I suppose, like most things, I’m late to this particular game, but I’ve finally utilized the Speak program in Word to edit my manuscript, and may I just say, Hot Damn! Hearing the words narrated aloud—even in cringe-worthy robot voice with almost zero inflection—has done wonders for my editing skills. I’ve already picked up on several typos I had repeatedly glossed over because my writer’s brain was already compensating and changing the word in my head.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t take credit for discovering this very handy editing tool. It was a piece in the March 2017 issue of the Romance Writers Report by Patricia Watters, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally followed the instructions in the article and set up the Speak program. I really encourage any writer, but particularly self-published writers, to use this program. Like Watters mentions in her article, “Hearing the words as well as seeing them uses different parts of the brain, and together you have a very powerful editing tool.”
So, for those of you out there who have Microsoft Word (versions 7, 8, or 10), here’s how you set it up. FYI, these steps come directly from Watters’ article.
Open Word and add the “Speak” command by completing the following steps.
1. Go to the Quick Access Toolbar at the top of the page (this is the area highlighted in blue, usually with the save disc icon, the back arrow icon, the undo arrow icon, ect.)
2. Click the Customize Quick Access Arrow (the last icon in the toolbar, which is a little dropdown arrow)
3. Select More Commands
4. Select All Commands from the dropdown list
5. Select Speak command
6. Click OK
7. Now, anytime you want to choose text-to-speech, just highlight your text and click the Speak icon in the Quick Access Toolbar (it’ll look like a cartoon word bubble with a play arrow)
Happy editing, fellow writers!
I’ve been contemplating endings lately—more on that in a later blog—but in relation to writing, the epilogue comes to mind. Romance novelists love employing the epilogue, but I find myself thinking they’re often unnecessary. If an epilogue only exists to reinforce that the hero and heroine indeed grasped their Happy Ever After, well, I don’t think it’s all that essential. The HEA should’ve been a no-brainer in the final chapter. Hopefully, they already raced across that figurative daisy field from opposite directions and the heroine jumped into the hero’s arms and he spun her around and around until she was wicked dizzy. In my humble opinion, you can’t improve on that, so why try?
I didn’t write an epilogue for Clingstone. There was a time when I flirted with the idea of possibly writing one, but from Creighton’s perspective, and it would’ve picked up about ten years after the last chapter. The hardships from the war would’ve been a distant memory, and the reader would’ve received a heartening glimpse that this ordinary couple falling in love during extraordinary times had not only survived, but thrived. Ornery little Owen Scott would’ve almost been fully grown, and the reader could’ve been reassured that he’d learned to compensate for his missing hand. I pictured all of them on a little farm somewhere, very Little House on the Prairie, with a few miniature versions of Creighton and Mae running about to complete the HEA.
In the end, I didn’t think that epilogue—or any epilogue, really—was necessary. I knew my hero and heroine would live HEA and the specifics of how and where that happiness unfolded didn’t really matter. I passed it off to my readers to picture the details, and I’m happy with that decision.
Conversely, I’ve always known I would require an epilogue for Watermark. There’s one big outcome in particular that never gets answered by the end of the book, and so an epilogue is definitely needed to show how everything resolves itself. There’s a few other little nuggets as well that I never had an opportunity to expound on until the epilogue—specifically, the origins of the title, which makes me sigh happily whenever I picture my hero Malcolm explaining it.
[Cue happy sigh here]
Michigan Territory, 1828
In Which Our Hero & Heroine are Stranded Together Following a Pirate Attack...
“Edwin Laurent must be very important to you,” she cautiously phrased, sensing the need to delve carefully. “Do you wish to protect him? Or to see him held responsible for his crimes?”
He cast her a slightly reproving look. “If you believe the former, then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”
She nearly smiled. It was a compliment, despite its circuitous delivery. She didn’t hear them often enough not to appreciate one when received, no matter how grudging its presentation.
“Why are you hunting him?” she broached, genuinely curious.
