Jennifer's Journal


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sir Randall of Braesford Interviews Jennifer Blake

Sir Randall of Braesford is the hero of By His Majesty's Grace, Book 1 of The Three Graces trilogy. Recently, he took time from his knightly duties and derring-do to sit down and talk with his creator, Jennifer Blake.

Sir Rand: I’ve a great curiosity about what you’ve done with this story of mine, milady. What brought you to write about the times in which I live? Or about my keep and estates, if it comes to that?

JB: It began with a workshop, if you must know, one taught with long-time friends and fellow writers, Bertrice Small and Roberta Gellis. The subject was how to avoid plagiarism while using books and other printed material for research. Roberta suggested that we each take the same bit research and use it to write two or three pages of a story to illustrate how we use factual details without copying from the information source. At the end the workshop, we would each read our pages to the group.

Sir Rand: Dame Roberta being something of an authority on my times, I suppose she chose the subject?

JB: Exactly, a paragraph on late medieval pele towers. That was hardly my area of expertise, but I studied the tower’s description, added a bit more research for color, and wrote what was basically the beginning of a story. In this tale, a well-born heroine, Lady Isabel, arrives at the home of the man the king has commanded her to marry. She is disturbed by the forbidding nature of the late 15th century keep, with its manse and pele tower, that was a reward from the king for services rendered by this new-made knight. The description of the tower was tied to the doubts and fears of the heroine, and the pages ended just as the hero—that would be you, sir—was about to make a dramatic appearance. When I read my pages at the workshop, there was a beat of complete silence. Then someone called out, “But where’s the rest of the story?”

Sir Rand: A most flattering reaction, I’d say.

JB: Oh, agreed. But truth to tell, there was no more. And it was unlikely there would ever be any more as nearly all my 60-something previous books and novellas, including several international best sellers, have been set in the southern U.S., in Louisiana. I was type cast as a Louisiana author.

Sir Rand: So what took place to change matters?

JB: A few months later, after finishing the last book of my Masters at Arms series, I created a proposal for a new trilogy set in New Orleans. The stories revolved around sisters, known as the Three Graces, who were prevented from marrying by a voodoo curse. My editor liked the idea, and we were about to go to contract. Before the deal was finalized, however, she attended a sales meeting where figures were presented which indicated books set in Europe were preferred over those set in the United States. Afterward, she emailed my agent to ask if there was any way I could transfer my Three Graces trilogy across the Atlantic. Yes!! I certainly could! So the pele tower and it’s manse, as described for the workshop, became your home.

Sir Rand: This voodoo curse you mentioned doubtless evolved into the dread curse of the Graces of Graydon, said to have carried off so many of Lady Isabel’s noble suitors.

JB: It did indeed, though the concept had to be altered a bit to make it fit into the medieval time period. But I actually prefer the way it turned out.

Sir Rand: As do I, since it gave me a role to play. Exactly how did you decide how I would look, what I would be like?

JB: It was a step-by-step process that began with the rooks, or ravens, that I’d described as circling the pele tower in those first paragraphs written for the workshop. The raven became your heraldic symbol, and I then more or less tied your physical description to that image.

Sir Rand: Less rather than more, I hope!

JB: In the most handsome way possible, you may be sure! Beyond that, I needed you to be someone the heroine would resent having to marry. Your status as the baseborn son of a lord guaranteed that. However, the place you had reached—companion to King Henry VII, a man knighted on the field of battle and awarded a keep and marriage to a lady of good birth for his service to the crown--required an unusual combination of intelligence, power and extreme loyalty. What? You are blushing, sir. Shall I stop here?

Sir Rand: By all means. But I would like to know how you discovered my long association with Henry Tudor.

JB: That was a matter of deduction based on research. Henry had been a fugitive from Yorkist assassination plots for almost half his 29 years. He had known friends and companions, however, men who shared his exile in Europe, and then accompanied him when he invaded England in 1485. I put your background together, so to speak, by assembling bits and pieces of notes from a dozen or more men.

