Saturday, March 31, 2007

Napoleon's Lost Fleet (Book #34)

Napoleon's Lost Fleet: Bonaparte, Nelson, and the Battle of the Nile (Laura Foreman and Ellen Blue Phillips, 1999) turned out to be a surprisingly informative book. I say surprisingly because when I picked it up from the library and saw that it was a slim companion volume to a Discovery Channel special, I wasn't exactly expecting to learn anything new. And on some levels I didn't. But what makes this such a good book is its clarity. Now I feel like I have a greater understanding and command of information I already knew about everything from the flow of government in France from the Revolution to the point Napoleon crowned himself emperor to how the various "rates" of ships in the British navy worked.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Junior history buff?

I'm currently reading a lavishly illustrated book on Nelson, Napoleon, and the Battle of the Nile. My daughter, who turns three a week from today, came and sat next to me on the couch as I was reading. I didn't expect her to pay much attention to my book, since she usually doesn't, except to close them and replace them with the book she thinks I should be reading to her. (She's clearly discovered the two things guaranteed to make me drop what I'm doing and devote my full attention to her--bring me a book to read or show up with her toy baseball and bat. I wouldn't be much of a writer and bookworm if I didn't encourage her love of books, after all. And if you refuse to play baseball with your child, taunting voices in your head begin singing, "The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon/Little Boy Blue and the man in the moon...")

Of course, most of the books I read don't have pictures. It turned out my girl was happy to spend nearly half an hour on this one, since it was full of tall ships, assorted fortresses, palaces, and cathedrals, and men and the occasional woman in elaborate attire. Or, as she put it, pirate ships ("Arrr!"), castles, pirates, and queens. I'm sure that somewhere Admiral Lord Nelson is spinning in his grave at my daughter's confident assertion that he's a pirate. Oh, and we sang one of the songs from the Backyardigans tea party episode together when we saw a picture of one of Josephine's tea sets.

Could it be we have a history buff in the making here...?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Beau Crusoe (Book #33)

Carla Kelly is something of a cult favorite among Regency romance readers, beloved for her distinctive voice and focus on ordinary people, both in the literal sense that she's as likely to write about a merchant or an estate manager as a duke, and that even her dukes seem like everyday folks. She's been without a publisher for several years, so her fans were overjoyed when Harlequin Historicals published Beau Crusoe this month.

It's an unusual book and in many ways a dark one. The hero survived a shipwreck, an ordeal in a lifeboat as the other survivors gradually died, and then five years alone on a small island. While the main action of the story takes place after he's rescued and returned to England to accept a prize for a treatise he wrote on some of the fauna of his little island, we revisit that lifeboat and that island quite a bit. I found it a disturbing read, but once I got a few chapters in it was impossible to put down.

If you'd like to read it, buy it quickly. It's already sold out on and close to it on Amazon, though it looks like at least some copies are still available over at

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dragon Lovers (Book #32)

Dragon Lovers (Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Karen Harbaugh, Barbara Samuel, 2007) is a rare find--an anthology in which I enjoyed all four novellas. As the title suggests, these are all paranormal romances featuring dragons, and all have a certain fairytale feel to them, though they each have a different setting and take on dragon mythology. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd probably choose Harbaugh's "Anna and the King of Dragons," featuring a Dutch girl orphaned and left without an easy way home in 17th century Japan and the shapeshifting samurai warrior who becomes her protector. I don't know if I was supposed to picture Nakagawa-sama as looking like Ichiro Suzuki, but I did...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Princess on the Brink (Book #31)

I enjoy the Princess Diaries series despite being easily twice the age of Meg Cabot's target market, and the latest entry, Princess on the Brink (2007) was no exception. A quick, witty read, full of adolescent angst and hilarity, a bit heavier on the angst this time around.

Edge of Empire (Book #30)

It took me a full week to get through Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East 1750-1850 (Maya Jasanoff, 2005). It's a bit of a slog, but an informative one about the British and French and their intrigues in India and Egypt. She focuses heavily on collections--the sort of items people brought home with them or acquired for their nations' museums and how the meaning of collecting and what people valued changed over 100 years.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

(Golden) Heartless

Well, it sounds like all the Golden Heart finalist calls have gone out, and my phone hasn't rung all day, so The Sergeant's Lady didn't make the cut. I'm fine with that, for the most part. It does sting a tiny bit, though--it's very much the "book of my heart," so even more than normal I want everyone who reads it to fall in love with it. And obviously, my judges didn't. Oh well. Now I'll just look forward to starting my new book (after we move next month) and going to the Historical Novel Society conference in June.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thermopylae (Book #29)

