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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My ancestor had an adventure, and it’s on Geri Walton’s blog!

I love to poke around the blog of historian, blogger, and author Geri Walton. It’s one of those research rabbit holes where you can disappear for hours on end. The blog boasts well-referenced articles on everything imaginable for the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as a series of excellent articles with writing tips. When she asked me to write a guest post, I was honoured. But what topic?

Hugh Lauder, author of Notes of a Trip Round the World, in 1896.

Hugh Lauder, author of Notes of a Trip Round the World, in 1896.

A year or so ago, I stumbled across a book on the used book website Abebooks by a fellow named Hugh Lauder of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, written in 1896. My grandfather’s Christian name was also Hugh, and my great grandfather William (Scotty) Lauder, the third son in his family, was born in Kilmarnock. But I hadn’t paid nearly enough attention when older family members spoke of the family.

I reasoned that Hughs are a dime a dozen in Scotland and assumed that this author could be a distant relation. Yet I was curious about the book and mentioned it to Mr. Suze, who purchased it for my birthday.

During his steamship trip to a dozen or so ports around the world in 1895, this Hugh Lauder had sent articles to the local newspaper. The book was a consolidation of those articles called Notes of a Trip Round the World. The flyleaf photo of the author said he was from “The Emporium,” so I asked if our family were “The Emporium” Lauders.

The original Lauder's Emporium, from a billhead circa 1903. This building was destroyed by fire in 1923.

The original Lauder’s Emporium, from a billhead circa 1903. This building was destroyed by fire in 1923.

It turns out that this Hugh Lauder was my great-great-great-grandfather! Little William was seven when granda and his business partner, James Brown, decided to leave Hugh Lauder and Co.’s department store, “The Emporium,” in the hands of Hugh, Jr. and John Brown whilst he traveled the world in a steamship.

Early in the book, there’s a fascinating account of their ship running aground in the Bay of Naples. Four crew drowned while attempting to bring passengers ashore. I found more information on the event and several photographs online as the incident was rather famous in its time.

I’m a Regency (1811-1820) author and costumer, and this 1895 event was a bit out of place for my blog, but an excellent topic for a guest post on Geri Walton: unique histories from the 18th and 19th centuries. My article, The Stranding of the Oroya, 1895, is now on her web site.

I hope you enjoy my g-g-g-grandfather’s story. While you’re there, take time to peruse the other links Geri has in her vast collection of interesting articles. As I said, I love her site!

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References:

The photograph of Hugh Lauder is taken from a bookplate in Notes of a Trip Round the World, Hugh Lauder, Kilmarnock: Dunlop and Dresden, “Standard” Office, 1896.

The photograph of the original Lauder’s Emporium from a billhead circa 1902 is courtesy journalist and author Frank Beattie of Kilmarnock, Scotland. The Words & Works of Frank Beattie on Facebook. Twitter: @mykilmarnock

