In which we’re chatting again about editorial choices

We’re carrying on with Nancy’s questions–which are so good I’m giving serious consideration to letting her choose all our blog topics. Forever.

My question here is what if they want you to cut something you think is essential, but they apparently are not naturally seeing the importance of it? Does that mean I didn’t make solid enough connections? Was I not explicit enough in the picture I was painting? I read loads of stuff all the time occasionally that I don’t necessarily make the correct inferences. Is that my mistake or the authors? Should I apologize for or correct my work in order to “reach” a broader audience? I suppose it’s different with you—you can use all the Victorian vernacular you want, for example, without fear of alienating an audience. If they don’t want to read Victorian books, they don’t have to.

Short answer: if you think something is essential and your editor thinks you can cut it, you didn’t persuade her it was essential. It might be; we don’t know because you didn’t sell it. So, you have two options. You can take her opinion that it isn’t crucial to the story, kill it, and move on.

The second option is more challenging. If you go this route, you need to figure out where you failed to link this part to your overall story. Brainstorming with your editor could help. Does she agree that this could support your theme but just misses being neatly tied in? Does she think it’s repetitive and therefore prime for cutting out? Or does she flat believe it doesn’t support your overall story?

Listen to the answers and rethink it AGAIN. If you’re still persuaded that it needs to be there, you’ve got some convincing to do, and in light of editorial objections, you should have some guidance of how to get there. It might require elaborating on the scene. Sometimes adding a single line can link a passage to a previous incident or observation to which it would naturally relate. It might require trimming. Did you load the passage with lots of descriptive prose that’s making the forest too thick to appreciate the trees? Prune it. Set the scene and then leave it be. Give the story space to tell itself instead of always inserting the super cool thing you found in your research and want to show off to readers. (That one is particularly challenging for historical fiction writers. We find VERY COOL THINGS indeed, and it hurts not to put them all in. But readers would really, really hate us if we did.)

As to your question about inferences, sometimes its reader, sometimes its author. When I lay in little hints and innuendos, I know not every reader is going to find all of them. On the flip side, I don’t know them all either. Readers frequently find connections or metaphors or Easter eggs that I didn’t put in deliberately. The subconscious mind can play a BIG part in creativity, and mine is forever sprinkling mine with little goodies I didn’t intend. Readers read and comprehend at MANY levels. There will be people who just get the events of the plot and pay little attention to the characters and their arcs. There will be others who don’t really care as much about the events as long as they can feel a deep connection to the characters. Without that, they don’t care at all about the story. (And some readers are fundamentally incapable of appreciating a book unless they LIKE the main character. That’s a peeve of mine, but a blog for a different day.)

Also, get out of the headspace that you need to apologize. You’re creating. That’s messy. It’s full of detours and diversions. (Note: I did NOT say mistakes.) You may think you’re heading down one path and suddenly realize you need to divert, changing course to a MUCH more interesting place. For instance, I just turned in Veronica Speedwell’s first book. And in the first version, I told too much. I was trying to figure out Veronica’s sidekick, so I wrote his backstory into the conversation. Into LOTS of conversations. I mean, I LOADED the book with details about what his life experience has been.

Guess what? It’s totally unnecessary. The fact that he IS a certain way is all the plot demanded. It didn’t need the why. The why is MUCH better doled out over the books in the series. So on my editor’s advice, I scrapped a good 90% of it. And the book is better. It’s tighter and more focused. Did I make a mistake in telling his story to begin with? Absolutely not. I LEARNED.

So when I turned in the revision to my editor and she loved it, I still toyed with the notion of telling less. I emailed her and suggested cutting ANOTHER development in the story, saving it up for a future project. And that’s what we’re working through now. I will most likely end up scrapping two whole scenes that were good, solid scenes. I may get to use them down the road; they may never see the light of day. Doesn’t matter. I learned from writing them. They’re experience, not mistakes.

To hit your final point, nope. I can’t use all the Victorian vernacular I want. For starters, I’d restrict my potential audience to almost nothing. Modern readers like the Victorian atmosphere but they want it accessible. That doesn’t mean I give them “history light”. I don’t put anything into the books that wasn’t at least possible–no advanced science that didn’t exist, no technology that hadn’t been invented, no social constructions that had not already been created even if they were extremely limited in scope. I never knowingly use words coined after 1887. (Some writers fudge these things, and that is TOTALLY an authorial choice.) But it’s a fine line between sharing real history and making it engaging and comprehensible for a modern reader. They might be interested to know that Irish Home Rule was a big deal in the 1880s–and they might really enjoy the choice bits about whose assassinations during that decade can be traced to that cause–but they most likely are not going to want endless blather about the intricacies of the politics of separation. I use just enough history to set the stage for a reader, explaining the world in which my characters are operating, then I get the hell out.


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In which I did it!

I  made my deadline, peeps–A CURIOUS BEGINNING, the first Veronica Speedwell mystery is revised and in my publisher’s hands with a bow on top. I turned it in with three hours to spare which is much closer than I like to cut it, but there you go. Since I turned it in, I’ve been digging out my inbox–which is still fairly catastrophic but I can see the end–and reading for pleasure. PLEASURE, people. It’s been wonderful. I just finished Tracy Borman’s ELIZABETH’S WOMEN, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. If you like your history Tudor-flavored, this one is for you. Along with Susan Bordo’s THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN, this is the best book I’ve read on the subject in ages. It was stupefying to see how much new information Borman was able to dig up–little details that really heighten the complexity of an already intricate time. (I was always going to like this book for the simple reason that Borman doesn’t canonize Jane Seymour, a person I have always found to be calculating and shrewd and not terribly nice.)

