Tuesday, November 2, 2010

RT Book Reviews Nominates Lord Lightning for Readers Choice Award!

I'm delighted to announce that Lord Lightning was just picked to be one of RT Book Reviews' Reader's Choice Award Nominees as one of the "Best Historical Novels 2010."

Even better it was nominated in the "Historical K.I.S.S. Hero" category, spotlighting Lord Lightning himself, the inimitable Edward Neville.

I couldn't have asked for anything better. My hope was that readers would fall in love with Edward as deeply as I did and this nomination suggests that they have.

You might be interested to know that when the hero of Lord Lightning first showed up and informed me that his name was Edward, I was concerned. This was several years before Ms. Meyer had published Twilight and is name sounded a bit stodgy to me since the bestselling authors were writing about all those dashing Wulfs and Aidens and Blazes.

But I stuck with it because my hero insisted it was his name and because "Edward" is a real English name of the sort real English aristocrats would have given children born in the late 18th century who of course, are the people who grew up to be our Regency heroes.

Now of course, Lord Lightning's first name is fiercely trendy again, and I've even been accused of jumping on a bandwagon when, in truth, my eccentric hero got there long before that parvenue vampire boy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lord Lightning is Off and Running!

Lord Lightning came out on September 28th, though it took another ten days or so for it to make it to shelves in bookstores around the country. It's fully stocked now, and people have spotted it in stores from New England to Hawaii and even in Canada.

Because I live out in the middle of nowhere with very few chain bookstores anywhere nearby and wanted to see my book on real life bookstore shelves I put together a contest where people could upload photos when they spotted Lord Lightning. Several lucky spotters will win prizes.

You can see the spottings--including the one by the guy wearing a kilt--on this page:

Where's Lord Lightning?

But to tell the truth, it's been nerve-wracking couple weeks as I wait to see how my brand new first novel will do in the marketplace. I finally heard from my editor this week, and she tells me that sales have been very good. That was a huge relief.

I'm also starting to get some fan mail, which is very heartening, though I'm also starting to get the occasional extremely negative review, which my friends who have a lot of books under their belts tell me is normal. Hopefully the people who love Lord Lightning will outnumber those who hate it. If you liked it, do let me know!

While waiting for news over these past weeks, I've occupied my time by posting on quite a few romance blogs whose owners were generous enough to ask me to drop by.

You can find the whole list of guest blog posts and links to the blogs where they appear on this page: Jenny Brown's Blog Tour.

Among my favorite blog appearances were two interviews. One appears at Not Another Romance Blog . Another I enjoyed greatly was hosted by the pirates over at Romance Writer's Revenge .

Christina Phillips, whose debut romance, Forbidden has the most gorgeous cover you'd ever want to see and features an intensely erotic story set in one of my favorite settings, Roman Britain, interviewed me at her blog, Christina Phillips.

Finally, fellow Avon author and friend Miranda Neville and I interviewed each other over on The Season Blog.
Miranda writes witty Regency-set historical romances that stand out from the crowd. I love the way she respects the history of the period and how she takes her stories away from those boring ballrooms and shows us nooks and crannies of the Regency world we haven't seen before. The Dangerous Viscount (Avon) is her latest. Don't miss it!

In another week it will be time for me to turn away from the exciting life of the published author and get back to what it is that published authors mostly do--which is to sit at their desks typing while the house around them deteriorates into total decrepitude since stopping to clean would interfere with the creative process.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Must the Rake Be Tamed?

There’s no getting around the appeal of the bad boy hero: Dark and dangerous, the most infamous rake in England, an abandoned libertine--if you’re like me, you need only see these words on a cover blurb to reach for your wallet. While others may prefer spies or wealthy dukes, no hero interests me more than the man who, heedless of society’s strictures explores the outer limits of his sexuality.

So when I set out to write the Regency set novel that became Lord Lightning that was the kind of hero I chose to write about. The man society has nicknamed Lord Lightning in tribute to his shocking behavior has behaved so badly he is forever barred from polite society. He is famed for his cold heart and his boast that he will never give his heart to a woman for even a single moment. He is also, like most bad boy heroes, witty and devastatingly charming, exuding sexual power from every pore.

But what sets him apart from a thousand other heroes of historical romance is this: My hero really is a rake, and as Lord Lightning unfolds he continues to act like one. Unlike so many supposedly rakish heroes, he is not a very nice man pretending to be a rake. He is not misunderstood. The transgressions for which society has excluded him are real.

Nor does he instantly fall in love as soon as the heroine, the gently bred amateur astrologer, Eliza Farrell, appears on his horizon. For from it. Her confidence that his astrological chart shows him to be a man who needs to love and be loved annoys him, and he sets out at once to prove her wrong. This should be easy, as Eliza is destitute and easily lured into his bed.

