Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Joanne Rock: In Search of a British Mythology



I love to read British history. Or more specifically, history of the British Isles. It's got something for everyone-- drama, scandal, excess during some regimes, reserve during others. History, in some ways, led me to romance. I had a college history teacher who likened the happenings in various European courts to a centuries-old soap opera and I'll admit my ears perked up. Don't you appreciate teachers who make you sit up and take notice during your lessons?

Because I have an admittedly romanticized view of Britain's history-- the misty magic of the Druids to the clear-sighted machinations of Eleanor of Aquitaine-- I guess I was surprised last fall when I prepared a few classes on J.R.R. Tolkien as an end-of-the-semester treat for a writing course I'd been teaching at a local university. I'd read Tolkien before and I'd read about Tolkien before. But in this particular trip through the bio materials I came across the idea that some of his mission in creating his body of work was to fill the void of British mythology.

There is a void?

This concept had not resonated for me in my earlier reads about Tolkien and this time, it stuck. The notion crawled around my head and made me think a little more. Specifically, Tolkien mourned the fact that there was so little mythology that was distinctly British. The Arthurian cycle came close, but lacked a definitive mythological feel that he saw in other cultures. I guess I can see that.

But perhaps what I'd always envisioned the blurry lines of British history as sort of mythical in their own right. The Venerable Bede kept a historical record with so much character and writerly voice, that aspects can be seen as allegory. And the lack of written stories from the Druidic period or even Celtic times leave us with vast open pages where maybe my writerly mind has filled in the blanks. There is no void when you have a vivid imagination.

The palimpsest culture of the British Isles has left the impression of so many peoples that-- to me-- the mythology is in its constant reinvention through legends passed down in an oral tradition. Saxon and Viking, Dane and Gaul... the layers overlap to form a history that is so rich and multiple that mere pages couldn't possibly contain it. Maybe that mythic feel is part of why it's such a wonderful setting for romance.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sharon Schulze: Inspiration

What inspires each of us? There are any number of things that inspire me--art, movies, books, nature, people, a sound or scent that evokes an emotion or a time past . . . the list is long and varied, and individual to me. If I posted my list, it might have some items in common with other people's lists. However, since each of us is unique, our inspirations are likely just as unique.

One of the first things to inspire me in my writing was a print I saw in 1981 in the Higgins Armory (
www.higgins.org), a museum of arms and armor in Worcester, MA. It was a black and white print of a medieval scene that completely captured my attention. I didn't know who the artist was, or anything about it, but I loved that print--so much so that a photographer friend took a photo of it and framed it for me. I put up that print everywhere I've lived since, and have looked to it for inspiration more times than I can say.

Eventually I learned that the print was actually in color; it's "The Accolade" by Edmund Blair Leighton (ca. 1901). Every so often I'd run across the full-color version, nicely framed (and usually a bit beyond my means). Oh, how I wanted it--but my "office" was my bedroom, with sloped walls completely unsuited to hanging art. I bought a blank greeting card of the print and tacked it over my desk. It was better than nothing, and I was glad to have it to jog my creativity when the going got rough.

Fast forward to 2002: We moved, and I got an office--with four straight walls! I happened upon a poster of "The Accolade" soon after the move--it hangs in pride of place over the desks in the office, the first thing you notice when you walk into the room. I love it!

Fast forward to 2004: I learn that my medieval romance "Bride of the Tower" is about to be published in France. A French fan emails me a picture of the cover; all I can do is laugh at the synchronicity of things. "The Accolade" had to have been the inspiration for the cover of "La dame à l'épée."

I've got a copy of that cover on my office bulletin board. Every time I look at it--a variation of "The Accolade" with my name printed across it, how cool is that?--it gives me a thrill.


Sometimes there's no accounting for the synchronicity of things, is there?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Michelle Willingham: Inside an Irish ring fort

This past summer I was lucky enough to travel to Ireland for research purposes. One of my favorite historical sites to visit was Craggaunowen, located near Shannon, Ireland. It contains several re-enactment sites, including a ring fort.

Ring forts were typically placed atop a hillside with a palisade fence surrounding it. The fence could be made of wood and wicker like you see in this photograph. A large ditch, similar to a moat would surround the fencing and then another hill would provide additional protection. The Irish called these ring forts "raths" and the Norman invaders also used them when they came to Ireland. The Normans renamed them ring works, and they were built near churches (likely to enlist the aid of the local clergy).

