Category Archives: Fiction

How to write glorious prose. NOT

Recently, I talked about two very talented writers, Janet Fitch and Juliet Marillier who both write engaging prose that reflect the content of their novels. Ms. Fitch’s prose in WHITE OLEANDER, set in contemporary LA, was suitably hard and edgy. Ms. Marillier’s prose in SON OF SHADOWS, set in 9th-century Ireland, was gorgeous and poetic.

But I’ve also recently read prose that just doesn’t work. And I wanted to show you an example of what I mean. This excerpt comes from Suzanne Weyn’s THE NIGHT DANCE, a re-telling of THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES to which she has added elements of the Arthurian legend of The Lady of the Lake. I thought her retelling of this Grimm’s fairy tale was one of the most interesting versions (and I’ve read several of them recently.) But she really disappointed me with the ending, which seemed rushed, mainly because the quality of the writing was far below that of the rest of the novel. Read the passage below, which comes from the end of the novel, and bear in mind that it is supposed to be set in 5th-century England. I quote:


At the end of the wedding party, Sir Ethan announced that he would be leaving with Vivienne, though they most certainly would be in touch. Any of the girls who wanted to come with them and study mystical ways were welcome…Gwendolyn, Helewise, Chloe, Isolde and Mathilde thought life on Avalon sounded exciting, though.

“Could Ione, Brianna, Bronwyn, Cecily and I stay here at the manor?” asked Ashlynn…we’d like to turn the place into an inn.”

There was a murmur of approval as this seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.


I cringe at expressions such as “would be in touch” “were welcome” “sounded exciting” and “seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.” It seems so insensitive to write Valley Girl or even modern British slang when you’re supposed to be conveying what 5th-century England would feel like.

A lesson in how NOT to write, when you do an historical novel!

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Tidbits from the Internet: Fleshing out your characters, and how to sell books online

Here are a couple of things that might interest you:

I just came upon this recently.

G. Hugh Bodell launched a website dedicated to bringing his characters alive. The basic idea is that you put your character into a difficult situation, then ask your readers to help you solve that problem.

But I thought it would be a very interesting writing exercise to try the following. How about taking your character out of context and seeing what they do? This works very well for historical fiction, because all you have to do is change time period.

So what would your Roman centurion do in another time period?

The reason why I think this is a valuable exercise is because it will help you to get to know your character better. Why not try it and let me know what you think?

To read G. Hugh Bodell’s blog, go to:

For those of you who want to know more about marketing your novel and don’t mind paying $21 for it, here is the link to Joanna Penn’s “21 ways to sell more books online.”

Have a great week!


Filed under Craft, Fiction, How to Publish Your Novel, Promoting Yourself

Monday Tips: How much should you write a day?

Many writers recommend that you complete a certain number of words each day to get to the goal of finishing your novel.

I am sure this advice works for many people, but strangely enough it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I try to carve out 2 to 3 hours each day to focus on my writing by using a timer. I plug in the number of hours and set to work.

I don’t predetermine exactly how much of the manuscript I’m going to cover, because that just seems to focus on quantity at the expense of quality.

Instead, I do my time and then stop, knowing that I have really focused on trying to make the novel better.

Do you have any writing tips you’d care to share? If so, feel free to drop a comment in the box below. And have a great week!

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Why do family feuds always seem to happen at this time of year? Xmas 1468.

Why do family feuds always seem to happen at this time of year? I well remember one Christmas, long ago. ‘Twas December 1468. My daughter-in-law (whom I nickname the Serpent), had been married to my son the King for nigh on five years. My second son George, was a charming boy of nineteen. Yet I could not procure a bride for him. My sister Cath, a lady of advanced years, had been obliged to marry the Serpent’s brother John.  That is all you need to know, dear reader, to appreciate the following…



