Category Archives: Writing

On Accuracy in Historical Romance

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Adam and Immanuel from The Winter Garden.

Back in April, I presented a paper at Ithaca College’s feminist pop culture conference From Pippi to Ripley on the issues surrounding the perceived “inaccuracies” in historical romance, especially queer historical romance. Since this issue has reared its ugly head again, I thought I would share my paper with you.


 

Queer Historical Romance and the Reclamation of Identity and Power

 In recent years, as media has become more diverse, from Star Wars to romance novels, critics have claimed that portrayals of marginalized characters are historically inaccurate or done to pander to political correctness. What these critics fail to understand is that historical “accuracy” is often far from accurate. As with all wars, to the victors go the spoils and that includes the historical narrative. The narratives found in modern historical romance novels are by and large white supremacist, Christian, and upholding of colonialist values. Following the expansion of LGBT rights and the acceptance of queer characters in media, queer authors have fought to reclaim the history of those who have come before us, whose voices were lost to puritanical scholars and censors that twisted the public’s perception of the trajectory of LGBT lives. By writing historical romances to fill in the missing gaps in queer history, queer writers strengthen the modern community by asserting a history of sexual and bodily autonomy. Modern queer historical romance novels aren’t meant to be a revisionist history but a re-enlightened one that seeks to capture on the page the people and communities that had previously only lived in the margins of history.

If you’ve ever looked at the reviews of any piece of diverse media, you have come across someone spouting that the diversity present is forced or that it was impossible for a homosexual relationship to be semi-public given the time period. Questions of “realism” and “historical accuracy” have been the greatest hindrance to diverse media, but this begs one to consider what is truly historically accurate. In her essay, “Reclaiming Historical Romance,” Elizabeth Kingston posits that often what we, as readers, consider to be historical fact is actually historical fantasy that has been passed down by previous historians and repeated until it morphed into “fact” (Kingston 1). History has been overwhelmingly written by the “victors” or those who have maintained imperialist or political control. For most of the modern Western world, that has been white, Christian, heterosexual men who have espoused white supremacist views in their writings. As Bronski states in A Queer History of the United States, “The writing and reading of history is always, consciously or not, a political act of interpretation” (xiv).

Until the last few decades, queer history has been relegated to the periphery, and those queer figures who appear in the past are seen as aberrations or were viewed as deviants. The language surrounding queer stories in mass media was tainted by white supremacist political views. Despite a large portion of the queer community, especially in the seventeen to early nineteen hundreds being white, they were viewed by the community at large as going against the white supremacist view of sexual purity. This stems from Puritanical Christian views and was widely adopted after the Second Great Awakening (Bronski 89). To deviate from the heteronormative family structure was to go against the entire structure upon which evangelical and puritanical society was built (10). To many, this would mean that queer populations were nonexistent or were so afraid of persecution that they wouldn’t dare act on their feelings, but this is exactly what white supremacists want us to believe. To make a person who is not like them feel isolated or that they should be ashamed of their differences, is a way to keep them powerless. For if they hide who they are, they are less likely to find others who sympathize or understand their situation.

Developing communities of support and creating public sympathy through shared experience is how marginalized populations gain a foothold on power and social autonomy. In the mid-nineteenth century queer communities began to take root in cities and gained visibility. Due to the anonymity of city life and the ease for single people to find same-sex housing, queer relationships could blossom in relative security. Nowhere were these queer communities more visible than in the arts’ districts. Many places we think of as queer communities now, were the same over a century ago. Greenwich Village, Harlem, and Bloomsbury in London became hubs for the arts, which were often dominated by queer voices. Queer voices were consumed by the masses in vaudeville shows, plays, novels, and the visual arts, but as these voices grew stronger, political institutions stepped in to “protect” the public from what they deemed to be dangerous or deviant behavior in flouting their views of sexual purity and gender norms.

As we can see from the Oscar Wilde’s trial, art could be used as evidence against the creator if it contained homosexual or homoerotic themes, but this didn’t stop authors from publishing “scandalous literature” in America and France. While it was illegal to mail sexually explicit material through the mail, it happened and books regarding sexology and those with homosexual themes were increasingly popular well into the first half of the twentieth century (Bronski 126). History has shown that trying to stop publications is like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It was near impossible to stop people from distributing written material, especially since it was protected by the First Amendment, but the government could stop Hollywood from promoting queer or sexually progressive stories, such as Morocco, which featured the first on-screen lesbian kiss. After the US government threatened to create a censorship board, Hollywood adopted the Hays Code (or the Motion Picture Production Code) and began enforcing it in 1934. Among other things, the Hays Code stated that immorality had to be punished on screen, only “correct standards of life” could be portrayed, sexual behavior could not be shown, and “perverse” behavior could not be shown (“The Hays Code”). All of this combined to make it impossible for queer characters or relationships to be portrayed on screen without heavy coding or a tragic ending. The “bury our gays” trope sprung from this code as those who acted “immorally” according to puritanical Christian beliefs had to be punished and in many cases killed as penance for their behavior. Despite that the Hays Code stopped being enforced in 1968, the damage had been done. The general public had internalized years of anti-queer propaganda to the point that fiction became reality and the myth that queer characters could not have happy lives was solidified in Western culture.

