Red Pencil Thursday with Theresa Romain

Each Thursday we have a volunteer critique victim. We’ve had aspiring writers, Golden Heart Winners, and published authors take the hotseat here. Today, I’m pleased to welcome a fellow Kensington author, Theresa Romain.

My comments are in red. Theresa’s responses are in blue. And I hope you’ll add your comments at the end. This critique group isn’t complete without YOU!

Take it away, Theresa.

A Lady of Affairs

Good title. Nice double entendre.

June 14, 1816

Callows, Lancashire seat of the Duke of Wyverne

Is Callows a town or the name of a home? Usually, a date and town are all that is posted here. Remember to give readers only what they need to continue. If this is the name of his home, I’d rather see it worked into the body of the text.

Sure thing. It’s the name of his estate, but it’s not necessary for orienting the reader. I’ll snip it out.

“The money is gone, your grace.”

Capitalize Your Grace.

Oops, my bad. You’re right; this should always be capitalized. Time for a Find/Replace in the MS.

After ten years in Michael’s service, his steward had finally shed the vague diplomacy favored by the previous Duke of Wyverne. Michael’s father had been offended by bitter truths, preferring them softened into a palatable pap.

Because you start with the steward’s dialogue, the construction of the next sentence makes the POV ambiguous. For a moment, I thought we were in the steward’s head. Make sure we know whose eyes we’re looking through.

Aha, good to know! I’ll reword to get the POV across right away. Maybe if I started it “Finally. After ten years in Michael’s service, his steward had managed to shed…” it would be more clear we weren’t seeing through the steward’s eyes.

It may just be me. I’m still a little punchy from my trip to the Netherlands. Let’s see what the rest of the gang thinks before you make a change.

Michael was never offended by the truth. Especially not a truth so obvious.

He wiped his pen and placed it next to his inkwell. “Of course the money’s gone, Sanders. I have more titles to my name than guineas this year. You must simply borrow more.”

He sanded his just-completed letter to the engineer Richard Trevithick. The man’s Cornish steam engines were revolutionizing threshing on a small scale. On a large scale, such as the duchy of Wyverne, the effect might be magnified. Perhaps steam power could be made useful in irrigation, too.

1816 for a steam application pricks my ear as too early. Steam power is a Victorian invention, not Regency. I did a quick search and couldn’t find a steam thresher until 1830. Not every reader will be put off by this discrepancy, but the historical romance readership as a whole is very sophisticated and wants the historical details to be correct. Do you know something my search didn’t turn up?

This is historically accurate, though that’s good to know it’s sounding too early. I don’t want to pull anyone out of the story by making them wonder if I’m talking nonsense! Maybe I could drop an extra clue about how new the innovation was.

Richard Trevithick was an engineering pioneer who invented early steam engines, including a thresher that was put into use in Cornwall in 1812 (and a steam-powered train prototype as early as 1801 — whoa). That in itself isn’t important to the story, but it’s meant to show that Michael is a tinkerer and a Regency-era “gadget guy.”

It would help me if you dropped that clue about how new this was so I don’t have any doubts about it. Plus it deepens my understand of your hero as a “gadget guy.”

Michael dipped his pen again and lettered a postscript.

Sanders coughed. The familiar headache began to prod at Michael’s temples, like a carpenter settling the tip of his bit before drilling his auger deep.

The carpenter simile is very fresh, but is it one a duke would think of? It seems more like a working man’s observation.

Agreed. I meant this as another clue to his personality – that he is unusually hands-on in the care of his dukedom. The headaches are part of the reason why.

If he’s the sort who actually does physical labor, I’d say so. It would certainly mark him as unique.

“Yes?” Michael wiped his pen again and nudged it into place, not meeting the steward’s eye. He disliked Sanders’s sympathetic manner. It was as if the older man knew about the headaches and everything that accompanied them. If so, he knew too much for Michael’s comfort.

A duke would not avoid anyone’s eye. He’s the king’s peer. His servants, even the trusted ones, would quickly be cowed by his direct gaze.  Good hook about the headaches. Something is definitely up!

Yay! I was hoping I’d be a hooker at some point!

Michael doesn’t want to acknowledge his headaches to anyone, least of all his servants, but I don’t want him to come across as a chicken – since, as you said, he outranks just about everybody. If I changed the text from “not meeting” to “ignoring,” his reaction might seem more appropriate to his station.

Ignoring is good. Very ducal.

Sanders coughed again. “The usual sources of credit have dried up, your grace.”

This caught Michael’s attention at last. “Impossible. Has every bank in England run out of money?”

Sanders was as monochromatic as sand itself; his hair, eyes, and clothes were a faded, grayish dun. The only color in his appearance came from the gold bridgework he wore in place of three teeth lost during a youthful altercation.

The time spent describing Sanders slows the dialogue to a crawl. The duke’s predicament demands a quicker delivery. I’d cut this description of his steward as unnecessary.

Ok, can do! There’s probably a better place later.

Right now Sanders looked as pained as if he’d had another tooth knocked out. “England remains solvent, your grace, but…I regret that your financial overextension is now common knowledge. I have been unable to secure further credit. In fact, it is likely that demands may be made for a repayment of your existing loans. Ah, rather soon.”

Michael’s eyes felt too dry, too large for their sockets. “Dun me for payment, as if I’m a common cit? Who do they think they are dealing with?”

