Something about gratitude

I am currently on tour to mark the release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING. Regular blogging will resume in October, but please drop by the blog every Tuesday and Thursday in September for posts from the archive. In the meantime, hope to see you on tour!

This post originally ran in 2008.

More than one person has mentioned to me recently that they read my blog because I don’t complain. (I tried once. I wrote a scathing, shimmering, incandescently enraged blog entry last month when I was so angry I wanted to kick a few people with pointy shoes until the streets ran red with their hearts’ blood. But I got over it and it just seemed silly to leave the entry in the publishing queue when I was no longer wanting to torch their houses, bulldoze the remains, and salt the earth so nothing would ever grow there again. I jest!)

Anyway, in light of those observations about the character of my blog, I started thinking about the mood of this place and how closely it reflects what’s really going on in my head. I decided this blog is completely me, but me at about 80%. (I censor. A LOT.) But–without compromising the privacy of people who didn’t ask to have their personal lives hung out on the washing line of the internet–it is as authentic as I can make it. I really do muse about the things I write here, and I enjoy writing things that I think YOU will enjoy.

But more than that, I am acutely aware of the power of gratitude. (Warning: New Age feeling-type sentiments ahead.) I always believed I would be a published writer. Even as a child, I would practice my autograph or being interviewed by Barbara Walters because I knew those skills would come in handy one day. What I didn’t expect is that it would take me almost until the age of forty to get published. I was twenty-three when I wrote my first novel, and it was fourteen years until I got a book deal. Fourteen years of rejection letters and writing novels that nobody wanted. My confidence and my faith in myself as a writer were beaten so thin moths could have used them for wings. It was, simply put and without melodrama, a dark time.

It hurts to think about it now, so I try not to. But when I do, I am knocked to my knees by gratitude for what I have. My reality now is that every day I can walk into a bookstore and see my work, printed and bound and for sale, ready to go home with someone and hopefully give them a pleasurable escape from their workaday life. My reality now is that I get on airplanes and travel to wonderful places to meet people who believe in what I do and want to help make me successful. And my reality now is that every single morning, I turn on my computer and there is e-mail waiting for me from readers who say things like, I hope your well is ever plentiful and you always find joy in your words.

So that’s why I don’t complain here. This is the place where readers come to meet the real me, and what you find here IS the real me. But it’s the best me. I put on a pretty party dress and my dancing shoes because I know you’re coming and I’m happy to see you here. So thanks for coming, and thanks for appreciating what I do. Because without you, I am a girl with eight lonely little novels in a box under her bed, and I never forget that.

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IT’S PUB DAY!

Today is the official publication day for A CURIOUS BEGINNING! I’m SO happy the day is finally here, I can’t even tell you. It’s been a long and twisty road to get Veronica Speedwell published, and I am so excited for readers to meet her! I kick off the book tour tomorrow with my first appearance in Neptune Beach, FL with loads of other stops to follow. I’m so looking forward to seeing y’all and chatting about Veronica!

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Allllllmost there…

My revisions to Veronica Speedwell #2 are almost finished. I have a due date of August 31 that was graciously extended to September 7 since editor is on vacation, but as that overlaps book tour–and I don’t write when I travel–the end of August it is!

And I’m grateful. This book has been a beast, fighting back from day one. I wrestled and struggled and pushed and prodded and slashed and hashed, and it wasn’t until two days before I left for England that I GOT IT. That was during my first round of revisions and I finally realized what I had been missing. I understood which characters I had left out who needed desperately to be incorporated. It was like making Thanksgiving dinner but forgetting the dressing. The turkey and the mashed potatoes and gravy might be fine, the bedrock of the meal, but without the dressing it all seems a bit meh.

Since I figured out what zippiness I was missing, putting it in has been a piece of cake. This book has–since I began this round of revisions–been like slipping out of a confining dress and putting on your favorite robe. It’s been easy and relaxing and comfortable and FUN.

Here are some thoughts I wrote about revising in 2009. They’re even more apt today.

I used to loathe revising. It made me ill to have to go back and revisit something I had already written. But from experience I’ve learned to love revising. It’s like the girl you met in school and were totally prepared to hate until you discovered you had eleventy million things in common and became BFFs. Revising is now my BFF. That doesn’t mean I still don’t have to talk myself down off the ledge every time I start, but it does mean I have come to appreciate how much SIMPLER it is to deliver a good scene when you have the bones in place and just have to tweak it as opposed to building a rocket ship from parts every time. And it’s tremendously fulfilling to take the raw scene and shape it into something wonderful–it’s like birth, only without the good drugs and messy bits.