I have no intention of seeing 300. I may catch it on DVD eventually, but it just doesn't look like my kind of thing--more comic book action movie that historical epic. But Thermopylae itself fascinates me, military history buff that I am. And so I enjoyed Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World (Paul Cartledge, 2006). If you want to know more about the real Thermopylae, I'd suggest starting with Tom Holland's Persian Fire, a well-written narrative history that provides the larger context of the Graeco-Persian wars and how Athens, Sparta, and Persia came to be where they were in 480 BC. Cartledge's book is a good follow-up, more focused on Sparta and on the lasting cultural impact of Thermopylae.

Happy Writer

I suspect most writers have a jumble of plot and character ideas constantly churning through their brains. I know I do. Characters who need stories. Incidents that fascinate me, only I don't have characters for them or any idea how to tie them into a full-fledged plot. Cliches I want to twist and skewer into something fresh and surprising. And so on.

And then every once in awhile comes the beautiful "Aha!" moment when I find a story for a loose character or the right people to bring an incident to life. That, for me, is when a mere Idea becomes a Story. It's an embryonic story--very small, and I don't know what it will look like when it grows up. But I know there's enough there that if I nurture it along, I can get a book out of it. And so I love the days when an "Aha!" strikes.

Today was one of them. There's a period of history I've been DYING to write about forever, never mind which one, because I'm shy of saying too much about my stories when they're still teensy little embryos. But I didn't have characters, and I didn't have the foggiest notion how to structure a coherent fictional narrative out of the jumble of actual events. Until this afternoon, when it came to me. I have two characters. I know how and where they'll meet, and I sort of know what one of them looks like. I know they'll be friends and rivals and maybe even occasional lovers. And I know where they'll be at the end of the story. And that's all. I've got a beginning, an ending, and a glimpse of two young men. But that's enough. Now I'll let the thing gestate for a year, two years, TEN years. I'll work on other stories in the meantime, but this one will always be at the back of my mind. I'll be thinking about it idle moments, researching the era and thinking, "Yeah, my protagonist would've been there. What did HE think of that play? What was HIS role in that battle?" and so on. And it will grow, and take shape, and someday I'll sit down and start writing.

I love being a writer. I wouldn't trade days like today for anything.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Golden Heart Time, Part Two

See previous post here. I'd meant to post them within minutes of each other, but got distracted with my daughter's desire for me to play baseball and help her color dinosaurs.

So, on to judging. With both the RITA and the GH, you're judged by a jury of your peers. You have to be published with an RWA-recognized publisher to judge the former, and you just have to be an RWA member to judge the latter, though I think members who have PRO status (unpublished, but have completed and submitted at least one manuscript) get priority. Maybe. I'm not really sure about that part.

What distinguishes the GH from local RWA chapters' contests is that there is no feedback. Instead of getting your manuscript back with a detailed scoresheet and comments and suggestions, you just get your numerical scores in a range from 1-9, along with whether you were in the first quartile, second quartile, or bottom 50% of all entrants in your category. The reason I've heard for the lack of feedback is fear of lawsuits--RWA doesn't want to get sued because one of its members doesn't know how to give tactful feedback. But it also makes sense given the larger scale of the GH. Those local contests average 20-30 entries per category AFAICT, while the GH allows 1200 entries across the 12 categories. It would be a lot of work for the small staff at the national office, and feedback isn't really the purpose of the GH. It's a potential career boost for writers on the verge of publication. I'd never advise entering the GH as your first contest--better to try a few local ones first, see how other writers react to your work, and if you're finaling or coming close to it, THEN shell out the bucks for the GH.

All that said, it still bothers me a bit that the most important contest in RWA's world has the least quality control. I judge a lot of local contests, but if I was a vindictive or incompetent judge, I wouldn't get to keep doing so for long. My mean spirit or ignorance would show in my comments, and contest coordinators wouldn't keep inviting me back. But with the GH, there's no way to know. I've heard stories that make me wonder, like a friend who got a 2.0 from one judge the same year her other entry finaled. To me, a 2.0 is the kind of score you'd give an entry that showed an utter lack of competence at grammar and craft. And I know that's not the case with this writer. For starters, I've read her work. Also, she's published now. Her first book comes out in May, and IIRC it's the one that got that ridiculously low score.