Over the past decade, a new genre of romance has solidified itself as a rapidly expanding subset of historical fiction: queer historical romance. These stories seek to fight against the tide of historical myth that has painted queer relationships formed in the past as impossible or filled with strife. Authors such as KJ Charles, E. E. Ottoman, Joanna Chambers, and Cat Sebastian have sought to not only create works of fiction that uphold the idea that queer characters are entitled to a happy ending but have produced scholarship that upholds that what critics believe is historical fact is truly a political agenda to ignore what doesn’t fit their narrative. The question some of you may be asking is, “Why focus on romance?” Historically, romance as a genre has been treated with disdain by academia because it is portrayed as a genre filled with shirtless men and trope-laden stories about love. Bodice-rippers, as historical romances have often been called, are generally women’s fiction. They are stories written for women by women and act upon the desires and fantasies of women that have largely been ignored by society. The Western canon, despite rising scholars’ best efforts is still largely misogynistic, so the stories that are seen as feminine, such as romances, are shelved as drivel for the masses when in reality, romance strikes at the heart of what oppressed populations truly want: autonomy and power over their own destinies.

In her blog post “Historical Romance: Who Gets the HEA,” KJ Charles explores why readers get hung up on supposed historical accuracy in diverse historical romance. She writes, “And yet there is a powerful strand of opinion that holds that any m/m histrom must reflect the fear of legal persecution,…that marginalised people simply cannot have happy endings,…because history was too cruel” (Charles, “Historical Romance”). We see this on a 2 star review for Cat Sebastian’s A Ruin of a Rake. The reviewer states, “It’s extremely difficult to suspend my disbelief about the relationship between Lord Courteny and Julian Medlock as in 1817, Homosexual relationships were illegal and there were very serious consequences if they had been exposed” (Rodriguez). The reader is correct in that there were sodomy laws on the books in England, but the rate at which people were prosecuted for being in a homosexual relationship is far lower than many modern readers realize. Furthermore we must explore the idea of the legality of something being a hindrance for its occurrence. Gambling, graffiti, and jaywalking are all far more visible than the private lives of two people and are all illegal, yet they occur unpunished with alarming frequency. Readers of historical romance rarely complain that a story is lacking lice, a healthy fear of venereal disease, or the stink of chamber pots, but queer or interracial relationships occurring during earlier historical periods are remarked upon. As Kingston states, “Historical Romance is a shared, collaborative fantasy” that has shut out more people than it has let in (Kingston 4). The greater issue is that the trends within traditional historical romance send the message that “only straight white Christians deserve loving relationships” (4). No matter the amount of privilege the characters have, like Lord Courteny who is titled, rich, and already seen as a rake, it is impossible for certain readers to believe that alone could have afforded him the privacy and social standing to not be prosecuted for sodomy.

A key flaw in historical romance, as a genre, is the definition of a happily ever after disproportionately favors straight, white, cis couples. Generally a happily ever after in romance involves the couple courting, getting engaged, married, and often books end with a pregnancy or hint that a family will follow. For queer historical fiction, there are very few instances where that stereotypical happily ever after is possible. The assumption from romance writers and readers that queer love stories can’t be romances because they don’t follow that formula is inherently homophobic, but the greater question is, do we want that ending? The traditional familial model of date, marry, mate, follows a formula endorsed by the social purity movement. The forefathers of that movement, the Puritans, believed that anything outside of the family unit is forbidden and that to ensure society’s stability, partners must be monogamous and make matches in order to procreate. This “traditional” mode of living has gone relatively unquestioned for centuries, and what queer historical fiction offers is a precedent for more complex social and sexual relationships.

Inherently, the writing of romance stories is the private made public. The lives of those who came before us were often obscured for safety reasons or were written over by scholars who chose to ignore or not see what was truly before them. What romance allows us is to speculate how couples came to be and how they navigated the public and private spheres to find their own version of happily ever after. Queer historical romance deviates from the “norm” out of necessity, but it allows readers to explore how a relationship that doesn’t follow the formula of date, marry, mate was still able to thrive. Further, these stories uphold that women’s lives are not “made whole” by children or a husband to support them. Often, Sapphic historical romance involves women who are working to support themselves through a trade. For male-male couples in historical romance, we see how two individuals can live separate lives and without cohabitation still manage to be a long-term couple.

That isn’t to say that all queer historical works involve monogamy. In KJ Charles’ Band Sinister, we meet a group of friends who are for the most part queer, ranging from gay or bisexual to transgender. Three of the men in their hellfire club have had an ongoing relationship with each other for decades. When Sir Philip becomes involved with his new lover, Guy, he makes certain Guy understands how deeply he feels for his two friends. Philip states, “that may not be the kind of love about which the poets write, nor the kind I feel for you, but it’s still real and true as anything in the world” (Charles, Band Sinister 3010). Queer historical fictions allows for greater exploration of different types of love, especially those that have generally been seen as lesser in modern society. We see this blurring of queer/quasiplatonic relationships in many other queer historical works, including KJ Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series, Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series, and Cat Sebastian’s A Duke in Disguise.

Within queer romance, we’re given an intimate look at love that defies labels. Queer stories are “places for individual and collective explorations” that allow us to “[understand] the self through the larger fabric of culture and history and relationality” (Royster). Writing inherently requires us to pull from our own experiences and fears, and by writing within a historical setting and with characters who don’t fit our exact specifications, it allows writers to navigate the difficulties of their own world in a controlled environment and through a lens that allows enough distance and difference for exploration. In a way, we get to know “the self as other and the self as same” (Johnson 429). It is often through writing queer romance that people discover their sexuality or gender identity is more complex than originally thought, and for those who know, it allows a deeper exploration of queer identity than is often possible in real life.

