Taking care of you

I am traveling this week, my dears–off to Malice Domestic in the Washington DC area (Bethesda, to be accurate) and then to NYC! I’ll be appearing at Malice and also doing a reading in NY at Lady Jane’s Salon at Madame X on May 2, so please check the links on my Appearances page for details! Since I am out of pocket, I am reposting a piece on self-care. Because, as RuPaul says, “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

I am doing a system restore of myself. The last year, in particular the last six months, have been challenging and demanding ones. I love my work–LOVE my work–and would never complain about it. But it is also true that having a creative job means that what you take in is just as important and essential as what you put out. It means that sometimes the tank feels empty, and that once in awhile you have to be very, very still and small and quiet and do as little as possible. So a system restore is called for, a return to factory settings, a defragging to smooth out all the rough and jagged edges and wait for serenity to stop by for a visit.

Ideally, a proper system restore would include a “rest cure”, the bygone term for vacation, a mental health break in which I would rent a villa in Greece, pack a stack of books and a few sarongs and not come home for a month. Rest cures take time, you know. I had even planned an abbreviated version for the husband and myself–a few days on a Caribbean island. That plan got scuppered between the puppy and my trip to New York, so I am attempting a refurbishment at home with a few things I already had lying around:

*Sally Hansen nail polish in Marine Scene. I swiped it from my daughter. It’s insanely tropically turquoise. I may not be swimming in the Caribbean, but my nails at least match the water.

*L’Occitane Rose Incense Cones. They don’t burn long, but for the short time they do, they smell delicious. Rose and smoke doesn’t sound like a good combination, but there’s something oddly summery about it. (I am STILL mourning the fact that Banana Republic discontinued their Presidio incense years ago. Hands down it was the best incense I have ever, ever smelled. It smelled like a eucalyptus grove after a rainstorm, which ordinarily would put me right off, but it was divine.)

*Alba coconut lip balm. It’s organic and it smells like Hawaiian Tropic.

*NUMI tea in White Rose and Apricot. Unlike other teas–these are pale and wan and fragile. They are scented rather than flavored, and surprisingly refreshing, even in the heat.

*Yankee Candle company candles in Coconut Bay. More Hawaiian Tropic yumminess.

*Trader Joe’s sorbets in lemon and mango-tangerine. Non-fat and so flavorful that a tiny portion is all you need. Much more fun than ice cream.

*Lilies from my garden. My daughter picked some yesterday for us to wear in our hair. We felt very Polynesian.

*Vacation films. Last weekend I watched “Niagara”–very noir, very suspenseful with Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten. Beautiful shots of the falls and I love the idea of renting a tiny cottage and pulling up in front of it in a huge convertible with a scarf tied over my head. (“Shirley Valentine” is good for a dose of Greek escapism.)

*Naps. I find myself dozing on the sofa over my armchair travel books for about twenty minutes each afternoon.

*White cotton. I’m digging every white petticoat out of my closet right now. I think I was inspired by watching “Much Ado About Nothing” a few weeks ago and seeing Emma Thompson and Kate Beckinsale frolicking around in full white skirts and pretty white bodices. It’s crisp and cool and there’s something terribly Isak Dinesen about it.

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If you’re in the DC or NYC areas, I’m heading your way! I have a panel discussion and signing on Sunday, May 1, at Malice Domestic. Monday, May 2, I’m reading at Lady Jane’s Salon in NYC. Check out the details in the links on my Appearances page. Hope to see you there!

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Armchair time travel

I am getting ready to hit the road, folks–a perfect time to take a reader question on the subject of travel. A reader from Twitter who posts as Jasmine and Ginger asked: You’ve covered quite a few eras. What inspires you about them? How do you keep track of characters who overlap?

Writing in both the Victorian age and the 1920s has been a joy; I’ve gotten to explore two periods I absolutely love. One of the things I realized quite early on in writing the Lady Julia books was that Julia would be writing up her adventures as an old woman–probably in the 1930s. Once I placed this firmly Victorian character in a much more modern setting, I understood how close those eras actually were. Bracketing the tremendous upheaval of WWI, the Victorian years and the 1920s were poles apart, and the people who represented those times would have had a great deal of trouble understanding each other. If a person reared with 19th-century values couldn’t adapt to 20th-century changes, they would have been left behind. I could never picture Julia as a sad relic of gaslit London. I saw her always as a woman who would raise her hems above the ankle and take to riding in motorcars.

