Monday, December 20, 2010

It's That Time of Year

I was whining the other day about what a pain it is to have a book released at Christmas time, and my friend said, "Well, it's better to have a book released in December than to not have a book released at all." She was right, of course, so I quit whining. But I can still use the frantic juggling of book signings, interviews, and Christmas shopping as an excuse for being a Bad Blogger, can't I?

My kids are finally off school for the holidays, and we're muddling our way through our first Christmas since my mother's death. I've decided to simply give up trying to write for the next week so that I can focus on things like decorating the house and making Christmas cookies and generally just having fun with my girls. Saturday, we got the tree up; this afternoon I helped Danielle with her annual gingerbread house; yesterday we put up the new wreath and garland I made for the front door.

In the past nine months, I have left town for Easter, Mother's Day, and Thanksgiving. But I couldn't run away from Christmas. Although we are not a religious family, Christmas has always been huge for us. To be frank, I thought this time of year would be harder than it has been. I have so many wonderful, laughter-filled memories of Christmases past, that hanging my mother's ornaments on my tree and putting her creche--bought in Madrid when I was a child--in my living room has proved to be unexpectedly healing. Who'd have thought?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Radio Interviews Online

For anyone interested, several of the radio interviews Steve and I have been doing for The Babylonian Codex are now available online.

Radio interviews can be disconcerting. You’re talking to someone you’ve typically never met, over the phone, while thousands of people eavesdrop on your conversation. (Did I mention I have a phone phobia?) You can’t see the face of the person you’re talking to, so you don’t know if you’re boring them, or if you’ve missed the point of their question, or what the next question is likely to be. And if you’re like me, your mind takes flight and you can find yourself struggling to answer even a simple question like, “So what’s your book about?”

With that caveat, if you still want to listen, here are two of them:

Suspense Radio with John Raab (original air date 7 December, following Brad Thor)

Terry Lovell at KYCA in Arizona (original air date 3 December)

We also have another interview coming up at 9 a.m. CST on Thursday, 9 December, with Steven Nestor of KRTS out of Marfa,Texas. You can listen to it streaming online in real time here.

And when all of this is done (we’ve been averaging two interviews a day!), I hope to get those photos of New Iberia up.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Literary Tourists

I made my first solo trip to London when I was 21 years old. As a life-long student of history, I was naturally excited to explore as an adult everything from the Tower to Westminster Abbey and Hampton Court. But I also came to London as an enthusiastic devote of Georgette Heyer. When I walked down St. James's Street or sat on a bench in Hyde Park, part of the thrill I experienced undeniably came from my awareness of the historical associations of those place. But it was a history filtered through the talented imagination of one of my favorite authors. I was there as a literary tourist.

There have long been Dickensonian (Dickensian?) tours of London; now there are De Vinci Code tours of Paris. I recall searching out the grave of Greyfriar's Bobby in Edinburgh, thanks to a Disney movie I'd loved as a child. When I went back to the Alhambra, I could hear the echoes of my father's rich baritone telling me one of his favorite bedtime stories, about how when Granada's last Moorish ruler paused and wept as he looked back on the beautiful city he'd loved and lost, his mother admonished him, "Don't cry like a woman for what you failed to defend as a man."

So it was in this tradition that Steve and I spent last week in New Iberia, Louisiana. Yes, we were there because New Iberia is in the heart of Cajun country and because it is the site of Shadows on the Teche, a lovely plantation. But we were mainly there because as anyone who reads James Lee Burke knows, New Iberia is the literary home of Dave Robicheaux. We had a great time, and once I get my photos organized--and get though all the radio interviews I have lined up this week--I'd like to do several posts on it. But in the meantime, the photo above is of the Bayou Teche, while here is Victor's Cafeteria, where Dave always eats of course we did, too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

With a Little Help From Our Friends...

Whiskies helping Samantha and me put up her tree...

And Sodapop, my sister's new rescue donkey...

Who knew there's an entire society dedicated to rescuing donkeys and mules?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Precious?


There's a meme that has been floating around for a long time involving a list of 100 books. The list is supposed to have been compiled by the BBC, although according to this article in The Guardian, the list was actually compiled for World Book Day from respondents who were asked to name their ten most "precious" books. But why let a little something like facts get in the way of some fun?

The idea is to bold the books on the list you've read and italicize those you started reading and never finished. Because of the way it was compiled, it's a weird list, containing both The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and Hamlet, for instance. Now, I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare, but I can't claim to have read every single one of his plays (I have read all of his poetry). I also find the list heavy on Jane Austen and oddly lacking in other time-tested authors such as, say, Robert Louis Stevenson or Homer. But I'm digressing again.

In looking over my list, I realize the exercise reveals several things about me. First, I'm good at starting books but not so great at finishing them. In fact, I'm so famous for giving up on books that my writers group has given my name to the act of abandoning a book unfinished: they call it "proctorizing." I also realize I used to be better about finishing books than I am now. I still remember plowing through the 1600 pages of The Count of Monte Cristo as a senior in high school (for fun, not for class). I doubt I'd make it these days.

Would I call any of these books "precious"? Well, maybe the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Very few of the works of this list would make it on to my list of the 100 Best Books of All Times, or even a list of The 100 Books I Liked Best (I recognize that some of my best-loved books are not great literature.)

Anyway, without any more analyzing, here's my list:

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Booksignings and Interviews Coming to Someplace Maybe Near You

Things are gearing up for the release of The Babylonian Codex on 30 November. So far, Steve and I will be doing a booksigning on December 11, from 1-3 p.m., at the Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania Street New Orleans, Louisiana. If you are unable to attend, you may contact the bookstore to preorder a signed, personalized book. Their telephone number is 504-895-2266.

We will also be doing the following radio interviews:

Los Angeles
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
12:15 PM to 12:30 PM CST LIVE
Sam & Suzy Show

Friday, December 3, 2010
5:00 PM to 6:00 PM CST
“KYCA Talks”

North Carolina
Monday, December 6, 2010
8:30 AM to 8:40 AM CST
WCBQ-AM 1340 WHNC-AM 890

Tuesday, December 7, 2010
8:30 PM to 9:00 PM CST LIVE

Personally, I much prefer live TV interviews to live radio interviews. I find it very disconcerting to have tens of thousands of people eavesdropping while I talk to someone I don't know and whose face I can't see. It's a weird experience.

I'll let you know when more events are scheduled.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Author Quotes

I suspect I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s a subject that I frequently find myself pondering. How much attention do you as a reader give to author quotes on the covers of books? You know the ones where some famous or at least well-known author says, “Don’t miss this!” or “Compelling! Spellbinding! Impossible to put down!”

