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Writing a historical book and research

In preparation for writing the full version of Plunder, I did some research. I read a few books and thought I had “enough” to write.

After reading a lot of historical romance by Beverly Jenkins specifically and others more generally and reading an unrelated comment about anachronisms like desks when they didn’t exist, I realized that what I thought I knew and how much I needed to know were two very different things.

I may have overcompensated by buying 15 non-fiction titles on pirates, the history of rum in the Caribbean, racial politics, ships, and so forth.

I am still making a conscious choice to ignore some of the less desirable traits of piracy (the rape, the violence, the fact women pirates were super rare–we only know of two during the “golden age” of piracy in the Caribbean) but I want to get other things right. I want to get the ships right. I don’t want William to win Puerto Seguro via poker when it would have been cribbage (side note, I learned cribbage last weekend). I don’t want them wearing boots when no one wore boots in that era unless they were riding horses. Things like that.

To some extent, I’m sort of doing a Titanic story–the details are mostly correct (in the movie the details of things like china are painstakingly correct) but the actual love story is implausible.

If you write historical fiction, how much research do you do?

 

Review: What Kind of Day by Mina V Esguerra

I received an ARC of What Kind of Day in exchange for an honest review.

Description:
It’s a bad day for Ben. After years of earnest work, he’s been fired from his job as a speechwriter for a Philippine senator. Name tarnished and bridges burned, he steps into what he thinks is a shuttle ride home, and accidentally joins a tour of his own city.

It was supposed to be a good day for Naya. Her passion is traveling, her hobby is discovering cool things to see and do, and taking people on tours of Metro Manila is her only job right now. An extra person at the last minute isn’t ideal, especially if the person is a former colleague and the subject of the day’s hottest political trash fire. But work is work, and she decides to let him stay in the tour.

She’s hoping she won’t regret it. He’s hoping his day turns around. What kind of day could it be? Maybe the best kind

I enjoyed What Kind of Day.

Set in Manila, I enjoyed Naya’s tour of the city and seeing the sights with her. In Singapore I knew several Filipinos, but the most I heard about Manila is that there is epic traffic and that it takes forever to get anywhere. This gave me a very different view of the city–the arts, the food, and a love of the city through the eyes of a local. Ben’s career in politics is a bit more blurry for me as I’m unfamiliar with politics in the Philippines, but even without that familiarity it’s not difficult to follow a scandal.

While I enjoyed watching the slow burn between Naya and Ben over the course of the day on the tour, it seemed out of character for them to drop into bed at the end of it. I didn’t object to it, but it felt rushed and a bit out of place as they hadn’t so much as kissed or heavily flirted or anything that would signal a jump like that.

That is the first half of the book. Over the second half there are multiple time jumps, which allow us to see the evolution of Naya and Ben, specifically that at first there isn’t one. They don’t so much as talk for three months. Then Ben’s need for Naya’s help brings them together again. I really enjoyed watching their dynamic evolve over the book, and Esguerra had me rooting for them.

I thought that the side story of Ben’s loss of his job and the way he deals with it is handled deftly, while Naya’s evolution and decisions are a little less so. I’m still unclear as to how she ended up with the job she has at the end of the story.

Overall, I’d recommend the book if you’re looking for a sweet, short read with an HFN ending.

What Kind of Day is on sale May 31. You can pre-order below

About the author:
 

Mina V. Esguerra writes contemporary romance, young adult, and new adult novellas. Visit her website minavesguerra.com for more about her books, talks, and events.


When not writing romance, she is president of communications firm Bronze Age Media, a development communication consultant, and a publisher. She created the workshop series “Author at Once” for writers and publishers, and #romanceclass for aspiring romance writers. Her young adult/fantasy trilogy Interim Goddess of Love is a college love story featuring gods from Philippine mythology. Her contemporary romance novellas won the Filipino Readers’ Choice awards for Chick Lit in 2012 (Fairy Tale Fail) and 2013 (That Kind of Guy).


She has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and a master’s degree in Development Communication.

The Tattoo Thief

While it’s not a romance, I have to take the time to recommend my friend Alison’s book The Tattoo Thief.