“The Serpent was ensconced by the fire, clad in a magnificent dress of silver and blood-red brocade. In four and a half years of marriage, she’d given Edward two children, both daughters, and now she was heavily pregnant with their third child. Edward sat next to her, and of course her numerous Woodville relatives surrounded them: her father and mother, her six brothers, and her nine sisters with their stolen husbands.
I was forced to sit by the windows, facing them, with Warwick and his family on one side, and George on the other. Icy fingers of air made their way through the casements, chilling my fingers. I placed them in the folds of my new velvet gown.
A flurry of movement caught my eye. One of the Serpent’s sisters, Jacqueline, had wandered over a few feet away and started nibbling at some nuts. She looked like a rabbit with her fine, strong teeth, and as she talked, she continued to nibble.
“How fare you, sweet Johnny?” she said to her brother. Sir John Woodville was a well-made young man of three-and-twenty years.
“I fare well,” he replied evenly.
“How does marriage suit you?” Nibble, nibble.
“She is very kind.”
“She does not excite your passion then?” Nibble, nibble.
John sighed but made no reply.
“Is she not too old for you?” Nibble.
John occupied himself in taking his new kid gloves off. They were dyed black to match his hose and fit perfectly to his shapely hands.
“How have you the patience to bear it? Why, she has no teeth, her breath is foul, and she—”
“Couldn’t you get this marriage annulled?”
Her bell-like voice rang out as silence suddenly filled the room. My gorge rose. I stood.
“Don’t you think you should keep your wicked thoughts to yourself?” I snapped. The nibbling stopped.
The Serpent, her face impassive, rose and faced me. Casually stifling a yawn, she lumbered slowly towards George and held out her hand. “Come, brother. Come, keep me company. You know how to play piquet, no?”
George flushed as he rose and bowed to her. They went to sit near the fireplace with her family.
I went slowly back towards my place near the window, taking care to take a seat that was in earshot of the proceedings.
George tried to be polite, by she goaded him as she always did.
Suddenly, George leapt up, knocking over his chair. “How dare you insult me like this!” He jutted out his lower lip, making him look exactly like a sulky child.
The Serpent smiled sweetly.
I put my finger to my lips, but George ignored me.
“I already have a bride,” he said.
“Sweeting!” she called across the room to Edward. “Were you aware that your dear brother planned to marry?”
Edward rose, his blue eyes blazing. “Who is she?”
George faced him, scowling. “You don’t have any right—”
“Who is she?”
George flicked a look over at me.
I nodded.
“Cousin Bella.”
“What?” roared Edward.
“Why not?”
Edward shushed him with a wave of his hand. “I expressly forbid you,” he said loudly into the dead silence that followed, “to marry your cousin Bella.”
“It’s not right!” exclaimed George. “You block me at every turn. You prevented my marriage to Mary of Burgundy. Now you won’t let me marry Bella. Just because you’ve married a whore yourself doesn’t mean you can prevent me from making a good match.”
Edward went white. “You will apologize,” he said in a voice that cut like a knife.
George glared at him as Warwick went to stand by his side.
Edward put his hand on the Serpent’s shoulder. “You are talking of my wife, your liege lady, and my Queen.”
The Serpent covered his hand with her own and turned to smile up at him. They were a fortress together against the rest of the world. How had I failed in my attempts to pry Edward away from the Serpent?
My belly filling with ice, slowly, I stood.
What happened next is something that I am too ashamed to repeat. You will find it in Volume 4 of my memoirs, titled Two Murders Reaped. And now I must say “farewell”. I hope that your Christmas season is more peaceful than mine was…


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THE LADY OF THE RIVERS and THWARTED QUEEN are released on the same day

On October 18, 2011, Philippa Gregory published the latest in her cousin’s war series. THE LADY OF THE RIVERS is a portrait of Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Queen Elisabeth Woodville, and mother-in-law to King Edward IV of England. A tale about a remarkable woman who has been long neglected, the novel promises to be an interesting look at the role that sorcery played in the lives of the people of the fifteenth century, just before the witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To read more about Jacquetta, click here. To view the novel on Amazon, click here.

On October 18, 2011, I published my first novel, also set at the time of the Cousin’s War, more commonly known as the War of the Roses. THWARTED QUEEN is a story about another remarkable woman, a person who was almost the exact same age as Jacquetta. This person was the mother of Edward IV, and mother-in-law to Elisabeth Woodville.  Cecylee Neville, Duchess of York is also not that well known, despite the fact that she wielded considerable power, albeit for a short amount of time.  THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a king brought down by fear. To read more about Cecylee, click here. To view the novel on Amazon, click here.

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Romance is not usually a genre I read, because I tend to find it too formulaic. I am a reader of historical novels, because I love thinking about the past, and love the way that historicals allow the author so much scope. (It’s not surprising that I’ve become a historical novelist myself.)

