Monthly Archives: March 2010

Spring Cleaning? Recycle Your Bras

I’ve a confession to make: I used to own more lingerie than a drag queen (and I say that with all compliments, ladies!).  Victoria’s Secret was my little secret and beneath my superwoman exterior, I languished in silks, satins, and the  velvets, the softer the better.  Dressing for the boudoir was such an exquisite pleasure for me, I’m embarrassed to say I used to buy indiscriminate of need.  Pretty white eyelet with scalloping?  Gotta have it.  Sultry black lace with ribbons and piping?  Well, suffice it to say, even if I wasn’t a sure thing, the lingerie was.

Flash forward to today:  the novelty’s worn off and sadly, instead of being one of life’s little pleasures, matching undergarments now seems rather superfluous.  In fact, this post should  be filed under “I used to be sexy” because nowadays, I’ll throw on any old thing and rush out the door.   Pitiful, right?

But spreading the love got me thinking and when I spring clean in the next couple weeks, I’m going to donate some of my gently used (washed, of course) bras to charity.  The Bra Recyclers is a wonderful organization, operating out of Arizona, where you can ship your bras (provided that they’re still in good, wearable condition) and play your part in supporting bosom buddies.   Just remember to wash your bras and fill out the form before shipping them off!

Georgian word of the day: Fichu

A woman’s triangular kerchief worn to fill the low-cut neckline of a bodice.  As necklines descended with daring plunges and ample cleavage, the fichu became popular among the more modest (or as can be imagined below, the cold) set.   1795-1805

Adjusting the Writer’s Brain

One way to beat woolgathering – listen to the dead!  Don’t laugh.  I’m actually serious here.  Whenever stress creeps up and I get writer’s malaise, my no fail approach is to commiserate with other writers, preferably with those come and gone.  It’s easier when they don’t respond to my complaints. That way I don’t have to either.   

When you can’t stomach your own work one more second, or are in the process of editing:

“To begin with, [writing a book] is a toy and an amusement.  Then it become a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant.  The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling it into the public.”  – Winston Churchill

Writing can feel like a mental illness.  It’s great to know torture is a normal part of the process. 

When rejection and doubt hinder your creativity:

“I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.”  – Jane Austen

Even the most lauded authors had doubts. 

On blank screens:

“Many times I just sit there for three hours with no ideas coming to me.  But I know one thing: if an idea does come between nine and twelve, I am there ready for it.”  – Flannery O’Connor

As in, sit your ass down and write.  Or don’t.  I’m off to do that right now.

Georgian Word of the Day:  Banyan

Not to be confused with the tree, a fig, a men’s vest worn in India, or a certain type of alternative rock band.  The banyan I’m referring to is a loose kimono-type robe influenced by Persian and Asian clothing.  In the 18th century, men would wear a banyan over their shirts and breeches while they were relaxing at home.  Although it is referred to as a robe, it is not for sleeping.

How to Write a Page-Turning Love Scene

Reprinted in the April/May/June 2012 issue #67 of Vision: A Resource for Writers

A love scene in a romance novel represents the physical culmination of emotional tension. When written right, it packs a powerful punch, leaving readers with a sense of where the hero and heroine stand. It should be passionate, but also purposeful. My advice? Make the love scene illuminate more than the act of intimacy. Treat it like a major plot point – a means to advance and solidify your story – and hook the reader.

1. A love scene must advance or hinder the courtship of your hero and heroine. Look at it this way: sex either binds them together or pushes them apart. Before you begin writing, decide which motives to instill in the hero and heroine. What are his/her goals? What’s going to happen after the scene? Doubt? A fight? Will the love scene be completed or interrupted?

Another thing to remember: a love scene at the middle of the book must be treated differently than a love scene at the end. When the hero and heroine get along too soon in the novel, it’s a passion killer.

2. Avoid purple prose. Find the delicate balance between flowery and erotic words by familiarizing yourself with love scenes in published romance novels. Check out Goodreads, go to romance groups, and see what people are saying about specific love scenes. Pay attention to which words/actions distract or entice. Think about your own turn-offs and turn-ons. Experiment with the latter until your scene feels steamy.

