Monday, December 20, 2010

Favorites Monday: My Best Reads of 2010

This will be my last post of 2010. I'll be taking a break for holiday travel and will return to my more or less regular posting schedule in the new year.

These are my favorites of the books I read for the first time this year. They weren't necessarily published in 2010--in fact, most of them weren't. I've included buy links for all of them, just in case you're doing a little belated Christmas shopping or are looking for something to read yourself.

In no particular order:

The Miles Vorkosigan Series, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Science Fiction) I've blogged about these recently. Well-written, character-driven but with page-turning plots, and a protagonist like no other I've read. Though I have a sneaking preference for Aral over Miles...

Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. (Nonfiction - History) Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Civil War era, politics, battles, personalities, and all. If you read one book on the Civil War, this should be it.

The Sevenfold Spell, by Tia Nevitt. (Fantasy - Fairytale Retelling) A novella revisiting Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of one of the spinsters put out of work by the kingdom's ban on spinning wheels.

The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. (Nonfiction) A doctor shows how checklists, when properly designed and followed, enable people and teams to manage complex and often risky tasks, but surprisingly helpful even for those of us who don't fly planes or perform surgery.

When the Stars Go Blue, by Caridad Ferrer. (Young Adult Romance) Carmen in a drum corps, and the one book this year that made me cry.

The Pericles Commission, by Gary Corby. (Historical Mystery) A young sleuth solves a political murder in Periclean Athens.

Fatal Affair, by Marie Force. (Romantic Suspense) I rarely read romantic suspense, but I enjoyed this story of a cop and a political aide working together to solve a young senator's murder.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. (Fiction - not sure how to classify beyond that) A lovely 1938 book about a middle-aged governess whose employment agency mistakenly sends her to a nightclub singer's home and the adventures and friendships that ensue.

Naamah's Curse, by Jacqueline Carey. (Fantasy) Epic fantasy set in an alternate version of our world, but it's book two of a trilogy so you don't want to start here. Try Naamah's Kiss first, or, better yet, get Kushiel's Dart, the first book set in this world.

The Millers Kill mysteries, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. (Mystery) She's an Episcopalian priest, he's a police chief in a small upstate New York town. They fight crime, not to mention their inappropriate attraction, what with him being married and nearly 20 years her senior. And despite the fact I don't usually read contemporary settings and normally hate big age differences or anything that hints of an adultery plot, I love these books beyond reason.

In For a Penny, by Rose Lerner. (Historical Romance) A fresh take on the well-worn marriage of convenience between impoverished lord and common-born heiress tale, and the best Regency-set romance I've read in I don't know when.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Year's Resolutions of a Writer and Reader

But, I hear you saying, it isn't New Year's yet. You're right, but it's not too early to think about what I mean to accomplish in 2011. And anyway, I decided to count the remaining two weeks of 2010 toward my 2011 resolutions. I'm only at work two more days this year, and I'll have all that lovely time on the plane to my in-laws' place to read and maybe even write. Plus, if the political and/or football arguments get bad enough, I may just go hide in the guest room with my books. :-)

Resolution the First:
I will finish both my current WIPs--the Waterloo novella (historical romance) and the historical fantasy--where "finish" means "ready to submit." This will be a challenge, as neither is anywhere near done and I still have that pesky full-time day job plus an April release to promote. But I'm enthusiastic about both ideas and want to put myself in a position where I can sell steadily and build up a backlist. To do that, I need more complete, polished manuscripts.

Resolution the Second:
I signed up for a Buy One Book and Read It challenge. The challenge comes in two forms: for those who rarely read, buy one book and read it over the course of the year. But for people like me who read a lot but are kinda haphazard about it, the challenge is to buy at least one book per month and actually READ those books IN 2011 instead of just leaving them in my virtual to-be-read pile forever.

The rules:
1) Books must be leisure reading. Nonfiction allowed, but only if it's read for fun.

2) Though I will buy at least one book per month, I don't have to read them in the same month, and there's nothing to stop me buying three books in January and reading one apiece in January, April, and October, as long as I also buy at least one book those other months.

3) I will blog about what books I read for the challenge, but not necessarily all the ones I buy. Since I blog as an author first and as a reader/reviewer second, I have a policy of not discussing my Do Not Finishes.

4) I will try to experiment with debut and new-to-me authors, but books by established favorites still count. For example, I can tell you right now one of my April purchases will be Julia Spencer-Fleming's One Was a Soldier and one of June's will be Naamah's Blessing, by Jacqueline Carey, because I've already pre-ordered them and can't wait for them to hit my Kindle.

Resolution the Third
I will NOT buy any more research books until I've read at least twelve of the unread ones already on my shelves.

You see, I have this impressive collection of research books in my writing office. They fill one full-sized bookshelf and are spilling onto a second, and I like to stand admiring them and feeling all erudite. But yesterday I started counting how many of them I hadn't gotten around to reading yet...and suffice it to say I felt much less erudite after that. Problem is I see a book and think, "Wow, that's a good price for something with lavish color illustrations," or, "Really, one can't have too many biographies of the Duke of Wellington, can one?" or just, "Hey, look! A used bookstore! I should wander inside and see what their history section looks like." Unfortunately, making the time to read them requires a bit more commitment.

The rules:
1) I will blog these, too.

2) At least four of them will NOT be directly relevant to the Waterloo novella or the historical fantasy, 'cuz that's how muses stay fed.

I'm toying with making a Resolution the Fourth where I vow to cook at least one recipe from each of the cookbooks on our dining room bookshelf this year, because I have that same "Oooh, shiny!" problem with cookbooks that I do with research books. However, that means committing to cooking from the Les Halles Cookbook and theFrench Laundry Cookbook, and while I'm by no means a bad cook, I don't think I'm that good.

What about you? Do you know what your resolutions will be yet?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Find: The Golden Ocean

Did you know that Patrick O'Brian wrote other naval historical novels before the Aubrey-Maturin series? Neither did I, but one of the reader guide emails I get from the Seattle Public Library recommended them to me, and I'm almost finished with the first one, The Golden Ocean. It follows a young midshipman on an actual voyage I gather I would've already known about were I as up on my naval history as I am my army, and if I knew the first three quarters of the 18th century as well as I know 1775-1815.

The book has the same lovely language and evocative descriptions as the Aubrey-Maturin series, though I'm not quite as engaged by Peter Palafox, the midshipman hero, as I am by Jack and Stephen. And I'll definitely seek out The Unknown Shore, which I gather is not exactly a sequel, but set during the same expedition.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Belated Research Wednesday: When Research Gets Personal

I was going to post something about my general philosophy on research for historical fiction yesterday afternoon, but life intervened.

You see, there was a blood drive at my office yesterday, and I stopped by to donate after lunch. It'd been over ten years since I'd given, because for awhile there the fact that I lived in England 1997-98 was considered a mad cow risk. Now they've got that changed to 1996 and earlier, so I decided it was high time I donated again.

I'd never had any kind of medical issue with those previous donations, and I didn't expect one yesterday. But it ended up kinda terrifying, really. Probably the scariest single hour of my life in medical terms, though I've had pregnancy complications and a bacterial infection or two that were far more dangerous in the "could've killed me if left untreated" sense. Basically, I kept almost fainting for close to an hour. Apparently my vitals never looked scary--I was breathing fine, pulse only a little faster than my baseline, bp plummeted but in a "she's fainting" way, not a "she's dying" one. But I felt like I was falling apart, my chest was tightening, the world was blurry around the edges, and so on.

Eventually I got better enough that they sent me back to my desk, though it wasn't my most productive afternoon ever, and I was told to take it easy--when I told the tech I had choir practice last night, she first tried to make me skip it and then said I could go only if I promised to sit down throughout the rehearsal. And after a good night's sleep I thought I was fine this morning until I walked up the hill from Miss Fraser's bus stop to our house. Suddenly I was woozy and lightheaded again, though not in the terrifying way I was yesterday. So it's at least one more day of avoiding exertion and drinking extra fluids for me.