Anywhere from three to ten houses might be inside a ring fort, and the houses were made of either stone or whitewashed wicker. Here is the entrance to one of the whitewashed huts. The roofs were made of thatch and just below the doorframe, the Irish would hang a bundle of wool. Our tourguide believed it was for three purposes: one, to ward off evil spirits; two, to allow bundles of wool to air out; and three, to prevent folk from bumping their heads on the door.

Ring forts were set up in a community fashion, allowing people to work outdoors and talk as they treated animal hides, worked with clay, or even carved items out of wood. In this photograph, you can see a woodworker's lathe as it might have been seen almost a thousand years ago. I'd love to do a woodworking hero in a future book and research the old tools. My husband has promised to help me out.

I chose a ring fort as the setting for my May 2007 Irish medieval release, Her Irish Warrior. Hope you've enjoyed seeing a different type of setting! Next time, I'll take you inside the hut and even inside a secret passageway found in a ring fort.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Victoria Bylin: Arbuckle's vs. Starbuck's


In addition to writing westerns, I'm working on a mainstream contemporary. You'd think the research would be easier, but it's not. With westerns, I pull a few books off the shelf, browse for pictures of heroes and items from everyday life, and use the research to inspire the plot. I'm currently working on a story set on a dairy farm. I had no idea cows were so much work! As I make discoveries, the research brings energy to the story.

With the contemporary, the ideas and knowledge come from personal experience. I've never tasted Arbuckle's coffee, but I've had plenty of Starbuck's. It's easy to incorporate setting details. They're everywhere. What's difficult is keeping up with the changing pace of our world. Cell phones, digital cameras, DVD's . . . What's common today can be dated in less than a year.

Maybe that's part of the magic of historicals. We go back to a simpler time, one that's full of magic and discovery but more stable than our current world. I like that. I also like my microwave. Life without the internet? No way! Washing clothes by hand? Making soap? No thank you. I'd rather head to Walmart. I love visiting the Old West, but I'm glad for modern conveniences.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Denise Lynn: Productive Procrastination

Gray skies, rain and cool temperatures aren’t good for much--sleeping and maybe procrastinating at the pc. No, no, not procrastinating, I’m researching trade routes in the 12th century…yeah, that’s it--research.

At least that’s what I told myself a few years ago. I was supposed to be researching trade routes for a copy edit on Dream Knight. And I did, but along the way I fell into something far more intriguing. Kalaripayat, or Kalari Payattu--an ancient form of martial arts in India. For more info see the website:

http://sports.indiapress.org/kalari_payattu.php

With its roots in the 4th century, Kalari Payattu is a silent form of armed and/or unarmed combat…mock or real depending on the era. For some reason I found that bit of info fascinating and it led to more “researching”. Obviously I’m a history snob, because I’d never researched anything outside the boundaries of what I’ll call the Norman Empire just to make it simple. But the stars must have been aligned differently just then, because I spent weeks digging up info on Ancient and Medieval India. In the 12th century India was one of the, if not the, richest and most advanced nation in the known world...glass in the palace windows, spices the rest of the world paid to get.

Some of regional princes reinstituted the gladiator games that had been brought to them by Alexander the Great. Along with the chariot races, archery, etc., they also had exhibitions featuring Kalari Payattu. As with the original gladiator games, sometimes the combatants fought to the death.

I don’t know about you, but this historical author was unable to contain her imagination. Talk about a “what if” session…well, what if they used slaves as gladiators. They did. KEWL. Ok, so, what if some of these gladiators had been captured. They had been. MORE KEWL. Ok, so what if some of the men taken in captivity came from, oh, say, England, Normandy or France? Well, that I couldn’t prove either way. On the other hand, nothing said it didn’t happen, so…enter poetic license.

Combine a little Kalari Payattu with some Tantra, a touch of the Sutras and a really ticked off ex-gladiator home for revenge and what do you get? How about an April 2007 Harlequin Historical release titled Commanded To His Bed. And who says procrastination is a bad thing?