3. Physical intimacy between a hero and heroine should be consistent with their overall behavior in the novel. If the interaction seems out of character, the reader will sense it. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but your typical shy heroine won’t behave wildly in the bedroom. Unless you’ve provided adequate foreshadowing, this will come across as an inconsistency in characterization. It may even cause the reader to flip through the scene.

4. Page-turning love scenes don’t use formulas. Surprise your readers. Physical intimacy is more than a sequence of events in a bedroom. Try putting a spin on the typical format of kissing, then sex. Think about location, position, etc. It can be vanilla sex, but make it fresh. One new element is enough to make the scene as unique as the characters involved.

5. Understand your comfort level when writing love scenes. On the spectrum of sexual openness, everyone has preferences and limits. Don’t push beyond those to tailor your writing to the market. Your discomfort will show and the love scene will seem awkward. Instead, focus on what you find sexy, while keeping in mind that the world will be reading this. Have a partner? Experiment! It’s a great excuse for research. All in all, confidence in writing the love scene will give it a quality of realness and that is hard to resist.

6. Consider putting yourself in the mood. How would you romance your mate? Candles? Soft music? It may seem cheesy, but seducing yourself prior to writing lends a mood to the scene. Pictures this: you’re in sweats and have greasy, unwashed hair. What kinda love scene are you gonna write? Now imagine the lighting is soft, you’re wearing a silk negligee, blues music is playing in the background. Definitely sexier.

This is one occasion where you need to stroke your muse. Listen to your inspiration, focus on your characters, and write true to their passion. Even if your first attempt at writing a page-turning love scene requires revising, I’m thinking your mate might be very happy tonight. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Romantic Movies You Might Have Missed – Part 1

Like many movie addicts, I’ve seen my share of trite Hollywood romantic comedies and dramas.  The main problem with the lot of them is, no matter their promise, they all begin and end the same.  Their plot lines run like a bad date: cliched, boring conversation; no element of surprise or anticpation; lukewarm sparks.   If you’ve seen enough of them, they’re downright unwatchable.   So what’s a weary film lover to do?  Seek out an Indie, Foreign title, or a Classic!  The writing is tighter and more clever, the actors earthier and even more unusual, real.  No plastic fantastic here, just a good story, a talented cast, and something more to chew on that popcorn.

1.  Love Me If You Dare – It all begins with a brightly colored candy dish and two very naughty minded children, Julien and Sophie.  They devise a game: whoever possesses the candy dish dares the other to thrilling and destructive acts of one upmanship.  Throw in chaotic childhoods, an intense bond of friendship, and budding infatuation that evolves into l’amour fou.  The twisted game soon serves as a frame for their romance and mutual loathing.  This French film (Jeux D’Enfants or Child’s Play) is dark and wildly colorful, and Marillon Cotillard, pre Edith Piaf fame, is delightful.   If you liked Amelie, rent this.

2.  Dear Frankie – When nine-year old Frankie discovers his father’s ship is sailing into port, he’s delighted to finally meet the man.  Problem is, every time Frankie received a letter from his father, describing far-flung adventures and an extended time at sea,  his mother, Lizzie, had been the one responding.  Desperate not to disappoint Frankie with the truth, as they are actually on the run from his father, Lizzie hires a stranger to pretend to be his long lost dad for the day.  A sweet Scottish film about family and the power of love.

3.  The Quiet Man –  The original cowboy, John Wayne, and the charmingly sassy Maureen O’Hara make this film from 1952 a classic gem.  Set in 1930’s Ireland, Sean Thorton, an Irish American boxer moves back home to claim his family farm.  He falls for the fiery Mary Kate, sister to the town bully, Will Danaher.  When a dispute arises with Will and Thorton refuses to confront the problem, Mary Kate pronounces Thorton a coward and a battle of wills ensues.   The setting is lush, the romance is fiery.  A must see.

4.  The Deer Hunter –  At its heart, the story’s about four friends from small town industrial Pennsylvania who go off to fight in the Vietnam War.  It’s one part psychological drama, one part action, and one part romance, equalling one helluva movie!  The first hour of the movie is pure characterization – something movie goers rarely seen anymore.  As a result, the behavior of the characters is profound.  When war and love brings out their worst traits, you’ll feel like you really understand them.

