The engagement scene in Suzan Lauder’s bestselling Letter from Ramsgate

dsc_0134-2The inspiration for using the Royal Menagerie at Exeter Exchange for the final chapter in Letter from Ramsgate came from my dear friend Maria (defiantfalcon at the Meryton Literary Society’s A Happy Assembly), the plot beta for the story and a zoo fanatic. In fact, Maria’s best meditative, self-indulgent, de-stressing moments come from hauling out a humongous zoom lens at her local zoo. She’s an avid supporter of the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), and her photos of the extremely rare Amur leopards at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA have been used in their promotional material. Though there were no Amur Leopards in the Menagerie at the Exeter Exchange, they had a pair of adult leopards. Based on the artwork by Jacques-Laurent Agasse, they were most likely from Africa or Indonesia. I love this painting, and a scene is based on it!

Click on thumbnail for larger view.

Click on thumbnail for larger view.

The inspiration for other details within the chapter came from reading about the animals of the menagerie, finding the handbills that advertised them, and particularly, from two blog posts.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge photo.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge photo.

Also known as Polito’s Menagerie after its original owner, the Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change was situated in the upper levels of the Exeter Exchange building on the Strand from 1773 to 1829, and housed a “grand assembly of living curiosities” literally from every corner of the globe. Handbills and artwork from the Regency era indicate “majestic” and “noble” lions, “elegant” leopards, a rhinoceros, and “hundreds of other rare and interesting quadrupeds, and birds of the most exquisite plumage, all in fine health and condition, and so perfectly clean and secured, that the most timorous and delicate may approach them without fear or being annoyed.”

rachel-knowles-a-perfect-match-coverRachel Knowles’ article in Regency History: Researching Regency and Late­ Georgian History helped me to imagine the scene better. The author, costumer, and blogger’s Georgian novel, A Perfect Match, was a lovely read. If you like sweet historical romance novels with a subtle Christian back story, you should try this one. She has an upcoming non-fiction release called What Regency Women Did For Us due to be published by Pen & Sword in April 2017 that should prove a valuable resource for historical fiction authors like me.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

The second article was about a particularly important resident of the menagerie at the time Elizabeth and Darcy would have visited. Chunee, a “Fine, Large Male Elephant” from India, was the star attraction of the menagerie, as well as a performer at the Covent Garden, and was often paraded in the street outside the menagerie. The coin trick in the engagement scene was described by Lord Byron in 1813: “The elephant took and gave me my money again – took off my hat – opened a door – trunked a whip – and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler.”

Chunee had a history of violent “paroxysms” likely brought on by inhumane treatment. While in pain with an infected tusk, Chunee became extremely violent, and the methods used in an attempt to calm him were bizarre. A decision was made to put him down, and the difficulties encountered in the attempt to end his life have become one of the most horrifying stories in the history of zoos.

marie-antoinettes-confidante-by-geri-walton-coverThe above and the ability to feel so much for this elephant that I wanted him in my story is thanks to author, blogger, and historian Geri Walton, who blogs about fascinating tidbits of the 18th and 19th century. She’s released a non-fiction book in the UK about the Princesse de Lamballe, the confidante of Marie Antoinette. It will be available in the US in January 2018. Watch for it, because if it’s anything like Geri’s blog, it will be a fun and fascinating approach to history!

The non-historical part of the story is that of the three-toed sloth, Noëlle. Her scene was based on a real life incident witnessed by my beta friend. Because of her helpful photo logs of the animals, defiantfalcon gets behind-the-scenes visits at the Audubon Zoo once in a while, and she got to hold and pet a three toed sloth. She said the fur is the softest she’s ever felt. I’m so jealous!

Thanks to these three women for their generosity in sharing their passion in their own unique ways. Their stories became the basis for one of my favourite scenes in all of my writing.