Ultimately, writing is a performative act, and through the creation of images, action, and insertion of the self onto the page, the writer has self-actualized a moment in time (Rogerson 3). Much like photography, writing seeks to create and suspend moments. For queer writers, the images created are somewhat speculative since much of queer history has been erased, ignored, or purposefully left off the page for their own protection. By putting the actions and feelings of queer characters in queer relationships on paper, that missing history is being reasserted and physically actualized where there had once been a gap. Just because that moment or those people didn’t truly exist doesn’t really matter. The perception of history is itself as much fantasy as reality, but what is true is that no matter the rules, people have acted upon queer desire and others have been complicit in affording them a peaceful life. In an age of renewed fervor in the social purity movement, queer writers are digging in their heels and reasserting their sexual and bodily autonomy by reweaving the roots of history that were torn asunder decades and centuries past. By writing the past, they cement themselves in the present.

Queer historical romance aims to blow the dust off history by uncovering those who lived in the margins and reassert that history has been far less heteronormative than it has been portrayed to be. In recent years, queer historical romance has grown into a major subgenre of romance novels, and this assertion of sexual autonomy through the written word has come as a counterstrike against the white supremacist ideology dominating politics and romance novels. Despite what detractors might believe, queer relationships have always existed in America, and queer historical romance is not fiction in the way they think. Romance novels are the private made public, and queer historical romance is a reassertion of identity and sexual autonomy, a reminder that, no matter what social purists might say regarding queer relationships or non-heteronormative relationships, they have always existed and will continue to flourish.

 

 

Works Cited

Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2011. ReVisioning American History.

Charles, KJ. Band Sinister. E-book, KJC Books, 2018.

—. “Historical Romance: Who Gets the Happy Ending.” KJ Charles, 10 Oct. 2018, kjcharleswriter.com/2018/10/10/historical-romance-who-gets-hea/?fbclid=IwAR2wHOz1DzIW2gP9IFfRcSRSXS9GQgEjjmcCFbh4cbbm8CYSTv7SDyXQ5s4.

Johnson, E. Patrick. “Queer Epistomeologies: Theorizing the Self from a Writerly Place Called Home.” Biography, vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2011, pp. 429-46. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

Kingston, Elizabeth. “Reclaiming Historical Romance.” Elizabeth Kingston, Dec. 2018. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.

Rodriquez, Cecilia. “Masculine Pygmalion.” Review of A Ruin of a Rake. Amazon.com, 16 Mar. 2018, http://www.amazon.com/Ruin-Rake-Cat-Sebastian/product-reviews/0062642537/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=two_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.

Rogerson, Stephanie. “Without Words You Spoke: Early Snapshot Photography and Queer Representation.” Afterimage, vol. 36, no. 1, July 2008, pp. 10-13. EBSCOhost. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

Royster, Francesca T. “Introductory Notes: Performing Queer Lives.” Biography, vol. 34, no. 3, Summer 2011, pp. v-xii. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

 

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The Wolf Witch is Out Today!

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The sixth book in the Ingenious Mechanical Device is out today! You can grab a paperback or ebook copy of THE WOLF WITCH on Amazon here.

Since returning to England from abroad, Emmeline Jardine has managed to get a place of her own, maintain a tenuous truce with her guardians, and celebrate her new found freedom by attending as many parties as she can manage. That is until a man claiming to be her father shows up.
Her father has a problem. Her half-brother, Wesley, has disappeared while investigating possible werewolf sightings, and he needs Emmeline’s help finding him. Emmeline reluctantly agrees only to find there are others interested in Wesley’s plight. When she receives a mysterious invitation to a country estate deep in the woods, Emmeline is shocked to find a familiar face there.
Nadir Talbot, Decadent, writer, and all around nuisance, infuriates her to no end, but Emmeline soon finds he is the only she can turn to as they are thrust into a world of werewolves, monsters, and secrets from her family’s past that threaten to bring the empire to its knees.

Emmeline has done a lot of growing since Dead Magic, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading her story and following her on her journey to discovering who she truly is.

If you pre-ordered a copy, it will be waiting for you on your Kindle, and if you enjoyed THE WOLF WITCH, I hope you will leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. They help small time authors like me a lot in terms of visibility.

I hope you all enjoy THE WOLF WITCH, and I will have news soon on my next project, which involves characters mentioned in THE WOLF WITCH.

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A Preview of The Wolf Witch

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It is 43 days until The Wolf Witch officially releases, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to post a teaser. This story takes place after the events of Selkie Cove and can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind reading a series out of order. You can pre-order The Wolf Witch on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle on the release day. Paperbacks will be forthcoming.


Chapter One: A Wolf and a Pinkerton

Wesley Bisclavret didn’t believe in coincidences. The fact that three gruesome murders had gone unreported in a city like London was the first clue that something was amiss. After Ripper, the press should have been all over it, yet no paper he picked up even mentioned the killings. The second was that they appeared to have been caused by a wolf, and to Wesley’s knowledge, he was the only werewolf in all of Britain and he certainly hadn’t done it. It didn’t take a Pinkerton to realize that someone with some clout had something to hide.

Snuffling along the cobbles, Wesley’s wolf lifted its head at the sound of a steamer chugging down the lane. Its ears flattened in annoyance as it pushed into the hedges again. This is why Wesley never took city assignments. The stench of so much garbage on top of thousands of bodies made it nearly impossible to track anyone, and the racket of banging and thrumming from streets over gave him a headache. Dogs could do it, but he was part man and that made things more difficult. He should have told Les Meutes to shove their assignment, but he needed to prove that he was more than just his father’s son.

The moment the cab passed, the wolf slunk out and shook the grime from its back. At least England didn’t have so many horses. The damn things seemed to know a werewolf from a dog and made a god-awful racket when they got too close. Most of his work took him to the West or up the Mississippi. At least there, he could blend into the shadows even if wolves had long since abandoned those parts for fear of running into humans. In Louisiana, he had grown up stalking bandits with his father and the  rest of the local packs, moving through the trees on silent paws as one. Wolves lived in those parts, bobcats too, but here… Here, there was nothing but the occasional scraggly stray dog and rats that looked as if they ate better than he did. Even their parks were barely more than manicured lawns. It was depressing.

