Cindy Silberblatt, Fan Guest of Honor
I just came back from my first "Malice Domestic." Held in Bethesda, this annual mystery convention focuses on traditional mysteries.
Some highlights for me:
1. This morning, I had the fun of being interviewed for two minutes by Cindy Silverblatt, the Fan Guest of Honor. Using the parlance of the convention, she was a hoot! Amazingly enough, she engaged 26 debut authors with ease...and even stayed on task (although the author Barb Goffman's expert use of the stopwatch no doubt helped rein in the writers.). My new friend, Lynn Raimondo, author of the much acclaimed Dante's Wood, was also a part of this stellar group.
I can't wait to check out these awesome books!
3. And the last highlight?
Well, it was meeting one of my literary idols, Charles Todd, or at least the female half of the famed mother-son writing team. I can only dream of collaborating with one of my own children as she and her son have done in writing their terrific books.I had Caroline sign a book for my mother, and as she did, I mumbled something about how reading her stories helped inspire to find my way in historical fiction. I'm sure I made no sense, but she was very gracious and asked for my card.
(Inside, I was dancing around, thinking 'Maybe she will read my book!!!' but of course I was totally nonchalant. Well not really.)But of course, some lessons were learned by yours truly:One day, if I remember, I'll post a longer entry about what I've learned from attending these mystery conferences. For now, I'll just say:
- Don't leave your nametag in your room like I did, especially if you are a completely unrecognizable debut author!
- Bring your own books, in case your own books do not show up. (sigh...)
- However, people do care when unfortunate things happen. (The incredibly kind booksellers from Scene of the Crime books went and got a few copies for me, so I would have something to sign at the conference!)
- Being gracious and humble goes a long way, and being the opposite is, well, uncool.
Maybe I'll see you at Malice Domestic next year!
My book started years ago, when I was a graduate student, pouring over 17th century murder ballads. The ballads served as musical 'true accounts' of murderers who wrote letters to their victims, urging them to rendezvous in dark deserted fields. I knew I had to write about these monsters. I drank lots of coffee. I spent years writing this first book, scene by scene, in little half hour bursts, at coffee shops, on the train, when the kids were sleeping, until one day--in 2010-- I finished. Even my husband--alpha reader extraordinaire--did not know much about the story. "It's set in the seventeenth century," I'd mumble. "A servant gets killed. Another servant tries to figure it out. Stuff like that."But eventually, I asked him and a few other trusted friends to read the book. I revised again, queried, queried, queried, while writing an entirely different book in the interim. In 2011, I got my wonderful agent who quickly connected me to my equally wonderful editor at Minotaur. My journey was no longer an imaginary jaunt; the path to publication was suddenly very real. In 2012, more changes happened. The title of my book got changed. My publication date got pushed back. My beautiful cover was revealed. Multiple revisions happened. Copy edits made me crazy, but I learned a lot in the process. I had my first public appearance as a novelist ("2 minutes at Bouchercon"). At some point, I received my ARCs.2013. Months still passed. My book began to be publicized. I reached the 100 Day mark. Another few months passed. My book started to be reviewed. My hardback copy came in the mail. And now...Be still my heart...
MY BOOK IS FINALLY HERE!!!!
Thanks to all my colleagues, friends and family--especially my husband--who made this possible!!!!
Date: 1688 Reel position: Wing / 853:61
Fans of Sherlock Holmes may be intrigued to know that the first known female sleuth in England was Anne Kidderminster (nee Holmes), a seventeenth-century widow who tracked down and brought her husband’s murderer to justice thirteen years after the crime. To find out more, check out my guest blog over on Criminal Element
, found under the excerpt of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.
Lovely cover, don't you think?
I'm delighted to be joined today by the talented Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice, historical thrillers set in Reformation England. From the official blurb:
In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Aristocrat-turned-novice Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king's torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.
Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…
"In the midst of England’s Reformation, a young novice will risk everything to defy the most powerful men of her era."
The other day, I came across a comment you'd made about The Chalice. “I wrote a novel set five centuries ago, in a country I don’t live in, about a religion I don’t practice.” So, tell us, what in the world inspired The Chalice?
NB: Both The Crown and The Chalice come from my lifelong passion for English history, which defies all explanation. I know that the conventional wisdom in fiction is “Write what you know,” but I always love entering new worlds in my reading, far from my daily experience. There have been plenty of novels written about modern life in New York City and I am sure they’re quite good but I haven’t read them. I’d rather watch “Game of Thrones” than “Sex in the City.”
