Science of the Stars

Rice_MagicintheStars600Pat here:

As those of you who follow my Magic series know, I like to take my scientific heroes and confront them with my more metaphysically-oriented heroines. Just confronting Ives logic with Malcolm illogical faith creates such fun that I probably shouldn’t be paid for enjoying myself so much.

But I do like to ground the fun in reality and history. I usually don’t have such excellent belief-conflict as I did with MAGIC IN THE STARS. In this first book of the Unexpected Magic series, Lord Theo, my astronomer hero, not only has to deal with my astrologer Lady Aster’s impossible beliefs in the zodiac, but must accept that her charts provide highly accurate predictions. I don’t make it any easier on my heroine, who receives her own comeuppance from my hero’s greater knowledge—because by 1830, astronomers knew a great deal more about the stars than astrologers.

By 1830, astronomy was just coming into its own. For centuries, there really wasn’t “astronomy” as we knew it. The study of the stars was actually left to astrologers like Aster, who could do all the mathematical calculations for the changing positions of the stars. As far back as 3000 BC men were studying the heavens to predict seasons, create calendars, and of  course, determine divine meanings. By the 1700s, astrologers had a pretty good record of all the planets through Jupiter and their mathematical calculations could predict with accuracy the placement of the planets in the sky at any given date. So Aster’s math and knowledge is quite equal to Lord Theo’s—except much to Ives dismay, she uses the firmament to predict the future of her family members.

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Conflict And The Happy Ending

Joanna here. Having spent yesterday, Valentine's Day, exploring all the ways we can be in love. (Yeah love!) I thought I'd take today to look at the conflicts that hold our hero and heroine apart.
What kind of conflicts do we choose for our hero and heroine? How do we write them?

So I asked the Wenches.

Wench autumn brideAnne had this to say:

"Conflict" is a term often misunderstood by new writers, who think it means a lot of arguments and yelling. A better term is "the source of tension" which can be really powerful with no yelling at all. It's the central story problem that is preventing characters from reaching their goals.

For me, there are two main main sources of conflict — situational (where he wants X and she wants Y — or they both want X for different reasons) and character-based conflict. For me the latter is almost always the main one, though I'm happier if I have both kinds working together, playing off each other. Character conflict is where the hopes and dreams and deeply hidden fears drive the characters, and they have to work through them to find their happily-ever-after. Think "What does s/he want? Why can't s/he have it?"

For instance, in my book The Autumn Bride, apart from the usual misunderstandings between the hero and the heroine, there are two main sources of conflict. The first is that she's living under a false identity, but that's a relatively small conflict, fairly easily solved. A bigger conflict, especially for the hero is that he's made a promise to marry another woman,  a promise to which money was attached — part of a significant loan agreement with the woman's father. It's not just a matter of changing his mind — it's breaking his word, which is his bond. He's a man who lost everything as a youth — his future, his position and his whole sense of self was stripped from him, but his honor — his word of honor — is the one thing in his life that nobody could take from him, so to break it now is a major conflict for him.

I love that conflict in The Autumn Bride because it's a choice between love and honor. I'm a sucker for those.

In some books, the conflict can be less clear cut. There's plenty to keep them apart. What's needed is equally strong bonds to draw them together.

Jo Beverley says: Wench bookcover beverley tvnawnewsm

Conflict in a romance novel is a complex subject for all the reasons given, but it's whatever believably gets between the couple and their final happiness. It's different in every book.

My next book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, is a marriage of convenience story, and they always come with built-in stresses and problems. Sometimes the couple are enemies, but even if not, making a marriage with a stranger is a pretty tricky thing! Kitty is a widow, so marriage itself isn't odd to her, but her husband seems to suit his title — he's daunting. In addition, the behavior patterns from her eight year marriage lurk to make difficulties. As they would.

The new Lord Dauntry is already troubled, because he doesn't want a title or the responsibilities that come with it. He had a comfortable life as a bachelor in London, and occasional security work for the government to ward off boredom. He thinks a sensible wife will take his rural responsibilities off his shoulders and should be no trouble at all. Ha!

But this is the beginning. I find conflicts change and grow throughout a book, and as Kitty and Dauntry find ways to get along, new problems rise. And then, as surprising to me as to them, they discover that they share apparently impossible hopes and dreams. It's scaling those new high walls that powers the latter part of the book. The Viscount Needs a Wife will be out in April, but it can be ordered now. There's more here.

Rice_MagicintheStars600When I asked Pat how she chose the conflict for her characters, she said:

Choose a conflict? We get to choose our own conflicts?

Sorry, I just had a moment of process panic…  We all approach a book differently. I start with characters and a situation. These people pop into my head, nattering at each other, and they keep getting stronger and demanding that I listen, so I start taking notes.

I try really hard to define their characters, their motives, their goals, their flaws, all that good stuff, before I start writing. And the best way to develop conflict, for me, is to look at that list of traits and goals and see where one character opposes the other. He’s an astronomer…she’s an astrologer. How could that go wrong? He’s building telescopes and gazing at the stars…she’s drawing zodiac charts and telling him he’s going to die. Cheerful little devil, isn’t she? (That's Magic in the Stars, coming out March 29, 2016)

And somewhere thereafter, they’re off and running and I just let them go. I’m not saying I advise listening to those voices in your head, mind you. Because that’s just crazy. <G>


Cara has a somewhat similar approach to mapping out the conflict of a story.