Speaking of procrastination….I'm sure everyone knew this except me, but play along...did you know that in the UK there’s this group of women call FANYs -- the Corps was formed in 1907 with the purpose of assisting the Military and Civil authorities in times of Emergency. In WWII some of them were drivers and decoders at home and in far flung locations all over the globe. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for me, some of the US troops had the strange idea that FANY meant something other than First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Shame on you, boys. But let me tell you the “what if” is again working overtime.

So, please, excuse me while I let the mind out for another wild walk in procrastination land. Have a great day!

Denise Lynn

Monday, October 16, 2006

HOTTEST 2007 CALENDAR


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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Michelle Styles: research trip to Iceland

One of the great parts about being a writer is being able to do research. For my Roman set novels, I have been to visit Italy and Rome, learning lots in the process, and now for my Viking novels, I have been able to explore new places. One of the best places in the world to learn about the Viking culture is Iceland. Luckily for me, we were already stopping in Iceland on the way to the US this past summer. Icelandic Air does a marvelous service from Scotland to Reykjavik and then onwards to the US. Passengers are able to stay in Iceland for up to three nights, and still have it considered to be a direct flight.
Why is Iceland so great for the Vikings? Most of what we know about the Vikings comes from either the archeological record OR the Icelandic Medieval Manuscripts. The Manuscripts while written in the 12/13 century are the simply the retelling of oral history. Most of the sagas deal with the settling of Iceland during the Viking period. The Poetic and Prose Eddas give the basis for Norse mythology. The sagas have inspired writers such as JRR Tolkien and composers such as Wagner. The remaining original sagas written on vellum are kept in the Culture House Museum.
Iceland was first settled in around 847 AD by Vikings from Norway. The Viking Age is traditionally held to be from 8 June 793 (date of the raid on Lindisfarne) to 1066 (defeat at Stamford Bridge). Because Iceland is so isolated, it retained many of the traditions, culture and even animals of the Vikings. The Icelandic Horses are direct descendants of Viking Horses.

While I was in Iceland, I was lucky enough to be able to ride one of the Icelandic horses. I went through Ishestar Riding stables which offers riding excursions through the lava fields. Icelandic horses have five different speeds as opposed to most horses who have 3. Icelandic horse have walk, trot, canter, tolt and flying pace. Tolt is found in only a few breeds around the world and is when a horse has only one foot on the ground at any one time. It is a very smooth and the rider can carry a full glass of wine and not spill a drop. Flying pace is just that. The horses are beautiful animals as well as having a very friendly temperament. Unfortunately for me, my horse decided to go a bit fast at the end and after two hours in the saddle, my thighs refused to hang on. I fell off, but luckily received only a few scrapes and bruises. The bruising to my ego was perhaps the worst.
There is a new museum in Iceland 871+/-1 It contains displays about the longhouse that was discovered when the new Hotel Centrum was built. The multimedia displays help bring the period to life -- detailing people's lives and the sorts of animals they encountered. The dating is fairly precise as there a volcanic eruption.
The other important museum is the National Museum and it houses artifacts from the Viking period. The museum was recently redone and provides a hands on multi-media experience that held the attention of my family -- not just me. My children enjoyed trying on the chain mail and helmets for example.
We also took a trip into the interior.-- the so called Golden Circle which includes the Thingvellier National Park. Thingvellier is where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet, creating a rift valley. It is also where the Icelandic Vikings had their assembly -- the Althing. The oldest Christian church is built on the site and dates from 1000 AD when Norway (and Iceland) officially adopted Christianity. On the tour we were also treated to geysers (including Geysir which all geysers take their name from), and Gullfoss, a truly spectacular waterfall that was saved by the efforts of one lone woman.
Iceland is a fascinating place and well worth exploring. There is a tremendous amount of building work going on in and around Reykjavik and how unspoiled it remains is an open question. But if you are interested in the Vikings and their way of life, Iceland is a must visit.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Christine Merrill Call Story: Opportunity knocks... or e-mails

My first book THE INCONVENIENT DUCHESS hit the stores this month, and it’s been thirteen months since I got “the call” that meant I’d finally sold a book.

In my case, it was an e-mail, and a total surprise. I’d won the Romance Writer’s of America Golden Heart Award for unpublished short historical manuscripts back in July of 2005. I went home from the Reno conference in a great mood but with no clear idea of what I was supposed to do now that I’d won the award I’d been working toward for the past five years.

