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Author Archives: Gail Eastwood

About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she's really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!

janusHappy New Year, everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying the holidays, and found some time to relax, read, write, or at least spend some time with loved ones. It always feels refreshing to me when we start a new year. I like to do the Janus-thing –you know, the Roman god of new beginnings & reflection, who looked both forward and backward. Do you like to do that, too?

Looking forward, we are considering some changes here at the Riskies, and we would love to have your feedback. So, below I’m going to post some questions and hope you’ll take the time to consider them and share your thoughts with us. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any changes we decide to make!

Before I post the questions, I’ll share a little of looking backwards over my holidays. First, I learned why it’s best to spoon the brandy already in the pan over the plum pudding after it’s alight. My family always has plum pudding (with hard sauce) at Christmas dinner, a nod to our English heritage. But you must understand the job of flaming the pudding is usually undertaken by my sister, who could not be with us this year. Here’s what happens if you light the pudding, then decide to pour more brandy on it after it’s flaming nicely –the blue flame travels up the stream of brandy to the receptacle you are pouring from, making you dump the rest quickly and without much grace, before your sleeve catches on fire. <g> Christmas Pudding-afireI must say that creates a really good blaze!! Good thing I was using a heat-proof glass measuring cup! Hmm, maybe that’s why the pudding package says to use just a teaspoon or two of brandy, but we have found that’s nowhere near enough! I might have to use this in a story…

Second, I learned a lot about foods that are considered to be lucky, or lead to prosperity and good health, if eaten on New Year’s Eve. We usually stay in and have friends over for dinner on New Year’s Eve, so this year I planned a menu made up almost entirely of these sorts of foods: shrimp (before dinner), lentil soup, butternut squash soup, roasted pork tenderloin, soba noodles (with water chestnuts, spinach, and curry sauce), salad of dark leafy greens with poppyseed dressing, sour cream & chive mashed potatoes colored gold, lemon poppyseed muffins. Explaining them all would be another whole blogpost! (Desserts were exempt from the theme.) Aside from the fact I prepared almost twice as much as we needed, we had a lovely evening, watched the 2006 movie Miss Potter (about Beatrix Potter) and all managed to stay awake to watch the NYC ball drop on TV and make a toast to the new year at midnight. Now we are all expecting great things from 2015.

I am sure I should be posting profound insights here, but after also having relatives over for dinner on New Year’s Day who couldn’t come on Christmas, I am still (or again) cleaning up my kitchen and am too tired to think that hard. I do love the holidays, but still, I can’t wait to get back to work on my Christmas novella (for release next fall), my rewrite of The Magnificent Marquess, my series and other writing projects. Do you feel a bit relieved when life starts to return to “normal” routines?

The normal routines here at the Risky Regencies are already a little changed with the departure of Megan and Myretta. We will miss them greatly! Thank goodness we can still visit with them in their other online homes. And we’ve invited some wonderful guests and may be expanding the ranks of the Riskies, as we have before. But we are taking a hard look at our blogging schedules, and wondering about making changes. So here are some questions we’d love to have you answer:

1) How often do you read the Risky Regencies blog? Daily, every few days, weekly, or less often?

2) Do you read several postings at a time, to catch up, if you don’t visit every day?

3) If we cut back the posting schedule so there were only three or four posts each week, would you still check in with us to read the posts?

4) Do you tune in to read only certain Risky authors, or do you read all/any of us? Do you pay attention to the schedule of who posts when?

5) Do you prefer one type of post over another? (i.e research posts, personal posts, writing related posts…)

6) Are you on Facebook? Do you think we should make the Riskies Facebook page a more active venue for discussions and posts?

We have tried to keep a schedule where there’s a new post almost every day. While we love the sharing with you, keeping to that schedule can really cut into writing time, and we are thinking a somewhat reduced schedule might be a help to all of us. What do you think?

Please, share your thoughts with us? We really would like to know. You can post in the comments here, or on the FB page, or in anyone else’s comment spaces in the next week.

In the meantime, I (and all my fellow Riskies, I’m certain) wish you all the very best in 2015, and look forward to many more conversations in this space!

