Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What I Read This Past Year

Last August, as an experiment, I decided I'd post candid reviews of the books I would read over the next year on Goodreads.com. For obvious reasons, I decided not to review current romance releases. It's impossible to be honest about friends' work and it's unwise to be honest about the work of competitors. But for almost everything else I read, I rated the book and wrote a few paragraphs explaining my rating, because if there's anything I hate as a reader, it's reviewers who don't explain why they liked--or didn't like a book.

Now that year is over, and I've completed 97 reviews. You can check them out here:

Jenny Brown's Goodreads.com Reviews

The best part of posting the reviews has been that it gives me the ability to go back months later and recall exactly how I responded to a given book. In the past, I might remember that I liked something, but the exact reasons would tend to fade away.

On the other hand, because I can't give every book a rave review, I'm probably piling up authorial karma for myself when I am completely honest about my responses to what I read. Being honest presents difficulties since I know people are out there reading and reviewing my work. I also know what a day-spoiler it is when they post harsh criticisms.

For that reason, as the year went on, I made the decision not to rate or review quite a few mediocre, but obscure, books I read this year. I knew the authors had received little from their books but the joy of publication, and I didn't want to ruin their days, especially if they were books that had little or no other reviews posted.

However, I felt no such compunctions in reviewing books whose authors received huge advances, massive publisher support, book tours, and sycophantic reviews that did not match up at all with what I found between the covers, especially when there were lots of other reviews repeating the judgements of whoever had anointed these authors as literary stars. I figured the authors of these kinds of books can survive a few discouraging words far better than most of us, and because I had read so many much better--and less hyped--books over this same year, I felt it worthwhile to warn readers who share my tastes that some of these books were a total waste of time and money.

What do you think? Do you review the books you read? If you do, how do you feel about what you do?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Perils of Writing Historical Novels Accurately

I'm one of those readers who likes authors to get the facts straight in their novels. I was not happy when one of my favorite mystery authors had his hero fill the tank of an old Sentra with 20 gallons of gas, because I had driven a couple of Sentras and knew that their tanks only held about 11 gallons. The author's error undermined my trust that other details he described were right. By the same token, I hate it when writers of historical romances write dialogue where characters use recent slang that would never been spoken by someone in 1985, to say nothing of 1805.

So this motivates me to do a lot of research about the things I put into my own books. I check the words I use in an etymological dictionary to make sure they were in use at the time of my story or not long after--since it takes a while for new words to appear in print. I research material details. If something appears in a room my characters walk through, it is often because I found it pictured in a contemporaneous print.

But I'm learning that using historically accurate facts in a novel can backfire, because the actual historical fact can conflict with what readers think they "know" based on their much more recent experience.

My hero's uniform is a case in point. Since I assigned him to an actual regiment that took part in the the Indian war I describe him as having fought in, I made a point of researching his uniform very carefully. I started out looking for images online and found a picture of a toy soldier from the same regiment. However, that toy soldier was dated a few years after my story took place, and further research into the history of that regiment taught me that my hero's regiment had been converted from a dragoon regiment to a hussar regiment the year after my story concludes, and that their uniform had been changed significantly after this conversion.

So that sent me back to do more research. Fortunately, through the magic of Google Books, I was able to find a book published only a few years before my time when my story was set that listed the specifics of the uniforms of each British Army regiment, including my hero's. It gave the color of the body of the uniform, the color of the facings, and of the lace, distinguishing between that found on officer's uniforms and that of the common soldier. Feeling on safe ground at last, I used it.

Only to have a reviewer insist I had gotten it wrong because her father-in-law--who one assumes was not in active service in 1820--had worn a uniform of a different color when he was in an Irish cavalry regiment. This, discrepancy, apparently, convinced the reviewer that my book was riddled with inaccuracies, an opinion she passed on to countless readers who when they pick up my book--if they bother--will approach it with the "knowledge" that it's all wrong.

Another reviewer who writes that she is of Indian descent, took issue with the name Trev uses to refer to the language he speaks with another Englishman who has spent many years in India. I had called it Hindustani, but the reviewer insisted that the language spoken in India is called Hindi. Well, yes, that is true today, but two hundred years ago, Englishmen in India spoke a different language when conversing with the locals--a lingua franca called Hindustani--which was a mixture of Hindi and Urdu (the language of the Mughals who still ruled large tracts of India.) This, too, was something I'd checked out before employing the phrase--but once again, what the reader knew about the present day made her assume what I'd done was wrong.

Of course it is possible, even with detailed research, that I will get some things wrong. I'm not writing for the Journal of Regency Studies, but for a reader who wants a deeply moving, passionate love story. At a certain point I have to let go of the research and follow my characters where they may lead me.

