Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Challenge of Setting a Romance on a Ship

I'm taking a break from all things Scottish to share with you a post I did for USA Today which appears on their HEA blog today. Should you miss seeing it there, I thought to post it here.

I love the sea and the ships that sail upon it. I also love a good seafaring romance, too. Throw in a pirate or a privateer and I’m there. But I want it to be historically accurate. My newest novel, To Tame the Wind, is my second set (at least in part) on a schooner of the Georgian period involving a privateer hero. In doing the research for my stories, I have learned much about the challenge of setting a romance on a ship.

When I began, I had no idea where my adventure would take me.
First, I dove into pictures of ships and ship terminology of the period, pouring over my 4-inch thick Sailor’s Word Book and other resources until late at night. I studied diagrams of schooners and sail configurations until I was seeing them in my dreams. But I soon realized just having the vocabulary and the sail configurations was not enough.

I wanted to be able to describe a storm at sea as huge waves crashed onto the deck and to hear the sounds of guns blazing as they spit forth smoke lanced with crimson flames in a raging battle. I needed to hear the sails luffing, feel the wind on my face as the ship’s bow cut through the waves and experience the rolling deck. I wanted my readers to feel the deck moving beneath their figurative feet. And I wanted to get all the ship parts right while doing it.

In other words, I had to sail on an actual schooner of the period.

Which is what I did.

The schooner pictured above and to the right is the Californian, a reproduction of a topsail schooner that, fortunately for me, is berthed in San Diego where I live. (The paintings are by artist William Lowe, used here with his permission.) It’s the type of schooner Capt. Jean Nicholas Powell sails in Wind Raven, and his father, Captain Simon Powell sails in To Tame the Wind. And it is the ship I sailed on. Oh, yeah, I also got to hear its guns belching forth their shot.

In my half-day sail, I asked a hundred questions, quickly exhausting the knowledge of the docent aboard, at least as to the period in which my stories are set, the Georgian and Regency periods. However, I found a jewel in the gunner, who answered all my questions and was excited that I wanted to write a story that was historically accurate when it came to the ship. Seeing how serious I was, she offered to become my technical consultant. Of course, I accepted. In the process, we have become good friends. Wind Raven, my first seafaring romance, is dedicated to her and she is also recognized in the Acknowledgements for To Tame the Wind.
My sail on the Californian and my many conversations with my new friend thereafter taught me many things my previous research did not. Even a simple question like whether the quarterdeck should be raised does not have a simple answer.

Some schooners were flush-decked, that is everything on the main deck is on one level, so that you could walk from the bow to the stern without going up or down any ladders—this despite the fact the ship had a “quarterdeck.” On the other hand, some schooners had a raised foredeck (keeps the water off the main deck) and a raised quarterdeck that did the same thing. The "break in the deck" would be aft of the last hatchway on the main deck. 

The helm might be on the quarterdeck, or it might be in cockpit or sunken area around the helm. The Californian has a small cockpit with the helm set down to "main deck" level, behind the quarterdeck. So to get from the bow to the stern, you walk up a small ladder to get to the quarterdeck, and then you walk down a small ladder to get into the cockpit.

See what I mean?

If you compound that many times over with every issue from windows in the captain’s cabin (side windows in larger schooners could be achieved with a raised overhead), to what the captain might read (it’s in Wind Raven), or where the first mate bunks when my heroine takes over his cabin, to the size of the crew, or how a fast schooner avoids the guns of a larger brig-sloop (it’s in To Tame the Wind), you begin to get a picture of the depth of research required to “get it right.”

And just so you know, there are no floors, doors, stairs, walls or ceilings on a ship. Instead, there are decks, cabin doors, ladders, companionways, bulkheads and overheads. Strictly speaking, ships have fixed guns not cannons, the latter being made to rotate up and down. And no ships prior to the late 19th century had crow’s nests; they had “tops” (some with railings going back to antiquity). In the case of schooners, they had crosstrees. 

Though much research was required to properly tell my seafaring love stories, I think it was worth it. One reviewer made me smile when she said of Wind Raven, “it had me feeling the spray of the ocean in my face, my hair and clothing plastered to my body, the chill of my blood when you know, just know that you’re time is up and you’re done for."

Yep, that was just what I was going for.
 Buy To Tame the Wind and Wind Raven on Amazon

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New Review: Arnette Lamb’s BORDER LORD – Fanciful but Delightful Tale from the Scottish Borderlands

Set in 1713 in the Scottish borderlands, this is the story of Lady Miriam MacDonald, diplomat for Queen Anne who is being punished by the queen and sent to the Scottish borderlands to negotiate a peace between Duncan Kerr, the Earl of Kildalton and Baron Sinclair, who have had a running feud for years involving more than stolen cattle.

