In which I love the notion of retreat

I have a thing for nuns. It’s partly the glorious black and white habits of yore, partly the fact that they always seem beautifully tranquil–at least in my highly idealized version of them. Here are a few musings on contemplative withdrawal:

love the idea of retreat, don’t you? Particularly at this time of year when there is so much to do, to be, to make. The notion of simply withdrawing and being small and still and quiet is alluring. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much in the holiday spirit this year, but sometimes that 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 Of course, this is a hopelessly outdated and naive picture of convent life.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?

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In which we ponder a deadly sin

So when I was pootling through the archive I found this piece on lust…I even love the word “lust”. It’s bold and unapologetic, and if you really put your heart into it, you get a lovely push on the vowel straight up from your diaphragm. Anyway, the reason I’ve been poking through the archives is because I’m on a rather snug deadline for the new book–NEW BOOK, YAY!–and I’m sure you’d rather have me writing books that blogs. And sometimes that means pulling something fun out of the closet to wear again, as it were…

Oh, dear, are you blushing already? Never fear, this blog stands firmly at PG13. But we can certainly talk about lust in an intellectual vein, can’t we? Of course we can. We’re grown-ups and world-weary creatures of sophistication, so the most obvious forms of lust are entirely familiar to us. But the fourth definition of lust is simply “ardent enthusiasm”. So I am curious to know, what stirs your lusts? Do you have a lust to create? To share your passions with others? To connect? To work? To exert yourself? By its many definitions, lust is ACTIVE. It engages us, all of us, every sense of every organ and all the cells between. It stirs us up and demands we get off the couch and do. It’s the call of the wild, beating in our blood like a tom-tom, and it’s the sound of our own heartbeat if we listen closely enough. Lust is how you know you’re alive, because the minute that animal enthusiasm flags, the moment that primitive tribal beat goes silent, we die a little. One cannot be blase and truly live. So what fires up your senses and whispers a reminder in your ear that you LIVE?
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In which I’m posting autumnal thoughts

I was pootling through the archive the other day and came across AUTUMNAL THOUGHTS. (I don’t know why; it just felt like it needed to be capped.) I don’t know about the rest of you northern hemisphere types, but I am so ready to break up with summer…

I know I’m rushing the fences a bit here, but goodness me, I am DONE with summer. It’s been busy and demanding and thorny, and I’m quite ready for a new rhythm. I want to nest, to settle my feathers and be peaceful and busy at work. I am looking forward to the view from my windows changing–not because hurricanes have blown away my trees but because the trees are putting on their autumn silks and the leaves are waving farewell.

I’m looking forward to baking things that are full of spices, scenting the air with cinnamon and nutmeg. I want crisp apples and winter squashes and porridge for breakfast. (Doesn’t porridge just sound more enticing than “oatmeal”?) I want nail polish and roses in dark, dangerous colors and candles that smell of pumpkin and patchouli. I want to wear boots and scarves and wrap myself in velvets and suede. I want to shiver as I get out of bed in the morning and sleep burrowed down into the covers, hoarding my own warmth against the chill. I want to smell woodsmoke on the air and the promise of coming frosts. I want to pick up my knitting again and engage in woolly pursuits. I want to collage and sew and cook up pots of things that simmer for hours on the back of the stove. I want new bread and ancient philosophies and poetry to read aloud.

What do YOU want for autumn, chickens?

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In which we’re talking about faking it

So the other day the subject of imposter syndrome reared its ugly head again. This was in a quick Twitter chat, but it reminded me that I blogged about the subject a few years ago. I thought I’d repost both of the entries I wrote then, along with a final note: faking it until you make it is a STELLAR strategy in life. Since the imposter syndrome is your own hang-up and NOT what other people really think of you, putting on that brave face and acting as though you have complete confidence is the best way to get what you’re feeling on the inside to catch up to what’s going on outside.

I was lucky enough to have dinner the other evening with a lovely group of women and Kristan Higgins and Michelle Willingham and I got onto the subject of “imposter syndrome”. It’s the feeling that creeps over you that somehow you’ve gotten by thus far on luck and deception and that THEY are going to find you out and come and take it all away and oh, just in case you thought you were going to write another book, WRONG. Your talent was always imaginary and it’s gone for good now and enjoy your new job at the convenience store where you will sell lottery tickets and pull slushy drinks for the rest of your natural life.

