White Author, Black Character

I’m in a pickle as to where to go with my writing. I have a novel just started (book two of the Cecilia’s Mismatches non-JAFF Regency romance trilogy, called The Chaperon) and I haven’t yet got a solid plot carved in stone, just a general outline in my head. It’s an opportunity to incorporate some of the learning I’ve just picked up and try to be a bigger person with a world human rights view. But how to start?

Let me backtrack.

I finished writing the first book in the trilogy, An Accomplished Lady in June, and I’m quite pleased with how the novel turned out. Audra is a mashup of Catherine Bennet and Catherine Morland, though her love interest is a sturdier sort than Tilney. Cecilia is written after Caroline Bingley.

This week, Ellen Pickels and I finished editing my Austen-Inspired variation called Schemes of Felicity (formerly The Fitzwilliams Intervene). Listen for more about this light romance and other novellas from Meryton Press coming soon.

I’m in the midst of prepping an audiobook of A Most Handsome Gentleman with excellent narrator Ofelia Oliver, which should release next month. “Hot Collins” is such a funny mini-novel, and Ofelia gives all the inflection and emotion needed to make it great in an audiobook!

Those are water under the bridge—the same sort of work I’ve done for a while now.

But lately, with multiple calls to action on making Regency books more realistic as to the underrepresented groups of the people of the era (Lopt and Cropt Editing, Bella Breen, Katherine Grant, my two courses), I’m thinking a lot about how I can incorporate marginalized characters without making them too stereotypical or minor. When I say marginalized, I mean people of colour, LGBTQ++, disabled, or similar under-represented characters within JAFF or Regency romances. Because they were there in the Regency, and we’ve chosen to ignore them. So far.

I don’t come to this without some degree of education. I attended two Beau Monde courses (Louisa Cornell’s Gay in Regency England and LaQuette’s Critical Lens) and the Beau Monde two-day annual conference and gained a ton of information on how to improve my writing.

In the past, I’ve written the “discovered an intelligent slave, purchased freedom for him and his wife, employed and educated them, brought them back to England for the top servant roles at Longbourn” with the Akuetes in Alias Thomas Bennet. The Akuetes even had an important role to play in alerting Mr. Bennet to a potential spy in Maria Lucas. But they were servants and in minor roles. I also did the raped, PTSD character for Fanny Bennet in the same book. I had a depressed, head injured lead character for Elizabeth in The Mist of Her Memory, when so many mentally ill characters are portrayed as villains in fiction.

The question is, how can a white, straight, cis, mentally disabled woman do better to write marginalized characters? Well, after a lot of fear and then subsequent soul-searching, I’m going to try in the best way I can. I’m going out on a limb to write Regency POC and gay characters as if they were regular characters except that sometimes, other characters treat them poorly because they appear different. It’s their response, or the response of those they call friends, that has potential to bring on or settle tension in the story—if I allow it to become an issue. Is that lame? Potentially. But Regency authors are obligated to try to show examples of how the Regency really looked, and free Black people were a common and visible part of Regency England. Gay people were there, though less visible.

Within The Chaperon, I want to at incorporate a person of colour in a highlighted role, and show that Black people were not so uncommon in the Regency as our whitewashed Regency romances seem to demonstrate these days. But I don’t want to go overboard and point out every black person in every role in town. That’s a side plot that will distract from my romance. “and by the way, the farrier is black…” Clearly, I’m in the middle of a balancing act. Now, who would be a good character who’s not a servant for my first try? Someone similar to a Mr. Denny or a Sir William Lucas?

The earl as a marginalized person will come in book three: Secret Affairs to Discuss. I have three characters who will suit, so I can incorporate multiple underrepresented people. This is the “Darcy and Elizabeth” book, though all three books are non-JAFF Regency romances.

This is a lot for me! I’m outside of my range of comfort, the excitement of writing is balanced by the nerves of the new material. I look forward to the challenge of doing something that’s so right.

How about you? Are you ready to take up the challenge? L.L.Diamond has a major character who is gay in Undoing. Abigail Reynolds is in the midst of writing a book with an abolition subplot. You can check Maggie Mooha’s Elizabeth in the New World as well. I’d love to read your #Black Lives Matter or other marginalized groups sensitive portrayal JAFF, and hear about your ideas in comments!