I've heard plenty of similar stories, so I think there are GH judges out there who have no business judging. (Incidentally, I'm not speaking from personal experience here. I'm obviously not thrilled* with how The Sergeant's Lady scored last year, given that it didn't, you know, final, but none of the scores were out of line with what a competent, qualified judge who just happened to have different criteria for what makes an ideal romance than I do might assign.**) And I'm not sure what the solution is. The best I can come up with is something I suggested to the board when they asked for feedback on the contests: I said that each judge should write a few sentences per entry justifying her scoring, not for the entrants, but for the national office to review. That way they could weed out obvious incompetence, and maybe judges would feel a certain constraint not to be petty or arbitrary. Or maybe there should be mandatory training, or only people who've judged X number of local contests should be eligible to judge the GH. But I'm not sure any of those ideas would work. Maybe there isn't a solution.

* "Not thrilled" is perhaps an understatement of my reaction when I first received my scores, which IIRC ranged from 5.0 to 7.8 and were mostly in the 6's, putting me in the bottom 50% of my category. After a couple of finals and several near-misses in local contests, that bottom 50% finish was quite a blow. But nearly a year later, I've gained some perspective. I'll never know what those scores really meant, but they don't undo or negate every bit of good feedback I've ever gotten on the manuscript.

** There's really nothing anyone can do about the fact there's an element of subjectivity in judging. For example, I try my best to be a fair judge, but I can't completely check my tastes and personality at the door. I'm probably tougher on historical accuracy issues than average, and more lenient on whether the characters' goal-motivation-conflict is handled just the way it's taught in RWA workshops. There's nothing I love more than a good Regency, but I'm also more sensitive to cliches or factual errors in the subgenre just because I know the era so well and have read so many books set in it. I try to be aware of my biases and not let them impact my judging too much, but I don't think I can get rid of them altogether. And I'm sure every other judge is the same way.

Golden Heart time, Part One

A week from today, RWA will announce the finalists for its two big contests: the RITA for published authors and the Golden Heart for the unpublished. I'm entered in the GH with The Sergeant's Lady. I'm not really expecting to final. Last year the same manuscript didn't even come close, and I haven't made major changes beyond improving the synopsis quite a bit. On the other hand, it's finaled and gotten high scores in local contests in the past, so who knows? It all depends on the judge draw really, whether your writing is to their taste, once you've passed a certain threshold of basic competence WRT craft.

In a way, it shouldn't matter if I final or not. I've already decided to do the Historical Novel Society conference this year instead of RWA National, so I won't get to enjoy the perks of being a finalist at the conference. But, you know what? I want to final. I can't help it. I'm competitive, for starters. And I love that story and those characters, so I want everyone who reads it to love them, too! So I'll take my cell phone to church with me next Sunday (set to vibrate, of course) and try to get an outside aisle seat. Just in case, you know.

There's been some discussion in the blogosphere the past few days, not quite rising to the level of a kerfuffle yet, IMO, about the value of the published award, the RITA. It started with this post by Barbara Samuel at Romancing the Blog and has continued over at the Smart Bitches (where Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie have both weighed in). In some ways, it's the kind of discussion you could have about the Oscars, the Emmys, the Booker Prize, Olympic figure skating--anything subjective. Do the best stories win, or the safest middle-of-the-road ones by authors with established fanbases? Why doesn't the RITA have the same status in romance reader eyes as the Hugo and Nebula have for sf/f readers?

Most of those questions don't apply to the GH. We're unpublished, so there's no question of winning the GH because you're popular or as sort of a "lifetime achievement award" for a mediocre book because people belatedly realize you ought to have won several times in the past. And while a GH makes a nice credit when querying editors and agents, as an unpublished award it's obviously meaningless to the reading public. But there's also discussion of categories and judging, which are equally relevant to the GH.

There are currently 12 categories common to both contests, with two additional for the RITA only (Best Romantic Novella and Best First Book). Some of the category divisions are obvious--it makes complete intuitive sense to me that Young Adult and Inspirational romances are categories apart. But there are fully three categories for historical romance (Long Historical, Short Historical, and Regency, the latter being for the unfortunately-nearly-extinct traditional Regency rather than the highly popular Regency historicals, which compete in LH and SH). FOUR for contemporary romance (Single Title Contemporary, Short Contemporary, Long Contemporary, and Traditional, the latter three basically for the various Harlequin/Silhouette lines). And I really feel like those need some streamlining. I don't read enough contemporary to feel like I have a right to speak to how to trim the categories, but as a historical reader and writer I don't see the point of three categories. Regencies, much as I love them, are on life support. There simply aren't anything like enough of them being published to warrant a separate segment of the contests. And as for short and long historicals, I just don't get the point of the distinction. Maybe it's rooted in some bit of genre history from before my time, but length has nothing to do with how I evaluate a book, as long as it doesn't feel too pared down or padded out for the amount of story the author has to tell.

