“The Devil is in the Detail, or How Not to Write a Regency Novel”
If you decide to write a novel set in the Regency you have one real labour of love before you, and that’s to negotiate a veritable minefield of complex etiquette. There were so many rules governing social interaction – particularly between men and women – that it’s very easy to get the details wrong, and commit an unintentional howler.
I became very much aware of this when writing my Jane Austen pastiche, Murder at Mansfield Park. You would have thought that simply mimicking what Austen does would be a sufficient guide, but even if you manage to do this without mishap, there are some delightful nuances that Austen employs, which we’ve since lost. For example, a man could not shake a woman’s hand unless she first offered it to him, and when you understand that, there’s an added poignancy to the scene at the end of Emma, when Frank Churchill speaks to Emma for the first time after his secret engagement has come to light:
“I have to thank you, Miss Woodhouse, for a very kind forgiving message in one of Mrs Weston’s letters. I hope time has not made you less willing to pardon. I hope you do not retract what you then said.” “No, indeed,” cried Emma, most happy to begin, “not in the least. I am particularly glad to see and shake hands with you–and to give you joy in person.”
I employ this same convention in my own novel, as a way of signposting the subtle shifts in the relationship between my heroine, Mary Crawford, and the detective ‘thief-taker’, Charles Maddox, whom she first dislikes, then fears, and finally comes to respect. This scene marks the lowest point in their relationship:
“He would have taken her hand, had she offered it, but she remained seated, and would not catch his eye. He said nothing immediately, but took a seat on the bench beside her.“I see we do not meet as friends, Miss Crawford. I am at a loss to know how I have so far forfeited your good opinion.”
Of course you might reasonably say that very few readers will pick up on such a fine distinction, but those who do will gain an added pleasure from the scene. More to the point, the more things like that you get wrong, the more the reader’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ comes under threat. I may be a purist, but I firmly believe that you can only create a viable illusion of authenticity by remaining completely faithful to the conventions of the period. In fact one of the most telling measures of the vast social distance between my thief-taker and the Mansfield family is his willingness to use the precise niceties of social convention to his own advantage – to observe them when it suits him, and flout them when it doesn’t, as in this Regency version of an ‘interrogation scene’:
“It appears you have little regard for the niceties of common civility, Mr Maddox,” Maria replied archly. “I dare say you will sit down whether I give my permission or no.” “Ah,” he said with a smile, as he sat down beside her, “there you are wrong, Miss Bertram, if you will forgive me. There are few men who are more watchful of what you term ‘niceties’ than I am. Many of my former cases have turned on such things. In my profession it is not only the devil you may find in the detail.”Maria replied only with a toss of her head; she seemed anxious to be gone, but unable to do so without appearing ill-mannered. Maddox smiled to himself – these fine ladies and gentlemen! It was not the first time that he had seen one of their class imprisoned by the iron constraints of politeness and decorum.”
Much fun was had in the writing of scenes like this, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it’s not only custom and practice you have to observe as a Regency writer, but the ‘iron constraints’ of contemporary diction.
I spent an enormous amount of time studying Jane Austen’s style, in an effort to pull off what is – admittedly – a rather presumptuous act of literary ventriloquism. Some of that was about catching the rise and fall of her sentences – a difficult thing to describe, but every author has their own unique ‘rhythm’, and Austen more than most. Some of it was also about the tone she uses – the mix of ”playfulness and epigrammatism”, as she herself described it. You see this most obviously in her characteristic ‘balanced’ sentences, where the first half appears to be perfectly straight-faced, only to shift suddenly into delicious irony. This example comes from Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice: “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”
The other area that can be a bear-trap for the unsuspecting is the vocabulary. Many words we use now were also common in Austen’s day, but the context in which they appear has sometimes radically changed. So even if you word-check everything you want to say against Austen’s novels (which I did), you can still make a faux pas if you don’t check the context as well. For example, you might want to refer – as I did – to the ‘atmosphere’ in a room, and be relieved to find that the word does indeed appear once or twice in Austen. However, if you look at these references more closely you’ll see that they all refer either to the weather, or to the physical nature of the air (‘poisonous atmosphere’), and never in our more general sense of ‘mood’.