Yes, writers are histrionic, neurotic, and bug-nut crazy, in case you haven’t noticed. But we’re usually crazy in the same way, so when we get together, we unload these things and feel INFINITELY better. Even the best–most talented, most successful, most glamorous, just MOST–writers suffer from these feelings from time to time. Comes with the territory, I’m told.

So, what do you do about it? Nothing will banish it entirely, but there are a few things that will help. I joke about having taken up drinking as a hobby since I got published, but I do find that the occasional glass of wine with dinner is restful. I try to get plenty of sleep–although the dreams do put a bit of a spanner in the works on that score. I sometimes resort to meditation or journal-writing. When I’m very desperate indeed, I remember the mantra of Julian of Norwich–the English mystic: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

The other remedy, of course, is just to do the work. At some point you have to tell that wretched inner monologue to SHUT UP and you buckle down and put words on the page, no matter how foul, because it’s only by writing that you can rewrite and only by rewriting that you can make something better.

And that post was followed by this one:

So the last post on imposter syndrome really seems to have struck home for quite a few of you. I had notes on Facebook and emails saying, “THANK GOD” because apparently there are loads of you going through precisely the same thing.

Well, of course you are. I’ve always believed that people who don’t question themselves are dangerous. If you’re presented with opportunities and you never once hesitate or doubt or soul-search, then chances are you are either mindlessly arrogant or you are never pushing yourself far enough. I think to grow in any sort of creative occupation–and I suppose you could apply this to life in general–you have to always walk the knife edge between safety and annihilation. Either option is fatal, so the only remedy is balance, constantly checking your equilibrium to make sure you never lean too far to one side or the other. That sort of balancing act is exhilarating and dangerous and exhausting, but I also think it’s the only way to live. There is a frisson of fear that shivers the spine when you contemplate something you are not entirely certain you can do, and there is a palpable sense of victory when you manage to pull it off. (And if you fail, there is always the consolation of having tried.)

I think I’ve mentioned before that a few years back I was having a bit of a moan to myself about the fact that being published was keeping me in a permanent state of terror, it suddenly hit me that it was my own fault because I CHOOSE FEAR. It was one of those out-of-body moments where you suddenly see something with the most tremendous clarity it’s almost blinding. I realized that when presented with a choice regarding my work, I always pounced on the option that was most fear-inducing, most challenging, most terrifying. Now, I haven’t yet entirely worked out WHY. I actually have pretty well-honed slacker tendencies. There are certain areas of my life, *cough–college–cough*, where I did just as much as I needed to and not a particle more. I’m lazy about any number of things, and when it comes to my personal life, I’ve chosen a relationship of completely satisfying stability in that I’ve been married for twenty years.

Why then am I so happy to jump without a parachute when it comes to my work? I haven’t the faintest, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know. But just for today, contemplate doing something that makes you afraid…

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In which we have a quickie

A fly-by extra post today, chickens!

So, OUTLANDER then? The reaction to yesterday’s post has been hilarious. Nearly every comment here, on FB, and on Twitter went something like: “Oh, this and that and something else and OUTLANDER. JUST OUTLANDER.” Your devotion is truly inspiring and I promise I intend to watch it. I just thought husband might enjoy and he’s currently working 12-18 hour days, so it’s going to be another week or so before we can start it.

And to amuse you: some unimpressed women in art.

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In which we’re all about the drama

So last month we finally broke down and subscribed to a few premium channels. Since then it’s been BINGEAPALOOZA. We’ve watched BLACK SAILS, THE WHITE QUEEN, season four of GAME OF THRONES, and THE MUSKETEERS. (We have yet to start OUTLANDER, and PENNY DREADFUL and THE KNICK will have to wait.)

And after binge-watching four series, all I can say is: SO MANY BOOBS. Seriously. It’s been weeks of nothing but swords and nipples on our television. Luckily, we saved THE MUSKETEERS for last because it ended up being a sorbet of a show, delightfully palate-cleansing with significantly less cleavage and violence than the other three. I’m sure y’all know by now prudery is not one of my faults, but there are only so many breasts and so many heads being split like melons before it all gets a bit YAWN. It honestly took me three episodes of THE MUSKETEERS before I realized I had seen nary a nip–it was charmingly tame.

