About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Inconceivable!

This morning a college friend posted on Facebook that he had never seen The Princess Bride. Inconceivable, yes? It’s the only movie I’ve ever seen in a movie theater more than once, and the second time I went by myself. So I started streaming it on Netflix as I stared at this blank blog page, trying to figure out what to write today. I got to this exchange between Vizzini and Inigo, as the Man in Black is climbing the Cliffs of Insanity:

V: “He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!”
I: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

You can see the whole clip here, just because it’s awesome.

Anyway, it got me thinking. As writers, words are everything to us. Large and small, we agonize over every one we write. As an author of historical fiction, I not only have to agonize over every word and what it means, I need to think about whether the word actually existed in the time period of the book.  I keep a bunch of reference books on my desk and on my Kindle which help me find just the right word, and I have the OED, available online through my public library, bookmarked.

img_3971

If there’s even the slightest question a word might not mean what I think it means, I look it up. If there’s the slightest question a word didn’t exist in the 19th century, I look it up. And if I have used ‘smile’ 100 times (yes, it’s possible), I look for other words to replace them. And my editor takes out 90% of my ‘thats.’

So, what about you? What are your go-to sources for finding just the right word? And how many times have you seen The Princess Bride? 🙂

 

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Judging a Book by its Cover

“Why, it’s one o’ the books I bought at Partridge’s sale. They was all bound alike — it’s a good binding, you see — and I thought they’d be all good books. . . . but they’ve all got the same covers, and I thought they were all o’ one sample, as you may say. But it seems one musn’t judge by th’ outside. This is a puzzling world.”
–George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

perf5.000x8.000.inddMarin here, and today I’m thinking about the puzzling world of book covers. Recently I worked with a cover artist–the very talented Rae Monet–to create the cover for my third book.

A cover’s primary purpose, of course, is to convince the reader to buy the book behind it. A great cover not only entices the reader, but captures the story in some way.  Cover artist Peter Mendelsund says “his job is ‘finding that unique textual detail that…can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.’”   But beyond that, a cover needs to represent the book. The mood of the cover should match that of the book–a couple in a clinch for a romance, something dark and eerie for a paranormal, an illustration for a children’s book. Even things like font matter–you see the font that was used on the Harry Potter books, and you recognize it immediately.  The cover, according to Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, should be a promise to the reader. A promise that the book is as professional as its cover, that it is of the genre depicted by the cover, and that you will enjoy reading it.

There are plenty of sites out there which discuss the elements that make a great cover, and I list a few of them below. But as one of them points out, what really makes a great cover is what makes you purchase the book. I tend to like covers that are more abstract, that hint at the character of the book without revealing too much. Here are some of my favorites (click on the covers to visit the book’s Goodreads entry):

Deanna Raybourn was new to me, and I picked up her book in the library almost entirely because of the cover. The others are authors I know and like and would have read anyway. All of these covers evoke their stories and the genre. I think Julia Quinn’s cover must have worked quite well, because she has used a variation of it at least twice since then…

I asked my fellow Passionate Critters what they like, and don’t like, in a cover:

“I tend to gravitate toward books with real people on the covers. I tend to like couples too. I like feet/legs too–or just bodies with no heads–so I can get the gist of the romance while leaving something to my imagination.”

“I like illustrated covers, too, if they’re well done and not drawn by the author themselves. Actually…it’s easier to say what DOESN’T work. Go here to see some samples: http://lousybookcovers.com/.”

“I like a simple cover which conveys the mood or feel of the story that I’m buying.”

“I’ve always liked Kristan Higgins’ covers. You see a couple but not too much of their faces.”

“I’m the opposite of the others, I love faces.  At least the guy’s face, I’m OK with the back of the girl’s head.  Clinch covers work for me as well.  I want a sense of the time period, what the characters look like, and the overall mood of the book.  From the cover I should easily be able to tell if it’s a romance, sci-fi, fantasy, etc, as well as what era it’s set in, and a decent idea of what the main character, or characters, look like.  I also like to get a sense of who the characters are, is it a brooding alpha male?  Throw him in a tux and make him look angry….or heated…or both.  Character looks are huge for me, especially for the male, and nothing irks me more than grabbing a good book and then having the guy be described as someone I don’t find even remotely attractive.  It kills the whole thing for me.”

“I don’t honestly know.  Some are clearly just bad or rather lousy, but they don’t count.
But of good, well-done covers, where there’s nothing actually wrong with them…hmmm. There’s no type that appeals to me – some just look…right.
I think it’s sort of subjective to a degree – flowers and a wedding dress would put me off, because it screams sweet and I don’t particularly like sweet.
My favorite sort of covers are UF [urban fantasy], which always seem to be very distinctive of the genre, usually a beautiful background, a strong character (all of them, they never seem to have their heads chopped off) often a woman, and a few swirly bits to pretty them up.
I think it’s an arty thing (which is why I struggle) just getting the proportions and colors right and pleasing to the eye.”

