About Suzan Lauder

Novelist. Traveler. Wannabe chef. Sustainability champion. Jane Austen fanatic. Cyclist. PEng MBA. Glass ceiling head injury survivor. http://amzn.to/1HT03Sf

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!

Review: Persuasion by the Chicago Chamber Opera Tour Company

I was fortunate to attend a performance of the musical adaptation of “Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A Musical Drama” by Barbara Landis on July 6, 2018 as part of the Port Alberni Jane Austen Festival. It was a brilliant performance highlighted by 49 musical pieces from music of Jane Austen’s time to Irish folk tunes to classic opera, much of which is enhanced by lyrics and arrangements by Landis, who also took the lead roles in the play. Landis is certainly a flexible force behind this production, taking on the role of playwright in this variation of Jane Austen’s shortest novel as a tribute to the 200th anniversary of its publication. In discussion with some of the cast later on, I found out that she also takes a lead financial role and is a sort of mother to the very large cast and team involved in the performance, which has toured the world since 2013. To top off her ties to this situation is the fact that she’s a distant relative of Jane Austen. I’m sure that was as much of an impetus to do this show as any other reason.

Persuasion is clearly a strong romance, with the obligatory angst keeping the protagonists apart until the key moment when they both understand that the other’s love has withstood all the trials it has been forced to bear. Finally, the couple comes together, eliciting tears from the romantics in the audience.

A notable performance of the evening came from the perfectly austere, then flirtatious, then romantic–with perfect timing on those characteristics–Jeff Diebold as Captain Wentworth, who was wonderfully tall and handsome in his captain’s uniform. Comedic turns by several of the cast members were additional highlights, most notably by John B. Boss as a flamboyant Sir Walter Elliott, and Gretchen Mink Hansen, who could have walked off a Rowlandson cartoon, thanks to the costuming and her body language! I was especially impressed by the acting and singing of the dual roles of Anne Elliott and Jane Austen by Barbara Landis. Though Landis is significantly older than Anne is in Austen’s canon, the gifted and well-experienced soprano pulls off the multi-faceted role and character changes well. Her “bloom” comes back when she is in love, and she is the glue that holds the production together.

Nearly all the cast members were strong in voice and excellent actors. The odd time there was a mismatch with a stronger and weaker voice, however, at other times the duet was magical. With so many tunes to choose from, it’s impossible to pick out highlights. Landis did a marvelous job of timing and matching the music to create a seamless production with so many actors and songs.

Many in the audience were particularly enthralled by the two professional Irish dancers, but for me, the cameos that were most enjoyable were the choral music and classical opera, but that’s purely because I love those types of music. This brings up an interesting point about the production: it’s got something for everyone, yet no one style was so overdone that those who weren’t big fans could be tired of it.

Costuming was a delight to the eyes despite some Victorian-looking hair styles, black neck ties instead of white Regency cravats, and a dearth of top hats. The lovely gowns and handsome tail coats were evident again the following day when the cast joined the festival-goers to try to break the Guinness World Record for people in Regency costume in one location–and came up only 60 short. I loved some of the details of the ladies’ gowns and how the dresses changed for each scene and the level of circumstance of each character. Similar details were given to the men, from the naval uniforms to the elaborate lace cuffs of Sir Walter.

Chamber Opera Tours can be proud of this long-standing production, which heads off to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath in the autumn. Barbara Landis’s adaptation of Persuasion was perfect Austen, wonderful Regency, and a melange of music proven to please all preferences. Brava!

Disclaimer: I’m no theatre critic, I’m just a person who loves opera, Regency costuming, and Jane Austen who happened to enjoy this show a great deal, as Austen would say.

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For those of you who have followed the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, I made a gown from a Value Village bed sheet at $7.99 and a ton of chenille and lace from Parasina in Mexico at about $5 and tried to match it to a Regency fashion plate for the Port Alberni Jane Austen Festival this year. What do you think? I wore Joe Fresh earrings at $3 and a Jane Austen topaz necklace that was a gift. I also had some ballet flats from Coppel in Mexico on sale at $49–yeah, expensive for me, but super comfortable for a whole day of activities, including the signing and selling of my Jane Austen Fan Fiction novels! As expected, A Most Handsome Gentleman was the most popular, given that many festival-goers had already bought and read the back-list. I got lots of encouraging comments from those fans!

