws can be found at these sites:

A Brief History of Marriage: Marriage Laws and Women's Financial Independence by
Karen Offen

Kelly Hager, “Chipping Away at Coverture: The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857"

Linda McLaughlin

Monday, September 15, 2014

10 Things NEVER TO DO When Writing


10. Stop Reading:  After a long day of reading your own work it the last thing you want to do is pick up someone else’s but do it! You will stay motivated. I learn something new with each book I read.

9. Rely on Inspiration: Don't waste a day waiting for inspiration. Sit down, get to work, and inspiration will come calling.

8. Neglect Genre: It’s tempting to want to walk in between genres. What would be better than a science fiction, erotic, mystery right? But remember, if you want to find passionate and engaged readers, you have to find the genre that you most want to write and stick with it.

7. Get Bored: If you’re bored, chances are your readers will be to.  If you find yourself becoming bored, or your main character is skating through the plot with ease, throw some roadblocks in the way. Conflict moves stories.

6. Rely on Pretty People: Men don't always have to be fearless and women don't always have to be sexy. Your readers will spend a lot of time with your characters so make sure there is something going on in their heads and their hearts. Readers love characters for their imperfections and shortcomings just as much as their looks.

5. Lose the Through Line: Remember who's story you’re writing and what the point is.  Veer off the path and you lose your readers.

4. Be Afraid to Cut, Cut, Cut: Cut close to the bone. Make the tough choices and take out the things you really love. They may be great but only if they move the story forward.

3. Throw in the Towel: Too many people have half finished books, or books without an ending floating around on their hard drives. The easiest thing in the world is starting a book. The hardest thing is finishing one.

2. Let your Characters Off Easy: Just because you love your characters doesn’t mean you have to go easy on them. Let them struggle and sometimes fail. Anything that you put in your characters' gives the readers greater insight into their lives. Give them a goal to work towards, make it hard to get and you can’t go wrong.

1. Beat Yourself Up: The book isn’t shaping up the way you want it to? Someone read a chapter and didn’t care for it? Feel like jumping off a cliff? No worries. Those days happen, but remember that every day that you’re thinking, “woe is me,” is another day that you could be finishing a chapter or polishing a plot point. You can spend your time beating yourself up or beating your characters up. I do a lot of the former but am trying to stop.

Happy writing.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fifty Shades of Underwear by Jina Bacarr

Unless you're living on a different planet and even if you are, you've probably seen the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer...


Seems we'll have to wait until Valentine's Day 2015 to see everything the film has to offer. Till then, I've written some "Fifty Shades" poems to go along with super sexy pix from www.Dreamstime.com

Today's topic: undies

Fifty Shades of Underwear

by Jina Bacarr
Your mama told you once upon a day
Wear clean underwear when you’re away

So you shopped the sales for navy, black, and red
In no granny panties would this girl be caught dead

Pink, persimmon, peach panties are oh so fun
But what really counts is bringing it down to one

For the hot color in undies across the land
Is not sizzling red or desert sand 

But a lovely shade of dominant grey
To show off your butt and take his breath away...


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Learn to Self-Publish Your Book This Month - and Have It On Sale Next Month!

Just a quick reminder that I'll be teaching "Your How-to Guide to Self-Publishing" starting on Monday, September 15, 2014. That's this upcoming Monday!

It's a 4-week online course that will help you take your completed manuscript, and format it and upload it so it's finally for sale. Yay you! Someone asked, if your manuscript is not quite complete, can you take the class anyway and use a test version to go through the steps so you know what to do when you're ready? Yes, you can!

The class will consist of written lectures with step-by-step instructions for getting your book ready, as well as videos showing you what to do. You may have already read dozens of blogs and books about how this person or that person created their self-published book, so you already know there is more than one way to go about this. I will show you how I do it and, as a class, we'll all help each other as each person chooses their own tools (software, distributors, etc.).

For only $30 ($20 for OCC members), this class is a great deal! And half of the proceeds go to support the Orange County Chapter of RWA. Tell your friends and sign up today!

Have questions? Email me at Kitty at KittyBucholtz dot com. I hope to see you in class!

Kitty Bucholtz decided to combine her undergraduate degree in business, her years of experience in accounting and finance, and her graduate degree in creative writing to become a writer-turned-independent-publisher. Her novels, Little Miss Lovesick and Unexpected Superhero, and the free short story, "Superhero in Disguise," are now available at most online retail sites. Superhero in the Making will be released this year.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Oh, Internet! Wherefore art thou!

By Jann Audiss w/a Jann Ryan

Ok, I admit it—I have a love-hate relationship with cable companies and their internet service. What is worse is to realize how really dependent we are on technology. Recently my internet and cable TV went down. Boom. Nothing. Thinking it was just a hiccup, I did my usual routine: unplug the power, count to 10, plug it in again. When that didn’t work, I fixed an ice tea, had a snack to fortify myself, made sure my e-reader was handy and settled in for the adventure of calling my cable company. I have found from past experience to be prepared.

