Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Story Portraits

While browsing in an antique store you might spot a shoebox filled with large cardboard-mounted portrait photos (known as cabinet cards) or smaller versions printed in black-and-gray on a square of metal (tintypes). Generally speaking anyone depicted in either type of portrait photo lived during the Victorian era, and should be sporting period-appropriate clothing and hair styles. These old photos are special in several ways, not only for the processes with which they were made, but for the moments in time they captured. They're also stories waiting to be told, and terrific character and world-building inspiration for the fiction writer.

My personal collection of Victorian-era photos is small and not especially valuable; I'm drawn to old portraits more for their content than their condition. What I look for are faces that catch my attention and lots of small details in dress and composition. The two types of portraits I collect, cabinet cards and tintypes, were fairly common during the time period and both were made with interesting processes (and if you'd like to see larger versions of any of the photos in this post, simply click on the image.)

Cabinet cards, which are albumen prints glued to cardboard mounts, were printed from glass negatives onto paper prepared with egg white. According to author Kristina Harris, an estimated six million eggs were used in 1866 to make albumen prints. Cabinet cards caught on in America that same year, and for the next forty or fifty years were quite popular. Although most were not dated, if you do your research you can estimate the age of a cabinet card based on the type of cardboard mounting used.

Tintypes, also known as melainotypes or ferrotypes, were photo images printed on iron plates. Although they were never as popular as cabinet cards, they were more durable than paper. They also had a special appeal for soldiers fighting the Civil War, who would have tintype portraits of themselves made for family, or carry tintype photos of their wives and children with them during the war. One trick Kristina Harris mention in her book on Victorian photography that you can use to determine if a tintype is genuine is to put a magnet on the back; magnets stick to real tintypes.

Btw, if you can't afford to buy originals (and I refuse to pay more than a couple of bucks for any I find), you can do an image search for cabinet card and tintype photos scanned and posted on the internet, and print those out on paper.

Inspiration from old portrait photos for me starts with the initial attraction when I see it -- there is always something compelling in the picture that grabs my interest. It can be the subject's expression, the way they're posed, the clothing they wear, their hair style or some other little detail that intrigues me. Because the Victorian photos I collect are black and white, I have to fill in the color details, but for me that's part of the fun. So is making up a name for the person in the photo and imagining who they were and what their lives were like.

Take this cute couple, for example: young, attractive, probably engaged or newly-weds. The petite young lady is beautifully dressed, and you can clearly see many of the interesting details of her gown. I really love the expression on her face; she seems almost wistful. Her guy, on the other hand, is a strapping, handsome fellow who doesn't seem tentative at all. No, he looks like he'd kick your butt and stroll off whistling. She's posed with her hand on his shoulder, almost as if she's bracing herself on him for support, while he's kicked back and seemingly not worried. That's a good show, too, but to me his gaze seems challenging, as if he'd never for a moment tolerate any nonsense, especially toward his lady. As to who they eventually became for me in my story, that would be Rachel and Christopher Kittredge -- Kit's parents.

Each time I worked on Kit's parents as part of her backstory I looked at this cabinet card; the visual clues gave me inspiration and direction. The photo helped me decide that in Toriana the use of fur to trim gowns is confined to the ton, and snow-white fur would be the most expensive. Rachel, who is not ton, couldn't afford a fur-trimmed gown -- but her wealthy guardian certainly could. As for Christopher, his no-nonsense expression blossomed into a characterization that significantly contributed to one of the most important events in the backstory; one that is basically the plot catalyst of the entire series.

Here are two more cabinet cards that inspired some other secondary characters in the Disenchanted & Co. books:

Meet Fourth (aka Horace Eduwin Gremley IV), one of the tenants in Kit's building, and Miss Maritza Skolnick, the daughter of another tenant. These two have an ongoing role in the series and in Kit's life, and have their own story playing out in the background. Remember when I mentioned how you can roughly date a cabinet card based on the mounting? The unusual gilded edging on Fourth's portrait indicates his portrait was probably taken sometime between 1880 - 1890.