So for me, the leap to 1920s was not a huge one. It had always been percolating in the back of my mind when I wrote the Julia stories. When I started writing the 1920s books, I found it amusing to map out how old the children of the 1880s tales would be during my current setting. Calculating they would be in their 30s was exciting; it placed them in the thick of the action for WWI and just after. THEY would be fighting or spying or flying airplanes while Julia’s generation took a more supervisory role. That’s when I decided to start working them into the 1920s books. I should have been terribly organized, but the truth is that I kept track of them by jotting notes on index cards and taping them up in my study.

I also occasionally worked backwards. I took a character from A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS and calculated how old he would have been during one of the Julia novellas. Then I wrote him as a childhood friend of one of Julia’s precocious nephews, admiring of Nicholas and determined to find adventures of his own. Showing these active participants of WWI as clever children was a HUGELY enjoyable way to set them up for the exploits of adulthood. I found myself plowing through every book, working out dates to see which characters I could cross between eras. In the end, I built a “Julia world” that spanned from the 1860s–there is a brief mention of a Julia character in THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST–to the 1930s. I intended to write several more Julia books set in the early 1890s as well as three more 1920s adventures that would have fully tied up ALL the Julia characters as well as more from DEAD, knitting together every book I had ever written into a single universe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible with my previous publisher, so now I am building an entirely new and alternate world with Veronica. I can’t wait to see where it takes us!

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Bonus post!

Just an extra post because I went on a little rant on Twitter and decided it was worth putting up here as well. Mother’s Day, my dears. It’s almost here, which means that the internet is awash with listicles suggesting gifts. And they are dire. I saw one featuring narwhal slippers–giant stuffed animals you wear on your feet. And a cutting board! And garden seeds! Look, I’m sure there are plenty of women who like those kinds of things, but I’m really quite fatigued with the pieces that circulate this time each year suggesting that women with children are sexless housebots who only care about whiter whites and garden loam. If your mom happens to want a phone sanitizer, bless. Those articles are going to help a lot. But women with children are not a monolith. We don’t all like the same things. Some of like a bit of sparkle or glamor or fizz, ya know? So here are some gift options if your mother is not the kind of woman to get her skirt blown up by a new toaster.

  1. A DVD featuring Helen Mirren in anything she’s done after the age of 55. She’s our patronus.
  2. G&T kit with a bottle of Boodles gin and a basket of lemons. Or a split of pink champagne and a proper coupe for drinking it.
  3. Gift card for mani/pedi. If that’s too pricey, a few bottles of nail polish in great colors–venomous red, sparkly violet, rich emerald.
  4. Notepads and pens featuring skulls instead of kittens in baskets. (Hork.)
  5. Box set of Miss Fisher Mysteries. Throw in a feather boa or feathered mules with a kimono and be the favorite child. FOREVER.
  6. Books: Dorothy Parker’s collected stories, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Helen Ellis, Sarah Knight’s THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF NOT GIVING A F*CK.
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Ah, Miss Bennet, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire you

I received an email from reader Nancy a few years back which prompted me to write about Elizabeth Bennet–a character I love so wholeheartedly that I gave my daughter “Elizabeth” as a middle name. I even love her in PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES. She is, in short, a most admirable creature. Here is how that original entry went down:


I would so love for you to blog about Elizabeth Bennet. You’ve said before she’s a favorite character of yours. My response to this is a high pitched Seinfeld-y, and only 20% serious “whaaat? Are you nuts?!  How could she possibly?”

And yet I appear to be alone in my opinion of her. I spoke with a 1900 English Lit. professor at UVa a while ago and she was surprised with my take on Lizzy. I may have used “twit” in my final verdict. However(!) said professor did see where I was coming from; I suppose that comes with being an educator though…

The girl flits from one dude to the next no less than three times. AIRHEAD. FLAKY. AIRHEAD. Of course she could get over her scruples with Mr. Darcy: she changes her mind more than her socks. Also what tripped me up pretty well is Mr. Bennet saying Mr. Wickham was his favorite son in law. Or something akin to that. This seems entirely out of character for anyone from that time/social setting. I didn’t have time with the professor to broach this; I was far too concerned about on one hand the Dashwood’s couldn’t afford a horse and carriage but on the other they could afford two servants. How’s that work. Got that question squared away though.