Busy People

If there’s one thing that’s a constant in this world, it’s that you can expect that busy people are eventually productive people.

So what can I hold as evidence? I managed a lot of completions since my last blog post, including:

  • A three week trip to England during which I sought out many Jane Austen locations (lifetime and film) among other tourist destinations, plus met JAFFers Mίra Magdó and Lizzie Sargent, and saw Pride and Prejudice with author Leslie L. Diamond at the only operating Regency theatre left in England (the Royal Theatre in Bury St. Edmunds)—that should have been a blog post in itself;
  • Writing a JAFF novella (working title The Fitzwilliam Intervention);
  • New writing on Book One: An Accomplished Woman of my non-JAFF Regency trilogy (the Lady Hoxley, Matchmaker Trilogy);
  • Collaborating with narrator Neil MacFarlane on the recently released audiobook for my novel The Mist of Her Memory.

During the start of the current pandemic, I was still in my home in Mexico, which at the time seemed to be the safer place to be. In the midst of the expat travel panic in late March, I contracted viral pneumonia, which was also a COVID-19 scare. This meant I was in isolation in a nice private hospital in Mexico at the cost of an excellent insurance company then rushed home on a private jet since the commercial companies wouldn’t take someone with my cough. For the record, I was tested as COVID-19 negative, as well as negative for Influenza A and B and Dengue.

I’m now recovering, though my lung capacity won’t let me exercise like I used to, but that will be overcome in time. Being a COVID-19 vulnerable person, I must be more careful than most, so I remain isolated in my home, with only walks in a mask to get out of the condo. I don’t mind, as it’s a lovely loft apartment with huge windows and views to make you jealous, and includes two cats who like to cuddle up to me while I’m on the laptop on the sofa. I can read and write and edit like before, and I’m enjoying it as well. I’m busy enough that I have to say “no” to special projects, and all that’s on top of a happy and balanced real life!

I’ll let the pictures show the excitement from my trip! Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture.

Hubby goes on a bike tour and I sew a new Regency gown

Anyone who has read the dedication to The Mist of Her Memory will figure out that when my house is quiet, I get a lot of writing done. The event that often causes the house to be quiet is the absence of Mr. Suze. He’s a busy, chatty, music-listening kinda guy who loves his bicycle. While we’re in Mexico in the winter, he disappears for long rides on his mountain bike for a couple of half-days a week. When we’re in Victoria in the summer, he road bikes along an extensive network of paved trails for a similar amount of time. Usually, this is when I write. I turn off the radio, occasionally play some tunes that have been selected specifically to stir my writing for the style of story I’m working on, but I’m focused. There’s no one poking his head in my space to enquire whether I’d like to go for coffee with Brad and Janet this afternoon; or asking did I know where he left his phone; or building or repairing something; or to deciding to vacuum. Yes, he’s a great husband. Great husbands can be noisy.

Last month, he took a week and a half for an epic trip to explore the Okanogan and Columbia River systems in eastern Washington as well as visit friends in Smalltown, WA. He camped along the way and rode on his own for 84 km (52 miles) a day on average. He had hoped to travel home from the friend’s home in one day using truck, train, bus, car ferry, and bike. Well, the bus was a no-show, so he missed the car ferry and had to take the more expensive passenger-only ferry from Seattle. The picture shows the load he had on his bike for this camping and cycling trip—a total of 38kg (85lb). He rode 600km (370 miles) and had about 6000m (20,000 ft.) of climbs, in weather that was mostly mid 30’s in oC (90’s in oF), but there was wet snow in the mountains. The scenery was magnificent.

In the meantime, I did a little writing on my Regency romance trilogy, edited my existing writing, started taking an online course on Music in the Regency through the RWA Beau Monde, and finished sewing a Regency gown made from some thrift store sari fabric seconds I’d had on hand for a couple of years.