I suppose there was a time when a positive quote from an author I liked plugging an unknown writer might have compelled me to pick up a book. Now I know to take such quotes with a grain of salt. Because the truth is that authors give quotes (or “blurbs” as they are sometimes called) to other authors who are their friends, or at least their friends’ friends. They also agree to read books for quotes as a favor to their editors or agents. There is even one famous male author (who shall remain nameless) who has been known to give quotes to young, attractive female writers in exchange for, well, you know. Do all those authors really loooove all the books they plug? What do you think?

I’d like to believe that the wonderful, generous authors who have given me great quotes over the years did truly love my books. I know some of them did because they have gone to the trouble of contacting me privately and telling me how much they enjoyed my book. But did they all? I doubt it.

Since I'm not on the NYT bestsellers list, I don’t get asked for blurbs that often, although I’ve noticed a definitely uptick in the requests this past year. When you get to be really famous, everyone wants a quote from you. Some authors, such as Anne Perry, almost never give quotes. Others, such as Steve Berry, are very, very generous. (Yes, I have a Steve Berry quote on my book; thanks, Steve!)

Sometimes finding the right author to give a quote for your book can be really, really hard. I had a NYT bestselling author lined up to give a quote for Where Shadows Dance only to have my editor say, no, she didn’t think that author set quite the right tone for the book. Sigh. Of course, when you’re James Patterson or John Grisham, you don’t need another author plugging your book; that Number 1 NYT Bestseller! banner over your name pretty much says what needs to be said.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Reactions to Infidelity

A young psychology student of my acquaintance is conducting a survey on emotional and cognitive reactions to infidelity. The more people she can find willing to complete the survey, the more generalizable her results will be. It's short and fun and thought provoking, so if you have the time and the inclination, please visit her site here.

The responses to the survey are completely anonymous and the results will be reported in aggregate form only. Your participation is voluntary and you may discontinue at any time. If you have any questions, the contact information is on the survey.

If you know of anyone else who might be interested in taking the survey, please pass on the link. I'll be posting the results when they become available.

Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Lake in Autumn

I arrived home from San Francisco, told my family hello, then headed off to our lake house to spend a week frantically scribbling away on Sebastian Number Seven. The weather was gorgeous; the serenity and scenery inspiring. I spent Halloween sitting out on the porch in shorts (the above photo was snapped on my iPhone from my perch on the swing). The wildflowers were blooming in breathtaking bursts...

...and those of you awaiting the next Sebastian book will be happy to hear that I made great progress.

On another note: some people leave their hearts in San Francisco; I appear to have left my camera. So no more Bouchercon photos from me. Sigh.

Charles Gramlich over at Razored Zen was kind enough to review the last two Sebastian books he's read; thank you, Charles!

And finally, here's a picture of one of my daughter's little rescue Manx orphans, being a Halloween cat:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bouchercon by the Bay


I love Bouchercon! As conferences go, it's fun and low key and very different from, say, RWA National. Part of that difference comes from the mix of people. Bouchercon is a lot of writers and booksellers, editors and a few agents, a few unpublished writers, and many, many fans. RWA is all published or unpublished writers, agents and editors, with the result that there is more of an air of desperation and less a spirit of fun. Of course, the fact that RWA is virtually all women and many Bouchercon attendees are male also makes a difference. Ahem.

My experience at this Bouchercon was very much in contrast to Baltimore's Bouchercon, where I was staying in the hotel and didn't know anyone, which forced me to get out and network (something I don't do well). This time I was staying with my sister (author Penelope Williamson, who lives in Mill Valley) and driving in every day with Tracy Grant. Both of them have been in this writing business even longer than I have, so along with the experience of the conference I was also able to spend hours and hours dissecting both the conference and publishing in general.

I'll talk more about the individual events in a later post, as I thought I'd just give an overview here. Thursday began with some great panels, followed by the opening ceremony that evening, after which Harper Collins hosted a reception where some fifteen or twenty authors were on hand to sign and give away copies of their books. Danielle, my publicist, had set up my table right next to the bar, so I got a lot of traffic and ran out of books fairly quickly. (I snapped these pics with my phone before the function actually began; I have more photos that I'll post once I get them off my camera.) The huge poster Harper Collins provided was gorgeous, so hopefully even people who didn't get a copy will remember the cover.

Friday came more panels, and then the NAL cocktail party followed by the famous Lee Child "Reacher Party." My panel was on Saturday, followed by a booksigning (where people actually bought my books), and then the Harper Collins party followed by the Touchstone party, which I also attended since Catherine Coulter was riding in from Mill Valley with us that day. The weather was glorious until the end, when the fog came rolling in and this little New Orleans hothouse flower froze to death.

I brought home all kinds of gossip and lots of ideas and thoughts to sort through, and what feels like an incipient case of pneumonia. More later!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Bouchercon 2010

Bouchercon is the annual world mystery convention. This year’s Bouchercon will be held next week in San Francisco --Thursday, Friday and Saturday—at the Hyatt Regency, 5 Embarcadero Center. Attending will be an impressive array of mystery writers, from John Connelly and Martin Cruz Smith to Rhys Bowen and Laurie King.

I’ll be on a panel on Saturday at 3.00 p.m. with Pat Canterbury, John Lutz, Katia Lief, and Matthew Schoonover. The title of our panel is “Alien Country,” and I think it’s about crossing genres.

Immediately after the panel at 4:00 p.m. I’ll be holding a book signing for both my Sebastian mysteries and the contemporary thrillers (The Archangel Project and The Solomon Effect), all of which should be available from booksellers at the event. I’ll also be participating in the Harper Collins book signing to be held Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt, at which time I will have fifty advance readers copies of The Babylonian Codex to give away free on a first come, first serve basis.

You can read more about the conference here (and if their site looks vaguely familiar, it’s because it was done by the same brilliant designer responsible for both of my websites). I attended Bouchercon two years ago at Baltimore and had a wonderful time. If you’re in the area, hope to see you there!

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Necessary Evil

Here it is: Candy's predictable, semi-annual rant about the copyediting process. If you're curious, you can click on the screenshots I've included and get a better look at the process in action. (You'll also get a sneak preview of a few snippets from later scenes in Where Shadows Dance, but I promise there are no spoilers.)

I've had some copyeditors from hell in the course of my career, but this seems to be my year to luck out with copyeditors. This one was both thorough and sane, which meant that the process wasn’t anywhere near as painful as it can be. But that doesn’t mean it was painless. First of all, this stage is now all done electronically, which means that instead of curling up on my porch swing with the manuscript and a pencil, I now spend days and days sitting at my desk and staring at a computer screen, something I really, really hate. Plus, gone are the days of Post-it notes, so that once I stick my changes/comments in the margin, too, things can get quite colorful--and crowded. (If you want to get a better view of the page, just click on the screenshot and you'll get a much bigger, clearer image.)

