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15 Aug 2009 ‘S wonderful! ‘S marvelous!

As the Gershwin brothers would say.

Wonders and Marvels

Anyone interested in history to the slightest degree must check out this site. Want reviews of wonderful new historical novels? Want to know what the Romans used for toilet paper? (You will be surprised.) Want to read about nose jobs in the Renaissance? (I have to work this into a book somehow.)

Wonders and Marvels is more than just a blog. It’s a “community for curious minds who love history, its odd stories, and good reads.” My kind of place.

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11 Aug 2009 The Sale of a Wife

This is quite a bit more modern than my beloved sixteenth century, but I ran across it while researching other documents and couldn’t resist sharing it. After all, how often does one come across:

“A full and particular Account of the Sale of a Woman named Mary MacKintosh, which took place on Wednesday Evening, the 16th of July, 1828, in the Grass Market of Edinburgh, accused by her Husband of being a notorious Drunkard; with the particulars of the bloody Battle which took place afterwards.”

You must read the full transcription, if nothing else for its vivid nineteenth-century slang. One of the fighters (and yes, a huge fistfight between women and men broke out, with the women pretty much carrying the day) is described as being “as drunk as 50 cats in a wallet.” I can’t wait to use that one. Heh.

The Scottish broadside, ladies and gentlemen—the TMZ-crossed-with-Craigslist of its day!

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07 Aug 2009 The Time Traveler’s Life

I’ve changed the title of my site a bit. Here’s why.

Reading and writing historical fiction is the closest we can ever come to traveling in time. From my earliest days as a reader I loved stories set in “the olden days”—I loved Little Women and Black Beauty, Gone with the Wind and Forever Amber and the Angélique books, ancient Frank Yerby and Thomas B. Costain novels lurking in dusty library bookshelves like pirate treasure, my beloved Crawford of Lymond novels by the peerless Dorothy Dunnett. To this day I gobble up historical fiction with relish. Right now I am reading the mother of all historical novels (no pun intended), Eve by Elissa Elliott. It’s a beautiful and somewhat controversial book and a fascinating piece of time travel.

My life as a writer is a time traveler’s life. When I slip inside my characters and look out through their eyes, I’m away—in a Ferrarese castello, in a garden by the sea in sixteenth-century Scotland. I return almost reluctantly to the twenty-first century. I say “almost” because, for all the delights of the sixteenth century there are still modern necessities like clean hot running water, gleaming conveniences, air conditioning, and—of course—Ghirardelli chocolate.

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27 Jul 2009 There is News

And the best kind of news. My book The Second Duchess has been sold to Ellen Edwards at Penguin/NAL, with the publication date to be determined.

If you could see me now (and thank goodness you can’t) you’d see me running up and down the hall laughing and crying and jumping up and down. The dogs, needless to say, are amazed, and hopeful of getting lots of treats. The Broadcasting Legend™ is working, of course, but I’m sure he’ll be amazed and thrilled in his turn.

I’m so grateful to so many people. My nonpareil agent Diana Fox, who has kept me sane and even reasonably productive through the whole process. My many writer friends, and particularly my wonderful and irreplaceable critique group the Lurkers. (Don’t ask me why we’re called that. Because come to think of it, I actually don’t know.) The people all over the world who’ve responded so kindly (and in three languages) to my many research questions. And of course the Broadcasting Legend™ himself, who has encouraged and supported me through many highs and lows.

Now. Virtual champagne for everyone! Or come to think of it, perhaps virtual Roditis. And saganaki. Opa!

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20 Jul 2009 Falling in Love

I love my new book, I do, I do!Starting a new book is kind of like meeting an interesting new person. You make small talk. You find out about each other. Maybe you go out for coffee, then to a movie, then to dinner at a special restaurant. You like that person more and more. Then all of a sudden you turn around and KAPOW! You’re in love.