I’d cut the dress out last fall, intending to sew it in Mexico last winter once I procured a sewing machine. Mr. Suze and I practised my virtually non-existent Spanish to struggle through the interesting procedures around buying my machine from a rent-to-own store. Did you know a customer must stand in two different lines, one to pay and one to collect their merchandise, once they’ve decided to buy? The sewing machine is a newer version of the ancient one I have back in Canada, bought when I was just 19 years old, so I didn’t mind that the manual is in Spanish. But once I’d progressed so far on sewing my gown, I needed Millie, my dressmaker’s model, to ensure that it fit since it was impossible to do so on myself. So a partially sewn gown came home with me and sat around until Mr. Suze made this trip.

Isn’t it lovely? Note the Regency shape of the back bodice and sleeve—I made my own pattern. I also love the train.

However, I’m not sure where I’ll wear this gown. Perhaps to the next local JASNA meeting, even if the meeting is in the afternoon and this fabric and the style makes this dress clearly an evening gown. I can’t perform Jane Austen dancing—I have a bad shoulder—so events such as the Port Alberni Jane Austen Ball (a three hour drive away) or other Regency country dances are not going to entice me to spin it around a few times. But it’s a pretty dress, and my friends are sure to compliment it, poor seamstress skills aside.

I also started another gown. This one’s a morning dress, made from some lovely lightweight floral bedsheet fabric that looks just like fabric from Jane Austen’s time, though it’s probably a touch heavier than muslin. It’s also about half-made, and when I finish it, I’ll show it here. Mr. Suze is talking about another, shorter trip; however, writing calls me too. Decisions, decisions.

New Release and a Book Sale

A week ago, the culmination of almost two years’ efforts gained fruition. But let’s backtrack. I finished writing my latest novel a year ago, including extensive self-editing, as you would expect from me. After beta edits were completed (thanks to Nina, Leslie, and Anji!) and a title was agreed upon with my beta team, acceptance of The Mist of Her Memory by Meryton Press took place merely a week after submission. I knew the romantic suspense/mystery novel was a compelling story from that response.

Twice weekly posting at A Happy Assembly last autumn and the timing of commencement of editing with Sarah Pesce and Ellen Pickels and cover design by Janet Taylor meant an early 2019 release date. In fact, The Mist of her Memory was released a week ago–five days ahead of the planned date! Yes, darling Amazon decided I didn’t need a promotional lead-up to release, thumbing its nose at my scheduled cover reveal at Diary of an Eccentric and the pre-release marketing and sales plan by Janet Taylor of Meryton Press.

While it meant me finally twiddling my thumbs after months of preparation, the early release got the book into the hands of readers sooner. Reviews started to come in within two days of the e-book’s appearance on Amazon. I hadn’t realized it was such a fast read–it must be enthralling for such quick responses.

Of course, I’d been through all this before three times, but with fewer glitches by the monopolistic distribution channel. Thank goodness for Ellen Pickels at Meryton Press, who ironed out the list of problems on the book’s page for me!

To celebrate the release of The Mist of Her Memory, Meryton Press is holding a sale on my back-list: that’s the three books of mine they’ve published in the past. Alias Thomas Bennet, my debut novel that’s a mature Regency romance with a mystery twist, is on sale now. Bestseller Letter from Ramsgate will follow tomorrow with a three-day sale. Finally, triple top-ten of 2017 listed mini-novel A Most Handsome Gentleman will also be on sale for three days. All are already well-priced given the quality of Meryton Press‘s books, but they’ll be 99 and £99 in an Amazon Countdown Deal for US and UK customers. I hope appreciative customers will feed the author’s ego with some kind commentaries in the form of new reviews after they snag these great deals!

