Google+ The Art that Inspires Writers and Readers: 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Encouragement for writers by Diana Gabaldon

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I just had to share this amazing work in progress by Diana Gabaldon (She posted it on her Facebook page today). Even for just the pleasure of reading something written by her, and specially if you are  a writer or want to become one. 

 you can make any fifth-grader cough up a reasonably coherent essay using the linear model—and no one ever mentions that this isn’t the only way to do it."


[Excerpt from THE CANNIBAL’S ART (not published; in progress). Copyright 2014 Diana Gabaldon]

The greatest thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. The most horrifying thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. Contemplation of that dichotomy is enough to stop most people dead in their tracks.

Success in writing—and by that, I mean getting the contents of your head out onto the page in a form that other people can relate to—is largely a matter of playing mind games with yourself. In order to get anywhere, you need to figure out how your own mind works—and believe me, people are not all wired up the same way.*

Casual observation (i.e., talking to writers for thirty years or so) suggests that about half of us are linear thinkers. These people really _profit_ from outlines and wall-charts and index cards filled out neatly in blue pen with each character’s shoe size and sexual history (footnoted if these are directly correlated). The rest of us couldn’t write that way if you paid us to.

The non-linear thinkers are described in all kinds of ways, most of them not euphonious: chunk writers, pantsters (_really_ dislike that one, as it suggests one’s literary output is not from the upper end of the torso), piecers, etc. ** All these terms carry a whiff of dismissal, if not outright disdain or illegitimacy, and there’s a reason for that.

Anyone educated in the art of composition in the Western Hemisphere any time in the last hundred years was firmly taught that there is One Correct Way to write, and it involves strictly linear planning, thought, and execution. You Must Have a Topic Sentence. You Must Have a Topic Paragraph. YOU MUST HAVE AN OUTLINE. And so forth and so tediously on…

Got news for you: You don’t have to do it that way. _Anything_ that gets words on the page is the Right Thing to Do.

Now, as a non-linear thinker myself, I prefer less pejorative terms. I like “network thinker.” Consider thinking and writing as a process that lights up your synapses (which it does): a linear thinker is like a string of holiday lights. Red-blue-green-yellow-blue-red-orange-yellow-green-red! And it lights up and then you can wind it around your Christmas tree or your Kwanzaa flag and it’s all pretty.

Well. You know those nets of lights that you throw over your front wall or your cactus or anything else that it would be inconvenient to staple strings of lights to? Those look like this:

Red - Yellow - Blue - Green - Red – Orange
l l l l l l
Blue - Orange - Red - Yellow – Green – Red
l l l l l l
Yellow – Green - Blue - Red - Orange – Red

The logical connections (the electricity, if you will) between any two lights in that network are there. It isn’t random, and in the end, it’s logical. It’s even linear. It just…isn’t necessarily a straight line.

Now, the reason that the educational establishment insists on the linear model of writing is that you can force a non-linear writer to work linearly (or apparently linearly). You can _not_ make a linear writer work non-linearly. (In fact, every time I describe the way I write to a linear-thinking person, they get annoyed. “You can’t _possibly_ do it that way!” they say. By which they mean that _they_ can’t possibly do it that way—and they can’t.)

But you can make any fifth-grader cough up a reasonably coherent essay using the linear model—and no one ever mentions that this isn’t the only way to do it. (Every time I go talk to an elementary-school class for Career Day, I pause mid-way and ask the teacher to turn his or her back. Then I tell the kids, “OK, the teacher can’t see you, so tell me the truth. When you get one of those essay assignments and you have to turn in an outline and a rough draft and a polished draft and a final copy….how many of you just write the final copy and then fake up the rest?” About a third of the class will raise their hands. I think it would be more, but some of them are scared to admit it.

• This is why you can read an article purporting to tell you How to Write, and discover that you just can’t write that way. That’s because the writer is not really telling _you_ how to write; he or she is just explaining how _they_ write. Maybe they have the same kind of brain you do—but maybe they don’t.

