Back to Old School Season

Last night, the power went out. Twice. The night was sweltering hot, the rest of the family had sequestered themselves in their rooms, hot and cranky, leaving only me out in the living room. My plan was to watch Ink Master (which I am not sure even recorded, but there’s always On Demand, right?) and write, but BAM, the big dark. The box fan went out. College kids (we live in what’s termed the student ghetto, as our neighborhood hosts multiple institutions of higher learning) whooped and hollered, and one fine citizen decided that was the perfect time to shoot off fireworks. Really? Why do you have fireworks in September, sir or madam? Waiting for exactly this sort of event? Can’t make this stuff up, and, being a writer, that’s kind of my job.

So, anyway, there I am, in the dark, faced with a giant shift in plans for the evening. I don’t have tattoos myself (and can’t, medically, as I have eczema, which does not play nicely with tattoo ink) but I find the art form fascinating, so tattoo shows are must-see television for me. Ink Master is my favorite. This season is masters vs. apprentices, which I think is an interesting concept, especially how each pair handles the competition. For my money, if I were the master and my apprentice surpassed me, I would consider that proof I had done my job well. The student should surpass the teacher, IMO, at some point. That’s how we improve.

Which is where we’re going with this, today. After batting around some email conversations with writer friends, I dragged the window seat cushion onto the floor, filled my travel mug with ice water and settled in beneath the living room window, to hug an ice pack and have a good think. I would have written this out if there had been any light to speak of, but there wasn’t, so I’ll get it down here.

The office overhaul has brought a few different things to mind, notably my reading habits of late. While I do have that lovely TBR shelf above, where my brain and heart keep going is over two shelves, to the recently unearthed classics in their new case. Valerie Sherwood, Laurie McBain, Anita Mills, Barbara Hazard…I have  missed those gals and the stories they told. Not all of them would appeal to the modern reader, but they have stuck with me over the years, and in some cases, decades. The question is, why? What grabs me that strongly, for that long? Good questions, and there’s only one way to find the answers. Study the masters. I’d say mistresses, as, with the exception of Jennifer Wilde (who was Tom E. Huff in his private life) these books were written mostly by women (though Laurie McBain relied on her father’s input, and Valerie Sherwood thanked her husband, Eddie, for his role) I’m reluctant to use the term “mistress” in this context. Whole different profession there.

There hasn’t been a lot of reading time lately, but, once I started my reread of Call Back the Dream, I noticed I was approaching a few things differently. Right before the lights went out, I’d sneak-read a chapter in the bathroom. Haven’t done that in ages, but I used to do that all the time, when I couldn’t wait to dive back into the world of long-ago lovers. There was what we’d call head hopping today (I’m not going to go into putting modern standards of writing onto writers who worked when conventions were different, as that was how things were done then, so shushies) but the details…wow. I felt like I was seated at that table in the vicarage, having dinner with the heroine’s family. Each sibling, both parents and even their lone servant were distinctly painted characters, and no, they do not all get their own book. Sometimes, supporting characters are just supporting characters, and that’s okay.

I’ve read this book before, and will read it again. There’s the delicious sense of anticipation, because I know what Camille is going to find in a certain spot by the stream, but she doesn’t know that, and neither she nor Alexander have any idea what that spot is going to mean to them, or how long it’s going to take before they can claim the HEA that they might have had that much sooner if a few things had been even the slightest bit different.

Different. That’s the word. I love the historical romance genre; that’s what I live and breathe, what I’ve read and written since I was but a wee princess myself. I love that there is something for everyone, and I love that I do have these books from the era of my reading career that fires my blood, in which I see myself and the stories I have to tell. That’s in both senses of the word; one, that I possess them, and two, that I need to release them into the wild. I want the bigger stories. I want the variety of historical settings and eras, and people who think, act, speak, believe and comport themselves as people of their time. Not so much textbook-strict accuracy but versimiilitude. Could it have happened? If so, bring it on. Even so, I’m not writing a textbook, and I’m not writing fictionalized biographies. I’m writing historical romance. The love story has to be as important as the world in which it takes place, and it has to be done in such a way that it could not have happened at any other place or time.

The best way for me to learn how to do this is to see how it’s been done, and them replicate it, in my own voice. Which means I’ll be reading through these keepers, balancing the classic romances with newer editions and learning from both, to make something entirely new. Teacher may be a strict one in this class I’m making for myself, but at least I’ll know attendance will be one hundred percent.

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