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Geri Walton’s non-fiction book, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe will be released on Pen and Sword Books and Amazon UK on September 30, 2016. Geri Walton on Facebook. Twitter: @18thand19thC

~~~

Future posts:

Next week, I’ll have that promised guest post by Madame Gilflurt, whose non-fiction book, Life in the Georgian Court, will be released in the US on September 2, 2016!

I’ll follow a week later with several more posts on my “Learning from my Mistakes” blog series on writing and editing.

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Port Alberni goes for the #Regency #Costuming World Record!

Whenever I hear the name of the city of Port Alberni, I think of three things: the 1964 tsunami that tore through hundreds of homes in the community, huge water bombers for fighting forest fires, and the initials P.A., which make me think of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. You have to be familiar with cities in Saskatchewan to make that last giant leap.port-alberni-background

Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, from "The Young Victoria"

Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, from “The Young Victoria”

A further leap: the actor who portrayed Mr. Wickham in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Rupert Friend, also played Prince Albert in The Young Victoria.

But back to Port Alberni: I now add a fourth–or first–thought of the city when I hear the city’s name: the Jane Austen Festival.

Port Alberni sits in the middle of Vancouver Island, which is just off the southwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. The island is about the size of Maryland or 1/4 the area of England.

The Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni started in 2015, with one day of events, including a tea. In 2016, it will be a much larger, two day celebration. On Friday, July 8, a Regency style brunch will be held in the morning, a Regency style tea takes place that afternoon, and on Friday evening, participants get to meet me at the “Readings of Jane Austen’s Work” event!

As a guest speaker, I’ll describe The World of Austen-inspired Fiction. This will include a reading from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that inspired my latest novel, as well as a short scene from Letter from Ramsgate, which will be released by Meryton Press in October, 2016.

You’ll also find me with other authors at the signing tables, where readers can either bring their own copy of my first novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, or the Meryton Press holiday romance anthology, Then Comes Winter, or purchase a copy from me for signing. Either way, participants for the signing will get an Alias Thomas Bennet bookmark and a chance to enter a draw for a set of three gender-appropriate Regency costuming accessories courtesy of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment.

The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

The main event is Saturday morning: the attempt to break the Guinness world record for “Largest Gathering of People dressed in Regency Costumes!” The original record of 409 people set in Bath, England in 2009 is the most recent listing on the Guinness World Records web site. Since then, Bath and Louisville, KY, USA have been battling for the title, and each time, one outdoes the other! Louisville didn’t challenge the record in 2015 because they hosted the Jane Austen Society of North American Annual General Meeting instead. However, the 2015 Bath Festival had 550 participants including a number of Jane Austen Fan Fiction authors and bloggers.

Registrations for the World Record Challenge event will be accepted until 10am on Saturday, July 9, 2016, and all participants must be in attendance by then. Participants must be dressed according to the Guinness guidelines. Of course, help to throw a quick costume together is in my blog posts for the lady’s Regency costume and the gentleman’s Regency costume.

The Port Alberni organizers are the Centennial Belles Fashion Group, costumers who support local fundraisers with costuming from many eras. They’ve been hosting workshops and information sessions for nearly a year in preparation for this festival. They believe the majority of their participants will be from the local area.  It will be interesting to find out how far people come to participate in the event.

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, BC, Canada (Click on thumbnail to view full size)

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, BC, Canada (Click on thumbnail to view full size)

For me and Mr. Suze, it’s a two hour drive. On the way, there are some magnificent sights: Goldstream Provincial Park, where in the springtime, you can watch flocks of American eagles fishing for salmon as the fish make their way upstream to spawn; the magnificent views along the Malahat pass; the town of totems: Duncan, BC; the bustling city of Nanaimo where we’ll lunch with friends; the beaches of Parksville; Coombs and its funky reconstructed historical village of arts and crafts shops where the general store (gourmet store, really) has goats on the roof; and perhaps best of all, Cathedral Grove, an old growth cedar forest that will remind many of The Avenue of the Giants redwood forest in northern California. Slightly off the direct path are numerous wineries and farms in the Cowichan Valley; the little town of Cowichan Bay, its bay as pretty as a picture, and a bakery that features Bernard Callebaut chocolate chunk dinner rolls; Chemainus, known for its many large murals and summer theatre; Ladysmith, with eclectic shopping on its historic main street and some of the best cinnamon buns anywhere; and Qualicum Beach, with excellent restaurants and the original Quality Foods gourmet grocery. In addition, there are many types of outdoor adventures near Port Alberni.

