Archive | July 2015

Throwback Thursday: Birth Control? Not So Much

books-768426_640It’s really hard being a historical writer. We work for hours, sometimes years, learning as much as we can about the period we are writing in – from speech, to food, to dress, to religion, and on and on. Even then, there is always someone who knows more than you and things trip you up. When they are pointed out you cringe and make a vow to not do THAT again.

One of the easier things to get, however, are the social mores and constraints. These, in my opinion, are biggies. If you get a word inserted that’s not of the time period, or you do not perhaps call an article of clothing by its right name, only a few people will notice.

Get a social more or code wrong, and you’ve upended the entire story. You no longer have historical fiction, but some sort of new hybrid of fiction that forgets the basic underpinnings of how society worked in that particular time period.

Or so  one would think. Apparently, a lot of people are not paying attention to social customs prior to the birth control pill. I am left shaking my head in wonderment at such a major faux pas.

First, a little history is in order. (This is, after all, Throwback Thursday.) The birth control pill was first approved for contraceptive use in the United States in 1960 by the FDA, but the first pills were not available to married women in the US until 1965 after the case Griswold v. Connecticut. Interestingly, they were not available to unmarried women in all states until after Eisenstadt v Baird in 1972.  Now in widespread use, along with other methods that have come along, it is the norm for women (and men) to manage the size of their families and have sex whenever they like (along with a number of other options) without the consequence of having children.

This was NOT the case before 1972.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

Now, invariably someone will point out that women had ways of controlling their families, and that is true. There have traditionally been herbs (Queen Anne’s Lace, yam’s root to name a few), as well as herbal concoctions that could “bring on a woman’s courses.” There were also other methods, but due to the graphic nature of their description, I will not mention those here. All I will say is that “there is nothing new under the sun,” and many of those are forerunners of birth control methods used today.

The problem with all of these early methods of control was the fact they were not reliable. (Actually, today’s methods are not totally reliable either.) As for the herbs, they had to be used fairly quickly. By the time a woman knew she was pregnant, generally six weeks to two months, perhaps even longer, it was too late for them to work. But they were available, and generally speaking, everyone knew of their use. (People in the past were much more versed than us in “herbal”  medicines. It was, after all, all they had.) They were not, however, in widespread use, and men and women did not rely on them to prevent pregnancy as couples rely on birth control methods today.

And now you are probably scratching your head and asking – what does birth control have to do with historical fiction?

Historical fiction is defined as anything occurring before 1945 or so, with some now placing the 1950s in this category and others not. That means that all historical fiction should be taking into account the fact that women could become pregnant. Lately, I seem to read historical fiction (unless it is Christian/Inspirational) with women having sex at will with no thought given to a possible pregnancy. They never drink an herb to “bring on their courses.” They never fret about the idea a baby might have been conceived. They never worry about their reputation should they have an “unwanted” pregnancy.

I just want to shake my head, and lately I feel like screaming. The fact of the matter is, the idea of an unwanted pregnancy was a huge deterrent to having sex outside of wedlock in the past. And men and women, especially those unmarried, worried about a pregnancy. In fact, often times that threat alone kept any number of couples from falling into temptation. If couples did succumb, generally they were “courting,” which is fairly close to having agreed to a marriage.

Men, and especially women, did not sleep with multiple partners throughout their teen years or over a lifetime as many are in the habit of doing today. It just was not done, and the threat of pregnancy was the biggest reason. If a woman did, she was considered “loose,” and the threat of pregnancy was ever present in her mind.

I would like to think that people are just ignorant about such matters and give it little thought. Unfortunately, I think it is the opposite. Authors are shoving the idea of unwanted pregnancies to the side in favor of stories that are more modern and sensual in order to keep readers engaged in their books. That’s fine, and those books sell, but I am not certain those works do not then become historical romance and not historical fiction, or even some subcategory that omits certain historical aspects that could change the plotting of the story.

After all, smut does sell. Unfortunately.