“He took something from me.”
It was a simple enough answer. Too simple. “And you’re trying to get it back?”
“No.” His voice calcified. “I can’t ever get it back.” His gaze cut away, but not before Juno witnessed an expression so bitter and unforgiving that it made the small hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. “But I can certainly make him suffer for taking it in the first place.”
The last came out in a menacing scurry of words. It came from the same dark place as where the funeral laughter resided and left her feeling equally unsettled.
Unsettled, but also sympathetic. Tragedy had hardened him. She knew this without asking. The finer details of his features were still indistinct in the dark, but the sharp angles of his face clearly stood out. His skin was pale from the cold and resembled something fashioned by stonemasons, aloof and indestructible and impervious to the ages.
And lonely. Terribly so. She suddenly craved to touch his jaw, to reshape it and watch it transform from architectural frieze to the warm flesh of the man he was meant to be.
Juno knit her brow. She was often guilty of fanciful thoughts, but that was a bit ill-considered, even for her. She prudently laced her hands together to quash any wayward impulses.
“How are you acquainted with him?” she asked, quickly delving back into the mystery of Edwin Laurent.
“You’re meddlesome,” he baldly announced, turning toward her suddenly. “And vexing. I’ve already lost count of the number of questions you’ve asked me tonight. Are you normally this intrusive?”
She did smile then, a quick little grin that she disguised by pretending to swipe at her cold nose. She wasn’t meddlesome, not usually. Usually she was passive and obedient and not at all exasperating. She was only asking so many questions now because…
Her smile vanished. She squirmed with guilt. But then her interest in Edwin Laurent was warranted, wasn’t it? This man had no way of knowing that she had knowledge that could aid his search, but Juno didn’t plan on revealing that important detail until absolutely necessary. Her wits already warned her that some sort of leverage would be required before this night was over.
“I’m simply curious,” she lied.
He slipped her an assessing look, possibly sensing her deception. “Edwin Laurent and I grew up together,” he finally disclosed, evidently finding nothing duplicitous in her expression.
Her lips slowly parted in surprise. That was unexpected. “Is he your kin?” She whispered the inquiry. For some reason, it seemed necessary to speak softly now.
“We’re no more than elbow relations.”
He was lying. Juno didn’t know why she unconsciously knew this, but Edwin Laurent was no distant relation. She would gamble he was someone much, much closer, but instinct also warned it wouldn’t be wise to reach too deeply into this man’s dark secrets.
This man? She was weary of the vague designation. “I’ll have your name now,” she insisted, this from a woman who never insisted upon anything.
His mouth twisted wryly. “Oh, you will, will you? It’s Malcolm Moreau,” he supplied, a heavy sigh capping off the introduction. It was a peculiarly disappointed sound, as if he was disgruntled by his failure to remain anonymous. “I shouldn’t want to disappoint such a meddlesome little tadpole by withholding my name any longer.”
And it was a name she liked immensely. It fit easily into her mind, reminiscent of a seed sowing itself, to be recalled for years hence. A strange notion, that.
“I’m Juno Brock,” she readily offered in turn, even though it hadn’t escaped her notice that he hadn’t asked.
She dissected the expression on Malcolm’s face. It was a strange distortion of disbelief, surprise, and laughter, but not the nice kind. "Jupiter's wife?" His eyes flashed entertainingly. "All this time, the queen of heaven was right here beside me? I don’t see your armor, Mighty Juno,” he teased, his head tilting in a leisurely inspection of her figure. “Where are you hiding it?”
She detected no unseemliness in his gaze, nor did she think he’d intended his words to resonate with flirtatious overtones. It was an unexpected moment of playfulness from a man unaccustomed to levity, but her body didn’t know that.
The surface area of her skin reacted shockingly to the sweep of his gaze. Her exhausted body was no longer exhausted as capillaries heated and plumped with the eager flush of attraction. The force of it took by her by surprise. Malcolm Moreau was a man who knew how to give looks, even when aforesaid looks weren’t meant to be taken seriously.