mr suze and suzan lauder at louisville jasna 2015 ball blurredOn Saturday evening at the Jane Austen Festival, there will be a Regency dinner and ball, and the tickets are a steal for this type of event! Tickets are selling fast for the brunch, tea, dinner and ball. The Readings of Jane Austen’s Work event entry is by donation.

I procured a lovely purple pagoda umbrella, and I plan to add some tassels and lace to transform it into a Regency Parasol to flounce around with during the count for the record, as Vancouver Island tends to have dry, sunny summer days!

Come, join me and Mr. Suze in Port Alberni, or at the very least, put this event on your calendar for next July!

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Other blog notes:

US_Flag_Backlit wiki commons smallHappy Fourth to my American friends, or as we like to call it in Canada, the last day in the Canada Day extended holiday weekend!

The promised posts on my learning experiences as a writer, with links to help those who want to become better self-editors, are delayed due to the pressures of editing my new novel. Sorry! Subscribe to my blog to get notifications so you know when they’re up!

Author Catherine Curzon, otherwise known as Madame Gilflurt, who hosted a guest post by me in January, has a book out in the UK! Life in the Georgian Court will be an excellent resource for historical fiction authors, as well as a fun romp through history. It will be released in the US in September, 2016. She’ll be a guest on my blog around that time! Yes, our eyebrows are all raised at what kind of fun she’d going to bring!

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How Three Authors Dropped the Ball

“All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.”

ereader free stock imageI’m a reader more than an author, and I’ve learned about writing quality through both. Over the last month or so, I’ve read some excellent novels. Some of these otherwise outstanding stories disappointed me where it could be easily avoided, yet I’m shocked to find my opinion that this is of concern is in the minority.

Three specific novels stand out. They varied from a pleasant romance with mild conflict to an excellent “sweeping epic romance” novel with strong dramatic tension throughout, and another that had a mix of sweetness and angst that put it in the middle of the first two. In each case, the plot moved forward at a brisk pace through the trials the protagonists faced with minor villains and/or misunderstandings towards a satisfying Happily Ever After.

The novels were Pride and Prejudice variations, and compliance with canon characterization for the major characters was strong and consistent. A couple of minor characters were given larger roles and personalities, and new characters enhanced the variations, not unusual for Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), and well done in each case.

Sounds good so far! Read on…

Some tropes were used in one novel, and a subplot seen in another author’s earlier novel was copied in that same novel, but the other two did a fine job of avoiding them. Quotes from Pride and Prejudice were inserted in key places, although in one novel, they were too long and cliché.

But everyone enjoys a hint of the real Austen, right? Read on…

A range of ability to use of point of view was seen in the books. The sweet romance author did an excellent job of maintaining a standard (not deep or close) third person, multiple point of view, taking care to ensure that POV changed by scene. The other two were less successful, awkwardly using multiple techniques and head-hopping. Obviously the latter authors are less disciplined in good POV techniques.

Ouch. But the novel that escaped head-hopping must be the best one, right? Read on…

Much of the language felt authentic and maintained the mood of the Regency era. The light romance novel was bogged down with long sections of narrative and could have used more dialogue; the others were well-balanced. The authors each used a number of non-period words, but I’ve read far worse by well-known prolific JAFF and Regency romance authors. Most of the common anachronisms included by Regency writers were avoided, and scenes were peppered with little touches of period description that helped move the reader’s imagination into another time.

One made a common mistake: rather than ending when the story arc had been completed, the story line digressed into a new plot direction when it should have been tying up loose ends. That wasn’t enough: an epilogue that had nothing to do with the plot line and was of a different style altogether followed. But the other two novels had perfect endings: no loose ends, the timing was neither abrupt nor dragged out, and the reader was satisfied with the romantic outcome.

