When asked to share about my writing career…
I think of it more as a writing life. Writing is what I do—it’s what I’ve always done.
I have this vivid memory of me in second grade, struggling to put a story into words and onto a page. I wasn’t so much striving to get an assignment done as I was awakening to this deep-seated need in me to sculpt a scene with words.
Zoom ahead decades later and here I am, responding still to an urge within that wants to write.
I am the author of historical and contemporary romance novels. I also enjoy writing nonfiction articles. By day, I create fundraising material. So I pretty much write all the time.
I think it was Louis L’Amour who once said a person can be a writer from cradle to grave, or something similar. I like that—and yep, it’s my goal.
When asked what advice I might offer pre-published writers…
Don’t let your writing keep you from reading. Make time every day for reading—and read widely. Step outside your comfort zone/zip code/present century and immerse yourself in diverse voices.
Other than that, keep writing. The more you write, the better you’ll write. And the more you read, the better you’ll know what to write and what not to write.
The more you encounter the beliefs and ideas of others, the more you come to understand the human condition. Your writing will begin to reflect what it is to be human. And when you can write about that, I suspect you’ll be creating powerful pieces.
When asked what advice I would give my younger self…
I would say, without hesitation: “Dear, sweet, beautiful-hearted you, trust in your God-given talents, celebrate them. Slow down. Relax. Enjoy. Always choose hope and happiness. Surround yourself with those who bring you joy and with things that stir your wonder. And just plunge, heart and all, into this moment, this piece of now.”
My favorite scenes in LADY LISSA’S LIAISON are when Lissa and Gabriel are near the water’s edge.
All the moments spent in the woods with my father when I was young — and later with my son, Jason, and my dad — are poured into those scenes. The chapter that features Gabriel night fishing is based on my father’s knowledge. In fact, it is my dad’s “Midnight Caller” that Gabriel utilizes.
Research for the book included several hiking trips with my son and my dad. It also included a July night fishing trip with my father, which for me was a huge deal as I am easily spooked! We headed out at 10:30 p.m. for his favorite fly fishing hole, which is also in rattlesnake country. It was about a forty minute drive on pavement, then another half hour on dirt roads … and then we left the Jeep behind and walked several miles. Into the woods. In the dark.
Trust me, I wanted to turn around a few times, but it was absolute black woods behind me and my dad was up ahead, so I kept going! Once we neared the edge of the stream bank, the flashlights were shut off. The fish can see the light at night and are unsettled by it. My dad knew exactly how many paces would take him from one section of the fishing hole to another. He’d created landmarks to help him navigate the area during the dark of the moon.
It was an amazing night. By two a.m., I was no longer spooked by the moonless woods, the sound of a coyote calling in the distance, or a nightjar diving through the air. Instead, I was listening intently to all of the activity around me. We walked miles that night, sometimes right through the boulder run stream, sometimes picking our way around it. I fell a few times, but am glad to say I didn’t disturb any rattle snakes soaking up the heat from the rocks.
It was great fun to spend time in the woods with my son and my dad. It was also great to interview my dad and make use of his vast knowledge for Lissa’s story. He was an ardent sportsman and an expert fly fisherman who tied his own flies. I will always cherish the many hours we spent together talking about what type of fly Lissa might suggest Gabriel use in catching a trout, or what types of fishing rods might be found in Gabriel’s lodge along the Dove.
We also talked a long time about whether or not a trout would rise for a locket accidentally dropped into the water and, if so, the length of time it would take for a trout’s digestive juices to break down the jewelry piece.
My dad passed away just as Lissa and Gabriel’s story was being readied for ebook release. Every time I think about this beloved book, I think of him. I will miss him always — but how blessed I am to have had such a terrific father.
As I write this, I can’t help but imagine him night fishing…
One of my favorite things to do during the summer is find a comfy spot outside and spend a few hours reading. Some of my best memories are of great books I’ve read during the summers of my life. No matter if the story drenches me in danger, mixes me up in mystery, or simply leads me along a lighthearted avenue, when I get to the last page, I’m changed and recharged.
Throughout my life, books have made me think and feel ... and sometimes even heal.
How about you? Have any books captivated you during the summers of your life? What stirred you? What scene, even years later, lingers with you most? And if you had to name your favorite summer and the book you were reading at that time, what would be your answer?
Consider yourself invited to visit my Back Porch Book Chats this summer, where I reminisce about my favorite romance books (the ones that have stayed in my head--and in my heart--since they day I first read them).
I'm offering a chance to win my sweet contemporary romance Rescued by the Cowboy. See the Back Porch Book Chats page for details.