A policeman on his first murder case
A tattoo artist with a deadly secret
And a twisted serial killer sharpening his blades to kill again…

When Brighton tattoo artist Marni Mullins discovers a flayed body, newly-promoted DI Francis Sullivan needs her help. There’s a serial killer at large, slicing tattoos from his victims’ bodies while they’re still alive. Marni knows the tattooing world like the back of her hand, but has her own reasons to distrust the police. So when she identifies the killer’s next target, will she tell Sullivan or go after the Tattoo Thief alone?

I read an early draft of the first few chapters and I was hooked–and it’s not even a genre I read all that often! (Well I do read JD Robb’s In Death series, but not much outside that.) Alison is going to be a top writer in the genre, and I’m not just saying that because she’s a friend–she understands pacing, characterizations, you name it. If you like thrillers and murder mysteries, you must buy her book.

Get The Tattoo Thief on Amazon today!

Review: Rogue Hearts

I recieved a copy of Rogue Hearts in exchange for an honest review.

Rogue Hearts is the fourth book in the Rogue series.

From high office to the heartland, six brand-new romances about #resistance for readers who haven’t given up hope for a Happily Ever After…

In Her Service by Suleikha Snyder

U.S. Vice President Letitia Hughes has one thing that’s hers and only hers: her relationship with much younger Secret Service agent Shahzad Khan. When push comes to shove, what will take precedence: political ambitions or protecting their hearts?

In Her Service was one of my favorite stories in this anthology. I wish Letitia Hughes was the VP already. It’s 2020-2024 in this story, and Hughes and the president (also a woman!) are cleaning up the mess of the administration that came before them. But in private, Letitia has Shahzad, a man devoted not just to protecting her body, but to loving her. I adore a  forbidden romance, especially when there’s a power dynamic as well, and it’s great to see the woman as the more powerful one in a m/f story.

In Her Service also has plenty of hot sex as well as heart.

Run by Emma Barry

Public defender Maddie Clark doesn’t want to be a candidate for the state senate—but she’s running. Her high school nemesis turned campaign advisor Adam Kadlick shouldn’t be back home managing campaigns—but he is. They definitely should avoid falling for each other—but they won’t.

Another favorite story. Maddie and Adam have this great slow burn of a relationship. The evolution of Maddie as a candidate is done in a deft, believable way. When it comes out that Adam was planning to return to LA, it breaks the burgeoning relationship, and Adam has to work to repair it. Meanwhile, Adam is struggling with the decision of whether or not to go back to LA or to stay in Montana. The story has depth and it’s easy to root for Maddie and Adam.

The Rogue Files by Stacey Agdern

Reporter John DiCenza wants to go back. To New Jersey, to his life, the hockey team he covers, and the fanbase he’s proud to know and support. Back to before he had the Rogue Files, documents rumored to be the final nail in President Crosby’s term.

Journalist Sophie Katz wants to move forward. Toward her new TV show, and a life where the stories she tells will make a difference. She needs the Rogue Files and the story behind them to get there.

But when life comes at them, John and Sophie realize that the true story behind the files is standing up for the truth right where you are.

John and Sophie have history, but neither wants it to get in the way of the story. John has the information but is tired of looking over his shoulder, and Sophie wants to expose the corruption in the files. The story is good, although a bit disjointed at times.

Coming Up Rosa by Kelly Maher

When her mother’s health crisis forces Rosa Donnelly back to her hometown, she crosses paths with her former crush, and town goldenboy, Ian Stroman. Ian’s shine is even brighter thanks to his advocacy work to fight inhumane government policies. However, their past hurt sand a current business threat may spike their chance at happiness.

Another favorite is Coming up Rosa. Rosa is uncomfortable in the small town she comes from, but she has to go home to support her mom. She has a lot of insecurity about how her family has taken handouts from the Stromans in the past, and Ian’s mother picking up the tab for her mother’s medication at the start of the story only reinforces that. Ian has begun to speak out about injustice in a company newsletter, just as he knows his grandfather would have. But his relatives believe his political beliefs will hurt their bottom line.