Drawing world-building inspiration from the little details in old portrait photos means putting on your detective's cap and really studying the images. Here's a close-up of one of the women shown in my tintype example (and I've lightened it so you can see her better, too.) Note her unusual striped hat and the way she's holding her parasol, as if she were prepared to draw out a sword. In my view that hat definitely doesn't go with that dress, so why is she wearing it? Could the style of her hat have something to do with her social status or perhaps indicate membership in a secret society? As for the parasol, maybe there is something long, sharp and lethal hidden inside it. Maybe she lured the other woman to the studio for a reason other than having their portrait made -- or perhaps the photographer is the target. And what's inside that short, broad decorated column, for that matter, and why is the other woman practically hiding behind it?

Some of the portraits in my collection are still waiting for me to figure out their story. One of the most maddening so far is this lady's picture:

For the time being I've dubbed her Mona Lisa, and I have a few suspicions about who she is. Her features, the big ruffled sleeves and even her fingers tell me she's hiding something pretty huge -- in plain sight, no less. What I've yet to imagine is why she's doing this dangerous thing, and what's going to happen when it blows up in her face. So I'll keep looking at her portrait until the universe lifts the last of the veils and shows me her whole story.

While I focus on Victorian-era and other antique photos to spark my world-building ideas for the Disenchanted & Co. books, you can do the same with photos you find from any other time period, so don't confine yourself to cabinet cards or tintypes. Most families have some old photo albums passed down to them, so raid your relative's closets. You can also find tons of portrait photos on sites like Flickr that also allow you to search by keyword.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Her Ladyship's Tour

Beginning August 1st I'm taking Her Ladyship on a little internet promotional tour at the following blogs:

August 1st: That's What I'm Talking About

August 3rd: All Things Urban Fantasy

August 5th: Under the Covers

August 10th: Paranormal & Urban Fantasy Review

August 13th: The Good, The Bad and The Unread

At each tour stop I'll be talking about various aspects of writing the Disenchanted & Co. series, and I'll be giving away some fun and unique prizes, including signed, bound print galley copies of Her Ladyship's Curse and His Lordship Possessed and some other delights, to be delivered to the giveaway winner in a quilted and beaded Torian tote designed and handmade by Yours Truly (and all of my newsletter subscribers will be receiving in the August issue an exclusive preview of all the giveaway prize collections before I go on tour. In the newsletter there will also be a special giveaway available only to my subscribers, so if you haven't signed up yet now is the time to visit that little newsletter signup box over there on the right sidebar.)

But that's not all: I'm also planning a dual-blog celebration on August 12th here and at Paperback Writer to celebrate both Her Ladyship's release and reaching the career landmark of publishing my 50th novel. I'm still finalizing those plans, so stay tuned to the blog for more details as we get closer to the release date.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Winner & Forthcoming

Before I get into what to expect in the days ahead, we have a winner of the July monthly mystery (the anagram for which everyone solved correctly), and that is:


Terlee, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so that I can send your prize -- a lovely pair of Victoria and Albert miniature dolls from Victorian Trading Co. -- to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Next week on Disenchanted & Co.:

On Monday I'll be posting some news on the guest appearances I'll be making elsewhere in August to promote the release of Her Ladyship's Curse, which will begin on the 1st with this giveaway, as well as a bit about my plans to celebrate the publication of my 50th novel.

For our Wednesday world-building session I'll have a slideshow of some tin types and cabinet cards from my personal collection along with suggestions on how you can use old photos for new story ideas.

On Friday we'll have a look in Her Ladyship's Hat Box as I'm convinced there's something in there waiting to be given away to one of you.

Until tomorrow, have a great day.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Lord Mayhem

Sorry I'm a day late with this post; I've been wrestling with some technical difficulties here. I hope this will make it worth the wait:

To get this free e-book, click on the cover art.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Real-World Building

Nothing is worth more than this day. -- Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

Last weekend I took a break for a day (you can read about the reasons why on my writing blog here) and went with my daughter to a hotel that was actually built right after the end of the Victorian era in America. The owners, who are renovating the place, had posted a notice in the newspaper that they would be selling off 92 years' worth of furnishings and other contents from the room.

I've never been to such a sale and I was curious about what they might be selling off. I also wanted to walk around and see if I might get some Victorian-era inspiration (or at least a couple of ghostly vibes.) This isn't my usual method; when I go on a research trip I always write up a schedule, map out a daily plan and make sure I get to every place I need to visit. This was a day trip that was a spontaneous decision and really served no purpose. I'd never been there and honestly I had no idea what I might experience.