Verdicts on the shows:

BLACK SAILS: I adore Toby Stephens and he’s getting his teeth into the role of pirate-with-a-secret in this one. John Silver and Jack Rackham are a hoot to watch, both of them providing a bit of MUCH needed comedic relief at times. There are some strong women characters, but the storylines are grabbing at rape like it’s the very last plot device life-raft after the ship went down. Seriously, there are OTHER THINGS you can menace women with. And I want the set designer to come redecorate my house like the bordello–all peeling plaster and wrought iron and candles.

THE WHITE QUEEN: I confess, I forwarded through one entire subplot because I just couldn’t. Okay, maybe I forwarded through two or three. To enjoy this one, you have to forget everything you actually know about the Wars of the Roses and just approach it as a costume drama peopled by folks with familiar names. I VASTLY appreciated the complexity of Richard III’s character, although I’m pretty damned sure he wasn’t getting busy in his tent with Elizabeth of York the night before Bosworth. And if you’re filming a hot love scene, check the lighting to make sure it’s not highlighting hairy man ass. Because no one needs to see that. On the plus side, JANET MCTEER. That deserves all caps because the woman is magic. Her voice is utterly hypnotic. I’m convinced if she sat down warring factions, she could broker peace just by opening her mouth.

GAME OF THRONES: We were late to the party this season, and I even knew what happened to Oberyn before I saw it, but watching his head get ripped apart like a ripe cantaloupe was a bit much. Okay, it was a LOT much. I went full-on girl and threw my head into my husband’s shoulder and begged him to tell me when it was over. It didn’t do much good–I still got to hear the squelching sounds. Either you’re on board with GoT or not. I enjoy the chess match going on amongst the major players, especially Olenna Tyrell. I want HER for my sigil.

THE MUSKETEERS: I admit, I have a soft spot for this one. It’s a BBC production, not a premium channel offering, so it’s giving considerably less in the way of sex and violence which is FINE, REALLY. The musketeers are ridiculously good-looking, and the chemistry amongst them is exceptional. They’re not slavishly following the books, and they’re being thoughtful about where they make changes. (Casting a mixed race actor to play Porthos is a particularly brilliant nod to Dumas’ own heritage.) And I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see some attempt at giving more power to the women, especially Constance. Having her fence with a villain while Aramis has to stand by and hold a baby? BRILLIANT. Their King Louis is utterly fatuous and completely perfect, but my favorite scenes are those where the Cardinal and Captain Treville snarl at each other. (It’s going to be interesting to see how the series plays without Peter Capaldi’s delicious evil next season since he’s left them to take up the role of the latest Doctor Who.)

Without Showtime, we’re giving PENNY DREADFUL a pass until it comes out on DVD, and THE KNICK is going to have to wait until I can gear up for another seriously bloody premium series. We’ll settle down to watch OUTLANDER in a few weeks–once I can bear to hear swords again. What about you, chickens? What are YOU watching the way of historical dramas?

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In which we’re talking about good causes

Happy September, poodles! Today was newsletter day. Did you get yours? It goes out on the fifth of every month and you can sign up using the simple form on the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

So I’ve been tail over teakettle in work on my new book, but I have taken some time out to appreciate a few good causes. First, Septembeard! Grow a beard, collect sponsors, and make some money for prostate research at the same time. My husband is participating this year, and even though we’re only five days in, the SCRUFF COMETH.

Another hair-related project in our house? Our daughter just cut nine inches off her hair to donate to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths. The donated hair is used to make wigs for cancer patients, and our salon even handled sending in the hair, so it was incredibly simple.

Not interested in growing out your hair or beard? Then may I introduce you to the Warwick Rowers? These university athletes produce a calendar each year of the fairly nude variety in the interest of challenging homophobia. (The calendar sales also help them meet rowing expenses.) They are lovely boys, charmingly naked, stripping off for an excellent cause. What could be better than that? Their calendar was the UK’s charity calendar of the year, and they have film downloads available on their site.