When the streets fell silent, Wesley’s wolf padded down the cobbles and sniffed the air. Cologne. Expensive cologne and fancy food. French, if he wasn’t mistaken. His mouth watered at the heady perfume of beef hanging in the air, but with a shake of its head, the wolf continued on, following the familiar smell lurking beneath it. Its tail flicked as its lips curled into a semblance of a smile. They had him now. Shifting its eyes between the pavement and the road ahead, the wolf followed the smell through the city, ducking into parks or behind iron fences and trees like some feral creature whenever a human shape cut through the nighttime fog.  Trotting across the road to a row of neat red brick houses choked in ivy and with fences sharp as iron pikes, Wesley could taste the slick of paint on his tongue and the stench of flowers that had no business being concentrated into perfume. Dandies, he huffed, curling his lip as the wolf sneezed out the irritating odor.

Wesley’s wolf darted past a house alight with the clamor of a party in full swing, hoping no one spotted him through the window as he picked up the scent in the next shadow. Trailing down the alley between the two houses, his wolf lifted its head. The other wolf was here or had been recently. He was certain of it. As his wolf lifted its leg on the corner of the house, Wesley figured out his next move. Even in his human form, he could smell his way back to the house and confront the man. Squeezing past the garbage littering the back alley, Wesley’s wolf froze. Its mouth watered at the scent, and it instinctively licked its teeth as if it could taste it.

The primal part of the wolf stirred within. Blood, and where there’s blood, there’s flesh.

Shit, Wesley thought as he pushed past the mottled brown and black wolf.

Pain ripped through him as his bones broke with a sickening crunch, stretching until every ligament tore only to reform the moment he feared they would sever. Claws sunk beneath the flesh of his digits as they lengthened to form pink fingers and toes that curled against the war of natures. Fur flattened into skin, which grew and darkened to accommodate his new but all too familiar form. Keeping his head low, he bit back a scream as his face and jaw caved in before rebuilding into a human skull. Wesley staggered forward with his hand on his throat to brace against the bile that rose where a cry should have been. Leaning against the garden wall, Wesley rested his forehead against the cool brick and panted as the final reverberations of the curse passed. It never seemed to get easier. Rain pattered against the skin of his bare back, cooling the crescendo of aggravated nerve endings until he could think again. A shiver passed through him that took his breath away as the wolf curled deep within him. It was times like this that he understood why his brother refused to shift anymore. It hurt like hell even at the best of times.

He rubbed his arms and passed a hand through his chestnut hair until it brushed against the bundle of fabric draped around his neck like a yolk. Pulling the makeshift collar from his throat, he unfurled a pair of trousers and a wrinkled shirt. Somehow seeing a collar around a wolf’s neck gave people pause. The line between pet and predator was thin, and thankfully a collar led to more awkward head pats than gunshots. Quickly dressing and pocketing the leather kit he had hidden within the bundle, Wesley peered into the darkened windows at the back of the house. Through the part in the curtains, he couldn’t see a soul, but the tang of cooling blood was unmistakable. He choked down the saliva pooling in his mouth and focused on the back door. Pulling the picks from the leather pouch, he worked them through each tumbler despite his trembling hands. With a soft snick, the door yielded.

Standing on the threshold, Wesley listened for footsteps but when none came, he closed the door and crept through the back parlor. The servants must have the night off, he thought as he inhaled the familiar scent of furniture polish and something herbaceous. He didn’t know enough to differentiate the plants, but memories of following Grand-père into New Orleans to consult Madam Laveau and the other knowing queens surfaced in the gloom. Their parlors had made his nose itch with the pungent aroma of ground herbs and smoke, but what clung to his senses were the tenuous stirrings of magic. Not quite a smell or a feeling, each remnant was unique to its owner. It’s why the priestesses rarely crossed the werewolves; they could sniff out who had done them wrong. Copper, flesh, and the underlying smell of magic hung heavy as he crossed the dining room. Upstairs, the wolf nudged. Turning the corner, Wesley jolted, a growl rising in his throat at the flash of motion at the end of the hall. His shoulders sagged as he realized it was only his reflection staring back from a gilt mirror.

As he reached the base of the steps, the stench of the other wolf trailed from the door to the shadows of the second floor. It didn’t smell like the wolves back home. They smelled like nature, like leaves and sap clinging to fur. The refuse of the city clung to the other crime scenes: slobber and wet fur overlain with waste and ash. Something was wrong with this one, horribly wrong if the crime scenes were any indication of its character. Thankful for his bare feet, Wesley silently walked up the steps, pushing back the wolf inside him as it rose to flick its tongue out to taste the blood in the air. We’re on duty, he reminded the wolf as the scent grew so powerful he could barely register the other wolf anymore. At the end of the hall, a door stood ajar. Even without the lights on, he could make out papers standing starkly against the carpet and the bookcase tipped over in the struggle, its contents dumped unceremoniously on the floor atop a misshapen, bloody heap. Keeping his eyes on the shelves littering the study, he searched among the clay seals etched with cartouches and the mummies of long-dead creatures. Had it been a thief? The other crime scenes had been ransacked too, but nothing ever appeared to be taken. Not one item on the workbench across the room, littered with jars of dried spices and things so pickled he couldn’t tell if they were plant or animal, seemed out of place.

