Monday, August 31, 2015

Ask Me Anything Monday

(Missy Nora being cute.)

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

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

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

So, questions?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Katrina Plus Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, everyone.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A New Look!

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

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

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

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

So, lots to come!

Sunday, August 16, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Peanut, Roscoe, and Whiskies!