Tag Archives: victorian era

Writing Process Blog Hop

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I haven’t blogged about my writing for ages. But that’s because I’ve been busy writing my novel. Now that my manuscript is in the hands of The Beta Readers, I have no manuscript to keep me busy. I don’t know what to do with my spare time (confession: I don’t know how to relax). So I was excited when fellow writer and critique partner Christa Wojo tagged me for this Blog Hop!

Check out Christa’s answers. And here are mine:

 

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on Night Flower, a historical-women’s fiction chronicling the adventures of Amanda Hollingworth, a spirited young prostitute who escapes the brothel and tries to make amends with her troubled past. In the wind-swept county of Dartmoor, she falls in love with horticulture and finds friendship with the magistrate. All the while, the Metropolitan Police are tracking her down like bloodhounds. It’s a story that explores the themes of justice and mercy, grief and hope, and the resilience of the human spirit.

 

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

The fact that my heroine is a prostitute makes Night Flower different from most (though not all) books in my genre. My work also focuses on the Contagious Disease Act of 1866, a legislation that hasn’t been much explored in works of fiction…Correct me if I’m wrong.

 

Why do you write?

I have a compulsive need to capture what I find beautiful in life, and writing allows me to capture a scenery, a moment in time, or a certain emotion I don’t want to let go of.

I love creating my own characters and weaving their lives into a complicated web.

I love writing because it’s magical. Example: I’ll begin a story, thinking I have full control, only to have the characters overthrow my power as ‘The Author.’ The feeling is akin to what a kid might feel when seeing the dolls inside a doll-house come to life.

Mostly, I love writing because I can give to readers. I can give them a story – a story that’ll hopefully tug at a few heartstrings.

 

How does your writing process work?

Stage 1: I do some light research – groundwork to build my story on. Then I write a chapter-by-chapter outline, which I never end up following, but I like having a map of sorts. Inspired by this map, I write my first draft within a few weeks. About a quarter of the novel will consist of point form notes.

Stage 2: I reread the first draft, further develop the story, and turn point form notes into prose. This is the stage I do most of my research. I’ll spend weeks reading primary and secondary sources. My research ends up inspiring new dialogues and scenes. Sometimes what I discover through research redirects the entire plot of the story, and I follow wherever it takes me.

Stage 3: I print out the manuscript and try to read it within a week – with a red pen. I keep an eye open for character/plot consistency and emotional fluidity. I end up rewriting chunks of scenes and dialogues. All these changes I incorporate into the Master Document on my laptop.

Stage 4: I send out my manuscript to The Beta Readers and spend the next few weeks twiddling my thumb, researching some more, and binging on period dramas.

Stage 5: I receive feedback and am overwhelmed for a day or two. But I manage to take things step by step/chapter by chapter. Slowly but surely I manage to incorporate their critiques, which results in a manuscript that leaves me deeply satisfied.

 

Thanks for reading! I’m tagging the following talented writers:

Rika Ashton

Maybelle Leung

Philippa Jane Keyworth

Priscilla Shay

Stephanie A. Allen

 

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Victorian Era Courtesans: The Man of Pleasure’s Illustrated Pocket-Book (1850)

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In my research, I came across an interesting book (circa 1850) that lists London’s prostitutes, identifying them by name, location, and their special charms. It’s possible to forget that we’re reading about women with a heart and mind of their own, because the way in which they’re described is so objectified.

So-and-So prostitute has…

Screenshot from 2013-09-11 230845“…good teeth…”

“…beautiful legs and feet as the most delicate sensualist would wish to see…”

“…a good complexion, and a fine bloom on her cheeks, but never makes use of any art…”

“…breasts [that] are rather small, but as plump and hard as an untouched virgin’s..”

When describing how these women feel about their profession,  the explanation goes along the lines of: “her life is not worth her care without the thorough gratification of every pleasure.” Prostitution, in other words, allows women unlimited access to their one and only desire: pleasure. Men are therefore assured that there’s no need to feel guilty in seeking out their sexual service.

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But in introducing these prostitutes, the author leaves out one important factor: the reality. Many prostitutes had to deal with sexually transmitted diseases, fickle-hearted patrons/abandonment, abortion, abuse, depression… etc., Life was not always entertaining, glamorous, and pleasurable.