Robert DeNiro is amazing as Michael, the quiet, restrained hero.  And there’s so much tension between he and Linda, Meryl Streep’s character, that it jumps of the screen.  The deft acting by Christopher Walken adds to the brilliant cast.  This rare, epic treat will touch and horrify you.  Even if you’re not normally drawn to violent movies, give it a try.  It’s so much more than just a film about war (and makes a great date-night movie as it satisfies both).

That’s it for now.  Happy Saint Paddy’s Day!

Georgian Word of the Day:  French Letter

A safety sheath.  Also known as a cundum (1665-1820), a dried gut of sheep worn by men during intercourse, said to be created by one Colonel Cundum.  French Letter is the less vulgar of the two.

The oh-so-fun revision checklist for writing

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes – Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos

First thing’s first . . .

Let’s get one thing straight: editing is not for the faint of heart.  It requires you to admit that parts of your novel either don’t add up or add up too much.  Word count could present a problem or characterization or plot or dialogue . . .  The list of what might go wrong is almost endless.  The good new is, as much as your characters stole the story from you, injecting it with their voices, this is your time to steal it back – just not too much.  At the heart of editing/revision problems is author intrusion, that little egoist voice that says, “Hey, remember me?  I’m the author.  Don’t forget!  I’m the one who makes this story amazing!”

Or sucky depending on how much you, the author, interfere.  While we’re at destroying illusions, let’s clear up another issue: this work is not your baby.  Treat it so this and you will refuse to see that your precious spawn has bulbous eyes, a bumpy, crooked nose, and bloated cheeks.

To the plastic surgeon it goes

Other than actually forcing your butt in that writing chair, the editing/revision process is vital to producing work that shines.  It’s strenuous, defeating, and in the end, glorifying.  But it’s never perfect.  This is a hard one for me and as a result, it’s my mantra for success.  No piece of writing will ever be perfect, but it can be perfected to the best of my ability at this very moment.  That’s the best anybody can ask for – the job done with the talent provided.  If every agent/editor rejects it, there’s always another book to write, another story to tell, but for heaven’s sake, just get it out there!  Just like over-spoiling a real baby creates a demon-child later on, babying your book will result in the creation of a self-absorbed gnashing, greedy monster that absorbs much of your time and energy (which you should be funneling into your next manuscript).  We’re all guilty of not being able to cut that cord, but if you want to save yourself some misery, go ahead and snip.  Edit.  Revise.  Submit.  Write another book.

One more tip:  I find a pot of tea or coffee immeasurably helpful.  Music that induces alpha waves – those that help us focus on a singular task – will also ready you for your task. That, combined with a clean, quiet workspace, should get you off to a smooth start.

Revision Checklist


  • Emotion Thesaurus – does the emotion fit the scene and can it be stronger?  Can’t put words to how your character is feeling?  Browse the emotional thesaurus,  provided by The Bookshelf Muse , for inspiration.  She has several other useful thesauri.
  • Does the scene have an expressed purpose, leaving the reader with a question or a sense of immediacy?
  • Is the POV established immediately at the beginning of a new scene?  Are you head hopping?
  • Is the POV character’s name used seldom, replaced by he or she when suitable?
  • Is the POV consistent and/or the change reasonable and subtle?
  • Could the scene benefit from narrative summary (beings slowed down)?  Or should you use dialogue to speed it up?
  • Is the voice of the scene consistent with the mood/reactions of the POV character?
  • If the scene is action oriented, have you provided narrative distance?  With an emotive scene, narrative intimacy?