• ** This is the insidious principle that underlies Politically Correct speech, btw—the undeniable recognition that names have power, coupled with the invidious notion that by insisting on a specific term, the person assigning the name thus controls the person named, by controlling the perception of the named party. Hence the tiresome attempts to rename political parties as “haters,” “tax-and-spend liberals,” etc.

Stupidly annoying as this may be—it works. Frankly, it’s a lot older than the notion of PC; it’s one of the baseline techniques of exorcism and voodoo. As a character in one of my books observes, “Ye don’t call something by name unless ye want it to come.”

The writer Diana Gabaldon in a Cameo appearance on the TV  adaptation of her book Outlander.
 How would you feel to have the chance to be inside your own creation?


Friday, August 8, 2014

The waistcoat rippers: Historical gay man fiction written by women

Dear Ladies & gentelmen,

For me it all started with Lord John William Gray, a fictional character created by Diana Gabaldon. He is a recurring secondary character in the author's Outlander series and the protagonist of his own series of historical mystery novels and shorter works. 
Lord John is secretly homosexual "in a time when that particular predilection could get one hanged," the character has been called "one of the most complex and interesting" of the hundreds of characters in Gabaldon's Outlander novels. Here Lord John in in a scene from the fantastic book "Brotherhood of the blade" as imagined by "Sylvia" a fellow reader with great talent 
(original source:  Lord John )

I avidly devoured all things Lord-John and went as far as to buy several more "gay historical fiction" novels. To my surprise apparently all were written by women (even the ones that have a male name) in fact some people say that much of the best gay romance was written by women. My source webpage "speaks its name" a literary review webpage that only reviews the few books available in this genre and interviews the authors. I joined a large gay-lesbian community on Google+ asking their opinion about gay fiction, but I got no answer, just some encouragement to write about the subject (or I think that is what they meant by "+" my question).

That is to say I can not comment on the gay audience of this books. I can comment on "straight" women reactions to Lord John's character, having read a lot of comments in forums I participate. And Diana Gabaldon herself has it right when she says (in her own better words) that this  character is a "trap" in a way: he is a gay man but straight women react to him as to a straight man. He is the stuff of dreams, but unattainable, which is part of his attractiveness. I tested my "straight woman" consequence by reading the only "lesbian historical romance" I could find "The caretaker's daughter", not my cup of tea.

Changing to the more general genre; the sampling I did from ebooks available in Amazon gave me an idea of the challenges of the gendre: I was first looking for the most problematic take: the Historical ROMANCE gay novel. Here the challenge is the happy ending, which is precisely what I craved after following Lord John. In a time were, as I mentioned before, there was no possible happy ending, I have seen authors struggling to concoct truculent possibilities (the Hero's sister marries his lover as a cover up, so that she can also live with her lesbian love who is the cousin of the other Hero...aggg) to historical implausible (they get away with it because of their nobility rank, or hiding in the country estate with loyal servants), to the more open ending that sees them happy together, but the future is an open question. This last ending is the better done, but defies the romance novel genre.  

I also read "as meat loves salt" a haunting tale of love and madness that obsessed me for a while. I did a pin board accumulating images from the historical events mentioned Pins: as meat loves salt .This is one of the best gay historicals out there according to several sources. I personally think that the sexual orientation of the main characters is the least of the drama. (disclaimer: This is not a romance novel). 

I finally downloaded a graphic novel (I love graphic novels) called "the lily and the Rose", mostly because it was available. This was a manga (Japanese style) and was as truculent as truculent goes...may I say that one of the two Heroes is a priest. I should have guessed that with that name something cheesy was going to present itself.  Well, my research ended there, with a somewhat guilty voyeurism.