Glass littered the floor where the victim had dropped a jar of blue powder. Apart from the shelf of books that had overturned in the struggle, nothing appeared to be amiss. Collecting himself, Wesley turned to face the body. Blood soaked into the carpet, spreading away from the broken body where a pale, lined hand peeked out. Wesley tried not to breathe as he pulled the shelf back, cringing as the last of the books clinging to the shelves clattered to the floor. The carpet squished beneath his feet and stained his soles red as he looked down at the white-haired gentleman who lay twisted on the rug. He stared up at nothing, his spectacles cracked and askew, his mouth open in an anguished cry. Wesley made the sign of the cross and shook his head.

Lowering his gaze to the man’s chest, Wesley carefully lifted the lapel of his bloody tweed jacket. The gorge rose in his throat at the sight of his half-eaten liver and the rope of his intestines hanging loose from his body. Bite and claw marks scored his ribs and left what remained of his pink, wiry flesh in shreds. Wesley closed his eyes. It had been the same with the other murders. All the victims had lived in decent neighborhoods, had enough money to be comfortable without attracting attention, and all had been eviscerated. Even the most moon-sick wolf wouldn’t resort to something so abhorrent. This wasn’t simply some mutant hybrid or hot-housed wolf. This was something far more sinister, something without rules or a shred of human decency left. Perhaps the human part was the problem.

Cocking his head, Wesley noticed that between the dead man’s outstretched fingers was a clump of rough black fur. He squatted down and plucked it from his hand, turning it over in the light as he rubbed his fingers over the coarse strands. At home, he could have gone to his father or the other families for help, but here it was just him. There had to be some way he could tip off the authorities without exposing himself. Holding the wad of black fur to his nose, Wesley drew in a deep breath to commit the smell to memory. The wolf rubbed across his mind in agitation, but Wesley ignored it. There had to be some clue as to how the victims were linked. As he rose to his feet, his attention twitched to the door. For a second, he could have sworn he heard—

At the sound of a board whining in the foyer, Wesley sprang over the desk. Standing before it, he yanked at his shirt, sending a button flying, but there was no time. He called to the wolf, and the beast rose within him, bringing forth the stillness of eons past, the scent of wet earth, and the agony of evolution. Wesley’s bones tore and fur shot through his skin like hot needles, but there was no time to recover. Shaking his head, he struggled to free himself from the cloth tangled around his neck. He kicked and shook, glancing toward the door as the muffled tread approached. How stupid could he be? As he pawed the shirt over his nose, a blow hit him squarely in the side. He stumbled into the heavy oaken desk, teeth bared as two men in worn, rough uniforms loomed over him. In their hands were long poles ending in blunt metal spears with a loop dangling beneath them. The closest man pushed the tip of the pole against the flesh of his neck where the fabric collar had once been while the other pinned him by pressing his weapon into the soft flesh of his belly. The wolf snarled, but when the men didn’t retreat, it bit at the pole. As the wolf snapped, the second man lunged forward, hooking a burning chain around his neck.

Spots flashed in their vision as the chain tightened around their throat until they gagged. Wesley wanted to transform, the wolf wanted to escape, but they couldn’t. In that moment, he could see himself as man and wolf, but the fluid bridge between them had been hopelessly tangled. His paws slid against the carpet as he staggered back. Before he could try to slip from the makeshift noose, a woman appeared, her fine features silhouetted in the library’s golden glow. Her silver hair had been pulled back in a tight bun, and while her face had lined with time, her bearing gave no hint of infirmity.

“You are hereby under arrest by order of Her Majesty’s Interceptors for murder and for violating the sovereign laws governing extranormal creatures and for the murder of Alexander Lockwood,” she said, her eyes staring past the wolf to speak to the man within.

Without looking away, she raised a tube the length of a flute to her lips and blew. A hot prick of pain jolted through Wesley’s flank as the first man let go. The metal pole disappeared only to be replaced by the weight of a net. The wolf took a step forward, but before Wesley could attempt to pull the wolf back, a wave of fatigue washed over them. Their legs slid out from under them, and they tipped headfirst into the rug. All thoughts fled from their mind, except the smell of blood and the chain burning deep into their neck. Their eyes flickered and their tongue lolled under the weight of the their binds, but before they could muster the strength to rise again, the world teetered and went black.


You can pre-order The Wolf Witch here or you can grab the rest of the series on Amazon. Book one, The Earl of Brass, is 99 cents for the ebook.

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The Wolf Witch is Available for Pre-order!

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*taps microphone* I finally finished The Wolf Witch. *collapses*

If you’ve been following me for some time, you know that 2018 wasn’t my year.  I hit a mental low due to things being frustratingly beyond my control, and this poor book suffered for it. I rewrote it in its entirety (all 53,000 words of it) and then added another 37,000 words to finally finish it off. It’s done. Well, apart from final edits.

I’m super proud of what The Wolf Witch has become and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have. Here is the blurb:

Since returning to England from abroad, Emmeline Jardine has managed to get a place of her own, maintain a tenuous truce with her guardians, and celebrate her new found freedom by attending as many parties as she can manage. That is until a man claiming to be her father shows up.

Her father has a problem. Her half-brother, Wesley, has disappeared while investigating possible werewolf sightings, and he needs Emmeline’s help finding him. Emmeline reluctantly agrees only to find there are others interested in Wesley’s plight. When she receives a mysterious invitation to a country estate deep in the woods, Emmeline is shocked to find a familiar face there.

Nadir Talbot, Decadent, writer, and all around nuisance, infuriates her to no end, but Emmeline soon finds he is the only she can turn to as they are thrust into a world of werewolves, monsters, and secrets from her family’s past that threaten to bring the empire to its knees.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting some snippets from the story along with other extras. The Wolf Witch is due out July 12th. You can pre-order the ebook on Amazon, and the paperback will be available as it gets closer to the release date.

