16 September 2020

Why I Love to Write and Read Historical Fiction


Someone recently asked me why I decided to write historical fiction. I had, after all, up until just a few years ago, written nothing but non-fiction. What is it about historical fiction? What makes it so charming? And what ensures its continuing popularity? I will gladly admit that I’ve always been a bit of a history buff and enjoy researching different eras and cultures.  But my love of this genre goes well beyond that.

Why does anyone even bother reading books? What pleasure do people derive from a well-spun tale? I think most would argue that a good story takes us away from our daily hum-drum. We trust the author to provide us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a completely different world as soon as we turn the pages of a book to the first chapter.

Who among us has not imagined ourselves or our alter ego, living in another period? Perhaps we think we were born in the wrong century and believe we would have felt more at home way back when. Or maybe it's a yearning for a simpler time, or a desire to live in another country. Perhaps we're looking for an opportunity to meet our cherished heroes. Or we wish to right one of history’s horrific wrongs. After all, there have been many! If that’s you, then you are probably already a fan of historical fiction and many of its sub-genres. There are so many to choose from: Romance, horror, mysteries, tragedies, westerns, etc. set in history ready to captivate their readers and bewitch them with a sense of another time and space.

Stories from our past expose us to unfamiliar cultures, and sometimes even the strange aspects of our own. It shows us who we were as a people, but also provides a map to our future. An astute reader might even pick up on the commonality of all faiths and nations when our basic needs were exposed, rawer.

Historical fiction affords a writer the rare opportunity to right wrongs. We can create a story starring historical figures in a new light. We can restore them to life although theirs was stolen, or exact justice although they received tragic condemnation. We can even award posthumous accolades to the heroes who left us all too soon. After all, it is fiction, and nowhere does it say we can't ask: What if...? 

For a storyteller, this genre requires more research than most other forms of writing. This is my favourite stage of the writing process! I get to transport myself to that time and place in history and "experience" (albeit second-hand) the same things as the people of that time. Using modern-day phrases, or mentioning inventions that have not yet been discovered, could negate all of my efforts. However, despite the extra challenges, or possibly because of them, I feel it is also the most rewarding type of writing. It allows me to introduce the relatively unknown people and periods in history while indulging my inner history buff and storyteller in the process


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added five historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her MajestyThe Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, and Excerpts from the Imperial Diary. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.
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09 September 2020

Strategies for a Happier, More Productive #WritersLife


A productive writer is a happy writer - or so they say. But at some point, you might find something missing from your writer's life. Or perhaps your work is not progressing the way you think it should. It happens to the best of us. Here are some strategies that have helped me along the way to a happier, more productive writer's life.

Set Goals
As with all writing, I like to set goals along the way. If I'm working on my next book, I might designate daily taskers, like printing my manuscript and reading the current draft - maybe a chapter or two per day. When I complete said task, I move on to the next goal to get closer to publishing that book.

Establish Deadlines
Whether it is reaching a certain word count by the end of the day or meeting a submission deadline for an article, setting deadlines can help you keep on track. 

Read 
Reading is not just a relaxing pastime. It can also show you what's already available and quite possibly give you ideas for your next story. Plus, you support your fellow writers and the literary community as a whole. 

Modify Your Writing Habits
I continuously revise my writing habits, looking for ways to improve. My latest obsession is keeping notes on my phone. So far, it's worked quite well for me, consolidating my ideas, references, and information all in one place. And just to make sure I don't lose everything, I like to back up those notes to an external hard-drive regularly. If something doesn't work for you, then change it up, find out what does. 

Take Baby Steps
Even on my craziest days, when time to write is nowhere to be found, I like to challenge myself to get at least one writing-related activity done. Be it reading a book about the art of writing or brainstorming ideas. Every little step will bring you closer to your goal.

Connect with Other Writers
Although I'm a bit of an introvert, I am happiest with my writer's life when I've got a group of writers to fall back on. Granted, not all writers want to sociable. Still, if you are fortunate, you can find a few writer friends out there that you can trust to commiserate with you when you're having a bad day or ask for a second opinion. You don't even have to meet them in person; you can always connect with other writers online - which definitely feeds into my introverted nature.

Attend a Workshop
Traveling isn't always easy, especially these days. But planning a trip to attend a workshop can give you something to look forward to. And should traveling be impossible, you can still participate in a virtual event. Plus, some of those expenses involved can be tax-deductible. 

Believe in your abilities
We are all our own worst critics. Telling ourselves that we're out of our league. But no matter what you believe, you never truly know until you give it a whirl. So, no matter the dream, give it your all, work hard, and stop belittling yourself!


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added five historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her MajestyThe Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, and Excerpts from the Imperial Diary. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.
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02 September 2020

Month in Review - August 2020


Pumpkin Spice season is already here. Can you believe it? Where did the time go? Although the weather still blesses us with unseasonably warm weather, autumn is right around the corner. But before I get sidetracked by thoughts of what costume to wear for Halloween, it's time to recap last month. So now, without further ado, here's the list of the most popular blog posts for August 2019, chosen by you, the readers:

1. #WritersLife: The Good and Bad of Working with Beta Readers



You’ve finished writing your story. You’ve self-edited it to the nines, and elicited family members and friends to read your manuscript. It's ready for beta readers. The purpose of beta readers is not to stroke your writer's ego. Their job is to find your story's shortcomings before it is published. While it can be painful to receive feedback filled with a laundry list of issues, it's preferable to see that list in a private message, rather than plastered on the internet as part of a book review...


