Backstory on WIP Wednesday

Backstory gives our books depth and texture. Backstory is the stuff we know about the characters and their lives that never finds its way onto the page. Some writers I know do very little backstory. Others have whole histories and landscapes that exist in their imaginations and notebooks, and that influence the story but don’t appear in it.

I lean in the second direction, not least because I find it impossible to understand a character’s motivation without understanding the influences that made her who she is.

This week, I’m inviting you to tell me a bit of the backstory of one of your characters or locations. Mine is from Lord Calne’s Christmas Story, my new Christmas novella, and is about the relationship between my hero, Philip Daventry, the new Earl of Calne, and his uncle Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning.

Lord Henry links the latest novella to my Golden Redepenning series.

Lord Henry Redepenning met Lord Hugo Daventry at school. Both were younger sons of earls. Both were destined for, and looking forward to, a future in the military, as officers in a cavalry regiment. They became fast friends.

In due course of time, in a London ballroom, they met Miss Susana Blanchard, older daughter of Admiral Blanchard, and both fell in love. To Society, either young man was a good match for the granddaughter of shopkeepers, though her father’s rank and their own lesser position in their families made it acceptable. They waited and watched to see if the two close friends would fall out over the maiden.

But they were to be disappointed. If Hugo’s heart was broken when Susana chose Henry, he hid it well. Indeed, the friends were closer than ever, with Susana included in their charmed circle, and Hugo assured Henry that his feelings had turned brotherly. If it had not been true at the start, it was certainly true the day he came to visit his friends and met Susana’s sister, Arabella.

Arabella was seven years Susana’s junior, and just out when she was introduced to her brother-in-law’s dearest friend, whom she had adored by report since her sister’s Season. He was everything she expected and more. Arabella’s worship-from-afar soon turned to something warmer and more personal.

Hugo found that Arabella was as lovely as her sister and three times as adventurous. Where Susana was happy to stay at home with her growing family, Arabella spoke of following the drum, her eyes sparkling with excitement. By the end of his visit, Hugo was deeply and irrevocably in love.

And so the two friends married two sisters. Henry and Susana created a haven for their five children and other family and friends, a place to be cherished and restored. Hugo and Arabella raised their son and daughter in army camps across the globe, enjoying the travel and adventure. Two very different couples, but firm friends, even to the next generation.

Nearly none of that is in the novella. But I needed it anyway.

Your turn.

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Tea with NarrAy

Captain NarrAy Jorlan of the All People’s Liberation Army ran the words through her mind again, trying to fathom the meaning. Was this some kind of rebel code? Or imperial? Why would a duchess be inviting her to… what was it again?

“I’m sorry, Brox. I’ve been invited to what?”

“Just ‘tea,’ ma’am.'” Her adjutant showed her his screen. “See? It says it right here.”

“Just ‘tea’ and nothing else?” She squinted at the device. “You’re right. Tea is all it says.”

“Maybe ‘tea’ is code.” Broxus lowered his voice. “NarrAy, have you been spying on the Empress again?”

“No.” She set a hand against her bosom. “At least, I hope not.”

“What do you mean you hope not?” Broxus’s voice had risen to a squeak. He coughed into a fist. “Please tell me you haven’t been working for another faction.”

“Oh, of course not!” She waved away his concern. “I have enough to do, working for the rebellion. Believe me. I wouldn’t be taking on any more work.” She stood and picked up his notereader, tapped the screen. “I wonder what being invited for tea actually means.”

“Maybe it’s like tea that you drink.”

NarrAy laughed. “I doubt that.” She handed him back the device. If this was a trap she would soon know. “Tell her yes and thanks and get directions for me. Maybe she wants to offer her support. Trust me, if this has anything to do with the Imperial Armada, I’m going to know about it.”

“Yes, ma’am, but be careful. After what happened to your parents…”

She stiffened. “I don’t need reminding about that.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He stood, head lowered. “I apologize, but I worry about you.”

“I know. I appreciate it, but the Empress is not going to take me out as easily as she took them. Send the coordinates to my ship.” She picked up her gloves and drew them on. “And anyway, if it’s just drinking tea with a nice lady, how much trouble could I get into?”

By-the-book Captain NarrAy Jorlan meets playful thief Senth Antonello in At the Mercy of Her Pleasure, Kayelle Allen’s rollicking science fiction romance set in the far future. Do opposites attract? Oh, mercy! This sweet romance contains action, adventure, danger, humor, and a malfunctioning automated suitcase that wreaks havoc everywhere it goes.

