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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!