“I like real people, faces, and even a bit of setting. I like to see the story. I don’t like the drawn covers–like chick lit has. And don’t get me started on the computer graphics that….are just…not real looking. LOL  But that’s just me.
I don’t like chopped off heads or flowers or wedding dresses or babies.  I don’t know what that says about me.
Oh, I also don’t like floating heads…over cities and stuff.”

Clearly, we all like different things, which only goes to show that you’ll never please everyone, no matter how brilliant your cover may be. What stands out for you in a book cover? Share your favorite!

Some other takes on what makes a great book cover:

https://selfpublishingadvisor.com/2016/08/10/the-book-beautiful-the-cover/
https://springfieldwritersguild.org/2016/08/11/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover/
https://www.wired.com/2014/09/makes-brilliant-book-cover-master-explains
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/30/book-cover-design-indies_n_3354504.html
http://www.graphic-design.com/DTG/Design/book_covers/index.html
http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/designing-book-covers/
http://www.iuniverse.com/Resources/Publishing-Distribution/CoverDesignEssentials.aspx

 

 

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Happy Reading

I know there have been a couple summer reads posts on the blog already this month, and this is another one, but hear me out. A Facebook friend posted a “must read” list the other day, and every one of the books was intense–about mental illness, or cancer, or the Holocaust, betrayal, murder, suicide. I asked if anyone read happy books any more, and the answer was no. Really?

I will say that I don’t always read happy books, and I definitely don’t watch happy TV–I’m binge watching Bitten and Penny Dreadful at the moment–whoa. The books I write, although they have happy endings–a requirement in romance, of course–tend to be on the dark side. But every once in awhile, I need something light-hearted–the literary equivalent of an ice cream cone. And when I want to read happy, I’ll usually pick up a romance.

But the Facebook exchange got me thinking. I can’t remember the last time I read a happy book that wasn’t a romance, although cozy mysteries come very close–my faves are the Aunt Dimity books by Nancy Atherton, and the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. Browsing through Goodreads, it’s hard to find one–every description seems to contain the words “poignant,” “deeply affecting,” “deeply moving,” “haunting,” yadda yadda, which are usually code for “will make you bawl until snot comes out of your eyes.” I’m sure they’re great books, but they’re not for me.

So my challenge for you, friends, is to help me come up with a list of feel good books for the summer. Happy, but not happy-ever-after. I found a few that look promising, and they’re on my TBR list for an upcoming road trip to Massachusetts and Maine:

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. The title alone is enough. I actually read and finished this book after I drafted this post. Read it. You must, must read it.

 

 

The Whistling Season. Aptly demonstrating the power of a good blurb.

 

 

 

My Lady Jane. I’m not entirely sure how happy this will be–Lady Jane Grey didn’t exactly have a happy ending–but I am intrigued nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

What books do you recommend, or have on your TBR list?

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Celebrating the Victorian Father

Happy Father’s Day, everyone! I know it can be bittersweet for many of us, but I wish for you a relaxing day to celebrate the men who hold a prominent place in our lives, whether they are fathers or not.

Father’s Day is a post-Victorian creation–although the first Father’s Day in the US was celebrated in West Virginia in 1908, it was not recognized nationally until 1972. Father’s Day took far longer than Mother’s Day to be recognized, because “As one historian writes, [men] ‘scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products–often paid for by the father himself.’” (History.com.)

I tend to think Victorian fathers were a bit conflicted. On the one hand, they had been taught, and treated, that as a husband and father, their word was law.  Their wives were told, by their own mothers and in a myriad of household guides, that the father “was to be first in all things” and that children should not “interfere unduly with the comfort of the heads of the establishment.” (Flanders, Inside the Victorian Home (Norton, 2003), 73.)  But many men took an active role in the lives of their children, and gradually over the 64 years of Victoria’s reign, this became more prevalent.

Charles Dickens and his children, 1864

Charles Dickens, for example, fathered ten children by the age of 40 and took an active role in raising them, quite devoted to them (at least until they got older). When his youngest, Edward, was born in 1852, he wrote, “we have in this house the only baby worth mentioning; and there cannot possibly be another baby anywhere, to come into competition with him. I happen to know this, and would like it to be generally understood.” That does seem to be the pinnacle of his adoration of his children, unfortunately, although he did continue to take an active interest in their welfare. In 1857, he fell in love with an 18 year old actress and eventually left his wife–she who had been either pregnant or nursing for nearly twenty years–and took the children away from her, declaring in The New York Tribune that she “suffered from a mental disorder.” (Flanders, 250). I suspect she was just really tired of putting up with Charles. . .

