Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

The gingerbread houses are built...

The villages are up...

And the tree is decorated...

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in New Orleans

We don't often see photos of New Orleans decked out for Christmas. So come with me, and let's go for a stroll. We'll start with St. Louis cathedral and Jackson Square, the heart of the city in the days when we were a French and Spanish colony:

Then we'll cross the street and climb over the levee to the Mississippi River, where the steamboat, the Natchez, is decked out for the holidays.

While we're down in the Quarter, we might as well pop over toward Bourbon Street...

And, not too far away, on the Uptown side of Canal, is the old Fairmont Hotel. Now the Roosevelt, it's long been famous in New Orleans for its elaborate Christmas decorations (it's also a lovely hotel, if you're ever looking for someplace to stay).

Finally, let's hop on the Canal streetcar and head out to City Park for Celebration in the Oaks. It's nothing like what it used to be before Katrina, but still a fun stop. And while you're there, don't forget to visit the Cajun Papa Noel...

I'm almost ready for Christmas, and hope to get some pictures of my tree and villages up soon. How about you? If you celebrate, are you ready?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sebastian's London: the Gentleman's Carriage

This carriage was actually built in Philadelphia, in 1820, but is essentially the same as the latest smart equipage one would have seen dashing through the streets of Regency London. The first thing I noticed about this carriage is that it is incredibly delicate and tiny. It's a good reminder of just how small people once were. Here's a better view of the interior:

The back is interesting (ignore the junk piled behind it; this wonderfully preserved carriage is sitting gathering dust in an old barn):

And here's a better look at the driver's seat:

Notice the two brass lamps and the springs. And here's the bill of sale (you can click to enlarge for a better view). It makes fascinating reading.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


We've been having one of the warmest, prettiest autumns that I can remember here in New Orleans this year. So Steve and I decided to spend some time exploring more of the old historic sites in the area.

First up was Port Hudson. Yes, it's another Civil War battlefield (for trivia buffs, it was the longest military siege in American history). But there isn't much left to see today beyond some overgrown old earthworks and a cemetery (thousands of men died here). Now it's probably best known for its hiking trails--miles of them, up and down a series of bluffs and ravines that would not have been fun to fight over.

A good way to work off any Thanksgiving excesses!

Next up was Centenary College in Jackson, Louisiana. Also another battle site, this one lies just a few miles to the west of our lake house. Once, Centenary College was one of the grandest liberal arts colleges outside of New England. In fact, its main academic building was actually the largest in the country.

All that's left today is the west dormitory, and another graveyard (the college was turned into a military hospital during the Civil War).

Once, there were so many colleges, preparatory schools, and finishing schools in Jackson that it was known as the "Athens of the South." No longer...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is That a Lightbulb I See Before Me, On the Cover of My New Regency Mystery?

Last week I posted the new cover for What Darkness Brings, due out next March:

Then one of my observant readers, Jan, pointed out that there was an electric light fixture in the picture!

If you only knew how many times I stared at that cover without seeing that light! I suppose my excuse (and it's a feeble one!) is that I was so focused on the male figure in the picture, I didn't see much else. I'm prohibited from showing you the original, but I can say that in the first version of the cover, the male figure did not look anything like I thought he should, to put it mildly. He had short hair, and no Mr. Darcy-like sideburns. He was also as pale as a vampire, his hair looked half gray, and he could have been forty-five years old. I sent them photos of Regency-era men's hairstyles and said, Please can you make his hair much longer and darker? And give him sideburns and more color? And tighten up his neck and give him more pronounced cheekbones and make him look a bit leaner and, and, and...

Yet in all that back and forth, I never looked up at the church gable and said, Oh, by the way, is that a lightbulb?

Of course, once it was pointed out to me, the danged thing stuck out like a proverbial sore thumb. I immediately sent a panicked email to my editor, and we've just this morning received word that, Yes, there is time to photoshop that oops out of the cover. I'll be posting the new version when it becomes available. From now on, my editor and I will be going over future covers with a magnifying glass!

So bless you, Jan. And yes, you most deserve a reward! Please see my response in the comments section of the previous post.

Update: Here's the new, corrected version.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ghosts of Battles Past

Once upon a time, Camp Moore was the largest Confederate training camp in Louisiana. More than 30,000 troops passed through here on their way to places like Shiloh, Manassas, and Gettysburg. When the Confederate General John Breckinridge (a former vice president of the United States) launched his attempt to retake Baton Rouge in August of 1862, Camp Moore was his staging area. It remained the center of resistance to Federal efforts to conquer Louisiana until the fall of 1864, when the site was finally overrun.