The amazing life of Olaudah Equiano
From slave to seaman to merchant to free man to a successful author who married a white Englishwoman and became father of two daughters, Olaudah Equiano’s life story simmers with heartache as much as it shimmers with blessings.
In his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African. Written by Himself, Equiano details his life story — beginning with his birth, which he places in 1745 in Guinea, Africa, and ending with his 1792 marriage to Susanna Cullen in Cambridgeshire, England.
In an age when most people didn’t travel beyond their immediate borders, Equiano became a world traveler, sailing even to the Arctic. Though enslaved and taken advantage of year after year, Equiano noted the “good hand of God” in many instances. Schooled and baptized in England, he had a curious nature and possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. During his years at sea, he made certain that he learned about navigation, tides and wind. He also sold cargo on his own, making small profits at various ports.
His business savvy served him well, especially after he became free and published The Interesting Narrative. Unlike other authors, Equiano retained his copyright, which proved to be a smart decision. The first edition was released in 1789, with eight other editions to follow before his death.
Networking was an avenue to success for both booksellers and authors of the eighteenth century.
Equiano biographer Vincent Carretta points out in Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man that Equiano networked with publishers and booksellers, plus kept abreast of politics and public debate. From the way in which he constructed The Interesting Narrative to the many ways in which he promoted the book, Equiano proved himself to be a talented writer and shrewd networker. He advertised the book and did a great deal of hand-selling. Carretta explains that Equiano offered the book bound or unbound, and even in a pocketbook size, the latter of which would appeal to a large audience due to the cost.
Listed as subscribers in a November 1788 advertisement are more than ten London booksellers, all with street names long known for bookselling, such as Fleet, Bond, and Chiswell Streets. Also listed are booksellers in such places as Dover, Exeter, and Plymouth, which are areas in southern England where Equiano had made associations due to his seafaring years. Equiano “no doubt traveled with a wagonload of mostly less expensive unbound copies of his book, which local printers could then bind for buyers” (Carretta 338).
Similar to today’s indie author, Equiano was fully engaged in the marketing and selling of his work. He passed away in March 1797, leaving a large legacy to his surviving daughter.
Carretta, Vincent. Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. New York: Penguin Group, 2005. Print.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings. Ed. Vincent Carretta. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
Images at top (from left):
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. "Olaudah Equiano [Gustavas Vassa](1745?-1797)." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1790 - 1793. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-b9cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. "Olaudah Equiano [Gustavas Vassa](1745?-1797)." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1790 - 1793. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-b9cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. "Negroes just landed from a Slave Ship." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1810. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-704f-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Since I move back and forth between manuscripts, I’m now diving back into the eighteenth century and am in search of details about the eighteenth-century man…
In Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America, Thomas A. Foster brings the “private sexual behavior” of the colonial man into full light, making strong argument that a man of this time shouldered many burdens based solely upon his sex.
Through court records, personal writings, and newspapers of the time, Foster paints a vivid picture of the ideal eighteenth-century man as being one who mastered his passions, proved savvy about where he stood in his community and family, and made use of social networks to defend his reputation when necessary.
Moderation was the key to his success in life. Any hint of tumult could topple what he had worked so hard to maintain (or in the instance of a son about to inherit, could result in having no firm ground on which to build a future). “Town talk” could prove disastrous.
Foster writes about Benjamin Gilbert, a young man serving in the Continental Army, accused of impregnating a young woman. Through letters and through friends, the young man appeals to his father and the girl’s father, among others. His reputation is at stake, as is his commercial future.
Marriage, Foster states, was “seen as a key for a stable society.” The man who could not keep his home under control and could not keep his wife happy and out of the arms of another man was not only failing in his own marriage, but was also failing society as a whole. Foster explains that women at this time were still viewed as “seductive Eves,” as Laurel Ulrich wrote in Good Wives. Too, novels of the time were bringing to light an eroticized love. Husbands must not only protect their wives from the fops and bachelors, but must also compete with the heroes in novels and the ideal of the perfect man. If a man could master his own sexuality, then he could keep his wife happy and that in turn would make for a calm social order.
A man’s home reputation was woven into the fabric of his business life as well. It mattered what his peers thought about him, and as Foster points out, men engaged in talk and that talk would ultimately color their dealings with each other. The world of commerce was linked to the private happenings in a man’s life.
As I create my eighteenth-century characters, I need to keep in mind the sexual dynamics the colonial man dealt with on a daily basis. Men of this time were expected to maintain moderation, produce many offspring, and keep order in their homes to the benefit of the public welfare—a tall order!
Since I’ve been working on Sydney’s story, I’ve been thumbing through some of my Wyoming memories.