Just before reaching through my phone to strangle the automated attendant (if that were only possible), I was connected to a sweet individual, who I believed was in Texas. After giving her every bit of information about me except for my current weight, we got to the reason for my call. NO SERVICE. To back track just a bit, I did notice a service truck parked outside my home from the cable company, and it had me wondering – coincidence?? Anyway, the nice lady on the phone checked my line from their remote location, found nothing wrong, and set an appointment between 8:00 AM and 12:00 PM for the next day, stating that someone over the age of 18 had to be home. I assured her I was over 18.

I figured, OK we could can live for a day with no service. We have cell phones and the family could watch DVDs. Remember that truck? Just for the heck of it, my sister walked around the corner to check with the service repairman at the main station box to see if by chance he was working on the line. He grunted and brushed her off and told her he was working on the tract of homes across the street. So we all settled in to wait for the appointment the next day.

By 2:00 PM the next day, I once again started on the road to OZ to find out when the technician was going to arrive for my “early morning” appointment. Forty minutes later, I spoke to another wonderful and informative customer service agent; only to find out she didn’t know anything and couldn’t reach anyone to find out. I asked for a supervisor. Now this guy was good. He could talk in circles better than most. By the end of our conversation, I finally got him to admit that he also didn’t know anything. However, I was promised someone would be out the next day.

My son, home for the week, searched our DVD library and started a movie marathon. Not being connected to the outside world by TV or Internet felt weird, like being on an island in the middle of the ocean. On day 4, I had watched or listened to all the Die Hard movies, Transformers, The Mummy Trilogy, and we had started on Star Wars. I became friends with most of the people in the Texas office, and told them to be sure to call if they were ever in Anaheim so we could get together to catch up on the family.

Finally on day 5, Frank Your Helpful Cable Guy arrived in the late afternoon. The connection running from the street to the house was fine and my interior wiring was good to go. We told him the story about the cable guy who had been working on the main utility box the day my service went out, and he told us that was the next place he was going to check. Well, you guessed it. The “new technician” who had been working on the box 5 days ago disconnected my line by mistake. Don’t you just love it? Why couldn’t that idiot have taken the time to check my line when my sister told him we just lost our cable connection?

Needless to say, we were back up and running that evening, which was a good thing. I didn’t want to follow the RITA ceremony at the RWA National Conference on Twitter from my cell phone.

Monday, August 18, 2014

10 Bits of Writing Advice from J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien by Jenny Hansen

What if J.R.R. Tolkien had never written his books? What if there had been no Hobbits and no Gandalf, no Legolas or Frodo? The world of story would be an entirely different place.

Our stories matter. They really do.

10 Tips from the “Master of Middle Earth”:

1. Vanity is useless. Truly, Tokien wrote his books to please himself and answer the writer inside him. He expected them to go “into the waste-paper basket” after they left his desk, not live on in popular culture. I'm not saying we don't need to learn good story craft however, if you entertain yourself, at least you know one person that enjoyed the hell out of your book.

2. Keep writing, even through adversity. It took the man SEVEN years to write The Hobbit. He balanced a demanding day job, illness, and worry for his son who was away in the Royal Navy. I'm reminded of Laura Drake, her brick wall, and her 400+ rejections.

3. Listen to critics you trust. When his editor said, “Make it better,” he didn't throw the advice away. He read and re-read, and he tried his best. He credits listening to knowledgeable feedback, and working to make it better, for what he considered the best scene in the Lord of the Rings: “the confrontation between Gandalf and his rival wizard, Saruman, in the ravaged city of Isengard.” Oh, and the editor he listened to? C.S. Lewis, the creator of the Chronicles of Narnia.

4. Let your interests drive your writing. Tolkien's original interest was in languages. He took that and created new languages, and then an entire culture, around it. Our own contributor, Kathryn Craft, was a dancer, choreographer, and dance critic. She tapped all that experience to write The Art of Falling, exploring themes of love, dance, friendship, and distorted body image. that passion and truth will resonate with readers.

5. Poetry can lead to great prose. When he could not express his thoughts in the prose he wished for, he wrote much of it in verse. Authors as diverse as Charlotte Brontë and Langston Hughes started in poetry before moving to longer mediums. Next time you get stuck, you might try Tolkien's trick of writing your scene as a poem first.

J.R.R. Tolkien6. Happy accidents. No matter how much you plan, happy accidents occur on the pages of every book. Jennifer Crusie calls it “the girls in the basement,” saying they hand her up treasures as she writes. Others might call it “the muse.” One more kick in the pants from my criitique partner, Laura Drake: If you don’t put your butt in the chair and do the work, you won’t have any “happy accidents.”

