Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why I Did it--SPOILER ALERT!

If you haven't yet read Who Buries the Dead, STOP RIGHT NOW! Everyone else can follow me below the cover image for an explanation of a certain event that occurs near the end of that book.


Okay, everyone who hasn't read it stopped above, right? Right? Because you really don't want to spoil it. As the rest of you know, there is a death at the end of Who Buries the Dead; the death of one of my favorite characters. When I first handed in the proposal for this book to my editor, she didn't want me to do it (she really likes this character). But when I explained my reasons, she said, "Yes; you're right."

So what were my reasons?

I should begin by explaining that this character was not originally intended to be part of the continuing cast. I had intended to kill him off in When Maidens Mourn, the first book in which he appeared. But I kinda fell for the guy, and I couldn't do it. Plus I realized what a great and useful character he was, so I let him live. But I never intended for him to live forever. Why?

The main problem is that he is too much like Sebastian. He not only looks like Sebastian, but his character is quite similar, too. For an author, that causes issues. Hopefully those issues didn't show because I worked hard to minimize the effects, but believe me, it was hard.

A second reason is that, once a cast of characters gets too large, it becomes unwieldy. Different readers have their favorites and they tend to be disappointed when Hendon or Kat (yes, some readers do like her!) or whoever doesn't get much page time. For me, plot and pacing are always trumps, so I never bring on a character simply for the sake of spending some time with him or her. But the more characters there are, the harder it becomes to work them all into the plot. The longer this series goes on, the more characters we're adding. That meant some judicial pruning was in order.

I found that in many ways this particular character's scenes were in danger of always hitting the same note. Plus, the more we--and Sebastian--got to know him, the less enigmatic he became. I wanted him to remain something of a mystery; a vaguely ominous threat.

And while this character is gone in one sense, he is not in others. His death is an important catalyst that propels the story arc of Sebastian's personal quest forward. In the next book, When Falcons Fall, Hero and Sebastian travel to Shropshire where they meet Jamie's family and learn a lot more about him, the necklace, and a certain other mysterious figure from the past. I also have a complication involving a little boy that is coming up.

Another factor that influenced my decision, although it was far from the primary one, is the realization that with a series, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince readers that any of the continuing characters are really in danger. If a reader is thinking, "Oh, she wouldn't really kill off Gibson/Hero's mother/Tom," then suspense suffers. Admit it: from now on, you're going to worry more when someone is threatened; right?

I won't deny that I miss Jamie. Because the next book, #11, When Falcons Fall, takes place away from London and thus away from everyone except Sebastian, Hero, and Simon (and Tom, Calhoun, and Claire), I didn't really notice his absence. But I will admit that it pained me when I was writing book #12. And he continues to haunt me. In fact, he haunts me so much that I've been toying with the idea of writing a contemporary mystery series set in New Orleans (although it's hard to find the time, I firmly believe it's a good idea for a series writer to occasionally do other things to keep from getting stale). And I find myself more and more inclined to make the protagonist of that series the descendant of a nefarious London tavern-keeper named Knox....

Monday, December 07, 2015

Bluestocking Belles Book Club on Facebook


I'll be participating in a Facebook online book club chat this Wednesday, December 9th, between 7 and 9 pm EST. Here's the link to the Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1646505635624534/

I've never done one of these before, but I gather everyone who's interested just shows up at the appointed time and asks questions and comments and talks about the book. So hope to see many of you there!

Friday, December 04, 2015

WHAT ANGELS FEAR On Sale for $1.99!


The Kindle version of WHAT ANGELS FEAR is currently on sale in the States for $1.99. It's also available for $1.99 at iBooks. So if you have a friend or relative who's been thinking about trying the series, here's their chance to get the first book at a great price. But they need to hurry because it's only for a week or two.

A few months ago, I asked y'all what you thought helped draw new readers to a series, and many of you told me, Reduce the price on the first book. I've been pestering and begging and pleading ever since, and The Powers That Be have finally agreed to do it for a limited time. So a big thank you to everyone who suggested it.

At the moment it's still at the regular price on Barnes and Noble; I'll post when I see it's come down. And I'm told it was  £1.60 in Britain, at least as of Tuesday.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Where Did Candy Go? UPDATE!

Full confession: I didn't go anywhere. I've been holed up, head down, hibernating and frantically trying to get Sebastian # 12 to the point that I can put it aside for a few weeks and focus on Christmas and my daughter's wedding and a thousand other things I need to do but have been putting off forever (taking four trips in one year is insane). It took longer than I'd expected and the book isn't quite finished, but it's at the stage where I can happily leave it alone and then go back for a few final tweaks before turning it in next month. That aaaaahhhhh sound you hear is me giving a huge sigh of relief!

My office clean-up in progress; normally I have a carpet in front of the sofa, but it's rolled up at the moment.

