Posts Tagged ‘tamara morgan


For the Love of Research

Yes. That’s a picture of me. Fencing. No. I’m not very good.

Almost every romance writer I know loves research. It doesn’t matter what genre they’re writing in or how long they’ve been at it; discovering a long-lost tome on Victorian etiquette or finding an early reference to the existence of werewolves can stall an entire week’s worth of writing time. After all, there’s no better way to avoid writing than to spend countless hours in the field shopping at bookstores or interviewing experts over a few martinis. After all, it’s research! It’s work! Don’t try to tell me otherwise, because I won’t listen!

I write historicals, so most of my research comes from books and online. Sure, I could line up a trip to England to see some of the sites for myself, but I haven’t been able to justify that one. Yet.

So when a friend asked if my husband and I would be interested in a fencing class, I literally jumped at the chance. Although none of my characters have fenced so far, it is an issue that comes into play from time to time, and I thought it would be a great way to immerse myself in some of the activities of my favorite eras.

Fast forward a few weeks, and you have me at the first lesson, knees bent at odd angles and creaking like old doors, my arm exhausted from holding a piddly three-pound sword straight ahead for a few minutes. Because here’s what those dandified, sword-wielding heroes dueling over a lady’s honor never let on: fencing is HARD. You are forced to maintain a rigid form at all times, all while parrying back and forth with a twelve-year-old boy boasting boundless energy and limber limbs. Add those dark masks, the heavy long-sleeved outfit, and a plastic breastplate of armor like this one, and it’s HOT, too.

Note: Only women have to wear the breastplate. Not, as it would seem, to actually protect the breasts, because the points don’t hurt at all. Really, it’s just so the men don’t hesitate to lunge at you with everything they’ve got. That’s my theory, anyway.

Of course, fencing is really fun, too. The ringing clang of the foils, the swift movement of the feet as you advance and retreat, and the gentlemanly salutes before and after each match transport you immediately to another time, when fencing wasn’t just an Olympic sport but a way to determine a man’s worth. Terms like right-of-way (you want it), disengage (it’s harder than it looks), and beat attacks (the only move I can actually do) are just as relevant now as they were two hundred years ago.

Although fencing as a modern sport isn’t quite the same as a first-blood match over a lady’s honor, it really does have a way of setting the tone. And I’m fairly certain my next novel will have at least one fencer in it; most likely someone doing it for the first time and sweating buckets, wondering how all those young, dashing blades make themselves look so darn graceful.


The Age of Romance

Historical romance heroines have a tendency to be much younger than their contemporary counterparts. Blame it on fact (women used to get married much earlier) or fiction (it’s hard to keep a historical heroine the requisite un-self-aware virgin once she’s reached her mid-thirties), but the reality is staring us right in the face.

Regency Heroine, aged 19:

“Look at me! I’m young and headstrong and deeply in love with a hardened rake ten years my senior! Watch as I lure him with my precocity and innocence, redeeming him from his womanizing ways with the solace of my perfectly rounded and pert bosom!”*

Contemporary Heroine, aged 19:

“I am a mere foil for my older self. At 19, I made incalculable errors with the love of my life and we parted ways. Only 10 years from now, when I’m older, wiser, more experienced, and have a career of my own, will I be able to reconnect with my one true love for our happily ever after.”

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions to these rules. Some great historicals deal with women who have moved beyond their schoolroom miss days by at least a good decade, and most of contemporary urban fantasies and paranormals I’ve read have heroines in their young- to mid-twenties (it’s the ideal butt-kicking age, I imagine). But the overarching framework states that authors are allowed to have young heroines ONLY as long as it’s at least 100 years ago. A young heroine today would become part of a Young Adult novel, with sex scenes cut back appropriately.

Here’s my problem with this: I met my husband when we were both 17. We started dating at 19. We married at 21. Eight years later, we’re still very much happy and in love and planning to continue that way. By virtue of romance novel “rules,” however, such a story would most likely never hit the shelves.

  • Because it’s far too rare? Nope. My brother and several of my friends married equally young.

  • Because our story isn’t compelling? Well, yes, it’s not really all that exciting. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t embellish and plot and make it into romance novel fodder.

  • Because we were emotionally unprepared for marriage at that age? Possibly. But we’ve worked through such shortcomings as a couple since then.

I don’t really have a grandiose closing statement bringing down the romance industry for it’s strict view of age or making a plea for more 19-year-old contemporary heroines. In fact, I probably wouldn’t read a straight contemporary with a heroine that young, and contrary to my own story, I think marriage is an undertaking best saved for at least the mid-twenties.

I just think that although we often address the romance double standard of men being allowed to be sexually promiscuous while women must remain untouched, we rarely consider that discounting young, contemporary love is equally limiting.

*I write and adore Regencies, so I mock with love. Always love.