She says: Scandalously yours

For me, conflict comes in two elemental forms, and I like to think of it with a Regency metaphor—the plot is like steel, and the characters are like flint, striking against the steel to set off sparks.  It’s the internal conflict of the hero and heroine that heats up the story. How they overcome doubts, fears, or whatever challenge stands in the way of achieving happiness is what makes us keep turning the pages.

 So . . . how do I going about creating these sparks?  I am a total pantser, so don’t ask. I get a story idea, I figure out basic conflicts that are torturing my main characters. For example, in Scandalously Yours, the heroine secretly writes fiery political essays pressing for social reform, but if her secret is made public, her family will be disgraced. The hero is an oh-so conventional lord who believes it’s important never to break the rules of Society. I had a perfectly good plot in mind for them, but by Chapter Two, they gave me the Evil Eye and started to rewrite everything. I was happy to hand them the pen. 


RogueSpy cover w-o blurbMe? My books are set in wartime. You got yer battling nations and divided loyalties. You got yer spies, lies, secrets, betrayals, misdirection, midnight flits, and the occasional gunfire, My heroes and heroines are now and then on opposite sides.

So my problem isn't so much creating the conflict to keep my people apart. There's distrust and cross-purposes scattered thick on the ground. The problem my unfortunate characters face is carving out some little niche of peace to fall in love in. My people have to learn to trust each other . . . and they aren't all that trustable.

In Rogue Spy, for instance, my hero and heroine, Pax and Cami, were children recruited as spies by the French Revolution, both trained to perform horrible deeds, both placed as covert operatives in England. They meet again as adults — ingenious, dangerous, tough adults who have to wonder if they can allow themselves to love each other.

(P.S. They do the trusting thing, but it takes a while.)



In your own reading, do you have favorite sorts of this-is-what-keeps-them-apart?
Do some sorts of conflicts just annoy you?

Some lucky commenter will win a book of mine. Their choice.

Astrology vs Astronomy

Rice_MysticRider200x300 Pat here: 

  Humans have been fascinated with the stars since we gathered around the campfire chowing down on mammoth meat. We simply didn’t have the ability to record that fascination before the third millennium BC. At that time, there was no practical difference between astrology and astronomy and the words used to describe this science were the same. Mostly, ancient astronomers correlated the position of the constellations with the seasons and attempted to predict the weather. If one associates a winter constellation with cold and snow, that’s a pretty accurate prediction.

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Science vs Superstition

Lureofsong-300finalPat stopping by today, to ponder how time changes our perceptions.

My Magic series begins in the mid 1750’s, at a time when science wasn’t clearly defined. Today’s Websters defines science as “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” At it’s defined as “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.”  I believe in high school I learned science was based on observation and proof from repeated experimentation, or some such.

But in the first Encyclopedia Britannica from 1770, science was defined as “in philosophy, denotes any doctrine, deduced from self-evident and certain principles, by a regular demonstration.”

Self-evident? It’s evident there are white glittering objects in the night sky, and those objects change with the season, but does that make astrology a science? Sure, as a Leo, born under the late July stars, I dress flamboyantly and display leadership qualities like Mae West, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Napoleon, Napoleonbonapartebut does that serve as “regular demonstration” that astrology is knowledge?

How fine is the line between superstition and science, astrology and astronomy, alchemy and chemistry? We don’t teach phrenology today, but some of the Victorian precepts led to today’s medical science of neurology. It sounds like ridiculous superstition to believe light particles know what is ahead and will adjust their behavior accordingly—leading to speculation about the time/space continuum and time travel—but this is one of the basic principles behind quantum physics. Warping time and space might warp my mind, so the theory impresses me about as much as astrology. But Newton figured out gravity from a falling apple and no one believed him either.

Which, of course, brings us to my psychic Malcoms. Are telekinesis, telepathy, and other so-called parnormal phenomena really superstition or have we just been put off by the bad rep and not applied sufficient scientific study? It’s been proven that animals have a higher order of smell and dogs can sniff the odor of cancer, so why is it so impossible to believe that some humans might have a highly developed sense of smell? And the army and computer geeks are working with human brain waves to control computers, is it so far-fetched to take that another step and believe there are human minds that can detect those electron patterns and literally read minds? And we’ve already located the brain receptors that respond to the ‘love” hormone oxytocin and proven some people are more empathic than others. Who is to say some people can’t read far more of emotion than others? Empaths, anyone?

Of course, the number of people who might be able to perform these feats are so far outnumbered by charlatans and scam artists that incredulity is stretched, but that doesn’t mean psychic phenomena are impossible. It just means that like phrenology eventually led to neurology, and alchemy gave way to the proven scientific precepts of chemistry, we just need more time and study.

It’s a pity my Malcolms are fictional. I’d love to see more psychics step forward to be studied, in hopes that one day we’ll be able to use our brains for better purposes than watching television. If you had one psychic ability, what would you like it to be? I believe I might have a copy of THE LURE OF SONG AND MAGIC left to give away to any creative commenters. PatRice_TheEnglishHeiress_200px

And as a reminder, I have a complete list of my reissued backlist e-books at and if you want to support a lot of great authors in their effort to build a better on-line store, look for my new material at  Michael’s book will be there in July!