(Why did this happen when I'm generally healthy and had never had problems before? The tech and I have a couple of theories ranging from the fact I had a low-grade fever, not enough to keep me from donating, but maybe enough to trigger a reaction, to a medication I'm on that isn't on the contraindicated list but could theoretically cause such a reaction in rare cases. I'm going to compare notes with one of my brothers who takes the same thing and talk to my doctor before giving again. My blood type is B-positive, so I'm pretty far removed from being a universal donor with high-demand blood. I can always just make a cash donation to Puget Sound Blood Center or the Red Cross if I feel bad about not giving my actual blood.)

What does ANY of this have to do with research, you ask? Well, I'd already planned a scene for my historical fantasy WIP where my heroine loses a lot of blood quickly and thinks, not without reason, that she's about to die. While she's in a lot more danger than I ever was, after yesterday I know the EXACT sensory details I need for that scene!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Favorites NEXT Monday

I was going to post yesterday about my favorite reads of 2010, but work went mildly haywire, I didn't have time to blog at lunch, and by the time I got home I was completely exhausted and didn't have energy for anything beyond the bare necessities of cooking, eating, and reading Miss Fraser a bedtime story. (She prefers my reading to Mr. Fraser's for some reason, which strikes me as odd because I really think he's better at reading aloud than I am. Lovely baritone voice, and doesn't get tongue-tangled trying to read aloud at silent reading speed like I'm prone to do. Maybe it's that I'm marginally more tolerant of being asked to explain the plot when if she'd just wait till the next chapter or sometimes even the next SCENE, all would be revealed.)

Anyway, I'll move my Favorite Reads post till next Monday and make it my last post before taking a travel/holiday break until the new year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Writing Weekend: Edits In

A very brief post to say that I've turned in my last round of edits for my April release, A Marriage of Inconvenience. So that particular book-baby is out there in the big world, and if I think of a better way I could've written it or notice an anachronism or infelicitous word of phrase, too bad so sad. Too late to change it now.

There's still plenty of publicity work for me to do on Marriage, but now my primary focus must shift from polishing a completed manuscript to finishing the two new ones I'm working on. And to be quite honest, have barely started, between edits and tendinitis. Time to get cracking!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Welcome, Vivi Andrews!

Today's guest is Vivi Andrews, whose novella No Angel is available from Carina now (and can also be bought as part of the paranormal holiday anthology Winter Wishes).



1. You have quite a few books out! Any advice for those of us who are just starting out? Things you wished you’d known before your first or second or third sale?

I don’t really have any “if I’d only known” regrets – I’ve been really lucky to stumble blindly along a good path. My best advice is to be open to unexpected opportunities. There isn’t only one way to become a successful author and the best path for you might not be the one you originally envisioned. Adaptability is key. My strategy is to always keep pushing myself to write better and continue to seek out new opportunities. So far I’m loving the results.

2. No Angel isn’t your usual Christmas story. What gave you the idea?

Believe it or not, No Angel started out as my spin on A Christmas Carol. The Dickens classic has always been my favorite Christmas story and I wanted to twist it around and make it new while blending it with paranormal romance themes. At its heart, Scrooge’s story is all about trial-by-fire redemption and being given an opportunity for a new beginning, and those were the elements I carried through into Sasha & Jay’s journey to Hell and back on Christmas Eve.

Though, admittedly, by the time I was done with it, No Angel didn’t bear much resemblance to A Christmas Carol. Angels flying around Hollywood, demons tempting us all to land on Santa’s naughty list, a little visit to Satan’s house… not so Dickensian.

3. If you could pick the actors to play the hero & heroine in the movie of your current release, who could you cast?

Wow, that’s a hard one for me. Jay is tall, dark and dishy – so perhaps that guy who played Superman? Brandon something or other? But with more of an edge. I feel like there’s probably some insanely hot Italian actor who would be perfect for the role. One with some intense smolder going on.

And Sasha is a tough-girl to the core, but she looks like a princess. Michelle Rodriguez doesn’t have her coloring, but that’s the right attitude, so she’d probably be my first choice. Or Jessica Alba with a gun. Oooh, or the girl who played Kate on Lost. She’d be fabulous. I love the mix of hard and soft all those women are so adept at portraying.

4. If one of your characters came knocking on your door, how would you react?

Sasha is my kind of girl – sarcastic and crunchy on the outside, with a gooey center. I’d love to hang out with her for a day, especially if I could get her to teach me some of her stunt-girl tricks. Jay would be fun to hang with too, just so I could gaze at him, but the demonic minions? They’d be less welcome. J

5. Who was the last author whose writing wowed you?

Nalini Singh continues to knock me over with her awesomeness, Eloisa James gives me little shivers of delight, but my most recent glom was for Kristan Higgins. I feel like I was the last chick in Romancelandia to discover her, but dang can that woman write! She can make my throat tight with emotion on one page and have me giggling on the next and all with this sense that I can really see the events happening, see the story coming to life. Such skill. Can I be her when I grow up?

6. What book is your comfort read?

I really adore Pride and Prejudice, which I’m afraid is cliché, but it’s true. There’s just something about that book that hits all the right notes with me. A guaranteed home run every time.

My favorite books are always those that mix humor, intellect and heart and Pride & Prejudice is a prime example of that.

7. What are your Desert Island movies?

Oh, wow, so many. Definitely Philadelphia Story with Katherine Hepburn & Cary Grant. The Last of the Mohicans for the gorgeous score alone. Chocolat, Noises Off and The Princess Bride because I love them more every time I see them.

8. Anything you’d like to ask my readers?

I'm definitely in a holiday mood these days, so my burning question is: what's the holiday tradition that makes the season glow for you? Or, if you aren’t feeling the holidays, which would you rather have try to romance you: an angel or a demon? Thanks so much for having me round to visit, Susanna!

(If you'd like to read an excerpt of No Angel, click here.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Research Wednesday: Accidental Research

Every once in awhile I vow to stop wasting time on the internet, where "wasting time" equals all those activities that neither strengthen relationships with friends and family nor do anything to build my career as a writer. But somehow there are always a few corners of the internet where I just lurk because I find the subject matter interesting even though I don't know a soul involved. Since I'm just watching silently from the virtual sidelines, I'm not even making new friends or driving anyone there to think, "Hey, that's right. Susanna writes books. I should buy one."

But just last week I came across facts that made a major character in my historical fantasy WIP's background fall into place for me...while "wasting time." You see, one of those boards where I lurk got into a discussion of a documentary that first aired a year or so ago on UK Channel 4 called "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding." (Following the link takes you to the first segment on YouTube.) It's about Roma and Irish Traveller weddings, and it's pretty much what you'd expect based on the title. A lot of gawking at the big, garish dresses--20-foot trains! Crinolines so poofy the bride can't walk gracefully or even fit in a church aisle without smooshing her skirts--leavened with a bit of social commentary on the Roma and Traveller ways of life and the prejudices they face from mainstream Britons.

Being me, after I finished watching the doc on YouTube, I started looking up modern nomadic groups online to see what else I could learn. I happened across a reference to Scottish Highland Travellers, followed a few links, and ended up on this site.

Now, the protagonist of my WIP is of moderately good family--father a minister, distant cousin of a Highland laird, and so on--but after her parents died she and her sister were raised by her outlaw grandfather. I'd imagined her growing up in some isolated cottage, but as soon as I read about the Highland Travellers I realized the grandfather would've taken refuge among such a group. He'd be able to travel about below the official radar and keep practicing his craft. (I don't want to give away too many details of this story before it's done, so suffice it to say his particular method of fighting supernatural evil isn't approved of by the authorities.) And it gives my protagonist a perfect background to be tough, resourceful, and adept at living under rough conditions and traveling constantly--all things she'll need to do over the course of her story.

And I never would've figured that out if I hadn't been wasting time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Favorites Monday: Anne of Green Gables

I didn't read Anne of Green Gables as a child like you're supposed to. I don't think my hometown library owned the series, and unlike with the Little House and Narnia books, none of the adults in my life introduced them to me.



Instead, I discovered them in college when a dorm friend, stunned that I'd never read them, loaned me her copies. With their lovely prose, memorable characters, and perfectly evoked Prince Edward Island setting, they were a perfect break from studying for statistics finals or writing up case studies for my marketing classes.