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In Defense of Small Word Counts

Let me let you in on a little secret. I don’t write a lot of words per day.

My daily word counts vary from 350 to 700 on a good day, but I almost never break 1,000 words unless I’m at the very end the book because the resolution is often easy for me to write since all the major strings have been tied.

On social media, it’s common for people to post their word counts after a writing sprint or just as a daily thing they do to hold themselves accountable. When I see people post that they wrote 4,000 words in a few hours, I feel sick. That’s more than I write in a week sometimes, most times. Seeing giant word counts is something that bothers me on and off. When my writing is flowing well, I don’t really care. When I’m struggling, all I see are other people’s numbers and I begin to feel inadequate.

When I’m writing consistently, it’s easy say to myself, “Why do you care? You’ve published 5 books. It isn’t like your words don’t add up to a full book.” And my books aren’t exactly tiny. Most are over 90,000 words. So what if it takes me 6-9 months to write it? I’d like to blame capitalism for that. Everything we do is measured in productivity and inevitably we tie our self-worth to the outcomes of our labor. How many words per day is merely a metric by which I measure my self-worth when things aren’t going well.

Someone might say, “Ditch the word count. Just write.” I tried that last year when my mental health was rather shitty, and it did the opposite of help because without something to push me, I wrote nothing for a few months. When writing is a form of self-care, you understand how this can cause a downward spiral. My small daily word count goal of 350 words is like saying I’m going to meditate for 15 minutes every day. It’s something I have to push myself to do because my brain, when it’s feeling low, resists doing it even though it’s good for me. A small, doable goal gives me the push I need to get it done.

Once I hit my 350, I can stop and go to bed. Most of the time I keep going. Days I don’t write because I just don’t have mental or physical spoons to do so, I make up for it the next day. I have a word count tracker that I use to chart my progress and hold myself accountable. Days I don’t write, I don’t put a zero in. Some may think it’s cheating, but zeroes made it harder to write when I was down. Now I just fill in 350 and make up for it the next day by writing 700 words or as I tell myself 2 350s.

We do what we must to trick ourselves into taking our medicine.

For years, I’ve dreaded things like NaNoWriMo where you write 50,000 words in a month or 1,667 words a day. Before I made friends with other writers, I thought you had to be a pro to accomplish such a massive daily word count or be on speed. It never seemed possible. Then I made friends with writers who seemed to do it without a lot of trouble and my confidence cracked. I couldn’t do it. I tried to do NaNo and gave up within the first week. Despite all the hype and support of other writers, I stared at that word count like it was Mt. Everest. Only the strongest and best could do it, and I couldn’t.

What I failed to notice is how many writers do NaNo and don’t publish or shop the book after. Plenty of books grow out of NaNo, but most don’t or they need to be heavily revised. That’s far from my usual process. Until last year, I had never had to totally rewrite a book. My books need editing, but most of it is fact-checking, copy edits, and cleaning up/beefing up descriptions. What I start, I finish, even if it takes the better part of a year.

I guess the point of all this is that you have to do what works for you. If writing a lot and then editing a lot is what comes naturally, then do it. If you write a little at a time, that’s fine too. There’s no one way to write even if there are plenty of books that try to teach you how to boost your productivity. At some point, you have to come to terms with what your process is and embrace it as best you can.

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Good Riddance to 2018

To be blunt, 2018 was an exhausting train wreck that I am glad to see the back of.

More than anything, I try to be a positive person for my own sanity and those around me, but this year has tested my resolve. It wasn’t like I had any deaths in my family or any grave illness or anything that was an obvious issue. Bad things don’t always have to be grandiose. They can be quiet and subtle, like a voice whispering to you that you are worthless, your work is worthless, and you will get nowhere.

2018 was the year of crippling doubt and disappointment.

As you might have noticed, I haven’t finished The Wolf Witch despite starting it in 2017. I dove into writing that book before I was ready because I felt I needed to produce something even though I was creatively exhausted. That was a massive mistake that led to a mental spiral that probably could have been prevented had I waited a few months to work on it. Instead I drove myself further into the ground, wrote 50,000 words that needed to be totally rewritten, and wrecked my self-esteem and mental health. I felt horrible about myself. I couldn’t write and my draft was garbage (it truly was; it’s not just me being hard on myself). This led to cycle of not writing, then feeling bad about myself, then not writing even more. Since writing is one of my coping mechanisms, you can see how this went downhill quickly.

Apart from being a writer, I’m also an adjunct English professor, which means that I don’t have predictable work (my semesters can range from 1-4 classes) and I’m constantly applying for jobs that might give me some semblance of stability because I’m living below the poverty line and it sucks. I’ve applied for at least twenty teaching jobs and as many writing/copywriting jobs. Toward the beginning of the fall semester, I heard back from a job I really wanted because it was a way to combine my science and writing background while at the same time providing the financial stability I’ve been craving. After an interview and positive feedback, they decided they didn’t need to hire anyone. To say I was crushed is an understatement.

Somewhere along the way, I lost myself this year. I lost sight of who I am and what I want and what I do. On top of that, Anthony Bourdain’s suicide shook me. I looked up to him as someone I aspired to be like. Much like my other inspirations, Julia Child and Tim Gunn, Bourdain was passionate and well-versed on his subject while still injecting it with humor and an openness that I think is necessary for exploration and innovation. When he killed himself, I was in a low point in terms of how I saw myself, and it freaked me out. If someone as together and passionate and awesome as Anthony Bourdain could lose hope and kill himself, how did others in more precarious situations manage to stay sane? Obviously, I don’t know what demons he was fighting, but my situation felt bleak in my mind and I didn’t know how to get out of it.

