Monday, November 12, 2018

Outlaw King

The real Robert the Bruce by forensic sculptor Christian Corbet

Those of you who know me know that I write a medieval mystery series set in late 14th century London. And though I am not a scholar or history professor, I do my darnedest to get the history right because people who read historical fiction really want the history to be right and often learn history--right or wrong--from fiction. So I'm always leary of the historical film that presents history, because they inevitably fall prey to the "story" rather than the actual history.

Do I even need to mention "Braveheart" the 1995 Mel Gibson fiasco, attempting to tell the story of William Wallace in 13th century Scotland, a contemporary of Robert the Bruce for which this new Netflix movie gets its premise? In "Braveheart" we had Scots wearing kilts and plaid (neither of which was happening in that century); we have the all important Battle of Sterling Bridge without a bridge, we have Wallace in a romantic entanglement with Edward II's wife implying Edward III was conceived by Wallace, even though Isabella was a child of twelve and didn't even come to England until after William Wallace was executed...and so much more, but those were only the highlights.

I allow for a certain level of creative license, but not THAT much.

Studies have shown that students tend to recall more of the movie when films are used in a classroom setting than the textbooks they are studying, even when specifically taught that the movie is less than accurate.

So what about "The Outlaw King", the latest from Netflix? Well, it's free with your Netflix subscription, so that's a good thing. The costumes were better, and the battle scene was a good portrayal of the chaos, the intimacy, the bloodiness of medieval encounters. The hair was a curiosity, especially the Prince of Wales, the soon-to-be Edward II. Someone in the hair department thought to give him a King Henry V look, something from the 15th century, so that bugged me, something so simple to research. And when something like that gets screwed up, you tend to look askance at the rest of it.

There were a few things here and there left out--understandable when you have to move the plot along. Not having thoroughly researched that era myself, I can't say for certain that Robert the Bruce would have forgone consummating his second marriage out of--what? deference for the memory of his first wife? Both marriages were alliances so I can't see him being sentimental over it. Someone will likely correct me on this if I'm wrong. I suppose it was to make him seem more relatable as a character?

Overall the movie wasn't blatantly anti-historical, it just wasn't very...interesting. Not very memorable. Even the promised "full frontal male" scene was...uninspiring. My take: If you want to see a realistic medieval battle scene, go for it. Other than that (and a shot of Chris Pine's butt), it gets a "meh" rating from me.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Get Yourself An Agent Already

The point of this blog is that I won't hold any punches. I'm too old and cranky for that. And I've been in this business for 24 years--14 of which was just trying to GET published, so please hold your excuses. Besides, this is about a WRITER on a SPIT. We've all got our heels to the fire.

So you're a writer. You've got a book and now you're looking for an agent...for a whole week. But you were rejected! So the heck with it, you say. "I'm going to self-publish it." Hold on, cowgirl. You're letting the dogies stampede ahead of you. Perhaps you just felt like doing a little brain surgery but didn't want the hassle of going to med school. Okay, that's a rather drastic analogy but it's still apt.

You gotta learn your craft. You gotta learn the business. Amazon is chock FULL of self-published books where the author hasn't bothered to learn the art of writing, didn't hire an editor or cover designer, and thinks that's all there is to it.

Now I know a lot of you stopped reading right there. You're doing JUST fine, you say. You don't need the gatekeepers. But maybe there's a reason you get rejected. Maybe...your writing isn't very good. Maybe it isn't up to snuff. Maybe the timing is bad. Maybe the tone, the voice, the character development--oh so many factors. Take a step back. Have peers read your work, not just your mom or your boyfriend. Other writers who are also working to get published and those who already are. And then LISTEN to their criticism. Now you're becoming a professional.

And a professional needs an agent. Maybe not the first agent to say yes. Or the second. Or the third. They don't have to be your best pal, someone you'd invite home for Thanksgiving. It's not Tinder. This is a business association. You are in this partnership for business.