And now it’s time to tackle some of Reader Nancy’s questions! If you’ve missed my previous references to Reader Nancy, she’s a student and reader and writer who sends lengthy and delightful emails thick with excellent questions. She sent me a few in December when I was too occupied with Veronica even to respond, and now that I’ve caught my breath let’s go! In today’s question, Nancy is asking for a breakdown on the editor/writer relationship and how to incorporate editorial suggestions when revising.

My question to you, dearest D: What “bits” should come out, because it’s not obvious to me? Do editors do this to you/all authors? Do you ever find yourself having to ask for further explanation? Or are editors of novels as explicit as you can get when it comes to revision?

First and most importantly, the editor/author relationship is unique. And when I say that, I mean EACH of them is unique. Even the same editor won’t always edit all of her authors the same way. It depends upon what the author is willing to hear. I had one editor who had a successful author in her stable whose directive was, “Don’t edit me. Reject it or accept it, but I’m not changing anything.” Now, that’s fine if your goal is to write one way and never deviate from it. Me, I like to grow and I like to make the book better. So, I listen.

The editor will generally give you broad strokes of what needs to be beefed up or what isn’t working and leave it up to you to figure out how precisely to fix it. Editors will also generally give you MUCH more specific direction if you press for it. Some editors will treat you with kid gloves and edge into the criticism, others will get out the scalpel and head straight for the jugular–and each of those extremes and everything in between have their place. Not all techniques work for all authors. If I had a jugular-slasher, I’d rage. It would never work. I prefer a tactful back and forth, something collaborative and respectful. The attitude I thrive with is that we’re both out to make the book the best it can be and we’re working together. So, if you feel comfortable with your editor and confident that she knows her stuff, never hesitate to pick her brain for ideas. Every editor I’ve met LOVES that.

But what if you want to have a bash at going at it alone? Perfectly fair. When evaluating a scene, the first thing I ask is, IS THIS NECESSARY? Is the information conveyed elsewhere? If it is, lose it. Just slash and burn. This is known as ‘killing your darlings’ and it hurts. You don’t want to lose your pretty prose! But if it makes the book tighter, lose it. (But do NOT throw it away! Paste the deleted info into another file and tuck it away. When I was revising Veronica’s book, I deleted thousands of words. Perhaps half actually made their way back in because I realized the scene worked, just not where I had put it originally. Never, ever throw anything away. Cannibalism is an excellent habit.)

So, once you’ve eliminated what you can, look at the scene again. Does the scene align with the story arc? Does it fit with who your characters are? What is the point of it? If you don’t know, it’s probably pointless. And think again about getting rid of it.

If you’ve determined you MUST have it, look for repetition within the scene. Is there dialogue that covers the same ground? Combine it. Streamline it. By now the scene should be reading better. If it is STILL giving you trouble, try my favorite writing trick ever. I learned this from Phillip Margolin when he came to speak at a SinC meeting eons ago. REWRITE THE SCENE FROM ANOTHER CHARACTER’S PERSPECTIVE. If you’re writing third person POV, no problem. Just rewrite it with a shift to a different character and see if that doesn’t improve it.

But what if you’re writing first person? Still possible. There were two scenes in the Veronica book that were making me froth at the mouth. I just kept coming back to them thinking, “Meh.” They were fine. They were beige. They conveyed the information, but they weren’t memorable. So I reversed the ACTION. Instead of a secondary character driving the action, I had Veronica do it. I made HER the catalyst for what was about to happen, not her sidekick. And suddenly, it worked. It strengthened her–an excellent thing since she’s our main character. It made the secondary character better too because suddenly the dynamic between them shifted.

Here’s an example: you have to write a scene where a mother and son talk about the money he’s taken from her purse. If she drives the action, that scene is an accusation. If he drives it, it’s a confession. Totally different dynamic even though the same information is being conveyed. I sincerely hope that just rocked your world  because I can’t begin to tell you how useful I’ve found that ONE tip, and whenever I see Phillip Margolin’s name I call down blessings upon his head.

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In which OH MY GOD, IT’S D-DAY

This is D-Day, chickens–Delivery Day, the day the final version of the first book in Veronica Speedwell’s adventures gets turned in to the editor. The time for changes is past. Everything from here on out will be limited to the odd word or phrase. No rewriting allowed. I will have the book turned in by the end of today and tomorrow will be devoted to post-book letdown. In the meantime, while I tweak and trim, I’m giving you a repost from last January. I will be back on Tuesday with BRAND NEW BLOGGY GOODNESS thanks to Reader Nancy–who is also Student Nancy and Writer Nancy–and who has emailed me some really fabulous questions. Today we’re revisiting an interview I did with the glorious Ella Kay, royalty blogger and jewel maven!