It should be a simple matter to seduce and abandon her, but even her trusting response to his sexual predation does not make him fall in love with her. We are not following the usual script here at all.

It is only when Eliza gives Lord Lightning a taste of his own medicine—and behaves in ways that are not what he expects-–and shows herself as capable as he is of outrageous behavior—that he begins to find her interesting. But even then, it is a toss up whether Eliza’s astrological art will transform the notorious rake into a better man or his seductive skills that will transform her.

It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that in most rake stories the heroine falls in love with the bad boy hero and joins him in an adventure filled with forbidden, edgy sex, but by the end of the story this wild, exciting man’s love for the heroine traps them both in a conventional marriage. We find them in the sequel dwelling in their comfortable home surrounded by perfect children—living the same life the heroine would have had if she’d married a nice man who had never thumbed his nose at the rules of the society.

The author may wish us to believe this domesticated pair is still having the same kind of earth shaking sex they had when they were strangers taking bold sexual risks, but I don’t buy it. So that isn’t kind of ending you’ll find in Lord Lightning. Though the delicious man who loves to shock will, by the end of the story, find happiness with his Eliza, it won’t be because she’s turned him into a nice suburban husband.

For before Eliza can finally find happiness, she will have to accept that she loves Lord Lightning for what he has always been—in all his rakish glory—as much as she loves the “better” man he has become. And I hope that when you read Lord Lightning you will, too!
This post originally appeared as a guest post at The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills.

The illustrations accompanying it are Plate 3 of Hogarth's series of paintings, "The Rake's Progress" and portraits of the infamous Lord Byron and self-dramatizing rake and dreadful husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lord Lightning and Real Regency Astrology

Eliza Farrell, the heroine of my debut romance, Lord Lightning, which will be on the stands September 28, is a gently raised lady who is a direct descendant of William Lilly, England’s most famous astrologer.

Though you might be surprised to learn this, the use of astrology was very popular much during the Regency period, and among its greatest challenges was to figure out what the astrological meaning was of the new planet, Uranus, which had only just been discovered in 1789.

Not so coincidentally, this turns out to be Eliza’s biggest challenge, too. For Eliza reads the chart of an anonymous stranger and interprets it as being that of a man who was born to love, only to be told that the chart is that of a well known libertine, nicknamed Lord Lightning, who is famed for his cold heart and shocking behavior.

Sure enough, the outrageous Lord’s chart is dominated by the new planet Uranus, which stands at the very point that shows the role the person takes on the world’s stage. Can it be true Eliza wonders, that, as some speculate, Uranus causes explosive, unpredictable behavior?

It’s certainly true that, as his nickname suggests, Lord Lightning delights in shocking others. And the libertine lord does his best to shock Eliza, too, for her claim that he’s at heart a loving man infuriates him, and he sets out to prove that she’s wrong. How better to do that than to seduce and abandon her?

So Lord Lightning abducts Eliza and demands that she take the place of the mistress who left him thanks to her astrological counsel. But Eliza turns out to be just as capable of shocking behavior as is the Byronic lord. When he insists her reading of his character is wrong, she’s not going to let a little thing like Lord Lightning’s irresistible sexual allure keep her from proving she’s right.

I hope you enjoy the battle of wills that follows, in what I suspect may be the steamiest astrological lesson ever penned.

For those of you who are interested in the history of astrology, it turns out the person who first discovered the astrological effect of the new planet, Uranus, was William Blake's good friend, the water colorist John Varley.

An anecdote related by his son tells how one morning, after examining his transits, Varley predicted that some dire event associated with Uranus would occur that day.

When his house was discovered to be in flames, "He was so delighted at having discovered what the astrological effect of Uranus was," his son reported, "that he sat down while his house was burning knowing though he did that he was not insured a penny to write an account of his discovery. He had timed the catastrophe to within a few minutes."

Now that was a real astrologer!
Portions of the post above appeared in a guest blog post published on Petit Fours and Hot Tamales.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why I Write Wounded Heroes

I love learning about other historical periods, and I find astrology fascinating, but neither interest is what drove me to write Romance. I write Romance because romances let me work through my favorite theme: the process through which a person whose personality has been formed by the experience of betrayal learns to trust and love.

My heroes, as you will see when you read my books, are people who have very good reasons for avoiding close relationships. Lord Lightning's hero, Edward Neville, revels in the role he plays--that of a cold-hearted rake who has never let any woman get close to him. His chosen role keeps him safe from ever again experiencing the devastating betrayals that shaped his personality, and it will not be easy for him to shed the persona he's become so comfortable with.

The hero of my second novel has found a different way to avoid closeness. He's a soldier serving in India whose duties give him a plausible reason to avoid marriageable women with whom he might form a close bond.

Though these two stories are very different--Lord Lightning plays on light, theatrical Leo themes while the second book explores the much darker Scorpio archetype--both stories share one thing in common. Their heroes feel safe getting into the relationships that will transform their lives because they are so certain they have finally found someone they need not fear falling in love with.

