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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Votes Are In...

Thanks to everyone who let me know what they would prefer to read, here or via Facebook or Twitter. I read a lot of helpful comments and learned something about my readers, so that's always a wonderful experience!

The overwhelming vote was for the firestarters.

I'm really excited to go full out on this story and finish it! It's conceived as a companion to "Middle Awash in Talent," which is now going to be called "Hope & Benevolent." It takes place in a world where most things are just like they are in our daily world, but the general population is joined by people with three different kinds of Talents: telekinesis, pyrokinesis (firestarter talent), and psychics.

Because these powers manifest in members of otherwise normal families when the child is in his or her early teens, these stories are YA or NA and most characters are 13 to 20 years old. Once I finish this one, I plan to start a third story, about psychics. No promises that I'll be able to start it in November, but that would be the ideal.

Otherwise, this series of long stories, which I will put together in a single book when they're all complete, is intended as a celebration of Providence, Rhode Island, where I spent some of my formative years among college students. So the series will be called PROVIDENCE and this firestarter story, "Waterfire."

Waterfire is a real-life art installation I can't wait to describe for you in the story. Suffice to say for now that it's amazing.

Time to get to work! These pictures are sure inspiring. The blog will be confined to practical updates and supercool announcements about publications. (Watch for those!) Otherwise, I'll see you again in December!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Next month is NaNoWriMo, a month which has become sacred in the lives of professional writers and those who plan to use it make the leap into professionalism. It's a marathon writing session, and like real races, the writing athlete has to train for this one.

Mainly, what's involved is research and planning, because the words come out a lot more slowly when you have no idea what you're writing about.

It seems I find myself here most Octobers: how do I decide which project to work on in November so I can do the proper planning? It seems my muse loves the change of seasons, because I get more serious ideas for writing projects in the autumn than at any other time.

For the 2013 exercises, I'm really not sure how many words I'll be able to make for a reasonable goal, because I anticipate a lot of fundamental life changes. Then again, I made my goal of 25,000 words and actually completing my novel in spite of a few setbacks and my husband coming home to vacuum when I was ready to type the last word. (I'm not sure I'll ever know what that was about.)

Setbacks this year include:

   Not having any of those trappings I pictured and wrote about in my completion post. There was some serious inspiration in those unassuming objects, and as of this writing I'm still (five months later!) in a hotel with only the barest essentials. I left behind everything but the computer, convinced we would get the sentimental objects out of storage within four to six weeks. Sigh. But I do have story notes I can use because the ideas for both projects came to me here.
   Not being able to decide which project to write!
   Probably moving and waiting for my stuff in storage to come to me some time in November.
   Most likely, my husband ending his job. Nothing like money worries to take one's inspiration away.

But I have grit. Cervantes wrote in prison, and a hotel is definitely better than that. So here are the possibilities:

A YA paranormal story about a sassy girl who can start fires with her mind. Her school is oppressive and she's got to find the self-confidence to break out in spite of some serious traumas. It's conceived as a companion piece to "Middle Awash in Talent" (title soon to be changed), which is about a sassy girl whose sister can move objects with her mind and who has control over whom in that relationship. Like "Middle Awash," this one would be 16,000 to 20,000 words and I would complete it if I chose it for NaNo. Then the question would be whether to try to carry on with the third story I plan to write in that universe, thus completing the book-length project entirely. The third story will be about a psychic as defined against the Talents in the other two stories.


Begin and pledge a reasonable number of words for the rhino novel. An ingenue stumbles into corruption and intrigue on the rhino preserve where she gets a job. The ideas have become unexpectedly thriller-like as I think them through. There is some urgency to this project, since I'd like to complete a novel about rhinos before they're gone from the real world.

And I must make this decision while furiously typing away on a story for a holiday anthology due at the end of October (more on that soon).

Please weigh in. Firestarters or rhinos?

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Review of Law and Order in Medieval Spain

Whenever I sell a copy of Law and Order in Medieval Spain, I'm a little amazed. I love finding out that there are some people looking for a nonfiction book of literary criticism of thirteenth-century poetry based on legal tracts. I recently had occasion to be dumbfounded when I wandered onto the Amazon page for this book with a different objective to find that a thoughtful reader had taken the time to leave an unsolicited (but much appreciated) five-star review.

Readers, there is nothing that makes an author's day like an unexpected bit of honest appreciation from someone who connected with that author's book.

"A book for a well rounded library," this singular review proclaims. "Enjoyed reading this book and so glad I found it. In college I took a music history class that covered the cantigas of the Virgin Mary."

Me, too. My first exposure to the Cantigas was in "Música Española," a class for American college students in Córdoba, Spain.

"I did find many other books but they were mostly in Latin and the prices were in the range from fifty dollars up to six hundred. This book was at the right price for me but the author put her heart into this book."

