Chaperones in 19th Century History

In researching historical facts for my 1890s Christian romance novel, I wanted to know if my heroine needed a chaperone. What I discovered is that chaperones were far more common in British society than in America. In her etiquette guide published in 1887, Mrs. John Sherwood wrote that a young lady’s most natural chaperone is, of course, her own mother, but  Sherwood criticized American mothers for being careless in their duties. According to her, 19th Century American mothers had the sullied reputation of allowing their daughters to go about with young men alone in public.

The role of chaperone was rapidly decreasing in popularity in America during the 1890s. Perhaps they were too expensive. Perhaps they were viewed by the working classes as a symbol of upper class snobbery. It is clear that most teenage girls were considered rebellious and unappreciative of their chaperones.

Married ladies throughout history had no need for chaperones, because they were protected by their husbands’ reputations. But what about single women? Were they ever permitted to go out in public unchaperoned? Yes. Mrs. John Sherwood wrote that “if a woman is protected by the armor of work, she can dispense with a chaperon.” (Sherwood used the French spelling for “chaperone.”)

As a savvy, independent businesswoman, Victoria Garrett, the heroine in my story, could have safely gone about alone in public without breaking any rules of propriety. Ditching her chaperone back East had gotten her into big trouble, however, and she humbly realized her need to hire a new chaperone. Victoria wisely hired the Widow Fitzgerald as a means of improving her public image, protecting her virtue, and insulating her from further gossip.


Manners and social usages, by Mrs. John Sherwood …

Sherwood, M. E. W. 1826-1903. (Mary Elizabeth Wilson),

CREATED/PUBLISHED: New and enl. ed., rev. by the author. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1887, rev. 1894


Writing the Back Cover Copy Blurb

All writers, whether self-published or going the traditional route through a publisher, must practice the tagline aka logline aka elevator pitch (called an “elevator pitch” because your entire book is condensed into about twenty-five words–the amount of time it takes to travel between floors in an elevator). Writers must also prepare a back cover copy blurb, a slightly longer version of the logline, in which you summarize your book with an exciting advertisement consisting of no more than 125 words.

If you haven’t practiced writing a logline, I encourage you to go to Rachelle Gardner’s blog at, where you can read more about how to craft this fun and aggravatingly demented little one-liner of no more than 25 words.

So, about that back cover blurb, I find it just as challenging to condense my entire book into 125 words as 25. Oh, and the hook is not part of that blurb, by the way. If you look at the back cover of most books, you’ll read a catchy, enticing header or hook at the very top (which is typically around 8-10 words), followed by the blurb.

Here’s the result of my back cover copy blurb practice session after writing and rewriting no less than twenty times (and it will most likely undergo more revisions before I’m satisfied with it):


Two wrongs don’t make a right.


To avoid a scandal, seventeen-year-old Victoria Garrett is forced to annul her hasty elopement and sent out West to Etna Mills, California in 1893.

Lonely, frightened, and living in a small town far from home, things go from bad to worse when Victoria discovers she is with child. Determined to establish a reputation amongst the gossiping townspeople, she knows she cannot survive as a single mother with no family support. The only way to provide a decent future for her unborn child is to remarry.

In a race against the clock, Victoria sets aside her fears and morals. Employing her charm and intelligence, she will stop at nothing to find an eligible bachelor who will marry her before her secret is discovered—before Christmas, if possible.
Still struggling to write your blurb? The following websites may be of help to you:

Author Jami Gold’s website:

Amy Wilkins’ article at:

Photo Sources:

Book cover from Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games

Practicing the Art of First Person Writing

Until I read Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” I didn’t really pay much attention to first person writing. In the publishing world, writers who attempt it have been frowned upon. As an English teacher, I discouraged it. But first person writing is making a comeback as a publishable literary point of view.

Sherry Wilson writes on her website, “First person point of view is the most reader friendly. It’s intimate. The reader feels like the character’s best friend. In fact, the viewpoint character will often confide in the reader things he wouldn’t tell his best friend.”

I believe Wilson is right. I related so well to Suzanne Collins’ Katniss, I embodied the character while reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

There are a lot of fine points to writing in first person, and I encourage you to visit Sherry Wilson’s site for more information. If you write from this point of view, you have to do it right.

So I will practice. I have twice begun writing a science fiction historical romance time travel manuscript, wondering why the pace and the story are not flowing as well as I would like. Now I’m rewriting it from the first person point of view. Suddenly I am more deeply involved in the character’s mind and actions. I am the heroine when I write. I speak directly to the reader as though he or she is my confidante. The entire feel of the story is dramatically altered.