And here’s another tidbit I will close with. If the threat of pregnancy did not deter a man from sleeping with a woman, her father and brothers sure did. They were always waiting in the wings to avenge the lost virtue of their sister.

That’s a historical fact as well.

 

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Thornless Thursday: Kristen Heitzmann

Books are like rorose-764267_640ses. They are oftentimes pretty on the outside, but those thorns (graphic sex scenes)  can be larger or smaller to a greater or lesser degree. Once your thumb (or mind) is punctured, you have only two choices –  finish reading and pass over those parts, or quit reading (and it if it a good book that is hard to do.)

Thornless Thursday spotlights authors that write deep, riveting novels without the sex. Be assured, if you pick up one of these authors, you will not have to worry about graphic sex. You might, however, be in for a beautiful rose and a fabulous read!

 

This month’s author spotlight is on one of my all-time favorites – Kristen Heitzmann. I discovered Heitzmann while on a quest to find new authors since I have read through all my old standbys. I credit this gal with getting me into reading again, and, in a roundabout way, infusing me once again with my childhood dream of writing my own books.

Heitzmann, needless to say, was one of those authors that got me reading once again.

Heitzmann writes gritty Christian/Inspirational Fiction, and for those readers looking for clean fiction (meaning no graphic sex), Heitzmann has enough in publication to keep you busy for a while. While her books are considered Christian, she does not come across preachy in her plotting. Her characters are flawed. They make real mistakes. The heroes are not always heroic, and the heroines are not always nice. You will, however, find beautiful prose (writing) that few authors can match, fast paced plotting, lots of drama, and romance that is steamy but clean.

Heitzmann has published four stand-alone novels and four series. Of the series, two are historical fiction, and her current series is a psychological thriller. She is just about one of the most versatile Christian authors available today.  You can read about each of her novels and her series on her website found here.

Heitzmann has won numerous awards, including two Christy finalists for The Tender Vine and Indivisible, and Christy awards for Secrets and The Breath of Dawn.

A few words of advice on her books, from my lips to ears.

Do not start with Rocky Mountain Legacy. This was the first series Heitzmann published, and while good, it is not her best work. Save these for later.

The Diamond of the Rocky Series will keep you reading to the end. I literally stirred pasta and read. Do not start unless you have time to read. The Michelli Family Series is a spin off of a later generation of the characters in The Diamond of the Rocky Series. While a stand alone series, it will read better if you read Diamond of the Rockies first and The Michelli Family Series second.

Her latest series, The Redford Series, is dark and psychological. It is quite a departure from her other work, and it has not been as well received due to the subject matter. If you like gritty, raw novels, then you will enjoy these. If you are sensitive to the darker elements of human nature, then you might not enjoy these as well. Indomitable is the upcoming 3rd book of this series.

All of her stand-alones are fabulous, and the Spencer Family Series is another must read, especially The Breath of Dawn, the 3rd in the series. (Her website actually has the books in the reverse order.)

Kristen teaches writing workshops and is a speaker at conferences. She lives in Colorado and is a former homeschooling mother and is active in her local church.

Feel free to explore this wonderful author with the following links:

 

Main Author Website 

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

 

Unnecessary Words Part One: Redundancy

When I finished my first novel, Keeping Secrets, it came in at a whopping 180,000 words.

Of course, that was way way way too long. It was time for a crash course in editing and revising.

One of the first things I realized while in the throes of trying to cut down words, was that I was being redundant.

Redundancy, for those needing a formal definition, means “not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous” or “word or data able to be omitted without loss of meaning or function.”

In a nutshell, I had fallen into the habit of stating the same idea twice. I am now noticing, in emerging, newbie authors, the same issue in regards to redundancy.  And again, getting rid of redundancy will professionalize your writing quickly.

The problem with redundancy, of course, is two fold. First, it over words a novel, and second, in doing so, it slows the reading down for the reader. A lot of  authors, especially newbies, have trouble getting word count higher (NOT my problem, obviously) and they never really look at ways to tighten their prose. The fact of the matter is, however, that word count should be increased by more intricate plotting, not by adding unnecessary words.

