The winners of the November ebook giveaway are Leah Breymeyer and Micha Ichmenn! Congratulations, Leah and Micha! This month’s contest is for a free ebook copy of Clingstone (provided as an Amazon gift). Two winners will be selected, each to receive 1 ebook copy. The contest runs throughout the entire month of December and is open to all participants. Simply submit the Giveaway form on this website. The winners will be announced in my blog post on January 1. Good luck!
Names and emails are for contest purposes only. All contact information will be deleted after the contest ends. The winners’ contact information will be deleted once Amazon confirms the ebook was claimed.
What makes a 9.0 book? This is an A- in comparison to an A+, and so we’re still dealing with an exemplary book here. It might not be perfect, but it very nearly is. It’s still a keeper. It has a place of prestige among its 10.0 counterparts, and it’s the sort of book that you regularly read every few years. You might not obsess over the characters that live inside its pages, but you gladly revisit them on those idle nights when you’re searching for something to read among your shelves of books, and you happily exclaim, “Oh, I loved that book! I haven’t read it in ages!” It’s an amazing book that transports you. It makes you laugh and cry and cheer your protagonists onward. The plot is nearly flawless. The characters are almost real. The writing is luminous, and you sigh wistfully after reading the last page.
And so what makes up all of those tiny decimal points that separate a solid 9.0 from being a 10.0? It’s subjective, of course, and differs from reader to reader. A book of this high quality isn’t lacking in anything too substantial. Maybe the author uses a turn of phrase too often? Perhaps the entire book is phenomenal save for a slow part in the middle? Or maybe 99 % of the book is a masterpiece, but the last chapter ends on a bit of a dud? Maybe it’s just this feeling of incompletion, like maybe an epilogue should’ve been added, or there was a note of dissatisfaction at the end? Maybe the ending itself felt rushed or was consumed by clichés?
Again, a 9.0 is a near-perfect book, and each little decimal point separating it from a 10.0 is subjective, but I think, for the sake of the upcoming RITA judging, a demotion in decimal points needs to reflect a small disappointment in the story, or a loose end that the writer didn’t tie up, or a minor continuity issue. Or perhaps a deviation in the plot that didn’t really make sense.
And so which books do I own that merit a solid 9.0 rating, in my opinion?
Kristan Higgins’ Fools Rush In and Just One of the Guys. I loved, loved, loved these early books of Kristan Higgins’. I adored the first-person narration she used. I giggled at her frequent use of exclamations, and I adored the awkward date stories. Her heroes and heroines were three-dimensional and sympathetic. My only complaint? I didn’t feel like I got enough of their story. I love me some good ol’ angst in a romance, but if it wraps up too quickly, I feel cheated. Kristan’s heroes and heroines always manage to get together, and that’s fantastic, but not until the end of the books. I always wanted more of their time together. And so if the only complaint about a book is that the reader wants more, well, I guess that’s nothing to feel too bad about!
Stay tuned for next week’s exploration into 8.0, or “good” territory. That’s a solid B rating, folks!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the preliminary judging that I’ll be participating in for the RITA contest that beings in mid-January. Usually, when we rate a book—be it on Amazon or Goodreads—the scoring is on a scale of 1 to 5. It’s a rating system that I’m familiar with and can easily define. However, the scoring used to judge the RITA contest is much more comprehensive and consists of a scale ranging from 1 to 10. The following is taken directly from the Romance Writers of America website:
Each preliminary-round entry will be scored individually on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0, with 1.0 being the lowest (poor) and 10.0 being the highest (excellent). Decimals (from .1 to .9) are STRONGLY encouraged to help avoid the possibility of a tie. Judges are encouraged to think of the points system as equivalent to a classroom grading scale:
6.0-6.9: Below average
Below 4.0: Very poor
Now, with that being said, I’ve been thinking about how to define each level, particularly since decimal points are encouraged. I don’t want to randomly assign a decimal point or even a whole number without having a clear formula in place beforehand. After all, the ratings judges assign can potentially impact someone’s career. There should be nothing arbitrary about it, and so I’m devoting this blog post to what I believe fits the criteria of a solid 10.0 rating, the highest rating that can be assigned to a book in the RITA contest.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve read only a handful of 10.0 books in my life. These are the books that keep you up all night reading, or even up all weekend reading. You cry and laugh dozens of times while reading a 10.0 book. Sometimes you’ll stop and reread a phrase because the writing is so extraordinary. You remember where you were when you read a 10.0 book. Afterwards, you wax poetic about it to everyone you know. This is a perfect book; perfect in its plot, characters, pacing, and structure. The characters feel like living people, and they pop into your mind on occasion, like when you’re taking a walk and your mind is bright and clear and reflective. You wonder how they’re faring in their imaginary world.