I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that when it comes to things like capitalization and punctuation, I may as well simply go with the flow (me and the dead fish). Yes, there are rules in grammar. But different houses have different rules and, I’ve learned, different copyeditors within the same house can have different rules, too. They want an accent in Napoleon? Fine, they can put it in there. They don’t want an accent in NapolĂ©on? Fine; take it out. Ditto with the comma in “Now, he wasn’t so sure.” Make that, Now he wasn’t so sure. Is it, The Colonel stood at the top of the stairs? Or, The colonel stood at the top of the stairs? It depends, evidently, on the phases of the moon.

And then we have the issue of historical accuracy. Scrambled eggs were called buttered eggs in the early nineteenth century. Okay, I’ll happily change that, even though no one will know what kind of eggs Sebastian is spooning onto his plate. But when I write “direction” for address, as was done in the Regency, I’m told readers may misunderstand and think it’s a typo that should be “directions.” A Regency Englishman walked out the house; he did not walk out of the house. But I’ve never found a copyeditor yet who didn’t insist on putting that of in there.

One of a copyeditor's tasks is to tell me when she doesn't quite follow the action in the story, as in:

That's fine; I seriously appreciate it. She can also save me from some really, really silly mistakes, as in:


If I were lazy, I could just skim through the manuscript, stopping only where I see the little blue bubbles. But this is my last chance to change anything in the manuscript before it goes to the typesetters, so I actually read over it three times. On the final pass, I reversed one significant change that I'd made at the editing stage at the request of my editor. It has bothered me ever since I did it, and so with my editor's blessing I put it back the way it was. And no, you can't see that page, because it would be a spoiler!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Cool Change


What’s your favorite time of year?

My mother always used to say her favorite time of year was autumn. She thought perhaps it was because her birthday was in September. But I never understand how anyone could possibly love the fall, even though my birthday is in September, too.

For me, autumn meant going back to school (I hated school as a kid). It meant waking up to frigid wet mornings and dark grey skies and the looming gloom of endless winter to come. But summer… Ah, summer meant long carefree days of blue skies and golden warmth; it meant running through sun-kissed fields with my horse or curling up on a shady porch with a book. Even later, after I moved away from the frigid northwest, I still loved summer. Summer meant my girls home from school, days spent searching for seashells beside a roaring surf or exploring castles on a sunblasted Spanish hillside or hiking through the Australian bush.

Then I moved to New Orleans, where summer brings a wet suffocating heat that never relents, not even at night, along with a wary realization that a hurricane might be forming just over the horizon. It is my practice every morning when I wake up to throw open my doors and windows. The cats love it and it airs out the houses, but in the dog days of summer that humid blast of heat is a real penance I can tolerate for only so long. Well, this morning I opened the front door and literally squealed with delight as a soft cool breeze buffeted my face and actually raised goosebumps on my arms. Ah, I thought, fall at last!

And then I remembered my mother and how fall was always her favorite time of year, and for the first time I understood why that little girl growing up in New Orleans had loved autumn so much.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still Alive


Writing and life (including plumbing problems you don't want to hear about) have consumed my days too much lately to leave time for blogging, but I hope to do better next week.

I'll be going to Bouchercon in San Francisco in October and will be on a panel on Saturday, for those of you who'll be in the area. More on that later.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the engraving, it's of Covent Garden Theatre.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eid Mubarak and Happy New Year


'Eid al-Fitr is one of two major holidays in Islam, the festival of the breaking of the month-long fast of Ramadan. For Muslims, it's a time for eating and drinking, visiting friends, giving presents, wearing new clothes, and visiting the graves of the dead. Think Christmas and Easter and All Saints Day, rolled into one. "Eid" is of course the holiday itself, while "mubarak" means "blessed." So, to all my Muslim friends, Eid Mubarak.

Coincidentally, this weekend is also Rosh Hashanah. So to all my Jewish friends, Happy New Year!


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dropping the Veil on Jumping the Shark


Remember when you were a kid and you heard words but didn't quite interpret them correctly? How you could happily sing, “My country, Tisovee”? Or think people get “Oldtimer’s Disease” when they start getting forgetful? Well, I have a confession to make: I did something similar with the expression “jumping the shark.” And I only just realized it.

After a bit of research, I’ve learned that the expression dates not to the time when the infamous Happy Days episode first ran in 1977, but to a decade later when (to quote Fred Fox, the poor guy who actually wrote the episode in question) “Jon Hein and his roommates at the University of Michigan were drinking beer and had Nick at Nite playing in the background. They started talking about classic TV shows when someone asked, ‘What was the precise moment you knew it was downhill for your favorite show?’ One said it was when Vicki came on board ‘The Love Boat.’ Another thought it was when the Great Gazoo appeared on ‘The Flintstones.’ Sean Connolly offered, ‘That's easy: It was when Fonzie jumped the shark.’ As Hein later recounted, there was silence in the room: ‘No explanation necessary, the phrase said it all.’ ”

Well, it just so happens that in 1987, I was living in the Middle East. In those pre-ubiquitous-Internet days, that meant I was effectively cut off from popular American culture. I then moved to Australia. I first ran across the expression sometime in the late 90s in a book on writing I’d checked out of my local Adelaide library. I’d never seen the original Happy Days episode (I was in Germany at the time that aired!), so the association didn’t click. But I did know a movie about sharks, so somehow I got the idea fixed in my head that “don’t jump the shark” was based on the suspense-building technique used in the movie Jaws and basically referred to the principle of increasing viewer tension by revealing the extent and nature of a threat gradually rather than letting readers see it clearly in its entirety from the get-go.

I didn’t realize my mistake until just a few weeks ago, when I read a blog post by John Connolly in which he wonders if he’s jumped the sharp with his latest book (verdict from Steve, who just finished it: no). And then, in that way these things have of happening, I ran across Fox’s article "First Person: In defense of 'Happy Days' ' 'Jump the Shark' episode" in the in the LA Times.

So now, in addition to chuckling over another instance of my oft-exposed ignorance of American culture from decades past, I am also left with a writing truism in need of a colorful descriptive expression. I guess I just need some college kids and a lot of beer.

For those of you who know Steve Malley and are wondering how he fared in the recent earthquake, he left this message on the previous post: "Hi Candy, just wanted to let you know that I'm all right. Conditions aren't too bad here-- having to boil our water is about the worst of it."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Katrina Plus Five

I suppose eventually a time will come when August 29th rolls around and passes without me giving it a second thought.