By day, Duncan dons the disguise of a bumbling nobleman with a wig and spectacles, hoping to fool Miriam about his night raids. By night, Duncan is the infamous “Border Lord” who raids the baron’s English lands to reclaim what is his.

Miriam befriends the earl and falls prey to the seduction of the Border Lord, never knowing they are the same man. She is determined to negotiate a peace but she doesn’t know the truth of the feud. And she doesn’t know the Border Lord is falling in love with her.
Original cover

It’s a fanciful but clever story that, at times, reads more like a Regency with its witty banter and female diplomat, but it is also well-written and very entertaining. Lamb has created a wonderful cast of characters, including Duncan’s son who changes his first name each day and takes on the personality of the person whose name he bears.

This unlikely but delightful tale will hold your interest.
It's the first in the Border series:

Border Lord
Border Bride
Maiden of Inverness

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New Review: Kathleen Givens’ ON A HIGHLAND SHORE – Superb Love Story, a Keeper rich in history of Scotland

Kathleen Givens was an award-winning author of Scottish historicals, each rich in historical detail. Every one of them is on my keeper shelf.

Set in 13th century Scotland, this tells the story of Margaret MacDonald and Gannon MacMagnus, who find love out of misfortune and the changes that take their lives from the paths they were originally to take. In both this book and its sequel, RIVALS FOR THE CROWN, Givens does a superb job of weaving English and Scottish history into an epic romance and a tale of Highlander families swept up in the great themes of Scotland's history.

I grew to love these men and women and felt like they could have easily been real people--people who experienced deep, lasting love, demanding challenges and heartrending losses. Her writing is so believable, so compelling, I found myself reading her stories late into the night.

These are not formula romance books but sweeping historical novels well worth the read.  You won't be disappointed. There are fewer love scenes than in some romances but the ones included are tender and well worth the wait. The sexual tension she creates fits the story well and is consistent with the characters.

When I finished the two books I mourned the ending of the stories and craved more from her. She has two other 2-book series out--all Scottish historicals (THE LEGEND and THE DESTINY and KILGANNON and THE ROSE OF KILGANNON). They are all we will have of her work as she passed away in early 2010.  It's a loss for all her readers.  I think she was a great talent.

If you like sweeping sagas rich in historical detail, you will love this one.

Buy on Amazon.

Friday, May 22, 2015

New Review: Shannon Drake aka Heather Graham’s EMERALD EMBRACE - Love in a Mysterious Castle in the Highlands!

As you know if you’ve been a follower of mine for any length of time, I am a huge fan of Heather Graham (here writing under her pen name Shannon Drake) and so it is no surprise that I really enjoyed this romance.

The story takes place in mid 19th century Scotland where Martise St James has traveled to from Virginia just after the Civil War. She has come to Castle Creeghan in the Scottish Highlands where her best friend, Lady Mary Creeghan, has died mysteriously.

Martise seeks the truth of her friend's death and she seeks the emerald that she knows Lady Mary had that will allow Martise to save her beloved home in Virginia. Captivated by the handsome Lord Creeghan, a man of dark secrets, she stays in Scotland, though he repeatedly warns her that she must leave.

In her wanderings, Martise discovers many strange doings about the castle and its crypts below ground that frighten her. But she is committed to staying to discover the truth no matter the risk to her person, her life or her heart.

Graham/Drake draws you into the life of the castle, its mysterious past and the times as only she can do. The characters were richly developed, the suspense well done. You will enjoy this one and if you're a Graham fan, you will not be disappointed.

Buy on Amazon

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New Review: Nora Roberts’ REBELLION – Superb Storytelling of the Rising of 1745 and a Love That Would Not be Denied

New cover

It begins in 1735 when Serena MacGregor’s home in the Highlands is invaded by British dragoons and her mother is raped by their leader who wants to shame a Highland’s chief’s wife. And that night hatred for the English was born in Serena. Ten years later, in 1745, her brother Coll brings home his friend, Brigham Langston, whose mother might have been a MacDonald but he is English.

Serena means to hate Brigham but ends up falling in love. Brigham wants the fiery tempered lass and means to have her. But there is a matter of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 that will interfere.

It’s a time of rebellion in the Highlands as the Scots, sick of English oppression, long for their Bonnie Prince Charlie, their “king across the waters” to return and reclaim his throne. The Germans may reign in England but the Scots want their true king restored. 

Original cover
When I read about the Battle of Culloden that took place in 1746 and see the images that represent that fateful day, I am always deeply saddened. Not just for the battle that was lost or the thousands of Scots slain, but for the cruelty of England inflicted thereafter on a generation of Highlanders. The English destroyed a way of life.