January 2014:

Alright, chickens, I am delighted to post an interview with the divine bloggery Ella Kay! I first crossed paths with her around the time of the royal wedding in 2011 when she was still running Mad Hattery, a blog devoted to the bizarre and beautiful headgear of the royals. In 2013, she created A Tiara a Day, a blog that spent an entire year celebrating the glory of the tiara–including photos and provenance. For 2014, she is embarking on a new adventure with The Court Jeweller, an extravaganza of royal jewels throughout history. Her posts are always a delight, full of actual events and the delicious gossipy bits that make them all the more interesting. She graciously agreed to answer some questions for us, and without further ado, Ella Kay:

Your blogs have been so inventive and informative—and your latest venture, The Court Jeweller, is perhaps the most ambitious yet! You’ve gone from hattery to tiaras to jewels. Have you always been interested in jewels or were they a natural progression from royal hats?

I’ve always been a bit of a magpie, but I really got interested in jewels, especially tiaras, while writing Mad Hattery. It was fun to talk about the zany hats, but royal jewels had a historical aspect to them that was really intriguing to me. Tracing the jewels back over the generations helped me learn a lot about historical connections between the families, sometimes links I’d never even imagined could exist. I mean, who ever would have dreamed that the beautiful suite of rubies worn today by Crown Princess Mary of Denmark was also worn by Napoléon’s former fiancée at his coronation two centuries ago? The stories are so fascinating, and the objects are so beautiful – it’s hard not to be drawn to them.

Royal jewels in particular are loaded with history, both the happy occasions like wedding and christenings and coronations, and the tragic—wars, revolutions, executions. What is the most interesting story you’ve found connected to a jewel?

Hands down, it’s the story of the turquoise and moonstone tiara that now belongs to Lord and Lady Geddes. It didn’t start out in England at all – it was a gift from the Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse to his wife, Grand Duchess Eleonore, in 1906. The piece was made in Russia, which makes sense when you realize that Ernst’s sister was Tsarina Alexandra. In 1937, Eleonore decided to give the tiara to her new daughter-in-law, Margaret, as a wedding present, so she packed it in her luggage for the flight to the wedding, which was being held in Britain. But Eleonore’s other daughter-in-law – Princess Cecilie, one of the sisters of the Duke of Edinburgh – suddenly went into labor during the flight. The pilot tried to make an emergency landing, but the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. The one thing they found intact in the wreckage? The tiara, which was safe in the strongbox that Eleonore had packed it in. It’s still worn today by members of Margaret’s family – you can see it occasionally at the State Opening of Parliament in the UK.

Some jewels—like the Hope Diamond, once the possession of Marie Antoinette—are believed to be cursed. Do you believe some jewels have a malevolent influence on their owners?

I think that people like to project their own feelings and anxieties on to their jewels – they’re such personal items, and so often we associate jewelry with major events and milestones in our lives. But I don’t believe objects, even beautiful, valuable ones, can be cursed. If people think their jewels are bad luck, though, they should loan or donate them to museums so we can all ogle them instead. Win, win!

Kings used to wear their jewels to display their wealth and power, but since the 19th century, the splashy gems have been reserved for queens. Which king in history was the best at peacocking? Which current royal male does the best job of showcasing his collection?

George IV never met a bauble he didn’t like, for sure. But I think the winner might be one of the last Maharajas of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh. His jewels were completely bananas – giant necklaces of diamonds and pearls, bejeweled turbans, jeweled chains and belts and pins. It’s insane and amazing, especially for a male royal who lived into the twentieth century. He was one of Cartier’s best customers – they designed a diamond necklace for him that weighed almost a thousand carats!

As far as contemporary royal men go, that’s a bit harder, because their jewelry is generally limited to insignia from various orders of chivalry. But I think that the sheer amount of precious metal worn by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden for major occasions (like royal weddings) has to rate highly. And when King Charles III is crowned in Britain one day, the crown he wears will definitely be one of the most glittering in the world (especially because the Brits are some of the only monarchs who still actually wear their crowns!).

Monarchies of long-standing have centuries to amass their jewel collections. Which country/dynasty in history had the most significant collection? Who has the most impressive collection now?

At the height of their power, it’s pretty hard to top the Romanovs. If you’ve ever seen the photographic inventory of their jewels taken by the Soviets after the revolution, you have an idea of the sheer splendor of their royal court – and you have to remember that the inventory doesn’t even represent their complete collection. Some pieces were smuggled out of Russia – like the Vladimir tiara worn today by Queen Elizabeth II – and some pieces with Romanov connections had already traveled with Russian grand duchesses and princesses to other royal families. The former royal family of Greece still owns lots of Romanov jewelry, as do some members of the extended Danish royal family.

Today, there’s a lot of attention paid to the British royal jewels, and Elizabeth II does have some truly impressive pieces. But in terms of the best collection, I think it’s a tie between the Bernadottes in Sweden, who have an impressive number of jewels that came from the French imperial period along with more contemporary pieces, and the Orange-Nassaus in the Netherlands, who have built up a fascinating assortment of jewels over the past four or five generations. Both royal families have a major thing in common: the big, important pieces of jewelry belong not to individual people but to a family jewel foundation. The foundations keep the pieces in the country (because once pieces are given or bequeathed to the foundation, they can’t be sold or dispersed), and they give the members of the family the chance to wear a greater variety of jewels. I wish all royal families had foundations – it’s always disappointing when heirloom pieces leave a collection, because often they’re not seen in public again.

