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20 Nov 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 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.

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06 Nov Saturday Round Robin I-5

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.”
Jennie Turner-Collins
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!

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01 Nov Cressie Picks the Winner

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.

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30 Oct Saturday Round Robin I-4

The contest is over! Thank you so much, everyone who commented… I’m delighted that there were many new visitors to the blog, all with such terrific comments about Deanna Raybourn’s wonderful new Dark Road to Darjeeling. The winner will be announced on Monday.

The cover of The Second Duchess is now up on Amazon. Yay! Hope the rest of the bookstore sites will follow soon.

And speaking of covers—here’s the gorgeous cover of the German edition, titled Die Zweite Herzogin and scheduled for next spring. The piece of fine art that Rowohlt used is actually a portrait of an Italian lady, said to be Barbara’s mother-in-law Renée of France, by a Flemish painter named Pieter de Kempeneer, also known as Pedro Campaña. I love her earrings and wish I had a pair just like them! I am very fortunate in both my covers, and have my fingers crossed that someday there will be more.

Portraits are surprising sometimes. I’ve been collecting portraits of the historical characters who will appear in The Silver Casket, and was truly amazed when I found this one. It’s of Andrew Leslie, the fifth Earl of Rothes, who is the head of my heroine Rinette’s branch of the Leslies. Now if I just started describing a sixteen-century gentleman like this—light brown hair cut very short on the sides of his head and apparently moussed into a sort of pouf on top, clean-shaven with only a thin Douglas-Fairbanks-y moustache—no one would believe me. Yet here is the portrait, leaping to life off the page. History is pretty amazing sometimes.

What I’m reading: A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. I’m kind of struggling with it. Also The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I’ve also had my issues with. I’ve just been kind of stressed and cranky lately, although I’m much better now. More about that later. Heh. Next up, at last (because I’ve really been looking forward to it), The White Garden by Stephanie Barron.

Our little town is having our trick-or-treating tonight, so am looking forward to hordes of darling little trick-or-treaters. We live within walking distance of a very fine elementary school, and so our neighborhood teems with adorable tykes. The doggies always go crazy on trick-or-treat night, and may have to be shut in the laundry room to keep them from slipping out or jumping up to play and scaring the tiniest ghaisties and bogles.

Ran across this quote recently: “What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is the collection of books. –Thomas Carlyle.

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14 Oct My First Contest

[ETA: I’m going to skip my regular Saturday updates while the contest is on, because I want this post to stay at the top. Thanks to all the commenters so far!]

And what better to offer than a beautiful new copy of Deanna Raybourn’s Dark Road to Darjeeling. The setting is as lush and sensuous as the gorgeous cover, and at the same time the mystery will keep you guessing to the very last moment. Will Lady Julia and her new husband Nicholas Brisbane sort out the secrets, scandals, illicit affairs and twisted legacies in time? It’s truly one of those books you stay up late reading, saying to yourself, “Just one more chapter!”

Included with the book, a collection of Deanna’s Dark Road to Darjeeling bookmarks.

To put your name in the hat, add a comment to this post. If your comment doesn’t show up immediately, it just means you haven’t commented on my blog before—don’t worry, I’ll approve comments as they come in, so it should show up shortly. International entries welcome. No need to include your mailing address in your comment—I’ll contact the winner privately for details. The contest closes on Friday, October 29th, and the winner, selected at random, will be announced on Monday, November 1st.

Good luck to everyone!

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09 Oct Saturday Round Robin I-3

I’ve made a big change in my schedule this past week, and it’s turned out to be a whole-life transformation. Isn’t it funny how small things can make such big changes?

Anyway. I’ve moved my writing time to first thing in the morning. I get up, let the doggies out, make my coffee, and start to write. Period. No email, no news, no journal, no morning pages (sorry, Julia Cameron)—just coffee and writing, pure and simple. I am a natural morning person and the Broadcasting Legend™ isn’t, so I even have solitude, with the sunrise gradually lightening my south-facing windows, coffee steaming and doggies curled up on their pillows behind me. I’ve been working till I get to five pages or ten o’clock, whichever comes first. And then, amazingly, I am free. I can manage everything else in the course of the day, because my real work is done and no matter what else happens, I have achieved something important (well, important to me) for that one unique, irreplaceable day in my life.

I know it sounds ridiculously trivial, but for me it’s been a revelation. It is such an enormous relief to have my work done and the rest of the day stretching out enticingly before me. Do I sometimes do more writing (or particularly research and editing) in the course of the day? Why yes, I do. But only because I want to. If I want to take a nap instead (with Nigella Lawson or Ina Garten rambling soothingly about food in the background) I am utterly free to do it.

What special rituals seem to make your creativity work for you?

In other news of the week: Cressie has also experienced a transformation—into a tri-color predator extraordinaire. This week she added a rabbit and another squirrel to her list of victims. You do not want to know the details.

I am reading Great Maria by Cecelia Holland. For about the leventy-leventh time, but I love this book so much and it is out in a beautiful new edition from Sourcebooks. If you haven’t read it, please put it on your list. You will not be sorry.

I am making a lovely pan of Mexican Lasagna this week, since the Broadcasting Legend™ is going to be out of town and I’m free to eat casseroles every night of the week. (I love casseroles. The BL™ is a large-recognizable-piece-of-meat man.) I take the wonderful chili I wrote about last week, layer it with plain, lightly oven-toasted corn tortillas (the toasting makes a huge difference in the flavor) and a mixture of colby cheddar, monterey jack, and queso fresco tossed with lots of Mexican spices. Then I bake the whole thing till it’s brown and melty and crunchy around the edges. The corners are my favorite pieces.

