Deciding What to Write


I think one of the most difficult things about being an unpublished writer is deciding what to write. After all, it takes time to write a novel, and you don't want to write yourself out of the market.

Yet, if people hadn't written outside the market, we never would have ended up with some truly great works, like Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

It's a catch-22.

So, how do you decide what to write. Do you go with your gut? Or, do you go with the market?

Cracks in the Image: Victorian Tattoos


When you think of tattoos during the Victorian Period, if you think of them at all, you probably imagine carnival acts--the strongman or the bearded lady.

But, wonder of all wonders...

That image isn't necessarily true.

For a time during the Victorian Period, tattoos actually became quite the trend among the British aristocracy and some wealthy Americans. Check out the Encyclopedia of Body Adornment for a bit more information.

The fad, in most cases, is traced back to 1862 when the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII, got a Jerusalem cross tattooed on his arm. Accounts even suggest that he got a number of traditional tattoos on his body throughout his life. Interesting stuff.

Check out this site on Tattoo History for more information on tattoos in England.

Other noted tattooed members of the aristocracy include: both of the King's sons and the 7th Marchioness of Londonderry who had a snake tattooed on her leg in 1903.

But the aristocracy wasn't the only group of individuals who had a fascination with the tattoo during the Victorian Period, the middle-class also had a love of the art. Discreet tattoos were all the rage, and it is even rumored that Winston Churchill's mother, who later become Lady Randolph Churchill, had a snake tattooed around her wrist.

Read this for more on women and tattooing.

Victorian Superstitions


In honor of Friday the 13th, today's blog is on that most creepy of subjects--Victorian superstitions.

And believe me, they had a lot.

During the Victorian Period, curtains would be drawn and stopped at the time of death. It was believed if you didn't, you'd have bad luck.

You never wore new shoes to a funeral--also bad luck.

And, all the mirrors in the house were covered in crepe during the funeral and the wake because it was believed the spirit of your dead loved one could get trapped in the mirror. Creepy...can you imagine turning around one day to look at your reflection and seeing Great Aunt Sue?

Plus, there was a real fear that you might bury someone alive! I know the idea seems weird today, but when you don't have the medical technology to be absolutely positive between death and a coma. Well...I think you get the picture. So, the Victorians solved this problem in a logical fashion. They installed a bell in the coffin. Genius, right? A little creepy, but...the idea brings a whole new meaning to "to whom the bell tolls."

On a lighter note...

The saying "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in her shoe", in regards to weddings, originated during Victorian times. This concept obviously lost something in translation when it came to the states. Did you know you were supposed to have a silver sixpence in your shoe?

Cracks in the Image: Victorian Erotica


When most people think of the Victorians, they think stodgy, right?

The conservative clothing, the formal language, and the strict rules of society, all lead us to believe that the Victorians were exactly that--stodgy to a fault, and not exactly the type of people you'd want to invite to a frat party.

And for the most part, that was true. The Victorian era was a reaction to the debauchery of the 17th and 18th centuries.

However, there are more than a few cracks in the image we have today--cracks I'll explore in the coming weeks.

So, on to the first crack--Victorian Erotica.

Yes, I said it--Victorian Erotica. And, I do mean erotica, naughty bits and all. Some of the most classic erotic texts available today were written during the Victorian period, and although not always widely available, some of them were quite popular.

Not that the Victorians invented erotica by any means, but before you go off on a tangent about the horrors of sex on the shelves at your local bookstore, take a gander at some of these.

(It should be noted that these texts are erotica and often contain adult material. So, if you're not over 18...Don't click!)

The Pearl
Although many of these stories are obviously written for a male reader, the "Journals of Voluptuous Reading", first published in July of 1879, share numerous tales of sexual exploration--including kissing cousins (who do more than just kiss), and letters from an old maid.

The Perfumed Garden
This instructional work translated by Sir Richard Burton, which first appeared in 1886, shares such noted wisdom as "Prescriptions for Increasing the Dimensions of Small Members and Making Them Splendid".

Rosa Fielding
Rosa Fielding experiences a "thorough" preparation for her wedding before ending up in one of London's most debauched brothels.

Venus in India
First published in 1889, Venus in India describes the sexual liaisons of Captain Charles Devereaux while he is stationed there. The work was so popular there's actually a second volume.

First published in 1904 (so it's technically Edwardian), Eveline is the story of an 18 year old Victorian lady who loses her virginity to her brother, and then proceeds to seduce almost every man she comes into contact with. (I have to admit this one shocked even me a bit.)

So, all of this begs the question, were the Victorians nearly as stodgy as we think they were?

Are Mysteries the New Paranormal? And What About That Steampunk?


So, it seems to me that there are a lot of mysteries with romantic elements popping up all over the book shelves. Or at least, mysteries written by romance authors. Most notably, Annette Blair has the Vintage Mystery series that just started coming out.

Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? Are romantic mysteries the next big thing? Did they evolve out of romantic suspense, or is something else up? Did I blink and miss an important market trend?

On a different note, will steampunk romance sell to a mainstream audience? I know I'm looking forward to more of it, but at the same time, my mind revolts. Mainstream steampunk just seems so...unpunk rock.

Let's Talk About Sex

2/26/09 romance novels.

As a writer, I've never really thought about how much sex I include in my novels. I just write what feels right. I don't worry about whether or not some family member will read it and get offended. If they don't like it, they don't have to read it.