In keeping with my goal to keep my blogs to 300 words or fewer, this is a wrap for today.

Happy writing!


Sherry Wilson,


Learning from My (Writing) Mistakes: Back Story Dumping

You might expect some metaphorical literary genius here, but I won’t bore you with that. I offer only my writing errors and how I am attempting to overcome them.

After I submitted copies of my latest manuscript to a couple of potential agents, I continued with reading Jeff Gerke’s book, “The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.” Too late, I discovered his chapter on the sin of back story dumping.

Oh, brother! Haven’t I learned this already? Gerke’s advice is not new. I know not to bore my readers with a narrative gush of information about my heroine. I know not to slap a chunk of my character’s history later in the book. I know to “sprinkle” bits of back story, weaving it into dialogue or physical descriptions of time, place or person. And I know I’m supposed to leave out the information altogether if it’s not positively essential to the plot.

I first learned this in one of author Deborah Raney’s seminars at a Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. She said to begin with action. Let the reader meet your character where he is right now; not with where he came from and where he was born. In fact, avoid all back story information for the first 30-50 pages, or leave it out entirely.

In other words, just give hints about your character. Don’t tell the reader everything. Trust the intelligence of your audience. They can figure it out.

Here’s one of Deborah Raney’s examples–a quote from Robert Elmer’s book, “Like Always”: “She found her driver’s license. Thank the Lord it wouldn’t expire until her 45th birthday next year. By the time she found it she had built a small pile of lipstick tubes and expired grocery coupons.”

You don’t need back story with lines like these. The description itself reveals that the story is about a woman who wears makeup, might be frugal, is forty-four years-old, is Californian, and is likely disorganized. Brilliant, right?

Do you have a back story paragraph full of information you feel you positively must share with your reader? Copy and paste it into a comment and let me (and other readers here) offer suggestions of how to perhaps weave it into your manuscript in a more creative manner. It could be fun…!

Author Deborah Raney

Jeff Gerke’s, “The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction”


Share Your Writing for Review

Today I’m going to conduct an experiment. My husband Pete has been telling me about this idea of his for quite some time and I have ignored him…until now.

How about if we, as writers (and aspiring writers) in an internet community, post various things we have written so that we can critique each other? I am thinking of posting the first chapter of the manuscript I just completed. If we open ourselves to helpful criticism, who knows? We might get the input we need to polish our work, get it submitted, and actually get it published. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea? (Pun intended.)

So, I invite you to post your manuscript’s opening paragraphs as a way to get started. (Anything more than that is too long to really edit in a comment line.)

I’m looking forward to reading other people’s chapters or sections…or whatever happens to show up on this site. Of course, if there’s anything horribly inappropriate, I will not allow it to post here. I am a Christian writer, after all…and, although I do believe we should be writing for the general public, as well as the Christian market, I don’t want anything in poor taste to be posted on this site.

Thanks for…whatever may happen here!

Storyboarding for Historical Writing Research

As most of you already know, I love history. No, I mean, I really LOVE history. As a history teacher, I used to dress up in period clothing and bring in an array of costumes for my students to wear too. I didn’t have anything near as lovely as an original Frederick Worth gown, but how I would love to even once have the opportunity of wearing such a masterpiece. Yes, my students thought I was a little crazy, but I don’t believe in just sitting in a boring desk and reading about history; I wanted my students to live it, feel it, taste it–at least, as much as possible.

When I’m writing a historical manuscript, I sometimes don a costume and act out parts, wandering about the house or garden, talking to myself. Yep, it’s not something I’d admit to most people and now I’m posting this for the whole world to read. Oh, well, some of you ask how I “get into my characters” when I write, so there you have it. Most of the time, however, I storyboard and I often use Pinterest for my photo ideas. (The only problem with Pinterest is that I cannot organize photos into a specific order, although I have complained about their remedying this flaw.)

This brings me back to my storyboarding process. I recently completed a manuscript about a nearby town in 1893. Clothing, hairstyles, housing, modes of transportation, holiday celebrations, foods, furniture, jewelry, makeup, parties, entertainment, church, and many other aspects of everyday life in the 19th Century occupied my research time throughout the writing of that book.


I find photographs online for inspiration and study them while I’m writing descriptions of scenes or characters. Nicole Kidman’s facial features and hair were inspiration for my main character, Victoria Garrett. When I found this photo of her role in the film, Portrait of a Lady, her determined demeanor was the perfect look, not to mention the perfect era, for my main character. Other photos are from old reprints of 1890s catalogs, museum displays, and even advertisements for period clothing (often sold to film studios for making period films).