Perhaps because I came to the books so late, my favorites aren't the ones about Anne's childhood. I'll happily re-read any of the series when I need to unwind, but my favorites are Anne's House of Dreams, set during the first two years of Anne's marriage, and Rilla of Ingleside, which details Anne's youngest daughter's experience living through WWI as a teen on the Canadian homefront. Rilla was written only a year or so after the war ended, which adds to its poignancy. And really, if you can get through the Dog Monday part at the end without crying, you're made of sterner stuff than I am.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A new blog!

The Carina historical authors now have our own group blog, Romancing the Past, which debuted last week. Stop by and say hello! I'll be there on Thursday, talking about how the soldiers in Wellington's army during the Peninsular War celebrated Christmas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Find: Lois McMaster Bujold

I waffled on whether this post belonged here or in my Favorites Monday series but ended up deciding that since I've read less than half of the author's output and have just in the last few weeks started a massive glom of her best-known series, it's a Find. When I finish, maybe I'll rave about her some more on the Favorites side.

Anyway. Lois McMaster Bujold. She writes science fiction and fantasy with vivid, appealing characters and strong world-building, with occasional books that are basically mysteries in space or fantasy romances. And they are awesome and addictive. Since I'm more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, I read her two fantasy series years ago and can recommend them without reservations. The first starts with The Curse of Chalion and would be an especially good fit for fans of Jacqueline Carey or Guy Gavriel Kay. The second starts with The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and is an evocative romantic fantasy set in a world that physically resembles the American South and Midwest and culturally feels maybe 18th or 19th century in technology, but is very much its own place with its own cultures and magical hazards. The central couple are sweet and different--and managed to get past my usual dislike of large age gaps between heroes and heroines--and the writing is lovely and lyrical.

But Bujold is best known for the Miles Vorkosigan series, which I held off on reading for ages because it's science fiction, which I don't like as much as fantasy. But after hearing what I swear was 3/4 of my friends rave about Miles, I finally swallowed my instinctive preference for books with horses or castles on the covers to ones with spaceships and settled down to read Young Miles, an omnibus edition of the first few books in the series. And I fell hard for Miles somewhere around p. 40 and haven't looked back.

How to describe the appeal of Miles? Well, he was born with a compelling combination of power and weakness. He's the son and heir of an influential lord and military leader on a planet where such things matter a lot--but because of an attempt to assassinate his parents by poisoning while his mother was pregnant with him, he was born stunted and deformed into a society whose prejudice against such disabilities is even stronger than our own's. So he's got every advantage...and every disadvantage. He's freakishly smart and a master manipulator, though he mostly uses his powers for good. He swashbuckles and wisecracks and improvises his way across multiple planets, and his story is the best-written pure fun I've run across in years.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest blogging today at Vivi Andrews' blog

No Research Wednesday post this week because instead I'm a guest today at Vivi Andrews' blog talking about The Sergeant's Lady, my non-writing dream job, the best books I've read lately, and who I'd be if I could be any character from any book. And next week Vivi will be here on Thursday to talk about her hellish paranormal Christmas novella, No Angel.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing Weekend (sorta): This is why I'll never get to choose my own cover models...

My tendinitis is gradually improving, so I'm trying to return to a normal life of work, writing, blog posts, and generally hanging out online.

This post is going to mostly be pictures, though. Eye candy...at least for me.

You see, I got an idea for a new novella, which I'm going to work on concurrently with my historical fantasy WIP. It's set in the run-up to the Battle of Waterloo, with a seasoned, weather-beaten officer hero.

I immediately knew my Harry looks exactly like Christopher Eccleston:



Just give him a bit more hair, put him in a red coat with a sword in his hand, and can't you just see him all intense and badass on the battlefield? I sure can.

And a man who looks good in a leather coat would also work an early 19th century greatcoat, dontcha think?



What a profile!



I think he'd look great on cover. Don't you?

...anyone?

::crickets::

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Find: When the Stars Go Blue

First, in the interest of total disclosure, I should say that the author of the book I'm about to describe is a friend of mine.

When the Stars Go Blue, by Caridad Ferrer, is easily one of the five best books I've read this year. And when you take into account that this is the year I discovered Julia Spencer-Fleming's amazing Millers Kill mysteries, not to mention the awesomeness that is Miles Vorkosigan, that's saying a lot.

Stars is a YA romance set in a competitive drum and bugle corps whose show for the season is based on the opera Carmen. The heroine is Soledad, a serious dancer who's just finished high school and has a professional career awaiting her. She's touring with the corps to spend more time with her new boyfriend and get a new experience while she makes up her mind which professional opportunity to pursue. The plot echoes Carmen, as the boyfriend turns possessive, though since this is YA romance rather than opera, it doesn't go quite as dark. But there's heartbreak enough that I wept, nonetheless.

I'm a musician myself, not on the same level as the characters in this story, but I did competitive marching band in high school, and I sing alto in what, if I do say so myself, is a better-than-average church choir. And one of the things I loved about this book is how Ferrer brings the mentality of a performing musician to life, that transcendent feeling when it's like you're a conduit for something far larger than yourself.

An amazing book on so many levels. Go read it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Favorites Monday: The Talking Stick/Circle series

I'm something of a Trekkie, and when I first heard the premise for Star Trek: Voyager, I was excited. It was about time the franchise put a woman in the captain's chair, and I thought the premise of a Federation and a Maquis crew far from home and forced to cooperate would create wonderful story arcs.

I watched for the first couple seasons, but the show never delivered what I was hoping for, and it remains behind DS9 and Next Gen on my ranking of the franchise. (The original series and Enterprise never quite hooked me.)

However, I did find the Voyager I'd hoped the show would be...in fanfic. This was back in the days of USENET, and I was a regular reader on alt.startrek.creative. One of the regulars, Macedon, wrote a lovely, thoughtful story from Chakotay's point of view, and another, Peg Robinson, responded with one in Janeway's. Macedon responded with more Chakotay, and before long they were collaborating on what became known as the Talking Stick/Circle series.

It's my favorite of all the fanfic I've ever read, and has stayed with me all these years later. It's got friendship and enemies, building community under difficult circumstances, romance, love and death, and toward the end Big Epic Adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic, arc-driven Trek.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welcome, Josie Malone!

Today my guest is western romance author Josie Malone, talking about a topic currently near and dear to my heart: women disguised as men in a historical context. (My current manuscript opens with the heroine disguised as a British redcoat during the Napoleonic Wars, and a damn good soldier she is indeed.)

Now, over to Josie:



Last spring, it delighted me when BookStrand offered for my historical western romance, A Man’s World – the story of a woman who masquerades as a gunfighter in 1887 Washington (state) Territory. It took years to write, rewrite, and rewrite the story again. In comparison, researching for the novel was actually easier than the plotting and writing process.

I grew up in the 1960’s and ‘70’s in what Barbara Streisand called, a “No, You Don’t World – Over-run with rules,” in the movie, A Star is Born. It was the way life was, especially for some young girls. My father ruled with an iron fist – no velvet glove - and questioning authority was not tolerated in “his” house. I thought that was the way it had always been, men dominating and women as second-class citizens.

Libraries provided a sanctuary from home, even if I couldn’t take the books back to “his” house, and I began to learn the world was bigger than I was told. No wonder women marching in the streets in support of the Equal Rights Amendment fascinated me.

That fascination guided my choices for the next several years, i.e. joining the Army Reserve, taking classes at Skagit Valley Community College and eventually I was able to attend Washington State University where I majored in English and History. That led to courses in what was called American Studies and Women’s History where I discovered something new and forbidden in my father’s house.

Women did things and they’d been doing them for centuries.

I read about Abigail Adams who wanted the vote for women during the American Revolution and tried to convince her husband to include it in the Constitution. There were so many other women, abolitionists, suffragists, suffragettes, writers, poets, teachers, scientists, soldiers, doctors, nurses who were actively engaged in building America.

And so much of the information was recorded. It could be found in diaries, letters, newspaper articles and books written by the women who lived during those times. If they didn’t write about it, they were written about! And being at Washington State University I had access not only to fabulous libraries, but also amazing professors who taught me how to find information. Research was a new adventure since I was the first woman in my extended family to go to college, but I was also the first to graduate from high school.

In one history text at WSU, I saw a footnote about women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the American Civil War. Just the idea was enough to make me refine my research – at that time, I didn’t have the seed of an idea for what would become A Man’s World. I pursued knowledge for its own sake, hungry, starving to learn everything I could about my gender.