Watch for more of Janet B. Taylor’s teasers and the blog tour announcements on my Facebook page!

~~~

What happened that fateful morning in Lambton?

What brutal attacker caused grievous, near-fatal injuries?

Does she remain in danger? Elizabeth cannot remember!

Sequestered in her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner’s London home, Elizabeth Bennet tries to recover from a devastating incident that stole her memories during their Derbyshire tour. She continues to suffer from strange, angry voices in her head and to recall events that people tell her never happened. Even those who love her refuse to believe her. Elizabeth can barely endure the confusion!

Fitzwilliam Darcy is desperate for any hint of his beloved’s well-being, yet he lacks the information he seeks as her family forbids him contact with Elizabeth. His frustration mounts when he learns that her mental impairment incited taunting and torment in her home village of Meryton.

Which of Elizabeth’s recollections bear the closest resemblance to the truth? And what is the result of her sister Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham? How is Mr. Darcy to rekindle his romance with Elizabeth when her aunt and uncle strictly shield her from him?

Prepare to grip the edge of your seat during this original romantic tale of suspense and mystery, another Pride and Prejudice variation by bestselling author Suzan Lauder.

“Suzan Lauder skillfully weaves a story that submerges you into the plot and doesn’t let go. The Mist of Her Memory’s twists and turns hold a well-guarded secret that keeps you guessing until the very end.” — author L. L. Diamond

“Dancing with Jane Austen” by Suzan Lauder

When a course comes up at your local university promising to teach about dancing in Jane Austen’s novels as well as practice a bit of actual Regency period dancing, what does a Janeite do but jump at the chance? And that’s exactly how I spent my Saturday mornings for four weeks this autumn!

“Dancing with Jane Austen” was offered by the Continuing Education Division of the University of Victoria, fondly known locally as UVic. The teachers were JASNA life member Charlotte Hale and JASNA member and local dance teacher and caller Rosemary Lach, who called the balls at the Port Alberni Jane Austen Festivals I attended in the past. The dozen participants were all Jane Austen lovers and very motivated to learn more.

Someone forgot his gloves!

To start the program, Charlotte Hale provided an entertaining presentation on one or more of the novels each class, as well as touching on topics such as history, etiquette, apparel, conversation, and conventions of the Regency, and especially, the dance scenes in Austen’s six novels. For example, we learned to bow and curtsey, learned that a deep bow was only for Mr. Collins and his ilk. We discovered that one of the pet peeves of the presenters was the lack of gloves on the actors in the TV and movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. It was improper for either of “the sexes” to be without gloves at a ball. As a Regency no-no on an adaptation ball, in my opinion the lack of gloves is now second only to a confused costuming nightmare in a more recent movie.

One of the highlights of the presentations was the synopsis of the book. Charlotte cleverly wrote her own summary that shortened each novel to a few minutes, then created a story using stick people with hairdos to differentiate them. Each character got a one-word characterization plopped on the top of their head on the screen, and occasional captions enhanced the entertainment. An example from Persuasion can be seen below. Participants all agreed that this was a favourite part of the presentation, which also included numerous period art pieces and photos of the actors from the various adaptations to help spell out the dance scenes and their influence on plot and characterization, as well as some video clips of the dance scenes and the men (and sometimes women) with no gloves. Can you tell I like that part of the etiquette?After Charlotte completed our PowerPoint presentation, dance instructor Rosemary Lach led the experiential part of the class. This was where, sadly, I did not shine. I’m quite uncoordinated as well as easily distracted, in addition to having a problematic shoulder. During one class I was suffering from a balance problem that day so I had to sit out the Cotillion (Allemande) with the ladies who had physical issues that prevented them from dancing. But it was fun to watch and make notes to use in future story writing!Because Rosemary called out the moves for our Regency era English country dances, it was fairly easy for most participants to learn them. We learned to smile at our partner instead of watching the floor since, in the Regency, a ball was an opportunity to check out possible marriage matches. There was skipping, slipping, three-steps, circles, squares, lines, and chains. We learned that a waltz in the Regency was a country dance to a ¾ beat, and we practised the “Duke of Kent” waltz.

Back row left: Charlotte Hale. Front row, second from left: Rosemary Lach. Front row, right: Suzan Lauder.

During the last class, we were encouraged to dress in Regency costume, and oh, how pretty and handsome my classmates and I were. I chose my lilac ball gown with my best “Grown-Up Lady” lace cap (some chose morning gowns since the session was from 10am to 1pm) and many rented their outfits from a local theatre. I brought spare gloves for others who may have forgotten, and one of my wallflower friends borrowed a pair to go with her fabulous vintage shawl. Once we finished the presentation portion of the class, we were treated to Rosemary and Charlotte showing us the fancy footwork and forms for the minuet prior to our guests arriving for the ball and tea, and a group of eight practised the Cotillion to show our guests.

At noon, we were joined by some costumed family members of the class as well as some people who seemed to know the dances already, so the dance line was quite long. We were also treated to live musicians for the dances! I sat out all but the first (La Boulanger, in which my partner was a lady handsomely dressed as a gentleman!) because of all my afflictions and so I could take the photos you see in this blog post. I’m a cross between Mr. Collins (when I dance) and Mrs. Bates (when I sit out). The tea and treats afterwards were my kind of party.

I do hope the presenters offer this again to a new group of Janeites. All the participants had a fine time and enhanced their own knowledge admirably.