And after that, how could I not blog about her? First, favorite characters are hugely subjective. Recently I did a panel discussion with Sabrina Jeffries, Cathy Maxwell, and Gail Barrett. A reader asked how we felt about Scarlett O’Hara and our reactions ranged from adoration to flat-out hate. (My take is that she’s deeply flawed but I love her anyway.) So I could just leave that there and walk away–I love Elizabeth Bennet. So there. But that’s not helpful so I’ll give you some of the reasons I think other folks love her too:

1. She’s not beautiful. We’re told plainly that her elder sister Jane is the real beauty of the family, although Elizabeth is pleasant enough to look at. (Darcy’s commentary on Elizabeth’s looks–after he begins to be attracted to her–is that she has “fine eyes”. And that’s enough to start with.)

2. Her attractions come almost entirely from her personality. She gives as good as she gets and it’s THIS quality of liveliness and spirit that attracts Darcy and makes him give her a second look. The message here is that you don’t have to be the prettiest girl in the room to get the guy of your dreams–you just have to be authentic, and Lizzy is never anything BUT herself, whether she’s metaphorically tweaking Darcy’s nose or holding her own with Lady Catherine. Which leads us to…

3. She has an excellent sense of her own self-worth. She’s not a raving beauty; she’s not wealthy. Her prospects on the marriage market are fair at best, but Lizzy is not cowed by this. She doesn’t back down from sparring with the Bingley sisters or from confrontation with Lady Catherine. She even tells Lady Catherine quite plainly that she can have no objections to Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy on the grounds that they are equals–big talk from a poor girl whose family estate is entailed to a buffoon like Mr. Collins. Which again leads us on…

4. She doesn’t take the easy way out. It would be expedient for her to marry Collins and keep Longbourn in the family, but she doesn’t do it. She opposes her mother’s insistence upon the match–albeit with her father’s approval–and holds firm to the idea that a woman should at least be able to respect her marriage partner.

5. She can laugh at herself. When she overhears Darcy slag her off to Bingley on their first meeting, she covers her hurt feelings with good-natured raillery. She doesn’t keep the story to herself; she shares it with a little embellishment and encourages others to see the ridiculousness in the situation. It takes a secure person to do that, and that is DEEPLY attractive in a heroine.

6. She’s willing to learn from her mistakes. Yes, she misjudges Wickham. She’s also twenty and with limited experience of men. She misjudges Darcy initially too. But she’s quite correct about Collins, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Bingley. One’s a social-climbing twit, one’s a perfectly nice guy with no marriage prospects–and therefore a pleasant friend–and the third is besotted with her sister, all conditions she judged perfectly. And she wasn’t the only one to make the wrong call with Darcy and Wickham. The novel was originally called FIRST IMPRESSIONS, and it makes a better title, I think, because Darcy’s first impression of Lizzy and her first impression of both men are all wrong. To her credit, she’s willing to put aside her prejudices–see what I did there?–and accept that Darcy is lovely and noble and generous and that Wickham is a toad. (And since you asked, Nancy, about Wickham and how Mr. Bennet could possibly like him, that one’s simpler. Notice Mr. Bennet didn’t say he admired Wickham. He said Wickham was his favorite. It’s easy to look fondly on someone you can also look down on. He knows he has a better character than Wickham, and Wickham took Lydia off his hands. That alone would earn some serious points. Bingley is a sweetly unassuming fellow who is probably a trifle vanilla to make much of an impression on his father-in-law. And Darcy would be a very uncomfortable fellow for a father-in-law to like–he’s got a strong character; he’s RICH, principled, and dashing. He’s far more of a gentleman with all that the word entails than Mr. Bennet is, and Mr. Bennet knows it. Remember, he tells Lizzy he gave Darcy permission to marry her because he dared not refuse him. Plainly put, he’s a little scared of this paragon from Derbyshire.)

Alright, Nancy, I’ve given you six good reasons for folks to like Elizabeth Bennet–and I could probably find a dozen more, but not to worry. If you don’t like her, you absolutely don’t have to. I defy anyone to make me like Fanny Price!