It’s therefore unsettling to read about women as being no more than objects with good teeth, pretty legs, and plump breasts. There’s so much more to ‘fallen women’ than their bodies, but we’re not told their stories, because they’re not given a voiceScreenshot from 2013-09-11 230752. They don’t deserve a voice (or so the Victorian misogynists believed). They were wicked creatures, lesser humans, unnatural, insane…


On a similar note:

In the current manuscript (TRC) I’m working on, my heroine, Amanda Hollingworth, is one of the women listed in the ‘book of prostitutes’. But I give her a voice, so she has a story to tell, and, at present, I’m a little past the half-way point of her life’s story.

I want to write faster (because I really want to share this story), but life has gotten busier after graduating from university. My days can be summarized by this Facebook status of mine:

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My Current Writing Music:

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Summer Vacation

Dear Readers,

I won’t be updating my blog too often this month as I’ve flown over to S. Korea to spend some quality time with my family. The scenery here in Korea is sooo lovely that I’ll be wandering around a lot, looking for places to read and write.

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Working on my manuscript @ home

Books I’ve brought with me to read: Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, Jude Morgan’s Charlotte and Emily, and Mrs. Mortimer’s Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World.

Who else will be going abroad this summer?

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Book give-away winners!

Finally! Today is December 17 (ergg, a day late!) I’ve used the random number generator website to select the two winners for Christensen’s OF MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES. The first winner will receive the signed hard-copy of the book, and the second winner will receive an e-book version!

Archer Hamilton is a collector of rare and beautiful insects. Gina Shaw is a servant in his uncle’s house. Clearly out of place in the position in which she has been discovered, she becomes a source of fascination . . . and curiosity.

A girl with a blighted past and a fortune she deems a curse, Gina has lowered herself in order to find escape from her family and their scheming designs. But when she is found, the stakes suddenly become dire.

All Gina wants is the freedom to live her life as she would wish. All her aunts want is the money that comes with her. But there is more than one way to trap an insect. An arranged marriage might turn out profitable for more parties than one.

Mr. Hamilton is about to make the acquisition of a lifetime. But will the price be worth it? Can a woman captured and acquired learn to love the man who has bought her?

 

1. Mystica
2. Noelle
3. Noelle
4. Sapphire
5. Sapphire
6. Sapphire
7. Alex
8. Sharmon

And the winner is… *drum roll*

Congratulations to Sapphire (1st winner) and Alex (2nd winner)! The author will email you guys soon to obtain the necessary information to send off the prizes. Happy reading!!!! And for everyone else who entered, thank you SO much. Have a great holiday 🙂

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Interview with V.R. Christensen

V.R. Christensen has two copies of “OF MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES” to give-away. Two winners will be randomly selected and announced on DECEMBER 16, 2011. The first winner will receive an autographed hard-cover copy and the second winner will win an e-book version of the book. To enter:

1) Leave a comment & your email address

2) You can also post an entry about this contest on your blog, leave a link to your blog in the comment box here, and you’ll gain two more points. This means you have three times the chances of winning!

3) You can tweet about this interview and earn one extra point, Make sure to add in your tweet #OfMoths #Bluestocking

 

I have had the privilege of interviewing a very, very special author… V.R. Christensen. She is the editor I constantly mentioned during the time when my manuscript (The Runaway Courtesan) was going through intensive rewrites and when I was querying. She’s the person whose inbox I flooded with emails of writerly frustration – and always, always, she would reply back with words that gave me courage to keep on pursuing my dream. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Seriously. I’ve also had the privilege of following her journey to publication, which is why I’m SO happy that her book has been published to share with everyone. I remember the days when she would send me one chapter (of her earlier manuscript) a week and I’d always look forward to reading it…. Let me tell you, she’s one great writer. But before you read her interview, do have a look at her lovely book trailer.

 

  • Can you tell us a bit about your book?

Of Moths & Butterflies is set in 1882 England, just before the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act. It’s the story of a young woman who is suddenly freed from the control of her licentious uncle, but finds herself with the unexpected burden of his fortune. Normally such a thing would be a miraculous blessing, but she knows why it’s been given to her–to make up for the ill use she received at her uncle’s hands. To keep it would be a reminder of all of that, and she wants to escape that past, and, with it, the wrath of her aunts who have been disinherited because of her. They will, of course, endeavour to get at it by whatever means they can. And so she runs away and hires herself out as a maid of all work in a large country house. There, by chance, she becomes acquainted with the nephew of the man she works for. He doesn’t, at first, realise her station. He sees her rather more accurately than she is trying to portray herself. But in her own estimation, she is something quite low and despicable. These are the affects of abuse. In the mean time, her aunts are trying to find her. When at last they do, they see a way to gain by her good fortune. Her eldest aunt, her godmother, marries her off, basically selling her in exchange for a portion of her inheritance. And so, thrust into this marriage, she has to find a way to be happy. Only in order to love another, one must always learn to love themselves first. And so the story, truly, is about overcoming the effects of abuse. That was the main theme I wanted to explore. And secondary to that, how it is our choices, more than anything, more than circumstances even, determine our happiness.