  • Are there overused words chapter to chapter, or paragraph to paragraph?
  • Are there unnecessary words such as “that” or “of” that could be deleted without notice?
  • Lay vs. Lie (or any other commonly confused words)
  • Does the reader have a sense of time from chapter to chapter?  (ie, when a new chapter is begun, is the reader disoriented being thrown into a new and unexplained scene?)
  • Are unusual or descriptive words used correctly?
  • Are gerund (-ing) phrases kept to a minimum and seldom used to begin sentences?
  • Can long sentences be fragmented into two sentences?  Does this read better?
  • Are fragments kept to a minimum and used to full impact?
  • Are place names spelled correctly throughout?  Character names? 
  • Are beats varied?  Are they used after every piece of dialogue?  If so, trim.  Beats, though telling, are interruptions.
  • Does your dialogue agree with your explanations of character reactions?  Tell and show; there’s a reason why babies cry when one smiles but speaks to them in a stern voice.
  • Do you overuse adverbs?  Does the dialogue really need the explanation provided by adverb?  Be careful not to erase “how” a character said something when it cannot be conveyed through dialogue (the hearing adverbs: softly, quietly, etc.)
  • Are your speaker attributions too varied?  (i.e., she cried, he demanded, she begged)?  Said is often, though not always, best.
  • Are characters’ names repeated in dialogue?  (“I don’t know, Harry,” said Sally.  “Well, I don’t know either, Sally,” Harry said.)
  • Does your dialogue sound stilted?  Unnatural?  Real dialogue includes run on sentences, fragments, contractions, can be ungrammatical at times.  Thoughts are not always finished.
  • Are your sentences varied in length?
  • Do you lean upon a particular plot device or cliché?  Be honest.  Are you using it as a crutch?


  • Are plot details/points consistent and foreshadowed so explicit exposition isn’t necessary?
  • Is the time frame chronological, or if not chronicle-oriented, does the sequence of events make sense?
  • Is the plot driving toward some climax, chapter by chapter increasing tension and leading the reader to the inevitable crescendo?
  • Are locales used consistently and don’t suddenly change in description or place?
  • If fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal, do magical based systems make sense?  Do they follow the rules established at the beginning of the book?  Do you give the plot/characters an easy way out?  Have you perhaps become a lazy writer with the plot?
  • Have you followed up on plot elements?  If not, is this a purposeful maneuver for more impact later on?
  • For the elements you spring on the reader as a surprise, have you weaved it into the plot without putting obvious emphasis on it?
  • Have you mislead your readers to conclusions but not cheated them?


  • Are character names consistent throughout?
  • Are the character’s motivations consistent and true throughout?
  • Does the character wallow about decision making to the point of annoyance?  Does each chapter bring the character either closer to resolution, or closer to a complication that eventually creates a resolution?
  • Is there character tension that engages the reader to wonder how the character will resolve his/her dilemma?
  • If a romance is involved, do the h/h have sexual and emotional tension?
  • Do your characters’ looks and/or personality quirks develop through showing and not telling?  For example, are these traits shown through action, reaction, interior monologue, and dialogue?
  • Is dialogue believable?  Are the characters speaking for themselves or speaking for you as the writer?
  • Do your characters experience the world mostly from their dominant sensory perception?  Sight, taste, touch, sound, smell.
  • Do your characters always/often agree or do they misunderstand each other?  Don’t go crazy here but misunderstandings are the stuff of tension.


  • Have you resisted the urge to explain?
  • Do you have a bad niggling feeling about any part of the novel and think it can be greatly strengthened by revision or rewriting?  Don’t be lazy.  Fix this part.
  • Do you outline too many mundane details in character actions?  I don’t want to hear about loading the dishes, washing the laundry, etc.  Neither does anybody else.  Unless it’s significant or integral to the plot, it creates boredom.

Still need more help?

  • Read the manuscript aloud and see what sounds awkward.  Chances are it will sound awkward in the reader’s head too.
  • According to Browne & King, the writers of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (a wonderful resource), the most common cause for flat dialogue is formality.  People don’t talk that way; neither should characters.
  • Watch out for repetition in words and interior monologue/dialogue.  Trust the reader to understand what you are trying to convey instead of beating them over the head.
  • Do you have a good balance of dialogue, narration, and interior monologue?  Depending on the book, you may rely more heavily on one or the other, but you still need balance.
  • Does your narration, interior monologue, or dialogue stretch on, uninterrupted, for paragraphs?  Few things make the reader groan so much as dense, page-long paragraphs.
  • Try highlighting or bolding the beats in a scene.  Are they overused?  Few in number? What happens if you (temporarily) delete some or them all?
  • Re-read a novel that kept you up all night.  Take out your pencil and determine why: pacing, deft characterization, etc.  Try figuring out how to make your work stronger by employing some similar strategies.
  • Are you trying to show off?  Displaying your extensive knowledge for archaic words?  Wanting to sound clever?  Your reader will likely see through these conceits.  Just write; your talents will shine through when you don’t force them.

