The Penny Dreadfuls

I was just thinking today as I made dinner that Kindle was something like the “penny dreadfuls” of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These were simple, inexpensive and not terribly high quality literature. For a penny, in the UK, or a few cents in the US, you could buy an inexpensive paperback that could cover anything from the life of Billy the Kid to the exploits of Aston Marshe ace detective.

Most of these volumes have disappeared into a well-deserved obscurity. However a surprising number of well-regarded authors made their start with “penny dreadfuls.” P.G. Wodehouse is one of the best examples; you can find his early work on Gutenberg press and it isn’t up to the quality of his later work (to put it nicely). Similarly, even lesser lights like Edgar Rice Burroughs show considerable improvement from their first awful efforts to their prime. (I know Tarzan and Thuvia, maid of Mars aren’t great literature, but they are fun.)

I’m beginning to think that E-publishing serves the same purpose. I hope my first book Katherine’s Choice is great literature. I certainly enjoyed writing it and it is a good read. That said, it’s probably a bit of  a hack job in reality and a stepping stone to what I can really do as I learn my craft.

Anyway, I’m a pretty good hash slinger so there is hope for me yet.

I’m beginning to think pen and ink isn’t such a bad idea.

Just finished re-correcting my first book for the fifth time. Blinkety-blank Libre Office was de-correcting the manuscript.  So now the finer points of punctuation and the occasional ‘to’ instead of ‘too’ should be correct. It gets a little frustrating to correct the same error several times over. Mind you I used Word, so I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed; not to mention burning a joss stick and praying ten “hail Gutenbergs” while I’m at it.

I’ll port the fixes to the hard copy soon, but the new kindle version has an index, no hard-coded page numbers, and as far as I can see none of the ‘ “ipsem lorem”.’ errors that were driving me wild.

This really is a problem, Libre Office seems to choke above 40,000 – 50,000 words in terms of keeping track of corrections. (I was saving quite often). My best friend is also writing a book. She’s using word and running into issues where the cut/replace and similar mundane operations choke on her book.

I’ve heard good things about scribus, but it doesn’t run on Linux. I’m rather fond of Tux so that is a bit of a non-starter.

Any Suggestions?


The Regency was at the cusp of modern medicine. The Leeches no longer quite believed in the humor theory, but didn’t have anything to replace it with. This makes for interesting quandaries.

In what I’m currently writing, “the French Orphan”, the young heroine (Henriette) uses “blue vitriol” (copper sulfate) as one of the magic ingredients in her fomentations and on bandages. This actually was used in veterinary medicine until recently as an antiseptic, and would have been something a cow farmer’s granddaughter would use. She’s also a bit more picky about cleanliness than the human doctors, which is something that would make the difference between a successful cattle farmer and one that just barely makes it. Of course she has no idea why doing these things is important, it’s just what her family did.

While this is a little fantastic to the modern ear – my grandmother used Mercurochrome (a mercury salt) as an antiseptic and my husband swears by tincture of iodine.

The “real” doctors of the time would make up custom prescriptions based on whatever seemed right. Nothing was ever tested, but then everything was organic – so I suppose it was “safe”. I remember reading about “Holloway’s pills”, which were these little chalky miracle drugs from the 1830’s-1890’s. They were literally chalk and herbs, but they made Mr. Holloway extremely rich. What is truly weird is this was his second attempt. His first, a skin cream for rashes, actually had active ingredients in it and would have worked for minor problems. He couldn’t give it away!

There wasn’t any real licensing so Henriette as well qualified as the various leeches, and probably would have caused a lot less harm.

How much sizzle is enough?

I have a real dilemma as I work on my next book. Sources and research aren’t an issue, if you stick to English Regency you can find almost everything from a guidebook to London to the list of attendee’s at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the night before Waterloo.

No, the problem is how much sex do I put in? Real regency period writers put in almost nothing, and left everything to the reader’s imagination (but then nights were long and there wasn’t much to do, so a good imagination was a necessity). Only fast women held hands before marriage in the 1810’s. I’m pretty sure Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet don’t even hold hands in Pride and Prejudice.  More recent, but still relatively old, authors like Georgette Heyer had a little bit – things holding hands and kissing that would have been considered almost as bad as fanny hill during the regency – but nothing you wouldn’t let your daughter read.

Today books run all the way from fairly tame to baring it all. I have to figure out where my voice fits in that picture.


Our local NPR station is having its pledge week next week. I’ll donate the profits from both the kindle and paper copies of my book for every copy sold from now until Friday 4/25/14 (or 25/4/14 for you heathens) to WABE.

Good Cornbread

Just an observation and recipe. Bacon grease is a nuisance because it clogs your drains. It’s not without its uses. Back in the war between the states our boys used to eat something called scoosh. It was basically corn meal fried in bacon grease. At least they used to eat it when they were lucky enough to have both bacon and corn meal.

It was probably not the most healthy of diets. 

I tried adding bacon grease to corn bread instead of oil or solid vegetable shortening. Surprisingly good.

1 cup wheat flour
1 cup corn meal
1tblspoon baking powder (omit if you use self-rising flour)
1tblspoon sugar
1/4 cup of so of bacon grease
2 eggs

Mix everything but the milk then add enough milk to make a thick batter (about a cup). Bake in a greased pan in a 425 degree oven. That’s Fahrenheit not that godless, commie centigrade.

Introducing Amelia Grace Treader

My friends tell me that as an aspiring writer one of the most important things I can do is to blog.

That’s fine, but writing blogs isn’t something they did in my favorite time. While I can imagine Mrs. Radcliffe taking to this format, I just can’t see Jane Austin breaking her lifelong habit of privacy – and good breeding – to bare her character and thoughts with the many headed public.

I’ll post my insights and things that readers might like, but for a start here is
my first book: Katherine’s Choice.  I hope you like it.