Sunday, July 31, 2011

Peaceful Coexistence

This cat and chicken live around the corner from my mom's old house. The owner is a little old man; sometimes the three of them will sit out on the porch together, but usually it's just the cat and the chicken. We've been trying to get a picture of them for ages, and Steve finally managed it this past weekend.

Talk about unlikely friends....

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Language Usage in Historicals


I’m in the midst of one of my least favorite writing tasks—going over the copyedited manuscript for When Maidens Mourn (Sebastian Number Seven). This manuscript has very, very few copyeditor’s balloons in it (to the point I’m worrying), but almost every one I’m finding is a query on word usage. As in, “The term ‘jawline’ dates to 1924; please consider rewording.”

As far as I’m concerned, the solution to that one is fairly simple: either leave it as is to conform to modern spelling, or separate it into two words to be true to the period but have the self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis come down on you (well, on me). Roofline (1857) falls into the same category. Hard-pressed (1825) can be changed to sorely pressed. But other words are much harder to deal with. Did you know that booed didn’t enter the dictionary until 1884? So what did they say? Heckled? But that conjures a different image, doesn’t it? Wooden-faced arrived in 1859. Confetti in 1815. Tic in 1834. So, what word did they use before then? Would modern readers even know what it meant, if I could find it?

Complicating all this is the fact that the Powers That Be sometimes get these word origin dates wrong. I remember I changed “tenement” in What Angels Fear because I was told it didn’t come into usage until the mid-century. Since then, I’ve seen it used in a passage from the first decade of the century. (So there.) Likewise, I’m told that Cyprian didn’t come into usage until 1819, yet Beau Brummell gave his famous Cyprians’ Ball in the Argyl Rooms in 1813. Doppelganger entered English language dictionaries in 1851, yet was used by Continental writers as early as 1796 (and is being used by Sebastian St. Cyr in 1812 because, I’m sorry, nothing else will work and we can all assume that Sebastian, clever man that he is, has heard of it). The term toad eater is said to date to 1742; does that mean I can use ‘toadying,’ even though it wasn’t in dictionaries until 1859?

Even trickier are words like chain gang, supposedly not used until 1834. Except that French prisoners of war were set to work in chain gangs. So what did they call them? I suspect chain gangs. I changed "guttersnipe" (1869) to tatterdemalion, which is true to the period but will doubtless send my readers scurrying for their own dictionaries.

The truth is, words frequently enter the English language because they fill a vacant niche. What did we use before we borrowed schadenfreude from the Germans? And is there another word that quite conveys the image of starburst (1959)?

So I change queried words when I can find a way around them. But if I can’t come up with something that says what I want to say without sounding awkward or imprecise, I’ll leave a word—like self-congratulatory (1833)-- even though the dictionaries say it wasn’t yet in use. Because I’m writing a story, not a dictionary.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Lake Therapy and Some Covers

I spent this past week up at our lake house, writing feverishly. The first part of this book (Sebastian Number Eight) has been giving me fits (I typically have trouble with the first part of my books). But by giving myself the time and space to do nothing but focus on my story, I think I’ve finally worked past that.

This next week is going to be devoted getting my younger daughter ready to move into her apartment up in Baton Rouge, where she’ll be starting graduate school next month. Then I’m hoping to head back to the lake for another intensive session in August. I can’t believe I'm already talking about August. Where has this summer gone?

Oddly enough, while much of the rest of the country has been sweltering, New Orleans has been relatively cool the last few weeks. We’ve had lots of rain, which has dropped our average temperatures ten degrees down into the high 80s. Normally at this time of year, I shut all my windows and doors and just hunker down to endure until fall. But I actually spent part of today sitting out on my porch swing. Wonderful.

Recorded Books has now posted the cover of their audio version of Where Shadows Dance, so I’m allowed to show you the entire image:

If you right click on the image it will take you to a larger version. I like it. Very evocative and moody.