Drawing Book Characters from Real Life

I’ve recently discovered that it’s a fairly common practice all across the romance interwebs to align certain characters with their celebrity counterparts. Some writers draw on pictures for inspiration, while others go so far as to study the mannerisms of their favorite actors, actresses, or the parts these professionals play. Although I’ve never done it myself, it seems like a really good way to create believable characters; whether you’re trying to emulate Hugh Grant’s bumbling speech or the way Jason Statham can blow stuff up without even batting an eye, it allows writers to infuse a real human element into a book.

The reason I don’t do it is that it never really occurred to me to give it a try. When I read (and when I write), I rarely create a solid vision of what the characters look like. Like they exist in a dream, my characters are fuzzy impressions in my mind, faceless beings whose souls I know intimately, but whose bodies could belong to just about anyone. In all honesty, I think I do this because I live in an age when half of the books I read are turned into movie adaptations, and keeping my impressions intangible allows me to enjoy the movie versions, since I’m open to what the directors interpret for the characters without ruining my own internal vision of the book.

I will confess, though, that I did once run into a real life version of one of my heroes. It just about floored me, too, because my hero is not…ordinary. Or rather, he is ordinary (for the romance genre), in that he’s over six feet tall, muscular as hell, and gorgeous. You know, the alpha combination that doesn’t usually exist in real life, but that we love to oogle on the book covers all the same. To top it all off, my hero is of mixed Pacific Islander and Japanese descent with a kick-ass tattoo across his back. And I kid you not: I saw this exact man walking across a parking lot one day. Shirtless. (Hey, it was summer and we were at a theme park.) I almost wanted to take a picture of him, if only to prove that a man like that really could exist!

Anyway, because I’ve spent most of my life NOT assigning physical counterparts to the characters I encounter in fiction, I’m not likely to start any time soon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the fact that other writers do it. It’s fun to discover just who an author had in mind when they created so-and-so, and to see how that image differs from one I might have. It adds another layer of complexity to a book, and I’m always game for that.


What’s the Highest Compliment You Can Give a Book?

I’ve heard a number of authors claim that they would rather have their books elicit a love/hate response from their readers than get a warm, bland reaction all around. Other authors claim they don’t care what the public outcry is, as long as their books sell. Still others crave pure, overwhelming appreciation from the masses (okay, maybe we all want that…).

The truth is, there is no way to get a unified response to a book. Readers are as diverse as snowflakes, and there is simply no way to please everyone. Whether you prefer plot-driven books with plenty of action or slow and steady romances that are all about overcoming emotional barriers, there are enough writers – and readers – for just about everything.

As both a writer and a reader, I find myself in an interesting position when it comes to enjoying fiction. I’m pickier, certainly, than when I was just a reader – not only because I don’t have as much time as I used to, but also because I know how to better appreciate a writer who is really good at his or her craft. I’m also much more analytical when it comes to plot. I can tell when the writer has really thought out all the winding details of a complicated plot versus when he or she has simply tried to make everything fit, logic and reason be damned. It can be difficult to get past poor writing or poor conflict, and I have been known set aside books after a few pages if I just can’t get past these issues.

Sometimes, though, these issues don’t matter at all. And that’s what, in my mind, makes a book great.

I recently finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl. I read each one within a span of 24 hours, and wholly neglected things like my own writing, housework, and parenting in order to do so. Both books sucked me in from almost the first page, telling the story almost effortlessly, toying with my heartstrings without me even realizing they were doing it. They were good books, period.

Looking back, however, I can find several issues that should bother me about them. I didn’t necessarily like the way the ending played out in The Help (some farcical humor and too many perfectly tied loose ends), and there was your standard sexually-obsessed supervillain in Talk Me Down that has become just too gimmicky in the romance world for my tastes.

But you know what? I don’t care.

Both books transported me to a different world long enough for me to turn my critical eye off; I skimmed over sections that might not have been as strong as the rest of the book and went along with silly plot devices for as long as I needed to. And that, to me, is the highest compliment of all. If a book can get this writer to turn off her inner critic long enough to just enjoy the ride, that’s a pretty darn good book.

What about you? As a reader or a writer, what is it that make you sigh, clutch the book to your chest, and just beam for a few minutes while you soak in the happily ever after?


Real Characters in Historical Fiction

PirateI’m on a bit of a Jean Lafitte kick lately. I recently came across him in Danielle, a YA romance novel I remember reading when I was about ten (the Sunfire Series, for those of you who remember; it’s been a hilarious pastime of mine lately to revisit the novels of my youth). He plays a minor character, but one who sets the backdrop for early nineteenth century Louisiana very effectively. A gentleman pirate who helped shaped a nation – what’s there not to love?

As soon as I was done reading, I remembered Mr. Lafitte also made a similar minor appearance in Zorro, by Isabelle Allende. She’s one of my favorite authors, so I picked up the book again and re-read it.

But then I wanted more. Both books only brushed the surface of the pirate’s life and escapades, and I find myself intrigued by the life he led. I could have always picked up a nonfiction book about him, but those have never really been my style. I prefer a good, lyrical retelling any day.