My TOP recommendations: 

1. Lord John and the brotherhood of the blade by Diana Gabaldon 
2. False colors by Alex Beecroft  for a review click here



Update from March 2016: 

1.The New York Times (really?!) just reviewed the gay romance novel BLUEBERRY BOYS By Vanessa North in a very favorable way. Apparently it is a not to miss. It is not historical, but I think I will read it!  review link

2. One of my readers suggested these two novels. Classic romance formula. For a start the reviews on are already an amusing read and then the covers! oh my THE COVERS. I read the price of temptation (with new insipid digital cover) and would recommend it. 

*******Explicit (sort of)***************************************************************************

The Price of temptation by MJ Pearson

Discreet Young Gentelman by MJ Pearson

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A graphic tool to check if your writing is historically wrong!

Dear Ladies (and lately also gentlemen)

I normally talk about paintings an illustrations. This is an illustration of a different kind. A graphic tool that allows you to know if that sentence you want your character to say was in use back then, say in 1850. 

You may already know about ngram from Google books. I just discovered it and had to share it. Google books has been scanning and digitalizing so many books this last few years that they predict they will have scanned all of them by the end of the decade. I mean all single, unique, books in this planet, estimated to be 130 million. They had scanned 30 million in 2013.

There are of course a lot of sticky legal issues here. It isn't easy to play some sort of librarian-Robin Hood, and just take all this books from their rightful owners to give them to the hungry (minds), many of whom can afford to buy the books. Google claims this initiative will give new life to dusty books and help promote literature. I hope that too. I personally, thankful to be able to afford it, will continue to buy books to have them in my Kindle or on my coffee table. 

For research purposes this is great though. You don't need to actually read (for free) your fellow writer's book. Google Ngram viewer allows you to search for a word, a group of words or several of these at the same time. from 1800 to this day. In al those 30 million plus  books. 

Lets test it with the infamous word hello. Infamous because many a historical writer has used it out of time. The Canadian Alexander Graham Bell made his first successful experiment with the telephone in 1876. The word hello was coined to answer the telephone. You can see that there is some base noise, but it starts to appear in books after 1880 in the ngram plot, as it should. Note that the Horizontal axes of the plot shows the years from 1800 to 2000 an the vertical axes shows increasing usage (in %). 

click to see Hello in the webpage

lets test an even newer word that I have seen on some historical fiction: starts to be used in 1960.

click here to see the c_word in the webpage

You can make pretty neat things like combining words in the same search (separated by a coma) or differentiate between the word used as, for example, a noun or and adjective.

this is an expression that was used in the past and now is barely in use: by the by 

click to see by the by in the webpage

Just for fun a  chart were I compare Jane Austin with three very popularcontemporary female writers: Diana Gabaldon, Stephanie Llaurens and Loretta Chese. I  suggest you add "Shakespeare" to this plot and see how he dwarfs the rest. I think in the case of contemporary authors this is mostly their name in their own books and  in the case of Romance novel authors, were the books contain excerpts from books by other authors, these mansions are also included.

click to see the authors in the webpage

There are several caveats to these data, for me the main problem to be used by writers of historical novels is that some words are always in use, but changing their meaning through time. This is only possible to check if the word changes from say, adjective to noun, or if the context sentence is short enough to use in ngram search (max. 5 words). The second worry I had is the representation of different genres in the sample, but I think with 30 million plus books from complete libraries, this is not a real concern anymore.

In conclusion, this is a very neat tool! I have been playing with words for several hours, to find good examples to show. In the process I have learned a lot  about our always changing language.

for a complete list of tricks

click to see how to use Google ngram 


PD: I was duly corrected for misspelling Jane Austen's name (Austin). Interestingly,the shape of the  "Jane Austin" plot is similar to the "Jane Austen" one, but the total % of usage is totally different, showing that the increased incidence of errors (by the automatic scanning process) correlates with the  increase of the total usage of the word.

click to view the comparison in the webpage

source of the pictures:

Robin Hood:

lady at the telephone:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The summer of 1901

Dear ladies:

Just in time for summer mood an other classic book of illustrations by John S Goodall: The Edwardian Summer

The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 and the succession of her son Edward to the throne marked the beginning of the Edwardian era. A period  sometimes imagined as a romantic golden age of long summer afternoons and garden parties, basking in a sun that never sets on the British Empire.