The Chalice, set at a key moment in the English Reformation--in 1538--is a carefully researched novel. What was your favorite part of doing the research? Least favorite?
NB: I have a sizable home library of nonfiction books on England, acquired at a steady clip since I was a teenager. I drew on that base of knowledge when coming up with the broad outline of the plot for The Crown and The Chalice. Then I would do deep dives into certain areas that I needed detail on: life in a priory of Dominican nuns; the mystery behind the missing body of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury; the menu of a dinner in an aristocratic household; travel by boat from England to Flanders. All sorts of things! I love finding the little details that I can use to make a scene come alive, such as what would be served as breakfast to Dominican friars in the 1530s. My least favorite is when I can’t find what I need and it’s delaying the writing. But I am stubborn; I keep going until I learn enough to help my story.
Joanna Stafford—a former novice—is an unconventional heroine for any time period. Tell us about your thought process as you developed her character.
NB: I wanted her to be genuinely pious but to be a real person too, with frailties and flaws, such as a quick temper. Strong but sometimes reckless. Intelligent but naïve. It was important to me that I create a dimensional person.
I'm still on a hiatus from this blog for a little while longer...but I've been having fun writing guest posts and doing interviews for other blogs, webzines and even my local paper. To see what I've been writing about, please check out my virtual tour. Also, I received the official HARD COPY of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate yesterday in the mail!!!! That's about as exciting as it gets!!!Oh, and my book was selected as a Barnes & Noble Booksellers' Pick for April! What an honor...I'm thrilled!
English: "A Mad Dog in a Coffee-House" (1809) by Rowlandson, showing a rabid dog terrorizing a coffee house in 18th century England (possibly Garrison's or Jonathan's, near the Exchange)
Such chaos! Such mayhem! Okay, that's all I've got. There's a caricature in here somewhere, but I'd have to do a little research to figure it out. Unfortunately, I don't have the time...Once again, I need to take an extended coffee break, aka temporary blog hiatus. I knew I was having a minor problem when I kept starting posts with no time to finish them.
- The introduction of chocolate into 17th England? A fascinating tale of politics and intrigue, but one that will have to wait.
- The real story of St. Patrick...Happy St. Palladius Day anyone? Yup, I wanted to tell that tale too, but ran out of time. I'll tell it next year.
So I'll be finishing gallons of coffee in my attempt to balance work, teaching and writing...all while doing publicity stuff for A Murder at Rosamund's Gate...did I mention that it's coming out April 23? :-) But I'll be back soon!
In the meantime, I'll leave you with the above image as a writing prompt. What's going on here? What schemes are afoot? Or most simply of all, Who let the dog in? Happy writing!
A QUICK EXPLANATION OF THE IMAGE!!!
I just had to research the meaning behind this image (despite being on my self-imposed blog hiatus). In doing so, I came across this interesting work by Joseph Grego, who wrote extensively about Rowlandson in 1922. He offers an interesting explanation of the painting that gets at the shifting economic concerns at the time.
In his own inimitable words, Grego writes:
"March 20, 1809. The advent of a nondescript animal, … assumed to be a ferocious mad dog, has produced the utmost terror and confusion amongst the grave frequenters of a mercantile coffee-house… All the city brokers, and pillars of change found therein are seared out of their sober senses; some…are paralyzed with fear; others are trying to creep under the tables; a few are seeking escape by the door which they are effectually blocking; and groups of affrighted fugitives are endeavoring to gain the refuge of the staircase….Comfortable citizens are thrown on their backs, like turtles, and trodden on, while the pressure of viler bodies above is expressing a stream of specie from the well-filled pockets of the overthrown…."
So what does all this mean?
Essentially, something seemingly innocuous has pervaded the economy, and it will cause mayhem. The explanation for this mayhem apparently can be found on the advertisment (notice) stuck on the back wall, which offers an important piece of shipping intelligence.
The notice warns 'lay off Barking Creek," the location of a large fishing fleet in London.
Barking Creek...rabid dog, get it?
(but now back to writing!)
Early English books tract supplement interim guide ; / E4:2 Date 16--?