Therefore, I stepped out of my comfort zone to read PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS by Sherry Thomas. Set in late nineteenth-century England, this romance explores the “courteous marriage” of Lord and Lady Tremaine, courteous because he lives in New York, while she lives in London. But when her solicitors contact his lawyers and demand an end to the marriage, he decides to extract a condition from her. She has to give him an heir before he will allow the marriage to end.

Of course this is outrageous, and for those of you who may be wondering why she would agree to such a thing, you have to understand that husbands ruled their wives even late into the nineteenth century, and thus he was demanding only what many would say is his “right”. She is a fiercely determined woman, who in the great Victorian tradition of martyrdom, sacrifices herself to what we would now call spousal rape for the sake of her love of a much younger man whom she hopes to marry.

As I said, I do not normally ready romances. But Ms. Thomas kept me glued to the pages of her debut novel. I think it was because the characters of Lord and Lady Tremaine vibrated with energy, so that they literally jumped off the pages of the novel. Quirky, opinionated, and not always kind to each other, they were nevertheless completely mesmerizing.

Why was this novel so successful? The author had taken the time and trouble to master her craft. The plot was taut and well-constructed. The rising tension was managed well, and the writing was gorgeous. The best recommendation for this novel that I can give is that I stayed up until 1pm reading it.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: Blosmy Bowes

“Who are you?” I demand, twisting around on my knees to face the slender twelve-year-old boy.  I speak in French, the language of the aristocracy.  He should understand, richly dressed as he is, in dark blue velvet with black stockings and shoes. With his pale face and grey-blue eyes, he looks very serious, altogether too serious for me.
He draws himself up and says, “And whom do I have the pleasure of talking to?”
I get up, brush my old blue woolen gown with muddy hands, fling my hair out of my face, and draw myself up.  Mama has sent me out on this fine December day to care for my garden, a small plot of land, which lies between the eastern side of Bulmer’s Tower and the curtain wall that surrounds the castle.
“I am Lady Cecylee de Neville”, I declare, “youngest daughter of the greatest lord in the land, my father Earl Ralph of Westmorland.”171
His mouth opens slightly.
“Who are you?” I repeat.
The boy eyes me carefully. Eventually he replies. “I am Richard, Duke of York.”
I know exactly who he is.  Mama explained that someone called the Duke of York would be arriving soon.  “Why is he coming here?” I asked.  Mama’s mouth crinkled at the corners. “Your father wants you to wed.”
I toss my head and smile. “You don’t look grand enough, or old enough, to be a duke,” say I.  “What are you doing here?”
His eyes widen, but he does not answer.
I try not to yawn, and resist returning to my roses. Eventually, I say briskly, “I’m busy.  I have to put my garden to rest.” I gesture at the tools lying here and there, the roses, and my wicker basket full of weeds.  “You may leave us,” I say grandly, adopting Mama’s manner in dismissing unwelcome guests.  I turn my back on him, kneel, and dig vigorously while I sing.
He does not move.  So I look around.  There he is, staring.
I flush. Then impulsively, I say, “Would you like to help?”
Richard nods his head several times.
“You can do the digging over there.”
Silence falls again.
I say: “Do you like roses…1101What did you say your name was?” I don’t want him to think he’s so important I can actually remember his name!
Richard flushes.  “It’s Richard…my lady.”
I start to laugh.  “You don’t have to be so formal, you know.  We’re very informal here.  My family calls me Cecylee, except for Papa, who calls me Cis.  You may call me Cis, if you like.”
“Well, Cis,” he says, “You may call me Dickon.”  There is another pause, and then he actually says something. “I love roses.  Are all these flowers yours?”
“They mostly are. Mama had them planted for me shortly after I was born, as part of my Garden of Contemplation.”  I smile.  “But Robin looks after them too.”
“Who’s Robin?”
“My playfellow.  Only of course, you can’t see him.  He only appears to girls.”
“Does he?” asks Richard, who now frowns.
“Yes,” say I.  “He appears to tell girls all they need to know about boys, so that when they get married, they know what to do.”
I stare at him expectantly.
But Richard only flushes slightly, and concentrates on his digging.
So I start to sing again.
Richard stops digging to listen.
“Do you know that song, Dickon?”
He shakes his head, and so I take him by the hand and say, “I’ll teach it to you.”  He slowly begins to repeat the verses, which are written in English:

“A gardyn saw I ful of blosmy bowes
Upon a ryver, in a grene mede,
There as swetnesse evermore inow is,
With floures white, blewe, yelwe, and rede…”

Great-Uncle Chaucer wrote the lines.  I made up the tune just the other day, to accompany the words.
“It’s fun to sing with you Dickon,” I say, giving him my sweetest smile.   “What are you going to do when you grow up?”
He is silent for a long time.  Finally he says, “I hope to be like your father, with a large estate to manage and a wife and family to come home to.”  He looks at me.  “You will marry.”
I toss my head and pull my ugliest face.  “Oh, I don’t think so!” I squeeze as much determination into those words as possible.
Richard stares at me wide-eyed.
“I don’t want to marry,” I tell him, “because I don’t like people telling me what to do.  It puts me into a very bad mood.”  I pause for a moment.
He stares.
“That’s the trouble with husbands,” I remark. They boss you around.  My sisters always complain of it.”
There is dead silence.
After a while, Richard says very quietly, “So you mean you wouldn’t get married at all?”
“I might consider it, but only if the husband would let me tell him what to do.”  I fix my dark grey eyes on him and speed up to my normal pace. “It would really be much better that way because I have so many good ideas about things, and I’m so often right.”
A little movement begins around the corners of his mouth.  But he says nothing.
I toss the rose onto the pile of weeds. “But truly, I don’t wish to marry!”
“But Cis,” he says quietly, “Ladies are expected to marry. What are you going to do if you don’t marry?”
I open my eyes wide. “I have thought much on that,” I say.  “I would travel to the Holy Land…” I look at him from under my lashes “…like Queen Alainor of Acquitaine.” 1111
But Richard does not blink at my comparing myself with a powerful Queen, who divorced one husband and outmaneuvered another.  He does not walk off or demand my retraction.  Instead he says, “But you can be married and travel.  I would like to travel too.  You could come with me.”
I stiffen.
“Ladies need a man to escort them around.”
“Well, I do not,” I immediately say.  “I can manage very well without one. A man would just be in my way.”
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: Angelina’s Soliloquy

As she lay in bed, Angelina kept puzzling over what had gone wrong.  Rossi was hard to reach, harder than most men.  She’d tried all of her seduction strategies on him and none worked.  Men usually like it when you listened to them attentively while fixing their drinks expertly and plying them with food.  They liked it when you dressed up for them.  They liked it when you did extra little things for them like making them coffee with your own hands.  But from the first moment he’d stepped inside the house, Rossi had given subtle hints that he wasn’t enjoying himself. It didn’t make sense.  After all, if he hadn’t liked her company, why had he accepted her invitation?
It had been a mistake to put that popular song on and ask him to dance, because he clearly hadn’t wanted to.  She should have been smart enough to notice that he wouldn’t like that kind of music, because when she’d left him alone, he’d played something quite different.  What was it?  Something by Bach.  The sort of thing Grace would know.
Grace…Angelina couldn’t figure out what had happened, because Grace hadn’t done anything.  She’d just sat there in that dreamy way of hers, showing no interest in him.  So why was he so interested in her? It was true the child had looked very pretty in that old ivory lace gown120 that had belonged to Aunt Pauline.  But that still didn’t explain it.  It didn’t explain why Rossi was so attracted to someone who seemed so indifferent, especially when Angelina had marshaled her considerable arts of seduction and failed.
Angelina had never seen anything like it before.  Her female acquaintances were like her; experienced in the ways of men, knowing when to press and when to yield. But Grace just stood there looking embarrassed while Rossi stared at her and Violet tactlessly went on about how old they were. Angelina was still smarting from that incident: Couldn’t Violet see how much it hurt to have a potential suitor clearly figuring out your age from the ages of your daughters?
The first real indications of Rossi’s feelings for Grace had been when he’d taken her hand and kissed it, making a gesture that was both odd and old-fashioned.  But far from encouraging him, Grace had done her disappearing act, as she always did when in front of strangers, leaving Violet to do the talking.
You would think Rossi would be put off; instead he positioned himself opposite Grace so that he could look at her. Angelina remembered how Rossi’s face lit up when Violet mentioned that Grace played violin.  He’d put his coffee cup down, and, addressing Grace, made his first declaration of love by telling her he was passionate about music.
But Grace didn’t seem to notice. She just sat there in her dreamy state. One of the things Angelina did not understand about her daughter was her complete lack of interest in men: She lived for her violin, and very little else, and this despite the fact that she aroused a considerable amount of male interest as she wandered around the streets of Georgetown.
It was only when Rossi offered to help her with her Brahms sonata that she came to life. Angelina couldn’t forget the dazzling smile that spread over his face when Grace sat up and actually looked at him. She couldn’t forget the expression in his eyes, how soft they became, when he looked at Grace.  Men didn’t usually look at Angelina that way.  They looked aroused, or bored, or amused, or cynical.  But not tender.  Angelina had never known a man look at her the way Rossi looked at Grace.
It was all so annoying, and painful, and puzzling. By the time the Brahms sonata came to an end, it was clear Mr. Rossi had fallen in love with her daughter!  Angelina could hardly bear to think about it.  What would happen if he returned and asked permission to be Grace’s suitor? Well, Angelina would not stand for it.  Grace was only seventeen for God’s sake and it was the height of rudeness to abandon the mother for the daughter.  If he did return, she would see to it that he was sent away again.  And with that thought, Angelina fell asleep.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and editor who owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: The House