This is getting long, so I'll put my thoughts on judging in a second post.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blind Justice (Book #28)

Blind Justice (Bruce Alexander, 1995) is a mystery set in 18th century London, with its sleuth a real-life figure, the blind magistrate Sir John Fielding, brother of Henry Fielding and founder of the Bow Street Runners. (We see the action not through his eyes, but through those of a fictional young protege.) And it's a good read, even if I figured out whodunnit, and even if he gets the forms of address for certain members of the nobility wrong in an otherwise well-researched piece. (I've decided I have to stop casting books aside for that alone, or I'll run out of stuff to read.) I'm sure I'll seek out the sequels.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Modern Times

My husband went to the South by Southwest Interactive Conference, and he's spending an extra two days in Texas to visit friends. He's gone for a total of seven nights, which is the longest separation of our marriage thus far, beating out the five nights I spent at RWA National last year.

I miss him, and I'm glad I'm not a single parent, nor the wife of a soldier or a National Guard member in the present climate. Wrangling my not-quite-3-year-old all by myself has been a challenge, to say the least.

But we've been in constant touch all week. I call him every night when putting our daughter to bed, because we noticed she settles better if she hears his voice. (I think that way she knows that he hasn't abandoned us, but that he's also not coming home right away.) He called me several times a day during conference breaks, and once we had a gmail chat going where he was in the middle of a workshop and I was commenting on the content of the session as he reported it to me. He's on the way to Houston to see his friends now, and just a few hours ago he called me from a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru line to gloat, because I love Chick-Fil-A beyond reason, but there are none in the Northwest. A little later I called him back to make sure he knew that the 2007 Mariners ads are out, and that I thought the Double Play Twins was the best one. It's an important marker of spring, after all, the next big milestone after pitchers and catchers report but before Easter or Opening Day.

Every once in awhile as a historical fiction writer I'm staggered by the differences between my life and that of the characters I portray. In one of the communities of imaginary people who live in my head (it's a busy, overpopulated place, my brain), I have a brother and sister who are close in affection, but distant in, well, distance. He's a viscount who goes back and forth between his London townhouse and his Gloucestershire estates, while she married beneath her station and eloped to India with her husband to help him make his fortune. Assuming my research has led me right, in the late Age of Sail it took approximately four months for a ship to sail from London to Calcutta. Therefore, James and Anna can never know for sure that all is well with the other and his/her family--no matter how much good news was in the most recent letter, it could've all been undone by tragedy a few weeks later. That, to me, would be weird and scary. I'm too used to the idea that if I want to check on my husband, on the road to Houston, I can do it NOW. But I expect James and Anna got used to it, and just wrote each other book-length letters. Letters that doubtless included the early 19th century equivalent of, "I'm eating Chick-Fil-A and you aren't, ha-ha!" and, "Hey! New Mariners ads!"

Yes, my imaginary people are that real to me. No, I don't plan to attempt an epistolary novel. But if I ever sell these people's story, I suspect excerpts of their correspondence will be a feature of my website.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Utility of Force (Book #27)

Before I post about this book I have to confess that I skimmed a good bit--it's a LONG book, and dense with detail, some of which I didn't have quite enough historical context to track properly. (As an aside, I'm embarrassed at how ignorant I am about world history 1945 through sometime in the late 70's. It's like school history petered out after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and having been born in 1971 I'm not old enough to remember much pre-Reagan in any useful detail. It's not like I'm a total blank on recentish history--don't get me wrong. But I don't know the Vietnam War like I know WWII or the Civil War or the Napoleonic Wars, and in some ways I know more about the 1860's than the 1960's.)