Well, there it is!  I hope you guys find some use in this checklist.  It’s the one I’ll be using when I sit down next month to gut my latest ms.  If you have any suggstions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.  I might even add it to the list.

Domestic Servants – Part 2 – Men

It’s not so much about the idealized “servant” above but really more about the stiff and serious, the proverbial butler.  Which isn’t so bad, mind you, but who wants to see a butler, looking all proper and superior, when you could have a man, getting down and dirty in the house?  Well, 18th century masters and mistresses for one.  Men simply did not do “women’s work”.  Unless their purview included luxuries, they did not clean, polish, mend, or launder anything.  They were considered skilled workers; having been apprenticed, they could rise to a greater position in the house, and in this way, they were far above women in regard to employment (although women could ascend to higher offices also).  Where a woman worked, a man managed and oversaw.  But lest this become a feminist treaty on sexual politics in the workplace, I’ll quit with the comparisions.  Just know that men, first and foremost, were skilled in their employ and within the domestic sphere, they ruled over household luxuries, or those of the most expense: land, horses, glass, china, and the like.  Boys, fixed on the path of men (we hope!), were somewhat more engaged in women’s work, but only until they gained the aptitude to abandon their current position in favor of a better one.

The Hierarchy – Male Servants

Land Steward – Managed estate in all forms: collected tenant dues, leased farms, surveyed the property, settled disputes over land and farming, detailing records of such affairs.  When master was not present or inclined, he supervised the cultivation of the land, lending his ear to tenant farmers and the sophistication of their agriculture practices.

If there is no land steward, the house steward is the highest position in the house.  He would manage all domestic affairs, including servants below him, and is answerable only to the master.

Master of the Horse/Clerk of the Stables – oversees all equine and groom activities, including inspecting feed and overall care of the horses; arranges travel; is responsible for checking the condition of roads and inns; manages details of carriages; boss to coachman, grooms, postilion, and those connected to the stables or coaches.   By around 1725, this position devolved to the clerk of the stables.  More often than not, the clerk of the stables was lower born than his predecessor, the master of the horse.

Clerk of the Kitchen – responsibilities include the realm of the kitchen, including the work of the female cook and her subordinates. He ordered table provisions, negotiated with the green grocer, baker, and butcher; disbursed funds allocated by house steward for payment of provisions and to tradesmen for their services; guardian of the larder(pantry); ensured that meals were served on time and properly prepared this type of food preparation.

  • Man Cook: may take the role of the clerk of kitchen if domestic is absent, or he may divide roles to assist the clerk of the kitchen.  He would be familiar with French cuisine, as the English preferred.
  • Confectioner – employed in larger households, usually trained outside the household in a shop.
  • Baker – likewise as confectioner

Bailiff – Either a free agent or employed under the land steward. He manages the farm on the master’s country estate; buys cattle and horses for the plow; is responsible for husbandry, the breeding and raising of livestock; also performs administrative duties for the estate, assisting the land steward in tenant and leased land issues. He may be called upon, on occassion, to assist in the dining room.

Valet de Chambre – or as we know, simply the valet.  For the  first quarter of the century, this position was called the gentleman in waiting, but like the master of the horse, it dissovled into its present form.  The valet is responsible for his master’s person: prepares the master’s toilette, including coiffure.  Before bed and upon awaking, the valet is at the master’s disposal and must undress and dress him.  This was such an important role that if the valet was indisposed, the master would not prepare for bed, or as in the case of morning, would not get out of bed until his valet appeared.  As a master of fashion, the valet’s primary role is to care after the master’s appearance, inlcuding the care and selection of clothing, as the valet is responsible for his master’s modish presentation to the world.