She pretended a sudden, keen interest in the owl feather. “Very few people are familiar with the reference,” she modestly dismissed. Beyond Cecil, of course, who seemed to think a Roman namesake for one such as she a great hilarity.
“I would imagine not,” he ruminated, still rudely amused. “You’re the first Juno I’ve ever met.”
She ran her thumb down the feather’s contours, finding comfort in the feel of individual barbs fringing and separating. “And now that we’ve met and been properly introduced,” she reflected, petulance creeping into her tone, “you needn’t refer to me as frog spawn any longer.”
“And deprive me of your delightful reaction whenever I do so?” His face had already returned to its customary somber proportions, but that made a small smile cavort along the edges of his too-serious mouth. “I think not, tadpole.”
Author Regan Walker gave me some excellent advice last year on book cover design, advice which I took into account when I designed the front cover for Watermark. You’ll probably notice I carried over some of the same design themes found in Clingstone to Watermark. A portrait of my hero and heroine, for example, and a panoramic scene that reflects the setting or a scene from the book. The band separating the two images is also carried over. There’s a practical reason for doing this, of course: Similar imagery in cover design helps an author’s books stand out for readers. Also, I just think it looks pretty! That’s more whimsical than practical, but there you have it.
Now for the fun stuff! What’s it all mean? The panoramic scene at the bottom of the cover is of the Mississippi River, which is where my novel takes place. The background in the upper section is a pretty wood grain that also doubles as water ripples. Clever, huh? Since I write historical romance, I like the idea of the hero and heroine’s image coinciding with whatever methods were available to capture it at the time the book takes place. In Clingstone, which occurs during the American Civil War, daguerreotypes were popular, and so that was the style of photography I simulated in the cover design. Watermark takes place in 1828, and so I thought a painting of my couple would be fitting, but I didn’t want bold, bright colors. I wanted their image to look slightly faded, much as if it had been painted on a piece of wood nearly two hundred years ago and the grain was now bleeding through the paint strokes. Hair colors are no longer very distinct. Skin tones are mottled. And yet their portrait is still very beautiful and timeless.
As for the couple themselves, there are a lot of great websites out there that offer cover model photography. For both of my covers, I’ve used Jenn LeBlanc/Illustrated Romance. The prices are reasonable and I think her poses are gorgeous.
Last but not least, I’m crazy about that font! I love those blotchy edges and how it looks as if the nib of an old-fashioned quill scratched those letters across the cover. Perfection!
Overall, I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I hope my readers agree! Come back next week and I’ll share an excerpt to tide you over until Watermark’s release later this summer!
The remainder of my blog posts this month will be dedicated to several special reveals pertaining to my upcoming release, Watermark!
May 15: Watermark book cover reveal
May 22: An in-depth look at the graphics that made it into the final cover art design
May 29: An excerpt from Watermark
I hope you'll check back later this month to share in these exciting exclusives!
I read an interesting article in the May issue of my Romance Writers Report entitled, “Who Said Historical is Dead?” by Anabelle Bryant. It explored the rumors that historical romance is dead, a claim that the article’s author very firmly denied. She said it isn’t dead, rather it’s going through a transformation. One quote she cites by senior editor Esi Sogah at Kensington Books that supports this transformation caught my interest: “Watch for more romance set outside Europe, more romances with non-white main characters, and more heroes and heroines from varied class backgrounds.”
Bryant’s article got me thinking about my own reading and writing interests that have evolved throughout the years. Some of the first romances I ever read were by Jude Deveraux and Judith McNaught. These centered around medieval knights and the English aristocracy, and I devoured them. When Westerns ruled the romance market, I gobbled up novels by Jill Gregory and Patricia Gaffney until the market shifted yet again. Perhaps it’s simply my own perspective, but lately I’ve thought the world of romance publishing could use another shift. Or better yet, multiple shifts. I love reading about a handsome duke as much as the next girl, but I feel like the market is saturated with such heroes, and has been for a while now. There’s only so many variations of this story that can be repackaged before the staleness can’t be disguised anymore.
