Focus on Characters: Willem of Uncommon Lords & Ladies with an Excerpt

Class and social standing is very much a part of both historical works and my Regency romances. Showing the influence of my reading novels written during that timeframe, though, you’ll find servants who are almost members of the family. They have close relationships with the leading characters and are trusted confidants. This was true historically often enough despite the lines drawn by station.

The servants were children of previous staff members in many cases, binding families together across social lines by generations of tradition. These relationships appear both in historical and fictional accounts, often with characters growing up alongside each other and developing an unshakable trust. Well-known instances include the connection between a knight and his squire or an officer and his batman.

Willem is such a servant. Though his parentage never comes up, he’s been with the Scarborough family since childhood. He’s a hard worker, intelligent, and well liked. He does well in the Scarborough household, his position a result of his character.

As far as the novel is concerned, he is an integral part of the narrative. The lives of the Scarborough girls would have been much different without him to assist them.

His relationship with not just Daphne, but also her older sister Grace, comes from being their protector on the country estate. Less than five years older than Daphne, Willem had free run of the estate with the understanding that when the lord’s children were not in lessons, he would keep watch and steer them from harm. Thanks to Daphne’s nature, the last proved quite a chore.

This history is referenced in Beneath the Mask and shows in how both sisters trust him with their secrets. He proves worthy of that trust even at personal risk.

The conflict of station comes into play at several points as well, something you can discover yourself on the page. Sharp words speak what cuts the most while the bond between trusted friends can outgrow the strictures of station, bringing heartache in its wake.

Someday, Willem, though neither lord nor courting a lady, may get the tale he deserves as a companion novel. The pieces are there, for those curious enough to find them, but they stretch across the background of several novels.

Enjoy a glimpse of Willem’s relationship with Daphne that hints at the layers in conflict there.
Daphne collapsed into a sweating, clumsy lump, her legs shaking and her head aching.Willem stopped mid-note and came up beside her. “Maybe you should stop for the morning, my lady. You’re working yourself to death over this.”She raised her head to blink at him, her eyes squinting in pain as they found one of the lanterns. Daphne braced her head on one arm, too tired to rise. “You don’t understand. Monsieur Henre still doesn’t trust me. He checks every night that I’ve arrived on time and I can feel his stare as I perform. If I don’t do something different, something spectacular, he’ll decide I’m not worth the trouble. I’m sure of it.”Willem put his hands under her arms, a touch she should have resisted, but he’d helped her up often enough now that she barely noticed as he maneuvered her over to a chair to sit down. “Why would he give you up? I’ve heard tell you’re something special on that stage. It’s been all I could do to keep your secret and not blurt out that I know you.”That brought Daphne’s head up as she stared at the man in horror. “You wouldn’t.” she said, her voice a harsh whisper.He laughed, a casual, calm sound. “Of course not, Lady Daphne. I wouldn’t betray you for anything. Certainly not to bring more attention on my shoulders. I’ve got enough vying for my time.”Willem looked at her intently for a long while, but Daphne couldn’t tell what he sought from her. She shrugged, accepting his assurance. “I’m sorry. It’s just that this seems so much more difficult now than it was. Two days ago, I had to deny my sister a moment of my company for fear I’d be gone too long. I hardly see her at all anymore and keeping secrets from her burns me.”“So tell her,” Willem said, this time not looking at her. “It would do you good to share the secret with one of your own.”Daphne laughed, but her noise held little humor. “Grace isn’t the girl she used to be, Willem. If I were lucky, she’d urge me to speak with Father, to confess. If not, she’d march me before the two of them and force a confession. Heaven forbid the slightest hint of scandal mar her chances with that baron.”For a heartbeat, she remembered the day at Penelope’s house and how she felt a surge of interest as they described her sister’s future husband. If she could find someone like that, would she give up dancing? Could she find happiness in tending hearth and home?She shook off such unlikely and dangerous thoughts, vigorously rubbing her knee to loosen a knot.“Let me.” Willem put his warm hands over hers.Daphne pulled back a bit, but then relaxed into his soothing touch. “It’s not proper,” she whispered.He smiled up at her. “None of this is, my lady. And you can be sure I’d never do anything to hurt you. Never.”