Another snare for the unwary is ‘assume’ and ‘presume’. Austen only ever uses the word ‘assume’ in the sense of ‘taking on’ or ‘putting on’, and not in the modern sense of ‘making an assumption’. She uses ‘presume’ in the latter case, so I had to do the same (though one instance of ‘assuming’ did slip through the net, so it just shows you how stern you have to be with yourself!).
My own personal favourite here is the word ‘intriguing’. I had a wonderful sentence in my mind in which my thief-taker refers to one of his (female) subjects as “intriguing in both senses of the word”. But when I dutifully forced myself to look the word up, I found that while ‘intriguing’ in the sense of ‘plotting’ is perfectly acceptable in 1811, ‘intriguing’ in the sense of ‘fascinating’ does not come into use until 1909. It cost me dear to press the delete key on that one!
Like I said, you can call me a perfectionist, and I’m sure that there’s hardly one reader in a thousand who would have noticed. But if an author’s worth pastiching, they’re worth pastiching properly. Or at least I think so!
Originally written for Lesley-Anne McLeod’s Regency blog, http://lesleyannemcleod.blogspot.com/2011/06/devil-is-in-detail-or-how-not-to-write.html
I hope you enjoyed Ms. Shepherd’s thoughts on details and the Regency novel. I hope you come back soon for more thoughts on writing from other established and talented authors. You can purchase her books at Amazon.com.
The Pressures of Success
“How we love our muses, let us count the ways. How we deal with the pressures of creativity; let us count the days.” — M. Perez
Many of you can relate to the stress of starting out as you develop and nurture your passion for writing. Your dreams and hopes are at stake. You have a strong desire to bring to your readers stories of a world that will inspire them to believe in love, and hope for a better place where anything is possible.
As you begin your journey through the writing process, you begin to ask yourself questions: Where do I begin? What should I write about? Or how should I tell my story?
Then after much thought you proceed to write your story and get it finished. Congrats! This is of course after going through so many re-writes and edits that after a while you couldn’t even see the writing on the paper if your life dependent on it. But you are done, nonetheless and thrilled. The next step is gathering the courage to send your piece out to an agent or a publisher in the hopes of catching their interest. Of course the process would be different if you self-publish.
Finally, your story is published. You can then begin to relax, maybe take a few months off before you think about the next book you may want to write. But, then your book starts to sell, you are getting positive reviews and you even start to develop a fan-base. Good for you!
Then out of the blue your fan-base, thrilled with your book, wants to know how soon can you write the next one? This is great, after all it is what we want to hear, right? Are you panicking yet? Nah, not yet, but then you get a call from your agent or publisher, wanting to know how soon you can complete the next book and you do not even know what the next book is going to be about. Okay, I sense panic coming. Your days of lavishing your success are not really over, but perhaps a little bittersweet? You have no idea what your next book is going to be about, but you must think of something, the readers, the publisher or agent are demanding it. The screen on your computer is blank as it is several days later. The pressure is building―your head starts to hurt, your heart begins to skip beats, and the wheels in your mind keep turning and turning to the point where you are having trouble sleeping. So you get up and turn on the television hoping for a temporary reprieve, only to learn that your hope of a temporary escape has gone out the window when you realize the movie you just tuned into is one of Jane Austen’s stories. An unwanted reminder of the next book you need to write because you must maintain your readership and keep your publisher happy. So now the pressure is in full force, you have reached your breaking point―but, wait! You don’t have to go there.
I mean there is hope and I am going to let you in on a secret, where pressure is concern; you are not alone. Writers, artists of all walks of life, at one point or another, have gone through what you are going through. Pressure is common and as artists we will all experience it at one point or another. What will be different is how you cope with it. In other words, what may work for you may be different from what will work for someone else. You will find below thoughts from several accomplished contemporary Regency period authors on how they deal with the pressures of their successes. As a newbie author, these thoughts might come in handy, and help you find the balance needed in order to take control and continue to write so that in the end your fans, publisher or agent and you are very happy.
For Ms. Jolie Beaumont, author of Ode to a Dead Lord, it is more about producing qualitatively than quantitatively: “I think the key is to both know and honor your writing goals. For instance, because I know that I’m not a fast writer, I know that I’ll never be one of those authors who can turn out six or seven books a year, even though to do so would probably bring me more readers and earn me a higher income. Not only do I agonize over every adjective in one of my books, but I need a fair amount of “dream time” before I sit down to write the first word – time when I’m getting to know the characters and the location of the new story, as well as thinking out how the mystery aspect is going to develop. Therefore, my yearly goal is to write 2-3 Regency mystery novels that I personally think are terrific, and hope that my readers will agree a sequel to “Ode to a Dead Lord,” featuring Bow Street Runner Theo Bryght will be for sale spring of 2012.”
