Tag Archives: Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn and Chameleon in a Mirror

Usually I try to post every year on the death date of Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in the English language. I missed it this year (April 16) for a number of reasons, the main one being that I was preparing for the Villa Diodati Workshop, reading stories and writing critiques.

But I have a consolation prize this week: for those who have not yet read it, my time travel based on the life of Aphra Behn, Chameleon in a Mirror, is on sale for only 99c on Amazon until April 28. 🙂

Chameleon in a Mirror

Here’s a short excerpt, based on an incident from Aphra’s life:

Aphra entered the playhouse with more confidence than she felt. The portly playwright, poet laureate of the realm, was giving instructions to the actors and actresses. “Wait here,” she said to her maid. Katherine nodded.
She approached a dark-haired woman standing on the side of the stage. “Prithee, can you tell me where I might find Thomas Killigrew?”
“He’s not here right now, lass,” the actress replied. “But if you want a part in the play, you can speak with Mr. Dryden.”
Aphra felt a surge of sick disappointment. “Nay. I wanted to give him this.” Aphra took the linen cover off the basket she was carrying and pulled out a feathered headdress. The actress gasped.
Aphra’s courage returned. “I brought it and several others back from America. I heard the King’s Company was staging a play where they might be of use.”
“The Indian Queen,” the actress murmured, taking a colorful feather between her fingers. “They would be perfect.”
The playwright joined them so abruptly, they were both startled. “What is the attraction here, Mrs. Marshall? There is work to be done!”
“I had no lines, Mr. Dryden. And you must see what this young woman brought — perfect for The Indian Queen!”
Dryden took the headdress from the actress’s hands, staring at the clever arrangement of colorful feathers. “This is incredibly good,” Dryden said, looking up from the feathers and into Aphra’s face. “Where did you get it?”
Aphra made a hurried curtsey. “I am fresh arrived from the colony of Surinam, Mr. Dryden. I brought the headdress with me, and several others as well. I also brought an assortment of unusual insects …”
Dryden waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. “You can present those to His Majesty for his zoology collection. But this … this we could use.”
“I would be happy to present them to your company.” The words nearly stuck in her throat in her excitement. “When are you expecting the master of the company, Mr. Killigrew?”
“He did not plan to come to the theater today, to my knowledge,” Dryden said, and Aphra’s face fell. “If you leave the headdress with me, I will give it to Mr. Killigrew.”
“I had something particular to give him,” Aphra stammered.
“I am one of the shareholders of the company, Mrs. …?”
“I will make sure it gets to Mr. Killigrew.”
Aphra pulled a sealed letter out of her basket, along with the painstakingly copied manuscript of The Young King, and handed them to Dryden. “This is a letter of introduction from my foster brother, Thomas Culpepper, and a play I wrote while I was in America.”
“A truly American play,” Dryden said with a sarcastic smile. “Not like our London Indians.”
“Oh no, nothing of the kind,” Aphra hastened to reassure him. “’Tis based on a classical precedent!”
Dryden raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
The actress shook her dark head and smiled. “The times are changing, are they not, Mr. Dryden? Women are already actresses. Perhaps playwrights next?” Dryden didn’t look pleased, and Mrs. Marshall gave Aphra a conspiratorial wink.
“I will give these to Mr. Killigrew, Mrs. Johnson,” Dryden said in a tone of dismissal. “Good day.”
“Good day, Mr. Dryden, Mrs. Marshall,” Aphra said curtseying, and turned to leave.

The actress and the playwright watched the copper-haired woman and her maid leave the theater. “A woman playwright would be quite a novelty, would it not?” Anne Marshall said, baiting the playwright, not well-liked among the actors.
“That it would,” Dryden agreed.
“Enough of a novelty to mean serious competition?” the actress added, a malicious gleam in her eye.
Dryden glanced through the pages of fine handwriting, quickly skimming a passage. He was relieved to see that the writing was bombastic and artificial, and although the public was often pleased with much less these days, he probably would have little difficulty persuading Killigrew not to take it. “Only if she wrote better than this one does,” he said. “Come, Mrs. Marshall, it will soon be your entrance.”

