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08 Jan 2011 The Flower Reader

My Scotland book has its final title at last: The Flower Reader. This was one of my top choices and I’m delighted—I think it’s intriguing and unusual, and it puts the spotlight right where it belongs, on my heroine Rinette Leslie, the girl who can read the future in flowers. I’ll probably have more to say about The Flower Reader next week.

Cressie is doing beautifully. She had another follow-up vet visit on Wednesday and Dr. Clawson (such an appropriate name for a vet!) pronounced her a champion healer. She’s still wearing her plastic bag (an invention of my own, of which I’m justly proud) and probably will be for another week at least, just to let the healing progress past the itchy stage. Here she is, “in the bag” and oh-so-bored with it all:

Boudin has been feeling quite left out, and so here’s a wonderful new picture of him as well, snapped by the Broadcasting Legend™:

In Second Duchess news, there’s a giveaway slated to start on January 15th on Goodreads. Twenty-five copies up for grabs! So mark your calendars to enter. And anyone in the Houston, Texas area—put a big red “X” on March 5th, because at 1:00 on that Saturday afternoon I’ll be signing at Houston’s iconic Murder by the Book bookstore.

My Link o’ the Week for writers: StoryFix from Larry Brooks. As Larry says in his subtitle: “Get it written, get it right, get it published.” A great resource, packed with energizing information.

My Link o’ the Week for historical fun: The page on Lochleven Castle in the Douglas Archives. I particularly like the sketch of what Lochleven Island would have looked like in the mid-1560s at the time of my story—the island today is much larger because the level of the loch has lowered. Lochleven! Just the word is embroidered with history and romance…

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01 Jan 2011 Kalo Podariko!

Happy First-Foot, as the Greeks say, for 2011! The beautiful sixteenth-century chopines above are Venetian, made of leather, silk and wood, and are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For an intriguing short essay on chopines, visit the Met here.

I am not making resolutions as such this year. Instead, I’ve been inspired by this wonderful post on one of my favorite websites, She Writes, about simply deciding what to take with one on the journey into the new year, and what to leave behind:

You CAN Take It With You by Tayari Jones

Cressie is continuing to heal. The Silver Casket is continuing to flourish, day by day. Time is continuing to count itself down to the debut of The Second Duchess on March 1st. All I can do is be thankful for all the good things in my life.

Happy happy 2011 to everyone!

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18 Dec 2010 I-11

Not much to say for myself for the past week—most of it was spent taking care of Cressie, running her back and forth to the vet, doing water lavage twice a day, taking her out on a leash forty-leven times a day, and worrying terribly over her. She is actually doing very well, walking on the leg quite normally, and to all appearances worrying much less than I am. I love the picture above, of her Snoopy-dancing (look at how her hind feet are blurred just like Snoopy’s are in the cartoons) under the squirrel-tree. I hope she’ll be doing that again soon.

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11 Dec 2010 I-10

Well, one of those roller-coaster weeks this past week.

First, the winner of the free copy of Death of a Dancing Master is Penny Tuttle! Yay, Penny! I’ve sent your email address on to Marilyn and she’ll send you your book.

The bad news of the week: poor Cressie hurt herself badly yesterday in the course of an early morning chase through the back yard. What she and Boo were chasing, I’ll never know—it was still pitch dark and all I could hear was normal beagle barking. I had gone to the door to coax them in, because it was a little too early for that—and then a yelp of shock and pain. Cressie came hobbling out of the darkness on three legs, crying and trailing blood. The Broadcasting Legend™ and I bundled her instantly into the car and took off in the dark for the emergency vet’s. Upshot: her left front leg was torn open right where it joins her chest, and her cephalid vein severed. Many stitches and fluids. Very fortunate we got her in as quickly as we did. She came home last night, bandaged to a fare-thee-well and still pretty woozy. She’s up and about this morning (you can see the little baggie over the paw-end of her bandage to protect it when we go out) and more alert.

The vet didn’t think it looked like a bite wound, although we’ve had some pretty aggressive wild critters in the back yard from time to time. We have gone over the back yard with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out how she could have hurt herself so terribly. We may never know. She certainly scared both of us half to death, and it may be a while before I let them out into the yard in the dark, unsupervised. I thought they were safe in our own securely-fenced back yard!

The good news of the week: a book club deal! The Second Duchess has been selected as a featured alternate for the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild, the Doubleday Book Club, and the Book of the Month Club Online. Hooray for Barbara and Alfonso!

