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10 Sep Playacting on Paper

Most writers will tell you they started writing stories as children, always knew they wanted to be writers, and identified with Jo in Little Women. My path to the writing life was a little more circuitous. (As is the story of my life in general. Heh. But anyway.)

I playacted as a child. I sewed endless outfits for my Ginny doll (this was pre-Barbie, thank God, when dolls for little girls still looked like little girls) and played out stories with her. I acted out endless stories with paper dolls, plastic horses, and my poor hapless sister and friends. I loved wonderful adventurous and romantic stories (usually in some historical setting) and imagined them vividly, but didn’t think so much about writing them down. I did draw pictures. Most of my family was musical, and so I proudly proclaimed myself to be “artical.” It didn’t occur to me to imagine myself as “writical.”

For a while I actually thought I wanted to be an actress. (See evidence, right.) Then I got sidetracked into radio and started acting out stories with voices and sound effects in endless “slice-of-life” commercials. It was only much later that it seriously occurred to me to actually write down a story. And when I did, it came out as—well, playacting on paper. And that is what I’m doing, to this day. I act out the parts as I write, much to the amusement of the Broadcasting Legend™ and the puzzlement of the beagles.

And I wanted to be Beth in Little Women. Everybody loved her! I wanted everybody to love me! And anyway, what actress can resist a good death scene?

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08 Sep Fun with Hermine

It’s pouring rain this morning, as the remnants of Hurricane Tropical Storm Tropical Depression Hermine blow through the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I let the doggies out as usual and Boudin, sensible beagle that he is, did what he needed to do and came straight back in the house. Not so our Cress. She caught a scent (the second generation of 2010 bunnies is presently running rampant through the neighborhood) and tracked it from one end of the yard to the other for a good hour. Eventually, this little tri-color drowned rat showed up at the door:

Look at her eyes! Bunny-scent is like crack to beagles, I swear. Anyway, she was soaked through and had to have a good toweling (three towels’ worth).

Meanwhile, our poor parched yard is gratefully soaking up the rain that Cressie left outdoors. Hermine should be here for the rest of today and tonight, and taper off tomorrow. I do love writing on rainy days and sleeping on rainy nights.

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04 Sep Symmetrical Beagle

I was just walking through our little breakfast room (which is actually a plant room) and saw this. Boo had chosen to recline at a perfect right angle to the sofa table (which is actually a plant table–are you sensing a pattern here?), exactly in the middle between the two large plants (mmm-hmmm, pattern, definitely). You’ll notice that he was not in his favorite place, which is the patch of sunlight.

Don’t you just wonder what was going on in his little beagley head?

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29 Aug The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici

A patch of sun and a good book—who could ask for more?

First I just have to say that C.W. Gortner’s The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici is a physically gorgeous book—a stunning cover, a satisfying heft in the hands, an elegant layout of the pages. Even if I didn’t know Christopher (which I do, in the interests of full disclosure, albeit very slightly) I would have picked up this book for the sheer beauty of it.

So I was ready to sit down in my own patch of sun with a bowl of popcorn and a beagle (or two) at my feet and utterly lose myself in sixteenth-century France.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The fictionalized memoir is a law unto itself. That’s the fun of it—it doesn’t necessarily have to follow recorded history. After all, historians—and particularly those writing in a polarized era like that of the religious wars in France—have their axes to grind. And none of them could really know what was in one woman’s heart.

So Gortner imagines us into what only Catherine de’ Medici herself might have seen and done and known. Do I always agree with the version of history his Catherine recounts? No. But that’s the whole point—it’s history from Catherine’s own point of view. It wasn’t “history” when she lived it, after all. It was her life, her fears and loves and longings and insecurities and triumphs and failures. Her secrets. Her confessions. However much outsiders may have called her Madame la Serpente, from the inside she was a human woman like any human woman today, seeing the world in her own unique way, fighting keep her place (and are we all not fighting to keep our jobs today, in today’s polarized world?) and see her family achieve success.