So, I looked everywhere for a historical fiction novel about Jean Lafitte and came up empty. I eventually put a query out on Twitter and was directed toward Siren, by Cheryl Sawyer. The book is out of print, so I ordered a used copy and am eagerly awaiting for it to be delivered.

Still, I find myself wondering why it was so difficult to find a novel wherein he plays the primary hero. There are hundreds of romance novels out there about gentleman pirates, especially in that time period. Privateers, as they were called, were sanctioned by their own governments to pillage the ships of enemy nations. They had the ultimate stamp of romance novel hero approval: they were outcasts but not villains. It’s a nice, tidy way to depict what were probably a motley, smelly crew as daring noblemen bent on swashbuckling adventures and daily baths.

So Jean Lafitte, the ultimate gentleman pirate, should be incredible fodder for storytelling. He built a successful business based on his privateering role. He employed hundreds, lived a life of rich luxury, captivated women with his charming, mysterious ways, and helped Andrew Jackson defeat the British. (This is where readers are expected to swoon. He is, after all, the ideal rake.)

Unfortunately, he did some not-so-nice things, too. Like killing people and taking part in the slave trade. Oh, and making his fortune by stealing from others; no Robin Hood was this guy. He kept his booty for himself.

For the most part, I get it. It’s hard to write a sympathetic hero with that kind of shady past. But is there something else to the apprehension? Is there too much research involved in writing a story that features a real historical figure as the hero? Do readers prefer a make-believe pirate hero whose solid core of good is unquestionable better than one who is horribly flawed (and ultimately more realistic)? Was he just not very attractive? Or is there another factor at play that I’m missing?


Are You There World? It’s me, Tamara.

I love collaborative blogs for a lot of reasons. As a reader, I find them to be a great source of information; it’s kind of like there’s a group of really cool people having a conversation in the cafeteria, and there’s an open invitation for me sit down with my hot lunch in hand. As a writer, I think they’re a great way to share the writing journey and meet new people without all that pressure of blogging every day.

Seriously. Have you ever tried to maintain wit and conversation on an ongoing blog? It’s hard enough to make my heroines witty—I hardly need the pressure of making myself appear in the same light four or five days a week.

Anyway, it’s wonderful to be in company with the incredible group of writers here at Romantic Journey, and I’m excited to invite you all to the table.

Name: Tamara Morgan

Genre: Regency/Historical

Agent’s Name: Danielle Chiotti, Upstart Crow Literary

Books Published: None…yet

What is the one book you never tire of re-reading?

Jane Eyre and I go way back. We first found each other on Christmas of 1993. I remember the exact date because I got both Mariah Carey’s Music Box and Jane Eyre as gifts that day. For three days straight, I listened to Mariah belt out “Hero” while getting to know Jane and Mr. Rochester. Even today, any song from that album immediately sends me straight to Thornfield.

I re-read the novel at least once a year, usually around the first snowfall of the year. Nothing sets the mood for the winter season for me quite like a crazy woman in the attic.

When did you realize you needed to write? And what was the first story you completed that you were really proud of?

I don’t think I “need” to write; I love to write, and that’s enough for me. Like many aspiring authors, I’ve always had a story brewing inside me, and it simply took the guts to sit down and put the story to paper to really become a writer.

The first story I completed that I was really proud of is probably a personal essay I wrote years ago about my experience with yoga (one class, many years ago – bending and twisting is so not for me). If I look hard enough, I could probably find the story online, but I’m a little afraid that going back and re-reading it will tarnish the memory of my first literary triumph. (I was so sure I was the next Dave Barry.)

Do you write things other than romantic fiction?

All day long. In my “real life,” I’m a freelance writer, so there are days when I am staring at my computer screen for more than eight hours in a row.

I think being a freelancer is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to writing romance. On the one hand, I am now a ridiculously fast typist and I’ve developed the writing habit (i.e., writing even when there are a million other things I’d rather be doing). On the other hand, there are only so many words inside my brain. After writing close to 6,000 words of content for someone else, it can be really, really hard to convince myself to churn out another 2,000 words for me.

When you aren’t writing, what sorts of activities do you engage in?

Reading, mostly — which is kind of a lame response, but the only other thing I could say is watching television. I hate cooking (though I do enjoy eating!), I’m not the least bit crafty, I’m much too lazy to participate in any regular sporting activity, and the only gardening I do is admiring this year’s crop of weeds in the backyard.

So, yeah. I like to read.

What is the worst job you ever held? Has it shown up in any of your writing?

I’ve had quite a few bad jobs, most of which have their origins in the customer service industry. The worst one, though, would have to be when I was a soccer referee when I was 14 and 15. The work itself wasn’t bad; I played soccer, so I knew what I was doing. But the pressure was too much. Trust me. You don’t know stress until you make a bad call and over a dozen irate soccer moms are quantifying your worth in terms that would make a grown man cry.

It has not yet appeared in my writing, but I blame that on Regency England. They just didn’t spend as much time at the soccer fields as they should have.


August 2020

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