I return to this theme over and over--even when I set out to write a different kind of story. The reason is not hard to find. It's the story of my own journey from solitude to committed partnership.

I found true love quite late in life, with a person who, on the surface, appeared so completely unlikely to become a long-term partner, that I let myself be lured out of my comfort zone. What I assumed would be nothing more than a very brief fling is going into its fifteenth year as a committed relationship. In order to make that relationship work, like my heroes, I've had to confront some serious inner demons and heal some devastating emotional wounds.

That said, neither my heroes or my heroines are autobiographical in anything but the nature of their inner journey. Their emotions may be ones with which I am very familiar--which is why I can write them in a way that will stir those who read their stories. But the fun of writing novels is that I can give them personalities far more interesting than mine.

Lord Lightning has the ability I would kill for, of being able deliver a witty riposte in real time. Like most people, my best retorts only occur to me hours after it's too late to deliver them.

Captain Trevelyan, the hero of my Scorpio book is skilled at political intrigue and has mastered the art of keeping his real thoughts and emotions completely hidden. Those who know me will understand at once why I find that fantasy so fulfilling. I'm lucky if I can hide anything that pops into my mind--or heart--for more than three minutes.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Astrological Characteristics of Romance Writers

A few months ago, when I was mulling over which sign I wanted to focus on for my next novel, I found myself wondering about the astrological characteristics of Romance writers. Were certain signs more common on their charts?

To gather data that might answer this question, I posted a question on a discussion group frequented by published Romance writers. Rather than look at their entire chart--which would be fascinating but also extremely time consuming--I asked them to send me their Sun sign, Moon sign and the sign of their Ascendant.

These are what many astrologers consider the most significant placements on a chart (though personally I am starting to think that the position of and aspects to Moon's Nodes are just as essential.) To help them find this information, I included a link to an excellent site that computes free charts and gives a brief explanation of the meaning of each planetary placement. You can visit that link here:
Astrolabe: Free Birth Chart & Astrology Report Data Input

Thirty-four writers contributed their data. This is a small sample, but still large enough to be worth examining. There was also a "selection bias" involved. Because this data was collected via a voluntary survey people chose whether or not to participate, and it's likely people with certain kinds of personalities would be more prone to contribute data. With those caveats in mind, here's what the data showed.

At the most general level, the authors who submitted data had more chart elements in Leo than any other sign--14, followed by Capricorn-12, Pisces-11 and Sagittarius-10. At the other end of the spectrum, Gemini-4, Aquarius-4 and Taurus-4 were the most scarce.

The Sun, Moon, and Rising sign (also called the ascendant) point to different elements in personality, though, so it is worth looking at the frequency with which they occur in these individual factors.


The Sun sign describes the central ego drive--your main motivation for action.

The most frequently reported Sun signs (5 each) were Leo and Virgo.

Finding Leo here is no surprise. Leo is associated with performing and acting, self expression and creativity. Leo is also associated with love affairs, so it makes sense that Leos would write stories about those affairs. Many Leos act out the characters they create as they write, too.

Virgo is associated with Mercury--which rules writing. Virgo is also very thorough and detail oriented and these are traits which really come in useful if you intend to write a book someone else will pay money to read.

However, the Virgo Sun can get overly analytical and consumed with trivia. I note that most of the people with Virgo Suns who have published Romances also have Moons or Rising signs in the more emotional signs that are most common among romance writers, especially Scorpio or Leo. Without some other chart influence to direct their intellectual energy towards describing emotion, the Virgo writer may prefer to use her skills for something more practical, like documenting software--which pays better.

The least frequent Sun signs reported were Taurus, Capricorn, Aries and Aquarius with 1 each. The scarcity of Taurus is interesting, as it is associated with Venus which you'd think would give an interest in love, but perhaps there's something to its reputation for being a bit lazy and too prone to seeking comfort unless there are other strong chart influences counteracting those tendencies. Writing books is hard work! The Taurus also may find love so easily she doesn't need to fantasize about it or read stories about it.

Aries is known for its short attention span. It starts out with a bang and loses interest (again unless there are other counterbalancing strong chart elements). This, too, works against finishing novels. Aries is also more interested in energetic fun sex without emotional complexity. As my favorite Aries asks, "Why do romance writers show men thinking emotional thoughts during sex scenes?" if you don't know the answer to that, you aren't going to sell the classic romance novel.

Aquarius isn't all that interested in "love stuff" and many people with Aquarius Suns find dwelling on emotion annoying. They are more interested in group enterprises and when they pair off it often isn't in a way acceptable to Romance reader expectations. Capricorn Suns may avoid expressing emotion, too, and tend to denigrate its importance. They'll marry for reasons besides emotional love--social position, wealth, security.