Just like clothing—and hats!—jewels have trends. What trend in jewels do you miss? Are there pieces you wish were still fashionable?

It’s a shame that there’s not really a way for royal women today to wear the big jeweled stomachers worn by queens in the past – they’re marvelous, elaborate pieces, but modern clothing really can’t accommodate them. I wish younger royal ladies would find more opportunities to wear the brooches from royal collections. Brooches tend to be small, and sometimes they’re seen as frumpy or old-fashioned, but you can wear them in lots of innovative ways. Princess Eugenie recently showed up for church on Christmas morning with a brooch pinned to her hat, so perhaps there’s hope!

Which single piece do you covet the most? It doesn’t have to be currently in existence!

The Swedish processional jewels, no question. It’s a necklace that Gustav V of Sweden gave to his new bride, Victoria of Baden, to mark her procession into Stockholm after their wedding in 1881. The piece is still in existence, and Princess Madeleine wore it to her sister’s wedding a few years ago. Gorgeous Ceylon sapphires, diamonds, and baroque pearls set in gold – it’s absolutely beautiful, and if I owned it, I would wear it everywhere.

Finally, how much jewelry do you wear on a daily basis?

Surprisingly little for a blogger who focuses on jewels! For everyday wear, I usually only put on a simple necklace (my favorites are the delicate gold necklaces made by a company called Dogeared) and a watch – right now I’m wearing a tiny silver and gold one. Occasionally I’ll go a bit bigger and wear a statement necklace with a T-shirt – I like that juxtaposition. If I’m out in the evening, I like to wear big chunky bracelets to add a little interest.

I also have a little vintage jewelry collection – I love ‘50s and ‘60s costume pieces from companies like Coro, stuff that’s bright and fun and easy to find on eBay. And I often buy jewelry as souvenirs from various places that I visit around the world. I’ve got a lapis lazuli necklace that will always remind me of a vacation I took to California, and a little gold and garnet ring that commemorates my last pilgrimage to the jewelry holy land – AKA the jewelry rooms at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.


Huge bouquets of thanks to Ella Kay for dropping by! If you’d like to follow her, links are below, and be aware–she gives good tweet, particularly when there’s a big royal event afoot.

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In which I have TWO days left until deadline!

So with two days left until deadline, there’s a lot of hyperventilating, a lot of “OHMYGOD, WHY ISN’T THIS BOOK EXACTLY WHAT I WANT, WAIT THIS PART ISN’T SO BAD”, and a fair bit of tearing of hair. At this stage, the hard work is done and the rest is all tweaking–the sort of tweaking that makes you very glad you actually have a deadline because otherwise you would just sit and mess with it FOREVER. It’s like getting ready for a party. By now, the dress and heels are on, the makeup is done–you’re just fixing the winged eyeliner and touching up the lipstick.

In light of that, I am reposting an interview I did for the delightful Suzy Nightingale at Fragrantica last year–with the addition that in 2014 I started wearing four new fragrances not mentioned in the interview.

*Botrytis by Ginestet. I discovered this thanks to the glorious and generous Alyssa Harad. If you don’t have her book, run away and get it now. This fragrance is honeyed wine and deeply sensual. Think of drizzling honey on your favorite person…

*Baudelaire by Byredo. It’s a men’s fragrance, but I wear it with gusto. (Ava Gardner and Cary Grant wore the same scent, so there’s a glamorous precedent.) It’s leather and juniper and spice–perfect for winter.

*Noir Tease by Victoria’s Secret. I know. I can’t stand cheap fragrance, but this one is delicious. It’s vanilla and fruit and jasmine and musk and I should HATE it, but somehow it works. It’s a good everyday fragrance that’s sexy without saying, “Hey, let’s do unseemly things behind a potted plant.”

*Black Jade by Lubin. I almost didn’t share this one because I love it so much I want to Gollum it and keeps the preciouses all to myself. The story is that this was originally made for Marie Antoinette–a story that probably only Lubin’s PR director believes–but it makes for good copy and the perfume is divine. Lush, sensual, and elusive. It changes a LOT during drydown, and it has an unimpressive sillage, but it doesn’t matter in the slightest because it is pure magic.

Here’s the interview from last year:

Oooh, extra Friday bonus post, chickens! This week the ever-eloquent Suzy Nightingale asked me for an interview for Fragrantica, and I was thrilled to comply. If you’ve spent any time hanging out here, you know how much I love perfume, and this was the perfect excuse to geek out on one of my favorite subjects. Suzy asked great questions, and she pulled some lovely tidbits from the blog you might have missed. You can read the entire interview here, and huge bouquets of thanks to Suzy and Fragrantica for the invitation!

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In which I am on deadline

I know you know. But I feel compelled to point out that I am revising like a FIEND right now, and completely fresh bloggery is beyond me. (I have some superb entries planned about process once the book is turned in!) Anyway, my deadline is January 15, and this book is coming along swimmingly, but it’s taking a great deal of focus–the sort of focus that leaves me mentally shredded when I’m finished. In our house, this is referred to as book brain. It got so bad during one set of revisions that I told my husband something he was looking for was “on the big flat thing in the bedroom.” “You mean the bed?” “I forgot the word.” Yeah.