Because our Christmas tree goes in my office, I'm now cleaning my office (a chore I really, really hate). I have a bunch of other irons in the fire: I'll be making a book video for WHEN FALCONS FALL, due to be released 1 March. I'm chugging away with my plans to release my historical romances on ebook (a task that is way more work than I ever appreciated!). AND while cleaning my office I discovered the blogpost I wrote on Jamie Knox and then lost in the chaos (I tend to write out things that require a lot of thinking on paper, first); so after having been promised forever, it will be coming soon.

PLUS, I've been told that Penguin is dropping the price on the ebook of WHAT ANGELS FEAR as a promotion some time this month. So if you have a friend or relative who has been wanting to try the series, of if you'd like to get it yourself, watch because I'll be posting as soon as I know it's available.

UPDATE: Helena tells me that ANGELS is available in the UK for £1.60 as of Tuesday, December 1.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Progress!


So I finished the rough draft of this guy today. It's still months away from being ready to turn in as it's a very rough draft, with probably at least 30-40 pages worth of missing scenes. But it's always a huge relief to get to this stage--evil murderer all rolled up, lose ends tied up; phew, it works!

This one has seemed more troublesome than usual, although perhaps that's mainly due to the fact that I took three trips while writing it plus redid my website. I also lost a dearly loved kitten and lived through a rather traumatic upheaval in my publishing house. Oh, and both my daughters got engaged!

This is #12, due out March 2017. Before this one comes WHEN FALCONS FALL, which is coming in March 2016. And soon I need to start thinking about #13 . . . . Oh, dear; I hope it won't be bad luck!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

More Audio Books!

Sorry I've been MIA for a while. Life has been aggravating this past week for reasons I won't particularize. But I do have some new audio book covers to show you. Here's the final version of the Recorded Books edition of Why Mermaids Sing:


This is actually the third version. I can show you the second version because for some reason it's up on Amazon. Needless to say, I did not like the red lipstick, and they surprised me by taking my suggestion they cut the mermaid off at the chin. Here's the original second version:



Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to show you the first version, which featured a different mermaid with a shell bra and a very prominent bellybutton. No, I'm not kidding.

Anyway, here is the cover for the upcoming Where Serpents Sleep:


I asked that they make the font of the title darker. Maybe I shouldn't have shown it yet? Oh well.

In other news, I've signed up for Bouchercon, the mystery/thriller convention that will be in New Orleans next September. If you like that sort of thing, maybe I'll see you there?


I am also chugging ahead with my plan to gradually release my Candice Proctor backlist as ebooks. I was going to release Midnight Confessions first and I have a gorgeous new cover for it, but, ahem, that has hit a snag (some of the "I won't particularize" stuff that's been affecting my blood pressure this week). But I will be going ahead with the release of Beyond Sunrise, although it will have only "Candice Proctor" on the cover rather than "C. S. Harris writing as Candice Proctor." (Yeah, you can read something between the lines there.)

And, finally, I have a new keyboard because this guy knocked a cup of coffee over on my old one and killed it. He's cranky because he's no longer allowed on my lap while I'm drinking anything at the computer and he's convinced I'm just being so mean. Which translates into, Let's bite Candy's foot. 

Hopefully next week will be better?


Friday, October 16, 2015

Home Again


I'm back home after ten glorious days in the mountains of Idaho.

I spent much of my youth in Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado, so this was in many ways a homecoming for me. My sister and her husband retired to the resort town of McCall five years ago and their lifestyle is truly enviable, their playground a clear, glacial lake, swiftly rushing river, and miles of trails through the woods for hiking and skiing, all capped by a sky so blue it almost hurts to look at it. We spent many hours just sitting on the porch of her rambling old Victorian farmhouse, sipping pina coladas, watching her horse and donkey graze in the pasture, tossing the frisbee for her dog, and talking about the publishing industry, because my sister just happens to be the NYT bestselling author Penelope Williamson.


The weather was unbelievably warm. One day we drove up to the old mining camp of Burgdorf and spent ages soaking in the old mineral hot springs. Then we climbed out and sat in the sun for a couple of hours. In our wet bathing suits. In the mountains of Idaho. In October.


Burgdorf is an incredible place literally miles from nowhere; just blue sky (yes, it really is that blue!) and mountains and pine trees and old, collapsed cabins that are slowly being refurbished for people who don't mind holidays without running water or electricity.


And then there was Roseberry, once an old Finnish settlement, now a ghost town:



Needless to say, I had a wonderful time. But I also did some work on my next Sebastian St. Cyr book (well, okay; on the planes and in the airports!). On Monday I'll be getting back to work. But I suspect I'll spend most of the weekend making things up to these guys, who are very, very unhappy with me:






Friday, October 02, 2015

Galleys and Mountains and Mermaids, Oh My

So I was going to write a long post this week entitled something along the lines of, "Jamie: Why I Did It." But then the galleys for the mass-market edition of WHO BURIES THE DEAD landed on my doorstep, quickly followed by the ones for WHEN FALCONS FALL.