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Talking of cabbages and kings–or just characters

I am at a writerly retreat this week, doing writerly things, so it’s a good time to answer reader questions. Jenae tweeted: Your characters are so beautifully complex. How do you develop them?

First, thanks! Very kind. Second, I don’t think of them as characters, I suppose. They’re not two-dimensional to me, and they don’t just exist on paper. I’m not one of those writers who says the characters just took over a scene and did what they want–that’s not my style at all. But it’s very important to me that I understand them completely.

Part of that is knowing what they look and sound like. I have a physical model for any character of importance. This is usually a composite of traits, mannerisms, vocal quirks, and physical characteristics pulled from a variety of sources. An elderly woman might have Helen Hayes’s hair, Maggie Smith’s voice, Judi Dench’s eyes. Pictures that call to mind any aspect of a character get incorporated into a collage that I hang opposite my desk when I work–an aide-memoire to help me keep the image of them fresh in my mind.

Besides knowing their physical appearance, I know their habits. I know how they speak to servants, how they treat their betters. I know what music they like, what foods they abhor. I know how they dress, and I know who they hate. I rarely write any of this down–it’s more a sense for who this person is. I am not given to composing elaborate backstories for the characters; often I will be writing a scene and a bit of their backstory pops out, fully formed and without conscious effort on my part. But my subconscious has been bubbling away, taking all the little bits I’ve assembled and giving them a twist.

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Reader questions–I have answers!

This week I’m at my very first writers’ retreat, hopefully planting fields and fields of tidy, cultivated prose for you. Can you tell I’m excited? I get to geek out and play with WORDS, y’all. I have packed all my writing kimonos–yes, I know that’s not the proper plural–and several different projects I intend to whip into shape. While I’m away, I’ll be posting a combination of new entries based on reader questions and pieces from the archives.

Reader Janet asked via Twitter about research: Does the book idea lead to research of the research lead to a book idea?

Oh, what a good question! And one to which there is no easy answer because it’s very much a question of chicken v. egg. I read constantly–memoirs, biography, natural history, essays, novels–any and all of which counts as research. Even when I’m reading something that is technically out of my chosen time period, I will find the odd scrap of information or a thread of a personality I can use. Those little gems get filed away for future reference.

Then, when I have an actual book idea taking shape, I start my research in earnest in a much more focused way. I collect anything and everything that I think might contribute to the book and begin to plow my way through it. Since I only write about things that interest me, this is rarely anything other than enjoyable. (That’s actually a technique I recommend–choose to write about subjects you REALLY like because you will be spending much time with them. Much, much time.)

For me, research and ideas is a deep and twisty symbiotic thing. There is no way to separate one from the other.


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Leaving on a jet plane…or not.

Reposting this piece on travel/research because this came up at an appearance I just did, and this is a MUCH more involved response than the one I was able to give.

One of the questions I get a fair amount is whether or not it’s necessary to travel to a setting in order to write it. It’s a great question, and I’ve sat on panels with other writers who will argue both sides with vehemence. Before I tackle the answer, let me preface it by saying that since I write historical fiction, I CAN’T travel to the settings I write about. I may have been to Paris, but I haven’t been to Paris in 1789. (I have a French Revolution novel that I’d like to write in a dozen years or so.) And post-Haussmann Paris is a very different city. Even 1920s Damascus is not the city it is today.

Naturally, some things endure. Monuments and city walls, castles and canals are often exactly where they’ve always been, and a trip to see them can whisk you back in time and give you a good feel for what the space would have been like once upon a time. Natural landscapes might not have altered much; the tang of sea air and the steamy heat of a rain forest are largely the same. You can still go out on safari in Tanzania or visit the pyramids in Egypt or board a sailing vessel in the Caribbean, and if you have a chance to visit your chosen setting, by all means DO. It’s a wonderful jump-start to the imagination, and you can collect details and sensory impressions that are very difficult to come by otherwise. But is it NECESSARY?

