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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In which we’re talking research

Continuing with reader question month, Aimee Celeste asked: You do a lot of great research for your novels. What are your favorite resources for historical details, particularly in the time periods you write in?

I have a wide variety of sources, and I’m not remotely snobbish about where I start. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia and children’s books. With Wikipedia, I go straight to the bottom where the sources are linked. Following those can take you to websites you might never have found on your own. I have prowled through parliamentary archives, period newspapers, art museums, and stately homes without ever leaving my study.

With children’s books, I can get a quick overview of a foreign country including agriculture and industry, history, topography, and demographics, giving me a quick shortcut to which areas need focused attention. I also follow archives and museums on Twitter to keep up with their latest exhibits, and museum curators often keep blogs full of arcane information. My favorite books for research are memoirs and journals kept by people who lived in my setting during the time period I’ve chosen–especially if they were children at the time. Children retain lots of detail in their memories, the sort of detail that can flesh a novel out beautifully. I also read cookbooks and natural history books to get a good sense of what people ate and what animals and plants were around. And I keep an eye out for information about fashion, transportation, sports, music, etc. just to add extra depth.

Finally, if there’s an author who writes great nonfiction about a given time period, I find them on Twitter or check out their blogs for even more goodies!

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In which we talk travel

Reader question month continues with this query from Carroll R:

I better get one in at least–I loved the description of Damascus, the bazaars and the restaurant where they ate and the feeling of being there in that time—-What did you research to be able to describe it so well, and, as I was conjuring it in my imagination I wondered if their orders at the restaurant (I think it was this restaurant in Damascus) were typical of that time or was it a generic order you might do now as well as back then? I know that sounds weird, but I know you do a lot of research, and by the time we got the restaurant, I wondered about the specific orders—the same with describing riding on a camel — it was a great description and I just wondered if you tried riding one to describe it. 

When I’m very lucky, I’m able to travel to the destinations I write about, but sometimes that’s just not possible. I haven’t been to Transylvania or Kenya or the foothills of the Himalayas, and right now, Damascus isn’t, unfortunately, on anybody’s travel list. When I can’t travel, I immerse myself in as much armchair traveling as possible. I read guidebooks, old and new; I read cookbooks, folklore, children’s books. I scour the internet for trip pictures posted by people who have been there. I print maps so I can trace my characters’ journeys, and I read memoirs written by people who grew up in my setting.

As far as the food goes, the meals I wrote about include traditional food of the sort you could order now or a hundred years ago in Damascus. It’s an extremely cosmopolitan city with food from all over the world, but I wanted to focus on the customary cuisine that would be fairly commonplace to someone from Syria but exotic to an English character.

And yes, I have ridden a camel. It’s not nearly as charming as you would wish!

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In which we’re talking about movies

August is reader question month on the blog. Reader Sarah Schemansky wrote:

Hello! I am a new reader of your books! I just finished reading Whisper Of Jasmine and City Of Jasmine. I just picked up A copy of A Spear of Summer Grass. I absolutely love how descriptive your stories are. My question for you is: Do you plan on making any of these books into a movie?

If I had my way–yes! The way things stand now, I hold entertainment rights to all of my novels and none of them have yet been optioned for films or television. I have had discussions with producers, and would dearly love to see the novels made into movies, but we’re not to that stage yet.

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In which we’re having a beach party

Sunday at 8pm eastern, I’ll be chatting at the Writerspace beach party–come visit!

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In which we’re talking the Vespiary

We’re doing reader questions this month, and MP Vadel wrote:

So, the Vespiary series. I have absolutely delighted in the development of this series, and even more so, in how the Lady Julia series and this new series have been woven together. Was this something that naturally happened once you thought about writing about another time period, or was it simply once you sat down and started writing you saw the opportunity? Basically, I’m extremely devoted to all the fictional characters you’ve written and how you’ve fleshed them out. I’m assuming you know a lot more about them then I do, and I just want to know when I might find out a bit more about them all!

If you haven’t read all of the Lady Julia projects–especially the novellas–and the 1920s books, you might want to skip this response because of possible spoilers.