Then, I discovered the story of Charley Parkhurst.

Detailed in The Mayflower Murderer & Other Forgotten Firsts in American History by Peter Stevens, Charley Parkhurst successfully hid her sex for more than 40 years until her death in 1879. Known as the “Boss of the Road,” she drove a stagecoach through the Sierra Nevadas in California. In 1868, Charley registered to vote and cast ballots in elections, something she could do as a “man,” but a right no woman was allowed in 19th century America.

Once I learned about Charley, I continued more research on the topic. From there, it was a short step to the “What-If” game that authors play. What if I wrote a book about a woman who disguised her gender and set it in Washington Territory? Just the idea meant more research and I began to read everything I could find about life in Western Washington, collecting oral histories, textbooks and memoirs. I visited museums and historical societies and listened to the stories that older residents told of their lives.

I have shelves of books in my office and I can pass up anything but a bookstore, or thrift store, or second-hand store. For fun, I check out the materials available in the antique stores in the town of Snohomish – did you know it was the Snohomish county seat for years until the newly established company town of Everett offered train stations for votes?

While writing A Man’s World, the research didn’t stop. I would hit the library when my own books proved insufficient to find details I needed to know. Yes, I do quite a bit of research on my computer now, but I have to admit that I still enjoy hunting down facts the old-fashioned way. I don’t need to hide at the library anymore, but in my mind it’s the gate to Adventure-Land. I never know what I will find, but a treasure trove of trivia awaits and some barely known fact will spark my next novel.



A Man’s World is a mainstream western romance and was an e-book release from Siren/Bookstrand in September.

I write as Josie Malone, but my horse articles have appeared in Equus, Country Extra, Horse & Rider, Western Horseman, and Canadian Horsepower under my “real” name of Shannon Kennedy. Willowisp Press published two of my young adult books 20+ years ago and thrill of thrills, BookStrand just contracted for another of my mainstream western romances, a contemporary this time. The Daddy Spell will be out as an ebook in January 2011 under my pen name of Josie Malone.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Welcome, Elyse Mady!

My tendinitis is starting to improve. (Children! Pay attention to ergonomics, and don't ignore your symptoms hoping they'll go away.) But I'm still not quite ready to blog yet, so I'm delighted to welcome my guest, Elyse Mady, another Carina author trying a new approach to the Regency era. Her novella, The Debutante's Dilemma, is available now

It's all yours, Elyse!
--------

Hi Susanna – thanks so much for inviting me to your blog today to talk about my debut publication, “The Debutante’s Dilemma”. I’m really happy to be here.

1) How long have you been writing, and what made you realize you wanted to become an author?

Turns out I’ve been writing a long time, I just didn’t know that meant I wanted to be an author. I was down in my parents’ basement not too long ago, hunting for some-such or another, and ended up hauling out some boxes my parents had packed away on the happy, happy day I moved away from home. (My mother will lie, as all mothers ought to, and tell you she cried, but I strongly suspect there was much high-fiving and one-down-two-to-go talk between she and my father that day).

At any rate, in the course of hunting down a long remembered file, I discovered a whole box of my writing. Most of it was old term papers – first year university essay on “The Decameron”, anyone? – but amongst the bits and pieces were several screenplays, a number of short stories and even some longer story fragments and novel outlines, dating back to when I was young.



It’s only as I’ve gotten older and I realized that not everyone has characters who tromp in and out of their heads, blurting out story bits and ideas that I slowly came to the realization that not only do I love to read, I love to write, too. Over the last number of years, I’ve completed a four part screenplay adaptation, three novels and more than 30 magazine articles. It’s all been good practice and helped me hone my skills bit by bit.

2) Tell us about getting The Call.

I’m still waiting for the call, actually. It was all done via email, which totally lacks drama and makes my answer, whenever another author or reader asks that question, very, very short. When Angela and I finally spoke on the phone (I called her after an excellent game of voicemail tag), we spent our time discussing exciting things like Carina’s commitment to long-term author development and sales projections. There were no tears, sobs or hysterical laughter to relate.

It’s kind of sad, really. Heck, I’m a writer! I should just make up a fantastic story, shouldn’t I? Something that involves Daniel Craig, pleading phone calls and the response, “Daniel, I would if I could, but Angela James is counting on me.” If you say anything with enough conviction, people will believe you, right?!

But in truth, I managed to sell “The Debutante’s Dilemma” almost as a fluke. I’d submitted another manuscript entirely to Carina (well, actually, I submitted it twice, when the first version went into the electronic ether following a system malfunction at Carina last December) and was waiting on their reply for about three and a half months. That story was a very sexy contemporary – as far from a Regency as you can get. But in the meantime, while I’d been waiting, I wrote “Dilemma” almost as a lark, because the characters were so compelling and the fun of channelling my inner Regency snark was totally appealing.

When my first manuscript was greeted with a very positive revise and resubmit request, I was able to say to the lovely Gina B., “I’ll definitely work on those changes. In the meantime, any chance you’d like to read this other novella of mine?” It only took a month and smack dab in the middle of Carina’s launch this past June, I heard that not only had they taken me on, but that I would be on e-shelves before the end of the year. How cool is that?

3) What gave you the idea for THE DEBUTANTE'S DILEMMA?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I certainly read a lot of period romances and I love 18th century novels generally (Austen, Edgeworth, Burney, Richardson, Defoe) but as I mentioned above, I hadn’t had any definite intentions of writing a story set in the early 19th century.

Whatever the spark was, the slightly supercilious and snarky voice that opens “The Debutante’s Dilemma” sprang into my mind without any warning. The opening line, “Miss Cecilia Hastings was the luckiest girl who had ever lived to draw breath,” came to me fully formed and I found myself one night, sitting up in bed, scribbling furiously in a notebook, about this young debutante who had strolled so elegantly into my imagination. Her difficulty – that of having two eligible lovers and being unable to choose between them – was also something I knew almost immediately.

I wish all stories wrote themselves like that – usually I find myself in a painstaking process of brainstorming and piecing the elements together bit by bit – but in this case, whatever authorial alchemy was at work, I was glad to embrace it.

4) What's the most surprising thing about being published so far?

Besides the fact that Oprah hasn’t had either of us on her book club yet? I mean, are you as hurt by that oversight as I am, Susanna? :-) We’d make great guests, wouldn’t we?

But seriously, there haven’t been too many surprises in the ‘I totally didn’t expect this to happen’ sense of the word. The surprises have been more in the ‘I knew this was going to happen but it’s a thousand times better than I could have expected’ vein.

My cover is one of those surprises. I love my cover. Love it. Love it. Love it. It exceeded all of my expectations and having seen the other lovely covers Carina’s cover coven have been putting out, that’s saying a lot.

The impact an editor like Gina has had on my work is another great surprise. I have a couple of CPs I work with and they’re great – their brainstorming and problem solving are indispensable as I shape my early drafts - but having a pro’s eyes shaping the material later, asking the difficult questions, has made my work better without question. I like the editing process. Not while I’m in the midst of it, of course – I write romance, not S&M! – but there’s something so satisfying about shaping an idea or a phrase or a plot point until it shines.

5) Tell us a little about your heroine. If she'd been born 200 years later, what would she have done with her life?

What a great question! I think Cecilia would have made a great event planner. She’s someone who excels at making people feel at home. That seems like an odd characteristic for a heroine to have, I know, but Cecilia is naturally out-going and curious about others and that makes her someone that people naturally gravitate to. In 1814 terms, that means she’s the non-pareil of the Season; in 2010 terms, that would make her a leader of people, I think.

It’s certainly her curiosity and honesty that compel her to issue the unorthodox challenge to her two suitors: a kiss before she will entertain their proposals. Because she knows she wants to marry for passion and she knows herself well enough to know that she couldn’t bear to be stymied or constrained by a ‘polite’ agreement. But definitely neither she nor Henley or Wexford expect anything like what comes of their encounter, I can promise you that.

6) What's next for you?

I’m working on a variety of new projects. In addition to my magazine work, I’ve had two contemporaries accepted by Carina and they should be hitting e-bookshelves at some point in 2011. I’ll have all the details on my blog, www.elysemady.wordpress.com, as soon as they’re available.