Short answer: no. I maintain that writers are creatures of imagination. If I’m good enough at my job, I should be able to make you believe I’ve been to the moon if I’m writing about a lunar landing party. We put ourselves into fictional worlds ALL THE TIME. It is our job to do so and to make it believable. Budget, time, work demands, family obligations, health–all of these things can prevent you from traveling and many of them have kept me from settings I’d like to have seen. (You can probably guess that given the situation in Syria at present, I did not visit Damascus before writing CITY OF JASMINE.) When I’ve been able to travel for research, I’ve done it–but I’ve also written books set in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Transylvanian Alps, and Kenya, none of which I’ve visited.

So, how do you conjure a place you’ve never been? Here are my favorite tips:

*Start with the kids. In the children’s section of the library you’ll find nonfiction books about every corner of the globe as well as cultural studies and histories. Grab and armful and start reading. You can find food and crafts, flora and fauna, ethnographic information, timelines of events–in short, everything you need to get a very broad, very basic picture of the area you’re studying. Their books also have maps–nice big, simple maps that will give you an overview of a country with major topographical features, seasons, perhaps even agricultural products and ethnic breakdowns.

*Move onto the adult nonfiction. Now that you have a child’s eye view of the place, you can choose which adult nonfiction books will fill in the gaps. (Starting with adult nonfiction is a wonderful idea–it also takes a VERY LONG TIME. These books are often very densely written and very long, great if you have the time to spare, but if you’re writing on a deadline, you might not. You’ll have to triage your research into the stuff that you MUST learn and the stuff that can wait but would be a nice idea and the stuff that isn’t necessary at all. Jumping into the kids’ section first helps narrow your focus to the books that will be most helpful.)

*Don’t forget memoirs. Diaries, letters–wonderful sources of first-hand information as long as you remember there is an inherent bias in all of them. (Yes, there’s an inherent bias in ALL books, but it’s much more apparent in first-person accounts.) My personal jackpot? When I score a memoir from an author who, as a child, lived in the area I’m researching. Writers naturally have a good eye for detail and children notice all kinds of things that grown-ups don’t. They’ll have stories packed with subtle touches that bring a place to life.

*Remember sensory details. It’s the sensory details that bring a setting to life for a reader, so don’t skimp on them. Pillage the research books for mentions of food, animals, fragrances, weather, scenery, materials, music–anything and everything that can lend a touch of reality.

*Ask friends. I didn’t have a chance to go to Africa before writing A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, but I did know several people who had been on safari. They were generous enough to share impressions, memories, photos–all of which was immensely helpful. (Best question to ask? “What is something I’d only know if I’d been there?” That’s how I learned that lions smell like domestic cat pee…)

*Screen documentaries and films. Scour your TV listings, Netflix, PBS site, and library for the keywords associated with your project. You’ll turn up everything from kids’ shows to nature programs to vintage films, all of which can be useful.

*Do the best you can. When I realized I wasn’t going to have time to visit Africa before writing SPEAR, I did everything I could to find at least some sort of similar experience. The best I came up with on short notice was heading down to Florida to visit Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens Tampa. Now, let’s be clear: there is NO substitute for going on safari. Just NONE. But at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I was able to stay in a room that had giraffes and Ankole cattle and zebra drifting around outside. I was able to talk to staff members from Kenya and Tanzania. I interviewed their zoological director who had just returned from one of four trips he takes every year to east Africa. I got to see museum-quality art from all over Africa as well as artifacts from the trips of Martin and Osa Johnson, pioneering nature filmmakers. I got a behind the scenes tour with the cheetah specialist at Busch Gardens and I fed giraffes by hand. At Animal Kingdom, I participated in a special safari that included lunch out of tiffin boxes served at a pavilion overlooking a savannah teeming with wildlife–artificial, yes. Absolutely. But I turned my deck chair out towards the savannah and got to imagine, at least for a little while, what it must be like to experience the real thing. And I stood five feet away from a lion who obligingly roared at me, and in spite of the fences between us, I got to experience the way the roar will reverberate all the way down the spinal column into the ground. Again, in no way do these experiences compare with being there. But they’re something, and something is always better than nothing.

*Immerse yourself. When working out a setting, I have listened to authentic music, cooked traditional dishes, bought soaps and perfumes imported from that country, watched YouTube clips of traditional dances and ceremonies, burned their incense, drunk their tea, read their children’s books, listened to their language, read their native authors, tried their crafts, and worn their fabrics. And if budget is an issue, most of these things are extremely inexpensive, particularly if you put out a call to your friends. People are thrilled to share their travel experiences and their culture. I have been overwhelmed by how generous people have been–and all because I ventured a question or two about something they knew much more about than I did.