Getting an agent is tougher today than it's ever been. Your work has to stand out. And that means learning to write a query letter. "More work!" you say. Oh, boo-freakin'-hoo. This is a profession, remember? You have to take it seriously. And there are still some things you have to master. And writing a good query letter is one of them.

Once that's accomplished then there's MORE work to do. You have to narrow down your scope of agents to send these queries to. I recommend QueryTracker. It's a good place to find the agents who rep what you write. Make a list. Read what they want to receive from you. They will likely want that query letter and the first few pages, not the entire manuscript. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.

"But I don't want an agent. I want to do whatever I want." Sure. Fine. You could just be that one tenth of one percent that hits it big without help. But, uh...not likely. So get an agent. What does an agent do for you? They can submit to publishers, publishers that pay you advances. Publishers that take care of the mundane details of content editing, copy editing, cover design, flap copy, sending the book to reviewers, and putting it in their all-important catalogs that are read by booksellers and librarians--the people who order the books, and finally a publisher formats, prints, and ships the darned things.

The agent negotiates the contract so you don't get suckered and sign away all your rights. They stand up for you. They fight to get your rights back. They get you foreign sales, audio sales...and a boatload of other things. And you don't pay them. Here's how that works. 

So before you rush to self-publish, remember this too. You are only a debut author once. And publishers love to make a big deal out of debut authors. Advances won't be big, but they are better than nothing, and they do pay a few bills.

Now. Go back to your computer and THINK about what I said. Sometimes this all takes time. A LOT of time. But remember, you don't want to do brain surgery without a medical license, and you don't want to publish without learning your craft.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Here Beginneth My Blogging...Again

Here I am blogging again, and I said I wouldn’t. At one point I had three blogs going; one for myself called Getting Medieval where I talked about getting my medieval mystery series published, and then more on history and mystery once it was; and a blog for my medieval mystery character, Crispin Guest, that I occasionally blog about as the character in first person on my website; and then I was part of a mystery writer blog called Poe’s Deadly Daughters. And after doing that year after year, I decided that I was done with blogging. And yet, here I am again. Why?

Well, when I began to blog way back when, I wasn’t yet published and I thought it a good way to get my name out there on the internet. And it DID prove useful. By the time I had gone to my first mystery fan convention (Bouchercon) at the urging of my agent, people HAD heard of me through that blog that was full of interesting interviews with authors, librarians, editors, swordsmiths, historians, and other characters both in publishing and in the world of medieval history. I worked hard getting myself blurbed on other’s blogs and online magazines. It helped. But I got tired, especially with new deadlines for my novels, raising a son, and having a part time job. And it seemed that blogging was waning in popularity. New things were taking its place; Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. There are only so many ways you can stretch a reader’s time.

Now we are in an age where midlist authors are even less appreciated, where it’s even tougher to get traditionally published and make any kind of living, where a reader’s time and dollars are divided between books, streaming, video games, cheap ebooks, and lots and lots of self-published books both good and bad. What’s a writer to do?

I whimper a lot. But besides that, I write. New things in a new genre. In addition to my Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels (which I am winding down as we come to the end of the series), I have ventured into the realm of paranormal romance with my Booke of the Hidden series. So my audience is changing, morphing, shifting. Yes, I’m still on Facebook and Instagram, but I feel there might be a resurgence of interest in blogs. There are still many out there, and maybe I’ll be just another bit of white noise in the ether, but it might be useful to put my toe in again.

I’m a crank, a TV addict, and a sucker for an old movie. I like champagne cocktails and Moscow mules. Chocolate is always a must. And if I could eat lobster everyday, I would. I’ll talk about those things in addition to an occasional foray into the medieval and the supernatural. You can check out my novels and would-be novels on two websites (so far): and

Maybe YOU feel as if you are also a writer on a spit, slowly turning, roasting, getting nowhere, one step forward, two steps back. This is for you. And, let’s face it, as a narcissist, it's for me, too.