I’m not there yet. Every year, New Orleanians watch with an uneasy kind of awareness as the temperature climbs and the anniversary of Katrina approaches. Part of it can be put down to good old fashioned fear: when the Gulf heats up and we enter those six dangerous weeks that stretch from August 15th to September 30th, it’s hard not to start each morning by nervously casting an eye over the “Tropical & Hurricane” section of But there’s also the realization that even if we squeak through another season without getting clobbered again, during this last week in August we’ll still be hearing those howling winds in our dreams, still find ourselves in quiet moments remembering sights and smells and moments of weakness and despair we don’t really want to revisit again.

For the first couple of years after the storm, I used to mark the day by getting together with a group of Katrina survivors for lunch at Voodoo Barbecue on St. Charles Avenue. We’d eat and talk and laugh about the ridiculous horrors of those days, then we’d go on a “Misery Tour” to assess the city’s progress or lack thereof. But in 2008 our anniversary luncheon had to be cancelled because we were all evacuated for Hurricane Gustav, and after that we never started the tradition up again.

This year, Steve and I will be spending the day working on one of the rebuilding projects on our house that is still not quite finished, five years on. But at some point I know we’ll stop to open a bottle of wine and sit around with my two daughters and laugh about the days when roofs hung in trees and the phones didn’t work for eight months and National Guardsmen with machine guns patrolled our streets.

Notice I said, “laugh about” it? In reality, there was probably nothing funny about those days. What’s funny about seeing a coffin and a jet ski washed up on a railroad embankment? About feeding a couple dozen cats in two different neighborhoods for months because their owners abandoned them and then couldn’t pluck up the courage to come back for them? About burying your aunt in a graveyard up the river because the cemetery where her husband is buried is still underwater?

But laugh, we will. For as the years pass and life as we once lived it in Katrinaville becomes a memory rather than a current reality, I’ve realized that the two most important lessons I’ve carried away from those days are both contradictory and yet oddly complementary. Katrina left me with an unflinching, visceral understanding of the fragility of all that we tend to take for granted in our everyday lives. You never forget that kind of up-close and personal demonstration of one of life’s most fundamental but easily ignored realities, which is that the veil of civilization is whisper thin and unbelievably fragile and can be shredded and ripped away in an instant.

And yet I don’t think I ever laughed as much as I did in those months after the storm, when every day confronted us with startling, sublimely ridiculous new examples of a world gone topsy-turvy. It wasn’t just me; we all laughed. We made jokes about stinking refrigerators and blue tarps and a few things we probably really shouldn’t have been joking about. Which brings me to the second lesson I learned, or what perhaps could more accurately be called a new appreciation or even a sense of awe, for the power of the human spirit to keep on laughing, no matter how dark the days.

Cheers, everyone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dorchester’s Digital Gamble


In the newest installment of that painful saga known as the Continuing Convulsions of the Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, Dorchester gobsmacked the industry this month by announcing that they are getting out of the ink and paper business. As of September, all Dorchester titles will be available in e-book format only.

Dorchester was the oldest independent mass-market publisher in the United States (“mass-market” is the industry term for a standard-sized paperback). We’re not talking about a small press: Dorchester regularly releases about 30 new books a month. Some 65% of their releases are romances, but they are also significant publishers of horror, Westerns, and thrillers. Their Leisure Books imprint is all horror and thrillers.

So why did Dorchester do this? Well, according to CEO John Prebich, their retail sales fell 25% in 2009, and the figures for 2010 have been even worse. As shelf space for mass-market titles in retail outlets like Walmart shrinks, publishers are having a harder time simply getting their books into stores. About the only part of their business that is doing well is e-books which, according to Prebich, have been showing “remarkable growth” and are expected to “double again” in the next year.

But getting rid of all print books does seem a bit extreme, given that digital sales accounted for only 12% of their total. And while that is significantly higher than the industry-wide average (said to currently be 8%), we’re still talking 88% of their customers who choose to read their books on paper rather than on electronic screens.

Prebich has admitted that the company will be looking at lower revenues, but hopes to make up for that with improved margins. No more warehouse fees. No more printing costs. No more sales force (seven Dorchester sales reps are out there right now, looking for new jobs.) Dorchester is making noises to the effect that e-books that do well may be released later in trade paperback size on a print-on-demand basis, but no one is holding their breath.

In researching this posting, I read that Prebich claims their authors have been “receptive” to the move, which sent me into hysterics. Every author I know who has books with Dorchester and every agent who has a client with books at Dorchester is in fits over the situation. You see, this development also hits authors who have moved on to other houses but whose backlist is still with Dorchester. Part of the concern comes from the perception that Dorchester is teetering on the brink of financial insolvency. There are rumors that many royalty and advance checks are not arriving. I’ve been told that under the terms of Dorchester’s contracts, in the event the company goes under, rights to books will not become part of any bankruptcy settlement but will revert to the individual authors. But the fact is, no author likes to see their books go out of print—or never make it into print in the first place.

Apart from the trauma felt by authors who have books with Dorchester, this development is troubling for the entire industry. Dorchester was known in the business as a house that didn’t pay large advances but was willing to take a chance on books that were “different.” If you were a new author who’d written something “weird” like a romance set in India or ancient Rome, it didn’t matter how wonderful that book was, the fact remained that the big houses were unlikely to even look at it. Dorchester would. Dorchester was publishing paranormal romances when no one else was. Dorchester is the only major publisher that still has a line of horror. Many of today’s bestselling authors, like Sabrina Jeffries, got their start at Dorchester.

If Dorchester goes under, the biggest losers will be the reading public.

(And if you're curious about the picture at the top, it's a photo Amazon's UK warehouse.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Martin Cruz Smith is one of my all-time favorite writers. For me, sinking down into one of his books is a giddy, delicious treat. Because he's one of those rare authors who has resisted corporate publishing's demands to produce a new book every year, it isn't a treat I get to enjoy very often. But Three Sations--the latest Arkady Renko novel--has finally been released.

You can read the New York Times review here.

I haven't ordered it yet because I'm trying to find an autographed copy. There aren't many writers whose books I'll go out of my way to get signed, but Martin Cruz Smith is one of them. Unfortunately, his refusal to play in the publishing game means his signed books are hard to get. The only one I have--Red Square--I found by chance. So I'll probably have to admit defeat and simply buy an unsigned copy. I'm not going to be able to hold out for much longer...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

SOLA’s 2010 Nottoway Retreat

Writers’ retreats are intended to provide writers with a moment out of time, a chance to get away from the preoccupations and stresses of daily life and simply focus on writing. SOLA (the South Louisiana chapter of RWA) holds their annual retreat at Nottoway Plantation, which is up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, in sugar cane country. (We won't talk about the year Hurricane Gustav took off the plantation’s roof.)