For Ms. Jennifer Becton, author of Charlotte Collins, quality helps her deal with the pressure of writing. “Quality is more important that speed, and that is something I feel very strongly about. I want to release only the very best books I can possibly write, and I would not want to disappoint my readers by rushing to press, even if it means missing my own deadline. In fact, I had to postpone the launch of Caroline Bingley for that very reason. I made an announcement on my blog and explained why. I got only positive feedback and support.
Between books, I think it’s crucial for writers to remain active on social media and keep their readers informed about what is happening with the writing process. First, it’s interesting to see how the writing process works, and second, it lets readers know that the author is hard at work on their next book and not wasting time. Also, building a launch announcement email list will help ensure that no one misses out when the book is released, especially if you’ve had to change the date.
It’s a tough balance to achieve, but when it comes down to it, good is better than fast.”
Ms. Amy Corwin, author of The Necklace says: “All authors love their fans and want to make them happy. We want to provide a lot of books and in today’s climate; we know that if we don’t produce them quickly, we’ll soon be forgotten. Our fans will still love us, but they’ll love lots of other talented writers, too, and if we’re not producing something new, well…
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just write a book. It has to be a good book. And that takes time, at least for me, it does. This conundrum produces enormous pressures for the writer. You want to write the best book out there, but you need to write it quickly. Some writers swear you have to produce four books a year just to stay in the game. I’m lucky to produce one that is as richly textured as I’d like it to be. When I push for more, or try to write quickly, the richness of the plot suffers.
How do I relieve the pressure this causes? Stay off the internet. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? But the internet is the place where panic starts. You notice your book sales dropping. You notice other writers, better writers, producing faster, pumping out new books and getting their enormous backlist out there at stunningly low prices that drive your book right off the bottom of the list. You hear from fans who want that next book. You hear from fans who were disappointed by your last book, which you rushed and wonder what is going on with you? You read new reviews for your books that make you want to slit your wrists. You read the terrific reviews for other books, books other authors took all of one month to write and you wonder, “Why don’t I have talent like that?” You learn about the huge successes of a bunch of other writers, and although you’re glad for them and excited by the prospect that such good fortune might one day be yours, it still makes you realize that you have a lot of work to do. Work you’re not doing, because you’re surfing the internet instead of writing.
And you’re not doing a particularly good job at marketing, either, because you’re spending too much time trying to write the next book. Pressure! Of course it helps to have a get-a-way place on the beach. It’s just a small place with no phones, no cable, and no internet access at all. We get one station on the television, so there’s not much of that either. You’re forced to swim, play with the dogs, and relax. I do bring my notebook computer with me and attempt to write, but often I get so mesmerized by the ocean waves that a whole day goes by without me remembering to plug in the computer and work. Maybe that’s why I can barely get out one book a year, hmmm?”
Author of The Best Intentions, Ms. Candice Hern uses the pressure to help her produce her stories quantitatively: “There is a lot of pressure to produce, especially now that I’m self-publishing. An author needs to have a lot of e-book titles out there to do well, i.e., the more titles you have the more each of them sells as they sort of feed off each other. So I am writing as fast as I can to get another e-Regency published.
But I am by nature a slow writer. I can’t really change my writing process just because I am now in charge, meaning I no longer have a publisher to deal with, it’s all on my shoulders. But I will say I am a whole lot more motivated as a self-published writer. I know that the quicker I get a new book out there, the quicker I make money. I actually think going the self-publishing route has helped me tremendously. Any successes or failures fall in my lap. I can’t blame anyone but me since everything is now under my control: editing, cover design, pricing, etc. I’ll always be a slow writer, but I have much greater incentive now than ever before to produce more work, and get it out there as fast as I can.
Most of my author friends, especially those who are successful, are Type A personalities. That means that they possess a strong sense of time urgency. They are always painfully aware of the time and how little of it they can spare for others. There is also a certain amount of competitiveness among those who write for a living. It is wonderful to be recognized for one’s achievements. Whether the author is a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond, name recognition is part of the intrinsic value of writing. If one is adequately rewarded for his hard work, he is more likely to stay motivated. Unfortunately, authors also lean toward social isolationism. All of these factors, place us under increased stress, and it is hard to be creative when one is under too much stress.”