                                                  Eduard the seventh (1841 –1910) 
                                           son of queen Victoria and Prince Albert
                                                 as a kid and at at his coronation
In truth the Edwardian era stands out as a time of peace and plenty. There were no severe depressions and prosperity was widespread. Social unrest only started near the end of the era.  Who better to tell us about it than a witness: Harold Macmillan in an except of  the beautiful forward of the book.

"Why do we look back with such indulgent nostalgia upon the brief era of Eduard the seventh, the period depicted in this book, for it is not, perhaps, one of the more exiting periods of our island history? 
For those of us who remember it, the Edwardian Summer was an Indian summer, the last 'warm spell' of the Victorian Pax Britannica before the First World War engulfed as all and almost destroyed our generation"

John Strickland Goodall (1908 – 1996) was a British artist and illustrator best known for his wordless picture books that contained no words beyond the title page. In addition to his children's books, Goodall produced books of Victorian and Edwardian scenes. These too were an enormous success, and are to be found in the spare bedrooms of almost every country house in England. They reflect not only his meticulous research, but also Goodall's genuine feeling for the spirit of the Victorian and Edwardian age. He was, after all, an Edwardian himself.

In The "Edwardian Summer" He paints a world that was already disappearing when he was born.  A nostalgic feast and a treasure because it shows the life a kid from a family like his would have lived. He came from a long line of doctors and his father reluctantly agreed that he could study drawing.

In the spirit of keeping and celebrating the legacy of everyday life I share with you " An Edwardian Summer"



references: Wikipedia & John S Goodall's obituary by Cristopher Wood ( The Guardian, 1996)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Made to Order Romance Novel Cover

Dear Ladies,

The story behind my 2 new videos:

While preparing a video with the covers of Lisa Kleypas' series I found a possibility I had not considered before: Readers making their own casting call for the heroes and heroines of the novels they read! I had already seen some fan videos showing the author's casting preferences among snippets of old movie trailers and some model's promo-shots. Now I found the same idea among  pininterst users. Lisa Kleypas is a perfect example of this trend.

Lets watch cover evolution before your eyes: 

1. The Wallflower series: The first book "Secrets of a Summer night" was published in 2004 by Avon Books using a classy cover design not showing any skin, but wait to open it to find the step back with an old stile painting. These paintings are done using a photograph with actual models specially taken for the occasion. 

2. Lets jump to the fourth book "scandal in Spring" published in 2006. The stile of the cover is till the same, making it a graphically homogeneous series of four lovely books. The step back has a modern feel because it has more the look of a photography than a painting. The Hero is sporting the same naked torso+ black breaches+boots ensembles, but the body is less muscles an more grace.


3. The last book of a the series, "A Wallflower Christmas"  (2008), a special "reunion" episode has no step back and there is a total change of style reflecting the change in time and publisher from Avon to St Martin press

4. The Hathaway series: The first book "Mine till midnight" first published in 2007 also by St. Martin's Press is in the the same line of design as "Wallflower Christmas": the bodies without the face , as if saying you can imagine what you like best OR to entice you to open the cover and look underneath. The stepback shows a risque scene in a very photographic stile.


5. By the time we reach book four ("Married by Morning", published in 2009) of this bestselling series the covers change again. Risking the continuity of the series probably to appeal to a younger audience (my guess). There is a nice step back, but oh so tame! Do they want to trap young adults or only save the readers the embarrassment to carry the book?


6. By now (2014) the books have new covers and no step backs. Kindle Editions of some books don't even have a cover. So what can you do if your imagination needs a little prompting? Go online and look for what others have already chosen or make your own personal selection among the endless offer of virtual flesh. 

