Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review of Beaumont Blues

by Robert Fate

This is the first of the Baby Shark books I’ve read. I had heard about the books and how good they were, but somehow missed picking up a copy. I finally lucked into Beaumont Blues in March at the Left Coast Crime and came away with a rocking good book that has made me a firm Robert Fate fan.

Kristen Van Dijk and her PI partner Otis Millet roar through the 50s in this wonderful book that starts out innocently enough with Kristen and Otis hired to find a missing socialite party girl. They’ve tangled with this girl before. But things go sideways when they find the girl being held by a psycho nephew of a local crime boss. Kristen gets the girl away from him, but not before two men are slaughtered and she has to knock the stoned kidnap victim out to get her to safety.

Things go downhill from there. The kidnapped victim, 17 year old Sherry Beasley, is heir to an oil fortune. She will inherit at 18 and if she isn’t there to hear the reading things will go badly. Nothing in the case is as it appears and no one is telling Kristen the truth. But Kristen is sharp and knows her way around low lifes. It’s not her fault that every move she makes seems to bring more of those low lifes out of the woodwork.

This is a wonderfully written book that I had a hard time putting down. Kristen is one of those characters I wish I could sit down and share a few brews with. Highly recommended if you like taut fiction that will leave you breathless, but satisfied.

Robert Fate's Web Site

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Myth of Childhood

Child workers from a glass factory, 1908

Some conventions we follow seem so innate and natural we assume they always existed. That's not always the case. A perfect example of this is the idea that childhood as we know it has always been the norm. The family dynamics of mother, father and children who needed to be tended to until they entered society as, hopefully, responsible adults was the way it’s always been. Certainly the so called 'family values' groups on the right would have us believe that God created the family as it stands today, therefore this is God's way and should be our way.

In actual fact, the concept of family as we know it came into being in the mid 19th Century and solidified in the late 19th century, though it wasn't until the 20th Century that child labor laws reflected this family value and protected children from exploitation. In 1916 a Federal law was passed prohibiting the transport of goods across state lines if minimum age laws were violated. The law was declared unconstitutional in 1918, voiding that protection. In 1924 Congress tried to pass a national child labor law, but the measure was blocked by opposition and the bill was dropped. In 1938 President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited many forms of child labor. In 1973 Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, creating the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect and other steps designed to increase children's rights and reduce child neglect and abuse.

Before the mid-1800s children were seen as being filled with original sin. The renown American theologian, Jonathon Edwards, believed children were "not too little to go to hell' and he advocated preaching terror when necessary, even to children, who in God's sight "are young vipers… if not Christ's."

Only through the works of people like Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johan Pestalozzi and Catherine Beecher this concept was rejected in favor of children being natural and innocent, free of original sin. With that change grew the idea that if children were going to become good adults they needed nurturing throughout their childhood. Children were blank slates, open to being molded with the proper raising. Women were assigned the role of primary caregiver and teacher. Men were to provide support. Starting in the mid 1800s women's magazines began to present articles aimed at instructing them on how children should be raised, including reading material and appropriate toys. Playgrounds began to be constructed for children to have a safe place to play. The definition of childhood was advanced from 5-6 years of age to include adolescence. This time was meant to be a time of innocence, play and learning.

But it took decades before the idea of childhood as an innocent, carefree age encompassed the idea that they should not be working long hours for low wages and they continued to be exploited as cheap labor well into the 20th Century.

What does all this mean? That family as is touted today as being the norm is no such thing. Family is as artificial as construct as marriage is. In the past people cared for their children as long as they were infants and unable to do anything themselves, but once they reached an age when they could work, be it hunting, tending crops or as the world grew more industrialized, working in mines or factories, often for 14 or more hours a day, often at little or no wages then they were expected to get out and be productive. Girls were married off as soon as they reached puberty. Certainly the idea of keeping children at home into their late teens or even early twenties was unheard of. They would only be mouths that needed feeding and if a boy or girl was big enough to work, then they should work. That was God's plan then. Reverend Edwards would certainly have agreed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Writing Historic Romance

Guest blog by G.G. Royale

I love writing historic romance, and part of that comes from the fact that I never want to stop learning. Writing historical gives me an excuse to read more, to buy more books, to spend hours surfing WPA archives and backlogs of newspapers online. The most fun thing for me in writing historic fiction is when I get to use one of those wonderful nuggets of information I gleaned in a meaningful way in my story.

I have a master of fine arts in fiction from the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, so I have studied writing. A lot of writing. But I never sat down to learn how to write historic fiction specifically. If there is a “method” others use, I don’t know about it. In talking today about the way I do it, I will reference The Flapper and the Fellow, a mild BDSM novella set in 1925, available from Loose Id. This is by no means my only historic work -- I’ve written erotic romances set in the Middle Ages, samurai-era Japan, and plantation-era Louisiana to name a few -- but it is the one for which I did the most research.