A satisfying read, and—highest of accolades for historical fiction—one that led me to delve into nonfiction sources (more than I already had) on Catherine de’ Medici and her world.

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28 Aug Realer than Real

If I thought the book looked real when I got the page proofs (which are finished, yay!) (well, finished but for one last pass which I’ll do this weekend, but still yay!), imagine how I felt when this box arrived:

Advance Reader Copies!

As I was swooning with delight, Boo inspected the box thoroughly and declared “Aroo roo rooooo arooo roo roo.” I think that means, “Whoo-hoo, Mama, you did good, now what’s for dinner?”

Watch this space for information on how to win one for your very own! (The book, not the beagle.)

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17 Aug The Page Proofs Have Landed!

And they are so beautiful. They look so real. My baby is going to be a real book.

Writing friends (waves to Lisa B.) have taught me that the best way to read page proofs is out of order, back to front, bottom of the page to top of the page, anything that will separate the words on the page from the story. I learned from the painstaking work of my wonderful copyeditor at NAL that there were typos in the manuscript I truly didn’t see simply because I’d read over the story so often.

Making a manuscript into a book is a mysterious and fascinating process!

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04 Aug “Think The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca…”

Huge thanks to C.S. Harris, author of the fantastic Sebastian St. Cyr regency mysteries, for a new pre-release comment on The Second Duchess:

“Rich in historical detail and all the dangerous grandeur of court life in Renaissance Italy. Think The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca.” –C. S. Harris, author of the Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery series.

I love the phrase “dangerous grandeur.”

The paperback of Harris’s wonderful What Remains of Heaven came out yesterday, so run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore (or favorite book-buying website) and buy it today. I blogged about it back in December, as one of my Christmas gift picks for 2009, and I promise you, if you haven’t read this yet you have a rich and engrossing experience in store. And then of course there are the first four books in this terrific series. And coming up next March, the sixth installment, Where Shadows Dance. Mark your calendar. I know I have.

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02 Aug Meet Miss Lestrange…

I love Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey (and Lady Julia will be back soon, thank goodness, in Dark Road to Darjeeling), and so I approached The Dead Travel Fast with some trepidation—would I be as intrigued by a second Victorian heroine? Would the gothic Transylvanian setting work for me?

Well, the answers are yes and yes. Miss Theodora Lestrange, orphan, bluestocking (although she denies it) and spinster of Edinburgh, could not be more different from aristocratic Lady Julia Grey of the quirky-but-charming (usually) Bellmonts. Theo, in fact, reminded me of Jo March, and like Jo she’s pragmatic, pretty much penniless and determined to earn her living writing fantastical stories. When an old school friend invites her to a castle in the Carpathians, of course she jumps at the chance. She’s prepared for the ancient mountains, the eerie crumbling castle, the fragile dowager countess, the eccentric family retainers. She’s even prepared for her friend to be—well—different than she was when they were schoolgirls together. What she’s not prepared for is the mesmerizing Count Andrei, master of Castle Dragulescu.

The Dead Travel Fast is an atmospheric 21st-century take on the Victorian gothic romance, which began with The Castle of Otranto, wended its way through my own beloved Pre-Raphaelites, and reached its height with the Brontes, Byron and Bram Stoker. Cressie awards five aroos to The Dead Travel Fast!

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23 Jul In which I express heartfelt gratitude

Deanna Raybourn, she of the excellent Lady Julia Grey novels and the deliciously atmospheric new twist on the Dracula legend, The Dead Travel Fast, has read an advance copy of The Second Duchess. She liked it! (She liked it! She really liked it! Heh.) In fact, she even blogged about it. So hie thyself to Deanna’s blog posthaste, browse through her warm and witty posts, and perhaps even leave a comment or two. Like, here:

In which I have a book for you

I’m still snowed under with copyedits, but next week I’ll post about The Dead Travel Fast. You will like it. You really will.