Sir Rand: I’m far from sure I appreciate that image, but let it pass. How ever did you, a lady for all your modern dress, learn to think like a knight, particularly in the heat of a melee?

JB: A large part of it came from simply putting myself in your place, experiencing every scene through your senses and mind-set, feeling what you felt as it unfolded. But while visualizing the melee scene, it occurred to me that battle fatigue, known today as traumatic stress syndrome, could not be a totally modern phenomenon. It must have had severe consequences during a time when combatants met face to face, hacking and slicing at each other with all the mind-stunning effort, the horror of mangled flesh and blood that must have resulted. Much of the melee scene came from that perspective.

Sir Rand: You provided a squire for me during that combat, and afterward. Why was that? And how did you decide what he would be like?

JB: You received a squire because it seemed most knights had one during that time period, and he was a logical secondary character. David gained a more important place for himself as he became ever more useful to you and your lady. But it was as he told Lady Isabel something of his background and his dreams that he took better shape and form, became something more than just a minor player. In one sense, then, he created himself.

Sir Rand: How did you choose the lovely Isabel for me?

JB: You deserved someone who was your match in strength of will, courage and that illusive quality called “heart.” Beyond that, I have to admit she is made up of all the things I like in a heroine, including steadfastness in the face of difficulty, love of family, the ability to think under fire and the refusal to accept defeat. Her greatest flaw is pride, but then the two of you were well matched in that, as well.

Sir Rand: God’s teeth, milady, you’d not suggest I’m arrogant?

JB: No more so than I made you.

Sir Rand: Aye. Well. Since you put it that way. Touching on other matters you arranged for me--what of the tumble in the sheets with Isabel that took place amid a lather of raspberries? Not that I’m complaining, you understand, but still…

JB: That was your doing, I swear it. You were playing the lute, as I recall, singing a playful song about a youth and his lady-fair who went looking for sweet red raspberries and how they managed to enjoy them. The next thing I knew, you had found a goodly supply and were mulling over sundry things to do with them.

Sir Rand: ‘Tis a far cry from searching for raspberries to taking a crock of them to the bed where Lady Isabel lay innocently sleeping.

JB: Are you saying it was never your idea to make a sensual assault upon your lady’s truthfulness using berries and well-ground sugar?

Sir Rand: That’s just what I’m saying. ‘Twas your doing, and well you know it! If you could make me out to be an arrogant arse, then you could certainly turn me into a diabolically conniving and too randy lover of… raspberries!

JB: I protest, sir!

Sir Rand: Protest all you please, but I know the right of it. And another thing! Why did you put me in prison?

JB: You were in the way.

Sir Rand: Nay, milady. I’ve never been one to stay where I was not wanted.

JB: No, but how else was Isabel to discover how much she missed and needed you, how much she would mourn your loss if you were to hang? Beyond that, this was her story, and you were being a good deal too stalwart and heroic, leaving her with little to do. She had to show her mettle, don’t you see?

Sir Rand: You’ve a point, I suppose. And it was the Tower for me, anyway, I’ll be bound. Henry could hardly allow a crime such as I was accused of to go unpunished.

JB: Even if you were his friend and long-time companion, yes. Though I do regret leaving you in doubt as to whether Isabel would choose between being your wife or your widow.

Sir Rand: A likely tale. You’re a witch who likes to torture men is what you are, milady. You might as well admit it and be done.

JB: Am I really supposed to answer that? Sir Rand? Come back! Where are you going?

Sir Rand: Why, where else, but in search of raspberries? I’ve a sudden great yen for them, now that I'm put in mind of that scene and the delicious charms of my lady-fair…

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing Tip of the Day-Prologues

The writing style used for a prologue should be the same as for the story to which it belongs. It should never have the feel of material that has been grafted on or added as an afterthought.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writing Tip of the Day-Prologues

Many prologues have so little connection to the text which comes after that they act as a barrier to the story. Any prologue that does not materially improve the book should be removed.