  How did you fall in love with historical romance stories, as a genre? Last weekend’s “Fall Back in Time” campaign had a lovely nostalgic twist to it when people posted photos of beloved old historical romances that set them on the path to addiction –oh, wait, I mean, that introduced them to the genre.

Those included Jane Austen novels and the now-classic Kathleen Woodiwiss romances like The Flame and the Flower, as you might expect, but also a huge range of other books and authors. We writers never know when one of our own stories may serve as the “gateway” book for a new historical fiction fan’s addiction. Of course, we take a kind of evil delight when that happens. Hooked another one! Heh-heh. It’s a lovely validation of what we do.

Readers seem to fall into one of three camps with how their interest started. Where do you fit? Did you discover historical fiction first, perhaps in childhood? Or did you discover romance novels first, then the historical ones as a subgenre? Or did you find historical romance as a new type of story to love, all at once?

I fit into that first category, hooked on historical A Little Maid of Marylandfiction very early. As a young reader I devoured the “Little Maid” series written by Alice Turner Curtis (American history). Originally published in the 1920’s, those fired up my imagination and influenced some of my early attempts at writing. I was lucky to have a mom who knew about them. Despite how dated the writing seems now, I would still buy the reissues on Amazon if I had any young girls in my family! From there, I loved to read any story that was set before the 20th century.

Earthfasts coverThen there was Earthfasts by William Mayne. It mixed contemporary and historical time, fantasy and reality and the supernatural, and it is set in the Dales in England –who could resist a book like that? I still take this book out and re-read it from time to time, still plunged right into the story by Mayne’s vivid writing.

I stumbled upon Pride and Prejudice on the library shelves (I do so miss browsing, don’t you?) in 7th grade. Even though I didn’t understand half of it at the time, I couldn’t get enough. The combination of historical setting with romance mixed in was intoxicating. I started reading my mother’s copies of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt/Phillippa Carr, and then I discovered Barbara Cartland. (I know.) I read everything. I was on a quest. But the Regency time-setting very quickly became my favorite, along with authors like Edith Layton, Mary Jo Putney, Joan Wolfe and Mary Balogh. Now my list has too many authors on it to name them all!

So, what authors got you started, and how did you start? Who were your favorites? I’d love to know. If you want to post pictures, we might be able to have some of the discussion over on our Riskies’ Facebook page, which I tend to forget about. But please comment here first, and then let us know if you are going to post there! In the meantime, happy reading!!

jungle image-2You know how they say, “It’s a jungle out there?” Well, there’s one here, too –in my yard, and in my life. Even my office looks like a jungle right now –it always seems to reflect whatever state my life is in. Do you think people in the Regency had any expression for a similar idea? Was life really so much simpler then?

I’m the kind of person who tends to jump into things with both feet. I enjoy new projects and challenges (up to a point). I like helping and being part of what’s going on. And if I say I’ll be involved, I’m there. Keeping promises and being reliable are important to me. But you know where this tendency leads, don’t you? To overload. The jungle grows overnight.

3731654249_Angry_Tiger_Face_Picture_I was –note the past tense—working on two new writing projects: a novella (my first), and a new full-length novel to kick off a series (also a first for me). It has taken some time for me to get my writing muscles back in shape and rub off some rust after 12 years of not writing (how’s that for a mixed metaphor with no apologies), but I was making progress on both projects. But my to-do list has mushroomed into a humongous, paralyzing nightmare of a thing –a scary jungle creature, I tell you. Does that happen to you?

LFS-new coverI know it’s my own fault. No one made me agree to chair my high school class reunion this coming October. Or go to the NJRW conference the weekend before that event, or to work on my church yard sale this month, or to get the cover of The Lady from Spain redesigned, or try to get print editions of that and another of my backlist books ready in time for NJRW. (LFS is almost ready!!)

Regencygroup-masquerade-750x1125(1)I’m also excited and honored be part of the upcoming Regency Masquerades boxed set that Elena already mentioned here last week, but it also means time to be spent on that and all the promo we are planning for it.  Isn’t the cover pretty? (Shameless plug!!)