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Taking reader questions!

Here’s a question I received from reader Jessica. Reposting the response because it’s actually a question I get asked rather a lot…

What’s the process you follow when writing a mystery? Do you know the answer (who done it) and work backwards, or do you let the characters lead to you the answer?

For me, writing a mystery is a simple thing from a structural standpoint. I always know who did it and why when I begin. Now, I also make sure that a number of characters could have done it and could have WANTED to do it–this helps with red herrings and plot twists. And more than once I’ve been tempted to change horses midstream and let someone else do the killing. I haven’t done it yet, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I succumb to temptation one of these days…The reason I haven’t done it yet is because it could require a phenomenal amount of rewriting and I do like to work clean.

I was intrigued to read that Agatha Christie often wrote without knowing who the murderer was. When it came time to write the last chapter, she would select the least likely candidate, then make THAT character the murderer. She would go back and rewrite the few things that were necessary to make it all fit–which I think accounts for both her occasional misses and her far more frequent brilliant innovations.

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Making a list and checking it twice

Nope, not channeling Santa, but a Twitter reader asked if I would give a checklist for polishing a manuscript before querying an agent. Well, certainly! But a caveat: this is what would work for me. Your mileage, as ever, may vary. Nothing I tell you is ever chiseled in stone except as it applies to me. If there is something here that applies to you or makes your life easier, take it and prosper, my friend. If not, well.

  1. Finish the book. I speak to LOTS of people who want to query without a complete manuscript. Forget the caveat above; this applies to everyone: FINISH THE BOOK. If you are as yet unpublished by a traditional publisher, you have to prove you can go the distance. The only way to do that is to show them the money and hand over a complete book. Otherwise, they have no reason to believe you can go the distance and take a book all the way from idea to completion–and a LOT of people can’t. Everybody and their cat thinks they have a book in them, and some do. But most don’t. If you want to prove that you do, you have to get the book OUT. Don’t bother asking for further advice from anyone until you have typed THE END.
  2. Check for typos. If you’re in Word, turn on your spellcheck feature and look for the squiggly lines.
  3. Check echoes. This is a more subtle type of mistake than a misspelling because no squiggly line is going to alert you. An echo is a repeat of a word–and sometimes just an overabundance of alliteration–in a short space. The easiest way to catch echoes is to read aloud. This is one of those things that gets caught by a good copy editor, but if you can fix it first, it will just make your project seem all the more polished.
  4. Check for consistency. Did you say the main character’s eyes were blue in chapter one and then green in chapter two? FIX IT. Read through action sequences to make sure the fight or sex choreography works. (You’d be amazed at how many times a character would have to be an Olympic gymnast or octopus to make a scene function as described.) Follow a scene from start to finish to make certain the physical grammar makes sense.
  5. Check for infodump. Is there a dense passage of prose where you natter on for PAGES about unnecessary backstory? SLASH IT. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read is Persia Woolley in HOW TO WRITE AND SELL HISTORICAL FICTION: do your research, but remember that only 30% of it should ever make it into the book. The other 70% is for you. The reader DOESN’T NEED IT. That research is for you to understand the world and suggest it to the reader without regurgitating everything you’ve read. See if there is anything you can suggest to a reader in a few words instead of a few paragraphs.
  6. Check for cliches. Do you have a character looking in the mirror to describe herself? Give a thought to changing that. IT’S BEEN DONE.
  7. Check margins and spacing, font size, etc. to make sure everything is TIDY.
  8. Write your proposal–a 5-7 page synopsis of the plot. Make it clear and concise, with a complete ending. Don’t make the agent guess whether you can finish a book properly. The proposal should be as clean as the manuscript with the same attention to detail.
  9. Write your cover letter. One page–no more. Give a teaser as to the book, tell a little about yourself, do NOT over-promise. You might have written the greatest book since MOBY-DICK, but you know what? You might not have. If you claim to have penned the most stupendous book in the history of the English language, you have nowhere to go but down. Under-promise, over-deliver. \
  10. Be professional and polite. Agents have a LOT to read. Don’t make them slog through anything unnecessary to get to the good stuff.
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