Traveling for Research

Accuracy in a short story or novel is so important. Readers who know that you’ve got something wrong will almost always call you out on it. And even if it’s only for your own peace of mind, most authors prefer to get the facts in their stories right. It’s why so many authors spend so much time doing research.

But there are some things that go into a story that just can’t be learned from another book or a web site. There’s the feel of a place. The architecture found on the streets. The little details that don’t always show up on the pretty pictures people post to the internet.

We can learn the history of a place or a person (or type of person), but we can’t actually know it until we’ve been there or spoken to them.

Most authors don’t have the opportunity to actually speak to a person or type of person we’re writing about—personally, I’ve never met a British Peer and I haven’t yet found a time-machine to take me back to Regency England. So I’ll read biographies and autobiographies. Histories and other novels about the people I’m writing about and that’s about all I can do beyond using my imagination.

For places, though, nothing beats actually going to where your story is set. I had the pleasure of doing that this past weekend. My husband and I spent a lovely weekend in Basel, Switzerland, the setting of the short story I’m writing for my next Merry Men box set.

Now you might think that traveling to Switzerland for a short story is a little much, and indeed, I toyed with the idea of making the story longer—a novella or even a full novel. But I like the short, sweet little story I’ve dreamed up so much that I decided not to change it. I am, however, adding a good deal more description to it—more than I usually put into a short story. Hell, more than I normally put into a novel, but that is the beauty of having actually been there! I can do that. I’ve got all the images and experiences fresh in my mind as I’m sitting down to write.

Basel, for those interested, is a beautiful little town. The part that we saw was, naturally, the older section since my story is set in the late 18th century, but a good deal of the city is actually much, much older than that. We wandered the winding little streets, looked at the old houses and stepped into many a church. Most dated back to the 14th and 15th centuries, which seems to be when a good bit of the city was built. And the fantastic thing about it all was that while they have certainly updated and modernized the inside of their buildings, they’ve left the outside structures just as they were when they were originally built. So, we were able to wander streets filled with lovely half-timber houses and homes which truly gave us the feeling that we could have been in the 15th, or 18th century, like the characters in my story.

I was also very lucky in that the home of a local ribbon merchant, which was built just a little before when my story is set, has been turned into a museum. I had the opportunity to wander the rooms of this grand home to see exactly how people lived at the time. It wasn’t exactly as it had been then, the curators actually took rooms from other houses of the time and put them into this one house, but still, I got a good idea and a feel for how my characters would have lived. So, here are some pictures of for you to enjoy of the city and the house (or haus, as they say in German-speaking Switzerland) at Kirschgarten.

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The mistress’ bedroom.
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The informal drawing room.

Blog Street

Blog Basilisk
These basilisk fountains are all over the city.
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Inside the Rathaus or town hall–it’s filled with beautiful paintings!
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My husband leaning against the city gate door, just to give you an idea of the size of it!
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This is the last remaining city gate.
Blog St. George
St. George is forever killing the dragon on the wall outside the Basel Munster (Cathedral).
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Even the shops near the cathedral are as they were hundreds of years ago.
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Be Proud

My apologies to readers of my personal blog. This is an adaptation of my most recent post there.

Screenshot (80)Do you ever feel guilty for reading? Well, don’t! Reading is an important way for us to relax and learn. And yes, I’m talking about reading novels.

After the horrific acts of terror this past week, I wanted to stop and think about what it is that we’re doing here.  Acts of terrorism are terrible and must be stopped, but as with all horrible things that happen to us, they do make us pause and look at our lives and what we do.

We read stories. Stories that take us away from the awful things in life and give us a break from the real world.

Yes, the stories we read do contain terrible things happening to good people–if they didn’t they would be boring and unreadable, but reading about terrible things prepares us for when we have to live through such things in reality. It teaches us how to react, what to do and not do. As Lisa Cron explains in Wired For Story, it is stories that have kept mankind alive. It is stories that help us to understand life and all the messy aspects of it.