No Trespassing cover-smallNo one made me offer to help a friend promote her first book and design a campaign for it (and it’s not even a romance!) It’s a women’s fiction/literary/mainstream historical, set in the Adirondacks in 1912 –say the words “learning curve” with me? And if you know of any review sites (web or FB) that might be a good fit for such a book, we’re looking…. (another shameless plug!)

I joined yet another writers group, and there’s a cookout coming up this month and a big Author Expo event in November…. Okay, I’ll stop. There’s more, not to mention my two regular jobs, plus home and family. The details don’t matter. You totally know where I’m coming from, don’t you? If we want to write, we also need to be engaged with life, with living. With people. How do we learn to say NO?

Author Marie Lavender, who promotes often on LinkedIn, just wrote a blogpost about this. (Writing in the Modern Age: “Know When to Say No” –Aug 27) After a fairly thorough discussion of ways to promote a book, her point is that we –can’t –do it all. That applies to more than promotion. I know I need to be more selective about the ways I engage with living and the things I choose to spend time on. I know I need to make my writing a higher priority, the way it used to be. But now that I’m already surrounded by the jungle, how do I fight my way back out?

If only I practiced in my regular life the caution I show at the beach. There I go slowly, testing the water temperature and making sure I know the currents and the depth before taking any plunge. Plunge? No, I’m the one you’ll find easing my way in, torturous inch by inch. At the beach, I won’t go out deeper than where I can touch bottom –I know the power and unpredictability of the waves.

Wisteria 2014 002Here in the jungle, I’ll have to carve my way out inch by inch, I guess. Where’s my machete? The wisteria in my yard is quite literally trying to take over –I’m thinking of naming it “Audrey 3” (ref. Little Shop of Horrors)!! I –will- get back to my wips. Some of these other projects are almost done, and the related sub-lists from the main to-do list will be tossed. (Yes, the scary creature had babies.)

save-lovely-tiger-cubsWhat do you do when you get overwhelmed? Or, if it doesn’t happen to you, how do you keep your jungle at bay? Can you imagine Regency folks in the same sort of state? Even though the upper class had servants (what I wouldn’t give for a yard worker!), I’m sure they could have too many invitations, too many events to host, too many guests… and not enough sense or will-power to say no!

Portrait-Dido_Elizabeth_BelleThis week I saw the movie Belle. Have you had a chance to see it? Although it predates our Regency period (set in the 1780’s), it is a visual delight, from the costumes to the elegant estate settings to the docksides of London. There’s even a scene set at Vauxhall Gardens. Inspired by a portrait and a fascinating true historical footnote, it is about two young women, one white, one mulatto, who were raised together at Kenwood House by their uncle, Lord William Murray, the Earl of Mansfield, who happened to be the Lord Chief Justice of England at the time. It includes a love story, but it also is a tale about racial prejudice, an important court case, and the beginnings of the anti-slavery movement in England. It made me think (among many things) about all the matters our elegant Regency characters were expected to ignore, or at the very least, not discuss in polite company!

We know the rules of society were strict and multitudinous. Among them was the idea that conversation in polite company should always be “cheerful and uplifting”. It was never to include politics, or religion, or –heaven forbid!– vulgar acknowledgments of the less-than-perfect world outside the magic cloud of wealth and privilege that the highest classes lived in. Never anything that might cause distress or discomfort. As a line in the movie says, “as if by ignorance we might escape it.”

NPG 172,William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield,by John Singleton CopleyThe movie beautifully portrays Lord Mansfield’s belief in the value and purpose of “the rules” that maintained social order, and also Belle’s awakening to her own limitations, her hunger to learn more, and her frustration at having her questions turned aside. Slavery and racial prejudice were not topics to be discussed at the table! Her direct attempts to ask questions at breakfast clearly break the social rules, and the movie uses three breakfast scenes to show her attempts to comply and her gradual transition to other methods of pursuing the truth.