Then I’m also working on a new, full length historical novel which has no title at present because titles are so not my forté. It’s another regency but it’s a significant departure for me – a fusion of sorts between historical fiction and historical romance that I’m really excited about. I’ve left behind the ballrooms and salons that I explored in “The Debutante’s Dilemma” and am moving into less vaunted but still fascinating (to me at least) spheres of everyday Londoners during the period. Like your book, “The Sergeant’s Lady”, many of the characters involved were actual people and bringing them to life, filling in the many unknowns yet keeping true to the historical record and shaping a compelling story is a really interesting challenge for me as a writer. No battles or cannon fire but there are mass arrests and bribes, gaol fever and riots and all sorts of legal skullduggery, leavened with a big heaping dose of romance.

7) Anything you'd like to ask my readers?

I’d love to know if like me, you read more than one genre of romance and if so, why? I write both historical and contemporary and read ‘em, too. What about you? Do you read across multiple styles or do you prefer to stick wholly to one type of romance?

I’ll wrap this up by saying thanks again for having me! I loved having a chance to talk about my writing and my new book., “The Debutante’s Dilemma”.

I’d love to say thanks by offering one lucky poster the chance of winning a digital copy of “The Debutante’s Dilemma” in their choice of ebook format. Comment between now and midnight Wednesday, Pacific Standard Time, for your chance to win!

The Debutante’s Dilemma by Elyse Mady

One woman in search of passion

Miss Cecilia Hastings has achieved what every young lady hopes for during her first London season…in duplicate! She’s caught the eye of not one but two of England’s most eligible bachelors. Both Jeremy Battersley, Earl of Henley, and Richard Huxley, Duke of Wexford are handsome, wealthy and kind, the epitome of proper gentlemen. But Cecelia doesn’t want proper, she wants passion. So she issues a challenge to her suitors: a kiss, so that she may choose between them.

Two men in love with the same woman

Friends since childhood, and compatriots on the battlefields of Spain, falling for the same woman has set Jeremy and Richard at odds, and risks destroying their friendship forever. But a surprising invitation to a late-night garden tryst soon sets them on a course that neither of them could have anticipated. And these gentlemen quickly discover that love can take many forms…

Available now from Carina Press and E-book retailers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brief blogging hiatus

I'm taking a break from blogging as part of a larger break from the keyboard in general to allow my body a chance to heal up from a case of elbow tendinitis.

Next week I have two guest bloggers, Elyse Mady on Tuesday and Josie Malone on Thursday, and hopefully by the week after that I'll be back to my normal, and admittedly frenetic, typing schedule again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Research Wednesday: Where Cork Comes From

My new manuscript is historical fantasy with romantic elements set, like The Sergeant's Lady, in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

As is usually the case when I'm in first draft mode, the manuscript is filled with bolded, caps-locked notes to myself to look up some detail before I show it to anyone beyond my circle of critique partners. I'll have my heroine's mouth water over a dinner of roast beef and [SEASONAL VEGETABLE], or an officer arrive with a message from [APPROPRIATE REGIMENT].



One of my recent notes to myself asked me to find a [TREE NATIVE TO PORTUGAL]. I decided that should be a simple enough fact to fill in, so I googled "trees native to Portugal," and started going through the options on the Wikipedia page I discovered. I settled on the cork oak, which I'm pretty sure I mentioned in The Sergeant's Lady, having seen it named in the soldier memoirs that are such a wonderful primary source for the Peninsular War geek. But back then I didn't look up the details. So I did not know that corks come from the bark of the tree, nor that it can be harvested once a decade or so at no harm to the tree, which can live up to 250 years.

Now that I know all that, I'll be thinking of Portugal and my books every time I uncork a bottle of wine.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Welcome, Celia Jerome!

This week's guest is Celia Jerome, author of a newly released fantasy novel, Trolls in the Hamptons. Isn't that a wonderful cover? I'd definitely walk across a bookstore to pick it up and find out more.



Take it away, Celia!

***

Hi. My name is Celia Jerome and I live in Paumanok Harbor, Long Island, New York. I’m mid-thirties and my very first book, TROLLS IN THE HAMPTONS, came out last week.

I lie.

Well, TROLLS IN THE HAMPTONS just came out from DAW Books, but that’s the only real fact in my introduction. The rest is as fictional and fantastical as TROLLS. There is no such place as Paumanok Harbor, no such person as Celia Jerome, my age is no one’s business, and this is not my first book, by a lot. There may or may not be trolls in the Hamptons.

Here’s why I’m using a pen name and new persona:

First, I’ve published a bunch of Regency romances and Regency-set historicals and Regency novellas. I have a room full of reference books for them and a shelf full of awards for them. What I didn’t have was a bunch of fresh new ideas for them. The market was tending toward longer, deeper, sexier, darker Regencies, places I wasn’t comfortable going. I found myself adding paranormal elements, just to keep my imagination happy. Some readers liked them, some didn’t. I loved writing them. So why not go for it?

Because I really couldn’t afford to write on spec, without a contract. Because I had no creds in any other genre, so I’d have to finish the whole book before showing it. Because I was so well established in the Regency era. Because my agent didn’t think it was a good idea. Because most fantasy and paranormal romances were long, dark, deep and sexy. Vampires and werewolves and steam punk, oh my.

I wrote TROLLS IN THE HAMPTONS anyway, and had a blast. It’s contemporary fantasy, with small-town magic. No one could say I got my facts wrong, because I made them up as I went along. Everyone in Paumanok Harbor is either a pre-cog, a weather maven, a locator, or a truth-knower— or whatever I want them to be. The plumber is a scryer, the librarian always knows what book you want, the post master has a seeing-eye dog. My heroine, Willow Tate, is a graphic novelist, and the Visualizer for a hidden universe. The hero is a British agent from the Department of Unexplained Events, or DUE. (I couldn’t resist making him an English lord.) And the troll? He’s a trespasser creating chaos while searching for his kidnapped halfling brother.

I sent it out myself, and sold it to the first publisher who saw it. They also bought the second in the series, NIGHT MARES IN THE HAMPTONS (May, 2011) from an outline. Then I got a wonderful new agent and sold three more: FIRE WORKS IN THE HAMPTONS, LIFE GUARDS IN THE HAMPTONS, and SAND WITCHES IN THE HAMPTONS. For those of you who mightn’t know, the Hamptons are a group of summer resort communities a couple of hours from Manhattan along the Atlantic coast at the eastern end of Long Island. Think tourists, fishermen, surfers, wealthy second-home owners, gorgeous scenery, celebrities, the Montauk Lighthouse, traffic jams, retirees and hard-working locals. Winters are quiet and gray. A writer can get a lot of work done without distractions. I wrote a lot of Regencies snug inside with my dog and my laptop, and read many more.

Suddenly, though, I was set in an exciting new genre with the security of signed contracts. Instead of my beloved Regencies, I took to reading chick lit and mysteries, for the contemporary feel. I took my mother’s and father’s first names and started planning a website at
www.Celiajerome.com.

Unfortunately, my usual Regency readers would be dismayed. Trollops maybe, not trolls. Readers of fantasy might recognize my name and think, oh, she only writes historicals. So for now I am reinvented and reinspired as Celia Jerome, but people can always check the name on the copyright page, if they buy the books!

***

Thanks for stopping by, Celia! Readers, please feel free to chime in with any questions you may have for her.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Favorites Monday: In This House of Brede

This weekend I re-read In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.

I've read it more times than I can count, even though I'm not in the book's core demographic, to put it mildly. The book is a character study of a group of British Benedictine nuns in the 1950's and 60's. I'm not a Catholic, I've never even for a nanosecond considered becoming a nun, and I write romance novels with explicit sex scenes.

So why do I read about these nuns again and again? Because Godden did such a masterful job bringing her community of characters to life. The plot is very subtle--mostly as readers we simply live with these characters through several years as a new abbess copes with the problems left behind by her predecessor and several women go through the process that takes them from postulant to fully professed nun. But the writing is lovely and measured. The world of Brede Abbey feels three-dimensional, every bit as different and fascinating to me as Regency England or Narnia or Terre d'Ange or Prince Edward Island at the turn of the 20th century, just to name a few other places I like to visit through the medium of a book. But above all I come back to In This House of Brede for the characters. That's one thing my favorite stories have in common, characters who feel almost as real to me as my closest friends, so I can't help revisiting them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writing Weekend: Steering the Craft

Someone on one of the forums I frequent mentioned doing an exercise from Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft, and I was sufficiently curious to put the book on hold at my local library. I'm glad I did, and I'll be purchasing my own copy in the near future.