When starting any story, the first thing I do is create my concept, my basic plot, and my main characters. I do this sort of devoid of time or setting. That can come later. Character should drive plot, so really the people matter most. I do tend to write to a lot of calls for submissions -- found either at Duotrope or the Erotica Readers and Writers Association page -- so most of the time I start with the theme or prompt. In the case of The Flapper, the theme was “trading places”; two characters had to house swap or something like that. I knew most people would play with the idea that the two people who swapped would be the two love interests, so I decided to go with the idea of who got left behind. From that, the story of Dot, the housekeeper, and Winnie, the professor taking Dot’s sister’s job, came about. My next thinking was “When would be a fun time for this to happen?” and of course the 1920s popped into my head: the hedonism of the Jazz Age tempered by Prohibition, suffrage… This time period offers a plethora of cultural conflict and richness from which to draw, particularly when set in New Orleans.

Once I’ve settled on my characters, plot, and setting, I start my research. My primary source for The Flapper was Mary Lou Widmer’s New Orleans in the Twenties. I like to use at least one book that can sit next to me while I’m writing because going back and forth between my word processing program and Web sites can sometimes feel frustrating. This book is full of great anecdotes and pictures, organized into chapters about the major elements of life and society at the time. It makes for very easy referencing. I prefer that sort of book to more thorough sociological, academic treatises, though those have more in-depth treatments. All I need is a few touch points that will ring true to readers, such as the names of newspapers, sports teams, restaurants…those sorts of things. I think most major cities have books like that.

In general, I try to write in such a way as to avoid anachronism by glossing over some details, leaving other things out completely, and totally playing up what I know was there. This works better in erotic romance because the romance is central, not some plot necessarily derived from the era in which it is set. Adding the erotic element makes it even better, since I can always distract the reader with sex! If I can’t find out for a fact whether or not an invention existed in the period of my story, I’ll leave it out completely. Following that, a few firm things I know fit into the time period added to the story give a sense of reality. For instance, Dot’s car starts by literally cranking over the engine. Every scene involving the car includes that at some point, even in the pouring rain. Fashion is also great to play with because the old fashion plates from magazines make for very clear description and up-to-the-moment accuracy.

I tend to focus on one or two elements of the era that I think are the most important in relation to the plot and throw in a heavier dose of detail there. In The Flapper, those elements were jazz and Prohibition. I referenced Louis Armstrong and what his career was doing in 1925, and I talked about the radio stations that were just sprouting up. These things were important to Dot’s character, since she wants to play trumpet in a band. I also researched plenty of articles on how easy it was to get a drink in New Orleans in the 1920s; it was really easy. Most of the famous granddame restaurants here had secret rooms, code to order special drinks, or waiters who openly carried flasks in their apron pockets to spike any drink for their grateful customers. The bayous and inlets south of the city made for great rum-running too, so the restaurants were never in short supply. Winnie’s father was an abusive drunk and his mother a teetotaler, so the availability of booze is somewhat shocking to him, though he slowly learns to appreciate the New Orleans cocktail spirit.

Once the story is finished, I read it through looking specifically for anachronisms, and I have a proofer do the same. As a reader, I can’t stand it when I know for a fact something shouldn’t be in a story, and I do try quite hard to avoid having my own readers feel the same way. This is completely separate from any other edits or proofing that I do. That’s about it. After a final polish, I sent the manuscript off with my fingers crossed that it will find a publisher.

Bio: G.G. Royale began writing erotica in the English student lounge at a small California university in the 1990s. After taking a few years to perfect her craft and earn her MFA in creative writing, she began submitting short stories. Her work appears on Web pages, in anthologies, and as eBooks. She lives in New Orleans, raises chickens, and edits for erotic romance publisher Loose Id.

More information can be found at her site, and at her blog.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why Write History?

Guest Blog by Margaret Blake

Lots of people pose that question. It always comes up when I do a talk and ask for questions. My answer is much the same, although it varies a little depending on why they are asking the question. It can be asked in an arrogant way “Why write history?” and you imagine they are thinking, it’s a lot of old hat! Or they can ask because the questioner is perhaps wondering if there is a market out there for the book they have hidden in a drawer.

I write history because I love to delve into the past. Ah too easy that, it has to be more than that. My novels have an element of suspense as well as romance. Believe me it is just a tad easier to write suspense when you don’t have cell phones, or telephones, or fast cars and aeroplanes. When everyone can’t find out anything about anyone else practically instantaneously. No computer, no Facebook…importantly no DNA.

Journeys were horrendous in the medieval times. You went on horseback or you walked. Roads were notoriously dangerous too. Robbers abounded. You could go in the summer when there were more people but again this limits you.

Something important happens in London, it takes ages for the news to be brought to say Yorkshire in the North. News would be brought by visitors, or importantly, by the packmen who travelled the roads delivering goods and who picked up lots of gossip on the way.

All this enables me to really spin out the story. In my novel The Substitute Bride, my heroine changes places with her sister. She will marry Lord Hinchcliffe and she does get away with it for a very long time. But when he does find out, then it is more devastating for she is by then madly in love with him and it is no more a marriage of convenience. Imagine what a photograph could do to that plot!

In Dangerous Enchantment my heroine has a secret, the revelation of which could end with her death. Alfled in A Saxon Tapestry pretends she is boy – again no photographs to show the lie of the disguise. It’s great.

I do write contemporary romantic suspense, as well as contemporary romance, and I enjoy these. Research is easy to do and in A Fatal Flaw my heroines quarry knows almost immediately that she is making enquiries about him. That puts her in danger. So you can have fun with modern technology as well.

However, I do enjoy going back in time. Why do I write history? Simple really, because I like to!

Whiskey Creek Press
Margaret's home Page