So, I’m offering up a repost of a few bits from last January in case you missed them–including a recipe for Baked Oatmeal Bars that are YUM.

January 2014. So today I have a recipe for you and some dead folks. Yeah, I know. Pretty random, but we’re under five inches of snow here–nothing for those of you accustomed to it, but our town is shut down–and I’m in a random frame of mind.

A pal of mine sent me this link to Victorian bereavement photography that is vastly intriguing. If you’re not familiar, photographing the dead used to be quite common. Oftentimes, the funeral photograph was the only likeness the family would have of their loved one, particularly in the case of children. I like these vintage photographs for their peek into a different world where death was no less tragic but closer somehow than it seems today. We’re terribly squeamish about death, particularly in the US, and these photographs are a reminder that it wasn’t always the case. As one Facebook commenter remarked when I posted this there, it seems a healthier way of processing loss. (I like the older gentleman with the graying beard–he looks quite peaceful.)

Now to the recipe. I’ve been eating buckets of oatmeal lately and wanted something different–more like a bar and less a bowl of porridge. So I did a little googling and a little tinkering and here’s what I came up with:

Baked Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

1 1/2 c quick cooking oats

1 c flour

1 t baking powder

1/4 c sugar

1/2 t salt

3/4 t cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients. Add:

1 beaten egg

1/2 c milk

1/4 c oil

Stir together. Add:

1/4 c raisins.

Turn into a greased square baking dish. Bake 350 for 25 minutes.

Now to the particulars: I used gluten-free flour, grapeseed oil, and coconut milk–the refrigerated kind rather than the canned stuff. The refrigerated variety of coconut milk tastes MUCH less like coconut. In fact, I can’t taste it at all. You could sub almond milk or soy or regular cow’s milk if that’s your thing. Any oil would probably work; grapeseed is what I had on hand. A grating of fresh nutmeg would probably be delicious, and some nuts might not go amiss. You could throw in some dried cranberries or cherries if you prefer them to raisins. The result is a cross between a breakfast bar and a scone and not terribly sweet. Perfect with tea and VERY yummy hot out of the oven! Plus, nothing smells better than cinnamon…

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In which I am back!

Hello, chickens–and happy 2015! I hope all of you enjoyed the guest blogging during December. A HUGE thank you to all the fine folks who participated. It gave me a much-needed break to focus on the revisions of my new novel and spending the holidays with my family. As of today, husband–who only had to work five days in December!–is back at work and daughter is heading back to college after more than three weeks at home.

By noon the house will be quiet…possibly too quiet after all the heightened energy of December. That’s when the letdown comes–the feeling that January is an afterthought. If you’re inclined to celebrate Epiphany, then today is Twelfth Night and you still have a bit of revelry to enjoy. For the rest of us January is both a relief and a footnote. I don’t do resolutions, so I don’t have that to contend with, but I do have a deadline on January 15. The deadline and all its attendant stresses–Do I like this book? Is this book good? Will anyone else think so? Why EXACTLY do I write?–coupled with the post-holiday bleurghs could make for a fairly grey mood. So I have a plan.

My plan is to extend the holidays. Not the decorations–those are already packed up. Not the excess–I overindulged on Christmas Day and haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since. (We won’t even TALK about how much I ate. Let’s just say I’m craving Thai red chili soup and green tea and lots of vegetables.) But there are little things I can do to stretch out the holiday mood just a wee bit longer.

*Candles. I stocked up on wintry scents, and I’m burning candles even in daytime to make the house smell good and look cozy. (In a pinch, some cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel simmered on the stove will do nicely.)

*Mysteries on TV. I have subscribed to the Acorn channel on YouTube and it’s WELL worth the $4.99 each month. They have all the recent Marple and Poirot adaptations as well as oodles of other lovely British offerings. (I can’t explain why mysteries feel “holiday” to me; they just do. This time of year I’m particularly smitten with Golden Age British crime featuring fogbound or snowy houses and murderous houseguests. This may also explain why I hate to entertain…)

*Mysteries on my Kindle. I’ve recently discovered Clara Benson’s Angela Marchmont series, and I’m LOVING it. They feature a wealthy, just-past-the-first-flush-of-youth sleuth and England between the wars. So far I’ve guessed the culprit far in advance of the end, but I don’t even care. They’re just right for this time of year.

*Winter music. NOT holiday tunes, you understand. If I hear one more rendition of anything regarding marshmallow worlds or chestnuts and open fires, I might take up violence as a hobby. But Loreena McKennitt, Gregorian chants, Baroque chamber music–it all feels wintry without being twee.

*Tea. I’ve recently discovered two new favorites. Marcus Samuelsson’s Ambessa Safari Breakfast is one of the most delicious black teas I’ve ever sampled. It’s gotten so bad I’m now ordering it online just to make sure I don’t run out. To counteract the caffeine blast from too much Safari Breakfast, I’ve also taken to drinking Tazo Bramblewine. It’s lower in caffeine, and delightfully fruity–as if you’ve stirred cherry jam into your tea.



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In which we have guests, part 33

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Linda Reilly.