Initially, there was no plan whatsoever to tie the 1920s books to Julia’s world. I wrote A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS because my publisher wanted me to take a break from the Grey-Brisbane series. My assumption was that it would be a one book break and then I’d go straight back to the series. My publisher decided they preferred another 1920s book, so I developed CITY OF JASMINE, and while I was doing so, I hit upon the idea of tying it very loosely to SPEAR. (The prequel novella, WHISPER OF JASMINE has the heroine of SPEAR introducing the main protagonists of CITY.)

And as soon as I figured out how to tie JASMINE and SPEAR together, I realized how simple it would be to add in connections to Julia’s world. While she is firmly Victorian, she is only thirty years removed from the action of the post-World War I books. Characters older than Julia would be gone, but her contemporaries could still be alive and–more significantly for the action of the 1920s books–the younger generation would now be in charge. This was also about the time I started writing the Julia novellas, and I realized it gave me the opportunity to work both ways in time. Grown characters in the 1920s books–like Quentin Harkness–could be shown as children while March grandchildren could be present when the Vespiary was first being founded. My original plan was to write four Vespiary novels with the last one completely tying in the fate of the older Grey-Brisbane characters and bringing both series to a formal conclusion. I also planned to include a main character who descended from THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST’s Theodora Lestrange, connecting her grandchild to the grandchildren of Earl March, thereby weaving all of my books into a single world. I would have dearly loved to have finished this before leaving my publisher, but they declined, so we don’t have quite as much closure as I would have liked. Happily, NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS (Oct. 2014)–my next Vespiary novel–and BONFIRE NIGHT (Nov. 2014)–the last Lady Julia novella, will answer a lot of questions and tie some loose ends!

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In which it’s time for reader questions

God, I love August. Every year I turn the blog over to readers to ask what they like. Today’s question comes courtesy of Benedetta:

I’m an italian reader…so i’m sorry becouse i’ll probably make some mistakes.. i’ve just read “wuthering heigths” and “jane Eire”. I think that you use many topics that i found there. Is it true? Does your ispiration came from that books?

Your English is far better than my Italian, so no worries! I am indeed a fan of the Brontes, although I have to say I prefer them in small doses since they are a bit grim. Whereas Jane Austen–my other 19th century favorite–is sense, the Brontes are sensibility, filling their books with big BIG emotions and dramatic scenes. There’s lots of white-lipped fury and fiery confrontation in the Brontes’ novels, which I quite love. I am particularly fond of Jane Eyre, whom I consider to be the ultimate feminist heroine. She doesn’t compromise herself, even for the love of her life and the promise of security, companionship, and passion. She is cheerful in the face of adversity and unflinching in her view of the world and its inhabitants. I read the book for the second or third time when I was 23, and finishing it left me so despondent–because there wasn’t more to read–that I sat down and wrote my first novel. That book still lives in a box in my attic, but it was the beginning of my career, so I owe a debt of gratitude to Charlotte Bronte.

I was lucky enough to stay in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire–the Bronte family home–and I explored the churchyard and the moor beyond all the way up to Top Withens, the ruined farmhouse that provided the inspiration for WUTHERING HEIGHTS. It was a splendid experience and highly recommended if you have the chance. Go in spring!

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In which we’re talking detective stories

I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew; my first grown-up books were Conan Doyle and Christie. The mystery is mother’s milk to me–the foundation for everything I am as a writer. But did you know the mystery has rules? Oh, yes, indeed. In 1928, S. S. Van Dine wrote an article called “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories”. (If you’re not familiar with Van Dine, he wrote the Philo Vance mysteries; Vance was played by William Powell in the film adaptations.) The rules make for interesting reading–mostly because it’s good to know the rules thoroughly before you break them. In fact, Van Dine’s rules were being blithely shattered by writers while he was compiling them. Authors like Christie and Sayers loved to play with the formula and took great pleasure in subverting expectations. Didn’t we all gasp with surprise when we first realized the narrator was the murderer? That ALL the suspects did it? That the culprit was, in fact, the police inspector?

So, settle in with a nice cup of tea and read the rules for yourself. My particular favorite is the one that servant cannot be the murderer because the villain must be a “worthwhile person”.

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