2. Dog Bakery: Lip-Smacking Birthday Pupcake Recipe




Birthday Pupcakes. Quick, easy, and packed with flavour. These lip-smacking pupcakes are my dogs' favourite treats - soon, your furry friends will crave them, too!


3. #WritersLife: Misconceptions about Self-Publishing




The publishing world has changed dramatically over time, but especially since online self-publishing became popular. Viewed by many as inferior, publishing your own work can be intimidating. However, all those myths floating around about it don’t help the situation. To uncover the truth about self-publishing, we should explore some of the most prevalent myths...


4. Self-Editing Basics: 9 Simple Ways to Edit Your Manuscript



As most of my readers already know, I'm in the midst of editing my next three historical fiction pieces that are part of The Country Girl Empress series: AT THE CASTLE OF DREAMS (book 5) and two yet untitled projects (book 6 and 7). With that in mind, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share some tips and tricks that help me along the way to polish my manuscript...



Sometimes I think that I take my love for the characters in my books a little too far. A couple of days ago I had such a craving for Gugelhupf (a yeast-based Bundt cake, which often contains raisins) that I decided to bake an Emperor's Gugelhupf just like my grandmother used to make. Her recipe is based on the one from the famous pastry shop Zauner in Bad Ischl...



Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added five historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her MajestyThe Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, and Excerpts from the Imperial Diary. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.
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26 August 2020

The Emperor's Gugelhupf


Sometimes I think that I take my love for the characters in my books a little too far. A couple of days ago I had such a craving for Gugelhupf (a yeast-based Bundt cake, which often contains raisins) that I decided to bake an Emperor's Gugelhupf just like my grandmother used to make. 

Her recipe is based on the one from the famous pastry shop Zauner in Bad Ischl, and is said to be the same Gugelhupf recipe that Katharina Schratt served Emperor Franz Joseph for his second breakfast, whenever he visited his 'dear friend'. The residents of Bad Ischl used to say:  “The Emperor just had his daily slice of Gugelhupf!” after Franz Joseph left the villa of his mistress. 

Whether this story is true or not and whether it actually is the original Gugelhupf recipe - who knows!? But who doesn't appreciate a good story? And ultimately, it doesn't matter. I just love this recipe! The Guglehupf is so moist and fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. It is the perfect weekend brunch treat or can be enjoyed any time. 

Emperor's Gugelhupf

Ingredients















180 ml milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
350 g flour
100 g unsalted butter
120 g sugar
4 egg yolks
1 pinch salt
Lemon zest of half a lemon
1 tbsp of cinnamon
100 g raisins
1 handful of sliced almonds (optional)
1 tbsp of unsalted melted butter
powdered sugar

Instructions














- Heat milk in a small saucepan until lukewarm.
- Pour the lukewarm milk into a bowl, add yeast and stir until it dissolves. Add 1/3 of the flour to the yeast mixture and mix well. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest in a warm place. 
- In the meantime, whisk butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and whisk for an additional minute.
- Then add a pinch of salt, lemon zest, and the remaining flour to the mixture. Knead the dough until it is smooth. If the dough is still sticky add a bit more flour.
- Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.
- Butter and flour your Gugelhupf pan, and sprinkle the bottom of the cake pan with the almond slices.
- Take the rested dough out of the bowl and knead it on a well-floured surface. 
- Roll the dough into a square, approx. 2 cm thick. Sprinkle it with the raisins and cinnamon. Roll the dough square up and place the dough roll into the cake pan.
- Brush the surface of the cake with melted butter. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for about an hour or until the dough has risen to the edge of the cake pan.
- Preheat the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake Gugelhupf for 20 to 25 minutes. After the first 10 minutes of baking time, check your cake. If the top has already turned golden brown, cover it with aluminum foil.
- Let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.


Notes: Gugelhupf tastes best while it's still warm. I recommend eating it with a bit of butter and a dollop of strawberry jam. If you don't own a Gugelhupf pan, there's no need to go out and purchase an expensive one. Just use a regular Bundt cake pan.

Thank you for stopping by, and Happy Baking!


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added five historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her MajestyThe Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, and Excerpts from the Imperial Diary. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.
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19 August 2020

#WritersLife: The Good and Bad of Working with Beta Readers


You’ve finished writing your story. You’ve self-edited it to the nines, and elicited family members and friends to read your manuscript. It's ready for beta readers. 

The purpose of beta readers is not to stroke your writer's ego. Their job is to find your story's shortcomings before it is published. While it can be painful to receive feedback filled with a laundry list of issues, it's preferable to see that list in a private message, rather than plastered on the internet as part of a book review.

However, as with everything in life, this method of weeding out your masterpiece's flaws comes with its own pros and cons. I thought it would be beneficial to share the good and the bad of working with beta readers before publishing your book, based on my own and some of my fellow writer friends' experiences.