So. Anyway. The Utility of Force: the Art of War in the Modern World (Rupert Smith, 2007). Not a book I would've picked up on my own, but I enjoyed the author's appearance on The Daily Show and thought I'd give it a try. And I'm glad I did. Smith, a retired British general, looks at the history of warfare from Napoleon to the present and suggests that the problems major military powers are having stem from still thinking in terms of large-scale industrial warfare, state against state, army against army, when that's just not the reality on the ground anymore--now we have ongoing confrontations that occasionally erupt into armed conflict rather than moving between a state of peace and a state of war, and most conflicts are "war amongst the people," with insurgencies, terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and the like. (He acknowledges that "war amongst the people" isn't a recent invention, and cites the Peninsular War as an early example, where the British/Portuguese forces were badly outnumbered by the French but won anyway because the Spanish insurgency kept the French from being able to concentrate their forces against Wellington.)

Naturally, I read his discussion of the Napoleonic Wars with fascination, since that's my era. I wasn't expecting this book to help me with my own research, but it did, especially with understanding on a big-picture level what was so innovative about Napoleon (brilliant strategic thinker, saw preparation for battle and battle itself as a piece) and why Wellington succeeded against the French where others had failed (brilliant tactical thinker, whenever possible refused battle unless it was on his terms, thereby neutralizing the French advantages and maximizing his own). And I think I understand better what's so enduringly fascinating about the Napoleonic Wars as opposed to earlier and later conflicts. On the one hand, there's a lot there that's modern, both on the battlefield and in the political and social context--it's not a hard era to relate to. But OTOH, it's the last war that moved at the speed of nature. With the train and the telegraph yet to be invented and ships still powered by sail rather than steam, your army moved at the pace of a marching man, your messages no faster than a galloping horse, and your ships at the mercy of the wind. And I think there's a special fascination in that, somehow. It's not that it made war less horrible--Badajoz, Waterloo, the Grande Armee's demise in the Russian winter, and so on are the stuff of nightmares--but there's a certain humanity, a smaller scale, that helps explain the era's appeal.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A writerly meme

I found this on debg's LiveJournal:

Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven't gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven't gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph.

I don't really have a work-in-progress at the moment, since I finished The Inconvenient Bride last week and am not planning to start the alternate history for another month or two. But I thought it would be interesting to do the meme for my three completed manuscripts, just to compare.

My first effort, Lucy and Mr. Wright:

The two grooms’ faces were blank and impassive. I had no idea if she was telling the truth or not, but there was no feasible way to argue the point. Besides, while I hated missing the chance to ride, at least this way I could spend more time with Sebastian. “Of course,” I said. One of the grooms sprang forward to assist me into the barouche, and Sebastian smiled a welcome.

My second (and so far my favorite), The Sergeant's Lady:

He halted and drew her against him to whisper in her ear. “The gear is in the square there.” She looked and saw two bored sentries with a single torch for light guarding a great assemblage of wagons. “Stay here,” he continued. “If they catch me, you’ll see it. If they do, go. Slip out, swing around the edge of the village past the sentries, then find the road and walk until you get to the next village or farm. Ask them to hide you. Bribe them.”

My third (a reworking of the first so thorough I count it as a different book), The Inconvenient Bride:

The maid Polly entered, carrying a little bundle wrapped in paper. “A groom from Orchard Park just brought this for you, miss,” she said, her expression correctly bland but her gray eyes alight with curiosity.

Reading that last, I realized that I went a few chapters after this scene without referring to the heroine's maid by name, and then started calling her Molly until the end of the book. Oops.

Analyzing books

I tend to be a fast reader, almost a skimmer at times, inhaling books in great gulps to find out what happens next. If I really love a book, I often revisit it, usually in a selective re-reading to savor favorite moments.

Since I'm considering switching genres with my next project but feel like I have a lot to learn about how to structure a non-romance plot, I'm taking a route recommended by several authors and analyzing some favorite books in my target genres to see how they're put together. I started today with the first two scenes of His Majesty's Dragon.

It's weird to read so slowly, highlighters and colored pencils in hand, notebook at my side. Instead of thinking, "What happens next? What happens next?" I'm obliged to ask, "What is this scene's purpose in the story? And how is it constructed? What's the conflict? Is there any backstory, and to what purpose? What do we learn about the characters?" Etc. But I think it's going to be a useful exercise for me. So far all my manuscripts have had structural flaws, some minor, some major. I don't see myself ever becoming the type who builds stories before I write them, with extensive outlining, character bios, and the like. But maybe if I can teach myself more about how good stories are structured, I won't blunder through my own plots so blindly.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

You Can Write a Mystery (Book #26)

So, I have this idea for a series of historical mysteries, only I'm not sure I'm gifted enough at plotting to put together a coherent murder and solution. So I picked up You Can Write a Murder Mystery (Gillian Roberts, 1999) to get some idea as to whether I actually, you know, can.