But I do want to assure those of you who do care about getting things right--and since my publisher has made a point of promoting my books as books that do get the historical details right I know you're out there--that I have done my research, quite a lot of it. So if something looks wrong, give me the benefit of the doubt, or if it really bothers you, shoot me an email and I'll be happy to explain my reasoning and listen to what you've found that might contradict it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Post for The Now Defunct Borders Trueromance Blog

The book buying world is a lot poorer now that Borders is no more, and romance readers are even poorer because as of July 29, 2011, the Borders Trueromance blog has been shut down.

I'd been scheduled to appear on the blog to discuss Star Crossed Seduction and had already written my post, so rather than let it go to waste, I'm going to share it with you here.

Setting: London in 1820s.
Subgenre: Regency Historical Romance
Hero: Captain Miles Trevelyan, nicknamed Trev
Heroine: Temperance Smith

One sentence summary: In this Scorpio-themed book, a war-weary Cavalry officer, who is looking for a night of dalliance, rescues a beautiful pickpocket from arrest, but their casual encounter leads to a no holds barred battle of the sexes that threatens their very lives--unless they can heal their wounded hearts.

Scene you like most and would never cut:
The scene that ensues when Trev, hoping to get the heroine out of his system, makes an assignation to meet her at a location she has let him believe is a brothel. It isn't.

Thing your heroine would never be caught dead doing/saying: God save the King! Temperance's whole life has been shaped by the republican ideals that brought her to London in the wake of a rabble-rousing revolutionary.

Tell us one quirky thing about your hero? Trev is fluent in several of the languages of India and has earned a reputation as being an expert in the interpretation of Sanskrit manuscripts--including the Kama Sutra.

What is your heroine’s occupation: After the death of her lover, the revolutionary, Temperance and two young girls have supported themselves by picking pockets. Their only alternative was to work for the local bawd, Mother Bristwick.

What is your hero’s occupation: Trev, who grew up in a military family, is a cavalry officer recently returned from fighting in India's Third Maratha War. But his real love is the "little jobs" he undertakes from time to time for the scheming head of India's Political and Secret Department.

What do you think readers will like best about this book: The intense battle of the sexes Temperance and Trev engage in as they pit their well-honed seductive talents against each other in a futile struggle to avoid the obsessional attraction that draws them together.

How does Star Crossed Seduction connect to Lord Lightning? Lord Hartwood and Eliza make a brief, but important appearance in this story when Eliza attempts to rescue Temperance from her chosen way of life by inviting her and her fellow pickpockets to become inmates at her new Refuge for Unfortunate Females Conducted on Strict Astrological Principles. Temperance, as you might imagine, doesn't take well to being reformed.

What’s next: My next book in the Lords of the Seventh House series, which is not linked to the first two, will be the Pisces book, Perilous Pleasures. The hero is a Scottish lord with a tragic past who has taken a vow of chastity after falling under the sway of a mysterious mystical master. I've paired him with a cynical Virgo who is the ugly daughter of a beautiful courtesan--the same courtesan the hero believes sent his sister to her death during the French Revolution.

About Me:

1. What’s your favorite kind of story to get lost in? I love long, beautifully written, complex emotionally wrenching stories where we get deep into the head of a masterful man who must go through painful growth before he can win our--and the heroine's--hearts.

2. What’s the first book you remember reading? The first picture book I remember loving was If I ran the Zoo. The first chapter book was: Mara Daughter of the Nile. Or was it Johnny Tremaine? I've always loved stories with a historical setting.

3. What would your occupation be if you were no longer a writer? If reality was no bar? Fronting a heavy metal band. But if we have to stick with the possible, the sad truth is that I've been a writer for so long I'm not fit to do anything else.

4. What do you do to unwind and relax? Read.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Cover of Star Crossed Seduction

I'm loving this cover because the characters look so much like the way they appeared in my mind's eye when I was writing their story. Temperance, the seductive pickpocket who is the heroine of Star Crossed Seduction,looks so much like what I imagined it's spooky.

Trev, my hero, is a bit harder and more mature than this cover model, as you'd expect of a man who has been on active service in a war zone in Northern India since his early teens. He's also more magnetic, dominant, and commanding. But in real life, people like Trev don't spend their time posing for artists, so I'm happy that my wonderful cover artist was able to find a model whose appearance comes so close. If you like this cover, you won't be disappointed with what's on the pages inside it.

BTW, the cover artist is the incomparable James Griffin. You can see more of his work on his blog, Paint Layers. He also did the cover for Lord Lightning. I feel so fortunate to have someone of his caliber bringing my characters to life.

In case you're wondering what The "Kiss and Teal" medallion is all about, my publisher, HarperCollins/Avon, is using the launch of its September Historical Romances to promotes Ovarian Cancer Awareness.