One of the things I love about Aphra Behn is the way she managed to succeed despite the odds. 🙂

Aphra Behn: 1640 (?) – April 16, 1689

Aphra Behn, the woman who made it possible for us women to speak our minds (at least according to Virginia Woolf), died 327 years ago today. Not only was she the first professional woman writer in the English language, she (probably) traveled to the English colony of Surninam, wrote prose works that could be argued to be predecessors of the genre of the novel, was a spy in the Netherlands for Charles II, and spent time in debtor’s prison as a result of expenses accrued in service to the crown. But instead of letting that defeat her, she went on to reinvent herself and become a vanguard for women writers. If all of that doesn’t make her worthy of more attention, than I don’t know what does!

Aphra Behn, portrait by Mary Beale
Aphra Behn: 1640 (?) – April 16, 1689

In honor of the occasion, here a brief excerpt from my novel Chameleon in a Mirror, a time travel homage to Aphra Behn:

Thomas Killigrew gave a marginally respectful nod of his head. He had been in the royal employ too long and in too intimate of circumstances to maintain reverence for his sovereign. “You should hear the petitioner, Your Majesty. She is the mother of one who was your spy in Flanders, and her petition has the support of Colonel Culpepper.”
“Blustery fool,” His Majesty said.
Thomas Killigrew nodded. “Certainly. But Mrs. Johnson’s claims are not unmerited. Her daughter Mrs. Behn had a great deal of expense in Flanders, and she served Your Highness faithfully. Perhaps you remember her — it was she who provided the feather headdresses and ornaments used in The Indian Queen and The Indian Emperor.”
“Ah!” Killigrew had finally caught the attention of his fickle employer. “A vivacious copper-haired beauty, as I recall.” Killigrew nodded. “She presented quite an extraordinary assortment of creatures from America for my collection.”
“That she did, Your Highness.”
“We would not want to see a beautiful woman rot in debtor’s prison now, would we, Mr. Killigrew?”
“Hardly, Sire.”
The King examined his fine, long hands, certainly more beautiful than his wide, long nose. “The woman was not as persuasive in Flanders as we expected.”
“No, she was not,” Killigrew agreed.
“Beautiful women should use their bodies when they want to live by their wits.”
The King’s Groom of the Bedchamber snorted. “And kings should use their wits more and their pricks less.”
Charles laughed out loud. “After those lovely bugs she gave us we do owe her something, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely, Your Highness.”
“Show the mother in.”

The rest, as they say, is history. 🙂

Chamelon in a Mirror

Giving “Free” another chance with Chameleon in a Mirror

Some time ago, after a series of very disappointing free runs that hardly seemed to bump the visibility of the respective books at all, I decided to give up on temporary free runs as an advertizing method. Instead, I tried to increase interest using permafree offerings.

Let’s just say that hasn’t gone so well.

I haven’t been doing a lot of marketing for some time, and it has really been showing in my sales figures. Admittedly I didn’t have a lot of time while I was working on the translation, but it has made me quite convinced that if you don’t make any effort to market and find readers, they are not going to find you.

I published Chameleon in a Mirror earlier this year when I was right in the middle of the translation. I didn’t do anything other than announce it on this blog and post a couple of chapters to my Aphra Behn Page. It sold a few copies and then proceeded to sink into oblivion. Even after over half a year, it still doesn’t have enough reviews for me to book any paid advertizing anywhere. So I decided to try out “free” again for a change, in the hopes that a few people will download, read, and review. I updated my list here on this blog of places to notify about a free run, went through it only using the sites that didn’t charge for the announcement, and got back to organizing the cover reveal for Island of Glass.

To my surprise, CIAM took off. Here is where it now stands on Amazon.com:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)

#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > Fantasy
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > New Adult & College

Then it got picked up by the German version of Pixel of Ink, XTME. And now the book is practically set to break the Top 100 free books overall on Amazon.de. Here the present ranking:

Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #105 Kostenfrei in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 – Kostenfrei in Kindle-Shop)

Nr. 1 in Kindle-Shop > eBooks > Fremdsprachige eBooks > Englische eBooks > Belletristik > Populäre Belletristik > Historisch

So if anyone reading this is in Germany, please download a copy! (And everyone else too, of course.) It’s free through October 18. It would be so cool to get into the top 100 here!