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vertical-blog-tour-bannerThanks to everyone who followed me around on the blog tour. Thanks so much to each blogger who hosted and each reader who commented. I had a great deal of fun thanks to their willingness to try something a little different, and readers say this has been one of the most fun blog tours they’ve ever seen. Thanks to Rita, Loren, Tina, and Anna for your generous reviews, and thanks to the Meryton Press team for helping me share links. The most special thanks go out to Janet B. Taylor for organizing everything as the blog tour host.

While we were gallivanting around the blogging world with our parasols, readers were voting with their “buy now with one click” fingers, and Letter from Ramsgate enjoyed a short period as a #1 Bestselling Novel in two Amazon categories: Historical Classics and Romance Classics. It also climbed to #8 in Regency Romance. The latter is the big coup, as the competition is fierce from famous authors with dozens of great reviews!

The blog tour may be over, but the giveaway is not. Because we had a problem with Rafflecopter at first, the Letter from Ramsgate blog tour giveaway has been extended to November 3, 2016. If you commented on a post but didn’t get to include it to get your extra entries, now you can enter the name of the blog you commented on. One comment counts per blog site, and only one comment entry per day!

Rafflecopter Link

I’d love comments from readers here on my blog. They won’t count as a blog tour stop, though. Use the other sites for that purpose, and to show those bloggers how helpful they were to my Letter from Ramsgate blog tour.

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Another road trip! A Letter from Ramsgate Blog Tour, to be exact!

mary_poppins13-free-to-use-or-share-even-commercially-from-wikiThat’s me, on my way around the world with my parasol, now that Letter from Ramsgate is live on Amazon! Yes! It’s on its way up the rankings, and you can buy it now!

Don’t let the serviceable bag fool you. The boots are thigh-high, and the ribbons and feathers for the hat are inside that bag, ready for any occasion!

Come on! Grab your parasols and let’s get this show on the road! Elizabeth and Georgiana are waiting for us!
lfrhorizontalbannerLetter from Ramsgate Blog Tour Schedule:

2016 October 17   The Spotlight is on new character Lady Edwina: a guest post, excerpt, and the first chance at the giveaway with Maria Grazia at My Jane Austen Book Club.
2016 October 18   Guess who’s coming to tea? George Wickham never misses an opportunity when he sees one, and I share the excerpt with Margie at Margie’s Must Reads!  A giveaway opportunity is included in this stop too! Does Wickham enter?
2016 October 19   Parasol on a honeymoon–an LfR cutting room floor vignette and giveaway stop with huge JAFF author supporter Claudine at Just Jane 1813.
2016 October 20   Rita reviews Letter from Ramsgate! Yes, my first blog tour review is from the lady who’s been asking for this book ever since the first excerpt from the AHA version showed on my blog. From Pemberley to Milton is the place to hear how she liked my second published novel.
2016 October 21   Another road trip vignette featuring Elizabeth Bennet is featured at Babblings of a Bookworm with host, Ceri, and another chance at that fantastic giveaway!
2016 October 22   Liz hosts an excerpt and giveaway: three ladies Hunsfordize an un-gentleman-like gentleman, and none is Elizabeth Bennet! Liz’s Reading Life.
2016 October 23   Rita gets her just desserts, or, “what did she like best about Letter from Ramsgate, and how did Suzan translate than into a perfect guest post/vignette?” She interviews new character, Mrs. Younge! Stay for the giveaway at From Pemberley to Milton.
2016 October 24   Another book review of Letter from Ramsgate by Loren at Tomorrow is Another Day. I hope she likes it like Baci.
2016 October 25   There’s a new lady in the LfR mix, and she’s not Candy. Blogger interview, excerpt, and chance at the giveaway at So little time…so much to read!
2016 October 26   Nasty Lady Cecilia got cut from LfR, but Meredith at Austenesque Reviews is hosting her, Lady Saye, and a few others, along with our Meryton Press giveaway.
2016 October 27   Not only does Tina review Letter from Ramsgate, she hosts a setdown (excerpt) at Half Agony, Half Hope.
2016 October 28   Anna loved my breakout novel, Alias Thomas Bennet. What will she say about Letter from Ramsgate? She shares her review on Diary of an Eccentric.
2016 October 29   Bum Scratching in the Regency was the topic of my last guest post at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. What hijinks could she have in mind for this visit?
2016 October 30   As a former flight attendant, blog tour hostess Janet once made a career of caring for travelers, and she’s certain to comfort this tired author/blogger on her way home with a final stop at More Agreeably Engaged for a surprise and another chance at that great giveaway of Letter from Ramsgate.

