Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Proctorizing

I am a notoriously picky reader.  I have such a reputation for abandoning books half-read that my writers' group has coined a word for the act of giving up on a book without finishing it: they call it "proctorizing." As in, "This book was so boring, I finally proctorized it."

I haven't always been this way. Time was, once I started a book, I'd plow through to the end largely I suspect because the idea of NOT finishing it--of judging it--never occurred to me. But once I started writing, I carried the habit of scrutinizing word choice and pacing, characterization and plot structure from my own work to the books I was reading. I grew impatient. My To Be Read pile was growing, my time for reading shrinking. I started proctorizing. Sometimes I would proctorize half a dozen books in a row--books by very successful NYT bestselling authors I won't name because this is a small business and saying nasty things about other authors can come back to bite you in the ass. The list of authors I enjoy is short. My editor once actually snapped at me for this, because editors like to ask their writers' favorite authors for quotes.

Then, about a year ago, I decided I needed to break this proctorizing habit. And so, when an author started losing me, I didn't allow myself to put the book down but would plow through determinedly to the end. As a result, I read a string of books by popular authors whose works I'd never been able to finish. And you know what? At the end of each one, I found myself thinking, "Well, that was a waste of time."

A couple of weeks ago, I gave myself permission to abandon my short-lived resolution and go back to proctorizing. Life is too short, and my TBR pile too high (piles, actually; that's a photo of one, above). Ironically, I then stumbled upon a book I thoroughly enjoyed--The Two Minute Rule, by Robert Crais. For years, one of the members of my writers' group has been singing Crais's praises, but while I'd added a couple of his books to my TBR pile, I'd never been able to bring myself to try one largely because this friend (sorry, Sphinx Ink!) also absolutely loves a certain other bestselling author whose popularity mystifies me. Crais does not have the literary inclinations of James Lee Burke or Martin Cruz Smith (my two favorite mystery/thriller writers); he's a Hollywood screenwriter, after all. But I found this particular book brilliantly plotted and emotionally satisfying. So I tried one of Crais's Elvis Cole books and found it, again, masterfully plotted, gripping, and frankly fun. So I've looked up his backlist and I'm dizzy with delight at the thought of all those books I now have to read.

So, what about you? Do you proctorize books?

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Friday, May 08, 2015


I've spent the past I-don't-know-how-many weeks rereading the entire Sebastian St. Cyr series and taking copious notes. And I'm FINALLY finished.

It was quite an experience, alternately fun, insightful, and (when I found mistakes) horrifying. The most hilarious error I discovered was one place where instead of "Mayfair" there was "Mayflower." Seriously! Apart from being a weird mindslip in the first place, how did that slide past my dozen or so rereadings, my editor, the copyeditor, and whatever minions are supposed to read the galleys after I go over them? Oh, oh, oh.

At any rate, the fat notebook you see in the photo above is the result of the last weeks' labors, all 100-plus pages of it. I even drew a family tree for Sebastian that stretches back 200 years (no,you can't see it!).

I'm now starting back to work on Where the Dead Lie. And one other thing I did last week was approve the new cover for #11, When Falcons Fall, due out in March of 2016. It's by the same illustrator as the last several books, and we have a new model who looks much more like my own personal vision of Sebastian. It'll be interesting to see if y'all agree. I've asked for permission to reveal the cover, so hopefully that will be coming through soon. Stay tuned.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wondering What the Next Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Is About?

My editor and I have spent the better part of the last two days tweaking the cover copy for WHEN FALCONS FALL, sending versions back and forth, agonizing over every little word. For those not familiar with the term, the "cover copy" is the blurb on the cover that tells readers what a book is about. So without further ado, here is the copy for WHEN FALCONS FALL (in stores March 2016).

The tragic death of an enigmatic young stranger draws Sebastian St. Cyr and his wife, Hero, into a perilous tangle of passion and intrigue in this breathtaking new mystery from the “best historical thriller writer in the business.” 

Ayleswick-on-Teme, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has come to this seemingly peaceful Shropshire village on the Welsh borderlands to honor a slain friend and on a quest to learn more about his own unknown ancestry. But when the body of a lovely young widow is found on the banks of the River Teme, a bottle of laudanum at her side, the village’s inexperienced new magistrate turns to St. Cyr for help.