Friday, July 08, 2011

Writing Tip of the Day-Prologues

The prologue is an overused fiction device.  A book should not begin with a prologue if the same information can be logically presented within the story framework.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Interview with Phoenix Sullivan

Phoenix Sullivan
 In the Brave New World of e-publishing, Phoenix Sullivan is sure to become a name to conjure with. Few have more enthusiasm for its possibilities, greater knowledge of the process, or a brighter future. Phoenix recently became an indie author with the release of her first book, an Arthurian Saga titled SPOIL OF WAR. It’s my pleasure to present this interview with Phoenix, who is, not incidentally, my niece.

JB: As a start, tell us when you decided to become a writer.

I don't think I ever had to decide. I've been writing in one form or another since I could hold a crayon, so I would have to say writing decided for me.

I've been very lucky in that for most of my adult life I was able to make a living as a writer/editor in the corporate world. Now that I'm retired (early retirement - I'm only 52!), I can concentrate on writing the kinds of books I've always wanted to.

JB: Did you read as a child? If so, what were your favorite books?

I was a voracious reader as a child, reading way above my grade from the time I was four. We didn't have much in the way of discretionary dollars, so I spent a lot of time in the library. Early on, I read just about every book that had a dog or horse in it. The Black Stallion Mysteries and the Big Red books were some of my favorites. I still cry over Black Beauty.

When I was nine, my brother introduced me to science fiction via 2001: A Space Odyssey and I was hooked. Lucky for me, I didn't know girls didn't read SF.

If I couldn't get to the library soon enough after I finished my last checked-out book, I hit up my mom's romance stacks. Gone with the Wind blew me away at quite a tender age. Pretty much, if a book found its way into my hands, I'd read it. One thing I'm very grateful to my parents for is that they never censored anything I read, either reading-level-wise or content-wise.

JB: Do you read much now? What is in your To Be Read pile?

I'm very involved in critique groups for writers right now and I read a lot of writing samples across all genres, as well as everything from book blurbs and first chapters to short stories and complete novels. Reading critically, though, is a different process than reading for pleasure. It's much more time-consuming and more draining. Plus you have to stay a bit distanced from the work in order to be objective. This is what makes up the bulk of my reading these days. I look forward to the time when I can back off the critical reading some and start reading again for the pure joy of losing myself in great stories.

I do make exceptions, though, and I'm going to be first in line to read Jennifer's By His Majesty's Grace when it comes out later this month ;o).

JB: Your book, SPOIL OF WAR, is labeled An Arthurian Saga, and a historical fantasy. Tell us what these terms mean to you.

Both of these terms are just helpful ways for readers to find the book online. tends to collect anything related to King Arthur under Fantasy in its browsing catalog, even if, like with Spoil of War, there really isn't a fantasy element.

Since the title itself doesn't give a strong indication of the time period, I wanted to be sure readers could immediately tell it was related to the Arthurian cycle, so I added the "An Arthurian Saga" subtitle. Calling it a saga helps readers quickly know it's a long-form novel rather than a novella or short story. It runs a little over 111,000 words or about 420 pages.

JB: What is your background for writing about the Arthurian era?

Well, I have a Masters in English with a concentration in Medieval Studies, as well as a minor in European history. I was also involved for several years with the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group dedicated to recreating the Middle Ages – if not exactly how it was, how it should have been.

Despite all the odd period trivia I have in my head, I've been complimented on my ability to add period details smoothly, without info-dumping on the reader. I work hard at that because not letting the details get in the way of the story is an ability I treasure in the authors I read!

JB: What made you decide to self-publish?

In a way, I think Spoil of War is a poster child for the right reasons to self-publish. The manuscript made the rounds among agents and traditional publishers, and the overall reaction was that the writing was great and the story engrossing ("I literally couldn't put it down," one agent told me) but, ultimately, it wasn't marketable through traditional channels. I was asked to either revise it to lose some of the emphasis on romance or to pump up the romance and incorporate the POV of a “hawt” hero to match contemporary conventions. In either case, the resulting book would not have been this one.