From the outside the hotel didn't look almost a hundred years old, at least not at first glance. I took out my camera and (after asking permission, of course) began taking random shots. I loved seeing this old upright piano sitting in the front courtyard, and was intrigued to see the manufacturer's plaque engraved with "Liverpool." Had it come over from England to grace the lobby, or the hotel bar? Who had played it, and what songs had come from it? It reminded me that there was no television or radio when the hotel was built. That piano may have been the only form of musical entertainment for the guests.

Inside there weren't many lights on (ongoing renovations had probably messed up the electrical system,as it looked a bit haphazard) so it was something like walking into a cave, or a dark labyrinth. The owners had grouped what was for sale in sections, so we walked through a maze of dressers and aisles of artwork. Nothing really matched, the furnishings were not in the greatest shape, and I doubt anything for sale predated the sixties, but it was interesting to see what had been in the rooms. There was a small forest of straight-backed chairs, and an entire room of night tables. Here and there were cardboard boxes filled with old brass door knobs and glassware; they had parked a shopping cart filled with rusty tools to one side.

Every corner we turned we found something unexpected, too: a lamp made of a bent rod, reel, with a shade fashioned from a fisherman's hat hung with hooks and lures; a dog-eared Gideon's Bible with notations on dozens of pages as well as people's names and there favorite passages noted on the inside back cover; a plaster hand holding a torch that had been wired into a wall light.

In the bar area I smelled the unlovely stench of spilled beer and saw like confetti dozens of caps still littering the broken floor tiles (and it was at that moment I flashed back to a bar scene in Stephen King's The Shining.) There was an ancient fireplace no one had used in decades, filled with spiderwebs and the powdery ash from the last log burned in it. For such a hot day it felt cool, almost cold inside the hotel -- and no air conditioning. The air seemed heavy, too, and very still, as if the hotel was holding its breath, just like you read in all those haunted-house books.

When I went outside the sunlight dazzled me a bit, and I looked up at the hotel windows. One had been broken and looked like a painful gap in a row of teeth. Another, very small and mysterious window across from it appeared to be made of stained glass -- the only one like it I could see. Other window frames on the upper floors sported enormous wasp nests, hanging like clusters of nightmarish fruit, and I didn't envy the job of the renovators when they got to those rooms.

The prices at the sale were excellent, so people were carrying away a lot of things. My daughter and I settled for an old oil painting (for her) and a set of old brass door knobs (for me). I put away my camera and walked around the sale areas again, and took in the colors and scents purely from a storyteller's perspective. I could imagine how beautiful the chandeliers must have looked when they were new, and families gathered around the fireplace to read by the light of kerosene lamps. Everything about the hotel whispered of journeys and lovers and stories that had already ended, but it didn't feel like an unhappy place. It felt like it was waiting to be cleaned up and repaired so it could live again.

All of what I've been telling you is just a small fraction of what I learned during the two hours I spent in this hotel. When I came home, I opened a file and wrote twenty-three pages of notes on what I'd experienced, the emotional and sensory surprises, the good and bad, the things that caught my eye and made me wonder.

Our imaginations are amazing and seemingly endless fountains of ideas, but so is the real world. When you go someplace, and you pay attention, and you keep yourself open to your surroundings, you will see things you've never seen, or perhaps never before noticed. You can't do this watching television or researching online because you're not immersed in it -- you're not there. To build believable worlds, sometimes you have to get out and explore the real world. Because out there you will find wonders like these:

LynnViehl's Day Breaks album on Photobucket

Monday, July 22, 2013

July's Mystery

You'll need pencil and paper to solve July's puzzle, which is hidden inside this anagram:

Bail Vicar Otter

To solve the mystery, recombine the letters of all three words until you have two names (and to give you another hint, both names were very well-known during the Victorian era.) You do not have to add or leave out any letters to solve the mystery anagram.

Post your answer in comments by midnight EST on Friday, July 26th, 2013, and I will draw one name at random from everyone who has the correct answer and award the winner the prize that inspired this month's mystery (so I can't tell you what it is.) Good luck!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Next week on Disenchanted & Co.:

On Monday I'll have the mystery for July for you to solve, with a rather royal prize for the winner.

