Sunday, 21 September 2014

Circle Star re-released

I've finally completed the revised edition of Circle Star, a full length western historical romance. I wrote Circle Star in 2006, immediately after finishing Klondike Dreams, a long historical novel set in the Klondike gold rush. I did a huge amount of research for Klondike Dreams, my first historical novel, and I wanted to put some of that knowledge to use in another work set around the same period.

I also wanted to write a historical romance that fitted as closely as possible to the popular category romance formula—alpha hero, spunky but feminine heroine, and a nasty villain.

While I was writing the story, the heroine’s best friend gained a more prominent role than I had intended, which resulted in a book with two intertwined stories about two different couples fighting the same villains.

I submitted the book to Harlequin, but by the time they got back to me almost a year later with some potentially good news, I had become tired of waiting and had offered the book elsewhere. It was published in 2008—my first published novel—by Resplendence Publishing.

Although the book received mainly positive reviews, some readers disliked the way the focus shifted to a different couple halfway through the story. A few years later, I withdrew the novel from publication, with the view of revising the story to separate it into two parts.

This turned out more difficult than I had expected. I broke up the story but it didn’t work. I put it back together but made the two stories intertwined from the beginning. That didn’t work either. I separated the stories once more and mulled over them for months. The only way to solve the dilemma was to add several chapters of new material to Susanna’s story, and edit Claire’s story to delink some of the overlapping events.

Better? Or just different? Every writer wrestles with those doubts during the rewriting and editing process. I hope that the days and weeks I spent on the revisions have made the story more enjoyable.

CIRCLE STAR will be available on Kindle, $ 3.99.  It will be available to borrow in Kindle Owners' Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited.

If anyone who bought the Resplendence Publishing edition would like a copy of the revised edition, please email me on and I'll send you a PDF file.

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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Writing of Ballet Shoes and Engine Grease

I have read several books where the hero stands to inherit a fortune provides he gets married.

He finds a female who -- against a suitable financial compensation -- agrees to become his wife for a stipulated period, usually one year. Although he eventually falls in love with the heroine, he resents her
for being a money-grabbing opportunist who was willing to sell herself into marriage.

And yet, wasn't the hero doing just the same? He was getting married for no other reason but financial gain. It was simply that his price tag was higher, and he thought that he was somehow entitled to the fortune he would inherit if he satisfied the conditions in his father's / grandfather's / uncle's will.

I wanted to bring a new twist into that situation. What if the hero had enough stubbornness in him, enough moral backbone not to allow anyone to dictate his life? What if he said NO to the marriage and instead chose to walk away from a fortune?

I added another complication by requiring the hero to marry a particular woman before he could inherit, and then created a situation where the hero would have to work together with the woman he'd spurned.

I don't normally put real people in my books. (The only exception is COSMIC FORCES where the hero, Drake Lundberg, is based on someone I know.) However, I often use actual events, little bits of real lives that I've learned about.

In this book, I used two such incidents in the backstory of the hero and heroine.

One of my cousins  has a friend who used to be a ballet dancer, but had to give up her international career after she developed a dust allergy. And, one of my co-workers walked away from a car wreck after an accident, only to discover the following day that he had lost movement in his legs. Fortunately, he recovered after medical treatment and intensive physical therapy, just as the hero in my book did.

I didn't have to do a huge amount of research for Ballet Shoes and Engine Grease. A bit about ballet, and antiques, and making dolls' houses. I already knew something about Grand Prix motor racing, but I had to deepen my knowledge, and I had to study companies that manufacture and market luxury, limited edition cars. Business and law used to be my field, so those aspects only required a small amount of fact checking.

For the location, I made up a fictitious small town in New York State, an area I'm reasonably familiar with. The general location is not important to the story, but I wanted to include the contrast between living in a big city and a peaceful small town where everyone knows everyone.

To fit in with the small town atmosphere, I gave the families an important  role in this book. The cool, sophisticated mother of the hero, and the raucous, uneducated mother of the heroine, each have their own little side plots. Both have to adapt to their circumstances, accept the past and learn to overcome the knocks life has dealt them.

