30 October 2011

The Slippery Slope

We're on the slippery slope to the end of the year. Just today the cashier at the grocery store reminded me, "Thanksgiving is in just a few weeks." At least she didn't skip straight to Christmas. I've always wondered why retailers want to rush us through to the end of the year. They put Christmas trees up in August--"Don't wait! Get your ornaments now!"

We should savor autumn. Poor East Coast folks got snow already. I remember one Halloween in particular as a child where we slogged through drifts of white in costumes woefully inadequate for cold. Ruined a pair of moccasins that year... In Arizona, we worry that costumes will be too hot. Here we sit at 81 degrees--not favorable for Darth Vader or hairy monster outfits. I dressed my son as a skunk when he was three (wish I had a photo scanned, have to dig one out of the old album) and we had to make sure the black part wasn't fake fur but a thin knit so he wouldn't overheat.

What I recall about autumn in the East is the aroma of the leaves. Brilliant red maples, orange oaks, yellow birches--when they fell and began their transformation into rich compost, the tart and earthy smell perfumed the whole region. The scent of fallen leaves immediately brings a memory of apple cider and white powdered donuts, for that was what the volunteer fire departments served at their costume parties for the children. Each little town had their own, and it seems to me they staggered them to allow the kids to attend every one--and they all had apple cider with donuts.  Going to those little parties was one of the treats of growing up in a rural/small town area. We didn't have neighbors close enough to walk door to door to trick or treat so Mom would drive us to one of the small towns and/or the firehouse. And everyone knew who everyone was: you knew Old Lady Smith gave homemade popcorn balls, the Hendersons made the caramel apples, and the Riches handed out full-sized Hershey bars. Homemade treats were the norm; it was an idyllic time, long before anyone had heard of child predators, sickos with razor blades, or product tampering.

And no one pitched a fit about what Halloween meant. If you had a problem with it, you shut off your porch lights and no one bothered you. Do some historical research, which includes the traditions of the ancient Romans, Picts, Celts, and Druids who celebrated the harvest, the culmination of the growing season/farming year at Samhain, and recognized the beginning of the fallow season of winter. If you want to read an excellent explanation of the holiday, check out Lette's Chat .

All in all, we should savor the days before Thanksgiving. Celebrate All Soul's Day, El Dia de Los Muertos, Gay Fawkes Day, and Veteran's Day. Breathe deep, enjoy the scents of pumpkin and leaves. Stroll in the morning chill, lift your face to the fading sun, and relish the warmth of the fireplace or bed of blankets. The end of another year is close. Enjoy what's left.

17 October 2011

Interviewi: Author Rosemary Gemmell

This week we're heading across The Pond and featuring an interview with Scotland's Regency novelist Rosemary Gemmell (aka Romy or Ros). Her first novel, Dangerous Deceit, is a delightful foray into the life of Lydia Hetherington, a young woman chafing at the social restrictions of her time and hoping to avoid not only the arranged marriage her family has proposed for her, but the institution altogether if she can. I liked her feisty attitude and I loved the way Ms. Gemmell added so many wonderful details to bring Lydia's story to life. This is a fun journey into the days of Jane Austen and Beau Brummell, with a dash of Naopleonic espionage to give the romance a definite kick! I highly recommend this novel for everyone who loves stepping into the Austen universe.
[Purchasing information is at the end of the interview.]

   So, Romy, what is it about writing history that intrigues you?
 Part of my interest comes from reading historical novels and the Classics when younger, and being transported into a completely different life and era. Our contemporary world is so fast-paced and technological that it’s difficult to keep up! Writing about history allows me to step back and create scenarios and characters from a different perspective. Of course, we can never fully understand another time but writing about it means we can interpret events in a fictional way.  

How involving is research for you? And do you research before you begin, or as you write?
 I studied history as part of my university degrees, covering European history of the 16th century, 18th/19th century, Victorian, First World War and Second World War, plus the culture and society between both wars. Being an ardent fan of Georgette Heyer, who wrote Georgian and Regency fiction, and Jane Austen, who was actually living and writing at the time, I chose the Regency for my first historical novel as I already had good background knowledge of that period. I also subscribed to the Jane Austen Regency World Magazine from the second issue many years ago and absorbed much of the finer detail from those articles, as well as specific history books I own. I’ve used some of the other studied periods in short stories and I’m hoping to set a few novels in different eras.

Unlike a lot of writers, I get bored if I try to research too much before I begin, although it’s important I have a grasp of the particular background period. But I write historical romance, rather than straight historical fiction, and I’m a character-led writer. So I prefer to get the story started, let the characters play until I see where they’re going, then I fill in any research gaps as and when needed. Otherwise, I’d never get started! One thing I did learn the hard way is never to assume I know more than I do – that’s partly laziness on my part. I am now very careful to double check any facts.

2)      Short story versus novel: which do you find most satisfying to create?
Good question! For many years, I only wrote short stories (and articles), getting many of them published in magazines. I always had ideas for novels, and started a few, but lacked the self-discipline for full length writing. I love the immediacy of short pieces and even enjoy the shorter flash fiction. However, the urge to write full length became stronger and I joined the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer Scheme (for unpublished novelists). That allowed me to send a complete novel for a professional in-depth report between January and the end of August some years ago. It was the incentive I needed as the deadline kept me more focused. That first novel was finally published as Dangerous Deceit. The novel I entered the following year is now seeking an agent.

