Guest Author Amanda McCabe dishes on Paris, Jazz . . . and Love!

ManhattanHeiress2Andrea here, and today I'm delighted to welcome my good friend Amanda McCabe to the Word Wenches to dish about A Manhattan Heiress in Paris, her new historical romance set in the 1920s. (fluttery sigh.) Amanda and I met many moons ago when we were both writing traditional Regency romances for Signet. She had since branched out into a variety of fabulously interesting time periods . . . so without further ado, let's hear what she has to say about how history inspires her writing!

You’ve started in Regency romance but have also written in a number of other time periods—Renaissance, Elizabethan, Victorian, Gilded Age Edwardian and the 1920s! Tell us a little bit about what draws you to exploring different eras.
I admit, I’m Amanda and I’m a history junkie!!  I’ve always been fascinated by the past, ever since I found a stash of Jane Austen and various Gothic romances/Heyer titles on my grandmother’s bookshelf.  (she was a history/book junkie, too!).  One author she collected especially was Barbara Cartland, and while even as a ten year old I had scorn for her whispery, stammering, wide-eyed heroines, I loved the historical settings she used.  Elizabethan, Regency, Victorian India, the theatrical world, Monaco casinos, smugglers in Cornwall, she had a bit of everything, and talked about them in author’s notes I devoured.  They sent me to the library to find non-fiction works where I could learn more.  So, strangely, I owe my love of history to—Barbara Cartland!

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The Age of the Euphemism

41-cvVm25dL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_Nicola here. I'm in my writing cave dealing with revisions to my latest manuscript, so today I have dusted down a Wench classic post from 7 years ago which provoked an interesting and fun discussion at the time and I hope will do the same now its been updated and expanded. The topic is "euphemisms" and the first line of this blog piece is of course a euphemism in itself. What I really mean is that I planned a new blog topic but ran out of time to write it. Euphemisms are "a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing." And we use them all the time: "Downsizing" for job cuts, "certified pre-owned" for a used item (or "pre-loved" for clothes), "friends with benefits," "creative with the truth," ladies' powder room" to quote just a few. There are endless ways of softening something that sounds too direct and the word euphemism itself originates from the Ancient Greek meaning "good speaking."

There are many euphemisms for things that are considered too personal to express directly. This is where this blog post 1200px-Set_of_fourteen_side_chairs_MET_DP110780 receives it's X rating as we plunge into topics that have been and may still be culturally taboo for some people. In both my mother's and grandmother's generation there were certain words that were simply not appropriate to use. My dearly-loved godmother, for example, completely confused me when she referred to her "sit upon." I thought she meant a piece of furniture rather than her bottom! But euphemisms enable people to speak about things they find uncomfortable. They are comfort words that help us broach difficult topics. It's worth bearing in mind though, that you can stumble into cultural quicksands with euphemisms very easily. The "fanny pack" is one example, and did you know that in Scotland a "peenie" is an apron so "get your peenie out" could be misconstrued? And whilst on that subject, the question "which way do you dress?" from a tailor to a client during a trouser fitting is a euphemism designed to save both from embarrassment but which could easily cause confusion.

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Island Stories

220px-FiveOnATreasureIslandNicola here. Since the time I first picked up a book I’ve been fascinated by islands, both in real life and as the setting for stories. Whether it's Five on a Treasure Island or The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton, or Robinson Crusoe or Lord of the Flies (well not so much that one, perhaps) there is something magical about an island.

Islands offer the idea of escape and retreat and also the opportunity to start afresh. They are places set apart where you can take time and space to think. They appear solitary and pure in some ways, an earthly paradise. But they can also be too isolated, even savage, which is perhaps they make such great settings for crime novels. An island, if you can’t get off it easily, is the perfect “locked room” mystery as Agatha Christie proved and countless other crime and thriller authors have used the setting.

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Edith Layton: The Fire Flower Blooms Again As An Ebook

TFF_Med_Lighter (1)The Fire Flower by Edith Layton, originally published in 1989, was recently re-released as an ebook for the first time. This is the story of bringing it back to life—the research for the Restoration setting, the efforts to retain the original painting for the ebook, and much more, told by Layton's daughter, a very occasional Wench guest.


First, many thanks again to the Wenches for having me back as a guest poster. By way of introduction, I'm Susie Felber, the daughter of Edith Layton, who wrote and published over 30 historical novels and many more short stories. Her start was the Regency, but later she branched out into new time periods and locations. Since her death in 2009, I've been working to bring her much-loved books back into the world in ebook format. The first one came back in 2014, and I wrote about the big Edith Layton book party I threw for it, and that link explains why it took me nearly 5 years to do it. There's another Wenches post I wrote which tells you more about my mom, and there's two that tell what it was like growing up as a romance author's daughter: Daughter of Romance Part 1, and Part II.

Let's talk turning out-of-print books into ebooks

Thing is, some of my mother's books were already ebooks. All her later novels with Avon, and the earlier "C series", for example: The Cad, The Choice, The ChanceThe Challenge and The Conquest — those titles all live with Harper Collins and had no need for resurrection. 