I think readers will read books that don't fit comfortably on a specific genre shelf if those books are well-written and well-formatted and include the themes and emotions, characters and situations that readers love. Through no fault of traditional publishing – it is a business after all – readers aren't given that range of options in the traditional publishing space.

Having industry professionals express enthusiasm for Spoil of War validated that it's a professional-quality book, so I was confident I wasn't going to be insulting any readers by putting it out myself.

I'm thrilled that my belief in readers seems to be panning out. For example, there’s this review that recently appeared in the Little Rock, Arkansas,

The link is

JB: What is the best thing about self-publishing?

Seeing those lovely reviews! Realizing people I don't know are reading my stories and enjoying them. How amazing is that? Of course, that's just as true about traditional publishing, isn't it?

JB: What is the worst thing about it?

Trying to get my novel noticed without sounding like a carnival hawker. I have to give props to Amazon for helping in that arena. If I do my part right in telling Amazon what the book is about and to whom it might appeal, they're good about making it sure it's visible to someone looking for a read of its type. Barnes and Noble and the other online stores don't offer quite the same level of support and, as a result, the book is struggling a bit to be noticed outside of Amazon.

JB: Tell us what a typical writing day is like for you. What is your day like when not writing?

These aren't mutually exclusive in my case. I think my typical day always includes writing -- some days I just manage more creative writing than others.

Since I live on a small farm, every day is a balance between taking care of all the maintenance needed, such as mowing pastures, fixing leaking water pipes, and keeping outbuildings and fences repaired; feeding, cleaning, and playing with my beasties (mini horses, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, an iguana); upkeeping the house; and writing-related activities, including critiquing, promoting, and yes, actual writing.

I've certainly found that since I retired in January I haven't been bored! Not enough hours in the day. And now I wonder how I managed to do as much as I did plus work a 60-hour-per-week job before. One of life’s mysteries, I guess!

JB: Do you have a book in progress at present? What is its genre and time period?

I have a book under consideration with a traditional publisher right now. It's a near-future medical thriller with a few mammoths and sabre-tooth cats thrown in. There's also a sweet-level romance between Donna, a veterinarian, and Mike, a CDC analyst.

I'm currently working on another book derived from the Arthurian cycle that has a true element of fantasy to it. The romance angle is also amped: a beautiful fey lady magically bound to two brother knights, one an alpha, one a beta.

And later this year I'll finish an historical fantasy set in the Roman Empire during a time when pagan prophecy and Christian canon converge. That one has a m/m romance (another alpha/beta combo -- I'm a sucker for how that dynamic plays out on the page.)

JB: What would you like readers to remember about your books?

Remembering their titles would be great :o).

Beyond that, I hope readers will know that whether they pick up a Phoenix Sullivan story set in the near future or the ancient past, they're getting a well-researched story with strong settings and strong characters; a story that doesn't shy away from the hard truths or the tough questions. I can promise plenty of angst along the way -- characters won't ever have it easy; a romantic element, ranging from sweet to steamy, that grows organically from the story and isn't just shoe-horned in; and, eventually, the HEA that makes the emotional rollercoaster ride that comes before worth it.

Thank you for having me over for a visit, Jennifer. I’m soooo looking forward to your Three Graces trilogy. I’m a sucker for the Tudor period!

JB: Many thanks to you, Phoenix, for dropping by—and be sure to come back again soon!


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Friday, July 01, 2011

Jennifer Blake Newsletter - July


Summer is truly with us here in the Deep South, with days of temps above the 100°F mark. Time to go inside, shut the door, and hope the air conditioning doesn’t quit. I used to say I’d have written more books if I lived in a frigid winter climate, but, on second thought, I’m not sure. Extreme heat from mid-June to mid-September actually drives us inside in the same way.