Butler – in some cases, when a butler possessed supreme skill in domestics, he would take over the role of the house steward, and as such, presided over all servants in the house.  This was more common in the 19th century and onward. Other household offices were often coupled with the butler’s so that in some instances he was house steward, valet and butler at the same time.  He is on par with the housekeeper, an office held by a female, but being male, he was her superior.  Common duties included supervising dining room affairs, managing the wine cellar and all spirits, decanting wine bottles and ales, and serving liqueur.  He also looked after the silver, polishing it and keeping it in pristine condition.  An underbutler assisted the butler but was considered a lower domestic.

Gardener – fairly self-explanatory but as grand country estates had impressive gardens and landscaping, the gardener required an extensive knowledge of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and matters of landscape design.  Most often, he occupied a cottage on the estate, but could possess an office in the house.  He was expected to serve as a guide, escorting visitors on the grounds.

Lower Manservants

One thing to be aware of: while uppermanservants wore their own clothes, subordinates dressed in livery, basically the formal uniform of the house.

Coachman:  When a master of the horse or clerk of stabes was employed, he simply drove the coach.  Otherwise, he managed those employed in the stables and ensured that the coach was in working order.  An undercoachman assists the coachman.

Footman: Performed duties both inside and outside the house.  When in house, he waited the table, laid out cloth and served tea, and cleaned knifes (may clean glass when no butler was employed).  Out of doors, he performed as an escort or messenger.  On occassion he may express his masters “how d’ye’s” paying respects to acquaintances and friends when the master was disobliged.  He would also inquire after the health of those he visited and hand deliver messages.  As an escort, he rode on the back of the coach, walked behind his master or mistress, opened doors and carried parcels.

On the same level with the footman and groom is the running footman.  The fourth Duke of Queensbury, who died in 1810, was the last to employ one.  The running footman would run ahead of the calvacade, prepare an inn for his master’s arrival, and for sport, engage in running contests to win wagers for his master, and while on city streets, prepare the path for the coach.

Groom:  Under the master of the horse, he cares for the horses, feeding and watering them, brushing them down and administering medicine when they take ill.

Porter: A guardian of the gate, the porter screens those who seek admission to the estate.  In London townhouses, he was positioned in the foyer and is responsible for opening the door, taking calling cards, and allowing entry into the house.

Park Keeper:  Cares for deer on a master’s country estate.

Game Keeper:  Monitors the estate, looking for poachers and trespassers; knows how to breed wild game and is familiar with game laws.   Both the park keeper and game keeper live in cottages on the estate.

The Youths (lowest positions)

Postilion – mounted on one of the drawn horses, aka postboy

Yard boy – there is very little documented about the yard boy of this time, but I can (un)safely assume he fetched wood and probably aided the gardener in utilitarian affairs.

Provision boy – likely assisted the kitchens in fetching supplies

Foot boy – an attendant in livery

The yard boy, provision boy, and foot boy are largely interchangeable.  They were most often lackeys assisting in various domestic affairs.

Page – apprentice footman, attends on a person of distinction

Hall boy – assistant to the lowest footman, he empties chamber pots and cleans boots.  On par with the scullery maid.

And that’s it! Whew, am I glad that’s done.  As much as I love research, I hate recording it in an organized, presentable manner.  It’s only fun when the fiction writing begins and those scribbled notes actually start to pay off.

Much thanks to the .02% of readers who actually finished the post!  When it comes to domestics, you are now more educated than those who groaned and thought their head might explode from digesting a little bit of period knowledge.  The information about servants may seem extranneous in our modern day life, but if you read anything about the 18th century (or prior/proceeding centuries), understanding the role of domestics is a prerequisite for truly understanding a story and its social implications.  The way a character interacts with a domestic reveals a lot about his/her quality, especially when considering the lower servants, but also vice versa.  And there are a thousand other interactions between the higher and lower classes that are very telling when you recognize their weight.

So, between my Female Domestic Servant post and this one, I hope you’ve learned something useful for when you’re reading the likes of Georgette Heyer or maybe just a historical romance novel.