After my visit to an old hotel this past week I have a lot to talk about for World-building Wednesday, and will give you some tips on how to look for story inspiration at real-world locations.

On Friday the surprise that everyone can enjoy will be delivered, and I'm telling myself better late than never. Sorry again about the delay.

Also, one more note before I send out the July newsletter: I will be featuring a giveaway each month exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, and the details will be published only in the newsletter. To find out the particulars you must subscribe, which you can do in the newsletter signup box over there on the sidebar.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Change of Plans

I had some unexpected work I had to attend to this week for my editor, so I've had to reschedule today's planned surprise for next Friday, 7/26. I'm sorry but I promise it will be worth the extra wait.

In the meantime I have new cover art to show you:

This is the latest version of the cover for Disenchanted & Co., which is the print edition of Her Ladyship's Curse and His Lordship Possessed combined together in one novel, which will be released in January 2014. We also have a title for the next book in the series: The Clockwork Wolf, which is scheduled for release in February 2014.

Today I'm also taking a short trip out of town, but I'll be back tomorrow with our usual Saturday Forthcoming post on what to expect next week.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Watercolored Journal

I admire altered artworks, especially some of the wonderful things I've seen made from old and unwanted books. Artists who recycle existing materials to make new things have great vision and ingenuity, and the green aspect of their work appeals to me. Go to any thrift store or flea market and you see so many books that are outdated or damaged, or simply something no one wants to read again. To find a new use for these books saves them from ending up in the trash.

That said, I have a bit of a problem personally ripping up books, even with the goal of making something new. I've tried -- once -- while making an altered art journal out of an unwanted hardcover, and it was oddly very distressing. I had to tear out half the pages to make room between the covers for my alterations, and I didn't like it at all. To begin with books are sacred objects to me, and I also felt as if I were yanking pieces off another author. After that book I gave up on altered book projects for quite awhile.

I do frequently pick up old books to read, and I found one biography a couple months ago that seemed interesting but turned out to be a huge dud. The story actually offended me on a couple of levels, and I seriously considered tossing it in the trash. Then I had an odd thought: if I were Torian, I couldn't throw away the book -- in my universe, it happens to be illegal (part of how the British Empire controls what Torians read.) So what would a Torian do with a book they despised and didn't want anyone else to read without breaking the law?

The British once famously tried to make the kilt illegal (I believe it was the Dress Act of 1746), and -- at least according to one old Barbara Cartland novel I read as a teen -- Scottish men attempted to dodge it by pinning pants to the back of their shirts while still wearing their kilts. Whether that was based on fact or just fun fiction, it's the sort of lawful defiance that helped me decide what to do with the books being forced on Torians: they'd keep them intact but make sure no one could read them by the same sort of scheme.

I tested several methods of surface alteration before I settled on watercoloring the pages. For this I used two types of watercolor paints: a very inexpensive one by Simply Art, and some of my Luminarte metallic watercolors from an art class I took last year. The only other supplies you need for this project are an unwanted hardcover book, paint brushes of various sizes, water, a small spray bottle filled with water, wax paper or pieces of laminated cardboard (to place under the pages you're painting), a protective surface to work on (I used an old plastic placemat) and materials like bubble wrap, tulle or other textured materials to press on top of the painted page to make impressions as it dries (optional). Also, when you choose the hardcover book you want to alter, pick one with strong pages and signatures that are sewn, not glued, to the spine as this has a better chance of staying together and intact during the painting process.

Beginning from inside the front cover, place your wax paper or laminated cardboard under the right hand page. Lightly spray the surfaces of both pages with your water bottle or brush with plain water to dampen them (this also helps prep the page to receive the paint and keeps the paper from curling.) Begin to paint, covering both pages with your watercolors. You can use a single shade or more than one; I began on my journal with a dark violet and a bright peachy orange and let the colors mingle on the surface of the paper (I use plenty of water to dilute the paints when I want them to blend together, too.) Paint around any words you want to leave intact to be plainly seen in your finished journal. When you've covered both pages, set the book aside and let it dry completely -- and this is an important step that will help prevent your painted pages from sticking together.