First, a huge THANK YOU to Deanna Raybourn for giving me this opportunity to guest post on her blog on the eve of a brand new year ~


Years ago I stumbled upon a charming cozy mystery set in a small New England town. In this quaint fictional locale, the theme is books. The main character owns a mystery book store, and she’s surrounded by a slew of delightfully quirky characters. By the time she solved the murder and tied the loose ends into tight little knots, I was completely and irrevocably hooked. I wanted to read cozies! More important, I wanted to write cozies. Thinking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Back when paperback mysteries cost seventy-five cents, Agatha Christie had been a big favorite of mine. She evoked such enchanting visions of old-world English villages that I longed to travel to England, a dream I later fulfilled.


Ah, but what kind of cozy would I write? We’ve all heard the old saw write what you know, but was it really the best advice? I honestly wasn’t sure, since I’d read opposing views. But writing what was familiar sounded awfully good to me.


To write what I know, I had to rely on my day gig as a paralegal/title examiner. Wait . . . don’t nod off yet. Examining titles in the Registries of Deeds, where evidence of land ownership is recorded, is actually the most fascinating part of my daily routine. So my main character, I decided, would be a paralegal and an expert at examining titles. She would work for a tiny law office and live in a fictional town called Hazleton, New Hampshire. And because she needed a sidekick, I gave her a sixty-something aunt—a Realtor who tools around in her dead husband’s old gas guzzler and plays Beatles music around the clock.


To create some of the clues, I first invented a diary–the diary of lovesick banker Frederic Dwardene, circa 1949. Each chapter opens with one of his journal entries. Each entry moves forward in time in sync with the main story, which takes place in the modern day. I had such fun with Frederic’s flowery, old style prose . . . not to mention his bad poetry! His despairing affection for the woman he adored was both a challenge and a pleasure to write.


But my favorite clue, and the one I had the most fun with, is the one hidden among the weighty volumes in the county Registry of Deeds. Once my main character slides the final puzzle piece into place, the killer’s identity pops into her brain in a sudden Aha! moment. That is . . . if he’s the real killer.


After many false starts, the mystery finally came together. A detailed rejection from one insightful editor set me on the path to a better story. I was grateful that I’d chosen to write what I know, because late in 2011 Five Star Publishing accepted Some Enchanted Murder for publication. The mystery debuted in March of 2013, and was a finalist for the 2014 Silver Falchion Award in the category “Best First Novel: Cozy, Traditional and Historical.”


I’m currently writing a cozy series for Berkley Prime Crime called Deep Fried Mysteries. The main character is restaurateur Talia Marby, whose recently acquired fish and chips shop in the Berkshires morphs into a “deep fried” eatery. Talia and I are both new at the job, so together we’re experimenting with tasty recipes . . . all while solving murders, of course. The first book in the series, Fillet of Murder, will debut in May 2015.


And now, I raise my glass to each of you. Here’s to a year filled with laughter and surprises, and all of the other good stuff. And finally, may your shelves overflow with the kinds of books that bring joy to your heart.


Linda Reilly

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In which we have a guest, part 32

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome  Amy Jo (AJ) Cousins.

Knowing My Place

You know how some people are just born knowing how to navigate certain environments and others aren’t? We all have our home ground where we’re comfortable, and the scary wilderness areas where we look over our shoulders and hope we can figure out how to get back home safely before something eats us.

When I left for college on the East Coast, my dad drove me from Chicago to Western Massachusetts. Up until that point, my place had been a small town in the suburbs of Chicago. Or maybe my place had been the library of any town, anywhere in the world. I was equally at home in either, and more than out of my element everywhere else.

Painfully shy, I landed on my 150-year-old college campus, a disoriented Midwesterner in the land of the New England preppie. Every time I turned around there were bits of knowledge I was lacking that made me feel like an idiot. Like an outsider. I was nearly a lost cause, because these were the Days Before Google.

I asked more questions in my first year college than I’d ever asked before in my entire life. Of course, being so painfully shy, I asked them only in my head, and in the real world attempted to fumble around and figure out the answers as I went along, pretending I had some vague idea of what was going on.

For instance…

How does everyone know where all of these colleges are? The East Coast feels like it has more colleges per square foot than anywhere else in the country. And everyone I went to school with knew where they were all located. Harvard, Yale, Williams, Wellesley, Wesleyan. Half the schools sounded like they were sharing one name between them. In Chicago, I knew U of I, Depaul, Notre Dame (clearly due to those schools’ sports teams), and the two-year community college where my mother had finished her associate’s degree by taking weekend and evening classes around her work hours, while I finished high school.

Field hockey? What the hell is field hockey? Is that the same thing as lacrosse, at which I sucked during the two weeks in seventh grade that they made us play? Can I wear one of those little plaid skirts even if I don’t want to play, because those are kind of cute?

Are everyone’s parents doctors or lawyers or professors? My father, who never graduated from college, was doing commercial real estate for McDonald’s, which meant I knew the location of every fast food joint for fifty miles around our home. His father had been a carpet layer. My mother had turned her secretarial job with a wine importing and distribution company into a sales job when the entire, two-person sales team quit. She spent every night planning the route she would drive into downtown Chicago on a map, because she’d never driven in the city by herself before my parents’ divorce. My parents felt subtly different from the parents of students I met at school.