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In which we talk about the future

Reader Alice had a second query that is similar to questions from Make Kay and Michelle via Facebook. Here’s Alice’s question:

My second question is probably expected. :-) I love, love the Julia Grey series! I really love the direction you are taking this series after your most recent novella with the Vespiary. Can you give us any hope at all for a future full-length Julia Grey/Vespiary novel?

The short answer is probably not. Here’s why: after I wrote the fifth Julia Grey novel, my publisher put the series on hiatus and asked for something different. To fulfill my contract, I wrote A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, CITY OF JASMINE, and the upcoming NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS. They were happy to let me carry on the Julia Grey storyline via digital novellas, and I’ve used those to continue the story arc I had planned for Julia had I written a full-length novel. (The four novellas–including BONFIRE NIGHT, the Nov. 2014 release–add up to almost the same word length as a novel.)

Once I finished my contract, I made the decision to leave my publisher. My agent pitched a brand new Victorian mystery series, and as I shared in July, that’s what I’m writing now. (I can’t share release dates or titles yet, but as soon as I can, I will!) I’m writing for NAL/Penguin now, and I can tell you the new series will be hardcover. I can also tell you that a new publisher almost never wants to revive a series another publisher has declined to finish. There are exceptions of course, but they are rare, so the likeliest outcome is that we’ll move forward with the new series, and the novella in November will be the last Julia project. As I blogged earlier, if the Julia books were to become a TV series or a film, that would revive interest and future books would then be possible. So, if you want new Julia books and you own a production company, drop me an email!

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In which we talk reviews

Today we have a reader question from Alice:

Hi Deanna! My question might be rather obvious but it is something I’ve always wanted to know about authors. My question is, how much do you pay attention to reader reviews? For example when readers post reviews on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. Do you as the author personally read the reviews? Do you read them all? Are these feeds that you check regularly? How much is what you write about swayed by reader opinions, if at all?

The short answer is that I don’t read them at all. When I write a book it’s mine; when you read it, it’s yours. What you think of it and how you express that opinion is none of my business. Having said that, I do greatly appreciate readers taking the time to post reviews since this generates discussion and raises a book’s profile.The only exception to reading reviews is the trade reviews. If my publisher happens to send along a Publishers Weekly or Library Journal review, I will usually skim it, but that’s it. I don’t seek out trade reviews on my own, and I even skip them when they pop up in publications I read. When someone emails or tags me in a review on Twitter or FB, I always respond with a thank you and the note that I don’t read reviews but appreciate the work in writing it.

And please bear in mind, I’m speaking for myself. I have some author friends who never look at reviews and others who check them daily. That way madness lies, I think…

Your second question will be in Thursday’s blog, Alice!

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In which we get to talk about clothes

For reader question month, Megan B wanted to know: Where do you get your ideas for what the characters wear?

Oh, the clothes are so much fun to play with! Since I tend to stick with a time period for several books, I get a thorough grounding in the popular silhouettes and fabrics. Luckily for me, there are photographs of 1880s and 1920s fashions, so there isn’t much guesswork. There are websites devoted to period fashion, and I also have a small selection of costume and photography books. I will hit museums for special exhibits that feature period clothes, and I study the artwork of the era as well.

Once I know the shapes and fabrics, the colors come into play. Colors themselves can be tremendously important. For instance, in mourning clothes, bombazine was favored because it lacks sheen. (This is why a widow wearing black satin might find her choice exciting comment where a duller black silk might go unremarked.) Colors are a good way to show trends–during the reign of Marie Antoinette there was a rage for the color puce, a reddish brown hue the color of a flea’s back. (There was also a thoroughly unsavory fad for a color called caca dauphin when she delivered the long-awaited heir to the French throne. I’ll let you imagine the rest for yourself.) White has often been the color that sets the rich and idle apart from the working classes, while red telegraphs boldness in most circles. I choose colors based upon the messages they send, but also based upon whether or not they’re supposed to flatter the coloring of the character wearing them. And current fashion magazines are also a great source of inspiration–read them long enough and it soon becomes clear that there’s nothing entirely new under the sun!

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