Ms. Regina Jeffers, author of The Phantom of Pemberley and The Scandal of Lady Eleanor pressure comes from her understanding of what it is like to want to read a fave author’s next book: ” Most of my author friends, especially those who are successful, are Type A personalities. That means that they possess a strong sense of time urgency. They are always painfully aware of the time and how little of it they can spare for others. There is also a certain amount of competitiveness among those who write for a living. It is wonderful to be recognized for one’s achievements. Whether the author is a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond, name recognition is part of the intrinsic value of writing. If one is adequately rewarded for his hard work, he is more likely to stay motivated. Unfortunately, authors also lean toward social isolationism. All of these factors, place us under increased stress, and it is hard to be creative when one is under too much stress.
As a reader myself, I get quite anxious for the next book in a series or the next book from one of my favorite authors to hit the market. I try to keep that in mind when I write. I have had people begging for Book 4 in my Realm series, while I am still trying to sell books 2 and 3 to a publisher. It is flattering, but it is frustrating, as well.
It normally takes me four to six months to write a book and have it ready for publication. I have days when I do not want to write. Days when I would like to drive the three hours to the beach and to remember that these are supposed to be my golden years. Yet, I continue to write because I love it. An enjoyable job must challenge a person, but it must not overwhelm him. There was a time in my life that I strove for “perfection.” Now, I accept the fact that my house might be messy when friends stop by, and I accept the fact that someone else must manage my website because I do not have the skills. I cannot be all things to all people. I reward myself with a “treat” when things go well. Generally, it is the pleasure of reading someone else’s book, but it can be a hot fudge sundae or a walk in the park or a nice glass of wine. I also look for the humor in life. I am terrible at telling a joke, but I am quick to understand one. I enjoy a good laugh. Finally, I maintain a balanced life: a vegetarian diet and 30 minute walks daily works well for me.”
For Ms. Kara Louise, author of Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, pressure comes from her husband: “I don’t have a lot of intense pressure to publish my next story from my fans, mainly inquiries. The person who puts the most pressure on me is my dear husband. He not only tells me I need to write another book (for my fans), but also provides me constantly with ideas for the next plot. While he means well, I need to embrace the plot myself and feel confident that it is a good enough story to write.
I will confess that I have talked to authors who are under pressure from their publisher to write a new book every 6 months or so, and I could not (and would not want to) do that! Fortunately, after I initially self-published my 5 books, I had some other stories already started that allowed me to publish 2 more within a reasonable amount of time–the 2nd of those, Pemberley Celebrations, comes out this fall. I actually wrote most of that story back in 2002, but it needed a lot of work and I added more to it. There have been times when I feel as though this is it, I have no more ideas, but when I hear from fans who tell me they really enjoy my stories and are looking forward to another book, I think about doing another. Nothing inspires me to write more than people telling me how much they enjoy my books.
Considering I have been either in the midst of writing or editing since I first began writing 10 years ago and publishing 5 years ago, once my next book is completely finished, I would not be surprised to find that I have a sudden burst of inspiration for my next book. It will be interesting to see what comes next.”
According to Ms. Sally MacKenzie, author of The Naked King the image of a cave is symbolic for her in that it is the place she goes to hide from the pressures of writing: “I am, sadly, not a fast writer. I’ve come to accept this and work with it. I’m sure there are things I can do to be more efficient, but I think my process is fundamentally inefficient. I’m what some people call a “pantser”—I don’t outline.
I usually muse for a while about the characters, their personalities, families, and histories, and then I start writing. I’m never sure exactly what the next chapter will bring–the story grows as I go. It goes from beginning to end, but it also gets deeper as I understand the characters more. I don’t think this process can be forced or hurried, and pressure sort of kills it, so I try to build a wall in my mind as much as possible and try not to worry too much…The operative word is try.
I also try not to procrastinate. The sooner I get started on a book the better. And I try to force myself to stay in my writerly cave and just focus on the story and characters as much as I can. Once I’m into the book, the characters show me the way. It’s great to get lost in their lives and in the actual creative process.