10.0 books are the books that you keep forever. Even if you have an ebook copy, you need the physical copy as well, or something just doesn’t feel right. You keep them prominently on a shelf, the covers cracked and smudged from so many readings. These are the books you’ll continue reading until your eyesight goes, and then you’ll faithfully listen to the audio version until your hearing goes. And when all else fails, you’ll relive their adventures in your mind, until that too goes.
And so what are two of my favorite 10.0 books? Firstly, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which I originally read in 2002 and have since reread too many times to remember. I picked it up at Barnes and Noble because it looked interesting. I proceeded to spend all weekend curled up on my couch devouring this 850-page clunker. I barely stopped to eat and sleep. Everything about Outlander dazzled me. Jamie and Claire are like real people in my mind after reading about their lives for over fourteen years, and that, to me, is the makings of a perfect book. Outlander, the first in Gabaldon’s long series, is one of my most treasured 10.0 books.
Another example is A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron. I read this book in the summer of 2011 while on vacation down in Florida. I sobbed ugly sobs while reading this book. I laughed great belly laughs while reading this book. The story of Bailey the dog and his many incarnations as he struggles to find his purpose confirms what all of us dog-lovers already know: the bonds we have with our animals stay with us long after they’re gone. I still simultaneously smile and get a lump in my throat whenever I look at the cover of A Dog’s Purpose.
That’s it for this week! Next week’s post will break down scores 9.0 to 9.9 in what is quickly proving to be a much more detailed overview of book scoring than I would have thought possible!
This monstrosity was published in 1992, the year I graduated from high school, and clocks in at a whopping 977 pages, measures 10 x 7 inches, and is mostly comprised of a font that looks likes Times New Roman at an eye-squinting 9 or 10 points. Nary a photograph or drawing can be found in this reference book that cares more about jamming in as much information as possible than it does about aesthetics. This clunker can be used to prop open doors or fend off home invaders, your choice. Or, as per its original intention, be used to refer to every obscure fact or hierarchy or vocabulary usage known to man, and then some.
I adore this book. Want to ponder on the various styles of mustaches throughout the ages? Hankering to know how many breeds of chickens there are? Can’t remember the difference between igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rocks? Then refer to Mr. Glazier’s book and you’ll have an unlimited guide to the internal combustion engine, meteorology, and various cuts of meat. Can’t remember the name for a hinged window above a door? The Word Menu knows. Military ranks, property law, and support garments abound in Mr. Glazier’s book. The section on language usage fairly boggles the mind. For example, intent on reviewing some terms of endearment and respect? There’s a section that breaks down such terms into the following categories: Pet Names; Friendly and Familiar Address; Titles and Honorifics; Affectionate Reference, and Respectful or Admiring Reference. And that, my sweet poppets, is a wonderful example of the Word Menu’s very thorough, very prolific lists of well, lists.
The only downside is that some of the information is dated. The sections on populations and space exploration are frozen in time, and the section on computers exist in a parallel universe where social media didn’t exist and the internet was still in its infancy. That being said, the bulk of information found between the covers of the Word Menu is a treasure trove for the historical writer. After all, the section on popular music that woefully ends with the 1980s never factors in to our books on 19th century dukes and the wallflowers who love them! The remaining drawback about this book is that it can only be used as that first stepping stone on the way to acquiring information. Terms only receive an one-line definition before moving on to the next snippet of knowledge. For instance, if your heart is set on discovering how many types of worms are listed in the section dedicated to such critters, you’ll be happy to know it’s 62, but you’ll have to look elsewhere if you’re dying to know what a tubifex worm looks like, or whether or not it lives in fresh or salt water. And hey, who isn't dying to know what a tubifex worm looks like? I know I am. The Word Menu certainly has its limitations, but overall it’s an irreplaceable tome in my library of reference books.
Want to go over this marvelous book with a fine-tooth comb for yourself? It’s still available for sale on Amazon by clicking here.