Victoria, Albert, and their brood in 1857

One of the most famous fathers of the Victorian era was, of course, Prince Albert, who had nine children by Queen Victoria. Although one suspects he had little contact with them except to pose for pictures like the one above, he nevertheless took an active role in their health, education, and discipline.  (Wikipedia.)

Literary fathers of the time period reflected the changing times as well. Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855) is chock full of conflicted fathers. Mr. Hale, the father of the book’s heroine, Margaret, has given up his living in the Church of England over his religious convictions, dragging his wife and daughter from their bucolic home in the south to live in the relatively harsh environment of industrial Manchester. Although he is a kind man and devoted to them both, he barely considers their own well-being, and certainly not their wishes, when making his decision to leave behind the only life they had ever known.

Bessy Higgins (Anna Maxwell Martin) from North and South

Nicholas Higgins, the single father of Bessy, Margaret’s only friend in Manchester, is a laborer who has toiled with both his daughters in the cotton mills. Fibers filled the air in poorly ventilated factories, taking a fatal toll on Bessy’s lungs. Nicholas’ motivations in calling for formation of a union and ultimately a strike are largely a result of seeing the devastating effect of poor conditions on his darling Bess, although he’s also a hot head and a bit too fond of drink. The same strike that Higgins hopes will improve conditions and wages for all workers, however, is the downfall of another worker, Boucher. He breaks the strike, ultimately caring more for the immediate need to feed his eight children then any potential reward the strike might bring. When he takes his own life, followed immediately in death by his sickly wife, Higgins takes in his children.

We’ve come a long way from those days, but I think some of the issues fathers experienced 100 years ago still exist, to some degree, today.

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Location, Location…

If you’ve read my books, you’ll know I like to set them in locations slightly off the beaten path–very few Mayfair ballrooms for me! Stirring Up the Viscount takes place largely in County Durham, England, where I spent a year in college. Secret Promise characters can be found in Boston, where my mother lives, an island in Lake Erie an hour or two from my house, and Wallsend and Tynemouth in Northumberland, inspired by this photo of Tynemouth Priory:

Tynemouth Priory. Photo by Chris McKenna (Thryduulf) via Wikimedia Commons

My third book, which I’ve just finished–finally–takes place in Maine, inspired in part by this gorgeous painting by Frederic Edwin Church in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Twilight in the Wilderness (1860), by Frederic Edwin Church. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Dalemain House, Penrith, Cumbria. (Source: VisitCumbria.com.)

 

My next book is unrelated to my first three, and takes place in a location inspired by own family tree. My paternal grandmother’s ancestors hailed–some five centuries ago–from Kendal, England. Formerly in the County of Westmoreland and now part of Cumbria, Kendal lies just south of the more famous Lake District. The heroine in the book is an heiress from Kendal, and might live in a Georgian home like this one.

 

Levens Hall, Kendal, Cumbria. (Source: BritainExpress.com)

Or possibly  a 12th century house like this one, which was owned by the Bellingham family from 1562 to 1688. If my family history is accurate–no guarantees there–there are Bellinghams in my family tree.  I’m hoping to head over that way this summer (assuming I don’t sell my house, which looks less likely with each passing day) to tromp through graveyards in search of ancestors, and soak up atmosphere for the next book.

What inspires you in your writing or your reading? Any ideas where I should set the next book? I’m always on the lookout for the next great location!

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

The Plot Thickens

I’ve written about plotting versus pantsing before–plotting a story as opposed to writing it by the seat of your pants–but this month has given me a new take on the whole issue.

At the end of January, I joined the Winter Writing Festival sponsored by the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog. It’s almost over (sadness), but if you’re a writer, you really should consider joining next year–it’s been transformative. At the same time, I’ve been taking a wonderful workshop on novellas by Catherine Chant which has given me a ton of ideas on plotting and structuring a book. I’ve also been reading Debra Dixon’s book on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. (Apparently I’ve been busy, now that I think about it!)

I’ve always been opposed to in-depth plotting of a book before I start writing, because, well, it’s boring! But I have also noticed that failing to do any plotting at all leads to a very bad book (for me, anyway). So I did a sort of hybrid I like to call plantsing, in the hopes that with just a little bit of plotting–a moderately detailed road map, I suppose–I could let my creativity run free and still stay on course.

Well, that didn’t really work either. I still got stuck in the middle of my book, and couldn’t get past it. Now maybe it is my lot in life always to get stuck in the middle, and if so I can accept that, but maybe I really need to get past my aversion to plotting. As an experiment, the novella I am starting in March will be plotted–beat sheet, character descriptions, GMC charts, maybe even a plot arc. Will it stifle my creativity and get stuck again, or will I breeze right through? Stay tuned…

How do you feel about plotting? Any methods that work well for you, or methods you’ve rejected?

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

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