It's emphatically a craft book, focusing more on the trees than the forest. Topics include sentence length and syntax, managing varying points of view, punctuation, verb tense, when to go into detail and when to skip ahead through summary, etc. But it's not a basic book by any means, more a master class on the finer points of the writing craft. I want to get my own copy and take time to work through the exercises because it's easy for me to think I know all that stuff already simply because grammar comes naturally to me and I've never had a problem with head-hopping. But there's always more to learn, and I don't want to stagnate as a writer, but to improve.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Belated Friday Find: Sitka and Spruce

So I've fallen off my blogging schedule a little this week. Work has been unexpectedly busy, and I'm doing NaNoWriMo, which means trying to write at about twice my normal pace. Hence, a Friday Find post on Saturday.

This week's Find is a restaurant. Mr. Fraser and I went to the Sufjan Stevens concert last Saturday. Our babysitting plans for Miss Fraser turned into a sleepover at a school friend's house, which gave us the luxury of an entire night to ourselves. Which meant, among other things, getting to have dinner at a restaurant with no kids' menu.

I'd describe Mr. Fraser and myself as aspirational foodies. We enjoy eating at restaurants whose chefs get national buzz, and our cookbook collection includes such works as Ad Hoc At Home and the Les Halles Cookbook. We just rarely have the babysitting and money for the former or the time and energy to cook from the latter.

Anyway, last Saturday we went to Sitka and Spruce The food wasn't quite like anything I'd had before, in that the chef uses mostly local Northwestern ingredients but is inspired by the cuisines of the Moorish-influenced parts of the Mediterranean. The service is a bit different too, in that all the plates are designed for sharing and served family-style.

I didn't love every single bite. The pickles weren't on the same level as the ones Boat Street makes (which reminds me I've got some Boat Street raisin pickle in the fridge that I should really use for the filling in a pork wellington next time I'm in cook-like-a-foodie mode). And my olive oil ice cream dessert was more fascinating than delicious. I think it would've worked better as a one-scoop accent to dessert than as the main event. But I snuck several bites of Mr. Fraser's gateau Basque with pear and caramel, which was divine, the lamb was among the best I've ever eaten, and the leeks vinaigrette with apple and giblet confit was wonderful.

I definitely recommend Sitka and Spruce for Seattle people wanting a tasty, different dining experience. Prices are about what you'd expect for this level of food (and are listed on the website). It's not quite an all-time favorite, and probably not the first place I'd send an out-of-town visitor. If said visitor had just one night in Seattle, I'd send her to Tilth, which features the best food I've ever eaten in my life, anywhere. Second night would go to a Seattle classic salmon place, either Ivar's, Ray's, or Salty's, and a third night would be Boat Street, with strict instructions to save room for the bread pudding.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning about critique from Tim Gunn

Mr. Fraser, who is a web designer, sent me this link from a user interface designer on what he learned about giving good design critique from Tim Gunn. Every word of it is valid for writing critique, in my opinion. I especially liked this point:

Offer direction, not prescription. Tim doesn’t often tell the designer how to fix the design (although he will say what specifically isn’t working for him.) But it is up to the designer to come up with a solution (“Make it work!”).

And also this one:

Accept multiple styles. Tim’s style is, in all likelihood, very far away from the aesthetic of most of the designers. But he doesn’t try to impose his style on them, just sharpen their own while still applying some universal principles of good taste and design.

But it's all worth reading. If you're a writer with critique partners or if you ever judge writing contests, check it out.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Research Wednesday: Past Calendars

My current manuscript is set during the Peninsular War, October 1810-May 1811, from the aftermath of the Battle of Busaco to Fuentes de Onoro, and includes the actions and in some cases the point of view of actual historical figures like Wellington and the French marshals Ney and Massena. (Incidentally, the "n" in "Onoro" should have a tilde, and the "e" in "Massena" an accent mark--anyone know how to add those in Blogger?)

It occurred to me as I researched that I needed to keep careful track of who was where and when. Though the short version of what happened between the two battles looks like a stalemate followed by a retreat, the reality of course was a bit more complicated, and I want to get as close to reality as possible, because that's how I roll.

However, there are also vampires and werewolves in this story, so "close to reality" is a relative term. But having werewolves means you need to know when the moon was full.

What I really needed is one of those big desk blotter calendars, the kind that comes with moon phases and everything, but for 1810-11. Obviously no such product is listed in the Office Depot catalog, so the question I then asked myself was how to go about replicating one, or at least creating an Excel file facsimile thereof.

As always when faced with a new research challenge, I turned first to The Google. I searched on "calendar any year" and started with this, the first link offered. Pay dirt! It even gives the phases of the moon. I punched in 1810, then 1811, and spent half an hour putting the results into an Excel file and formatting it. (I found a site that would generate an Excel calendar for a specified date range, but it was a paid download, and I wasn't going to pay for something I could quickly manage on my own and customize at will should I choose to do so.)

So now I have a lovely calendar for the 8 months of my story. Over the weekend I'm going to sit down and start filling in all the tiny historical incidents that might impact my story, and as I write I'll add what my fictional (and fictionalized historical) characters do in the midst of the real events.

I wonder how long it would've taken me to track down 1810-1811 calendars plus moon phases if I'd been writing this book 30 years ago, as an unusually precocious 9-year-old. :-) I'm not even sure how to go about such a search pre-internet. Get a research librarian to help me track down old farmers' almanacs, maybe? It certainly wouldn't have been the work of half an hour. On the whole, I think I love the internet.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Welcome, Wendy Soliman!

Today my guest is my fellow Carina Regency author, Wendy Soliman. Wendy is English, so I asked her to talk about her experiences writing about her own country and history for a largely American readership.

Someday I want to write a few posts myself about why I'm comfortable writing British protagonists, what other settings I might attempt with more research, and which ones I just don't feel are stories I have any right to tell...but today is not that day, so here's Wendy!

----------------



With five Regencies out there in the UK, making the transition across the pond ought to be a doddle, right?

Well, er…no, actually.

The publisher I wrote for in the UK required the bedroom door to be firmly closed behind the hero and heroine. No sex please, we're British!

Fortunately I don't find myself similarly restricted by publishers' guidelines in America. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I'm still treading a fine line between the need to stay true to the period I'm writing about and fictional licence. Contraception was basic and unreliable in the 1800's and unmarried girls really didn't hop in and out of bed with charming rakes – dare I say it, willy-nilly. They couldn't afford to lose their virginity before finding a husband, nor could they risk the possibility of pregnancy.

Once they were married, it was an entirely different story. Hence the number of widows or dissatisfied wives who appear in books, ready to indulge in extra-marital activities. Since so many marriages were arranged and husband and wife often didn't even like each other very much, adultery on both sides was fairly common.

But lots of writers target widows and wives and I like to be different.

In my next e-book, Of Dukes and Deceptions, due to be released by Carina Press next March, my hero strikes a wager with his henchman, vowing to bed the heroine, a supposed poor relation, before his visit to Ravenswing Manor comes to an end. But the girl's a virgin. What's he thinking of? Doesn't the man have any conscience? He's a duke, for goodness sake! He ought to know better. Or is he too arrogant to care?

I'm afraid you'll have to wait until March to see how he gets round that one!

Another problem is our common language. Fortunately I don't write modern stuff. Otherwise I might well have to wrestle with the problem of someone wishing to erase something they'd written in pencil. No one in England would turn a hair if that person asked for a rubber. See what I mean! Equally, an American hero might pull on his pants. To us, that means his underwear. Why is he going out in the street wearing his shorts? He'll catch cold. And a vest is something he'd wear beneath his shirt in winter to keep warm. Oh, and just so we're clear, roads have bends, okay? Not curves. Women have those! And, as for Sarah Palin's poor daughter, being lumbered with the name 'Bristol'…well, if you don't know what connotations that has in Cockney rhyming slang, then go find someone English and ask them!