For the rest of the story:

Beneath the Mask (Uncommon Lords and Ladies, Book 1)

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5 Interesting Links for 05-18-2018

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Technique (Blogging)

A personal account of the second 30 days of a 60-day blogging challenge, including what worked and what didn’t.

Indie (Publishing)

An interview with successful hybrid author Marie Force about how she manages her indie titles and her self-publishing empire.

Technique (GIMP)

Straightforward directions for using the brush tool to craft masks in GIMP so you can transform pictures safely. Masking is a valuable technique because it’s easy to change if you make an error, and the picture beneath is unmodified until you apply the mask.

Chronic Illness (Health)

An interview with an author, whose books I’ve enjoyed, who suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). He describes life with the condition and the complications of getting help.

Horse (Paleontology)

An ancient horse was discovered by landscapers in a Utah backyard. The article also discusses an interesting technique to restore ancient bones.

An Innocent Secret (Book 3 of Uncommon Lords and Ladies)

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By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

By Fire Above by Robyn BennisI enjoyed the first novel in this steampunk series, and By Fire Above offers an interesting follow. While it does not repeat the situations of the first, it is both true to the feel and holds similar themes. The characters retain their personalities, even Bernie who continues to be an amusing idiot at times but an endearing one. It’s rife with dangerous battles and perilous escapades. In fact, you’re tossed into the thick of it from the start with the Mistral limping to port heavily damaged after a battle.

The original cast has some replacements due to the costs of war, and others, like Kemper, step into a larger role. Kemper’s mettle is tested in ways no ensign should have to endure. Both her gender and the biased first officer assigned to the Mistral set her in positions where no decision is a good one. She’s only one example of a crew member stepping up, if the main one, and it’s nice to see the possibilities expanding. This is especially true because of how Kemper makes independent decisions, knowing what Dupre would do, but sometimes choosing her own way.

Don’t mistake my appreciation for Kemper’s story as a sign Captain Dupre has been pushed to the side, however. She and Bernie remain the main stage for a story that begins with the illogical nature of court and politics, and ends up with betrayal in the wind. There is trouble no matter where Dupre sets her feet.

Take a moment to imagine Captain Dupre at court. Yes, it is every bit as problematic and amusing as you think. It is taken one step further by the rivalry between Bernie and his brother, who is the heir by order of birth, not value…at least according to Bernie. Interestingly, Dupre and Bernie are not set up as a potential couple, though they’re mired in each other’s love life. They have a strong bond in any case. Otherwise, Dupre would not have been able to tolerate him at all, especially as he tries to educate her on negotiating the contrary loyalties and personalities found in politics.

Bernie is true to his nature. He’s still full of himself, lacking a true sense of ship-life, and bewildered by the crew’s treatment of him. At the same time, he’s loyal to a fault and willing to take risks no one of his station should be. Despite his character flaws, I can’t help but like him.

The novel has a good number of startling twists, all of which are grounded in what we know. This is even true for the last twist, one which caused me a little annoyance, not because it wasn’t true to the characters, but because I disagreed with the captain’s choice. I was involved with the characters and engaged by the tale all the way through. This is not an airbrushed version of war, maintaining the foot soldier viewpoint. This meant there were a good number of hard spots to manage, but I appreciate the realism over a prettified version where no one is ever hurt or makes the wrong call.

Ultimately, By Fire Above is a solid sequel to the first, offering a look at prejudice and bias from several perspectives, and not always the ones you’d expect, either. The story is strong, the underlying themes are incorporated well, and the characters are delightful and annoying in turn, just as they should be.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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Focus on Characters: Jade of Seeds Among the Stars with Excerpt

If you’ve been reading my books and stories, you might have noticed a common theme that runs through many of them: culture clash and cross cultural communication. Seeds Among the Stars is rife with these issues because I have a galaxy of different cultures to play with.

In Shafter, the clash is between internal cultures that rose out of a planned colony drawing from Western European countries. In Trainee (book 2), all that changes and the potential for conflict expands exponentially. The Spacer Guild draws from every human settlement in the galaxy. Candidates come all the way from Earth as well as from cultures established in spaceships that are no longer tied to a single planet. These are not generation ships in the traditional sense but rather self-contained cultures often with a disdain for those who limit themselves to a ball of dirt.

This is where Jade came in.