I love seeing galleys (page proofs) because it means the book is that much closer to going into production. But since I'm heading off to visit my sister in McCall, Idaho, next week, I've been scrambling to get them finished. (Yes,  poor Steve is staying home to take care of cats again.) I do wish they would warn me/coordinate with me on these things, but every author I know has the same story: galleys ALWAYS come at the worst possible time. It's one of those "rules."


(That's a picture of where I'm off to, by the way.) In other news, the audio version of WHY MERMAIDS SING is up here. There's no cover yet because  we're, um, working on it. The first version they sent was of a distant ship with a very in-your-face mermaid complete with prominent bellybutton and a shell bra. I kid you not. The next version was much better, different mermaid, but with very red lipstick on her mouth. I asked if they could cut her off at the chin. Still haven't heard back yet. But as of this writing, the audio book is available, just with a generic cover.

The one other thing I wanted to share with you is this incredible book filled with photos of old London that my long-suffering husband gave me for my birthday. It's pricey, but wonderful:


And yes, Sebastian and I are both Libras. One of those "write what you know" things.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hendon, C.S. Graham, Cats, and England: Answering Ask Me Anything Monday

Angel was my mom's old cat; he's now 17.

From Judith at Goodreads: Will Things get better between Sebastian and his father?

The book I'm writing now, which has the working title WHERE THE DEAD LIE (due out March 2017), sees Sebastian and  Hendon united in their opposition to the betrothal of Hendon's granddaughter (Amanda's daughter), Stephanie, to a charming but decidedly nasty heir to a marquis. This has been a very emotional book to write; the scene I was working on the other day had me literally crying.

Huckleberry and Thomasina. These two were mine from before Steve and I married; Huck is almost 15  and Thomasina is at least 17-18.

From Mary at Goodreads, Will we ever see any more stories from C. S. Graham?

I loved writing the Tobie and Jax books, and I think it helped keep the Sebastian series fresh when I could write something else in between (one of the dangers of a long-running series is that the writer can get tired of it). But it was just too much for me, trying to keep both series going. When my mom fell ill and moved in with me, I almost went crazy and decided I had to drop one. Even though she is now gone, I don't think I could manage both series at once, at least not for two different publishers. So I guess the short answer is, I have another C.S. Graham idea in my head that I'd love to write but I'm not sure I'll ever get the chance. Once a series is allowed to go cold like that, publishers are reluctant to pick it up again. Probably the only way it could happen is if someone made a movie. But while we had tons of interest, nothing ever came of it.

Banjo and Scout, our shaky kittens.

Toni asked, How do you take care of all your cats with your busy schedule?

It isn't anywhere near as difficult now as it was during the Year of the Shaky Kittens. To be frank, caring for our two little handicapped babies took a huge toll on both Steve and I. Hand feeding them three times a day (for the first several months it was four), keeping them clean, and just holding and cuddling them took an enormous amount of time and required us to get up an hour earlier before Steve went to work and usually kept us up late at night. But my Banjo died in June of last year, and we lost Scout in October. And then we lost Indie, my little darling who left us far too soon this last March.

The rest of the guys aren't much trouble. Thomasina, the calico female in the bottom bunk in the picture above, now spends most of her time in Baton Rouge with my younger daughter. I feed and cuddle the rest of the gang first thing in the morning before I go for my walk (Huck and Angel get a med that needs to be sprinkled on wet food). In the evening, before I go to bed, I sit with the Marmalades again for a couple of hours and read (Roscoe and Peanut live in a part of the upstairs that is closed off by a glass door because Huck doesn't like them) while Steve goes out and sits and reads with the Pee Cats (Nora and Whiskies live on our fifty foot screened in gallery because they have "elimination issues"). Angel and Huck (and Tommy Girl when she's here) are free to roam the rest of the house (Huck doesn't like Angel, either, but Angel can hold his own), and they cuddle next to me (or ON me) during the day while I write.

The worst part of it all is that Steve and I really can't go away together for more than a night. I have friends who would be willing to come refresh water and food and litter boxes, but I can't ask people to come twice a day and administer medicine (Angel has another med that we squirt in his mouth at night and Huck gets a different med sprinkled on his bedtime snack). I can't board them, either, because Huck's problems are the result of a near fatal reaction to his last vaccines and the vet told me to never give them to him again. Which is probably way more than you wanted to know, but does explain why I went to England last June and poor Steve stayed home to cat sit!

Roscoe and Peanut. Technically, these two belong to Sam. I'm not holding my breath. They're six years old.

Caroline asked, Do you miss living in England, and if so, what?