And I'm still not sure. But I have a better idea of how to approach the genre. I think I'll have to be more of a plotter than I ever have before, but that's OK. I'll give the idea a try as soon as I feel it's developed enough. If it works, maybe that's the direction my career will take at first. If not, well, I have plenty of ideas.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Answering my own question

A few days ago I posted about authors, published and otherwise, botching the usage of their noble British characters' titles and wondering why they don't take the time to look it up. I think I've finally figured it out--the writers think that Lord and Lady are the equivalent of honorifics like Mr./Miss/Mrs./Ms./Dr., which at least in modern usage are more flexible. E.g. you might address a professor as "Dr. Smith," but if you were introducing her as a speaker, you'd ask the audience to welcome "Dr. Jane Smith"--the Dr. can go in front of either her last name or first name, depending on the needs of the situation.

Anyway, I think writers are just assuming that Lord and Lady can be used the same way and not even realizing there are different rules that they need to research. Or they may have used published books that get it wrong as a guideline, or even been confused by books that get it right. Someone might read Gaudy Night, see Lord Peter and his nephew Lord Saint-George, and instead of seeing two different forms of address based on the subtle differences in the characters' positions, just think that "Lord" can go in front of any part of a character's name or title.

I'm feeling more charitable toward authors who make these errors now, because I can see how it's often an honest mistake. I'm not sure I would've known to pay attention to it myself if I hadn't seen erroneous forms of address in an article on common errors in Regency romances on an author website long ago. (That said, it still grates on me as I read--I can't help mentally correcting as I go along, which gets wearying.)

In general, I think the trickiest issues are the ones where we don't even know we need to research. There's so much false conventional wisdom out there, so many historical urban legends even. But how does a writer know to question what she has read in so many places that she takes it for granted, unless she just happens to stumble across a debunking of bad history or an explanation of how things really worked? I'm probably making the same kind of errors myself in areas I don't realize I need to research. I'm not normally one to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, but it's those unknown unknowns that'll get you every time.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Overheard in the grocery store...

...while in the frozen food aisle, from another woman with a cell phone at her ear:

"Did you say you wanted pot stickers or popsicles?"

Come to think of it, they DO sound alike....

Friday, March 2, 2007

Before Victoria (Book #25)

Before Victoria: Extraordinary Women of the British Romantic Era (Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger, 2005) was published to accompany an exhibit at the New York Public Library, and it bears certain marks of hasty composition, mostly in sloppy copyediting. But it contains lavish color illustrations and is a reasonably informative set of biographical essays on notable British women of the late 18th and early 19th centuries--from Lady Hester Stanhope to Jane Austen and everything in between. It gives a sense of the breadth of options for women who had a certain amount of money and education and were willing to fight for what they wanted, despite the many social and legal constraints women faced.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

I know I'm a nitpicker, but...

Probably the single most common historical/factual era I see in romances set in the British 18th or 19th century is botching the noble characters' titles. I ran across this just today in a book that shall remain nameless, one that I'd been looking forward to for MONTHS because of blogosphere buzz, including some interviews with the author that made it clear she had an exciting story concept and had put a lot of work into it.

I've seen a variety of erroneous title usages in my reading, but most of them boil down to writers not seeming to get that you don't just stick "Lord" or "Lady" in front of any part of a character's name. There is a specific correct form depending on who the character is. E.g., Dorothy Sayers' wonderful detective, the younger son of a duke, is Lord Peter, or Lord Peter Wimsey in cases where specificity is called for. He is never, NEVER, Lord Wimsey. Sayers, of course, gets this right. Lots of modern romance authors don't. Lord Peter's nephew--Gerald Wimsey, Viscount Saint-George--is Lord Saint-George, NEVER Lord Gerald or Lord Wimsey. I won't go into the whys and wherefores. Suffice it to say that the correct forms of address are READILY available on the web. Jo Beverley has a nice straightforward guide on her website. Googling "forms address british nobility" gave me this and this, just for starters.

In other words, while the usage is confusing and obscure to the American ear, it's not even remotely tough to find. And so even though I know it's not important, I have little patience with authors who get it wrong. I mean, you wrote a whole novel and you couldn't spend five seconds coming up with a decent Google query and half an hour reading the results it turned up? Why do authors keep missing this? And am I the only one crotchety and pedantic enough to care?