  • What inspired you to write this story in the first place?

It was a combination of things. Firstly, I had read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and, while I loved the book, it made me so extraordinarily angry. I wanted Tess to have a happy ending. I felt she deserved it. And so I started mulling around in my mind what that would mean. I had written my first book already (yet to be published). It was about an arranged marriage, but one that would end, one way or another, in disaster. It got me thinking about all the arranged marriages that I had read about (and a few I knew of personally) that had turned out well, and so I thought I’d examine the same subject, but from a completely different angle. It was a very difficult book to write, and underwent several rewrites and a couple dozen revisions before I had it quite right. I had to wrestle with some personal demons in order to really address the issues properly, but in the end, I’m glad I did it. I think if ever writing was therapeutic for anyone, Moths was therapeutic for me.

  • I remember reading the earlier draft of this book a while back (which I adored!) How much as the story changed since?

I think you’ve read a couple different versions, June. The first you read was that which I first put up on Authonomy. I remember being so confident with it. A friend had read it and pointed out a couple of fatal plot flaws, but I didn’t listen at the time. And then a few others read it, a very few read beyond the first few chapters, and I began to see that my friend had a point. The plot was forced. It was a sequence of dramatic events toward which I was pushing my characters. It wasn’t working. And so I rethought it. I began by telling the same story, but by really getting inside the characters’ heads, which I think I was resisting to do before then. The original draft took maybe four or five months to write. The rewrite took ten. I did some really in depth research into the psychological effects of abuse in all its forms, I studied Judith Flanders’ Inside the Victorian Home, which delves far deeper than just how they decorated (which I had already studied at university) but what what went on in those rooms, and how those events translated to the outside world. I studied writings on what it was like to be a servant, and I researched the property and marriage laws, mainly by reading old texts. It was time consuming, often gruelling, it was emotionaly torturous, but I think I really had to do it in order to get it just right. I did, in the process, lose a beloved character, but I think I gained a richness, and a preciseness that I couldn’t have achieved otherwise.

  • Through this process of rewriting, what kept you motivated?

Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. In part, it was knowing I had people counting on me to finish it, who had invested themselves in it and wanted to see it done perhaps as much as I did. At the same time there were a couple of fellow authors that I really looked up to, and I wanted to put myself on par with them. I’m not sure I achieved that. I hope I did, but it’s useless to compare ourselves to others. Still, I wished to gain their respect, which I recognise now as vanity. If I don’t believe in myself, who will? But I think most of all, I just had a drive to see it finished. I’ve never been a quitter. A project started, for me, must be finished. I really wanted to see it bound and in print. I had to know that this huge thing that I’d begun would result in a finished product.

  • What was the most difficult experience you had while trying to get published?

Oh, boy. I can’t really go into great detail, but I had someone try to sabotage me. In the end it worked out for the best, but it was a horribly painful experience.

  • What did you learn on this journey to publication?

You really ask some hard questions, don’t you? I think the lesson I learned the most was to trust in myself and not lean on others for reassurance, and in tandem with that, to know when to listen to criticism and when to trust my own judgement. I think Authonomy taught me that, but it was a difficult lesson to learn, and it took a great deal of experience before I realised that I could very easily listen to everyone with an opinion, and then have a book that wasn’t mine at all. Not all criticism is helpful. Sometimes it isn’t even well-intended or particularly informed. I had to learn how to distinguish between the two. And that is very difficult.

  • Why did you choose to set your story in the Victorian era? What is it about the past and history that attracts you as a writer?

I think there’s a lot to be learned from the past, actually. At times I feel like I was born in the wrong time. I sincerely wish for a time where gentlemen are still gentlemen. Where women cab expect to be treated with a certain amount of respect. Where ALL can expect a certain amount of respect. Where people are passionate about life, but keep those passions in check. I love that feeling you get about the Victorians that they are straight-laced and proper, yet their passions are pulsing just beneath the surface. The Victorians really believed that a society’s survival hinged on its moral practices. At the same time, I am aware of the hypocrisies and prejudices, and they enrage me. And so it becomes quite natural for me to put myself in that place. To write characters with feelings and desires just like mine, but with tangible barriers that can easily be delineated. I feel that we still have those barriers, but that these days we have placed them there ourselves and they are more psychological than circumstantial. Those that are circumstantial, the economy, for instance, are a result of the past half century’s poor choices. I guess I like to think that we can take the lessons we’ve learned in regard to human empathy, and combine them with a greater sense of responsibility for each other and the world we live in. There is a sense of refinement, too, that comes with the Victorians that I’d like to emulate in my own life. My ideal world would be one that was a hybrid of refinement, responsibility and sensitivity.