Okay, a few flaws, but they still sound like good books, right? Read on…

Stockholm Public LibraryMost authors have at least one weak area in their writing, including those above. Some have continuity or inconsistency problems, so the reader is frequently pulled out of the story to flip back to try to resolve their confusion. Excess elements such as side plots, back story, or redundancy result in boredom. Too many novels have an inadequate premise with minimal conflict and a plot with no complex elements, rushing through predictable circumstances to their happily ever after while rendering the novel forgettable.

These three novels escaped those specific problems. The striking situation here was that even with the weak areas noted, the authors were skilled. Weaknesses were not specific to one novel; rather, each had one or two areas to improve upon but excelled for the most part. The novels each had an interesting, unique premise that was well-executed. Dashes of humour enhanced the dramatic themes, and excitement was felt during situations with physical action. Strong romantic themes supported the story arc. One in particular stood out among JAFF Regency novels for excellent story-telling that took the reader’s imagination away.

For a captivating story line, a reader could overlook one or two flaws, right? Read on…

All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.

A lack of proofreading significantly spoiled the final result of what could have been a decent book.

If I were reviewing these novels for Amazon, a full star would be dropped at minimum for the proofreading errors alone. I’m not being trivial over a few minor typos. Plurals using an apostrophe and incorrect plural possessives, made-up spellings of words, homonyms and homophones used incorrectly, missing letters, missing periods at the end of sentences, and missing quotation marks on one end of a character’s dialogue are examples.

A JAFF author once questioned why I liked working with Meryton Press as opposed to self-publishing, and I listed the benefits I get for free, including editing. Her response?

“No one cares about editing. JAFF readers buy everything released and give top reviews no matter what the quality.”

Sadly, she’s right. Whether enchanting or bland, JAFF novels with poor attention to editing routinely get five-star reviews, even when the reviewer mentions the editing was bad! Review blogs never mention proofreading and ignore blatant mistakes, as they’ve rated these three books almost consistently at 4.5 to five stars. It’s disappointing for those of us who go the extra mile.

Many reviewers make exceptions for self-published books, saying poor editing is expected. That must be a disappointing surprise to 80% of self-published JAFF authors* who make that extra effort to put out quality novels for their fans. Readers shouldn’t reward author-publishers who are lazy or cheap any more than traditional publishers who employ editors who don’t know their craft—it’s not fair to those who care about their readers. I paid for the book. I have a right to expectations.

The errors added up, affecting my overall perception of these otherwise good books. The high-angst novel was one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read, and though the problems were fewer than the other two, it had confusing head-hopping and enough proofreading errors that it was not just a slight omission. In all three novels, clearly no skilled person did a final check for the author.

red pen and laptop editing free image smallerA smart author won’t stop there. The use of a good general editor (substantial editor, line editor, and/or copy editor) would make these authors look so much more professional. Even those who can manage a good effort at all of the aspects mentioned above will have weak points they don’t see when they read through their work. Another set of eyes, particularly a professional who is experienced at what to watch for, can make an okay novel great.

I have huge appreciation for the beta teams who have assisted me with my unpublished work. Their volunteer, well intentioned, non-professional reviews helped me learn to be a better writer. This is great for JAFF sites such as A Happy Assembly  where members with a huge range of writing skills are encouraged to add to the large number of free stories. But if you charge for the book, you’ll be held to a higher standard.

A beta reader, Aunt Sally, an English major, or a teacher can’t take the place of an experienced professional editor. I’ve read JAFF novels written or edited by these supposed experts that had laughable errors. Professional editors are familiar with typical mistakes, the specifics of genre fiction rules, and lots of good alternatives to improve a novel.

Special smooches go to the Meryton Press editors I’ve worked with: Gail Warner and Christina Boyd. Both are caring, kind, fun women. With their unique talents and styles, each brought my writing to a higher level as professional editors. Ellen Pickels is the lady who covers the a55es for all of us as Meryton Press’s final editor. She serves as proofreader, layout editor and graphics editor! After reading the above mentioned novels, the view that she’s worth her weight in gold has been reinforced! Thanks to them all!