There are also numerous supporting characters. For me, the most memorable one is Soames, the inscrutable butler who runs the stately home where some of the events take place.

I hope you'll enjoy reading the book and meeting the cast.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Writing of Klondike Dreams

My interest in the Klondike gold rush began by accident. I was hiking in a historical gold mining area, when my companion wanted to look at some books in a tourist office. While he was browsing in the wildlife section, I started leafing through a book about two brothers who made their fortune in the Klondike.

I was instantly hooked.  When I got home, I read everything I could on the Internet. I ordered books on Amazon, and scoured second hand book shops for copies of out of print editions. It was a fascinating, fascinating event, a captivating slice of history, the last of the great gold rushes, taking place at the cusp of the great social change that lead up to modern times.
In my research of letters and diaries, I was surprised to learn how close the language of the period was to today’s usage. The world truly was hurtling toward a new century. Women were clamouring for emancipation, railroads provided efficient transport, newspapers spread information rapidly around the world. The cheap camera had been invented, allowing travellers to take snapshots which supplement the records of professional photographers.
According to estimates, roughly 300,000 people set off on the journey toward the Klondike and 30,000 made it to Dawson City. Of those, only around 3,000 found gold and perhaps 300 struck it rich. One day, I hope to hike the Chilkoot trail, tracing the footsteps of Cora and Johan.
Below is a list of some of the main sources that helped me with the background. There is plenty more, these are just a sample of where to start if you are interested in learning more. I’ve listed the editions I have, there may be others available.
My favourite book is the one by Pierre Berton, a beautifully written history of the gold rush, packed with factual information and anecdotes. I’m sure some of its influence can be seen in the scenic descriptions of my book. I recommend the Canadian edition, which contains several hand drawn maps not included in the US edition.
  • Pierre Berton: Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899, Anchor Canada 2001
  • Frances Backhouse: Women of the Klondike, Whitecap Books 2000
  • Tappan Adney: The Klondike Stampede, UBC Press 2003
  • Jeremiah Lynch: Three Years in the Klondike, Narrative Press 2001
  • William Bronson: The Last Grand Adventure, McGraw-Hill 1977
  • Manual for Nursing, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1878
  • Lavinia Dock, Material Medica for Nurses, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898
  • Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd: King’s American Dispensary 1898
  • Penguin History of the USA 1865-1900

Articles and documents available on the Internet:
  • Ruth Mellor: History of the VON Klondike Nurses
  • Mary Hitchcock: Two women in the Klondike
  • Alice Edna Berry: The Bushes and the Berrys
  • Sylvain Cazelet: History of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women
  • Jack London: Economics of the Klondike

In addition, there are journals and diaries and pamphlets and official documents and transport timetables and restaurant menus and all sorts of interesting details available on the Internet, as well extensive photographs collections of the Klondike gold rush. I spent a lot of time studying the photographs by Eric Hegg, Frank La Roche, and Asahel Curtis, available in the digital collections of the University of Washington Libraries.

My other research included history of New York City and Chicago, US railroads, Finnish history, South African history, history and techniques of gold mining, Victorian era dress, hairstyles, and social etiquette, history of nursing in the US and Canada, history of pharmacy and drug dispensing in the US, history and treatment of the medical conditions of spinal meningitis, scurvy, and typhoid fever.

I have tried to incorporate actual events into my story, such as the avalanche on 3 April 1898 that killed a number of stampeders on the Chilkoot trail but allowed an ox to survive, the rigged race to stake claims on Dominion Creek, the typhoid epidemic that raged through Dawson City that summer, and the fire on the night of 26 April 1899 that destroyed much of the town because the fire fighters had gone on strike. The Tacoma is not a real boat, but a composite of two different vessels which are described in some of the sources. And there really was a man with cats, although I could only find brief references to him and had to use my imagination to fill in the details.

I hope that my extensive reading helps the story to sound authentic, and that you find the history of the Klondike gold rush interesting

Friday, 2 November 2012

Writing of Trading Favors

I wanted to write a short piece about a woman at a low point in her life. Death is too somber a topic for lighthearted romance, so I picked divorce.