I guess I get equal satisfaction from creating any piece of fiction now, but I still have to fight that slight lack of application for finishing novels, whereas I have no trouble writing short stories.

Your Regency novel, Dangerous Deceit, involves possible intrigue during the Regency era. Which historical figures of that era are a) most fascinating and b) most frustrating to write about?
For many years, I was fascinated by Lord Byron as a poet and a Regency figure as he seemed to court controversy wherever he went, much of it scandalous. Since I’d already written an article about him, I decided he must have a small scene in Dangerous Deceit! I’m also fascinated by the Shelleys and Beau Brummell, so they might figure in a story one day. The most frustrating historical figure was the Prince Regent and I only to refer to ‘Prinny’ in passing. By all accounts, he was decadent and a complete wastrel, although he was also cultured and a patron of the arts.

What one lesson in your writing journey do you wish someone had warned you about? Or was the lesson one of those experiences that only made you stronger?
I do wish I’d known how much dedication is needed to make a success of being a writer! I think I played at it for too many years, writing and publishing a short story or article now and then, never giving my writing the priority it needed. But to be a novelist definitely needs far more application to keep going. It’s also more difficult because I’m a butterfly writer, enjoying the variety of flitting from one type of writing to another, hence the slightly different forms of my first name. But I’m trying to be more focused now!

Where in Scotland would you send someone who only had one day to get a true feel for your homeland?
Being born and bred in the west of Scotland, it would have to be Glasgow and Loch Lomond. Although Edinburgh is the capital (situated to the east), and certainly worth a visit, Glasgow is a very friendly city, with the most wonderful Victorian (and older) architecture. Wandering through the city centre often introduces visitors to the unique Glasgow humour and patter. Taking an open-top bus tour out to the university area gives a good sense of our historical pride – the University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the 4th oldest university in the English speaking world.

Loch Lomond is easily reached from Glasgow yet it’s a thousand miles away from city life. This area encapsulates the magnificence of the Scottish landscape, with the largest freshwater loch in Britain, bordered by some of our highest mountains, including Ben Lomond, one of the famous 283 Munros, mountains over 3,000 feet. It must be one of the beautiful and romantic spots in Scotland, and yes, it is featuring in my mainstream novel!

More about Rosemary Gemmell
Based in the west coast of Scotland, Rosemary Gemmell has been happily married for 36 years, with a grown-up son and daughter. She has been a student nurse, a business travel consultant, an education/business liaison officer, a mature student, an adult literacy tutor, and has dabbled in various other part-time work. She much prefers being a writer! Rosemary’s first novel (as Romy), Dangerous Deceit, (historical romance and intrigue set in Regency England) was published by Champagne Books in Canada in May 2011. Her first Tween novel, Summer of the Eagles, which is set in Scotland, is being published by MuseItUp Publishing in Canada in March 2012 (as Ros).
Her short stories and articles are published in UK magazines, in the US, and Online, and her children’s stories are in three different anthologies. One of her short stories was included in the fundraising book, ‘100 Stories for Haiti’ in 2010. A historical short story was published in ‘The Waterloo Collection’, launched by the late professor Richard Holmes in April 2011. As a fun experiment, Rosemary has published a kindle short story collection of eight previously published stories, ‘Reshaping the Past’. She has won a few competitions and will be a short story adjudicator at the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference in March 2012.

Dangerous Deceit is available in kindle version from www.amazon.co.uk and www.amazon.com and all other e-book versions from www.smashwords.com
The print version (and e-book) is available from http://champagnebooks.com
You can find Rosemary at:
Romancing History Blog: http://romygemmell.blogspot.com
Reading and Writing Blog: http://ros-readingandwriting.blogspot.com 
Flights of Imagination Blog: http://rosgemmell.blogspot.com
Twitter: @rosemarygemmell

06 October 2011

Keeping Up with Keeping On

Have you ever wondered where the day goes? You think you're keeping up with all the little chores and suddenly, WHAM! There's a great big something you forgot about. Or you don't remember for two days that you were supposed to attend a certain business luncheon, or register for a seminar.

My dad's mother used to say, "I'm so busy all day and when I go to bed, I don't know anything I've done." I used to think she was ditzy. Sorry, Nana Opie. You weren't ditzy, you just had more input going in than registering. Now I know what you meant!

Maybe you have the same tendency...thinking you can schedule this group or that meeting in a sandwich with real life bracketing the ends. I'm finding myself overwhelmed at times trying to keep up with keeping on. Something has to go and I think the first has to be me saying, "Okay, I can do that." Because honestly, I can't. Not all of it.

I hate those words: "I can't." They whine like a petulant child. Which is probably why I usually respond to requests for my participation in something with, "I'll give it a shot." But when you find yourself scrambling to schedule twenty minutes to visit a sick friend, maybe it's time to back off and practice saying, "No." While that still sounds better than "Waaa, I can't", I find it difficult to say. But I need to, for my own sanity and quality of time with commitments I've made already.

How about you? Do you meet yourself coming down the road, or wake up in the middle of the night when you remember you missed that class you wanted to attend? Don't feel alone. I'd say join me for a cup of coffee and we'll talk about it, but I don't think I can manage it this week. ;-)