The Nottoway Retreat is a time for writers to hone their craft in workshops, to relax with other writers, to soak up the ambience of one of the South’s most gracious antebellum homes, to eat fine food, drink wine, listen to a certain inimitable Cajun raconteur, and, um, line dance (no, you don't get to see pictures of that).

This year Steve and I gave a workshop on plotting, but we went up a couple of days early just to relax, explore the plantation, walk along the river levee, and generally have time away from stuff. (That's a sugar cane field beyond Steve, in case you don't recognize it.)

I came home energized to get back to work on my Lady of Shalott book (I still haven’t settled on a title) and yet sublimely relaxed. Which I suppose is the whole point of a writers’ retreat, so I can honestly say it worked!

Monday, August 09, 2010

My Cat Monday: Huckleberry

I’m feeling fed up with writing today, so I thought I’d blog about Huckleberry instead.

As far as Huckleberry is concerned, he’s the King of the World—or at least, he should be. In a well-aligned universe, a cat as big and beautiful as he is--and with such a regal tail!-- would be an only cat. But the Fates were cruel. Instead of being sole ruler of all he surveys, Huckleberry lives with a family that keeps inviting other felines to share what should be Huckleberry’s private fiefdom. The results are often not pretty.

The only cat Huck vaguely tolerates is Thomasina, who served as his adopted mother (we got them the same weekend; he was a six-week-old kitten, she was a two-year-old rescue cat who’d just had her own litter taken away). But even Thomasina only rates the bottom bunk.

Life would be easier if Huck weren’t so smart. He learned long ago how to open doors with lever handles, with the result that I finally gave up and changed all the doorknobs in the house. He’s also refined the psychological torment of his fellow [dumb] cats to an art form.

Yet although tries very hard not to show it, he’s actually secretly a sweetheart. He loves to be carried around like a baby. He even puts up with Danielle dressing him in Santa suits and Mardi Gras hats. (She says it’s good for him to have his ego taken down a few pegs every now and then.)

He would never condescend to sit on your lap or cuddle up next to you. Yet he trails me from room to room all day long, and he pines so terribly when I’m away that I take him up to the lake with me when I go on writing retreats. He’s not exactly fond of the car ride, but he does love being an only cat for a few days.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Seun Update


An update for those of you who remember my post some time back about Seun, my daughter's incredible friend from Yale Law School who was working so hard on a drive to increase bone marrow transplant volunteers while battling leukemia himself. By late last winter Seun's illness had advanced to the point he could no longer wait for a suitable bone marrow transplant to show up. So he underwent the procedure with cord blood instead. Cord blood transplants do not require as exact a match, but the odds of survival (already long) are considerably reduced.

The procedure--which includes killing every immune cell in your body--is nasty, and the road to recovery is long and horrific. But if anyone can make it, it's Seun. He is now out of the hospital and is doing yoga and lifting weights to rebuild his strength. He's still planning to try to compete for Nigeria in the next Winter Olympics, and has recently started flying again. Oh, and he's studying for the NY bar exam, brushing up on his French, working again, taking gourmet cooking classes, and recently finished filming an ESPN documentary.

If you want to be inspired and amazed and uplifted, visit Seun's blog,here.

Monday, August 02, 2010

On Updating Websites, and an Interview

This past weekend I updated my websites to reflect the new books that will be coming out, and in the process I decided to scrap the old home page of my C.S. Harris site.

When I first put up the Harris site, I subscribed to the adage that one should have a home page that loads onto the screen in its entirety. But in practice that proved to be very restricting, and in time it also just began to feel static. The new format enables me to showcase both books--What Remains of Heaven, which is coming out in trade paperback this week, and Where Shadows Dance, which will be released in hardcover next March. The new format also makes great use of the new book videos. I'd been questioning the time I spent to make them, but seeing them on the website reassured me. One of these days soon I'll probably redesign the C.S. Harris site; Shadows will be the fourth book released under this design, and while I still like it, I also have a yen for something new. Sort of like that itch you get to buy a new coat, or redo a tired garden bed.

Also, I have an interview up at a wonderful site called Paperback Dolls. As more and more newspapers cut their book sections, on-line sites like this one are becoming increasingly important sources of news about books and reviews of new releases. I've done a lot of interviews in my life, but I think the "Paperback Proust" section of this one definitely ranks as the most unique! I also must apologize because in rereading it, I realize I can't add or subtract. I started trying to get published eleven years after I first attempted to write a book, not sixteen years. (You'd think a mother would remember when her own children were born...) Anyway, you can read the interview here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Final Thoughts on Book Videos

Last one, I promise:

So, how effective are these things, anyway? I honestly don’t know. I personally can’t imagine buying a book simply on the basis of a book video, but I have seen some that were so boring I’ve thought, “Jeez, if the author bores me this badly in two minute, I’d be in tears after fifty pages.” (Which is probably unfair, because writing a book and creating a video advertisement are two very different talents.) So I suspect the first rule of book video production should be, Try not to bore your reader.

How? KEEP IT SHORT! The ones I just did are 40 seconds and probably would have been better at 30 seconds. Book videos are inherently boring, and it’s important to remember that we live in the MTV/Sesame Street Age. The most you can hope for is to convey to your viewer/potential book buyer a feeling for what your book is about. And I use the word “feeling” deliberately; you want to capture the overriding emotional impact of your story. Forget trying to cram in all of your characters’ motivations and problems. Forget showcasing all your clever plot twists and turns. Give me a taste, tease me, and then get out.

And even if you have all the money in the world, think twice about getting actors—even very, very good ones—to dramatize a scene from your book. Almost all the ones I’ve watched came off as just plain silly. Think about movie trailers: they don’t show us an entire scene. Hollywood tempts us with choice snippets—great visuals, clever lines—taken here and there from the movie, all presented in a fast format. I’ve seen authors who made dramatized book videos gush about how wonderful it was to see a scene from their book brought to life by actors. Great for the author, maybe; a bit of a yawn for everyone else. (The only exception to this I’ve seen is the book video for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, which—since the title cues you in to expect something—is funny. But I personally would have cut it more; until the final payoff, it gets boring.)

If you don’t feel up to doing your own (although believe me, at this level it’s easy), there are companies that do book videos, probably the best-known being Circle of Seven Productions. They jumped into the business early and actually managed to trademark the term “book trailer.” I kicked around their website before sitting down to write this and I must say their videos are much better than they were when I looked at them three years ago. You can get an el cheapo version similar to my Sebastian videos for $350, which isn’t bad since it also includes limited distribution. Prices escalate rapidly from there, with actors flown in from LA, a production crew coming to your house to interview you, etc. et$$$. They also will distribute author-made videos for a price starting at something like $150, with their highest distribution package at $850 (this highest level is even an extra $800 for their own clients).