I’ve found writing connected stories also helps me because the next story is simmering on my mind’s back burner while I work on the current story. I really discovered this when I started my new Duchess of Love series, the introductory novella is currently scheduled for May 2012. All of a sudden I had a completely new group of people to get to know. It threw me for a loop, I think. I had a number of false starts on the first book, and once I figured things out, I did have to write in a somewhat “forced march” mode to get it done, late, unfortunately think a snail on a forced march. But I think the next book will be easier—not easy, of course, since I don’t find writing easy, but at least now I know a bit about the hero and his family. I just need to go hide in that cave and get started!”
For Ms. C. Allyn Pierson, author of Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister, pressure can be a good thing: “I am one of those people who work best and most productively with a little pressure, so having readers ask when my next book comes out gives me a little nudge to finish my work in progress (WIP).
The major difficulty with reader pressure for me is that I have a lot of different types of books in my head, but I feel that I need to work in the genre where I am known since I am a beginning writer. Once my fan base is better established, I will feel freer to write in other genres if I want to.”
When asked how she deals with the pressure, Ms. Lynn Shepherd, author of Murder at Mansfield Park gives us another different perspective: “By the time I finish the third one I will have written three books in four years, which is quite demanding!
Some writers seem to have a whole string of ideas in their heads, and then sometimes struggle with the actual writing of them. I’m the opposite – what takes me the time is finding and developing the idea, and then, usually, if I’m lucky, I can write it reasonably quickly.”
While these authors have several things in common they are unique in the way they handle the demands of their writing careers. Pressure by any other name is still Pressure, so whether it is all about taking your time and producing one or two books a year; getting on the fast roller coaster and writing several books within a year, or taking the time to get a way for a bit to help clear the cobwebs; they each handle the pressure it in their own terms—and the key phrase here is “they handle the pressure” and so can you. They all agree that while their fans are important to their careers, they do not want to sacrifice on the quality of their creative talents, after all that is what attracts their readership/fans.
By the way, it is okay to take a moment and do some gardening or perhaps a hike. Any type of physical activity has been known to help relieve stress and clear the mind. So go for it and good luck in your next writing adventure.
A pen name, also known as a pseudonym, is often used by an author for numerous reasons all related to their writing career. Asking members of the Washington Romance Writers how they felt about pen names, I discovered that it was a common interest and concern for many of them, for the following reasons:
- Protection of identity
- Writing in different genres
- Their publisher did not believe their original name sounded marketable enough
- Some felt a need to separate personal finances from the earnings of their book sales.
They are joined by the ranks of such writers as Samuel Clemens who wrote as Mark Twain or fantasy writer Charles Dodgson, writing as Lewis Carroll. But I think the most memorable writers were the women who choose a pseudonym, mostly male pen names, in order to ensure that their works were being published and accepted by a male-dominated society―writers like the Bronte sisters or Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen.
Meredith Bond, author of Magic in the Storm, having a pen name initially had to do with the genre she was writing at the time―Regency romance. Another reason had to do with being a member of her children’s PTA program.
For Alethea Kontis, author of Enchanted, began using a pen name in her early twenties, when she wrote fantasy. The experience was short-lived when a rejection letter from a publisher forced her to go back to using her real name. Her decision to created mixed feelings. “Having been ‘raised’ this way, it’s really odd for me to be part of the romance genre now, where 80 percent of the writers use pen names, for reasons both valid and romantic,” Kontis said.
According to Kathryn Johnson, author of The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest having not just one but several pen names has been a problem. She began with thinking it was an appropriate thing to do, but then editors insisted that she choose one in order to separate the different genres she was writing in. But if she had to do it all over again she’d have stayed with her given name. “Once you start splitting yourself up, readers can’t track you. It’s confusing and your body of work seems diluted, difficult to find,” Johnson said.
For author Amanda Brice, author of Pointe of No Return, using a pen name was her husband’s idea. He thought it prudent for her to keep her professional career separate from her writing.
As for author Kelly Maher, writer of erotic fiction, using a pen name was all about separating her day job from her writing career. She felt writing erotic could influence her getting hired down the road. Plus, her brothers married women with the same name as herself, so keeping her real name separate from her writing name have became important.
Listed below are some tips for choosing a pen name:
- Keep it original.
- Keep it simple―don’t choose a name that is difficult to pronounce or spell.
- Make it a memorable one.
- And finally, make it appropriate to the market you are aiming at.
This article was originally written for the Washington Romance Writers website.