Roberts brings this time in Scotland’s history to life with superb storytelling, wonderful characters and brilliant dialog. Rich in historical detail and passion-filled love. This is a keeper. I fell in love with Brigham whose heart beat to the Highlands though he was an English lord. And I cheered on Serena as she finally decided to claim the man her own heart could not deny.

First published in 1988, this is the story of the historical roots for Roberts’ contemporary MacGregor series. I am so sorry she gave us only two historical romance novels before moving on to other genres as her historicals are very, very good.

Buy on Amazon.

Monday, May 18, 2015

New Review: Tarah Scott’s CLAIMED – Good Story with sufficient history to hold my interest

Set somewhere in the Highlands in 1291, this is the story of Rhoslyn, a widowed countess, ordered by King Edward to marry Sir Talbot St. Claire (for her lands) and by her grandfather to marry Jacobus Auenel, Lord Melrose (to protect said lands). One was English and one was a Scot. Rhoslyn doesn’t wish to marry either of them.

Rhoslyn’s grandfather collects her from the convent where she was staying mourning her dead husband to be delivered to Lord Melrose, but for some undisclosed reason the abbess colludes with Sir Talbot, enabling him to capture Rhoslyn on the road.

This is a well-written story and while I loved the history and the historical figures (King Edward tries to dominate Scotland and the Scots resist), there were a lot of characters, some better described than others. (I could have benefited from a score sheet.)

There is much sparring between Rhoslyn and Talbot and the dialog quite good. The chase scene at the beginning was very exciting. I especially liked the part where the heroine stabbed the arrogant Sir Talbot, who by the way never seemed to do anything wrong, lose any battle or be defeated in any contest. But he was a great lover, so I guess we can excuse his being good at everything.

I would have liked to see more detailed descriptions of the characters. Some were just names and I had no idea what they looked like. And two things seemed a bit abrupt: Rhoslyn’s sudden love for Talbot; and the ending (I had to re-read the last page to be sure it was over since it ended with many questions).

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tom Hall, Cover Artist Extraordinaire (1932-2010)

You may not know the name but you will recognize his art. Tom Hall is an icon when it comes to romance novel cover art. His art has graced covers long treasured by readers of historical romance.  

Hall became famous during the 1970s with 200 book covers to his credit, including such books as The Thorn Birds, Shanna and Ashes in the Wind, which sold multiple millions. New York art directors called him the “leading paperback artist in the country” and “a giant in the industry.” So he was and so he remains.

In 1981, Bantam Books art director Don Munson told the Associated Press that Hall "is a remarkably fine artist. His attention to realistic detail reminds me of the Hudson River Valley painters and his evocative style recalls the French impressionists."

Now that resonated with me because my very favorite painters come from the Hudson River School of painting, a 19th century American art movement whose landscape painters were influenced by romanticism. (My very favorite of those is Albert Bierstadt, a painter of the American West.) You can see the style in Tom Hall’s work.

While producing paperback art, Hall did illustrations for Reader's Digest and National Geographic publications and for several Discovery Channel documentaries.

In his latter years, he focused more on painting for pleasure. His subjects included Chester County landscapes and American Indian and historical subjects. He also continued to paint his "lovely ladies." 

Hall's paintings are included in the collections of the National Museum of American Illustration, the Coast Guard, the National Geographic Society, the Delaware Art Museum, and many private collectors. His work was exhibited in shows in Japan, New York City, Salt Lake City, and Tucson, Arizona as well as in local galleries.I love his covers and savor each paperback I have that displays his wonderful art. The emotion leaps off the page, the details providing readers with hours of pleasure.

Here are some of his covers I love and you'll see some of them on my best lists and in my Top 20:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New Review: Brenda Taylor’s A HIGHLAND PEARL – Inspirational Highland Romance

Set in Ross Shire in the Highlands of Scotland in 1508, this is the story of Maidie Cameron Munro, widow and healer, who is called upon to tend the wounds of Laird Andrew Munro, the Black Falcon of Ferindonald.

Maidie and Andrew are caught in the middle of clan warfare that has her father at war with Andrew who she is coming to love. Along the way, Andrew ends up in a dungeon where he finds his faith.

I like the way Taylor writes. Very visual, very clear, and authentic to the era. Her descriptions make me I feel like I’m in the room with Maidie. She obviously did much research into the Munro clan for the book, too. I loved the developing romance between Maidie and Andrew and the fact that others wanted her, too. I did think Andrew’s conversion a bit sudden and then shortly after he kills a guard that he might have just hit over the head. There’s lots of action to keep you turning pages.