If you do your own, remember to respect copyright. When I sent my trailers to NAL, they sent me a legal release form. Obviously they’ve had trouble with authors including copyrighted photos or music in their book videos. No one sues faster than the music industry.

So what do you do with your video once it’s made? Mine are up on Facebook, on my website (eventually), here on my blog, on my publishers’ websites, and I’ll be sending them to any online sites that interview me (one coming soon). I notice that CSP sends their book trailers to libraries via “Overdrive”, whatever that is. One could undoubtedly be more aggressive in distributing them, but I have a book to write! Which as far as I’m concerned is the major problem with all this self-promotion crap: it takes authors away from what they do best. Writing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Trailers, Part II

The book video for The Babylonian Codex:

Some thoughts on the making of this trailer: This one was much easier to do than the two historical mystery trailers and turned out much more effective, I believe. The main reason it's more interesting and striking is because, since it's a contemporary, I could incorporate photographs. All of these shots are my own photos from a couple of recent trips (that's my daughter, in Fez, staring at the camera in that one shot; it has a strange, haunting quality, doesn't it?). The winged cherub is a picture I took in St. Louis cathedral last fall, never dreaming I would use it this way. The nice part about relying on my own photos is that I didn't need to worry about copyright violations.

But what really makes this trailer dramatic is the great score. Where did the music come from? Again, the need to respect copyright makes things difficult. But a composer and musician named Kevin MacLeod has a wonderful site up on the Web with all different sorts of music, all categorized, which is free to anyone who wants to use it. All he asks is a donation and credit, which I was more than happy to give him. He has some great stuff, and I would highly recommend him to anyone.

I did all three of these trailers in a day and a night. Many of those hours were spent relearning the program. I also devoted a lot of time to looking for music (even after I found MacLeod, I needed to listen to a lot of clips to find ones that were just right). And I tried out different photos and some variations in the text before I settled on what I liked best.

Will I make another one? Yes; it was fun. But for my next historical mystery trailer, I plan to take the time to search out photos that I can use to make it more like the Codex trailer.

Next up: the Shadows trailer, and some thoughts on just how effective are these things, anyway?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Trailers Revistied

I've heard from more than one source that the overriding message coming out of Thrillerfest last week was that publishers expect authors to do ever more self-promotion. We hear this all the time, but the voices of the publishers are becoming strident. So in response, I decided to make a book trailer for the upcoming trade paperback release of What Remains of Heaven.

Long-time readers will recall that I did one for Why Mermaids Sing three years ago. At the time, I didn't actually expect it to have much of an impact on sales. My real motive was to make my publisher happy at a time when they were very unhappy about the state of my hometown post-Katrina. But I stumbled across that trailer the other day and was stunned to see that nearly 4,000 people had watched the video in the last few years. Now, I suspect most of those who watched it were already readers, or maybe they clicked on it by mistake, but what the heck. If it makes my publishers happy...

Of course, in the intervening three years I had totally forgotten how to make the dang things, so the learning curve was steep. By the time I finished it (many bleary-eyed hours and much muttering later) I decided to charge ahead and make a couple of more while I still knew what I was doing. So I also made trailers for Where Shadows Dance and The Babylonian Codex.

The Babylonian Codex turned out by far the best, in my opinion, largely I suspect because I had photos I could use for it. The historical mysteries' results were less satisfactory because I could only use the cover. I tried interspersing prints of old London but somehow they weren't right, so I fell back on the cover. And my editor couldn't send me the cover art minus the title, etc, because I'm told it's illegal to use it that way, so I was restricted to the actual cover with all that pesky writing, which made it even more difficult.

More to follow!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Own Private Idaho

I spent a significant chunk of my formative years in the mountains of Oregon and Idaho. The whisper of the wind moving through a stand of pines, the glint of sunlight off a deep blue glacial lake, the roar of a snow-fed mountain stream…all these are a part of who I am. But I last saw Idaho some nineteen long years ago, when I flew back from Australia to bury my father on a shady hillside overlooking the university town of Moscow. This summer, I journeyed back in the company of my daughters and my sister to bury my mother’s ashes there, too.

I expected the sight of my father’s grave to be wrenching, and it was. Yet I also found an unanticipated but nonetheless real peace in knowing that my mother was, finally, where she wanted to be—beside the man with whom she had shared so many incredible years of her life. That sad task complete, my sister and I then took some time to reacquaint ourselves with Idaho—and to share it with my girls.

I’d forgotten just how clear the lakes and rivers of Idaho are; how breathtakingly magnificent the mountains, how gloriously clean and fresh and oxygen-saturated the air. We drove up the St. Joe River, meandered around Coeur d’Alene and Pond Oreille lakes, even spent a couple of days down in McCall. It was more than a trip down memory lane. It was a reconnection with a time and a place that was dearer to me than I’d remembered.

Of course, much has changed in the last twenty or thirty years. Some cities like Coeur d’Alene and Boise have grown in ways one might regret. Yet Moscow has turned into a charmingly pleasant town, with gourmet restaurants, cute little coffee houses, exquisite bakeries, and a jazz band that played beside the square’s fountain during Saturday’s farmers’ market. And the land—the endless miles of forest-covered mountains and wide-open spaces—is much the same as it always has been, still hauntingly empty, still heart-stoppingly beautiful.

All of which made for a painful yet ultimately soothing and uplifting trip.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gotta Love Kirkus

I spent a big chunk of the weekend cleaning up files on my computer and organizing material for updates to my websites. In the process I ran across a Kirkus review of What Remains of Heaven that I'd never seen before. It's vintage Kirdus at their snarkyest best, and it made me laugh out loud. Here it is, for your pleasure:

What Remains of Heaven, by C.S. Harris
Review by Kirkus Book Review
"Who killed the cleric in the crypt? When the 1812 renovations to St. Margaret's, Tanfield Hill, accidentally bash a hole through the sealed entry to its crypt, there are two ghastly surprises. The dead body of Bishop Prescott, staunch abolitionist and leading contender for the soon-to-be-vacated post of Archbishop of Canterbury, lies sprawled across yet another dead body, this one partially mummified with a jeweled, Italianate dagger in its back. Bow Street, recognizing a matter too delicate for its own clumsy hands, calls upon Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin (Where Serpents Sleep, 2008, etc.). Within the compass of a few short weeks the aristocratic sleuth is shot at, horsewhipped, attacked with a meat cleaver, half-drowned and forced to kill three men himself. Undeterred, he accepts the responsibilities of fatherhood that have been impending ever since his reckless night with stubborn feminist Hero Jarvis, whose father had good reason to want Prescott dead; uncovers enough illegitimacies to keep the Town atwitter for generations; suspects both his father and Hero's of treason in aid of the colonies; and finds time to visit a prescient nanny-turned-witch who has secrets to impart about his own parentage. The mystery includes a smattering of political and church intrigue among a welter of family ties so intricate that a scorecard might have helped."