Tip#1 – Being redundant in a rough draft is not always bad.

Now granted, in my rough draft, I pay little attention to redundancy. After all, I am trying to get the words, feelings, and impressions of the scene from my head to the paper. Actually, being redundant in the rough draft is oftentimes advantageous. I have several options of words and phrasings to choose from as I revise and edit.

So in a rough draft, do not worry about it.

Tip #2 – Do not repeat ideas or clarify words.

This is the heart of redundancy.

Here is an example of a sentence before I edited it for Binding Fire:

David walked between two wingback chairs to the fireplace. He turned to see Annie collapse into one of the chairs. She winced, not bothering to mask the pain in her face.

Now, as it reads in my book without the part underlined:

David walked between two wingback chairs to the fireplace. He turned to see Annie collapse into one of them. She winced.

I have underlined the revisions from the first sentence to the second. For the chairs, the word them is more appropriate.

As for the second sentence, David is watching Annie sit and sees her wince. If someone winces, they are obviously in pain, and if he had seen her wince she is obviously not masking it. It is unnecessary to tell the reader she did not bother to do so.

Here is another example from Binding Fire.

Actually, it mattered not the relationship between the two of them, he simply needed answers to his questions. And for some reason, he knew Claire Holman would tell him straight and true.

Now, with the revisions:

Actually, it mattered not the relationship between the two, he simply needed answers. And for some reason, he knew Claire Holman would tell him true.

Of them is not necessary. The sentence reads fine with the word two as the ending. Answers implies questions need to be asked, so again, those are words that can be left out. Finally, straight and true are essentially the same. One word is more than enough to help the reader understand she is going to tell David the truth of the matter.

For newbies – go back to your week and look for redundant phrasing that can be minimized or left out altogether. For the rest of us, its back to the jaw of the dragon to edit those works once again.

 

 

Toolbox Tuesday: Breaking up is Hard to Do

 

They say that breaking up is hard to do
Now I know, I know that it’s true

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One of the biggest ways to confuse and lose readers is to chunk too much dialogue together. Short, pithy sentences from characters, as well as the chance for other characters to respond, keeps the reader engaged and not confused.

TIP FOR TODAY: Break up dialogue into small chunks, volleying issues between the characters one bite at a time.

The follow is an example from Breaking Promises, rewritten of course.To set the stage, Annie had just fallen off a horse because she could not get David’s attention to help her off.

“What does that have to do with you falling off?”

“I did not fall off. I jumped. And when I did, I landed in a heap and she laughed.”

“What?” The fire licked up his spine. “Why did you jump? And why did you not ask for help?”

“I wanted off. And I did ask. Three times.” She held up three fingers. “And I might have waited a bit longer if she had not kicked the kitten. ‘Tis mean she is. And spiteful.”

She stood.

This, of course, is not bad, but it can be improved.

By the time David asks why she has jumped, Annie has already given another statement about the incident, so that the dialogue does not flow naturally from one issue to the next. When David asks two questions, why did she jump and why did she want off, she answers them in the next sentence. The reader, however, is forced to slow down and reread which answer refers to which question.

While in real life people oftentimes jump in their conversations, its best not to do so in fiction. (Actually, sometimes, its best not to do so in real life, either. Just ask my husband or my children.)

Now, the same passage as it reads in Breaking Promises.

“What does that have to do with you falling off?”

“I did not fall off. I jumped.”

“What?” The fire licked up his spine.

“And when I did I landed in a heap and she laughed!”

“Why did you jump?”

“I wanted off.”

“Why did you not ask for help?”

“I did. Three times.” She held up three fingers. “And I might have waited a bit longer if she had not kicked the kitten. ‘Tis mean she is. And spiteful.”

She stood.

This, as you cacouplearguingn see, is short and pithy, with the conversation volleying between them one question at a time. No drag exists and the reader easily reads from the beginning to the end. While there is a small jump in conversation before David reacts with his question as to why Annie jumped, the thought process is natural and not forced.