Virtually nothing is left today--just a cemetery, a small but excellent museum, and a lot of ghosts. But once a year it's the site of a Civil War reenactment, and this past weekend Steve and I finally made it up there to watch.

I know people who place reenactments--especially Civil War reenactments--somewhere on a sliding scale between weird and disturbing. But I find them an odd mixture of fun and profoundly thought provoking. For a writer of historical fiction, they can be fascinating. Did you know that artillery changed very little from the time of Sebastian St. Cyr to the Civil war? If you want to write about about canon fire and musket volleys, nothing beats actually hearing them.

Over 800 men are buried in the cemetery there, most of them laid low not by Yankees but by measles, pneumonia, and dysentery. Many of their names are known, but the locations of the actual graves were lost when the victorious Federals pulled up the wooden grave markers and burned them. How nasty is that?

And for the record, the only Civil War veterans I've found on my family tree were all Yankees!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The End of Summer

When I was a little girl, my favorite time of year was always summer. Summer meant blue skies, long warm days, no school, lots of hours to play or read or do whatever I wanted to do. I never understood how my mother could say her favorite time of year was autumn. To me, autumn meant school (in case you hadn't noticed, I loathed school), rainy days, cold--everything I didn't like.

Now that I've moved to New Orleans, where my mother was born and raised, I've come to understand why she loved fall. Summers here are brutal, something to be endured and--come hurricane season and the dangerous vortex of August and September--feared. Don't get me wrong; I still love blue skies and warm days and the exuberant burst of glory they bring to my garden. But I've also come to look forward to the softer days of autumn, to clear, crisp mornings and gentle mists and the scent of woodsmoke on a biting breeze.

Last weekend, we went up to our lake house. The lake is glorious this time of year, and offers a glimpse of the fall coloration that is so gorgeous farther north but is largely lacking around New Orleans. This post has no real point, except that I changed the photo on my desktop this morning to the one at the top, and thought I'd share it. And I can't even take credit for the pictures, because they're the work of my daughter, Danielle, who crept out with her camera early to catch the morning fog, and then went off again in the golden light of evening.

So what's your favorite time of the year? Do you find it changes depending upon where you live? Or maybe aging has something to do with it...

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Author Blurbs Ought to Work--but Rarely Do

The good news is that the cover of What Darkness Brings is almost ready to be released. The even better news is that the slight delay occurred because a #1 New York Times bestselling author has just written a wonderful blurb for it. She stumbled across the series by accident, read all seven published books in a two-week marathon, and then contacted my editor and offered to write a blurb for What Darkness Brings.

There is something particularly humbling about having such a successful fellow-author so enthusiastically support what you do. I usually take author quotes on books with a grain of salt because I know how many times I have struggled to find something nice to say about a book I've been asked to blurb. But this is the real deal!

So who is it? I can't say just yet. What I can say is that her enthusiasm (along with the series' continued growth in sales) has sparked real excitement at Penguin, and it looks like they're going to put a bit more effort into the promotion of this next book.

But I can give you a sneak peek at the quote: "Best historical thriller writer in the business! Sebastian St. Cyr is everything you could want in a Regency-era nobleman-turned-death investigator: uncannily clever, unwaveringly reserved and irresistibly sexy. The entire series is simply elegant."

Pretty neat, huh?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Hunkering down on Hunker

A writer can use everyday words such as walk, look, or think hundreds of times in a book, and no one will notice. But you need to be more careful with "shiny" words; less common words such as serendipity or ubiquitous draw attention to themselves and are therefore memorable. That all seems self evident; but a problem arises when an everyday word for the author is a "shiny" word for most readers. Which brings me to hunker.

Sebastian hunkers down a lot, generally beside dead bodies or to examine evidence. Sebastian may not be a dandy, but we wouldn't want to give Jules Calhoun the vapors by having Sebastian dirty his doeskin breeches by kneeling. He could squat, which is after all essentially another word for hunker. But I spent so many years camping as a kid in Idaho and Oregon that squat brings to mind someone answering a call of nature behind a tree. Not an image I care to evoke.

There is crouch, and Sebastian does sometimes crouch--especially when he needs to examine two bodies in a row. But crouch is a word that for me carries connotations of hiding--so Sebastian is more likely to crouch down behind a wall when some bad guy is shooting at him. He could bend or stoop, but those words are generally used to imply a motion from the waist, not a lowering of the entire body.