I live in Brussels. I just moved here with my husband for his work and am growing to love this city very much. Because of my work, I usually don’t leave my apartment until I force myself out in the afternoon to get some fresh air and exercise, but my husband travels and he could have easily been at the airport when those bombs exploded (in fact, one of the people who works for him was in a plane that took off from Brussels Airport just minutes before the explosions. His office was in a panic until his flight landed and he was able to check in to say that he was all right).

Screenshot (79)But yesterday, when my husband’s assistant called to make sure that I was okay (even though their office is just a few blocks from the metro station that was bombed), he told me that he wasn’t watching the news. He had turned off all communication with the outside world. It upset him too much. He couldn’t deal with it. I very nearly told him that he needed to pick up a novel and take a break–I didn’t because he was at work. 🙂

So all this is to say, that you should never feel bad for reading. Reading makes life bearable giving us an opportunity to escape.

In between reading about the horrific things that were happening in the city around me, I edited my new book Falling, rewriting and fixing scenes. I escaped into a time and place where the worst thing was that the hero was falling in love with a woman who was off-limits to him and she didn’t know who he really was.

This was my escape. This is what let me read about the real world and not break down in tears. – well, that and the wonderful outpouring of messages from my friends and family who contacted me to make sure I wasn’t anywhere near the bombings.

So don’t berate yourself, or let anyone else do so, for sitting down and reading a novel, any novel, any time.

Falling, by the way, is now available for pre-order and will be released on April 6th.

MeredithBond_Falling 300In another time…

Boundless blue skies. Oblivion. The pull of the sky through the wall of windows in Erin Freyn’s new apartment is as enticing as it is disturbing. It seems to call her to step out, to let go, to surrender herself into its terrifying embrace. But when she turns to a hypnotist for help, she never dreams it will uncover long-hidden secrets – of ageless magic and forbidden romance.

In another place…

David Elder is trying to live up to the memory of his brother, who died while working with inner-city kids.   He couldn’t save his brother, but perhaps with his magic he can save another. When he hypnotizes Erin to seek a cure for her fears, they discover instead an ancient connection. In a past life, he was a medieval knight and her illicit lover… before things went very wrong.

Today…

Fate has given them a second chance. Will they take it and finally find happiness, or will they be doomed to replay history yet again?

Available at Amazon

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Apple iBooks

Editing Madness

My neighbors must think I’m crazy. For the past two days I’ve been wandering my living reading out loud.

Crumpled PaperWhat am I doing? Why, editing, of course!

My last round of editing (there are three, sometimes four that I go through) always consists of me reading my work out loud. In this way I know whether the story flows. Whether the dialogue sounds natural. Whether I’m missing any words that I hadn’t noticed before or made a silly typing mistake such as writing “an” instead of “and”.

But reading a full book out loud takes time! And not only that, but I have to stop every so often to make notes of things which need to be fixed or changed.

Hopefully, I’m done with all of the real writing, unless I come across something that just doesn’t work.

After this last round of editing, my book will go on to my professional editor and my beta readers. Anything that doesn’t make sense to any of them will get rewritten. I ask them all to check to make sure they understand my characters and their motivations as well as the overall story.

Reading out loud, beta readers and a professional editor are all required to put together a book and make it ready for publication. Without each one I wouldn’t—couldn’t—publish my books.

So while my neighbors might think I’m nuts (and I kind of am, but not necessarily for this reason), I’m doing this in order to create a book good enough to be published, worthy of my reader’s time.

Now, my question to you is are you willing to be a part of this editing process. I’m always looking for new beta readers. People who would be willing to overlook a few grammatical mistake (since I send my book to my beta readers at the same time that I send it to my editor) in order to tell me whether my story is good enough. Does it catch your interest? If not, why not? Do you hate the characters or love them? Do you understand them? These are all the questions I ask of my beta readers.

I’ve had some who’ve just read the book and said that they loved it. That’s wonderful, but not really helpful. I’m looking for constructive feedback. Are you someone who would be willing to help me make my book as good as it can be?

Comment below if you’d like to do so! Thanks!

The Exciting Life of an Author

Grand Place 2The exciting, romantic and adventurous life of an author

How exciting it is to be an author! We travel all over the world, have fantastic adventures, work out intricate plots on how to kill people and not have our heroes get killed themselves, go on stake-outs with police and FBI, maybe the CIA while we’re abroad… um… well, okay, maybe not.