I do miss it, yes. To be frank, I'd go back if I could (well, as long as I could pick one of the warmest, sunniest bit, and maybe also had a little house in Spain for the dead of winter!) I miss being able to drive over the hill and visit everything from a castle to a thousand year old church to a Roman ruin. I absolutely adore the beautiful gardens (when I was there this last time I was threatening to come home and rip up all my roses because they are so sad here in comparison). I love tearooms and neighborhood pubs and lovely little villages that made you ache for times gone past.  I could go on and on, but I think the thing I love most is how wonderfully polite and funny the people are.

Indie, my little darling

I have three more questions to answer, about Jamie Knox and Sebastian and 19th century intellectual history, but each of those will be long enough to require a post to itself.

Whiskies (sibling to Roscoe and Peanut, and mentally "slow" since birth)  and Nora (now 15, the sole survivor of the three cats Steve had when we married) on the porch swing. At the other end of the gallery are heated and air conditioned little houses for when it gets too cold or too hot. Yes, we are crazy.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sebastian St. Cyr's London: St Andrew's Undershaft and the Cloth Fair, Smithfield

I plan to answer more questions later in the week, but I thought it would be nice to take a little break.


This is St. Andrew's Undershaft in Aldgate, not too far from St. Helen's Bishopsgate and Jamie Knox's tavern.  The current church dates tom the early 16th century, although the original structure was much older. It's an unusual church both because of the way it's positioned and because the entrance is at the base of its off-center tower. The odd name comes from the large maypole that used to be set up near it.  Here it is today (the massive modern building rising behind it is The Gherkin:


Next up is the Cloth Fair, a short but very old street in Smithfield. This is a photograph rather than a print, so it's from later in the 19th century, but it really hadn't changed much. This is where, in the Middle Ages, merchants would gather to sell cloth during the St. Bartholomew Fair.

The first photograph below is taken at a slightly different angle, but shows the same building. The second is actually taken from Rising Sun Court looking toward the Cloth Fair. The unusual church is St. Bartholomew, which warrants its own post some day soon.





Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Answering AMAM (Ask Me Anything Monday): Sequels, Editorial Changes, and E-books

So, chugging right along on my answers....


Becca asked, "Do you plan to re-publish your romance novels? Maybe as ebook?

Yes! I've finally, finally, finally managed to officially wrest the rights back from my original publisher and I've started the process. I'm both excited and a bit intimidated, since self publishing is new territory for me and I'm rapidly approaching the deadline for my next Sebastian book. I'll be doing Midnight Confessions first because it was essentially a historical mystery in romance clothing, and I'm hoping I can use it to draw new readers to the Sebastian series. Next will be Beyond Sunrise. I've already sent both books off to be scanned, and the very talented designer who does my website is creating the covers (deciding what sort of images to use and defining a look that could be used to brand and draw all seven very different books together was hard!) . Then the scans will need to be edited, and the books formatted, and the cover copy written, and a good friend of mine has volunteered to help me actually put them up. Once I do the first two, I'll move on to the next two until I eventually get them all up, along with a contemporary romantic suspense that was never published and that I'm really excited to be getting out there.

Becca also asked: "Is there something you changed in a novel (a name, a story arc, a location, a person's appearance) because you and your editor thought it best but now you truly regret it?"

I was forced to make a huge change to the ending of my first historical romance, Night in Eden. I rewrote the end of that sucker THREE TIMES, but they kept kicking it back. Finally, I was so desperate I just sent a wall of water crashing down to end it all. And even though it's a historically accurate wall of water that really did happen, it's still the ultimate deus ex machina ending, and I've always hated it. But they were fine with it! Also, in Midnight Confessions, at the last minute they decided the heroine's surname was too long for the cover copy (yes, really) and made me change it. They gave me something like an hour to come up with a new name. Character names are hugely important to me and I can spend months agonizing over them. I hated the change, it was traumatic, and I'm seriously thinking about changing her name back when I self-publish the ebook. I could go on and on. I've been forced to change book titles many times and I'm rarely happy with the result. And my editor made me change Kat's age at the time of her first love affair with Sebastian. She said that while it would have been seen as normal at the time, it might offend some modern sensibilities. The problem with that is I later forgot we'd made the change and slipped back into using the original age.

Susan J asked: "You mentioned something about writing a novel set in modern times about Sebastian's and was it Jamie Knox's descendants? Would it be set in England or America?"

Writers are always spinning ideas in their heads, and I should probably know better than to mumble about some of my flights of fantasy in the comments section! But since I did, I actually have two ideas. One is a historical set in the 1840s in the Middle East or Colonial Africa with a certain young viscount named Simon and a beautiful, independent-minded woman whose mother was, ahem, a famous actress in her youth. I'd love to write that book, but I doubt I'll ever get the chance because it wouldn't be very commercially successful. The other idea I have been kicking around for several years is for a contemporary mystery series set here in New Orleans. After what happened to Jamie in Who Buries the Dead, I consoled myself by toying with the idea of making that protagonist his descendant. I may still do that. This book is far more likely to be written--as in, I'm actively plotting it. The problem is finding the time to write it....