Another thing I love about this is that maybe a few more people will also learn about my idol, Aphra Behn. 🙂

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely

Of course, I don’t yet know if this will result in actual sales once the free run is over. Be assured that I will post more next week. My sales on sites other than Amazon are so abysmal, if this works, it might be worth to pull my books elsewhere and put all my eggs back in one basket, as bad as that advice usually is.

ADDENDUM: Chameleon is a Mirror is now #89 on Amazon.de!

Chameleon in a Mirror now available for Kindle!

My big update of the week is that I finally managed to get another book published! I uploaded Chameleon in a Mirror to KDP yesterday, and today it is live!

I want to thank all my beta readers and critique partners over the years for all their help. Feedback is so essential! I may not always take the advice I get, but I do address problems — I might resolve them in a different way than is suggested in the critiques, though. 🙂

I also have a question for you all. The only “time travel” category on Amazon that I could find is in the romance genre. CIAM has a strong romance subplot, but it’s not HEA, which romance readers expect. On the other hand, The Time Traveler’s Wife is also listed in the same category, and that’s not HEA either. Do you guys think it’s a mistake for me to list it under romance? I’m a little afraid I will end up with negative reviews for not making Billie give up everything she’s ever known for the sake of a married man. What do you guys think?

For now, the book is only available on Amazon. I’m still considering entering it in KDP Select for a while and trying a Countdown Deal with it to get more exposure before I publish it elsewhere. (But not free. I don’t believe in free anymore, with the exception of permafree.) My sales on other platforms are pretty pathetic, though, so I wouldn’t be giving much up, if anything. Amazon is where I make most of my money. If you are an ereader owner, where to you buy your ebooks?

Also, if anyone would like a review copy, please let me know!

As to my other goals, they’ve largely been on hold while I was concentrating on getting this book out. I did, however, get another short story submitted to a traditional market. That’s three so far this round! Not what I was aiming for, but still. I also continue to make progress on the translation. Now that CIAM is published, I will have to do a big push on that.

This is like a stone off my chest, I have to admit. The book may sell squat, but it’s a big item I can cross off my to-do list, and it makes me feel so much better. 🙂

Hope everyone else is happy with their progress!

Depressing discoverability issues, an update, and #WIPpet Wednesday

The other day, I read a great post by Chuck Wendig about book discovery, and how much more difficult is getting to find “channels of discovery” as an indie author. As long as you don’t mind profanity, I highly recommend it for anyone who is considering going indie or has already self-published. He provides a lot of numbers, a lot of uncomfortable opinions, some suggestions for what to do to get out of the deluge, and a nice graphic I’m going to link to, illustrating how tough we all really have it:

Quoted from terribleminds

The thing is, it’s getting harder and harder to be an indie these days. Partly it has to do with the mountains of ebooks being published that Chuck points out, and the way many readers are starting to feel burned and are shying away from self-published books. Another thing playing a role is that traditional publishers have started wising up and are no longer making the same mistakes they were a year or two ago — mostly regarding pricing. A couple months back, Toby Neal wrote a great post about this, and the “indies getting clobbered” meme bounced around the net for a while. (You can read a good response with more details at The Digital Reader.)

Does this mean that we should all return to traditional publishing? For me, it does not. And that goes for anyone who writes in a genre that publishers think doesn’t sell, like Arthurian fiction, or who writes stuff that’s hard to put a label on, like time travel with a literary plot and a romance sub-plot that doesn’t end happily-ever-after. (Yes, if you read last week’s post, you are right in assuming that’s my non-genre description for Chameleon in a Mirror.) Or anyone who doesn’t want to wait for over a year to never get a response from an agent or a publisher and has had to pull a submission more than once in order to be able to submit a manuscript elsewhere. Or anyone who has been traditionally published already, and for whatever reason does not want to go that route anymore.

We have to develop much thicker skins — and we have to try even harder to make sure we put out a quality product. That’s the only way we self-published authors can win back readers we’ve lost.