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a free copy of Deborah Swift's atmospheric The Gilded Lily (St. Martin's Griffin, 2012), a historical novel set in Restoration England. She was gracious enough to let me interview her on my blog today.
*************************************************** The official synopsis: England 1660
Ella Appleby believes she is destined for better things than slaving as a housemaid and dodging the blows of her drunken father. When her employer dies suddenly, she seizes her chance--taking his valuables and fleeing the countryside with her sister for the golden prospects of London. But London may not be the promised land she expects. Work is hard to find, until Ella takes up with a dashing and dubious gentleman with ties to the London underworld. Meanwhile, her old employer's twin brother is in hot pursuit of the sisters.
Set in a London of atmospheric coffee houses, gilded mansions, and shady pawnshops hidden from rich men's view, Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is a dazzling novel of historical adventure.**********************************************************************************
What inspired you to write The Gilded Lily?
When I originally began The Gilded Lily I was interested in the fact that the ideal of women’s beauty has changed over time. The years when England was suddenly released from the grip of Puritanism seemed an ideal choice to set a novel about beauty and greed. In many ways the 1660s were like the 1960s and at that time there was a great flowering of interest in fashion, the theatre, beautiful women (and men!) and a more laissez-faire lifestyle. The Gilded Lily in the novel is the name of a place where women go to buy perfumes and potions, an enterprise I thought fitted well into this new culture of hedonism.
Why did you set your story in 166o?
I have always been fascinated by the Restoration – I used to design theatre costumes and did a couple of plays from this period and just loved the whole look. It was a very narrow period of celebration between Puritan rule and the outbreak of the Plague and then the Fire of London in 1665 and 1666.
But also London in the 17th century had a much darker face hidden beneath the glamour – it was a much less tolerant society than our own, a magnification of all our vices of bigotry, fear of another’s differences and cruelty to others less fortunate than ourselves. Class structures were more fiercely guarded and it was hard to claw your way upward to a reasonable standard of living.
How did you go about researching your story? Did your work as a set and costume designer for the BBC inform your research?
I usually spend about six months altogether researching before writing. Most of the research is about ordinary every day objects we take for granted – such as the price of a pair of gloves, or how far a hired horse can gallop in a day. (I spent a lot of time figuring out this conundrum too!-SC). My previous job helps in that I already have research methods in place, and a good basic knowledge of most periods from my experience designing plays. I also have some contacts who are experts in their field who I can ask when I'm stuck! I use books, the internet and museums. Sometimes I need to write to people or interview them for the information I need. For this novel I had to research pawn-broking, wig-making and gunpowder manufacture as well as the apothecary’s ingredients for beauty products.
If you had lived in the 1660s, what kind of occupation/station/life could you imagine yourself having? Or put another way, if you wrote yourself into the novel, what kind of character would you be?
Well not gunpowder manufacturing or wig-making, that's for sure! Ella and Sadie try these and they are not my idea of fun! Most working women worked cripplingly long hours for little pay so I think I would prefer to be the rich daughter of a man who could afford to send me to The Gilded Lily for my perfumes and potions. On second thoughts, perhaps not, as most of the skin creams contained white lead, mercury, or other dangerous substances. But I did read that there were lots of bookstalls in St Paul's Church, so perhaps I'd be a bookseller! Or even print up my own anonymous chapbooks or pamphlets.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned while writing your novel?
One of the most surprising was that the average age of the population of London at that time was very young. Of course people generally died younger, and 85,000 men had been lost in the Civil Wars, and young men took their places. Some men were sitting in Parliament at only 16 years old. Large gangs of youths - displaced from their homes or who had been soldiers in the armies - roamed the city searching for employment. What a place to put two naive country girls!
How long did it take you to write The Gilded Lily? How many drafts did it take?
It took just over eighteen months, though I had been mulling the idea for longer. I do a rough draft first with only basic research to draft the storyline. Then I research in more depth and the storyline develops and deepens. Sometimes it changes if the research leads me in a different direction. A third draft is about smaller details and characterisation. After that I draft and edit until I think it's ready, which can be about changing whole sections, or about worrying over a single word.
What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Don't be in too much of a hurry to get the book out there. Editing is vital. In your editing process you can check through each character's scenes for consistency to make sure they are real people. If you are self-publishing make sure you get a professional editor. I'm lucky in that I have a publisher and a great editorial team behind my books. There are many good books being self-published now which could have been GREAT books, given an outside editorial eye. We need great books and great new writers so why settle for anything less?