Here is an example of a different edition of "Mine till midnight" and two personal casting choices for the hero Cam Rohan and Heroine Amelia Hathaway found in Pininterest


Here other personal choices for Katherine Marks and Leo Hathaway from "Married by Morning"  

And finally an example taken from "Love in the Afternoon" (the final book in the Hathaway series) showing a personal Beatrix Hathaway and Captain Christopher Phelan.

What are you waiting for? your personal heroes and heroines are just a click of the mouse away.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

From the Tate Gallery (for inspiration) to the Romance cover

I have been turning around the subject of the romance cover art for a few post already. First I had to remove them from my personal list of endangered  species and now I am going as far as considering their artistic value.

The question now is: What  makes a good cover illustration? and my answer is that it must meet the expectations, like all the other rules of romance that still have to be respected:

1. The Hero and Heroine meet 
2. Attraction develops
3. Suffering happens
4. Physical culmination at the almost exact middle of the book
5. More suffering
5. Happy ending
 AND A cover that helps you imagine the story. 

(And I think it still stands that the heroine must be sexually inexperienced or at least must not have found much satisfaction in previous relationship)

The covers are also evolving, as you can see in my previous post. There is a tendency to replace landscapes and fresh faces for the scantly clad couples in the throes of passion, so common in the past.

And then, here comes Eloisa James and a fairly recent series (2007-2009): desperate duchesses. These are books about married women who are unhappy in their "happily ever after" and maybe because of that the intended public are  women who are not so young themselves, fellow readers, like me, who are happy to force the boundaries of the genre, but who still expect a classic cover (and the happy ending!).

And Here enters James Griffin, a classically trained painter who has been illustrating romance covers for decades. As He himself describes in his webpage, his personal interest in realistic painting had no place in an art gallery in the seventies and even less now. 
About Jim Griffin

Nevertheless his covers are exactly what we expect, it is part of the "romance novel experience"  and the perfect match for these heart felt stories of love redeemed. Beautiful classic paintings circa 2010 for heroines that have the drive and sensibility of our time. 



Saturday, February 8, 2014

Romance novel cover: an endangered species. PART II

Dear Ladies,

Maybe not unexpectedly, considering the huge success of the books themselves,  my little video about the Cynster Novels by Stephanie Laurens is also a success (by my humble standards). See previous post: 
Romance novel cover:and endangered species

Well dear ladies, the romance cover as we know it is alive and kicking. Judging by the amount of viewers from all over the world (I can see a neat map highlighting the countries were my viewers are). Thus inspired to do more to please her followers, I continued digging into Stefanie's book covers. I decided to honour the "Bastion Club Novels". This books precede the Cynster Novels, and the Bastion Club members  have a tendency to mingle with the Cynsters. 

Here is the result of my work:

Surprisingly, I found a rapid cover evolution from the first edition of the first book in 1997 to the current editions from 2013. It seems that the publishers also thought the old covers were obsolete and went to the trouble to make new ones: Fresh faced girls, as innocent as they come, no hero in tow. 

Here is an example from the novel "Captain Jack's Women" Showing the heroine Katherine "Kit" Cranmer in the 1997 stepback cover.

and in the new edition that you can find in Amazon:


While only around 10 years ago, the sensual heroine was depicted in the middle of  the divine rapture caused by the hero's passionate embrace, now the girls show almost no emotion, let alone passion and ecstasy!. They are also so young...or am I showing my own age here? See for yourself in my video:

The change in the graphics of the covers must reflect the taste of the new readers and I wonder what it tells us about the change in our dreams and aspirations as women. The content is still the same though: Domineering male characters and headstrong females. 

Although Stepahie's heroines just get some botox and more studio light, the heroines have changed in content as-well, as you can so clearly witness in the book 
"Dangerous women" (see previous post)

Dangerous Women