But the majority of my mom's catalog is with publishers who never went to ebooks, at least not with the backlist. And of those books, many have stellar reviews, and many people have happy memories of them. But finding the paperback is really hard. For example, a beautiful "like new" copy of THE FIRE FLOWER goes for $267-$400. Not sure why the price bounces so much, but the point is, this is not the way to find new readers. Also, many long-time fans have the book on their keeper shelves, but the print is small and they crave the ability to read them again on their typeface-size flexible Kindles and e-readers. 

As I've rolled out re-releases with the help of the good people at Untreed Reads, mom's fans ask me all the time when certain favorite Layton titles are returning. They are often impatient for their faves. I really appreciate that. It means they care. It means they are readers… and without readers? Well, without readers, writers are kinda up the creek, no?

But bringing books back is hard. From contracts to scanning to proofreading to cover and beyond… it's way hard.

For example, three awesome books we recently brought back that included Bound By Love, were published by Pocket. Originally published in the late 90's, they were out of print, but I had no idea of the rights. My mother wasn't super organized. She had a filing system, but she'd file dried flowers and amusing cartoons as soon as she'd file contracts. I say she liked to create more than curate, and I loved her for that. Sure, her leaving a clearer trail would've been nice, but I'd rather have a fun mom than an organized one. And she was fun.

Anyway, for these three books, I worked a connection via a celebrity from my Nokia health day job. This celeb (OK it's Penn Jillette, why be coy?) had a new sure-to-be best-selling book at Simon & Schuster. Working with them to promo his excellent book (<–and you should read it, it's so fun) got me far enough into S&S to get a kind person who'd dive in and give me the docs that showed the rights had indeed reverted to the estate. Now if you've ever tried to just cold call a publishing company and find out about rights—well good luck. It's crazy hard. In fact, most agents/publishers told me that was why I should sign with them and why they deserved 10-15% of the re-release sales for eternity… because only they had the pull to dig to get the rights. 

The unique story of the cover art

I could go on about the book. But all you need to know is it's a restoration romance. It takes place in 1666, and yes, the Great Fire of London is a big part of the setting. It is the favorite of my brother Adam, who is a novelist and TV writer—and he's even a celeb if you're an NPR fan (I am). 

I was a teen when dragged to research this book, and I remember visiting the fire monument in London, which is very cool, but also situated in a very boring bit of the financial district. Yeah, research trips were fun, and I was lucky to go, but this was before the internet, so even if mom had every book ever (she did) there was so much she needed to see and experience. She saw her Fire Flower hero and heroine on that trip—together. Mom often picked pop stars for heroes, and pretty waitresses she met to base the heroines on. This was the only time, with us waiting for a ferry, she saw a dude on a motorcycle lean over and kiss the girl on the back of the motorcycle and BLAM! She told us, "LOOK! LOOK! THEY ARE MY NEW BOOK!" So if in the late 80's, you looked like the people on the cover you see above, were snogging, and rode a motorbike onto a ferry in England… yeah, that might be you.

After this book came out, the artist, Robert Maguire, sent mom the painting. Also known as R.A. Maguire, he's a BFD. He's amazing, the coolest of the cool. And in this painting, you see Fabio as a redhead. Say what you want about Fabio, he's an icon… and this might be the only red-headed Fabio cover ever. Editors don't like redheaded heroes, so mom getting that pass (and they fought her) was also a BFD. I love this painting. It hangs in my house now, and it will hang in Adam's house if he ever takes it back with him to Los Angeles. 

Even though I have the physical painting, that doesn't mean it is mine to use as a book cover. I contacted Maguire's site… and his daughter answered. She is like me—trying to preserve her father's legacy. It's a lot of work and not a lot of money. I asked for and paid for the rights to use it, because though we could use a stock romance photo, this seemed important. I also photographed it so you actually see the paint. I love seeing the brushstrokes. I also like how the whole of the scene is seen on the ebook, where on the original paperback it focused only on the people and left the lovely flowers and burning bits of London on the spine and on back of the book. I have a close friend who is an illustrator and still does painted covers, mostly for Kensington. Stephen Gardner is his name, and you should check that link—it's his Instagram and it's amazing because he shares sketches and covers in progress. 

I hope I've persuaded you to pick up The Fire Flower as an ebook… or get two, one for each eye, as my mom would say. That link goes to Amazon, but it truly is available in all formats, wherever ebooks are sold, which is something I appreciate about Untreed Reads.

I'll leave you with a pic of the original painting for the book, which is hanging proudly above (but safely far away from) my wood burning stove. It's far prettier in person, so please come by sometime for tea to admire it.

Supporting illustrators is as important as supporting writers… because they also create, and I'm so proud to be able to help curate. More books are on the way, including new titles, and I'll just be here at Edith Layton HQ trying to keep the home fires burning.



Is X-Rated Over-Rated?

Love 1Are you tired of sex?
Ummm, wait— that didn’t come out quite right! Allow me to start over . . .

Cara/Andrea here, and what I meant to ask is, are you growing a little tired of all the sex scenes in romance novels these days? I’ve recently been seeing a number of reader comments on various online forums saying that all the gymnastics are becoming  . . . boring. The complaint seems to stem from the perception that too many books appear to be simply stringing together a number of hot bed scenes with little attention paid to characterization or story plot.

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