If you like sweet Highland romance with sexual tension (but no love scenes) and action, and some inspiration, you will find it in this one.

Ross Shire
A Highland Pearl is the first in a series called Highland Treasures so watch for more to come!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

And the winner is...

The winner of Kate Robbins' book, Promised to the Highlander is Molly Moody. Congratulations, Molly! And thanks to all who commented.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kate Robbins, author of Highland romances, my guest today

Welcome with me today, author of Highland romances, Kate Robbins. Kate lives in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada where she writes historical romance novels out of pure escapism and a love for all things Scottish, not to mention a life-long enjoyment of reading romance. She enjoys the research process and delving into secondary sources in order to blend authentic historical fact into her stories. She has traveled to Scotland twice and visited the sites described in her Highland Chiefs series set in the early fifteenth century during the reign of James Stewart.

Kate will be giving away the ebook of Promised to the Highlander and a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter.

On Stepping Away from Fact: When the History Doesn’t Fit the Story by Kate Robbins

Thank you so much, Regan, for having me here today.

Any writer will tell you that no matter how much they know a subject, there will always be a need for a certain amount of research. For me, this is one of my favorite parts of being a writer. I have always been fascinated with Scottish culture and history, and now I get to take some of that history and shape it into a story.

I’ve set my series in the fifteenth century, during the reign of James Stewart, first of his name. This king’s story has always captivated me. Imprisoned in England for some 18 years, he returned to Scotland with an English wife and new laws on authoritative reform. He wasted no time in imposing them, either.
James I of Scotland

Can you imagine how that went over with the nobles? The resulting power struggle eventually ended in his assassination just 13 years after his return to his homeland. But his legacy lived on, and the Stewarts continued to reign in Scotland for many generations.

The other fascinating part of researching this time period was learning about the clans who supported him and those who vehemently opposed him. Each of the five books in my series focuses on a different clan chief and shows his challenges and, of course, his love story.

The series is set just about as far north as one can travel, Tongue Village is nestled along the side of the Kyle of Tongue and is lush and as green as I’ve ever witnessed. Atop a lonely hill sits the ruins of an old watchtower, which gives an incredible vantage point for the surrounding area. No wonder the ancient MacKay clan built Varrich Castle where they did, as they would be able to see anyone coming from any direction for miles out.

The first story begins with a Stewart supporter—James MacIntosh. Ambitious and driven to ensure his clan continues to thrive long after his time, he has a close connection with the king. This was a tough one for me because I didn’t really like the king’s politics so much and so I had to explore all the reasons anyone in James’ position would want to side with him.

My favorite hero in the series so far is Fergus MacKay from Promised to the Highlander. From the first moment his name spewed from my fingers in Bound to the Highlander, I was enamored with him. I needed to know everything I could find on the MacKays and, in doing so, learned of their long-standing feud with the Sutherlands who are the focus of book three.

Both, incidentally, were not supporters of King James I. They could not see how anyone could rule and care for their clans from so far away. And so for a time, they did not recognize him as their king. Having said that, the Sutherland/MacKay feud was legendary and lasted generations.
While traveling to Scotland to explore MacKay country in the far north, I discovered the Strathnaver museum at Bettyhill. It has an entire room on the second floor dedicated to clan MacKay—I had struck research gold! 

Strathnaver museum

My primary research up to this point was from online searches and a wee clan history book I’d bought at the Loch Ness gift shop. In it, I’d read a legend of a young warrior who had to prove his mettle by slaying a wild boar guarding the door to the warrior’s celebratory feast.

This didn’t sit well with me and after visiting the museum and learning more about the warrior MacKay clan, I decided to switch it up a little. In the prologue of Promised to the Highlander, I tell the story of a very young Fergus MacKay and of his initiation into manhood. He has been left hungry, but so has the boarhound guarding the feast. Instead of slaying it outright, Fergus assesses the situation to determine how to best handle the situation and then he acts in a manner he feels is most appropriate for the situation.

As fiction writers, we have the benefit of taking pieces of history like that and changing them slightly so that we tell what we feel is a better story and, in my case, one that paints a more accurate picture of the hero I wanted to portray.

I’ve been fortunate in that I have been able to visit all the sites I have written about (or made up) in my series. Driving up through the Highlands and seeing Linlithgow Palace, Dunrobin Castle, and the Varrich Castle ruins up close and personal, have enable me to understand my character’s world so much better.

 Varrich Castle ruins to the Kyle
This truly is the best job in the world. 

Have you ever wondered if a certain scene or character in a historical novel is based on fact or fiction? I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and I will pick one winner randomly later to win an e-copy of Promised to the Highlander and a $10 Amazon gift card.

Keep up with Kate at her Website and on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!