That brings me to my own writing and the sort of characters and settings that inspire me. Although Clingstone takes place during the American Civil War—admittedly, a setting that once saturated the romance market—my hero is deaf, and both he and the heroine inhabit the not-so-romantic working class. My hero is also the more nurturing parent figure toward the little boy in the story, whereas my heroine struggles with her maternal side, at least initially. As much as the romantic images of southern belles in gorgeous finery and soldiers in dashing uniforms appeal to my aesthetics, I’ve never been drawn to write about those types of characters. Mae and Creighton are imperfect characters inhabiting an imperfect world, and that’s what makes them interesting and authentic.
Historical romance is begging for a transformation, I agree. As a reader, I’ve always liked the underdogs. The stable boy secretly appealed to me so much more than the earl ever did. As an author, I’m now allowed to indulge in my own versions of happy-ever-after and what sort of characters get to populate them. If, like me, you prefer your heroes and heroines a little less flawless—dare I say, somewhat grubby and disheveled at times!—then I hope you’ll skip the nobleman the next time you need a little romance R & R, and instead make a move on the unshaven stable boy instead. After all, he might be a big pungent from mucking out stalls all day, but all that hard work builds great moral fiber.
Oh, and a strapping physique. We can’t forget that.
This book is mindbogglingly detailed, so much so that my eyes cross slightly whenever I reference something from it. Don’t get me wrong. I love how every page is filled with minutiae that can keep my brain swimming for hours and hours, but there’s a limit to how many details about dentils, modillions, and other classical moldings found in Neoclassical and Italian Renaissance architecture that the mind can safely absorb without flatlining. Unless, of course, you’re an architect and adore such things. I, for one, am not and do not, and so I like to limit myself with such descriptions. Less is more, as they say, but a few such details nicely sprinkled throughout can certainly add some rich texture to one’s writing.
A Field Guide to American Houses truly is a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you’re a historical writer and find yourself in need of such information. The sections are vast and varied: Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Georgian, Creek Revival, Gothic Revival, Tutor, Neoclassical…you get the idea. There’s even a pictorial key that you can reference roof lines, walls, windows, chimneys, porch supports, and other decorative details. If you’re writing a novel that takes place in 1828, and you want to describe the residential street in which your heroine is jauntily strolling down, you certainly don’t want to make the blunder of describing spindlework that would be found on Queen Anne houses built from 1880-1910. That’s just sloppy research right there!
Interested in learning about cantilevered porches or pediment windows to add authenticity to your next novel? A Field Guide to American Houses is still available for sale on Amazon by clicking here.
I’m a scrapper. I always have been. The more times I fall and embarrassingly land on my butt, the more determined I am to spring right back up and try again. I think I might even have a little Oppositional Defiance Disorder in me, because I seem to get more mulish with each rejection—at least, that’s proven true with my writing career. As I mentioned in my very first blog post, I tried to get my manuscripts published for nearly two decades before finally moving on and self-publishing, and I must say that decision has proven to be a happy one. But up until that point, each rejection letter from a publishing house or literary agent only got me more determined to spring right back up again, my little scrapper fists a-flyin’ everywhere.
Recently, I started thinking about my entry into the 2017 RITA contest but how I didn’t place, and I belatedly realized, Hey! I’m a scrapper! Scrappers don’t quit after one little contest! I quickly referred to the Romance Writers of America chapter websites and found several contests still open for entries. The contest winners will be announced anywhere from June to October, and I entered Clingstone into five contests total. The one thing that’s proven the most difficult in self-publishing is advertising and exposure in general, but if I can place in just one contest, that’s instant publicity I didn’t have before.
That said, scrappers unite! I know I’m not the only self-published author out there who struggles with advertising, and so here is the link to the current contests still open on the RWA website. I think you need to be a current member to participate in any of them, but if so then go for it!