I hope organizer Trisha Knight and the Centennial Belles will continue this festival for a fourth year next year so we can beat our record of 349 people in Regency costume in one place. It sure was fun! Think about adding this wonderful destination to you holiday plans for next year. I can loan a few costumes! Perhaps Chamber Opera Tours will be back with another fantastic production!

 

Coming JAFF Attraction: The Mist of her Memory by Suzan Lauder

Members of the online Austenesque reading site A Happy Assembly will enjoy a sneak peek at my latest story, The Mist of her Memory, a Regency romantic suspense/mystery. If you’re not already a member, you should seriously consider joining this excellent Jane Austen Fan Fiction site with over 2000 stories, some of which are better than most published works. It’s the largest JAFF only site on the Internet with nearly 10,000 members. Registration is easy and intended to keep the site membership to the 18+ age group since a few of the stories are mature rated (they are marked MA for those who wish to avoid them). The personal information requirement is minimal and kept personal, there are no ads, and best of all, it’s free. The site isn’t limited to stories–there are also excellent Regency resources and discussion groups included.

The Mist of her Memory is a Regency romantic suspense with a strong mystery element. It will appeal to all JAFF lovers as well as mystery/suspense lovers who’ve read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Update July 24, 2018: Now Posting Sundays and Fridays at this link!

Errors: How many are tolerable enough to tempt you? LfmM

Because we’re human, it’s likely that every book will have at least a small number of errors in it. Conventions the author or editor didn’t know about, obvious mistakes that somehow got missed in the dozen or so readings of the book that constitute the editing process, or too few editor reviews because of cost concerns, all these can slip in and mar perfection ever so slightly. But in the end, how many errors are too many?

Due to the death of my old third generation keyboard Kindle, I bought a new Paperwhite. For the month of May 2018, I enjoyed a month of free Kindle Unlimited. That gave me free reign to binge read those Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) novels that I wanted to read but found too expensive, mostly Austenesque Regency romances. At the same time, several good JAFF books have come out within my favoured cost range (under $5) or had promotions that put them in that price range. So I’ve been on a reading rampage lately and have been inundated by the good, the bad, and the ugly. That reading experience inspired me to write another article on editing and the mistakes that can be made.

One of the first books I read in May was a Pride and Prejudice based book where I detected no errors. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any, but it definitely means that if there were, the mistakes were so minor or even debatable, they didn’t take the reader out of the story. I made a point of crediting the author and editor when I tweeted about my wonderful reading experience and posted the link to the book on Facebook. Now authors, wouldn’t you all like to be the one who got those kind of accolades from your readers? Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

About a year ago, I re-read my first published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, and found a handful of clear errors that I didn’t know existed when we edited it. Some were because the editor and I had yet to put those words into our non-Regency words checklists, some were essentially typos that it was easy to get beyond, and all were unlikely to be noticed by the average reader.

For example, I notice many Regency novels where “snort,” “chuckle,” “guffaw,” are in modern usage, even though “snort” was an animal noise only according to Johnson’s Dictionary of 1811, “guffaw” is a non-Regency word of Scottish origin, and “to chuckle” meant our modern “to guffaw” during the Regency. But in these cases, most readers don’t know any better, and it won’t ruin their reading pleasure. Even the non-Regency “fiancé,” “décolletage,” and “debutante” are tolerated by this picky reader—but barely. What bugs me are modern words like “morph” or “normalcy” or Americanisms such as “okay” and “hello” in a British Regency story. Same for clearly British words like “prat” and “pram” for an American speaker in a novel, unless there is a joke to be had in the use of the word.

Language is not the only issue. In a period story, historical issues should be checked. Did the zoo close down the year before the story was started, and how long did it take to travel through several counties via horseback without killing the horse? The correct title for a member of the peerage is another example of an issue critical to the success of putting the reader in the right time period.