The Moon describes the conditioned behavior patterns we learned in the course of our upbringing. Often it describes the way we experienced our mothers. It describes, too, how we respond emotionally to the outside world and the environment in which we will be most comfortable.

The most common Moon sign found among these authors was a surprise: Capricorn, with 6. Why is this a surprise? Because Capricorn is the most "afflicted" Moon placement--the one that finds it most difficult to operate. People with Capricorn Moons usually grow up in an environment where there is a scarcity of affection and emotional support and they learn to keep their feelings to themselves. They can be very loving, but they give without asking anything in return and may have trouble letting others know what they feel.

So it is possible that some people are drawn to write romance out of a need for more emotion and affection than they have received in childhood. Writing about romance is a safe way to learn more about emotion. A person with a Capricorn moon may be most comfortable in a private, safe, secure, lonely place--which sounds a lot like the room where many of us write. The Capricorn Moon is also a very hard worker. A longing for emotional experience combined with the ability to work very hard may be the perfect combination for getting published.

Pisces--another very difficult Moon position--came next with 5. People with Pisces moons are very happy hidden way in their offices imagining beautiful things because it can be too painful to engage with the real world which tends to overwhelm them. They can also be addictive readers. It isn't possible to be a good writer unless you have read enough books to know what good writing looks like. People with Pisces moons also have the ability to drift out into other dimensions and sometimes to channel, both skills which help when writing fiction. For someone with a Pisces moon, the phrase, "The characters came alive" is not a metaphor. The characters may become so real they threaten to draw the Pisces Moon person into their dimension and keep them there.

Scorpio Moons were next, with 4. This is yet another "afflicted moon." It feels things extremely intensely but is often misunderstood and rejected by others because of its emotional intensity and tendency to get into power games with others. This might incline someone with this placement to get involved with imaginary characters who are more likely to do exactly what they are told. Writing stories also allows the writer with a Scorpio Moon to fully explore the most intense, discomfort-causing emotions without having to deal with that push back that they get when they try to do this with real people.


Virgo: none. The Virgo moon is very unemotional and dissects and criticizes emotion in a way that doesn't make for enjoyable romance novels unless there are a lot of counterbalancing water or fire signs elsewhere on the chart.

Cancer 1--The person with a Cancer moon is very emotional--it's the Moon's favorite sign and it functions well there. Perhaps it functions so well, it gives a person with this Moon placement little incentive to go through all the hard work it takes to create emotion on paper. The person with a Cancer Moon is more likely to bake brownies when it's time to create--Cancer Moons love to feed others (and self), though they may enjoy reading the Romance novels other people write.

Gemini 1--This is a very intellectual Moon sign and one with a short attention span. The Gemini moon isn't all that interested in emotion and is too busy running around visiting friends and family to find time to write unless something else is going on elsewhere on the chart.


The rising sign anchors the house distribution of the chart and is the most important of all three factors. The word "horoscope" actually translates from Greek to mean "Rising sign." Until the 19th century if you asked someone "What's your sign" you would probably be told their rising sign.

The Rising sign describes what the person looks like to others physically and the overall way they strike others who don't know them very well. It describes the social role the person takes on rather than the way the person feels deep within themselves (which the Sun and Moon describe better.)

The most common Rising Signs reported were Leo 6, Scorpio 5, Sagittarius 5 and Capricorn 5. The least common were Aries 1, Aquarius 1, and Gemini 0.

Sagittarius would fit the "storyteller" archetype, though its scarcity in the deeper parts of the personality probably is due to the fact that when expressed in Sun or Moon, its tendency is to create people who "love 'em and leave 'em" and who are more interested in adventures than commitment. The Sag rising sign, however, makes the person be seen an explainer, a story teller, a reader, and a traveler. This is a person who thinks deeply about things and seeks an organizing principle to make sense out of detail.

Capricorn is something of a surprise here, too, all I can think of to explain it is that people with Capricorn Rising signs work very hard and are comfortable with frustration and delay, which is a personality type that makes it possible to keep writing until you break through. Authors have to tolerate years of rejection before their books sell, and the frustration and delay doesn't stop after they find a publisher

Leo and Scorpio are more self-explanatory. Scorpios are seen as very sexy and emotionally complex and Leos are seen as entertainers and lovers, though of course, if they aren't careful, they may also come across as prima donnas or spoiled brats.


The signs break down into Earth, Air, Fire and Water Signs. Out of curiosity, I analyzed frequencies by elements. The distribution was pretty even except for a definite shortage of Air signs.

The Air signs are Aquarius, Libra and Gemini. Libra was the best represented, and because it is the sign of marriage and partnership and associated with Venus, you'd expect that. But Air signs are focused on thought rather than experience and the Libra way of connecting with others is more likely to be a sports team than an emotionally wrenching relationship (again, unless other strong emotional chart elements are present.)