Maddie Livingston has been dumped by her husband. She is unable to have kids. The builder working on her house has walked off with her money. She is reduced to living in a heap of rubble with a hole in the roof and can barely afford to pay the bills.

The story kicks off when Maddie goes into nightclub to drown her sorrows on the day her divorce becomes final. In the bar, she spots the builder who cheated her. She lets him hear what she thinks of him. She’s got it all wrong—the builder is a nice guy. He takes pity on her and tries to get her back on her feet, not only by fixing her house, but by boosting her confidence as a woman.

A blue-collar man and an upper class woman with discerning tastes.

How will they get on?

If they are good in bed, is it enough foundation for lasting love?

What about their friends and families? How will they react?

It took me a few drafts to get everything to my liking. Initially, I wanted some element of class prejudice but nothing too heavy—just enough for it to be feasible in the modern world. I also struggled to get Maddie’s character right. Despite being at a low point in her life, I didn’t want her to come across spineless or full of self pity.

I wanted an underlying layer of optimism, which I hope I’ve achieved.

Trading Favors didn’t require a much research. A bit on construction, a bit on fertility treatments, a bit on antiques. While I was revising, I realized I hadn’t given a specific location. The story could have been anywhere in the US. It was winter, and there was no snow, so I settled on North Carolina where I used to spend time in the Raleigh/Durham area. I added a fleeting reference to the location, although it could really have been anywhere.

In the early drafts, the opening and closing scenes showed the heroine reminiscing after the hero’s death. One of my critique partners hated the idea. For her to know that the hero dies, even if it might be twenty years later, ruined the story.

So, I changed it. The heroine is still reminiscing about the past, but in the closing scene the hero comes home and reveals a something about their first romantic encounter that he had never shared with her before.

I’m glad I made the change. I love the new ending. It leaves me with a warm glow about not just falling in love, but that the right kind of love will endure.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Writing Cosmic Forces Extra Scenes

I wrote Cosmic Forces shortly after I had signed a contract to write a miniseries of short novellas for Harlequin Historical Undone (Hot Scottish Knights miniseries will come out early in 2013). I wanted to try the same limited word count in a contemporary setting.

Many contemporary romance authors write short pieces. Often these stories are centered on a single event – strangers stranded in an elevator, a rugged mountain guide and a city girl caught out in a storm. Some short novellas feature characters who already know each other – a couple fallen out over a misunderstanding, a heroine in love with her best friend’s brother.

I wanted to write a story that takes the hero and heroine from their first meeting to their Happy Ever After in 20,000 words. I also wanted the story to have a plot, and an interesting setting.

It was difficult to fit everything in.

I am grateful to any reader who takes the time to review my books and provide feedback. Some have commented that in Cosmic Forces the couple falls in love too quickly – although the hero and heroine have spent more than two weeks together, they haven’t had intimate encounters until all their feelings flood out in a very public situation.

I started to think how I could have provided the romantic push and pull readers like to see.
This posed some problems: Drake guards his heart too fiercely to initiate intimacy before he is sure Calista is prepared to love him totally and completely. Calista can’t really chase Drake because she is his boss and it might be considered sexual harassment. And, once the television show begins, their relationship is going to be under spotlight, so the romance needs to be resolved before then.

I toyed with lots of ideas. Nothing seemed to work. To me, the explosive coming together during the meeting with the television people is still the right solution for the hero and the heroine, but I could see how it might have worked if they had been braver about revealing their feelings earlier. I’ve written four extra scenes that go at the end of Chapter Four.

Adding these scenes would need some tiny edits in the first scene that follows but nothing the reader can’t easily adjust for in their mind (the kiss on the dance floor is no longer their first kiss, and Drake's behavior is a little more driven by anger). If get feedback that readers like these extra scenes, I will incorporate them into the main file. For now, they are only in this separate Free Read.

However – apologies to the reviewer – Calista refuses to give up her nice clothes. She loves glamour, she loves fashion. Since she got her MBA, she has worked in business and is used to wearing smart suits and heels. She needs to convince the astronomers that despite her youth and inexperience, she has the management skills to rescue the observatory from closure, and she doesn’t want to walk in looking like a student. She dresses to impress.

