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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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13 Dec Book Shopping, Day Thirteen

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla TharpDo you have a writer on your Christmas list? A musician, a painter, a sculptor, a dancer, an actor, a weaver or embroiderer, any kind of creative artist? Give that person this wonderful book. Do you have a businessperson, a teacher, a homemaker, a parent, a medical services provider? Those are creative professions as well. Give those people this wonderful book, too. Oh, heck, just give it to everybody! In case you haven’t already guessed, I love this book.

Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is an honest, plain-spoken handbook to a creative life, from what Tharp calls “scratching” for ideas, through finding the “spine” of the idea you choose and getting into the “groove” of productivity. She’s blunt about the need for good old-fashioned virtues like preparation, routine, discipline and perseverance. Whether you’re choreographing a dance, writing a novel, designing a dress, creating a PowerPoint presentation of the last quarter’s sales figures, or whipping up a soufflé à la vanille (mmmm! And of course you always use good vanilla), Tharp’s brisk and engaging philosophy of the creative life will get you on the right track and keep you there. She even includes exercises to get your imaginative blood flowing and your artistic muscles limbered up.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is available at Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and of course your favorite independent bookseller.

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18 Nov Rituals

“It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”

—Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.

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02 Nov Micro-Walks

Need inspiration? Need motivation? Exercise is one of the best ways to kickstart one’s energy and creativity. (So are showers, but that’s another post.) Walking has been my exercise of choice ever since I adopted my first beagle Raffles, my much-loved companion and personal trainer for eleven years. Today I walk with Cressie and Boudin, and very inspiring and energizing it is, too.

Roses in our backyard, reveling in the cooler days of NovemberHowever, sometimes my fingers hover over the keys with the next words tantalizingly close, and a long walk would actually be too much. That’s when I employ my new technique of the micro-walk—getting up from my desk and walking through the house for a minute or two, or going out into the back yard and smelling the roses (literally—our roses are blooming like crazy now that we’re having cooler weather). The trick is making the micro-walk just long enough to refresh my mind and shake my thoughts loose without being long enough to completely break my focus.

Sometimes less really is more.

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20 Jul 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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13 Jun There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding

Happy trails to me...A Google trail, that is. I’m stealing an idea from my friend and fellow Shrinking Violet P.J. Hoover, and tracking my “Google Trail.” What have I been Googling this past week in the name of research?

  • Wildflowers of sixteenth-century Scotland
  • Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard
  • Quatrains of Nostradamus
  • Lennoxlove House
  • Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchess of Guise
  • Battle of Corrichie
  • Clan Leslie

One of the great delights of writing historical fiction with sprinkles is that one can spend hours reading about the most fascinating bits and pieces of history and actually be working. Could there be any better job?

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24 Apr May It Please the Court…

No, not that kind of court. A law-and-lawyers kind of court. I found this linked this morning in a Twitter tweet by Karen Essex, author of the wonderful Leonardo’s Swans, and it absolutely made my day.

“May It Please the Court” by Maira Kalman.

When something has delightful, quirky drawings and starts out with “In ancient Mesopotamia…” I’m hooked. Now I have to find a copy of the version of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style that Kalman illustrated. It has a basset hound on the cover. Clearly it was meant to belong to me.

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22 Apr Writing Like Nostradamus

Nostradamus wrote a lot more than his well-known Prophecies and Almanacs. He cast many individual horoscopes and made many individual prophecies to private (usually noble or royal) persons. In the course of my research for The Second Duchess I found a prophecy Nostradamus made privately to Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, although I won’t go into detail about it here because who knows? Perhaps one day it will play a part in another Ferrara story.

However, this seed of information is presently flowering into a lovely plotline in the new book I’m working on. What if, what if. What if Nostradamus had written a series of prophetic quatrains for Mary of Guise, the dowager Queen and Regent of Scotland, mother of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots? Mary of Guise visited France in 1550-1551 and might, just might have met Nostradamus, whose first published Almanac was for the year 1550.

What if the secret quatrains revealed the future of Scotland, vis-a-vis England and France? Imagine what, say, Elizabeth Tudor in England and Catherine de’ Medicis in France would have given to lay their hands on those prophecies.

What if Mary of Guise kept them in a silver casket? What if it was the same casket that eventually held the Casket Letters? What happened to the casket in between?

The thing is, to make this work I have to write the prophecies myself. So I have to write like Nostradamus. Now that is historical fiction with sprinkles.

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16 Apr Historical Fiction with Sprinkles

Perfect pie crust, light and flaky. It even has sprinkles!For a writer, I don’t actually write much about writing here, do I?

For me, writing a book is like making piecrust. (Mmmm, pie.) One must pay attention to what one is doing and pull it together with a light hand. Work it too much, and it gets tough and gray. Give it to someone else to play with, and it may turn out to be mince instead of apple. Take it out of the oven every few minutes to see what it looks like, and it will never be more than half-baked.

So although I am in the very early stages of working on a new project, I won’t be writing about it in much detail. It’s also set in the sixteenth century. It also features some historical personages and some fictional characters. It also combines elements of mystery, adventure, romance, character study, fabulous food and magnificent costumery, palace intrigue and sudden death.

Or as I like to call it—historical fiction with sprinkles.

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22 Feb Relentlessly Optimistic

If you do any sort of creative work at all, you have to read this:

Relentlessly Optimistic

It uses actors as a reference, but it’s about writers, too. Do we not throw our tender hearts out in front of the speeding trains of beta readers and agents and editors? Do we not have to learn to take one more chance, even though we swear our hearts can’t take it?

Read this. You must. And then dig around in Communicatrix’s site. Connect with stories? Of course we connect with stories. We’re storytellers, after all.