While the first writing was alright, this second raises the bar as far as dialogue and keeps the reader engaged.

And as I have said before, you do NOT want your reader to lose interest.

For all you newbies, take a moment to look back at your dialogue and see if you can break it up into smaller chunks to read quicker. For the rest of us, having now had a reminder, it’s back to the dragon of editing once again.

 

 

 

 

Top pic courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com. Bottom courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

Toolbox Tuesday: Stage Directions

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances . . .

William Shakespeare

 

Last week we discussed tags and how best to use them. This week, we are going to look at the best use of what most authors call “stage directions.” Stage directions are those things that show what the character is doing during a conversation with another character.

Tip #1: Use stage directions to show your characters doing something.

None of us stand around and just talk. Either we are doing something (which is what this tip is about) or things are going on around us (which is what tip #3 is about).

One of the fastest ways to bore readers is to have long sections of conversation with the characters doing nothing at all. Even if your character is loading a dishwasher, chopping wood, or shuffling papers on the desk because that darn contract just has to be found, they should be doing something. If the action is tied to one of the conflicts in the story, then all the better, but more on that in a moment (again – tip #3).

The exception to tip #1, of course, is a particularly important conversation which is so fraught with conflict the character would truly be doing nothing because they are focusing all their energies on the conflict or a decision which needs to be made. This, however, should not be happening in every scene.

Tip #2: Use stage directions sparingly.

Like tags, stage directions have their place. They can, however, become annoying. When used excessively they clog the flow of the story and pull the reader out. And, like I have said before, pulling the reader out of the story is NOT what you want to do.

Tip #3: Make stage directions about conflict and/or emotion.

The best stage directions are those that add to the conflict and/or show emotion

Even in real life, people do not sit around and talk while staring at each other in a catatonic, paralyzed state. A pencil is wagging. A child is screaming somewhere. The mower is going next door. These small stressers are external. They heighten the conflict of the scene, but other than frustration, they add little else.

The best stage directions are those that pose external and internal conflict, although this is not possible in every scene.

Perhaps the person tapping the pencil is your character’s boss, and he/she always does this before firing an employee, and without the job said character cannot pay for the cancer treatments for her dog. Or perhaps the crying child has the colic, and the mother thought the new medicine was working and she has not slept in three nights and she simply cannot call in sick today or she will lose her job. As for the mower, it reminds your character of the low hum of a helicopter that flew over their head in the Gulf War just before a land mine exploded, taking their best friend.

The first stresses are external conflict added to dialogue. Up the ante and twist them into an emotion tied directly to the conflict in the story and the characters external/internal goals or personal foibles and you have sucked the reader into the story on a deeper level.

Now, for two examples of stage directions.

The first is a scene from Keeping Secrets that has no stage directions at all, although there are snatches of “thoughts” by Annie.

“You sure have been quiet today,” Katie said.

“I feel bad for David. He was afraid his Pa would remarry.”

A wicked grin broke across her sister’s face.  “I think he doesn’t want our parents to marry because he wants to marry you someday.”

“For crying out loud, Sister, he’s too young to get married.”

“Gran said she knew at twelve she wanted to marry Poppy,” Katie said.

And Mama, Annie remembered, said she had been friends with Amon since they were children.

“That does not mean David wants to marry me, and I certainly do not want to marry him.”

“And I think,” Katie yelled after her, “that neither you nor Mama know what you want!”

The above is boring. It is only conversation, and there is no movement in the story. Despite the obvious annoyance Annie has at her sister, and the inner conflict over David which has been set up in previous scenes, this scene stagnates.

Now, the sames scene with a few well placed stage directions:

Annie slipped to the chicken coop on her right and reached into the straw filled cubes, pulling out half a dozen brown and cream colored eggs and putting them in her basket.  basketeggs

“You sure have been quiet today,” Katie said.

“I feel bad for David.” She walked to the coop on the left and peeked inside. Sure enough, a white hen they called Grumpy was sitting on a nest. Annie left her alone and turned back to her sister. “He was afraid his Pa would remarry.”