Rosa had a crush on Ian as a young woman, but he’d brushed her off. But now, he wants to win her over. The development and hiccups in their relationship are well done, and I enjoyed it immensely. I especially love the way Maher includes snippets of the company newsletter that is causing all the controversy in Ian’s life.

The Sheriff & Mr. Devine by Amy Jo Cousins

There’s a new sheriff in Clear Lake and he has Eli Devine, the town librarian, on edge. Between arguing with the town council about inclusive library programming and keeping his three grandmas from getting into trouble, Eli has enough on his plate already. He doesn’t need the imposing Sheriff Baxter to be so very . . . distracting. Luckily for Eli, John Baxter is full of all kinds of good ideas, both for the town and for one stubborn librarian in particular.

The Sheriff & Mr Devine is a sweet romance. Eli has an instant crush on the new sheriff, until he suggests that one of his aunts might be developing dementia. Meanwhile, John has plans to win over Eli.

I really liked this story, but it feels incomplete. There’s a lot of set-up, but it feels like there isn’t really a payoff. We never see the issue of the aunt’s dementia resolved, for example. Cousins sets up what looks like a great m/m romance, but it just stops. Cousins says that she plans a longer story about them, and I would be very interested to read it.

Good Men by Tamsen Parker

Laid-back Benji Park is the keyboard player for the world’s hottest boy band, License to Game. While LtG is no stranger to charity gigs, Benji’s never been what you’d call a social justice warrior. But when smart, sexy, and ruthless immigration lawyer Jordan Kennedy comes along and asks Benji for a favor, he just may change his tune.

Good Men has an excellent extended sex scene. I love the emphasis on consent, and the way Benji is willing to stop if Jordan is uncomfortable. The set-up is well done–we know where the band came from, and why Benji cares about immigration. Jordan convinces Benji, who in turn convinces the band, to play at a benefit concert. But I would’ve enjoyed a longer story with these characters.

 

I highly recommend Rogue Hearts, and I’m now interested in reading the other books in the series. Buy it on Amazon today.

I got to talk to Beverly Jenkins!

About a month or so ago I saw on Twitter that The Pixel Project (an organization dedicated to stopping violence against women worldwide) was raising money and that a number of romance authors had donated things to help do so. Alisha Rai tweeted that one of the rewards was a half hour Skype session with Beverly Jenkins. I immediately donated.

On Friday I got to speak with Beverly and I’m still a bit in awe. We talked about process, agents, writing as the mom of two small children, and advice she wished white authors would heed when writing POC characters.

image from Beverly Jenkins’ website

I’m not going to rehash the whole conversation, but some of what we talked about that I think other writers would be interested in hearing include

Everyone has imposter syndrome. Everyone.

As someone who struggles with imposter syndrome all the time, it’s a relief to hear that even established writers feel it sometimes. You’re not alone. But you have to believe in yourself and your work.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers/do what works for you.

I probably spend too much time worrying about how fast I’m writing relative to how fast other writers produce work. Long time readers know that Plunder has been a project for almost two years. I sometimes freak out and wonder how authors like Seanan McGuire and Nora Roberts can put out five or six books a year and if I’ll ever be able to produce like that–and what it means about my commitment to my craft that I can’t work faster.

Beverly told me there was a point where she put out two novels and three novellas a year and that almost killed her, so she cut back to two novels a year. Hearing that someone whose work I admire as much as I do Beverly’s hit a point of “too much” and that she gave herself permission to cut back to what worked for her helped unknot that insecurity. (At least for today–I’ll need to come back and re-read this entry on days I get stressed).

We also talked about process. She’s a pantser, just like me! I feel like I read about “serious” authors who are plotters so often that I also have insecurity about being a pantser (that it somehow marks me as more of an amateur). She talked about how the first book in her Blessings series wrote itself (if you aren’t reading Blessings, you’re not living your best life, by the way), but that another book of hers just wasn’t ready to be written and had to go sit on her hard drive until the time was right. She gave me permission to go with my instinct and be a pantser and let the work flow.

She also told me about how one of her characters just decided to do something out of left field. That reminded me of an event late in Plunder, after which I metaphorically looked at Bree and William and was like “since when was that supposed to happen?”