Friday, September 04, 2015

Answering AMAM (Ask Me Anything Monday) : On Shipwrecks and Love

Thanks to everyone for some great (and some tough!) questions.  Feel free to ask more. But I thought I'd get started answering.


First off, May asks: "The motive for murder in Why Mermaids Sing still haunts me. And to find out that it actually happened shook me a little bit. So what I'd like to know is if you plotted that story around this real case or if it just fell into the storyline you already planned?"

May, I read several books on shipwrecks as part of the research I was doing for a book I was writing called Beyond Sunrise (which will soon be available as an ebook with an all new cover, by the way!). At the time, I was only kicking the idea for the Sebastian St. Cyr series around in my head. But that story haunted me, too, and in the end it formed the core idea around which I wove Why Mermaids Sing. I actually had the ideas for the first four Sebastian books and their titles (well, my fourth title was Where Dragons Live, but I wasn't allowed to keep it because it sounds too fantasy-ish) before I started writing What Angels Fear.


May also asked, "Sebastian's love life: was it Hero from the beginning or did it change across time as you wrote it? I think I can answer that question along with this one from Veronica:

Veronica says: "I was wondering if you ever bounce ideas off your family or friends when you're stumped or conflicted about what direction to take with your characters. For example, when I first found this series I loved it and promptly set about perusing many of your old blog posts where you talked about the books and/or your writing. I came across an answer you made to someone in the Comments section where you said that you had toyed with the idea of having a pregnant Hero sail away from England and out of Sebastian's life but that you ultimately decided you couldn't do that to him (and thank the book gods for that!!!!). Do you ever run those ideas across your trusted inner circle to see how they might land? And, if so, who do we have to thank for convincing you to let Hero stay?"

Veronica, I do bounce ideas off my family ALL THE TIME (and they still put up with me! Amazing.). I did it with Samantha when she was still quite young (as in, twelve). I still occasionally do it to her and to my younger daughter, Danielle (who has a tremendous grasp of plot arcs and character development, by the way; in her heart of hearts I think she wants to be a writer). But when Steve and I married, he became my main plotting partner. I always hash my stories out with him at the plotting stage; it's so much easier to think things through if I can brainstorm with someone else. And I'll frequently go to him and say, "I have a problem; can we talk this through for a bit?" And he always says, "Sure!" quite happily because he knows my problem is with my manuscript and not with him.

So that answers the first half of the question. As to my plans for Sebastian's love life, from the time I started writing What Angels Fear, I knew where I wanted that part of the story to go. I knew Kat was Hendon's natural daughter and that the truth was going to come out and blow up Sebastian's affair with her. I also knew I wanted Sebastian to end up married to Hero. This was reinforced for me when Hero really leapt off the page the first time I wrote about her. However, I'll admit that when the time came, I had a hard time making that pivot in What Remains of Heaven. Part of it, I suspect, was pushback on social media from readers who desperately wanted the HEA (Happily Ever After) for Kat and Sebastian. The problem was, even though I could understand the yearning, I knew it would be unrealistic (apart from which I knew Sebastian's marriage to Hero was needed for the strength of the series arc). Kat hadn't spent the last seven years saying no to Sebastian for his own sake only to suddenly turn around and say, "Oh, okay; I'll marry you and ruin you." And while it is true that some men did marry actresses and courtesans in the Regency period, they suffered terrible repercussions in terms of social ostracism (as did their children). I did not want to deal with that. Added to which, Kat couldn't have continued on the stage as Sebastian's wife, so what would she have done with her time? She would have been ostracized by society. And unlike Hero, Kat has no interest in social crusades or solving mysteries; she is very serious about her career. But ironically, it was actually Hero who gave me the hardest time; as much as she was (reluctantly) attracted to Sebastian, she really didn't want to marry. She wanted to sail off on adventures, and I had a hard time talking her out of it. I hashed that aspect of the series through with my family a lot. I mean, A LOT. We're talking months of agony. All are very good (and experienced); they don't try to influence me. They simply let me talk and talk until I convince myself of what I need to do. I also talked about it with my Monday night writers' group, the Wordsmiths. (We've been meeting since I first moved to New Orleans; it was through the group that Steve and I got to know each other.)

Also, you might be interested to know that my original ending for Heaven was much more ambiguous. My editor made me add the final scene at dinner where Hero says she'll stay for her mother's sake. My editor said, "You can't make your readers wait a whole year to find out if she stays!"

I'll be answering more questions in future posts, so stay tuned!



Monday, August 31, 2015

Ask Me Anything Monday

(Missy Nora being cute.)