2016 October 31   A lagniappe right here!

The Letter from Ramsgate Blog Tour proves to be one of the most exciting of the road trips with the redhead yet!

Don’t forget to comment on the blog tour posts and enter the giveaway for a copy of Letter from Ramsgate. There are 4 paperbacks available for US entrants and 4 e-copies for international entrants. Be sure to click on the little arrows to get to your choice.

Rafflecopter Link

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Bonus: During the blog tour, I’m a Featured Beau Monde Author!

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Sofa Sophia and the Farmer’s Market: A chat with Suzan Lauder!

13418187I “met” author/blogger/reviewer/Goodreads host Sophia Rose in the virtual world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction before we were both honoured with short stories in the Meryton Press holiday anthology Then Comes Winter, but that’s where I came to know her better and discover her light-hearted wit and joy of reading, which shows in her volunteer capacity on Goodreads.

(A side bit of promo: You should check out Then Comes Winter–it’s a pleasing compilation of romance short stories for the Austen lover, edited by Christina Boyd. Eleven authors have adapted five of Austen’s novels into both Regency and modern situations, with a winter holiday theme. Now that the cooler days of autumn have arrived, it’s a perfect read!)

Since then, I’ve been part of some excellent Goodreads activities Sophia hosts: the 2015 and 2016 Austenesque Lovers TBR Pile Reading Challenges and “Someone Else Pick it for Me” fun reads.

I enjoyed more of Sophia’s engaging personality during our virtual visit to a Michigan farmer’s market as a guest on of her Sophia’s Sofa Chat series on her Goodreads blog.

sophias-sofa-chats_zpsbolbpuhjShe’s truly a fun person!

I hope you hop over to read A Visit with Suzan and leave a comment for either of us!

 

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Learning from my Mistakes: What’s Chunking?

Writer’s block.

Editing block.

What do do?

block-ok-comm-smallerSome recommend handwriting out your scene to get it out of your head. Blocking out the future sections with ideas on post-it notes can help if your problem is flow or outline. Printing out what you have, cutting it up, and moving it around can help as well. Bullet point notes on the scene help if you can’t even get to writing whole sentences or you’re dealing with broader issues than basic prose.

I’ve written shorter works by the seat of my pants (with no outline) but for a novel, I’m a big fan of the flexible outline: one or two paragraphs a chapter through the conflict and climax at the very least. It’s okay to change an outline as you get closer to the next set of outline chapters. The author can still move scenes or sets of chapters around in a novel to make it flow better or repair continuity problems along the way.

Most authors write in a linear fashion, and others write major scenes (conflict or turning points) and fill in (write bridging scenes). I’ve had success with both. If you’re blocked, sometimes you can go ahead a few scenes and then return to the problem area. Sometimes you have to “Kill your darlings” as Stephen King says. Keep cut scenes in a word processing file for later use.

Many authors know their ending at the beginning of writing, or at least part way through, but I tend to write the end after the story arc is complete. None of this is wrong, and there are other methods that work, too.

Chunking the big fears

Sometimes all the best plans, outlines, and techniques don’t save an author from being blocked.

I procrastinated several times while writing my novels, particularly when continuity issues muddled me. Procrastination continued during editing, as things wouldn’t work out in the linear fashion I wanted, and I had to think them out. At times, I had too much on my plate in real life or wasn’t well enough to write. These are reasonable times to procrastinate.