I’m in love with The Silver Casket. It has everything—a wonderful heroine, a compelling cast of good and evil and funny and sad and mysterious and bright and dark characters, fabulous and bleak and beautiful historical settings in sixteenth-century Scotland, heaps of opulent intrigue, murder and courage, and a romance that both breaks my heart and fills me with passionate delight. How will I ever get it all out of my head and onto paper?

One word at a time. One word at a time.

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19 Jul 2009 Morning Thoughts

A beautiful dawn this morning. I was up unusually early because Cressie decided to bark and bark and bark—she was bored and wanted someone to play with. So we went out into the back yard together. The sky was just lightening, slate blue shading to gray, with feathery brushstrokes of pink-gold clouds. High over the treetops swam the waning, almost-new moon, the thinnest of silver-gold crescents, with bright Venus glimmering beside it.

Cressie quartered the yard, inspected the fence and garden, sniffed all the delicious early-morning smells and stopped by every few minutes to touch her little muzzle to my leg—“Just checking in, Mama.” I watched the sun come up, and the moon and Venus fade into the light. There is an unsettling combination of delight and sorrow in my life right now, and looking out into the sky helps me keep it all in balance.

That delicate touch of a beagle girl’s muzzle against my leg doesn’t hurt, either.

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14 Jul 2009 Gōng xǐ, Lisa Brackmann!

Huge congratulations to my friend and crit-group partner Lisa Brackmann (sometimes known as Other Lisa), who today announced the sale of her first novel, Rock Paper Tiger, to Soho Press, for release spring/summer 2010. Lisa’s agent is Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown.

Rock Paper Tiger is an unique and evocative novel of existential suspense (Lisa admits she just made up that category, but I think it sounds edgy and cool and having read the book, I can vouch for every existential and suspenseful moment) set in modern-day China. And when it comes to China, Lisa knows whereof she speaks. In fact, she just returned from Beijing and learned her book deal was signed, sealed and delivered as she was getting off the plane. How cool is that?

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10 Jul 2009 Viewpoint Adventures

I wrote The Second Duchess in first person—actually, in dual first-person viewpoints. I deliberately chose to write Barbara in the first person because the book started out as a historical mystery, and in mysteries the first-person sleuth is more common than not. The book, of course, went on to become as much romance and “opulent intrigue” (a phrase used to describe Duchess by one of my crit group members, which I love) and character study as it was mystery, but Barbara’s first-person voice remained. Lucrezia, the second viewpoint character, sprang to the page in first person and never looked back.

That said—I am writing The Silver Casket in third person. It’s a bigger, longer, slightly grittier, more complex story and it needs a wider view. Even so, it’s hard to feel my way out of the close, heart-and-mind intimacy of first person and into the slightly more detached third person. Even a very tight, very subjective third person still means I’m looking over my character’s shoulder and not inside her skin. It’s disconcerting. I’ve found her—my lovely farouche floromancer Rinette—and I want to be one with her.

I suspect I will write the first few chapters both ways, and perhaps some strange combination of the two, until I find the right path.

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08 Jul 2009 Beagle Ears and Chocolate

When one is under stress, what are the two best remedies in the whole wide world?

Beagle ears and triple-chocolate brownies! Stress? What stress?

Beagle ears and chocolate!

I have to give the Broadcasting Legend™ credit. He’s the one who, when asked to “pick up a box of brownie mix,” selected the industrial-size triple-chocolate Ghirardelli bake-for-the-whole-town carton pictured. (It actually contains six normal-sized brownie mixes.)

I hasten to assure everyone that no beagle was actually given anything chocolate to eat in the course of this picture-taking session. A few perfectly healthy Innova kibbles sufficed to get their attention. And the outtakes are hilarious. I do have to share one:

Boo, on the sidelines and begging his little heart out

While I was taking pictures of Cressie, poor Boo was on the sidelines, begging his little heart out. Awwwww! (He got some kibbles too.)

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