When a story is unpublished, that is, if I’m reading on a web site for writers where there is clearly no professional editor, I cringe and bear it. Sometimes the mistakes are funny. An unpublished author used “palatable” where she meant “palpable,” “jester” for “gesture,” “bought” for “bout,” and the biggest ouch: “roll” for “role.” I’ll have mine with a little butter and jam. Sorry. I felt for her as often as I laughed at the mix-ups. But this story came from a fan fiction web site and was not edited. I got what I paid for.

from http://homophonesweakly.blogspot.com/2012/10/conscience-conscious.html

As a writer, I recently got caught with what I think was a touchpad error on a spell check, because I know the meanings of the two words. Beta ldb531 caught me with “decimate the information” when I meant “disseminate the information” and, at first, I kept re-reading the sentence to try to figure out what was wrong with the rest of it! After that, I just had to laugh! Just this week, my British beta caught me using Americanisms “gotten” and “alright” that got past both American betas. Thankfully, I have no crutches in the way of homonyms like the unpublished writer above does, other than typos–I hope! If I do, I’d better learn from my mistakes! But my current work-in-progress, The Mist of her Memory, will be serially posted on A Happy Assembly after incorporating the corrections found by four excellent betas. After that, the novel version will be published after multiple reviews by a professional editor and proofreader. With any luck, its errors will be gone, or at least that those remaining will be barely noticeable. Remember from past posts: Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

I also have problems with commas in my own writing. As is probably evidenced in this unedited article, I put them in where they don’t belong and forget them where they’re needed. But for my books, I have betas and editors to help me. As a reader, I can overlook a missing closing set of quotation marks if it’s not confusing, or even a missing period—it it’s not a frequent mistake.

However, some trends in editing errors may point to a lackadaisical attitude towards one’s readers. A first novel may have errors that the author will learn from—if readers are kind enough to give the appropriate feedback in book reviews. However, multiple mistakes are not so forgivable in later books. Readers should never have to pay for a book that’s full of errors, period. In fact, even if normally a paid book is obtained during a temporary “free” or low-cost promotion, we still deserve our expectations of a smoothly-written book. If the author is asking readers to pay for the pleasure of reading their work, the book should offer that pleasure undaunted by distractions that are within the control of the author! We’re reminded of 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, subgenre, etc. There are no exceptions. And if your editor sucks, fire him/her!

Readers have a responsibility, too. I tend to rate books better than my gut says to, simply because I’m an author and I don’t want to hurt another author’s feelings. For example, if a book succeeded on many writing measures (e.g., good character development, vibrant scene-setting, suitable tone, well-developed plot and flow, lack of unnecessary plot twists or characters, appropriate prose, reader investment in the protagonists, tight research, lack of plot holes, satisfying ending, realistic and believable premise, unique story line, engaging dialogue, good balance of dialogue and narrative, lack of head-hopping, appropriate use of point of view, memorable story, and others I forgot at the moment) but missed out on two or three of that list, I’ll still give it five stars even though my first impression would say it’s really a three to four star book. But I’ll drop a full star if it has too many blatant editing errors. Yet, I’ve seen reviews for books that are cute but forgettable, don’t deliver the promised angst, have huge plot holes, and/or have head-hopping that’s hard to follow, AND have over a dozen unforgiveable proofreading errors that have been ranked at five stars! That’s not fair to authors who make the effort. Shame on you, readers!

But readers, make sure you know your rules before you complain. We’ve all read of pet peeves in writing. Upon a check of some reader pet peeves, I discovered some supposed errors were merely British spellings (e.g., “colour,” “centre,” “judgement”) or older British Regency spellings or word usage (“gift” as a verb, “fall” for autumn, “realize” are all proper in the British Regency), and others were punctuation issues that were correct in certain circumstances (possessives with two nouns). Of course, many readers’ pet peeves are legitimate errors, and mostly homonyms. But don’t blame authors unless you’ve checked to ensure your information is correct. Remember that rule we suggested for authors? Lesson #5: If in doubt, look it up.

In summation, we all have a responsibility to delivering good-quality books: the reader, the editor, the proofreader, the publisher, but most of all, the author. It’s your name on the cover. Make sure you can be proud of it.