Wahoo, it’s done! I entered Clingstone in the 2017 Rita contest when it opened to entries at 11 am on Tuesday, November 1st. I entered it into the Historical: Long category, and I also marked it for the category Best First Book. I know the competition will be stiff, but I think this is going to be a lot of fun, regardless of whether I place or not. I couldn’t believe how quickly RWA received the maximum 2000 entries; the contest was closed in less than 48 hours, so I’m glad my procrastinating tendencies didn’t make me miss out on this exciting opportunity. I sent off my five paperback copies of Clingstone on Wednesday, so I’ve done all I can do for now.
Oh, and I didn’t realize this until right before I entered the contest, but all entrants are required to be a judge in the preliminary round. I’m really excited about that! Obviously, I don’t judge books in my own category, but I’m to read a few books in some of the other romance subcategories—for example, paranormal, contemporary, or suspense—and rate them on a scale of one to ten. Due to contest confidentiality rules, I can’t say which books I receive, but I’m supposed to get a packet of four to nine books sometime in January.
Free books, how great is that? I can’t wait to share some of the behind-the-scenes tidbits with you on my blog…without hedging on confidentiality issues, of course!
The winners of the October e-book giveaway are Jenny Grieder and Angela Parnell! Congratulations, Jenny and Angela! This month’s contest is for a free e-book copy of Clingstone (provided as an Amazon gift). Two winners will be selected, each to receive 1 e-book copy. The contest runs throughout the entire month of November and is open to all participants. Simply submit the Giveaway form on this website. The winners will be announced in my blog post on December 1. Good luck!
Names and emails are for contest purposes only. All contact information will be deleted after the contest ends. The winners’ contact information will be deleted once Amazon confirms the e-book was claimed.
Several families mentioned throughout Clingstone were actual families that were arrested: For example, Rebecca Jane Farr and her husband Samuel did exist and had a young son named Jonathan. Then there were individuals and families that I constructed purely from my imagination. There are plenty of on-line data bases that can provide period-specific names, but I developed my minor characters’ names another way. This might be a morbid behind-the-scenes peek that no one wants to know, but I compiled my list of names two ways: firstly, from a passenger manifest dating from the mid-nineteenth century, which unfortunately was archived because the ship sank; and secondly, from gravestones. Hey, I warned you it was a bit morbid, but there’s nothing more authentic than walking through a cemetery and seeing firsthand the names that were popular in the early 19th century. There’s a lovely old cemetery on the outskirts of the small town where I live and where I often walked my Golden Retriever when I was writing the first draft of Clingstone. Some of the oldest tombstones in that graveyard date back to the first decade of the 19th century. During my research for names, I mixed and matched first and last names for the sake of anonymity, but by using actual names from that time period, I was able to achieve a level of authenticity that would have been missing had I simply plucked names from my imagination.
And of course, since many supporting characters mentioned throughout Clingstone were in fact actual people, like General Garrard and Dr. Mary Walker, they essentially wrote themselves. I think Dr. Walker in particular was a rather fascinating historical figure; had they met under different circumstances, I think Mae and Dr. Walker would have had a cordial relationship instead of a contentious one. Both were stubborn women with strong opinions and even stronger loyalties. Other than being on opposite sides of the war, they had much in common.
Want to learn more about two of the historical figures mentioned in Clingstone? Click here for General Garrard and here for the very no-nonsense Dr. Mary Walker.
I once owned this fantastic reference book, the specific title of which alludes me now, but I believe it was titled something along the lines of Baby Names from Around the World. Each chapter was dedicated to a specific country or tribe, and it was a cornucopia of authentic names that dated back centuries. I adored that book. It’s how I came up with Creighton’s name, after all. I was thumbing through the specific chapter dedicated to Scotland (because I have a terrible weakness for Scottish heroes, and though Creighton was to be an American, in my mind he was going to be second or third generation Scots-American), and I read the name “Creighton” and bam! I instantly knew that would be my hero’s name. I can’t remember its meaning now, but I do remember that it had been around for a few centuries. It might have even originated from a family surname, but I honestly can’t remember the specifics. Unfortunately, I loaned my reference book of baby names to a friend of mine who was pregnant, and I never saw my lovely little book again. It was mislaid somewhere, or she loaned it out to someone. Hey, sometimes things like that can happen with pregnancy brain, and it’s no one’s fault. Either way, adios, that was the end of my reference book.