What do you mean those aren’t mountains? I had never seen anything steeper than the on-ramp to Lake Shore Drive. Getting off campus on for a bicycle ride my first year was an impossibility. My small, women’s liberal arts college was tucked into a tiny valley. Every path away from my school went up. I was/am a girl of the prairie. I literally could not bike my way up any of those hills, although part of the problem might have been that I had no experience in how to use the higher gears on a bike. I’d thought a ten-speed was fancy before I went to college in the mountains (okay, fine! The hills) of Western Massachusetts.

Even the food stumped me. What’s a grinder? (A sub sandwich.) What are jimmies? (Sprinkles for your ice cream.) What’s a packy? (A liquor store that doesn’t open on Sunday because weird laws.) Also, why does everyone keep making jokes about parking the car in Harvard Yard? Is parking actually bad there, or is that seriously just a joke about the accent?

Boarding schools are a real thing? Seriously? The only boarding school I had ever heard of outside an English children’s novel was a science and math academy in the far suburbs outside of Chicago. I knew of one person who had gone there: the first boy who ever asked me out, in sixth grade, when I was pretty sure I didn’t know what “going out” meant, so I said my parents were getting a divorce and I was too stressed out to go out with anyone. (Getting to my forties, when I’m totally comfortable saying, “I don’t know what that means” has been such a relief.) Lots of people go to boarding schools? This was maybe the weirdest thing I had ever heard of. It made Massachusetts feel like a foreign country.

Also, debutante balls? Now I was sure they were joking. Until I saw my randomly-assigned sophomore roommate Buffy’s debutante ball photographs. This wasn’t a foreign country. It was an alien planet.

Of course, four years later, the world of the East Coast liberal arts college was vastly less intimidating to me. I still have to think twice before I can remember which one is Wellesley and which is Wesleyan, but I learned to order sandwiches, and locate Dartmouth on a map, and get that damn bicycle up the hills and into the surrounding countryside.

In OFF CAMPUS (out today! Whooee!), Tom Worthington has grown up wealthy and worldly, a golden boy, never feeling out a place for a moment in his home or at his schools. After his dad’s indictment on federal charges for running a Ponzi investment scheme however, Tom’s life falls apart, and for the first time ever, he’s the one who doesn’t belong. The one who doesn’t know how to navigate the world. And his new roommate, Reese, would just as soon kick him in the teeth as help him. I spent a lot of time writing Tom and remembering what it felt like to be that lost. And how incredible it was to find someone amazing at your side to help you find your way. I hope

OFF CAMPUS is available now. Everyone’s got secrets. Some are just harder to hide… Thank you to Deanna, whose opening paragraphs of every book she’s ever written are simply glorious. It’s been a pleasure to visit here.

My website:



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In which we have guests, part 31

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Madeline Iva.

From Hysteria to Sexsomnia: Madeline Iva Discusses Absurd Yet Fashionable Sexual Maladies Throughout History

HYSTERIA: I was surprised to learn that Victorians didn’t invent hysteria.  The ancient Greeks invented it.  They also thought a woman’s uterus sometimes wandered about inside her body.

Yet Victorians added much to the lore of hysteria–-mostly by providing a host of ‘remedies’ for the problem.  These remedies ranged from diabolical to proto-pleasure toys. *Ahem!*

HOMOSEXUALITY: After hysteria went out of fashion, the unnatural relations between people of the same sex came under greater scrutiny.

In some parts of the world, (I’m looking at you, China) they *still* don’t seem to understand women can sexually desire and romantically love other women.

With the rise and gradual spread of gay marriage, homosexuality is finally out of the DSM as a mental illness in western culture, though how much HIV is rampaging through rural China is anybody’s guess.

With homosexuality becoming more accepted, what sexual activity will we fret about next?

NYMPHOMANIA: For a while in the 70’s there was a great stirring over nymphomania, yet all of that has become more hush-hush. Also called sex addiction, nymphomania is a very fraught topic.  The condition is a contested battle ground between mental health professionals, feminist theorists, and everybody’s aunt.

Yes, some say, nymphomania exists.  It is a form of obsessive compulsion with some depressive characteristics thrown in for good measure.  No, others respond, like hysteria, it doesn’t really exist.  The idea of nymphomania is only an ongoing attempt to repress women’s sexuality, and impose false ideas of what “normal” is when it comes to sex for everyone.

Feminists dryly note the disparity between what counts as ‘normal’ for men vs. ‘normal’ for women.  Because of this, Since no one can come to an agreement, Nymphomania has gone back behind the curtain and out of the limelight – only to be replaced by….


ASEXUALITY: After the millenium, advocates and people who identify as asexual began to emerge.  They say that it’s okay for someone to come to maturity and simply not want sex.  Ever.  With anyone.


I know what you’re thinking.  You’re wondering does masturbation count?  No, some say, it does not.  Yes, other asexuals say, it does—and they want to kick anyone who masturbates out of their club.


Some who identify as asexual want many things to count as asexual—including actually wanting sex (but only with one person—they say.  Just one lone individual, not men or women in general—surely that’s okay, etc).


Others who take a more strict approach to asexuality want to exclude anything and everything at all from the asexual category involving sex—up to and including non-sexual romantic feelings.