But what made that easier was my students. My classes this semester were filled with bright, lovely students who made me look forward to work and reinforced that I’m in the right place doing the right thing. Their drive and kindness took the sting out of rejection and hopelessness. I had two really personable College Writing classes that took as much of an interest in me as I did in them, and those sorts of relationships where you know your students care about you and look forward to your class makes it easier to keep going even when things are difficult outside the classroom. So, thank you, guys. They know who they are and some of them stalk my social media, so I hope they see this and know the impact they made in my life.

Do I wish I received the copywriter job? Hell, yes. But do I feel as awful as I did a few weeks ago? No. My hope is still that I will be able to get a job as a creative writing professor soon and that I will continue to write and publish books as I set out to do. Going forward, I’m going to try to stay focused on my goal of publishing two books in 2019, but if I go off course, I will try to roll with the punches and do my best.

It’s all I can really expect of myself. And in the past few weeks, I feel like I’ve come out of the fog I’ve been fighting all year. I’m hoping I can maintain and progress on my book before the semester starts. All I can do is keep moving forward and doing what I can to make a better life for myself.

Here’s to a less shitty year and the people who make it infinitely better.

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The Wolf Witch– a Snippet

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Hi, peeps! I’ve been hard at work rewriting the entirety of The Wolf Witch. I’ve been posting bits and behind the scenes goodies to my Patreon lately, but I wanted to share with you a preview of chapter 1. I’m hoping to have The Wolf Witch out by the fall, so let me know what you think of the first half of chapter 1.


The fact that three seemingly connected murders had gone unreported in a city like London was the first clue that something was amiss. The second was that they appeared to have been caused by a wolf, and to Wesley Bisclavret’s knowledge, he was the only werewolf in all of Britain. It didn’t take a Pinkerton to realize that someone—probably someone important—had something to hide.

Snuffling along the cobbles, the wolf lifted his head at the sound of a steamer chugging down the lane. His ears flattened in annoyance as he pushed into the hedges again. This is why he never took city assignments. Too many cabs, too many people, too many confusing smells and noises. The stench of that much garbage on top of thousands of bodies made it nearly impossible to track anyone and the racket of banging and thrumming from streets over gave him a headache. He should have told Les Meutes and the Smithsonian to shove their assignments, but he needed to prove himself if he wanted to make it on his own. The moment the cab passed, Wesley slunk out and shook the grime from his back. At least England didn’t have so many horses. The damn things seemed to know a werewolf from a dog and made a god awful racket even if they only sensed them nearby. Most of his work took him to the West or up the Mississippi. At least there, he could blend into the shadows even if wolves had long since abandoned those grounds for fear of running into humans. In Louisiana, he had grown up stalking bandits with his father and the other rougarou, moving silently through the trees on silent paws as one. Wolves lived in those parts, bobcats too, but here… Here, there was nothing but the occasional scroungy stray dog and rock as far as the eye could see. Even their parks were barely more than manicured lawns.

When the streets fell silent, Wesley padded down the street and sniffed the air. Cologne. Expensive cologne and fancy food. French, if he wasn’t mistaken. His mouth watered at the heady perfume of beef hanging in the air, but with a shake of his head, he continued on, following the smell lurking beneath it. His tail flicked as his lips curled into a semblance of a smile. He had him now. Shifting his eyes between the pavement and the road ahead, Wesley followed the smell through the city, ducking into parks or behind iron fences and trees like some feral creature whenever a human shape cut through the nighttime fog.  Padding across the road to a row of neat red brick houses with fronts choked ivy and fences sharp as iron pikes, he could taste the slick of paint on his tongue and the stench of flowers that had no business being concentrated into perfume. Dandies, he huffed, curling his lip and sneezing out the irritating odor.

Wesley darted past a house alight with the clamor of a party in full swing, hoping no one spotted him through the window as he picked up the scent in the next shadow. Trailing down the alley between the two houses, Wesley lifted his head. The other wolf was here or had been recently. He was certain of it. Lifting his leg on the corner of the house, he pondered his next move. Even in his human form, he could smell his way back to the house and confront the man. His client hadn’t even demanded he hand the thief over to Scotland Yard; all he wanted was the stolen artifact. At least that would make the job easier. Hell, he could steal the thing and catch the next transatlantic dirigible to New York before dawn. Squeezing past the garbage littering the back alley, Wesley froze. His mouth watered at the scent, and he instinctively licked his teeth as if he could taste it.

The wolf stirred within. Blood, and where there’s blood, there’s flesh.

Shit, Wesley thought as he pushed past the mottled brown and black wolf.

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Patrons of the Arts

You may have noticed a new button on the right sidebar of my website that looks a bit like this:

patreon

I have decided (after much deliberation) to make a Patreon and actually use it. I made a Patreon account several months ago but didn’t do anything with it. Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and actually create the account.

“What is Patreon? And how does it work?” you may ask.

Patreon is a website that allows you to help crowd-fund authors and creators by becoming their patrons. Much like how the Medici family was the patron for numerous Renaissance artists,  you can be a patron for writers, artists, and creators you love. In return, you get exclusive content and perks for supporting them.

You find an artist whose work you enjoy and pick a tier of support. Each month, you give the artist that amount (like a small stipend), and in return, you get rewards. I decided to make reward tiers at $1, $5, $7, $10, and $20 per month. Each tier is Victorian themed.