She’s a minor character who sprang from the need for Trina to interact with someone on the team she’s assigned to. Intended as a simple, throwaway character, merely a foil for the main storyline, I should have known that would never work. I went from asking my husband for name suggestions to dreaming about what brought her to the guild and why she’s aggressively deterring Trina’s attempts to befriend her.

Remember that disdain? Well, it rears up in training where colony-bred candidates are treated as liabilities by the ship-bred ones. Jade is able to pass as ship-bred though. She’s from an indie trader family that has a home base and trades in a single solar system. Jade can pass as ship-bred, though, because she knows the common language and her way around a ship. None of that will matter in the slightest if her teammates remember she’s bound to a sphere, so she does everything she can to prevent the possibility.

Socializing with Trina would only raise questions she can’t afford, not when she’s established as an authority. There’s too much to lose.

Still, she’s driven, not cruel. Despite the risks, she does what’s necessary for the team. You can see Jade’s struggle for yourself in this excerpt:

They rode the air stream together to the central hub when the Medicals broke for lunch, but usually her teammates went one direction and Trina the other. Today, she caught Jade’s arm to stop the other candidate from following the Medicals.After lunch, she’d be returning to Fred’s class so had no better chance.“What is it?” Jade’s irritated voice offered warning enough without how the candidate plucked Trina’s hand free and dropped it as if getting rid of something particularly disgusting.Trina straightened, her full height bringing her eyes in line with Jade’s sharp, light-brown chin. She took a backward step so she could see the other candidate’s face, the full expression no more welcoming than her pointy chin.“I’d like to join you after classes. For the extra drills. To review the scenario and try out your suggestion.”“Well you can’t. I’m not wasting my free time coddling you.”Jade went to join the others, but Trina slipped around her to block the way.“It wouldn’t be coddling. I don’t want any favors. I need the extra training if I’m to catch up with all of you. If you help me, I’ll improve that much faster. Maybe next time I’ll be able to contribute and the scenario won’t be a complete failure.” She spoke quickly, unsure how to hold the other candidate without physically restraining her, a fight Trina could possibly win but one that would get both of them into a lot of trouble.Jade glared down at Trina, her face a mask bordered with a severe frown. “I don’t want to be seen with you.”About to protest, Trina stopped when Jade held up one finger.“You’ll meet me here, at the air stream, as soon as class ends. I won’t wait long, and if anyone from my team comes before you do, I’ll leave without you. The only reason I’m doing this is because as leader, I reviewed the records from previous runs. I know you’ve done some good, and you didn’t parade it in front of us, either. You have it in you to become a decent member of the team, and you’re willing to work.”Trina smiled at the other candidate’s softening.“Don’t think this means anything. I’ve worked too hard to get the others to forget I stood on the dirt before coming here. I’m not losing all that because I spend too much time with you. It won’t take much for them to remember my home planet and forget that I flew ships before they were allowed out of the family areas. You are not going to cost me what I’ve earned. I’ll help you now, but you will stay out of my way afterward. Understood?”The sentiment came as no surprise to Trina. She’d heard variations of it since setting foot on the station. Whatever the instructors might hope for, even they valued colony candidates less, especially those kept from technology. They’d never admit it to themselves, much less to others, but events made it obvious.

For the Rest of the Story:

Trainee Twitter Sharable

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5 Interesting Links for 05-11-2018

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Simulation (Philosophy)

An 8-bit annotated illustration of why we might be characters in a computer simulation created by our future selves.

Descriptions (Publishing)

Tips for how to craft an effective book description that works for the algorithms and potential reader both.

Prompts (Writing)

A cute cross between a prompt generator and a meme, this chart is designed to help create a novel logline. I can imagine it tied with a roulette wheel marked with the 26 letters of the alphabet very easily. (Via BooksGoSocial)

Psychology (Gaming)

While my sons might question my ownership of the gamer title simply because my level of gaming has changed, I’ve been playing video games and puzzle games on the computer since I was seven or so…if Pong counts :). I found this article amusing on many levels, but it’s one of those that hits a little close to home. Can you classify your video game entertainment along these lines?

Steampunk (Art)

This story is at the heart of the steampunk movement for me where creativity allows options not offered by school guidance counselors.

Threats (The Steamship Chronicles, Book 2)

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