I obtained Mae’s and Owen’s names from the same book, although I can’t remember the specific section anymore. Odds are it was either the British or American section. In case you’re wondering why my brain is so fuzzy about their origins, I wrote the first draft of Clingstone eight years ago! Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been fine-tuning this book, in way or another, for so many years now. I wanted my heroine’s name to be simple and only one syllable since my hero’s name was a bit more unique. I loved the simplicity of her name, and that’s why I chose it; the same logic applied to Creighton’s ornery little nephew, Owen. It’s all about the balance. Ironically, my friend who borrowed my book named her son “Owen.” How’s that for serendipity?
As for the origins of all those secondary characters…I’ll save that for next week’s post, but here’s a hint to tide you over until then: It involves cemeteries!
Jeez. That last post was a big ol' pity party, wasn't it?
I received my proof from Amazon today and yep, the paperback cover of Clingstone is still much too dark, but guess what? I'm not going to let it bother me anymore. I'll only drive myself bonkers striving for perfection. After having some time to reflect upon matters, I'm perfectly happy with my slightly too dark cover. What's more, my cover still bleeds onto the spine, but this time it's only 1/16 of an inch. And weirdly, the culprit is the front cover this time and not the back...which makes no sense to me since I didn't even mess with the front cover when I reformatted it. But oh well! We can't have everything, can we? It's darn good just as it is, and I still think I've got a pretty good shot at getting my foot in the contest door, so to speak. Now I'm off to approve my cover one final time and then I'll order my copies to send to RWA.
Hooray! All is well. I'm an optimist again! Which is fantastic news, because being a pessimist sucks.
I’m still gathering my ducks in a row in order to compete in the 2017 RITA contest. Unfortunately, the spine on my paperback edition of Clingstone is off by about 1/8 inch, which means a portion of the back cover carries over onto the spine. One might not think 1/8 inch is significant, but it came across as a glaring eyesore when I received my proof. And to add to this headache, my proof printed mysteriously dark, to the point that Mae’s image loses much of its detailing. I did some research about changing the color mode from RGB to CMYK and did this, but it didn’t seem to fix the problem. I’m not sure what to do at this point. I did correct the spine issue and resubmitted it, and I should receive another proof on Thursday so I can check over everything again. Even if the book cover is still printing dark, I think I’m going to have to just approve it. The entry date for the contest is looming; the time for troubleshooting has passed.
Sigh. It’s all rather disappointing. And irritating. I redesigned my entire cover so my book would not only reflect Mae and Creighton’s romance, but also so it would present a more professional package. I realize my book will be judged on its story, and not on the cover, but let’s be honest: A book is judged by its cover, at least partially. It’s annoying that I can’t figure out why it’s printing so dark, but I think I’m just going to have to learn to let the problem be. Issues like this one drive me batty, and I have a very difficult time throwing my hands up in surrender and saying, “Well, that’s good enough, I guess. Time to move on.”
Simply put, "good enough" isn't good enough at all. I want my cover to be my very best, but I understand that there comes a point when I must recognize that it’s time to stop correcting every minuscule thing and simply learn to be happy with what I have. I'm not a perfectionist by any means, but sometimes I wish I were a bit less fixated on the flaws. Regardless, I need to send RWA my five copies in two weeks, so I'm limited on fine-tuning at this juncture.
I finally joined Romance Writers of America. I’ve been meaning to for a while now, but I’m a stingy sort when it comes to certain purchases, and so I had to persuade myself to part with the $124 required to become a new member. Maybe it’s crass of me to mention the annual membership price and that I think it’s a tad too high, but there you have it. I work in social services and $124 is nothing to sneeze at from my point of view; nonetheless, I gritted my teeth and told myself that I’m investing in my writing career, and I would’ve just spent that money on food anyway. Or clothing. Or shelter. Who needs those things? Oh, wait…we all need those things, but hey! Now I’m a bonafide starving artist.
Okay, so I’m being a smidgen melodramatic, but being melodramatic is so much fun, wouldn’t you agree? Anyway, back to my recent membership to RWA and why I joined. For starters, I’m hoping it will help me stay focused on my writing career by providing some much-needed resources and networking, but my primary motivation are the contests and the publicity they can offer. I realize my chances are slim to none considering I’m self-published and thus far have zero name recognition from a marketing standpoint, but I want to enter Clingstone in the 2017 RITA competition. The contest opens November 1st; that leaves me three weeks to get my ducks in a row and order my copies through Amazon. RWA requires the paperback edition of a book for judging, and five copies total. And of course an entrance fee. Again, that’s more money invested for an outside chance at placing in the contest, but I’ve always liked the allure of impossible outcomes.
After all, chances in a million are still chances.