Time passed and nothing interesting happened. I remember it as being an eternity, but according to the date on the e-mail, it was about two weeks. It was a Friday afternoon, two hours before we were to leave on a weekend trip, and I was wasting time reading e-mail instead of packing up the car.

I got an e-mail from a complete stranger with my book title in the subject line. My first thought was that it was someone I’d forgotten from an on-line group or a conference, and they were writing to congratulate me. I read a little farther and realized it was from Linda Fildew, the Senior Editor at Harlequin Mills and Boon.

But I hadn’t submitted to them. I assumed that she must be wanting to look at the manuscript because of the GH, and had to read it several times to understand that they’d already seen it and judged it, and before the words, “we would like to offer you a contract for publication” began to make sense.

My manuscript had gone all the way to England, and it hadn’t taken me along.

Just in case I’d been struck suddenly illiterate or insane, I called or e-mailed everyone I could think of and shared the e-mail to see what they thought it meant. And I printed off a copy and carried it in my pocket all weekend, just in case the words disappeared or changed into something else before Monday when I could send my affirmative response back to my new editors.

We took off on our trip only slightly behind schedule and the glamorous “I sold a book” dinner I’d always imagined was a trip through the Wendy’s drive-thru in our mini-van. Two trips, actually. My youngest son was a little slow grabbing his bag, and our golden retriever ate a bacon cheese burger value meal, so we had to make a second pass to get more food.

A typical day in my life, except for the one little e-mail.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sharon Schulze: Series Characters

Is it my imagination, or are there more romance series on the shelves of late than ever before? Historical or contemporary, single title or "series" (such as romances from Harlequin or Silhouette)--linked books with extended casts of characters seem to be all the rage . . .

. . . and I think it's great! As a reader, I love series. The opportunity for longer story arcs, and the chance to spend more time with intriguing characters, really increases my enjoyment of the books. It reminds me of the much longer historicals--novels in general--I loved back when I first began reading romances.

I also love writing series characters. It must be something about the way my mind works when I'm setting up my fictional world, but when my main characters begin to come to life for me, they tend to have strong links to a greater "family" of characters. They're not simply a hero and a heroine living in a vacuum, after all--they have lives before their story begins, and those lives are peopled with other characters. Those secondary characters might not have full-fledged lives when it's not their story, but as I write they begin to develop, too. Inevitably by the time one story is drawing to a close, another is beginning.

Sometimes those secondary characters start to clamor for their own story when I've not gone very far in my WIP; in fact, this is how I ended up writing my first spin-off. While writing the book that would eventually be The Hidden Heart, Nicholas Talbot kept trying to jump into the forefront of Rannulf FitzClifford's story. The only way I could shut him up in my mind (I know, that likely sounds pretty strange--and if it doesn't, you're probably a writer ) was to promise Nicholas if he'd behave until I finished this story, he could have his own book later. That made it much easier for me to keep my focus on Rannulf's story--and thus the l'Eau Clair Chronicles came to be.

Readers have told me they like that my books are connected; in fact, at times they've asked for certain characters to have their own books. Sometimes I've done it, but sometimes the character they suggest either hasn't come alive enough for me to create an entire story, or in other cases the character hasn't really, in my opinion, been hero or heroine material.

The new story I'm working on is a spin-off from the l'Eau Clair Chronicles. I'm enjoying the chance to revisit old friends from my previous books, although I had to chart out what everyone looks like and their ages, families, etc. at this point in time so I can keep the details straight. This book--big surprise--is the first of a (so far) three book series, but I'm leaving my options open. You never know if more stories might come to mind once I really get into these three books!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

M&B Release: Mistaken Mistress by Margaret McPhee


To her spiteful aunt, Kathryn Marchant is little more than a servant: she does not deserve a place in polite society. That's about to change, when Kathryn accidentally falls into the arms of the most notorious rake of them all.Lord Ravensmede draws the line at seducing virgins. Yet once he has tasted the lips of the delectable Miss Marchant, he wants her! He has the distinct impression that she's in need of a protector, but, no matter how much he strives to be honorable, her temptation may prove just too sweet to resist!
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M&B Historical Release: Falcon's Desire by Denise Lynn