I, for one, haven’t given up yet. And that’s what my update is all about. 🙂 I still haven’t managed to get Chameleon in a Mirror published — but soon, I hope. Making the changes from the line edits sent me took longer than I’d expected. But I’m done now, and I’m on to formatting. I had a bit of a setback yesterday, though — for some reason, Word ate all my italics when I was about halfway through with the formatting. I only noticed when I saw that a title of one of the many Restoration plays I mention was no longer in italics. Since I didn’t know when it happened, I figured it would be too dangerous to try and recover the version with italics using “undo”, so now I’m manually going though the HTML version I created to get a clean copy and searching for the HTML tag “EM”. Sigh. It might have been easier to just start reformatting from the HTML file, but I’m already 7 chapters in, and it doesn’t make much sense to start over again now.

Have I ever mentioned before that I really don’t like Word?

Anyway, that’s the sum total of my update: edits added, formatting almost done.

Now on to the fun part of today’s post, WIPPET WEDNESDAY! My math for today’s date is simply to add up all the digits: 2 + 6 + 2 + 0 + 1 + 4 = 15. So here are 15 short paragraphs from Chameleon in a Mirror, the next scene in Billie’s pov, after the string of her lute snapped. (For the sake of clarification, when she arrived in the past, everyone assumed she was male because of her pants, her height, and her slim build.)

The door of the changing room opened, and Aphra entered. The playwright took in the lute on the floor and Billie’s reddened eyes and shook her head. “A broken string is nothing to cry about, Will,” she said gently.
Billie sighed and wiped her face with a Kleenex she pulled out of the pocket of her jeans. “It wasn’t the string.”
“I imagine not. Is London too great a challenge for you, fresh from the colonies as you are?”
“I — it’s not London. I’ve been places you probably never heard of, places you couldn’t even imagine.”
Aphra sat down next to her, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Did you run away, lad?”
“Not exactly. It’s not what you think.”
“‘Tis rarely what people think.”
At that oh so appropriate answer, Billie found herself chuckling, despite the hopeless situation she found herself in. Or imagined she found herself in.
She took a deep breath, reaching for the top button of her silk blouse. “I’m not what you think either.”
“Now, lad, restrain yourself!” Aphra said sternly. “There are still many others in the playhouse. I’ll –” Her voice died away as Billie opened her blouse to reveal her undershirt and minimal amount of cleavage.
Aphra’s eyes went wide and she let out a ringing laugh. “Excellent masquerade, Will! Or what should I call you now?”
Billie raked her mind for a name that might suit and lit on the lines she’d recited in front of the mirror. “Clarinda.”
“I see you do not yet trust me,” Aphra said with a faint smile. “So be it. I, too, have my alias. You may call me Astrea — most people do.”
Apparently Billie’s chosen name was in the pastoral pseudonym department, the kind given to figures in poetry and plays; Aphra had just offered her own pen name in exchange. But hey, how was she to know? She was a literary critic, not a historian. Which didn’t bode well for her if she really was in the seventeenth century, and not breathing shallowly on the floor of a classroom at Blackfriars, plagued by unusually vivid dreams.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂

Editing Chameleon in a Mirror, and an excerpt for #WIPpet Wednesday

I didn’t get around to posting an update on Sunday because we were painting in the new apartment where my son and his family are going to move in. Afterwards, catching up on the translation and new word goals took up too much time and I didn’t feel like blogging anymore.

Last week, I managed to get 1600 new words written. I also started to go through the edits for Chameleon in a Mirror. I don’t remember if I posted the latest incarnation of the cover yet, so here it is:

Right now, I’m up to chapter 6 on the edits. I really want to get this baby published by the end of the month, so I’m giving up on new word goals until I do. So far this week, I’ve managed 500 words on the thriller, and that will be it until I get CIAM done.

Anyway, since I haven’t been working on A Wasted Land, this week I’m going to give you an excerpt from my Aphra Behn time travel for WIPpet Wednesday. WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂 Today I’m using the date in this way: I went to page 14 of the manuscript and counted 29 lines. In this scene, Billie has just been sent to the past by a magic mirror after reciting some lines from a play by Aphra Behn. Now she is trying to reverse the magic:

Pulling a notebook and pen out of a back pocket of her jeans, Billie sat down at the table in front of the mirror. The little pocket-sized notebook was her constant companion, her resource for notes for all occasions. She liked to “collect images” as she called it; they were the raw material for her poems and songs.
Desperation made her memory especially clear, and she soon had a working copy of the lines to Clarinda.
Her stomach clamping painfully, Billie looked into the mirror and read the verses out loud. Nothing. She read the verses last line first. Nothing. She read them backwards, word by word. Still nothing. She stood up, gripping the lute, posed and pranced and tried all three methods all over, but the only feeling of nausea she experienced was from disappointment. She sat down again, her insides hollow.
She drew a deep breath, and another. It all had to be a dream anyway, so what did it matter? She wished she could force herself to wake up, but since she couldn’t, she might as well acquaint herself with the lute. Unfortunately, she’d never played a lute before. She knew it was related to the mandolin somehow, but that didn’t solve her problem of how to tune the damn thing. What was she supposed to do with the extra pair of strings or that last single string?
Simple: ignore them. The main thing was to get the instrument into some kind of working order so she could play it. She would tune the fifth to second courses like a mandolin and the others an octave higher. That way at least she’d know where to put her fingers.
Luckily, the strings appeared to be relatively new; the lute must have been restrung before it was stashed in the cellar. By the time she had urged the instrument into “G”, “D”, “A” and “E”, she’d regained some of her usual equilibrium. But just as she almost reached the second “G”, the string snapped with a loud twang. She jumped, the lute sliding out of her lap and onto the floor.
Billie put her head in her fists and burst into tears.

If anyone is so inclined, I’d love some feedback on the blurb I’ve come up with:

– one graduate student who wants to change history;
– one dead playwright who did change history, now forgotten;
– the colorful and turbulent times of the English Restoration;
– one magic mirror.

Mix thoroughly, and you have a Chameleon in a Mirror.

Billie Armstrong has long wanted to give Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in English, the prominence she deserves. But when Billie accidentally activates the magical properties of a baroque mirror, propelling herself into the seventeenth century, she gets more than she bargained for. What develops is an unwilling masquerade in a tale of license, love and literature, a high-spirited Restoration romp, as Billie does her best to survive in a strange era and ensure Aphra’s literary survival in the future.

What do you guys think? Too silly? Not silly enough? 🙂

Excerpt from “Chameleon in a Mirror” for #WIPpet Wednesday

I finished the read-through / editing pass of Chameleon in a Mirror yesterday, but it was late, and I didn’t have any brain cells left for contacting my beta readers. I did that just now.

I did a complete overhaul of the novel earlier this year and sent it to a writing buddy for a critique exchange, but he became a brand new daddy last year, and he’s pretty swamped, so it’s back to the drawing board. Since it had been several months since I’d last looked at it, I figured I could read it with (relatively) fresh eyes, and I did find several things to change. I’m sure my beta readers will find many more. They haven’t read it umpteen times like I have. 🙂

Anyway, since CIAM is what has been taking up most of my time for the last week (besides the long-term translation job, the garden, and the grand-daughter), I figured I would share an excerpt from my Aphra Behn time travel for WIPpet Wednesday this week. WIPpet Wednesday is the brainchild of K.L. Schwengel, in which we post excerpts from works in progress (WIP) that somehow correspond to the date. So I give you 9 sentences from chapter 4 of Chameleon in a Mirror. In this scene, our heroine Billie has accompanied Aphra Behn to a sitting for a portrait being done by Mary Beale:

Billie turned away from the portrait abruptly and pretended to examine some of the works lining the walls. Here the room looked almost like a museum, and she wished it were; then she could walk out the door, straight into smoggy, twenty-first century London, Aphra or no Aphra. Part of her was stunned and amazed that she might possibly (very likely?) be here, in Restoration London — with Aphra Behn, no less. And her hostess had been charming, showing her the sights whenever her schedule allowed. Billie had passed on the bull-baiting, the bear-baiting, and the Charing Cross freaks, but nonetheless, the past few days had been like wandering around an open-air museum, although it would still take some time to grow used to the stench.
But even on the trip to Vauxhall, gazing after the floating music hall on the Thames, or strolling through the gardens, there was the constant awareness in the back of her mind that she didn’t belong. Ambling along the streets of the open-air museum of Rhodes had not been as mind-blowing. All the tourists, just like her, were a constant reminder of the twenty-first century, even if the place looked like it had hardly changed for hundreds of years. And she had a return ticket to London.
This trip, she had no idea how she was supposed to get back home.