It was a square box of a house on a corner lot surrounded on every side by gardens.  To the left of the asphalt drive where my parents parked their cars was a small garden with an ornamental cherry tree planted in the center.  This garden was surrounded on two sides by a low brick wall and the back of it by a wooden fence done with thin planks that were woven in.  Someone had planted lots of shrubs on the borders of this garden, but there was nothing to do there: No where to sit, nothing to hold a lively child in place.  Opening the gates led you to the back door or kitchen door.  There was a thin slab of concrete running against the house on which the rubbish bins were place.  This garden was much larger.  On the other side of the fence was my sister’s fishpond that she restocked with frogspawn every March so that she could watch the frogs hatch.  There was a large pear tree that ripened with sweet-tasting pears every September.  There was a thick beech hedge with honeysuckle117 strands that lay over it, twisting in the breeze and exuding a very sweet scent. This was the garden where we used to like to sit outside in fine weather and have afternoon tea from a trolley that we kept in the garage. Walking around the house in a clockwise direction brought you to the back garden where there was a large cherry tree with sweet fruit and then around to the other side of the house, where the sun was. This was an L-shaped garden, which ran around to the front of the house.  It is the place where my sister and I scuffed the low brick wall as we climbed over it on our way home from school.  This is where my mother planted her roses and where our wedding pictures were taken.

Now the house has doubled in size.  The ornamental cherry tree is gone.  So is the pear tree, and the side garden by the kitchen door where my sister had her fishpond and we had tea outside in fine weather.  The extension has taken over all that space.  The side garden looks much as it did before, but neglected.  The grass is brown, the plants shrunken and a soccer ball lies immobile, waiting to be kicked.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: I sit in a dark room…

I sit in a dark room all day long.
In winter, it is cold, and I can feel icy shafts of air that ebb around my rubbery feet.  In summer, it is so hot I wonder my feet don’t melt.  I nap with my nose pressed up against a tire.
Now that I am growing old I don’t get out so much. My companions appear and disappear more frequently than I. My immediate companions are pleasant enough. They bide quietly on either side of me and don’t take up more than their fair share of space. The one to the left however, owns a person who thinks it’s neat to park on a diagonal. He claims he does it to miss a pillar. But I think he likes scooting near my fanny.
The companions I hate most are large, high and noisy.  When their pets get into them, they roar, belch and lurch, leaving behind a deafening silence as the garage door lowers gently to thankfully hide them from view.
The other day, my pet took me out to have my coat re-done.  Rust-colored patches have been appearing on my dark-green exterior.  I knew what was going to happen, because I could hear him talking about it.  I tried to stall things by well, stalling.  When that didn’t work, I tried a little lurching myself.  I didn’t want a new coat of paint! I like my dignified dark-green with a gold-stripe up the side.  It is suitable for an old lady like myself.  Was my owner going to paint me red?
I should have known better.  My pet grew up in an art school. I came out of my ordeal with…a dark green color and gold stripe.  I looked exactly the same as before, a shade lighter and sans patches.
My pet calls me Heloise and I am a ten-year-old Honda Accord.181

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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