Kirkus almost disappeared late last year, but was rescued at the last hour. Most writers hate Kirkus, but they've given me some great reviews in the past and the fact that they're known to be parsimonious with their praise makes it all the more valuable when it comes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Title Suggestions

A huge Thank You to everyone for the enthusiastic response to my previous post.

I’ve compiled the suggested titles, leaving out only those with words that have already appeared in previous titles, such as die, sleep, sing, fear, and shadows. I’ve also changed a few suggestions that used “where” or “what” to “when” or “why.” I hope I’ve listed them all, but I just made it home after a brutal 24-hr flight from hell, so I’m a little the worse for wear. If anyone has any more suggestions, please feel free to jump in with them.

Here they are. So now tell me, what strikes your fancy?

When Legends Fall
When Legends Rise/Arise
Why Legends Arise
When Legends Wake
When Legends Lie
When Legends Hide
When Legends Weep
When Legends Curse/Are Cursed
Who Legends Chase
When Legends Speak
When Legends Meet
When Legends Breathe
When Legends Collide
When Legends Revile
When Legends Are Lies
When Legends Reign
When Legends Forget
When Legends Cry
When Legends End
When Legends Live
When Legends Dwell/Roam
When Legends Kneel
When Legends Veil
When Legends Echo
When Legends Weave
When Legends Drift/Float
When Legends Speak
Why Legends Rage
When/What Legends Mourn
When Legends Fade

Why Fables Survive

Why Maidens Weep/Cry
When Maidens Rage
When Lily Maidens Lie
Whom Maidens Lament
When Maidens Dream
Whom Maidens Spurn

When a Lady Lies Dead
When Death Lies Hidden
Why/When Morning Never Comes
When Dawn Never Comes

When Knights Weep
When Knights Descend
Why Knights Regret

Why Camelot Wept

When Sirens Call
When Sirens Rise
When Sirens Dwell
Who Speaks for Arthur

Who Speaks For Camelot

When Mirrors Curse
When/Why Mirrors Deceive/Live
When/Why Mirrors Crack

When/Why Whispers Curse

Who Defends the Web
Who Weaves the Web
Who Delights in Webs

When Kings Fall
When Kings Reign

Why Blind the Night
When Ravens Mock

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Title Quest

Titling books is always tricky. I was pleased with the titles of my first three Sebastian books--What Angels Fear, When Gods Die, and Why Mermaids Sing. Then I ran into a snag with my fourth book. I don't recall the exact original title, but it had the word Virgin in it and that scared the Powers That Be. I called the fifth book What Hell Marks; the word "hell" was also too scary, so after much to-ing and fro-ing, they changed it to What Remains of Heaven. More drama ensued over the title of Book Number Six; Where Shadows Dance was actually the title I had envisioned for my seventh book. Which means I find myself stumped for a title for the manuscript I am now starting. Since I like to have a title on a book while I'm writing it, I thought I'd throw the process open to suggestions.

Without giving too much away, the murder victim--a beautiful but troubled young woman--is found in a boat floating at Camelot Moat, a real place just north of London. Since the victim--we'll call her Gabrielle, for now--is a scholar of the Arthurian legend, the tales of King Arthur play a significant role in the mystery, with a hat tip to Tennyson's Lady of Shallot. The book takes place when little Alfred is three years old, and the murder victim is his aunt.

This needs to be a "When" or a "Why" title, or a "Who", although those are tricky (a title I'd love to use for a future book is, Who Bells the Kat?) I'm considering using the word "legend", as in, When Legends BLANK,but I'm open to anything.

Suggestions, anyone?

Friday, July 02, 2010

New Contract!


The revisions for Where Shadows Dance landed in my editor’s inbox on Tuesday evening at 6:35pm New York time. The next day, I received a call from my agent saying, “They’re offering us a contract for two more books.”

At which point, I went, “Huh? But… But… I haven’t sent them a proposal yet!”

I’ve been in this business a while—when Babylon and Shadows come out I will have published sixteen books—but this is the first time anyone has offered me a contract without seeing at least a couple of chapters and a synopsis. Considering how close this series came to ending at Number Five, it's pretty amazing. In case you can’t tell, I’m just a tad excited about it.

At any rate, I can now announce that there will definitely be a Book Seven and a Book Eight in the Sebastian St. Cyr series.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Flying High into the Sky

I grew up the daughter of an Air Force officer. As a child, my life was filled with blue uniforms and the roar of jet engines. Some of my earliest memories are of drums and taps and nights at the officers club with men and their wives warbling, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder…” My mother was blessed with one of the world’s most godawful voices, but she loved to sing that song.

I heard that song again this weekend, when I watched through tear-swelled eyes as my older daughter graduated from COT (Commissioned Officer Training School) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. My mother has been dead for three months now, my father for nearly nineteen years. But how I wished they could have been there, too, to share that moment. I know they’d have been as thrilled as I was.

Sam is currently in medical school and will go on active duty as a doctor when she graduates. I am very, very proud of her. Since Steve and I started writing thrillers, I’ve found it ironic how many people have acridly questioned our patriotism simply because our vision of what this country’s future should be doesn’t match theirs. My father was an Air Force colonel; my husband is a retired Army colonel; my sister was a Marine captain and her husband a Marine major. Now my daughter is an Air Force Second Lieutenant. We have always been a military family. And so it begins again.

Congratulations, Second Lieutenant Proctor.

Monday, June 21, 2010



My children and my agent both frequently accuse me of living under a rock. So it’s probably no surprise that when my long-suffering agent, Helen, recently commented that the cover for Where Shadows Dance has a “steampunk look to it,” I went, “Huh?”

In my defense, I had heard of books that are in this genre, I just hadn’t heard of the genre itself. (Does that make it better, or worse?) At any rate, those of you familiar with the genre can now go away snickering. Those of you who live under a rock, too, might be interested in hearing what I discovered from Le Google.

Picture a world where steam drives not only trains but also all sorts of other anachronistic inventions like computers and airships; where women wear corsets and red satin, and life has a distinctive Victorian flavor and aesthetic. Throw in lots of brass and clock gears, perhaps a dragon or maybe even a vampire, and you have steampunk.

Steampunk existed even before someone slapped a label on it (the labeler was K.W. Jeter, back in the early 80s, although the genre has really taken off in recent years). Basically it’s a subgenre of sci-fi and speculative fiction, with the occasional fantasy elements. Some steampunk novels are alternative histories; some self-consciously adopt the style of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley (all of whom are obvious sources for the movement).