Aquarius and Gemini just don't get it when it comes to the kind of emotional conflict that drives romance. They might have liked the old Regency Trads, especially humorous ones, filled with detail and little sex but not today's kind of passionate sensual romance.


Though all Romance writers start out as Romance readers, my guess is that the astrological characteristics of the broader audience for Romance is a bit different than what we see with these authors. Many of the authors' traits are those that incline people to write Romance and gives them the dedication it takes to get published. Readers don't need anything more than some disposable income and a love of reading.

What astrological traits would you expect to find in people who love to read Romance?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lord Lightning's Cover Revealed!

I've been having to keep this under wraps for a few months but at last I can show it in public. Here is the cover for Lord Lightning. The type will be in gold foil.

Both the hero and heroine in the story are a lot older and far more English than the characters portrayed here, but they tell me this kind of cover sells books. If it works, I'm all for it.

So what do you think? Would this charm the pennies out of your purse?

I am just finishing up reading the page proofs today which marks a period in Lord Lightning's existence. When I am finished with the proofs I will never again have to read this particular book. To put this in context, I have read through the full manuscript of this novel from start to finish fourteen times since January 2009. Much as I love it, it will be good to move on.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why Learning to Revise Turned Me into a Published Author

There are some authors who can get an idea, sit down, write it out, run a spellcheck, and publish. I'm not one of them. I've published eight books by now and every one of them has had to go through anywhere from three to five drafts before it was published.

It doesn't matter what I'm writing about. Whether it be the subject of my first sale--Louisa May Alcott's childhood--or of my latest nonfiction bestseller--blood sugar--my first drafts are ugly. So are my second.

Because what I'm doing when I write an early draft is finding out what it is I'm going to be writing about. And much of what I discover in the process which will make the final book work doesn't make it onto the page in those early drafts.

What turned me from an aspiring writer to a paid writer was a graduate seminar, Writing Biography, taught by Stephen B. Oates. Oates's biography of Abraham Lincoln, With Malice Toward None, spent months on the New York Times bestseller list in the 1970s and is still in print today, and for good reason. It reads like a novel, pulling you through the story while explaining complex political issues in ways that made them accessible and understandable.

What Oates did in that seminar that was so transformational was to make us write a 50 page seminar paper and take it through three drafts. He looked at each draft and made suggestions. I thought I knew how to revise before that, but I learned how wrong I was.

Because the changes Oates showed us how to make were NOT line edits. He didn't suggest we use more felicitous phrases or more vibrant language. What he did instead was show us how we could alter the structure of the piece or the theme around which we organized our facts.

The discovery that you might have to throw out fifty pages you thought were pretty good and start all over again with the same material was an eye-opener for me. Until then, if I managed to get fifty pages of anything written the only changes I'd make when I turned to revising was to pretty up the sentences.

But it is only when you start reworking theme and structure that revising turns into the powerful process that can turn good but not great prose into something worth reading.

When I finished the last draft of my seminar paper--the fifth, I think--Oates suggested I submit it to American Heritage, which at the time was the most prestigious market for historical pieces. I did, and they bought it for an sum that could have paid my rent for four months.

That sale changed my life, even though it never saw print. Though I got paid in full for it, my acquiring editor died shortly afterwards and the magazine's new editor changed its format so that they no longer published long pieces like mine.

But every time I looked at the living room sofa I bought with the proceeds from that sale I knew I was an author--and I also knew that it could take many drafts to get my work from what I started out with to something that would sell.

That hasn't changed no matter how many books I write, because books come to me in bits and pieces and often without the organizing principle or theme that will make them work. Only after I've written a couple hundred pages do I start to get a sense of what I'm really writing.

My novels have worked that way too. Lord Lighting sold only after I found a different climax and resolution than the one it had through its first three drafts.

And now I'm finishing up the next book in its series due in a few weeks and have just completed draft four. The story is the same story I told in draft two--with a different sequence of scenes, quite a few new scenes, and a slightly different emotional story underlying the external plot.

Everything that ended up in this draft was present in some form in the earlier drafts, but what changed is the book's structure and theme. Because in the early exploratory drafts I learned so much about my characters that it took a while to find the strands of their stories that would make the most satisfying novel.

This time my mentor through the process--and the saver of my sanity--was author Lisa Brackmann, whose brilliant debut novel Rock Paper Tiger received a starred review in last week's Publisher's Weekly. She was also featured there in a wonderful PW Talks with Lisa Brackmann which I urge you to read.

Lisa and I have been exchanging manuscripts for years and we sold our debut novels within a few months of each other. Without Lisa's encouragement I don't think I'd be a published author now. She writes with a process similar to my own as her books also gradually surface as she writes and revises many drafts.

Because she writes that way, she could read my draft and see that there was a good story buried in it, and her confidence and suggestions made it possible to go through the two more drafts which brought that story out.