Sanders drew a deep breath. “They think they are dealing with a man who has no hope of paying his debts, your grace. I believe they have lost trust in your judgment, if you’ll forgive the frank speech.”

Michael stared. “Yes. Do continue.”

“Of course, as long as prosperity appeared inevitable, securing credit was not a problem. But with the unusual meteorological circumstances…” Sanders trailed off in a defensive flurry of careful language, the old habit of roundaboutation returning.

Roundaboutation! What a lovely word.Did you make it up? I love it when an author creates a new word. Brilliant.

Unusual meteorological circumstances … another good hook.

I wish I could take credit for roundaboutation, but no, it’s an old word! Not used much today, though a form of it survives in the British “roundabout” (those fiendish traffic circles that trap the Griswolds for hours in National Lampoon’s European Vacation).

In the year 1816, the weather was freakishly cold due to a massive volcanic eruption halfway around the world. It threw so much ash into the air that it actually blocked sunlight, especially in northern English counties like Lancashire. I thought it would be fun to use this event as a plot point.

Oh, is this the year Krakatoa erupted? For some reason, I thought the meteorological difficulties were unique to Michael’s land (along with the headaches, I thought you might be signalling a paranormal undercurrent.) If everyone is experiencing a year with no summer, why would he be singled out for having his credit cut off?

“My plans remain unchanged, despite the persistence of winter,” Michael said.

The damned winter. Until this year, Michael trusted two things in the world: his own judgment, and his land. But this year, spring had never come, and it seemed summer would also fail to make an appearance. And now Michael couldn’t trust the land, and no one else trusted his judgment.

Reminds me of Narnia–Always winter and never Christmas. You’ve let us know something out of the ordinary has befallen the Duke of Wyverne and piqued our interest. Your writing is crisp and clean. Good start!

Thanks very much, Mia! I really appreciate the chance to be Red Penciled, and I’m delighted to be part of your Moving Party!

Theresa’s Bio:

Theresa Romain has worked, interned, and translated for libraries and universities, all of which fed her love of books and her fascination with the past. Besides writing historical romance – and reading it, of course! – her interests include film history and public health. When not reading or writing, she can sometimes (but not nearly often enough) be found cooking or practicing yoga. Her debut historical romance, SEASON OF TEMPTATION, will be published in October 2011 by Kensington Zebra. Hooray!

Please visit her on the web at  http://theresaromain.com/

Be sure to leave your comments for Theresa!

9 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday with Theresa Romain

  1. Theresa Romain says:

    Mia, it#39;s a straight historical in the sense that I#39;m not (as far as I know) departing from historical fact. I hadn#39;t realized this might seem to lean steampunk, Saranna, but I LOVE steampunk. I might veer that way in a future project. br /br /(I mentioned steampunk to a friend recently, and he said, quot;Like…you would give a character a steam-powered monocle?quot; LOL! Ouch. No. Not that.)br /br /Mia, thanks for having me on RPT! And thanks, everyone, for your critiques!

  2. MiaMarlowe says:

    Saranna–Smacking my forehead a la quot;I coulda had a V8.quot; Of course, this would be a good set up for a steam punk story. br /br /Are you considering that, Theresa or going straight historical?

  3. MiaMarlowe says:

    Barbara–Thanks for dropping by today.

  4. MiaMarlowe says:

    Theresa–I really enjoyed reading your opening and having a hero who#39;s a techie for his time is a very fresh idea!

  5. Saranna DeWylde says:

    Lots of interesting stuff to hook me. I could totally see this as a steampunk. I#39;m fascinated.I definitely want to read more. Right now, actually. :)

  6. Barbara Britton says:

    Theresa, there are interesting hooks here–an impoverished Duke, revolutionary inventions, and confusing weather. You weave them together nicely. It certainly gets the readers#39; interest. I enjoyed the title too.

  7. Theresa Romain says:

    Hi Mia — thanks for having me! I always enjoy Red Pencil Thursday, and I#39;m thrilled to get my turn in the hot seat. Nynke, thank you for your kind words!br /br /Mia, re: your comment about the volcanic eruption — it was Tambora in 1816. I think Krakatoa was in 1883 or so, but it had a similar effect on the climate. Could be useful for someone writing a Victorian romance! br /br /Michael#39;s singled out for dunning (lucky guy) because he has financially overextended himself with his scientific tinkering. Bankers are willing to tolerate a duke#39;s eccentricities…until everyone else needs credit too, and eccentricity starts to seem like madness. Hmm, that could be the type of situation in which someone would have to marry quickly for money. :) That#39;s where the story heads after the excerpt.br /br /Mia, thanks again for your clear eyes on this. I look forward to everyone#39;s comments!

  8. MiaMarlowe says:

    I#39;m still a little bit on Dutch time, Nynke. I fall asleep at 8 pm and wake up at 4AM. I cheated on the posting and set this to go at a certain time whether I was up or not.

  9. Nynke says:

    Thank you, Theresa! I like the idea of a gadget guy hero, and am curious how he#39;ll solve his money problem. I also like the charactization of the problem at the end of this fragment: quot;And now Michael couldn’t trust the land, and no one else trusted his judgment.quot; 500-word fragments rarely end with something that poignant :).br /br /Mia, glad to see you were online posting things at 6 instead of 5 A.M. today! I hope that reflects a shifting sleep pattern :).

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