Because I worked hard at putting the bones together, I had a good framework for assembling the rest. It was DEVILISH trying to make it work, but I got there in the end, for which I’m heavingly grateful. Of course, I’m going to be nibbling my nails, hoping that my agent and editor like it–this is the first manuscript I’ve done with my shiny new editor!–but I know that whatever the feedback is, this book is now MILES better than what it was when it began.

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Sound the retreat!

I love the idea of retreat, don’t you? Particularly at times like these when I’ve got a deadline looming and book tour coming up. Writing is such a solitary occupation that being thrust out of that is occasionally a daunting thing. Sometimes the carousel of activity whirls a bit too fast for me and I long to jump off. And that’s when I start looking up convents online. I’ve always liked the idea of nuns, dating to when I saw an episode of “The Bionic Woman” where Jaime went undercover at a convent and wore a habit. (I LOVED the habit. The flowing, austere black and white–no wonder Coco Chanel claimed to have been forever shaped as a designer by her early years in an orphanage. Probably not true, but a good story, no?)

Anyway, that episode set me on a career path until my mother sat me down and explained that if I became a nun I couldn’t wear makeup, couldn’t have any boyfriend besides God, and that–perhaps more to the point–we weren’t Catholic. So I gave up my dream of taking the veil, which let’s be honest, was really just about the VEIL itself.(Why did those go out of fashion? Veils are CHIC.) But even though I turned my ambitions elsewhere, I still remembered the cool silence, the long polished hallways, the lack of chatter at meals, and decided that convents would still be an excellent place to go and enjoy a bit of repose.

I keep imagining a peaceful place with a quiet room, a stack of books, and no interruptions, perhaps with a bit of plainsong in the background. Of course, this is a hopelessly outdated and naive picture of convent life. I have since toured the convent where the nuns at my daughter’s school live and it’s nothing at ALL like I pictured. There are no floor-sweeping black habits or herb knot gardens or vows of silence, and it occurs to me that I might like a pedicure or massage during my retreat so a spa is really the best place for me. I wonder if I could find one that enforces silence and pipes in a nice bit of medieval chant?

(This entry is a slightly tweaked version of an entry that posted in 2009. I’m in the VERY LAST STAGES of writing Veronica Speedwell #2 as well as prepping for the release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING and getting ready for the book tour, so revamped bloggery will have to suffice for now!)

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Chat tonight!

Tonight I’ll be over at Night Owl Reviews chatting about A CURIOUS BEGINNING. Chat begins at 8pm Eastern–join me!

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Victorian round-up!

Which sounds like a really AWESOME rodeo, doesn’t it? But we’re rounding up links, not cattle. I’m posting a few places you might like to visit if you love all things Victorian.

*Postal delivery times. Did you know that Londoners could receive mail delivery up to seven times a day? Makes our six times a week look a bit half-hearted, doesn’t it?

*British Library Flickr. LOADS of lovely Victorian things to browse here.

*An article about why you mightn’t want to wander the Victorian streets of London…

*But if you do go, here’s what to expect in a slum.

*Intriguing piece on Victorian drug use.

*And a little more about Victorian drug use.

*Need a Victorian name? The Random Victorian Name Generator has you covered.

*What are you really saying with your fan?

 

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Talking about Granny Meg

We haven’t had an ancestor post recently, and the visit to Westminster Abbey to see the tomb of Edward I was a chance to give a thought to his wife, Margaret of France. (Unfortunately, her tomb isn’t there. She was buried at Christ Church Greyfriars in London, but her burial place was despoiled during the Reformation. Henry VIII has a lot to answer for…)

Edward I is usually associated with his first wife, the much-loved Eleanor of Castile. Well, much loved by her husband. Her popularity with the public waned a bit when her business practices came to light. As it happened, the Spanish princess was a keen woman of real estate and her dealings left more than a few people smarting. But she and Edward were utterly devoted–a remarkable thing in a dynastic marriage–and upon her death, he ordered “Eleanor crosses” to be erected at each place her coffin rested on its journey from her deathbed at Lincoln to her burial at Westminster Abbey. (This marks the origin of Charing Cross, the ‘charing’ being a corruption of the phrase ‘chere reine’ or ‘dear queen’.)

After her death, Edward was bereft, but with only one surviving son out of a possible sixteen pregnancies, he had little choice but to put himself back out on the marriage market, and at this time, a union with France was the most desirable. The fact that it took five years and a bit of warfare to make it happen might have dimmed the prospects of a happy marriage, but in fact, Edward and Margaret of France were by all accounts absolutely blissful together. Edward was either a phenomenal king or a horror out of hell, depending on whether you ask a medieval Englishman or his Welsh or Scottish counterpart. The fact that he had two extremely happy marriages–both arranged–does say something redeeming about his qualities as a husband. In fact, his twenty-year old bride was so lonely for him when he went campaigning in Scotland that she packed up and followed her sixty-year old husband–in spite of a burgeoning pregnancy.

