Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'Now and then': making the past seem present

How to create a living past in a historical or contemporary romance is always a challenge for me. We all live both 'in the moment' and in the past of our memories and experiences, and in my writing I aim to transport my readers to another past, whether that past is recent or long ago.

This is what I do to aid the rebuilding of the past, and what I would suggest is useful.

1. Read the contemporary accounts of the period: sagas, chronicles, Books of Hours, histories, autobiographies, biographies, newspapers. magazines, letters, local histories, children's books. Absorb the style of the language used so that you can 'echo' it in your work - not always as a direct recreation, more a flavour. Note the popular expressions, the slang, the attitudes. Then you can have your characters speak some of the slang and reflect some of the attitudes.

If available, you can also look at films of the time, radio and TV broadcasts, postcards, photographs and the messages scribbled on the backs of photographs. Again note the rhythms and kind of speech, the attitudes and beliefs, the fashions and settings. Your local history library may have an oral sound archive or local history archives. You can go there to listen and to look. Street names can be treasure troves of history and evocative in themselves. Keep an eye out for them and use them if you can.

2. If writing about the recent past, talk to those who lived through it. Ask them specific questions. What was X like? What was it like, working and living then? How did people feel? What do they remember? Again, the local archives and newspapers may be a fund of information for you.

3. Use language in the straight narrative of your fiction that does not date - unless you are attempting an entire re-creation of a period by using the language of the period. In speech you can use the slang of the time, or what you feel could be the appropriate slang of the time. Georgette Heyer did this in her Regency historical romances: she devised what she felt could pass as expressions of the time, thereby adding intimacy and immediacy to her work.

4. If writing about more distant times, be careful of using a lot of olde-worlde expressions that may actually 'break the spell' of your now-past. You can suggest a present-past by putting in occasional expressions that imply a flavour of the time. Also your characters can reflect certain common attitudes of a period via their thoughts, actions and speech.

5. People have not changed so much yet in 35000 years. We still feel the same emotions: love, hate, fear, passion. The more you create living characters, the more you will transport your reader with them into the world of their sorrows, fears, hopes, dreams, wishes, aims and loves.

6. Put the reader into the past with you. Let them savour the flavours, music, passions, fashions, the main ideas and ideals of the time. Thread in these references. If some are difficult and offensive to present day audiences, then perhaps you can places such ideas in the minds and mouths of your secondary characters, or of your main characters if you can make your lead characters compelling and appealing in other ways. Have your characters humming a popular song, or drinking frothy coffee, or eating fondue or their first prawn cocktail. Seize upon those items, songs, fashions, flavours, that tend to 'sum up' a period for present-day readers. Make it personal, too - allow the reader to feel with the character how a mini-skirt feels, how constricting a corset is, how heavy and hot a suit of armour. Always show and give the reader the experience of being and living in your 'now' past.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ny first publication

My first publication:

I wish it were as simple as putting pen to paper and creating a masterpiece of literature.
I joined Romance Writers of America three years ago and quickly learned there was a lot to learn. Our chapter was invaluable with the workshops and business meetings. Our guest speakers shed light on different aspects of the craft and made the writing better.
The chapter members themselves are a constant source of support. I had a head bursting with story ideas and worked on about four projects at one time. I decided I had to commit to a manuscript, see it to “the end” and get with my critique partner.

The story facts are researched. Is there a murder? Brush up on police procedure. Is your heroine in bank security? Learn her job. Details make the story believable and put the reader in the characters shoes, experiencing what they experience.
The idea for my story came at a random moment. I read about a man asking if the Kindertransport could be included in a holocaust memorial, and he was told “I never heard of you.” this piqued my interest. I read more about the transport and researching led me to Grafeneck castle. An interesting place with its own a history. My story would take place in pre war Nazi Germany.

I knew my heroine right away. A nurse brought up to be compassionate. An innocent girl tossed into a circumstance beyond her control. Her faith challenged, she had to make a choice. Erika Lehmier learns Grafeneck castle is going to be changed from a monastery housing handicapped children to a killing center bent on destroying “useless eaters.”

My hero was more elusive at first. I thought American right away but the historical timeline wasn’t right. The story is set in 1939. American involvement wouldn’t happen for another two years. British? Possible but the last transport happened before the war started. My hero needed to be home grown. Nazi’s aren’t generally romantic heroes but what if he had an agenda? My decision to keep the story first person kept us out of our hero’s head but kept the heroine always wondering about him.