  • Pennylicks- $1 per month. You receive Patreon exclusive blogs, recordings, and various other posts.
  • Gentlefolk- $5 per month. You will receive all of the above along with some delectable bits from my current projects, including snippets, sneak peeks, and blurbs ahead of everyone else.
  • Natural Philosophers- $7 per month. In addition to everything from the previous tiers, you will receive a short essay each month on a historical or scientific topic I have delved into during my current project. This can range from the plague to Victorian footwear. You never know what you’re going to get.
  • Well-to-do Relations- $10 per month. In addition to all previous rewards, you will receive MOBI (Kindle) or PDF versions of every short story, novella, and novel that I publish. The best part is that you will receive them a few weeks before their official release date.
  • The Gentry- $20 per month. Besides receiving all the previous rewards, you will also receive a signed paperback copy of every novel I publish. These will be sent as soon as I am able to gather copies, and I will open this to international shipping as well (as long as you can receive packages from the US).

I hope to be able to add more goodies down the line, but for now, I’m hoping to fund my writing enough to not have to take editing jobs or random side-gigs in order to make ends meet. Instead, I can focus on writing faster and publishing more often. Also, everyone who is a patron will receive a thank you at the end of my forthcoming works.

For most of us, writing is not our full-time job, and for some of us, writing is one job of many. Over time, art has become devalued and seen as something that should be given away (if you don’t believe me, check out Maggie Stiefvater’s post about her books and the effects of piracy). Artists and creators are now moving back to a system that puts a monetary value on their work, and I think that is incredibly important. The work of a creator should be just as important as a STEM career. You wouldn’t ask a scientist or businessman to work for free, so why should a writer or graphic artist?

I will still be posting occasional updates about my writing on my blog and social media, but I will be moving the majority of my previews and book extras to my Patreon. If you would like to contribute to funding my art, please join me on Patreon. Posts will be added regularly, and if I’m able to hit a substantial number, I will up my rewards and the amount of content I post there.

My future goals regarding Patreon are to a) write and publish more b) create a podcast/recordings c) write a Patreon exclusive serial story (to be published to the general public after my patrons have receive it in its entirety).

But to do those things, I need your support. If you would like to contribute and become a patron, click on the icon below. I look forward to seeing you there.

patreon

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Shifting Focus

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You may have noticed that recently I have written more about reading or the book community rather than writing, and while that wasn’t on purpose, I have found that I have had an easier time writing those blog posts and enjoyed doing so. Because of that, I have decided that the focus of this blog will shift more to reading than writing. Obviously, there will still be posts about my books (it is my author website and I do have to do promo) and the occasional post where I talk about anxiety or whatever is on my mind. What I won’t be doing more than likely is discussing how one should write, writing techniques, or writing in certain genres.

That might seem odd considering I’m a writer and an adjunct professor who mainly teaches writing classes (academic and creative). But I think that is part of the reason why. I spend my days teaching my students how to write more effectively, so when I come home and settled down at my keyboard, I don’t want to talk about writing techniques. What I found each time I set out to write about writing was that I felt someone else could have written the post.

It’s strange. In my classroom, working one on one with my students during workshop, I feel like we can work out nearly any issue and figure out how to make a scene better. I can teach them techniques, speak for two hours on fight scenes and blood loss and how to create emotional impact, but online the things I love talking about in the classroom lose their appeal. Perhaps it’s because I can’t speak to you or ask you probing questions and actually receive answers. Or maybe it’s because I can’t pack these posts full of visuals like I do with my lessons or because a two hour lecture would be torturous to read online and brevity has never been my strong suit.

As a writer, I felt pressured to write about writing, and I ended up walking away from my blog for a while except to post book promo and the occasional Kara-is-having-a-meltdown-and-hates-feeling-human post. Then, I wrote a few posts about reading and the words seemed to flow more freely than they had in months. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Reading is one of my favorite activities, and in real life, I don’t have a consistent outlet for discussing what I read. It makes sense that my blog could serve as that outlet, especially since people who read might read my books and vice versa.

So in the future, expect to see more posts about reading, books of nearly every genre, perhaps something about whatever drama is rocking the publishing industry (like the shit show that just went down at Riptide), and a monthly wrap-up of what I’ve read each month. I don’t like to write reviews as I hate the trend of panning books for attention, so instead, these posts will act as recommendations or commentaries rather than good/bad reviews.

In the future, I might compose more posts about writing now that I’m giving myself the space to not write about it. I hope that makes sense.

So for now, I will follow my fancy and write about reading.

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Cover Reveal: The Wolf Witch (IMD #6)

Can I get a drum roll, please? May I present the cover of book six of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, The Wolf Witch.

WolfWitch_v1

After three months abroad, Emmeline Jardine has returned to England ready to start her life anew as a free woman. That is, until a suitor from her mother’s past arrives looking for her help, but the gentleman is more than he seems. He’s Emmeline’s father.

There’s one person Emmeline can turn to: Nadir Talbot. A writer, unrepentant decadent, and all around busybody, Nadir is everything Emmeline has been taught to avoid. But when she needs to escape her family’s past, she convinces Nadir to follow her to an estate deep in the wild of the woods.

When guests go missing and turn up savagely murdered, Emmeline, her new found family, and Nadir must join forces to stop an awakening evil with not only the power to destroy their lives but bring the empire to its knees.

I can’t wait to share this book with you. Emmeline is a… unique individual, and in The Wolf Witch, we come to know a different side of her as she discovers has family’s past and moved toward finding who she is. The question is how does Nadir Talbot factor into this? Why are they on their way to an estate in the woods? What does Emmeline’s father want? And of course, who is he?

The current estimate for The Wolf Witch’s release date is May if all goes well. I will keep you updated, and stay tuned for more tidbits and teasers in the coming months.

If you would like to add The Wolf Witch to your Goodreads to-read list, you can find it here.

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