The logic behind this is compelling. These romances reach a million women a month--the audience that benefits most from learning about the symptoms that should send a woman to her gynecologist for further screening. HarperCollins will also be donating a goodly sum to the charity that runs the Teal Ribbon campaign for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. Because I know some people who have survived this deadly cancer I'm happy to be participating in an effort to break through the fear and silence that usually surround it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More on Star Crossed Seduction

Here's the blurb I put on the bookmarks for my next romance, Star Crossed Seduction which is coming out at the end of August:

Lovers or Enemies?
Captain Miles Trevelyan, on leave from active service in India, is heading out for a night on the town when he rescues a beautiful pickpocket from arrest. She's the perfect choice for a few days of dalliance--beautiful, cunning, and completely disposable.

But Temperance has no intention of becoming the plaything of a man who wears the uniform of the solders who murdered her lover. Disarming Trev with a kiss, she escapes. But her sultry kiss opens the two Scorpio adversaries to an obsessive attraction that neither can elude--or possibly survive.
* * *

The back of the bookmark will entertain you, too, as it gives you instructions, by astrological sign, for "How to Win His Heart."

I'll send any of my American readers a Star Crossed Seduction bookmark if you mail a self-addressed stamped envelope (use a $.44 stamp)to this address:

Jenny Brown
P.O. Box 402
Turners Falls, MA 01376

Not only will you find out how to win his heart, you'll also be among the first to see the striking cover of Star Crossed Seduction (which is still embargoed by my publisher.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another Milestone Passed!

Today I corrected the proofs for Star Crossed Seduction, also known to friends and foes alike as "The Scorpio Book."

Reading proof can be a dispiriting undertaking because by the time a book has reached the proof stage you aren't allowed to change anything substantial. So it follows, as night follows day, that the proof stage is the time where previously hidden flaws decide it is time to reveal themselves and glare balefully off the page at their hapless author.

But not this time! I'm even more enthusiastic about this book now than I was at the copyedit phase. Problems have been solved. Rough edges smoothed. And best of all, now that it's done, I will never have to read it again!

Only those of you who are fellow authors will know what a comforting thought that is. I must have read this book some seventeen times by now. Slowly and with great attention to detail.

Now all I have to do is wait and see whether you and thousands of others enjoy it. I hope you do. But at this point there is nothing more I can do to ensure that happens. It's up to Trev and Temperance, the pair of truly star crossed lovers who took over my life for a year and would not quit until I'd told their poignant story, to do that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's New?

First off, I want to thank all of you who bought Lord Lightning. Extra special thanks go to everyone who took the time to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.com.

My editor tells me Lord Lightning has sold well for a debut release by a hitherto unknown author, even though it came out at a time when retail book sales across the industry were under a lot of pressure and during a month when there were 31 other historical romances released at the same time.

Some of you have wondered why my publisher has set the Kindle price so high. The answer is not, as some ignorant people post online, that the publisher is greedy. Far from it. The issue is this: brick and mortar bookstores order tens of thousands of copies of Avon's paperbacks. If the download was priced much lower than the printed book readers would go to the store, look through the books, decide which ones looked interesting and then download them, leaving the printed books sitting on the shelf unsold. Those books cost the publishers a lot of money to print and ship, and if people buy the download instead of the paperback, the bookstore strips the cover, throws the book away, and the publisher has to refund the bookstore the full cost of the unsold book.

Even worse, when too many of the printed books come back from the stores as unsold returns, the next time the publisher releases a book by the same author, the stores won't stock it. Because so many shoppers--even those who download--are still looking at bookstore books to determine which books they want to buy, if the book isn't in the stores, the author's sales will plummet. So Avon and other big publishers are pricing e-books in such a way that people who find the book on a shelf are not motivated to download them instead of buying the book they hold in their hands.

Quite a few readers have been asking me what my next book will be and when it's coming out. I'm thrilled to be able to tell you that my next release is the Scorpio book, which will be out this September 28. The publisher chose the title, Star Crossed Seduction, and they've given it a cover that I think is even better than the spectacular cover of Lord Lightning.

The cover for Star Crossed Seduction is both romantic and tasteful. But what really excites me about it is that the people on this cover look exactly like the way I imagined the characters in the story would look.

I'm not allowed to show you the cover yet, but as soon as I can, it will be posted here, along with more information about the story. I can tell you that people who have read and enjoyed Star Crossed Seduction and Lord Lightning tell me that Star Crossed Seduction is the better book.

Beyond that, this month I'm wrapping up work on the third book in the Lords of the Seventh House series, which will be the Pisces book. I'll tell you more about it once my editor has had a chance to weigh in on it this spring.