I’m very sorry to say that authors are ordinary people. We have families and live ordinary lives, wiping our children’s noses in the cold, shoveling snow (this week in particularly if you live on the East Coast of the US), and spend hours slumped over our computers working away.

In our minds, however… well, that’s where we travel. That’s where we go on those stake-outs and fantastic journeys. We go there, so that we can take you there as well—through our novels.

The trouble with a writer’s mind is that it’s frequently some place completely different from where our bodies are. (My poor beleaguered husband tried to show me that he’d shaved off the beard he’d been sporting since the holidays, except that I didn’t even notice. Although I saw him, I didn’t really see him, my mind was elsewhere, and so I didn’t notice. He was very disappointed).

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Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.

We live, perhaps too frequently, in the world of our books, in the minds of our characters—for to write truly believable characters, of course, we have to live their lives right along with them.

We try to stop and enjoy our real lives every so often (I’ve had a lovely break for the past week while I did some travelling in Brussels, Belgium—that’s where my pictures are from). But it is too often that we’re simply, mentally, not there.

On the other hand, should you ever want to engage an author in a deep, meaningful conversation, be sure it’s on the topic of one of their books. This is not because we’re vain and only want to talk about our own work. It’s simply because that’s where our minds are—caught up in the fantasy world of our own creation.

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Back to my fantasy world.

So, should you meet an author, don’t get discouraged if they seem absent minded. Nor should you expect them to have a life similar to what they write. Expect them to be an ordinary person, like you, only… not quite entirely there.

The magic they wield is in their pen and their fingertips as they type on their computers and that is where their mind can be found as well. Enjoy the fantasy!

A Short for Busy Times

ShorterMany fiction writers begin learning to write through short stories. Some, like myself, never even tried to write a short story because they can actually be much more difficult to write than a longer piece of fiction.

In a full length novel you have time to delve into the plot, time to build suspense, or to make things more complicated. You have the time to reveal your characters slowly, and to show how they learn, grow and develop into better people.

But in a short story, you don’t have that time. You need to show who your characters are in one, maybe two short scenes, and then you only have a few more to show how they change and grow. Or maybe you save that for a revelation at the end, like in the beautiful Christmas story (and one of my all-time favorite short stories), The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. The character growth isn’t even on the page, but only in the a-ha moment in the reader’s head after the story is finished.

With so many writers now taking part in anthologies where many authors’ works are published together, a number of writers who would have only written full-lenth novels, are now forced to write short stories. There is, of course, a trick to it (which I expand upon in this blog post, if you’re interested). I have to admit, I’m one of those writers.

I had never written a short story in my life until I was asked to contribute to an anthology of horror and paranormal stories. It was a challenge that turned me into a writer of short stories. Yes, after writing that first one, In A Beginning, I was hooked!

I now write short stories all the time! I publish a part of one every month in my newsletter, I include them in anthologies, and I recently published a box set of the first two novels of my Merry Men Quartet with a bonus prequel short story showing how the parents of the hero from An Exotic Heir met and fell in love. Early in the new year, I’m going to set my mind to doing the same thing for the parents of the heroine of The Merry Marquis to include in a box set of the second two books of the quartet.

The point is, writing short stories can be challenging and fun. Reading them should give you a complete story, a snapshot of a character and a satisfying read in under an hour or so – depending on how fast you reboxed set 1ad.

With the holidays upon us, and so little time to indulge in quiet reading, a short story is just what you need for a little escape. If you’re interested in slipping away for a little bit, write to me and I’ll send you a free short story, or you can sign up for my newsletter and get one delivered to your inbox every month. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of my box set, which is on sale just for the holidays.

And, finally, I wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year!

History or Tradition?

It’s Thanksgiving, so what’s for dinner?lobsterturkey

Americans love our Thanksgiving with passion. But with just as much enthusiasm do we love to discuss and debate what to eat for the meal that the holiday is centered around. Historical accuracy is at play here, so as a writer of historical fiction, this debate is near and dear to my heart.