Quality academic publishing is expensive, but students are the people who can least afford high prices. I priced the book to be accessible to everyone who might have a hint of interest. Yes, I admit, I put my heart into this book — thanks for appreciating it!

"All her research is well documented and footnoted with names of other authors and universities where I could even get more history."

The highest academic standards were in place at all times during construction of this book. Blood, sweat, and tears. It's nice to know readers like that.

"The ancient art work is a treasure to behold especially since I don't think I'll be traveling to Spain. The subject of this book can interest those who like history, religion, music, or art. All these reasons are why I think this book is for a well rounded library."

That's what I love most about the Cantigas de Santa Maria: they touch so many aspects of medieval life. They aren't unitary, but a combination.

"I even wish the author would write a second book with more on the cantigas of the Virgin Mary." 

Of course this makes me want to drop everything and head to the library to start researching more! 

You can read the whole review without interruption by scrolling down here. Thank you for sharing my joy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rhinos While They Last

I'd like to share two similar infographics, each with its own point of view and information (click on the sources for better views):

From the Huffington Post:

From Al Jazeera:

Complex, but not hard to understand when you come from the point of view that all such destruction comes from ignorance and greed.

A much-needed dose of sanity about the possibility of legalizing trade comes from Annamiticus.

In a nutshell:

1. Rhino horn is worth nothing to human beings.

2. Rhinos must be saved.

3. It's not too late.

I'll expand on these bits of knowledge next week. Feel free to ask questions and let me know what isn't obvious about the rhino crisis.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day and Spanish Heritage

In the picture above, the pulverized remains of Christopher Columbus rest in the casket supported by the four kingdoms of Spain in the Sevilla cathedral below a painting of St. Christopher. Of course, no one is sure those are his actual remains, despite research and DNA testing. Columbus's final resting place has become as equivocal as his legacy.

October 12 is not only the day Europeans first set foot in the Bahamas, but also a day to celebrate Hispanicness, whatever that means to you.

Here are a few suggestions for how to mark the day:

Celebrate Spain with the medieval Spaniards.
Celebrate Spain with historical novelists.
Celebrate Spain with me.
Feel the thrill of fear on the first Columbian voyage.
Read about another unforgettable event in 1492.

Mostly, enjoy!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

True Grit

If you need to be inspired to keep your nose to the grindstone in a way that doesn't take too much time away from that nose-grindstone contact, try this lovely tidbit. Ira Glass is incredible, anyway, and now he brings us years' worth of wisdom in two minutes.

On  the same day, I read an article that scientifically proved that success is better predicted by a person's "grit" quotient than by intelligence. Grit is perseverance and enthusiasm for long-term goals that cause an aversion to giving up. More or less, doggedness.

So I bit. I took the test. And thank goodness, this is how it came out:

That's 98, 99 and 97th percentiles across the board. I am gritty. Yes! Some long term things I've accomplished that bear this out are finishing an epic novel even while I moved to four different states, a PhD, two thesis-based master's degrees, and founding not one but two publishing companies.

So, that predicts success in the future, right? Because we all need to know the end goal isn't totally out of reach, and – dare I say it? – maybe even visible from here. I may be super gritty, but I'm starting to cramp up from keeping my heels dug in...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dragon's Child: The King Arthur Trilogy by M. K. Hume

M. K. Hume set out to retell the Arthur legends from a new perspective, using the strength of her knowledge about post-Roman Britain, and tomorrow, that dream makes it to American readers with the first book in the King Arthur Trilogy, Dragon's Child.

The novel accomplishes many things, including:

Describing the post-Roman ambiance
Showing Latin placenames for Arthurians sites
Explaining the controversy between Roman, Celtic, and Saxon factions
Revealing that Arthur had a wife before Guinevere
Being old fashioned

I'm not saying that last one is a bad thing. Old fashioned writing is clearly a matter of taste. The novel doesn't really fit in with contemporary historical fiction for two big reasons: the pacing and the point of view.

Pacing: I was puzzled as to why certain passages were emphasized with description, dialogue, and emotional analysis while others were glossed over. The first really big event occurs more than 100 pages in. A devastating evening at the villa turns into several highly detailed days of horrors which stand out all the more because of the surrounding summarizing passages. I already believed Caius was nasty and have a sense of some of the depraved things Romans did in history, so I'm not sure the scenes in which Caius's friends worship the death gods and Arthur exhumes the corpses of abused children were necessary. Perhaps the depth of Caius's evil is important in an upcoming book? For the rest of the novel, I couldn't decide whether it could be condensed to a normal-sized novel or split up even further into two or three. Sometimes, an event was discussed or pondered so much that when it happened, it was anticlimactic.