There were some challenges in writing about a place I had never been during a time before I was born. I interviewed a couple of war brides and read “Inside Nazi Germany.” to find out what life was like for the average person in 1939.

The word “honey” was never used in Europe. This term of endearment was an American import adopted by Europeans during the war. Being a southern girl, it was very difficult not to use the word. Of course, American slang and culture based expressions had to go. Germans are not “off base” nor do they “drop the ball” when they make a mistake. No Americanisms allowed. You don’t realize how often you use colloquialism until you have to go back and delete them all from a 300-page manuscript.

I wrote, rewrote, and reworked the story over again before I submitted. After torturing my critique partner, and a thousand rewrites, I was ready to submit my manuscript. I worked on my query letter and synopsis, and then I submitted. I got a very nice rejection recommending changes to make and a request to resubmit. I followed her instructions and resubmitted, it was then accepted.

I got to work with an editor and spent more time “fluffing and folding” until the manuscript was ready for print.
The book cover is beautiful. Grafeneck castle is seen in the background while the edelweiss flower is in the foreground, a faded swastika behind it. The symbolism of the edelweiss flower dominating a fading swastika: pure love’s domination over evil. Nicola Martinez is a wonderful artist.

Kindertransport is released on August the seventh from Wild Rose Press.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I was talking with a bunch of teenagers and the subject came up about how I keep track of my ideas for stories, or ideas for the story I'm currently working on. When I got home I began to wonder how many other authors have the same type of system I do?

1.) I have a few notebook strategically placed around the house, the biggest right beside my bed.
2.) I have a dry erase board in my office, but that is mainly my writing schedule( or what I wish it was).
3.) I'm working on two series that I'm working on. For these I have a poster board with sectioned by story and any important details listed under the right one.
4.) Whenever I come up with an interesting idea I jot it down, who knows when it might come in handy.

How many of you other authors out there have similar process for recording you random ideas?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writing to Fit the Genre

During a recent interview I was asked how I’m able to write both romances and mysteries. My first thought…writing is writing. Write in one genre and you can easily write in another. However, the next time I sat down to work on my WIP, I realized that’s not 100% true. Each genre has its own set of rules and ‘standards’. Knowing what the standards is essential if you want to sell in a particular genre. So how do you do just that?

This might sound like something you already know or do, but read as many books in your genre of choice before you sit down to write one. Not only will you get a feel for the backbones of the genre but you’ll soon figure out what type of book you’d like to write. I’ll use mysteries and romances as examples.

Mysteries-do you like legal dramas or perhaps you’re hooked on books featuring an amateur sleuth.

Romances-are you a fan of romantic suspense or do you get whisked away to another time with historicals? And if you’re a fan of category romances, think about what line you’d like to write for. Is it Silhouette Romantic Suspense or maybe a sexy Harlequin Blaze?

Take Notes
The first time you read the book, do it just for pure reading pleasure. Then read it again with a notebook handy. Jot down notes about the hero/heroine, conflict, etc. then read a second book, making notes of any similarities to the first one. Do you see any pattern forming? While the stories are obviously very different, each genre has certain things readers and yes, publishers have come to expect.

Mysteries-a crime is committed. There’s a cast of suspects and a sleuth. And, yes, a few red herrings. In the end the guilty person is caught and hopefully punished for their crime.

Romance-there’s a heroine the reader can identify with and live vicariously through. A hero who both the heroine and reader can fall in love with. A conflict that keeps them apart and an issue they have to work out. Sexual tension is a must. How about that first kiss? And depending on the line or publisher, the first time the couple make love. And let’s not forget the happy ending.

Choose Favorites
Who are the genre’s bestsellers?
Pick up some books written by them and learn from the masters.Try and figure out what makes this particular writer so popular with their readers? Is it because each chapter is more suspenseful than the next? Is it because the author takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride?

Some Publishers Make It Easier Than the Rest
Some publishers give us clues about what their ‘standards’ are. If a publisher offers guidelines, read them through until you know them by heart. Do they have a rigid word count? What type of plots are they looking for? What type of plots aren’t they looking for?

Writing to fit a genre can be the key to making your first or next sale.

Susan Palmquist is the author of three published novels and the upcoming paranormal romance, Sleeping with Fairies that will be published by Lyrical Press later this summer. You can check out her interviews with writers, editors and publishers at her monthly blog at Between the Lines And learn more about Susan and her work at

Free Blogger Templates by Isnaini Dot Com . Powered by Blogger and PDF Ebooks