But, I was reading a Debbie Macomber book a few days ago, and it suddenly occurred to me that a romance novel doesn't actually have to have a full blown sex scene in it. You can be a bestselling author without it, and not write inspirationals! Needless to say, I was shocked, although I don't really know why.

I think the idea surprised me because I've seen a marked increase in sex scenes in a lot of the books I've read recently. For example, I love Christine Feehan's books. I picked up the first Carpathian novel when it first came out, and I've been a fan ever since. Yet, after finishing her latest Drake sister novel, Turbulent Sea, I was a little stunned. Don't get me wrong, I liked the book. I'd been waiting for that hero to get his own book for years, but it seemed like one sex scene ended only to start another one ten pages later.

So, what's the story? Are readers expecting more sex in romance novels? Are editors and publishers requesting more? Are authors just writing more sex in their books? Am I imagining the whole thing?

The Victorian Dictionary


So, while I was doing a bit of research about Victorian London today for my book. I came across this awesome site, and I just had to share.

The Victorian Dictionary is a site run by British author, Lee Jackson. He writes historical thrillers, and the information on this site is just fantastic. He's broken everything down into sections. So, it's easy to find what your looking for. Also, the sources in the dictionary were actually written during the Victorian period!

Let's Eat!


Every writer has a writing nemesis. For some, it's weapons. For others, it's attire.

For me, it's food.

Not that I have anything against food, I love food! I just don't want to think about my hero or heroine chewing--ever.

Unfortunately, a hero can't go ten days without a bite to eat. It's just not realistic.

Food is essential for survival. So, when I'm in a bind to find what historical snack my heroine should be munching, I take a look at these sites.

The Food Timeline
This timeline, created by a reference librarian, is a great site for checking whether your heroine can eat funnel cake in 1860. (By the way, she can't. Funnel cakes didn't exist until 1879.) The site also includes a variety of books on cooking and household management, like Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861).

The Food Museum Online
So, this site probably won't ever have exactly what you're looking for, but it's got some great temporary exhibits.

Historic Food
Check out these recipes! This site run by Ivan Day, one of the foremost authorities on food history, is a great place to learn what's in some select historic British foods. Plus, you can get great ideas on how historic tables were set in the galleries section.

The History of Food

This collection of links from the International Guild of Hospitality and Restaurant Managers covers almost everything imaginable from etiquette to recipes.

Feeding America
Michigan State University Libraries bring us this wonderful selection of cookbooks from 1798 to 1922. Cookbooks can be searched by date or interest.

Getting a Date in the Victorian Period


If you thinking dating today is hard, try being a guy during the Victorian Era.

One morning you think you've found the girl of your dreams, and a month later you receive one of these letters.

Who knew you were an "unsuitable suitor"?

Well, you should have--if you'd read the right books.

The Victorian Period marked the rise of that most auspicious tome--the self-help book, and with it, an easy way to relay the proper rules of refined society to the growing middle class.

Here are a few of my favorite self-help books from the period, free from Google Books.

Our Deportment: The Manners, Conduct & Dress of the Most Refined Society

I love the title of this book partially because it sounds so snotty, and if you have a question on etiquette, this is the place to look. "Our Deportment" shares with its reader everything from dinner parties and vulgarisms to how to handle being a rejected suitor.

Hopes and Helps for the Young of Both Sexes

This book was written by a Reverend, and it shows. Check out Lecture III on "The Dangers of Impulse".

Happy Homes and How to Make Them
This book is my favorite of the three because it's genuinely amusing and candid, and some of the advice is universal. The author shares such gems of wisdom as "Mind Where You Pick Her Up", "Do Not Expect Too Much" (from marriage), and in a chapter on advice to the husband "Make Yourself Useful".

Why You Should Love the Library of Congress


I love the Library of Congress, and if you're a writer or a researcher, you should too.


Because not only is the Library of Congress dedicated to preserving some really great stuff. They're dedicated to sharing it--online.

Case in point.

The Library of Congress Map Collection

Need a map of San Francisco from the 1860s? This should be one of the first places you look. Click cities and towns, and type in the place name as the keyword. You'll get a list of maps for the place and the year the map is from.

How easy is that?

And, the Map Collection isn't the only digital collection available. The LOC's Digital Collections contain everything from newspapers to information on dancing styles. Need to listen to a little ragtime to get in the mood of the era? You'll find it.

Preconceived Notions

Before I started writing, I had a ton of preconceived notions about what being a writer and getting published meant, and while I wasn't as bad as some new authors I've met, I was still slightly deluded.

Here are just a few of the things I've learned so far:

1. If you haven't learned what a query letter is yet, and you want to find an agent for your work, you best crack open some of the agency blogs on the right. Query letters are your first pitch and one of your ways into the sacred gates of the publishing world.

*It should be noted in this writer's opinion, agents and editors are not demons from hell sent to earth to thwart you. I have yet to meet a one who laughed in sinister glee as they crushed the hopes of a budding writer.*

2. The idea of a synopsis strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned writers. You are not alone.

3. Even the best writers get rejected, and if they didn't...Well, we prefer not to think about those people. If you've been rejected, you're in good company. The New York Times Bestsellers List is riddled with people who were rejected at one time or another.

4. You really do have to write everyday. I know, who knew, right? I thought that was just some crap Stephen King made up.

5. You have to want it. I think it's Jay Lake who says writers need 'psychotic perseverance'. I'd have to agree with him. You'd have to be a bit crazy to want to do this for a living.

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