I was in Ft. Myers, FL for a week last month, hanging out with my daughter, Lindy, and her two girls, also watching the younger, Robyn, graduate summa cum laude. It was a lovely, lazy time, talking, laughing, walking the beach on Sanibel Island or just sitting with chilled drink in hand, listening to the rattle of the palm trees. Everyone needs a break now and then.

But after this trip, the one to New York in May and the Caribbean cruise in April, I won’t be taking a summer vacation. Well, other than escaping the heat by heading to our summer place in the mountains of Colorado, where we go every year. The main reason for staying close to computer and laptop is the summer publication of the Three Graces trilogy. Blog posts and other promotional efforts will fill my days from now until late September.

My author’s copies for Book 1, BY HIS MAJESTY’S GRACE, were delivered this past Friday. These usually show up a couple of weeks before the books are put on the shelves. The original publication date was set for July 27, then changed to the 26th, and is now the 19th. At least the book will go on sale some time in the second half of this month. If you see it in stores, drop me a note? Send to:

Reviews for BHMG have been coming in, with six or seven appearing so far. All are favorable, thank goodness! RT Book Reviews gave it a Top Pick! 4 ½ stars review, saying:

“With her distinctive voice, Blake sets her tale during the reign of Henry VII and sweeps the reader into the precarious lifestyle of battle-scarred knights, court intrigue, scandals and treachery. The sexually charged chemistry between her hero and heroine makes the first of the Three Graces trilogy an exciting, emotion-filled and unforgettable story.”

Eye on Romance posted:

“Set in 1486 England, By His Majesty’s Grace takes place in a new historical era for beloved award winning author Jennifer Blake. Her masterful writing and exquisite sense of pacing shine in this novel, bringing several elements together in one perfectly executed story. Blake includes a great deal of the background of the Tudor family as the story progresses, especially in regard to King Henry VII’s rise to power. Historical detail is abundant and well placed, and Blake’s breadth of research and knowledge is remarkable. The backdrop of a fascinating period in history along with a true whodunit mystery and a tender romance combine to make By His Majesty’s Grace a stunning entrée to a new sub-genre for Blake. Be sure to watch for the two remaining offerings in The Three Graces series, “By Grace Possessed” in August and “Seduced by Grace” in September, which will tell the stories of Isabel’s sisters, Cate and Marguerite.”

Links to additional reviews have been added to the FaceBook page created for the books and called simply The Three Graces Trilogy. If you happen to take a look, it would be helpful if you could click to “Like” the page. Thanks much in advance.

In conjunction with the book release, I will be the featured author for Harlequin’s August Reader to Reader Newsletter. A short article and photo will appear in this publication which goes out with books sold through direct marketing. Also, I’ll be showcased in an Author Spotlight on the RT Book Reviews web site, with an article about how I came to write the Three Graces trilogy and also a short excerpt from the book. I’ve done an online interview with Connie Cox, as well, a writer who frequently has guest author spots on her web site. This series of questions and answers will go public when the new book begins to appear. Look for it around July 19th at:

Speaking of interviews, I’ll be conducting one for a change. On July 5, I’ll post an online interview with my niece who writes as Phoenix Sullivan. An indie author of great talent and vibrant imagination, she recently e-published her first novel, an Arthurian Saga titled SPOIL OF WAR. For an in depth look at her background and writing life, check out the interview that will be posted on July 5th at:

Meanwhile, the quintessential Stars-and-Stripes summer holiday is looming. In honor of the Fourth, we will grill hamburgers, sausage and chicken, make potato salad and cut a watermelon or two. Afterward, as dusk falls, we’ll take to the boats to view the annual fireworks display held here on the lake. Family, food, fun and tradition, what could be more all American?

With warmest wishes for a happy Fourth, and all the good things of summer,

Jennifer Blake!/profile.php?id=100000468533638

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Writing Tip of the Day-Prologues

Because prologues are associated with literary fiction, many new writers create them in hope of elevating their work to a higher level. Use of a prologue for its own sake, with minimal impact upon the story it introduces, is the mark of an amateur.