Available exclusively on Amazon or in print (autographed, shipping included) from Romance Lives Forever Books.

Kayelle Allen writes Sci Fi with misbehaving robots, mythic heroes, role playing immortal gamers, and warriors who purr. She’s a US Navy veteran and has been married so long she’s tenured.
https://kayelleallen.com
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In which I deride labels and explain why.

Today, I’m inviting you to join a celebration. I’ve talked frequently about the Speakeasy Scribe box set to which I’ve contributed a story. Tomorrow, the authors and others from the Speakeasy Scribes are going to be hanging out on Facebook to chat about their books, their lives, and their ideas. They’re neat people, and we’ll have fun. I hope you can join us.

If you don’t want my philosophical meanderings, and just want to read about the wonderful book and its journey through time with the denizens of the Final Draft Tavern, then go to my second post for Sunday, here.

If you’d like to know why the label of the party bothers me, read on.

The party is called ‘Leftist Literature and Libations’, which is a clever piece of alliteration. But the term leftist gets up my left nostril, and I want to explain why.

I have a deep distaste for language that divides people along a single dimension. When we call a person left or right, liberal or conservative—or even (in some contexts) black or white, male or female—we speak as if we can predict the full complexity of a human being from a single label. We are, all of us, more than the few attitudes and opinions that we share with others in any one of the multiple overlapping groups into which we could be directed according to such labels.

If I accepted any label, it would be centrist, but even that would be misleading. Many of my ideas and views count as radical. Others would be pigeonholed as deeply conservative. So centrist is not a description but a default; an average of all the positions I might take on all the many issues that face us.

I am, however, more or less centrist on a scale a two dimensional scale of my own invention: a four cell scattergraph matrix that I think more nearly represents the differences between us. For lack of a better name, Let’s call it the Fear matrix.

 

The matrix has two axes.

The vertical axis is Our attitude to resources, and it runs from Scarcity through Sufficiency to Plentitude. An attitude of scarcity is one that says ‘there is not enough, there will never be enough, and if you have it, I won’t.

The horizontal axis is the Spectrum of confidence. It runs from Despair through Cautious hope to Reckless optimism. An attitude of despair expects the worst.

I suggest calling it the fear matrix, because people (left-leaning or right-leaning) in the bottom left quadrant are reacting out of fear (of loss, of death, of the Unknown) when they withdraw into a mental or actual bunker, guns facing towards those not in their inner circle.

The inner circles concept is the third dimension of the scatter graph. Rather than placing yourself on matrix as a dot, place the circle of the people you would trust and protect without question, and make the circle the size of that group.

We naturally define the world into ‘Them’ and ‘Us’. Everyone does it. Some of us fight it, some of us embrace it, some of us are utterly unaware of it. But the ‘Us’ concept differs, and since we define ‘Them’ in relation to ‘Not Us’, the consequences are huge.

For some poor souls, ‘Us’ is a single person. They may have disciples, or family members, or servants, but those people are adjuncts to the ‘Us’ that is, in fact, the single individual at the centre. A failing adjunct can expect to be amputated without compunction.

For others, ‘Us’ is a small group, defined by shared ideals or beliefs or interests, or by family connections, or by some other criteria that makes sense to a person with our family of origin, experiences, and personal circumstances.

I have often thought that a person can be judged more or less civilised according to the width and breadth of their ‘Us’ circle.

What we do with ‘Not Us’ depends entirely on where we sit on the Fear matrix.

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Spotlight on Rejoice and Resist

Today at last I can give you pre-sale links to the third of the three anthologies I’m in this coming holiday season. Rejoice and Resist is a box set of nine stories set in different times and written in different genres, but all using the Final Draft Tavern. And it has been sitting at the top of the Amazon bestseller list for Shortstories and Anthologies since it went to pre-release on Monday.

Come share a drink in the Back Room of the Final Draft Tavern, where for nearly a millennium, the Marchand family and their cat, Whiskey, have led travelers through time and space: rebels and dissenters, heroes and villains, artists and lovers. These seven (longish) short stories feature characters united through the ages by resistance to tyranny, and celebrating the right to speak truth to power. Rejoice and Resist will amuse and entertain, but also inspire you to call out oppression, demand human rights, question the status quo, and stand up to be counted.

Travel backward and forward through time with multiple authors and fiction genres: drama, horror, women’s fiction, historical fiction, time travel, historical or contemporary romance, and paranormal. Shoot through the lens of a photographer or the pistol of a highway brigand; meet death with a ghost-writer, or a president and his cabinet with a deck of cards; brave life in a new country, or just in a new era of civil rights; or conceal yourself in time with an orphan of the apocalypse.