One of the things I love the most about writing historical romances are the fashions my heroines get to wear. Which might seem odd, since my heroines tend to be working-class women, like Mae Parrish, or destitute and in possession of one measly dress, like my current heroine, Juno Brock. Instead of stunning damask skirts and prettily embroidered undergarments, my humble heroines wear ugly paisley dresses and practical linsey-woolsey skirts, which completely undermines the purpose of a book like Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women. Or does it?
I think what I like the most about this book is that it’s written for collectors, and so it goes into meticulous detail about bodice lines, sleeve lengths, and fabrics, which on the surface might sound tedious, but it’s not. Of particular interest to me as a romance writer is, ahem, the endless detail Ms. Harris goes in to describing women’s undergarments, from crinoline petticoats, bustles, and corsets, to drawers and embroidered stockings. It’s fantastic fodder for the imagination to ponder petticoats made of yards and yards of fabric and bedecked in scallops and ribbons and lace, and the commitment the hero has to actually make in order to remove said yards of fabric from the heroine. Hanky-panky in the 19th century required a lot of determination! Unfastening all of those hooks and buttons and cinched ribbons before the mood faded must’ve been a real challenge.
Each chapter of Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women is divided into a specific decade and focuses solely on those particular fashions. Not only does Ms. Harris include historical fashion plates and photographs, but she also shows off her own collection. Most of the dresses modeled throughout appear to be relatively simple frocks, but the sketches and fashion plates depict the more glamorous fashions. Included too are old advertisements and illustrations from Harper’s Bazar and Godey’s Lady’s Book, which were the fashion magazines of their day. Visually, it’s a nice overview on several decades of fashion for any author who writes historicals, or even any reader who would love to see actual photographs of the dresses so many of us read about in romance novels. It also helps us appreciate our modern Hanes bras and cotton underwear! After all, our 19th century counterparts didn't have it easy in a lot of ways. Those antique dresses might be beautiful, and getting to wear one for an hour or so might be thrilling, but then steer me to the nearest pair of sweatpants and a soft t-shirt, thank you very much.
Interested in learning more? This book is still available for sale on Amazon by clicking here.
The winners of the September ebook giveaway are Lorraine Dye and Sasha Merton! Congratulations Lorraine and Sasha!
This month’s contest is for a free ebook copy of Clingstone (provided as an Amazon gift). Two winners will be selected, each to receive 1 ebook copy. The contest runs throughout the entire month of October and is open to all participants. Simply submit the Giveaway form on this website. The winners will be announced in my blog post on November 1st. Good luck!
*Names and emails are for contest purposes only. All contact information will be deleted after the contest ends. The winners' contact information will be deleted once Amazon confirms the ebooks were claimed.
It’s time to mull over some of the peculiar but appealing expressions found throughout Clingstone! Any chance these will ever catch on again? An example from the book is followed up by a real-world attempt to reinvigorate the modern lexicon with a bit of charm.
Apple-pie order-a tidy appearance
EXAMPLE: She suspiciously eyed Coralie’s neatly groomed appearance, from her sleek curtain of hair to her tidy pink dress with its pattern of none-so-pretties. “What happened to you is the better question. How’ve you managed to stay in apple-pie order?”
EXAMPLE: “I did yard work all day today. At the end of the day, I was sunburnt and sweaty, and covered in various insect bites: flies, mosquitoes, and those awful little black bugs no bigger than a grain of sand called no-see-ums. When I finally dragged my tired carcass inside the house, I was the very opposite of apple-pie order.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous-every experience imaginable, from the wonderful to the ludicrous
EXAMPLE: Feeling silly and content and not at all disappointed like she supposed she ought, Mae adopted his philosophy of finding amusement in everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.
EXAMPLE: “One of my favorite television shows, Blindspot, has started up again. The plots range from the sublime to the ridiculous, which can be terribly silly, but always entertaining!”
Gone to rack and ruin-absolute destruction; extreme economic loss
EXAMPLE: "For pity’s sake! Don’t depend on these trifling Yankees for nothin’. Grab what you’re able in the few minutes we got left. If we’re goin’ to rack and ruin, let’s take as much as we can along with us. No sense in makin’ it easier for these wicked vandals!”
EXAMPLE: “I’m finally finished building my picket fence. I miscalculated the total cost, and nearly went to rack and ruin building the darn thing, but hooray! It’s a wrap!”
Copyright © 2016-2017 Marti Ziegler