Occasionally, they all stop fighting with each other to agree that cake is simply wonderful, and they’d all rather eat cake than have sex.  “I’d rather eat cake” is the official motto of today’s asexual.  It really is.  One has to admit—as far as mottos go, it’s genius.


SEXSOMNIA: Here, in my opinion, is a worthy future candidate for absurd-yet-fashionable sexual maladies.


It so happens that my latest novella is all about sexsomnia. I found the research fascinating.  When I mention sexsomnia to people they are startled to learn that sexsomnia actually exists.  Yes, there’s really is something called sexsomnia.  Yes, science has been able to more or less prove it exists in recent years.


Sexsomnia is a kind of parasomnia – a state in which the brain is both awake and asleep at the same time.  In this state, your body can perform actions by rote—including driving a car, eating, getting dressed – and even having sex.  However, the person suffering from sexsomnia remembers nothing of what happened when he/she wakes.


Sounds fishy doesn’t it? While there are certainly fakers out there, there has been enough scientific data of subjects who are hooked up to brain monitors to prove that sexsomnia is real.  (It’s hard to fake brain waves.)


However, most accounts of sexsomnia are anecdotal, since people often don’t often behave in the lab as they would at home.  Alas, most of the anecdotes collected by scientists are taken from the witness box in a courtroom.   Very few cases of sexsomnia have resulted in a not guilty verdict.


One modern drug that has helped people understand sexsomnia is the sleep aid Ambien.  So many people have done so many embarrassing things while zonked out on Ambien (often on airplanes in full view of multiple witnesses) and remembered absolutely nothing afterwards.  As these accounts mount up, the scientific community has been forced to accept that, yes, you can do a whole assortment of bizarre behaviors while you’re very much asleep.

Unlike hysteria, which was completely made up—and nymphomania which may be made up–you can actually prove whether on not someone has sexsomnia. Very few people suffer from it and it tends to have a genetic component.  On one hand this could handicap its ability to become truly fashionable.  On the other hand its selectivity could make it even more desirable.


For some people sexsomnia is not a problem.  Having sex with your partner in your own bed in the middle of the night is a no-brainer.

Yet for others, sexsomnia is a tricky riddle wrapped up in their own sexual repression.  It goes hand in hand with bad sleep hygiene, including alcoholism, stress, and sleep deprivation.   The idea that while you’re completely helpless your own body suddenly rises to commit sexual acts without your consent is unnerving.

In twenty years time will the term ‘Sexsomnia’ be on everyone’s lips?  We shall see….

BIO: Madeline Iva’s first romance novella ‘Sexsomnia’ is a part of the anthology THE LADY SMUT BOOK OF DARK DESIRES, available HERE at Amazon.  She blogs at every Thursday, hoards scads of interesting photos on Pinterest HERE and frequently lurks on facebook.  Madeline also organizes romance panels at Virginia Festival of the Book, where she blows kisses to Deanna Raybourn from time to time.

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In which we have guests, part 30

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Linda Niehoff.

Some people collect butterflies or stamps. Some collect old cameras or shoes. I collect words and keep them in lists:
I love words. How they sound. How they mean. I love how each one suggests another. Isn’t that how stories are built? 
A couple of years ago, I read Wuthering Heights again. I opened it on a cool evening in mid-August after a heatwave that had lasted most of the summer and a drought that had lasted even longer. The sky was gray and thundery, and I read in the gathering dark next to an open window and an unexpected cool breeze. I underlined pretty words and made them into lists. Words like “doom” and “fiend.” “Gypsy” and “sanguine.” “Feeble” and “goblin.” It felt a little like stealing.
When I was 11, I saved up my allowance for the thick blue thesaurus at Adventure Bookstore. It became the textbook for my tiny laboratory of words. I’d pick a word like “drone,” and in my spiral notebook, I’d record my findings in poems and stories. It felt like I was making a treasure map. It felt like the secret to everything.
Sometimes I still sit with that thesaurus in my lap, running my finger down the page. A million stories leap up, sparks lit by each word. A good word is the shortest of stories. How can “moon” not make you see its cold bony surface or a low golden coin over a late August field? How is a crypt anything but dank and dark, full of shadow and mystery?
Often, when I’m working on a story, I write it out as a skeleton with the prettiest words as its bones. It’s a way to see just the verbs I’ve used without the weight of complete sentences. Do the verbs show the silent movie version of the story? Do the adjectives cast a spell?
Because words are really tiny magic spells, and you are a magician conjuring pictures that were before unseen, especially when you say them aloud. Doesn’t “locket” sound like the closing and clipping of a secret case? Doesn’t “swoon” sound like someone spinning into a faint? Words are almost onomatopoeic whether they mean to be or not.
It’s even soothing to speak them to yourself in a whisper. Each one is a tiny remedy you always carry with you:
I keep them in the margins of my notebook or in a document on my phone. Words I’d forgotten and want to remember: 
I like playing with words, scattering them out in front of me just to see how they feel. And all those words I underlined in Wuthering Heights feel like stakes marking a treasure I still hope to find.
Linda Niehoff is a portrait photographer and spiral notebook writer living in a small Kansas town. She’s a fan of instant cameras, silver water towers and dark and stormy nights. Her short fiction has been published in various literary journals both online and in print. She blogs about writing and photography at
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