That leaves us with hunker. Some people think of hunker as a modern, uniquely American word, but it is not. It's actually a rather old word, from the Norse huka, which meant--yes--to squat. It is thought to have come to English via Scotland, and was in common enough usage to make it into the dictionaries by the beginning of the eighteenth century. This is important; you'd be amazed at the number of words we use that Sebastian's contemporaries didn't--so I can't.

I actually use hunker a fair amount in my everyday speech, which is I suppose why I was surprised when I learned that other people see it as a "shiny" word--shiny enough that my use of hunker is even a subject of conversation on Goodreads (really!). In speech, I probably use it most often in its other meaning--best illustrated by the sentence, "Rather than evacuate for the hurricane, we decided to hunker down in place." But I also use it rather than squat because--as I said--squat is one of those words I avoid except in a certain context.

At first I considered altering my habits and making an effort to avoid a word that leaps off the page for some of my readers. But I've now decided, no. Sebastian will continue to hunker down beside murder victims and dying witnesses. And, who knows, maybe he'll help to popularize a word that really does deserve to be better known.

(By the way, the photo of Steve above shows another advantage of the word hunker, since this position is quite common but is technically a half-kneel, half-squat for which there is no word. A knaut?)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I know I've been a bad blogger lately. I blame it on a combination of frantic writing and the distraction of following the current political race.

This week I've also been reading the galleys for the paperback edition of When Maidens Mourn. Penguin still hasn't released the cover of What Darkness Brings, but hopefully they will soon.

And here is this year's pumpkin. I tried to take a photo of it lit but I couldn't get it to turn out right. I guess I should have taken it outside like the ones above, but it was COLD out there! Thankfully by tonight it had warmed up enough that we could open the door for the trick-or-treaters.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For Word Lovers

I recently stumbled upon a great blog called Not One-Off Britishisms (I'd provide the link, but Blogspot's new program is giving me fits, as usual. If you're interested, it's at The author is an American, and his blog is dedicated to outing insidious Britishisms creeping into American English (something he finds vaguely despicable and utterly pretentious.) It makes for entertaining reading, especially for people like me whose own language has become hopelessly confused.

As a child, I attended a school taught half in Spanish and half in the Queen's English. I first moved to Australia in 1975 (Wow, typing that makes me feel old!), then to England. I spent 16 years married to someone who was educated in Britain and spoke the Queen's English; lived to Jordan where all my friends were Aussies and Brits, or Jordanians taught English by Brits; then moved to Australia and raised a couple of kids who spoke Aussie. If I wanted to be understood, I learned to adapt.

There were some words I always steadfastly refused to embrace: mum (I refuse to be a "mum"), bathers (bathing suit), and nappies (diapers) being the ones that come to mind, along with expressions such as "made redundant" (let go). Some I adopted but have since mostly dropped, such as bin (waste basket), tin (can), and crisps (potato chips, since what Americans call french fries are chips).

Others are such delicious words that I refuse to part with them, or they fill a gap in the language. Into this category fall whinging (sort of like whining, only subtly different), punch-up, car park (much easier to say than parking garage), fancy (as in, "I think she fancies him" or, "Fancy a hot fudge sunday?"), daggy, and knackered (the last two aren't exactly for polite company). Some are so useful, I've noticed Steve has also adopted them. For instance, what DO Americans call that strip between the sidewalk and the street? We call it "the council strip".

But what amazes me in reading NOOBS is the number of expressions or words I didn't even realized are Britishisms. Reading this blog is like an extended "oops" moment, even though I don't subscribe to its operating theory that using these words and expressions is pretentious. But as someone who employs words for a living, you'd think I'd be more aware of my own speech. Yet I did not realize the many, many words and expression I use that could sound pretentious or odd, and at times be incomprehensible to most listeners. Into this category fall proper (as in, make a proper spectacle of yourself), make a hash, on the back foot, dab hand, have a quiet word, cock-up, barman, sacked (fired), hang on (as in, "Hang on, are you telling me Americans don't say that?"), sorry (as in "I didn't hear that; could you please repeat it?).

Not that I plan to try to change, because language is a fluid thing, and we all add and lose expressions and words over the course of our lives. Still, if you love words, the blog makes for fun reading.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sebastian’s London: Camlet Moat

I’ve been thinking about starting something new: every once and a while, I'd like to write a profile of one of the London sites that appear in the Sebastian series. The obvious place to start is with Camlet Moat, which figures so prominently in When Maidens Mourn. Now just a shady, half-forgotten moat surrounding an abandoned island, it was once something much grander.