Lyonesse of Ryonne had done the impossible!
Emboldened by grief, she had ensnared the infamous Rhys, Lord of Faucon. Now, imprisoned in her castle, Faucon posed an even greater threat – not to her defences, but to her heart.
The Devil Faucon, they called him. A reputation Rhys fostered to keep his enemies at bay. And it seemed that Lyonesse counted herself as an enemy, furiously denying the sensual pull that drew them together. They established an uneasy truce. But would that be destroyed when she learned a new-found alliance bound her to him as his bride?
Yorkshire 1142

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M&B Release: The Horseman by Jillian Hart


Montana 1882
Dillon Hennessey was a man like no other Strong, yet caring. Determined, yet kind. But he was still a man, Katelyn Green reminded herself, and therefore not to be trusted. Hadn’t her own husband abandoned her in her hour of need? Yet she yearned to believe in the promise of a future that this gentle man offered.
Dillon could see the sadness at Katelyn’s core.
He wanted to help her, would help her, if he had the words and the ways. But would his tenderness be enough to win a woman who’d been robbed of her faith in love?

Buy The Horseman

Sunday, October 01, 2006

October HH Release: Stay For Christmas

Stay for Christmas
A Place To Belong by Judith Stacy
Sheriff Jack Crawford is a man who has never called anywhere home, but Maggie Hudson's beauty makes this good-looking drifter think about putting down roots.
A Son Is Given by Victoria Bylin
Katherine Merritt's life was changed utterly by a tragic accident. Now, in the season of miracles, will she find it in her heart to forgive the husband she once adored?
Angels in the Snow by Elizabeth Lane
Della is resolved to give a lonely little boy the Christmas he needs—even though the boy's exasperatingly stubborn, infuriatingly gorgeous father has his mind dead set against it!

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Stay for Christmas

October HH release: The Rake's Proposal by Sarah Elliot

The Rake's Proposal
A scandalous secret was part of the dowry Katherine Sutcliff would bring to her bridal bed. And any prospective suitor on the Marriage Mart would have to live with it—or live without her! But her pressing need for a suitable match was diverted by her most unsuitable attraction to the disreputable Lord Benjamin Sinclair.
A rakish life had been Benjamin's choice, but now the adventurous gentleman was tempted to stay closer to home. How else could he keep a watchful eye on Kate Sutcliff, when the gangly girl he'd teased in childhood had grown into a most unconventional beauty?

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The Rake's Proposal

October HH Release And M&B Release: The Inconvient Duchess by Christine Merrill

The Inconvenient Duchess
Dear Cici and Father,
I have come to Devon and married a duke. And I'm more tired and hungry than I have ever been in my life. Please let me come home.
Compromised and wedded on the same day, Lady Miranda was fast finding married life not to her taste. A decaying manor and a secretive husband were hardly the stuff of girlish dreams. Yet every time she looked at dark, brooding Marcus Radwell, Duke of Haughleigh, she felt inexplicably compelled—and determined—to make their marriage real!

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The Inconvenient Duchess

October HH Release: My Lady English by Catherine March

My Lady English
Lady Julia of Foxbourne wanted to hate the Norman knight who'd wed her at the order of his king. But Falk de Arques, a fierce warrior on the battlefield, was not about to be defeated by a woman—however spirited and stubborn.
How long would it take for Julia to surrender to her growing desires and become his Lady English?

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My Lady English

October HH Release: The Rebellious Debutante by Meg Alexander

The Rebellious Debutante
The Earl of Rushmore might be the catch of the ton, but that did not stop Perdita from accidentally on purpose stamping on his toe! Well, in her opinion he deserved it!
The Earl had secretly been rather impressed with the rebellious debutante—her feisty spirit was a refreshing change from the simpering young ladies who had only marriage on their minds. Despite the fact that Perdita disliked him, he'd even managed to persuade her to help him in a matter of great importance. But the biggest surprise of all for the Earl was that he now had marriage on his mind!

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The Rebellious Debutante

October Release:Maid of Honor by Paula Marshall

Maid of Honor
As a maid of honor to the Queen, Penelope Jermaine must avoid the pitfalls of Court life—unwary speech and unguarded emotions could prove fatal. A young woman's reputation must be above suspicion, so she has to tread carefully when Oliver Woodville promises more than mere friendship. Then a shadowy threat menaces Penelope and Oliver…and even the Queen herself.

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Maid of Honor