And what are you working on now?My next book is called 'A Divided Inheritance'. It is set in Stuart England and Golden Age Spain and tells the story of a lace trader's daughter who has to travel to Seville to save her beloved home and rescue her inheritance from her firebrand cousin. It will be out in October 2013.
It will be hard to wait till October, that's for sure! Thank you, Dee! Deborah can be reached through her website (www.deborahswift.co.uk), Blog (www.deborahswift.blogspot.com)or through twitter @swiftstory.
From time to time, I've thought to myself I'd like to find more sports-related books for my children.
Today I opened a care package from my mother. Inside, were the usual niceties she likes to send: activity books for the kids, some little notepads and stickers, some coupons and...a book.
The book was called Winning. A Novel by Robin Brancato.
This book looked familiar to me. I thought, 'Oh, my parents must have found one of my old books up in the attic, and decided to include it in the care package.'
Well, yes and no. It was one of my old books. Inside, was the elaborate scrawl that I used to sign my books with, along with the date I had acquired it. April 9, 1988. In the corner someone had penciled $3.00, so it was clearly bought second-hand from my local Wynnefield Library book sale (remember, the most beautiful library in the world).
I don't know why I had picked it up as a teenager, actually, since I never really liked sports-themed books. As it turned out, though, Winning is the story of a young football player whose life is turned upside down by tragedy, so not a typical sports story at all. Although I only read this one once, it was an extremely compelling read. But when I left home to go to graduate school in 1993, I remember giving away a bunch of my old books to a local Goodwill, a few towns away from my parent's house in Philadelphia. Winning was one of those books.
In the note I received today, my mother wrote: "We found this book in the Overbrook Train Station Book Swap." The Overbrook train station is just a few blocks from my parent's home in Philadelphia.So, almost exactly TWENTY YEARS LATER, the book returned to my parents, and they returned it to me. Where has the book been for twenty years? I'll never know. I do know I will save it for my children to read--I don't think they would have ever read this amazing story otherwise.
But maybe this is just a reminder that sometimes when you throw a question to the universe, you never know how you'll be answered...and perhaps that's the fun of it.
What do you think? Have you ever tossed a question to the universe and seen it answered in strange ways?
I posted this a few days ago, but I realized there's one more important thing to remember!!!
Tonight I am going to do something I haven't done since I was in grad school.
I am going to get a pair of scissors and physically cut up the first two chapters of my current work-in-progress (WIP).
Sure, I know about the cut-and-paste function in Word. Sure, I've heard of outlines. This extreme method of cutting probably seems crazy.
But I have to say, it is easiest way I know to physically see all the redundancies, missing passages, dangling storylines, etc. that can really plague a manuscript.
Plus, it's fun. And somewhat cathartic. Most importantly, it lets the WIP know who's boss.
From experience, though, I've learned a few things...
1. Don't cut more than 20 pages at a time. More that then, then you'll just end up weeping in a corner, looking at the little scraps of paper all over the living room floor. Which leads me to point two.
2. Don't try this on your desk or at the kitchen table. You'll never have enough room to see all the scraps at once. You'll need an entire floor to work on. Which leads me to point three.
3. Choose a floor where the cat won't roll around. Nearly impossible in my house. But I have a solution to this problem. Lay out an empty box next to your scraps. Your cat will stay in the box.
4. Number as you go. Personally, I use elaborate coding schemes, numbering my paragraphs in the order they go. 1A, 1B, insert 2D here, put 1/2 of 17 here, and last half of 13 here. But sometimes I forget my ordering system. So, 4a. Don't forget your coding scheme.
5. Don't forget the tape!!! The best part of this process is taping together your newly structured WIP. You'll feel really invigorated and happy, I promise. But this brings me to point six.
6. Pour yourself a nice glass of wine. No, not to celebrate. That comes later. But rather to ease the inevitable shrieking and tearing of hair that will occur when you realize that you have to sit down at the computer and make all these tedious changes.
7. Promise yourself that next time, really, you will write in a more orderly way. If not, it's on to chapter 3 and step one above.
But I'm curious! Has anyone else done this old school cutting and pasting? Do you find it works? Or am I raving bonking mad?
And now my addendum...
8. Don't double-side when you print! Like I did. Boo!!! Sort of defeats the whole purpose.