In Of Dukes and Deceptions my editor suggested that I cut the following phrase, 'Her eyes rested on the beaver on his head', leaving off the words, 'on his head' because its self-evident. That made me realise that some readers might wonder what my hero's doing with a beaver on his head.

Okay, it's a type of hat, not a furry animal. Stop it, I know what you're thinking, but no one in England would!

Wendy Soliman

Of Dukes and Deceptions – Carina Press March 2011
www.wendysoliman.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

Favorites Monday: Dave

Back in July, I posted my Desert Isle Movies List and promised to eventually post about why each one is a favorite.

This week I'm going to tackle Dave (1993, Kevin Kline/Sigourney Weaver), since it's a frothy political romantic comedy and therefore a fun distraction from midterm elections, which are NOT frothy and fun.



If you haven't seen the movie, here's a brief synopsis: Dave, an affable, good-hearted DC temp agency owner, happens to bear a startling resemblance to a sleazy, philandering president. When the POTUS suffers a stroke, Dave is persuaded to stand in for him by the powers behind the throne...but when he sees how corrupt those powers are, he starts to seize the reins of power himself. Oh, and fall in love with the First Lady.

It's goofy and unbelievable. And I don't really buy into the idea that any average nice American would make a good president--it's an almost impossibly difficult job, and when I'm filling out my ballot or arguing for my choice at my party's caucus, I'm not thinking about which candidate I'd like to have a beer with or which one I'd rather have babysit my kid. I want, in no particular order, brains, toughness, pragmatism, and someone who broadly speaking shares my view of the world. But Dave isn't about all that, it's just one of the most charming romantic comedies I've ever seen.

So, if you're American, vote tomorrow. Or mail in your ballot, as the case may be. Washington is a vote-by-mail state, so I voted two weeks ago and am heartily sick of having to endure all the campaign ads anyway. And if you want a break from the depressing, cynicism-inducing side of the political process, rent Dave.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writing Weekend: A Bad Week

It's probably inevitable that the last week of October was a bad writing week for me. I was overdue, and I'd set myself up for it. Over the course of the month, I'd:

1) Sent in a proposal for next summer's RWA National entitled "How to Write Like a Full-Time Author When You Can't Quit Your Day Job."

2) Blogged about the same topic, and how I manage to write 1000 words/day most days, while a guest at Pink Fuzzy Slippers last week.

3) Generally been praised by lots of fellow writers for the amazing amount I get done despite having a full-time job and a kid.

That's the kind of thing that'll give a girl a case of hubris. But after this week, I'm feeling properly humble. I only wrote 1000 words or so all week, instead of the 5000-7000 I'd been managing earlier in the month. To add insult to injury, the chaos and lack of productivity didn't stay isolated to my writing--the house got messier, we lived off takeout and fast food while ingredients I'd bought to cook moldered in the fridge, and (no surprise) when I weighed in at Weight Watchers yesterday, I was up 0.8 lbs.

What went wrong?

1) I had a minor crisis at work, nothing earth-shattering, but one that forced me to spend a whole week working hard on my least favorite aspect of my job. This sapped my desire to make an effort toward everything else in my life.

2) I had a cold. Again, nothing dire, but enough to drain my energy for everything from writing to spending 45 minutes in the kitchen instead of 4 to 5 minutes looking up the menu and placing an order with Snappy Dragon.

3) I thought of a better approach to the opening chapters of my new manuscript. In the long run, this is a Good Thing, but in the short run it means going back to somewhere around the 2000-word mark of my 15,000-word manuscript and starting over. I was sufficiently annoyed at myself for not thinking of the better approach in the first place that I couldn't bring myself to sail straight into the new version without a break. (Really, Self, you had your heroine only MENACING her future mentor/friend/lover with a pistol instead of actually SHOOTING him?! A nice non-lethal GSW is a SO much better hook to end Chapter One.)

So what do I do about my Week of Fail? Well, I'm already past the feeling sorry for myself and self-berating stage--luckily for you who are reading this blog, as that stage isn't pretty. Since this is turning into a Post of Lists, here's my plan to make the first week of November better than the last one of October:

1) Accept that Weeks of Fail happen and don't make me a failure. I just had a bad week. It's happened before. It'll happen again. The key is to not let it turn into a Month of Fail.

2) Step away from my unrealistic to-do lists. I have a bad habit of overestimating how much I can get done in a given chunk of time, and so feel like a failure even if I've worked hard and accomplished a reasonable amount. Instead, I'm going to take a couple of weeks to focus on how much time I spend on work (broadly defined as everything from my day job to writing to cooking to blogging and so on...anything that's not pure leisure) rather than whether I can cross everything off my to-do list every day.

3) This is somewhat a contradiction to #2, but attempt NaNoWriMo. Why? Because it makes me feel excited rather than depressed about starting my manuscript all over again. I don't expect to get to 50,000 words by 11/30, because I'm expecting my line edits for A Marriage of Inconvenience mid-month. But I'll just subtract the number of days it takes me to do the edits and adjust my target word count accordingly.

So. That's the plan. Hopefully next weekend I'll have good progress to report.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Find: the Elephant & Piggie books

This week's Friday Find is a children's book series, because Friday Finds is all about the fun, unexpected discoveries I run across.

This week my daughter came home from library day at school with the latest addition to Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series, We Are in a Book. In it, the titular characters, realize at last, 13 books into their existence, that they are, in fact, characters in a book. After using their knowledge to persuade the reader to say silly words, Elephant has an existential crisis upon realizing that the book will end...but decides it's OK, because the reader can always go back and re-read. That's all there is to it, but it's hilarious and sweet, and is my second favorite in the series after There Is a Bird on Your Head.

If you've got a kid between the age of 3 and 7 in your life, you owe it to yourself to get these books. They're sweet without being cloying and manage to be funny for adults and children alike without ever telling jokes at the grown-ups above the kids' heads.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Welcome, Tia Nevitt!

Today I welcome another fellow Carina author, Tia Nevitt, whose Sevenfold Spell reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the perspective of an ordinary woman put out of work by the ban on spinning put in place to try to protect the princess.



Here's Tia:

Surprises about Being Published

Thank you, Susanna, for having me as your guest. Susanna suggested that I write about some of the things that surprised me about being published. The Sevenfold Spell is my first fiction sale, and it has been very exciting!

One big surprise was how supportive my publisher has been. As a reviewer who focused on debut novelists, I had heard all kinds of stories—all told in confidence by nervous authors—about authors who after the initial sale were ignored. Authors who found out about their cover art when they saw it on Amazon. Authors who had back cover copy written about their book that inadvertently made them look racist. Authors who discovered that their publisher had dropped them only when their emails stopped being answered.

In late July, I had an opportunity to go to a fabulous party given by Harlequin at the RWA conference. As part of the program, multi-published authors were recognized. One of the things that struck me was the incredible loyalty shown between Harlequin and the authors. There were authors who had written 25, 50, 75, 100 and even 200+ novels! I was astonished—especially when I recalled all those awful stories.

Another surprise is how the conversation changes between writers. On the Carina Press author loop, we don’t discuss query letters and submissions. We commiserate over bad reviews and celebrate good ones. We share publicity leads and offer guest posts on each other’s blogs.

Another big change—for the first time in four years, I’m no longer actively looking for an agent. If one comes along, I’ll be thrilled, but now I’m trying to get myself into a better position for an eventual agent hunt, with a strong ebook backlist.

I was also surprised by how quickly Carina Press is moving beyond ebooks. They call themselves digital first and they mean it. One group of novels has been selected to be published by Audible as audiobooks, and another, smaller group of mystery and suspense novels have been selected to go into print. I look forward to future similar developments!



The very biggest change for me is having a reader reaction. For so long, my work went unread except by a tiny handful of beta readers and critique partners, and one IRL friend. Now, total strangers are reading my work and picking it apart in public. When it first started, I had a bit of a panic attack, but I’m ok now. Even if I get a bad review, I can console myself by saying, “look at all those good ones, instead.” I do try to learn from the bad ones, if there is a lesson I can glean from the review.

Have you ever worked for something, and then found out that it wasn’t quite what you expected? Do share!