When your pages are dry, place a piece of wax paper or laminated cardboard between them and flip to the next pages, and repeat your painting and drying process. To make texture impressions on your pages, once you've finish painting press a piece of bubble wrap, net tulle, lace or other textured material over the paint and let it dry with the material in place. When you remove it, your watercolored page should show impressions from the textured material.

Here's a slideshow of some of the pages from the journal:

LynnViehl's Art album on Photobucket

Some tips to prevent problems: try to keep mopping up water that may collect in the seam between the pages you're painting to prevent water marks from staining pages you've already finished. Heavy applications of watercolor may bleed through your page to the other side, but to me this is a neat effect so I didn't try to prevent it (if you don't like bleed-through, though, apply your paint lightly and quickly.) As you progress through your pages keep those you've already painted separated with your wax paper or laminated cardboard as general dampness can also cause them to stick together.

I haven't yet finished the journal, as I wanted to completely redo the outside covers, and I'm thinking about sewing a cover out of fabric with the lock and key set you see in the next-to-last photo in the slideshow. I also want to do something with my wax paper pieces from the project, as some paint transferred to them in interesting ways (see the last picture in the slideshow.)

The great part of this project is that you don't have to bind the pages to the cover; once you're finished painting you have a finished journal. But if you want to make your own binding and covers you can remove the signatures from an existing book and rebind them once you've finished watercoloring and drying them.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Winner & Forthcoming

I meant to post this yesterday but bad weather kept me offline -- the winner for the June newsletter giveaway is Darlene Ryan.

We also have a winner for the Steampunking Barbara Samuel giveaway, and that is:

Anna Bowling, who wrote I'd like to see parasols make a comeback. I'm fair-skinned and sun-sensitive and given to wearing flowing skirts anyway, so this would be practical and aesthetically pleasing.

Anna, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to info to and I'll get your package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Next week on Disenchanted & Co.:

On Monday I'll have a new excerpt from His Lordship Possessed posted to give you all another preview of Disenchanted & Co. Part II.

For Wednesday World-building we'll take a look at how Torians recycle old books (as well as some new ones they don't want to read). I'll also tell you how to make your own Torian-style journal by using the same simple method.

This Friday I have another surprise post, and this one will offer something I think everyone can enjoy.

Until then, have a lovely weekend.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Elsewhere with Video

Today I'm sending you over to SF Signal to see the debut of the official video for Disenchanted & Co. -- which you can find by clicking here.

This trailer was produced by amazing author and fantastic filmmaker Jeff Somers, whom I highly recommend as a genius when it comes to putting together a writer's crazy ideas and making them into a terrific video.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I appreciate everyone who stopped in and offered such great title suggestions for the Name Contest. It was very tough narrowing it down, but there was one that simply sounded right to me and seemed the best fit for the blog. The new title for the author links list is:

Miss Kittredge's Emporium, submitted by Fran K.

Fran, when you have a chance please e-mail your ship-to information to so I can send your prize out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Also, a reminder on another contest; my newsletter subscribers have until midnight EST tonight to enter the June newsletter giveaway. For more details, see the June newsletter. :)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Steampunking Barbara Samuel

When I wrote my dream list of authors to interview here at Disenchanted & Co., Barbara Samuel was the first name I wrote down. A multi-genre writer who has earned six RITAs, two Colorado Center for the Book awards, RWA's Favorite Book of the Year and a place on Library Journal's Best Genre Fiction of the Year list, Barbara has published dozens of much cherished historical and contemporary romance novels for her vast readership. I actually discovered her work via her amazing women's fiction books (which she currently writes as Barbara O’Neal), and now my collection of her novels takes up two shelves in my book room.

Honesty and empathy are an integral part of every story Barbara writes; she always reaches for your heart with her own. That she's also an incredibly talented storyteller and world-builder enhances the reading experience to the point that it almost stops being fiction; that's how real it feels to read one of her books and get to know her characters and walk the path with them. She's my soul-medicine author; when I know someone is troubled or struggling with life or for whatever other reason simply needs a great read, I bring them one of Barbara's books. This because I know what they've done for me over the years.

Now let's steampunk the lady with a little Toriana-style Q&A:

If you were whisked off to a parallel universe that is just like ours except that it has no authors or books, what would you do for a living there?