Whatever role you take in the struggle toward justice, step through a secret passageway and pull up a barstool, let the closest Marchand pour you a libation, and celebrate the holiday season with the Speakeasy Scribes.

And join us tomorrow at our Facebook party to meet the authors (online, at any computer, for nearly twelve hours of conversation and fun).

Here’s the Amazon US buy link. I’ll add others over the day.

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Book Blurbs on WIP Wednesday

Ask most writers what they find hardest to write, and they’ll tell you book blurbs. Probably as a close-running second to the dreaded synopsis.

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is about the book blurb. Feel free to post yours in the comments. Feel free to suggest how I can improve mine. It’s for Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, the Christmas novella I’m completing at the moment.

Fashionable London holds nothing for wealthy merchant’s niece, Kareema Finchurch. Except perhaps for an earl with a twisted hand and a charming smile. Why is it that, for all the fortune hunters she has fended off since returning from India, the one man who seems to like her is so against marrying for money?

Philip has inherited an earldom so impoverished that his only two choices are to marry for money or to abandon Society altogether and return to his work as an engineer. Which is no choice at all, and he intends heading back north to his canal, until a tiny woman with beautiful eyes and a fine mind dances with him on his last night in London.

When they meet again in a small country village, they join forces to uncover larceny and deceit, to rescue Kareema’s aunt from poverty, and to discover that pride is a poor reason to refuse a love for a lifetime.

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Tea with Mary Bennett

Mary Bennett found it hard to believe the invitation. Doran Ward had to read it to her, Doran, the knight who was staying at her house for a short while. Only until Christmas, that is.

An invitation for tea from a Duchess of Haverford. Why shouldn’t she go? But then, could she leave Doran in her crumbling manor all alone? The knight had a limp and could barely walk. Surely he could not get into too much trouble, given his condition, and likewise be able to handle himself for the duration of tea.

Somehow, the moment she decided to go while holding the invitation, Mary blinked and was no longer sitting at a small table in her kitchen but at a larger, circular table across from a lady in fashion quite unlike anything Mary had ever seen before.

“Mistress Bennett! I am so delighted you can join me for tea.”

Mary did her best to not gape everywhere in wonder. Where was she? Had she fallen asleep? Was this merely a dream?

The duchess clasped Mary’s hand. “Is tea sufficient, or do you prefer something else?”

“Tea would be wonderful. Thank you,” Mary whispered.

The duchess poured for them both. “Biscuits and the like will be ready shortly. My dear, you look rather upset. What all is troubling you?”

Mary shook her head. Honestly, it was more what wasn’t troubling her. Between her manor being in disrepair, the wounded knight, and her lie that her husband still lived, she did not know how she was managing anything, quite frankly. “Nothing I can’t handle,” Mary informed the duchess, and she so hoped she had the right of it.

 

Her Wounded Heart is Nicole Zoltack’s story in the Never Too Late collection. Every Monday for the next little while, one of my fellow Bluestocking Belles will bring their hero or their heroine along to meet the Duchess of Haverford. I hope you’ll join us to learn more about them and their stories.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Serving God, the Parish, or possibly Mammon in late Georgian England

The church and the parish were important in rural England in late Georgian times. Faith in God was a simple part of life for most ordinary people, if not for the idle rich. Besides, village life depended on farming, which revolved around the seasons, and the liturgical year and important feast that reflected the seasons. And Sunday services were still mandatory, (until the late 19th century) with non-attendance punishable by a fine.

So who presided over these services?

To someone raised in the last half of the 21st century, the concept of church livings—where a local landowner has the power to appoint the rector or vicar to his local Church of England parish—seems odd. Yet it made a lot of sense in the beginning, encouraging those with wealth to build churches.

Those with the power to appoint had what was called an advowson, which was a type of property that could be bought, sold and inherited.

Oxford and Cambridge colleges controlled nearly 5% of benefices, presenting them as gifts to fellows and masters who wished to marry and leave academic pursuits. Another 10% or so belonged to the Crown, to be presented to government supporters. Bishops and cathedral chapters possessed about 20%. The gentry and aristocracy held the largest share, on the order of 60%. Most great families had at least one or two livings at their disposal.  [Maria Grace at English Historical Fiction Authors]

The advowson conferred the right to a living, also called or a benefice; a post that guarantees a fixed amount of property or income. This income came from tithes: great or small, depending on the parish. Parishes that paid a great tithe had a rector. A great tithe was 10% of all cereal crops grown in the parish and sometimes wool. Parishes that paid a small tithe had a vicar. A small tithe was 10% of remaining agricultural produce. By late Georgian times, tithes had commonly become a fixed cash payment, whose value had very likely dropped from the time it was first set.