Much of the history of Camlet Moat is lost in time. What we do know is that “Camlet” is an abbreviation of its original name, “Camelot,” that its origins date back to before the time when King Arthur may or may not have lived, and that there is something undeniably special about the site.
For such a seemingly insignificant place, Camlet Moat has an intriguing number of weird associations. Yes, there really is an old well on the island, said to be associated with the grail maidens of yore. Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville really did own the castle or fortified house that once stood there, and the tales of his hidden treasure and the moat’s link to the mysteries of the Knights Templar persist to this day. It was once part of a royal forest hunted by Queen Elizabeth and, later, the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin did hang out here when not barking out his famous cry, “Stand and deliver!” Why the place isn’t better known is beyond me.

At any rate, Camlet Moat still exists. If you travel to the northwest of London, you can even walk its quiet, sun-dappled banks because the old eighteen-century estate (much altered in the Victorian period, when Trent Place because Trent Park) is now open to the public. During World War II, captured Nazi generals were imprisoned here. You can’t make this stuff up…

Image courtesy of  Wikimedia


A recent confluence of events set me to thinking about social media lately, including an incident in which an agent, active on Twitter and Facebook, was attacked by someone who was able to use the media to follow her every move. Few industries have embraced the trend with the enthusiasm of publishing. Once, authors were encouraged to establish websites. These days, I can't imagine an author without one (although there are a few). Then came blogs, but they've largely been made obsolete by Facebook and Twitter, and it's reaching the point that many publishers don't even consider those two optional anymore.

Now, I actually like blogging. I started this blog nearly seven years ago, when we were still reeling from Hurricane Katrina and I had a lot to say. I don't post as often these days, but I still enjoy it. I am officially on Facebook, but I almost never post on it because I can never think of anything to say. Someone told me recently that Facebook is like cocktail party chat, and I thought, Ah, that explains it; I've always been lousy at parties. And if you can't think of something to say on Facebook, then you really can't think of anything to say on Twitter!

But here's a dirty little secret almost no one talks about: many of the bestselling authors so visible on Twitter and Facebook don't actually write their own posts; they hire someone to basically impersonate them on line. I understand why they do it; the publishers are so insistent. But keeping up with social media takes time. The more followers you have, the more time it takes to respond to all of them, and that's time a writer should be spending writing. So in desperation, they turn to assistants. Yet there's a level of dishonesty at work here that troubles me. I keep thinking of all the millions of readers out there, trustingly following their favorite authors on Facebook and Twitter, convinced they're getting to know those authors, and it's all just a hoax. Pay no attention to the assistant behind the curtain...

Yes, there are some bestselling authors on Facebook who really are on Facebook: Catherine Coulter is one who comes to mind. But I could name dozens of authors whose on line presence is really a paid assistant. I've no doubt the same thing is even more true of actors and musicians.

So what do you think? Is this just a giant hoax that everyone is in on and therefore it's okay? Is it all symptomatic of something disturbing? Or am I just being crabby?

Photos courtesy of my daughter Danielle.

Friday, September 14, 2012


The page proofs for the next Sebastian book, What Darkness Brings, arrived on my doorstep this week. Galleys are, for the author, the last stage in a novel's long path from manuscript to printed book. At this point, I've addressed my editor's suggestions, reviewed the copy edited pages, given my (limited) input into the cover, and helped write the "cover copy" that tells prospective readers what the book is about. This is the last time I'll see a book before it is published (and yes, sometimes changes are made by someone after I see the galleys, sigh).

"Galley proofs" get their name from the days of hand-set type, when print was manually set up, page by page, in metal trays known as "galleys." "First pass pages" would be run off, which were sent to the editor and author to check for errors. Any necessary corrections would then be made by the printer before the final copies were produced. Of course, these days, most of this is done electronically, but thank heavens I still get actual paper pages to look at, because I have a hard enough time spotting errors as it is, without the added difficulty of trying to read a manuscript on a screen. Most authors will tell you that the brain has a terrible tendency to see what it expects to be there, not what actually is there.

Galleys can be frustrating, since when they arrive I have to stop work on the book I am currently writing and turn away for a few days to do something else (particularly frustrating this time since I just lost over a week to Isaac). But since I know my readers are looking ahead to this book, and not even thinking about Why Kings Confess, which is my own focus at the moment, I thought you might enjoy seeing that things are progressing!

On a side note, one of my readers sent me a link to some more of my covers. These are some Russian editions of one of my romances--another red Midnight Confessions. Thank you, Irin!