Historically, the pilgrims had a huge smorgasbord of goodies. They ate turkey, goose, venison, lobster, corn, and pumpkin, among other things. They didn’t have our beloved sweet potatoes, nor, apparently, any potatoes at all. And pie would have been off the menu because of a lack of sugar. Poor things!

So why do you think turkey has become center of our Thanksgiving meal and not, say, venison or lobster? It’s a question I feel I’ve got to ask because last year my family had a traditional New England Thanksgiving with friends in Boston. They served lobster, naturally.

It was a happy gathering, but this year my children begged me for the traditional meal that they’re used to—turkey, stuffing, sweet potato pudding with marshmallows and green bean casserole. I’m very happy to oblige, especially since I’ll be able to put said children to work in the creation of this lovely meal (they’re adults, I think it’s time they helped with the cooking). I’ve already made the apple pie (it’s been in the freezer for a month, ready to be popped into the oven at just the right time) and will happily oversee my daughter as she makes the pumpkin pie, while my son whips the cream to go on top.

But aside from emotional reasons, is there any reason we shouldn’t have venison or lobster?

No. Not really. They’re equally accurate, historically. But then, we should probably leave out the sweet potatoes and the pie.

Wait? No pie?!

Well, you see, it’s a balance. Just as in my novels, while I do try to be as historically accurate as possible, I don’t carry that to extremes.  I have my characters bathe every day and smell nice. They brush their teeth and have pearly whites. Women behave boldly and stand up for themselves and men respect them for that. Is this historically accurate? Nope. Not at all.

But tradition and modern sensibilities determine that my characters behave this way. Just as our modern sensibilities demand pie for dessert on Thanksgiving.

So, no matter what you eat, I hope that you and yours have a wonderful, delicious Thanksgiving, and we’ll all enjoy our historical inaccuracies and traditions.

Traveling Through Time

hypnosisDon’t we all dream of it? Hoping into a time machine of some sort and ending up sometime else?

If you’re going back in time, the more practical of us worry about bathrooms (or lack thereof) and general cleanliness—yes, I love writing historical fiction, but what I, and all writers of the genre, gloss over is the fact that people didn’t bathe all that often and those pearly whites that our heroes and heroines flash probably wouldn’t have been so white (fluoride toothpaste? nope).  I suppose going into the future, you wouldn’t have that problem—others, quite likely, just not the sanitation issue.

But when we sit down to read a time-travel book (usually romance), it’s the differences in social expectations and culture that fascinate us, whether the character is one from the present going back in time, or one from the past coming forward. There is nothing more fun for a modern person to read than how someone used to life being one way suddenly finds that nothing is the way they think it should be. That disconnect is the real fun and seeing how our hero or heroine deals with it.

And then there’s the time-travel that I’m beginning to write just now. I cheat. Sorry.

I suppose it’s less of a time-travel and more of a past-life experience story. The heroine is hypnotized and goes back to relive a past life where all of the same people in her current life take on new roles—or the same role, only she hadn’t noticed it before.

Am I cheating my readers of the fun of having someone from modern times try to deal with life in the middle ages? Quite possibly. But the story revolves around all that my heroine learns about her present life by living a past one.

Can you tell that I’m really having fun writing this book? I am! In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to it every afternoon (when I finally get a chance to write) and only exhaustion stops me every evening (well, that and hunger). It’s a tale that is pulling me in and making me curse all the other things I have to do in my ordinary life.

It took me some time to get to this point. It took a lot of looking at my characters, analyzing who they are and what their problems are. I had to sit and go through story structures and figure out how the events would unfold and where the romance would come in. How to blend the stories of my hero and my heroine who each have their own stories to live through as well as the one they share. But it’s all set now. I’ve got my W structure on the wall, my outline all filled out, my Scrivener list of scenes drawn up all ready and waiting for me to live the story and write it down so that you can read it and live it along with me. I’m setting off on this journey with these people who live today and live years ago, both. And I’ve got to weave together all the strings of the book so that they come together in the end into a beautiful knot—a blend of time and desire, problems and solutions, people learning and growing.

What are your favorite time-travel stories? Are they about someone going back in time or someone coming forward?