What I am reading: Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride. It’s way outside my usual comfort zone and I’m not sure what I think of it yet…

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06 Dec 2010 Death of a Dancing Master

A guest post today, from my friend M.E. Kemp. It’s okay, just call her Marilyn. Her new historical mystery, Death of a Dancing Master, was released this month, and I asked her to expand a little on the purity—or lack of same—of the Puritans…

Cracking the Stereotype
by M.E. Cook

I write an historical mystery series featuring two nosy Puritans as detectives. I chose Boston Puritans partly as a reaction to all the medieval mysteries that popped up after Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael series. American history is just as bloody and colorful as medieval Britain’s, I believe. I also knew that Puritans were supposed to keep an eye on their neighbors to keep them on the straight and narrow path, and nosy is a primary quality for a good detective. Another reason I wanted to write about Puritans was to set the record straight. Few peoples have been so stereotyped, even today. They may have tried to keep each other on the straight and narrow path, but they certainly didn’t always succeed.

If you want to see a painting of elegant clothing dripping with exquisite laces in shades of primrose, apple green or violet, look at a portrait of a Colonial—often Puritan—man. (Women weren’t far behind —early on they decided they would wear the latest fashions from London and Paris based on fashion dolls their sea-captain husbands brought them.) We forget that the first Puritans of Boston were actually Elizabethans, born and raised in that robust era. Eat, drink and be lusty —that was their motto, and our Colonial ancestors enjoyed themselves. It was the Victorian era that took all the fun out of life.

Tavern bills show the enormous appetites for food and drink that even a gathering of ministers enjoyed. Your average Puritan cleric could drink our most accomplished modern lushes under the table. No dainty appletinis for them. One special drink was made of rum, beer, molasses and breadcrumbs! Hearts of oak and stomachs of lead. Water wasn’t safe to drink —even tots drank hard cider on a daily basis. As for sex, they were probably more upfront about sex than we are. We’ve all heard about the bundling board. One man bragged that he “had” the miller’s wife four times a day—a “lusty big man,” he was called, and fined for adultery. On the other hand, the letters between Governor John Winthrop and his wife Margaret, who was left behind in England because she was far advanced in pregnancy, are touching and romantic.

Men and women remarried almost as soon as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Diarist Samuel Sewall was in his sixties and vigorously courting a wealthy widow, but she rejected him because he wouldn’t keep a carriage. Famous cleric Cotton Mather got himself into a romantic jam when he, a recent widower, was pursued by a much younger woman. Ministers were the rock stars of the day.

Puritans ate, drank, loved—and danced. My latest book, Death of a Dancing Master, is based upon the travails of a real dancing master in Boston. He wasn’t found with a sword in his gut but he was hounded and harassed by magistrates and ministers until he was driven from Boston. I thought to myself, think of all the suspects if the dancing master were found murdered! Think of all the angry husbands! I couldn’t resist knocking the poor fellow off.

I grew up in New England —my roots are deep, beginning in Salem in 1636. Boston is my favorite city, with much of the same seventeenth-century feel to parts of it. And there are no lack of resources —Puritans were great writers, chroniclers and diarists, with many of the great nineteenth-century historians fascinated by them. I present them as the real people they were, with the foibles and fancies of people today, except they dressed better than we do. If I crack a few stereotypes about them, I’ve done my job.

Win a free copy of Death of a Dancing Master! Just leave a comment on this blog post, and this time I’ll have Boo pick the winner. Contest ends Friday, December 10, 2010, and the winner will be announced next Saturday.

Death of a Dancing Master is also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through your local independent book store.

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04 Dec 2010 I-9

Random quote from my private journal:

I have three elements to my work—three strands. Writing, reading, and promotion. I should call it something other than “promotion.” Connecting. Making friends. Socializing. Heh. But that’s actually what it is. Getting out in the world. I could visualize all this as taking place in three settings—my sunny, private office, full of plants and inspiring pictures, where no one bothers me and I can write with the beagles curled up at my feet; a comfortable chair by a window with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books on the table beside me; and a busy, colorful marketplace rather like the wonderful old Olla Podrida in North Dallas, or Guadalupe Street in Austin, or Scarborough Faire down in Waxahatchie. Or a fantasy eastern bazaar. This represents kind of a progression of interaction, too—my writing room is completely private, while the reading nook is out in the house where other people sometimes wander by, and the worldwide bazaar is crammed with interesting people, some I know and millions I don’t.

My motivate-myself links of the week (which might help you motivate yourself as well):

The Willpower Engine: The Tipping Point of a Habit

Illuminated Mind: When You Have Everything You Need But Think You Don’t

Answer to question: what do the weird combinations of “I” and numbers mean in my post titles? It’s just shorthand for “Volume I, number 9.” I think I’ll start volume II with my first post in January.

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27 Nov 2010 Saturday I-8

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:

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20 Nov 2010 Saturday I-7

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.

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13 Nov 2010 It’s Saturday Again! I-6

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.