Aside from the fact that I could not bear to live in a world without books, right? I would be a chef and a gardener. I love gardening with a sort of insane passion -- and you have to be insane to garden in Colorado Springs, where either the hail, the altitude, or the short growing season will kill something every year. And I love cooking, which is the most grounding, calming thing I do--and I love to feed people. I might also be a photographer. I love photography, mainly of plants and people's faces, both very close-up. A little girl's eyelashes. The stamens of a poppy. Light coming through the petals of the first spring tulips.

The Timeline Fairy has granted you the power to change one event in American history. Which event would you change, how would you change it, and why?

Wow. That's a tough one. I don't see any positive in the Vietnam War. It tore the country into pieces and a lot of soldiers died needlessly, for a cause that ended not being worth much. The worst was the legacy of those soldiers who were hated and lost and didn't have the support they deserved for the wounds of war. Far too many of them ended up lost and broken -- alcoholics and homeless and violent. Really sad stuff. My heart aches for those lost soldiers.

If you could bring something back from the Victorian era and make it fashionable or trendy or popular today, what would it be?

Ocean voyages on elegant liners. Not the cruise ships of today -- I want the elegantly appointed, fern-adorned voyages of yore. I want it to be cool to take a week to get to England, or a few months to sail to India. I want dinner with the captain and dressing for dinner.

Who is your favorite 18th or 19th century author, and which one of their books is your favorite?

Hmm. Probably HG Wells or Jules Verne. They both had such amazing imaginations and I teethed on them before moving to modern SFF as a teen. That expectation of the miraculous possibilities in science sticks with me still.

Let's pretend I've been living on Mars my entire life and I've never read any of your work. When I get back to Earth, which one of your novels should I read first?

The Lost Recipe for Happiness. It's one of my favorites, and has the themes of love (in so many forms!) and food and redemption that I love.

Thank you, Barbara, for so kindly answering all my impertinent questions.

To celebrate our first guest here at the blog, I've also put together a giveaway of my favorites of her books and some fun things themed to her world-building, presented here by my lovely daughter:

If you'd like a chance to win the lot, in comments to this post name something you'd bring back from the Victorian era to become fashionable/trendy/popular today by midnight EST on Friday, July 12th, 2013. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the prize package, which includes unsigned copies of Barbara's novels The Lost Recipe for Happiness, A Piece of Heaven and The Secret of Everything, along with Morning Food  and The Neely's Celebration cookbooks, a Euro cookbook stand, a bread basket with an Italian linen liner, a package of pink Himalayan salt (as per the story in The Secret of Everything), a gorgeous woven straw and watercolor-fabric market bag, and the pretty violet and green print apron my girl is wearing (the kid, however, stays with me.)  This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, so please join in.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Under Construction & Name Contest

Now that I'm back and ready to tinker, I'm also in need of some help. Today among other things I'll be building a new list of links to the blogs and sites of authors I think my readers will enjoy, but I don't yet have a title for it -- and that's where you come in.

Thus far in building the blog I've been using Her Ladyship's This and Her Ladyship's That as sidebar titles, and I want to shake that up a bit. I'm in need of a title that sounds Victorian, describes the list (which as I mentioned will be made up of author links) and does not start with Her Ladyship's, and does not use the word library, as that's already in use. I've been drawing a blank so far, so I thought you all might be willing to help me name it.

If you're game, in comments to this post suggest a title for my author links list by midnight EST on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013. I will choose the name I like best from all the entries to use on the Disenchanted & Co. blog for my author links list. I will also send the winner a surprise (and no, I won't tell you what it is, but my surprises are good ones.) This contest is open to everyone on the planet, so please join in.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Under Construction . . .On Tuesday

Weather, family obligations and a day trip have unexpectedly shuffled my calendar a bit, so today's post and blog tinkering will be postponed until tomorrow -- sorry, everyone.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Winner & Forthcoming

Before we get to what to expect in the days ahead, we have a winner of the Bear with Me giveaway, and that is:

Liz, who wrote: I spend as much time outside as possible during the summer; gardening, playing with the dogs, reading, relaxing in the hammock, and just walking.