But there are blocked times that aren’t typical procrastination. I know I’m not the only author who has the story in their head but can’t get started because it’s almost like a fear of opening a file and typing. Artists have the same problem, and it’s known as “Blank Canvas Syndrome.” I learned a technique for this problem that works in some situations (but not all).

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #4: When you’re stuck, break the task down into chunks. Write each chunk down on paper and schedule them.

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First chunk: read the current text. That way, you haven’t said you’re going to get “Wow” written today, just a manageable chunk.

Next chunk: Write down what chunks you’d like to use. Don’t make them too big. Refer to the techniques at the beginning of this post.

Continue in small, achievable chunks, one day at a time, or one sitting at a time.

When the writing chunk comes, aim for a fixed number of words per day—no more than 500 to start. It may be hard to start, but push for that 500, even if you have to start writing in outline form. It may become more!

That’s today’s chunk.

 

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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Update: Who or what is on the LfR cover?

Remember Imagining Mr. Darcy: The Faceless Man and the Book Cover from May 2016? Suffice it to say that Mr. Darcy is never a “given” on a book cover, and many surprises are in store for a writer who has no idea what their book cover will look like.

Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou was the cover designer for Letter from Ramsgate, and she does a strategic-type analysis with an author to discover the true themes of the novel in order to know where to start looking for cover ideas. Friendship, trust, and romance figured high for my latest novel, and I was stunned with happiness when I saw her cover design for my book!

On Wednesday, you’ll get to see why! The cover reveal for Letter from Ramsgate will be on Austenesque Reviews on September 28, 2016!

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American artist George Catlin (1796-1872) Self-portrait, 1824.

American artist George Catlin (1796-1872) Self-portrait, 1824.

 

 

Sadly, our handsome Mr. George Catlin from the May post is not on the LfR cover. Don’t be dismayed! We can still admire him as we sit by the fire! Click on the thumbnail for the larger version!

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Better Self-Editing is a Good Place to Start Learning from My Mistakes!

laptop-notebook-working-internet-ok-comm-resizedSome authors sit down to write, and the words just flow out of them. They do a brain dump, quickly scan and make a few minor changes, and voila, they have a novel.

It’s not that easy for me. I work hard to be a good writer. My sentences don’t always come out in a logical arrangement, and they often come out with weak words or awkward phrasing. Like a certain percentage of writers out there, I’m unable to just leave it as a colossal mess and keep going. I repair and refine as I go to ensure that I don’t forget the nasty spots in my writing and miss correcting them when I do a better edit later on. That means editing as I write.

Many writing advice columns caution against this “bad habit.” I prefer to call it a “writing style.” Those “experts” probably spew out perfect sentences with clear flow every time. Well, at least coherent sentences in a reasonable order. I do not, and I shudder to think of trying to make sense of what comes off the tips of my fingers if left alone for too long! However, the warning is a sound one. A helpful practice for me could be a vice or a trap for writers who are smoother on their first draft. Editing as you write slows writing progress.

Whether you go full speed ahead when writing or fuss with your words, no one is perfect on the first try. NO ONE. The goal is to make the words enjoyable to read. Remember Lesson 1? “Reader Knows Best!”

Savvy authors read through their completed work several times and make changes as a continuous improvement process. This does not mean bigger words, it means better words and tighter phrasing. It means checking for inconsistencies of many types. It’s hard! And it’s worth every minute spent on self-editing. Full reviews should be performed at the chapter level as well as the full story, once it’s complete.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

 

Like most authors, I had to learn what to look for, and even after a few years of experience, I’m blind to many of my own habits. After my best self-editing, distracting situations may remain, so I utilize several techniques to catch them. Some find reading aloud helps them find errors. I find that lists are the best tool an author can have.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

 

In later posts, I’ll expand on the areas my checklists cover. What will yours cover?checklist-okay-for-comm

 

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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