I hope authors who read this will know where they fit, and those who care will improve or continue their best practices and be proud of their dedication to their readers’ satisfaction. I also hope those who don’t care will get their just desserts someday, rather than a reward of five stars when they didn’t even try to respect their readers. Wishful thinking, I know.

 

* My “guesstimate.”

Note: This post has not been professionally edited. If you need a few spare commas, I probably have some to offer!

Next post: The Smart Author Self-Edits: some links to help you improve your craft.

Imagining #MrDarcy: The Faceless Man and the Book Cover

When other authors mention the name of someone they had in mind as Mr. Darcy while writing their Austen-inspired fiction, once in a while, I’m able to visualize their version of the hero while reading. It’s not easy. Otherwise, the closest Mr. Darcy image that comes to my mind for Mr. Darcy is that of a Disney hero.

Disney Princes (from The Disney Wiki http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Disney_Prince)

Disney Princes (from The Disney Wiki http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Disney_Prince)

The odd time, glimpses of a faceless man similar to the rear view of Colin Firth in the 1995 A&E/BBC adaptation occur. Of course, there have been other actors in other adaptations, and I like some better than others.

From the BBC/A&E 1995 mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy walks along the gallery at Pemberley.

From the BBC/A&E 1995 mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, walks along the gallery at Pemberley.

Austen herself is no help. She just said he was tall and handsome, with a noble mien and fine figure. He could be bald! Of course, the costume people would put a dark, curly wig on him. Is it a wonder dreamy-eyed JAFF authors persist in mentioning those slightly unruly curls?

David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy in BBC's 1980 mini-series "Pride and Prejudice." Mr. Rintoul wore a hairpiece for the role.

David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy in BBC’s 1980 mini-series “Pride and Prejudice.” Mr. Rintoul wore a hairpiece for the role.

I try very hard to imagine Mr. Darcy as eye-candy actor Henry Cavill (before the Superman bulk), even if he’s almost too pretty. A story I posted on Jane Austen fan fiction mega-site A Happy Assembly (Studio 54) “cast” the inimitable Christopher Reeve as Darcy, since he was the right age for the story’s era. I like the late Gregory Peck in mid-20th century stories. But none of their faces come to mind when I’m writing.

As part of my addiction to Pinterest since the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, I’ve pinned some portraits of terribly handsome real Regency gentlemen, and maybe… but try as I might, no Darcy. I look at book covers that supposedly have Mr. Darcy on them, and to me, none of those gentlemen are quite right.

This is a problem when you want Mr. Darcy on your own book cover.

New Letter from Ramsgate character, Lady Edwina Moore, is easy to imagine. Georgiana Darcy can be a young Caroline Murat. And there’s sneaky Mr. Wickham bothering her, and Elizabeth Bennet in the background with her dizzy parasol. But where’s my Mr. Darcy for Letter from Ramsgate‘s cover?

Lady Edwina Moore from Suzan Lauder's "Letter from Ramsgate" (artwork: Henri-Pierre Danloux, Portrait of a Young Lady in a White Dress, from Sotheby's)

Lady Edwina Moore from Suzan Lauder’s “Letter from Ramsgate” (artwork: Henri-Pierre Danloux, Portrait of a Young Lady in a White Dress, from Sotheby’s)

Miss Georgiana Darcy from Suzan Lauder's "Letter from Ramsgate" (Artwork: François-Pascal-Simon Gérard's painting "Caroline Murat walking in the gardens of Château de Neuilly," 1807, from Versailles)

Miss Georgiana Darcy from Suzan Lauder’s “Letter from Ramsgate” (Artwork: François-Pascal-Simon, Baron Gérard’s painting “Caroline Murat walking in the gardens of Château de Neuilly,” 1807, from Versailles)

Mr. Wickham from Suzan Lauder's "Letter from Ramsgate" attempts to woo Miss Georgiana Darcy, while Miss Elizabeth Bennet wanders around in the distance, spinning her parasol. (Artwork: Debucourt, Modes et Manières du Jour no. 34)

Mr. Wickham from Suzan Lauder’s “Letter from Ramsgate” attempts to woo Miss Georgiana Darcy while Miss Elizabeth Bennet wanders around in the distance, spinning her parasol. (Artwork: Debucourt, Modes et Manières du Jour no. 34)

I suppose one could have a worse dilemma than having to peruse artwork in search of Mr. Darcy! In any case, the wonderful Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou is the cover designer for Letter from Ramsgate, and whether or not Mr. Darcy’s face appears, I love her covers, so I know it will be fantastic.

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Suzan Lauder’s latest novel, Letter from Ramsgate, will be published by Meryton Press in the autumn of 2016.

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2016 May 17 Edited to add a note: For some reason, readers have flocked to my blog for this post, yet none have left comments on my blog, road trips with the redhead! I wonder if you all saw the hot Regency guy and clicked to discover who the heck he is! If someone asked, I’d tell, but I’m not sure that’s the reason this post is so extremely popular! Can anyone give me a hint?

Thanks! Suzan