 

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!

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As I noted above, my next novel is called The Mist of her Memory, and it’s in the late stages of beta review in four steps: NinaH served as plot beta, ldb531 was the general beta (line edit and Regency correctness), Anji has been scouring the text for British correctness, and NinaH returned as the proofreader. Anji and ldb531 also served as cold readers in this romantic suspense novel, letting me know how they were feeling about it as each chapter was revealed to them. NinaH offered kitty stories to amuse me as well as her technical observations. The Mist of her Memory will be posted on AHA later this summer, and I hope to have it released as a published novel in early 2019.

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The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

I’m off on another costuming escapade to once again participate in the Port Alberni Jane Austen Festival and hopefully, up our count for the Guinness World Record of number of people in Regency costume in one place, July 5-8, 2018. I’m going to get to enjoy a production of Persuasion by the Chicago Chamber Opera Company and I’ll be signing books at the Guinness count and the Regency Afternoon Tea, along with an opportunity for a draw for a signed copy of The Mist of her Memory. I’d love for some of my friends to come along and join me, and I can even help with your costume. Tourism destinations in the area consistently make the top ten in the world in travel magazines, so this isn’t just a Jane Austen thing, it’s an experience of a lifetime. Help this small town break the world record!

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I’m compiling my list of lessons for Learning from My Mistakes and it will be the final post in this series. At that time, I’ll use a random number generator to pick the prize winner for a signed paperback copy of the 2017 top ten reviewer acclaimed Pride and Prejudice comedy A Most Handsome Gentleman, a book bead of A Most Handsome Gentleman, and a choice of a handmade Suzan Lauder signed Regency reticule or a handmade Suzan Lauder signed “Grown-Up Lady” cap and lace tucker set. All commenters for this series, as well as followers of my blog, will be entered for the draw.

Why first person? Suzan Lauder’s #LfmM

Why did I write A Most Handsome Gentleman in first person point of view?

The answer: because it came out of me that way. End of post.

Just kidding. I can elaborate a little more than the actual answer above.

In the past, I had written in first person point of view in a novelette length story, but it was in the modern part of the time-travel story (Performing to Strangers; posted at A Happy Assembly in 2010). I had channeled a friend as a parallel character to Elizabeth Bennet, so it was easier.

Elizabeth Bennet with a parasol, Brock drawing from Wikimedia Commons

I know that some readers don’t much care for first person, and for that reason, I would normally have avoided it. But when I finally started typing my “Hot Collins” story idea, the words that came out of me were Elizabeth Bennet’s, and the way they were phrased used “I” instead of the third person deep point of view that I had honed my craft on in Letter from Ramsgate, which is the most common style for Regency romances these days. No one was more surprised than me.

My Meryton Press editor Gail Warner was just as surprised and told me she’d never edited a first person novel before. It sounded like a warning about her abilities, but I think this novel was easier to edit than the other ones—at least, Gail made it look easy!

First person is commonly used in Young Adult and New Adult novels, however, A Most Handsome Gentleman, as a Regency comedy-romance, doesn’t fit either of those genres no matter how much it might get a laugh from the readers.

But I think first person works far better than any other point of view device would for this story. In fact, the only other POV I would consider writing this in would be from Mr. Collins’s view, and I think it could be first person there as well. However, we would lose the nuances of Elizabeth’s thoughts about Mr. Darcy even if Collins would watch their relationship blossom and grow. It’s much better told by Elizabeth, first as her unconscious attraction and later, similar to Pride and Prejudice, where she laments that he is the right man for her even though she can’t expect Darcy to be interested in her.

And that’s the reason we read Jane Austen Fan Fiction—for that Elizabeth and Darcy happily ever after!

A Most Handsome Gentleman was successful in earning the praise of all its blog tour reviews with consistent four and five star reviews. It was also selected as a top book for 2017 by three book bloggers (Diary of an Eccentric, Margie’s Must Reads, and More Agreeably Engaged). So authors, don’t be scared to try something like first person point of view if it fits your story. It’s not a mistake if you’re successful, it becomes part of your style and voice. But mind not to take that to an extreme and become an editor-resistant diva—“voice” does not mean mistakes that a good editor would check!  A truly successful book is a well-edited one, by both the author and a professional, no matter what special techniques are used.