When I read books by authors who are frustratingly close to publication but not quite there yet, I often see a story that would benefit from the kind of structural revisions I've learned is what it takes to make my books salable.

If you are stuck in, "You write well, but" territory, instead of revising your sentences, consider revising your plot, the sequence in which events occur, your conflicts, or even the dynamics of a character. This is a lot more work than polishing your prose, but it might just be what will turn you into a published author.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Using Real Charts to Craft Believable Characters

Astrology seems to be re-emerging in genre fiction after a twenty-year sleep. This is good. What isn't quite so good is that all too often when people hear the word "astrology" they expect the bastardized version of astrology you find on the newspaper comic pages: one that reduces all people to one of twelve archetypes.

This has never been what real astrology does. Though the signs do describe archetypes, each person's chart features ten astrological planets each in its own sign, each placed in one of the twelve astrological houses, all interacting with each other in ways that make some strong, some weak, some keys to the individual's character, and some muted in their effect.

This is why real astrology describes real people, with all the conflicts, contradictions, strengths and weaknesses that real people display.

Let's look briefly at what Sun Sign Astrology might tell us about a person, and then compare it with what real astrology might say.

Sun sign astrology tells us that a person born with the sun in Leo is "proud, regal, theatrical, creative, and may have child-like traits or be heavily invested in his or her children." We all know people like that, but what you've got here is really an archetype not a description of the one twelfth of all humans alive who were born between July 23 and August 23.

Real astrology tells us a lot more about a "Leo" because it looks not only at what sign the Sun was in at birth, but also where the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were. Each planet describe a facet of personality and each may be found in a different sign.

The most important factor on a real astrological chart is NOT the sign of the Sun, it's what sign (and degree) was on the horizon at the moment of birth--that of the Ascendant. That is because the position of the Ascendant determines how the chart is divided into Houses. Houses, in turn, determine what area of life a planet (including the Sun) will express in.

A person whose Sun was in Leo might have been born before dawn, which would put their Sun in the First House. Their life would be about self expression and they'd express their creative Leo ego energy in a way that might strike others as selfish. The person with a First House Leo Sun is likely to be a Prima Donna--and that's what they're supposed to be.

Another Leo born the same day just before sunset would have their Sun located in their chart's Seventh house. Their life would be about partnership. They'd still be creative, theatrical, and childlike at heart, but they might well choose a partner to express those traits for them and stand out of the way while the partner does his or her thing. They'd have and Aquarius ascendant if born that time of day, which would make them appear to the world to be a far more objective, political, impersonal kind of person. Only those who knew the person very well would be aware that all three of this person's spouses were dramatic, childlike, creative people and realize how this "Leo" expressed the Leo archetype.

The placement of the planets besides the Sun are vital too.

The Moon moves into a new sign every two and a half days. It describes many things about a person, the most important of which is their early childhood environment, the person's perception of their mother, and what they expect from the world (which is of course conditioned by the early childhood experience.)

A Leo with an energetic, impulsive, perhaps even angry, Aries Moon will have a very different childhood and learn a very different way of interacting with the world than a person would who was born into the environment described by the oversensitive, self-sacrificing, religious or perhaps addicted or dishonest Pisces Moon, though the two individuals might have been born less than three days apart.

Add because these Moons are probably going to be placed n a different House on the chart, the complexities increase. A person with a Pisces Moon in the Tenth House might have mother who was all too well known in their home town for a drinking problem. Another Leo with a Pisces Moon placed in the Second House might have had a childhood dominated by a mother who was unable to manage her finances or who was bilked of them by a con man. These people will have very different core issues which have in common only that they make it difficult to express the creativity and warmth their Leo Sun might give them.

How well the individual's Sun and Moon relate toe each other makes a difference in personality, too. A Leo whose Aries Moon makes a pleasant Trine with that Leo Sun will tend to have parents (also represented by Sun and Moon) who get along and the person will be able to express themselves with ease because nature (Sun) and nurture (Moon) are in harmony.

The Leo with the Pisces Moon has a tougher time. These planets connect in a way that is uncomfortable, so the individual's upbringing with its undertone of confusion, deception, or sacrifice for others, may make it hard for them to feel comfortable expressing themselves in the classic confident Leo manner.

These examples barely scratch the surface, but they give you some idea of why real astrology is a wonderful tool for understanding the rich complexity of real people.

And because complex real people are the characters readers enjoy reading about the most, real astrology can help you add layers of complexity to your characters. Using a real chart will remind you that each person is a complex collection of psychological traits, some of which they express easily, some of which are blocked, and some of which are incompatible with each other.

A real chart can point you to which conflicts are most likely to be the toughest and most rewarding for your characters. Give a character a Sun Sign personality that demands they achieve a certain kind of self-expression but give them other Planets that makes it tough to express that self, and you have the beginnings of an enjoyable novel.