The practice of sending younger sons into the Church meant that many parishes were served by clergy who were landed gentry first and foremost, and whose parishes rarely saw them.

Without patronage, being an ordained cleric was not a passport to a life of clover. Over a fifth of ordained clerics in late Georgian England never had a living, and a third took more than six years. A quarter died young, emigrated, or went into teaching.

If you weren’t one of the lucky 20 percent, with the well-connected friends or relatives who could see to your future by giving you a parish, or the 25 percent who died or left, you took a job as one of the working bees of the late Georgian church, as a curate.

Curates might work alongside their vicars, or they might act instead of them, while the lucky fellow was off socialising or hunting. The curate’s wages were paid from the vicar’s own pocket. Just to confuse things, if a curate was permanently appointed to a parish that had no or an absent rector or vicar, the curate would often be called ‘vicar’.

Whatever he was called, the resident pastor, at the very least, was responsible for church services: Sunday services, weddings, baptisms, and funerals, plus visiting the sick. And, of course, the very least was what some did.

But, according to at least some commentators, the bulk of them were decent men, doing their best. Maybe they were not exciting. Indeed, the exodus to more enthusiastic forms of Christianity offered by the Wesleyans and others grew in strength through the Georgian period. But:

The bulk of the English clergy then as ever were educated, refined, generous, God-fearing men, who lived lives of simple piety and plain duty, respected by their people for the friendly help and wise counsel and open purse which were ever at the disposal of the poor.  [Henry Wakeman in An Introduction to the History of the Church of England]

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First meetings on WIP Wednesday

The theme for this week is first meetings. Or at least first meetings of your hero and heroine in this particular book, since parted lovers or old enemies or childhood friends can be fun, too. Please put your excerpt into the comments, as always.

Mine puts together two people who have not met until the first chapter of my story. I’ve picked up a deleted scene from several years ago and begun turning it into a new novella for Christmas, with a brand new beginning and a heap of edits throughout. It’s going to be called Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, and I’m enjoying my reluctant earl who can barely wait until he offloads the last of his impoverished estate and gets back to building aqueducts, and my feisty Nabob’s heiress cast unwillingly upon the ton, who is counting the days until she turns twenty-five and has full control of her fortune.

The next room was dark, but the one after was lit, the door partly open, though not enough to see into the room. Women’s voices indicated the room was in use, and he paused to listen. He would not intrude on a private conversation.

“Really, Miss Finchurch, I cannot imagine what Lady Carngrove is thinking, bringing you here to mingle with your betters.”

Another voice; a vicious purr somehow familiar to Philip. “Perhaps she imagines that the perfume of Miss Finchurch’s wealth will overcome the stench of her origins?”

This was definitely not the card room. Harpies of this stamp would not attack so openly in front of an audience, and Uncle Henry would not stand by while they did. Philip should do something. While he hesitated, those inside continued to talk.

“I do not believe so, girls. Lady Carngrove intends all that lovely money for her darling Ceddie. As if he would even consider such a thing! Why, Miss Finchurch is quite old!”

The next voice was crisp, but with a bubble of a laugh running through it. “My goodness, I must really worry you, for you to descend to such a puerile level of nursery bullying.”

Philip grinned. The victim was not entirely helpless then.

Before the babble of rejoinders sorted themselves out, he pushed the door open. “Miss Finchurch? Ah, there you are.” It was a small reading room, lined with bookshelves and with comfortable chairs grouped around low tables, just the right height for a drink and a book.

The target of the others’ spite was clearly the one at bay, seated by the fire with an open book on her lap. She turned her face to him an instant before the others. Old? True, she was not a girl fresh from the schoolroom, but rather a lady in her mid-twenties, unlined face a perfect oval, with large brown eyes under arched brows, a tilt-tipped nose, and a quantity of light brown hair pulled up into a confection of hair atop her head, a few strands pulled loose to frame the delightful whole.

She met his smile with a quizzical tip of the head, and he ignored the five ladies standing over her. “Our dance is in a few minutes, Miss Finchurch, so I came to find you. Would you care to take a short stroll while we wait?”

Would she take the rescue, he wondered, glancing from her to the others. Three were strangers. One, he vaguely recognised. But the remaining woman… He nodded a polite but cold acknowledgement Lady Markhurst, who had pretended to accept his courtship when he was last in Society four years ago, after recovering from the injuries that ended his army career and brought him home to England.