There are even subgenres of this subgenre. “Flintlock fantasies” are set in the Regency or Napoleonic eras, when steam power was still in its infancy. “Western steampunk” channels the old Wild Wild West TV show (and movie remake) and melds with other subgenres, such as “weird west” and “science fiction westerns.” There is “steamgoth,” which is supposed to be even darker, although I get the impression steampunk is already pretty dark. And I’ve no doubt that someone out there is writing a steampunk romance or steampunk erotica.


The enthusiasm for this re-imagined Victorian world has become so great that the genre is no longer confined simply to books. There are steampunk computer role-playing games (“Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura”), steampunk music, steampunk-influenced interior decorating and design; there are even annual steampunk convention in both the States and the UK.

My own personal reading tastes have never run to science fiction or fantasy, so I didn't see any fiction that caught my fancy. But I do admire the spirit of invention and the renewed interest in craftsmanship and traditional materials the movement is inspiring, and it all looks like a lot of fun.


This old stove has been retrofitted with a hi-end electric Miele halogen cooktop and two electric ovens; the copper bowl at the base of the fancy water filter is for the owner's dogs. If you're interested in seeing more of a steampunked house, take a look at this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Marmalades Update

From left to right: Peanut, Whiskies, and Roscoe

Our rescue kittens are ten months old now. We found homes for the mama and Peaches, but Roscoe, Whiskies, and Peanut are still with us, and I suspect always will be.

Peanut, the runt of the litter, still has some health problems but is slowly improving. Roscoe is a handful, and Whiskies likes to sleep a lot. Life is hard when you're a cat.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Revisions, Revisions

I’m currently deep into the editorial revisions for Where Shadows Dance. My editor's comments and suggestions for this book are, as always, incredibly insightful and helpful. This rewrite is more extensive then usual, due largely I suspect to what was happening in my life while I was trying to write this book. I’m happy with the way things are going so far, but it’s taking a long time because there’s a lot involved.

To give you some insight into my creative process, I thought you might find this view of my scribbled-over manuscript interesting.

This particular spillage of ink (the different colors mean nothing except that every time I picked up the scene I seemed to have a different pen in my hand) was provoked by two short lines written by my editor at the end of the chapter: “Is Hero really so cool or is she hiding her attraction here? I feel a need for more personal tension between them in this scene.”

In order to satisfy that simple comment, I’ve torn the scene apart and switched the POV so that we now see the scene through Hero’s eyes rather than Sebastian’s. It’s an approach that has worked well, I think. And it’s always an interesting exercise to rewrite a scene from a different character’s point of view.

I’m probably going to be at this for several more weeks, which is frustrating because I’m itching to get started working on the next Sebastian novel, which will be number seven. I’ve never understood writers who say they’re sorry to see a book end. I’m always more than ready to move on the next story.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Krewe of Dead Pelicans


I've avoided talking about the oil spill in the Gulf because it quite frankly breaks my heart. But yesterday the citizens of New Orleans took their anguish and frustration to the street as the Krewe of Dead Pelicans second-lined down St. Charles Avenue to protest the oil spill and BP's sickeningly, infuriatingly lousy response.


Not that having a parade is going to do anything to help except maybe keep the news cameras focused on the issue, but, well, this is New Orleans.

Photos by Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune
Sphinx Ink has a wonderful post on this. You can read it here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Diderot Effect

Don’t you just love it when you discover there actually is a word or expression for a phenomenon you’d recognized but didn’t realize had a name? That happened to me recently with the Diderot Effect.

I first became aware of this tendency in human nature when I bought my house here in New Orleans. I loved the house because of its floor plan and its long breezy gallery and its rows of French doors opening onto a secluded, iron-gated courtyard (and because it had lots of lovely built-in bookcases in the family room that I planned to turn into my office; my real estate agent said, “I’ve sold houses because they had hot tubs or crown molding or granite countertops, but this is the first time I’ve ever sold a house because it had bookcases.”). But the house was an outdated wreck painted a dull gray beige on the inside and pink and turquoise on the outside, so the girls and I (joined later by Steve) set to work painting and renovating.

That’s when we discovered this strange phenomenon. We painted the upstairs hall but instead of making the hall look better, all it did was emphasize how ratty the carpet was. So we pulled up the carpet and put down a wood floor, and suddenly we were really, really bothered by the tacky light fixtures overhead. The massive renovations necessitated by Katrina only increased the problem. The new paneled doors downstairs made the old slab doors left upstairs unbearable. The new master bath doomed the old hall bath. We laughed about what we assumed was simply our own private quirk. Then I discovered that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Denis Diderot was one of the French philosophes of the eighteenth century who brought us the Enlightenment (and, by extension, such various legacies as the American Declaration of Independence and the Reign of Terror). In 1769 or thereabouts he wrote a humorous essay entitled, "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown, or a Warning to those who have more taste than fortune." In it he describes how the possession of a splendid new scarlet dressing gown leads him to replace his scruffy old chair with a lovely new armchair of Moroccan leather. Then he realizes the chair makes his desk look beat up, so he springs for a glossy new writing table. And so it goes, on and on, until he has completely redone his study and is as a result on the brink of financial ruin.

The Diderot Effect.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Booksigning from Hell

I doubt there's an author alive (well, maybe a few whose careers have been blessed with pixie dust) who can't relate to this. I laughed ruefully all the way through it.

h/t to Sphinx Ink for the link

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And When They Are Good, They're Golden


I do so much complaining about copyeditors, I thought it only fair that I write about the superb copyeditor who worked with me on The Babylonian Codex.

I doubt there’s a writer alive who doesn’t need a copyeditor. Some of the changes they make are to bring a manuscript into line with house style rules (and yes, those rules can vary from house to house). But it’s also their job to look up all kinds of esoteric minutiae and therefore keep authors from making asses of themselves (and in a novel like this one, we’re talking about a lot of esoteric minutiae). Most copyeditors don’t bother to do that. This one did. She also caught some lapses in my thought process—like, if Tobie is running away, how does she know that the guy behind her was just shot in the leg? (Oops) She even noticed that I was giving almost everyone gray eyes!

After all the years I spent in England and Australia, I evidently still have some British usages in my writing, and she had to catch all those, too: windscreen instead of windshield, floodlamps instead of floodlights, leapt instead of leaped, grey instead of gray, etc. And then there are all those pesky words that I can never remember if they’re hyphenated or not, joined or not: peacoat, seat belt, globe-trotting, surefire, nutcase. And did you know that quotes are not used around a word preceded by called or known as? I didn’t. Now, thanks to a great copyeditor, I do.

Thank you, Ellen Leach.