7. Dreams give us inspiration. All of us have dreams so strong, they push us to the page. But what about literal dreams? Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers did a great post called How to Mine Your Dreams for Story Gold. When Tolkien dreamed of drowning, he channeled the experience into motifs and prose for his stories. His "letters" describe how that drowning dream morphed into the drowning feeling of Mordor’s invasion of Middle Earth and the drowning of Isengard.

8. Real people make great characters. Tolkien drew on real people to populate Middle Earth. You can draw on people you know for your stories as well. Real people do amazing things, both big and small, and rarely do they recognize themselves on the page. It’s a win-win for authors.

9. You may be the next bestselling author. Tolkien did not expect the acclaim he received from his first book, The Hobbit. He felt like it was a happy accident. Here are fourteen bestselling books that were repeatedly rejected by publishers. You won't know until you send it out. Perhaps your cross-dressing unicorn superheroes will be the next phenomenon. (Yes, I made that up.)

10. Books you write may seem trite. We can’t see our own work. A scene we find melodramatic, the reader might find moving. Tolkien believed that if you learn some craft and pour your heart and imagination onto the page that the work will resonate. I believe that too.

Note: Here's a link to Tolkien's work in its entirety. The aforementioned infographic summarized material from a wonderful post by Roger Colby at Writing Is Hard Work, outlining his research on writing advice shared by the Lord of the Rings author in the book, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works. When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

photo credit: kugel via photopin cc

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Morality and Honor: Social Mores in Historical Romance

I was overly ambitious while writing my talk for last Saturday's OCC/RWA meeting on Herstory: Writing and Researching the Historical Novel, so I'm going to excerpt some of the material I had to admit in my monthly blog post. This month, social mores.

One of the biggest traps historical novelists can fall into is writing historical characters with 21st century mores. And nothing can make the reader want to throw a book across the room quicker. This especially applies to women. The double standard still exists, but it was much greater in previous centuries.

War and social unrest have always upset the normal patterns of life, and social mores tend to fall by the wayside during such periods. Still, a historical female character who shows no regard for her reputation isn’t believable unless she’s already a fallen woman and has no reputation to lose. Personally, I don’t necessarily mind a heroine who flaunts society’s rules; I just need to believe that she knows what she is doing and is well motivated in her choices. The woman who doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions strains credibility. Women had a lot more to lose in the not-so-good old days. It's especially tricky when you have a virginal heroine. People in those days set great store in virginity. But if we're going to write sensual or erotic historical romance, we need to find a way for our heroines to bypass those restrictions.

Though the concepts may seem rather passé nowadays, honor and integrity were more important in the past, esp. for men of the upper classes. One of my favorite scenes in Downton Abbey is the one where the Earl of Grantham tries to buy off chauffeur Tom Branson if he will leave Sybil alone. Tom refuses and informs the earl that men in his class aren’t the only ones with honor. Point, Tom!

However, morality did tend to vary by class. Upper and middle-class children were taught their manners and the difference between right and wrong while poor kids just tried to survive. In his children’s novel, The Shakespeare Stealer, Gary Blackwood introduces us to Widge, an orphan boy apprenticed to a dishonest clergyman. Dr. Bright teaches Widge a form of shorthand he has developed and then sends the boy to write down other vicar’s sermons. One Sunday, Widge hears Bright deliver one of the sermons he’d copied. At first, Widge doesn’t think too much about it. As he puts it, "As nearly as I could tell, Right was what benefited you, and anything which did you harm was Wrong.”

In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the basis for My Fair Lady, Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, talks about the undeserving poor and opines on “dreadful” middle class morality.

Morality and honor sometimes require our characters to act against their own best interests, which can be great for conflict.

So how do you know what the social mores of your period were? And how likely were they to be ignored?

 See what was going on in the period. As I said, social mores often go out the window in wartime. And history being somewhat cyclical, periods of repression are usually followed by periods of licentiousness, like the English Restoration, a bawdy reaction to the moral restrictions of the preceding Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell.

Also consider the prevailing religion of the time and location of your book. That will often provide guidance. Moral standards in Puritan New England and Cavalier Virginia during the Colonial period, were quite different.

 Look for etiquette books for the social niceties. For the Regency period, check out The Mirror of the Graces by A Lady of Distinction, first published in 1811. I have a paperback copy, but it's available in e-book format format. Google etiquette and your period and you will likely find a lot of choices.

For those who missed the August meeting, I've added pages at the Reference Shelf on blog with two of my handouts. Primogeniture still to come.

British Titles: A Brief and Incomplete Guide

Source Books for Historical Writers: A Partial List

 Feel free to leave questions and comments below.

Linda McLaughlin / Lyndi Lamont