To the left is a photo taken oh-so-long ago as I (finally!) reached the top of a mesa in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, along with a few fabulous fellow Girl Scouts who kept me moving through the heat and hard work.
Years after the trek, I focused on the experience for a writing assignment in one of my poetry classes where I was tasked with writing about “green things.”
In honor of memories—and of mesas—I share the result of that writing assignment here...
Wild sage at the foot of the mesa I once climbed in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
In the dry, July heat of Wyoming, I bend down to fill my empty canteen with water. I’ve got twenty pounds of provisions strapped across my back and a wet bandanna knotted just above the pulse point of my neck. I’m trying hard not to think about how hot I am, even harder not to faint. I shift my weight, boot toes digging down into the dusty dirt—and that’s when it happens: the scent of something crisp and refreshing shimmers up my nostrils. I’ve stepped into the middle of a tuft of wild sage growing at the foot of the mesa I’m about to climb. Its pale green leaves are flat, strong, and wonderfully aromatic. Energizing, even. I breathe deep, holding the scent for the barest moment before capping my canteen. Now, I’m ready to climb.
In my last blog entry, I introduced you to James Lackington, a very successful eighteenth century bookseller. He opened The Temple of Muses in 1793, which boasted four stories and a mammoth sign touting that it was the world’s cheapest bookstore.
A key to Lackington’s success as a bookseller was his willingness to cater to all walks of life. Lackington understood that price and choice mattered — both to the wealthy and to the working poor. The richest patron could choose whatever kind of binding he or she wanted for his or her book, while the young maid who had just a small amount of money might purchase a book with no binding at all. Or she might buy a few pages of a book on one pay day, and then buy a few more on her next pay day. Lackington gave each customer choices — and did so within whatever budget that customer had.
Even the different levels of the bookstore offered various choices of comfort. The patron with time and money to spare could peruse book choices within a well-lit area with comfy seating. Within Lackington’s grand bookshop, all customers could feel they were a part of something special. The attention Lackington gave to the setting of the shop, to its shelves and windows and lighting fixtures made for a memorable shopping experience. The physical arrangement of the books mattered. So too did the book’s size, alphabetization, and physical classification.
Women were also innovators in the bookselling business throughout the eighteenth century. In fact, James Lackington had the benefit of not one but several industrious wives. His first wife, Nancy, kept her eye on the pocketbook and did not believe in spending too much money. His second wife, Dorcas, who hailed from a higher economic background and who enjoyed reading novels, took great pleasure in the day-to-day workings of the bookshop. It was due to her levelheaded business sense and her willingness to put in long hours in the shop that Lackington was able to leave the business to her as he set out to discover more ways to sell and more books to offer for sale. Together, they created a very successful bookshop.
Did you know that throughout the eighteenth century, the bookseller who paid attention to the wants and needs of the customer could find success? Various tactics that are known as marketing tools today were very much in evidence in the 1700s.
One of the more successful and innovative booksellers of the time to make use of marketing was James Lackington. Born in 1746, Lackington was the eldest of eleven children and once sold apples on the street to help the family make ends meet. Though he didn’t learn to write until he was older, he managed to create the largest bookstore of his time.
His father had been a journeyman shoemaker, and Lackington at first followed in those footsteps. He learned to read from a Methodist family and later taught himself to write. His love of reading led him to the idea of selling books in his shoe shop. Eventually, he left the shoe business behind and focused only on books. Lackington invested his money in his inventory and believed that the best way to please his repeat customers and to acquire new customers was to offer lower prices. He created a catalogue, which highlighted the books for sale, and he used signage in his shop that promoted the low prices.
He made it a practice of selling books for cash, plus he used tokens to help create excitement. He kept abreast of the political news as well as made note of what was popular with the Book Clubs and Circulating Libraries (the latter of which he began early in his bookselling career). His savvy as a marketer and his monetary success caused ripples of discontent within the bookseller circles. Other booksellers questioned his practices. Lackington’s response was to write (and, of course, to sell) his own story. Titled Memoirs of the Forty-Five First Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller in Chiswell-Street, Moorfields, London, the book is dedicated “To those sordid and malevolent booksellers, whether they resplendent dwell in stately mansions, or in wretched huts of dark and groveling obscurity” (Lackington viii). Perhaps the greatest illustration of Lackington’s marketing abilities was the final home of his bookshop. In 1793, the same year as the release of his memoirs, Lackington moved into high-end quarters in the new business center of Finsbury Square. His shop, which was four stories high and had numerous windows as well as a dome, became known as The Temple of Muses, and it sported a huge sign above its entrance touting that it was the world’s cheapest bookstore. It was a showpiece of a shop that catered to its customers.
More next time!