Saturday almost got away from me again. (I know, it makes it sound rather like a restive filly.) Anyway, there’s not much to report for this past week—the Broadcasting Legend™ and I had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. Both our families are so far-flung—from Washington state to Nashville to Illinois and Indiana. And it was a little difficult for me to face the first Thanksgiving without my dear mother—so many of the traditions and recipes I’ve always cherished were hers. Next year I will pick up the threads again.
I worked on The Silver Casket through the week. I have a wonderful, detailed outline (I am an outliner down to the ground), but in one scene the story just took the bit in its teeth (to continue my equine references) and surprised me with a scene utterly unlike anything in the outline. It accomplished the same thing in the end, but the process was not at all what I had expected. I do love those moments.
Good news this week—I’ve been invited to speak at the Historical Novel Society’s 2011 conference next summer, on the “Debut Novelists” panel. I’m thrilled. The conference is going to be in San Diego, June 17-19, 2011, and I can’t wait. It will be my first conference! One of the author guests of honor is Cecelia Holland, one of my own favorite historical novelists of all time, and who read the manuscript of The Second Duchess and gave it a terrific endorsement. I am only afraid I’ll be reduced to fan-girl babbling.
A cold front has come through and our seventy-degree weather is a thing of the past—it’s even getting down below freezing overnight. The beagles follow the patches of sunlight around the house. Here is Boo, all warm and comfy on our guest-room bed. You can see how he rumpled up the pillow and coverlet to make himself a perfect sunshiny nest:
I don’t want to miss my Saturday update (I am so like the beagles, in that I get into a routine and then feel anxious if the routine is changed), but I don’t have much to say—I’ve spent the week lost in sixteenth-century Scotland and haven’t come up for much twenty-first-century air.
I bought a new handbag. For the first time in my life it is not a neutral color. It’s teal. My favorite color. (As if you couldn’t guess that from looking at my website.) Why have I never bought a teal-colored handbag before? For me switching to a new bag is a life-changing event, and this is one I really like—nice and roomy, with handles that are just the right length to hook comfortably over my shoulder and tuck the bag safely under my arm.
Reading: I really liked Erin Blakemore’s The Heroine’s Bookshelf. It struck a deep chord with me—the idea that the books we read—the fiction we read—can affect how we feel. I loved her references to re-reading her childhood favorites as an adult. I do that, too. It can be astonishing sometimes, both for the things I missed and the things I internalized to the point that I forgot they came from a book.
Finally, here is a link to a free ebook version of focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction by Leo Babauta of Write to Done. It is excellent. You can buy an enhanced version if you like. However you do it, I sincerely recommend it. Simplicity and focus are good things for writers.
I’m fantastically excited about planning my first signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, on Saturday, March 5, 2011. Hard to believe it’s really happening! What’s even more wonderful about it all is that we’re presently working out details to make it a combination booksigning and beagle adoption event with my dear friends at Houston Beagle and Hound Rescue, who brought us together with both Cressie and Boo. Can’t you just picture it? And I have a wonderful scene I could read, all about the presentation of two beagle puppies as wedding gifts from Queen Elizabeth of England to my heroine, Barbara, newly married Duchess of Ferrara. This is entirely historical, as Good Queen Bess did have a kennel of small parti-colored hounds she called her “pocket beagles” or “singing beagles,” and small dogs were very popular as gifts and pets among the great ladies of the time.
Speaking of beagles, we took our two in to the vet this past week (just a checkup, nothing actually wrong with either of them) and who else was in the waiting room when we come in? A lady with a pet rabbit (bunnieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!) in her arms, and the practice cat (kittehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!) lounging in a convenient sunbeam. Cressie went for the bunny and Boo went for the cat and for a moment chaos reigned. You know those cartoons with the big blob of smoke going round and round and arms and legs sticking out in all directions? Well, that was pretty much what it looked like. Then the Broadcasting Legend™ got Boo under control and I got Cressie under control and we all caught our breaths. The woman with the rabbit was clutching it in stunned and protective horror. The cat just lifted its head lazily and yawned. As cats do. Heh.