Free or low-cost feedback
Obviously, one of the most beneficial aspects of selecting beta readers to read your manuscript is the potential for free or low-cost feedback. However, low cost or free doesn’t necessarily ensure quality.

Expeditious turnaround
You could begin to receive feedback rather quickly, depending on your beta readers' availability and reliability. Some readers offer fragments of input along the way, while others only provide feedback after reading the entire thing. If you are only looking for partial input on the opening or the first few chapters of your story, you could receive comments sooner rather than later.

Beta reading arrangement
Some beta readers might offer to read parts or all of your manuscript if you return the favor. This is a good idea if you don't have strict time constraints. Being a beta reader can be time-consuming. A mutual beta reading arrangement holds both parties accountable and promotes empathy when providing feedback.

A potential future critique partner
If a swap goes well, it could potentially lead to an on-going critique partnership arrangement. Expanding your author network is always a good thing. Swapping your stories with fellow writers is a great way to build mutually advantageous connections.

Easy to organize
Organizing beta readers is relatively easy and straightforward. I found mine, or I should say, they found me, as they are part of my loyal readership. Some of my fellow writer friends found many of theirs online through dedicated FB and LI groups. They furnished the following information to their potential beta readers:

-Premise of the story
-Word count and genre of the manuscript
-Which parts of the book they specifically wanted feedback about
-Offer to beta read for others in return
-Preferred schedule

Providing this information beforehand meant they stood a better chance of gaining readers who were fans of the genre, were able to provide feedback by a specific date, and who understood the expectations. 













Unrealistic expectations
A good thing to remember is that beta readers are, in most cases, not your friends or professional editors. Many times, reading an entire book takes hours. If a person offers to spend time doing that and comment on your work, that’s fantastic. Especially if they are doing it for free. Just remember: You need them more than they need you. So, be reasonable in your expectations.

For that matter, readers might have exceptionally high expectations of your book. So, it’s essential to consider what you send them. If your book is still a rough draft, then at least let them know beforehand. That gives them the option to decide if they want to read it or not. Just keep in mind that a manuscript containing a mess of fonts and riddled with grammatical errors does not bode well for positive feedback, no matter how good the story might be.

Disregarding set parameters
You’ve made your expectations and preferred method of communication clear to your readers. So, there shouldn't be any problems. Right? Unfortunately, reality looks a bit different. When one of your beta readers ignores your parameters and starts bombarding you with late-night messages, that’s definitely not a sign of positive collaboration. On the other hand, pestering your beta readers for additional feedback after they've already commented on your book is also not a good idea. Just think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed.

The silent treatment
It happens to the best of us. People tell you they’re going to beta read for you, but after a couple of emails - radio silence. It’s definitely frustrating when they don’t let you know what's going on. Especially if you were prepared to fulfill your end of the bargain. If this happens to you: Just move on and don't waste your time crying over spilled milk! You have no idea what’s happening in other people’s lives. As "the good" section already covered, finding additional or replacement beta readers is always an option. 

Not genre experts
While it's preferable to ask for beta readers familiar with your genre, it doesn’t mean they’re experts of said genre, just because they like to read it. Your chances of finding the ideal reader from those who reply to your request are quite slim. After all, you are wholly reliant on the kindness of people willing to spend their precious time reading your work for free or in exchange for a nominal fee.

Irrelevant or callous feedback
Although receiving free input from beta readers is one of the positives, you might end up with irrelevant or even insensitive feedback instead. Callous or flippant comments could result in a confidence knock, especially for a first-time author. While I'm not advocating lying to the author, the old adage still rings true: If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything! There's no reason to be rude. 

Beta readers are absolutely entitled to their views. After all, that is their role. However, constructive feedback is far more beneficial to an author than rude or tactless comments. In such cases, it's usually best to cut your losses and look for someone new.














With the good and the bad in mind, here are some pointers for a more beneficial experience with your beta readers:

Look for a mixture
To maximize your chances of quality feedback, try to find a mix of free and paid beta readers and offer to beta read in exchange. Selecting a variety of readers also accounts for possible mismatches, or should any one of them do a disappearing act.

Let them go if necessary
It doesn't take long to get a sense of which reader(s) might not be a good fit. In such cases, it’s okay to cancel your collaboration.

Set deadlines and expectations
To set a professional tone from the beginning, start by naming the genre of your book, word count, book blurb, preferred timeframe, and whether you're willing to beta read for them.

Ask specific questions
Knowing which part of your book you most want feedback on really helps you and your beta readers. If you’re only asking them for comments about one or two elements, rather than the entire novel, it might make them feel less inundated.

Protect your work
Selecting beta readers from trusted sources should reduce any worries you might have about sharing your work with strangers. But in order to alleviate further concerns about potential plagiarism, copyright your manuscript, watermark it, or make it a read-only document or PDF.

Have you utilized beta readers? Was your collaboration useful? Good, bad, indifferent? Feel free to add your experience in the comment section.


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added five historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her MajestyThe Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, and Excerpts from the Imperial Diary. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.
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