The Ax Has Fallen

And by “ax,” I mean Erastes, an author of gay historical romances, who also reviews said romances on her blog, Speak Its Name.  I’ve read her novel, Standish, and it was clear from it that Erastes has far more knowledge of the culture and time period than I ever could.  She does, in fact, live in the UK, whereas I haven’t yet had the chance to even visit it. 

So, it was with much trepidation that I learned The Christmas Wager was in the queue to be reviewed on Speak Its Name.  I’d written the novella as a fun little Christmas Romance, in imitation of the numerous Christmas Regencies I’ve read.  Many of these were not terribly well written, though the authors may have had the advantage of actually living in England.  I could, of course, have set my novella in America, where I’ve lived all my life, but I wanted to use the standard tropes of the genre — the English manor; the wealthy lord, whose excesses have left him a bit jaded; snow on Christmas (even though that’s a rarity in England, it always snows in the Christmas Regencies); etc.

I knew she wouldn’t pull her punches, and she didn’t.  She immediately saw through my ignorance of the culture, which simply can’t be remedied by a bunch of reference books.  She credited me for doing my research, which I appreciate, because I certainly did, but points out a number of anachronisms and inaccuracies that I missed:  balsam not growing in England (who knew? Well, I guess the English…); no scones for breakfast (i.e., I thought they would have them, but apparently they do not); apparently, it’s not called a fifth of scotch?  And many others I’m still puzzling over, because I don’t know the culture as well as I should.

But I’m not unhappy with the review.  Erastes was not at all mean-spirited and had some very nice things to say about the characters and the story itself.  She took a couple jabs at my editors, which might not have been completely fair.  One thing, in particular, that annoyed her was my use of epithets, such as “the blond” or “the handsome blond,” and my editor (as well as Erich and my friend Claire) did point out that I overused those.  Ultimately, I’m responsible for the lack of historical accuracy. 

Punctuation…well, I spent what seems like days going back and forth with my editors over comma usage, so I’m not sure where the fault lies, on that one.  But I have to say, I always thought I was good at that, until I started proofing my galleys.  Then suddenly, it became clear just how fuzzy my knowledge of correct usage really was.

What stung the most, was the line “So taken aside the things that knocked this from being a really good read to an annoying one –”

Ouch.  It went from “really good” all the way to “annoying.”  Do not pass Go; do not collect $500.  But at least she then goes on to finish the sentence with “I did like this book, and would probably recommend it to those who like big country house stories.” 

Overall, I expected to be raked over the coals for dipping my toes into a time period and culture I’m familiar with only through category romances and a few reference books.  And I was.  But I consider it a big win that she enjoyed the story, despite its flaws.

(NOTE:  I’ve been informed by other writers at Dreamspinner that a 3-star rating at Speak Its Name is far from being “raked over the coals,” so maybe I’m exaggerating just a wee bit.)

Now, ask me how panicked I’m going to be if Seidhman gets published and reviewed by somebody living in Iceland….

Read all of Erastes’ review here.

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4 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Romance, Victorian, Writing

4 responses to “The Ax Has Fallen

  1. george allwynn

    ERATES is a good soul – and knows her historical stuff like I know Star Trek, though I wonder how she’d fair writing a historical piece on American soil?

    For her to say your book went down from a really good read to annoying, and then say she would probably recommend it – well, take heart. Those are not insults. Merely an observation from someone who knows their cookies about regencies. She writes what she knows.

    Besides, she is a Master – and even though your book was fun to read and your second one to date, you are still considered a pup in the eyes of many. Consider yourself fortunate that you received such a review to begin with.

    I give you credit for writing the book in the first place. Of going out on a limb and writing the book you feel, instead of the book you know. It takes talent to do that – something many authors don’t care to do.

    I have no doubts you will master yourself a bit more with each book published – and then one day, you will have another book review by her – and she will be able to say – “I knew him when he was a greenhorn – my, look at how his writing has improved…”

  2. Thanks! I’m really not upset about the review. I know Erastes and the other reviewers on Speak Its Name are tough on everybody, when it comes to historicals. And she did say some very nice things, so I appreciated that. I’m not sure when I’ll be brave enough to tackle another English Regency, but I’ll definitely have someone who actually lives in the UK give it a going over, before submitting it for publication!

  3. Hope you don’t mind me dropping in (and thank you both for saying nice things about the site in general)

    The story was good, and I did enjoy it–and you have nothing to be ashamed of. many many many people will read it, love and and won’t spot, or care about the things that stood out for me. Even English readers may not spot some of them. Don’t be put off doing another Regency–not from anything I’ve said, at least. I’d be quite happy to cast an eye over anything English you did in advance, to help you iron out those little inconsistencies. I have done this for Ruth Sims (and others) and weeded out things they wouldn’t have spotted.

    I agree thoroughly with George – how would I cope with something written on American soil? Good question. I’m dying to do a sequel to Standish, relating what happens to Fleury in the New World–but the very idea of writing about Boston, then New Orleans (the the travel therein) and then travelling west scares me witless. At least in England everything was roughly the same, whether you were rich in Yorkshire or rich in Devon!

    I shall need American betas when I attempt it, if I’m ever brave enough.

    Keep writing. You are good, and you’ll only get better. Personally I can’t pick up Standish for all the newbie mistakes I made, but four years on I’m writing much better because you learn from your mistakes.

    Again, apologies for dropping in.

  4. Not at all. You’re welcome any time. I was pleased to get your opinion and your advice, and when I attempt another Regency, I will definitely let you know. Incidentally, I’d be lost, writing about New Orleans, too. One of the things I like about my country is the fact that there are so many cultures here and so much variety in the landscape. Thank you again for your encouragment!

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