Reading: finished Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden. I really liked it, particularly the historical sections. On my bedside table: Erin Blakemore’s The Heroine’s Bookshelf, E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady (an old favorite), and Richard J. Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity.
The biggest news of the week is that The Second Duchess got a fantastic review in Publishers Weekly!
The Second Duchess
Elizabeth Loupas, NAL, $15 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-451-23215-1
Robert Browning’s classic poem “My Last Duchess” provides the starting point for Loupas’s winning debut set in Renaissance Italy. Barbara of Austria, the virgin bride of Alfonso d’Este, the fifth and last Borgia duke of Ferrara, has heard rumors that Alfonso murdered his first wife, but by marrying the duke she has escaped the convent as well as her controlling brother, Maximilian II. “Banquets and music, dancing and fashion, loving and loathing–everything is an art in Ferrara,” one of the duke’s sisters tells Barbara, who must carefully maneuver around the gossip about her predecessor, gossip that the duke has forbidden, as she seeks to establish herself at court. Meanwhile, spies lurk around every corner, ready to besmirch her reputation and standing. Readers will warm immediately to the clever, intelligent Barbara, while the demanding, sometimes brutal, Alfonso makes an intriguing man of mystery.
Also on the Second Duchess front, a terrific bookseller blurb from Joseph-Beth Booksellers:
The Second Duchess, by Elizabeth Loupas (9780451232151, 3/1/2011.)
Barbara of Austria comes to the Duke d’Este as his second wife and is immediately confronted by whispers and insinuations about her predecessor. Did her new husband really murder his first wife? The proud Hapsburg wife attempts to solve the mystery, while the ghost of the previous duchess observes and comments on her efforts. A charming riff on Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess.”
Joseph Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati
The most fascinating thing I ran across this week while working on The Silver Casket is this picture of the façade around the north face of the courtyard of Crichton Castle in Midlothian. Crichton was the home (one of them, anyway) of James Hepburn, the fourth Earl of Bothwell (yes, that Bothwell), who plays a part in my story—and can you imagine how amazed I was to see this picture, a dead ringer for the façade of the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara? Sadly I can’t use it in The Silver Casket, because the diamond façade at Crichton wasn’t completed until the early 1580s, when Bothwell’s nephew Francis Stewart, also Earl of Bothwell (notoriously called the “Wizard Earl” and so worthy of a story of his own) toured Italy, visited Ferrara, and came home to re-create the beauty of the Palazzo dei Diamanti at Crichton. It’s astonishing how stories entwine around each other.
Thanks to all my readers who’ve written to ask for Dark Road to Darjeeling bookmarks! They are in the mail.
Thumbs down (if I could turn my hand that way) to my stupid left wrist, which still hurts like the devil and remains undiagnosed.
Congratulations to my friend and crit partner Lisa Brackmann, on her debut novel Rock Paper Tiger being named to the Amazon Top Ten Mystery &Thrillers list for 2010.
Don’t forget to set your clocks back tonight. Another hour of sleep is always a good thing!
And the winner is Lisa Richardson! Lisa, I will write to you privately for your mailing address.
It was actually more complicated than I thought to work out a way to have one of the beagles pick the winner, because if there was no food involved they weren’t interested, and if there was food involved they’d simply pick the closest tidbit. So I printed out all the comments and cut them in strips, folded them, tossed them well in a little bowl and hid a Milk-Bone at the bottom. Then I turned Cressie loose. As she snoofled through the papers to get to the treat, the first one to fall out of the bowl (and I had to grab fast, because the papers really started to fly) was the winner.
I would like to thank everyone so much for stopping by and commenting. I wish I could send everybody one of the beautiful bookmarks. Wait, I can! Okay, if you entered the contest and would like a beautiful Dark Road to Darjeeling bookmark, write me offlist (my email address is under the “Contact” tab) with your mailing address, and I will mail you a bookmark. So a prize for everyone.
And now, back to sixteenth-century Scotland.