Competing Demands

When I’m here on the Spellbound Scribes, I try to write about either a craft question that’s been bothering me (see my post on characters-as-verbs) or some quasi-philosophical musings that are rattling around in the ol’ brain.

This month, the only thing on my mind is the upcoming release of my book Lost & Found!

L&F is a gay romance set in 1920 Paris. It’s my first release in over a year, and tbh I feel like I’m one of those jugglers with spinning hats on every stick.

Couldn’t find a gif with spinning plates, but this dude juggling his head is close enough.

There are so many moving pieces to a self-publishing project. Review queries and organizing paid promo and formatting and uploading and updating and blog posts and omg omg omg

I can’t think about it too hard, or my head will pop off. (See gif ^^^)

(If you’d like a taste for how all the pieces of self publishing fit together, check out Nicole’s post from July, where she spells out how she made the USA Today best seller list.)

So…yeah. In the interest of getting back at it, I’m going to close here with the blurb for Lost & Found, along with an excerpt and a link to where you can find it. The preorder price is $2.99 (regular $4.99) so it’s a bit of a bargain right now. Thanks….

Blurb

A dancer who cannot dance and a doctor who cannot heal must find in each other the strength to love.

History books will call it The Great War, but for Benjamin Holm, that is a misnomer. The war is a disaster, a calamity, and it leaves Benjamin profoundly wounded, his mind and memory shattered. A year after Armistice, still struggling to regain his mental faculties, he returns to Paris in search of his closest friend, Elias.

Benjamin meets Louis Donadieu, a striking and mysterious dance master. Though Louis is a difficult man to know, he offers to help Benjamin. Together they search the cabarets, salons, and art exhibits in the newly revitalized city on the brink of les années folles (the Crazy Years). Almost despite himself, Benjamin breaches Louis’s defenses, and the two men discover an unexpected passion.

As his memory slowly returns, Benjamin will need every ounce of courage he possesses to recover Elias’s story. He and Louis will need even more than that to lay claim to the love – and the future – they deserve.

Excerpt
In which our heroes, Benjamin and Louis, make their acquaintance…

The table on the other side of me was empty, at least until I’d poured myself a second glass of wine. Then, crossing the room in a familiar halting rhythm, my neighbor, the man from the café on the Place du Tertre, took a seat.

I raised my glass in a toast of alcohol-fueled enthusiasm. “It’s nice to see you.”

He blinked as if surprised by my words. “I’m not sure I know you.”

His gaze suggested otherwise. “A while ago, you were at L’Oiseau Bleu.” I swirled the wine in my cup. “Are you following me?”

“I had a taste for fish.” Hooking his cane over the edge of his table, he shrugged again. “And I have better things to do than observe the habits of a drunk American.”

We were interrupted by the arrival of my dinner. There might have been humor in his tone, but still, the sting of his words quashed the impulse to invite him to join me.

Turning to the waiter, slick black hair gleaming, he placed his own order. When the waiter brought his wine, I took the opportunity to raise my glass a second time. “Cheers.” I deliberately did not smile. “Comment allez-vous?How are you, using the formal “vous,” not the more intimate “tu.

Tu. In all my time in France, I’d never regularly used the personal form of address. To be honest, if English had an equivalent construction, I could have said the same about my friends and family at home.

Bien. I am well.”

His tone, and the slight tremor of his fingers on his glass of wine, hinted otherwise. He turned as if to shield himself from my appraisal. I couldn’t help myself. It was my nature to observe. Assess. Diagnose. “I’m Benjamin Holm.” The distance between us was too great to bridge with a handshake.

He raised his glass. “Louis Donadieu.”

I forced my fork through the crisp crust of fish. Juices ran free, and my mouth watered. I ate, hunger keeping my attention fixed on the food on my plate. Though it had been almost two years since I’d last sat at an army canteen, I still attacked each meal as if someone might steal it away.

At my last bite, I glanced at Louis. He watched me, a pool of stillness amidst the confusion around us. “Did you even taste it?”

“Yes.” Swirling my fork through the drippings on my plate, I fought the urge to smile, unsure of the rules for the game he played.

He sniffed. “Bien.” Shifting in his seat, he poured himself more wine. As long as he wasn’t looking, I continued my assessment. He held his right leg extended, as if he was unable to bend it at the knee, but was otherwise quite vigorous, virile even.

I finished my peas and potatoes, bemused by my strange dinner companion. After a week in Paris, I’d had no luck with my main goal, and this conversation, though tentative, intrigued me.

“Were you injured?” I gestured at his feet with my wine.

“What?”

“In the war. Your leg.” His narrowed gaze suggested I’d transgressed. So, no questions about his health. “Pardon. I did not mean to—”

“No, I was unable to participate in the grand conflict.”

He turned his attention away, leaving me confused. This was less a game than a jousting contest. Rather than bring another helping of rudeness on my head, I swallowed the rest of my wine and prepared to leave.

“What are you doing?”

I paused in the act of reaching for my wallet. “I’m finished. I need to be going.” Though I had no real destination beyond the poor comfort of my solitary rooms. Instead of my wallet, I fished out the photograph. “Here.” I stood, leaning over his table and offering him the picture of Elias. “I’m looking for my friend Elias. Have you seen him?”