Liz, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get your package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Next week on Disenchanted & Co.:

On Monday I'll be renovating the blog again to add some information pages and resource links, so expect some new construction and pardon the virtual dust. I'll also have a fun post to keep you entertained while I tinker away.

World-building Wednesday will feature Disenchanted & Co.'s first interview as we Steampunk one of my favorite authors, the fabulous Barbara Samuel (and hold a lovely giveaway of her books and fun things themed to her world-building, too.)

Finally this Friday I'll be able to send you off elsewhere to see the debut of the very first official video for the Disenchanted & Co. books, produced by the very talented Jeff Somers.

Until then, have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bear with Me

The post I planned for today isn't quite ready for publication, so I looked in Her Ladyship's Hat Box, and guess what I found? Printed bound galley copies of Her Ladyship's Curse and His Lordship Possessed, just waiting to be signed and sent off to one of you (the cute bear, however, stays with me. He's my Hat Box Guard.)

If you'd like to be the winning recipient, in comments to this post tell us something fun you do during the summer by midnight EST tonight, July 5th, 2013. I'll choose one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner both galleys. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet so please join in.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Diana's Question

During our world-building Q&A, Diana asked How much world building/back story/detail is too much? Can there be too much given the understanding not everything will make it into the book? Does having that detail and understanding of your world help a writer create the book even though the 'support beams' of the structure are invisible to the reader?

There are a lot of opinions on how much world-building a writer should do, and most emphasize that as the author you can never build enough or know too much about your story's universe. I think you can, under certain conditions, and end up buried beneath a mountain of world-building so detailed it smothers the life out of the characters, the story, and your ability to communicate all this to the reader effectively.

I'm a very detailed world-builder, but I keep everything within boundaries dictated by the needs of the story. Here are the three things I think about when I'm world-building:

What do the characters need?: For any novel I write I always first consider what details are necessary for my cast to come to life and function. For my private investigator protagonist I had to build a business, home, clients, friends, enemies and puzzles for her to solve, so my world-building focuses a great deal on details pertaining to these things. I've drawn the floor plans for her business office and the building, written up profiles of other tenants in the building and what they do, and timelined a typical day at work for my P.I. As I did this, other details that needed defining emerged, such as working out the magic system in my world, creating a backstory between my protag and one of the other tenants, some of of the daily habits my lady P.I. has acquired as part of her work routine and so forth.

What does the plot need?: The plot of my first Disenchanted & Co. novel starts very small and incidental with a lady who believes she's been cursed. That incident, which in itself is not very significant or complicated, is actually the hub of the entire plot. I started with the situation that brings the lady to my investigator, and worked out from there with my world-building details. I had to know precisely what was happening to this lady, and why, who is involved, who they are, and how all of that and them are related to every other event and character in the book before I could write it. Not every writer wants to know in advance all these details because it spoils the fun of the writing for them, but to make it work I personally have to know.

What does the reader need? This is the trickiest part -- you have to give your reader enough detail to make your characters, your world and your story understandable but not so much that you bury the reader in a succession of massive infodumps and bring your story to a crashing halt every other page. This is when you have to choose the strongest, brightest and most interesting details of your world-building and deliver them to the reader in the natural course of the story. As writers we're always tempted to explain everything so no reader is confused or left behind, but it's better to develop a sense of trust in the reader and their intelligence and make wise choices accordingly versus thinking everyone who reads is an idiot who needs every single detail painstakingly spelled out for them.

I think any writer can world-build in too much detail, particularly if they're trying to avoid writing the story. My theory is (and it could be wrong) is that the more time and detail you devote to world-building, the less time you have to devote to actually writing the story. I've met writers who have a dozen notebooks filled with amazingly detailed maps and complicated governments and multi-culture social structures and hundreds of character outlines and complete bibles of magic systems -- the sort of planning that takes years, sometimes even decades to complete -- and yet have not written a single word of fiction based on any of it. If you ask them why, they'll tell you that they're not ready, they're still working out some things or a similar excuse. In a sense they've become fans of their own world-building and have forgotten or set aside the real reason we do it: to write a story.