Along with that, we talked about writing as the mom (or parent) of small children. Beverly talked about giving one of her children crayons and telling them to write their own story while she was writing hers, and editing in the five minutes before a band concert started. She also told them pretty much the same thing I’ve told my children–unless there’s blood or fire, let me work.

Being white and writing POC–write people, not stereotypes

While I have non-white friends, I never want to put someone in the position of speaking on behalf of their race. And while I’m lucky that some of these friends beta read for me, I should have done the work so that they don’t have to police me. I don’t want to be an author who writes all white books because our world isn’t all white. But I also don’t want to write a racially insensitive character or dodge a cultural issue. (And if I’m telling the truth I’m also a bit nervous about getting dragged on Twitter, and rightfully so, if I do fuck up.)

Her advice to me as a white author was to write people and not stereotypes. To remember that not all black people can dance, for an example. That some black people are shy, and that others are dermatologists.

While this may seem like straightforward advice, you’d be surprised how frequently people don’t take it.

What resources did she recommend to me

Beverly was kind and gracious, and I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.

When a story isn’t yours to tell

Every writer fails, and we all have story(ies) that go unfinished for any number of reasons. Sometimes they defeat us. Sometimes they aren’t our stories to tell.

I have been working on a ghost story since roughly 2002. A couple of years ago, I answered the question “What is your next book about” on Goodreads with this answer.

My novel, which I’m just calling “The Ghost Story” publicly, dates back to a Halloween contest on Literotica over a decade ago. I wrote a short story for the contest, but to my surprise the characters wouldn’t leave me alone.

I was inspired by several things–my deep love of New Orleans, my fascination with New Orlean’s unique history-especially placage relationships, and my desire to write a ghost story.

I’ve actually tried to write this story various times over the last decade, but I would inevitably get stuck and rather than keep writing I would just keep trying to make that part perfect. Things like having kids and moves also would break my momentum and I would pick up something else and put the book down again.

This is the first time I’ve tried to sit down and write it since becoming published, so hopefully this will be the time I succeed

It seems like wanting to turn my short stories into novels is a particular curse of mine (coughPlundercough).

But the point is that this story has defeated me time and time again.

Yeah, they’re vampires, but they’re hot men who “lived” in New Orleans, so it’s the best image I could find

The last iteration that I tried to write had dual timelines–one the events leading up to why there’s a ghost in the first place, and the second in modern times (2014 per my last drafts).

I think one of the problems that I keep running up against is that a key part in the historical chapters deals with plaçage, or the process by which a black girl would enter into a business relationship with an older, white man in New Orleans. There is a trope in literature called the “tragic mulatto” and I had been desperately trying to avoid falling into that trap.

As a regular person, I adore New Orleans. I almost moved there before meeting my husband–our relationship killed my plans, and New Orleans is like the lover who got away.

As someone with a degree in history, I am fascinated by the sexual history of New Orleans, because it is so unlike that of any other city. Plaçage relationships were usually arranged at or after the Quadroon Balls. Jazz came out of Storyville, the red-light district. The Black Creoles’ relationship to white Creoles, other free black citizens, “Americans,” and slaves is the subject of many historical texts, which I’ve read over the years since my first visit to New Orleans.

But there is the problem of me, a white woman, writing about a black woman’s life. In the end, I’ve decided that changing the ghost’s backstory entirely is for the best. Not because I think my original idea is bad, it’s that I’m not the right person to tell it. No amount of research will make this particular story work. I will fuck it up—with only the best intentions, but good intentions pave the road to hell for a reason.

Does this mean I’m never writing a romance with a character of color? No. I think I did Arjun justice in Capturing the Moment. I think I did the character of Saanvi justice in “Love is a Virus.” I think I can write the Lioness in the shifter novel, a black woman, with respect and sensitivity.