We haven't done this for a while, so it seems time for another go around.

If you have questions you've been pondering, here's your chance: Ask me anything about my books, my writing process, my cats, whatever, and I'll answer if I can. To keep things from getting out of hand, I'll answer the questions in future blogposts rather than in the comments section.

If you read here but don't usually comment, it's easy. Just click the "comments" link at the bottom of this post. You don't need to register with Blogger; you can simply choose to post as Anonymous--although if you do, it would help if you leave a first name or nickname that I can refer to in my answer.

So, questions?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Katrina Plus Ten

A different kind of then and now: Dani gutting my office after Katrina, and the same corner, today, at the end of the post.

After ten years, Katrina has slowly become, for me, a kaleidoscope of indelible memories and jumbled emotions: Watching the first feeder bands of the hurricane sweep across the lake as we try to evacuate (my mother kept refusing to leave) and realizing that, yes, we really are about to get walloped. Huddling in the dark in my older daughter's tiny one-bedroom student apartment in Baton Rouge (five people, five unhappy cats, no power) and listening to sketchy news on a scratchy transistor radio. Reading the hysterical text messages (phone calls were impossible for about a year) sent by one of my daughter's  friends who did not evacuate and ended up on her roof watching in terror as the water rose, and rose, and rose. (How does a 15-year-old get over something like that?) Hearing some idiot reporter announce that everything between the I10 and the lake in Kenner is under ten feet of water, and throwing up (my house is by the lake in Kenner, and I'd had to leave my Press Cat behind because he wouldn't let me catch him).


But for me, the most powerful memories are actually those from the days after the storm: waiting anxiously at 3 am in a moonlit sugarcane field at the parish line one week later, when authorities finally allow us back in. Getting lost when we drive into the city because everything is such an unrecognizable horror. Seeing soldiers with machine guns standing on once-familiar streets. Driving up to our house, hoping maybe, somehow, it will be all right, and then that moment of raw despair when I realize it isn't. The soaring joy of finding Press Cat scared and unhappy but alive, alive, alive.



I could go on and on, but I won't. Neither New Orleans nor anyone who went through Katrina will ever be the same. Some of us are irreparably damaged, some of us learned valuable life lessons that will never be lost, and an untold number of us are dead. Ironically, there is no official counting of those who died. There isn't even agreement on who to count. The new trend is to count only those who drowned or had something like a tree fall on them (which is why the number has been going down), and not count those who died of heat stroke or a heart attack or some other medical emergency in the chaos and horror of the aftermath. We have no wall engraved with the names of Katrina's dead, although recent efforts at a proper accounting suggest the actual number of direct and indirect deaths is somewhere around 3,500. I guess no one wants to remember the victims of government incompetence.


It seems odd to realize that at some point when I wasn't even looking, those days became, finally, the past. Yes, vast swaths of New Orleans are still a wasteland, but so much is vibrantly normal again. We have now been back in our house nine years and one month. Yet some tasks still haven't been finished, and just this past week I had to replace three doors that had been stressed by Katrina and finally rotted out. The timing struck me as ironic.

Come Saturday, Steve, Danielle, and I will go out to dinner, share a bottle of wine, and laugh about the days when we had to drive up to Baton Rouge for groceries and drinking water and gas; when the entire city reeked of mold; when Danielle had to drive down to Florida just to take her SAT, and start back to school in a building with buckled floors and not much of a roof (her school was actually the first in the city to reopen; if there'd been any health authorities, they wouldn't have allowed it, but Katrina got rid of them, too). We'll remember learning how to gut houses and bleach walls, and how much we laughed through it all. Because if Katrina taught us anything, it was this: that as long as you can keep laughing, you'll be all right.

Cheers, everyone.








Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A New Look!

As you can see, my blog has a new look, and so does my website: you can visit it here. Or you can just click on "home" right over there in the margin.

So what do you think? In addition to the new look, the website also has some new features. If you click on the "for readers" tab, it'll take you to links for a couple of interviews with me; on the same page are links to book club readers' guides for When Falcons Fall and Why Mermaids Sing. On the book page you'll find a link to read Falcons's first chapter. There is also a complete booklist that can be downloaded and printed off.


I also have some other things going on. I am gearing up to put my Candice Proctor historical novels up as ebooks, starting with Midnight Confessions, which is actually a historical mystery. I am really super excited about this and should have the cover to show in a few weeks. After Midnight I'll be putting up Beyond Sunrise, the story of a Victorian travel writer named India McKnight who has an awful lot in common with Hero and probably inspired her.

And then, eventually, I'll be putting up the ebook of a novel I wrote several years ago but was never able to sell to New York because, even though lots of editors liked it, in the end they couldn't figure out how to market it. It's called Confessions of a Dead Romance Writer and I'll be the first to admit it is really . . . weird.