Belle & Elizabeth-movie picIn the movie, the extreme complications of social status and jockeying for position are illustrated in dozens of nicely nuanced ways. Belle’s life is defined by both her birth into a noble family, and the color of her skin. She is made an heiress, while her cousin Elizabeth is dowerless. Belle is illegitimate, but her father loved and claimed her. Elizabeth’s birth was legitimate, but her father has abandoned her. Which elements trump which? Even the young women, raised as sisters, argue about it –but only in the privacy of their chamber, of course.

Is it any wonder that thick tomes of social guidelines were published? From Lord Chesterfield’s 18th century Letters to his son and similar publications, to The Mirror of Graces (1811) and on, the rules could cover the proper way to carry your hat if you removed it, and might even dictate when Belle could and could not join her family for dinner. But even those revered resources probably did not cover the untenable situation of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay –both the movie version and the real woman we know so little about. As her character says in the movie, “I don’t feel as though I fit anywhere!”

The real Dido Belle did marry, and apparently had two sons. Her life, while far more comfortable than most of her counterparts in that period, still could not have been easy. I like thinking that she faced it with the same courage as her movie character does. If you haven’t had a chance, try to catch the movie! There’s also a book by Paula Byrne –has anyone read it? With all the social freedom we have today, do you think we still sometimes duck issues by falling into that mindset of ignoring them? Do we have any topics left that are still taboo in polite company today?

Fig with flashlight-2I’ve been working on a new story, but suddenly I’ve been away from it for a couple of weeks, and now I’m wallowing in doubts. When that happens, I start thinking about things like –where do our stories come from? That’s a question authors often hear from readers at book signings. Do we pluck them out of the ether? Are they gifts? Can we explain how two different thoughts may suddenly connect like flint and steel to spark a story inspiration? If we knew how it works, would it help us when we get stuck? Would it help us write faster? Better?

Since everyone’s creative process works differently, there’s no one answer, anyway, but visualization is most certainly part of it. At a recent workshop at my local writers group (RIRW), the subject was self-hypnosis, on the theory that improving ourselves also improves our writing. It was fascinating and covered a great deal, but one thing that struck me was the great similarity between the techniques of meditation and visualization that were presented by the speaker and the process of story creation. We joke a lot about writers staring off into space and claiming we’re working, but really, that “daydreaming” about our characters and what is happening to them is a lot like a self-induced hypnotic state. The relaxation required to get there helps open our creative receptors and allows the imagination to pull up the sights and sounds and people and events our stories grow from. Like most skills, it improves the more we practice it.

Some writer friends of mine who are very prolific tell me they are able to “skip around” in their stories, writing whatever scene they can ‘see” and eventually fitting all those pieces together. Often they have a view of the entire story, and can put the plot down on paper or even write a more-or-less detailed outline. I have to say I envy that ability! I am a linear writer. Until I know what the characters have done and said in the present scene, I don’t know what they are going to do later on. When it comes to work styles, writers are often classified as “planners” or “pantsers” (pantsers “fly by the seat of their pants” instead of by a map), but most writers fall somewhere in between, a combination. Those who can “see” most or all of their story undoubtedly can be “planners”. How lovely to have a road map!! Many of us –however much we wish otherwise– can’t see that far ahead. I always liken my process to that phrase you read above in the title –stumbling along in the fog at night armed with only a flashlight.

Writing is an act of faith –always. When you can only see a little bit at a time, it becomes a huge act of faith. You get stuck in blind alleys and have to back out. You always hope the path you are following is the right one, the one that will lead to a satisfying ending, the center of the maze. You have to believe there is a reason you were given this story idea in the first place!

The Artists Way coverThere are two resources I often turn to in times of doubt. One is The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. I believe the creative process is also spiritual, and the program of self-examination and inspiration this book lays out helps you to find and reinforce that connection. The other is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, one of the best books of advice for writers. I can open this book to any page and be comforted, inspired, and amused all at once, but the advice to take the writing “bird by bird” (one small thing at a time) is huge when the job starts to appear overwhelmingly impossible.

Bird by BirdIf you write, what do you when a spell of doubting happens to you? Are you a planner or a pantser, or a combination? What resources do you turn to when your faith needs to be bolstered? Have you read the ones I mentioned? If you’re a reader, have you ever asked authors where their ideas came from? If you have, what answers did you get?

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