And for those of you awaiting the mass market paperback edition of What Remains of Heaven, a box of these just landed on my doorstep:

I tried to get them to change the cover for the mass market edition, but I should have known that was never going to happen...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Full Monty Moment


This past weekend my daughter and I watched Calendar Girls, a 2003 British film about a group of middle-aged Yorkshire village women who decide to raise money for charity by producing an “artistic” nude calendar. I found it pleasantly entertaining and funny until about the two-thirds mark, when the movie lost its way. It began as a heartwarming story about a group of likable women who come to grips with aging and death by learning to embrace life, only to turn into some sort of Faustian tale about the temptations and repercussions of fame. It was no longer funny, or pleasant, but squirmishly uncomfortable, and I found myself wandering out to do laundry, get some tea, whatever, until the final, low key but gently-pleasing denouement.

But when you’re a writer, even a less-than-perfect book or movie can have something to teach you. In hitting Le Google to see if the move was, indeed, based on a true story (it was), I found this gem by critic Derek Elley. Elley praises the film for its gentle and likeable (“if sometimes dramatically wobbly”) spirit, and notes almost in passing the film’s lack of a “big Full Monty-like finale to send audiences buzzing into the streets.”

And I thought, Wow. The Full Monty Moment. Is there any better phrase to describe a pitch-perfect ending that provides both a satisfying finale and an uplifting rush?

The Full Monty is a great story about a group of unemployed steelworkers who rediscover their self-confidence and self-respect by putting on a male strip show. Its masterful screenplay almost never wobbles, and certainly never forgets its theme. And when those guys finally go out on stage, when we watch them successfully pull off (no pun intended) what once looked like a joke and see them smiling and full of confidence, the moment is magic. One can easily imagine theatre audiences spilling into the streets, as Elley notes, all abuzz with the experience (buzz is good; it sells movie tickets and books).

Of course, not every tale contains such a pleasantly uplifting moment within it. Some stories are dark and depressing and require a different sort of moment entirely. And some tales are simply inherently wobbly and gentle, and leave you with a warm glow rather than a rush. In thinking back on Calendar Girls, I’m not sure one could really fault the screenwriter for either the movie's unevenness or its lack of a “Full Monty Moment.” If there was another way to tell that story, I don’t see it. The truth is, some story ideas are basically flawed; even in the hands of a master, they will never produce a truly grand product. Does that mean those stories should never be told? Not necessarily. Despite its shortcomings, Calendar Girls was enjoyable and heartwarming (and profitable—that’s important). If the filmmakers had canned their project when they realized it didn’t a have a “Full Monty Moment,” they would have been making a mistake.

But I do love that phrase and the concept it encapsulates. It’s something for a writer to keep in mind when considering a story idea: “Does this story contain within it the potential for a grand Full Monty Moment?”

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Fun and Games with Amazon’s Author Central has a feature on their book pages they call More About the Author. (“Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more. Visit Amazon’s So-and-So Page.”) It’s something authors need to set up themselves, with the result that every time I visit Amazon and am reminded of this feature’s existence, I get a nasty sinking feeling. It’s the same harassed niggling I experience whenever I realize just how big the weeds in my poor neglected garden have grown, or when I quickly close the door on a closet while thinking, Someday I have got to clean that thing out. I guess you could call it that I-know-I-need-to-do-this-but-oh-jeez-I-don’t-have-time-and-I-know-it’s-going-to-be-a-hassle feeling.

Well, today I decided, That’s it; I need to set up an Amazon Author page so that readers can find all the books I’ve written under my various names. Whereupon I was quickly reminded of why I avoid things like this.

I began by metaphorically rolling up my sleeves and going to the page for Where Shadows Dance on Amazon to click the “Are you this author?” link. Down the rabbit hole we go.

First, I typed in my email address. But because that email addy is linked to my Amazon account under my own name, Candice Proctor, the system automatically pulled up all my Candice Proctor historical romances and asked, “Are these your books?” Oh, this is easy, I thought. When I replied, “Yes,” they told me they would need to verify my email address with my old romance publisher. But once that was done, they assured me, I could add any of my other books that hadn’t come up.

Sounds simple, right? So, while waiting for Random House to respond to Amazon’s inquiry, I merrily set about uploading a short bio and photo to my new author page. Random House obviously responded quite quickly, because I soon got a little ding from my inbox telling me all systems were go.