~~~

In other news: Those readers who enjoyed The Mist of Her Memory as it posted at JAFF super-website A Happy Assembly will be excited to learn that it will be published in early 2019 by Meryton Press! For those less familiar, it’s a Romantic Suspense novel with a strong mystery element, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The novel will be suitable for all who have read Pride and Prejudice.

Suzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lessons for Writers

This is the final post of a blog series designed to help other authors by sharing the mistakes I’ve made in the process of having several published books so others can learn before making the same errors in their writing, editing, and other similar endeavors. This post is a summary of the lessons listed in the other eighteen posts and works as well for traditionally published writers as it does for independent author-publishers or any mixture of the two styles.

Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

Lesson #4: When you’re stuck, break the task down into chunks. Write each chunk down on paper and schedule them.

Lesson #5: If in doubt on punctuation spelling, grammar, word usage, etymology, etc., look it up!

Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

Lesson #7: Every author listens to and incorporates the advice of one or more professional editors who know the conventions specific to their style, content, sub-genre, etc.

Lesson #8: Avoid telling too much of your story through the voice of a minor character, particularly in the early chapters. Let your lead characters’ voices shine through.

Lesson #9: Show, don’t tell: Describe the feelings and senses to show your readers what is happening rather than stating them in plain language.

Head-hopping can add confusion as to whose point of view is being represented.

Lesson #10: Avoid head-hopping like the plague!

Lesson #11: To avoid a choppy or head-hopping effect within a chapter, use an extra line break or a scene separator when changing point of view.

Lesson #12: Change filter words of thought, feeling, and senses to make the POV deeper and enhance the reader experience.

Lesson #13: Be consistent with your POV selection.

Lesson #14: When writing in a specific period in history, use good judgement to choose language and scene setting used that suits that period and doesn’t include obvious anachronisms or incongruities with the period.

Lesson #15: Get inspiration from others for those difficult-to-write scenes.

Lesson #16: Let your romantic encounters build. Pick and choose aspects of love making to prepare the reader for the culmination.

Sixteen lessons for eighteen posts that took place over nearly two years! Some posts relied on the same “rules” as earlier topics and some posts had topics that introduced more than one lesson.

Note that these lessons don’t deal with how the author publishes their work. That’s because I firmly believe that there is no wrong way to go about publishing, whether self-publishing, hybrid publishing, or traditional publishing. What fits the author’s needs and abilities is the best direction, as long as the author also pays attention to the lessons learned above and is satisfied that they’ve met Lesson #1 in the process.

Another detail to note is that this series focused on fine-tuning of the written word with a little information on the presentation of the book, items which can make or break reader satisfaction. However, it’s unlikely that readers will tell you that those items bother them. Marketing research tells us that only about 3% of customers will tell you when they are dissatisfied, but those who are unhappy will tell 19 friends.

Technical issues are important, but most reviewer ratings relate to enjoyment of the book itself: story quality, readability, and match to expectations. This is your wonderful brilliant story and their subjective reaction to it. Be warned that reviewers may be a fickle lot, and not “get” you. The best reaction to that situation is a final lesson in wisdom that I learned from the managing editor at Meryton Press, paraphrased to the best of my recollection.

Michele Reed’s Wisdom: In the case of a poor review, try to discover what you can learn from it. If what the reader says is reasonable, make those changes as well as you can and move ahead. If you still disagree with the criticism, let it go.

With that final bit of advice, I end this series. You can find the 18 other posts by clicking on the “Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes” link on the topic cloud on the side panel or the tags at the bottom of this post, or follow them starting with this first post of the “Learning from My Mistakes” series. A reminder that comments get entries into the draw for a book and other little goodies as mentioned throughout the series. Eligibility closes in one week.

Adieu!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic and my posts are not professionally edited!