Here's the book blurb for my upcoming release! Look for Watermark in summer 2017!
Whom could you trust if you were stranded fifteen hundred miles from home?
Misfortune has plagued Juno Brock for months. Recently widowed, a chance encounter with a dangerous criminal in St. Louis exposes her to information that can see her branded. Or worse, hanged. When a pirate attack on the Mississippi River maroons her in the wilds of Michigan Territory, she has but one choice: use her wits to secure passage on a boat traveling downriver and reunite with her family fifteen hundred miles away.
An arrogant mistake in his youth has set flatboat pilot Malcolm Moreau on a forked path of redemption and revenge. His successful livelihood transporting goods to New Orleans revolves around cargo, not passengers, but Juno’s recent encounter with his longtime enemy makes her the exception. A bargain is struck: safe passage to Natchez, Mississippi, in exchange for the information she unwittingly discovered.
What follows is a month-long journey where mistrust and resentment unfolds into an unexpected friendship filled with secret confidences and before long, attraction. Sometimes dangerous, often humorous, their voyage down America’s most infamous river and the outlandish characters they meet along the way will ultimately inspire a destination neither expected: love.
Spring is my catnip. At the first hint of it, I go slightly nuts. It’s what happens from living in the Midwest, I suppose. My hardy soul shrivels down to a stunted little nub in the wintertime, and so it’s really no surprise when I turn slightly schizophrenic upon sighting that first blade of green grass. My brain immediately explodes with wondrous outdoor project after outdoor project, with little attention left over for anything else: Mowing! Pruning! Mulching! Weeding! The ideas shoot off like pinwheels and Roman candles that demand my complete and utter devotion.
After about a month of this self-inflicted joy/torture, I get my fill of catnip and everything returns to normal again. But until that time, all of my good intentions suffer. This year’s spring victim? My writing. I have approximately six chapters left to write in my second book, and then some editing revisions to follow. If I’m diligent, I should be able to finish in about eight weeks, and yet…my concentration has already wandered to the Great Outdoors. I’ve already returned my goldfish to their pond, mulched and pruned about half my flowerbeds and shrubs, and next week I’ll need to wrestle my lawnmower from its shed to annihilate the dandelion army that is slowly overtaking my yard. Even the dogs are encouraging me to be off-task. They’ve lured me down to the river already to dig in the sand and frolic in the water (them, not me, I swear). I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator anyway and am often distracted by bright and shiny things…so maybe I’m part crow? That would explain quite a lot.
It’s times like these that I find myself grateful I’m not under a publishing house contract. Yes, I have my own deadlines and like to stick to them as closely as possible, but it alleviates some of the pressure to know that my pace is still my own. If I become a victim to spring’s off-task charms, so be it. Luckily, it’s always a temporary madness anyway.
That said, next week I plan on posting the book blurb for Watermark, my upcoming release, which now looks like it will occur closer to summer 2017 than spring. Stay tuned for more details! Until then, rest assured: The catnip will run its course, folks, I promise.
I love The Big Bang Theory. For those of you out there who aren’t fans of the show, there’s one episode in particular that resonated with me this week: “The Tangerine Factor,” which introduces a thought experiment referred to as Schrodinger’s Cat. It’s a paradox that explores the following concept: a box exists, inside of which is a cat. The cat is either alive or dead, but you won’t know which until the box is opened. Essentially, until the lid is lifted off and one looks inside the box, both realities exist equally. Put another, less morbid way, when faced with any uncertain outcome, there is a moment in which both opposing outcomes—one positive, one negative—exist in a person’s mind.
Tuesday morning was my Schrodinger’s Cat. The phone calls from the Romance Writers of America to the finalists started early that morning and were to be completed by 2 pm. For those few hours prior to the 2 pm deadline, my cat was just as alive as it was dead. The box was sitting there on my kitchen table in the guise of my phone. The lid was firmly closed. I was going to place in the contest. I wasn’t going to place in the contest. Both realities existed equally.