Always the same words, bringing the same blank response.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be found.” He tapped the white edge of the photograph, and I snatched it away.

“He’s my friend.”

“So?”

His acid tone burned through my good humor. Who is this man to follow and then abuse me? “Have a good evening.”

“Good evening, though if you give up so easily, you must not really want to find him.”

Surprise kept me planted by his table. “Do you know where he is?”

He tipped his glass in my direction, the corner of his lips curling in what could not truly be called a smile. Though it wasn’t a scowl either. “No, but if I do see him, I will send him to the heavy-footed American man who lives on the floor above me.”

Tired of being the target of his sport, I straightened, falling into the habitual pose of a military officer. “Again, good evening.” Annoyed beyond what the situation called for, I departed.

Click HERE to find Lost & Found on Amazon and most every other retailer!

Happy reading!!!

Research for historical romances

This week Scribe Brian O’Conor let us know that he’d have to leave us. I’m bummed because I’ll miss his posts, and wish him the very best in the future! This post first appeared Monday on Dale Cameron Lowry’s blog…though I might have tweaked a word or two, since I’m never ever done editing….

This last couple weeks, I’ve been busy celebrating the release of my 1950s m/m romance Aqua Follies. Since the past is on my mind, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about research for a historical romance.

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There are probably as many ways to do handle research as there are writers out there doing it. My two most recent releases were set in the middle of the 20th century, long enough ago to qualify as ‘historical’, but not so distant from contemporary times. With both these projects, I approached the research as a series of layers, and I did my best to balance information and story.

First, I tried to place my stories as specifically as possible in time, to figure out where they fit in the big picture. For example, Aqua Follies takes place in late July until October of 1955. With those dates in mind, I framed the story with current events. WWII had ended ten years before, but the Korean War ended in July ‘53 so it made sense for the characters’ life experiences to be influenced by those conflicts.

In the mid-50’s Senator McCarthy was in power, and there were several incidents of gay men being rounded up and arrested or sent to asylums. At the same time the Mattachine Society – an early gay rights group – was spreading, and same-sex establishments were in operation in Seattle, their patrons’ safety reliant on a system of police corruption. Those were the kinds of real events that became the framework I crafted the story around.

Once I get the dates plotted out – the top layer – I look for information about what life was like in the time-period. Google is a gold mine for this kind of research. Pretty much the only limit for what you can find is your tolerance for digging. For Aqua Follies, I was able to find everything from essays on cultural attitudes towards homosexuals to the daily weather report, all of which helped me create the world where the story takes place.

It’s the details that will make the world ring true. My final layer of research is seeking out first person accounts that describe aspects of the story. One of the huge benefits of writing a story set in the ‘50s is that I could talk to people who been alive then.

My friend’s father-in-law, Overton Berry, played jazz in Seattle from the early ‘50s, and he was a huge help in filling in the good bits. Overton talked about how professional musicians operated, what the standard repertoire might include, and he also gave me a feel for what society’s attitude toward musicians might be. If I was working on an earlier piece, I’d look for diaries, old catalogues, and magazines to help with the fine detail. I will never truly know what it was like to live in 1950s Seattle, but I learned as much as I could to make readers believe I was there.

And what happens with all this research? Like ol’ Ben Franklin says, “Do everything in moderation, including moderation.”

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A good story will incorporate historically accurate facts without beating the reader over the head with them. This example might be kind of a cliché, but you don’t need a paragraph on how the Colt 45 was manufactured in the middle of a fight scene, and you don’t want a dissertation on a Victorian woman’s undergarments in the middle of sexytimes. Research should inform the story, not become the story.

In my work, I find the process has a real give and take; I write until I hit a detail I need to research, then dig around enough to feel comfortable writing more. In addition, research has helped me solve story problems. For Aqua Follies, I needed something dramatic that would keep my two heroes from coming together. A small story in the Seattle Times digital archives described how one of the real Aqua Follies synchronized swimmers mistimed a dive and nearly drowned. That two-paragraph article became a key event in the novel, and was definitely not something I would have come up with on my own.

Even with the best intentions, though, it’s possible to throw in an anachronistic detail. Despite something like eight beta readers and two content editors, it was the proofreader who recognized that Buddy Holly was still in high school in 1955, so couldn’t have had a song on Skip’s car radio. If there are other little slip-ups and a reader calls me on them, my best bet is to smile, apologize, and add them to my notes so I won’t screw up the sequel.

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I recently read a historical romance that I described as “the Glee version of a Regency”. The author had most of the details down, but there were enough little bumps either in characters’ attitudes or the language they used that I didn’t quite believe that version of the time period. The book sold very well, so clearly not every reader is going to throw their Kindle at the wall if a subordinate forgets to address a duke as Your Grace. Good storytelling is worth the effort, though, and I love the process of excavating the layers of history and finding a balanced way of bringing them to life.

If you’d like more information on writing historical romance, check out these articles by Elizabeth Crook, Chuck Sambuchino for Writer’s Digest, Anne M. Marble for Writing World, and KJ Charles. Thanks very much!

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The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because sometimes good things can come of it. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

 

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