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Learning from my Mistakes will probably have one more “Official” post: a summary of all the lessons learned, with links back to the articles. This does not mean I won’t occasionally identify a problem area that’s worth sharing to help other authors avoid it. In fact, in my reading, I still encounter books that are brilliant with the exception of the editing. A recent example would earn a two star rating, it was so full of homophones, misspelled words, sentence fragments, and redundancies though the plot and writing ability in general deserved four stars. The moral of the entire blog series is still “Get an Editor!”

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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!

New Excerpt from “A Most Handsome Gentleman” #HOTCollins

I promised three items from my Meryton Press published mini-novel A Most Handsome Gentleman some weeks ago. Here’s the second of the three: an excerpt from the Netherfield ball. Prior to the excerpt, Charlotte has been introduced to Mr. Collins, who likes both her and Jane, and Elizabeth has agreed to dance with Mr. Darcy. The narrator is Elizabeth Bennet.

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Charlotte stretched her neck to see something beyond our nearest neighbours. “I wonder what he said to Mr. Bingley to get his colour up. Mr. Bingley’s easy-going nature does not usually allow him to become so inflamed.”

I rose on tiptoe to see for myself. “Oh, no! He is attempting to lure Jane to the supper dance, yet she has promised that set to Mr. Bingley. They are fighting over her again. Pardon me.”

Chayseland Taylor as Mr. Darcy.

As I made my way to the argument, I was thwarted by Mr. Darcy collecting me for his dance. He appeared seemingly out of nowhere and made a formal bow before me. I craned my neck around him to catch a glimpse of the commotion. With a drawn brow of confusion, he followed my gaze. His lips were a thin line of disapproval when his attention was once again fixed upon me.

“What are we to do?” I asked. “I do not want to draw attention to them, yet I hope to stop this foolishness at once.”

“What do you think they argue over?”

I gaped at him. “My sister! Jane! They both wish to court her. Mr. Bingley is clearly her preference, yet my cousin stubbornly refuses to give way.”

Robert Waller esq. as Mr. Bingley.

“She prefers Bingley?”

“Anyone with eyes can see that she does.”

Mr. Darcy looked intently at them. “I can see no greater admiration towards any person. She smiles no matter with whom she converses.”

“She is shy and does not want to expose her feelings for fear of being hurt. But observe her eyes—how they shine when she looks at Mr. Bingley. That tells the tale.”

It was not the best time to say such a thing. Jane’s eyes were not shining at the moment. Instead, she was glaring at my cousin as if she wished him to burn up and disappear like a guttering candle.

“Please excuse me.” I did not look at Mr. Darcy while I quickly curtseyed and dashed off in the direction of the altercation. I was not certain how he would take my abandonment of him for the promised dance. Goodness knows, I had seen the expression of disapproval on his face often enough, and to make matters worse, I could not expect to dance with him later in lieu of the delay. Mr. Darcy had indicated a propensity for implacable resentment, and this was one of the times I deserved it.

My goal when I reached the disagreement was clear: find a way to separate my cousin from Jane and Mr. Bingley. Was this going to be an easy task? His handsome face was twisted into something unpleasant, and even so, he was still the most comely man in the room. Who could chastise a fellow so fine looking as to be admired by every lady present?

~~~

Do you not just love the handsome gentlemen in this blog post? But what about Mr. Collins vying for Jane, and Mr. Darcy’s knowledge that Jane prefers Mr. Bingley?

Remember, I have a prize package to be drawn in April and you must comment or follow my blog to enter. It consists of a signed copy of A Most Handsome Gentleman, a choice of a Suzan Lauder TSRCE hand made pineapple reticule or grown-up lady’s lace cap, and some other trinkets.

You can look forward to another A Most Handsome Gentleman post in the next weeks, but this time, it’s not only related to my book, but also to my blog series on writing tips, Learning from my Mistakes.

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Happy Birthday to Meryton Press author Amy George, who is celebrating by continuing her blog tour for The Sweetest Ruin.