Together Margaret and Edward had three children–Thomas of Brotherton (Earl of Norfolk and my 20th-great grandfather), Edmund, and Eleanor. The fact that their only daughter was named for her predecessor, apparently at her insistence, indicates Margaret was a generous and thoughtful consort. She performed the act of queenly intercession many times, securing mercy for those who fell afoul of Edward’s wrath. She was only 26 when Edward died, but she never remarried, claiming–according to legend–that when he died, so did all other men for her.

Upon Edward’s death, the succession of her stepson, Edward II–with whom she enjoyed a warm relationship–ought to have been a time of peace for Margaret. She had two young sons to bring up and the new king was marrying her half-niece. But it was not to be. Edward II, besotted with his favorites to the point of irrationality, refused to grant his young half-brothers the titles and lands their father had promised, bestowing them upon his lover instead. Margaret contributed 40,000 pounds of her own money to the overthrow of this courtier, living long enough to see him executed and the future Edward III born before succumbing to illness just shy of the age of forty.

Her sons, aged eighteen and seventeen, fought hard to secure their rightful inheritances. The hot-tempered Thomas managed to win his, being created Earl of Norfolk and given the role of Keeper of England while his elder half-brother was fighting in Scotland. He threw in his lot with Edward II’s wife, Isabella, when she staged a coup to dethrone her husband and put the youthful Edward III in his place, and his gamble paid off handsomely. He supported his nephew’s eventual coup against his mother’s rule, and was rewarded with the position of Earl Marshal of England before his death at the age of 38. Margaret’s other son, Edmund didn’t fare so well. Initially supportive of Queen Isabella, he was found to be plotting rebellion against her regime and was swiftly executed. Little Eleanor, the last of her parents’ children, had died at the age of five. But Thomas and Edmund both left daughters who carried on their family’s invincible will, Thomas’s daughter being created Duchess of Norfolk in her own right, while Edmund’s little Joan became Princess of Wales–the first Englishwoman to bear that title–and the mother of Richard II.

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Tour dates and travel and books, oh my!

We have finalized tour plans, chickens! The tour kicks off on September 2 in Florida and continues through Texas, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, and Maryland with multiple stops in a few of those states. Check the listing below to see when and we’re I’m going to be popping up. None of these near you? No worries! You can still get a signed copy of A CURIOUS BEGINNING. Just contact one of the bookstores listed below–The BookMark, Murder at the Beach, Murder by the Book, or The Poisoned Pen before the appearance and they will have me sign a copy for you then and there. Can’t wait!

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Homesick

Sometimes when I travel to a place I love, I get homesick for it when I return and settle back into my normal life. I was raised on a steady diet of English children’s books and Earl Grey, and I can say I was homesick for England before I ever went. There are a few theories floating around that say one’s ancestral DNA is influenced by geography, and since my family was trotting around the British isles a thousand years ago, it makes sense that I would feel comfortable there, no?

The best remedy I’ve found for post-travel let-down is a sort of inoculation, little doses of the destination until you’re a little more immune to its charms. In my case, that’s meant the following:

*Fortnum & Mason’s loose-leaf Royal Blend. Snapped this up at Heathrow on the way out of the country at the tiny Harrod’s food hall.

*Marks & Spencer British Wildflower Honey Honeycomb. I bought it because my new hero, Stoker, eats candy like a fiend and I wanted to know what this particular sweet tasted like. Well, it’s HEAVEN. I ate an entire bag in the UK and didn’t buy more when I was leaving, so I had to order it. Yes, that’s right. I IMPORTED FIVE BAGS. I may need professional help.

*The Queen’s Palaces. Superb 3-hour documentary featuring the queen’s principal residences, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Holyrood House. The history of each residence is presented along with some juicy details and peeks at the various treasures. Great fun and very informative.

*Carrying my British Birds Day Bag from Cath Kidston. Also picked up in Heathrow because I have IMPULSIVITY ISSUES. But I love it dearly, and it never fails to make me smile. I also bought a cosmetic bag, an apron, and socks. Again, I may need help here.

*Listening to this unfailingly cheerful song that is actually American but was repeatedly endlessly this summer in an ASDA commercial. I dare you not to dance along.

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The story continues…

Picking up where we left off yesterday with chapters three and four of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, the first Veronica Speedwell mystery!

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