And finally, did you see the story of Paris Japonica, the white flower that has been determined to have the longest genome ever discovered—fifty times longer than the genome for a human being? Can you imagine what my floromancer heroine Rinette would make of that? Unfortunately I can’t put Paris Japonica into The Silver Casket, because it’s a native of Japan and would have been outside the ken of anyone in sixteenth-century Scotland or France. But! Paris Japonica has a relative called Paris Quadrifolia, known to folklore as Herb Paris or True-Lover’s Knot, and that plant might indeed have been found in damp and shady places along Aberdeenshire streams. Rinette wouldn’t know about genomes, of course, but with her uncanny affinity for flowers she might sense something unusual about Herb Paris. I’ve already worked out just what part this enigmatic plant is going to play in the story…

See you next week!

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02 Oct Saturday Roundup

I like the “Saturday Round-Up” format. I may still occasionally post during the week if I have something special (like a contest) but other than that I think I’ll stick with Saturdays.

Just a reminder that the release date of The Second Duchess has been changed to March 1, 2011. Two more months to wait but for a really good reason. Can’t explain quite yet. Mark your calendars!

Reading this week: finished Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn. Simply wonderful, as have been all her Lady Julia Grey books, and highly recommended—a new and exotic setting, a crop of deliciously eccentric characters, and of course the working-out of the newly-married relationship between Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane. Boo gives it five aroos, and adds that he considers his profile quite as handsome as Mr. Brisbane’s. He’s also giving his “I am the Lord and Master” stare to Cressie, who’s trying to get into the picture to tell everyone to know how much she loves the gorgeous cover.

What I cooked this week: chili. Fall is here and it’s cooler and I just craved chili with a crusty baguette. I have three secrets to chili: flour, beer, and molasses. Sound weird? Read on.

First, I mix the spices (chili powder, cumin, this ‘n’ that) with a little flour (masa harina, or fine corn flour, preferred, but plain white flour will do in a pinch) and add the spice-flour mixture to the cooked crumbled beef before adding any other liquid. When I stir it creates a sort of roux which makes the chili deliciously thick. Second, a can of beer is the first liquid I add after the flour-spices mixture. Sometimes I just stop there for all-beef, non-tomato chili (the Broadcasting Legend’s™ favorite). Third, if I’m using tomatoes, I also add a tablespoon or so of molasses. You know how you sometimes add a little sugar to Italian-style tomato sauces, to smooth out the acidity? Well, molasses does the same thing for tomatoes in chili and it’s a deeper, richer flavor.

Wrist x-rays: no news. Pain is manageable but I really wish we could get this figured out and fixed.

Writing: Writing a book is damn hard work. That’s all I have to say about that.

And finally, I am the guest editor for the Autumn 2010 issue of Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. (This is a mostly honorary title and the real editors do all the real work.) Solander features interviews, articles, short fiction and commentary, and is the only such magazine in the world for enthusiasts of historical fiction. It is fantastic. To subscribe, join the Historical Novel Society today.

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25 Sep Catching Up

I am working away on The Silver Casket. One of the most fascinating things is the way Rinette, the heroine, uses her idiosyncratic system of floromancy to characterize the other people in the story. By the time I’m done the “Floromancy” part of my notes will be a book in itself!

Sincere thanks to everyone who has voted for The Second Duchess on Goodread’s “Historical Fiction 2011” Listopia list—“Books we are excited about coming out in 2011.” Are you excited about Duchess? Yay! Please add your vote.

Delicious things I have cooked/baked this week: well, it’s not really cooking, but I made the best carrot and broccoli slaw. Healthy and easy. One bag of shredded carrots and one bag of broccoli slaw—take a handful of each and throw in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add a pinch of salt, and toss. (You could shred the carrots and broccoli stalks yourself, of course, but think how much more trouble that would be!)

On the unhealthy but yummy side, doughnut muffins. Mmmm! All the pleasure of a glazed cake doughnut but baked into a muffin rather than fried. Start here for the recipe. I used all butter instead of butter and oil, and cut way back on the nutmeg—the merest soupçon of nutmeg is fine with me. And I glazed them with Alton Brown’s doughnut glaze instead of rolling them in butter and cinnamon sugar. Incredibly good.

Meanwhile, the medical community is still trying to figure out why my wrist is hurting so much. This week, had a new series of x-rays. Should have results next week.

Have been reading Mary Anna Evans’ Strangers (an advance copy of which I won on the DorothyL mailing list) and Deanna Raybourn’s luscious Dark Road to Darjeeling. I have a lovely new-bought extra copy of Dark Road to Darjeeling and signed bookmarks on the way from Deanna, and I will be giving it all away next week. Watch this space!

Cooler weather seems to be tiptoeing into north Texas, thank goodness. This morning it brought some rain with it, and we’re grateful for every drop.

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15 Sep Beagles vs. Squirrel

There’s a squirrel in this tree, Mama!

Really! There is!

Come on, Boo, look! Don’t you see it?

By golly, you’re right, Cressie! There is a squirrel up there! It’s just a little one, though…

Please come down, little squirrel. I’m begging you. Boo and I will play nice, I promise…

(Be grateful that you can’t hear the soundtrack to all this. We expect the neighbors to swarm us with pitchforks and torches after all the howling.)

The squirrel turned out to be a terrified baby, mostly tail. We managed to catch the dogs (no small feat) and put them in the house, then The Broadcasting Legend™ sprayed the tree (with plain old water) until the squirrel jumped down and ran away. Whew. Poor little thing. I’ve never seen one that tiny—I wonder if it got separated from its mother somehow. We’ll hope they found each other again, somewhere safe from marauding beagles!