And here is the portrait of Aphra that Billie turns away from:

Aphra Behn by Mary Beale

Other than CIAM and translating, I haven’t made any progress on my other goals in the last week. I put A Wasted Land on hold until I could get this book out of the house again. I really want to have at least one new novel to bring out before Christmas, and this one is a lot farther along than any of my other projects. My apologies to those who are waiting for a new book in the Pendragon Chronicles series, but one of these days, I want to start making money at this writing business again. 🙂

Trudging along in the ebook jungles

In the spirit of ROW80, I’ll try to emphasize what I did get done this week, rather than what I didn’t. Once I sent Chameleon in a Mirror sent off to my critique partner, I’ve mostly been working on writing business, rather than actual writing.

On the writing front:

– I’ve returned to Island of Glass and got the novella divided up into chapters, so it looks more “book-like.” I also put together a (long) list of critique points for me to tackle during the next rewrite (or not), for example, giving Chiara a foil. Probably a good idea, even though it might be more work than I’d hoped to have to do. OTOH, right now it’s barely novella length, and while I tend to add details during rewrites, since my first drafts are pretty bare-bone, adding a foil would help in making the length more substantial.

– I did a final editing pass of my story collection Story Hunger

On the writing business front:

– I got my short story “In the Middle of Nowhere With Company” up to Draft2Digital, and it is now available on Barnes & Noble and the iTunes store. (Kobo is taking its merry time.)

– I got a collection of collab stories with my writing buddy Jay Lake started. Today, my daughter helped me with the first version of a cover — but I won’t be sharing it until Jay sees it. 🙂

– I noticed that my SF collection From Earth to Mars and Beyond was suffering from doubled inside covers, so I uploaded a new version.

– I got a new chapter of Chameleon in a Mirror up on the Aphra Behn Page.

But I’m having problems shaking this stupid cold, so I think now I’m going to go back to bed for a while with a cup of tea.

Wishing everyone great words, great progress, and a great week. 🙂

On the 324th anniversary of Aphra Behn’s death

I finished the “fast” (ahem) read-through of Chameleon in a Mirror yesterday, and the last chapter reminded me that today is the anniversary of Aphra Behn’s death. And then it occurred to me that I could actually do something in honor of the occasion this year — by beginning to post chapters of the novel. I run The Aphra Behn Page, a site dedicated to Behn’s life and works, and so I’ve decided to start uploading the chapters there. I may eventually also upload to Fictionpress and/or Wattpad, but I haven’t looked into those options enough yet.

While the book has been workshopped and critiqued, I make no claims to perfection. It is NOT in an officially publishable state yet. I sent it to my critique partner yesterday, and it also still has to go through the professional proofreading process. So please forgive any mistake you find — and if you’re feeling particularly generous, let me know about them!

I will try to upload a chapter a week, but I’m not making any promises! Life happens sometimes, after all. 🙂

The blurb (as stands):

Billie (Willa) Armstrong, an American graduate student with a penchant for street music, is disenchanted with London, her lover and her academic progress. She has always wanted to discover something decisive about her idol Aphra Behn and help her attain the place in literature that she deserves, but when Billie accidentally activates the magical properties of a baroque mirror, she gets more than she bargained for. What develops is an unwilling masquerade in a tale of literary politics and passion, a high-spirited Restoration romp, as Billie does her best to survive in a strange era and ensure Aphra’s literary survival in the future.

And here’s a short taste of Chapter 1:

All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she — shady and amorous as she was — who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.

         Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Professor Fogerty had a small mole near the corner of one eye, and it was twitching. Billie concentrated on the twitch to keep her temper in check. All the power might be on his side of the desk, but at least she didn’t have any nervous tics.

“You have to remember that Mrs. Behn was little more than a marginal writer, Miss Armstrong,” the professor said in that smarmy way he had. “A transitional force, yes, but not innovative, not really. If being a woman in itself were innovative — why the world would be in constant revolution.”

Billie ignored his weak attempt at a joke and took a deep breath. “But what about Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister? It was an epistolary novel written sixty years before Samuel Richardson, after all.”