Lady Markhurst had soon made it clear his only attraction was his unwed cousins, one an earl and one the heir to an earl. Philip wasn’t close to either, and had not seen her since she discovered that fact. He assumed her pursuit was unsuccessful; certainly, she had wed before the end of that season, to a lowly and rather elderly baron who proved to be not as wealthy as rumour had painted.

Clearly, Philip’s attractiveness had increased, since Lady Markhurst fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, and fingered the diamond drop that dangled from her ornate necklace into the valley between her breasts. “Why, Lord Calne. Surely you cannot intend to dance with a merchant’s daughter. Your inheritance cannot be in such a dire state as that. Let me save you from such a fate by offering myself as a partner instead.” The throaty note in her last sentence made it a naughty innuendo.

He ignored Lady Markhurst and her outstretched hand, offering Miss Finchurch his bad arm, which functioned well enough as a prop for a lady. Lady Markhurst’s face flushed and then whitened. She had not learned to control her temper, then.

Miss Finchurch made up her mind, set her book to one side, and stood to slip her hand into his elbow, and he turned to the door, but Lady Markhurst launched another attack before they reached it.

“Do be warned, Miss Finchurch. The Calne title comes with a bankrupt estate and a crippled earl.”

Miss Finchurch gripped his arm, making him wince, and she sensed it, too, the fires she was about to turn on Lady Markhurst doused by her concern for him. He took another step towards the door.

“Ignore Lady Markhurst, Miss Finchurch. I would say her disappointment in her ambitions has made her bitter, but she was always a scold.”

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Tea with Ottilie

Ottilie Smith smoothed the skirt of her best dress and once again checked the wording of the invitation that appeared mysteriously on the desk that filled one corner of the dining room of the little cottage she shared with her husband and child in the booming New Zealand town of Christchurch.

The Duchess of Haverford requests the pleasure of the company of Mrs Thaddeus Smith for afternoon tea.

She and Tad had giggled over it, sure it was a joke. A duchess sending an invitation to the wife of a bookshop keeper? And the address given was on the far side of the world, in far away England: a castle in Kent. One of Tad’s friends was playing a trick on them, certainly. But she had returned from her women’s suffrage meeting, picking up the invitation from the hall table as she passed through into her sitting room, and found herself here, on a sunny terrace in what could only be England, with the grey stone walls of a castle looming behind her.

“Ah! Mrs Smith. I am so glad you could come.”

The lady, elegantly dressed in the fashions of nearly a century ago, was walking towards her from the french doors that let into the house, her hands held out in greeting.

Lottie stood and curtsied. “Your Grace.” Tad had joked about her knowing the proper forms of address, and she was glad he had, for dream or not, she would not wish to be discourteous.

“Please, Mrs Smith. Do take a seat. May I pour you a tea? Or would you prefer coffee or chocolate?” For a few minutes, the duchess fussed over the pot and the plates of delicate pastries and cakes that a silent maid passed at her command.

But when Lottie was served and the maid waved away, the duchess said, “Now. I understand you survived a volcanic eruption, though you were buried in the ash. Tell me about it, if you please. What happened?”

Forged in Fire is my story in the Never Too Late collection. Every Monday for the next little while, one of my fellow Bluestocking Belles will bring their hero or their heroine along to meet the Duchess of Haverford. I hope you’ll join us to learn more about them and their stories.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Spotlight on Christmas Babies on Main Street

The box set for which I wrote A Family Christmas has its preorder up, and you don’t have long to wait. Christmas Babies on Mainstreet goes live on 12 October. Nine contemporary novellas of between 20,000 and 40,000 words each for only 99c.

Nine individual stories from the bestselling Authors of Main Street – New for the 2017 Christmas Season!

This year, The Authors of Main Street have combined their talent to bring you stories about love, the holidays, and babies from around the world. From the small hamlet of Eastport in Canada, to the gorgeous landscapes of New Zealand, to Main Street, USA… you’ll find the Christmas spirit and warm love stories on every page. And not all of our babies have pudgy little fingers and adorable toes… one of them has hooves and a mane!

Inside this year’s box set, you’ll find Christmas novellas from Kristy Tate, Carol DeVaney, Jill James, E. Ayers, Lizzi Tremayne, Jude Knight, Stephanie Queen, Susan R. Hughes, and Leigh Morgan.

Snuggle up with your favorite blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and let the Authors of Main Street help you celebrate the holiday season.

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