Thank you for the feedback. I hope the new scenes fill some of the gap.

Note: In the current release everything is together in one file, edited to blend in the new scenes.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Writing of Cosmic Forces

I wrote Cosmic Forces very quickly in March 2012. (I hasten to add  that I then spent several months revising the story and working with critique partners, editors and proofreaders).  The BF was in Africa, crossing Western Sahara in a four-wheel-drive, and I was alone at home. He'd done a similar trip a few years earlier. That time, their vehicle broke down and they were stranded for three days in the desert until another car came along and jump started their flat battery. A bit nervous about something happening to him, I immersed myself into the story.
Some stories almost write themselves, with the scenes flowing and the characters doing what you want them to do. Cosmic Forces was one of them. I think research helps - learning about a new topic seems to boost my creativity. Certainly, in this case, the setting was a big part of the story. I spent hours researching astronomy and got hooked.

·                     I hadn't realized there are special telescopes to look at the sun. The one read about the most was the Swedish Solar Telescope located in La Palma on the Canary Islands in Spain. This avoided me looking like a fool by having the heroine (who studied the sun) using a telescope not fit for the purpose.

·                     I hadn't realized that telescopes can be housed in unmanned buildings and operated remotely. The La Palma observatory with its multiple telescopes, each in a separate dome, looks as if a gigantic child got into a tantrum and threw a bowl of vanilla ice cream down a hillside, the individual scoops settling some distance apart on the rocky slopes.

·                     I hadn't realized that most telescope pictures are not 'live' or 'snapshots', but still photographs created with very long exposure times to gather enough light to make an image.

·                     I hadn't realized that professional astronomers rarely look through the eyepiece on a telescope these days. The images are caught by a special camera and displayed on a computer screen, and the computer output can be transmitted to astronomers around the world.

For my story, I wanted two people attracted to each other to spend time at night looking at the stars. First, I thought the story idea would go nowhere, if professional astronomers only look at the computer output the following morning. Then I found an article on the web about observing through a 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory. I also found instructions provided by another observatory for disconnecting the CCD camera from the telescope and attaching the eyepiece for live viewing. These two articles gave me enough information on how the technical side might work and a list of suitable objects in the sky for my characters to view.

I had to study a little more to make sure I used appropriate terms. For example, I started by just picking a list of fancy-sounding objects to view. Protostars, brown dwarfs, etc. Better check. Whoops. Protostars are surrounded by gas and dust and no visible light gets through. The damn things can only be seen on an infrared telescope. Brown dwarfs don't emit much light either, so not a good object to view.

Further, I had to give each of my characters a specialist area of astronomy to study, and some academic credentials. I discovered that most major universities offer courses in astronomy or astrophysics. Double planets (also called binary planets) gave my heroine a project that sounded romantic.

Finally, I needed a setting - my observatory. I had been to Kitt Peak Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. However, I needed a smaller setup. I Googled a list of observatories in Arizona, picked a couple and checked the staffing levels and other useful background.

Arizona is the observatory capital of the world. I remember looking at the sky at night during a camping trip there a few years ago. I'd never seen a sky like that anywhere else in the world - deep, dark black-blue, dotted with millions of stars and the Milky Way clearly visible as a pale web stretching end to end.

I can't recall why I chose an interracial couple. It might be because I'd been looking through some old photographs a while earlier and came across a picture of me with one of my old flames. Great guy. It didn't work out because we were both very strong willed and constantly clashing.

Our breaking up had nothing to do with us being different race. However, I do remember a few instances when it became an issue - a disapproving look from a passer-by, or a shouted insult from a drunken lout, or a hesitant piece of advice from a well-meaning friend. In my story, I didn't want to overlook the potential difficulties of an interracial relationship. Even at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I wanted my couple to discuss racial prejudice, what it could mean for them, and in clear words reassure each other that it didn't matter.

And it shouldn't matter.

But the world will be a better place when such prejudice no longer exists.

 Details of COSMIC FORCES on the "Contemporary" page.