Almost immediately, Sebastian realizes that Emma Chance did not, in truth, take her own life. Less easy to discern is exactly how she died, and why. For as Sebastian and Hero soon discover, Emma was hiding much about her real identity, and her purported sketching excursion to Ayleswick concealed a far more grave intention. Also troubling are the machinations of Lucien Bonaparte, the handsome, estranged brother of the megalomaniac French Emperor Napoleon. Held captive in the neighborhood under the British government’s watchful eye, the younger Bonaparte is restless, ambitious, and possibly involved in sinister intrigues.

Sebastian’s investigation takes on new urgency when he discovers that Emma Chance was not the first, or even the second, beautiful young woman in the village to die under suspicious circumstances. Home to an ancient, hauntingly ruined monastery, Ayleswick reveals itself to be a dark and dangerous place of deadly secrets that have festered among the villagers for decades—and a violent past that may tell Sebastian more than he wants to know about his own unsettling origins.  And as he faces his most diabolical opponent ever, he is forced to consider what malevolence he’s willing to embrace in order to destroy a killer.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading Myself

I've always made it a practice to never read my own books after they're published.

I still remember the rapture of receiving the very first copy of my very first published book, Night in Eden, nearly 20 years ago now. Bubbling over with excitement, I opened it, and my eye immediately fell on a typo. Eek! Then I flipped a few pages and found a mistake inserted by some well-meaning person after I'd seen the galleys (they italicized First Fleet, evidently thinking it was the name of a ship). I slapped the book closed, and that was it.

As a result, I haven't read What Angels Fear since I read the galleys back in 2004. And when you're writing a series, that's not a good idea. So a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath and sat down to start reading my own series, from book one on through.

In some ways, it's been fun. But in other ways, it's painful. There are things I know now that I didn't know I didn't know ten years ago. (It's the things you don't know you don't know that get you every time; if I know I don't know something, I look it up.) Those mistakes make me cringe.  And while I started out keeping continuity notes, I've since realized I didn't write down everything I should have, and I haven't been very good about keeping them up, either. It's one of those things I tell myself I'll do later, except by then I'm deep into the next book. (Yes, I'm doing it now.)

The one thing that made me laugh is a change my editor requested in the first book. You have to understand that I had been thinking about the backstory and personal story arc of this series for years before I ever started writing it. As originally envisioned, Sebastian fell in love with Kat when he was 21 and just down from Oxford, and Kat was 16. He was in the army six years, and by the beginning of Angels had been back in England since the previous spring, making it seven years since he'd first fallen in love with her. Well, my editor wanted me to make Kat seventeen, because while sixteen would have been just fine back in the nineteenth century, she (or perhaps someone else in the publishing house) worried that it might offend modern sensibilities. So I changed it, although I wasn't happy about it, and it messed things up a bit, reducing the time he was in the army to five years, and requiring him to have been down from Oxford a year before he met her, which didn't work so well, either.

And then, obviously because I had always thought of the story my way, I promptly forgot the changes. (I also never changed the continuity notes I'd already made on that book.) I found one place in the middle of When Gods Die that is consistent with the years given in Angels (that's probably where I was in the manuscript when she asked me to make Kat older). But in every book I've read since (I'm just starting Maidens), I slid back into the timetable I originally envisioned. It was a serious shock to be reading Angels and see seventeen... five years....  I literally said out loud, "Oh, hell! How did I forget we did that?"

Which leaves me with something of a quandary. Because the lovely thing about modern publishing is that you can change a book after it's published. True, you can't change the ones that are already out there in print, but you can change the ebook. Any subsequent editions can also be changed (Angels has gone back to press half a dozen times or more). Obviously, my preference is to change the timeline in Angels back to what it originally was, rather than change all the books since then. Of course, my editor might not like that (I've yet to point out the shift to her). But given that she slid right over the sixteen in all the later books, it must not have offended her after all?

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

New Sebastian St. Cyr Audio Book: WHEN GODS DIE

Recorded Books has just released the audio version of the second book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, WHEN GODS DIE. Once again the narrator is Davina Porter.

I know that Recorded Books has gone back and bought the rights to the earlier books they didn't produce, so they will all be available eventually. But I don't have a clue what their production schedule is. In fact, the first notice I get that one is in the works is when the cover shows up in my email inbox, usually just days before the release.

But I must say, I do like this cover.

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