Using real astrology forces you away from archetypes. Your Leo who is a Prince living in a palace is boring. Give him a Capricorn Moon in the Sixth House. Now his parents are defeated by an enemy shortly after his birth and he's raised as a servant. Sprinkle in some Pisces on his chart, so that he's been deceived about who he really is. Then give him a Sagittarius Mars that propels him into a journey that will lead him to the lessons he needs to become what he feels he is inside.

Suddenly you have what looks like an interesting story--one that is character-driven--and one that uses astrology to create characters that have the mix of archetype and complexity that characterize real people.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Live on Amazon!

At long last, a mere eight months since I received the offer from HarperCollins/Avon, Lord Lightning has shown up on Amazon. It's real folks!

We also have a cover. It's brilliant. But I'm not allowed to show it to you until May. This provides a completely new definition for "torture." Given my druthers I'd have already put it up on a billboard. That's how happy I am about it.

After several changes, the official publication date is September 28, 2010, which makes it an October releas.

All this is a huge thrill for me, but I will restrain myself from burbling on about it because I know all too well that I'm the only person who finds it wildly exciting. The rest of the world has far more interesting things to think about than the fate of a new novel written by an obscure novelist.

So all I'll say for now is this: Come back in March if you want to see the cover.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Regency Slang

Like many of you, I fell in love with the "Regency" novel after reading the works of Georgette Heyer, the English author who invented the genre. Heyer's work is full of what readers assume is authentic Regency-period slang, and over the years, her slang has become well known to readers who have never read a single book by Heyer. That's because authors writing Regency Romances have to use bits of this slang to establish their street cred.

In a thousand novels Regency misses worry about "making a cake" of themselves in a "Cheltenam tragedy." They are "blue deviled." Heroes may have "not a feather to fly with" when their "pockets are to let" and may turn to "parson's mousetrap" to restore their fortunes. Criminals in Heyer let off volleys of near incomprehensible but robust slang, too, as they go about "the prigging lay," as do gentleman whose more controlled aggression doesn't preclude their occasionally "landing a facer."

You can find several lists of Regency Slang on the Internet. A good one is A Regency Lexicon.

But since my next book features a protagonist who has been living in the London slums, I decided it was time to hit the primary source material to see what I could find to give my character's speech an air of authenticity that was not cribbed out of Heyer. I'll take any excuse to do primary research (and avoid writing!) So off I went.

The fact is, I have always been a bit suspicious of Heyer's use of slang. No other books or periodicals published in the period she writes about use any of the slang she employs, except for Pierce Egan, a journalist who made a pretty penny out of publishing slumming narratives--the best known is Life in London. When those books became bestsellers, he published an updated version of, Grose's Classical Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue, a compendium of slang and cant originally published in the 18th century.

Heyer's debt to Egan was very large, but I always wondered how much of the slang in Egan's book would have been used in real life. By the time any slang word hits print it's out of date, and when middle aged people from the suburbs like Egan start using subcultural slang, you know that the subculture itself has long since dropped it.

To prepare myself for my venture into slang, I started out reading Dickens' Oliver Twist. Dickens is out of my period, but I wanted to get a feeling for how the street language was used in sentences. Dictionaries don't give you that, and it's important when using slang to see it in context. It doesn't help to know that "far out" was 1960s hippie slang for "excellent" if you use it in a sentence like "Can I interest you, my dear, in a slice of this far out tiramisu."

Using slang correctly requires that you not only know what the word means, but what kind of person would use it in what kind of a sentence, and when. Slang expires faster than a gift card from a merchant about to go bankrupt.

Google Books Search makes it easy to read all kinds of primary source material that just a decade ago could only have been read by those who had the money to buy rare old books or who put in weeks traveling to distant college libraries. So I was able to find several books of slang from my period besides the Pierce Egan version of Grose's dictionary, and moreover, I was able to read the criticism of other authors about Egan's dictionary that confirmed some of my suspicions.

His critics claim that Grose padded his work with obsolete terms that had never been used in common speech, terms that appeared once in a book before vanishing without a trace. They also said Egan mixed up old slang collected by Grose with contemporary 1820s words in a very confusing way. This may explain why so many of the "Regency" phrases readers have come to know and love thanks to Heyer appear nowhere else but in her works.

But I also ran into another interesting phenomenon. I knew from reading the biography of Heyer's written by Jane Aiken Hodge, that as her fame grew and she attracted imitators, Heyer became increasingly annoyed at how others plagiarized her books. To get back at them she started putting in invented details and language, so that when she found them in other author's work she could prove those authors were plagiarizing her.

In the course of my research I noticed something else that may be related to this. Heyer appears in several cases to have used a phrase found in an 1820s slang dictionary giving it the reverse meaning to what you find in the dictionary definition. The first time I found one of these dictionary definitions that were the opposite of what Heyer used the word for, I thought maybe Heyer had just got it wrong. The second one made me think she was doing it on purpose.