The pacing is also weighed down with complex turns of phrase: "Artorex easily parried Caius's blows, until a woolen mat brought him to grief when his foot slipped on its treacherous purchase." (page 111 of the advanced readers edition). There could be many ways to express this, but in an action sequence, "he slipped on a woolen mat" is most effective.

Point of view: This novel takes an omniscient stance, in which the narrator knows everything going on, down to the thoughts of various characters in a scene. My experience as an editor has convinced me that omniscience isn't an option for today's writers. I find that the writing is stronger when events can be described from a single character's perspective, and any switch in point of view is clearly signaled by a chapter or section break. However, books with an omniscient point of view are still published all the time, and an epic with so many characters is the best excuse I can think of for using it.

There is one gaffe in my advanced reader's edition that is a nightmare for all historical fiction authors: "The landscape was newly washed by the onset of spring into a tapestry of green and chocolate..." (p. 205) Green and what?

One thing I'm sure about post-Roman Britain is that they'd never heard of chocolate. Granted, the characters aren't savoring chocolate bonbons, but since they wouldn't have been able to use it to describe a color, either, the use of the word takes the reader out of the story. Much safer to say "brown."

That said, I really enjoyed spending time with some of the unexpected characters, like Ector, Livinia, Targo, and Gallia. Ygerne (Igraine) and Morgan have good psychological complexity. And I really liked everything in the list above (except the last one).

I highly recommend this book to readers who long for the days of all-knowing narrators who take you on long adventures under the assumption of certain heroic ideals. And that's what King Arthur is all about.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Author Claudia H. Long on Her Publishing Journey

I met Claudia H. Long when she submitted her novel, The Duel for Consuelo, to Loose Leaves for consideration. The book was very exciting to me because it takes place in New Spain (Mexico during the colonial period). Unfortunately, Claudia's agent worked a little too fast for us while we were swamped with work and she placed it elsewhere.

JK: New Spain is obviously unexploited and fascinating material for novels in English. How did you come to be interested in the time and place?

CHL: I fell in love with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz when I was an undergraduate. After all, what 1970s girl could resist a feminist nun who wrote poetry and subversive letters to the Bishop of Puebla in 1690? 

JK: No argument here! I've spent a fair share of time studying Sor Juana, too.

CHL: I wrote my senior thesis on her, and remained fascinated by her daring and works. It didn't hurt that I grew up in Mexico City, either!

I agree, though, that Mexico and the 1650-1800 time period are a completely untapped world. One of the reasons for that is traditional publishers' hesitance to publish non-English-Regency-Historicals. I got lucky, Atria/Simon & Schuster took me on for that book... but I get ahead of myself here.

JK: How long did it take you to write your first book, and how did it come to be published? 

Sor Juana
CHL: It took me two years to write Josefina's Sin. I'm a veteran of NanoWrimo, and almost every November I have written a 50,000 word novel with them. I have a number of Women's Erotic Fiction books under a pen name, and even those were usually written in a Nano-November.  But because Josefina's Sin was my first breakthrough mainstream novel, I then took more than another year to expand, rewrite, rewrite some more, and polish the book. I was very lucky. I got an incredible agent, April Eberhardt, who sold the book to Simon & Schuster.

But when it came time for the next book, The Duel for Consuelo, my editor at S&S had left, and the house didn't want the sequel. While I was at the Historical Novel Society's conference in London, an editor of a major house, who had considered The Duel for Consuelo, counseled me on my book: "I loved Consuelo, you write beautifully," she said, "but does it have to be about Mexico? I mean, nobody wants to read about, you know, Mexico!" 

When I picked my jaw up off the ground, I realized that this mentality was seriously impacting the sale of the second book!

JK: Is that what prompted you to turn to small publishers this time around?

CHL: My agent did eventually place The Duel for Consuelo with Booktrope, and I am very excited about their model. I don't regret not being with a major New York house this time around. At the majors, the author has very, very little control over the marketing, and if one isn't J. K. Rowling, one doesn't get much in the way of support. Although I must admit the prestige is fantastic.

I was attracted to Loose Leaves Publishing because of The Fiery Alphabet. I read about the book in the She Writes newsletter. I liked the sound of the book and bought it. As soon as I started it, I was entranced. Who publishes such a book? I wondered. No major house would take a chance on such an esoteric topic, despite the fact that The Fiery Alphabet could be a best-seller. I checked and it was Loose Leaves. The choices, and the beauty of the publication, point to a fine, truly independent house. 

I can't wait to see more of Loose Leaves Publishing. They are THE house to watch, I think. 

JK: Thank you, Claudia! Dear readers, that was unsolicited! And thank you, Claudia for coming by my blog to talk about your wonderful books and complex publishing journey.

Follow Claudia on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her website for all the latest.