A wicked grin broke across her sister’s face.  “I think he doesn’t want our parents to marry because he wants to marry you someday.”

“For crying out loud, Sister, he’s too young to get married.”

Satisfied with the amount of eggs, Annie left the lean-to and headed toward the house. Katie followed.

“Gran said she knew at twelve she wanted to marry Poppy,” Katie said.

And Mama, Annie remembered, said she had been friends with Amon since they were children.

“That does not mean David wants to marry me, and I certainly do not want to marry him.” She stalked past her sister, wishing she could sling the basket of eggs right into her face.

“And I think,” Katie yelled after her, “that neither you nor Mama know what you want!”

The stage directions clearly show Annie with a task that is appropriate to the historical fiction genre of the book. She is busy, but still talking to Katie. The conversation flows and the stage directions do not disrupt the flow of the story. The hen named “Grumpy” mirrors Annie’s frustration and mood and her internal conflict over how she feels about David and her desire she would rather leave the matter alone.  Additionally, her  desire to “sling the basket of eggs” into her sister’s face shows the external conflict with her sister.

Again, for newbies, or aspiring authors, go back to your manuscript and take a look at all your dialogue scenes. Can you create more conflict by adding stage directions? Do you have too many? Can you twist them to mirror the external or internal conflicts of her characters?

For the rest of us, its back to the editing dragon once again.

 

Throwback Thursday: Suing in Colonial America

books-608984_640I really am a nerd.

I stopped at the library this past week to make sure I got two books that I had on hold in case I had time to peruse them over the weekend. Here’s the nerdy part:

They were both on colonial law, and one would have barely fit in my kitchen sink.

The librarian looked at me, looked at the book, looked at me again and said “Do you need more than two weeks with these?”

I laughed.

I am delving into law in 18th century Virginia for Binding Fire.  I am finding out some interesting things.

For example, did you know that even if you did commit a crime, unless the aggrieved wished to prosecute, you might go free? That’s right. It took money to take people to court, and the plaintiff had to pay the costs. This was everything from the confinement of the prison to the jurors, if that route was chosen. (That’s right – a jury triala was a choice. It was not an automatic right.)

The defendant could also request a jury trial, but few individuals did so. Not only were they not likely to be able to afford it, but most people believed they would get a fairer hearing from a magistrate.

These days, our court system is pretty well defined. We are entitled to legal representation if we are accused of a crime. We are entitled to a trial by a jury of our peers, and the jurors are chosen from a pool with both sides agreeing to those that are seated. Things were not so cut and dried in the 18th century.

In colonial America, if you were accused of a crime, you were generally expected to represent yourself. A defendant having a lawyer was a very odd thing to say the least, and lawyers were still distrusted as a whole. By the mid-18th century their reputation was on the upswing, but their high fees made hiring one prohibitive for the average colonial citizen.

Jurors were not chosen, they were more or less rounded up by the sheriff and were “required” to appear for court day. To not appear could result in a fine, but the individuals were paid for their duty. If someone did not appear, the sheriff was required to find someone immediately and press them into jury service. A lawyer could request someone be unseated, but since lawyers were few and far between, that rarely happened.

Oh, and only white males who owned property (meaning land or housing) served. Women, Negroes, indentured servants, and poor whites did not.

Last but not least, some individuals could plead “benefit of clergy” at the eleventh hour even if they were facing a conviction. By some, I mean those that could read.

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Benefit of clergy originated in England in the Middle Ages and carried over to the colonies from English Common Law. It had been transformed and adjusted a number times (originally it was for clergy but later extended to those who could read), and by the mid-18th century had become more of a loophole for the rich and a few intelligent individuals. The jest of the law was that if an individual could read then their sentence was lessened from a capital punishment (usually death by hanging) to a burning on the hand.

The problem?

The Bible was always open to Psalms 51, and a smart person could always memorize the passage.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

What does any of this have to do with Binding Fire?

Well, obviously someone is going to be accused of a crime, but you’ll have to wait to find out who.