  • What’s one of your favorite quotes from your book?

I get to toot my own horn? Hmmm. It’s difficult to find one that works out of context, but I think this will do, which sort of outlines the title, which is an analogy to one of the key themes in the novel.

“It seems to me,” Archer offered, though cautiously, “that we are all rather a lot like winged insects in various phases of development. In the larval stages it’s impossible to tell which will be moths and which will be butterflies. Even once wings have formed it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other. Some are glorious beings at home in their element, the unwitting target of scores of admirers. Others are merely drab impostors, fluttering and bumping about blindly. How to know which is which, though? And which, by the same token, are we? We all seem to have the common inclination to be drawn to the brightest thing in any room.”

  • Which actor/actress would you cast for the role of your main male and female character?

At last an easy question! If I were to cast the film, I would choose Hugh Dancy to play Archer Hamilton, (I love Hugh Dancy, especially as Daniel Deronda) and the lovely, lovely, lovely Rose Byrne to play Imogen. And I cannot resist the temptation to add that Tom Hardy is my vision for Roger and the amazing Rosamund Pike was the actress after whom I fashioned Claire. Paul Bettany would play Wyndham. I do find that it helps me to to imagine real people playing the parts. It makes it much easier to vision their mannerisms, etc.

  • If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be? And why?

Wow. Um…I think I’d like to meet George Eliot. I have a feeling she would not intimidate me as much as some of my other favourite authors might. Dickens, I think, would intimidate me. Perhaps George Meredith, too, though I think he might have been more approachable than Dickens. But George Eliot had so much against her, and yet her novels are filled with so much enlightenment and inspiration and empathy. She was very knowledgeable, had some really fortunate connections that allowed her to write in a remarkably informed manner, and yet she was virtually shunned from Society because she could not marry the man she loved and chose to live with. (Of course he was welcome in Society.) She was a victim of circumstance, I think, an exception to the rule. She lived, in spirit, a highly moral life, though circumstances were against her. I would very much have liked to have known her.

  • What are the five books that have influenced you most as a writer?

Well, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, of course, which I think gave me the drive to write about injustice. Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which taught me a great deal about plot. C.S. Richardson’s The End of the Alphabet, in which I learned a great deal about conciseness of language, brevity and how to use distance rather than intimacy to engage a reader to the characters. (Louise Galvin does this marvellously, too.) I learned a great deal about dealing with themes and writing in allegory from George Meredith’s The Egoist. All of his books are very deep, though they seem straight forward on the surface. What else? There are so many, really. Daniel Deronda. That was an odd book because I did not love it right away. It was only after I really thought about what it was Eliot was trying to achieve in that book that I realised the genius of it. It’s sort of a Trojan Horse, if you will. She was presenting a rather controversial idea in what seemed like a perfectly acceptable wrapping. She fooled her audience into reading and made a fairly powerful point about social, religious and class prejudice.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to unpublished writers what would it be?

Oh, man. Just one? Believe in your inherent greatness, but be humble enough to know that greatness requires a LOT of hard work in the achieving. It’s sort of easy now for anyone to publish. I think the work it takes to get published the traditional way needs to be applied to everyone, whether they are published traditionally or independently. Assemble mentors, editors, friends who won’t spare you. Listen to them, and learn how to decipher the good critics and criticisms from the useless. That’s really two, but I think it’s a combination of really knowing the craft, having the necessary team of supporters and assistants, and having the right balance of confidence and humility. Success happens in groups and the proud are the authors of their own downfall.

Now, June, I want to ask a question. When will you be writing again? We want to see your work published, too!

  • Haha, good question. It’s been a few months since I’ve worked on a manuscript – mainly because I felt like I neglected life too much in order to write last year (from morning till night I wrote, rejecting (almost all) invitations to socialize). I do believe my writing-well has filled up. Hopefully I’ll start writing once winter vacation arrives! I’ll be writing…and I’ll be spending a good  chunk of my time reading your book, Ms Christensen. I’ll read it while sipping on hot chocolate and listening to holiday music. Thank you  so much for letting me interview you!

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