He chuckled, a sound intentionally jovial. “You cannot seriously claim that Behn influenced Richardson!”

Since that was precisely what she had intended, she kept her mouth shut. It seemed she was going to have to find a different thesis advisor — or else go back home to the States in shame, without a dissertation.

Autumn sun spilled through the high windows of Fogerty’s office, hampered by streaks of grime. The buildings of London Blackfriars University were much like those of the Inns of Court nearby, lofty and arching, a metaphor for freedom of thought and high ideals made stone. It was too bad that even a modest attempt at redefining literary history had no place here, at least not as long as Fogerty had a say in it.

“What I’m trying to show is that Behn used autobiographical material in a very original way, and it influenced a number of people,” Billie said carefully.

“Miss Armstrong, Mrs. Behn was a hack — a very talented hack, but a hack nonetheless.” He shook his massive head. “Don’t get carried away by causes in your academic work. Literature is not about the odds.”

“But she was one of the most respected dramatists of the Restoration,” she couldn’t help protesting.

Fogerty’s insincere smile spread across his face. “Respected? Come now, Miss Armstrong! Certainly you know of the lampoons written about her?”

“Those were written about her morals, not her writing. A lot of her contemporaries were envious of her success.”

“It’s a mistake to equate popularity with literary merit.”

“Oh, I would never make that mistake,” she muttered under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Defoe for one respected Aphra Behn,” she said, loud enough for him to hear. “He called her one of the ‘giants of wit and sense’ — along with Milton, no less.”

He gazed at her critically over the top of his glasses. “Are you implying that Behn influenced Defoe now?”

Billie couldn’t keep her mouth shut any longer. “Among others, yes,” she said, rising and gathering up the papers on the desk between them. Her preliminary abstract for her dissertation, all shot to hell now. “I see I will have to reconsider my approach.”

Fogerty rose too and shook her hand. “Very wise, Miss Armstrong. I’ll be looking forward to your new proposal.”

She shut the door of his office behind her, closing her eyes briefly. That had gone even worse than she’d expected. It was well known that Fogerty had been bullied into helping host the upcoming Aphra Behn symposium after Billie’s former advisor had been bullied out of the department, but she hadn’t realized his resentment of a female playwright dead for over three hundred years went that deep. But what did it mean for the symposium? Maybe Fogerty and his ilk — the ones who had mobbed Professor Bentley until she fled to a foreign university with a Women’s Studies department — thought they could turn the clock back, envisioning themselves as an antidote to the Great Feminist Danger and its Trivializing Impulses. …

Continue reading here.

Brainstorming new Pendragon novel, more cover art, and progress on time travel

I’ve been quite busy this week. Not only am I still working on revisions on Chameleon in a Mirror, my Restoration time travel starring Aphra Behn, I have also started brainstorming a new novel in the Pendragon Chronicles, tentatively entitled A Wasted Land. I want to share with you the artwork I splurged and bought for the novel, by the incredibly talented Teresa Yeh:

A Wasted Land

Of course, researching, brainstorming and outlining is difficult to quantify, especially if you’re doing it on scrap paper, like I am. (I’ve never become a convert to index cards, as many people are.) But I do have about twenty pages of hand-written notes, questions I’ve asked myself using various plotting strategies. The one that has given me the most success for A Wasted Land so far has been Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. With other projects, however, other structures and strategies have proved more successful. Sometimes it’s the hero’s journey, sometimes it’s character questions, sometimes it’s the research itself that will give me the plot. My strategy is to throw lots and lots of stuff at my idea and see what will stick.

Anyway, I now have a basic structure consisting of both an internal conflict plot and an external conflict plot. I’m certainly not ready to write yet, though (although I have started jotting down notes for scenes that occurred to me). But I still have to throw a bit more at it until I have a better handle on both the plot and the characters.

That’s taken up a lot of my time this week, but I’ve also been moving forward with Chameleon in a Mirror. I’m up to chapter 23 on the revisions. At this pace, I should be able to finish by the end of the week. I’ve become a total slacker on my actual publication projects, however. I have this list of things that are ready or almost ready to go up on Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital — and I did none of them this week. I think next week I need to take another day off from writing for the business side of things.

Just out of curiosity, what kind of pre-writing do other people do — if at all?