So, lots to come!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Copyediting WHEN FALCONS FALL

I always like receiving the copyedits for my next book because it means the book is that much closer to publication. But that's about the only thing I like about copyedits (especially now that they're done electronically with Track Changes, rather than the old-fashioned way on paper). In fact, copyedits are my least favorite part of the entire writing/publishing process.


The reasons are myriad. A story read in fits and starts while constantly stopping to study little bubbles in the margins and endlessly analyzing word choices inevitably ends up sounding stilted and less than engaging; as a result, I start to worry ("OMG; this book is terrible!"). In fact, there's an entire gamut of emotions that accompanies the copyediting process, everything from humiliation ("I can't believe I wrote then instead of than! Where was my brain? How could I have done that?") to frustration ("Doesn't that %$#@ copyeditor know that the 'r' in River Teme is capitalized? Are you telling me I need to comb through this entire manuscript to find all the places she 'fixed' it so I can change them all back? Grrrr.") to fear ("Oh, my God; I wrote Jacobin instead of Jacobite and SHE DIDN'T CATCH IT! If she missed that, what else did she miss?") In other words, it's flat out painful. And it takes forever: I've now been at this for twenty-five hours and counting. (Yes, I'm counting. And I want my weekend back.)

I appreciate copyeditors--I truly do. They save me from the humiliation of having the world see that I somehow typed Normand rather than Norman. They make sure Flanagan doesn't drift into Flannigan by the end of the book and that the character whose name I changed from Isabella to Grace is always Grace.

But there are other changes that irritate the expletive deleted out of me. I still think Major Weston should be referred to as the Major rather than the major, because that's what they taught back in the Dark Ages when I was in school. At some point, NAL decided that Napoleon will now be NapolĂ©on, which I personally think comes off looking like an affectation. But I gave up fighting those sorts of battles long ago.  In fact, I now let my copyeditors change all sorts of things I once would have queried, which is why a close reader will notice that this series, which is supposed to have its own style sheet, is actually all over the place.

I've have copyeditors who changed the Squire to the squire. So in the next book, I'll type "the squire." Then I'll get a copyeditor who changes it to the Squire. Some copyeditors will change a character's musings from "But . . . why? to "But . . . Why? "  Others will carefully change "But . . . Why?" to "But . . . why?" I give up.

And then there are these lovely little blue bubbles that really make my heart seize up:


("Au: Per the publisher's preferred dictionary, this term was first used as a verb around 1976; reword?")

She's right, of course; disconnect, especially used in this sense, is very modern, and I know it must be changed. The problem is, it perfectly captures what I want to say. I can flail around forever trying to come up with a substitute, and I'm rarely happy with what I eventually choose. In this instance, I changed it to "... the painful sense of being a stranger to himself, and the questions, remained." But that really isn't what I wanted to say because it lacks that sense of, well, disconnect.

It's at times like this that I start muttering, "I want to write contemporaries."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

Where do you get your ideas? This is something writers hear a lot, and for reasons I'll never understand, a surprising number of authors find it an annoying question. I don't.


Most of my ideas come while doing research for another book. The core idea for Why Mermaids Sing came to me when I was researching shipwrecks for Beyond Sunrise, my last romantic adventure. The mystery surrounding the death of the Dauphin, the core idea for Why Kings Confess, has fascinated me since I was a doctoral student in the 80s. Even songs can be inspiring: the idea for When Maidens Mourn came from years of doing my morning yoga to Loreena McKennitt's lovely version of The Lady of Shalott. But other sources are less easy to pinpoint. The idea of having Paul Gibson buy the body of a man who had been murdered--the inspiration for Where Shadows Dance--came out of the blue one night while I was taking a bath. And some ideas are such accretions that it's impossible to say where they came from.

Because I have a lousy memory, over time I tend to forget the details of the process. Which is why I was excited when, in the midst of a mammoth cleanup of old emails over the weekend, I came upon a letter I'd written to my daughter in the autumn of 2004. She was attending university in Egypt at the time, and I was working on the proposal for When Gods Die. Because it talks about where the idea for both Gods and a certain necklace came from, I thought those of you who've read the book (if you haven't, there are spoilers) might find it interesting. Here is the relevant section:

