Happy First-Foot, as the Greeks say, for 2011! The beautiful sixteenth-century chopines above are Venetian, made of leather, silk and wood, and are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For an intriguing short essay on chopines, visit the Met here.
I am not making resolutions as such this year. Instead, I’ve been inspired by this wonderful post on one of my favorite websites, She Writes, about simply deciding what to take with one on the journey into the new year, and what to leave behind:
Cressie is continuing to heal. The Silver Casket is continuing to flourish, day by day. Time is continuing to count itself down to the debut of The Second Duchess on March 1st. All I can do is be thankful for all the good things in my life.
Happy happy 2011 to everyone!
Saturday almost got away from me again. (I know, it makes it sound rather like a restive filly.) Anyway, there’s not much to report for this past week—the Broadcasting Legend™ and I had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. Both our families are so far-flung—from Washington state to Nashville to Illinois and Indiana. And it was a little difficult for me to face the first Thanksgiving without my dear mother—so many of the traditions and recipes I’ve always cherished were hers. Next year I will pick up the threads again.
I worked on The Silver Casket through the week. I have a wonderful, detailed outline (I am an outliner down to the ground), but in one scene the story just took the bit in its teeth (to continue my equine references) and surprised me with a scene utterly unlike anything in the outline. It accomplished the same thing in the end, but the process was not at all what I had expected. I do love those moments.
Good news this week—I’ve been invited to speak at the Historical Novel Society’s 2011 conference next summer, on the “Debut Novelists” panel. I’m thrilled. The conference is going to be in San Diego, June 17-19, 2011, and I can’t wait. It will be my first conference! One of the author guests of honor is Cecelia Holland, one of my own favorite historical novelists of all time, and who read the manuscript of The Second Duchess and gave it a terrific endorsement. I am only afraid I’ll be reduced to fan-girl babbling.
A cold front has come through and our seventy-degree weather is a thing of the past—it’s even getting down below freezing overnight. The beagles follow the patches of sunlight around the house. Here is Boo, all warm and comfy on our guest-room bed. You can see how he rumpled up the pillow and coverlet to make himself a perfect sunshiny nest:
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.
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.”
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!
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 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.