No I'm not going to tell you what those phrases were, though one was one that is very common in today's Regency novel. You'll have to do your own research for that, but since it is great fun reading old slang dictionaries, that is something to look forward to.

The other thing that I learned after putting several days into this effort was what a great job Heyer did at finding the very few slang terms and phrases in these dictionaries that don't sound downright peculiar when used in a sentence. She found almost all of them that, for one reason or other, give off a rich odor of Regency authenticity. Most real Regency slang words sounds like they are part of a foreign language and it would be almost impossible to use them in a sentence in such a way that the reader could understand them without providing a long and distracting explanation.

Few of the authentic terms are linguistically interesting or have a nice sound. Very few feel "19th century", and oddly some sound so modern you can't use them in a historical novel, like "kid" as in "Here's to you kid" or "crib" meaning place you live. Heyer found the words that do have a nice sound, are easy to interpret, and give off a nice historical aroma. Wisely she left the rest behind.

If she invented a few of these slang terms or phrases, well good for her. I'm pretty sure she did. She also picked up a certain amount language that came from the late Victorian period, just as she imposed dance cards on the Regency period, though they are a late Victorian invention which were still in use in the 1920s when she started writing.

Note: The only reason you will read that dance cards were invented in the early 19th century is because Heyer made everyone think they were. No one has ever been able to find an early 19th century dance card to substantiate the claim, though there are many late Victorian ones around.

NOTE: The book that embodies what I learned about real Regency slang is is Star Crossed Seduction. It and will be released on August 30, 2011. You can pre-order it using the links you'll find in the column to your right.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A False Deluding Young Man

I was listening to Steeleye Span's wonderful version of a traditional ballad, All Around My Hat, today and for some reason the lyrics really leapt out at me, reminding me of the chasm that looms between you, me, and all the women who lived in the time periods we historical novelists like to write about.

This chasm involves the way we now perceive virginity.

The lyric in question is this:
Other night he brought me a fine diamond ring
But he thought to have deprived me of a far better thing
But I being careful like lovers ought to be
He's a false deluding young man let him go farewell he
The premise of the song is one you will rarely see explored in a mainstream romance today outside of the Christian market, for the modern reader no longer views virginity as a precious possession.

But the need to preserve virginity dominated the lives of all women world-wide until the 1960s. It still dominates that of the majority of women living in traditional societies around the world. It does so for the reason that any woman who has sex in a culture that does not give her access to reliable birth control is almost certain to become pregnant. Marriage is the way that traditional cultures provide for children, since these cultures rarely allow women to earn enough money to support children on their own. So in traditional cultures, a pregnancy that takes place outside of marriage is an economic threat--someone will have to pay to raise that child--usually the community. So society attempts to prevent unwed pregnancy from occurring by treating it with fear, censure, and shame.

Traditional cultures are also dominated by the double standard, which was still very much alive in my childhood. They do not blame men for attempting to seduce young women, but shame and shun unmarried women who fall for male wiles.

The invention of the birth control pill, which unlike earlier forms of contraception, worked, changed this within the blink of an eye. The cultural expectations that women would stay "pure" lingered on for a decade or two in the more traditional segments of society--but when women realized they could have sex safely and without "paying for it" our overall cultural expectations changed in ways that won't go away.

But when we modern women write Romances set in the world where there is no effective birth control we face a challenge. To relate to way our modern readers' expectations we have to completely disrespect the reality faced by the women we are supposed to be writing about.

Our readers want our characters to have sex, lots of it. And that's what they get, but the only way we can do this is by completely ignoring what sex meant to people in the Regency or Victorian era.

A properly raised virgin in the Regency or Victorian period who had sex with a man she wasn't married to was either a) making an extreme political statement, b) ignorant of what she was actually doing (which happened more than you'd think since women were given no sex education until the eve of their marriage, and sometimes not even then.) c) drunk or drugged, or d) mentally abnormal.

Editors and agents tell us we have to ignore all this to sell books, and we do. But the recent trend, which makes the loss of virginity a nonissue for our historical heroines the way it is for today's teens, drains away rich sources of conflict that could provide emotionally compelling stories that readers might prize.

When we create a heroine whose decision to have sex outside marriage is a radical act with frightening implications, we raise the stakes. If you don't think this can be done in a way that will move the modern reader, go reread Laura Kinsale's Flowers from The Storm.

My characters do have sex--and sexual tension drives my plots, but my heroines are rebels. They know their willingness to give themselves to a man outside of marriage is a heroic act, courageous or foolish, but never routine.

I'd love to put the narrator of "All Around My Hat" into a story--a woman who fights her own heart to withstand the advances of a man who as much as she loves him, shows her through his willingness to seduce her that he isn't worthy of her.

What do you think?