I have finished the draft of my proposal--synopsis and the first 4 chapters. I will sit on it for a week, then polish it some more and send it off. For some reason adding the bit about the necklace really fired me up. It's so funny that I didn't think of it before. The whole backstory behind the murder is a conspiracy to put the Stuart heir (for my purposes, a Savoy prince) on the throne. The murder victim (who was not a part of the conspiracy but was in love with one of the conspirators) has always been fascinated by the Stuarts because she's a descendent of James II and his Welsh mistress. Sebastian agrees to look into all of this because she is found wearing a necklace that his mother was wearing the day she was supposidly lost at sea. When I first came up with the idea, I was going to have it just be a necklace. Then when I was writing the scene, I was wracking my brain, trying to figure out how to make it believable that the Machievellian Lord Jarvis would have recognized a simple necklace in order to be able to convince Sebastian to help. I got as far as having Sebastian kneeling beside the body and reaching for the necklace, and I'm still thinking, What does this necklace look like? Then this lightbulb goes off in my head, and suddenly I'm describing Polly's necklace and the legend about it growing warm and choosing its next guardian. I put in Druid priestesses and links to James II, and it added this wonderful whole new dimention to the book that wasn't there before and that gives it a fantastic lift. Now, instead of just being a necklace, it's this very special, mysterious necklace that is going to weave its way into future books, too. It's so bizarre I never thought of it before, since Goditha Price was the inspiration for the Welsh mistress. Only problem is, I can't remember what the design was called. Tri-what?

I should probably explain that the "Polly" I'm referring to was a distant, 103 year-old-cousin. She had in her possession a necklace given to one of our common ancestors by his mother, Mary, an illegitimate daughter of the prince who eventually became James II and a lady-in-waiting to the Queen named Goditha Price. When Mary's son Edward was exiled from Scotland after a Jacobite uprising, she gave him the necklace along with a heartrending letter that Polly still preserved (She also still had his sword! How neat is that?). The legend of the necklace growing warm and choosing its next owner, as well as its supposed ability to bring long life, was explained in Mary's letter to her son. She says it's why she gave it to him--to protect him. The funny part of this snippet from my email to my daughter is that it shows just how much of a spur-of-the-moment afterthought weaving this tale into the series was. And I had totally forgotten that.


Incidentally, although history records that Goditha was James II's mistress (Samuel Pepys rather nastily refers to her as "fat Price"), the birth of her son is not officially recorded, and I've received some ugly "you made that up" pushback on-line for telling this story. However, in addition to the sword, necklace, and letter, Polly also had in her possession ancient pages cut from a beautiful, gold-leafed, illuminated bible that had Edward's genealogy going back on both sides. I've also been involved in genetic research for porphyria, and my version of that nasty blood disorder is extraordinarily rare and traces back to the Stuarts. It's all enough to convince me the story of Mary's parentage is true and I frankly don't care if anyone else believes it. I've told the tale only because it felt wrong to let people think I was clever enough to make up the necklace legend when all I did was borrow it. Apart from which, if I wanted to invent grand genetic ties, I'd pick people I admired more than a woman who has gone down in history as "fat Price," a guy who got his head cut off, and another guy who lost his throne! What a heritage.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Don't Worry, she said; I'll Find Homes for Them, she said...


Six years ago today, my daughter called on her way home from hiking in a national park to ask if I knew anything about cats having kittens. When I said, WHY? she admitted that an abandoned pregnant cat she'd rescued from the park was at that moment having kittens in the backseat of her car, barreling down the Interstate toward New Orleans.

My first thought was, Oh, God; I'm going to get stuck with them.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'll find homes for them," she said.


I guess I should be grateful her then-boyfriend took the mama cat and one of the four kittens when they amicably went their separate ways, otherwise I'd have all five. As it is....



Happy Birthday, Peanut, Roscoe, and Whiskies!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The London of Sebastian St. Cyr: the Roman Walls

It's actually rather amazing how much of London's old Roman wall still stands today. Here's the same bastion near St. Giles Cripplegate, first in Sebastian's time, then today:


Built largely during the third and fourth centuries, the wall was once two miles long, six to nine feet wide, and about twenty feet high. A number of gates in the old Roman wall--such as Ludgate, Newgaate, Bishopsgate, and Aldgate--are familiar to us because they continued to function as city gates down into medieval times and are now remembered as the names of major roads. Once upon a time, the boundaries of the City of London coincided with the old Roman wall. And even though that changed as the City expanded westward during the medieval period, the walls remained in use for over a thousand years. It was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the demolition of the wall began.


Much of what we see today survived because it had been incorporated into later buildings and only became visible after the Luftwaffe carried out their rather drastic urban renewal project during WWII. When the Georgian and Victorian buildings collapsed, the parts formed by the old wall remained standing, and fortunately someone thought to preserve some of those sections.


Unfortunately, much of what is left today lies in a part of London I personally dislike, namely the Barbican, which in my humble opinion is a particularly hideous example of mid-twentieth century architecture and city planning (apologies to anyone who likes it!) It's also difficult to walk around because of the way it's laid out, making it enormously frustrating simply to figure out how to get down to St. Giles Cripplegate. There's a "London Roman Wall Walk" that was laid out years ago, but locked gates now defeat following it very far. Which is a shame, because these ruins are lovely, and most people who visit London only glimpse the less-impressive sections of the Roman wall near the Museum of London and Tower Hill.