Finally, when you build a world, you need to think about the person doing all the grunt work: you. You need to construct everything you need to know in order to write this story. You may do this all in advance, the way I do, or you may prefer to improvise your world-building along the way as you write the story. I don't think it matters when you build, as long as you are building effectively by creating details that serve your story, allowing you to write with confidence and deliver an engaging tale for your readers.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Enchanted Browsing

When my daughter and I traveled to the city last week I made a point to visit the Barnes & Noble there. It's one of the few huge, two-story book shops within driving distance, but it's also far enough away that I manage only one or two trips to it every year. I also don't trust myself to make the journey more often than that or I'd empty the checking account.

I do like this B&N for another reason: the massive bargain area in the front of the store. Okay, imagine your house, filled with ten-foot-wide shelves of discounted books, and you'll get an idea of just how enormous it is. These shelves are stacked with paperback, trade and hardcover books on practically every subject and in every genre, and blank books and sketch books and kits galore, and they're all very clean and beautifully discounted. Generally whenever I do go I can't get out the door without at least three bags, but for them I spend less than I would for one bag of regular-priced books, so I don't mind lugging them to the car.

For this visit I bought a list, as I had a lot of books to acquire for giveaways, birthday gifts and friend lender copies. I was also looking for something different for me and I thought I'd let chance steer my choice. I like to pick up books at random by authors I've never before read and simply give them a try. I also have great luck with this method, as it's how I discovered Rob Thurman, Mark Kurlansky, Patricia Briggs, Nathaniel Philbrick and Linda Howard.

It took about an hour of browsing -- such a hardship -- but I found almost everything on my list in the bargain section. The only book I couldn't find was the one for me. There was plenty of interesting-looking fiction, but nothing that shrieked Buy Me!. I've been so immersed in Her Ladyship and my research for the series that everything looked too new, too modern, too tattooed. I wanted something vintage and Victorian and magical, and there aren't a lot of writers doing that right now.

I was just about to head to the register when I spotted The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss. The cover art looked elegant and magical, and definitely historical. It was also nicely discounted for a hardcover, so I opened the book to read the first couple paragraphs, and then my daughter came up and gave me the look that said I'd browsed enough and it was time to go.

I know what a pain I am at book stores, so I didn't read a word of the book. I had a feeling it was close to if not exactly what I wanted, though, and I took it up to the register and bought it. If I didn't like it, I'd be out a couple bucks and it would go to the Friends of the Library. When I got home that day I put it to the side and actually forgot about it for a day or two until I hit a work lull and went looking for something to read and remembered it.

How was it? Well, the Friends of the Library aren't getting this one, and I'm actually going to have to pick up some extra copies. The Twelfth Enchantment is a great read, beautifully written and completely unexpected. It's also exactly what I wanted to read, which is a little spooky, but there you go. You can shop all you want online, but I think there is something magical about browsing in a real book store, and this book is proof.

The story, which is written in a voice and style that immediately invokes Jane Austen, starts off with the dismal situation of Lucy Derrick, a genteel young lady who is orphaned, penniless and forced to live with her very unpleasant uncle. She's also been roped into marrying the equally disagreeable owner of a local mill, thanks to a youthful, reckless indiscretion that ended better than most but still taints her. Just as you're ready for some insanely handsome, filthy rich rake to swoop in and save her from her unhappy fate, Lord Byron (yes, that Lord Byron) shows up. He's a mess, probably drunk, and tells Lucy not to marry Mr. Disagreeable -- just before he starts throwing up silver pins. Lord Byron, you see, has been cursed, and the only person who can save his life is Lucy. She just doesn't know it yet.

From that point on all bets are off on what happens next, and believe me, you won't be able to guess what that is. I couldn't. This story builds and expands and brings into its world so many unexpected elements, characters and plot twists you simply have to go along for the ride. There are echoes of Austen's stories throughout the novel, particularly in some of the characterizations and certain lines in the dialogue, but this is no mash up. The weakest aspect of the story was the actual magic, which was archetypal and not especially plausible, and one major element may have been derived from a Johnny Depp film. I didn't mind that so much because the rest of the writing made up for it. I've never read anything quite like this book, and it was just what I wanted -- unpredictable, magical historical adventure that kept me guessing until the final pages.

Once I do get my hands on more copies of The Twelfth Enchantment I promise they'll find their way into Her Ladyship's Hat Box as well as the hands of friends. As books go, this one's magic was definitely meant to be shared.