Plunder is set in the Caribbean, which means I can’t ignore the issue of slavery–especially given that William won Puerto Seguro (Safe Harbor) via a bet. In the current draft he doesn’t want to be a slave holder, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to deal with the slaves who are part of the sugar cane plantation. They distrust him, and with good reason. He must use an intermediary to do so–in this case the man who has been like a father to him, who is also black, and therefore more trustworthy. And because this is an incredibly sensitive part of the book, and one I have a lot of potential to fuck up, I am asking my betas to go over with a fine toothed comb. My research isn’t worth a damn if I can’t write it well. Depending on their verdict, the plantation could be deserted upon his arrival on Puerto Seguro, which is a cheap sidestep, but it may be better to do that. But I’ll still have to deal with the question of slave ships, and the role slavery played in that period of time.

I have a number of beta readers who aren’t white, and they know that I won’t push back if they tell me I’m fucking something up or being a Becky. An example is that in an early draft of Capturing the Moment, I used a food metaphor in relation to RJ–that his eyes were like liquid chocolate or something. One of my betas sent me an article discussing why that’s a bad thing, and I changed it.

I think my job as an author is to remember that the world isn’t white and to include POC characters, when I can do so with thoughtfulness and respect–and hopefully without fucking it up. But it is also my job to know when to stay in my lane and not tell a story.

Moreover, it is my job to elevate the voices of POC romance authors through the purchase of their books (because money talks) and reviews of their work/recommending their work to my romance-reading friends. Can I write a book with a black character/s? Yes, I can. But Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Talia Hibbert, and Shelly Ellis (among others) can do it immeasurably better.

Review: Sexxy (Las Vegas)

I’ve talked about strip clubs in Vegas, and the Magic Mike Live show. Our final bit of adult fun was to go see the Sexxy cabaret show. We also saw O at the Bellagio (such a unique show, even from the other Cirque du Soleil shows), went out to some truly amazing food (Bazaar Meat at SLS, can’t recommend highly enough), and went to a drag brunch at Señor Frog’s at Treasure Island (the VIP tickets come with an open bar).

Sexxy is at the Westgate Resort, a short cab ride from the Strip. It’s won a ton of awards, and best of all, it’s so affordable (by comparison). The room is small so it doesn’t really matter if you go general admission ($40) or VIP ($60).

Choreographed by Jennifer Romas, the numbers take you through a sensual set of burlesque numbers. Some of the more memorable included a cowgirl number choreographed to Pony by Ginuwine. (Damn you for getting that song stuck in my head again!), a pole number, and a water number with a tub.

It’s a topless show, so the girls strip down to just thongs. I found this far more sensual and sexual than Magic Mike, which overpromises and underdelivered–seriously, butt cheeks–you couldn’t even give us butt cheeks? Or maybe it’s just because I’m queer and women are really beautiful to look at, and burlesque numbers even more so, so there’s carnal appeal. Although I like dudes, too, and Magic Mike didn’t rev my motor in the same way.

I have to compare it to Magic Mike because the two shows were very similar in their marketing, and I saw them one night apart from each other. I think that there’s some amount of puritanism in creating a show of men for women–there’s still the assumption that we aren’t as visual or whatever, or that a six pack is enough. I think we women feed into that because there was LOTS of screaming women losing their minds over the men of Magic Mike (I think I’m probably an outlier). By comparison, it’s okay to sexualize women and to say that men are very visual and we should accept that as gospel. Both of these are cultural–we are taught to sexualize breasts in a very different way than we look at men’s chests. I certainly am the result of growing up in this culture–seeing breasts feels naughtier and sexier than seeing some dude’s chest.

The women are all accomplished dancers, and the choreography is tight. The only moments the show slows down are when a singer comes out and does some numbers, which I assume has more to do with the way things work in Vegas (there was one at the show we went to years ago, and one at Magic Mike, and this is a thing per my guidebook) and to provide a few moments for the dancers to change and grab a drink of water or what have you.

After the show the women will pose for (free) photos with the audience. This isn’t the best picture of me, but it’s my selfie with a few of the ladies.

I highly recommend Sexxy if you’re looking for a topless review. I know that Fantasy is the most booked on, and I can’t compare this to that show as I haven’t seen it, but I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by seeing Sexxy instead of Fantasy. The space is intimate, the dancers are talented and it was a fun evening. If you don’t mind the taxi ride (I think it was like 15 dollars each way from Bellagio?) you’ll appreciate this show.