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I will be drawing a name from all commenters here and on my guest post earlier in the week for a special prize pack. It will contain an ecopy of The Sevenfold Spell, a book from my stash of unread review copies and advance copies (check the links for lists at Goodreads) and a $10 gift certificate at Amazon.com. Please leave your email address so I can find you if you win! I will draw a winner on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Research Wednesday: Performance

Not all or even most of my research posts are going to be about sex and how our ancestors thought and spoke about it. Yet it's an interesting topic because (almost) everybody does it, (almost) everybody cares about it, but it's hedged around with taboos in a way that other universal interests, like, say, eating and drinking, just aren't. Which leads to, among other things, euphemism--the subject of today's post.

While researching the Duke of Wellington, who's an important secondary character in my current manuscript, I ran across the following quote from a letter to his older brother William, lamenting the fact that their oldest brother Richard, Marquess Wellesley, was the subject of gossip and scandal for his sexual adventures: "I wish that Wellesley was castrated; or that he would like other people attend to his business & perform too. It is lamentable to see Talents & character & advantages such as he possesses thrown away upon Whoring." So have sex=perform. A handy euphemism, in that it's perfectly clear yet innocuous-sounding, and useful to the researcher insofar as vocabulary sheds another bit of light on how people of the 18th and 19th centuries thought about sex. Also, it's another example of the formality of the era--Wellington wasn't going to call his brother "Richard," even within the family, when he had a perfectly good title to use instead.

All this is the tiniest level of detail, of course, and maybe it doesn't mean much in the grand sweep of history. But it's those little details that make the past come alive for me as a writer and researcher.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guest post at Pink Fuzzy Slippers

Today I'm a guest at the Pink Fuzzy Slippers blog, talking about where I get my ideas and how I avoid giving writer's block power over me.

Stop by and say hi. One commenter wins a $10 Amazon gift certificate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Favorites Monday: The Chronicles of Narnia

As you might have guessed from my admiration of Almanzo Wilder's brown Morgans in last Monday's post, I was a horse-mad child. I read all of Marguerite Henry's books--King of the Wind was my favorite by far--all of Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, and anything else I could find with a horse on the cover.

When I was 9 or 10, the pastor of my childhood church came to me and said he had a book he thought I'd like because it was called The Horse and His Boy. Naturally I was intrigued--it had the H-word in it--so he loaned me a boxed set with all seven Chronicles of Narnia.

I read them. And when I'd finished The Last Battle, I put it down and picked up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again. Then my mother said if I was going to read them to shreds like I had with the Little House series, I shouldn't do so with borrowed books, so we gave Brother Todd his books back and bought me my own set. Which I proceeded to read to shreds.

Of course, they weren't the horse books I was expecting, but they were even better. I'd never read fantasy before, so Narnia opened up a whole new world of imaginative possibility for me. I loved the characters, especially Lucy and Aravis. And I couldn't help getting a feel for the author's personality, his love of beauty and sense of the numinous. I even wonder if part of the reason I fell in love with the British landscape when I finally got to see it firsthand, especially the more remote, mountainous areas like the Lake District and the Highlands, is that England and Scotland look like Narnia to me.



Just these past few months I've been reading the series to my daughter. I still love them, but not quite as much as I did as a child and young adult. I can see holes in the world-building I never noticed then. E.g. why were the people of Narnia so surprised by humans in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when there must've been humans aplenty in Archenland and Calormen the whole time? I'm far more aware now that Lewis was a man of his time when it came to race and gender issues, and while I'm too much of a historian myself to expect the people of the past to share my own values, I find myself glossing over and eliding certain sections as I read to my daughter. And I finally understand why the treatment of Susan's character annoys a lot of my friends. It never bothered me growing up that she got the short end of the stick, because I was much more an Aravis or Lucy type myself, growing up in a small-town Southern world that valued the beautiful, girly Susans more. But now I feel like it was a bit sloppy and, frankly, sexist of Lewis to equate "girliness" with being too shallow and superficial to remain a Friend of Narnia.

Still. That only puts a small dent in my love for the series.

I could talk about Lewis and Narnia at much greater length, but I've got my own books to write, dinner to cook, babysitting to find for the concert Mr. Fraser and I are going to Saturday, and so on. So I'll just say that if you'd like to read more, I enjoyed the New Yorker's Prisoner of Narnia article from a few years back.

What about you? Any childhood favorites that you look at through different eyes as an adult?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Writing Weekend: Finding the Path

Since the beginning of the month, I've been hard at work on a new manuscript that's currently 12,000 words long. Problem is, I had to write something like 20,000 words to get that 12K.

Or maybe that's not such a problem after all.

I'm a pantser--or at least I'm toward that end of the plotter-pantser continuum. For those of you unfamiliar with those terms, a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of her pants, without benefit of an outline or a lot of advance planning, while a plotter doesn't start writing her manuscript till she's prepared an outline, or interviewed her characters and written out their biographies, or drawn up elaborate charts illustrating her characters' goal, motivation, and conflict throughout the story.

At the most extreme end, I've met romance writing pantsers who aren't sure who the heroine will end up with when they start writing, and mystery pantsers who figure out whodunnit right alongside their characters. I'm not that extreme. I always have some idea how the story will end. Usually I have several vividly imagined scenes that come to me in the first rush of enthusiasm over a new idea. I just don't know how exactly how I'm going to get to them. It's as if those scenes are mountains along the horizon, and the writing process is figuring out how to get there.



The reason it's taken me 20,000 words to produce a 12,000-word start to a manuscript is that twice I've been in the middle of a scene and gotten a feeling that something was wrong. What I thought was a trail leading to the beautiful snow-capped volcanic peak of my first major turning point actually got me lost in a tangle of thorny blackberry vines. (Volcanoes and blackberries both being beauties--or hazards--of my local Northwestern environment.)



So I did the sensible thing. I cursed--metaphorical blackberry vines can be almost as prickly as the real thing--carefully backed out until I could see the mountain again, and tried a new way to get there. Part of me hates doing that. It makes my word count sound so much less impressive. But one of my critique partners pointed out I used to be much slower at identifying those wrong paths. As in, finish a manuscript and have to start over from scratch slower. Far better to catch the problems right away.



And really, 12,000 words with eight days left in the month isn't bad at all. I shoot for 10K/month minimum when I'm in draft mode, so I'm there with room to spare. It's just hard to let go of that perfectionist vision that this time I'll write 1000 words/day, every day, and that all the scenes will be the right ones, none of this standing surrounded by blackberry thorns and wondering where that mountain has got to.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Find: The Pericles Commission

When I started this blog post early Thursday evening, it was all about how I was going to take the risk of talking about a book I was only halfway through. In the interim several hours I’ve mowed my way to the end, even though it’s now late Thursday night and I still have to write this blog post, add 400 words to my current manuscript to meet my daily quota, pack lunches for my daughter and myself, and finish our weekly grocery order before I can sleep. (We get our groceries delivered by Amazon Fresh, a lovely time-saving perk of living in the Seattle metropolitan area.)

The book in question is The Pericles Commission, by Gary Corby, a historical mystery with a fictional sleuth working to solve a real-life murder, that of Ephialtes, a statesman who helped establish Athenian democracy nearly 2500 years ago. Our sleuth is Nicolaos, the ambitious 20-year-old son of a sculptor who gets pulled into the investigation when the corpse literally lands at his feet, having fallen from the Areopagus (a rocky bluff in Athens, later known as Mars Hill).

I discovered Gary’s blog months and months before the book came out, because I follow his agent, Janet Reid. I kept going back because Gary always has interesting things to say and because he writes about one of my favorite historical eras, Greece in the 5th century BCE. My interests focus on the Greco-Persian Wars, just a smidge before Corby’s setting, but I’ve read stacks of nonfiction on the era. (I particularly recommend Persian Fire and Lords of the Sea.) So I was delighted to find an author bringing that world to life through fiction.

As you can guess by my speedy reading, I thoroughly enjoyed the result. Nicolaos is an appealing narrator who does a good job introducing the reader to the complex customs of ancient Athens, there’s a nice romantic subplot with a perfect partner in crime-solving, well-developed secondary characters, and a good mix of humor with action and political scheming. I look forward to Book Two next year.

Oh, if you’re planning to read The Pericles Commission, don’t look up Ephialtes on Wikipedia. The result is mildly spoilery.