Then 2 pm came and went. I didn’t have to lift off the lid to know the cat inside was dead. In fact, it was starting to stink up the place a bit.
And yet, my disappointment is oddly minimal. I wasn’t especially surprised that I didn’t place in the RITA final round—the chances of doing so are slim, with only 4% of the entrants in each category placing—but it was fun to speculate and dream and gaze hopefully at my phone. In fact, the possibility of placing in the RITAs has occasionally popped in and out of my head since I first entered Clingstone in the contest back in November 2016, but I never banked any high hopes on actually doing so. I dreamed about it, certainly, but I dreamed about it much as I dream about winning the lottery when I buy a scratch-off ticket every Thursday. Or meeting Gerard Butler and having him whisk me off to Scotland. Both are equally unlikely, but oh-so-fun to visualize (the latter in a kilt, of course).
And so, even though Clingstone didn’t make it very far, I still really enjoyed being allowed to participate in the judging process. There’s a lot of fantastic romance novelists out there, and it’s nice to see their talents recognized in a contest like this.
But I cheer myself with the fact that there will be more unopened boxes in my future. And one of these times, like Penny from The Big Bang Theory, I’ll be able to shout, “The cat’s alive!” Until then, I’ll be content picturing Gerard bounding toward me across the highlands.
Wearing a kilt. Or not.
Well, it’s almost here! The finalists for the Romance Writers of America’s 2017 RITA® award will be announced this Tuesday, March 21 by 2 p.m. CDT. The names of all the finalists and their categories—i.e. historical romance, contemporary romance, paranormal romance, etc.—will be available on the RWA website tomorrow, so go check it out!
Kayla at KDH Reviews has very graciously included Clingstone in her blog post Ten Books I Loved More/Less Than I Thought I Would! Click here to read the full post.
My Favorite Research Books: How to Survive on Land and Sea, By Frank C. Craighead, Jr., and John J. Craighead
Poor Mae and Creighton. I wrote my heroine and hero into extreme situations of physical endurance, and at one point even subjected them to eating grubs in order to survive. So where did I find all that gag-worthy information about human survival and what people can and can’t ingest into their fragile human bodies? I suppose such facts can be googled easily enough, but there’s nothing quite like cracking open a nice little book like How to Survive on Land and Sea to fully realize the arduous logistics involved in basic human survival.
I purchased this book years ago. In fact, it was originally published by the United States Naval Institute in 1943, but I own the fourth edition published in 1984. I bought it at Barnes and Noble, probably sometime in the early 2000s, and undoubtedly in their bargain book section considering the date. And yet the survival methods found in this book are tried and true and not subject to change from one decade to the next. I bought it solely to research how my characters could survive in extreme situations, most notably if they were forced to forage for food.
This handy little book gives general guidelines about myriad survival concerns, including but not limited to: fire-making, methods of catching fish, edible plants, using celestial bodies to orient one’s direction, water procurement, and so on. Creighton’s knowledge of fashioning fishing hooks out of thorns and roasting cattail roots came from said pages. Again, all things we can google, but it’s handy having all that information in one single, easily accessible book.
In the course of writing my current historical romance novel, Watermark, I’ve referenced the water survival sections of How to Survive on Land and Sea several times. Such information is handy, especially if you’re going to toss your hero and heroine into the Mississippi River in March and need to know how long they can stay immersed in forty-degree water before they risk hypothermia. Hey, I don’t claim to take it easy on my protagonists! Adversity builds character, not to mention attention-grabbing plots.
Now, if only the ill-fated Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater had information like that which is found in How to Survive on Land and Sea. They would’ve known it was hopeless to climb on that silly stateroom door, and they would’ve huddled instead. It cuts heat loss in half, folks! Poor Jack didn’t have a chance.
Interested in learning more? This book is still available for sale on Amazon by clicking here.
Copyright © 2016-2017 Marti Ziegler