Except they weren’t.

As I quickly discovered, Amazon only allows you to list books on your author page that are written under that name; you need to create separate author pages for each pseudonym. Only, when I tried to do that, I hit a snag. I wrote Amazon an email. “Since the system does not allow different pseudonym pages to be merged, how do I create multiple author pages using one email address? In other words, I would like to create pages for C.S. Harris and C.S. Graham, but when I try to sign up using my email address, I am immediately taken to the Candice Proctor page.”

I received a quick, friendly, cheerful response:

I'm sorry for any inconvenience caused. Yes, as you mentioned, we aren't able to merge Author Pages for those who write under more than one name. However, Author Central allows you to manage up to three pen names within a single account. You can manage both of the Author Pages from your current Author Central account. Here's how:

1. Log in to Author Central (
2. Click the "Books" tab located on the top of the page.
3. Click on the "Add more books" link that appears under "Are we missing a book?"
4. Search for books written by [PEN NAME] by title, author, or ISBN.
5. Click "This is my book."

Once we verify you're an author of the book(s) selected, a second/third Author Page will be available for you to maintain.

In order to switch between pen names in Author Central, select the drop down symbol to the right of your name in the upper right hand corner where it says “Hello [CURRENT PENNAME CLAIMED].” When you select the name you wish to access, you will be brought to the corresponding Author Central dashboard.

We appreciate your feedback and may consider cross-referencing Author Pages with one another in the future. If you have any more questions or concerns, please contact us by clicking on the following link. I hope this helps! We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Well, isn’t that cute? I get to maintain not one but three author pages (if I had four names, I'd be out of luck), each of them only showing the books I’ve written under that particular name. Since the object of this entire exercise was to help readers find all my books, I’m not a happy camper. I decide to write a second email telling Amazon I understood the setup, but maybe they ought to give some thought to changing their system to allow all books to be listed on each page, as well as simply cross-referencing the pages.

The response I receive is considerably less cheerful and friendly than the first, although they’ve obviously learned the old Be Sure To Use “I” Statements When Being Assertive To Avoid Making the Listener Feel Defensive Rule, because they write, “I understand you're upset and I regret that we haven't been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction.” They then repeat the instructions for setting up multiple pages [Duh! Got it the first time, people!] and end by saying, “We won't be able to provide further insight or assistance for your request.” In other words, Go away now and quit bothering us!

Do you think they'd be nicer if I were Dean Koontz or Ruth Rendell?

Anyway, I now have the Candice Proctor author site up. I’ve dealt with their no pseudonymous books rule by mentioning the Sebastian books in my bio, adding a link to the website, and putting up the video for Where Shadows Dance. I’m still waiting for Penguin and Harper Collins to verify that I am me, after which I get to do this two more times.

In the meantime, I’ve written less than one and a half pages today.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Sebastian Series Comes to Audio

I've never had any of my books released in an audio version, but that's about to change: coming in August, Recorded Books will be bringing out Where Shadows Dance in both cassettes and CDs. To say I am excited is an understatement.

I have to admit I'd always hoped that if an audio version were made of the series, the reader would be male. But I don't see how I can complain, given that Davina Porter has a stunning list of audio books to her name. She's perhaps best known as the reader for Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon series. But she's also read for Anne Perry, Ruth Rendell, and Alexander McCall Smith.

Personally, I don't usually listen to audio books. I tried several while I was driving back and forth to work on the house after Katrina, and I listened to quite a few when I went through several months of twice-daily, half-hour physical therapy for a messed up shoulder. But that's about it. My husband Steve, on the other hand, listens to them constantly and churns through several a week. He has several subscriptions and will sometimes buy a book he enjoys listening to (the most recent being Bill Bryson's At Home). He also frequently tries listening to new (to him) authors and, if he likes them, he'll then buy hard copies of their backlist to read. So I'm hoping coming out in audio will help the series reach a new audience.

Recorded books has also bought the audio rights to When Maidens Mourn, which should be out next year. Hopefully if there's enough interest in the series, they'll go back and pick up the earlier books.

The link to the book on their site is here, although there's not much to look at yet.