Wildwood Cafe, Etna Mills

The town of Etna, California was the setting for my story, so I drove through the town several times, taking photos. In order to accurately describe certain scenes, I did a lot of walking up and down, around, between, and inside the buildings to make sure I really got the feel for how far it would take my characters to walk or ride horses from one place to another.

I suppose I could add more, but you get the idea.

You can view my Pinterest site for my last completed manuscript at Maybe you can start Pinterest storyboarding too. But, if you know of another website that offers the storyboarding concept with the option of moving around and reorganizing photos, I would welcome your advice and suggestions.

Happy writing…..!

An Update on my (mis)Adventures in Writing

As an aspiring author, I thought I would add a page regarding my own writing progress. Hopefully, the information here will help other writers as they encounter the numerous blocks, pitfalls and challenges that I have experienced over the years.

In order to explain my journey thus far, I will need to back up a few years. No, several years. No, a decade or more, really. I started writing “seriously” about twenty years ago. Was it really seriously? Well, I put that word in quotes because it was the first time I decided to actually attempt to send off some of my writing for publication. I decided to start with a children’s story, thinking that would be an easier niche to break into. I was wrong. I bought the Writer’s Market Guide for that particular year and sent off my query to all sorts of possible publishers. I received a few rejections but, mainly, no one even bothered to write back. I was completely ignored.

Unfortunately, I’m not one who handled rejection well at the time. (I hope I’m stronger now.) A decade later, I tried again.I wrote a few magazine articles. Again, I was rejected. I tried writing an article for an online interior decorating publication and, voila, it was published! No money involved, but at least I had finally gotten some of my writing out there for the public. I wrote again and again, trying my hand at more children’s stories and failing. Again, I was discouraged. Again, I laid down my pen (or computer, as it was), and quit writing for a few more years.

Finally, I could contain myself no longer. I had dozens of stories in my head and I had the itch to write. I decided to research the market, find out what was selling, what types of books were in top demand, and just write a full-length manuscript for the sake of practice–just to see if I could complete an entire novel. I did. Last year, I completed three entire manuscripts and I submitted two for publication. Again I was ignored. No rejections, no letters of “We regret to inform you,” just nothing.

I read somewhere that the best way to stave off the weight of failure and rejection in writing is to just keep writing. So, as soon as I completed one manuscript and submit it for publication, I would begin another. I had all those ideas constantly spinning around in my head, after all; I might as well put them on paper.

Then something miraculous happened. A friend of mine was going to attend the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference in Santa Cruz, California. I asked if she wanted a roommate and the two of us made the trip to this very expensive conference. Now, normally, I regret to admit that I would not have valued myself highly enough to spend the money on such a conference. The truth is, I save up money and spend it on more practical things, like home repairs, clothing for kids, and anything but myself. However, I had the opportunity to attend this conference for a discounted price and, although I did not believe the talk I had heard about the importance of writer’s conferences, I went anyhow. I had a discount, so how could I pass up the chance?

I know it sounds crazy, but that Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference changed my life significantly. Not only was it very spiritually focused and encouraging in that way, but the other authors, publishers and agents who led classes and seminars on a variety of topics opened my eyes to a whole new world–a world I formerly did not even come close to comprehending. I learned exactly what publishers and agents are looking for, the format and style of writing they want, why they reject certain writing and why they accept other types of writing. I learned for the first time the tremendous value of attending a writer’s conference.

At the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, I made some bold and out of character efforts to meet with publishers and agents and talk with them about my manuscripts. In essence, I found that my manuscripts were total junk as written. That would have been discouraging if I hadn’t been so encouraged by one agent’s love for one of my stories. Instead of offering a total rejection, she asked me to rewrite my manuscript in the style and format her publishers desire. She asked me to cut out certain parts and add certain ideas and encouraged me to get the manuscript rewritten and submitted in three months.

Well, I rewrote my manuscript and got it all completed according to publisher guidelines. It didn’t get done by the deadline; nevertheless it was completed. I sent it off to my agent and received an email back from her saying she no longer worked for that particular agency; she referred me to another agent. Well, that was a new and disappointing twist of events. So, I sent off my manuscript to this new agent at the same agency and now I wait….

Will I receive another rejection letter? Will I be ignored? Or will I finally be published? I’ll let you know!